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Hillary Clinton's Chances in 2008; Arrest Made in British Prostitute Murder Case; Mt. Hood Rescuers May Have to Switch to Avalanche-Type Search; Six-Party Nuke Talks Resume

Aired December 18, 2006 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Kitty, thanks very much. 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, two missing climbers, a massive mountain and 10 feet of snow -- it's 4:00 p.m. in Oregon where the sheriff says it's like looking for a needle in a hay stack. Is there still hope on Mt. Hood? We're going to go there live.

And it's 7:00 p.m. in New York. Hillary Rodham Clinton has seized the spotlight for now from Barack Obama, but is she shedding any light on her plans for 2008?

And can Fidel Castro actually make a comeback? In Havana, 10 U.S. members of Congress get the official low down on the ailing leader. But are they getting any clues on what things might happen after Castro?

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

New concerns tonight in the search for those two climbers lost on Oregon's Mt. Hood. Officials now say they are afraid Brian Hall and Jerry Cooke may have had an accident while trying to descend the mountain, adding that rescuers may have to switch to an avalanche-type search, probing the snow for the missing men. At the same time, crews are still trying desperately to bring down the body of a third climber, who was found in a snow cave.

Let's go straight to CNN's Dan Simon. He's in Hood River, Oregon for all the latest. Dan, first of all, I understand we are waiting yet for another news conference, more information about to be released?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We are told that there will probably be another news conference here in the next few minutes. We're not sure exactly what they are going to tell us. But we were told to be on alert for that. Meanwhile, Wolf, the first of the two goals today has been accomplished, the first being to recover the body of Kelly James.

We are told that happened within the last 30 minutes and now his body is on the ground. The second part of the mission is still ongoing, and that is the search and rescue for those two other missing climbers. Hopes are fading a bit. The sheriff here in Hood River acknowledged today that the chances of them being alive rapidly declining.

One of the things he advanced today is that there's a possibility that the two got into some kind of accident when the bad weather hit and that they may have fallen down the mountain. He talked about that, and he talked about the possibility of them being buried beneath the snow. Take a look.


SHERIFF JOE WAMPLER, HOOD RIVER COUNTY, OREGON: I keep talking to survival experts, doctors, and, you know, if they didn't get in a hole somewhere -- no, I -- we may be actually beyond survivability periods. But you know -- and you guys have done a good job with that. There's possibility, you can last a long time in a hole, so we are going keep looking at that hole.


SIMON: Wolf, the sheriff says tomorrow they'll be scaling back resources for this search. Right now, it's only an air search because to get into that particular area where they think those two climbers might be, it's really dangerous to get there by foot. One of the things they are actually doing and this is pretty interesting, they are taking the helicopters above that area and they are actually using the chopper blades to whip up the snow and to see if there is any evidence of those two missing climbers. But the fact that they are scaling back resources does suggest, Wolf that hopes are fading a bit -- back to you.

BLITZER: Well we'll hope and pray for the best. Dan, thank you very much. And we'll stay on top of this news conference as well.

The families of the men spoke at an emotional news conference earlier, shortly after Kelly James' brother confirmed his death.


MICHAELA COOKE, JERRY "NIKKO" COOKE'S WIFE: I'm Michaela, Jerry Cooke's wife, and I just want to -- we mourn the loss of Kelly and stand united here with the James family. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to Kelly's children, wife, brother, mother, friends and extended family who we have all come to know and love as our own. Kelly, Brian and "Nikko" shared a passion and reverence for climbing, and the bond forged between them will last throughout eternity. We hold out hope today for Brian and "Nikko's" safe return.


ANGELA HALL, BRIAN HALL'S SISTER: For those of you who don't know me, I'm Angela Hall. I'm Brian Hall's sister. And -- today is a day of deep mourning for my family as we have lost a very dear part of our family in Kelly James. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and, as I said, they are now a part of our family, each and everyone of them. Today is also a hopeful day, we sincerely appreciate the efforts and the perseverance to attack that mountain again, on behalf of the rescue workers who are attempting to bring our other two loved ones home to us. We have such deep gratitude for their efforts, and we wish them, you know, we would like them to stay safe and stay warm, as they are trying to bring our other loved ones home to us. And we just want to let everyone know that the prayers that are with us, they need to be even stronger now, because the James family needs our two loved ones, Jerry and Brian, to come home just as much as we do. Thank you.


BLITZER: Brian Hall, 37 years old, of Dallas, Texas, Jerry Cooke, 36 years old of Brooklyn, New York, the search continuing for those two missing climbers. We'll stay on top of this story; bring you new information as it comes in to THE SITUATION ROOM.

Meantime, let's check in with Carol Costello for a closer look at some other stories making news. Our heart goes out to those families, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: It's such a sad story. We'll have more later, Wolf.

In the headlines right now though, as soon as today's renewed six-party armed talks began, the U.S. and North Korea were butting heads. North Korea issued a series of sweeping demands at the Beijing meeting including an end to U.S. and United Nations sanctions imposed after the October nuclear test. U.S. officials dismissed the communist regime's remarks as unsurprising rhetoric and indicated their patience is wearing thin. The top U.S. diplomat said he still holds out more hope progress can be made.

A 37-year-old grocery clerk was arrested today as a suspect in the murders of five prostitutes. One of the worst serial killing sprees in recent British history. The murders this month struck fear into a quiet corner of eastern England around Ipswich. There are no charges yet in the case and the suspect has said he is innocent.

Federal officials in Florida plan to start interviewing 25 Cuban migrants who came ashore early this morning. They landed at Longboat Key. That's much farther north than most landing. A border patrol spokesman says their position may be an indication of the effectiveness of the agency's heavier enforcement to the south.

Iranian voters delivered an embarrassing blow to the Iranian president in local council elections. Preliminary results from Friday's balloting signal at least a patient comeback for opponents of the Iranian president. Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani (ph), a relative moderate, got the most votes of any Tehran candidate to hold onto a key assembly post. So-called moderate conservatives scored the biggest victory. Those supporters of a cleric-led power structure say Iran's president needlessly provoked the West with harsh rhetoric. That's a look at the headlines right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol, thanks very much. Let's check in with Jack Cafferty in New York. He has "The Cafferty File". Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United States is losing the civil war in Iraq, and he doesn't think sending a bunch more American troops over there is going to change anything. Powell points out the surge of U.S. troops to Baghdad over this past summer failed. He also agrees with the leaders of the Iraq Study Group.

They are recommending a goal of withdrawing combat troops from Iraq by early 2008. And of course public opinion has long ago turned against this debacle in Iraq, for whatever that's worth. A new CNN poll conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation shows only 11 percent of Americans say the United States ought to be sending more troops to Iraq. President Bush continues to review all options for Iraq, including an increase of tens of thousands of troops into Baghdad to try to quell the sectarian violence there.

Meanwhile, a new Pentagon report says attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops and Iraqi civilians is up sharply to the highest level since Iraq regained sovereignty two and a half years ago. And five more U.S. troops have been killed since Friday. Bringing the total U.S. death toll now since the start of the war to 2,949 -- 60 in the month of December alone.

Here's the question. Should the U.S. send more troops to Iraq? E-mail your thoughts to or go to

BLITZER: Jack, thank you very much for that.

I want to briefly go back out to Oregon. The sheriff, Joe Wampler, has just announced that they have in fact recovered the body of Kelly James, the 46-year-old Dallas, Texas man who was among those climbers, three of them. Two still missing. Let's listen briefly to the sheriff, hear what he has to say.


WAMPLER: One of the reasons was probably because there was an obvious arm injury on him, and we're going to follow up on that, and -- through the County Medical Examiner's Office. But Kelly James is off the mountain.

QUESTION: Did it appear to be a broken arm?

WAMPLER: We'll address any follow-up questions through the Public Affairs and the Public Information staff. Thank you.


BLITZER: All right, so, there you heard it from the sheriff. The sheriff announcing that they have recovered his body. They brought it down. It looks like there was a broken hand. They are going to give us more information. We'll stay on top of this story for you. In the meantime, the search continuing for those two other missing climbers and we'll watch what they tell us and bring you all the information as it comes here into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also coming up, Hillary Clinton and the Obama factor, the hot race between two candidates who aren't even officially running.

Also Fidel Castro, is he preparing for a comeback or is he actually on the brink of death? We're going to take a closer look at what the Cuban government has been telling 10 visiting United States members of Congress.

And general dissent, Colin Powell speaking out. We'll find out why he says, as Jack just reported, we're not winning the war in Iraq. The former secretary of state in his own words, that's coming up.

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


BLITZER: Tonight, a bleak new snapshot of public opinion on Iraq. It's a sobering beginning for the nation's new secretary of defense. Robert Gates now is at the helm of the Pentagon after a swearing in ceremony earlier today. Donald Rumsfeld's replacement says he will visit Iraq soon and give honest advice to the president. And Gates warns that it would be a calamity if the U.S. mission in Iraq were to fail. But Americans aren't very optimistic about the future in Iraq.

Check out another number from our new CNN poll. It shows just 28 percent of those surveyed approve of the president's handling of the war. That's a new low point since we've been conducting these polls three and a half years into this war. Tonight, the White House insists there's no big disagreement on Iraq between President Bush and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. As Jack mentioned, Powell is throwing cold water on a proposal being considered by the Bush administration right now to send even more troops into Iraq, at least in the short-term. Listen to Powell's pointed comments for yourself.


COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I think it is important before a decision is made to send more troops to Iraq, if the president is considering that, you've got do a very serious analysis of what mission it is that they are being sent to accomplish and is it something you can do? If the mission is go secure Baghdad, you can't do that. And no amount of American force structure will be able to do that.

So, I think you have to look carefully at what the mission is. Is it something that can be accomplished? And then do we have the troops to do it? And when we talk about surges, all we're talking about is putting more people into the cue faster. It's not as of the Army has grown suddenly. It's just putting more people into the cue faster and keeping those who were there now a little longer. And so that analysis has to be made.

My concern is that we have surged previously. In the summer of this past year, 2006, we had operation forward together. Phase one and two, where we surged thousands of additional troops, U.S. troops and Iraqi troops into Baghdad and where the prime minister said he was going to dig a ditch around Baghdad. And the situation has deteriorated further. So I would have to hear a persuasive argument as to what more troops would do, and would they make a significant enough difference to undertake the expense and the turmoil within the forced structure for additional troops.

QUESTION: Do you know how we win in this war?

POWELL: No. That's what Mr. Gates said, we're not winning, and the Hamilton/Baker Commission described it as grave and deteriorating. And it is grave and deteriorating, so it doesn't mean we have lost. And it doesn't mean it is not winnable. But it is not appropriate to say that we're winning when I think we're not winning.


POWELL: I was part of it. I'm glad Saddam Hussein is gone. I'm glad that he is now about to face ultimate justice. I regret that we did not do a better job in phase two in stabilizing the country.


BLITZER: The retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Colin Powell, the former secretary of state speaking bluntly. And to back up those words in effect, a Pentagon report sent to Congress today says attacks against U.S. troops, Iraqi troops and Iraqi civilians, those attacks now have reached their highest level in two and a half years. The report shows the weekly average of attacks is now up to nearly 1,000 -- 1,000 attacks each week.

Meantime, by most estimates, the number of civilians killed in Iraq's unrest doubled in the past year to about 25,000 civilians dead. Thousands more have fled the country as sectarian slaughter continues. More than a million Iraqis have fled into Jordan and to Syria or other neighboring countries. Another million or so, according to the United Nations, have been displaced internally within Iraq, meaning they have had to flee their own homes.

Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in Baghdad with a closer look at the relentless violence and its affects on ordinary Iraqis.



NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Turn on the TV in Iraq and this is what you can see. Insurgent videos showing in minute detail mortar attacks, rockets and roadside bombs, even sniper fire aimed at U.S. soldiers. The station that shows them Sadr was banned by the Iraqi government last month but within days it was back on air. Sadr has become part of Iraq's inescapable tapestry of decline.

Violence is the war paper of life here. No one escapes. Not even the children. Just ask these youngsters at school in Falluja.


ROBERTSON: There is no security, he says. When we go home to sleep, we don't know what's going to happen. They know kids outside Iraq are having better lives.


ROBERTSON: I envy their peaceful life. We have no peace here, he says. They have no Americans. We have killing here. The hope of a better future, amid the chaos of Saddam Hussein's overthrow three years ago is long gone. In the Baghdad of today, religious identity, Sunni or Shia, divides communities. Militias control neighborhoods by day. Gun toting vigilantes control streets at night.

(on camera): A new normal is being imposed. For now (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to visit many of Baghdad's neighborhoods requires permission from which ever armed gang controls it. And even then, there are no guarantees a rival faction won't grab you. Kidnapping is big business for Sunni insurgents and Shia militias alike.

(voice-over): For Iraqis, living in these increasingly divided and isolated communities, life is far worse. Religious extremists on both sides are in the ascendancy and women suffer twice over.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I cannot take my kids to visit friends or to visit my family, I cannot go, cannot go, even if there is a private car. Even in my car I cannot because nowadays, even the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the woman who are driving.

ROBERTSON: Walking in Baghdad is almost too dangerous for many women. They fear kidnapping and rape. The only way to minimize the risk is to wear the old shrouding black chador, a symbol of subservience to religious edicts. Hundreds of thousands are better off, better educated. More progressive Iraqis are leaving. Iraq's creaking health care system strains under the twin burdens of sectarian bloodshed and the flight of its doctors.

Iraq is hemorrhaging it wealth and talent. And when you turn on the TV, the insurgents parade their latest exploits; on the TV channel no one seems able to close down.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Baghdad.


BLITZER: And still to come tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM it's still a rescue operation, but for how long? Authorities are giving it their -- certainly their best effort, but fearing the worst on Mt. Hood.

Also, the split over sexuality, the Episcopal Church faces a big divide over the ordination of a gay bishop. Lots more news coming up.

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


BLITZER: In the culture wars a house divided. The Episcopal Church losing two historic parishes over the issue of gay clergy and same-sex unions.

CNN's Brian Todd joining us now live from Falls Church in Virginia with this story. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just this evening, the Virginia diocese has agreed not to litigate against these two churches for at least a month, but what these two congregations have done may fundamentally change this particular faith.


TODD (voice-over): A few words...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A new day has begun.


TODD: Then, hymns...


TODD: ... and hugs.


TODD: With those simple gestures, two churches that date back to the 1700's, one of them a place where George Washington prayed break away from the Episcopal Church of the U.S. Falls Church and Truro Church, which serve two of the most elite communities in the Washington, D.C. area are taking along at least six other parishes in the largest state Episcopal diocese in the country. Parishioners and church officials talk about long-standing differences over theology. But the director of Falls Church boils it down to what he calls the tipping point three years ago.

REV. JOHN YATES, FALLS CHURCH: The election of a person in our church to the highest office who is -- a person who is living in a sexual sort of relationship that has always been condemned by our church really got the attention of many, many more people.

TODD: Reverend John Yates is talking about Gene Robinson (ph) of New Hampshire, the first openly gay man elected bishop of a state diocese. Reverend Yates says it's not just about lifestyle, but observers say the Episcopal Church has been struggling with these issues.

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN FAITH AND VALUES CORRESPONDENT: There's been a lot of talk in the last few years over some issues of women priests, over issues of gay bishops, that people were disgruntled within the Episcopal Church. And the Episcopal Church is a particular kind of church, because they try to straddle the fine line between keeping conservatives and liberals happy.

TODD: In a statement, presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, head of the entire U.S. Episcopal Church, said quote, "We are saddened when individuals decide they must leave the Episcopal Church." But she always said "The quick fix embraced in drawing lines or in departing is not going to be an ultimate solution for our discomfort."


TODD: Something else that might not be quite comfortable for the church leadership. These two conservative congregations are now going to link up with another offshoot of the Anglican Church, one from Nigeria, which favors a proposed law in that country that would put homosexuals in jail. But Reverend Yates at this parish is very clear, he does not favor putting people in jail on the basis of their lifestyle -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd in Falls Church, Virginia for us. Brian, we'll stay on top of this story for us.

Just ahead, the search continuing for survivors, we'll talk to two rescue workers on Mt. Hood right now. They are racing against time to try to find those two men alive.

And Senator Hillary Clinton returns to familiar turf as the attention grabbing leader of the Democratic presidential pack. Is she getting bigger play while Barack Obama on vacation right now in Hawaii?

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, Robert Gates officially taking charge of the Pentagon and the troubled war in Iraq with a swearing in ceremony -- he's warning that failure in Iraq would be what he called a calamity that would haunt the U.S. -- his words -- for decades.

President Bush has signed the law now making it possible for the United States to ship civilian nuclear fuel to India. Mr. Bush says it strengthens the partnership between two countries while helping the energy and security challenges. Critics call it a historic mistake that will increase India's ability to make nuclear weapons.

And the New York Knicks and the Denver Nuggets are fined a half a million dollars each by the NBA for Saturday night's fight at Madison Square Garden. Seven players are being suspended for their roles, including the league's leading scorer, Denver's Carmelo Anthony. He'll have to sit out 15 -- yes, 15 games.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in the SITUATION ROOM. Let's head back now to our top story. In just the past quarter hour, we've learned that the body of climber Kelly James has been recovered from Oregon's Mt. Hood. In the words of the Sheriff Joe Wampler, "Kelly James is off the mountain."

If James' climbing partners Brian Hall and Jerry Cooke are found, it will be due to the dogged determination of those rescue teams. They swear they will not give up.

CNN's Carol Costello is here to share with us what they are up to, the chances for success and failure.

They're learning a lot and they're working really hard -- Carol.

COSTELLO: They are working really hard. But, Wolf, it does not look good. Rescuers say there is a very low probability the other two climbers will be found alive. That's because they apparently ventured to perhaps the most dangerous part of the mountain.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Its beauty is astounding. The possibilities for adventure and danger here, enticing to men like Brian Hall, Jerry Cooke and Kelly James. But Mt. Hood's challenges are what's making the rescue efforts to daunting.

One hundred rescue workers a day from the Nevada and Oregon National Guard, the Oregon State Police and volunteers have looked for needles in a haystack, a cliche that aptly describes the search for the men. All that white, blanketing a mountain more than 11,000 feet high, covered with numerous trails.

SHERIFF JOE WAMPLER, HOOD RIVER COUNTY, OREGON: We're taking pictures. We're taking video. And, you know, that's a huge thing to be able to go back and look. And professional people that know every nook and cranny of that can look at that and tell if there's anything out of place.

COSTELLO: And that's how they found the snow caves. Electronic surveillance and infrared cameras from the air don't work because they can't penetrate snow, can't see someone buried in a snow cave or worse.

This is what investigators know or can guess thus far, thanks to those trained eyes. They know the climbers made it to the top of the summit and planned to go down the south side of Mt. Hood. But the climbers were forced to climb 300 feet back the way they came, down the treacherous Cooper Spur route. Then, for some reason, they apparently peeled off to the right of the Newton Clark Glacier, near where they made a snow cave. That's where James' body was found.

Then the two climbers headed back up Cooper Spur route, where they made a second snow cave. And here's where it gets tricky. The climbers footprints end, indicating they might have fallen. There are deep gullies here, including the Elliot Glacier, a 2,500 foot hole in the ground, twice the length of the Empire State Building. If Hall and Cooke fell here, it would be difficult to get to them.

WAMPLER: Right now, Elliott Glacier's a mess. It's just an unsafe place to be. But the minute things stabilize and we can get in there with electronic detectors, probes, we will do that.

COSTELLO: But for now, they can't, so rescue workers keep searching.


COSTELLO (on camera): If those two climbers fell into the gullies or crevasses, it's likely their bodies will not be recovered until spring. It is so treacherous up there now, Wolf, rescuers can only fly over the area. It's just too dangerous to climb by foot.

BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story. We'll continue to hold out hope, though, and pray for those two men.

Let's get some more now on the rescue effort. And for that, we're joined by Senior Master Sergeant Dave Armstrong and Captain Mark Ross, both of the U.S. Air Force Reserve's 304th Rescue Squadron.

Gentlemen, thanks very much, first of all, for your important work.

Captain, let me start with you.

What did you see up there today? Is there hope?

CAPT. MARK ROSS, 304TH RESCUE SQUADRON: Well, there's always hope. Obviously, the odds are more grim every day, but there are those who beat the odds, so we can always hope for that.

BLITZER: Sergeant, did you see anything up there today that you didn't see yesterday or the day before that could give you some clues on the whereabouts of these two men?

SR. MASTER SGT. DAVE ARMSTRONG, 304TH RESCUE SQUADRON: No, I didn't. We sent two craig rats (ph) down to do a further search while we recovered one of the climbers, and he's being debriefed right now.

BLITZER: And is there any -- I'll ask the same question to you that I asked the captain. You still have hope that people can survive under these horrible conditions up there?

ARMSTRONG: I still have some hope. You know, there's a story that happened 30 years ago of three individuals that made it after 13 days. There is always some hope out there.

BLITZER: Captain, describe what it's like, because you've been flying around up there. Give a sense -- you just came down -- of what you saw, what you felt, what it looks like.

ROSS: Well, it was a good day for climbing, which means it was very cold but the winds were light most of the day. And it was clear. It's thin air up there, so manual labor's very difficult. You have to take frequent breaks. And the terrain is steep.

So this is the steepest and highest rescue that I recall in my 26 years of doing this here in this area. And because the victim was located on a slope that we couldn't hoist him directly off of, we actually had to raise him to the summit of Mt. Hood. And I don't think that's ever been done before. It was challenging today.

But we are really thankful that we didn't have the bad weather that was brutalizing us earlier in the week.

BLITZER: Sergeant Armstrong, you were flying in a Chinook helicopter, is that right?

ARMSTRONG: That's correct.

BLITZER: How dangerous is that?

I've been in a Chinook helicopter under relatively normal conditions. Flying at that altitude, with all that snow, what's going on up there, and the wind, give us a sense of how difficult, dangerous a mission this is for you and other members of your reserve unit.

ARMSTRONG: Well, we're fortunate we have experienced Chinook crews out of Pendleton, Oregon. And like Captain Ross said, the winds were not as strong today as they were, you know, earlier in the week. So, they were able to hold a hover at 11,000 feet and insert us onto the mountain.

The Chinook is an amazing aircraft. It has -- I can't quote the amount of power, but it can hold a hover well up to 15,000 feet, I believe.

BLITZER: It is a pretty amazing helicopter.

And we're also told, Captain Ross, that the -- the propellers from the helicopter -- you were using that wind to try to move snow around to get a better sense of what was going on. Is that true?

ROSS: No, we didn't use the helicopters for that at the summit. They did do some avalanche surveys to see what slopes might be stable, what might be unstable, but we did not deliberately use rotor wash at the summit to move any snow for us.

BLITZER: What's next, Sergeant, for you and your team?

ARMSTRONG: We're going to go ahead and reconstitute, get the guys rested, and see what the sheriff wants to do. So, that's what we're looking at doing, going back to Portland to rest.

BLITZER: And Captain, you might be resuming the search tomorrow? Is that right? Or no decision has yet been made?

ROSS: Well, my unit is on standby right now. The Sheriff's Department is formulating a plan for tomorrow and the following days. We just got off the mountain and we haven't been privy to the planning that's been going on today. So I'm not really sure what the plan is for tomorrow. But we'll be on standby for whatever's needed.

BLITZER: Sergeant Dave Armstrong, Captain Mark Ross, thanks to both of you, and thank all your helpers because it's a clear, clear mission, almost a mission impossible. But we're counting on you and we're holding out hope. We're praying for those two guys.

Thanks very much.

ROSS: Thank you, Wolf.

ARMSTRONG: Thank you.

BLITZER: Still ahead tonight right here in the SITUATION ROOM, the two hottest presidential candidates, not in the race. Find out how Barack Obama is impacting Hillary Clinton.

Also, Fidel Castro: is he on the blink of death or ready for a comeback?

A lot more coming up, right here in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: New York's Hillary Rodham Clinton is stepping into the spotlight that's recently been focused on Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. But she's still keeping everyone in the dark about her plans for 2008 at least a little while longer. Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow. She's in New York with the story -- Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, a week ago, Senator Obama was stealing the show among Democrats. This week, it's Senator Clinton getting all the attention with the re-release of her 1996 book, "It Take A Village." But it's becoming clear that they are both sharing the spotlight.


SNOW (voice-over): She was there to sign copies of a new edition of "It Takes A Village." But even as Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was introduced, she was encouraged to work on a new addition of another book, an invitation to the White House. A reference to 2008 that was not lost on the crowd.


SNOW: As she signed books, she was greeted with words of encouragement.

CROWD: We hope you run.

CLINTON: Thank you, thank you.

SNOW: But the question of whether Senator Clinton will run is still something she says little about in public.

CLINTON: I'm going to be, you know, trying to make a decision after the first of the year.

SNOW (on camera): But why would you not run for president?

CLINTON: Now that's a good try. I like that one.

SNOW (voice-over): Even as she keeps tight lipped, "Newsweek" declared the race is on, with Senator Clinton and Senator Obama squaring off.

Neither have officially declared a candidacy, but questions are growing about Obama's affects on Clinton's hold as the Democratic frontrunner. On a rare interview on the "Today" show, she gracefully deflected a question about whether Obama would make a good president.

CLINTON: I think he is a really exciting personality and someone that has a lot to contribute to the national dialogue.

SNOW: Earlier this month in New York, Obama was asked about Senator Clinton and the impact on his decision.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: If I make a decision, to run, it would not be based on, sort of, my assessment of Clinton, who I think is an excellent senator.

SNOW: A Democratic strategist who worked on president Clinton's campaign says the Obama factor won't effect the outcome, but has effected the clock.

HANK SHEINKOPF, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Her camp is having to move quicker, but frankly they'll still control the timetable despite Senator Obama's presence. Watch for them to make an announcement in the first quarter of next year.


SNOW: Now recent polls show Senator Clinton has a wide lead over potential Democratic rivals, and that includes Senator Obama -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary, thank you for that. Let's check some other stories around the world. Can Cuba's ailing Fidel Castro make a comeback? Cuban officials have insisted to a visiting U.S. congressional delegation that the long-time leader will eventually return to public life. CNN's Morgan Neill is in Havana, he has the story -- Morgan?

MORGAN NEILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, members of that bipartisan group came here looking to better relations between Washington and Havana. But they also heard from Cuban officials about the condition of their ailing president.


NEILL (voice-over): The U.S. lawmakers say they weren't told much about Fidel Castro's health. They were told what he's not suffering from. SEN. JANE HARMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: They deny that Fidel isn't coming back. They say he doesn't have cancer. He'll be back. But I think many Cuban people, and certainly many of us, wonder if the transition isn't already started.

NEILL: Just two weeks ago acting President Raul Castro said Cuba was willing to begin a dialogue with Washington, as long as the United States respected the island's independence. And the bipartisan group feels that may present an opportunity to change Washington's relations with Cuba.

REP. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: The time has long passed to enter a new chapter in relations, but this certainly does seem to be a good time to move ahead, and I think there's more momentum now to move ahead than we have had in a while.

NEILL: The delegation was disappointed not to meet the acting president. He's been running Cuba for nearly five months since his brother's surgery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to deal with each other.

NEIL: And say they didn't hear any hints that Cuban policies were likely to change. All the same, they felt the mood back home was changing.

REP. JIM MCGOVERN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I think there's a majority in the United States Congress, and I think there's a majority in the United States of America that want a better relationship with Cuba. I think those of us who are advocating normalizing relations are in the mainstream. I think those who are, you know, saying that we need to maintain the sanctions and have travel restrictions, that's a relic from the Cold War.

NEILL: The group met with business and government officials, including the president of the national assembly and the country's foreign minister.

They also spoke with ordinary Cubans, if not dissidents, and heard an impromptu concert from musician Carlos Barerra (ph).


NEILL: The group made it clear that they didn't get any indications that Cuba's policies are changing under Raul Castro's leadership. But they said he's made it clear he's ready to talk, and the ball is now in Washington's court -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Morgan Neill in Havana for us. Thank you, Morgan.

Checking some other stories from around the world. British police have now made an arrest in the recent slayings of five prostitutes. Could they have caught a serial killer? CNN's Paula Hancocks has the story from London -- Paula?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is a suspect, and he is in custody. It's the first arrest that police have made since the body of the first of five prostitutes was found in eastern England.


HANCOCKS (voice-over): Could this be the major breakthrough police were hoping for in the search for one of the worst serial killers in recent British history?

STEWART GULL, DETECTIVE CHIEF SUPERINTENDENT: A 37-year-old man was arrested at his home address in Trimley, near Felixstowe at approximately 7:10 this morning. He has been arrested on the suspicion of murdering all five women.

HANCOCKS: This is the man believed to be in custody, shown in pictures of himself he posted on Supermarket worker Tom Stephens, he is a local and claims he knew the murdered women.

Police will not confirm his identity. Stephens has not been shy with the British media, telling one Sunday newspaper he was concerned that he had no alibis at the time the girls were killed. But he did insist he was innocent, saying he had already been questioned by police four times.

He told BBC Radio he was a friend, as well as a client to the girls and spoke to some of them after the first two bodies were found.

TOM STEPHENS, BBC RADIO (voice-over): Partly to say if you know anything, please talk to the police. And if you won't talk to police, please talk to me and I'll talk to police, and also try to say if you are OK.

HANCOCKS: Police will question the man believed to be Stephens Monday and continue a meticulous forensic searching his home. One neighbor says this is not the first search at Stephens house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From what I remember, when it was first reported between them, when they found the first bodies. They actually did do some searching of that property.

HANCOCKS: The body of the first girl was discovered on December 2nd. Four more bodies were then discovered within 11 days. All five were prostitutes, all five found naked.

JOHN O'CONNOR, FORMER SCOTLAND YARD COMMANDER: Then the murders, five murders in such a short space of time is what is really a quiet, remote area is very unusual.

HANCOCKS: This case has sparked calls for better protection for prostitutes in Britain or the legalization of brothels so that women do not have to solicit for business on the street.


HANCOCKS: Police can hold their suspect for a maximum of four days if a magistrate allows them. They then have three options. Charge him, release him without charge or release him on bail -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Paula, thank you. Paula Hancocks reporting for us from London.

Up ahead, it's been hotly debated by policy makers and now Jack Cafferty also asking, should the U.S. send more troops to Iraq? Jack and your e-mail, that's coming up.

And it's all about you, and you, and you, too. Jeanne Moos looks at the face in the mirror, everybody's mirror, "Time's" person of the year. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Jack's in New York with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour: "should the United States send more troops to Iraq?"

In latest poll numbers, only eleven percent of Americans think that's a good idea.

Mike in Ohio writes: "We don't need more troops in Iraq. We need more leadership in this country. To lead you need to respect of those you lead. George Bush does not have the people's respect; therefore he is not a leader... the country and the world suffer because of this leadership void. All we can do is pray."

Ron in Georgia writes: "I stopped by the recruiting office today, but I didn't see any of the eleven percent who think we should send more troops. I wonder where they went?"

Ulysses, United States Marine Corps, retired, in North Carolina: "Jack, seems to me many people are missing the tactical advantage of sending more troops to Iraq. Sending more troops won't win the war in Iraq, but it will reduce the amount of U.S. casualties until we can get the hell out of there. If course, this my opinion, based upon my military experience."

Craig in Long Beach, California: "The cavalier way this administration considers the lives of other people's children is mind- boggling. We should be sending the great decider to the Land of Oz, where perhaps the wizard will be able to find him a brain."

Brendan writes: "I believe the U.S. should send more troops to Iraq, whatever it takes to secure the country. I am certain that Cafferty is a good man with sincere intentions, but I also think he unwittingly plays into the hands of those who want to destroy us. I see no material difference between his reports and terrorist P.R."

And Ron in Kansas City writes: "The answer is: just say no. If there should be a troop increase anywhere, it should be in Afghanistan in order to capture or kill bin Laden and fight the real war on terror."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, can you go to and read some more terrorist propaganda online.

BLITZER: Good friend of yours, I see.

CAFFERTY: No doubt.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. See you tomorrow.

Right now, astronauts are finishing up repairs on the International Space Station. But in the future, NASA wants to bring you even closer to the excitement to feel what it's like to explore space. And a new partnership with Google could be the next step.

Abbi Tatton in today's edition of "Welcome to the Future" -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, NASA and Google. these two already have some pretty impressive online tools. Google Earth, allowing us to pinpoint and fly to locations anywhere around the globe. NASA's site lets you track the International Space Station, even watch that space walk in real time.

Well, now, the two are teaming up. The new Space Act Agreement signed today means Google programs will be used to zoom into NASA's high resolution 3D images of the moon, Mars and beyond.

Google already has basic space programs, but they will now be tapping into reams and reams of NASA data, currently available only to NASA scientists. The parties say the changes will be starting on their websites in the next six to eighth months. So in a few space walks' time, you should be able to participate virtually alongside the astronauts -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. That would be fun.

Thank you very much, Abbi, for that.

Still ahead, take a good look at "Time Magazine's" Person of the Year. No, it's not a shiny, Mylar square as CNN's Jeanne Moos will explain as only she can when he come back.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Let's take a quick look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

Air Force Reserve Sergeant Joel Korver (ph) gears up for today's search for two missing climbers on Mt. Hood.

In Pakistan, Chinese troops take part in an joint anti-terrorism exercise with Pakistani forces.

In Albania, a massive fire burns at a fuel storage facility in the distance. It burned for 30 hours before firefighters brought it under control.

And in L.A. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger greets a patient during a tour of a hospital. He's looking at ways to make health care more affordable for Californians.

Some of today's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth a thousand words.

"Time Magazine's" Person of the Year left a lot of people scratching their heads, others, pleasantly surprised.

CNN's Jeanne Moos is on the story.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Person of the Year could have been this guy or this guy or this guy.

(on camera): But oh, no, this year's Person of the Year is me. And you. It's us!

(voice-over): And just to drive home the point, "Time's" cover features a Mylar screen that acts like fun house mirror.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do I look? Yes, I am the Man of the Year

MOOS (on camera): You're Person of the Year.


MOOS: You're Person of the Year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a good looking guy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is so cute. I look pretty!

MUSIC: You are so beautiful...

MOOS (voice-over): Just based on the vanity factor alone, this should be a best selling issue. Polishes up everybody's image.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's me. They finally found out about me.

MOOS: But who is this "me" the editors of "Time" had in mind?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You, me, everyone. Everyone who is transforming the information age by creating and consuming content.

MOOS: That would be you, as in YouTube.

This is far from the first time that "Person of the Year" hasn't been an individual. The computer was Machine of the Year in 1982. G.I. Joe got it in 1950. In 1988, the entire endangered Earth was Planet of the Year.

And now that "You" has been picked, some of you think it's a wimpy cop-out not to actually pick a person.

UNIDENTFIED FEMALE: I think it's a cop-out.


MOOS: From the street to "the View", it provoked a view that got booed.

UNIDENTFIED FEMALE: But you have put, like, a Hitler-type, like, you put Donald Rumsfeld there or something. Somebody's who's like...


UNIDENTFIED FEMALE: See the reaction?


MOOS: Websites like gawker were snarky: "You can't be serious."

Those who posted comments were even more blunt: "I am so over You."

(on camera): You're Person of the Year.


UNIDENTFIED MALE: The selection of me was a good one. I can't speak for everybody else.

MOOS: Do you think you deserve it?

UNIDENTFIED FEMALE: I deserve everything in life, yes.

MOOS: But don't you think you deserve to be "Person of the Year"?


MOOS (voice-over): For that honest answer, we name her Person of the Year.

On YouTube, the dubious acceptance videos were already piling up.

UNIDENTFIED MALE: You were chosen over Ahmadinejad and Kim Yong- Il (ph) -- Kim Jong-Il, whatever it is. That's just awesome.

UNIDENTFIED FEMALE: I'm so excited about this. I really, really am. I'm psyched. Happy dance, happy dance.

MOOS: Tell that to Bossley (ph) here.

(on camera): Now what has Bossley done?

UNIDENTFIED FEMALE: He has the nature of the Dalai Llama.

MOOS (voice-over): Border Terrier of the Year? Bossley. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: And that's it for us. We're in the SITUATION ROOM weekday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, back for another hour at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Lots more coming up tomorrow.

Thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Let's go to "PAULA ZAHN NOW". Paula is standing by in New York -- Paula.