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The Situation Room

Bush Administration Defending American Evacuation from Lebanon; Intense Trading of Fire and Shelling Between Israel, Hezbollah; U.S. Military Vice Admiral Patrick Walsh Interview; State Department Plans to Charge U.S. Citizens Flown To Safety, Causing A Stir in Washington; Madeleine Albright Interview; Senate Moving Toward Vote on Funding for Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Aired July 18, 2006 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.

Happening now: evacuation aggravation. It's 11:00 p.m. in Lebanon, where some Americans finally are able to get out of harm's way/ But there are new complaints that the exodus still isn't happening fast enough, and that evacuees have to pay a price.

Also this hour, new attacks on both sides of the Israeli-Lebanese border. The death toll is rising from the warfare in the Middle East. Is there an end in sight? We'll have live reports from the danger zone.

And is President Bush doing enough to try to calm the Middle East crisis? It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington where there's a new debate about a Senate statement of support for Israel. I'll ask former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about U.S. policy and U.S. diplomacy.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The Bush administration today is defending its evacuation plan in Lebanon as hundreds of Americans still are waiting to escape open warfare in the Middle East. The controversy is growing this hour after a top Democrat's complaint that the U.S. citizens in Lebanon should not have to pick up the tab for the trip.

Just a short while ago the state department said about 350 Americans left Lebanon today. Many of them were flown to Cyprus on military helicopters. The U.S. ambassador to Lebanon says another 1,000 are expected to be evacuated tomorrow. They'll be aboard a chartered cruise ship called the Orient Queen. It's now in port in Beirut; it's scheduled to leave with evacuees on board at dawn.

Several U.S. war ships meanwhile are heading toward the waters off Lebanon to support the evacuation effort and to provide security. Coming up, I'll speak live with U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Patrick Walsh about the operation. That's coming up in just a few moments. Here's what a top U.S. army official had to say about the mission just a short while ago:


BRIG. GEN. MICHAEL BARBERO, U.S. ARMY: These operations are taking place in a war zone. They involve passage through a strict blockade and are limited by the capacity of ports and the degraded infrastructure in Lebanon. Some U.S. Navy vessels have arrived, and we expect more than nine U.S. Navy ships assembled in the next few days.


BLITZER: U.S. evacuation is moving into higher gear after a week of cross border attacks between Israeli and Hezbollah forces. Israeli war planes pounded more targets in and around Beirut today, bringing the death toll in Lebanon to at least 183.

And Hezbollah militants unleashed more rocket fire on northern Israel today. Israel says 25 of its citizens and soldiers have been killed in the conflict.

Our reporters are standing by with more on the conflict and the evacuation controversy. Our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour is in northern Israel, CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Beirut, Andrea Koppel and Kathleen Koch are here in Washington. Let's go to Christiane Amanpour first -- Christiane?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's been another day of intense trading of fire and shelling between the Israeli forces on this side of the border -- we are about as far north as you can get -- and the Hezbollah positions on the other side in southern Lebanon.

There are conflicting reports from the Israeli forces as to whether the Hezbollah fire coming into Israel is diminishing or not. But today at least one other Israeli was killed when a rocket hit in the town of Nahariya.

We have been at one of the main Israeli defense positions, where they have artillery positions there, and we witnessed for many hours this morning and we've heard for many hours throughout the rest of today and tonight, fierce barrages of artillery fire directed at what they say is trying to neutralize the Hezbollah capability.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): For four days and four nights this Israeli artillery unit has kept up a steady onslaught on Hezbollah positions just across the border. And their mission is not nearly done.

BRIG. GEN. GAL HIRSCH, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES: The directive is: dismantle, attack, destroy the abilities of Hezbollah and clear the threat from the Israeli civilians. AMANPOUR: Brigadier general Gal Hirsch is the northern front battle commander. This is about never again letting Hezbollah build up missiles and military that can attack up north as far south as Haifa, and maybe even beyond.

Every shell that is fired, every barrage of their multiple launch rocket systems, is aimed at pushing Hezbollah back, to never again let them occupy positions right here on the border with southern Lebanon. It is about creating a buffer zone. Indeed for Commander Hirsch and his men, this is do or die.

HIRSCH: We cannot live under this umbrella of terror missiles, and we will attack, and attack, and fight for our lives.


AMANPOUR: Now, mindful that the toll, the death toll on the Lebanese side, is so much heavier than on this side, Brigadier General Hirsch said that he felt sorry for the Lebanese people, but that he wants to see Lebanon assert its full control on their territory.

Also, he told us that what they are doing now and what the entire operation is doing is what they call "phase one." There may be a "phase two." Certainly there are contingency plans, he said. He wouldn't be drawn into the specifics, but indicating that it could involve some kind of ground force in southern Lebanon. But he said there are brigades and divisions ready should that order come.

At the same time as this war is going on, also in Israel are the diplomats. The U.N. Special Representative is here. They are trying as much as they can to get all sides to agree to implement the U.N. resolutions that would put an end to armed militias on the other side of this border -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Christian we keep hearing from multiple Israeli sources, multiple Israeli sources, they suggest they need at least another week, maybe two weeks, to accomplish their mission. Is that what you're hearing on the ground in northern Israel?

AMANPOUR: Yes, that's what we're hearing. And we're hearing that it's basically as long as it takes. They feel they have the support, as you know, not just to the world, most particularly the United States, which is not calling for a cease-fire.

They believe they have the support of their own people, especially up here in the north, in the cities, and villages, and towns which have taken the brunt of the Katyusha rockets from the other side. So they feel, that it's, as they said, do or die, that it is now or never to finally push back Hezbollah.

They don't feel that they can ever neutralize or eliminate or kill off Hezbollah as a movement or as a party. But they want to see an end to them sitting on this border with the military capability that they have.

And they also say, which I think is important, that this is also about deterrents. This is also about never allowing groups such as Hezbollah, also groups such as Hamas inside Palestinian territories, and the whole world, the Islamic world, to think that it can make military incursions against Israel and not receive a strong response.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour is in the northern part of Israel, not far from Lebanon. Christiane, thanks very much.

We're going to be coming back to you throughout our hours here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I want to go to Beirut, though. Ben Wedeman is on the scene for us. Ben, another hectic day in the Lebanese capital. Update our viewers on what has happened and what is happening right now?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, overnight there were Israeli air strikes on the outskirts of Beirut. But by and large it's been a fairly quiet day in the Lebanese capital. This probably because of the evacuation efforts are under way by a variety of nations to get their nationals out of Lebanon.

Now, so far we know that about 120 Americans have been flown out by Chinook helicopter to Cyprus. These Americans are so-called "priority cases," people with specific and potentially dangerous medical conditions that have to get out right now.

Now, this evening the Orient Queen, which is a Lebanese owned charter vessel, has been hired by the United States to take U.S. nationals out of the country. It docked in Beirut this evening. It's going to take about 1,000 people out of the country at first light tomorrow morning, and of course, ferry them to Cyprus.

And, probably tomorrow, the U.S. evacuation effort is really going to be picking up speed. Of course, there has been a good deal of criticism by U.S. nationals here on the ground about the American efforts, that simply the U.S. embassy here was not prepared for this crisis.

We are told, for instance, by people within the embassy itself, that at one point they are receiving as many as 500 phone calls an hour, and they simply didn't have the staff or the facilities to deal with it. In fact they have a phone system that dates back to the 1980s, and they have a fairly limited staff, which is housed in a temporary facility north of Beirut. So, that has been one of the problems for the U.S. evacuation effort here.

Now, other countries are also well on the way to evacuating their nationals. British nationals have been told to be ready to leave at any moment. Yesterday French nationals left, and also countries like Italy and also, in fact, Chile are trying to evacuate their nationals, as well.

But, of course, not everybody is leaving Beirut. There are 25,000 Americans registered in -- rather 25,000 Americans in Lebanon. Many of them do not plan to leave at the moment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to be coming back to you Ben. Thank you very much for that. Ben Wedeman on the scene for us in Beirut. The U.S. law that requires Americans to pay to flee Lebanon is coming under some serious fire here in Washington. We're going to have much more on that in a few minutes. This comes as the U.S. military is sending warships and helicopters to Beirut to try to get American citizens out of harm's way.

Joining us now from Bahrain in the Persian Gulf is the U.S. Military Vice Admiral Patrick Walsh. He is the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, and the U.S. 5th fleet. Admiral, thanks very much. What are you basing your contingency plan on? How many Americans do you expect to evacuate from Lebanon?

VICE ADM. PATRICK WALSH, U.S. NAVY, CENTRAL COMMAND: Wolf, good afternoon and good evening from Bahrain. Let me follow up with the reports that you've already received.

There's a rough order of magnitude of about 5,000 that we have heard would like to leave. But, in terms of contingency planning and the way that we've approached this operation, we're prepared to expand the scope of that effort, as well as to stay for an extended period of time. So, there's no limitation as far as we're concerned.

BLITZER: How dangerous is this military operation for the United States, given the fact that the Israelis have imposed a naval blockade off the coast of Lebanon and there's a history of anti-American feeling as you well know in that part of the world?

WALSH: Wolf, let me answer that by separating two parts of the question. First, as far as the Israelis and their naval activities are concerned, and the blockade, we have a relationship here with U.S., European command. They have habitual relationships with the Israelis. They are the ones that coordinate exercises and activities and are direct cons (ph) with the Israelis to pass along information as far as our path, our timing, and what we are up to, so there's no surprise.

What you were referring to today was that there was an attempt by Israeli naval vessels to stop the commercial vessel that was coming into port in Beirut. We would characterize that as administrative coordination. It lasted about 20 minutes or so. It's the first time that the Israeli naval forces had seen a vessel like that, with Americans on board. They're simply being good stewards, and checking out the security operation at an extended distance from Beirut.

BLITZER: We're standing by to hear from the president, but, very quickly, how much of a security risk, though, is this for the U.S. Navy?

WALSH: We're prepared for changes in the battlefield conditions. And one of the reasons why you are seeing the fluctuations in numbers, and some of the anxiety on the beach, is because the situation is changing on the ground. Our orders to our crew is to proceed at best speed and operate on arrival.

BLITZER: The criticism being leveled is that other countries have managed to start their evacuation process by sea so much more quickly than the U.S. What do you say to those critics?

WALSH: What the critics don't realize is that the order was given last week, and that the ships that are arriving are the best capability that we have for this type of situation. Ships are arriving from the Indian Ocean, from the Red Sea, from the Gulf of Aqaba. Some of the forces part of the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group were actually on exercises on the ground.

So, when, I think, you understand that the full depth of the response, and the speed of the response, and distance traveled, I think the folks on the ground in Beirut will recognize the absolute, 100 percent commitment we have to their safety and security.

BLITZER: Admiral thanks so much for joining us. Good luck to all the men and women helping in this evacuation. We'll touch base with you in the next few days, if that's OK. The Vice Admiral Patrick Walsh, joining us from Bahrain.

The president of the United States has been meeting with members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, from both houses. Let's listen to hear what the president had to say.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Prior to my traveling to St. Petersburg I thought the issue was going to be whether or not we could bring the world together to deal with North Korea and Iran.

And, by the way, during my stay there we did get a unanimous United Nations Security Council agreement on North Korea. It's my pleasure to be able to thank the Chinese and the Russians and the Japanese and our European friends for voting favorably for that resolution.

But, instead, a lot of the discussion was on the Hezbollah attacks into Israel. What's really interesting was that -- and I briefed this to the members -- that we're able to reach a very strong consensus that the world must confront the root causes of the current instability. And the root cause of the instability is terrorism and terror attacks on a democratic country.

And part of those terrorist attacks are inspired by nation-states like Syria and Iran. And in order to be able to deal with this crisis, the world must deal with Hezbollah, with Syria, and continue to work to isolate Iran.

I strongly believe every nation out to be able to defend theirself, from terrorist attacks. We are also mindful, and I talked to the members about the need to make sure the government of Lebanon does not collapse. It's in our interests that Lebanon be free and the Siniora government succeed.

We also talked about the evacuation of U.S. citizens in Lebanon. And Condi briefed the members about the joint plan with the Defense Department to make sure there's enough transportation to expeditiously provide transportation for those who want to leave. And we are in the process of doing that.

All in all, it was a very positive visit there in the G8. We dealt with significant problems. Sometime it requires a tragic situation to help bring clarity in the international community. And it is now clear for all to see that there are terrorist elements who want to destroy our democratic friends and allies, and the world must work to prevent it from doing so.

With that I will be glad to answer a couple of questions. Let's see here, yes.

QUESTION: In view that you try to defuse the situation in the Middle East, is the United States trying to buy time and give Israel a chance to reign in Hezbollah militarily?

BUSH: Well, we made it very clear that Israel should be allowed to defend herself. We've asked that as she does so, that she be mindful of the Siniora government. It's very important that this government in Lebanon succeed and survive.

Everybody abhors the loss of innocent life. On the other hand, what we recognize is that the root cause of the problem is Hezbollah. And that problem must be addressed. And it can be addressed internationally by making it clear to Syria that they've got to stop their support to Hezbollah. Syria is trying to get back into Lebanon it looks like to me.

We passed United Nations Resolution 1559, and finally this young democracy, or this democracy, became a whole by getting Syria out. And there's suspicions that the instability created by the Hezbollah attacks will cause some in Lebanon to invite Syria back in. That would be -- it's against the United Nations policy, and against the U.S. policy.

QUESTION: The army chief of Israel who said for this offensive to reach its goal will take weeks. Are you with that kind of a time frame? Are you comfortable with letting the offensive go on for weeks?

BUSH: I want the world to address the root causes of the problem, and the root cause of the problem is Hezbollah. I also -- and, we been, of course, in touch with Israel. Condi spoke to Prime Minister Olmert yesterday on the airplane flying back. And, we are never going to tell a nation how to defend herself, but we are urging caution when it comes to the survival of the Siniora government. It's essential that the government of Lebanon survive this crisis.

We've worked hard, and we being the international community, worked hard to free Lebanon from Syrian influence. And there's a young government there. And it's in our interests that Syria stay out of Lebanon and this government survive. And so, in our consultations with the countries in the neighborhood, we have urged all to address the problem -- that would be Hezbollah and its terrorist attacks on Israel.

Remember this crisis started when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers. They were unprovoked. Hezbollah were unprovoked, and they then took hostages. Imagine how the United States would react if somebody provoked us with that kind of action. And, secondly they started firing rockets. And it's this provocation of Hezbollah that has created this crisis and that's the root cause of the problem.

All right, thank you all.


BLITZER: The president in the White House meeting with members of congress, Democrats and Republicans from the house and from the Senate. Several times pinning the blame directly on Hezbollah for this current crisis in the Middle East. The root cause, he said several times, remains Hezbollah, its support that it receives from Syria and Iran. The U.S. must deal with Hezbollah, Syria, and continue to isolate Iran. That's was the president's message.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty, he's in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The war in Lebanon began a week ago. The United States has managed so far to evacuate a grand total of about 400 of our citizens from Beirut. There are an estimated 25,000 Americans there, and, presumably, a lot of them would like to leave. Good luck with that. Remember Katrina? France has gotten more than 700 of their people out. France! Italy more than 300, the British, The Irish.

There was a time, and I can remember this, when Americans who were in harm's way anywhere in the world would have been taken out yesterday. Apparently not any more. We're still bumbling around, trying to charter boats, whatever. It's kind of embarrassing, actually.

And, get this, you want out? You got to pay. That's right. The State Department now charges the price of an airline ticket to evacuate you. This little law, passed by Congress, signed by President Bush in 2003. We can pour $300 billion into that sewer in Iraq, but we charge Americans to be taken out of a war zone in Lebanon. Welcome to the twilight zone.

Here's the question -- is it taking the U.S. too long to get its citizens out of Lebanon? E-mail your thoughts to, or go to

BLITZER: Jack, thank you very much. Jack Cafferty, we're going to get back to you soon.

Coming up, much more on the Americans trying to flee the fighting in Lebanon. As Jack points outside, should the Americans have to pay the U.S. government for their evacuation? There's a political firefight underway here in Washington.

Plus Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls for an Israeli- Hezbollah cease-fire. When? A big "When?" When the conditions are right. I'll speak with one of her predecessors, Madeleine Albright about the diplomatic options. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

The State Department plans to charge U.S. citizens for being flown or shipped to safety, causing quite a bit of a stir back here in Washington. The house minority leader, Nancy Pelosi says this isn't the time to quibble over money. But the Bush administration says the payment plan is the law.

Let's bring in our congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as the day progressed here on Capitol Hill, Democrats ramped up the rhetoric. They seized upon this issue, went on the offensive. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, as well as Harry Reed, comparing the way that the U.S. government is handling the evacuation of Americans in Lebanon to the slow response that the Bush administration had after Katrina hit.

Now, it's not just Democrats who are criticizing the administration. You also have John Sununu, a Republican from New Hampshire, himself a Lebanese American who talked to CNN, said he had met with senior State Department officials today to complain with this. Here's a little more of what John Sununu said:


SEN. JOHN SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Perhaps the State Department or the administration find a way to minimize those costs, find a way to waive those costs. I think there are probably members of Congress, given the extraordinary nature of the situation, that would be willing to step forward with a resolution, with legislation, that might enable them to do that.

But, we're dealing with students at the American University of Beirut, we're dealing with American citizens that have had family in the region, been traveling to Lebanon for months or even years. This was completely unexpected.


KOPPEL: Now, in fact, another democrat, Senator Stabenow from Michigan, where there are tens of thousands of Arab-Americans, actually made a decision today, announced that she's going to introduce legislation to give the State Department the authority to waive transportation costs for those who can't afford it, Wolf.

Nevertheless, over at the White House, Tony Snow batted things back over here to Congress, saying that the decision to do so, the decision to waive these charges is in congressional hands.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's the law. I daresay it's something that is causing heartburn for a number of people. But it is the law and the State Department has to abide by it.


KOPPEL: And, Wolf, I spoke to a senior state department official this afternoon who said that, in point of fact, even though they are, by law, required to ask American citizens to sign a form saying they're going to pay their transportation costs, this official predicted that not a single bill will ever be collected upon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Andrea, thanks very much. And one footnote: a lot of those legislators complaining about this payment actually voted for the legislation in recent years. We're going to have much more on this story coming up.

Also, still coming up, the U.S. faces some international pressure to step up diplomatic efforts to try to cool the tensions in the Middle East. We'll hear from former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and ask her what she thinks needs to be done right now.

Also coming up, the latest developments in this deadly conflict in the Middle East. More on Iraq as well, lots of action going on in that other war. Stick around, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Dozens more Americans now are just hours away from escaping the warfare in Lebanon. Some 350 Americans were flown and ferried to safety earlier today.

A chartered cruise ship is in port in Beirut right now, it's expected to leave with perhaps 1,000 American citizens on board tomorrow morning.

Israeli air strikes now have killed at least 183 people in Lebanon, and wounded 456. Israeli warplanes pummeled war targets in and around Beirut today. And more Hezbollah rockets rained down on Israel today, bringing the death toll to 25. More than 300 other Israelis have been wounded.

The speaker of Iran's parliament today warned Israel that no part of the state of Israel is safe from attacks by Tehran backed Hezbollah fighters.

Betty Nguyen is joining us from the CNN Center in Atlanta with a closer look at some other stories making news.

Hi, Betty.


For the second day in a row, there has been a deadly attack at an Iraqi marketplace. At least 59 people were killed when a suicide car bomb exploded at a market in the Shiite holy city of Kufa today. And a roadside bomb killed six Iraqi police near Kirkuk. This comes as a new U.N. report says more than 14,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq since January. The bimonthly report warns that civilian slayings are increasing.

Well, the death toll is climbing Indonesia's undersea earthquake and tsunami. Indonesia's government says at least 305 people were killed when 10-foot waves flattened villages and hotels on Java Island. Rescue workers are searching for dozens of people still missing at this hour.

Indonesia's government reportedly says it received bulletins warnings about the potential tsunami yesterday, but did not announce them because it didn't want to cause unnecessary alarm.

And major new developments in a story that first broke -- in New Orleans, a doctor and two nurses face second-degree murder charges in the deaths of several patients in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Now, they are accused of giving lethal doses of morphine to four patients at New Orleans's Memorial Medical Center. Attorneys for the doctor and nurse say their clients are innocent.

Well, chances are your thermometer is hitting triple digits. A heat wave has got most of the nation in its grip. Boy, is it hot out there -- Utah, Texas, Nevada, Arizona, all seeing 100-plus temperatures. In sweltering New York City, the demand for air- conditioning may be to blame for scattered power outages.

Look at this. Hundreds of passengers were stranded at La Guardia Airport when the lights simply went out in part of the main terminal this morning. American Airlines and Delta have had to cancel some flights because of it.

Wolf, hope you have your A.C. up.

BLITZER: I hope so, too.


BLITZER: It's very hot here in Washington. Thanks very much for that, Betty.

Up next: more on our top story. If Vietnam was the so-called TV war, the Internet is giving a whole new dimension to what's happening in the Middle East right now. From pictures to eyewitness blogs, our Jacki Schechner is standing by with what you can find online.

And boots back on the ground in Beirut -- 23 years after that devastating attack on a U.S. Marines barracks, U.S. Marines are now back in Lebanon, trying to get Americans out. That's coming up in our next hour.

Stay with us. We will be right back.


BLITZER: The former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, she is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We are going to speak to her in just a moment. That's coming up.

But first this -- by way of firsthand reports, pictures and video, the Internet is now providing a whole new dimension to what's happening on the ground in this Middle East conflict.

Our Internet team continues to scour the Web for the latest situation online.

Let's bring in Jacki Schechner. She's standing by with more -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the video I'm going to show you right now looks like it's from a 14-year-old boy from Haifa. And he's recording himself as he's running down the stairs. You can hear the sirens blaring in the background.

And this is on YouTube, which is the community video site. We are seeing more and more firsthand accounts pop up online. It's very easy to put videos like this up on the Internet. We saw another one pop up on YouTube from a 21-year-old guy in Lebanon a French guy standing next on a building next to the French Embassy, watching as bombs were exploding, missiles exploding over a southern suburb of Beirut.

Now, we are also seeing some photographs showing up online. This is Flickr, which is a group community photo site. And this is a guy named Max Nathans (ph), who lives on an kibbutz, which is an Israeli communal settlement. And he says everything is going about as pretty usual on his kibbutz.

But he took a trip to Nahariya. And you can see where the streets are empty and everything is pretty much cleared out there. He said this is 9:00 on a weekday morning. So, you can see how really everything has changed in Israel.

If we go over to Lebanon, there's a site called Blogging Beirut that we keep checking in on. This is a 24-year-old guy named Julian (ph), who is traveling throughout Lebanon, but mostly in Beirut, who is blogging. Now, the latest photos he's showing us are how the trash is piling up, because there's basic amenities that are being suspended. You can see traffic is moving in the background, but, obviously, not trash collection as usual.

We are going online. We're scouring. We're taking a look. Now, these are firsthand accounts and firsthand photographs and firsthand videos. They are all obviously going to have a certain perspective or point of view, Wolf. But it's an interesting perspective that we have never really seen before in this sort of graphic honesty -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacki, thank you very much.

And joining us now is the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Madam Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Do you have a problem, a basic problem, with the way President Bush is handling this current Middle East crisis?

ALBRIGHT: No. I think that he is obviously very serious about it. And I just hope very much that the United States gets more involved diplomatically. That is something that I have been calling for, for some time. And I hope very much that Secretary Rice can make it to the region and begin to do some diplomacy there.

BLITZER: She says she's going to go, but she's waiting for the right moment to go. The Israelis say they need another week or two to get their job done militarily. So, do -- if you are the secretary of state, do you wait for the Israelis to complete their mission, or do you go in advance?

ALBRIGHT: I that think there's a lot of preparatory diplomacy that can be done. I understand that there are other leaders there.

The prime minister of France, Villepin, was there. The U.N. group is there. Prime Minister Blair said he was going. I do think that it's obvious that conditions have to be ripe, but conditions don't happen on their own. They have to be created.

And, so, I do think that there's an important aspect for American diplomatic involvement.

BLITZER: The criticism being leveled against Israel is that they have overreacted to the killing and capturing of these Israeli soldiers. Are you among those who are criticizing Israel for overreacting?

ALBRIGHT: No. I think that a country has to be able to defend itself. And, again, the facts have to be out there.

Hezbollah rained rockets on Israel and captured Israeli soldiers. And I would presume that the Israelis are being very careful not to hit the civilian targets, and that they understand what President Bush was saying, which is, it's very important not to destroy the Lebanese state, because, ultimately, what has to happen is, the government of Lebanon has to exert control over the territory of Lebanon.

And that's been the problem, frankly, Wolf. I mean, there was a resolution of the U.N., 1559, that said that Lebanon was supposed to control its territory. And, frankly, I don't think that enough support was given to the Lebanese by the French and the Americans and the international community to have that happen.

BLITZER: After the assassination last year of the Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, the Lebanese themselves, backed overwhelmingly by the international community, managed to kick the Syrians out of Lebanon.

Today, the president of the United States is saying, the Syrians are trying to find a way to come back into Lebanon through their control, through their alliance, if you will, with Hezbollah. Do you agree with that assessment?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think part of the problem, Wolf, has been is that the Syrians never truly, completely left, and that they were, in fact, in some way, protecting Hezbollah, providing it with a variety of arms.

I think Iran has also been very much supportive of that, and that the problem has been is that this new Lebanese state of Siniora has not been able to fully exert its control. And it needed international help.

And we have a tendency to think that, once something has been passed in the U.N. or some decision made, that everything takes care of itself. It all takes incredible work, follow-through, and not just checking things off a list.

BLITZER: The criticism of the U.S., this administration -- I guess there was a similar criticism of the Clinton administration when you were secretary of state -- is, the U.S. can no longer be an honest broker, because of its strong support of Israel, that, right now, the U.S. doesn't even talk to Syria or -- or Iran, and it accuses both of those countries, for example, of fomenting this current tension in the Middle East.

What do you say to those critics?

ALBRIGHT: Well, actually, Wolf, we spent a lot of time talking to all the parties there.

And I went to Syria. And I spent a lot of time in the region. And I talked to the Palestinians, and the Israelis, and the Lebanese. And, so, I do think that it's important for us to be involved across the board, and that the U.S. can, in fact -- and not just can, but must -- play a role in this, because we are the only ones that can.

But we have to be able to understand what's happening across the board in all the countries and have a dialogue. It doesn't do us much good -- you know, the -- our ambassador was withdrawn after Hariri's assassination, and nobody has been there. It's a little hard to know exactly what's going on without the eyes and ears of the diplomats.

BLITZER: So, you would send an ambassador back to Damascus?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I definitely would have some kind of discussions.

And, you know, there are those people who think, if you talk to a country that you disagree with, that it's -- that it's appeasement. I don't believe that. I think it's really important to be able to deliver tough messages. And you can't do that through second- and then third-hand voices.

BLITZER: Let me read to you from your new book, a best-seller that recently come out, "The Mighty and the Almighty."

This is what you write in that book: "Officials in the major Sunni capitals of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt worry about the emergence of a Shia 'crescent,' running from Bahrain to Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. We should be aware of the potential for conflict, from verbal jousting, to assassinations, to the instigation, eventually, of a nuclear arms race between Sunnis and Shiites."

Is this problem in Lebanon right now, Hezbollah being a Shiite group, part of the bigger problem in the region, as you see it, between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs?

ALBRIGHT: I'm afraid that it has the potential to develop into exactly what I was saying, because what we have is the Iranians, who are obviously Shia, supporting Hezbollah.

And, interestingly enough, the Sunnis in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are critical of what Hezbollah is doing. And I think that we have to be very careful of what is happening here and the fact that the Shia and Iran are the ones that have gained the most out of the war in Iraq. So, that is what has worried me.

And I have been saying that this particular conflagration that's taking place right now, we are at a crossroads. And that's why I think the United States has to get involved diplomatically, so that this does not morph into a much larger regional war.

BLITZER: What's wrong with calling on the Israelis and everyone else to accept an immediate cease-fire, to stop the fighting, to stop the killing?

ALBRIGHT: Well, there's a tendency, with doing that, having a cease-fire, is to kind of give moral equivalence to the two sides that are involved in it.

And I think it's very clear that Israel was attacked. And Israel, after all, withdrew from Lebanon. That happened while we were in office. And they left the place. And they hoped very much, as I said, that the Lebanese government would be able to take control of it. So, it's not an equivalent issue. But it would be good if diplomacy were involved, we worked towards stopping the fighting, so that, in fact, there can be a resolution to what is clearly a -- a -- a very dangerous situation.

BLITZER: I am going to be speaking in the hour with the former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, who was prime minister in the year 2000, when the Israelis did withdraw from Lebanon.

Is this situation hopeless right now?

ALBRIGHT: No. I never -- I don't think anything is ever hopeless.

But it requires a lot of work, Wolf. And we have to be involved in it. And I think that there need to be a -- a very active American involvement. And I hope that Secretary Rice is really able to be part of creating the conditions that would allow this to end. And I would be very supportive of that.

BLITZER: Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state, thanks for coming in.

ALBRIGHT: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we are just getting this in, that the -- Lebanese television is reporting now that two new Israeli airstrikes have just occurred in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. We are getting more details on what is going on, more airstrikes continuing in Lebanon right now.

We will have more on this story -- that is coming up. Also, we will have the very latest from Israel and Lebanon. At the top of the hour, we are going to go live to Beirut, to the front lines in northern Israel.

And could the U.S. Senate be about to hand President Bush a political fight here at home? Why the issue of -- over embryonic stem cell research may lead to the president's first veto, that's coming up.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: We are just learning that the Israelis have launched additional airstrikes against targets in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon -- this information coming in from Lebanese television.

We are going to get you all of the latest information at the top of the hour. We will be live in Beirut. Stay with us on that.

We are continuing to follow all of the latest developments in the Middle East.

But there's other -- some other important news happening here in the nation's capital, a major political story unfolding even at this minute. The U.S. Senate is moving toward a vote on new federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. It sets the stage for what would be the president's first veto since taking office.

Let's bring in our congressional correspondent Dana Bash with the latest -- Dana.


Well, three-and-a-half months before Election Day, this has been a highly emotional and politically wrenching debate, especially for Republicans. You have Nancy Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger weighing in, saying they believe that expanding embryonic stem cell research is imperative for the government to do.

Meanwhile, President Bush says, simply, that they are wrong, and he intends to use his veto, for the first time ever, on a bill the Senate is voting on right now.


BASH (voice-over): Zara Johnson was adopted as an embryo. Her father is in a wheelchair and aches to walk again, he told senators, but not at any cost.

STEVE JOHNSON, OPPOSES EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH: I could potentially benefit from the embryonic stem cell research. But that means, you know, essentially, killing my daughter.

BASH: Actress Mary Tyler Moore, who has diabetes, came arguing, the best hope for curing her disease is embryonic stem cell research.

MARY TYLER MOORE, SUPPORTS EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH: It's so rich in the future in the possibilities for people who are sick.

BASH: Tales of illness and questions of morality dominated the debate, centered on a bill to lift federal funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, destined for a presidential veto, the first ever.

Republican Gordon Smith evoked memories of relatives who battled Parkinson's and begged the president to change his mind.

SEN. GORDON SMITH (R), OREGON: Please, do not veto this bill. Do not deny them the hope that can come from this research.

BASH: The impassioned election-year debate exposed differences among self-described pro-life Republicans.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: By using these embryos for medical research, we are, in fact, promoting life. In fact, I believe we are aiding the living, which is one of the most pro-life positions you can take.

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: It is human, and it's alive. And, under H.R. 810, we say that the federal government is going to fund the destruction, the killing of that embryo.


BASH: Now, President Bush, obviously, agrees with that. And that's why he will veto this bill, likely as soon as tomorrow. But he will also get two stem cell bills that he will sign, both of which just passed the Senate by votes of 100-0, unanimously.

One promotes methods of stem cell research without destroying embryos. The other prohibits embryos to be used just for research. Democrats, as I mentioned, obviously, voted for those bills. But they still claim that they are unnecessary scientifically. And they say that, politically, even today, Wolf, they insist that this -- that this is an issue they think that they can use against Republicans, especially in some of the tightest races this election year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will watch the roll call very carefully.

Dana, thank you very much -- Dana Bash reporting from the Hill.

Much more on the Middle East crisis coming up.

Quickly, though, I want to check some of the "Political Radar" stories we're following this Tuesday.

The attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, revealed to senators today that President Bush personally blocked the Justice Department from investigating the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program. That program raised serious questions about the administration's terror-fighting tactics and whether Americans' privacy had been violated.

A Democrat who had originally requested a Justice Department -- Justice Department probe of the program says he will ask Mr. Bush to allow one now, saying, we can't have a president acting in what he called a dictatorial fashion.

A political about-face today for President Bush. The White House says he will address the NAACP Convention on Thursday, and make an appeal for racial unity. This is the first time he has agreed to appear before the nation's oldest civil rights group in his five years in office.

Some political lightning rods are on the ballot on this primary day in Georgia. The former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed is waging an uphill battle for the Republican nomination to be lieutenant governor. He's been dogged by his ties to the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

And Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney is facing voters for the first time since her scuffle with a Capitol Hill police officer. She is seeking her party's nomination for a seventh term in Congress.

Back here in Washington, the House today rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages. Opponents of the gay marriage -- of gay marriages fell 47 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to move the amendment forward. But many supporters of the ban still hope to use the issue in their reelect -- reelection bids this November.

Coming up, we will get right back to our top story, for the seventh day in a row, more attacks on both sides of the Israeli- Lebanese border. Can diplomacy find a way to ease this crisis? We will take you live to Beirut. We will go live to northern Israel for all the late-breaking developments on a conflict that has got the whole world watching.

And fresh outrage over a U.S. law requiring U.S. citizens to pay to get away from the danger in Lebanon -- is that fair? We will take a closer look -- all of that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On this seventh day of open warfare in the Middle East, President Bush is now accusing Syria of trying to get back into Lebanon through its support of Hezbollah guerrillas.

And Mr. Bush is urging Israel to be mindful of Lebanon's government. The State Department and the Pentagon expect to evacuate 2,400 Americans from the danger zone in Lebanon by Thursday. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is calling for a cease-fire in the region when, in her words -- quote -- "conditions are conducive."

At least 183 people have been killed in Israeli attacks in Lebanon. And at least 456 have been wounded. At least 25 people have been killed in Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel. And more than 300 have been wounded.

There's a disturbing story developing off the coast of Florida.

Let's bring in Betty Nguyen. She's watching this story.

What's happening, Betty?

NGUYEN: Wolf, this is what we know so far.

The Crown Princess cruise ship, which is owned by Princess Cruise Lines, has experienced a steering problem. And it's also affected the rudder, which has caused the ship to take a heavy roll. It's turned heavily on its side. Now, the ship is still able to make its way back, but we understand, because of this problem, there have been several injuries. Now, we don't know the extent of those injuries, but there are injuries of the people on board that ship.

Now, what happened was, this steering problem occurred about 90 miles outside the Port Canaveral, Florida. That's where it was when it occurred. The ship is on its way back, but, of course, again, it experienced a steering problem, which caused it to take a heavy roll. And because of all of that, there are injuries on board that ship. The ship is on its way back to port. And we will have more information just as soon as it becomes available to us -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Betty, thanks very much -- Betty Nguyen reporting.

Still to come: Is it taking too long for the U.S. to get its citizens out of Lebanon? Jack Cafferty with his question of the hour -- when we come back.


BLITZER: ... just passed additional funding for embryonic stem cell research by a vote of 63-37. That's not enough to defeat -- not enough for a two-thirds majority that would be required, if the president, as he vows, will go ahead and veto this legislation. But it did pass the Senate, 63-37, federal funding for embryonic stem cell research -- more on this story coming up.

Jack Cafferty, though, is in New York in the meantime -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question is: Is it taking the U.S. too long to get its citizens out of Lebanon?

Anna in Hays, Kansas, writes: "Obviously, the administration learned nothing from the Katrina debacle. Those people in Lebanon should have been evacuated days ago. It's strange that France, Germany and Norway were days ahead of us in getting their people out. I'm sick to death of hearing all the excuses from this government about why they haven't done their jobs."

Dave in Vancouver: "No. I applaud the officials who are in charge of U.S. evacuations. Thankfully, they're cool-headed and will stick to a prudent plan, despite criticism from the media and many evacuees. The paramount consideration in this exercise must be security."

Melissa in Mission, Kansas: "Forcing American citizens to pay their own way out of danger overseas is a brilliant example of a free market at work. Plus, it underscores the need for people to take responsibility for themselves. I thought I had seen the best example of this thinking when administration officials made our soldiers pay for their own body armor in Iraq. But it appears there's no limit to their fiscal creativity."

Charles in New York: "American citizens are being made to sign promissory notes prior to being evacuated from Lebanon? Mexican illegal aliens don't sign promissory notes when they use our hospitals, send their children to our schools, or use governmental services paid for by the American taxpayer.""

S. in Burbank, California: "Many of the 'citizens' in Lebanon and elsewhere are there by choice and they don't pay taxes. I know because I have been in the same situation. Any so-called citizen who is not a taxpayer should be billed for the evacuation."

And John writes: "I wish Bush would evacuate you. You don't understand anything about logistics. You have to protect our helicopters and boats from possible Hezbollah attack during the evacuation. And that takes time to set up" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you very much.