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Bush Draws New Lines in Iraq Strategy

Aired November 28, 2006 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: 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, death in Iraq and defining moments for President Bush. He's rejecting talk of civil war before his critical talks with Iraq's prime minister. It's 11:00 p.m. in Latvia, where Mr. Bush is drawing new lines in his Iraq strategy.

It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington, where former President Jimmy Carter says a victory in Iraq is impossible. I'll talk to him about that, U.S. strategy, the broader implications for the region, drawing on his own history as a broker of Middle East peace.

And they like them, they really like them -- we'll tell you which presidential prospects Americans would like to pal around with and which ones are at the bottom of the likability list.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


President Bush is heading into crisis talks with Iraq's prime minister, vowing to accept nothing short of victory after more than three years of war. Familiar words from a president now under intense pressure to change direction in Iraq, where more blood is being spilled every day.

We'll talk to former President Jimmy Carter about Iraq in a few moments. He's standing by here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll also talk about his new book.

But first, our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is with Mr. Bush in Riga, Latvia covering this NATO summit.

What's the latest from there -- Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, of course, the focus for the NATO summit is really how to promote democracy in Afghanistan. It is NATO's largest military undertaking.

But it is the war in Iraq that is overshadowing their agenda.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) MALVEAUX (voice-over): Despite the deteriorating conditions on the ground in Iraq, President Bush refused to call the growing chaos and carnage between warring factions there civil war.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's all kinds of speculation about what may be or not happening. What is -- what you're seeing on TV has started last February. It was an attempt by people to foment sectarian violence and no question, it's dangerous there and violent.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush called the bombings in Iraq part of a nine month pattern of violence fomented by al Qaeda. At his press conference in Estonia, Mr. Bush also continued to rule out direct talks with Iran about the situation in Iraq, until it abandons its nuclear ambitions.

BUSH: If they would like to be at the table discussing this issue with the United States, I have made it abundantly clear how that can do so, and that is verifiably suspend the enrichment program.

MALVEAUX: But Iraq has already reached out to its neighbor. Monday, its president visited Iran's leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

BUSH: I hope their talks yield results.

MALVEAUX: It's unclear what kind of results upcoming talks will yield between Mr. Bush and Iraq's prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, hosted by Jordan's King Abdullah. The three leaders will meet Wednesday evening. The following day, the president and the Iraqi prime minister will hold one-on-one talks to confront the Iraqi security crisis.

BUSH: My questions to him will be what do we need to do to succeed? What is your strategy in dealing with the sectarian violence?

MALVEAUX: Pressure is growing on President Bush to come up with a working strategy of his own. At the opening of the NATO summit in Latvia, Mr. Bush drew his line in the sand.

BUSH: There's one thing I'm not going to do -- I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush argued that mission goes beyond Iraq. It is global, that the war on terrorism is an epic struggle involving numerous nations and spanning decades. He used that claim to implore European allies to increase their support for another battlefront -- the war in Afghanistan.


MALVEAUX: Now, the success of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will largely determine President Bush's legacy and right now both are in trouble -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thanks very much. We'll check back with you later.

Iraq's parliament voted today to extend the state of emergency for 30 more days, as sectarian warfare continues to rock the country. Police say at least four people were killed in a bombing outside a busy Baghdad hospital. Three dozen bodies were found dumped across the Iraqi capital and six Iraqis were found dead in a house in the Anbar Province, where coalition troops and insurgents engaged in a firefight.

Iran's supreme leader says U.S. policies are mostly to blame for the violence and the insecurity in Iraq. Iran's news agency says the Ayatollah Ali Khameini says withdrawal of fighting forces would be a first step to stabilizing Iraq. Khameini met today with the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, in Tehran. Talabani is reaching out to neighboring Iran for help in easing the crisis in Iraq. Lots more on that coming up in a moment.

First, though, let's check in with Jack Cafferty.

He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the following story comes from the land of make believe, or believe it or not, or however you choose to characterize this.

The Justice Department of the United States has decided to launch an investigation into the legality of the NSA spy program.

Why, you ask?

Well, naturally this announcement raised the eyebrows of some Democrats, who think the timing of the probe is, to say the least, a bit fishy.

Now, for those of you not following along at home, the Democrats take over Congress in January. And at that time, they can begin a formal investigation into the White House's NSA spy program using things like subpoenas and forcing folks to testify under oath to find out whether or not this program, which ignores the FISA court rulings and has been going on for the last four years is, in fact, legal. A whole lot of people don't think it is.

Last December, 39 Democrats sent a letter to the Justice Department, to the inspector general, a guy named Glenn Fine, requesting that an investigation be conducted. He declined.

The NSA program has been ruled illegal by a federal judge in Detroit earlier this year, but the Bush administration wasn't going to go along with that. They wanted to appeal the ruling, and, in fact, got permission to continue the program pending the appeal.

Now, all of a sudden, they're going to have their own investigation. Ain't that something?

Here's the question -- why is the Justice Department suddenly concerned about the legality of the NSA spy program?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to

Some things just never cease to amaze me -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you for that.

BLITZER: Former President Jimmy Carter has been a vocal critic of some Bush administration policies, including the war in Iraq. He has a unique perspective on international conferences fueled by religion and long histories of hatred. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has a new book entitled "Palestine Peace, Not Apartheid."

He's joining us now in the SITUATION ROOM.

Mr. President, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: A very provocative title.

We'll get to the book shortly.

Let's get through some of the major issues of the day.

The president spoke forcefully today about Iraq at the NATO summit, not backing down at all, seemingly repeating the lines he was saying before the Democratic victory in Congress.

Listen to this little clip.


BUSH: We'll continue to be flexible and we'll make the changes necessary to succeed. But there's one thing I'm not going to do -- I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.


BLITZER: Smart strategy on his part to enunciate that policy the way he is?

CARTER: Well, I think that he and the American people, the members of Congress, everyone in the United States, and maybe around the world, are waiting to see what Lee Hamilton and Jim Baker recommend.

BLITZER: But is that outsourcing foreign policy, sort of kicking, punting the ball down the road to these outside 10 Democrats and Republicans giving him advice? Is that smart?

CARTER: Well, I don't think he did it. I think this was an initiation by the Congress. He has his own recommendations, to be derived from people in his administration.

But I think it would be natural for President Bush to adopt as many of the policies that Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton recommend, and their committee, as he possibly can.

If there are some things with which he disagrees, in order to save face, or to show his independence, that he's still the commander- in-chief, then he will do it.

But I think in general, the recommendations of the committee will be seriously considered by the White House and maybe a lot of them will be adopted.

BLITZER: He can reject or he can accept whatever he wants. You used to do the same thing...

CARTER: Sure, he's the commander-in-chief. Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... when you were president.

Is this a civil war that the U.S. is involved in in Iraq right now?

CARTER: Well, I know that NBC has ordained that it be called a civil war.

BLITZER: But what do you...

CARTER: But we're...

BLITZER: What about Jimmy Carter?

CARTER: I think civil war is a serious -- a more serious circumstance than exists in Iraq. And I say that based on some of the civil wars with which we've been involved in the last few years.

For instance, we've worked 19 years to try to get a civil war ended in southern Sudan, where two million people died. And we just helped to hold an election in the Republic of Congo, where four million people have died in the last eight years.

BLITZER: So you're saying this is not a civil war?

CARTER: Well, I think you can -- if you want to call it a civil war, some of the news media, like NBC, or if you want to call it not a civil war, by the White House, it's a matter of judgment. I think semantics or what you name it. It doesn't have any real effect.

BLITZER: The U.S. this commission you're talking about, this bipartisan Lee Hamilton, James Baker Iraq Study Group, one of their proposals that there's a lot of speculation about, that they're going to recommend the U.S. starts talking directly with Syria and Iran.

Listen to what the president said today about Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: We see the struggle in Iran, where a reactionary regime subjugates its proud people, arrests free trade union leaders and uses Iran's resources to fund the spread of terror and pursue nuclear weapons.


BLITZER: This doesn't sound like someone who really wants to let Iran play a significant role in Iraq right now.

CARTER: Well, you know, there's a difference between letting Iran play a role in the future of Israel, on the other hand, which would be completely out of the question, and including Iran and Syria in a conference of all of the surrounding nations, including those that are close to us, moderate Arabs like Egypt and Jordan and Saudi Arabia and some of the other Gulf States.

But I think if they are included in a conference, that would reassure the Iraqi people that some day in the near future they're going to have complete control over their military and political and economic destiny, and Israeli and American occupation forces are going to be withdrawn. I think that would be something that the president should accept.

BLITZER: You know a lot about Iran. You spent the last 444 days of your presidency focusing in on the American hostages.

CARTER: I remember that.

BLITZER: I know. I remember it very well. I think everyone who was alive remembers it, as well.

This is a regime -- basically, the same people who were in charge then, who took over for the shah, are still in charge right now, led by a supreme ayatollah, who has been meeting today with Talabani and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met yesterday with Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq.


BLITZER: This is the same Iranian president who said last October, a year ago: "Israel must be wiped off the map of the world, and god willing, with the forces of god behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionists."

CARTER: This is one of the most ridiculous and obnoxious statements that I've ever heard a public official -- certainly in a leadership capacity -- to make. It's ridiculous and ought to be completely discounted.

However, you know, the Iranian people and the government, I think collectively, would like to see a stable Iraq and there may be a role for them to play in the conference that I think will be forthcoming. And I think this is going to be one of the key recommendations of the study commission that we've already discussed. And so I think this is one that I would certainly approve, is a broad-based conference, maybe even including France and Russia and others who might help to reassure the Iraqi people that their nation is going to be, I would say, reconstructed and given the proper element of freedom and independence.

BLITZER: If you ask me, it sounds like the Baker-Hamilton commission is getting ready to call for an international conference to bring...

CARTER: Which I think would be good.

BLITZER: Well, Baker, when he was secretary of state, used to call for those conferences in Madrid, as you remember, the Oslo conference...

CARTER: I remember it well.

BLITZER: ... and before the first President Bush went ahead and liberated Kuwait, the international conference. So I suspect that will happen.

Listen to this clip, also, from what the president said today, because it sounds to me like the neo-conservatives, who were so instrumental in shaping a lot of this strategy, that he's still very much influenced by that line of thinking, because listen to this.


BUSH: The war on terror that we fight today is more than a military conflict, it is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century. And in this struggle, we can accept nothing less than victory for our children and our grandchildren.


BLITZER: It doesn't sound like he's moving away from that neo- conservative ideology from earlier, does it?

CARTER: No, but one of the most ridiculous and humorous things that I've seen lately is the neo-conservatives moving away from George Bush --

BLITZER: Well, a lot of them have (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARTER: ... when they were the orchestrators and the supporters and the originators of the Iraqi adventure. And now that it's gone bad, they've said we didn't have anything to do with it. Bush has just really fouled up himself, and his associates, if they're still there. So I think that's a really funny thing to see.

But I think there's no doubt that the neo-conservative inclination is still prevalent, both, maybe, in the White House and also among some of those that have abandoned President Bush.

BLITZER: I assume you believe that the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the removal of Saddam Hussein, was a huge -- with hindsight, was a huge blunder.

CARTER: Well, when you throw in the removal of Saddam Hussein, I don't include that. But I think that the original invasion of Iraq, and all of its consequences, yes, were a blunder, including what happened with the leadership.

BLITZER: In the scheme of things, how big of a blunder was it in terms of foreign policy blunders that American presidents have made?

CARTER: One of the -- it's going to prove, I believe, to be one of the greatest blunders that American presidents have ever made.

BLITZER: Bigger than Vietnam?

CARTER: I think it's going to be a close call, but perhaps much more vividly known by the rest of the world than Vietnam was. And, of course, my answer is predicated on not knowing what's going to happen in the future.

I think that President Bush could still salvage out of Iraq a conclusion that he could identify as victory if he would agree that this international conference would come in and help Iraq and if there could be an orderly withdrawal of American troops and Iraq could be sustained, with the support of the rest of the world, as a viable democracy.

Then he could say, in retrospect, this was a success. And I think that's what he would like to see as an ultimate indication of a victory.

BLITZER: If you were president right now, what would you do, given the current situation as it exists on the ground?

CARTER: I would immediately convene an international conference and let it be known -- which is not known now -- that America has no desire to maintain a permanent military presence in Iraq. Almost every Arab leader with whom I have discussed this issue in the last year or two believe that the current plan is some day, 20 years from now, still to have a military presence of the United States inside Iraq. I would make that clear. And I would involved as many of the neighbors and other leaders in the world along with us, not in the occupation of Iraq, but in the orderly withdrawal from Iraq of American troops and a reassurance to the Iraqi people that you can control your own affairs.

BLITZER: Let's talk about your new book, "Palestine Peace, Not Apartheid." The book jacket, the book cover, has a picture of you. It also has a picture of the wall that Israel has constructed...


BLITZER: ... along the West Bank to protect itself, presumably, from terrorists coming into major Israeli cities and towns.

CARTER: Not along the West Bank, but inside the West Bank.

BLITZER: Inside the West Bank...


BLITZER: ... to separate, if you will, the Palestinian territories from Israel, pre-'67 Israel...

CARTER: Well, as a matter of fact...

BLITZER: ... or close to those lines.

CARTER: As a matter of fact, that's not correct, Wolf.

What the wall does is separate Palestinians from other Palestinians. This wall is not built between Israel and Palestine. It's built between the Palestinians and other Palestinians.

BLITZER: In terms of going a little bit further than the pre-'67 lines...


BLITZER: You're right, it's all built on Palestinian-occupied territory.

CARTER: And in some places it goes much further than a little bit.

BLITZER: You know you're going to be -- you're already being criticized for using the word apartheid.

CARTER: Well, let me explain the title...


CARTER: ... because the title was very carefully...

BLITZER: Because that's such a provocative -- the impression that somebody gets -- and you can't judge a book by its cover -- but the impression you get looking at this cover, you see "Palestine Peace, Not Apartheid," you see a wall and you say is Israel creating an apartheid regime in the Palestinian territories?

CARTER: Let me answer the question.

First of all, the entire title should be considered. First of all, it's Palestine and not Israel. I have never insinuated and do not think at all that Israel would perpetrate apartheid within their own nation, because the Arabs that live in Israel -- and there's a lot of them -- have the full civil rights that other Israelis have, Jews or not.

What I say is Palestine. And then peace is what I'm for, and not apartheid.

However, in the West Bank, in the occupied territories, a horrible example of apartheid is being perpetrated against the Palestinians who live there. Israel has penetrated and occupied, confiscated and colonized major portions of the territory belonging to the Palestinians.

In order to do that, they have now built roads between those isolated settlements -- about -- well, more than 200 of them. And those roads connect those settlements but they are exclusively to be used by Israelis.

So the Palestinians are separated from their own land. And in order to keep the Palestinians from objecting to this, the Israelis have arrested and imprisoned about 9,000 Palestinians, including 300 children, some of them 12 years old, and others women, about 100 women. And, in the process, the Palestinians are completely treated as inferior citizens.

This is not...

BLITZER: What...

CARTER: This is not based on racism, is the last thing I want to say. It's based on a minority of Israelis -- and I say that very carefully -- a minority of Israelis who refuse to swap land for peace.

BLITZER: But the...

CARTER: They would rather have the land than peace.

BLITZER: But the government, the current government of Prime Minister Olmert...


BLITZER: ... the previous government of even Sharon and before that...

CARTER: Netanyahu.

BLITZER: But -- Netanyahu, but Barak, Ehud Barak, they offered, under the last days of the Bill Clinton administration, a deal which would give up most of the West Bank, including parts of Jerusalem itself. And Clinton said Arafat missed a major opportunity to resolve this crisis right then.

CARTER: That is not quite an accurate description of it, which the...

BLITZER: Well, let me read to you what

CARTER: ... the accurate description...

BLITZER: Let me read to you what Jim -- what Bill Clinton wrote in his book, "My Life." He was the president who as negotiating at Camp David...


BLITZER: ... and then at Taba, trying to resolve this. And Barak, the prime minister...


BLITZER: ... who made some major...

CARTER: OK. Go ahead.

BLITZER: ... major concessions. He said: "Right before I left office, Yasser Arafat thanked me for all my efforts and told me what a great man I was. 'Mr. Chairman,' I replied, 'I am not a great man, I am a failure and you have made me one.' Arafat's rejection of my proposal after Ehud Barak accepted it was an error of historic proportions."

CARTER: OK, well...

BLITZER: That's what the former president wrote in his book.

CARTER: All right. Well, in my book, which I think is accurate -- I hate to dispute Bill Clinton on your program because he did a great and heroic effort there. He never made a proposal that was accepted by Barak or Arafat.

BLITZER: Why would he write that in his book if...

CARTER: I don't know.

BLITZER: ... if he said Barak accepted it?

CARTER: I don't know...

BLITZER: And Arafat rejected it.

CARTER: You could check with all the records. Barak never did accept it. And at Taba, for instance, which you've mentioned, not only were Americans included, but Barak subsequently said I never authorized any Israeli to negotiate at Taba with any Palestinians. And they never did have any negotiations there.

What President Clinton proposed was never put in a map. But I've got in this book a map, as interpreted by the Palestinians, the enlightened Palestinians that want peace, and interpreted by the Israelis. It's completely different. And one major difference is who controls the entire Jordan River Valley.

The Jordan River Valley, as you know, is on the Jordan border, on the eastern side of the West Bank, and it is controlled by the Israelis. That completely excludes the Palestinians from having access to anything in the east, including Jordan.

And Gaza is now completely surrounded by a high wall with only two openings in it. And this wall is being built to confiscate even more land that owns -- that's owned by the Palestinians.

BLITZER: But the Israelis did pull out of Gaza only to find that these Katyusha rockets, these other rockets, had been launched from Gaza into the southern part of Israel.

CARTER: Israel withdrew from Gaza and then the Palestinians -- what precipitated this was not the Katyusha rockets, it was the seizure of an Israeli soldier, which was probably a mistake on their side.

So the Palestinians do hold one Israeli soldier.

The Israelis hold 9,200 Palestinians, as I said earlier, including 300 children and about 100 women.

And as soon as the Palestinians took this soldier, immediately they offered to swap this soldier to the Israelis for a limited number of women and children being held by the Israelis in prison.

The Israelis rejected that offer.

BLITZER: All right, I know your time it limited, but I do want to ask you a quick question on 2008.

CARTER: Quickly.

BLITZER: Is the United States, is the American public ready right now for a woman president or for an African-American president?

CARTER: Yes, I think so, if they get the most votes. And I think they have a good chance to get the most votes. I think you have to go back a year-and-a-half before the other previous elections. And no one would have dreamed this far in advance that I would get the nomination, that Michael Dukakis would get the nomination or that Bill Clinton would get the nomination.

So to conjecture about who might be the nominee in 2008 in November, or elected, I think is really out of our realm.

BLITZER: Do you have a favorite right now?

CARTER: Not yet.

BLITZER: But we'll stay in touch.

The book is entitled "Palestine Peace, Not Apartheid."

Jimmy Carter is the author.

Thanks very much, Mr. President, for coming in.

CARTER: And I hope it will provoke a discussion and a debate in this country, which is always missing, as you know.

BLITZER: Well, you'd better believe it's provoking a lot of debate right now.


BLITZER: And I know you're ready for that debate. CARTER: I am.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

CARTER: Thank you, Wolf.

Good to be with you.

BLITZER: And coming up, a congressman gets passed over for a key job in the new Democratic-controlled House after his past ethics problems come back to haunt him.

Also ahead, it's a spy tale with a very dark turn. A German citizen's charges of abuse by the CIA playing out in a courtroom.

And later, there's a new reason John Kerry is standing out from the other presidential prospects in 2008, but it's not necessarily something the senator is likely to be proud of.

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


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I apologize to no one for my...



BLITZER: On Capitol Hill, the House Speaker-Elect Nancy Pelosi is drawing an ethical line in the sand today, as she works to choose fellow Democrats to head up various committees in the 110th Congress.

In the process, she has now dealt a blow to Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings.

Let's bring in our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel -- Andrea, what happened?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what happened is that in an hour long closed door meeting today here on Capitol Hill, Speaker-Elect Pelosi told Alcee Hastings, the congressman from Florida, that he was not going to be the next chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, despite his seven years service on that committee.

Now, not one to mince words, Hastings issued a written statement in which he said he was obviously very disappointed. But he went on to say that he looked forward to working with "our new speaker of the House and all of my colleagues to see that we do this at once. Sorry haters," he went on to say in a parting zinger, "god is not finished with me yet."

Now, Hastings and his supporters in the Congressional Black Caucus have made very clear that they believe that Hastings's name is being dragged through the mud, that he is being deliberately smeared because he was, basically 17 years ago, the Senate removed him from his judgeship when he was serving as a federal judge in Florida.

Now, Wolf, there is no word yet as to who will get the chairmanship. Speaker Pelosi is said to be considering a number of people and she's going to make the decision soon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the next Democrat, at least the ranking member until now has been Jane Harman of California. But there's been a strained relationship, I take it, between Nancy Pelosi and Jane Harman.

Andrea, we'll watch the story together with you. Fascinating developments, indeed, and very important ones, as well.

Still ahead, Pope Benedict in the middle when faiths collide. We'll have a live report on his first trip to a Muslim nation since becoming pope.

And he was slated to be a top figure in the Christian conservative movement, but instead he took a stand in the culture wars. We'll tell you what's going on.

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


BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Pope Benedict XVI today is delivering a message of unity between Muslims and Christians. He's kicking off a four-day visit to Turkey, the first trip to a Muslim nation since he became leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

Our faith and values correspondent, Delia Gallagher, is joining us now live from Istanbul.

Delia, as you take a look at this first day of talks, Turkey's prime minister said the pope pledged to support Turkey's involvement in a Euro -- in the European Union. What is the -- what is the significance of -- of this?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN FAITH AND VALUES CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's been a significant development for Turkey.

What happened was,the prime minister said that the pope told him during their private meeting that he wanted Turkey to join the European Union. Now, the Vatican subsequently came out with a statement that was slightly different in its tone, saying that, while it was a political question, which didn't concern them directly, that they viewed favorably Turkey trying to meet the requirements for entry into the European Union.

So, that's a slightly different way of putting it. But it amounts to saying: We don't object it. And that is good news for Turkey, because, of course, one of the sticking points for them has been that Pope Benedict XVI, as cardinal, was coming out, saying that Turkey should not be a part of Europe; it wasn't culturally a part of Europe. So, that is good news for Turkey.

And, as far as the pope is concerned, of course, it shows us that he, perhaps, while he had some personal convictions as cardinal, now that he is pope, is realizing, on the world stage, for some issues, and particularly some political ones, perhaps he's just going to stay out of fray.



BLITZER: So, this first day, I take it, went relatively smoothly?


By all accounts, Wolf, the people here in Turkey were responding positively, because the pope had said he was coming with a message of reconciliation. And his two public speeches were very much in that kind of vein, talking about some the things that Muslims and Christians have in common. He met with the -- the prime minister, and he met with the president, and he met with all of the political leaders.

Today was the big political day, and the big test for how he was going to set the tone for this visit.

BLITZER: Delia, thanks very much. We are going to stay on top of this story over the next few days -- Delia reporting for us from Istanbul.

Tonight, by the way, CNN will continue its special coverage of Islam, Christianity, and the pope's trip to Turkey on "ANDERSON COOPER 360." Anderson will report live from Turkey on "When Faiths Collide." That airs 10:00 p.m. Eastern, tonight, only here on CNN.

Let's check in with Carol Costello. She got a closer look at some other important stories making news.

Hi, Carol.


And hello to all of you.

More death in Afghanistan -- two NATO soldiers were killed while fighting in the eastern part of that country. Officials say a military vehicle hit a roadside bomb. One other person was hurt -- no immediate word on the soldiers' nationalities.

His plane was found, but he is still missing, an American pilot whose F-16 jet crashed near Baghdad yesterday. Officials say they did not find the pilot at the scene and have not been able to locate him since. He's been classified as duty status and whereabouts unknown.

CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre will have more in a live report for you in our next hour.

And how did a spy die? The quest for the cause of death is now the focus regarding that former Russian spy who died last week. Officials say an autopsy will be done on Alexander Litvinenko's body on Friday. And doctors say they will take extra caution, as the man's body was radioactive.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much.

And eight people are now being tested in London for possible exposure to the radioactive element suspected in the death of Alexander Litvinenko. But is the substance as rare and hard to come by as originally thought? Actually, obtaining it may only take a few clicks of the mouse.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, has been investigating -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, online for $69, this can be yours, a tiny dose of polonium 210, the radioactive element found in Litvinenko's body.

The vendor is United Nuclear Scientific Supplies, based in New Mexico, and run by a physicist by the name of Bob Lazar. Lazar says he sells one of these tiny doses about once every six months -- the customers, home experimenters and scientists. Lazar says that polonium 210 can be used in common science fair experiments.

Now, it is legal to buy and sell these tiny doses. We checked with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But they said, to sell industry-level amounts requires an elaborate licensing procedure.

The British authorities said that a large dose was found in Litvinenko's body. Lazar says there's a pretty huge difference between what he is selling online and those amounts. And experts agree.

Kelly Classic is a radiation physicist with the Health Physics Society. They have been doing calculations in the last week on how much polonium 210 would be required to kill a man of Litvinenko's size. It's about 30,000 times the amount sold on this site.

So, what is clear, from talking to these experts and looking around online, is, it's not readily available to get a large dose of this anywhere online, or, indeed, anywhere commercially. What has also been coming out from our conversations with people is that poisoning by this substance is extremely rare, so rare, Kelly Classic says, that very little research has been done on it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, that's encouraging to know -- thanks very much -- that it's hard to get that huge quantity you need. Up next: the 2008 race for the White House as a popularity contest. We will run down a new list of the best-liked and least- liked presidential prospects.

And did the CIA cross a line in the war on terror by beating and drugging a man it eventually let go? We will have the latest on a lawsuit now under appeal.

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


BLITZER: In a Virginia courtroom today, sensational charges against the United States government by a German man, who claims he was illegally held and mistreated in a secret prison in Afghanistan.

Let's turn to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena. She is watching this story for us outside a federal appeals court outside Washington -- Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, Khaled el-Masri's story is the stuff that spy novels are made of. But, for him, it's all too real.


KHALED EL-MASRI, GERMAN CITIZEN (through translator): I was -- I was humiliated. I was beaten. I was drugged. I was taken to Afghanistan against my will.

ARENA (voice-over): El-Masri, who is a German citizen, says he was abducted in Macedonia on New Year's Eve of 2003, taken to Afghanistan, beaten, drugged, and interrogated about alleged connections to al Qaeda.

He claims this all happened at the hands of the U.S. government, as part of the CIA's rendition program. Then, five months later, he says he was simply let go.

EL-MASRI (through translator): ... five months, they simply took me back and dropped me, like a piece of luggage, in the woods in Albania.

ARENA: U.S. officials have privately admitted to Germany he was captured by mistake, but, publicly, have said nothing.

El-Masri, represented by the ACLU, is suing former CIA Director George Tenet and unnamed agents for his ordeal. His case didn't get very far in district court. It was dismissed. And el-Masri appealed.

You see, the government argues that even acknowledging el-Masri's detention jeopardizes natural security by revealing state secrets.

DAVID RIVKIN, FORMER ASSOCIATE WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: How he was transported, how he was apprehended, way stations, people involved, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. So, there may be actually hard nuggets of information that the bad guys do not know.

ARENA: The ACLU argues, the government's defense is ridiculous, because the president himself spoke publicly about how the U.S. held terrorism suspects overseas in secret locations.

At the very least, el-Masri's lawyers told the judges that he deserves a trial.


ARENA: Now, in his lawsuit, el-Masri is asking for money, but he says that really isn't what is most important. Ultimately, he's after three things, Wolf. He says he wants a public admission by the United States that this actually happened. He wants an explanation as to why it happened. And, finally, he's looking for an apology.

BLITZER: Kelli, thanks very much -- Kelli Arena reporting.

Federal authorities, meanwhile, announced today that two men have been charged in Houston with planning to support the Taliban, one a United States citizen, the other a Pakistani. Officials say they conspired to train with firearms, with a goal to fight with the Taliban against coalition forces in the Middle East. They're also accused of providing a small amount of cash to support terrorist groups.

Coming up: Not that politics is necessarily a popularity contest, but which politicians might Americans like most and least? Our Bill Schneider has some answers.

And one leader of a top Christian group says he wants to focus on issues that Jesus would want us to care about, but that is his -- but his group is more focused on opposing abortion and gay marriage -- Candy Crowley standing by with details.

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


BLITZER: Welcome back.

In the "Culture Wars": The president-elect of the Christian Coalition decides not to take the job. He says the organization refused to let him expand its agenda beyond opposing gay marriage and abortion.

Let's get some more details from our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it looks like Christian conservatives are at a crossroads now, as its leaders begin to look toward the future. The dilemma the community faces is borne out in a parting of the ways between the Christian Coalition and the man about to head the organization.

The Reverend Joel Hunter, who pastors at a mega-Florida church, will not become president of the Christian Coalition, as planned. Hunter says he and the board did not share the same vision.


REVEREND JOEL HUNTER, FORMER CHRISTIAN COALITION PRESIDENT-ELECT: I wanted to go from simply the moral issues that we have traditionally had -- and -- and those -- we stand solid on those -- to expand them into the more compassion issues of Christ, poverty, environment, address the needs of people, because, unless you are as much for the vulnerable outside the womb as inside the womb, you don't really have a -- the full picture of Jesus.


CROWLEY: Reverend Hunter believes some Christian conservatives are -- quote -- "scared to death of broadening the agenda" to include the environment and poverty, for fear of being tagged as liberals on what have traditionally been seen as liberal issues.

In fact, some state chapters have opted out of the coalition, because they did worry the organization was going beyond its original intent. The group's current president, Roberta Combs, indicated it's important to take those fears into consideration.


ROBERTA COMBS, PRESIDENT, CHRISTIAN COALITION: We want to stay with our core issues, but we also want to broaden the organization and broaden the issues. But we wanted to make sure that these issues were with what our supporters felt like were important issues to the family.


CROWLEY: Reverend Hunter, Wolf, calls this a rock and a hard place, wanting to expand the Christian conservative movement, while still appealing to the core values, and that is the social values, of the original members, who, of course, are the most passionate.

This goes beyond the Christian Coalition. We saw Reverend Jerry Falwell, for instance, take on those environmentalists, the conservative Christians who have hooked up with some rather liberal groups, saying that he fears that they will be co-opted by those liberal groups.

BLITZER: All right, Candy, thanks very much -- Candy Crowley, our senior political correspondent.

Still ahead: President Bush's faith-based agenda overseas. Is faith driving his foreign policy? Our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee, takes a closer look.

And do you have to like them to vote for them? The possible presidential contenders in 2008 get the results of a popularity contest.

We will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

On our "Political Radar" this Tuesday: the race for the White House and the power of being popular.

The 2008 field is filled with smart people, but do voters actually like them?

Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, you want to spend the evening with somebody you like, right? Well, with politicians, you usually have to spend at least four years.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Every quarter, the Quinnipiac University poll measures the likability of political figures. How? Feelings, like the song, you know.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER (singing): Feelings.

SCHNEIDER: The poll asks people to rate their feelings about a person on a scale of zero degrees -- brr, very cold -- to a hundred degrees -- hot, hot, hot.

PETER BROWN, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, QUINNIPIAC UNIVERSITY POLLING INSTITUTE: They are trying to gauge the personal warmth that voters feel towards politicians.

SCHNEIDER: So, who are Americans hot for? Rudy Giuliani tops the list, followed by Barack Obama and John McCain. Two politicians fall in the middle, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton -- mixed feelings. And two come out at the bottom, Newt Gingrich, and, dead last, John Kerry, he of the botched joke.

This year's campaign was not good for Senator Kerry.

BROWN: He was in the mid-40s when we started doing this. He's now below 40.

SCHNEIDER: These ratings have a lot to do with partisanship. Best liked means being seen as least partisan. Giuliani and McCain are liked by everybody, including Democrats. Republicans like Giuliani even more than McCain. Got to be 9/11.

Now compare the two Democratic front-runners for '08, Obama and Clinton. They're both popular in their own party, but Obama has more appeal outside the party. Of course, the freshman Illinois senator is much less well-known.

BROWN: Four in 10 Americans don't know enough about him to be able to rate him. SCHNEIDER: But almost everybody has an opinion about Hillary Clinton.

BROWN: She's going to have to change minds to increase her numbers.

SCHNEIDER: Gingrich and Kerry are not just partisan figures. They also turn off independents. They create controversy. That's no way to make yourself liked.


SCHNEIDER: The vote for president is the most personal vote Americans cast. And that is why likability matters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. Thanks very much -- Bill Schneider reporting.

Still to come: an update on the crash of an F-16 in Iraq and the search for a missing American pilot. That's coming up in our next hour.

And Jack Cafferty is asking why the Justice Department is suddenly concerned about the legality of the NSA wiretap program. He will be back with your e-mail in just a moment.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack Cafferty in New York. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The Justice Department, Wolf, has suddenly decided to investigate the legality of the NSA spy program. Why? And why now?

A federal judge ruled it was illegal several months. That didn't stop the government. They went right on wiretapping people's phones without a warrant. Now, all of a sudden, they are going to see if it's legal.

Kay in Naples, Florida, writes: "Hadn't you heard? The Democrats won the House and Senate. Investigations, big time."

David in Tucson: "According to some reputable scholars, the NSA spy program is an impeachable offense, similar to several of the counts in the impeachment resolution against Richard Nixon. If the White House gets its own opinion that the program is illegal, and then stops it for that reason, the good faith thus shown will mitigate the offense, making it, perhaps, no longer impeachable."

Terry in North Carolina: "The review will not examine if the program is legal. So, it certainly appears the Justice Department is no longer concerned with enforcing the people's laws, but, rather, with protecting violators of the people's laws. I hope Iraq gets their democracy up and running pretty soon. Maybe they will send some consultants to Washington to teach a few politicians who a democracy is supposed to serve."

Homer in Tulsa, Oklahoma: "The launching of an investigation now by the Department of Justice is designed to accomplish one thing, to provide cover for Attorney General Gonzales when he appears before the new Congress: 'I can't comment about illegal wiretapping. It's the subject of an ongoing investigation by the DOJ.' Sound familiar?"

Dale in Paducah, Kentucky: "Wouldn't you worry, when, for more than four years, you have been breaking the law, stepping all over the citizens' Bill of Rights, and ignoring the Constitution? Their protection has left the building, and it's now time to panic."

And, finally, Kevin in North Fort Myers, Florida: "Chapter two of the Republican handbook covers this: When confronted with criminal act, claim ignorance, enter rehab, investigate yourself, and find a scapegoat before the truth gets out" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you -- Jack Cafferty in New York.