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The Situation Room

U.S. Ammo Dump Erupts in Baghdad; North Korean Nuke Test Yield Still Uncertain

Aired October 10, 2006 - 19:00   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 tonight's top stories.

Happening now, breaking news, huge explosions rocking and threatening the Iraqi capital. It's 2:00 a.m. Wednesday in Baghdad where a fire is raging at a U.S. ammunition dump. We're keeping close watch on this dangerous situation, capping a day of more death and chaos.

Also this hour, the North Korean nuclear threat. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the U.S. does not intend to attack North Korea. It is 7:00 p.m. here in Washington where I spoke at length with the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, about this nuclear standoff and the blame game.

And Barbra Streisand, unplugged. She has never been known to sing the president's praises, but did she go too far in venting her political views in concert?

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now the breaking news we're following, explosions at a U.S. military base rocking the Iraqi capital. Small arms ammunition and tank and artillery shells are blasting off at an ammo depot, all sparked by a fire. We are seeing powerful explosions one after another lasting sometimes several hours. Jamie McIntyre is standing by at the Pentagon.

But let's go to Baghdad first, Arwa Damon is on the scene for us with the latest -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it actually, thankfully, appears from our vantage point to at least to have died down for the time being. The U.S. military did already say that it does have the fire and the situation under control. They say that it began at about 10:40, that this fire broke out, which then in turn ignited ammunition to include tank rounds, artillery rounds, as well as small arms round. They say, though, that they were able to safely evacuate both the U.S. military personnel and Iraqi personnel on that base.

They are not reporting casualties just yet. We still do not know the cause of this fire, exactly how did it began? That we do not know just yet. What we do know, though, is that it caused widespread panic across the capital. These were massive explosions.

Where I'm located right now is about four miles away from this base. And we felt those explosions shaking the building that we're in for about three hours. We saw the flames light up the sky. We saw these big mushroom clouds that seemed to erupt. One can only imagine what the Iraqi population that does not have access to the kind of immediate information that we have access to, was going through.

In fact, it did cause widespread panic throughout all of Baghdad. Within minutes of the first explosion going off, all of our cell phones were ringing with eyewitness reports of explosions throughout the rest of the city. This, though, does appear just to have been a panicked public response to such a loud detonation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And this is an area, this Falcon -- this U.S. military base in the southern part of Baghdad, surrounded by a residential area known as the "Triangle of Death"?

DAMON: That's right, Wolf. It is located actually on the very tip of the "Triangle of Death." It was given that nickname some time ago by the U.S. military because it is known to be an incredibly violent and volatile area.

The area that the U.S. base is located in is also very volatile. It is a mixed Sunni/Shia neighborhood. In fact, there was a bomb that detonated there earlier today that killed 10 Iraqi civilians.

So, you can just imagine the civilian population there already today, they lived through one bomb and now tonight, woken up by these massive explosions that happened throughout.

But the Iraqi minister of interior did already appear on state- owned television, Al Iraqiya, to try to reassure the public, to explain to them what was going on. And so far both on the Iraqi and the U.S. side, no casualties have been reported -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll watch this, Arwa, thanks very much. Let's go to Pentagon, Jamie McIntyre is standing by there.

What are they saying, if anything, about the cause, the source of these explosions, Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the U.S. military is not being very forthcoming about what they believe started the fire that set these munitions off and in spectacular fashion, let them cook off for several hours with huge explosions.

They're simply referring to it in the passive tense as in a fire erupted at this base. But I can tell you that these kinds of ammunition storage facilities are -- have very strict procedures to prevent accidental fires. And given the fact that they're in a war zone, and in a battle with insurgents, it seems that a hostile act of some kind would be the most likely thing to trigger.

But again, the U.S. military is simply not saying. It also says in its statement in which it said it safely evacuated the military and civilian personnel and secured the area, that the damage to the area, quote: "will not degrade the operational capability of Multinational Division Baghdad."

Well, I'm sure the U.S. military will be able to work around the problems caused by this massive burn-off of ammunition at this dump. But it is certainly not going to help their capability. They're going to have to deal with this and clean up the mess in morning. And perhaps they'll be a little more forthcoming about what they believe started this in the first place.

But again, it's amazing that they are saying that there were no casualties, either military or civilian, from this spectacular, hours- long, chain-reaction of explosions at this ammunition facility at Forward Base Falcon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jamie, stand by. Because we're going to have you back in a little while. Let's get some more now on these powerful explosions at this American military base. We're joined on the phone by our military analyst, retired U.S. Army Brigadier General David Grange.

The pictures were spectacular. Is it your assumption, we don't know what sparked this, that enemy fire or some sort of terrorist attack, insurgency operation could have caused this chain reaction, General?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, the procedures -- Jamie hinted to this, the procedures used to secure ammunition are quite extensive. And the depots are set up so if enemy indirect fire or something comes in, it doesn't damage more than maybe a few munitions, if any. So I think what has to be considered is if it was a sabotage -- of course, it's a very good target for the enemy if it was a sabotage that started that.

I think what's exceptional here is the procedures that the U.S. military uses to, one, sort out different types of munitions to limit the damage of a certain area. Two, the firefighting capability and the explosive ordinance disposal teams that contained the area until people got out, and that there is no damage or injury to civilians is quite exceptional.

And I think that obviously it was set up the correct way for -- if disaster did happen. And the cause, of course is hard to tell at this time. But if it was sabotage, it was an excellent target in the view of the enemy.

BLITZER: General, thanks very much. General Grange, giving us some perspective. We're going to stay on top of this story. It's the middle of the night right now in Baghdad. Once daylight comes up, we'll all get a better sense of exactly the extent of damage and destruction to this U.S. military base in the southern part of the Iraqi capital. In meantime, let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York.

Did you see those explosions, Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Pretty scary stuff. I find it hard to believe, as you and Jamie were talking, that there are absolutely no casualties to report. If that is true, that's good news and that's miraculous considering the size of that -- apparently the size of that ammunition dump.

The message is "think locally," that is the word from Republican officials going out to their congressional candidates. The Washington Post is reporting the Republicans are being told to focus only on local issues, and let the party leadership deal with the Foley scandal.

Meanwhile, the White House is expected to press hard on national security issues and terrorism, as you might expect. Republicans want to try to force the voters' attention away from the tough issues that are plaguing the Republican Party, like Mark Foley, like the war in Iraq, like illegal immigration, and the loss of freedoms at the hands of the Bush White House, and 47 million people with no health insurance, and on and on. You get the idea.

Republican officials say they expect to lose anywhere between seven and 30 seats in the House of Representatives in the upcoming midterm elections in November. The Democrats need only win 15 seats to take control of the House. And recent polls indicate the public is so disgusted with the way Republican leaders have handled the Foley scandal that the Democrats might just get those seats and more.

So here's the question: What advice would you give a Republican candidate for Congress? E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack. We'll see you soon. Coming up, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll ask her some of the tough questions about North Korea, Iran and Iraq. Specifically, is U.S. policy a failure? Find out her answer. That's coming up.

Also, North Korea and the blame game here in Washington. Senator John McCain points a finger at Bill Clinton, and Senator Hillary Clinton gives it right back.

And political songstress. Barbra Streisand uses a very, very naughty word, a very bad word at a heckler who didn't like her skit on President Bush. Jeanne Moos, her unique take on this. You're going to want to see it.

Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A new threat from North Korea tonight. And new details emerging about what that country says was a nuclear test with one U.S. government official telling CNN experts believe something went wrong with that underground explosion.

CNN's Brian Todd is standing by. But first let's go back to CNN's Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon with all of the latest information -- Jamie. MCINTYRE: Wolf, U.S. intelligence officials believe that North Korea's nuclear test was a bit of a failure. But there is some concern that they might try again.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): While the intelligence is not yet conclusive, the United States believes North Korea did in fact test a nuclear device in a northeast mountain tunnel Monday, and that something went wrong, resulting in a much smaller-than-expected blast, according to a government official with access to classified U.S. intelligence.

The official tells CNN that North Korea informed China before the test, it intended to conduct a test in the four kiloton range. But based on seismic monitoring, the U.S. puts the actual yield at only one-half a kiloton, or 500 tons.

In fact, some evidence indicates it may have been as small as 200 tons. That strongly suggests at least a partial failure. A North Korean diplomat is quoted in a South Korean paper as admitting the test was on a smaller scale than expected, but insisting it was still a success.

PETER ZIMMERMAN, KING'S COLLEGE, LONDON: You don't tell your people, by the way, the dear leader's nuclear experts goofed, and we really didn't get the yield we wanted. You tell everybody that whatever you got, that's what you wanted to get.

MCINTYRE: The U.S. cautions it has not yet confirmed it was a nuclear blast. Air samples collected by specially equipped U.S. Air Force planes flying out of Japan will help provide that answer, looking for telltale signs of any radioactivity. But Pentagon sources say the U.S. military has only a limited role to play in responding to the North Korean test.

There are, sources say, no plans for military action because there are no good targets that could set back North Korea's nuclear program without sparking all-out war on the Korean Peninsula, something that would risk an estimated 1 million casualties.


MCINTYRE: Meanwhile, another U.S. official warns that North Korea might try a second nuclear test even though he says there are no indications of preparations for that. I wouldn't say we expect it, he told CNN, but it would not come at a total surprise -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre, thank you. Nuclear or not, that test is sparking an increasing amount of finger-pointing here in Washington as politicians try to place blame for the North Korean crisis. Leading the charges, two potential presidential candidates, senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain. CNN's Brian Todd joining us live with this part of the story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we just saw how unclear it is still is whether this test blast had nuclear strength. But here in the U.S., those with probable designs on the White House are in no mood to wait for the intelligence.


TODD (voice-over): The political infighting in the U.S. over who lost North Korea has gone nuclear.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Some of the reason we are facing this danger is because of the failed policies of the Bush administration, and I regret deeply their failure to deal with the threat posed by North Korea.

TODD: Specifically, Senator Clinton's aides tell CNN that she believes the Bush administration should have done more than rely on six-nation talks that have so far failed to get Kim Jong Il to give up his nuclear ambitions.

The man who may run for president against her in two years has this to say.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I would remind Senator Clinton, and other Democrats critical of the Bush administration policies, that the framework agreement, her husband's administration negotiated, was a failure. We had a carrots-and-no-sticks policy that only encouraged bad behavior. When one carrot didn't work we offered another. Now we are facing the consequences.

TODD: Earlier, President Clinton's former envoy to North Korea was pressed by Wolf Blitzer about that administration's one-on-one talks with North Korea, and:

BLITZER: Was that a huge blunder to offer the North Koreans that kind of assistance, nuclear assistance, humanitarian assistance?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: No, it was not a blunder. In fact, it was a success for eight years because of the Agreed Framework agreement negotiated by the Clinton administration. The North Koreans did not develop any nuclear weapons.

TODD: But security experts say North Korea likely would have pursued this program regardless of the approach.

MICHAEL GREEN, CTR. FOR STRATEGIC & INT'L. STUDIES: Kim Il Sung, the Great Leader, the father of Kim Jong Il, the current leader, saw what nuclear weapons did for Mao Zedong in China four decades ago.


TODD: And Chris Hill, the current U.S. negotiator in Korea, points out that North Korea built what he calls its first ramshackle nuclear reactor way back in the '70s. We had been in contact with officials in former President Bill Clinton's office for reaction to Mr. McCain's comments.

Moments ago they gave us a statement that reads in part: "For eight years during the Clinton administration, there was no new plutonium production, no nuclear weapons tests, and therefore, no additional nuclear weapons developed on President Clinton's watch."

And they conclude with this: "It is unfortunate that anyone would attempt to re-write history to score political points at a time when we need to address this serious threat -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Potentially a little preview of the 2008 presidential campaign. McCain versus Clinton. We'll be watching this story closely. Thanks very much, Brian, for that.

Still to come tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM, my interview with the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, does she blame the Clinton administration for the current crisis? You know what? I'll ask her.

Plus, a very deadly month so far for U.S. forces in Iraq. Very deadly and only getting worse. We'll get the latest from our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is joining us from the CNN Center with a closer look at some other important stories making news right now.

Hi, Betty.


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may have called President Bush "the devil," but the U.S. energy secretary says he still would not turn down heating oil donations to the U.S. from Venezuela. The secretary says he views it as a charitable contribution. Venezuela Citgo Petroleum plans to expand its program subsidizing home heating oil for poor U.S. families this winter.

Well, firefighters came to the rescue of five people trapped in a storm drain near San Diego. Now it is believed that they were trying to get from Mexico into California. Border Patrol agents say one person got stuck, trapping four people behind him. Can you imagine? Firefighters used jackhammers to widen the drain and get them out. Now two other people were detained outside that drain. One person was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

And Mel Gibson apologizing again for making apparent anti-semitic comments after he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving back in July. Remember that? Well, in an upcoming TV interview, Gibson says the comments were, quote, "just the stupid rambling of a drunkard." He adds, quote, "the last thing I want to be is that kind of monster." It is going to be an interesting interview -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of people will be watching, no doubt about that. Betty, thank you.

And just ahead, Iraq exploding with violence, literally. Right now the number of U.S. troops hurt there has reached a new grim milestone. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr will have the details.

And one on one with the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. As some try to figure out if the Clinton or Bush administration is responsible for the current crisis with North Korea, I'll ask the secretary of state whom she thinks is to blame.

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


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.

Happening now, breaking news out of Baghdad. A blaze at a U.S. ammunition dump sparks massive explosions and a volatile situation. No casualties reported, at least not yet. The Pentagon says all U.S. forces and workers have been evacuated. We're staying on top of this story.

Thousands of Ford cars need to go back to the shop. The automaker has issued a voluntary recall of more than 145,000 vehicles, including the Ford 500 and the Mercury Montego. Ford says the 2005 and 2006 models have various problems related to door latches and stability.

And another record-setting day on Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at an all-time high once again. This time 11,867, that's less than a point higher than a record set than last Thursday.

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

In moment, you'll see my one-on-one interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She says that in the future, Iraq will become the centerpiece of a new Middle East. Yet many are wondering when and if that will come true.

Iraq right now exploding with violence, with 32 U.S. troops killed in the first 10 days of this month alone. Let's get more from our CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, attacks are on the rise against U.S. troops in Iraq. More than 20,000 troops have been wounded since the war began.


STARR (voice-over): The number of U.S. troops being wounded in Iraq has risen to the highest level in nearly two years. In the last nine days alone, 234 U.S. troops have been wounded.

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA), CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES CMTE.: We take distressing tolls of loss of life and limb every day. STARR: Last month, 776 troops were wounded. That is the most since the fighting in Falluja in November 2004 when more than 1,400 troops were wounded. Battlefield trauma units are filling up because the updated protective gear is helping the troops survive. The rate of mortality has been cut in half since Vietnam.

There is pressure for a new direction in the war. Former Secretary of State James Baker is co-chairing a study group that will report to Congress on security problems and what might be done.

Officially, military strategy remains unchanged: Iraqi forces stand up, U.S. forces stand down.

MARK KIMMITT, DEFENSE DEPARTMENT: First and foremost, we have got to have the patience and persistence to see this through.

STARR: Privately several senior military commanders are expressing their concerns that the plan just isn't working.

COL. DOUG MACGREGOR, U.S. ARMY (RET.): No one wants to step forward and admit to the fact that this has been an enormous mistake.

STARR: If "stay the course" becomes untenable, what are the alternatives? Sending in more troops has little political support.

WARNER: I do not recommend that we try and send more troops from the United States to add to those that are over there right now.

STARR: But talk of bringing the troops home underscores just how tough things have become.

KIMMITT: The situation is going to get only worse if we are to back out and turn this over to ill-prepared police, ill-prepared government, and an ill-prepared military.


STARR: Nearly four years later it is still the IEDs, the improvised explosive devices, that are the number one killer of Americans in Iraq. More than 1,000 troops have been killed by IEDs, more than 11,000 have been wounded by them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, thank you.

And, on of top the volatile situation in Iraq, the Bush administration now is grappling with the North Korean nuclear threat. The communist regime's claim that it successfully tested a nuclear device is creating new headaches for America's top diplomatic.


BLITZER: And joining us now at the State Department, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Madam Secretary, thanks very much.


BLITZER: You have got your hands full -- a crisis with North Korea. You have been in office now for almost six years, six years to do something about Kim Jong Il. It looks like it's a total failure.

RICE: Well, first of all, Wolf, the North Koreans started pursuing nuclear weapons decades ago.

And the fact of the matter is that the international community has finally come together in a way that brings China to the table, brings South Korea to the table, brings all of the stakeholders to the table in a way that, if we get an agreement with North Koreans to dismantle their nuclear weapons systems, it actually has a chance to last.

We have been through bilateral talks with the North Koreans in the 1994 Agreed Framework. It didn't hold. They cheated.

BLITZER: That was a mistake, the Clinton administration strategy?

RICE: No. I -- I will not blame anyone for trying. I just know that the 1994 agreement, of course, didn't hold.

BLITZER: The reason for six years, almost, that the Bush administration has been unable to reverse North Korea's movement toward a bomb, developing more bombs, the main reason is because all of the parties involved were not on the same page?

RICE: Well, I think, Wolf, it is very clear that no one has been able to reverse this program over decades.

But we have a better chance now, with China, which has leverage with North Korea; with South Korea, which has a relationship with North Korea, than doing this with the United States -- I have heard people say that we should take this on bilaterally.

Well, we did take it on bilaterally once with the North Koreans, and it didn't work. They cheated on that agreement.

BLITZER: If you're Kim Jong Il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for that matter, the leader of Iran, the only real guarantee you have that the United States or other countries are not going to overthrow you or invade you or do to them what the U.S. and its coalition partners did to Saddam Hussein is a nuclear weapon.

RICE: Oh, Wolf, I think we shouldn't even allow them such an excuse.

BLITZER: That's what they believe.

RICE: Well, let's be very clear. Iraq was sui generis. Iraq had been under 12 years of sanctions for its weapons program.

It was at the conclusion of a war that Iraq had launched against its neighbors. That was a very special situation. The president has said -- and, in fact, the joint statement which we signed with the other parties, the six parties, on September 19 of last year, tells the North Koreans that there is no intention to invade or attack them.

So, they have that guarantee.

BLITZER: They don't believe it, though.

RICE: Well, I don't know what more they want. The United States of America doesn't have any intention to attack North Korea or to invade North Korea.

BLITZER: So, the military option is not really practical?

RICE: The president never takes any of his options off the table. But the United States, somehow, in a provocative way, trying to invade North Korea? It's just not the case.

BLITZER: You're on CNN, CNN International. We're seen all over the world. If you could make a statement to Kim Jong Il right now, rue the day, whatever you want to say, go ahead and tell Kim Jong Il what he must do right now.

RICE: Well, Kim Jong Il doesn't need to hear from me. He needs to hear from the parties to the six-party talks. And we're all saying the same thing.

BLITZER: He wants to hear directly from you.


BLITZER: He's not interested in the six-party talks.


BLITZER: He wants a bilateral, U. S.-North Korea dialogue.

RICE: He wants -- if he wants a bilateral deal, it's because he doesn't want to face the pressure of other states that have leverage. It's not because he wants a bilateral deal with the United States. He doesn't want to face the leverage of China or South Korea or others.

What Kim Jong Il should understand is that, if he verifiably gives up his nuclear weapons program, there is a better path. There's a better path through negotiation. There's a better path to an opening to the international system. There's a better path for his people, who are oppressed, and downtrodden, and -- and hungry, for that matter.

BLITZER: One of your predecessors, James Baker III, former secretary of state, during the first Bush administration, said this on Sunday.

He said: "I don't think you restrict your conversations to your friends. At the same time, it's got to be hard-nosed. It's got to be determined. You don't give away anything, but, in my view, it is not appeasement to talk to your enemies."

What's wrong with that line of thinking?

RICE: Wolf, has -- has anybody noticed that we have actually talked to the North Koreans?

BLITZER: But they want to do it separately, not within the framework of this multiparty negotiation.

RICE: Well, let's ask the question: Why do they want to do it separately and not within the framework?

BLITZER: They want respect, they say.

RICE: They get respect when they come to the six-party talks. and Chris Hill has had dinner with the North Korean negotiator.

BLITZER: But if it potentially could turn things around and end this nuclear North Korea, what's wrong with a direct dialogue like that?

RICE: Let me just remind you, we tried direct dialogue. The United States tried direct dialogue with the North Koreans in the '90s, and that resulted in the North Koreans signing onto agreements that they then didn't keep.

And the United States didn't have the force of others -- like China and South Korea -- to say to the North Koreans, "That is an agreement that you should have kept."

BLITZER: Even today, a North Korean official said this: "We hope the situation will be resolved before an unfortunate incident of us firing a nuclear missile comes. That depends on how the U.S. will act."

RICE: Well, I -- I think the North Koreans know that firing a nuclear missile, shall we say, would not be good for North Korean security.

BLITZER: They have heard that. For years, they have been hearing that.


BLITZER: And they're still moving forward.

RICE: Well, the North Koreans are not confused about what it would mean to launch a nuclear attack against the United States, one of our allies or somebody in the neighborhood. They're not confused about that.

BLITZER: You know a lot of analysts believe the U.S. has been weakened in dealing with North Korea and Iran by its involvement in Iraq.

RICE: I just don't understand this argument. The United States is quite capable of taking care of several problems simultaneously. Iraq is -- was a desire to finally deal with a threat that had been there for too long, too many Security Council resolutions violated, too many unanswered questions about his weapons of mass destruction program, too much ambition to dominate the region, too many wars launched by this dictator, too much harshness against his own people, including mass graves.

It was time to deal with Saddam Hussein.

BLITZER: I'll leave -- we're out of time, but I'll leave you with one e-mail we got from Scott Vanderbosch in Minnesota. He lost a son in Iraq.

He said -- he wrote to us this. He said: "My son Jake died in Iraq on October 3, 2005. When will you finally admit you were wrong going to Iraq and pull out? Why not try to save some American lives?"

RICE: Wolf, nobody can ever make up for the personal sacrifice of a father, of his son. And all you can do is to mourn that sacrifice.

We also know that nothing of value is ever won without sacrifice. And the United States has had to, throughout its history, and especially through its postwar history, to sacrifice when peace and security and, indeed, freedom were on the line.

Iraq was a threat. In the post-September 11 environment, it was a threat that needed to be dealt with. Yes, it's extremely difficult helping a country come to a democratic future that has never had that experience.

But an Iraq that is secure, an Iraq that is democratic, an Iraq that is able to solve its problems through politics will be a centerpiece of a different kind of Middle East.

BLITZER: I know you spoke to the first President Bush, because he was on Larry King after the Bob Woodward book came out, and he had a conversation with you denying that what Woodward quoted him as saying: "Condi is a disappointment, isn't she? She's not up to the job."

How did that conversation go?

RICE: You know, I -- I just don't believe it. I know President Bush 41, President George H.W.

BLITZER: You worked for him.

RICE: I worked for him. I've known him for years. I just don't believe it. And, sometimes, people say things in books. Sometimes, people report rumor. But I know President George H.W. Bush. And I don't believe it. And he says it isn't true. And I believe him.

BLITZER: You have got your hands full, Madam Secretary. Thanks very much for spending a few moments with us.

RICE: Thank you very much.


BLITZER: And still to come tonight: Republicans under pressure, huge pressure. Find out how a Washington scandal is playing out on the campaign trail right now.

And Barbra Streisand out of tune? She takes on a heckler, and she gets mighty nasty. Jeanne Moos standing by to explain. You're going to want to see this.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Exactly four weeks before Election Day, the Mark Foley scandal remains a big, dark cloud over Republicans on Capitol Hill. There are several new developments today in the investigation of the former congressman's online messages to teenage boys. And there's new evidence of the political fallout.

Our Mary Snow is following one congressman's Foley problem, as it's called.

But let's go to Capitol Hill. Dana Bash has the latest -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the House speaker is still trying to clean up the political mess that the Mark Foley scandal left for Republicans.

We heard from him for the first time today in five days. Meanwhile, we also got the first glimpse of one former page who could be at the center of this. He talked to the FBI for two-and-a-half- hours.


BASH (voice-over): In Oklahoma City, Jordan Edmund, a former page who may have received sexually explicit instant messages from Mark Foley, told his story to the FBI.

STEPHEN JONES, ATTORNEY FOR JORDAN EDMUND: Jordan answered all of their questions, relying upon his memory, as it exists.

BASH: In Illinois, House Speaker Dennis Hastert told reporters he doesn't think his aides tried to hide Foley's inappropriate conduct with pages, but said, if anyone did, they will be fired.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: They will be under oath. And we will -- we will find out. If they did cover something up, then they should not continue their -- to have their jobs.

BASH: Some GOP officials and lawmakers blame Hastert's staff for bungling the Foley matter, allegedly not informing the speaker about a questionable e-mail aides knew about at least a year ago. HASTERT: You know, in 20/20 hindsight, probably, you could do everything a little bit better.

BASH: Meanwhile, another Republican lawmaker, Jim Kolbe, admitted he passed along, but did not follow up on, a complaint from a former page about Mark Foley five or six years ago.

Kolbe said the former page contacted his office about a Foley e- mail that made him -- quote -- "uncomfortable."

The Arizona Republican's statement said he recommended informing Foley's office, but Kolbe did not confront Foley himself. "I assumed the e-mail contact ceased, since the former page never raised the issue again with my office," Kolbe said.

Kolbe was a page in 1958. He made a point of noting his affinity for the program and desire to make it a meaningful experience for the pages.

"I visit with pages at the back of the chamber to explain politics and parliamentary procedures on the House floor," Kolbe said.

A spokeswoman confirmed to CNN, Kolbe allows pages to stay in his Washington home when he is away.


BASH: Kolbe also says he informed then House Clerk Jeff Trandahl about the complaint he got from a Foley -- excuse me -- on a Foley e- mail.

And Jeff Trandahl, Wolf, is central, critical to the who-knew- what-when story about the Foley scandal, because Jeff Trandahl, we are told, did observe and also heard about several times some troubling behavior by Mark Foley.

And Jeff Trandahl issued his own statement for the first time today, saying that he does intend to cooperate with investigations by both the FBI and the House Ethics Committee -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, thank you.

Let's go to New York state now, where the Foley scandal is putting an influential House Republican in serious political jeopardy. Tom Reynolds' own reelection now on the line, along with his bigger fight to get Republicans elected to Congress.

Our Mary Snow is in beautiful Amherst, New York. That's just outside of Buffalo -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here in this suburb of Buffalo, the Mark Foley scandal is dominating the airwaves.

And the congressman who's become known here as the king of politics in Western New York is now the underdog in his own race.


SNOW (voice-over): Call it the Foley factor.


REP. THOMAS REYNOLDS (R), NEW YORK: Looking back, more should have been done. And, for that, I am sorry.


SNOW: A $200,000 ad of contrition by Congressman Tom Reynolds is being countered by his opponent, Democrat Jack Davis, who's charging a Republican cover-up.


NARRATOR: Reynolds says he did nothing wrong. But, when it comes to protecting kids, isn't it wrong to do nothing?


SNOW: And there could be more ads like that to come.

Davis' camp says it set aside $400,000 for commercials as the campaign winds down. In these final weeks, the tide has turned, with Davis now taking the lead over Reynolds, a four-term Republican incumbent and the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Reynolds was thrust into the spotlight last week. He answered questions about his actions upon first learning last spring of an overly friendly e-mail exchange between Mark Foley and a former teenage page.

REYNOLDS: I did what most people would do in a workplace. I heard something. I took it to my supervisor.

SNOW: Since then, a local poll shows a double-digit lead. But Reynolds, who was once again, is now trailing.

Reporter Bob McCarthy has covered Reynolds for 25 years, and says she has never been on the defense.

ROBERT MCCARTHY, "THE BUFFALO NEWS": Things have gotten very serious for him in the last 10 days. But I don't think -- I also think there's no question that this was a very serious race, even before the Foley affair.

SNOW: McCarthy has dubbed Reynolds Mr. Clout, and says he has plenty of loyal followers. But he says how Reynolds continues handling himself will be key.

For now, Reynolds is keeping a low profile, waiting for the dust to settle, to return to issues like the economy. But even if Davis doesn't keep the Foley factor alive, observers predict somebody else will. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And, so far, two political action committees have taken out anti-Reynolds ads of their own that are running this week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow in Western New York for us, near Buffalo -- Mary, thanks very much.

Mary and Dana Bash, as you know, are part of the best political team on television.

And, as we head into the crucial midterm elections, stay up to date with the CNN political ticker. Just go to You're going to want to do that.

Up ahead, Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail. What advice would you give a Republican candidate for Congress?

Plus: Barbra Streisand takes aim at President Bush, but lets a heckler have it in concert. Jeanne Moos will have the story that you will want to see.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Let's go to New York and Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, "The Washington Post" is reporting that Republican officials are telling their party's candidates to focus their efforts on only local issues, and let the national party leaders deal with the Foley scandal.

So, the question we asked is: What advice would you give a Republican candidate for Congress?

Karenina, I think it is -- I -- I...


CAFFERTY: Karen, for short, in Chicago: "Cut and run. Time for the real Republicans to take their own party back from the weirdos. Let the intolerant, reactionary, pseudo-Christians and the intelligent-phobic neocons go get parties of their own. The Republicans need to restore intelligence, reason and responsibility to their platform and their behavior. These days, being a Republican is just embarrassing."

Rick in Swarthmore, PA: "Jack, my advice I would have for my local Congressman Weldon, Republican from Pennsylvania, find a large box to take back to Washington, in order to carry home his personal items."

Shannon in Champlin, Minnesota: "My advice would be to just stay home. Don't even bother to run. America is sick of your corruption, the war, and your holier-than-thou attitude. I would like to say more, but then Jack wouldn't read my e-mail."

James in Sacramento, California: "The same advice I would give any Democrat running for office. Stop doing what is best for your party. Start doing what is best for your country."

John in Jacksonville, Florida, writes: "Jack, answer as few questions from the media as possible. Stay away from the president, unless it's a $1,500-a-head fund-raiser with no press coverage. And, above all, when in doubt, blame Clinton."

And M. in Yarmouth, Maine: "Update your resume. Towns all over the country need dog catchers. It's honest work."

A programming reminder to tune in Thursday, October the 19th, at 7:00 p.m., when we will take a look at all of the things that are wrong with what has become a broken government in this country down in Washington. And we're going to explore some ideas on how we might be able to go about fixing it.

We want your ideas, so, we invite you to e-mail us at Or you can send us your video at I'm not sure exactly how that last one works, but I think it's where you videotape yourself, and -- and then send it into us, or something, Wolf.

But, anyway, it should be an interesting program. We're looking forward to it.

BLITZER: Jack, it's going to be a great program. We're looking forward to it as well.

When is it going to happen again?

CAFFERTY: Week from Thursday, the 19th of October, at 7:00 p.m. You get off early that night.

BLITZER: Seven p.m. Eastern.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, for all your fans, they are going to make -- they're going to bookmark that right now. Jack, thanks very much.

Turning back now to our "Top Story": North Korea says it has detonated a nuclear device. But one U.S. government official is telling CNN, experts believe something went wrong. The North Koreans conducted the test inside a mountain tunnel.

Jacki Schechner has more now on what's involved in conducting such a test -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the Department of Energy is posting some interesting new images online at the Nevada site office of the National Nuclear Security Administration. These images gives us an idea of what it looked like when the United States used to conduct underground nuclear tests. We're not saying this is what exactly happened in North Korea, mechanics-wise, but it gives you an idea of what the United States used to do.

For example, this is a tunnel test; 1980, this image was taken. And this is called Rainier Mesa in Nevada. Here, you can see the passageway into the site of the mesa. The DOE says that a tunnel test is when a horizontal passageway is rolled into the side of a mountain or mesa, and the nuclear device is exploded at the end of that passageway.

They have also posted this diagram online to show you all of the mechanical infrastructure that exists inside of the mountain. Imagine here that the mountain or mesa comes over, and this is all of the stuff inside, again, online at the Nevada site office from the DOE -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jacki.

Let's find out what's coming up right at top of the hour. That means Paula is standing by -- Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": And thank you, Wolf.

For those folks who have digital clocks going, that is six minutes from now.

We will have the very latest for you on whether North Korea's nuclear test was actually a success.

And, then, as explosions light up Baghdad's sky, we will consider a very controversial exit strategy for U.S. forces. Should the Iraqis vote on whether U.S. forces should stay and fight or go home?

Plus, who's smarter, men or women? A new study is tonight's "Top Story" in health, and certain to spur a bunch of debates all across America tonight, Wolf, in many homes.

BLITZER: I'm sure a lot of people, Paula....

ZAHN: Do you -- do you ever argue about that with your wife?

BLITZER: Argue? No, because she's always right.


ZAHN: And smarter, too, right?

BLITZER: Absolutely.

Thank you very much, Paula.


BLITZER: We will be watching at the top of the hour. Still coming up: swearing by Barbra Streisand. The diva conservatives love to hate lets loose on the stage. Jeanne Moos and Barbra Streisand, that's next.


BLITZER: More evidence of the deep political divide in this country in a very unlikely place, a Barbra Streisand concert.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Here are two people who tend not to share anything, let alone a stage.



MOOS: Actually, the real President Bush would probably rather hang out with the Dixie Chicks than Barbra Streisand, the liberals' diva.

BARBRA STREISAND, SINGER (singing): Hey, look at me.

MOOS: Hey, it's not how you look. It's what you said that had tongues wagging.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard that Streisand let him have it.




MOOS: It happened at a star-studded live concert Streisand gave at Madison Square Garden. There's Oprah. There's Rosie. There's Tony Bennett. There's George Bush impersonator Steve Bridges.

STREISAND AND BRIDGES (singing): Happy days are here again.

MOOS: It was some time during that time that routine that a heckler shouted out.

(on camera): Now, we don't have any footage of the actual incident, but we understand the heckler was yelling things like: "I didn't come to a political fund-raiser. Shut up and sing."

(voice-over): Which made Oprah's comments before the show seem clairvoyant.

OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, "THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW": I think it's going to be an experience, because that is the voice.

MOOS: And what did the voice say in response to the heckler?

"Shut the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up. Shut up," if you can't take a joke, Streisand said, to wild applause, even though the jokes were somewhat lame.

STREISAND: Can you believe it? For a second, we were in harmony.

MOOS: Before the concert ended, Streisand apologized for her F- word outburst, where she told the audience the artist's role is to disturb.

Hey, it could have been a lot more disturbing. Look at George Michael. On his recent tour, he has featured a giant Bush balloon, with an inflatable bulldog performing unnatural acts on it.

In his anti-war video, "Shoot the Dog," Tony Blair is portrayed as President Bush's puppy. By the way, Streisand got Bab-elicious, rave reviews on her performance, except for the Bush spoof.


BRIDGES: My heart is pounding.


STREISAND: You're so good, you could give up your day job.

MOOS: Talk about an impeachable offense.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Let's go to Paula in New York -- Paula.

ZAHN: Wolf Blitzer, thanks so .