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THE SITUATION ROOM
The Latest on the Crisis in the Republic of Georgia
Aired August 11, 2008 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ROBERTS: You're THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, breaking news -- Georgia's president forced to run for cover as Russian troops push deeper into his country with overwhelming force -- an international crisis now worsening. Hundreds of Americans caught in the crossfire. The State Department now trying to get them out of the conflict zone.
And President Bush back at the White House from China and speaking out this hour about the fighting -- now on the verge of all out war.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John Roberts in New York. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And breaking news today -- Russian troops now pushing deeper into the former Soviet Republic of Georgia in an overwhelming assault that has even the Georgian president taking cover. Mikhail Saakashvili was talking to reporters when his security team abruptly hustled him away, fearing an air strike. At one point, they pushed the president to the ground and piled flak jackets on top of him. But there was no air strike.
Saakashvili is pleading for a cease-fire and accuses Russia of "invasion, occupation and annihilation of an independent, democratic country."
President Bush says he is gravely concerned. He has just arrived back from Beijing and he's going to speak about the crisis in just a few minutes from the White House Rose Garden. You're going to see it here live.
But first to Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, who's got more information on Americans who are fleeing the conflict zone -- hi, Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, hello to you.
Well, the U.S. now making an all out diplomatic effort on all fronts. But the question today is have both Russia and Georgia miscalculated about the implications of this crisis?
STARR (voice-over): Chaos in Gori as Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili is rushed away under heavy security. Russian planes are again flying overhead. Russian combat power is now overwhelming. According to U.S. Defense Department officials, Russia moved into South Ossetia with up to 10,000 troops, 150 tanks, more than 300 armored vehicles, 100 artillery pieces and, since Friday, has fired more than 15 ballistic missiles -- all of them monitored by U.S. spy satellites.
Some Georgian troops now left to move in buses in pickup trucks. Their army has about 100 tanks, a few dozen armored vehicles and a few thousand troops in the war zone.
The U.S. military plans to send in humanitarian aid, but former Defense Secretary William Cohen says the U.S. must send a stronger signal to Russia.
WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: The Russians, that they are behaving like outlaws. And they should be treated as such.
STARR: U.S. military intervention is all but ruled out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The idea of sending several American divisions halfway around the world, through rugged mountains, through inland waterways, up against the world's other major nuclear superpower over stakes that, for all they concern us today, are relatively modest in scale, it just doesn't begin to compute.
STARR: Russian attacks have achieved key military objectives, U.S. defense officials tell CNN. Georgia has lost much of its air defense network and it has little ability left to coordinate its military operations.
STARR: So, John, really, diplomacy now rapidly emerging as the last best hope to diffuse this crisis. The U.S. State Department says it will continue to help Americans evacuate out of Georgia. They will run convoys to the border with Armenia. And, still, there are about 130 U.S. military and Pentagon personnel in the capital of Georgia and they had to flee over the weekend. They were at a military facility. A Russian bomb landed very close. They are now at an undisclosed location in Tbilisi -- John.
ROBERTS: All right. And according to the State Department, Barbara, about 170 U.S. citizens evacuated so far from Georgia to Armenia.
Our Matthew Chance spent all day today in the town of Gori, which is now said by some Georgian officials to be under Russian control.
He is now in the capital city and he joins us live.
What's the latest on the situation on the ground there -- Matthew?
MATTHEW CHANCE, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, very dramatic, very fast-moving developments here in Georgia with the Russian forces, according to the Georgian military -- rather, the Georgian officials are saying that Russian forces have taken control over the strategic town of Gori, just outside one of the main conflict zones of South Ossetia.
Now, the Kremlin has issued a statement very quickly saying there were no Russian forces inside the town of Gori.
But nevertheless, that town has been evacuated by Georgian forces. We witnessed thousands of Georgian soldiers poring out of Gori in tanks, in armored vehicles and civilian cars, as well.
What's left of the civilian population is moving out of that town, as well, as Georgian troops abandon their posts without putting up any kind of fight, it seems, to the Russian forces that were -- that were poised on the outskirts of the town, according to Georgian officials.
Instead, pulling back to positions just outside the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. So a great deal of concern about that operation by the Russians and other advances that they've made in Western Georgia, as well, with movements to the town of time of Somnaki (ph) outside of the other Georgian breakaway province of Abkhazia.
A great deal of concern now about what the intentions of the Russians are. They say their intention is merely to impose peace on the region.
ROBERTS: Matthew Chance reporting live for us from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Matthew, thanks very much.
Georgia sits in the center of the region known as the Caucuses, where Europe and Asia meet. Its population, 4.6 million people, 83 percent of the them ethnic Georgians. Armenians and Azeris are sizeable minorities there, while ethnic Russians make up just 1.5 percent of the population.
Western-owned pipelines carry oil and natural gas from the Caspian Sea region through Georgia all the way to Turkey. The U.S. has given about $1 billion in aid to Georgia and the country's president is pushing for it to join NATO.
President Bush also was pushing for Georgian membership in NATO earlier this spring, but was turned down by the other NATO allies -- at least for now.
Jack Cafferty in New York here now with "The Cafferty File" -- hey, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Didn't President Bush say that he and Vladimir Putin are like this, right?
ROBERTS: He looked into his eyes and said he saw his soul.
ROBERTS: That was a while ago.
CAFFERTY: That's working out pretty well, right?
If Americans have finally had enough -- and they certainly should have -- the current members of Congress are in a lot of trouble.
Or are they?
The public already thinks Congress, which is now on vacation, of course, is doing a lousy job. And they are. There's a new Gallup Poll that shows that only 36 percent of registered voters say most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected. And that's probably a little high. That's the lowest rating ever in this particular poll.
Gallup found similar ratings in only three other election years -- 1992, 1994 and 2006. And all three of these elections brought about big changes in the makeup of Congress -- twice switching control from one party to another.
But here's the problem. Although most people are disgusted with Congress, they often don't think that their senator or their Congressman is part of the problem, which is why we end up with the same batch of clowns down there in the beltway year after year after year. This Gallup survey shows only 57 percent of those polled say their Congressman deserves to be re-elected. How is that possible?
Nevertheless, 2008 could bring significant turnover in Congress, especially in an election where change is the coin of the realm, it seems. Even though Democrats now control both houses of Congress, there are signs it could be a better year for Democrats than Republicans come November.
Want to know why we have the dysfunctional, corrupt, broken government we have? Here's the reason. Thirty-five percent of the people polled don't even know if their representative is a Democrat or a Republican.
Here's the question then: Will you vote to re-elect your Senator or your Congressman?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.
ROBERTS: You know, when you look at polling on this, it's very interesting. Most people will say that the members of Congress don't deserve to be reelected, except but mine does.
CAFFERTY: That was kind of a gist of part of that.
ROBERTS: Yes. It's like a better in my backyard (INAUDIBLE).
CAFFERTY: My weasel is better than your weasel.
ROBERTS: And I remember being at that press conference in Slovenia when President Bush said he looked Vladimir Putin's eyes.
CAFFERTY: What a joke. And he just said over in Beijing something about we have this great relationship. Well, pick up the phone and tell them to knock it off. They're going to do regime change in Georgia and then they'll control that pipeline that goes through there, won't they?
ROBERTS: He nicknamed him Puti-put.
I wonder what he's calling him these days.
CAFFERTY: That's too much information for me. I can't handle that.
ROBERTS: Jack, thanks so much.
ROBERTS: We're standing by to hear from President Bush. He has just returned to the White House from China and will be speaking out about the crisis in Georgia momentarily. We'll also get the details of the frantic drive to end the deadly fighting. I'll speak with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Also, details of the incident that sparked a night of fiery violence -- Montreal gripped by rioting.
Plus, terror on tape -- it's something very different about the newest message from Al Qaeda's number two leader.
ROBERTS: We're standing by for President Bush, who's going to come out and speak at the White House about the situation in Georgia. We're expecting that in just a couple of minutes, so make sure that you stay with us.
Meantime, our Carol Costello monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
She's in Washington -- hi, Carol.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John.
There is outrage in Montreal this afternoon. The mayor police chief are promising to mend tense relations with the city's immigrant community, after youths rioted in the streets. The demonstration -- the demonstrators are furious over the fatal police shooting of an Honduran immigrant. They torched cars, looted stores and pelted firefighters with bottles. Half a dozen people were arrested and a police officer was shot in the leg.
Toronto authorities are taking a close look at an eight block section of the city, now a potential dangerous zone. On Sunday, a massive explosion at a propane distribution plant forced thousands to evacuate the area. The city fears there is now hazardous asbestos in the area. Residents in more than 100 homes are not yet being allowed to return.
And more legal troubles for Detroit's mayor. There is a hearing tomorrow on whether Kwame Kilpatrick violated his bond by spending time with his sister this weekend. That would be a second violation. She's actually a witness in an assault case against him. The mayor faces charges he assaulted two investigators who tried to deliver a subpoena at his sister's house last month. Kilpatrick was just released from jail this weekend for violating his bond in a separate perjury case.
And even one of the seven wonders of the world could use a makeover. Egypt is unveiling an ambition plan to make its famed pyramids more tourist-friendly. It's putting in more security, including a 12 mile fence equipped with cameras, alarms and motion detectors. That's aimed at keeping peddlers from hustling visitors and at keeping tourists from climbing the largest pyramid. Several have actually fallen from it.
That's a look at the headlines right now -- John.
ROBERTS: Carol, thanks very much.
We're waiting for President Bush. We haven't got an indication yet of exactly when he's going to come out. It was supposed to be at 5:15 Eastern. We'll keep you updated on that.
Meantime, a flurry of diplomacy aimed at diffusing the crisis in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia -- so far to no avail.
Joining me now from the United Nations is Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. Mr. Ambassador, do you believe that it's Russia's intention to invade Georgia all the way to the capital city of Tbilisi?
ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Well, we don't know. One of the big issues is what is the Russian objective?
This brutal attack against the sovereign state of Georgia has gone on for too long. It should have not started, but it should have ended a couple of days ago, when the Georgians agreed to a cease-fire.
We are working diplomatically, both here in the United Nations and with our European allies, to get the Russians to accept a cease- fire -- an immediate and unconditional cease-fire and a return to the status quo ante of August the sixth.
ROBERTS: Right. You are undertaking Security Council deliberations -- consultations, if you will, on this issue. What are you looking for? Are you trying to look to put enough pressure on Russia for them to back off? I mean it would seem that you can't get a resolution against Russia in the Security Council because they hold a veto there.
KHALILZAD: Exactly. The purpose is to put pressure on Russia, to expose what they are doing to all the members of the Security Council and to the world beyond that is watching what's happening in the Security Council, and in Georgia, and to incentivize Russia to accept a cease-fire or to be willing to pay an increasing price if it does not.
ROBERTS: You know, you said the other day that you believe that Russia is trying to effect regime change there in Georgia, to kick out President Mikhail Saakashvili. What evidence do you have to back that up?
KHALILZAD: Well, the evidence was a conversation that Mr. Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia, had with our secretary of state, Dr. Rice, in which Mr. Lavrov said that the president of Georgia, the democratically elected president of Georgia, must go.
And I wanted to make clear to the world what the Russians have said in the hope of deterring them from pursuing that very unacceptable objective.
ROBERTS: All right. Does President Saakashvili bear any responsibility in this, Mr. Ambassador? After all, it was Saakashvili who sent Georgian troops into South Ossetia, which triggered the Russian response.
KHALILZAD: Well, there is a lot of -- about the details of exactly what happened prior to August the sixth, on August -- on August the sixth.
But I believe that Russian response to what happened seems very disproportionate and preplanned. And it may be that some tactical misjudgments were made by some of the Georgians on the ground. But in no way does that justify what the Russians are doing, not only in South Ossetia, but beyond in Georgia proper and in Abkhazia.
ROBERTS: As you know, your counterpart there at the United Nations from Russia, Vitaly Churkin, has suggested that the U.S. was, in some ways, complicit in this operation -- this Georgian operation, may have even given it the green light and may have actually been using U.S. consultants there -- military consultants -- to bolster Georgian forces before they went in to South Ossetia. Is there any truth to that?
KHALILZAD: There is no truth whatsoever to the point that we gave the green light for what the Georgians did. We are -- none of the parties informed us ahead of time what they were going to do, including the Russians.
We believe that Russia is nostalgic -- the elements that are dominant right now in Russia are nostalgic about the loss of the empire and that they had -- that they were unhappy with Georgia's desire to join the West, join NATO, and they were looking for an excuse to damage the government there and damage its military. And what they have done has caused tremendous humanitarian suffering and losses in Georgia. And it's simply unacceptable. This could be a defining moment in Russia's relations with the rest of the world.
ROBERTS: Mr. Ambassador, as many people will remember, President George Bush was promoting NATO membership for Georgia at the summit this past spring. He was turned down. But under the NATO policy of an attack against one is an attack against all, if Georgia were now a member of NATO, what would the U.S. involvement be in what's going on?
KHALILZAD: Well, there would be -- if such was the case -- and that's very much a hypothetical -- there are clear provisions in the NATO charter as to what happens. There would be -- there would be, if a NATO member was attacked, military consultation as to appropriate response.
ROBERTS: Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad. Thanks for being with us this afternoon, sir.
KHALILZAD: Well, it's going (ph) to be with you.
ROBERTS: All right. Now, we just got the two minute warning that President Bush will be coming out of the White House into the Rose Garden to give a statement on Georgia.
Let's bring in our Ed Henry, who is at the White House this afternoon. And, Ed, the president arrived just about an hour ago from the Olympics in Beijing. He had spoken with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during his trip over there.
What are we expecting the president to say different than what he said while he was in China?
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We're expecting his rhetoric to get stronger. As you remember, last Friday and over the weekend, the president had relatively tame remarks about how both sides had to calm the violence down. But over the last 48 to 72 hours, you've seen the rhetoric really increase from the U.S., warning Russia to back off here.
Last night, in fact, Vice President Cheney reaching out to the Georgian president and issuing a warning to Russia after that phone call, basically saying that if Russia did not give up what the vice president called "aggression," that there would be consequences. So we can expect the president to move closer to where the vice president was last night. Obviously, Georgia has been a key plank, as you know, in the president's Freedom Agenda -- trying to spread freedom all around the world. Right now, that certainly seems to be in jeopardy -- John.
ROBERTS: He was also imploring NATO countries during the summit last spring to admit Georgia and Ukraine, as well, into the NATO alliance. He was rebuffed in his efforts. It seems, Ed, is that if he were successful, this conflict would take on a whole different dimension than it's got now.
HENRY: Absolutely. And one has to wonder why Russia was so vociferously opposed to NATO membership for Georgia, because, obviously, if Georgia was a NATO ally right now, an attack on one is an attack on all, John.
And, also, President Bush facing some pressure from his fellow Republican, John McCain, who, as you know, is out on the campaign trail now saying the U.S. has to move forward with...
HENRY: ...you know, a tough resolution before the U.N. Security Council.
So we'll wait to hear what the president says on that -- John. ROBERTS: All right. And here he comes to the podium now.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just met with my national security team to discuss the situation in Georgia. I am deeply concerned by reports that Russian troops have moved beyond the zone of conflict, attacked the Georgian town of Gori and are threatening Georgia's capital of Tbilisi.
There's evidence that Russian forces may soon begin bombing the civilian airport in the capital city. These reports are accurate. These Russian actions would represent a dramatic and brutal escalation of the conflict in Georgia. These actions would be inconsistent with assurances we have received from Russia that its objectives were limited to restoring the status quo in South Ossetia that existed before fighting began on August the sixth.
It now appears that an effort may be underway to depose Russia's duly elected government. Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century.
The Georgian government has accepted the elements of a peace agreement that the Russian government previously said it would be willing to accept -- an immediate cease-fire, the withdrawal of forces from the zone of conflict, a return to the military status quo as of August 6 and a commitment to refrain from using force.
The representatives of the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are currently in Moscow seeking Russia's agreement to this peace plan.
Russia's government must respect Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty. The Russian government must reverse the course it appears to be on and accept this peace agreement as a first step toward resolving this conflict.
Russia's actions this week have raised serious questions about its intentions in Georgia and the region. These actions have substantially damaged Russia's standing in the world. And these actions jeopardize Russia's relations -- Russia's relations with the United States and Europe. It is time for Russia to be treated with word and to act to end this crisis. Thank you.
ROBERTS: President Bush there from the Rose Garden today with a very strong -- as Ed Henry was suggesting he would -- a very strong statement against Russia's intervention in the Democratic Republic of Georgia, saying that the Russian intention appears to be to depose the elected government there.
President Bush saying that is unacceptable in the 21st century. He said he's deeply concerned about what appears to be a major or significant escalation in Russia's invasion there, attacking the town of Gori, perhaps making preparations to attack the town of Tbilisi. He has information that Russia may bomb the Tbilisi airport, though we had heard earlier from Georgian officials that that, in fact, had taken place.
President Bush called it "a dramatic and brutal escalation of the situation there" and that it is inconsistent with assurances that he received from Russia regarding the status of South Ossetia and the presence of Russian forces there.
Let's bring in our Barbara Starr, who was monitoring what the president was saying from the Pentagon -- Barbara, the president -- harsh diplomatic rhetoric. No sign yet, though, that other than ferrying Georgian forces from Iraq back to their home country, as they have done over the last couple of days -- that there may be any U.S. military involvement here.
STARR: No indication at this point, John. But the president's words, to say the least, were absolutely stunning. Because I have to tell you, here at the Pentagon throughout the day, as we have spoken to our military sources, they felt there were strong indications from Russia that they were not going to move into Georgia proper in any significant way, that they were not aimed at taking the capital. They felt they had some word behind-the-scenes from their Russian counterparts that that is not what Russia's intentions were.
The president's words could not be more different. I mean I think one has to assume President Bush has some fresh intelligence that indicates things are moving very rapidly -- his words about the Russian intention to possibly depose the Georgian leader, possibly bomb the Tbilisi airport.
Now, that -- if that was to happen, the bombing of the Tbilisi airport, that would be militarily very significant because now both the French government, the U.S. government and the Europeans have indicated they want to use that airport to bring in humanitarian supplies. And any military action against that airport would make that very tough.
Very, very stern words from President Bush -- John.
ROBERTS: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.
And let's go to Ed Henry, who was watching this from the North Lawn of the White House -- Ed, very tough talk from President Bush against Russia. Have you ever heard him talk this tough?
HENRY: No, absolutely not. I think Barbara had it dead on. And you did, as well, when you highlighted the fact that the president used that phrase -- that certainly caught my ear -- "a dramatic and brutal escalation." Using that word brutal there and also that this is unacceptable in the 21st century -- an obvious allusion to the fact that this looks more like the old Soviet Union, not the current Russia.
That is, in fact, tough talk. And some context here. Previous times, when Vladimir Putin has vented against the United States with tough rhetoric of his own, White House officials have counseled me, well, don't read too much into that. We know that Putin just wants to assert Russia on the world stage, show that they're tough. We'll let them vent. And it's really -- it blows over. It's no big deal.
So when the president today says that Russia -- that all of this has "damaged Russia's standing in the world," make no mistake about it, that is a direct shot at Vladimir Putin from the president of the United States, saying you're losing your standing in the world. Obviously, tough talk.
The next question, though, is what will the White House back it up with? I did not hear the president talk about a tough resolution before the U.N. Security Council, which Russia has threatened to block. Obviously, it is a permanent member of that Security Council.
John McCain, out on the campaign trail, saying he wants such a resolution and if Russia blocks it, let the court of public opinion decide Russia's actions here. But certainly Barbara is dead on. The U.S. clearly has some intelligence that is concerning them deeply. The president talking very tough, John.
ROBERTS: We should point out that, as we speak, Ed, consultations were scheduled at the United Nations Security Council to talk about what form some sort of draft resolution could take. And the president saying that this has damaged Russia's standing in the world would seem to be consistent with the strategic approach that they're going to take at the Security Council to try to put pressure on Russia, to try to embarrass it into backing down.
HENRY: Absolutely. That's what that is all about is particularly President Medvedev, but also Prime Minister Putin trying to put them in a box and sort of isolate them -- get the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to see and put more pressure on them and sort of rally world opinion to say, look, regardless of who started this, regardless of how this all started, Russia has escalated this. And then the president saying that, again, "dramatic and brutal escalation" and hinting at the U.S. feeling that the Russians may be soon to bomb a civilian airport in the capital. Obviously, that is a very, very grave situation -- John.
ROBERTS: And as we said just a moment ago, Ed -- and let's show some pictures here, too -- that we had heard from Georgian officials that perhaps there had been some bombing in and around the civilian airport there in Tbilisi that had taken place.
At one point earlier in the day, President Mikhail Saakashvili, as you can see by this videotape, was rushed out of the room where he was actually holding a conference call with reporters. At one point, he was brought down to the ground by his security forces. They piled flak jackets on top of him, fearing that Russian planes that were buzzing in the area, according to Georgian officials, were about to unleash an attack.
You can see him there being covered by his security forces. They're putting flak jackets around him.
Their fears apparently turned out to be unfounded there was no attack here. But there's been a lot of word here -- unconfirmed, but our Matthew Chance and our Frederik Pleitgen, who have both been in the area all day long, said that they definitely heard explosions, didn't know if they were a result of aircraft dropping bombs or if they were incoming artillery.
But it would seem, Ed, that this is at the point where any further escalation could potentially seriously damage U.S.-Russian relations.
HENRY: Oh, absolutely. And the fact that the president of the United States, in the Rose Garden, just mentioned that Russians may be moving in to the capital of Tbilisi -- we had previously, as you know, gotten reports saying that Georgian troops had surrounded that capital to make sure that the Russians couldn't come in and take it. That would obviously be a dramatic, dramatic escalation if, in fact, that happened.
I think the president obviously is going to be cautious in this situation. For President Bush to talk about that possibility of the capital of Tbilisi being taken over suggests the U.S. is very, very concerned about that.
And, secondly, I think, clearly, we've gotten these reports about the Russians potentially taking over a bridge that has essentially, according to President Saakashvili, has essentially divided the country of Georgia into two halves -- the western and the eastern halves. Those suggest that the Russians are certainly going a lot further, a lot deeper into Georgia than anyone anticipated -- John.
ROBERTS: Let's bring in our Barbara Starr who's monitoring all of this from the Pentagon.
Barbara, when it comes to talk about military action on the part of the United States and no one is talking publicly about this, at least just not yet, does the U.S. have any options that would not draw into a broader conflict with Russia?
STARR: Not any good options at this point, John.
We have asked a lot of questions about it and one of the things officials here point out is that the rest of the former Soviet east vaunt is watching this situation very carefully to see what both sides do; Poland, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, all of the caucuses, the Baltics, everyone who's part of the former Soviet east block.
When the Soviet Union broke up, they pretty much cast their lot with the United States and the Bush administration's so called democracy agenda. But now if the U.S. cannot do anything to protect Georgia, the question on the table is how will all of those countries react? Will they basically then turn around and throw their lot back with Russia?
On the question of bombing Tbilisi, what I wanted to mention is the Russians already had bombed a military airfield, Georgian military radars, communications' facilities. The Russian military strategy had begun to evolve over the last several hours, basically trying to blind the Georgian military in their own country as to what was going on. All indications appear to be that they're going to continue down this road and that is something that is going to concern the U.S. a lot.
If Tbilisi comes under Russian bombardment, there are close to 200 Americans and perhaps thousands of other westerners living in that city. The strategy for getting the Americans out have been these convoys assembling at the U.S. embassy and driving out together towards the Armenia border. The French had made some indications that they were going to try to take their people out by airplanes. But if the Russians make their moves against Tbilisi, it may be very difficult for the westerners to feel very confident about getting out. We don't want to set off any alarm bells but this certainly is a rapidly changing situation. A convoy is scheduled for tomorrow. That's public information. We'll see if that convoy really goes, John.
ROBERTS: And you have been talking with sources at the White House, the president urging Russia to accept the terms of this cease fire agreement that's been proposed by the European Union. Georgian President Saakashvili signed it earlier today. EU Envoys are now either in Moscow or on their way to Moscow to present it to Russian officials. If they were to ignore that and if they were to continue their push deeper into Georgia proper, have you gotten any indication yet from the White House, Ed, of how they might respond to that?
HENRY: No, they're hoping they don't have to go to that because as Barbara just laid out, as you know, there are no good military options for the U.S., and the fact is the pressure is going to increase on this White House if in fact the Russians were to take over the capital of Tbilisi. Because as you know, Saakashvili has been at the White House at least two or three times as I recall and it's been held up by President Bush as a beacon in the so called freedom agenda, spreading freedom all around the world and if all of a sudden his government were to fall there and the U.S. had not been seen in the international community as not doing enough to stop that, that would obviously be yet another political issue for this White House to deal with.
Tensions have already been high for months now. As you know about the missile defense shield that the U.S. wants to build in Eastern Europe, Prime Minister Putin has certainly had some tough talk about that. But that, you know, dispute has been escalated many, many times more by what's happening right now on the ground.
ROBERTS: All right. Ed Henry for us at the White House, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.
Apparently Georgian President Saakashvili is anxious to speak with us, so we'll try to get him on the line very shortly here on THE SITUATION ROOM.
Meanwhile something very different in a new terror tape from Osama Bin Laden's top deputy, his message to the world in English. You'll hear that message ahead.
ROBERTS: Speculation that al Qaeda's number two leader may be dead is apparently dead wrong. There is a new audiotape reportedly from Al Zawahri. He is Osama Bin Laden's second in command.
Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, there's something different about the language of this tape.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi John.
It's not very often that you hear one of the world's most wanted terrorists speaking in gentile English but make no mistake, there is little change in the substance of Ayman Al Zawahri's message to his followers and those he's trying to commute.
TODD: With chilling politeness, al Qaeda's number two leader begs your pardon for his weak English, the first time he's spoken English in an official audio message. Ayman Al Zawahri, Osama Bin Laden's top lieutenant with a $25 million bounty on his head says he's addressing the Pakistani people in English "in order to communicate directly with you."
Zawahri is believed to speak Arabic and English, not fluent Urdu, the most commonly spoken language in Pakistan. It's not clear when this tape was produced, but it comes about a week and a half after U.S. officials had denied reports that Zawahri may have been wounded. In measured tones, the terrorist leader claims Pakistan is virtually being ruled from Washington.
AYMAN AL ZAWAHRI, AL QAEDA NO. 2 LEADER: Let there be no doubt in your minds that the dominant political forces at work in Pakistan today are competing to appease and please the modern day crusaders in the White House and are working to destabilize this nuclear capable nation under the ageist of America.
TODD: CNN could not independently verify the authenticity of the tape, which was released by al Qaeda's propaganda arm. A U.S. intelligence official wouldn't comment on the authenticity.
The only other widely circulated image of Al Zawahri speaking English, this jailhouse tape from the early 1980s. Zawahri, one of several members of a group Egyptian Islamic Jihad, charged with taking part in the assassination of the Egypt's President Anwar Sadat. Now he's believed to be hiding along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Why would Ayman Al Zawahri address the Pakistani people directly now in English? We asked the former head of the CIA unit that tracks Osama Bin Laden.
MICHAEL SCHEUR, FORMER CIA BIN LADEN UNIT CHIEF: We have a new membership that hasn't quite found its way. We have a developing war between the Pakistani army and the tribals. We have an impeachment effort being made against President Musharraf. So there's a tremendous amount of ferment in the Pakistani system there at the moment.
(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: In another segment of this audiotape that we didn't have access to, Zawahri reportedly calls President Musharraf Pervez, by his first name only, saying he has compromised Pakistan's integrity by allowing the FBI and the CIA to operate freely there. Pakistani officials have long denied that any Americans operate with impunity inside their borders. No as for Zawahri's phrasing, we're told that addressing someone of Musharraf's stature by first name only could be considered an insult in that culture -- John?
ROBERTS: Brian Todd for us with the latest on that. Brian, thanks very much.
We had mentioned that Barack Obama was expected to give a statement regarding the situation in Georgia. He in fact has given that statement. He gave it in front of the cameras, but that was at a very remote location. So it's going to take some time for the tape to get to us. We wanted to read you that statement in the meantime to at the very least get him on the record here.
Senator Obama saying, "No matter how this conflict started, Russia has escalated it well beyond the dispute over South Ossetia and invaded another country. I reiterate my call for Russia to stop its bombing campaign, to stop flights of Russian aircraft in Georgian airspace and to withdraw its ground forces from Georgia. The United States, Europe and all other concerned countries must stand united in condemning this aggression and seeking a peaceful resolution to this crisis."
He goes onto to say, "This is a clear violation of the sovereignty and internationally recognized borders of Georgia. The United Nations must stand up for the sovereignty of its members and peace in the world."
And again, he did make that statement in front of the cameras but we probably won't get that to you by the time that THE SITUATION ROOM goes off the air so we wanted to make sure we at least brought you the substance of what he had to say.
Campaign battleground, Pennsylvania, John McCain hopes to overcome Barack Obama's lead by November 4. He's getting help by a potential running mate.
And finding a way out of the turmoil in Georgia. The U.S. pushes back with diplomacy against a one time cold war foe.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ROBERTS: The CNN Election Express is somewhere in Pennsylvania. It's a state leaning toward Barack Obama but John McCain is fighting hard for it and among his big political guns, a Pennsylvania native and possible running mate.
CNN's Tom Foreman joins us live from the Election Express on the road. Tom, this is kind of like where's Waldo, where are you? TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well John, funny you should ask. Right now we are on the Pennsylvania Turnpike but the last little part of it. We're almost into Ohio. If you look out the front, you can see as we head west, the Election Express is headed all the way out to Denver for the big convention but along the way we're talking to all sorts of people who are giving us their points of view, especially in these critical battleground states and we're going through a lot of them.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Pennsylvania, as every political pundit will tell you, will be one of the battleground states again. For not the first time.
FOREMAN: It has 21 electoral votes and both John McCain and Barack Obama want them badly. The state swung for the Democrats in the last four elections, but it has been close. Four years ago, John Kerry beat George W. Bush by just three points. This time around, both candidates realize the bad economy is on the minds of voters.
MCCAIN: Americans are hurting right now. They're hurting in the state of Pennsylvania.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know that the people of Pennsylvania like the people of the rest of the country, understand the politics hasn't been working for them.
FOREMAN: Obama repeatedly brings up the story on the campaign trail.
OBAMA: The man I met in Pennsylvania who couldn't go on a job search after he lost his job because he couldn't afford to fill up the tank.
FOREMAN: And it's the kind of tale you can hear from a lot of people here, worried about energy, worried about the economy as you drive through this state.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think everyone worries about the economy. If they don't, they're not up to date obviously.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think one lacks a little experience. The other I don't know if he's really concerned that much about economics. I'm sorry.
FOREMAN: How much does it cost to fill up your rig now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Still paying you know $4.30 a gallon. We're spending well over $1,000 in order to fill it up.
FOREMAN: $1,000 to fill up?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir.
FOREMAN: McCain is campaigning here today. He's teaming up with Pennsylvania native and former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge who's considered a possible running mate.
MCCAIN: He went and decided to serve his country during the Vietnam war and he came back here to Erie and then he decided to be a prosecutor and then he decided to seek a role in -- a seat in Congress and then of course as governor.
FOREMAN: You're going to hear an awful lot of talk about vice presidential candidates and particularly a lot of talk about the economy, John, and as we continue go ugh through his battleground states.
As I said, we're heading west right now. We're almost in Ohio, another critical, critical state. This is where it's all being decided with all of those independent and moderates, the people in the middle, both sides want to get leaning their way -- John?
ROBERTS: It's an interesting drive across I-70 there and when you get to Kansas, Tom, take note of all the windmills there.
Our Tom Foreman on the road with the Election Express.
Will you vote to re-elect your own senator or congressman? Jack Cafferty has got your e-mail on this hour's question.
Plus, the world's most expensive house, what $750 billion will get you.
ROBERTS: Time now to check back with Jack Cafferty, who is asking some interesting questions this afternoon -- hey, Jack.
CAFFERTY: John, thank you.
Everybody hates Congress. Of course, they're on vacation now, not in town to hate. But we always wind up re-electing a lot of incumbents. So the question this hour is: Will you vote to re-elect your own senator or congressman? The thinking is your congressman is a thief and a jerk, but mine is a great guy, that's how they wind up staying in there term after term.
Lenny writes from New York: "My congressman replaced an incumbent Republican in 2006. I intend to vote for him again. However, I think Americans have been too complacent in electing people who are supposed to represent us, myself included. I vowed not to let that happen again. I intend to be more involved in the political process. I hope others will do the same. If we watch the store, there will be less candy stolen."
Debbie in Kingsport, Tennessee, writes: "The congressional incumbents on my ballot will be solidly Republican and I am now staunchly Democratic. I will definitely be voting in November to remove these people from office. At this point, I'm ready to vote for the proverbial yellow dog rather than support a member of the Republican Party."
Vincent writes, this is a good letter: You've got to be kidding. "I got a phone call from my House representative two weeks ago. It was a conference call by him with random constituents. I was encouraged to ask a question. My question was why he and his fellow congressman were always on recess and not doing the people's work. The conference call was terminated before my question came up so I emailed him with the same question. Never got an answer. I emailed him again. I never got an answer. My congressman's name is Steny Hoyer, the majority leader in the House of Representatives."
Jim writes: "I agree with you but I like my congressman. I will vote to re-elect him because his votes in the House reflect my beliefs."
Dan in Pennsylvania says: "Not on your life would I vote for any incumbent who served in the last eight years. I would consider myself a traitor to my country to reward the people responsible for the mess we are currently in."
And Tony in New Orleans, Louisiana: "Let's see. Down here if you're a Republican, you have Senator David Vitter. If you're a Democrat, you have Congressman William Jefferson. Man, that's a tough one."
If you didn't see your email here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/CaffertyFile and look for yours there. We post hundreds of them each hour as the e-mails come in.
ROBERTS: You know this idea that people say broadly, throw the bums out but re-elect my member of Congress, our polling director Keating Holland calls that the vimby principle, veteran in my backyard.
CAFFERTY: Vimby principle, I haven't heard that. That's good.
ROBERTS: Jack, we'll see you next hour for our panel. Thanks very much.
European newspapers say a French villa is now the most expensive home ever sold. Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton joins us now.
Abbi, what does $750 million look like when it's put together with bricks and mortar?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: John, $750 million is the number being thrown around on line. That's the price tag. Here's the bird's eye view, courtesy of Microsoft Virtual. This is in the Leopold villa. It's in the French Rivera between Nice and Monaco. Te main house there a yellow colored villa with turrets and courtyards. There's a swimming pool area with various pool houses around it and manicured lawns, on about 20 acres and here there's various outbuildings as well for all of your guests.
Now who bought this? That's less clear. Reports online seem to think it's a Russian billionaire. The "Wall Street Journal" blog has been trying to figure out what the mortgage would look like on this place. With a $750 million price tag with about 20 percent down, you're looking at $3.5 million a month -- John?
ROBERTS: Who couldn't afford that? Abbi, thanks so much.
President Bush accuses Russia of a brutal escalation of violence. Just back from the Olympics, Mr. Bush calls on Prime Minister Vladmir Putin to pull back his troops from Georgia and to do it now.
And with a vital pipeline crossing Georgia, what impact the fighting on the oil supply. Lou Dobbs joins me for that one.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ROBERTS: Major concern this afternoon about the conflict in Georgia on the price of oil.
Our Lou Dobbs has been keeping an eye on all of this and joins us now.
What's it all about?
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Well in terms of the price of oil, it's been actually declining, despite the tensions over Georgia and the invasion by Russia. What to me is fascinating has been the muted statements, particularly given this is what we just heard President Bush say on your broadcast here moments ago, talking about the brutal invasion.
We're hearing very little from the United Kingdom, from France, and from Germany and what's at stake here is not only the sovereignty of an independent nation, Georgia, but it's a test of will for the Europeans, and if they don't have the courage to stand up here against Russia, they are dependent upon Russia for 30 percent of their crude oil and that dependency is rising at a rate of about 10 percent a year. They are dependent upon Europe, on Russia for half of their natural gas. And they are acting as if they are so dependent that they are not going to in any way assert any opposition to a blatant, brutal act of aggression.
ROBERTS: Which may explain why we're getting some intelligence from inside the United Nations Security Council consultations that are going on right now that France is looking to water down very tough language that the United States wanted against Russia.
DOBBS: France, because of its nuclear power, has perhaps more resistance in point of fact than other nations in the sense of dependency on Russian energy. But they are playing a very dangerous game. We've seen it before, and, unfortunately, as newsmen we know and our audience knows, history has a very unfortunate cycle that it repeats and to see the way in which the United States has handled this, the way in which this administration is asserting itself in advance of the interests of western Europe in particular in the case of Georgia, is really remarkably I think short sighted and overreaching on the part of the United States.
If the powers of Europe do not have the sense and the responsibility to act as they should and what they should do is clear here, that should not be our responsibility. That should be the powers of Europe.
ROBERTS: We should see - we'll watch and see what comes out of U.N. Security Council consultations.
DOBBS: Nothing will come out of the United Nations. I garauntee that.
ROBERTS: Lou Dobbs, thanks very much.
DOBBS: Thank you.
ROBERTS: See you in an hour's time.