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THE SITUATION ROOM

Endless Travel Nightmare Continues; U.S. Troops Leaving Iraq?

Aired December 28, 2010 - 18:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Obama picked up the tab, $38.12. He paid it with two $20s, told the person at the cash register to keep the change. It's not a lot of money, but anyway.

You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: strong words from Iraq's prime minister on the future of U.S. forces in his country. He says that U.S. troops must leave in the new year, but are Iraqi forces ready to take over?

Also, a winter travel nightmare seemingly without end. Now there are some passengers who are trapped on the tarmac for almost 12 hours, long delays for everyone else, and now we are learning how much all of this chaos is going to cost.

And a jaw-dropping prediction about the future gas prices. One of the industry's biggest names talks to CNN about why they could soon reach $5 a gallon.

Well, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

January 1 will mark the beginning of a new year and the beginning of what is supposed to be the final year for U.S. troops in Iraq. The last of 48,000 American forces have to leave by the end of 2011 under the current agreement between Washington and Baghdad.

And despite security concerns, the Iraqi prime minister is adamant that the U.S. military must go.

Our CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has more.

Barbara, tell us exactly, what is the president, Nouri al-Maliki, saying?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, Nouri al-Maliki is saying that indeed U.S. troops have to get out of his country. And it sounds harsh, but what it really is, is good news for U.S. troops.

Under an agreement reached by both sides several years ago, this was in fact the plan. By 2011, the end of next year, all U.S. troops would be out of Iraq. And in an extended interview with "The Wall Street Journal," Nouri al-Maliki basically spelled it out one more time, saying -- quote -- "This agreement is not subject to extension, subject to alteration. It is sealed."

Any change in this policy, Suzanne, would have to be negotiated by both sides. And certainly the Obama administration, already really focused on the war in Afghanistan, another presidential election cycle coming up, does not want the dismal prospect of the Iraqis coming to them and saying, we need more help; please stay -- so, for 48,000 U.S. troops, good news -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Barbara, President Maliki, he says that he believes that his troops will be able to handle anything after 2011. What do we get the sense from U.S. forces? How do they assess their strength?

STARR: Well, for the next year, this is going to be the wrap-up job for those 48,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, isn't it, you know, training, advising, assisting, making sure that they are ready.

We have seen insurgents in recent weeks rear their heads again in Iraq. There have been a number of suicide attacks, mass casualty attacks in a number of areas across Iraq, very unsettling in some cases. And the question will be, throughout the coming year, can the Iraqi security forces really demonstrate that they can deal with this problem? -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, Barbara, thanks.

I just want to make a correction. That is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Appreciate it.

Let's get more with Michael O'Hanlon. He's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Thanks for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Obviously, you've been following this very closely. You have written a couple of op-eds recently about this. We know there are two things that happened in Iraq that very significant last year, a significant number of U.S. troops that withdrew from the country and then also their elections that started in March. There was nine-month delay.

They finally got it together. They have got a government that is in place. You write that you don't believe that this next year, they can afford that kind of stalemate. Tell us why.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW IN FOREIGN POLICY STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Hi, Suzanne.

Well, right. I think 2010 was an OK year in the sense that we got through this big U.S. drawdown. We went down from 130,000 troops to 50,000, and the violence even reduced or declined a little bit more in Iraq.

It is still a fairly dangerous place, but, of course, not nearly what it used to be. However, I'm worried that there are some big issues out there, for example, disputed territory. As you know, the Kurds up north have three autonomous provinces. And it's called Kurdistan. And they basically govern themselves.

And they want some more land, traditional Kurdish land, or at least land with a lot of Kurdish inhabitants right now, in the other parts of Iraq. And the Arab Iraqis don't really of course want to give it up. There is an ongoing constitutional impasse about how to resolve this.

And that is why I, for one, am not happy to see Prime Minister al-Maliki reiterate this desire for all U.S. troops to leave in 2011, because I think the international stabilization or peacekeeping role is important. Maybe we can persuade him to allow a U.N. peacekeeping force, instead of an American force.

But with those kinds of issues still unresolved, I don't know that it is going to be so smart for us to leave entirely this upcoming year.

MALVEAUX: I also want to point out this quote from Vice President Biden here. This is "The Wall Street Journal."

He says that: "I think we have a stable government, but they have got a lot of hard decisions coming up now. The good news," the vice president says, "that the prime minister succeeded in forming a government without crossing the three red lines that Washington insisted be avoided."

What are those hard decisions that the Iraqis have ahead?

O'HANLON: Well, this issue that I just mentioned is one of them. And I agree very much with the vice president. I think the way he has laid it out is just right.

There is also the issue of how to share the oil revenue, and they are making some headway at that, between the federal government on the one hand and the local provinces or regions on the other. And then there are issues like, remember, those the Sons of Iraq, who fought with us during the surge.

Many of them want and expect government jobs. And it is not clear what they will do if they don't get them. They were essentially promised them, and now they don't have much to do. They don't really have an ongoing future source of revenue or income lined up. And they, many of them, were probably fighting against us before they were fighting with us.

So managing that issue -- that is primarily Sunni fighters from the Sons of Iraq program -- is one of the other big priorities. So there are a number of things that have to do with cleaning up the final pieces from the civil war and really firming up the piece that I think may take more than 12 months.

Now, if we have a great 2011, maybe it will be OK for us to leave at the end of the year, but I'm worried.

MALVEAUX: Let's talk a little bit about former President George W. Bush's book, "Decision Points."

In that book, he acknowledges some rather large mistakes that he made. He talks about the fact that there were not weapons of mass destruction, as the U.S. had thought, that they failed to actually protect the Iraqi people and their goods when the U.S. first invaded, that there were -- obviously, that mission accomplished banner in 2003 did not speak to the accuracy of what was going on there.

But you bring up something in an op-ed that you think was even a bigger mistake, and that is the justification for the U.S. to go it alone. Tell us what you mean by that.

O'HANLON: Well, thanks for the question.

I don't think it was a bigger mistake than what you just mentioned, but I do think it was significant and one that Mr. Bush didn't seem to fully appreciate in his memoirs, which I otherwise liked.

But he made the observation, which is not correct, that Bill Clinton had led a NATO coalition to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic from power in Serbia during the 1999 Kosovo war. And, in fact, we did no such thing.

We got Milosevic's government to agree to a peace deal. He pulled out his forces. NATO moved in. And a year later, Milosevic left office. Two years later, he was arrested by his own countrymen and then ultimately transferred over to the Hague for the International Tribunal proceedings, which lasted all the way until his death in 2006.

MALVEAUX: OK.

O'HANLON: So that is -- and Mr. Bush seemed to think that in fact NATO had overthrown Milosevic, which is sort of a precedent for him overthrowing Saddam, but it is just not the case.

MALVEAUX: All right. Michael O'Hanlon, we're going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much for your time.

O'HANLON: Thank you, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Another big story that we are following, the blizzard nightmare continuing across the Northeast. Airports are now back open, but delays are measured now in hours both for people trying to leave and for those trying get off of the plane.

Four flights got stuck on JFK's tarmac because there was not a gate available, causing quite a bit of frustration on the scene on board.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRISTOBAL ALEX, STRANDED PASSENGER: We were out there for, like I said, six-and-a-half-hours just waiting to get off. And eventually they pulled up to the gate and we thought we had made it, but then we pulled up to the gate and the doors never opened, because I guess customs was not ready. And we had to wait another hour at the gate. So it was just one thing after another.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And there is no letup in delays. Among the latest being reported now, we are talking four hours and 15 minutes at Newark Airport, and six hours and fifty-one minutes at Kennedy.

A much better scenario though for passengers who are flying in and out of Philadelphia. There are delays there that are now just down to about 23 minutes or so.

Well, about 10,000 flights have been canceled because of the weather over the last few days, and that is costing the airlines millions of dollars.

Our CNN meteorologist, Chad Myers, has details from the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta.

Chad, what's the price tag for this mess? What are we talking about here?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: There is really at this point still no way to tell what the airlines are going to get dinged for this. It could be hundreds of millions of dollars, Wall Street estimates now at $200 million.

And I saw you just talk about the delays and the cancellations that we have had, and over 10,000 flights being canceled. But the for the most part, the delays, JFK and Newark, hours, but La Guardia is not on this map. Where is La Guardia?

Is La Guardia now back to normal? No, absolutely not. There are only 47 planes in the air to La Guardia right now. Now, they are not delayed, but half of them or so were canceled, so I guess that you don't really count the ones that are canceled, because they are delayed forever.

I don't think we really went too far forward today trying to get passengers out of airports, because if you are just canceling half the flights, you are still leaving half the passengers behind. This is La Guardia. Let's get to Newark.

Newark has 57 planes in the air and then JFK almost 70 planes. That is a good number for JFK getting planes in and out, but this will be at least a $200 million ding to the airlines. That said, there's another part to this, is that the passengers are not going to get their money back, right?

MALVEAUX: Ooh, that is a bummer.

MYERS: They're not. Or they will have to pay change fees, whatever it might be. So although you will talk about millions and millions of dollars, and maybe there will be some overtime and things likes that, it isn't that these flights went away. There are 10,000 flights that didn't go, but it is not like the money went away. It is still going to be quite a time before we know exactly the costs.

MALVEAUX: And, Chad, I imagine, too, that we may end up paying for that cost, too, when you talk about this disaster. Who knows if the airline tickets are going to go up in next couple of months.

MYERS: They certainly could, although airlines typically -- they tried to raise the prices on us for Christmas travel, and people simply were not buying tickets. And then the prices came down, came down, came down, and the planes filled up.

But, you know, people that were sitting on the tarmac for six hours, remember all that passenger bill of rights thing that we had? Well, you could be fined $4 million a plane for being on the ground for more than three hours without letting people out. What is the caveat here? Only domestic flights with domestic carriers. All those people that were stuck at JFK, it does not count.

MALVEAUX: Out of luck.

MYERS: Out of luck. You are an international passenger. It does not matter.

MALVEAUX: All right. Well, we're so sorry for those guys. I hope they get home eventually. OK.

Thank you, Chad. I appreciate it.

Well, he is one of the most controversial figures in sports, Michael Vick. He went to prison for running a dogfighting ring. Now President Obama is speaking out about him. But what he is saying could bring some fallout.

And details of what Disney is doing in secret and underground to keep the lines aboveground in check.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: President Obama has a history of commenting on controversial issues. And, well, he has done it again. He reportedly congratulated the Philadelphia Eagles for giving quarterback Michael Vick a second chance after he served 18 months in prison for dogfighting.

But are there political risks for the president?

Our CNN's Martin Savidge has been looking into that part of the story for us.

Martin, what are you hearing?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, I talked to a lot of people today, both online and on the telephone. And you get a whole variety of opinions. There are people who of course believe Michael Vick deserves a second chance. Others say that neither the Eagles nor Vick should be congratulated. But there is one common theme, and it goes something like this: Doesn't the president have more important things to do?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE (voice-over): We don't know exactly when President Obama phoned Jeffrey Lurie, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, praising his team for giving quarterback Michael Vick a second chance.

But according to the White House, it did happen.

"Sports Illustrated"'s Peter King broke the story and spoke to me as he traveled to tonight's snow-postponed Eagles-Vikings game.

PETER KING, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED": Obama basically said to him that so many people who serve time never get a really fair second chance. And Lurie told me that the president was very passionate about it.

SAVIDGE: Vick is once again a star, 19 months after getting out of prison following his guilty plea for his role in a dogfighting ring. To the horror of many, the criminal investigation into that ring included the deaths of dogs caused by drowning, hanging and electrocution.

Just how strongly that case still resonates with people can be seen in this photo sent to me by Michelle Lamont of Foxy Paws Dog Boutique outside Dallas, where she says customers who say they hate the Eagles get a 20 percent discount.

Others are not so much angry as mystified.

LISA LANGE, SENIOR V.P., PETA: It will be interesting to see what the fallout is from Obama's call to the Eagles owner. I don't personally think it was the smartest thing to do. This is a nation of football lovers, but it is more of a nation of dog lovers. And the White House was quick to make the statement that he condemns dogfighting and he condemns the actions that Michael Vick took. But I think it is very hard for people to forget.

SAVIDGE: This isn't the first time the president has been hurt on topics relegated usually to conversations around the watercooler. Remember this?

KANYE WEST, MUSICIAN: I am really happy for you. I'm going to let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.

SAVIDGE: The president criticized Kanye West's behavior at the MTV Music Video Awards.

Or this: the so-called beer summit at the White House designed to soothe the controversy after the arrest of a prominent black Harvard professor who said he was the victim of racial profiling. DARRELL WEST, VICE PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR OF GOVERNANCE STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: This is just another example of the president jumping into an issue where there is no gain for him personally.

SAVIDGE: Political analyst Darrell West says there is an element of political recklessness.

D. WEST: The president really needs to be focusing on the issues that are crucial for his own long-term future, and not get drawn into these cultural or social issues that really are not that central to his future performance.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE: President Obama is known to be an avid fan of football. Legend has it about another president and football fan, Richard Nixon, who at one point supposedly called the coach of the Washington Redskins with a play. That play was supposedly used in the next game, and the Redskins lost, dramatically.

MALVEAUX: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

SAVIDGE: Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Martin, I know a lot of politicos, they say, oh, you know -- they criticize the president for weighing in on this.

But I know a lot of people, just ordinary folks, want to know what he thinks about all these things. And so obviously, we ask him, and he usually answers. So, everybody is weighing in a little bit.

(CROSSTALK)

SAVIDGE: It is a double-edged sword in that regard.

MALVEAUX: Yes, absolutely.

All right, Martin, thanks. Thanks again. Appreciate it.

I want to get more on Vick, himself, with former network sports anchor Pat O'Brien.

Pat, thanks so much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We see...

PAT O'BRIEN, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT JOURNALIST: Hi, Suzanne. Happy new year.

MALVEAUX: Hi. Happy new year. That is a first. It's almost there right around the corner.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: We do see Michael Vick not only talking the talk, but walking the walk. I mean, he seems to be asking truly for redemption here. He's doing his community service. He is very humble when it comes to his own accomplishments on the field itself.

Is this kind of the picture, is this what it looks like to seek public forgiveness and to get public forgiveness?

O'BRIEN: Yes.

And I don't know what people want Michael Vick to do. Here's a guy -- and, by the way, no conversation can begin on Michael Vick without me saying that what he did was deplorable to the animals. And I agree with PETA on that count.

But what do you want the guy to do? Here, a guy went through incredible national humiliation. We all called him out. You did. I did. Every network did. We said this guy will never come back. Then he goes to prison for 19 months.

Now, this is not some 15-day outpatient rehab. This is prison. OK? Try spending a day there. I haven't, and I don't plan to, but it is 19 months of prison. Then he comes out. And he lost -- people forget he lost maybe $160 million, $200 million in endorsements, which he may not get back.

And then he's done his community service. A lot of animal groups have applauded him for that. And he's not, as far as we know -- and he is not -- he is not killing dogs or messing with the dogs anymore.

So, I don't know what people want him to do. He's apologized. He has faced it like a man. He's manned up. And, by the way, he is one of the greatest football players in America and providing lots of entertainment.

MALVEAUX: Are you surprised that the president of the United States came out and commented about this controversy?

O'BRIEN: Well, he really -- here is where the media gets a little weird on this. He never came out. He didn't have a news conference saying, I am today supporting Michael Vick.

He called Lurie to talk about alternative energy at Lincoln Financial Field. And in the course of the conservation, it came up. So, I don't think we should portray this as President Obama suddenly saying, my God, let's give this guy another chance.

I'm sure he thinks that way. Look, the guy is president of a -- Obama is president of a diverse country. And I think he should get involved in these things. There are some presidents that probably wouldn't have known who Michael Vick was. Richard Nixon would have. But they probably wouldn't have known who Michael Vick was or Kanye West.

So it was not the main reason for the call and I'm pretty sure it was a pretty, you know, at the end, by the way, I want to thank you for supporting this guy.

Second chances is what America is all about. And Obama, himself, may need a second chance here in the next election, so we will see.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: Yes, good point there.

And, Pat, final question here real quick. Do you think he has a chance at MVP?

O'BRIEN: No.

MALVEAUX: Really?

O'BRIEN: I think Tom Brady has pretty much wrapped that one -- well, he has got a chance. Everybody has a chance.

But I think Tom Brady has got that one wrapped up. But, also, there's another connection here that CNN has not figured out yet, is that Washington, the Redskins are looking for a quarterback next season, and Michael Vick will be a free agent.

MALVEAUX: All right. Well, maybe we will look a little bit more closely at that then. OK.

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: Thanks, again, Pat. Appreciate it.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

MALVEAUX: All right.

A massive and deadly pileup, almost 100 cars involved, we are learning details about how it happened.

Plus: why gas could soon hit $5 a gallon. An oil industry insider tells us what he knows.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Well, it is the number-one issue that is hovering over President Obama's Hawaiian vacation -- details of what is waiting for him when he returns to Washington.

And solving Disney's frustratingly long lines -- details on what the happiest place on Earth is doing to make visitors even happier.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: President Obama and the first family are enjoying a little snorkeling this afternoon as their Hawaiian holiday continues, but even on vacation, the economy is hovering over Mr. Obama, and he has some big decisions to make when he returns to Washington.

Our CNN senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is traveling with the president. He is in Hawaii.

And, Ed, tell us what is on the president's plate.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, you are right. The president just wrapped up almost two hours of snorkeling with his family, some friends, some staffers at the Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve here in Hawaii, very beautiful.

But you are right. There is a stark reality waiting for him this coming weekend, when he returns back there in Washington. The bottom line is, top aides say that you can expect in the State of the Union address, which we believe will be in late January, the president is going to spend an awful lot of time on the economy, jobs. He knows that it is the number-one focus for the American people.

He is obviously getting closer and closer to his re-election bid, and this year is all going to be all about setting that up, and making sure that he is on top of that issue.

But in order to do that, he's got to get his team in place. We're expecting various White House staff moves, but top of the list, really, and aides say you can expect this announced as early as next week, is a replacement for Larry Summers, the chief economic adviser running the National Economic Council. Some of the leading candidates include Gene Sperling, a top aide at the Treasury Department, as well as Roger Altman, an investment banker.

Both of these guys, you'll remember, served in the Clinton administration way back when. They're respected both on Wall Street, within the administration, could bring some confidence for this administration. But what's interesting is that it's been dragging on a bit. As you know, Larry Summers announced back in the fall that he'd be stepping down. He was supposed to be gone by mid-December. The president convinced him to stay on through the end of the year.

And in fact, I've been told by various sources that Larry Summers has still been briefing President Obama while the president is here in Hawaii through conference calls in his daily economic briefing while Larry Summers is having his own vacation in the Caribbean. So duty calls, and Larry Summers still working literally until the end of the year here. They're getting every single minute they can out of him, but next week, they're going to have to come up with somebody new, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you, Ed. Really appreciate it.

I want to bring in our CNN senior political adviser David Gergen to talk a bit more about this. David, obviously, Larry Summers is not particularly thrilled with the fact that he's on conference calls from the Caribbean. But you've been through four White Houses. How important is it, Larry Summers' position, and the president naming somebody new by the beginning of next year? DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a key position, because it's really the sort of cockpit, if you would, for economic policy making, and Larry has not only been sort of the coordinator, but he's also been the person who convenes a daily briefing with the president on economic affairs. That's never happened before. It's the first time any president has sat down every day with his economic team and been briefed and sort of gotten up to speed and sort of gotten very, very, if you would, familiar with economic ideas and terms and sort of policies. And that's something that I think helped the president.

And so in this case, I think he's got to make a tough call, because Gene Sperling is sort of the insider. He has done this job before under President Clinton. Did a very good job. He's an extremely good coordinator. He's not as well known to the public and to the business community.

Roger Altman, who was in the -- in the Clinton administration as deputy secretary of the treasury early on, is very respected in the investment community and would provide a line there, but it's not like Gene. He's a little less of a sort of operational guy, but he'd be very good on policy, especially on cutting deficits.

And I might add, Suzanne, there has been speculation that Rick Levin, who's the president of Yale University, and in my judgment, one of the very best presidents in the country today, of any university, would come into this job.

MALVEAUX: Sure.

GERGEN: I think that's -- I think that possibility has diminished quite a lot. It's very, very hard even if he were to be asked and wanted to come. Very hard for a president of a university, a major research university, to unwind so quickly. I think we will see Rick Levin in some sort of advisory role, you know, part time along the way.

MALVEAUX: Let's turn the corner, if we may. January is going to be a very important month for U.S./China diplomacy. Obviously, you're going to have a state visit from President Hu Jintao of China coming to the White House. You also have Secretary Gates, who will be traveling to China to talk to his counterparts there. What do we hope? What do we anticipate the beginning of the year that is going to make the difference when it comes to these kinds of discussions, these high-level discussions between the United States and China?

GERGEN: Well, they have some very important issues to talk about, obviously: South Korea, North Korea tensions, Iran, trade, the Chinese currency. All those issues will be on the table.

But I think the bigger question that they have to wrestle with, the mega question is how are the United States and China going to coexist over the next 20 or 30 years as the two major superpowers in the world? How do they make that a friendly rivalry, because I think President Obama is going to be stressing making the U.S. more competitive, keeping us a great nation, making us more innovative. And that's going to be to take on the Chinese challenge. So that's the bigger issue they have to talk about.

MALVEAUX: All right. David Gergen, thank you so much.

GERGEN: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Keeping the west on edge. They're the so-called nuclear bad boys of Iran and North Korea. We're going to take a close look at what the Obama White House still has to do to ease tensions.

And police officers put their lives on the line every day, but now their job may be even more dangerous. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Is Iran toying with the west over its nuclear ambitions? According to Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Tehran has yet to agree on an exact date for next month's round of global nuclear talks. And North Korea is setting Washington's nerves on edge, as well.

I want to go to our CNN foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty. She's at the State Department, following this very important story -- Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Suzanne. You know, as the Obama administration gets ready to start its third year in office, it still seems to be spinning its wheels when it comes to dealing with these two so-called nuclear bad boys in the neighborhood, Iran and North Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): One's got the bomb; the other allegedly is dying to get it. Each is giving Hillary Clinton a different headache.

Iran's leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, makes the world nervous by pursuing his nuclear program, claiming it's peaceful. The Obama administration has spent the last year demanding he prove it, but Hillary Clinton lets the clock tick on.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have avoided using the term "deadline" ourselves. That's not a term that we have used, because we want to keep the door to dialogue open. But we've also made it clear we can't continue to wait, and we cannot continue to stand by.

DOUGHERTY: The U.S. has rallied the world to impose tougher economic sanctions on Iran, and in December, for the first time in a year, Iran's nuclear negotiator showed up for talks, but they yielded nothing except a promise to meet again in January.

North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-Il, with approximately a dozen nuclear weapons under his belt, has been saber rattling, in November shelling a South Korean island, killing civilians. The secretary of state held an emergency summit with South Korea and Japan, but still left the door open to a better relationship with the north.

CLINTON: We remain committed to seeking opportunities for dialogue, but we will not reward North Korea for shattering the peace or defying the international community.

DOUGHERTY: Less than three weeks later, Pyongyang threatened to retaliate with nuclear weapons if the south went ahead with exercises. At the last minute, Kim Jong-Il pulled his punches and did not attack, at least for now. But he'd made his point, sending shivers through the international community and holding onto the uranium enrichment program that Secretary Clinton is demanding he stop.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: Using different methods, both Iran and North Korea are experts in skating close to the abyss, Iran tempting fate that Israel might destroy its nuclear program before it gets the bomb, and North Korea goading South Korea to launch a devastating military attack. Now neither scenario has happened, but a new and more dangerous year is approaching -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Jill. Jill Dougherty at the State Department.

Well, a surge in police fatalities but why? We're "Digging Deeper" on a disturbing trend.

And as gas prices keep climbing, we're finding out who has the cheapest in the country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: A Georgia family is in mourning after a state trooper dies in the line of duty. Trooper Chadwick LeCroy was shot and killed during a traffic stop on an Atlanta highway before dawn. Police say a suspect is in custody.

Now, LeCroy's tragic death is part of an alarming trend after a nearly two-year decline. The number of law-enforcement fatalities has risen dramatically.

Our CNN homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is following this for us and joins us now. Jeanne, tell us what's going on?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne the numbers are shocking. Law-enforcement fatalities jumped almost 40 percent this year.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): Just Monday, a Georgia state trooper was killed on the job: shot in the neck after a traffic stop. He is one of the 161 law-enforcement officers killed in the line of duty this year. It is an increase of almost 40 percent from 2009, which had the lowest tally seen in 50 years. Sixty of those killed this year were shot, 10 of them in so- called cluster killings, like this one in West Memphis, where more than one officer lost their life. Some blame a new kind of criminal.

CRAIG FLOYD, OFFICERS MEMORIAL FUND: A more cold-blooded, brazen criminal element prowling the streets of America. Law enforcement has to confront those thugs each and every day. It's tough. And a lot of those criminals don't think twice about killing a cop.

MESERVE: But for the 13th straight year, the No. 1 cause of death for law-enforcement officers was traffic-related accidents. Sixteen officers were hit on the side of the road while issuing tickets or helping motorists, but 50 were in crashes. Some experts believe the technological tools of law enforcement -- computers and radios and cell phones -- have made police officers the ultimate distracted drivers.

FLOYD: They're typing in the number. They're relaying the information to dispatch. All of that is taking their attention away from the roadways.

MESERVE: The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and the Fraternal Order of Police argue cuts in police budgets are putting the lives of more officers at risk. They maintain fewer employees are being asked to do more, sometimes with less training and less equipment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Now, usually, the number of police officer deaths increases and decreases with the homicide rate, but this year, that isn't the case. FBI statistics for the first six months of this year show this homicide rate is decreasing, and no one can explain, Suzanne, exactly why the two statistics are out of sync.

Back to you.

MALVEAUX: Jeanne, do we know why this year is an all-time high?

MESERVE: Well, it isn't an all-time high. It was higher in the '70s. Experts say what happened is that after that, they started issuing Kevlar vests, and over the years those bulletproof vests have saved more than 3,000 law-enforcement lives, according to some studies.

Back to you.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Jeanne.

Now to a big scare for skiers in Maine. Our Brianna Keilar is monitoring that and the other top stories that are coming in right now. Brianna, tell us about this.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, this was pretty terrifying at Sugarloaf Ski Resort in Maine today. A ski lift abruptly stops in high winds, trapping an estimated 220 riders. Five of the lift chairs then plunged some 30 feet to the ground. Nine people taken to the hospital there. And a resort spokesman says one of the lift's cables apparently skipped over a pulley. There is an investigation underway now.

Embattled Congressman Charlie Rangel says he has begun raising money for a trust to pay his legal expenses. He says it's been authorized by a House committee and will allow him to retain attorneys. The House formerly censured the longtime New York Democrat earlier this month for violating House rules, including failing to pay taxes on a vacation home in the Dominican Republic.

Controversial surprise Democratic nominee Alvin Greene may not have won South Carolina's Senate race against Republican Jim DeMint, but he's not giving up. He says now the political newcomer is running for a vacant state house seat. He's filed the paperwork and the $165 fee. Greene is expected to be one of at least three candidates in the February 15 primary ahead of the election on April 5.

Gay actor Richard Chamberlain of "Thornbirds" and "Shogun" fame may have come out in 2003, but he's telling other gay actors to stay in the closet for the sake of their careers. Chamberlain tells "The Advocate" there's still, quote, "a tremendous amount of homophobia in the culture." He says that could keep openly gay actors from winning leading man roles.

And if you've ever waited in line at Disney World, you may want to hear this. "The New York Times" reports that Disney now has an underground nerve center. Video cameras, digital park maps, all of it aimed at spotting gridlock and getting lines to move faster. Now, one way to do that: adding more boats to The Pirates of the Caribbean, say, sending out Goofy to entertain you while you wait. Pretty cool stuff, Suzanne. That's wild to me.

MALVEAUX: That works for me. Send out Goofy and entertain me.

KEILAR: More tea cups or something. I don't know.

MALVEAUX: Great. I think we need a trip over there, Brianna. I really do.

KEILAR: Yes.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thanks.

Well, you think that gas prices are bad now? You've got to just wait. You won't believe just how high industry insiders say they could go.

Plus, the lame-duck session of Congress made history, and some big-name senators are history, as well. And their memorable farewells in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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MALVEAUX: Gas prices are creeping up across the United States, significantly in some places. GasBuddy.com tracks what people are paying. The areas in red on this map indicate the highest prices, over $3.15 a gallon. Now gas is under $3 in the areas in green.

Hawaii has the country's most expensive average price, $3.65 a gallon. Followed by Alaska, New York and California, where the average is $3.27 a gallon.

Now, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming have the cheapest gas, as low as $2.74 a gallon.

One oil industry insider predicts that we're going to look back fondly on those prices. He sees gas hitting $5 a gallon soon. Our CNN's Christine Romans has the details -- Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, former Shell president John Hofmeister predicts gas will hit $5 a gallon by the year 2012. Two main reasons. The rest of the world is growing. The so-called BRIC countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China. Millions of new consumers in emerging markets are eager to enter the middle class and drive cars. And stronger economies overseas mean factories are humming and using a lot more oil. As the rest of the world grows, supplies will be stretched.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN HOFMEISTER, FORMER SHELL PRESIDENT: Well, I'm predicting the age of the energy abyss hits this nation between 2018 and 2020. If we just do the math, do the curves, on what we're not doing and what we should be doing, and we just overlay a normal, typical economy, the 20th Century energy system was great, but it's old. And we're not replacing it with a 21st Century energy system, which needs a combination of old and new.

ROMANS: Old like more drilling, he says. No surprise, maybe, from an oil industry insider. But new, as well, like solar, wind, renewables and new technology.

Gas prices last week crossed the $3 mark for the first time since October 2008.

HOFMEISTER: What we're looking for by the end of this decade, in my opinion, blackouts, brownouts with unpredicted -- unpredictable impact on the largest, most dense population centers, like the New York metropolitan area, like Southern California, like the middle Atlantic. All the places where people love to live are going to have shortages of electricity.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: It's a doomsday scenario, indeed. Other analysts say $5 gas is possible but maybe more like a decade out, not in 2012. Let's not forget, it was just a couple years ago we saw $4 a gallon. Now we're back above $3.

Suzanne, back to you.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Christine. Well, when Congress returns next week, several big names and big personalities are no longer going to be there. But before leaving town, they made quite a statement.

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MALVEAUX: Here's a look at "Hot Shots."

In South Korea, a man stands in front of a monument covered in snow.

In Afghanistan, a soldier on patrol re-clears an area of explosives.

In India, porters unload onions from Pakistani trucks, where onion prices are soaring.

And a seagull flaps its wings while standing on a sheet of ice.

"Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.

Well, the new year will usher in the new Congress. The Senate wrapped up this year's final lame-duck session with a flurry of historic votes. But you might have missed something else: that's the good-byes from some of the chamber's most recognizable faces. Here's a look at their memorable farewells.

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SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R), OHIO: As I walked down the steps of the United States Capitol for the last time, I pray that the Holy Spirit will inspire my colleagues -- colleagues to make the right decision for our country's future and work together to tackle our fiscal crisis. You have the future of our nation and the future of our children and grandchildren in your hands.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER BOND (R), MISSOURI: There's no greater honor than being given the trust of the people at home to represent them. And I've done by best to keep my faith with my constituents, on every vote I cast and every issue which I've worked.

SEN. BOB BENNETT (R), UTAH: The Democrats are the party of government. Going back to their roots with Franklin Roosevelt, they've come to the conclusion that, if there's a problem, government should solve that problem.

The Republicans are the party of free markets, and they come to the conclusion, if there's a problem, it should be left to the markets to solve it. And they're both right.

That's the thing I have come to understand here.

SEN. JIM BUNNING (R), KENTUCKY: I have been booed by 60,000 fans in Yankee Stadium, standing alone on the mound. So I have never really cared if I stood alone here in the Congress, as long as I stood by my beliefs and my values. SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Ignoring a massive congressional record and reversing recent decisions, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito repudiated their confirmation testimony given under oath and provided the key votes to permit corporations and unions to secretly pay for political advertising. Chief Justice Roberts promised to just call balls and strikes, and then he moved the bases.

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: Let us no longer be divided into red states and blue states but reunite once more as 50 red, white and blue states. As the civil rights leader once reminded us, we may have arrived on these shores in different ships, but we're all in the same boat now.

VOINOVICH: Mr. President, I yield the floor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The senator from Ohio is recognized.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: To quote St. Paul, "The time of my departure has come. I fought the good fight. I finished the race. I kept the faith." And so, Mr. President, it is with great pride and deep humility and incredible gratitude to all of you here today as a United States senator that I yield the floor. Thank you.

Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Remember, you can follow what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM on Facebook. Just go to Facebook.com/CNNSituationRoom to become a fan.

For now, I'm Suzanne Malveaux in THE SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.