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State of the Union

Interview With Mike Mullen; Interview with Senators McCain, Lieberman; Interview With Richard Myers, William Fallon; Interview With Energy Secretary Chu

Aired March 20, 2011 - 12:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: This morning, U.S. and international forces have effectively put in place the no-fly zone in Libya. That was preceded by a furious assault of Tomahawk missiles from allied forces at sea.


VICE ADMIRAL WILLIAM GORTNEY, DIRECTOR OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: This is just the first phase of what will likely be a multiphase military operation designed to enforce the United Nations resolution and deny the Libyan regime the ability to use force against its own people.


CROWLEY: The days of tough talk are over.

Today, the attack on Libya, the latest from the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Admiral Mike Mullen, the role of the U.S. military with former CENTCOM commander Admiral William Fallon and former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff General Richard Myers.

Then Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman.


MCCAIN: I think we can turn this tide.

LIEBERMAN: It's late, but it's not too late.


CROWLEY: And the Fukushima reactor sparked anxiety across the world. What we really know from Energy Secretary Steven Chu. I'm Candy Crowley. And this is State of the Union.

Moammar Gadhafi's bases are getting pounded but he remains defiant. A short time ago there was this broadcast message.


MOAMMAR GADHAFI, LIBYAN LEADER (through translator): They have to know that we will fight. Though we are -- we have the depth of thousands in mind, this land will not submit ever. We have defeated Italy when it was a great power like you today. You are agressives. You are animals.


CROWLEY: Let's go now to senior international correspondent Nic Robertson. He is in Tripoli. Nic, what have you seen or heard of this first 24 hours really of allied attempts to degrade Gadhafi's military forces?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have seen him come back verbally very resiliently. He is describing this, as we just heard, in very strong terms. He's calling it a crusader war, which is perhaps the best way to try to rally not just his people around him, but also the region around him. He says that Libyans are the victims here and they will be victorious.

The government has said that there were 48 civilian casualties in the first round of air strikes. What they have actually shown on the television is pictures of wounded soldiers in hospitals, the bodies of perhaps 12 more soldiers. They were being visited by army officers who were sort of inspecting them. The soldiers themselves were themselves saying that they would be victorious and they were still supporting Moammar Gadhafi, even though they were injured. And state television right now, we understand, is running pictures that appear to be live pictures of funerals for people killed in the -- killed in the attacks so far. These -- the government is saying, are civilians, women and children, the government is saying have been killed by they say attacks on hospitals and stores. They have shown us no evidence of that. As I say, the only evidence that they have shown is the wounded soldiers in the hospital, Candy.

CROWLEY: CNN's Nic Robertson in Tripoli for us. Thanks, Nic.

Joining me in now here in Washington, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Admiral Mullen, thanks for being here.

MULLEN: Good to be with you.

CROWLEY: Can you give us an assessment of what almost 24 hours worth of assault on Libya has done to its air defenses?

MULLEN: Well, we worked hard to both plan this in a relatively short period of time, and I would say that the no-fly zone is effectively in place. We've got combat air patrol or aircraft over Benghazi and we'll have them there for -- on a 24/7 basis, start to move to the west. He hasn't flown any aircraft for the last two days. And the whole goal here is to, one, get it in place, two, be in a position so that he is unable to massacre his own civilians and that we affect the humanitarian support.

So from that standpoint, the initial operations have been very effective, taken out most of his air defense systems, some of his airfields. Yet, there is still, I think, a great deal to be done.

CROWLEY: And when you say still a great deal to be done, you mean in taking out some of his air defenses and other air fields?

MULLEN: Well, we'll see. There's some of that left. We've seen some mobile air defense capability. We also struck some of his forces on the ground in the vicinity of Benghazi. And he was attacking Benghazi yesterday. So put a halt to that at least temporarily. And now we'll look to cut off his logistics lines.

He has got his forces pretty well stretched from Tripoli all the way out to Benghazi, and we will endeavor to sever his logistic support here in the next day or so.

So we'll see. I mean, we're in a situation now where what we do will depend to some degree on what he does.

CROWLEY: So you're trying to cut off supply lines.

MULLEN: Right.

CROWLEY: What about communications? Have we been able to take out any of that?

MULLEN: We have focused on mostly his air defense capability and air fields, certainly his command and control. What this will allow us to do right now is to get other capabilities where we can jam his communications and do those kinds of things.

So this is -- I think as was pointed out yesterday, yesterday was a first phase of a multifaceted, multiphase approach in a very complex operation. And again, he gets a vote here. What depends in the future in great part depends on what Colonel Gadhafi does.

CROWLEY: And what you want him to do is move back from Benghazi. What are you -- what would make you stop?

MULLEN: Well actually, we would like to see him withdraw his forces across the country back into garrison. Stop attacking his people. And then not in any way interfere with the humanitarian support that is need right now.

CROWLEY: And when you say we are over Benghazi -- so the no-fly zone, as I understand it, has started. You have taken out enough so that you can relatively safe for those planes to be in the air over Libya. And when you say we, that is...

MULLEN: There is a coalition here. I mean...

CROWLEY: Are there U.S. planes?

MULLEN: The initial operation involved French planes, British planes, as well as U.S. planes, support from coalition partners are building, in particular from some of our Arab partners, which is -- they're coming into theater. And, again, we expect to sustain this over a period of time. And while the United States leads this right now, we expect in the next few days to hand that leadership off to a coalition led operation and the United States recedes somewhat to the background in support while still providing unique capabilities which would include a capability like jamming, continuing to jam his communications.

CROWLEY: So you don't want U.S. planes -- or U.S. pilots over Libya? You want to move back? First of all, are they there now, U.S. planes? Second of all, is that what you're saying, you want -- the U.S. wants to be in a support role and not actively involved in the, you know, dangerous military parts. I'm not quite sure how to put it.

MULLEN: Well, I mean the entire operation has a danger and vulnerability to it. We've been able to execute it very well and very safely so far. What we see happening in the next few days is, again, the U.S. moving to a support role. I wouldn't go so far as to say we're not going to have airplanes over Libya in three or four days. I think the commander who is there, who is General Carter Ham as commander U.S. AFRICOM, will sort out exactly how he wants to do that.

But as more and more capability shows up from other countries, I think you'll see the U.S. move to more of a support role, recognizing that there still be could be threats out there that the United States as well as others would have to take out.

CROWLEY: So who will run it? NATO? Or -- someone has to be in charge.

MULLEN: There was -- in the summit yesterday in Paris, there was a large part of the discussion that first of all a commitment to the overall operation and second many countries including Arab countries and the details of how we will do the command and control is something we'll work out here in the next few days.

CROWLEY: But you don't want it to be the U.S.

MULLEN: It's clear the intent to have the coalition run this.

CROWLEY: OK. The U.K. foreign secretary said that Arab nations, and by this we believe he means the UAE -- United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, will take part with diplomatic and financial support. And he hopes they will give active military support as well.

Do you do more than hope? Because we were led to believe that there would be planes and active military involvement by these two Arab nations, that that was very important to the U.S. effort.

MULLEN: I would like those Arab nations to speak for themselves. I'm fairly confident, actually very confident, that there will be military capabilities from some Arab nations. And that they are actually moving in to theater now. So that has been the commitment on the part of the political leadership in some Arab countries. And I expect it to happen militarily as well.

CROWLEY: Lots of times we hear many generals looking at past wars and saying, you know, what you need is a definite mission going in and an exit strategy. Is this mission militarily to get rid of Moammar Gadhafi? Is it to put so much pressure on him and give hope to the rebels so that they overthrow him? Is that when the mission is over? When is this mission over? MULLEN: Well, this is a very specifically focused limited military mission to provide for -- to create the no-fly zone, to ensure that we protect the civilians in Libya and provide for the humanitarian support with force authorized in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolution.

He is more and more isolated internationally than he has ever been. There are heavy sanctions which have been put in place. And, in fact, changes to previous sanctions which would include an ability now in the arms embargo to essentially board ships at sea, which is a new very aggressive part of the United Nations Security Council resolution.

So I think over the long run, you would see more and more pressure build on him. How this ends from the political standpoint, I just can't say. I'm very focused now on the near term military mission as has been given to me by President Obama.

CROWLEY: And your military mission could be over with Gadhafi still in power?

MULLEN: Again, I wouldn't speculate how this exactly would come out and what -- who would be where when. The overall objective here is -- certainly in the near term on the military side is to do as I've described. I think the international community, including, you know, the Arab League, which voted for this no-fly zone, and he's being isolated by those who have been his partners before.

And so I think the pressure will continue to build on him. And I think exactly how this comes out in the long run, it's just too early to say.

CROWLEY: Gadhafi says that there have been civilian deaths, women and children, as a result of these air strikes.

MULLEN: We've selected these targets very carefully. We work to completely eliminate civilian casualties. And I've seen no reports of any kind of significant civilian casualties.

CROWLEY: Admiral Mullen, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

MULLEN: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks for joining us.

Up next, my conversation on the crisis in Libya with senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman.


CROWLEY: In late February, I spoke with senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman from Cairo during the early stages of the uprising in Libya. During that interview, they said they supported imposing a no- fly zone. Three weeks later, the U.N. approved that no-fly zone which has now effectively been established. Before Congress left this weekend, I spoke with the senators from Washington.


CROWLEY: You all, when I talked to you, called for that no-fly zone. And I think the question that is really out there now is, is it too late?

MCCAIN: I hope it's not too late. And I believe it's not too late. Obviously, if we had taken this step a couple weeks ago a no- fly zone would probably have been enough. Now a no-fly zone is not enough. There needs to be other efforts made.

And I want to preclude ground troops, U.S. or allies ground troops, that is not what we are talking about. But there is a whole lot of things that can be done. Also, we've got to get our assets over there. The aircraft carrier is a long ways away. Aircraft carriers should have been on station a long time ago.

But I'm -- I think the boost of the morale, I think that the -- some of the enforcement that you're going to see from ourselves and our allies including a couple of the Arab countries, I think three of them that I think we can turn this tide. I think the next five or six days we'll know.

LIEBERMAN: I think if the world had acted earlier, you know, three or four weeks since the conflict in Libya turned bloody, is not a long period of time. But in a conflict, it is a long period of time. Because Gadhafi...

CROWLEY: Timing is all.

LIEBERMAN: Yes, Gadhafi had so much of an advantage in terms of logistics, command and control, weapons, that time helped him every day while the world refused to make the decision.

I think earlier on, maybe a no-fly zone could have done it. Now it's clear from the U.N. Security Council resolution that has passed that the nations of the world have been authorized by the United Nations to take whatever actions are necessary to protect civilians.

You know, Gadhafi the other night said, and it's so typical of him, my troops will go house-to-house, we'll go door to door, we'll go room to room to find the enemies of Libya. And that is exactly what I worry about, that there will be a humanitarian disaster.

So we got to -- it's late. But it's not too late if we act quickly together.

MCCAIN: And the key to it, Candy, is that momentum was all on the side of Gadhafi until that U.N. vote. Now time is not on Gadhafi's side. If he doesn't succeed in a relatively short period of time, he'll be driven back and over time, I believe, defeated.

CROWLEY: We're going to play you something that Under Secretary of State of Burns had to stay on Capitol Hill earlier this week and get your reaction. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BURNS, UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: I think there is also a very real danger that if Gadhafi is successful on the ground that you also face, you know, a number of other considerable risks as well, the dangers of him returning to terrorism and violent extremism himself, the dangers of the turmoil that he could help create at a very critical moment elsewhere in the region.


CROWLEY: He was at the Senate Foreign...


MCCAIN: He's exactly right. And the other aspect of this, if Gadhafi succeeds, it sends a message to every other dictator in the Arab world and outside the Arab world, if your people rise up in search of democracy, go ahead and clamp down and kill as many as you need, you need to in order to stay in power. That's the message.

That would be a terrible message to send to people who are aspiring to freedom and democracy.

CROWLEY: Senator, you have this statement by the under secretary. You've had the president of the United States saying Gadhafi has to go. This is pre-U.N. vote, but nonetheless, you've had the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, saying Gadhafi has to go. So it seems to me this no-fly mission is something far more than that. It's bent on getting him out.

LIEBERMAN: Well, you're absolutely right. Look, and the first thing I want to say is once the president of the United States says as President Obama did that Gadhafi must go, if we don't work with our allies to make sure Gadhafi does go, America's credibility and prestige suffers all over the world.

I had the opportunity...

CROWLEY: So, we can't afford to let him stay in office?

LIEBERMAN: We can't afford to let him stay in office. I want to say, too, that the first people that asked John and me to please do something to help the opposition to Gadhafi in Libya were the students, the young people, who led the uprising in Egypt, because they see Gadhafi's targets in Libya as their brothers and sisters in this Arab spring. And if Gadhafi survives, the Arab spring maybe comes to an end, at least it doesn't move beyond Tunisia and Egypt.

MCCAIN: On a tactical level, he is -- Gadhafi's acting land, sea and air. And we can take out the air and sea component of that very quickly.

This is ideal terrain for air power. This is made for aviators. And so I think with significant air assets we can have a really big impact. Now, how quickly we can move back and get him out, I think it's going to be a matter of time.

CROWLEY: And by that, you mean months? Because what you're doing really is...

MCCAIN: I don't know, because you see, there's so much got to go with morale and momentum. I think that if it looks like to the people around Gadhafi and the average soldier that is now fighting for Gadhafi that it's a matter of time, I think it's possible -- I emphasize possible -- you could see a rapid situation, a rapid deterioration on the side of Gadhafi.

LIEBERMAN: I think we've got to be ready for a longer battle to get him out of there. But it could go more quickly. Because his troops could lose their confidence and abandon him.

MCCAIN: And I am confident in the military capabilities that we have as well as other capabilities. For example, jamming his communications. For example, get in some much needed weapons, getting some people trained. There's a lot of things we can do beside just the air power component of it. So I have great confidence in our capabilities, the most mightiest nation in the world is now matched up against a third rate or fourth rate power.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you a bottom line question here, would it have been better -- there are so many people from Libya, our reporters included, who have said, he just needed a -- he was just ready to go. And then there was this two-week delay while we waited for the U.N. to do something.

Did President Obama wait too long on the U.N. to act?

MCCAIN: He waited too long. There is no doubt in my mind about it. But now it is what it is. And we need now to support him and the efforts that our military are going to make. And I regret that we didn't act much more quickly and we could have, but that's not the point now. The point now is let's get behind this effort and do everything we can to support it.

And I say to my friends in the Congress who are nervous about another intervention, I'm confident we can prevail. And I'm confident that if we hadn't have taken this action that the consequences of failure would have reverberated for years.

CROWLEY: Up next, we'll get reaction from two former top officials, former CENTCOM commander Admiral William Fallon and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers.


CROWLEY: We want to get reaction now from former U.S. CENTCOM commander Admiral William Fallon and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers. Gentleman thank you so much for bringing your perspective to the table. What do you -- you heard me talk to the current head of the joint chiefs and I still don't have a sense of what is the end game here? When do we say OK we've done this and walk away from it.

GEN RICHARD MYERS (RET), FORMER JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I don't think we've heard that from any of the senior political heads of state that have been putting their forces into Libya. So -- I mean, I read very carefully and listened very carefully to President Obama's statement and it was all about stopping the humanitarian crisis. But not the end state. So I think -- I mean, my assumption would be that Admiral Mullen and the president and the secretary of State are working this issue very hard, but we haven't heard that articulated.

CROWLEY: But as a military person, do you think that any of the leadership in the military right now would go in without some idea of when they were getting out?

ADM. WILLIAM FALLON (RET), FORMER CENTCOM COMMANDER: One would think they've gone through this, talked about it. They're certainly looking for a way ahead. These are clearly tactical steps. We're very good at this. I think it's terrific that we've been able to get an international coalition together. And it looks like it's a pretty broad based. And the particularly terrain, the circumstances, favor our capabilities there. But the big question is, of course, is going to be what next? How do you recognize and identify an end state and how do you get there?

MYERS: I think -- your question, Candy, about the military's advice here. I think the military's advice is very clear. You know, give us the mission, tell us the end state. We'll work the military means to get to that end state. And I think the advice to the president would be very, very clear in that regard.

On the other hand, the president makes final decision. So the president can decide that's our constitution and that's appropriate.

CROWLEY: Right. Well, I mean, I ask because we have had the secretary of State, the president and the undersecretary of State all say Gadhafi has to go.

MYERS: Right.

CROWLEY: I mean, there is -- it's hard to imagine...

FALLON: Not in a recent statement, however. But, yes.

CROWLEY: Prior to this, but nonetheless, last week we had all three of them saying he's got to go and one of them saying otherwise he's going to be a terrorist and support terrorism. So it's hard for me to believe that the military mission is to get the humanitarian aid in. Isn't that to get arms in?

FALLON: I think the first thing's first. There is a real problem with Gadhafi's forces on the move, pretty rapidly shrinking the area that the opposition forces control. And with the threats that were emanating from Gadhafi's lips in the last couple days, adding fuel to that fire.

So that, preventing that a tragedy seems to me is the first order of business. Now the challenge is going to be OK if you can stop them, then how do you get to the desired end state? At least as it's been enunciated to date and that is to get rid of him.

So I'm not sure how you connect these dots. And that is the political challenge. That's what the diplomats have to do.

CROWLEY: ...political to match up with the military.

MYERS: Absolutely. That has to happen.

FALLON: You can do the military piece. We're pretty confident -- highly confident that we can do this and particularly with the help that we're going to get.

CROWLEY: Also interesting to me is this idea of well we don't want to be in charge here we're just going to be another participant in this. And yet, I always thought when U.S. forces were in battle, they weren't under anybody's command but U.S. command. How is it -- again, you heard Admiral Mullen. What does that all mean? Who is going to take over here?

MYERS: I think the larger issue is the perception of the United States in the Arab world and trying to avoid the pitfalls of looking like it's the west against the Muslim world or the Arab world.


MYERS: So that's one piece of it. But I think they've done a really good job harnessing a coalition here early on. And so to have the French in there some of the first aircraft over Libya is actually remarkable.

We've got the Danish coming down, positioning some jets. Italy, as has been said earlier. United Arab Emirates, Qatar.

I mean, this is shaping up I think in a very positive way. And whether the U.S. leaves or not I think is sort of a side argument. I mean, we're going to have to provide some of the command and control and some of the assets...


CROWLEY: There is some stuff that only the U.S. can do.

MYERS: Yes, right. Now do we have to be in charge? I mean, that can all be parsed. But I guess I wouldn't parse the words too carefully. This is an international coalition, legitimate international coalition.

FALLON: The U.S. has the ability, the resources, the assets to actually do things very quickly. And so I think that was pretty obvious in the events of the last 24 hours. So getting this thing in place quickly because there wasn't a lot of time, given what happened on the ground yesterday, our ability to pull these forces together, to execute quickly, and these other capabilities that we have that other nations just don't have in depth, the communications, the command and control, the specific military weapons and things, bring those to bear quickly.

But it's very clear from all the statements that we've heard that we would like to hand over the bulk of this business to our coalition partners. And let be there no mistake about it, when you talk about instituting a no-fly zone, this is not something that is a one-time shot. This is something that could go on for quite a while. It requires a lot of assets...

CROWLEY: It could go on for - we've had no-fly zones that went on for years.

FALLON: Yes. Remember back in Iraq, it went on for a decade. And it's very resource intensive. So I think the idea is, given the other commitments that we have in the world, happy to take the lead, but the idea of sustaining this thing might fall on -- burden on some other shoulders.

CROWLEY: Tell me what the -- we heard Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, before this all happened, they were among those pushing back the hardest going, you know what, this is not as easy as it seems, let's rethink this. And we had Secretary of State Clinton and others sort of pushing for it. What was the military reservation? Because all I hear is, well, this is a third- or fourth-rate country, we have got the biggest military in the world, we can do this. And yet, the hesitant ones was the military.

MYERS: I think it probably goes back to the -- what is the strategic objective? What is our strategic plan here? What is the end state that we -- and I think it was trouble defining that. But then the humanitarian crisis got worse and worse and the best we can tell from the reports coming out of there that there are shortages of electricity, of water, of medicine.

So there really is, it sounds like, a beginning of a real humanitarian crisis. So I think that probably increased the sense of urgency.

CROWLEY: So you think it was more fear of mission creep or mission...


FALLON: Maybe not so much a fear as just when you resort to military force, under any circumstances, once the shooting starts, then things have a way of happening that are very difficult to predict in advance.

We have ongoing engagements, as we're well aware, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a host of other things going on in the world. And so one of the major issues is, how many of these things -- is it realistically possible to pick up? What's the urgency of this? And then as General Myers stated, where are we going to go? How do you get this to move on, to get an end state that is acceptable? And that's the real question.

CROWLEY: It does not sound as though Gadhafi at least after last night is equipped to do much damage. What do you -- what does our military now fear the most in this operation?

MYERS: I think -- I don't know for sure. But I think what I would worry about is being able to differentiate between pro-Gadhafi forces and opposition as they get into the major cities.

CROWLEY: Killing the wrong people.

MYERS: Yes, killing the wrong people. Because we have a very elaborate system in the U.S. military, most militaries do, to help our air power understand who the bad guys are and who the good guys are. So I think that would be one of the fears that you don't, you know, hurt the opposition or, for that matter, innocent civilians.

CROWLEY: Admiral Fallon, last word here?

FALLON: This -- the terrain here favors us in many respects. It's wide open. It's desert. Most of the population and most of the potential targets are in a narrow area along the coast. The challenge is really if there's a close engagement of the different parties, extremely difficult, particularly with no people on the ground and a stated preference to have no people on the ground, that could make that very problematic.

CROWLEY: Admiral Fallon, General Myers, thank you so much, both.

Up next, we'll go to Japan for the latest on that country's crisis.


CROWLEY: We want to turn now to the other big story we're following this morning, the disaster in Japan. From Tokyo, we have CNN's Anna Coren.

Anna, what is the latest you have?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We actually have some very good news to give you, Candy. And that is that two survivors were found today, an 81-year-old woman and her 16-year-old grandson.

They were found in Inshinomaki which is an area that we spent quite a bit of time with right after the earthquake and tsunami. Apparently the house they were in collapsed and the grandmother was pinned to the floor.

However, the grandson, he stayed with her and was able to -- they were able to survive on food in the fridge, believe it or not. He managed to crawl out, find his way out some nine days after the tsunami and earthquake hit. And that's when rescuers found him. So some good news finally, Candy, coming out of Japan. But the sad note is the death toll continues to rise. It is climbing beyond 8,000. And as far as the missing goes, that is almost at 13,000.

A police chief from one of the three prefectures that has been badly affected believes that the death toll from his prefecture alone will stand at 15,000. So, Candy, not good news on that front.

CROWLEY: Anna, we often look at these horrible pictures and I think everyone thinks oh, all of Japan looks like that. Give us your quick synopsis of Tokyo right now. Is it up and running full speed?

COREN: Yes, Tokyo is fine, Candy. We are some 250 kilometers almost from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. And that is, of course, the other big story. Tokyo is fine. We had a rather large earthquake here last night, about a 6.1 magnitude. But there were no reports of damage.

On news of the nuclear power plant, they are stabilizing the situation. We believe that power is trying to be restored to all six reactors. The water sprays and fire trucks are still saturating those reactors, trying to keep them cool.

It is unpredictable. That situation, of course, is unpredictable. But they are hoping, endeavoring to restore power to all six reactors. So hopefully that will happen in the coming week, Candy?

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, our CNN's Anna Coren in Tokyo for us.

Up next, we'll have much more detail on the nuclear crisis in Japan with U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.


CROWLEY: Joining me now here in Washington, Energy Secretary Stephen Chu. Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us.

Can you give us what you know as of right now about the status of the three troublesome reactors in Japan?

CHU: Certainly. Of the three reactors, one, two, and three, two of them we believe are intact, the main containment vessel. There is a suspicion...

CROWLEY: So no danger of meltdown in two of them?

CHU: That's true.


CHU: Well, I should be more precise. There's a containment vessel. I think there is suspicion of damaged fuel rods in the reactors themselves. But the issue here now is whether the containment vessels are intact. And the main containment vessels in two of them we believe are intact. We don't know the status of the third one.

CROWLEY: OK. So inside two of them, you might have some damaged fuel rods, but the containment is secure?

CHU: That's what we believe at the moment, correct.

CROWLEY: And the third one, I'm assuming is what they call number three?

CHU: Right.

CROWLEY: The one that you're still worried about?

CHU: No, number two is the one we're worried about.

CROWLEY: I'm sorry number two, right.

And what is -- tell me again, what are you worried about there?

CHU: Well, because of the higher levels of radiation, we take that as evidence that there might be a breech in that containment vessel. But they're not extraordinarily high. So it appears if there is a breech, it is a limited breech. But again, we don't really know.

CROWLEY: Is the worst over?

CHU: Well, we believe so. But I don't want to make a blanket statement. What you do in events like this is as you go and get more information as you bring back power online and do all those other things, that means you're mitigating and assured things are taken off the table and that's the process which the Japanese government and the people at TEPCO are doing. They are slowly bringing them off the table.

CROWLEY: And you -- we know that they need the power to try to cool the reactors and the core. Is power now linked up in at least one of those?

CHU: Well, very quickly after both the access to grid power was taken off line due to the earthquake and tsunami and the local power taken off line, emergency diesel generators were in place. And so what you're talking about are the mainline power from the place. And so power has been restored and they're beginning to start to hook up the main equipment, the pumps and things of that nature.

CROWLEY: Do you feel comfortable now with the honesty and the knowledge that you are getting from Japanese authorities about what's going on at these plants?

CHU: Well, there's no evidence that I've ever heard that the Japanese were holding back. I mean, they're giving their people and us reports of what's going on. It's sometimes hard to tell because a lot of time the sensors are out. Remember, this is a place where there's no power. So we are getting information from them. We have confidence in that information. And we've actually loaned them and are working with them on other monitoring equipment. CROWLEY: Then why -- what accounts for the difference of assessments that the U.S. had early on about how serious the problem was and the Japanese had? Were they not, do you think they were hiding something? Did they not know? Did you know something they didn't know?

CHU: No. I think it's -- what we do is we have our own set of standards and safety and we thought we would err -- the United States would err on the side of prudence and caution. And you're probably speaking about the different zones where you would have to evacuate. And that was just done out of abundance of caution.

CROWLEY: Well, and U.S. officials seemed more alarmed at the time than Japanese officials did.

CHU: Well, I don't know about that. Because I think it really depends on how -- now you're beginning to read body language and things of that nature. I think both the Japanese officials and the United States officials are taking this very seriously. They're working as best and as fast as they can to determine the situation and most important to mitigate further risks.

CROWLEY: Disasters tend to happen when things you don't expect come along. The Japanese didn't expect an earthquake over 7.0. They didn't have reactors that could withstand that. They didn't expect a huge earthquake, 9.0 followed by a tsunami. What is it that the U.S. is not expecting? Could our reactors on the west coast withstand a 9.0 right now followed by a tsunami?

CHU: If a reactor is located in the vicinity of site -- it's forbidden to put a reactor on an earthquake fault, but if they're located in the vicinity of the site, then there is an estimate of what the largest ground motion would be at that site. And then you design above that ground motion criteria.

The ground motion criteria we use is something where the probability is so low we're looking for a potential quake that would occur once every 7,000 to 10,000 years. And so you're allowing a huge span of time to allow for significant ground motion.

CROWLEY: What are they built for on the coast?

CHU: Again, it depends on the site of the reactor. Let me give you an example, because sometimes people translate this to scale of the Richter Scale, but it's really an acceleration at the site. And, for example, it could be something like Diablo Canyon, I believe is something like two-thirds of the acceleration, vertical acceleration due to gravity. In lay person's language, that might translate into something like a 6.0, 6.2 Richter Scale.

But it's really at the site, the ground motion or what the geologists know.

CROWLEY: OK. Just need a quick yes or no. So anything above 6.2, let's say, in layman's terms, you might not be able to withstand on the coast? CHU: Oh, no. That is the estimated, the maximum size of the ground shaking. Then you go well above that. So maybe 7.5.

CROWLEY: OK. So a 9 would, as it was troublesome for Japan would be troublesome for us?

CHU: Yes, except a 9 does not come from the type of faults around that reactor site. That's the other thing you have to consider. The very large earthquakes that Japan saw are what are known as subduction zone earthquakes where one piece of ground goes under another.

And these other faults, they are slip faults like that. And you simply don't get 9s in those kind of faults.

CROWLEY: Secretary Steven Chu, energy secretary, we appreciate your time.

CHU: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Up next, we'll go to CNN's Arwa Damon, who just saw some of the effects of the air strikes near Benghazi, first hand.


CROWLEY: As we heard from Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen at the top of the program, a no-fly zone is now effectively in place in Libya. It was accomplished with heavy firepower from U.S. and allied aircraft, as well as Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from ships and submarines. CNN's Arwa Damon has been seeing the effects of the air strikes on Libyan military targets. We talked to her by phone a short time ago.

Arwa, let me ask you first, where are you, what are you seeing?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, we're around 20 miles outside of Benghazi on the road that leads to Ajdabiya (ph), and we're standing in the middle of a military vehicle graveyard. This, eyewitnesses are telling us, is a result of air strikes that took place by foreign fighter jets early this morning. The debris stretches for as far as the eye can see. Most of the vehicles are still smoldering, ranging from tanks with their turrets blown off to overturned military trucks, heavy armored vehicles, vehicles -- SUVs that Gadhafi's army, eyewitnesses are telling us, had been using to try to advance on Benghazi.

Right now, it has turned into something of a victory symbol. The areas packed with vehicles belonging to Benghazi's residents coming out to survey the damage. And they have this message for foreign powers. And that is, thank you. And they also want the world to know, despite whatever propaganda they say Gadhafi is putting out, that these air strikes and other missile strikes are hitting civilian locations, this one, they say, was right on target.

We just met an eyewitness, a young man who sat in a farmhouse not too far away and saw everything unfold. He shot some of the video on cell phone. We hope to have that for you soon, but he was describing hearing the French fighter jets overhead at around 5:00 in the morning, hearing the rockets launching, and then seeing the entire sky light up in shades of orange.

He then described how as dawn broke, those Gadhafi forces that managed to survive the assault were running around trying to pick up their dead. He also said that opposition forces at this point came through and they began firing on what was left of Gadhafi's military, driving them even further away. It was such a dramatic story to be told, and we asked this young man why he and his family didn't flee, why they stayed in this location, and he said I refused to be killed while I'm running away, I would rather die on the spot. He was a very interesting young man, because he said although he was very grateful at this turn of events, it still changed him, because he said at the end of the day these are our Libyan brothers and they have been brainwashed by Gadhafi to believe that we are the ones who are evil, that we are members of al Qaeda, that we're terrorists. I wish I had had a chance to talk to them and try to change their minds, Candy.

CROWLEY: Have you seen any signs of pro-Gadhafi forces anywhere, either were any of them killed in this or have you seen anything sort of further off into the distance?

DAMON: Candy, the exact location I'm in, we are actually surrounded by at least four charred bodies wearing military uniforms. We are hearing that the casualties that the Gadhafi forces sustained are much higher than that, but I can confirm them (inaudible), four dead bodies. In terms of pro-Gadhafi fighters who somehow managed to survive this, none of them around. No sign of (inaudible) attempting to make another advance whatsoever.

CROWLEY: Arwa Damon outside Benghazi.

CNN of course will continue to bring you all the latest developments -- developing stories in both Japan and Libya. We want to thank you so much for watching "State of the Union" today. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Up next at the top of the hour, a special edition of CNN "Newsroom."