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Your World Today

Confirmation Hearings for U.S. Defense Secretary; Iraqi View of U.S. Troops; Russian Spy Death Investigation

Aired December 05, 2006 - 12:00   ET


SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-M), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Do you believe that we are current winning in Iraq?



COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Candid comments. The man in line to become the next U.S. defense secretary says he's open to a wide range of ideas on Iraq.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Bitterly divided. Thousands mourning the death of a Lebanese man killed in a riot which reflects the country's growing battle for power among sectarian groups.

MCEDWARDS: And you can't see it, smell it or taste it, but the damage it does is devastating. Polonium-210, the rare substance that killed a former Russian spy, used as a murder weapon.

FRAZIER: It is noon in Washington, 7:00 p.m. in Beirut right now.

Hello, everyone, and welcome to our report broadcast around the globe.

I'm Stephen Frazier.

MCEDWARDS: And I'm Colleen McEdwards.

From London to Lebanon, wherever you're watching, this is YOUR WORLD TODAY.

All right. Well, open to new ideas and ready to alter the course, the man tapped to be the next U.S. defense secretary says all options are on the table when it comes to the war in Iraq.

FRAZIER: We're going to begin with the Senate confirmation hearings under way in Washington for nominee Robert Gates. The former CIA director is expected to sail through the confirmation process, winning approval from Republicans and Democrats alike. Still, though, these hearings are an important forum for Gates for explaining how he would chart U.S. military strategy, especially in the conflict which he calls his highest priority. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GATES: Developments in Iraq over the next year or two will, I believe, shape the entire Middle East and greatly influence global geopolitics for many years to come. Our course over the next year or two will determine whether the American and Iraqi people and the next president of the United States will face a slowly but steadily improving situation in Iraq and in the region, or will face the very real risk and possible reality of a regional conflagration. We need to work together to develop a strategy that does not leave Iraq in chaos and that protects our long-term interests in and hopes for the region.



SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT.), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: It is highly unlikely that you would recommend to the president the beginning of a withdrawal of American troops without regard to conditions on the ground in Iraq.

GATES: I think any decision, Senator, with respect to troop levels -- first of all, I would seek the views of the commanders themselves, but I think that any decision on troop levels has to be tied to the situation on the ground in some respect.

LIEBERMAN: And that an increase or surge in the number of American troops there, for instance to better embed American coalition forces with the Iraqi security forces, which is an idea that has been embraced by many, would -- the potential for a surge or a temporary increase in American troops is one of the options that you would consider as part of your review now?

GATES: That certainly is an option, and related to that, it might be, do we have sufficient number of trainers? If our focus is on training and bringing up the Iraqi army, do we have enough trainers to do that job in Iraq? And do we have -- should we be embedding more of our troops with the Iraqis?

I think these are all questions that need to be examined.


FRAZIER: Our chief U.S. correspondent, John King, joins us now from Washington to discuss the gates confirmation hearing.

John, it seems like there was a lot more thoughtfulness applied both in the questions and in the answers, and a much greater range of things being discussed than we heard in a long time.


The question still is on the table, will we see a significant change in administration policy? And as Mr. Gates said time and time again, that is, no matter what he recommends, ultimately the decision to be made by the president of the United States. But the atmospherics, the change in atmospherics, was quite stunning.

You have a man who said early on in the hearing, "No, sir, we're not winning in Iraq." You have a man who said he would consider all options. That he considers everything on the table.

Now, again, in the end, he says the final decision will be made by the president, but the atmospheric change is stunning. And you saw that in the reaction from both the Democrats and the Republicans who, frankly, think they have been ignored, sometimes insulted, and treated as children almost by the current secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. A very testy relationship between the defense secretary and even some members of his own party in the Congress.

So, Mr. Gates is certainly off to a good start in terms of his relationships. And there is no question at all, Stephen, that he will be confirmed and confirmed quite quickly and quite easily.

But the ultimate questions are, will the president of the United States decide to draw down the troops or increase troops in the short term? Will he decide when he gets the recommendation from the so- called Iraq Study Group to engage in high-level conversations with Iran and Syria?

The president has said nothing publicly since the elections here in the United States that would suggest he is ready to have a significant policy shift, but many also would say he's been waiting for a moment like this, to get that report, to get his new defense secretary, and then we will see if any major change comes.

FRAZIER: And so for our viewers around the world, John, there has to be some heart to take from this. Just to see a little bit more sophistication voiced on all of these issues.

KING: Well, I'm not sure I would agree with the choice of words, but I get exactly what you're trying to get at. Mr. Rumsfeld is certainly someone who can be described as very stubborn. Some describe him as arrogant. And in many cases, what they would say on Capitol Hill is that Secretary Rumsfeld was fond of giving the answers, not so fond of considering the questions, if you will, that he didn't ask questions himself.

And that's the criticism mainly of the entire administration, that they have not as frequently as they should have in any enterprise, but particularly a war that the American people certainly believe and most people around the world believe has gone badly, that they have not asked themselves these questions frequently enough. Why not every three months, if not three weeks, if necessary, reassess, review and then change your strategy?

So, the openness of Mr. Gates to say, I'll listen to everybody, I will consider all questions, everything will be on the table, is certainly a dramatic change. One that will be welcomed -- is already welcomed on Capitol Hill. One that presumably the president of the United States welcomes -- he, after all, picked Mr. Gates -- and one that I think will get Mr. Gates instant credibility around the world, although, again, talking is one thing. We'll see if there's a significant policy change.

FRAZIER: Well, we will watch for that. In the meantime, we're monitoring this with great interest. And we appreciate those insights.

John King from Washington. Thanks, John.

KING: Thank you, Stephen.

FRAZIER: And to underscore the importance of these hearings under way, in Iraq itself there was a lot more violence and bloodshed on this day. Attackers targeted markets in Baghdad. They used car bombs and mortars, killed six people. Another 15 people were killed when gunmen opened fire on a bus that was carrying employees of a Shiite organization.

And at least 14 more people died when three car bombs went off near a petrol station in southwestern Baghdad. That's a neighborhood, by the way, which is described as religiously mixed.

MCEDWARDS: So there you have it, the relentless violence, the militias roaming the streets. Civilians trying to police their neighborhood against sectarian attacks.

The challenges in bringing order to Iraq are certainly huge. They're enormous. And while everyone agrees that there's an urgent need for change, just what that new course should be is still hotly disputed.

In the U.S., talk of any troop withdrawal is tempered by fears that even greater chaos could break out. But as Nic Robertson reports, more and more Iraqis are starting to see U.S. troops as part of the problem.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This weekend, a triple bombing in the heart of Baghdad. Fifty-one dead and more than 90 injured. Horrific, and attacks like this more common than ever before.

A new survey conducted by Iraqi pollsters shows the daily violence is escalating Iraqi demands that U.S. troops leave. More than half the 2,000 Iraqis surveyed said they want all U.S. troops out now. And almost half the remainder want a withdrawal to begin immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The percentage of who oppose the presence of U.S. forces is increasing, and you know that is not good for the U.S. military.

ROBERTSON: Members of the independent survey team trained by the U.S. State Department fear insurgents or militia attack, and agreed to talk only if we hide their identity. They have been conducting surveys here for three years. Even they are surprised so many want U.S. troops out.

(on camera): The situation will improve if the U.S. troops withdraw immediately?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, immediately.

ROBERTSON (voice over): But that's not all. In this poll of Sunnis and Shias, in both mixed and divided communities, 19 out of every 20 people say security was better under Saddam Hussein. Nine in 10 people say they feel danger whenever they see American soldiers. And two-thirds say they will feel safer when U.S. troops have left the country.

The big picture response, according to the pollsters, U.S. troops are part of the problem not the solution, and they want a change in U.S. policy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Most of the people in our survey hope for a new policy in Iraq.

ROBERTSON: Although this survey was commissioned by Iraq's government, the results have also been sent to the State Department and reveal what many U.S. officials have long believed, fixing the economy could help stop the violence.

The best way to disarm insurgents, the Iraqis said, is to offer them jobs.

Perhaps less surprising, given the worsening security, Iraqis are beginning to question their own democratic choices. Half say they wouldn't vote for the same party again. And two of every three say they have no confidence in the current government. Survey officials say the poll has a margin of error of just over three percentage points.

(on camera): The polling was conducted right after the U.S. midterm elections at the beginning of November. And what the survey team says unites Iraqis more than anything else is their hope that Democrats will use the new power to shape a new policy for Iraq.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Baghdad.


MCEDWARDS: Well, supporting the idea that change is desperately needed, the U.S. commander in Iraq says 2007 will be the year of transition, when security is handed over to Iraqi forces. That goal certainly sounds good on paper, but are Iraqi forces really up to the task?

Ben Wedeman has a look at that.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is how it's supposed to happen: Iraqi soldiers capturing insurgents, resting peace and stability from the chaos that is Iraq today. But this is just a drill.

More than three and a half years after the U.S.-led invasion, the Iraqi army and police are supposed to be increasingly taking the lead while American forces provide backup.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we're here to support you in your checkpoints. If you get attacked or you have a suspected terrorist coming through your checkpoints, we're here to support you.

WEDEMAN: But the performance of Iraqi security forces has at best been mixed.

The Iraqi police have failed to establish basic order despite billions of dollars and millions of man hours spent on training. And the police force is widely believed to be infiltrated by the insurgents and militias and plagued by widespread corruption. The army has fared only slightly better, suffering from high levels of desertion and lacking strong leadership, with many U.S. troops frustrated by what sometimes appears to be a lack of motivation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They didn't do too much work yesterday. They didn't do too much work the day before. They haven't done too much work since they have been here.

WEDEMAN: The bipartisan Iraq Study Group and other reviews ongoing in Washington are trying to address these many shortcomings, but it will be an uphill battle in a country where the best-laid plans have a way of going terribly wrong.

(on camera): And while the focus is on fixing Iraq's security forces, some military analysts are convinced the real problem lies with Iraq's government, which is so divided among rival sectarian groups and parties that it simply cannot provide the leadership necessary to bring Iraq back from the brink of catastrophe.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Baghdad.


MCEDWARDS: All right. And we are going to pick up with some of these pressing concerns about security in Iraq.

Coming up later in the program, a U.S. Democratic senator who is attending the Gates confirmation hearings will join us to talk about the tough road ahead.

We're going to take a short break, but we'll be right back.


MCEDWARDS: Welcome back to CNN International.

FRAZIER: You're with YOUR WORLD TODAY, where we bring CNN's viewers around the world the most important international stories of the day.

And one of those stories, of course, as warning from Tehran.

MCEDWARDS: That's right. We're talking about a new threat from the president of Iran. And that is topping our check of other stories making news around the world this hour.

Here is some more details on this.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says if European nations back proposed U.N. sanctions against Tehran, his nation will consider it an act of hostility. The U.N. wants Iran to stop uranium enrichment. The five permanent Security Council members and Germany meet on Tuesday, and they're actually going to be talking about possible sanctions here.

FRAZIER: In Fiji, the commander who led a bloodless coup says he wants to wipe the government of corruption and then hold new elections. The island nation's deposed prime minister is currently under house arrest. This is Fiji's fourth coup in only two decades.

MCEDWARDS: Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf says his country is ready to give up its claim to the disputed Kashmir region, but only if India does the same and then allows the region to become autonomous. The proposal includes a staggered withdrawal from the region which, as you may know, is heavily, heavily militarized.

A trail of poison and intrigue has led a team of British investigators to Moscow. This is the latest port of call in the investigation into the poisoning of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko. But while Moscow says it will cooperate with the investigation, the prosecutor general says any Russian suspects will not be extradited.

Jennifer Eccleston joins us now with more on this.

Jennifer, what's the latest?

JENNIFER ECCLESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Colleen. As you mentioned, British police in Moscow have already come up against some significant challenges on this, their first day of the investigation of the death of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko. And despite assurances from the Kremlin that they will cooperate, there seems to be significant limitations to that cooperation.


ECCLESTON (voice over): Scotland Yard detectives in Moscow to interview several people who met Alexander Litvinenko around the time of his poisoning in early November. On the first full day of their investigation, one that British authorities say could take weeks, a major snarl. Despite Kremlin pledges of full support, the country's prosecutor general says Russia will not expedite possible suspects.

YURI CHAIKA, RUSSIAN PROSECUTOR GENERAL (through translator): If they want to arrest them it would be impossible. They are citizens of Russia, and the Russian constitution makes that impossible.

ECCLESTON: The Russian prosecutor general adds that any one who is questioned will be questioned by Russian prosecutors. The British will simply be allowed to listen in.

One of the people investigators are expected to speak to is the former KGB officer-turned-businessman, Andrei Lugovoi. He and another former agent met Litvinenko at London's Millennium Hotel the day Litvinenko became ill.

The Millennium Hotel tested positive for radiation exposure, and Lugovoi claims that he, his wife and children also tested positive. He is currently in a Moscow hospital. Any attempts to link him to Litvinenko's death, he says, is a set-up.

According to British media reports, Lugovoi visited the British embassy in Moscow last week to deny any involvement. Today the embassy was tested for possible contamination.

ANJOUM NORRANI, UNITED KINGDOM EMBASSY (through translator): A group of experts have arrived in Moscow from London to check the embassy building for radiation. These are just precautionary measures, like those undertaken in several public places in London.

ECCLESTON: A dozen sites in London have now been tested, as well as several airplanes that traveled the Moscow-London route since November 1st, when Litvinenko is believed to have been poisoned. Twenty-two days later, Alexander Litvinenko died in a London hospital. His organs ravaged by a rare radioactive isotope called Polonium-210.

From his death bed, the ex-spy-turned-Kremlin-critic accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of responsibility for his poisoning. An accusation the Kremlin has denied.

A number of Litvinenko's associates continue to blame active and rogue agents within Russia's federal security services, the FSB, Litvinenko's former employer. A former FSB colleague, Mikhail Trepashkin (ph), through his lawyer, expressed his eagerness to talk to British investigators to make the case that Litvinenko was a victim of an FSB death squad set up to liquidate Kremlin opponents.

Trepashkin (ph) is currently serving a prison sentence for exposing state secrets. Russia's prison service ruled out any prospects of a meeting between the ex-spy and British investigators. A prison spokesman said somebody sentenced for disclosing state secrets will not continue to be a source for foreign states.

There may be limits to the Kremlin's pledge of full support.


ECCLESTON: Well, it appears to be an inauspicious start in trying to find out who poisoned the former KGB agent, how did they do it and why -- Colleen.

MCEDWARDS: All right. Jennifer Eccleston.

Thanks very much for bringing us up to date there, Jennifer. Appreciate it. FRAZIER: We're going to spend a little bit more on this. Before now, most of us had never heard of this Polonium-210. But as Jennifer just reported, this rare radioactive substance is at the center of this mysterious death.

MCEDWARDS: Coming up, we're going to learn just how it kills, what it does. And the details of this are quite chilling.

And then a massive turnout at a funeral in Lebanon. Could the death of one man foretell a downward spiral toward war?

We'll have more on this when YOUR WORLD TODAY returns.

Stay with CNN.


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, hello, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen at the CNN Center in Atlanta. More of YOUR WORLD TODAY in just a few minutes. But first, stories making headline in the United States.

Blunt words and grim assessments from President Bush's choice to be the next defense secretary. Nominee Robert Gates didn't mince words in his hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He says he will reserve all U.S. policy and tactics in Iraq.

Here's one candid exchange with Senator John McCain.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: We are not winning the war in Iraq, is that correct?

GATES: That is my view. Yes, sir.

MCCAIN: And therefore, the status quo is not acceptable.

GATES: That is correct, sir.


NGUYEN: Now, before the hearing, Gates met with President Bush. You see that here. Both say a quick withdrawal of U.S. troops would be a disaster.

Tomorrow, President Bush receives recommendations from the Iraq Study Group, which has been reviewing the current strategy.

Let's take you to Baghdad now.

A bloody backdrop to today's confirmation hearing. A series of car bombs in the capital killed at least 14 people. Check it out. It also wounded more than two dozen others.

Earlier, gunmen opened fire on a bus. At least 15 people died in that attack. Also today, authorities found 15 bodies dumped across the city.

A hoax, that's what an Alabama sheriff is calling a mother's story that led to an Amber Alert. Listen to this.

The body of a 5-year-old boy was found in the woman's car early this morning. The sheriff says the mother lied when she said the boy was sleeping in her car when it was stolen from a convenience store. The mother is now suspected of conspiring with her boyfriend to kill the child.

Well, it's a bittersweet rescue in Oregon. Now they are hoping for a reunion.

A missing mother and her two young daughters have been found alive. That's the good news. They were stuck in the car in the snowy Oregon back country for almost nine days with little food and water.

A helicopter crew rescued Kati Kim and her daughters yesterday, but the search for the girl's father, well, that is still going on. On CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING," Kati Kim's father was relieved.


PHIL FLEMING, KATI KIM'S FATHER: I was prepared to receive bad news. I was prepared to look at this issue realistically in the odds -- in the odds for a bad outcome.

When I received the news I had to confirm it over and over. It was -- it was just unbelievable joy to have my three girls back. That joy, however, is tempered in -- over our concern about James, who -- who's been heroic in this situation.


NGUYEN: Well, James Kim left his family Saturday in search of help. He never returned.

What a difference a day makes. It looks like the worst is over in Moorpark, California, just north of Los Angeles.

Crews say that raging wildfire is 70 percent contained, thanks in part to decreasing Santa Ana winds. The fire scorched more than 13,000 acres and gutted five homes and two businesses. If the winds don't kick up again, the firefighters expect to have the blaze surrounded by night fall.

No thaw. More than 100,000 people across Missouri and Illinois facing a sixth day without electricity after a storm sent temperatures plunging. Whether-related deaths now at 23. Utility crews from more than a dozen states are working to get that electricity back on.

Now here is Chad Myers with a look at today's weather.


NGUYEN: In other news, you can say adios to trans fats. New York City's Board of Health unanimously voted today to ban the unhealthy oils at restaurants.

Trans fats are believed to be harmful. And scientists say they raise bad cholesterol while lowering good cholesterol. The fats are found in many processed foods, including cookies, crackers and pancakes. You know, the things that we enjoy eating.

Well, a success giant to tell you about. Check this out.

The Intrepid gets the heave-ho. Several tugboats pulled the carrier-turned-floating-museum from its muddy mooring in the Hudson River. It happened just a few hours ago, and a month after a failed attempt.

The Intrepid is nearing a New Jersey shipyard for a $60 million overhaul. Refurbishing will take two years.

At the top of the hour, continuing coverage of the Robert Gates confirmation hearings. So be sure to join Kyra Phillips and Don Lemon right here in the "NEWSROOM." Among their guests, former defense secretary William Cohen.

In the meantime, YOUR WORLD TODAY continues right after a quick break.

I'm Betty Nguyen.



FRAZIER: The U.S. defense nominee says all options are on the table. This is quite a change according to one of the senator there is. For more on the confirmation hearings and the candidate, let's turn now to Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee holding the hearings right now, who has taken the kindness to step away to join us.

Senator, thanks for joining us now.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Good afternoon.

FRAZIER: Give me some quick sense of what you're hearing and what you think of it.

NELSON: He will be confirmed, I expect unanimously. Clearly, there is a big change in candor and forthrightness from what we've seen in the secretary of defense and the former Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz, where there's been all of this slight of hand, and head fake and not being straightforward. And since ours is a constitutional government that has shared powers what we expect is forthrightness and truth. And I think Gates clearly has the message, and I believe when he's confirmed that he's going to try to conduct himself in that way. If he doesn't, then he's going to get into trouble.

FRAZIER: Well, we had a sense of that very early on. In fact, in response to some questions from Senator John McCain of Arizona, some of us found the answer to be breath taking.

Let's listen to that brief exchange and then talk about it. Here's Senator McCain.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We are not winning the war in Iraq, is that correct?

ROBERT GATES, NOMINEE FOR DEFENSE SECY.: That is my view, yes, sir.

MCCAIN: And the -- therefore the status quo is not acceptable?

GATES: That is correct, sir.


FRAZIER: This a big change.

NELSON: It is. And you'll notice, not beat around the bush, straightforward answer. That's refreshing.

FRAZIER: You know Senator Rumsfeld was a very intelligent man but there seems to be a degree of thoughtfulness on display here today that must be reassuring to our viewers around the world, including the thoughtfulness expressed in some of the questions.

NELSON: Well, you know, he's been there in government for years. He is now out in the life of academe, and he doesn't have to do this. And If I were in his shoes, I would say I'm going to do this for my country, but I'm going to do it with all the principles that I've been taught since a child, and that is to be straightforward, and that's not what we've had out of this administration for the past five years.

FRAZIER: Well, you say you would do it for your country, but Mr. Gates keeps reminding us all that he also answers to one president of the United States, and it's the president who will make the ultimate decisions.

Are you worried by -- I mean that's a constitutionally correct, but do you think there's more going on there?

NELSON: Well, I think the president is at a point given the last elections that he realizes that he's got to work with the Congress, and he's got to do so in a way of bipartisanship. That was one of the first questions that I asked. Today in these hearings I asked the future secretary that, in my opinion, that partisanship should stop at the water's edge, and that when we get into matters of defense of the country and defense of the national interests of the country around the globe, there's no place for partisanship. That's not what we have seen in the last five, six years. And I think he's gotten that message. That was the essence of my question. And he responded affirmatively.

FRAZIER: But will a secretary of defense, senator, be senior enough to affect the change you're hoping for when it comes to bipartisanship?

NELSON: Yes. And to also stop some of the uniform militaries from being yes men just to a particular point of view instead of asserting their independent judgment about military matters. And we've seen that over and over again on this committee. Military officers just saying the party line, and that's not what we need in a great democracy like our country's.

FRAZIER: Well, it will be thrilling to see how things occur in the coming days and months. We know that for the coming moments the proceedings continue behind you and that you're expected there. So Senator Nelson, thank you for giving us this time now.

NELSON: Thank as lot.

FRAZIER: We know that the Bush administration will be spending a lot of time on Iraq this week. Wednesday, the Iraq Study Group will be releasing its findings, and we expect that at about 11:00 a.m. Eastern time, 16:00 GMT, and we will have extensive coverage of that -- Colleen.

MCEDWARDS: Thanks, Steven.

Well, thousands of people are mourning the death of a Shiite man in Lebanon. He was shot to death in a riot that reflects the growing religious divide there. The specter of renewed civil war is growing in a country that's bitterly split between a pro-Western prime minister and an opposition led by Hezbollah.

Brent Sadler reports.


BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The escalating battle for power in Lebanon claims what these anti-government Muslim Shiites call a martyr to their political cause, shot in recent street clashes. But sorrow suddenly turns to anger towards Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, the Sunni Muslim leader they have vowed to topple. Amid the fury, calls for revenge, chanting "death to Siniora," pouring fuel onto Lebanon's political wildfire.

The previous night, the coffin of a 21-year-old Ahmed Mahmoud (ph) was brought to the huge anti-government camp that's taken over downtown Beirut. He was killed in a nearby Sunni district of the capital. It's here in the concrete maze of Lebanon's sharply divided religious neighborhoods that there's a return to creeping sectarian violence.

(on camera): These mixed-Muslim neighborhoods identify with some of the most powerful political leaders in Lebanon. Over here in this street a picture of Sar Hariri (ph) the Sunni Muslim leader of the parliament majority. In the very next street just over here are pictures of the main Shiite Muslim leaders -- Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah and the speaker of the parliament Nabih Berri. These streets it's feared, are now being slowly turned into political powder kegs. (voice-over): Violent clashes have erupted at night. Rival religious groups have beaten each other with sticks or thrown stones. Shiites allegedly shot of the business of a Sunni Muslim supporter of the Hariri family, which helps keep Prime Minister Siniora in power.

Political posters were torn in shreds, property damaged. Abul Ali-Itarni (ph) says his` son saved him but Imin Itarni (ph), a policeman, claims an anti-government protester shot him in the neck during a vicious struggle to protect his father.

They started saying we don't want you in our area explains Imin. We don't want Sunnis in the neighborhood. The kind of talk that scares many Lebanese who live in a country that has been engulfed by two civil wars in the past 50 years. A possible third war warns governmental ally Wally Junblat (ph) could mirror violence in Iraq.

WALLY JUNBLAT (PH), LEBANESE GOVERNMENT ALLY: I don't want even to imagine this idea, because it would be horrible. But if it goes to sectarian strife like Baghdad, it would be terrible.

SADLER: Sunni Prime Minister Siniora counts on the strong support, too, but he's faced with determined mostly Shiite-led opposition amid mounting fury on both sides of the political and sectarian divide.


MCEDWARDS: All right, CNN's Brent Sadler joins us now for more on this. Brent, in your report you describe the streets as really a powder keg. I guess the question on a lot of people's minds is, can the military keep this under control?

SADLER: Well, let's look at what's going on right now. Every night, for the past five nights, downtown Beirut has been turned into a virtual stage to promote a fierce anti-government line. These protests as you can hear are always noisy, but they are well organized and they are peaceful.

That's at the core of the Hezbollah-led opposition position in the center of town. As I reported, it's on the periphery where there is great concern in those back streets and alleyways, where this violence has been brewing, that is causing the authorities here to increase the security presence around the capital with greater and greater numbers of armed police, armed army units backed up by armor in some cases to try to keep a lid on the violence -- Colleen.

MCEDWARDS: All right. CNN's Brent Sadler updating us there from Beirut. Thanks very much, Brent.

We're going to take a short break here on YOUR WORLD TODAY, but we'll be back in just a moment with more.


MCEDWARDS: Welcome back to CNN International. We want to take you live now to the confirmation hearings for Robert Gates, the choice for U.S. defense secretary. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is asking questions now. Let's listen.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: ... there is any change that will be pursued by the president? Do you have an opinion as to how and when the process will occur that might lead to some changes in options and strategies?

ROBERT GATES, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: My sense, Senator Clinton, is that this process is going to proceed with considerable urgency. I would tell you that if I'm confirmed as soon as I'm sworn, I intend to actually move very quickly in terms of the consultations with the commanders in the field and with the chiefs and with others in terms of formulating my recommendations. So I would say with certainly from my standpoint and I think also from the administration's with considerable urgency.

CLINTON: Finally let me ask you, Dr. Gates, that in an oral history of the '91 Gulf War produced by the PBS program "FRONTLINE", you made some very definite points about how the military often overstates or even in your words, exaggerate the level of forces required to accomplish a specific objective.

I'm concerned that is precisely the attitude we heard from Secretary Rumsfeld, former deputy secretary Wolfowitz and others with regard to General Shinseki's (ph) recommendation and many in the uniformed military and civilian experts who have consistently beat the drum we don't have enough troops, we never had enough troops.

Therefore, how will you take that set of recommendations from your uniformed military onboard and figure out how you're going to assess it, given your previously stated position that it's often exaggerated when we look at missions to accomplish?

GATES: Senator, that statement was made in the context of the bureaucratic wars in Washington and the decision-making process or the process of considering contingency planning in the situation room.

I would tell you that CIA also in those same meetings often would describe very pessimisticly the prospects for covert actions that were being considered by an administration and frankly it's my experience that both the military and CIA take that kind of approach because sometimes they hear as one of the earlier senators was I think it was perhaps Senator Warner, the chairman, they hear some awfully strange ideas in the situation room sometimes from members of the National Security Council staff.

It was also my experience that contrary to the conventional wisdom it was the State Department that most often wanted to use force and the Department of Defense that most often wanted to use diplomacy.

MCEDWARDS: All right, Robert Gates there trying to clarify some of the remarks that he's made in the past to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Very much part of this process as lawmakers try to get a fix on what Gates has said in the past. What that might say about what he'll do in the future on the issue of Iraq. We're going to take a short break. We're monitoring the hearings for you. And we'll be back in just a moment.


FRAZIER: We'd like to return now as promised to the death of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko.

MCEDWARDS: He was poisoned with Polonium-210. That's a radioactive substance and it is extremely rare and deadly.

FRAZIER: Extremely lethal. Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a look at the deadly effect of this Polonium-210.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At first he just feels ill, checks into a hospital. He grows weaker. It could be the flu, an infection, even cancer.

But something is different. He's in excruciating pain and he is deteriorating, dying right in front of his doctors.

DR. JOHN HENRY, LITVINENKO'S TOXICOLOGIST: I didn't go into sort of a clear-cut investigative mode straight away. He just had a clinical illness but then as it progressed everybody began to think more seriously about this man.

GUPTA: They scratched their heads. They think Thallium, a heavy metal, and rat poison and even Geiger tests. But all tests are negative. Twenty days later, a blip on a laboratory computer screen. The toxicologist finds radioactive poisoning, but he shows no rashes, no burns, none of the typical signs of severe radiation. Somehow the radioactive poison is already inside him.

HENRY: It's not the kind of tests or the kind of confirmation you would get in a hospital laboratory. It's the kind of thing that has to be done in a very specialized laboratory.

GUPTA: In 22 days, Alexander Litvinenko went from living and breathing to dead. The now-known cause, Polonium-210. It's a naturally occurring radioactive material that can be found in trace amounts virtually anywhere. In soil, in rocks, even in our own bodies.

(on camera): Polonium-210 can be devastating if inhaled or ingested. But as you can see, I'm in this laboratory wearing really no protective gear. In fact, your skin can protect you from Polonium in and of itself. I'm going to put these gloves on just for an added layer of protection and take you over to this laboratory over here.

Take a look at this piece of plastic. This is a piece of plastic that is actually been irradiated. Now you're not going to believe what happened to it. I'm going to show you here in just a moment.

(voice-over): When toxicologists realized the amount of Polonium-210 in Litvinenko's body, it set off alarm bells. DR. CHAM DALLAS, UNIV. OF GEORGIA TOXICOLOGIST: Alexander Litvinenko died in a relatively short period of time after exposure to that Polonium-210. That tells me that he got a very large dose.

GUPTA: And in a large dose is when Polonium-210 becomes deadly.

DALLAS: The production of Polonium is going to be in very limited number of locations.

GUPTA: Pure, larger amounts of the substance of typically generated with the use of a nuclear reactor. And it's not a substance that patients with symptoms of illness are regularly screened for. But it will show up in urine tests.

(on camera): Without a doubt, you're looking at Polonium-210.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, without a doubt.

GUPTA (voice-over): The problem with finding it is you have to know what you're looking for. But because it hasn't been used as a poison, it's not typically the first suspect when a patient presents with symptoms.

HENRY: I think everybody was shocked. They were really taken aback because nobody expected this particular substance to be what caused the poisoning and what killed him.

GUPTA: Think of that radiation blasting microscopic holes throughout your body, wreaking havoc, mutating everything, even your DNA, instant cancer.

(on camera): Now back to that piece of plastic. If you look at this piece of plastic, it looks absolutely solid. But again, it's been radiated. So has a piece of plastic in here at the bottom of the speaker.

Look what happens when I turn on, pour on some water here. It comes straight through. There are tons of holes in that filter just like there would be in the small intestine if it also got radiated.

Does this surprise you at all, using Polonium-210 as a murder weapon?

DR. BERND KAHN, GEORGIA TECH RESEARCH CENTER: Yes, it's shocking but I guess if you think about it, if you really want somebody to suffer terribly before dying, that's I guess one thing you could do.

GUPTA (voice-over): You can't see it, smell it, taste it, so the assassin could transport it in a vile or in a plastic bag. Handling it is that simple. But the damage inside the body is devastatingly irreversible. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


MCEDWARDS: All right, more news for you at the top of the hour.

FRAZIER: Stay with us.