Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Moammar Gadhafi Leaves Tripoli Hotel; Bangladeshi Migrant Workers Desperately Try to Get Home; Critics Bash President Obama on Libya
Aired March 8, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much, Becky.
Breaking news we're following right now -- Moammar Gadhafi may speak to reporters any minute now amid new denials that a deal is in the works for him to give up power. This hour, we're digging for the truth inside Gadhafi's power center and the rebel stronghold.
Also, new fighting, new carnage and growing questions about what President Obama is waiting for. Some Republicans accusing him of dithering in response to terrorist, sociopathic terrorist killers.
To our viewers in the United States and around the world, we want to welcome our viewers. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And as we follow the breaking news, my colleague, Hala Gorani, is joining us from the CNN Center, as well.
This is a chaotic scene that's going on in Tripoli -- Hala.
We've been watching it now for some time. They rolled out the red carpet for Moammar Gadhafi. He shows up. We expect him to start speaking to reporters literally any minute now. We'll, of course, have coverage of that. But it's a dramatic moment in this civil war.
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Indeed, it is. We saw Moammar Gadhafi, Wolf, just a few minutes ago, walk into this Tripoli hotel with his trademark sunglasses, his turban, surrounded by security.
Earlier, our Nic Robertson reported that he had arrived in a convoy of vehicles.
Wolf, there are about 100 journalists. You see the scrum there -- about 100 journalists who have been waiting for six plus hours.
And as you had mentioned, with Moammar Gadhafi, it's always a guessing game -- will he address reporters one by one? Will it be a news conference? Will it be in five minutes? Will it be in five hours? It's always an open question -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Hala, let's go right to the scene.
Our own Nic Robertson is in Tripoli. He's standing by -- Nic, from your vantage point, you've seen Gadhafi show up, but where is he now?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if you see those yellow-orange curtains behind me -- and I just looked around there. There's still a small gaggle of officials, security guys and press officials here guarding the entranceway there. Through there, there's a large hall and a series of small meeting rooms. And inside one of those is Moammar Gadhafi.
And we believe that he's meeting with -- and doing an interview with some Turkish journalists.
But beyond that, none of the other hundred journalists waiting in this hallway with me now really have any idea if he's going to come out and talk to us or invite us into the big conference hall there to take our questions, exactly what he plans. Of course, everyone has a huge number of questions for him, Wolf, and very pressing questions, the questions that are the questions of the day, like was he engaged in conversations with the opposition that might lead to him stepping down?
His government has said no.
What's behind this?
No smoke without a fire. There is a lot of questions here. People would like to know about the fighting that's going on in -- in Aljazeer (ph), just to the west of the capital here. We've heard reports from that town today of tanks going in, of -- of doctors being killed, of health clinics there treating the wounded rebels being closed down and civilians being killed.
So people here have many, many questions. And we've been -- we've been waiting here eight hours, Wolf, for him to arrive and another hour, almost, since we got in the building -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And correct me if I'm wrong, Nic, it's well past 1:00 p.m. now in Libya. So it's a -- it's getting closer and closer to midnight. So we don't know what Gada -- he's -- he's very erratic, if you will. He could be speaking at 11:00, at midnight, at 1:00 a.m.. We have no clue, is that right?
ROBERTSON: That's exactly right, Wolf. In fact, I just checked my watch as you were speaking to me here and it seems a surprising to me, as well. I thought it was 11:00. It's actually midnight now already. So this is going to well on into the small hours. How long this interview will take -- we heard him speak for three hours on state television just a couple of days ago.
Is that what we're going to get ourselves tonight?
This man has a reputation for keeping people waiting and then talking and talking and talking.
So what we're in for tonight, we don't know. But we're guessing it's going to be a long one -- Wolf.
GORANI: Nic, this is Hala in Atlanta.
What was his demeanor? Did you have an opportunity to actually see him as he walked in the hotel? What was his demeanor like? Did he look at anyone? Did he say anything when he walked into that scram?
ROBERTSON: Well, I was holding the camera, that live camera, as he came in. And I had -- my National Council was doing a live broadcast at the same time. And I didn't have the best of balance and I was trying to get a very good picture of him.
But it seems to me this was a -- it was a leader of a major nation (INAUDIBLE) nation in Africa (AUDIO GAP). He looked like something of a diminutive figure. He looked confused about which way to go, being faced with so many cameras in front of him, his security guys not knowing which way to shuffle him around.
There was a sort of a look of confusion on his face. I must admit, I lost sight of that as I got upended in a flower pot at one point, a large ornamental flower pot in the hotel. I was quickly helped out.
But that was (AUDIO GAP) of the chaos there. And I have to say, the sort of -- the pressure and this small figure, it's almost sort a (INAUDIBLE) for the -- for the position that he finds himself in -- pressure internally here, the country divided; pressure internationally on his future here. And he has to know that his days are numbered.
But this is a guy who said he'll go down fighting. He is a guy who really seems to not share the same reality that many other people have -- Hala, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, it's -- it's interesting, Hala and Nic, as we await -- as we await to hear from Gadhafi himself -- and I wonder if -- if you want to weigh in -- and, Hala, I want you to weigh in, as well, but first to Nic. These reports that have been out there that there are intermediaries negotiating an opportunity for Gadhafi to step down, to even leave Libya, to escape with his life, if you will, it -- it sounds sort of counter-intuitive, given the advances his forces are making on the battlefield between Tripoli and Benghazi right now.
But what are they saying in Tripoli about those reports, Nic?
ROBERTSON: Well, government officials we've talked to, Wolf, said that they were lies and refused to comment initially. And then when we said, look, we need -- we need to know exactly what you're thinking about this, they said, look, it's -- it's utter rubbish. This is propaganda from the rebels. We don't believe it. We don't buy it. This isn't happening.
You only have to look into his speeches, to his son's speeches, to everything that government officials here have been saying, to know that this isn't the character of the man, this is not what he's been saying should happen. Indeed, he's been telling the rebels that they should put down their weapons and then the government won't go after them.
His son has said that there will be no talks on reform here for the country until the country is united, until the rebels have put down their weapons or have been defeated.
So this is -- this is a regime that doesn't believe in compromise until they've got what they want. So it hardly seems that he would play what ultimately may be his -- his ace card face-up on the table initially, when he believes and his government advisers seem to believe that he's having military successes in the east of the country now, that he's having military successes in the west. This is a time when he feels he's in the ascendency. And we are told that the tribes are coming -- and large tribes are coming on board on his side. It's hard for us to know.
I'm getting a sense that there is some movement now behind those curtains. What exactly we're going to see and whether we get a chance to go in and talk with Moammar Gadhafi, will we be invited in there?
There you see it. It's an ebb and flow. That's the way it's been here all day, an ebb and flow. We move forward. The government officials tell us to step back. That was as false alarm, it seems. We're not going to be getting in just yet.
But I'm going to take a peek down that corridor. You have one or two people emerging. In fact, I can see the -- the Turkish reporter who was in there ostensibly getting the interview with Mr. Gadhafi. I just saw him walking down the corridor, straightening his tie.
So it does seem that the main interview that Mr. Gadhafi came here for is over and the door is shut. Well, we'll have to wait and see -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, stand by for a moment -- Hala, it -- it sort of -- it sort of makes sense if Gadhafi's forces are on the move right now, scoring some military victories, the no -- the notion that he's about to step down and accept some sort of deal that he would leave the country and his family would leave the country, that doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, given the nature of Moammar Gadhafi.
But you've studied this guy for a long time.
GORANI: Right. And we've heard from Nic Robertson, who said government sources are denying that any talks -- any such talks are taking place. But, also, opposition officials, who formed their own National Council in the eastern part of Libya, are saying that is not true, the only negotiation we're prepared to hold is the terms on which and by which this dictator will be tried for the crimes that he's committed.
Let's go to Benghazi.
I believe we have Arwa Damon with more on the mood there. I'm curious if, in Benghazi, people are watching television at all, if they've heard that we're expecting to hear from Moammar Gadhafi.
What's the mood like in Eastern Libya, in this opposition-held territory where you are?
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Hala, just about every single hotel lobby coffee shop now has a television in it. When you drive around, even some of the stores have small TVs mounted up in them. Everyone watching these developments very closely.
When it comes to what Gadhafi might potentially be saying, people here really view a lot of his ramblings as being the speakings of a man who has basically lost his mind. He holds no credibility in this part of the country whatsoever. And people are very skeptical about any sort of potential promise or statement that he might make.
But they still watch what he is saying very closely, looking for any sort of clue as to what his next political or military move might be. People keep reminding us of his words, where he said that he would fight for Libya until the very lost drop of blood. And that threat, of course, holding a lot of -- creating a lot of worry here, especially in Benghazi and other parts of the country that are currently being controlled by the opposition. There are very real fears, as the process of establishing a potential no fly zone draws out, that Gadhafi could try to carry out some sort of a revenge bombing campaign. So a lot of concerns about the future here -- Hala.
GORANI: And these opposition figures you speak to are saying we will not -- there -- are there any conditions under which they might consider a negotiation to allow for the, quote, "graceful exit" of Moammar Gadhafi?
Or is that completely off the table, as far as they are concerned?
DAMON: Well, Hala, earlier this morning, when we were hearing that there could potentially be some sort of a deal on the table, opposition leaders we were talking to were saying that for them to even begin to consider that, he would first have to step down as leader of Libya. He would have to acknowledge the authority and full authority and legitimacy of the National Council as being the body that could rule this country.
What we were hearing later on in the day, at a press conference held by the spokesman of the National Council, was that there was no such -- still no negotiations happening at all.
What we later found out through sources is that it appears as if some individuals who are close to Colonel Gadhafi were trying to reach out, without his endorsement, to the opposition, to see what, perhaps, the potential opportunities might be for him to try to make a graceful exit.
But what we're hearing from the opposition is that not only do they want him to step down, but, by and large, they do want to see him held accountable. According to one member of the National Council he's saying that if he is tried, it will be a fair trial, but that it is going to have only one result and that is going to be the death sentence.
And he says that trial could happen in Libya. And if he does try to flee this country, this opposition National Council member saying that he's going to find himself in the grip of the international court -- Hala.
BLITZER: Let -- let me weigh in as well, Arwa.
How desperate are the rebels right now -- those fighting Gadhafi's forces -- for international military support, especially from the United States?
What are they saying to you?
DAMON: You know, Wolf, as every day goes by, they grow even more anxious about that. They're fully aware of the fact that they are outgunned. And when it comes to experience, military experience, their men -- young men, many of them on the front lines -- quite simply don't have that. We were told by a force close to the opposition, to the military council that was established, that they have now decided to go into something of a hold pattern.
They are now going to try to gain greater ground. They're hoping that that no fly zone will be implemented sooner rather than later. Great concerns that by the time a no fly zone is put into place, if that does, in fact, happen, it could actually be too late.
Many people we're talking to are saying that they do want to see some sort of aerial support, precision air strikes carried out by some sort of an outside country. They do realize that when it comes down to the military weaponry that they have, they cannot sustain this battle against Gadhafi's forces. They are young men out there. They do have the willpower. They do have the passion for the cause that they're fighting for, but they, quite simply, cannot fight against an aerial assault with an AK-47 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Arwa, stand by.
Arwa is in Eastern Libya.
And Nic Robertson is standing by. He's in Tripoli. We're all waiting. We're watching for Moammar Gadhafi to speak. We expect that soon -- Hala.
GORANI: Also, then, we'll take you to another flashpoint in the Middle East. That's where riot police clashed today with protesters. We'll tell you where these scenes unfolded.
BLITZER: All right. Lots happening here. And also, a new building, by the way, dedicated to peace here in Washington. Critics suggest it's a shrine to wasteful government spending in the United States. Does the world need it? Does the United States need it? Lots happening. Breaking news out of Tripoli, Libya, awaiting Moammar Gadhafi. Stand by for that.
GORANI: Welcome back, everyone, to our viewers in the United States and all around the world as CNN International and CNN USA continue to cover the anticipated speech by Moammar Gadhafi, the Libyan leader. He's currently in a Tripoli hotel.
Nic Robertson is there with more on what reporters who are gathered in that hotel, Nic, are expecting to happen. Will the leader emerge?
ROBERTSON: Well, I'm not sure about expectations. It's perhaps more of a hope at the moment. Now he appears to have completed at least one interview behind those curtains there, that's the meeting room. But perhaps the rest of the journalists here, over a hundred gathered here in this hotel, have been waiting here all afternoon -- it's now well past midnight here -- they will get an opportunity to talk to Moammar Gadhafi and ask him some questions.
Obviously, when he speaks, people know that it can go for a long time, but it's an opportunity to ask questions. We listened for three hours to him just a few days ago giving a speech on a whole range of issues, but now people would like to know what's happening in Zawiya, for example.
What about these reports that he was in some kind of talks or somebody was representing him within talks with the rebels? What exactly he planned -- plans to do now, now that President Obama and David Cameron in London have both said that the only way forward is for him to be removed from power. Questions like this.
Obviously people have many, many more questions, but that's what they'd like to put to him if and when he comes out. But if his detail is anything like when he went behind those curtains, it's very unlikely that anyone is going to get a single word out with him.
There is a large conference room back there, so it is possible that that could happen. Perhaps that's being organized, perhaps he's being whisked out of a side door and we're all still standing here and we don't know. Anything, Hala, to be honest (INAUDIBLE) is possible.
GORANI: All right, he's behind the curtain in Tripoli at a hotel. Thanks very much, Nic Robertson.
Wolf, back to you in Washington.
BLITZER: Hala, it's an amazing situation, if you look what's happening behind Nic Robertson. Moammar Gadhafi behind that curtain over there. We don't know when he's going to speak, if he's going to speak, but we anticipate that will be soon.
We're going to go back to Nic shortly, but I want to go to the White House right now where our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is standing by. The president of the United States, he's working hard on this issue right now and he's had some major phone calls with world leaders today.
Ed, what's the latest?
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Earlier today, the president, you know, he's in Boston right now trying to talk about the economy, education, but this is a reminder, this story is obviously not going away, these big, big national security challenges. And that's why, earlier today, the president in a phone consideration with the British prime minister, David Cameron, a White House readout after the call, officials basically said that they reiterated, frankly, what we've heard for days now, which is that both leaders believe it's time for colonel Gadhafi to go, that they want to try to increase as much pressure on him and his regime as possible.
A White House statement going on to say, quote, "The president and the prime minister agreed to press forward with planning, including at NATO, on the full spectrum of possible responses, including surveillance, humanitarian assistance, enforcement of the arms embargo and a no-fly zone."
But interesting that even as the White House revealed the details of this phone conversation, White House spokesman Jay Carney was aboard Air Force One on the way to Boston and was getting hit with questions from reporters. One asking whether it appears that the White House is sort of dragging its feet on this question of possible military intervention, of possibly instituting a no-fly zone.
Jay Carney repeated what we've heard for days now, which is that the White House believes this is much more complicated than just making a snap decision on whether or not to institute a no-fly zone. Takes a lot of ground work to get that going, and they have to do a lot of work, obviously, need to do a lot of work bringing allies, perhaps before NATO, perhaps the United Nations Security Council to try and get that approved.
So they are not anywhere close, frankly, to instituting a no-fly zone or moving forward on any of these military options that they've said for days now were on the table now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And just to be precise, Ed, is it fair to say that under no circumstances will the United States act militarily by itself, unilaterally, as they say? That they will act militarily if the president decides that only with the cooperation, the backing, the authorization, if you will, of the United Nations and/or NATO?
HENRY: You can never say never obviously, you know that, but it seems highly unlikely that the U.S. would move forward unilaterally. That's all the indications we have gotten from very senior officials here at the White House. Instead, they have made clear that they would want to build some sort of a coalition, as you noted, either before the U.N. or with NATO.
Bottom line with the U.N., though, of course, is that China and/or Russia could block that. Seems likely they would, in terms of any effort to move forward on military intervention. That leaves you with NATO, and NATO obviously already strained with resources in Afghanistan, it's unclear whether or not NATO would be on board as well.
So they still a lot of work behind the scenes, but I think it's fair to say it's highly unlikely the U.S. would more forward without some sort of support from either the U.N. or NATO, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right we're standing by. We're standing by to get more from the White House. Hala Gorani is standing by at the CNN Center as well. We're awaiting Moammar Gadhafi. He's getting ready, we're told, to speak to journalists gathered at that journalist hotel in Tripoli. We're going to check in to see what's going on there as well. Stand by for that. Nic Robertson is at the hotel, we'll, of course, have live coverage of Gadhafi when he speaks.
Also, a deadly miss. Pakistan's Taliban taking aim at the country's spy agency. You're going to find out who was hurt and killed. Stand by.
BLITZER: We're awaiting Moammar Gadhafi, we're told, at a hotel in Tripoli, Libya. He's getting ready to speak. Once he does, we'll hear what he has to say. This could be a critical moment in this crisis, in this uproar, the civil war in Libya. Stand by for that.
In the meantime, the call went out for 1 million women to march in Egypt. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What's going on, Lisa?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Well, today is the 100th anniversary of the International Women's Day. And women in Cairo, the center of Egypt's recent democracy uprising, marked it with a march calling for equal opportunity. It was billed as the One Million Woman March, but only a few hundred turned up. Anti-feminist protesters, including men, tried to shout down the participants.
And another protest, this one in Iran's capital Tehran, also ran into trouble. You're looking at amateur video, and we need to caution CNN cannot independently verify it. It apparently shows riot police kicking and going after some demonstrators. An opposition website says security forces also fired tear gas to disperse anti-government protesters.
Pakistan's Taliban claimed responsibility for today's deadly explosion in Punjab Province that apparently missed its intended target. Authorities say a bomb planted next to a natural gas station was aimed at the regional offices of Pakistan's top spy agency. That building was not badly damaged, but 24 people near the explosion were killed, 105 others were injured -- Wolf. BLITZER: Lisa, stand by.
Gadhafi certainly has plenty of enemies, but who are his friends? U.S. officials are trying to learn more about the Libyan leader's inner circle, so are we.
And can the U.S. afford millions of dollars to build for peace? It depends on whom you ask. Stand by for that.
We're awaiting Moammar Gadhafi, he's getting ready to speak to journalists. We'll go there live when we come back.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: And we're following the breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. Hala Gorani is joining us as well.
We want to welcome back our viewers in the United States and around the world.
It's a dramatic scene, Hala, in Libya right now, at that Tripoli hotel. Nic Robertson is there, but as you've been pointing out, awaiting Gadhafi is no simple matter.
GORANI: Yes, we are not, we never have set our watches to Gadhafi time. Too unreliable.
You mentioned Nic Robertson. Let's go to him, live at that Tripoli hotel.
What can you tell us? We're seeing here the scene of the arrival of Moammar Gadhafi a few minutes ago. Where is he now?
ROBERTSON: Well, Hala, I can tell you that if you're able to see the images that are coming out now from the lobby of the hotel here, there's a lot of journalists milling around. And quite some surprise at the moment.
Moammar Gadhafi, it appears, was whisked out of a side door into a waiting BMW, a white BMW 7 Series. I went out to check. The BMW was there. When I came back to the area where everyone was waiting, the next minute the word was that he had gone. And that's a wrap (ph).
He snuck out of a side door. He did one interview that lasted about an hour. He snuck out of the side door and avoided all the questions of all these more than 100 reporters here, people who he had invited to this country to answer their questions and give them free access to the different parts of this country to see what's going on. That's not been happening, and clearly now he's decided to step out of here and dodge all the really tough questions that people here were waiting to ask of him -- Hala. BLITZER: Is it your sense, Nic -- and it's Wolf here in Washington as well. Is it your sense that he's gone for the night? It's now past midnight. It's past 12:30 a.m. where you are. Or is it still possible, based on what you're hearing from other Libyan officials, that he might come back tonight?
ROBERTSON: Wolf, I think that's it. He's gone.
And the best information we have, that he's left and he won't be coming back. His security detail have disappeared with him.
Before he arrived, there were sniffer dogs, there were soldiers out the back and out the front. They appear to be leaving as well. So all the indications are at the moment that he is gone and won't be coming back tonight.
This was a moment that everyone here had been waiting for. More than eight hours, people had waited to ask their questions. More than eight hours.
Government officials had led us to believe that this was our opportunity to talk to him, possibly, that we could ask questions. Perhaps they really didn't know.
It's very often the situation here where the government officials just don't know. When Gadhafi's security people of course turned up this afternoon, the government officials we talked to had no idea what was going on.
They very well may have been misled themselves. So the expectation that everyone was led (INAUDIBLE) all afternoon, all evening, now in to the night, was that there would be a chance to speak with Moammar Gadhafi, and that has evaporated as he disappeared out of side door here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Hala is going to come into this conversation in a moment, Nic, but you did mention that Gadhafi did sit down with a Turkish journalist for an interview, and I believe we saw that Turkish journalist leave that area behind the curtain where you are. I wonder if you or one of your producers could maybe find that Turkish journalist and bring him to our camera so we can debrief him and find out what Gadhafi said.
It seems to be the only public statement that Gadhafi has made, but if you could work on that, that would be excellent. And we would at least get some thoughts from Gadhafi via this Turkish journalist.
But Hala, go ahead. I know you have a question for Nic as well.
GORANI: Well, I mean, you sort of answered it there, Nic, but is that all Moammar Gadhafi did at this hotel? He just gave this Turkish journalists an interview and then was whisked out a side door to a waiting vehicle? Do we know?
ROBERTSON: That's what appears to have happened. Exactly what else may have happened behind those curtains, in the half a dozen or so rooms and large conference halls that were back there, he may have conducted more than one interview. He may have met with other people.
But the only information we have is that there was one interview with one Turkish journalist. If there was more, we may learn about it shortly. But that's the best that we have at the moment here -- Hala.
BLITZER: And Nic, if you can find that Turkish journalist, as I said, we'd love to know what Gadhafi had to say. If he did speak to other journalists, we'd be interested in that as well.
We'll let you do some work in Tripoli.
Hala, this is a fluid story, but as we just heard from Nic -- and our cameras are live at that hotel in Tripoli right now -- it looks like Gadhafi got into that BMW, sped away. His security detail is gone. We probably won't be hearing more from Gadhafi tonight, but we'll see if we can find at least one journalist, maybe other journalists with whom he spoke.
GORANI: Absolutely. With Moammar Gadhafi, anything is possible. And he ended up leaving without addressing journalists there. That was always a possibility, and that's the one that ended up materializing in Tripoli.
The question is, how have opposition members in eastern Libya reacted to all of this? Are they even aware that Moammar Gadhafi is at a Tripoli hotel talking to journalists? What are they saying about it all?
Arwa Damon is in Benghazi, it's opposition-held.
Have you heard any reaction at all to what's happening in the Libyan capital, Arwa?
DAMON: Not direct reaction to this latest move by Gadhafi at this point, Hala, but you can be sure that opposition leaders and just about everybody in this city has been watching these events very closely. It's not entirely uncharacteristic for Gadhafi to force the entire press corps to wait for eight hours, give one network an interview, and then disappear. But it is exactly that kind of erratic behavior that terrifies people here.
They are fully expecting that he could launch some sort of a bombing campaign while the international community sits, watches and waits to take some sort of a decision. People here who we're speaking to, really struggling to really fully comprehend how it is that the international community, the United Nations, the United States, are not taking harsher action against Colonel Gadhafi. They feel that it is their blood at the end of the day that is being shed at the expense of diplomatic maneuvering when it comes to the international community itself, and the behavior from Gadhafi, like what we saw tonight, really underscores their fears that this is a man who is highly irrational, highly erratic, and could launch a bloody campaign, even more bloody against his people here at any time -- Hala.
GORANI: A question coming to us on Twitter. There is someone asking -- of course, we are broadcasting in the United States, as well as internationally -- "has the U.S. reached out at all to the opposition transitional council that represents the opposition in eastern Libya?"
Do we know?
DAMON: Yes, Hala. We heard from the opposition leadership earlier today, the spokesman for the National Council, newly established National Council, saying that they were aware of efforts on the U.S. and to try to put together some sort of a delegation to send to Tripoli.
We then had that confirmed from D.C. There has been initial engagement.
As to what sort of specifics are being talked about, we do know the opposition leaders desperately want the no-fly zone enforced. There are many members within the National Council who want to see a precision air strike taking place. As to what the U.S. will agree to at this point in time, that we do not know, but opposition leadership really does feel as if the U.S., though they have taken positive steps, they have made positive comments, they really want to see America taking a much stronger and harsher stance.
There is this widespread belief here -- and you, Hala, would be well aware of this -- that if the United States wants to do something, it can in fact accomplish that. Many people here in Libya believe that if America wanted to take Colonel Gadhafi down, it would be able to do that, which is why there is such a struggle here to comprehend why this has become such a lengthy process -- Hala.
GORANI: OK. Arwa Damon is in Benghazi -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Hala, thanks very much.
We're not leaving this story. We're staying on top of it.
All sorts of questions now about whether President Obama is being deliberate enough in his response to Libya's civil war or, as some of his critics are now insisting, he's dithering. We're looking closely at both arguments. Stand by for that.
And Libyan rebels are finding themselves outgunned by pro-Gadhafi forces and losing ground. We'll assess that when we come back. On the ground and in Libya, when we come back.
BLITZER: We're here, we're following the breaking news in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Hala Gorani is joining us from the CNN Center.
Hala, this is one of those moments that a lot of us will remember, Gadhafi shows up at the hotel, they have the red carpet that's rolled out for him hours ago. He comes in. Reporters all over the place. He goes behind a curtain, meets supposedly with a Turkish journalist. And then he sneaks out a side door into an awaiting BMW and is whisked away.
You know, he's a very unpredictable character right now, but if the stakes weren't as enormous, it would be -- it would almost be comical.
GORANI: It would almost be comical, but then you see those images of deaths and injuries in parts of Libya where fighting is still raging. You saw him there, Wolf, with the sunglasses, the turban, the first bump. I mean, the theatrics surrounding this man every time make for good television, but as you know, underneath it all, a very serious crisis gripping this country, with potentially a civil war that might go on for quite some time.
BLITZER: Yes, and the stakes clearly are enormous. Obviously, first and foremost for the people of Libya, but it looks, Hala, right now, as if the Libyan military, their regular army, is moving ahead not only with ground forces, but with air assaults against the rebels, against the opposition. And they appear to be making some inroads on that main road between Tripoli and Benghazi, along the Mediterranean coast. That's where most of the oil is as well.
So obviously we're watching that very closely.
GORANI: All right. Yes, Wolf.
And one of the side-effects -- one of the effects, I should say -- of the crisis inside of Libya are the tens of thousands of refugees who have had to flee the fighting and the violence and the fear across the border into Egypt on one side and Tunisia on the other.
Becky Anderson is in Tunisia at the Libyan border in Djerba.
Where I believe many of the people behind you are migrant workers desperately trying to get home.
BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This is Djerba Airport, about 100 miles, in fact, from the Tunisian/Libyan border. And many of the men that you see behind me here are camped out at the airport. They are Bangladeshi migrant workers, about 1,200 of them here this evening.
There are about 13,000 at the U.N.'s transit camp on the border, and what they are doing at the moment, the aid agencies and the Tunisian army, let me tell you, they have absolutely remarkable on this. Their organization, something to really be revered.
They are bringing these guys down for flights every day from now for the next 10 days. Four flights going out from Djerba Airport today for Bangladeshi migrant workers who, let me tell you, have had a hellish journey to get to here.
Many of them leaving on the 20th of February from jobs in South Korea, in Chinese companies that were contracted inside of Libya, in the oil industry and in the construction industry. They spent a week or so getting to the border there. They found practically nothing.
Their governments weren't represented there. So the U.N. and the aid agencies have taken them over, set them up in the camp, and are now bringing them down.
Today, we've seen two Spanish-sponsored flights going out to Dhaka, taking some of these guys out. We've seen the Belgian military involved in the international operation to get these guys out and, indeed, the IOM, the International Organization of Migrants.
So, for the next nine days, this effectively will be the scene at Djerba Airport. Let's not forget, this is a tourist town, to all intents and purposes. So what they are trying to do at this airport is keep the migrant workers moving through one part of the airport, and actually trying to make sure that the tourists come in and out of the other side of the airport just so they can keep the flows.
And don't forget that Tunisia, of course, going through its own turmoil at the moment, recently changing its government once again. This whole regional move, of course, starting here in Tunisia with protests back in December.
I think the most important thing to remember when you're considering the Tunisian story tonight is the way that the Tunisians have responded to this crisis at border. It has been remarkable, and what they say is simply this: "We are liberated and we want to help our friends in Libya be liberated, too."
We're not seeing Libyans come across the border, but we are seeing the Tunisians helping those who are fleeing the fighting there -- Hala.
GORANI: All right. Becky Anderson is at Djerba Airport -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you. Thanks, Becky. Thanks, Hala.
We're following the protests and the uprisings and the outright rebellions that have surged across the Arab world right now, and that has a key U.S. ally, specifically Saudi Arabia, wondering if it's next. You're going to find out why protests there may not necessarily stand a chance of success.
Our coverage continues in THE SITUATION ROOM after this.
BLITZER: We're following the dramatic developments in Libya right now. Hala Gorani is here. She's joining us from CNN International in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But I want to bring in, Hala, Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst, who has been doing some reporting.
You're trying to find out what exactly the Obama administration is up to right now.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. We all are trying to find that out.
It seems to me, Wolf, from talking to a variety of sources, that the next moment that we might hear about some potential action -- and that includes a no-fly zone -- will be at the meeting of NATO defense ministers on Thursday. Our defense secretary, Gates, is supposed to be there.
My sources say that the administration is talking to NATO officials about what they call a spectrum of pressure points. This does include a no-fly zone, but it may not be a no-fly zone over the entire country. It could be a no-fly zone over just a part of the country.
They're also talking about 24-hour surveillance, humanitarian assistance, and enforcing an arms embargo. Those are the things we've already spoken about.
What my sources are saying is that there will not be just one option, there will be a range of options discussed. And again, the thing that seemed clear to me is that this NATO defense ministers' meeting could really be a key moment here. And we could see a no-fly zone, it seems to me, that's not over the entire country. But again, the administration is not ready to announce anything right now.
BLITZER: Hala has a question for you, Gloria.
Go ahead, Hala.
GORANI: And at what point, Gloria, would this White House, I suppose, as far as communicating with the rest of the world, feel the need to act rather than the desire to act when it comes to Libya? What would the trigger be?
BORGER: Well, that's very hard to say. I think, obviously, they're looking at what's going on in the country right now -- how many people are getting killed, murdered. And their problem, quite frankly, is that this is an administration, this is a president who does not want to do anything unilaterally, because he does not want to make it seem and play into Gadhafi's hands that this is a U.S.- inspired revolution.
The president has been very clear about this, that he believes that the revolutions that we've seen succeed the best when they're homegrown, not when they're organic, as someone is quoted as saying. And so I think that what he would like to do is, if anything is going to be done, do something in concert with NATO.
But, Hala, there's pressure going from the United States Congress, particularly from a democratic ally, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who seems to be saying you cannot wait to act. We don't want to see another Iraq circa 1991, when we told the Shias to revolt and we were not there for them. So that's a worry for the administration.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Hold on for a moment, because I want to bring in our "Strategy Session" to discuss what's happening in Libya right now.
Joining us, our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, Paul Begala. Also joining us, the former Bush White House press secretary, the Republican strategist, Ari Fleischer.
And Hala is going to continue in the questioning as well.
But Paul, the critics of the president are accusing him of dithering while people in Libya die.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, that is the sort of thing that of course politicians are free to do when they don't have the responsibility to make these life-or-death decisions. I mean, I think most Americans -- I certainly know this from the polling data -- want their president to be very deliberate about this. They're not eager to rush into a combat mission in Libya, which is, as Secretary Gates, the defense secretary, has pointed out exactly what a no-fly zone would be.
I think that those people need to be respected, particularly Senator McCain, who is a man who, when he was a pilot, flew into combat and was shot down for our country. So they're serious people, and they're to be respected.
And Gloria's reporting is right. The people I talked to in the administration say that a no-fly zone and these other options are on the table.
They also hasten to add that we have already passed some very tough sanctions, including an arms embargo through the U.N. That needs to be enforced.
We've already frozen $30 billion of Libyan assets, Gadhafi assets, which may be the largest asset forfeiture in American history. And now the president was reportedly on the phone today with the British prime minister, David Cameron, looking to see what international support he can build for this variety of options.
BLITZER: All right.
Ari, is all that good enough?
ARI FLEISCHER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, it's not. But I do have a fair amount of sympathy for any chief executive who has to make a decision about the use of the military. It's not an easy call, Wolf. And I will grant that. But I think the president has done two things wrong that I wish he had done differently.
One is, when he had the phone call with Chancellor Merkel of Germany and he said Gadhafi has got to go, he said it in private. And then he had a White House spokesman inform the press.
That should have been a public statement by the president which would have given shear (ph) to the Libyan people to know that the American president to know that the American president is on their side. He missed that moral moment. The second is with this no-fly zone. It's a moral obligation now.
I think we will be forever regretful if Gadhafi engages in a slaughter on the streets. I also think once he makes the decision and comes up with even a limited no-fly zone, which is militarily all we're talking about, there will also be a cheer from the Libyans, America is on their side.
And I think that will be a welcome moment in this world and our relations with the Arabs. I think he's being too timid. He can do more. I have a bit of understanding it for it, but he needs to do more.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by for a moment.
Hala and I are going to be back in a moment, and we're going to continue this conversation. We're also going to go back to Tripoli. We're going back to Benghazi. We're going to the border.
Much more of our special coverage when we continue.
BLITZER: We're back with Paul Begala and Ari Fleischer. Hala Gorani is here.
She's got a question for you guys -- Hala.
GORANI: Ari, I have a question for you.
European leaders -- and you mentioned the U.S. should act quickly, that it shouldn't sort of leave this for history to decide, how dreadful it got in Libya. But European leaders have been very clear. They don't want to act outside of the U.N. framework.
Should the United States follow that European lead with its partners?
FLEISCHER: I think we need to come up with whatever coalition can get the job done. And it won't just be the United States.
Missions that are basically moral and humanitarian like this, we'll have Italy, we'll have Malta. We'll have the United Kingdom. We'll have several other nations with us.
If we wait for the United Nations to act, we may be waiting months and months. The Libyan people don't have months and months.
BLITZER: And Paul Begala, as we wait to go back to Tripoli -- and we're going to go back there in just a couple of moments -- you've seen the president make decisions not only right now, the decisions he's making on Libya, the decisions he made on Egypt, but also on a lot of other issues. He's a very cool customer, if you will, and he's very deliberate.
Some say that's an advantage. Others say, you know what? Not necessarily.
BEGALA: Right. I think most people like the fact that their president is a calm and reasoned person, and that he's examining every option.
I mean, he's got, by all accounts, a first-rate defense secretary in Secretary Gates, and a top flight military officer in Admiral Mullen. They testified before Congress, very much pouring cold water on an aggressive military option in Libya, maybe in part because we have got two big wars going already that are taxing our military to the limits.
And the other thing I think that ought to be injected into this is the realistic reality that a no-fly zone will not resolve the situation. We saw this. I served in the Clinton administration, and we had a U.N.-sanctioned no-fly zone, Operation Deny Flight in 1983. And it was enforced.
And then we had U.N. protective forces in. And then we had close air support, and the mission creeped and creeped. And you know what? We still had the slaughter at Srebrenica, 8,372 Bosnians slaughtered by Serbian paramilitary forces (INAUDIBLE).
The no-fly zone is not going to stop ground assets, which really seem to be the bulk of Colonel Gadhafi's forces from enacting a slaughter, if that's in fact what they're capable of doing. We saw that at least in Bosnia. I think President Obama is very aware of that history.
BLITZER: All right, guys. We're going to leave it right there. I know you disagree on this issue, but we'll have plenty of opportunities down the road to continue this discussion.
Hala Gorani, thanks very much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Always good to share the worldwide resources of CNN International and CNN for our viewers here in the United States and around the world. We'll do this again. This story, not going away.