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THE SITUATION ROOM

Pataki Interview; Middle East Update; Iraq: Market Attack; President Bush OKs the Killing or Capture of Iranian Agents in Iraq; Uranium Smuggling Case

Aired January 26, 2007 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, President Bush authorizing U.S. forces to capture or kill Iranian agents in Iraq.

Is the White House broadening the war and taking direct aim at Tehran?

Also, new developments in a bold attack on American forces in Iraq. Word that some soldiers were kidnapped by the insurgents before they were killed.

And a possible Republican presidential candidate critical of the president's order to send more troops to Iraq, the former New York governor, George Pataki. He's standing by to join us live.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The war in Iraq and growing tension with Iran colliding right now. We're learning that President Bush has authorized U.S. military forces in Iraq to capture or kill Iranian agents in that country under certain circumstances. And that's raising some concerns about the Bush administration's intentions toward Iran. All of this as the Senate approves Lieutenant General David Petraeus to become the new U.S. commander in Iraq.

Jamie McIntyre and Brian Todd are standing by.

But let's get the latest from our White House correspondent, Ed Henry -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, White House aides and the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, say this is really nothing new and that President Bush is just trying to protect U.S. troops, that basically these Iranian agents are the leading source of these improvised explosive devices that are killing and maiming U.S. soldiers.

But Democrats are wondering why it didn't happen sooner and they're wondering if now the president is really beating the war drums.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It just makes sense that if somebody is trying to harm our troops or stop us from achieving our goal or killing innocent citizens in Iraq that we will -- we will stop them.

HENRY (voice-over): This allows the president, sitting with his newly confirmed commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, to try and achieve two goals -- improve security in Iraq and get tough with Iran, which is moving ominously closer to obtaining nuclear weapons.

But the president's action against Iranian agents also provides fuel to the fire fanned by Democrats that the White House is really gunning to expand the war in Iraq into Iran.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We want the American troops protected in Iraq. But for the president to escalate this conflict outside Iraq is something that he has to come back and ask us permission to do.

HENRY: Democrats charge some of the president's rhetoric against Iran, like this last week, is reminiscent of the so-called cowboy diplomacy that led to the war in Iraq.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If they're moving weapons inside Iraq that will hurt the cause of democracy and, more particularly, hurt our soldiers, then we'll take care of business there.

HENRY: But on Friday, the president insisted Democrats are wrong.

BUSH: Now, some are trying to say that because we're enforcing, helping ourselves in Iraq by stopping outside influence from killing our soldiers or hurting Iraqi people that we want to expand this beyond the borders. That's -- that's -- that's a presumption that simply is not accurate.

HENRY: Democrats want aggressive, direct talks with Iran and other key nations, as the Baker-Hamilton Commission called for.

REID: I think what we should be doing is just as Secretary Baker suggested -- look at a regional way to solve the problem in Iraq. It's a regional problem. Let's talk to Egypt. Let's talk to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria.

HENRY: But the president has rejected many of the Baker-Hamilton recommendations and is now brushing off bipartisan Congressional opposition to his move to increase troops in Iraq.

BUSH: One of the things I've found in Congress is that most people recognize that failure would be a disaster for the United States. And in that I'm the decision-maker, I had to come up with a way forward that precluded disaster. (END VIDEO TAPE)

HENRY: "I'm the decision-maker" sounds awfully similar to last year, when the president declared, "I'm the decider" when he was rebuffing calls to fire Donald Rumsfeld. Democrats hear that rhetoric, they think this shows a president that is still dug in on his foreign policy.

But the president insisted again today he is committed to solving the Iranian crisis through diplomacy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, standing by, Brian Todd.

I want to bring him in -- Brian, there are indications, what, the Iranians are moving closer toward some nuclear program?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

At the same time that Iran is banning dozens of U.N. inspectors from entering the country, Tehran makes another move that a former weapons inspector says could lead to a military confrontation.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A diplomat close to the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency tells CNN Iran's government is set to take a key step toward making a nuclear bomb. Citing reports from Iranian officials and U.N. inspectors in Iran, the diplomat says next month, Iran will start installing modules at its underground facility at Natanz, each capable of housing 3,000 centrifuges.

What makes 3,000 an ominous number?

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: They could use those centrifuges to make enough highly enriched uranium for one or two nuclear weapons a year. And it could start to do that on fairly short notice.

TODD: Former U.N. Inspector David Albright says with this move, it could take Iran just over two years to produce a bomb, though technical problems could push it back several years.

Still, a U.S. official was angry enough to call this a major miscalculation by Tehran.

NICHOLAS BURNS, UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: If Iran takes this step, it is going to confront universal international opposition.

TODD: An Iranian official at the United Nations tells CNN those machines at Natanz cannot produce the grade of uranium needed for a bomb and he repeats his government's assertion that its nuclear program is for civilian energy.

David Albright says the machines are flexible enough to do both.

The U.N.'s top nuclear official wants everyone to cool down. MOHAMED ELBARADEI, IAEA DIRECTOR-GENERAL: I call on all parties to take a simultaneous time out. Iran take a time out from its enrichment activities, the international community takes time out from application of sanctions. Go immediately to the negotiating table.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: David Albright says that makes sense, at least in the short-term. He is worried that this could get out of control very quickly. What makes this so dangerous now, he says, is that the U.S. is now confronting Iran inside Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thank you.

In Iraq, meanwhile, some U.S. soldiers involved in a recent Trojan horse style ambush were actually kidnapped and killed. They were first thought to have died on the scene.

Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, is standing by with more -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in the U.S. military's new, more complete account of what happened last Saturday, it calls the operation a well rehearsed precision attack and notes that it has all the earmarks of an inside job.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): Explosives were used to destroy U.S. Humvees inside the compound, a diversion that allowed the dozen or so armed gunmen to get away with four captured U.S. soldiers. After killing one and wounding three others in a grenade and small arms attack.

The militants, driving at least five American SUVs, GMC Suburbans; wearing American-style uniforms; carrying U.S. weapons and speaking English, had already deceived Iraqi police guarding the compound and went straight to where the Americans were located, according to a news release.

The account provides grizzly details of what happened next. The attackers drove north to Bavil Province, where they attracted suspicion when they passed through another Iraqi checkpoint. The Iraqis tailed them as they drove across the Euphrates River into Hillah and eventually found the SUVs abandoned in Al-Mahwar.

According to the release, two soldiers were found handcuffed together in the back of one of the SUVs, both dead from gunshot wounds. A third soldier was found shot dead on the ground. A fourth was alive, with a gunshot wound to the head, but died as Iraqi police rushed him to a nearby hospital.

The original military account, released the next day, said only five U.S. soldiers were killed and three wounded while repelling the attack. ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I've just been made aware of the discrepancy in the account and I've asked for the specifics about it. And I'm about where you all are at this point. I think as they've investigated and tried to figure out what was going on that this other report has come out.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE: The U.S. military says there was a clear breakdown of Iraqi security and there is a full investigation underway.

And as for the original inaccurate information, a senior military official in Baghdad told CNN that that was the result of the confusion and the fog of war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: An inside job, if, in fact, there was an inside job. Very ominous for all U.S. military personnel in Iraq, who rely so much on Iraqis for their security.

We're going to stay on top of this story.

Jamie, thank you for that.

Meanwhile, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is leading a delegation of top Democrats, along with one Republican, now visiting Iraq. They met today with the prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki. He released a statement that he assured the lawmakers of his intention to crack down on militias and support U.S. efforts to try to secure the Baghdad area.

Let's go to New York and Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, shades of Vietnam. It wasn't until Americans taking to the streets that the Washington warmongers started to listen back then. And it may be starting to happen all over again.

Anti-war protesters getting ready to descend on the nation's capital tomorrow. Tens of thousands of demonstrators expected to march against the war in Iraq on Saturday in Washington, D.C.

The protesters will include a number of active duty military personnel.

It's not yet clear what kind of impact the protests will have. Only four members of Congress are expected to attend. Democratic Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, who is attending, said: "The country has told us that they don't like what's happening and they want us to do something about it. Congress has yet to keep up with the public."

That might be the understatement of the century.

Meanwhile, one senator is getting serious about trying to stop the war. Democrat Russ Feingold scheduled a subcommittee hearing for next week to see if Congress has the authority to cut off the flow of money to fund the war.

So here's the question -- will a major demonstration against the war this weekend in Washington, D.C. make any difference?

E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile.

I don't guess you'll be marching in that, will you, Wolf?

BLITZER: No, but I'll be watching it from a little bit of a distance.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

Up ahead -- before we do that, though, if you want a sneak preview, by the way, of Jack's questions plus an early read on the day's political news and what's ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM, sign up for our early e-mail alert. You can do that by simply going to cnn.com/situationroom.

Up ahead now, he strongly supported President Bush on Iraq, but now this possible presidential candidate seems to be breaking ranks.

Standing by live, I'll be speaking with the former New York Governor George Pataki. I'll ask him what's going on. That's coming up.

Also, he was convicted of trying to sell weapons grade uranium. Now CNN has obtained exclusive video of the man. We're going to show it to you.

Plus, Al Gore's Academy Award nominated film on global warming now in the middle of the culture wars. We're going to tell you what's going on.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The former New York Governor George Pataki and possible Republican presidential candidate, George Pataki, seems to be breaking ranks with President Bush when it comes to Iraq.

Let's find out.

He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Governor, thanks for coming in.

GEORGE PATAKI (R), FORMER GOVERNOR, NEW YORK: Nice to be with you again, Wolf.

BLITZER: This is a very personal matter, Iraq, for you. You have a son who serves in the United States Marine Corps. PATAKI: Yes, I do. But I think it's a personal matter for every American. It's on the front of everyone's mind and whether it's your son or someone else's daughter, we all love and support every one of the brave men and women who put on the uniform to defend our country.

BLITZER: So are you breaking ranks with the president right now and splitting with him on this troop surge, this buildup?

PATAKI: I'm offering a different path. And I just saw where there's anti-war protests, there are Democrats saying get out now. The president says we need to surge.

What I am trying to do is offer a way forward that can bring Americans together. We are facing a very, very important global struggle, the Islamic Jihadists who have attacks us in the past and want to do it again. We can't disengage from this war without raising the risk of more attacks here in America.

So what I, in my speech today, talked about are the two different battles we are in in Iraq. One, after the al Qaeda Jihadists. We have to...

BLITZER: Which, you support that one. But...

PATAKI: ... we have to stay and we have to be...

BLITZER: ... but you don't think the other one is winnable, is that what you're saying?

PATAKI: Well, the second is to create that stable representative democracy based in Baghdad. Of course, we want that to happen. We hope it happens. But before we commit more troops in the middle of the sectarian violence, we have to have more than hope. We have to have some level of confidence that it can happen.

BLITZER: You don't trust this prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki...

PATAKI: We have not...

BLITZER: ... to do the right thing?

PATAKI: We're talking about creating institutions of democracy in Iraq that will work. We can't make that happen. The Maliki government must make that happen.

So what I did was outline four steps I believe we should insist they take prior to our determining whether or not to go forward with the surge.

BLITZER: Let me point out, this is what you said at the Republican convention in New York in 2004, because I want to see this transition from...

PATAKI: Sure.

BLITZER: ... where you were then to where you are now. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM 2004 REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION)

PATAKI: With supreme guts and rightness, President Bush went into Iraq. The U.S. had asked for peace, went to the U.N. time and again, asked Saddam to spas. But Saddam would not be moved.

So President Bush moved him. Some people have called this an abuse of power. I call it progress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Knowing what you know now, knowing what's happened over the past three and-a-half years, more than 3,000 deaths, thousands of others maimed, $400 billion -- is this still progress? Was this a blunder?

PATAKI: Well, when I spoke then, we were fighting against Saddam and we had defeated Saddam and we had taken away the ability of anyone to use Iraq as a platform to attack America.

Today, as I said, we have gone from fighting that war against al Qaeda -- which is still ongoing in Anbar and over other parts of Iraq -- to being in the middle of what is essentially a religious war between Shia and Sunni extremists.

BLITZER: It's a civil war, some say.

PATAKI: Well, whether or not it's a civil war, it's one over -- that isn't directly related to...

BLITZER: This is not what you bargained for.

PATAKI: This is not what I think the American people expected. I do think it's what the administration expected. They thought -- and with some justification -- that you create the climate for change, you have free elections, you create a government that moderate Sunni, moderate Shia, Kurds, could come together behind that government.

But the government itself has not gone after Shia extremists, led by al-Sadr. They have not provided security in Sunni areas. Many of the Sunni think that it's a Shia government that is not acting not only to protect them, but is actively against their interests.

And what I am saying is we want to see a successful government in Baghdad. But they have got to take concrete steps to show that they're part of -- part of the solution and not part of the problem...

BLITZER: Where do...

PATAKI: ... before we commit more troops.

BLITZER: Where are you right now in terms of deciding whether to become a Republican presidential candidate? PATAKI: You know, Wolf, there are, I think, 16 or 17 candidates out there between the Republicans and the Democrats right now. There's plenty of politics. What I want to focus on is policy. And what I want to do today is offer a bridge between where the administration stands on Iraq and where many of the Congressional Democratic leadership stand.

They say no. The president says yes. What I am offering is something saying let's continue to make sure we go after Al Qaeda In Iraq. No safe havens. No bases. But let's unite together...

BLITZER: But if...

PATAKI: ... and say that if the Maliki government shows the intent, the will and the ability to move forward with a democracy, then we will support the president's call for more troops.

BLITZER: But if you want to be a serious contender, we have a poll that recently came out, you're way down, at only 3 percent; Giuliani at 32 and McCain at 26, you've got to get in there and you've got to start fighting pretty soon if you really want to be president of the United States.

PATAKI: Wolf, what I want to see right now is our country have policies that bring us together and that allow us to confront the challenges we face head-on. In Washington, we need less of the politics, less of the partisanship and more of the principled policies that we need.

And that's what I tried to outline today, a policy for Iraq that Republicans and Democrats, the administration and Congress, could get behind.

BLITZER: So give us -- I'm going to let you go -- but give me a time frame.

Why do you think you'll make your mind up?

PATAKI: Oh, I still want to focus on policy for a while. I'll make a decision at some point in the near future.

BLITZER: The next few weeks?

PATAKI: In all likelihood.

BLITZER: If you run, do you think you could beat Hillary Clinton?

PATAKI: You know, everybody runs against people. What I'm trying to do is advance policies that advance the American cause, not a particular candidate or party's interests.

BLITZER: Well, it looks like you're seriously thinking and we'll stay in touch with you and we'll get the decision one way or another in the next few weeks.

PATAKI: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Governor, for coming in.

Governor George Pataki.

Coming up, a chilly reception for Al Gore's hit movie on global warming. And we're going to show you the controversy raging in one school district right now and why.

And President Bush authorizing U.S. forces to capture or kill Iranian agents in Iraq.

Is it the first step toward broadening the war?

We'll hear from an expert.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring developments coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world.

What's making news right now -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I've got it right here, Wolf.

Thanks.

Canada's prime minister today apologized to Maher Arar for its role in the Syrian born citizen's deportation to Damascus. He also promised almost $9 million in compensation to Arar and his family for his ordeal. Arar was imprisoned and tortured in Syria after Canadian authorities mistakenly identified him to the United States as an Islamic fundamentalist. U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter expect to be briefed by the Justice Department on Arar's case next week.

In the Palestinian Territories, negotiators for Hamas and Fatah have left the bargaining table for now, largely because of mounting violence between the two factions. Fatah's militant wing kidnapped 19 Hamas members in the West Bank today.

Elsewhere, ongoing clashes today left at least 13 people on both sides dead; dozens more wounded. Fighting between the two Palestinian factions has raged for months.

The European Union is pledging in excess of $850 million in economic aid to Afghanistan. The funds will be earmarked for efforts to wean the country from the opium trade and to improve rural health care. The promise came during a meeting in Brussels, Belgium. It comes one day after the Bush administration announced it would seek $11 billion to fund training and equipping of Afghan soldiers and police.

Also today, two former Seton Hall University students face a five year prison sentence for starting a dormitory fire that killed three classmates. Joseph Lepore and Sean Ryan, who pleaded guilty to third degree arson last November, will be eligible for parole in 16 months. They described the January 2000 fire, which also injured 62 people, as a prank that got out of hand.

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

BLITZER: All right, Carol, thank you.

Still to come, U.S. forces getting the go ahead to capture or kill Iranian agents in Iraq.

What's really behind this kill order?

It's a controversial new White House policy. We'll have details.

Plus, exclusive video of a disturbing case. New images of a man trying to sell weapons grade uranium.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, Iranian elements in Iraq plotting attacks against U.S. forces and their allies and they could be caught or killed -- that according to a U.S. national security official. The official says the Bush administration has now authorized the U.S. military to kill those agents if there's good intelligence that the Iranians are plotting attacks against any coalition forces.

Also, a disturbing discrepancy regarding Saturday's so-called Trojan horse style attack in Karbala. According to U.S. military officials, four American soldiers involved in the attack were first captured, only later were they killed. Initial reports said that five soldiers died on the scene.

And here in the U.S. temperatures plummet to dangerous levels in the Northeast. In parts of Massachusetts, people are experiencing dead car batteries and frozen door locks, amid some wind chill indexes of 13 below zero.

And in New York, some homeless people are being brought inside to prevent them from freezing to death.

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

An attack rips through a Baghdad pet market, littering the sidewalk with both human and animal remains.

CNN's Michael Holmes is in Baghdad -- Michael.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Iraqi officials tell us that 15 people were killed, 39 others wounded when this bomb went off. A bizarre situation. Somebody brought in a box into this pet market, a box that's normally used to carry pigeons, put the box down, went off ostensibly to get a drink, and of course the bomb exploded inside that box.

This marketplace, this pet market, is a very popular place here in Baghdad, especially on a Friday morning. That's when this explosion happened. Very crowded on Friday mornings.

There are birds, dogs, cats, sheeps, goats, and also exotic animals for sale, things like snakes and monkeys. This pet market has been hit three times in as many months. And this is really the latest attack in the last couple of weeks.

There's been a series of attacks on busy commercial areas in the capital. The aim by insurgents, to show that no one can keep Iraqis safe, that the government is ineffective to destabilize Iraqis generally before the big military push by Iraqi and U.S. forces really gets under way.

Several other bombings also around the capital. One not far from where we stand that shook CNN's bureau. Two people were killed, more than a dozen wounded in that. It was a suicide car bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael Holmes in Baghdad for us.

Thank you.

Let's get some more now on our top story, President Bush authorizing U.S. military forces in Iraq to capture or kill Iranian agents in that country if there's intelligence showing they're planning to attack U.S. or coalition forces.

Let's get a little bit of analysis now what this means. Joining us, retired U.S. Army colonel Pat Lang, former chief of Mideast intelligence over at the Pentagon.

Pat, you know this area well. You studied it your whole life. You speak the language.

If the U.S. goes ahead, soldiers or Marines, and kill Iranians on the spot in Iraq, what are the Iranians do in retaliation?

COL. PAT LANG, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, I think Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. atomic agency, has it right. Everybody ought to calm down and take a step back and take a few deep breaths, because there's a kind of cycle of accelerated statements and heated developments that's going on now that tends to ratchet up the situation so much that it tends to push you in the direction of war. And something like that, in which we start to eliminate their people because we have information that we think might incriminate them is a very -- is a very dangerous escalating move.

BLITZER: Well, what would happen if the U.S. does kill these Iranians and the president has signed off on it?

LANG: Well, if he has signed off on it and intelligence is developed that indicates that what he says it's true, then they will in fact eliminate the people. The problem is, is that the Iranians will then have to make a decision as to how they're going to retaliate for that.

BLITZER: Well, how could they retaliate?

LANG: They could retaliate against U.S. forces in Iraq in a big way.

BLITZER: How could they do that?

LANG: They have hundreds of thousands of people from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guard corps already in Iraq.

BLITZER: Hundreds of thousands?

LANG: Oh, yes. That's a well-established figure that's though to be true across the community of people that look at this. And they're there as liaison personnel with the very Shia militias and things like that. And if they get sufficiently angry with us, they can start retaliating directly against our forces.

BLITZER: And in terms of in the past, Iranians, at least according to U.S. officials, have been accused of using terror organizations as sort of a cover for what they're plotting.

LANG: The Islamic Republic of Iraq (sic) has been the principal international sponsor of Islamic terrorism, both Sunni and Shia, ever since its foundation after the revolution against the Shah. They're very skilled at this. They've done it all over the world. And they would be -- they would be right in character with the way they do things to start using terrorism as an instrument of retaliation.

BLITZER: You're referring to Iran right now?

LANG: I'm referring to Iran, that's right. And they could do it anywhere in the world, not just in Iraq.

BLITZER: So, basically, there is potential here for what is a really bad situation getting increasingly worse?

LANG: Yes, there's a cycle of escalation going on right now between -- certainly on our side. The Iranians, on their side, have kind of hunkered down and are acting stubborn about things in the way that people in the third world sometimes do when their ambitions are interfered with.

But I don't see any tendency to a deescalation through negotiation on our part. Instead, we're just telling the Iranians, we want you to stop interfering in Iraq. And that's the end of the conversation.

BLITZER: There's been some suggestion that the president of Iran, Ahmadinejad, is in sort of shaky ground right now and that the supreme leader may be angry at what he's done and that others are clearly irritated.

What's your sense about his stability right now?

LANG: Well, the way the Iranian republic is set up, in fact, he is not the sole possessor of power in the same way the president of the United States is over the American armed forces. There are a lot of other actors in Iran, and a lot of them are very irritated with him, because he is, in fact, enabling a cycle of escalation against Iran which could be devastating if the United States decided to use its main strategic forces against the country.

BLITZER: I was told recently by a senior administration official that U.S. intelligence on actually what's happening inside of Iran right now, as far as his strength, Ahmadinejad is concerned, is not necessarily all that good.

LANG: No. I think probably if you go around the academic community and the think tank community in the United States, talk to people in New York and in California and here, academics who deal with Iran, you'll probably have a better, clearer idea of what is actually happening politically in Iran.

BLITZER: Is there, in your sense, bottom line, a desire on the part of the Iranians to engage directly with the United States in Iraq?

LANG: You mean in a combat sense?

BLITZER: Yes. In other words, to use -- the suggestion has been they're already supplying sophisticated improvised explosive devices, other military equipment, training to their friends in Iraq. But do you sense that the Iranians will get directly involved?

LANG: I don't think they'll do if they think that the ambitions for their Shia co-religions (ph) in Iraq are going to be fulfilled in the way that we have been going toward with a Shia government in Iraq and that kind of thing. On the other hand, if the situation of competition between the United States and Iran gets out of hand, then, in fat, it could get very hot very fast.

BLITZER: The deployment of another 21,000 or so U.S. troops to the Baghdad area, to the Al Anbar Province -- you've studied Iraq for a long time -- is it going to make a difference?

LANG: Well, in the overall situation?

BLITZER: Yes.

LANG: I don't think it will because the force is too small in the Baghdad area and it relies too heavily on Iraqi efficiency in carrying this out. And we're going to have a lot of people scattered in little penny packets all over the city, packed with Iraqi forces. And I doubt if that's actually going to have the clearing effect in Baghdad that we expect it will have.

BLITZER: So what's going to happen over the next six months? LANG: Over the next six months I think the United States government will come to the realization that Prime Minister Maliki cannot deliver on the some of things that he has in fact told them he's going to be able to do. And we might well have change of government in Iraq.

BLITZER: A change -- would that be good?

LANG: It's probably another government which also cannot deliver on promises it might make the United States, because any government there that is Shia in character has to depend on the Shia parties and militias for its support. So they can't fight these people in the long run.

BLITZER: What the American public wants to know is, the vulnerability, what's going to happen to 160,000 or so American troops in Iraq over the next six months to a year?

LANG: Over the next year, I would say that we're going to have a situation which will not improve markedly. But we will still have approximately the same number of people in Iraq. And a year from now, say in the middle of '08, we will be facing a situation in which that things will not have greatly improved but we'll still be there.

BLITZER: It will basically the same as what's happening right now, is that what you're saying?

LANG: I'm afraid that's true.

BLITZER: If you were still at the DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and you were briefing the president or the secretary of defense right now, what would be your recommendation?

LANG: Well, intelligence people don't usually make recommendation. But I will in this case.

I would say that what we need to have is a general, forceful, persistent round of negotiations throughout the region to settle as many interests as we can. Bring the temperature down enough so that we can all live with it without going to war some more. We don't need any more wars. Wars are really bad.

BLITZER: Colonel Pat Lang, retired U.S. Army intelligence.

Thanks very much more for coming in.

LANG: My pleasure

BLITZER: And still ahead, uranium for sale. It's a case that's made officials in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia and around the world more than a little nervous.

CNN's Ryan Chilcote has the latest, including some exclusive pictures of the man in middle.

And later, the East gets its first real cold snap of the season. Meanwhile, the debate over global warming is getting hotter than ever in one school district. We have details.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We have some new information coming in regarding a case that's raised many fears in the Republic of Georgia.

Let's go to CNN's Ryan Chilcote. He's in the capital of Tbilisi with more -- Ryan.

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you may have seen his photo. Now CNN has obtained exclusive video of the man convicted here in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia of smuggling weapons-grade uranium. Still unknown, where did the uranium come from?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHILCOTE (voice over): The grainy images videotaped by detectives in Georgia shows convicted Russian uranium smuggler Oleg Khiltsagov just moments after his arrest. Georgian authorities say Khiltsagov was taking just under 100 grams of weapons-grade uranium out of his coat pocket when they caught him.

Authorities say Khiltsagov kept the uranium in two plastic baggies and was planning on selling it to a Middle Eastern buyer from "a serious organization" for a million dollars. Instead, he ended up the target of a more than year-long sting operation.

What the Georgian authorities are now trying to find out is where the highly-enriched uranium came from. They say that, to their knowledge, it came from Russia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHILCOTE: Georgian officials have been researching Mr. Khiltsagov's past and believe he may have had ties to Russian secret services. Russian authorities will only say that Mr. Khiltsagov is a Russian citizen and that they can't establish the origin of the uranium from the small sample they received from Georgia -- Wolf

BLITZER: Ryan reporting from Tbilisi in Georgia.

In Beirut today, one day after deadly clashes spilled blood in the streets, the situation appears very different.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is in Beirut with details -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was much calmer today. Security very tight on the streets.

Hezbollah's anti-government rally into its 56th day. Behind me, noisy protests there. Only a handful of people attending. But security on the streets very tight, particularly around the funerals of some of the people killed in the violence at the university Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (voice over): Carried shoulder high to his freshly-dug grave, the body of Adnan Shamas (ph), one of four people killed in Sunni-Shia pro and anti-government clashes at Beirut's Arab University Thursday. At the grave site, his wife cried about his unborn son, calling for revenge against pro-government gunmen she blames for the killings.

Shamas' (ph) death cut deep into this pro-Hezbollah Shia community. Several thousand turned out. Many chanting in support of Hezbollah and calling for death to America and death to Lebanon Sunni prime minister.

(on camera): Lebanon's leaders are appealing for calm. But the country has never been so divided since the end of civil war in 1990. The tensions that are highest now are not just political, but sectarian, too.

(voice over): Around the university, where the violence flared, security is tight and there is relative calm. But passions in this Sunni predominantly pro-government community are high.

"What did we do? We didn't go into Hezbollah suburbs and destroy anything," he says. "It's them that came here and fought us." Fears of a return to civil war days are real for Sunnis here, even among the many who still value unity.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: It's the way people talk about the tensions now, not in pro and anti-government terms, but in terms of Sunni and Shia, that really give the best indication of just the sectarian way that this violence and tension is turning right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson joining us from Beirut. The tension continuing.

Up ahead, getting to the root of the chaos in Iraq. Could it be fueled and even funded by a close neighbor? Our Zain Verjee standing by. She will try to connect the dots. That's coming up, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also coming up, his film on global warming is hot. And so is the debate in one school district about whether to show it to students or not.

That's coming up next.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Lou Dobbs getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of the hour. He's going to give us a little preview. Hi, Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": HI, Wolf.

Coming up at the top of the hour, we'll be reporting on corporate America's blatant efforts to ignore congressional rules and flood this country with cheap overseas labor. Corporate elites once again sacrificing our middle class jobs.

We'll have that special report.

Also, one state refusing to implement one of the important new measures to protect this country from radical Islamist terrorists, a case being watched all across the country.

We'll have that story.

And, is big business now setting the agenda for U.S. foreign policy? New evidence the Bush administration is paying far more attention to commercial and trade interests than to our vital geopolitical national interests.

We'll have that special report.

And we'll be examining the stunning evidence of the perjury trial of former White House aide Scooter Libby.

All of that and a great deal more. And I'll have a few choice words for "The Wall Street Journal" as well.

Please join us at the top of the hour.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Do you want to give us a preview on what you're going to tell "The Wall Street Journal"?

DOBBS: Well, I'm going to explain to "The Wall Street Journal" that they really should try to do less in the way of serving their corporate masters and perhaps try to serve the American people, the national interests, and honesty as their first priorities. And then I'm going to get warmed up and really have a few words for them.

BLITZER: Well, you know, brace for a little bit of anti-Lou Dobbs editorial writing in the aftermath of that.

DOBBS: Well, you know, it's something that I'm perfectly willing to accept in the service of truth, justice and the America way.

BLITZER: Their editorial page and you have been on a different track in recent years. I don't know if you've noticed.

DOBBS: I have noticed that. And I have noticed that puts me on track with the right folks and "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page on track with libertarianism, corporatism, and a lot of other things I don't really like. BLITZER: All right. I think we have alerted our viewers to what's coming up. And they're going to be anxious to watch Lou's program coming up in a few minutes, 10 minutes, right here on CNN

Frigid weather gripping much of the Northeast today. The cold snap comes during an otherwise relatively warm winter that's been fueling some controversy over global warming. And that debate is flaring right now in one school district.

Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow. She's got the details of this latest battle in what we're calling the culture wars -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, on the same day this week that Hollywood announced an Oscar nomination for Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," a school board in the state of Washington was waging an intense debate over whether the movie should be shown to students.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice over): Is Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth" the next chapter in the debate pitting God against science in the classroom? Ask this parent, Frosty Hardison, who has protested to a Seattle suburb school board demanding his 13-year-old daughter not be shown what he calls the propagandist Al Gore video on global warming.

FROSTY HARDISON, FEDERAL WAY PARENT: It's not that we don't believe global warming is an occurrence, is happening. In fact, it says so in "Revelations." We've been expecting it for, what, 3,500 years now?

SNOW: Hardison argued that the world is under a curse of god and said other explanations for global warming, not just within the movie, need to be taught. The school board put a moratorium on the film, citing political concerns.

DAVE LARSON, FEDERAL WAY SCHOOL BOARD: There shouldn't just be one source information, especially when the person that is presenting it is a political partisan.

SNOW: The moratorium was later lifted, but only if another point of view is taught in class. The question we posed to scientist: What is an alternative view?

PHIL ARKIN, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: I don't think there is legitimately an actual opposing viewpoint to the "Inconvenient Truth" film.

SNOW: Other scientists says it's almost like asking for an opposing point of view to the fact the Earth isn't round. And the flap has stung producer Laurie David, who says the film is required viewing for students in Scotland, Sweden and Norway.

LAURIE DAVID, PRODUCER, "AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH": Well, my reaction is that it's completely outrageous, really. And, you know, this movie is based on fact. It's based on science. And there's really nothing controversial about science.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And a spokesman for the school district says the district has been flooded with thousands of e-mails from around the country, with the majority in favor of showing the film -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary's watching the story for us.

Thank you very much

And if you have wanted to know more about a certain political figure, but were frustrated with the search engine results, that may be about to change.

Let's go to CNN's Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner. She has details now on what one company is doing to diffuse so-called Google bombs.

Explain, Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: We love when you say "Google bombs," Wolf.

For a couple of years, if you plugged the words "miserable failure" into Google, the very first result you would get was the official White House bio of President Bush. And for a time during the 2004 election cycle, if you plugged "waffles" into Google, you would end up with John Kerry's campaign page.

Well, now that's going to change. Google says that they have adjusted the mathematical formulations that end up with their search results, and now that's going to help diffuse what they call the Google bomb. They've always frowned on the Google bomb, but they said that it really didn't affect the integrity of their search results overall.

Now, we have seen this used recently as a political tactic. Most recently by Chris Bowers, who's a blogger at the liberal mydd.com. During the midterm elections he tried to get a lot of readers to get negative articles about Republican congressional candidates to rise close to the top of Google search results.

Now, it's yet to be seen whether the new mathematical formulations will really do everything they can to diffuse these so- called Google bombs, but for right now, if you type in "miserable failure" to Google, what you end up with is a news article about the prank. And if you type in "waffles" to Google, Wolf, you end up with recipes for waffles.

BLITZER: All right. That's very interesting. Love those Google bombs.

Thanks very much. Glad they're dealing with it.

Mary Snow, Jacki Schechner, all part of the best political team on television.

Up next, Jack Cafferty wants to know, will a major demonstration against the war in Iraq this weekend right here in Washington make any difference? Jack's standing by with "The Cafferty File" and your e- mail.

And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go New York and Jack Cafferty -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, there's a major demonstration against the war in Iraq scheduled for tomorrow in Washington, D.C. Our question is: Will a demonstration like this make a difference?

Grant in Houston writes, "The voters, the Congress, the polls, the generals, the Pope, Poppy Bush's friends have all made no difference to President Bush, who once called the people protesting the start of the war back in 2003 a focus group. So who thinks the decider will listen to them now?

Ron in San Francisco, "The protests aren't limited to Washington. I'll be marching in the rain in San Francisco tomorrow and have been protesting since before the war began. Many of us have done everything we can to oppose this vile war. There's no way to know what difference we'll make, but I couldn't shave in the morning if I didn't give it my best."

Al in Baltimore, "Of course it will make a difference. More Republicans will cross the aisle and agree to bring the troops home and, dare I say, impeach our dear president."

Matt in Fort Drum, New York, "I'm a member of the military. If over 3,000 soldiers have already died and they don't make a difference, do you really think Bush cares?"

Prakash in Laredo, Texas, "Of course these protests will make a difference. Tomorrow the people will demonstrate something so many of our elected representatives have not shown, and that is courage."

And Jennifer writes in Silverton, Oregon, "I doubt it will impact the president or the vice president. They'll just close the curtains. My hopes are it will have a great impact on Congress and light a fire under them."

"My husband left on the plane for Washington from Oregon this morning. I wanted to go but had to stay home with our children. He will represent us both. I hope a million people show up. I hope the press gives the coverage it deserves."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile and read more of these online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks for that.

And we want to leave you with this story just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. The former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, expected to formally create an exploratory committee to run for president as a Republican on Monday. That according to The Associated Press. We'll stay on top of this story.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Lots more news coming up in one hour in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We'll be back, but until then, let's go to Lou in New York.

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