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The Situation Room

Interview With President Bush; NATO Allies Agreeing To Send More Troops to Afghanistan; Chavez Likens Bush To The Devil

Aired September 20, 2006 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And 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, it's 5:00 p.m. in Washington.

Just ahead, my exclusive interview with President Bush. I'll ask him about a civil war in Iraq, the battle of immigration, and the pope's controversial comments about Islam.

It's 5:00 p.m. at the United Nations, still reeling from the shocking comments of Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez. He calls President Bush "the devil." And that's just for starters.

And it's 1:30 a.m. in Afghanistan. NATO's top commander calls it a moment of truth as allied troops call for reinforcement against the Taliban insurgency.

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

In part one of my exclusive interview we just heard President Bush vow to go after Osama bin Laden no matter which border American forces may have to cross. That's drawn an immediate reaction from Pakistan's president, a negative reaction.


PRES. PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTAN: We won't like to allow that at all. We will do it ourselves. We would like to do it ourselves.


BLITZER: Now part two of my exclusive interview with President Bush.


BLITZER: Let's move on and talk a little bit about Iraq...


BLITZER: ... because this is a huge, huge issue, as you know, for the American public. A lot of concern that perhaps they are on the verge of a civil war, if not already a civil war.

BUSH: Yes.

BLITZER: I'll read to you what Kofi Annan said on Monday. He said, "If current patterns of alienation and violence persist much further, there is a grave danger the Iraqi state will break down, possibly in the midst of a full-scale civil war."

Is this what the American people bought into?

BUSH: You know, it's interesting you quoted Kofi. I'd rather quote the people on the ground who are very close to the situation, who live it day by day, our ambassador, or General Casey. I ask this question all the time, "Tell me what it's like there." And this notion that we are in civil war is just not true, according to them. These are people that live the issue.

BLITZER: We see these horrible...

BUSH: Of course you do.

BLITZER: ... bodies showing up, torture, mutilation.

BUSH: Yes.

BLITZER: The Shia and the Sunni, the Iranians apparently having a negative role. Of course, Al Qaeda in Iraq still operating.

BUSH: Yes, you see it on TV. And that's the -- that's the power of an enemy that is willing to kill innocent people. But there is also an unbelievable will and resiliency by the Iraqi people.

Twelve million people voted last December. Admittedly, it seems like a decade ago. I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma, because there is -- my point is, there is a strong will for democracy.

These people want a unity government. The unity government is functioning.

I'm impressed by President Maliki. I've talked to him. I've seen the decision-making process that he's put in place. The Iraqi army is still recruiting and training.

BLITZER: But you weren't upset when he went to Tehran and gave a big hug and a kiss to Ahmadinejad.

BUSH: Excuse me for a minute. I was on a brilliant point, as you know. The Iraqi government and the Iraqi military is committed to keeping this country together. And so, therefore, I reject the notion that this country's in civil war based upon experts, not based upon people who are speculating.

I fully recognize it's still dangerous and there's more work to do. The enemy has got the capacity to get on your TV screens by killing innocent people, and that should speak volumes to the American people about the nature of these people we face.

BLITZER: The visit -- the visit from Nuri al-Maliki to Iran ...

BUSH: To Iran.

BLITZER: ... that was -- that was a picture that -- a lot of Americans saw that picture, big hug, big kiss, and they said, hey, what's going on here?

BUSH: But wait a minute. What's going on here is you've got the president of a sovereign nation going to a neighbor, making it clear to the neighbor to stop meddling with their new democracy, that he would expect there to be support of this new government and not undermining the new government.

This is a man who is dedicated and committed to a unity government. He has taken great risks to advance the cause of peace and unity is his country, and so...

BLITZER: So the bottom line, you have confidence in him? Because a lot of other people are beginning to lose confidence.

BUSH: Yes. No, I have -- I don't only have confidence in him, but General Casey and, again, our ambassador. That's how I learn it.

I can't learn it -- I frankly can't learn it from your newscasts. What I've got to learn it from is people who are there on the ground.

And so I ask them all the time, "How are things going? Give me the decision-making process of Prime Minister Maliki. Is he growing in the job?"

The guy's been there for about 100 days, and I am impressed by his -- his strength of character.

BLITZER: I woke up in New York like you did this morning. I read...

BUSH: And what are you reading there?

BLITZER: ... the "New York Times," there's a paragraph in there -- I'll read it to you -- about your dad's former secretary of state, James Baker.

"In his 1995 memoir, Mr. Baker said he opposed ousting Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf War in 1991 because he feared that such action might lead to an Iraqi civil war, to criticism from many of our allies, and to an eventual loss of American support for an occupation."

BUSH: Yes. Yes. He -- he was writing before September the 11th, 2001, and the world changed that day, Wolf.

BLITZER: But Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

BUSH: Excuse me for a minute, please. The world changed that day because we had to deal with threats. No question Saddam Hussein did not order the attacks.

On the other hand, Saddam Hussein was viewed as a threat by the Congress, by the United Nations, and by the United States administration. And so James Baker was writing before the world changed.

And we took out Saddam Hussein because he was viewed as a threat. He was a state sponsor of terror. He had used weapons of mass destruction. He had invaded his neighbors.

The decision was the right decision. And now the question is, will this country and our coalition partners have the will to support this new government, a democracy in the heart of the Middle East?

BLITZER: You know, you were thinking of dealing with Saddam Hussein long before 9/11.

BUSH: Well, I wasn't in office long before 9/11.

BLITZER: No, let me remind you...

BUSH: Wait a minute. I wasn't in office that much longer.

BLITZER: I'm going to remind you of an interview you and I did...

BUSH: It was 9/11/2001 and I swore in in January of 2001.

BLITZER: But when you were a candidate for president -- you were still the governor of Texas -- you and I sat down in Iowa...

BUSH: Right.

BLITZER: ... just before the Iowa caucus, and we had this exchange.



BUSH: We shouldn't be sending mixed signals. And if any time I found that the Iraqis were developing weapons of mass destruction, they wouldn't exist anymore.

BLITZER: Who wouldn't exist anymore? The weapons wouldn't exist...

BUSH: The weapons of mass destruction, yes. And I'm not going to -- they just need to hear that from a potential president. If we catch them in violation of the agreement, if we in any way, shape or form find out that they're developing weapons of mass destruction, that there will be action taken. And they can just guess what that action might be.


BLITZER: The point though being that -- at least to my mind -- the weapons of mass destruction issue, in your mind, even as a candidate running for president, was a trigger potentially that could lead to war.

BUSH: Well, of course Saddam -- I viewed Saddam Hussein for what he was, a threat. He was declared a state sponsor of terror, Wolf, by previous administrations.

BLITZER: But there are other countries that have been declared state sponsors of terror, like North Korea, like Syria, Cuba. You don't go to war against them.

BUSH: Well, North Korea hadn't invaded its neighbors. North Korea, you know, hadn't made declarations of intent. North Korea is relatively isolated compared to Iraq.

Every threat must be taken seriously and every threat must be dealt with in different fashion. I strongly stand by my decision to remove Saddam Hussein.

BLITZER: And you don't look back with any regrets?

BUSH: I regret when people lose lives. But -- you know, and presidents don't get to do do-overs. But I believe that the decision was the right decision. And now we've got to help this young democracy survive.

And what's interesting is extremists and radicals aim to destroy young democracies, whether it be Hezbollah, or whether it be al Qaeda, who you mentioned, in Iraq. And that's the real challenge of this -- of this century. It's a challenge between moderation and reform versus extremism and radicalism. Those extremists and radicals are willing to use terror and murder as a weapon to achieve their objectives.

BLITZER: We invited some of our viewers to send me some questions that they would want to ask. I'm going to read one of them.

Ray Freedell, from Corte Madera, California: "Why is it taking so long to secure our borders?"

Which is a fair question, given the debate over immigration.

The House has passed legislation that would support building a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexican border. Senator Frist told me yesterday that he's going to put that now before the Senate. Even though it's not part of what you want, comprehensive immigration reform.

If the Senate passes what the House has passed, will you sign it into law?

BUSH: It's a part of strengthening the border. And we're in the process now of spending the money that they appropriated last session to modernize the border. And one reason -- the guy's question -- Ray's question was, "Why is it taking so long." It's a long border.

It takes -- it takes a lot of manpower and new equipment to enforce that border. And Ray needs to know things are changing quite dramatically.

BLITZER: So, will you sign it into law?

BUSH: One thing that has changed is catch and release. Prior to the expenditure of the money that these guys -- the Senate and the House have appropriated, we would catch somebody trying to sneak in and just release them back into society. That's been ended.

And so a lot of reform has taken place.

You know, yes, I'll sign it into law. They're appropriating money -- I believe that's what you're talking about -- and it's part of the appropriations process, if I'm not mistaken.

BLITZER: Put another way, is it just a narrow focus on border security? Without the --without the guest worker program or the other issues, you'll just take that for now?

BUSH: Well I just -- that's what I did last time when I signed the appropriations process. I firmly believe the Senate and the House need to work together on a comprehensive plan to solve this problem. I would view this as an interim step. I don't view this as the final product. And I will keep -- I will keep urging people to have a comprehensive reform.

You can't enforce the border until you have a rational guest worker program. In other words, people should come here on a temporary basis and then go home.

People are sneaking across to work. And no matter how much equipment you have on that border, people will find ways to do so. And so, it is a rational way to enforce the border.

What their talking about in the House and the Senate is a temporary step. If you're question is, will I stop trying to push for a comprehensive reform? The answer is, no, I won't stop trying to push for comprehensive reform.

BLITZER: All right, but you'll go along with this, if they pass it?

BUSH: But just -- just to remind you, the last legislative session they passed an appropriations bill that was essentially security only. And I signed that. And we're implementing that right now to get the border enforced.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk -- because we only have a minute left or so.

BUSH: Yes.

BLITZER: The Pope, he's got some controversy right now over what he said about Islam. Did he -- did he do the right thing? What do you think of this uproar?

BUSH: I think -- look, I think -- I was appreciative of the fact he tried to clarify what he meant. This is a struggle not between religions -- and that's what people have got to understand -- it's a struggle between people who use religion to kill and those of us who are for peace. And to the extent that that issue gets muddied up, it -- you know, it confuses people. And so, the clarity helps people get back to the real issue we face.

People say it's a struggle of civilizations. I strongly disagree with that. I think this is a struggle for civilization. And to the sense that the Pope clarified the issue, I think it helps -- help those of us who are trying to make it clear to the Muslim world in particular -- we're not fighting Islam. We're protecting ourselves and trying to help you protect yourself against people who -- who kill in the name of religion to achieve a political objective.

BLITZER: This interview is being seen on CNN and CNN International around the world. There has been some concern -- a lot of concern in the Muslim world -- and your addressing Muslims and the Arab world a lot lately -- that your use of the phrase "Islamic fascists" is sort of pejorative and it makes Muslims seem to be fascists. You have an opportunity right now to address the Muslim world and the Arab world here on CNN.

BUSH: Well, thank you. I...

BLITZER: Tell them what you -- what you mean, what's in your heart.

BUSH: What's in my heart is that Islam is a great religion and a peaceful religion. I fully believe that most people that live in the Muslim world -- by far the vast majority -- want peace. And they want their children to grow up in a hopeful society.

There are people in your midst who want to kill innocent people to create fear and terror so that they can achieve their objective of extremist caliphate. And the goal of America is to protect ourselves. But the goal of America is also to stand with moderates and reformers who long for the same thing we want, which is peace.

BLITZER: Was it a mistake to use that phrase, "Islamic fascists"?

BUSH: That's what I'm referring to. I'm referring to extremists and radicals, totalitarians. The point I was making is these people share a common ideology that represses women, doesn't give people the right to dissent, that has got their narrow view of the freedom of religion. I don't believe these people represent the true spirit of Islam.

BLITZER: Mr. President, thanks very much.

BUSH: Yes, sir. A pleasure.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And you can see the entire exclusive interview with President Bush, including his tough comments on al Qaeda and Iran. All that coming up in the 7:00 p.m. Eastern Hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And that will kick of a CNN primetime lineup jam- packed with big interviews.

Larry King goes one-on-one with former President Bill Clinton at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. And Anderson Cooper talks with the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

All of those presidents only here on CNN.

Jack Cafferty is only here on CNN as well. And he's got "The Cafferty File."

You're in -- you're in a good company today, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: This is a hell of a lineup. I've got to tell you, we've got our act together pretty good.

Let me ask you something before I do this question.


CAFFERTY: I don't know if we have time or not.

You interviewed President Bush when he was candidate Bush running for office back in 2000. What sense did you have of how the man has changed in six years?

BLITZER: Well, he has learned a great deal. He is much more sophisticated on all these issues. Six years as president, he knows the issues.

Remember, when he was a candidate, he didn't know the name of Pervez Musharraf. He spoke of the "general." He's obviously learned a great deal.

CAFFERTY: All right. Looking forward to seeing some more of it at 7:00, Wolf.

Congress, meantime -- let's go back to this immigration thing. They are scheduled to adjourn again for the midterm election campaign next Friday. That leaves seven days to address the issue of border security, which has been virtually ignored for the last six years.

Now, here's what these worms are doing under the, you know, threat of the 11th hour and at the very last minute.

The House last week passed this build to erect this fence along 700 miles of the Mexican border. The border is over 2,000 miles long. What they didn't bother to do is appropriate the money to build the fence. So they got a resolution that said we should build a fence, but there's no money to build a fence.

The Senate is going to try and scramble around now in the last few days and also vote to build this fence. Remember, there's no money to build this fence.

Building the fence isn't the idea. The idea here, boys and girls, is for this worthless bunch of politicians to be able to go home at the end of next week and tell their constituents, look, look what we did. See how we are protecting the security of the country?

Oh, yes, and President Bush says he'll sign it. The same president who has done virtually nothing in the last six years to secure the border with Mexico.

It's all a joke. A joke on us.

Here's the question: Is Congress's voting to build a fence along the Mexican border seven days before adjourning for the election campaign an empty political gesture?

Here's a clue, yes.

E-mail your thoughts to or go to

We just get played like a -- like cheap tin drum over and over and over, Wolf, by these folks that we elect to represent us.

BLITZER: But not you. You're not being played, because, you know, you obviously are not impressed.

CAFFERTY: Well, I get to sit here and back and squeal and scream a little bit, which I'm sure a lot of people watching this show would love to be able to do themselves.

BLITZER: Well -- and you do it well. Thanks very much, Jack, for that.

Up ahead, Venezuela's president uses his United Nations address to lash out at President Bush. We're going to show you the fiery speech complete with all the name calling.

Also, shocking new numbers on civilian deaths in Iraq. Thousands killed in a summer of unrelenting violence. We have the details.

Plus, why a top NATO commander now says Afghanistan is facing what he calls a moment of truth.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The NATO allies are agreeing to send more troops to Afghanistan, where there has been heavy fighting with a resurgent Taliban. The NATO supreme commander says the worst may be over, but he also adds that Afghanistan is now facing a moment of truth.

Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie. JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, General Jim Jones says NATO forces have won an important battle in Afghanistan, but he warns the war is far from over.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): NATO's top general says the recent allied offensive in southern Afghanistan dubbed Operation Medusa killed some 1,000 fighters and forced the Taliban into what their own commander called a tactical retreat. But General James Jones told a Pentagon briefing he suspects the remaining Taliban will simply disperse, lick their wounds, and likely abandon taking on NATO in large groups where they are clearly out matched.

GEN. JAMES JONES, NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: We will see the Taliban revert to its tactics. Unfortunately, those tactics will include horrendous attacks on the civilian population, on children.

MCINTYRE: Jones guesses the hard-core Taliban number 3,000 to 4,000 but admits they seem to be able to recruit new fighters as fast as they are killed. And NATO and U.S. commanders admit that Taliban terror tactics, assassinations, suicide attacks, and roadside bombs, have fueled a perception that Afghanistan is sliding backward into more violence. But Jones argues that's in part because NATO forces are going into areas in the south where the Taliban and other criminal elements have been unchallenged up until now.

(on camera): What is your perception of how things are going, at least in the short term here? Are things getting worse in the short term?

JONES: We have disturbed the hornets' nest. And the hornets are swarming. This is the test. This is -- this is the moment of -- the moment of truth. I'm hopeful that in the near future the south will become as peaceful as the north and parts of the west are.


MCINTYRE: But General Jones says the big problem is drugs. And that's not part of his military mission. He said on the drug front, which is fueling the insurgency, they're going backwards, not forwards -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Jamie, for that.

Let's check back with Zain Verjee. She's in New York. She's got a quick look at some other important stories making news -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, there's new violence in the Iraqi capital, including a suicide truck bombing at a police base that killed four officers and wounded 14 people. And mortar attacks in northeastern Baghdad injured four civilians. U.S. military officials in Baghdad concede that there has been a new spike in violence, especially in murders and in executions.

Grim new statistics are backing up that assessment. The United Nations says almost 6,600 Iraqi civilians were killed in July and August and more than 8,000 wounded. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has updated U.S. casualty figures from the war in Iraq. It now reports 2,690 American servicemen and women have been killed since March of 2003.

Pope Benedict XVI is speaking out again about remarks he made that angered many Muslims. He told an audience at the Vatican today that his controversial comments would be clear to an attentive reader. But he added they could be misunderstood and didn't express his personal beliefs. Those comments came in a lecture last week when he quoted a 14th century ruler who called Islam evil and inhuman -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Zain, for that.

And coming up, he has called for Israel to be wiped off the map. He has also called the Holocaust a myth. Now protesters have an answer for the Iranian president in New York City.

And Venezuela's president puts a stunning display on over at the United Nations, likening President Bush to the devil.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures are arriving all the time.

Happening now, no meeting of the minds. In my exclusive interview, President Bush explains why he won't meet with the president of Iran. He also says he takes the Iranian president seriously when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he'd like to see Israel wiped off the map.

Also, fire and brimstone. Red-hot rhetoric coming out from the president of Venezuela. Hugo Chavez calls President Bush "the devil" who acts -- and I'm quoting now -- "as if he owned the world."

And the people versus the government in Thailand. The military overthrows the government.

And in Hungary, mobs say they hope to bury theirs.

We'll go to both capitals.

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

They rolled up the red carpet before he got to the United Nations. And New Yorkers are still riled up after the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's appearance at the U.N. General Assembly. But it would be hard to top the stunning and outrageous performance today from Venezuela's leader, Hugo Chavez.

CNN's Brian Todd is standing by with that, but let's go to CNN's Aneesh Raman first at the U.N. -- Aneesh. ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a day after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered his remarks behind me at the U.N., some New Yorkers had their chance to respond. A massive pro-Israel rally taking place this afternoon just across the street from the U.N., organized by a number of Jewish groups here in the United States.

Organizers had expected tens of thousands of people. Our estimate's about 20,000 to 30,000 showed up.

The speakers listed included the Israeli foreign minister, who reeled against countries that pursue tyranny and terrorism in the region. Also, New York's governor, George Pataki, said he stood by those that are pushing for freedom within the Middle East.

The point of the demonstrations twofold. One, to call for the release again of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers that sparked the war between Israel and Hezbollah. But also condemning the comments of Ahmadinejad saying Israel should be wiped off the map, that the Holocaust was a myth. And on that end, prominent lawyer Alan Dershowitz today announced he was indicting President Ahmadinejad in Iran at the U.N. for inciting violence against Israel.

But this was a show of support for Israel, a show of defiance against the statements by Iran's president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Aneesh, thank you for that.

It was a stunning tirade that left jaws dropped even over at the jaded audience of the United Nations General Assembly. Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez certainly got everyone's attention today when he let loose with President Bush. CNN's Brian Todd joining us now with more on that. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, many observers expected the drama last night when Iran's president spoke to the General Assembly. They got it today when his friend from Venezuela took the podium.


TODD (voice-over): An extraordinary show of belligerence on the General Assembly floor. Venezuela's president one ups his Iranian counterpart. Personally tearing into George W. Bush who had spoken at the same spot less than 24 hours earlier.

HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Yesterday the devil came here. Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today.

TODD: Hugo Chavez was just getting started.

CHAVEZ: The gentleman to whom I refer as the devil came here. Talking as if he owned the world.

TODD: Then came this ominous warning to President Bush.

CHAVEZ: I have the feeling, dear world dictator, that you are going to live the rest of your days as a nightmare. Because the rest of us are standing up.

TODD: A White House spokeswoman says this is not worthy of a comment. The U.S. ambassador chimes in.

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UN: We are not going to address that sort of comic strip approach to international affairs.

TODD: But Chavez does get serious. Repeating claims about an attempt to overthrow him in April 2002.

CHAVEZ: The U.S. has already planned, financed, and set in motion a coup in Venezuela. And it continues to support coup attempts in Venezuela and elsewhere.

TODD: We spoke with Roger Noriega, former assistant secretary of state for western hemispheric affairs for President Bush who was involved in a State Department investigation into those charges requested by Congress.

ROGER NORIEGA, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: That the U.S. had nothing to do with that. As a matter of fact, we warned Chavez about previous coup plotting and his reaction was generally, yeah, we know all about that. So there is no credibility behind his statements.

TODD: What's more, Chavez's verbal onslaughts could boomerang.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Obviously I think he made a mistake to do it. I wish he hadn't done it. He's not hurting us, he's just hurting himself and his country.

TODD: Hurting himself, analysts say, but undermining efforts to win Venezuela a temporary seat on the UN Security Council. Jeopardizing oil sales to the U.S. On the assembly floor, Chavez seems undaunted. Leveling these accusations about his delegation's treatment in the U.S.

CHAVEZ: My personal doctor had to stay in the plane. The chief of security had to be left in the locked plane. Neither of these gentlemen was allowed to arrive and attend the UN meetings.

NORIEGA: He relies on Cuban doctors and Cuban bodyguards, as I understand it. Perhaps because he doesn't trust his Venezuelan security forces to provide for his own security. The Cuban intelligence runs the intelligence apparatus of Venezuela today. They provide them presidential security. They (INAUDIBLE).


TODD: And Noriega says Cuban sends operatives to train Venezuelan street thugs to harass Chavez's opponents. He says this is part of a strong grip Fidel Castro has over Hugo Chavez. We pressed officials over at the Venezuelan embassy and the Cuban interest section for reaction to his comments. They have not responded. Wolf?

BLITZER: Good solid reporting, Brian. Thank you very much for that.

And there may be more fire works over at the UN General Assembly. Sudan's president Omar al Bashir is due to speak in about an hour. That follows President Bush's description of the slaughter in Darfur and genocide and his call for UN troops to be sent in whether Sudan wants them or not.

Coming up mutiny in one place, mob violence in another. In two countries, it's the people against the government. The military has overthrown the government in Thailand. And in Hungary, mobs want to throw out their leaders. We'll have the latest.

And in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, who should go in for the kill? If Osama bin Laden's hiding location becomes known in Pakistan, should the U.S. go after him? Or should Pakistan? President Bush has a surprising blunt answer in my exclusive interview that's provoking a surprising blunt response from the president of Pakistan. We'll be back.


BLITZER: Two countries in crisis with some major new developments. Thailand's military now says its coup is complete. But in Hungary the prime minister is refusing to resign despite violent protests over his admitted lies about the economy. Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is standing by in Budapest. But let's begin with CNN's Stan Grant. He is in Bangkok with the latest on the coup. Stan?

STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a strong military presence remains here on the streets of Bangkok. But the army saying it is not in the business of running the Thai government full time. In fact, General Sonthi, the man heading the coup says he will hand over to an interim prime minister in two weeks and then hold full democratic elections in a year.

The man who says he is the democratically elected leader of Thailand, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the man ousted by the coup, was away when this took place. He was in New York at the United Nations General Assembly. He is now expected to be in London. Still some debate when he will return to Thailand. The army is saying that he is allowed to come back as a Thai citizen. But not as prime minister.

Talking to people on the streets, it's not hard to see where their sympathies lie. They see Thaksin Shinawatra as a figure of corruption, a figure of division in Thailand. And they are very much on the side of the army. Loud cheers going up whenever army officers came and went from the military headquarters.

And no comment yet from the king. Very much a loved and revered figure here, if he is to intervene in this crisis. That could be decisive. Wolf?

BLITZER: Stan Grant in Bangkok for us, thank you. Let's go over to Hungary right now. A new protest over the prime minister's admitted lies about that nation's economy. Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is joining us now live from Budapest with the latest. What is the latest, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, about 10,000 people have gathered again outside the parliament here. One of the messages that they are wanting to be broadcast loud and clear and that they want people to understand is that they are not representing any political party, that they come from all spectrums of life here. They want to see the prime minister step down.

The prime minister says he still refuses to do that. Another thing we have heard from the crowd behind me tonight is they don't want to be associated with the violence that's been going on in the streets. So far tonight, we haven't seen any violence. But it was about this time last night that a group of young men peeled away from this peaceful demonstration. Went to try and storm the party headquarters of the prime minister. Got into running battles with the police on the streets.

Those battles involved tear gas, water cannons, police charges on horseback. Lasted for several hours into the night. But the demonstrators here say that the violent protests undermine what they see as a democratic right to call for the prime minister to step down. Although that at this stage appears very unlikely, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson reporting for us from Budapest. Nic, thanks very much.

Still to come, the shuttle Atlantis and UFOs, that would be unidentified floating objects. Three more mystery objects seen today. Now NASA decides if it's safe for the shut toll land.

And two men well known around the world take on New York. President Bush and former President Bill Clinton. Both rubbing shoulders with world leaders. Both with similar missions. Both with different styles. Our Mary Snow standing by to show us what they are up to. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the hot shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press. Picture likely to be in your hometown newspaper tomorrow.

La Caniata (ph), California, a guardrail burns along the highway. The wild fire started yesterday and is mostly contained.

At the Beijing Zoo, a policeman looks a six-year-old panda named Goo-Goo after a drunken tourist jumped the fence to give the panda a hug. Goo-Goo bit the tourist and the tourist bit back before zookeepers broke up the fight.

In Najaf, Iraq, children have fun on the first day of school.

And in Australia, Bindi Irwin the daughter of the late crocodile hunter Steve Irwin gives an elephant a high five during a memorial for her father. Some of today's hot shots, pictures often worth a thousand words.

In New York, the political spotlight today with two U.S. presidents in town. George W. Bush and his predecessor Bill Clinton. CNN's Mary Snow is joining us from New York with more on this story. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, on the small island of Manhattan only about 12 miles long, there were two U.S. presidents. Two agendas courting the same players on the international stage crossing paths only by chance.


SNOW (voice-over): On one side of town near the UN, President Bush meets with the Palestinian president. On the other side of town, his wife teams up with an unlikely partner.

CLINTON: So please join me in welcoming America's first lady, Laura Bush.

SNOW: The first lady joined forces with former President Bill Clinton and his Clinton Global Initiative aimed at tackling global problems. At the UN Tuesday, President Bush took on other kinds of global problems.

BUSH: Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.

SNOW: While the current president met for formal UN meetings, the former president held meetings of his own. Both sharing the same international stage with separate missions and different styles.

JON ALTERMAN, CSIS MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM DIRECTOR: There's a way in which President Bush leads. And says follow me. He sets out the goals. He sets out the agenda and tells people to follow. There's a way in which Bill Clinton says, let's all do this together. He's more inclusive. And gets people to feel that they are all part of one project.

SNOW: Their paths crossed just once inside the UN. President Bush introduced his predecessor to the Iraqi president. Outside the brief exchange, Presidents Clinton and Bush have kept apart with separate agendas.

STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think Bill Clinton is very clever and very shrewd to involve his own very interesting, non- governmental, non-profit organization meeting in New York at the same time.

SNOW: Some observers say for visiting world leaders, there are advantages to meeting with a former president and joining his fight against AIDS.

ALTERMAN: They are engaging with the United States on initiatives that are popular. And then you can sort of have it both ways. You can say I'm not giving into the Bush administration. But I'm not anti-American. And politically, that's useful for a number of leaders.


SNOW: Observers also point out the former President Jimmy Carter is the only former president who has been involved in efforts similar to Clinton's, but never held meetings in New York like this to coincide with the UN General Assembly. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank you very much for that, Mary Snow, reporting for us from New York.

And this important note for our viewer, coming up tonight, presidents in primetime on CNN. On our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour my complete interview with President Bush including his tough comments on al Qaeda and on Iran. Followed at 9:00 p.m. Eastern by Larry King, his interview with former President Bill Clinton as well as with the Iraqi President Jalal Talibani.

And at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, our Anderson Cooper interviews the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Presidents on CNN coming up tonight.

Plus -- space junk. Trailing the shuttle Atlantis as it prepares to return to earth. But what exactly is it? How dangerous is it? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Lou Dobbs who is getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of the hour. Hi, Lou.

LOU DOBBS, CNN HOST: Hi, Wolf. Thank you. Coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here. We will be reporting tonight on the diminishing chances of any U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. The American general who leads the NATO forces said we have disturbed a hornet's nest and the hornets are swarming. We'll have that special report for you from the Pentagon.

Also tonight, e-voting machines putting our democracy at risk. Will your vote count in the midterm elections? We'll have that special report on the huge costs of trying to assure the integrity of our electoral system.

And we'll go to a small town in Georgia. At the center of our illegal alien and border security crisis almost half the town's population has disappeared or is under arrest. We'll have that and a great deal more at the top of the hour right here on CNN. Please join us. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lou. Good to see you yesterday in New York, Lou, for lunch.

DOBBS: Good to see you.

BLITZER: Lou Dobbs coming up in a few moments.

Zain Verjee coming up right now. She is taking a closer look at some other important stories. Hi, Zain.

VERJEE: Hi Wolf. Parts of the western United States are burning. In California, wild fires have scorched 207,000 acres. In Montana, 255,000 acres are smoldering right now. The biggest one, the Dabi (ph) fire, is about 90 percent contained. And in Washington State and Idaho fire crews are also battling blazes.

A federal judge in San Francisco has ruled against the Bush administration and in favor of environmentalists. The ruling reinstates that Clinton administration ban on building roads in national forests. It bans to protect the national forests from logging and development. But the Bush administration has a term that so-called roadless rule and left it to individual states.

California's attorney general is suing the sixth-largest car makers in the United States and in Japan, a federal lawsuit accuses the companies of harming the health of Californians by producing smog- causing autos. The lawsuit names Chrysler, GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda and Nissan. The attorney general, Democrat Phil Lockyear (ph) denies that the lawsuit is meant to gain votes in his current race to be state treasurer. Wolf?

BLITZER: Zain. Thank you. Zain in New York today.

After a thorough inspection, space shuttle Atlantis has been cleared for landing. The reentry was pushed to tomorrow after three more pieces of debris were spotted floating outside the shutting today, raising significant safety concerns. So what exactly are those unidentified floating objects? Let's bring in our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner.


JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is video of the debris the astronauts spotted yesterday. It is really tough to see and also tough to tell what it is. NASA is taking its best guess and they say they think it might be shim stock, a little bit of plastic used to install piles. Now there were three more pieces of debris found today like you said. And NASA has put images up of that on its Web site at Let me give you a closer look, this is taken with a digital camera.

They say possibly could be a piece of a plastic bag. Some of the other possibilities the debris might be, these five pieces, could be lint, could be ice, could be tools left behind from a previous spacewalk. Now the mission of the space shuttle Atlantis was to install a second set of solar panels on the International Space Station. That has been completed.

As you can see in the video here that is also taken from the space shuttle. You can go to for all of this video and all of these images. By the way a little nugget for you, the interior of the International Space Station, the size of an average three-bedroom home. Just to give you some perspective. You are going to have to get up early tomorrow morning, Wolf, to watch the landing. It is scheduled for 6:21 a.m. BLITZER: Good. Sounds like good television. I'll be watching. Thanks very much for that.

Up next, Congress votes to build a fence along the Mexican border. Just days before journey to the election campaign. And Jack Cafferty is wondering is it an empty political gesture? Jack with your e-mail, that's next.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack in New York. Jack?

CAFFERTY: Thanks, Wolf. The question this hour is, is the Congress is voting this hour to build a fence along the Mexican border seven days before adjourning for the election campaign an empty political gesture? They didn't vote any money to build it, either.

Paul from Dallas, "An empty gesture. Elections are coming, gas prices have dropped through the floor, the GOP is desperately clinging to national security. Their biggest weakness evaporates. Their biggest strength is emphasized. I smell Karl Rove. Will we ever learn?"

Douglas in Texas, "The only way for the American people to take back their country through representation is to vote out all incumbents, Democrat or Republican. What have we got to lose? Does anyone believe anything a congressman says?"

Surveys show their credibility down to less than 30 percent.

Jeff in Alabama, "Your questions about the motives for the border fence has to be the dumbest question you have ever asked. Nothing has ever been so obvious. However, the simplicity of the question helped even a red-necked Alabama boy, me, send you an answer. Hell yeah."

Rick in Chesapeake, Virginia, "Jack, I honestly can't remember the last time our Congress passed a bill simply because it was the right thing to do. Every bill is designed either to benefit corporate donors or, as in the case here, to be able to fool constituents at election time."

Gabriella, Brookline, Massachusetts. "The award for Gratuitous Pandering and Empty Political Gesturing goes to our beloved Congress for their hardworking 97 days this year. I also have a suggestion where they can put their statue."

Judy in Minnesota, "Hallelujah. Somebody finally calling a spade a spade. Getting elected to office at any cost seems to be the only consideration for action in Congress right now. Never mind the months Congress has had to do the business before them."

Jerry in El Paso, Texas. "Dear Jack, your questions are too easy."

If you didn't see your e-mail here you can go to and read some more of them online. Wolf? Jack Cafferty. Thanks very much. See you back here in an hour in THE SITUATION ROOM. And remember, to our viewers, we are in THE SITUATION ROOM weekday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. We're back at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. One hour from now.

And, in an hour, we'll get the full interview with President Bush. My exclusive interview including his tough comments on al Qaeda and Iran. The complete interview airs in THE SITUATION ROOM 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks very much for joining us. LOU DOBBS TONIGHT starts right now. Lou is in New York -- Lou.