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THE SITUATION ROOM

Is Iran Headed for Military Showdown With Britain?; Interview With Barack Obama

Aired March 28, 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.
Happening now, Iran puts its prisoners on display.

Is it now headed for a military showdown with Britain?

Could Britain succeed where America once failed?

What would Barack Obama do about Iran if he were commander-in- chief?

I'll have an exclusive interview with the Democratic presidential candidate.

And who's buried in revolutionary Che Guevara's tomb.

If it's not Cuba's adopted hero, who is it?

Startling new claims and a new mystery.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with the a developing story.

Iran has put out some shocking video putting British prisoners on display. And today, a captured sailor is speaking out.

As Teheran makes new demands, Britain is boiling.

We have dramatic new developments today in the standoff with Iran.

CNN's Robin Oakley is joining us now live from London with the latest -- Robin.

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's day six and the temperature is rising.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

OAKLEY (voice-over): Iran infuriated Britain by showing these pictures of the captives, apparently well-treated, on its state television. It was Teheran's response to satellite tracking evidence which, Britain said, proved the captured sailors had never left Iraqi waters.

FAYE TURNEY, CAPTURED BRITISH SAILOR: My name is Leading Seaman Faye Turney.

OAKLEY: The Iranian state television footage included this claimed confession under circumstances CNN cannot verify from the only woman among the 15 sailors and marines, Seaman Faye Turney.

TURNEY: I was arrested on Friday, the 23rd of March. And, obviously, we trespassed into their waters. They were very friendly, very hospitable, very thoughtful, nice people. They explained to us why we had been arrested. There was no aggression, no hurt, no harm. They were very, very compassionate.

OAKLEY: Tony Blair had earlier displayed his anger to lawmakers over the seized sailors.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: These personnel were patrolling in Iraqi waters under a United Nations mandate. Their boarding and checking of the Indian merchant vessel was routine. There was no justification whatever, therefore, for their detention. It was completely unacceptable, wrong and illegal.

OAKLEY: Totally unacceptable was, too, the expression used by Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett about Teheran's filming of the captives.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

OAKLEY: The words have got sharper. But at least for the moment, it's only a propaganda war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Robin, the British government released some information today, trying to make their case that these sailors and marines were in Iraqi waters, not Iranian waters.

How did -- what was the form of the evidence that they brought forward?

OAKLEY: Lots of GPS tracking evidence giving the precise coordinates where they were. They said there was no doubt they were 1.7 nautical miles within Iraqi waters.

But then they revealed conversations with the Iranians and said the Iranians had put forward their own coordinates. The only trouble was the first set of coordinates provided by the Iranians to back their claim actually agreed with the British and put it in Iraqi waters.

They're trying to embarrass them into letting the captives go -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Robin Oakley at Number Ten Downing Street in London for us. Thank you.

Let's get to the Pentagon.

Barbara Starr is standing by there -- Barbara, what are you hearing about military options right now?

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, both the British government and the U.S. government certainly are hoping publicly that there will be a diplomatic solution to this crisis. If the British do decide to order a rescue, the military options are very tough.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

STARR (voice-over): If ordered, could the British military rescue their sailors and marines from the secret location somewhere in Iran where they are being held?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It would be very, very difficult at this point to know exactly where they are located and then be able to launch an operation that would clearly between within Iranian territory, without being detected.

STARR: The British want a diplomatic solution. Rescues in hostile territory are a huge challenge.

MARKS: And there would have to be very, very clear intelligence before they would do it, because you would put the Brits, the Brit military forces at great risk. You'd put the hostages at risk. And that intelligence would have to be very current and very precise.

STARR: Intelligence experts say the British would either need an Iranian snitch to reveal the location where their personnel are being held or electronic eavesdropping to listen in on the Iranian military.

It's the kind of military support the U.S. might offer -- using its high tech ships and planes already in the Gulf or satellites flying overhead.

Another problem -- how the British get aircraft in and get the military personnel out of the country. Iranian radars most likely would detect foreign aircraft. Some nearby Islamic country or the military base at Diego Garcia might have to be used as a staging area, unless a British or U.S. aircraft carrier in the Gulf is available.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

STARR: And, you know, Wolf, many people remember back in April of 1980, President Carter tried to rescue the 53 hostages being held at the U.S. embassy in Teheran. That mission, of course, ended in disaster. Eight U.S. service members were killed when their aircraft crashed at a desert staging area, a very grim reminder that hostage rescue is a very tough business -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of us remember that -- that sad, sad day. How close is the U.S. Barbara, watching this current standoff between Britain and Iran?

STARR: Well, you know, Wolf, officially, the U.S. is just a bystander watching behind the scenes, trying to keep it all very low key.

But what I can tell you, here in the hallways of the Pentagon, people are talking about it. They're talking about how could a hostage rescue work.

Is it even possible?

A lot of chatter. Officially, however, very strongly the position still is everyone is looking for a diplomatic solution -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr reporting from the Pentagon.

Iran has long maintained it's the party facing threats. A look at the map shows why Teheran may be nervous, though. Iran is almost surrounded by U.S. forces right now. Approximately, there are 142,000 American troops in Iraq; 24,000 U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan; 14,000 Americans deployed in Kuwait; 3,000 U.S. troops in Qatar; 2,600 Americans stationed in Bahrain; about 300 now deployed in Saudi Arabia; another 200 up in Turkey.

Don't forget all those U.S. ships in the region -- two, two aircraft carrier battle groups holding war games right now in the Persian Gulf. All in striking distance of Iran.

Coming up, I'm going to ask Senator Barack Obama what he would do about Iran if, if he were president of the United States.

Let's move on, though.

Under fire for the firings of those eight federal prosecutors, the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, may find that his own future depends on the two aides who arranged the firings. Kyle Sampson due to testify before a Senate panel tomorrow. Monica Goodling, though, refusing to testify.

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena -- Kelli, first of all, what insights do we have on what Goodling's role in all of this might have been?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Goodling was one of a handful of Justice Department officials that was intimately involved in not only evaluating those U.S. attorneys, but the firings, as well.

Now, her name is seen on a lot of those documents that were released by Justice. For example, one shows that she was scheduled to be on the call between the Justice Department and Senator Pete Domenici, who, as we now know, complained about the U.S. attorney from New Mexico, David Iglesias. Other documents show that she was very involved in the process of moving the U.S. attorney from Arkansas, Bud Cummins, out of a job to make way for a former associate of Karl Rove.

So, a key player here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, what do we expect to hear from Kyle Sampson tomorrow when he goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee?

ARENA: Well, hopefully some answers, finally. I mean as the alleged point person on all of this, he should be able to shed some light on the role that the attorney general played, how much influence the White House had, how the final list of U.S. attorneys was determined.

Now, his friends, Wolf, say that he's still very loyal to the president and to the attorney general. They don't expect his testimony to cause any problems for either of his former bosses. And according to people close to him, Sampson is expected to repeat what his attorney has said, that he didn't withhold information, that this plan regarding the U.S. attorneys wasn't exactly a secret and was well known to other senior officials at Justice -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And you've got to give him credit, Kelli. He's going there, no strings attached.

ARENA: That's right.

BLITZER: He's going to take the oath. He'll speak openly about what he believes happened, as opposed to Monica Goodling, who's taking the fifth, refusing to testify.

ARENA: That's right.

BLITZER: Kelli, thank you.

Jack Cafferty is joining us in New York for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I want to see Alberto Gonzales in front of one of those committees. That's what I'm looking for.

When is that, three weeks?

BLITZER: Is supposed to be a couple of weeks from now.

CAFFERTY: I bet it never happens.

President Bush says he's not budging. Another vow today to veto any Iraq War funding legislation that includes a withdrawal deadline for American troops.

The president insists the consequences of setting a deadline would be disastrous for both Iraq and the United States and he accuses Democrats of meddling in Iraq War policy. Mr. Bush says if Congress fails to pass a funding bill, the American people will know who to hold responsible -- meaning, I guess, the Congress.

Meanwhile, the Democrats say they're not going to back down, either. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asked why President Bush doesn't "get real with what's going on with the world?"

And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the president should "take a deep breath" and work with lawmakers to reach a compromise.

The Democrats insist that Mr. Bush will eventually have to accept some kind of time line if he wants to get the money.

So here's our question -- will President Bush eventually have to accept a troop timetable in exchange for war funding?

E-mail us at caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll soon find out, Jack.

Thank you for that.

Up ahead, my exclusive interview with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

How would he handle a captive crisis with Iran?

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: You're president of the United States...

OBAMA: Right.

BLITZER: Fifteen American sailors and Marines are captured by Iranians.

What do you do?

OBAMA: I think you take firm action to make sure that those troops are returned.

BLITZER: Do you want to be specific?

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: You're going to want to hear what he answers to that question. My one-on-one interview with Senator Barack Obama. That's coming up.

Also, Americans dying in Baghdad's so-called secure green zone -- now a new plan has some fearing the safety situation will actually get worse.

Plus, a deadly journey ends on a Florida beach. Who's coming ashore after a long ordeal at sea?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Mortars and rockets raining death lately in Baghdad's green zone. It's supposed to be a very secure sanctuary for the Iraqi government, the U.S. military, the diplomatic community. But not anymore, it seems.

Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- what's going on, Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, it's called the green zone because it's supposed to be safe. But based on what's been happening lately, they might want to call it the yellow zone, or maybe even the orange zone.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): In the now familiar video from a week ago, new U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon flinches as an insurgent rocket lands nearby during a press briefing.

Rocket attacks like this one, that left a cloud of smoke over Central Baghdad this week, are frequent enough to show that the secure green zone is not so secure after all, especially lately.

A deadly attack Tuesday killed two Americans, a contractor and a soldier, and wounded five others, underscoring the danger.

The green zone, formerly called the international zone, is a heavily guarded walled in section of Baghdad that is the site of the Iraqi government and parliament, as well as the sprawling U.S. embassy. The plan is to shrink the secure area over the coming months, as some streets are reopened and turned over to Iraqi control under the new Baghdad security plan.

But that plan has U.S. contractors and other private workers, including some members of the Western news media, worried that a bad situation is about to get worse.

Safety, after all, is often a matter of perception.

MARKS: Is there routine intervention into the green zone by bad guys?

Of course. Of course there is, both on the ground and through mortar fire and through indirect fire. I mean that -- that stuff kind of happens.

MCINTYRE: Still, the U.S. military denies there are any plans to start moving non-essential workers out of the green zone because of any increased threat. The last known American death in the green zone was in February, when a contractor was killed in a checkpoint shooting.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE: The U.S. does not have a ready explanation for the recent up tick in so-called indirect fire attacks. One senior military official told CNN he thought it might be related to high value suspects being held in the area. Another simply dismissed yesterday's deadly attack as a lucky shot -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But if the green zone is not secure, what does that say about the rest of Baghdad in the face of this significant U.S. new deployment strategy in the Iraqi capital?

MCINTYRE: Well, really, it raises real questions about that because, as they turn these streets back to Iraqi control, if they're -- if the government buildings are not safe, it really underscores how difficult the security plan is going to be.

BLITZER: Jamie is at the Pentagon reporting for us.

Thanks.

A long ordeal at sea finally is over for dozens of migrants from Haiti who washed ashore on the Florida coast.

Our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, is live in Miami.

What happens to these people who have now come ashore -- Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at least 100 of them are now in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. They will be facing what Customs called "expedited deportation proceedings." and Haitian activists say this is a platform about U.S. immigration policy they say needs to be changed. They say if more Haitians living and working here were granted temporary protected status, allowing them to send money back home to Haiti, it would discourage more Haitians from leaving Haiti and coming to the U.S.

And they are going to ask Haiti's president to ask President Bush for a moratorium on deportations.

BLITZER: We're going to watch this story together with you, Susan Candiotti, in Miami.

Haiti, by the way, is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and among the poorest in the world. Its residents suffer not only from poverty and illiteracy -- less than 53 percent of the population can read and write. And they're living through an AIDS epidemic with more than 5 percent of the population infected. Those factors contributing to a life expectancy of only 51 years for men, 54 years for women.

Coming up, it's a topic that's tripped up Senator Barack Obama in the past.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) BLITZER: Should there be gay marriage? If you were president, would you push to allow gay marriage in the United States?

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: What's the senator's take on this subject right now?

My exclusive interview with Senator Barack Obama. That's coming up.

And a face-off involving Al Gore.

Can one man stop Gore from spreading his global warming message?

You're going to -- you won't want to -- you won't believe the bizarre turn this fight is now taking.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Coming up, more of my interview with Senator Barack Obama. I'll ask him what he would do if he were president of the United States and Iran took 15 American sailors and marines hostage, captured them in the northern Persian Gulf. You're going to want to hear what Senator Barack Obama has to say. That's coming up very, very soon.

But first, let's check some other important stories Carol Costello is monitoring incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a bizarre hostage drama in the Philippines is over. Police say the owner of a day care center held more than 30 of his own students and teachers hostage on a bus for several hours before releasing them unharmed. The suspect was trying to call attention to alleged government corruption. Police say he pulled a similar stunt in the past, holding two priests hostage over a pay dispute.

New rules will affect a rite of passage for many Marines. The Corps will ban big tattoos below the elbow or knee. The Marine Corps commandant says the ink, especially on the forearm, is contrary to the image he wants Marines to project. The ban takes effect on Sunday. Existing tattoos are being grandfathered in.

Paper or plastic -- that question likely to become a thing of the past in San Francisco. The board of supervisors has tentatively approved a measure banning plastic check out bags from the city's markets and eventually drugstores, too.

Critics say the petroleum-based product contributes to litter, kills wildlife and takes up valuable landfill space. San Francisco alone uses 180 million bags a year.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thank you.

We'll see if that spreads from San Francisco to other parts of the country.

Carol Costello reporting.

Coming up, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on his dispute with a top civil rights leader.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: Have you and Al Sharpton made up since then? Or have you gotten over that little dispute?

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: Find out why Senator Obama calls it a misunderstanding.

More of my exclusive interview with the Democratic presidential candidate coming up.

Plus, what are those captured British sailors and marines living through in Iran right now?

Former captives tell us about their ordeals, some of them quite brutal.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussing controversial U.S. plans for a missile defense shield in Europe by phone. The Kremlin firmly opposes the idea. But a U.S. spokesman says Mr. Bush stressed continuing consultation, a move the Kremlin says "was received with satisfaction."

Also, check it out -- startling images. The roof of a Chicago high rise on fire. It sent workers fleeing into the streets as firefighters battled for two hours to put out the flames. They say only the building's exterior was damaged and they're investigating the cause.

And oil prices topping $64 a barrel today, as concern grows over the standoff between Britain and Iran over those captive U.K. sailors and marines. Analysts say there's concern military action could disrupt the flow of oil in the region.

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

We're hearing a lot about Iran's so-called hospitality. Shown on video, a British sailor almost seems to thank her captors.

But Americans who were once held by Iran suggest the reality very, very different.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us right now.

He's looking into this story.

What are you hearing -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're hearing accounts of fear and intimidation, mental and physical.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

TODD (voice-over): People who have been there say don't be fooled by these pictures of the British marines or this assurance from the Iranian government. "They are in safe hands and have a better life than the risky mission in the Persian Gulf waters."

ZACH POWELL, HELD IN IRAN, 2003: They're more likely scared out of their mind and, you know, have probably been beaten up a little bit and stuff like that.

TODD: Zach Powell, one of four U.S. servicemen captured by the Iranian Navy off the coast of Iraq in 2003. He says he'll never even tell his family some of what happened to him during those few days.

Don Sharer will tell you what he thinks of the so-called "better life" claimed by the Iranians.

CAPT. DON SHARER (RET.), FORMER HOSTAGE IN IRAQ: They probably had the same intimidation. You know, if you don't cooperate with us, you're going to be tried as spies and executed.

TODD: Sharer, one of 52 Americans held by anti-U.S. protesters at the U.S. embassy in Teheran nearly 30 years ago, says the Iranians often took that threat of execution to the very edge. He says he went through three mock executions in one day. In one instance...

SHARER: They had about 12 of us lined up against the wall and had kind of a firing squad routine going. We're blindfolded, handcuffed. And they -- they said -- they started chambering rounds and laughing and they told us to lie down and I just feared we were dead.

TODD: An Iranian official at the U.N. denies this took place and denies claims by Sharer and another former hostage of beatings, solitary confinement, constant interrogations.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: One of those former hostages from the late '70s says among his interrogators then was the man who is now Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian government emphatically denies this. U.S. officials have said they've come up with no evidence that Ahmadinejad was among the Americans' captors at that time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. And Iran's foreign minister is now telling CNN that the British sailor who supposedly admitted -- supposedly admitted entering Iranian waters -- the fragments telling our Aneesh Raman that this woman may be released, maybe as early as this week.

We're learning more about Faye Turney, the sailor, from an interview she gave to a British newspaper just hours before her abduction.

Let's bring in our Abbi Tatton.

She's watching the story for us.

What did she say?

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Turney, just hours before, as you said, told a reporter from London's "Independent" newspaper that morale on HMS Cornwall was very good. This just the day before, although she did say that since arriving in the Gulf just a few weeks before, "We were made aware that things can be really dodgy. We have not really had anything bad at the moment."

This is Turney in her own words, in this interview, conducted on the deck of HMS Cornwall. And the reporter from "The Independent" said that the thing that Turney spoke about most was her 3-year-old daughter, Molly, who is back in England. Turney saying that she felt guilt of leaving her behind there.

This is Faye Turney, who was featured front and center in these pictures on Iranian television today -- Wolf.

Let's hope she and the others are quickly, quickly freed.

Thank you, Abbi, for that.

A raging insurgency in Iraq, grave threats from Iran. A lot of candidates see themselves in the White House, but how would they handle the role of commander in chief?

Let's get some more of my exclusive interview today with Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: If you're president of the United States in January of 2009, and the situation is basically the same in Iraq as it is right now...

OBAMA: Right?

BLITZER: ... what would be your immediate first step?

OBAMA: Well, the bill that I put in I think...

BLITZER: But assuming that bill doesn't go in. OBAMA: No, no, but I think assuming that things are the same, I think the same dynamic will be at work, which is to say we're going to pull out our combat troops out of Iraq in a phased, systematic way, that we continue to provide the Iraqi government with logistical and training support, that we have those forces over the horizon to respond to crises that spill over into the remainder of the region. And most importantly, we have an aggressive diplomatic initiative with those countries in the region to make sure that we are part of a broader conversation about, how can we stabilize Iraq and stabilize the region?

BLITZER: You're president of the United States...

OBAMA: Right?

BLITZER: ... 15 American sailors and Marines are captured by Iranians, the Revolutionary Guard in the northern Persian Gulf, and they're held. What do you do?

OBAMA: Well, I think that the British obviously are taking the prudent steps that are required, sending a strong, unequivocal message to the Iranians that they have to release these British soldiers. I think that they are handling it in the appropriate way.

You know, my sense is that the Iranians are going to stand down fairly soon, but, look, one of the obligations of the commander in chief is to make sure that our troops are protected, wherever they're projected around the world.

BLITZER: So if they were to hold them, let's say, for 444 days -- Iranians have held Americans hostage for a long period of time -- what, do you just let them be held there?

OBAMA: No, you don't. I think you take firm action to make sure that those troops are returned.

BLITZER: Do you want to be specific?

OBAMA: You know, I think that it's important to say that all options, including military, would be on the table in such a circumstance.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the current crisis between the White House and Congress over the attorney general of the United States. A lot of Democrats, including yourself, would like to subpoena, if necessary, White House officials like Karl Rove to come testify about internal White House discussions leading up to the firing of those eight federal prosecutors, but if you're -- would you want your top aides to be subpoenaed and their e-mail subpoenaed, wouldn't that undermine the confidentiality of the advice you're getting, executive privilege that is part of the U.S. legal system?

OBAMA: Well, let me say this about the president. I don't have an attorney general or a White House that is at least potentially meddling in the actions of U.S. attorneys who are acting independently based on the evidence and best judgment as to whether or not to prosecute cases.

BLITZER: The president can hire and fire these guys as he wants.

OBAMA: He can hire and fire these guys as he wants. What we can't see is a White House or an attorney general's office on that on the basis of politics is rewarding or punishing U.S. attorneys based on whether or not they are prosecuting potential political opponents.

That is a fundamental breach of rule of law and one of the reasons, by the way, that I voted against confirmation of Alberto Gonzales, because I felt very strongly that he was somebody who sees himself as the president's attorney as opposed to the people's attorney.

BLITZER: Are you worried that any steps you might take now could tie your hands if you were to become president?

OBAMA: I think that the issue of executive power and executive privilege is one that is subject to abuse and in an Obama presidency what you will see will be a sufficient respect for law and coequal branches of government that I hope we don't find ourselves in a situation in which we would be having aides being subpoenaed for what I think everybody acknowledges is some troublesome information.

BLITZER: Let's talk about some political issues that have recently come up. General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he caused an uproar by suggesting in his personal opinion, homosexuality is immoral. I know you responded, gay groups were a little concerned by your -- at least initial not distances yourself from that stand -- I know they were upset at President Clinton as well ...

OBAMA: I'm not sure that the story got out there properly. I mean, what happened was I was leaving a firefighters' union meeting and trying to get in my car and did not respond to a reporter's query at that point. I wasn't responding to reporters period because I was trying to make a vote.

Subsequently I made it very clear. I don't think that gays and lesbians are any more moral or immoral than heterosexuals and that I think it is very important for us to reexamine the don't ask, don't tell policy because it's costing us millions of dollars in replacing troops that by all accounts are actually doing a good job but are simply being kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation.

BLITZER: Should there be gay marriage? If you were president, would you push to allow gay marriage in the United States?

OBAMA: Well, I think that "marriage" has a religious connotation in this society, in our culture, that makes it very difficult to disentangle from the civil aspects of marriage. And as a consequence it's almost -- it would be extraordinarily difficult and distracting to try to build a consensus around marriage for gays and lesbians.

What we can do is form civil unions that provide all the civil rights that marriage entails to same sex couples. And that is something that I have consistently been in favor of. And I think that the vast majority of Americans don't want to see gay and lesbian couples discriminated against, when it comes to hospital visitations and so on.

BLITZER: Al Sharpton caused a bit of a stir when he said this: he said, "Why shouldn't the black community ask questions? Are we now being told, 'You all just shut up?' "Senator Obama and I agree that the war is wrong, but then I want to know why he went to Connecticut and helped Lieberman, the biggest supporter of the war."

Have you and Al Sharpton made up since then? Have you gotten over that little dispute?

OBAMA: You know, I don't think there was much going on there. The Reverend Sharpton has been a terrific advocate on behalf of the dispossessed. I've always expressed my respect for him. I think this was a misunderstanding as a consequence of his reading of a report in New York, and I called him and said we had nothing to with the article.

I think he makes a larger point, which I think is right on target, which is that I don't expect African Americans to vote for me simply because I'm African American. If they do end up moving in my direction, it's going to be because they see my advocacy on behalf of racial profiling legislation, on behalf of reforms to the death penalty, on behalf of getting health care for kids -- on behalf of issues that are of importance to the African American community and to the people outside the African American community.

I think I've got to earn that support, like any other candidate.

BLITZER: You must wake up every morning and say to yourself, "I'm running for president of the United States. Am I ready" -- not only for a campaign, but if you're elected president -- "Am I ready, really, to be commander-in-chief?" What do you say to yourself when you ask yourself that question, because you know the enormity of the responsibility that you'd have?

OBAMA: The -- when I thought about getting in the race, I was much less concerned with the campaign than actually serving as president. I think anybody who runs for president and isn't mindful of the enormous responsibilities that a president has to shoulder is making a mistake. And I'm under no illusions that the pressures and pace and the extraordinary determination that's required to carry out the responsibilities of that office are ones that are unlike anything else that you do.

I believe that I am ready to lead this country and I think that, during the course of this campaign, people will a sense of what my values are. I think they will come to trust my judgment and I think, as a consequence, we'll end up doing very well.

BLITZER: Senator Obama, thanks very much for inviting us into your office.

OBAMA: I had a great time. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And still ahead, round two in the global warming wars. Meet the man who could stop Al Gore in his tracks.

And is one major Cuban hero really buried where people think he is? Coming up, the latest allegations involving the resting place of Che Guevara.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A war over global warming unfolding right now between the former vice president, Al Gore, and a leading Senate skeptic. At issue, Gore's latest effort to call attention to climate change, a concert on Capitol Hill right here in Washington.

CNN's Carol Costello is watching this story. She's in New York.

What's at the heart, Carol, of this battle?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Wolf, it all sounds innocuous at face value. It's a concert called Live Earth set to take place on July 7th in D.C. It will feature the hottest acts in music. It sounds pretty cool, right. But do not put it on your schedule just yet. Republican senators have refused to authorize the concert take place, in part because Al Gore is working with organizers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice over): For Al Gore, a political smack-down after a whole lot of love from Hollywood. And love too, from Prince Charles, the Sundance Film Festival, the Japanese, Tony Blair. But not Republican Senator James Inhofe, who does not like the idea of a global warming awareness concert held on the Capitol grounds. Inhofe once called global warming a "... hoax perpetrated on the American people... it is so politically driven."

That's something the former chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee tried to get at as Gore testified before the Senate.

SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: Why don't we do this? At the end, you can have as much time as you want to answer all of the questions.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: No, that isn't the rule of -- you're not making the rules. You used to when you did this. You don't do this anymore.

(LAUGHTER)

BOXER: Elections have consequences. COSTELLO: Oh, but Inhofe still wields influence, arguing Live Earth and its message don't belong, saying that he "... objects to having any events on the Capitol grounds that are either highly partisan or politically controversial -- and the proposed Gore concert is both."

Live Earth organizers disagree, pointing out that back in 1990 Congress approved Earth Day festivities at the very same Capitol location, and they've tried to make Live Earth nonpartisan by inviting not only groups like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but conservative friendly performers like Faith Hill.

They are so frustrated, late today they told us "... it's unfortunate for the American people that we are being blocked from staging the U.S. concert in our nation's capital. The show must go on even if it's in another city."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Now, this is a complicated political process, Wolf, but it was Senator Mitch McConnell who formally objected on the floor. His concerns are about costs, he says.

BLITZER: So, Carol, where does all this go from here?

COSTELLO: Well, organizers fear that these Republican senators will stall this thing forever, beyond the July 7th date. So they're really thinking of other cities, like, let's say, Philadelphia.

BLITZER: Not too far away from Washington. Thanks, Carol.

Carol will be back with us.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, our Lou Dobbs delivers a message to Capitol Hill. What's going on?

Guess what? Lou is here. I'm going ask him. Stick around for that.

Also, Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, he fought alongside Fidel Castro, but is he really buried where the Cuban government says he is?

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: He's a revolutionary hero in Cuba. His remains laid in a place of honor there, or, some are questioning right now, are they? One man is making some startling claims about Che Guevara's bones.

CNN's John Zarrella is joining us from our Miami bureau.

John, it looks like there's a new mystery going. What is going on? JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, who's buried in Che Guevara tomb? You know, Che is an icon in Cuba. He's reviled here in Miami.

Ten years ago his remains were entombed in Cuba, but was it really Che? There's one man here in Miami who says he doesn't think so.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA (voice over): Trumpets blared, guns fired. The remains of revolutionary hero Che Guevara, who fought alongside Fidel Castro, had been returned to Cuba for a state funeral. It was 1997, 30 years after Che was executed in Bolivia and his body disposed of in an unmarked grave.

PRES. FIDEL CASTRO, CUBA (through translator): Che is fighting and winning more battles than ever.

Thank you, Che, for our history, your life and your example.

ZARRELLA: But there is one man, a Cuban exile, who says the bones resting in that mausoleum in Santa Clara, Cuba, are probably not those of Che Guevara.

GUSTAVO VILLOLDO, FMR. CIA OPERATIVE: I instructed the chauffeur to back up the pickup truck we said -- or I did -- a small prayer, and I gave the order to dump him.

ZARRELLA: And Gustavo Villoldo says he can prove it. This lock of hair, Villoldo claims, he snipped from Che's head before he got rid of the body.

(on camera): What possessed you to snip a lock of Che Guevara's hair.

VILLOLDO: The symbol of the revolution is the long hair and the beard. And what I did at that moment was basically, I would say, to satisfy my ego, say I took away the symbol of the revolution.

ZARRELLA (voice over): Villoldo was part of the team that hunted down and captured Che in Bolivia, and Villoldo was the man instructed by the Bolivian government to get rid of Che's body. All this confirmed in declassified CIA documents.

Villoldo says there are inconsistencies that also make him doubt the bones dug up 10 years ago in Bolivia are Che's. The number of bodies unearthed don't match the number he disposed of.

VILLOLDO: I put in three. Dead people do not walk, neither do they multiply. I put in three and they uncovered seven.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA: Villoldo wants the Cuban government to test DNA from the hair against the bones. So far, the Cubans have not responded to either Villoldo's claim or his request -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Why did he wait so long?

ZARRELLA: He says simply that he forgot about the hair, he put it out of his mind, but now he believes it's time that this whole thing is settled once and for all -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John Zarrella reporting from Miami.

Thanks, John, for that.

Up next, Jack Cafferty wants to know if you think the president will have to accept a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

And coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, my exclusive one-on- one interview with Senator Barack Obama. How would he handle the situation in Iraq if he were president of the United States?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: Will President Bush eventually have to accept a troop timetable in exchange for funding for the war in Iraq?

Sheila writes from Victoria, Canada, "I would imagine he'll have no choice but to accept the fact that the American people want those troops home. Of course, there are some wildcards in play here. Iran, for one, and, of course, al Qaeda. If there's another attack on Americans at home, he'll get the funding, and that will be a sad thing."

John in Pennsylvania, "President Bush had better get used to having limits on his power and having a timetable attached to our withdrawal from Iraq. In my opinion, this should just be a shot across the bow. Congress should show some real backbone and impeach Bush and Cheney."

Tony in Pennsylvania, "If the Senate Republicans want to be re- elected, they need to play ball with what the American people want, which is an end to this disaster in Iraq."

Dave in California, "Jack, the arguments against a timetable are completely lame, which is why Bush will adhere to them and make this mess even larger. What irritates me is the Democrats' lack of mounting the logical retort that it really doesn't matter if we say we're leaving in one month, one year or 10 years. After 1,400 years of hatred, mayhem, et cetera, there'll be an inevitable part of this which will follow regardless of our stated versus actual withdrawal. If this has to happen, it will happen as surely as it did in the former Yugoslavia." Ray in McHenry, Illinois, "Sadly, as much as I think this has been a disaster from the start, I also think Democrats may provide Mr. Bush with a perfect scapegoat and an out. His refusal to do something different forces them, the Democrats, to eventually stop funding. And then if things go badly he can blame it all on them."

And Fred in New York writes, "Jack, if President Bush doesn't like what Congress offers him, he should go to ExxonMobil and ask them for the money."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile, where we post more of them online. There are also video clips of "The Cafferty File" if you're having problems with crows in the corn patch.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Jack, see you back here in one hour.

CAFFERTY: I'll be here.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty in New York.

We'll be back in one hour. Let's go to "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT".

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