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The Situation Room
Gadhafi's PR War Against Coalition; Deal on NATO and Libya May be in Jeopardy; Surviving Japan's Search and Rescue; Mass Protests Escalate in Syria
Aired March 24, 2011 - 17:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Joe, thanks very much.
Happening now, breaking news -- a tentative deal for NATO to take over command of the air assault in Libya.
Is it, though, in jeopardy right now?
This hour, the timetable, the terms and what this could mean for U.S. forces.
We're also standing by for a statement from the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
We're also standing by for a statement from the NATO secretary- general in Brussels.
Stand by for all of that.
Moammar Gadhafi is still on the attack in parts of Libya right now on this, the sixth night of pounding by the coalition forces. An explosion and anti-aircraft fire echoing in Tripoli just a little while ago. We'll go there.
And could the outrageous failure at Reagan National Airport here in Washington happen again?
The fallout, the danger, after two planes coming in for a landing radioed the control tower and got no answer.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's begin with the breaking news. The United States may be closer to giving up its lead role in the fight to protect Libyans from Moammar Gadhafi's forces. Right now, there's some new uncertainty, though, about a tentative deal for NATO to take command of the mission.
We have lots of questions about how this might play out and how it might affect the overall U.S. goal of seeing Gadhafi go away.
The secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, will make a statement a little bit more than an hour from now. We'll, of course, have live coverage. We're standing by, also, to hear a statement any moment now from NATO's secretary-general, Anders Rasmussen. We'll get to Brussels live for that statement.
All of our correspondents are also standing by with the latest on this breaking and very significant news.
Let's go to Chris Lawrence first, though.
He's our man at the Pentagon with more -- Chris, before I let you tell us what the Pentagon is saying, I have just learned that the United Arab Emirates -- one of the Arab countries -- has now decided, and they're going to officially announce, they will dispatch 12 jet fighters, six F-16s, six Mirage jet fighters, to make sure that they participate militarily in this overall no-fly zone over Libya.
So in addition to the humanitarian assistance they're providing the Libyan people, they are going to get militarily involved. So it won't just be Qatar. Now the United Arab Emirates is sending 12 jet fighters to participate in the no-fly zone, as well. I'm sure that -- that will be warmly welcomed by the Pentagon.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Oh, for sure, Wolf. That's a huge development, coming especially after the fact that we've learned that Qatar's jets will begin probably flying as soon as this weekend. So that would make two Arab nations now actually having planes.
And that was a key sticking point, not to just provide, say, verbal assistance or humanitarian aid assistance, but to actually take a part in flying some of these missions.
If you look at the numbers to see how much the U.S. is still firmly in control of this, the number -- if you add up all the sorties flown, that's combat, that's refueling, that's everything that goes into making the no-fly zone work. If you add up all these flights, the U.S., during the last reporting period, flew about 450 of those compared to just about 300 by the coalition. But if you break down the air combat missions, the air combat within that, then the coalition has now picked up about 75 percent of that work load.
So slowly, the U.S. has already handed some of the control over. But what we heard today in the Pentagon is if and when NATO does take command of this mission, it's going to be a phased approach. It's not going to happen overnight, where the U.S. just suddenly drops off in involvement -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The Pentagon normally likes to be in charge. But in this particular case, my sense is the White House really doesn't want the U.S. in charge. They want to show that others are taking the lead.
How does that really play among the military -- in the military brass, where you are?
LAWRENCE: Well, the military, I don't think you -- you know this, Wolf. I mean you really didn't get the sense that the military was out there, you know, beating the drums for this mission before it happened. And there have been some references, Secretary Robert Gates referenced how, you know, all of this was done somewhat on the fly. You know, this was put together so quickly. And now we're seeing, with some of the problems with handing over the mission to NATO, exactly some of those problems manifesting themselves, in terms of there not being a very clear line from the start of this mission until now to exactly how it was going to play out and who was going to take control.
I spoke with a Defense official just a few days ago. In talking about who he thought would be best to take over this mission, he said, look, without question, NATO, because NATO has the structure and the command to -- to pick this up with -- with minimum, minimum risk to the pilots, minimum disruption to the patrol zones.
But he said the drawback is they work on consensus. You've got to get everyone to agree.
And one of the key points here is if and when NATO does take over, what will the restrictions be?
If all those nations have to agree, will they agree to the same sort of strikes that are being conducted now?
Listen to what we just heard in the Pentagon briefing just a few minutes ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VICE ADMIRAL BILL GORTNEY, DIRECTOR, JOINT STAFF: I'm not sure how the rules of engagement could be more restrictive than they already are, that we are not already applying on ourselves. For instance, we are not attacking with tactical aircraft forces inside of a -- inside of a city. Nothing prevents us, in the rules of engagement, from doing that. We're doing that because we are not sure -- we're pretty confident -- we're fairly confident we couldn't achieve our -- our collat -- meet our collateral damage concerns.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAWRENCE: But the coalition has been doing strikes -- air strikes on ground forces, Moammar Gadhafi's ground forces, outside of the cities.
Would that continue under NATO?
That's something that we'll have to keep a close eye on -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. Because Turkey is a member of NATO. And Turkey doesn't necessarily appreciate those kinds of assaults on some of the ground troops of Gadhafi.
Stand by, Chris.
I'm going to be getting back to you. I want to go to NATO headquarters in Brussels right now.
CNN's Paula Newton is standing by -- Anders Rasmussen, Paula, was supposed to deliver a statement a while ago. That has been delayed.
What's the problem there?
PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Instead, a lot of nervous NATO officials hanging around this time. They've been in and out of the meeting room. Wolf, I can tell you right now, they're back in there. The reason is exactly what Chris was talking about. And Turkey not agreeing to two things.
One is, Chris was talking about a seamless transfer from the United States to NATO. That will take time, Wolf.
You know, officials here are telling me the plan wouldn't even be ready for that until about Sunday. They would put over all of this planning until the meeting in London on Tuesday. Turkey not comfortable with that.
The other thing they're not comfortable with is this whole issue of unity of command when it comes to things like air strikes. Turkey is still going back to the table and saying, OK, I know that we agreed we were going to talk about this again on Tuesday. Our capital still not so comfortable with that. They want to make sure that they have some control over this unity of command in NATO, that they will be comfortable with the character of any air strikes conducted in Libya.
And this is still at issue. It's still an issue at this late hour. I know Secretary of State Clinton is waiting to see the outcome here. They're talking here, Wolf, even though the secretary-general was ready to come out and speak to us, that they may delay this until tomorrow. But we're still waiting to hear. They're in the meeting room right now.
BLITZER: And -- and because they were supposed to speak.
What time is it over there in Brussels right now?
NEWTON: Local time, we've got 10 after 10:00. Believe me, they've been here late many nights. It's 10 after 10:00. They're still hoping, fingers crossed, that they can come up with a statement in the next hour, which means that Secretary Clinton can continue with the statement she wanted to -- to deliver.
But I have to tell you, that's still very up in the air. And they want to make sure that Turkey is comfortable with this. They do not want to rush this for no apparent reason. They want to make sure they have Turkey on board. Keeping in mind, that country already has sent ships that will now begin to enforce that naval blockade. To have any kind of moral suasion here, this coalition wants to make sure that Arab countries and the Muslim member of NATO is on board fully and completely. And right now, they're having a lot of problems with that still -- Wolf. BLITZER: Yes. We'll see if Turkey stands with the United States and its other NATO allies or breaks with the United States. We remember, on the eve of the war in 2003, when the U.S. led its invasion into Iraq to defeat Saddam Hussein, Turkey refused to allow the U.S. to move into Northern Iraq from Turkey. That was a source of grave concern to the Bush administration at the time. We'll see if the Turkish government, right now, is willing to cooperate with what the U.S., Britain and France want, or if Turkey decides to go a separate way.
But it's -- it's a NATO issue. And, clearly, they have to have Turkey on board. We'll see what Turkey decides to do.
Paula, we're going to stay in close touch with you. As soon as you see the secretary-general, let us know and we'll bring that statement from him live.
And of course, we're waiting to hear from the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, as well.
Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is standing by.
Our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here -- Dan, what are they saying at the White House right now?
Do they think they have a deal or no deal?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No formal reaction yet, Wolf, from the White House. As you pointed out, Secretary Clinton will be making some comments on this in the next hour.
But I did speak to a senior administration official who said, yes, this expected deal is seen as a positive step.
Look, this, no doubt, will remove some of the pressure from this administration. There have been a lot of questions asked about the U.S. mission there in Libya. There have been questions asked about the cost and the U.S. footing the bill for this.
In addition to that, there's also been a lot of controversy about, you know, what's -- what's the exit strategy for the U.S.?
So this will tend to relieve some of the pressure.
The bottom line is that the administration has been very clear about this mission, saying that it's a narrowly focused mission that would not be extended and that they would move from the leader -- leadership role to a supporting role. And so that's what we'll see from the U.S. going forward -- Wolf.
BLITZER: But, Gloria, as narrowly defined as the military mission is, authorized by the U.N. Security Council, the president and the secretary of State, they've made it clear their ultimate objective is removing Gadhafi from power.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And removing Gadhafi, the president has taken pains to say, is a U.S. objective and not the objective of the larger mission. And look at what we're seeing in -- in NATO this evening. I think what we're learning here is that we may have to learn to live with some sort of ambiguity, because when you no longer lead a mission and we say we no longer want to lead this mission, then the question is, can you dictate the terms of the mission?
And the answer to that is no.
So coalition management, Wolf, if you will, will become a huge challenge for the United States, because here we've put our -- our people on the line. We've put a lot of money on the line. We've put a lot of missiles on the line. And we don't want to take a step backward. We don't want to have the NATO enforcement be any less than what it has been.
And so I think this whole management of the coalition is going to be somebody's full-time job if it, indeed, can be done. You know, we're -- we're in uncharted waters here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's going to be complicated.
BLITZER: I want both of you to stand by, because we're just beginning our breaking news coverage of what's going on.
And we're also standing by to hear, we think, from the NATO secretary-general, Anders Rasmussen, in Brussels. We'll go there live once he makes the statement. If he can't make a statement, that, in and of itself, is a statement that they failed to reach an agreement that would allow NATO to take charge from the United States of this military operation.
We're told the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, will speak from the State Department in the 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour. We'll see if she does go ahead and make that statement, if Rasmussen, the NATO secretary-general, fails to come up with an announcement.
We're standing by for all of this. You'll see it live, unfolding here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're also going live to Tripoli, where new explosions have just been heard just a little while ago.
Lots of news happening today right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The war in Libya is certainly on Jack Cafferty's mind this hour.
He's here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: In an interview with "The Boston Globe" back in December of 2007, then senator and future president, Barack Obama, said this on the campaign trail. Quote, "The president does not have power, under the constitution, to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation," unquote.
He was talking about Iran at the time.
But fast forward three plus years and some lawmakers are now accusing him of doing just that in Libya.
In separate remarks that same year, 2007, then Senator Joe Biden said he would move to impeach a president who did such a thing.
Don't you hate it when words come back to bite you like that?
There are a lot of unanswered questions that are swirling around our involvement in Libya, on the part of Congress and the American people.
Did the president have authority to order U.S. military forces into Libya?
What's the U.S. mission there?
How quickly can and should we hand over control and to whom?
It's something the president, the secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense have talked a lot about. And maybe most importantly, what's the end game?
The Obama administration insists it's been responsive to the many questions about the Libyan mission, but no one on Capitol Hill seems to be satisfied with the president or clear on exactly what's going on there.
So here's the question -- do you feel you've been told the truth about Libya?
Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's interesting, Jack. A lot of Democrats who support the president, they're defending his actions. But you know if a Republican president had done this, they'd have a very different position. It's a little hypocritical, I think, what's going on. But that's politics in Washington.
CAFFERTY: Well, there are also, though, questions about the constitutionality of arbitrarily and unilaterally ordering the U.S. military into a place like Libya. The quote being just -- the one I just read -- unless there's an imminent threat to this country, the constitution says he's not allowed to do that. Neither was George Bush when it came to Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean presidents have done this for a long time. Whether it's legal under the constitution is an open question that never seems to get answered, does it?
All right, Jack, we're not going to be able to answer it today, either.
Moammar Gadhafi's regime is claiming that coalition air strikes are doing exactly the opposite of what they're supposed to be doing, protecting civilians. U.S. military officials dispute that.
Let's go to Tripoli right now.
Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is on the scene for us -- Nic, just a little while ago, more explosions, more tracer fire.
What's going on?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At least one very big explosion, we heard, Wolf. And we know that a Pentagon spokesman said that not only is the command and control being targeted, ammunition stores being targeted. We also know from government officials here that in the east of the city here, the large military air base communications equipment targeted there, as well.
So it's not clear what's been targeted tonight, Perhaps we'll find out later from government officials. They tell us some things, but not everything. So not clear what was actually hit so far tonight -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The Pentagon says -- the coalition says there must be a cease-fire, the Libyans must stop what they're doing, stop attacking opposition forces, the rebels, basically sit down on their hands in their bases.
What are Libyan officials -- government officials in Tripoli, where you are -- saying about that?
ROBERTSON: Well, they've got some issues with what's being said. And, number one, they keep repeating that they're on a cease-fire. But for them, one of the red lines, if you will, is the town of Ajdabiya, in the east of the country. It's the town that's about 100 miles from Benghazi.
So when Gadhafi's forces were beaten out of Benghazi, they went back to Ajdabiya, that they had just taken control of, really, just a couple of days before.
And that's where they're dug in. And that's where rebels are attacking them.
So what the government here will say and says to us is, you know, we're in the city. There are civilians in the city. The rebels are attacking us. The civilians are in the city and some of them support the government and some of them don't support the government. But these are civilians that the coalition needs to protect.
So -- so they sort of throw this back at the international community, saying that the civilians in the city where they are, in Ajdabiya, are not safe, and the coalition should do more to protect them -- protect them from the rebels.
Now, the other city that the government here really has a big question mark over where the international community says they should -- should pull that up is Zawiya. Now, we know that was a town where government forces went into. A lot of civilians were killed. The armed opposition fought a tough battle. The government went in with tanks and eventually defeated them.
But that was about two weeks ago. Now the government is hearing from the international community, the Libyan government is hearing from the international community, that they have to pull out of that town and -- and turn it over to the opposition. But the government's point here is -- and this is what they tell us, how can we, the opposition is gone, we're there, there -- there's very few troops there?
So you -- we can see the stage is being set, in the town of Zawiya, and in Ajdabiya in the east, that the -- the situation is really being set for -- for some serious confrontations there, regardless of what happens in Misurata at the moment -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, the coalition continues to pound -- pound Libyan forces on the ground.
Nic, we're going to get back to you.
We're standing by to hear, we think, from the NATO secretary- general in Brussels.
Is there a deal for the United States to hand over command responsibilities to NATO?
We've been waiting for him for a few hours now. We'll see if the NATO secretary-general, Anders Rasmussen, shows up and makes a statement.
We're also told that the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is getting ready to make a statement within about an hour. We'll have live coverage of that, as well, if, in fact, that does take place. Obviously, there could be a snag in all of these plans.
Much more of the breaking news coverage coming up right after this.
BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news. We have new information on those talks at NATO headquarters over a tentative plan for the alliance to take command of the military option in Libya.
CNN's Paula Newton is in Brussels watching all of this unfold.
What have you learned -- Paula? NEWTON: Wolf, just an update from inside the room. The secretary-general is shuttling between the French delegation and the Turkish delegation. It's incredibly fluid at this point. He's trying to see if he can salvage tonight a statement that NATO will take this over.
At issue, Wolf, the sequencing -- how quickly the U.S. could turn over command to NATO and to make sure that this isn't staggered. NATO is saying for military planning purposes, this may have to happen. This may be staggered.
The Turkish delegation saying, look, we're still not comfortable with this.
Stay tuned, Wolf, to see if they can actually pull this through this evening.
If not, Secretary Clinton scheduled to make a statement in the next hour. Will see if that still develops -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, she's probably waiting to see if Rasmussen, the NATO secretary-general, makes a statement first, then she'll follow.
But we'll see what happens.
We'll stay in close touch with you, Paula.
Thanks very much.
We're following all of this news out of the Libya, the U.S.-led military operation. A tentative deal, as we said, for NATO to take command of the operation. We're standing by for a statement from the NATO secretary-general, if, in fact, that happens, as well as the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
We'll have all of that live as it unfolds here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We'll also speak with two U.S. retired generals, including one former NATO supreme allied commander.
BLITZER: All right, here's the breaking news this hour -- a tentative -- and let me repeat, tentative deal for NATO to take over command of the coalition air assault in Libya. Some concerns being raised even at the last minute at NATO headquarters in Brussels over this deal. We're watching it very closely. We're following all of this.
We're waiting for a statement not only from the NATO secretary- general, but from the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, as well.
In the meantime, let's discuss with retired U.S. Army major general, James "Spider" Marks, who is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Walk us through, from a U.S. military perspective, what it means if the U.S. gives up command of this Libya operation to NATO.
For -- as far as U.S. troops -- jet fighter pilots, sailors, whatever -- what does that mean?
MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): No change. Essentially the answer is no change.
What it means is there will be another flag that will be in charge. It will be a Brit or it will be a Frenchman. I think it's going to be a French general officer.
What will happen is the United States will still very much be the glue that holds this coalition together, primarily in terms of its intelligence capabilities and its command and control apparatus. Those two are really interwoven. And it allows for the display and the dissemination of information into command suites throughout the various echelons, so that everybody is on the same page.
That's all classified data that has been approved by and is in place with the U.S. and all the NATO partners. So that exists and that's what they normally do.
What is being stated right now is there will be a staff that will be filled out with a number of U.S. and American officers that will be a part of that. But there will be a senior guy in charge who will not be an American. But the guys prosecuting it --
BLITZER: But the overall NATO supreme allied commander is an American.
MARKS: He's a four-star admiral.
BLITZER: If you give it to NATO, isn't the American supreme allied commander effectively in charge?
MARKS: Yes. Well, what they're going to do is they're going to cut out and they'll create a joint task force. That's what Marks (ph) is going to call it. They'll create this joint command, and it will have a dotted line up into the NATO supreme allied commander, what General Clark -- the position that General Clark held.
BLITZER: Because what we're hearing is that some NATO allies, Turkey, specifically, are very reluctant to see a very robust U.S./British/French/NATO air campaign against Libyan/Gadhafi ground forces not only going after their planes and enforcing a no-fly zone, but going after their artillery, tanks, anything potentially that could endanger civilians.
MARKS: Absolutely. And I think that really has to do with the Muslim sensibilities, which it should.
And I think what we see with the Turks right now trying to accelerate the time period by which there's this transition is that I think they're probably saying, look, you Americans haven't really worked this out. The military application of force has been magnificent, but we have this policy gap between what the United Nations mandate has dictated and what we've heard your president say. Let's get that off the table and let's put somebody else in charge right now, yet we very much want you to assist.
BLITZER: Do American troops like reporting to a French general, in effect?
MARKS: They won't. They won't. A staff officer will, but the command lines will be U.S. through -- all the way up through the U.S. The U.S. does not subordinate its command elements.
BLITZER: If NATO takes over, as opposed to the United States, which, in the first six days, has been in charge, if NATO takes over, does that effectively reduce the scope of this operation, given the fact that Turkey, Germany, some other NATO allies, aren't very happy with the broad nature of this military operation?
MARKS: Wolf, I think what it does is the attempt is to align what the U.N. mandate says with the application of force. And the concern is that there's been an acceleration and an expansion in these early stages, only to set the conditions for a no-fly zone.
BLITZER: Let's bring in retired U.S. General Wesley Clark. He himself is a former NATO supreme allied commander.
General Clark, it looks like there's a little snag going on, even at this last moment. A couple hours, three hours ago, we were expecting to hear from the NATO secretary-general, Anders Rasmussen, make this dramatic announcement that NATO was taking command of the operation inside Libya. That hasn't happened. They're still behind closed doors in Brussels.
You've been there, you've seen this play before. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is supposed to speak at the State Department after the NATO secretary-general.
Give us a little flavor of how extraordinary this is, what's going on.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK, (RET.), CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's only extraordinary in the sense that it's being played out publicly. Normally these things happen in privacy, Wolf. And there's always more than one agenda in play.
So, France has, for a long time, even though they rejoined the military alliance, they've always had the idea that somehow they had -- should have a greater role. They wanted to take supreme command and rotate that at one point. They wanted the command of the southern region at one point.
So this is part of a long-standing French agenda that is there. It's always pushed by the French, and then it comes up at this particular time.
Now, typically, what these arguments go about in council are a couple different things. One would be intelligence-sharing of national intelligence. So we will only do that with certain countries, and France hasn't been one of them. And so they don't get the same level of intelligence that, let's say, the British or the Australians do.
And then another one would be the ability to task U.S. classified assets. That also would not be possible, and we would not plan for those assets like TLAMS in channels and share that planning data with certain countries. And so those could be what the discussion is about. Another one would be, as Spider Marks, was saying, tracking (ph) ground targets.
BLITZER: Well, let met interrupt for a moment. General Clark, I'll interrupt you for a moment, because what we're told is one of the issues is that the Turks, for example -- and you had a deal with Turkey when you were the supreme allied commander of NATO -- the Turks want to scale back the ground rules, that the coalition can do to go after Gadhafi's forces. The U.S., the French, the British have a much broader ground rule, if you will, rules of engagement, as opposed to the Turks.
How big of a deal is that?
CLARK: Well, it could be a pretty big deal. Turkey has some workers still in Libya. Turkey has been insulted that it wasn't consulted. Turkey -- since my day in NATO, relations with Turkey have actually gone downhill because they were rebuffed time and again, largely by France, in their efforts to join the European Union.
So there's some hard feelings. And Turkey has since, under Prime Minister Erdogan, has moved toward a greater regional role at the expense of trying to be more closely integrated into Europe. So they're playing on a different agenda. And they're still an important member of NATO, a vital member of NATO, and their concerns have got to be dealt with in a reasonable way.
BLITZER: How do you deal -- and I'll bring in General Marks in, in a second, but you're the NATO expert, General Clark. How do you bring non-NATO countries -- we've just reported that the United Arab Emirates is going to send six jet fighter to patrol the skies, to participate in the no-fly zone over Libya, six F-16s, six Mirage jet fighters. The UAE is participating. The UAE, Qatar, they're not members of NATO.
How do you finesse that?
CLARK: Well, their pilots gets their missions, the missions are referred by the pilots, or by their air officer or commander, back to national authorities for final approval before they're executed. They're English-speaking. On the command and control deck they have radios that mesh, and they have weapons that are similar, and so it can be done technically. They still remain -- all these forces still remain under national command. It's only the operational direction that's going to be vested in whatever headquarters element emerges from this.
BLITZER: Sounds pretty confusing to me, but you're the expert.
CLARK: Well, we'll learn how to do it.
BLITZER: Both of you stand by for a moment. We're going to continue this.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government is promising to respond as well. Syria's getting involved. There's issues as political turmoil in that country seems to be coming to a new level.
Will what's going on in Syria generate the kind of unrest there that we've seen in Libya, in Tunisia, in Egypt?
BLITZER: We'll get back to the breaking news in Libya, NATO. What are they going to do? We'll be standing by to hear from the NATO secretary-general, as well as the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Much more on that coming up.
Other important news we're watching though right now, including inside Japan. Workers are back inside Japan's crippled nuclear power plant a day after black smoke forced an evacuation. They're pressing on with the dangerous job of trying to stop more radiation from leaking out of the plant.
New tests today show radioactive iodine levels in Tokyo's tap water have dropped back to levels considered safe for babies. Authorities had already started handing out bottled water to tens of thousands of parents in the area.
Fears about radiation exposure though still remain high. Japanese officials have expanded restrictions on food shipments after 12 types of vegetables were found to have radioactive levels higher than the legal limit.
Our CNN crew has experienced some of the dangers in the quake zone and the tsunami zone firsthand. We're talking about Brian Todd. He's back with us, safe and sound, after his travels in Japan with a search and rescue crew from Virginia. Brian was there with his producer and his photographer.
Quite an experience, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was, Wolf. I think what stands out as a memory of the trip is the images of just kind of standing in the middle of the rubble.
The pictures that we sat back are amazing. But to stand there in the middle of it all and look around at the complete devastation that you're standing in, and realize the full force of the water and what it must be like to stand there or been even a little bit on higher ground and watch everything just get swept away, that was just an amazing sensation.
Also, to look at the people coming back and picking through houses of theirs that just weren't even there anymore and looking for any remnants of their lives. And you wonder, why are they doing that? There's nothing there really of any value anymore. One of the rescuers told me that it really is almost a way of them preventing themselves from going insane, just to try to find some kind of remnant of their past lives in order to start anew. Just the images of that, we'll never forget that.
BLITZER: Heartbreaking stuff.
What were the biggest challenges of covering a disaster like this?
TODD: Well, I'll tell you, just, you know, even walking, like from here to that camera, 10, 15 feet was a huge challenges. I mean, just to sift through the rubble and to kind of -- I'm kind of following one of the rescuers stepping over something -- to try to bring that home to viewers, I actually got a DV-cam, and I kind of filmed myself trying to walk about 15 feet. And we'll show a clip of that right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Part of the complication is just walking from one place to another. See this area behind me right here? It's just a few feet away, but I can't walk 15 feet, 20 feet without having to just navigate through some -- well, I'm going to take you through it.
I have got to go down here, and the camera is probably going all over the place because I'm down into a ravine of debris. I have got to step this way and kind of come up here, watch my balance.
Everything is slippery, of course, because it's snowing. Now I'm here. And now I can kind of walk.
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TODD: Just barely. I mean, it was a real challenge to do that.
Another challenge of transmission was our satellite signal. We used a machine called a BGAN, which is essentially a satellite/Internet terminal which allows you to transmit your signal. We've got a picture of it there.
That had to be outside, it had to be pointing in a certain direction. And it costs about $16 a minute. So that was a technical challenge.
Another thing was the MRE. I've got a little packet to eat.
BLITZER: Meal Ready to Eat.
TODD: Meal Ready to Eat. You're eating what the soldiers eat in wartime.
We were eating this every day for about eight days. And my producer, Dougal McConnell (ph), kind of demonstrated how that worked. We can show you a clip of that.
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DOUGAL MCCONNELL (ph), CNN PRODUCER: These are the rescuers from L.A. and Fairfax County that CNN has been embedded with. Literally embedded with.
You can see here is the standard issue sleeping bag and cot that some of these folks have been in. Also standard issue, Meals Ready to Eat. That's right, meals in a pouch. Just add water, heat them up, and you're ready to go.
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TODD: And I have to say about Dougal (ph) and our photojournalist, Doug Shantz (ph), two of the most courageous guys I've ever worked with. They never flinched, never complained, never said that we should not go into a place where it might be too dangerous.
I frankly didn't deserve these guys. They were the ones who made the story.
BLITZER: Well, you were blessed to have them. We were blessed to have all three of you working for CNN. You guys did a great job, and we really appreciate it.
TODD: Thank you.
BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.
TODD: Thank you.
BLITZER: We'll go back to the breaking news on Libya. There are dramatic developments in the works.
Stand by. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Jack's back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Do you feel that you've been told the truth when it comes to Libya?
Rob writes from Kentucky, "Of course they're telling us everything. They have no clear mission, no clear exit strategy, no clear definition of success or failure, no clear understanding of who is in charge, and no clue what the results of their actions are going to produce, either good or bad."
Cheryl in South Carolina says, "I don't know the whole truth, Jack, but President Obama and his advisers do. More importantly, I don't feel that I've been lied to, which is nice for a change."
John in California, "Heck, I don't feel I've been told the truth about anything that really matters, and I'm 61 years old, old enough to have lived through the years of Vietnam, Watergate, WMD in Iraq, and 'Change We Can Believe In.' Sadly, I've adopted an acquiesces when it comes to my government lying to me. I expect it now."
Cal writes, "I think we've been told as much as possible without telling the crazy man what's going on as well. Instant gratification has become a habit. Give our forces a chance to do this, and don't demand to much, too soon."
Ralph says, "Yes. A town the size of Seattle, Washington, was faced with extermination, and the U.S. and its allies, under U.N. approval, stepped in at the last minute to stop it. The rest is hogwash."
Nina writes, "Told the truth? You must be kidding. We the people haven't been told the truth since the Dark Ages."
"We were told our country was in jeopardy because of communism during the Vietnam War. We were told Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. We were told al Qaeda was in Afghanistan. All was a bunch of lies in order to fight by proxy wars for global corporations and special interest groups."
And Rich in Texas writes, "Jack, what I think is that nobody knows the truth. This thrown together hodgepodge of some resemblance of military force has no clear mission, no clear goals. How can they even know if they've achieved a desired effect if they themselves don't know what it is?"
If you want to read more on this, go to the blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thank you.
Any moment now we could be getting word about a tentative deal for NATO to take command of the military mission in Libya from the United States. Stand by for more live reporting on the breaking story.
We expect also to be hearing from the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. She's supposed to make a statement in the next hour. We'll of course have live coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And a new response from the White House to the latest violent crackdown on protesters in Syria. That's next.
BLITZER: This is television from Syrian state TV showing what they say is a pro-Syrian demonstration in Daraa. That's been the scene of some violent clashes. Anti-government elements there, very critical of Bashar al-Assad's regime in Damascus. But the Syrian state TV says this is a pro-Bashar al-Assad rally.
The White House though has just issued a strong statement condemning the Syrian government's crackdown on escalating protests in Daraa and elsewhere in Syria, calling violence and killings of civilians at the hands of security forces brutal. That's the White House statement.
Just today, thousands turned out for funerals for those killed during these days of demonstrations.
Let's bring in CNN's Mary Snow. She's got the latest details of what's unfolding in Syria -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as the unrest grows, the Syrian government is now making promises. One of them, according to state-run TV, is that people detained in recent weeks where protests are occurring will be released. But videos we're getting from inside Syria are in stark contrast to the state television pictures you just showed.
We need to point out that some of the videos you're going to see, CNN can't independently verify them, but they show rising tensions.
SNOW (voice-over): This is what it looked like in Syria, a scene that seemed unimaginable not long ago because of the regime's history of brutally crushing dissent. In an uprising in the 1980s, thousands were killed. But in the city of Daraa, where this vide was taken Wednesday, anger is rising, and so is violence involving anti- government protesters and Syrian security forces.
One human rights organization reports dozens of people have been killed in the past two days. The head of that group tells CNN the wall of fear in Syria is falling.
WISSAM TARIF, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INSAN: (INAUDIBLE) has the chance to -- if he hasn't started listening to the young people of his country. What is happening is there is taping.
SNOW: In an apparent response to protesters' demands, an adviser to President Bashar Assad announced a number of measures. One of them, a look at lifting the country's emergency law that's barred public gatherings for more than four decades. But the president's adviser also blamed a conspiracy of outside forces for the unrest and accused media of exaggerating the situation in Daraa.
BOUTHANIA SHAABAN, PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER (through translator): There is no grudge between the people or the government.
SNOW: The unrest so far has been contained to Daraa, which is in the country's agricultural region, an area that suffered a long drought, a poor area with a growing pool of young people out of work. One long-time Syria observer says Daraa's problems are indicative of what's troubling Syria, where reforms by President Bashar Assad are seen as too little, too late.
JOSHUA LANDIS, UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA: As Syria liberalizes and gets rid of socialism, the supports, government supports, have been undermined. So the poor are getting poorer as the rich get richer, and it's opening this income gap. And this is tearing Syria apart, as it's tearing the rest of the Middle East apart.
SNOW: Syria also has religious divides. The president is an Alawi, part of the religious minority in Syria. The majority of people are Sunni-Muslim, and some in Daraa have criticized the government's alliance with Shiaa Iran.
But a human rights leader says the unrest is not about religion, but about freedom, reform and stopping corruption.
SNOW: Wolf, obviously the big question is whether unrest will spread throughout Syria. That's being put to the test tomorrow, since activists are calling for protests after Friday prayers -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll have complete coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM.