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Trent Lott Reacts to "TIME" Magazine Article; Rumsfeld Visits Persian Gulf to Rally Troops

Aired December 12, 2002 - 17:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, WOLF BLITZER REPORTS: A story breaking right now, is Iran developing nuclear weapons? New evidence coming to light in a CNN exclusive report, we'll have details coming up on this special edition of WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.


BLITZER (voice over): Breaking news now, secret nuclear plants in Iran.

DAVID ALBRIGHT, ISIS: I'm very worried that these facilities are so large and so far advanced and no international inspectors have yet visited them to see what's going on.

BLITZER: Will they build bombs? CNN learns of administration concern. Did Iraq give a deadly nerve gas to an al Qaeda linked terror group? Rallying the troops, how close is the U.S. to war? I'll ask Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The United States is capable of doing what the president might ask it to do.

BLITZER: U.S. forces will soon be lining up for the smallpox vaccine. Should you do the same? Senator Lott in the hot seat.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Any suggestion that the segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive and it is wrong.

BLITZER: And behind closed doors in the Vatican, when will Cardinal Law learn his fate?


ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of WOLF BLITZER REPORTS live from the Persian Gulf. Reporting from Doha, Qatar, here's Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER (on camera): We'll get to that story on Iran in just a moment but first I want to go to the White House. CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King is working on that story involving the Senator Republican Leader Trent Lott. John, tell us this latest development. JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you reported in the top of the show, the president rebuking Senator Lott today for his comments suggesting the country would have been better off had the segregationist candidate Strom Thurmond won the election back in 1948.

After President Bush publicly rebuked Senator Lott, we understand that Senator Lott called the president back here at the White House. The two leaders, Lott in line of course to be the Senate majority leader, and the president of the United States, the top Republican in the land, had what we are told was a cordial conversation.

Senator Lott, we are told, told the president he understood and respected the president's remarks, agreed with the president's remarks. Senator Lott also indicated he has no plans, we understand Wolf, to go anywhere. White House officials are saying the president accepts his apology, believes Senator Lott should not be forced to resign his leadership position.

Some White House aides privately, however, saying they think Senator Lott must come out and be much more public, much more forceful in delivering his apology. Most White House aides believe he will survive. Some though say it remains an open question. Senator Lott needs to do more -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John, how surprised were people in Washington that the president used the occasion of his faith-based initiative speech in Philadelphia earlier today to effectively hammer the Senate Republican leader for the comments he made earlier last week?

KING: Well, Wolf, Democrats are saying the president did this only because this was emerging as a potentially damaging political controversy. What they are saying here in the White House is that the White House wanted to give Senator Lott time to try to end this controversy himself. Just yesterday the Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Senator Lott would have more to say later in the day.

Senator Lott then placed telephone calls one to a radio show hosted by a conservative, one a call into CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE" last night. White House officials say that is not enough, that this is such a controversy, the Senator must come out publicly. The president decided that any president should repudiate these remarks and we also are told the president and top aides are concerned that this is damaging to the Republican Party.

This president has tried to build more support among African- American voters, of course a traditionally Democratic constituency. The bottom line here at the White House is the president said the remarks were wrong and potentially damaging to his party, the Republican Party, and that he felt it necessary to go out in public and take a very rare step repudiating a top ally in the Congress, Senator Lott -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John, I want our viewers to listen precisely to what the president said earlier today during that speech in Philadelphia. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Any suggestion that the segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive and it is wrong.


BLITZER: John, the president not only used strong words but his demeanor was very, very visible. He seemed very angry, upset about the way Senator Lott not only spoke but what he's done since then. How angry are officials over at the White House?

KING: Well, they're angry and they believe it was wrong and some aides have used the word stupid that Senator Lott said this to begin with. They are more frustrated, I think is the right word to use, that Senator Lott has not been more forceful in publicly apologizing, not gone before the cameras, not perhaps enlisted African-American allies from his home state of Mississippi or from civil rights groups to make some sort of a public showing that what he said was wrong and that it is not reflective of his beliefs.

Democrats are now pouring through Senator Lott's record, looking for any vote they can say shows that he is truly a racist or has or had had racist tendencies. The White House does not want this brewing into a huge political controversy.

This president when he was governor of Texas won 27 percent of the African-American vote in winning reelection in 1998. He to this day complains to top political aides that he wished he had done better in the 2000 presidential election when he received only about nine percent of the Black vote.

Mr. Bush has made it a priority. They believe there could be lasting damage to the Republican Party if Senator Lott does not get out in public and more forcefully apologize. That's why the president today said what he said.

White House officials believe that when the American people see a controversy involving a congressional leader, it is the president's word that will be the bottom line, if you will, for what the president's party stands for. That's why the president was so forceful, so emphatic today.

BLITZER: And in fairness to Senator Lott, I want our viewers to listen precisely to what he said last night in apologizing once again on "LARRY KING LIVE."


SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY LEADER: We're way beyond those policies of the past, Larry. They were bad at the time. We've made huge progress since then. My state has more African-American elected officials than any other state. We need to come together. We need to be uniters, not dividers. You know, this was a mistake of the head or the mouth, not of the heart, and that's, you know, I've asked for forgiveness and now I want to, you know, do the right thing in the future.

LARRY KING, LARRY KING LIVE: And you will remain majority leader?

LOTT: Yes.


BLITZER: John, there's been one suggestion that the Senate Republican leader should go speak out before a civil rights group, an African-American group and actually make his case, explain his record, explain to them precisely what the mistake was that he made. Is there any indication he's about to do that based on anything you're hearing in Washington?

KING: We are told that Senator Lott has made clear to allies, friends here at the White House and otherwise that he intends to try to deal with this more forcefully and put it behind him. Specifically as to what he plans to do, we have no information as yet on that front. And, Wolf, in Senator Lott's defense, many White House aides here say he did apologize. They believe he could have done it much more forcefully, and again much more publicly. They also note though that we are in December. Congress is out of session.

They say this is the one big political story and they believe Democrats are playing it to their advantage. Not that what Senator Lott said is not wrong, not that it is not reprehensible as the president made clear today, but they also think it is being magnified because of the time of the month here, the time of the political season here in Washington -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John King at the White House thanks very much. We'll be getting back to you on some other news later this hour. In the meantime, we're following a breaking story in Washington as well, a breaking story involving Iran, new evidence of a nuclear program suspected in Iran. Our National Security Correspondent David Ensor is covering the story. He joins us now live -- David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there have long been allegations from, among others, Iranian dissidents that Iran might have a secret nuclear weapons program. But now there is evidence we are being told by senior U.S. officials that is causing them real concern that such a plan might be in the offing.


ENSOR (voice over): CNN has learned the U.S. has evidence Iran is constructing large nuclear facilities kept secret until now. Senior U.S. officials tell CNN these commercial satellite photos taken in September show a nuclear facility near the town of Natanz and another near Iraq, which no inspector from the International Atomic Energy Agency has been able to visit. The size and secrecy to date, says nuclear expert David Albright whose group identified the photos, suggests that Iran may be working towards building nuclear weapons.

ALBRIGHT: Iran looks like it's building very large nuclear facilities. It could be part of an effort to make the material you need to make nuclear weapons.

ENSOR: The satellite picture of the facility near Iraq causes particular concern for nuclear experts.

COREY HINDERSTEIN, ISIS: And this is a heavy water plant. It's very similar to other heavy water plants we've seen in areas such as Pakistan and the important facility here is this kind of Z-shaped structure.

ENSOR: The large facility at Natanz appears to U.S. intelligence officials to be a uranium enrichment plant. Outside experts agree.

HINDERSTEIN: We believe that this is a uranium enrichment facility and could be a centrifuge facility.

ENSOR: But Iran has a publicly declared nuclear program at Bushar (ph) designed, says its ambassador to the United Nations, only to produce peaceful nuclear power, electricity.

JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN AMB. TO U.N.: I can categorically tell you that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program.

ENSOR: Ambassador Zarif was not specific about the facilities at Iraq and Natanz except to say this.

ZARIF: Any facility that we have in Iran including -- I haven't seen your satellite photographs but including any satellite photographs of any facility that you may have. If it is dealing with nuclear technology, it is within the purview of our peaceful nuclear energy program.

ENSOR: At the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, a spokesman confirms the agency is seeking access to the two sites and has so far been put off by Iran. Iranian officials say a February trip by senior IAEA officials to Iran is expected. IAEA officials say that on that trip they want to visit Iraq and Natanz. They point out that so far though, at least, nothing that Iran is know to have done has violated international law.


ENSOR (on camera): Iranian officials say the U.S. can not be trusted on the details of its nuclear program since Washington does not want Iran to have any program, not even for civilian energy. But knowledgeable U.S. officials insist the nuclear facilities Iran is building, so far not inspected, are of a type and size that strongly suggest it may be on course to build a nuclear weapon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David Ensor reporting exclusively for us from Washington. David thanks very much. Let's get some insight, further insight into this developing story. Joining us now from Washington the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Shelby, thanks Senator for joining us.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R) INTELLIGENCE VICE CHMN.: Thank you, Wolf. BLITZER: How close based on everything you know is Iran to developing some sort of nuclear capability?

SHELBY: I think they're a number of years off. I discussed that capability with the team of Pakistani physicists about four years ago and they said it would be five to eight years then. I believe it will be longer but it's disturbing news.

We don't need another nuclear power, not with Iran sponsoring terrorism as it has in the past. I think there's a lot of fluid things going on in Iran today, politically speaking, but the fact that they are pursuing or seemingly pursuing an avenue to build nuclear weapons should be disturbing to everybody.

BLITZER: But in your mind, based on everything you know, is there any doubt that the Iranians are indeed working aggressively to develop a nuclear bomb?

SHELBY: Well, we've had that fear a long time. You know there's been a lot of proliferation of different material, transfer of people to work from Russia in Iran. Iran has brought back a lot of their engineers and physicists from around the world. It's always a fear and it's a real one.

BLITZER: Senator Shelby, let me make a quick turn while I have you to speak about your friend and colleague, Senator Lott of Mississippi. You heard the president speak out rather assertively today.

SHELBY: I did.

BLITZER: Complaining about what Senator Lott said. What do you believe Senator Lott must do now?

SHELBY: Well, I believe he's already apologized but maybe he wants to take that a step further, a little farther and speak out openly about it. I think he's sorry what he said. I think he didn't mean to say those things. As he said later, it's not in his heart.

Senator Lott's a good Senator and he's a good leader. People make mistakes like that on both sides of the aisle and you pay for those mistakes but I think Senator Lott will handle it. I hope he will be forthcoming more and more and outward, maybe speak to some civil rights groups and say look you got to judge me on my whole record.

BLITZER: But you think he should stay on at least for now as the Senate Republican leader?

SHELBY: Absolutely. I think he's a good leader and listen if you started hanging people for every misstep that they said on any subject, including some Democrats, there would be fewer people around here.

BLITZER: All right, Senator Shelby please stand by for one moment. We're getting Karen Tumulty, someone you know, the National Political Correspondent for "TIME" magazine. She's working on this story as well. I want to hear what she's found out, Senator, and then I want to get your reaction. Karen tell our viewers what you've discovered, what's going to be in the next issue of "TIME" magazine?

KAREN TUMULTY, TIME MAGAZINE (via telephone): Yes, Wolf. In looking back, as Senator Shelby said, at Senator Lott's entire record, we looked at an incident that Senator Lott himself actually told me about a few years ago and that was from his college days, his fraternity.

He was a leader of the Sigma Nu Fraternity at Ole Miss at a time when civil rights battles were rolling across college campuses and at that time some of their northern chapters wanted to begin admitting Blacks to Sigma Nu and it became a major issue at their annual convention that year, this being in the early 1960s. And, Senator Lott was actually a leader in the student effort, the successful effort of the southern fraternities to keep the northern chapters from integrating.

BLITZER: Senator Shelby, I don't know if you remember that and if you want to comment on it but I'd love to hear what you think about it if you care to.

SHELBY: Well, I don't know anything about it. Something that happened 40 years ago I don't think you should hold against anyone but I'm going to say again Senator Lott's a good Senator. He's a good leader. He made a mistake. His choice of words, his choice of probably the forum, maybe he got carried away a little bit dealing with Senator Thurmond's past but I'm going to let Senator Lott handle it.

BLITZER: All right, Senator Shelby fair enough. Thanks so much for joining us. Karen Tumulty we'll be reading your article in "TIME" magazine as well. We have an opportunity for our viewers to weigh in on the story. Our web question of the day is this: Should Senator Lott give up his leadership post?

We'll have the results later in this program. Vote at While you're there, I'd love to hear from you. Send me your comments. I'll try to read some of them on the air each day at the end of this program. That's also, of course, where you can read my daily online column,

We have much more news coming up during the course of this program. Engulfed in flames at the pump and surviving the unthinkable, find out what sparked this great ball of fire. Plus, a vaccination nation, should you take the shot? A tough decision for you and your family but first a look at some news making headlines around the world.


BLITZER: More controversy surrounding the Boston Cardinal Bernard Law. He's continuing meetings in the Vatican amid uncertainty about his future. Critics of course say he should step down following multiple reports of sexual abuse by priests under his supervision. CNN Vatican Analyst Delia Gallagher is standing by in the Vatican. She's got some word on what may be going on -- Delia.

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN ANALYST: Well, Wolf tomorrow is the big day. The cardinal will meet with the pope and he will probably offer his resignation. Now, this is not a surprise because in April he had already offered his resignation you'll remember and it was rejected by the pope. So tomorrow, the story will be whether the pope accepts this offer of a resignation. This is not a job in which you just hand over the resignation. It has to be accepted and agreed to by the pope -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What's the best assessment there? What will the pope do?

GALLAGHER: Well, it's 50/50 really at this stage. There are those who say that the Vatican and the pope have historically gone against any resignation of cardinals and we've seen this time and time again when cardinals are in trouble. The pope is not in favor of allowing them to leave their post. The idea and that was said in April, that you must stay and clean up your mess. However, now we're nine months into this situation and it hasn't been solved by Cardinal Law.

So it's likely and it's possible that the pope will say well, the circumstances are different and for the good of the church and indeed now that Cardinal Law's own priests, some of them, have suggested that he is not able to be a good pastor for them anymore and for the Catholics in the archdiocese. The pope just might agree if the cardinal asks him to allow him to resign.

BLITZER: We'll watch very carefully in the coming hours. Delia Gallagher at the Vatican thanks very much for that report. We have more news coming up including this nightmare at the pump. Find out how this man survived this gas station fireball. And, fires in the sky, new technology that may prevent catastrophic fuel tank explosions on jetliners; but first a look at headlines making news around the world.


BLITZER (voice over): Ariane error, European space officials are trying to find out why this rocket veered off course. Controllers were forced to blow it up shortly after its launch from French Guiana. The new Ariane 5 rocket is yet to make a successful flight.

The death toll could be as high as 59 after an Indonesian mudslide. Heavy rains caused mud, water, and rocks to come down on a resort village 390 miles east of Jakarta.

A tanker has run aground off the coast of Lithuania. The Princes Pia is carrying 13 million gallons of fuel oil but it's double-hulled and relieved officials say it's not leaking.

A new Mid East controversy, Israeli troops shot and killed five Palestinians apparently trying to climb a fence dividing Gaza and Israel. No weapons were found on the bodies and some Palestinians think the men were merely laborers hoping to find work. The mauling of Moscow, it's enough to make Karl Marx turn in his grave. Russia has its first giant shopping mall, complete with five major department stores, 250 smaller shops, ten restaurants, a multi- screen cinema, and even a skating rink. Shoppers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose except money to retail chains, and that's our look around the world.



BLITZER: Welcome back. A few days ago we reported on the dangers of static electricity, the dangers it can pose at gas stations. Today we have some pictures from Texas, very disturbing pictures that appear to prove that point exactly.

A man was filling gas cans when a fireball ignited his clothes. According to San Antonio's WOAI Television, the man's mistake was pumping gas while standing in the bed of his pickup truck. Because the truck bed was not grounded, a spark ignited the fuel vapors. Bystanders helped put out the flames and the man is being treated for third degree burns.

The FAA meanwhile has unveiled new fuel technology that could prevent explosions like the one that brought down TWA Flight 800. CNN's Patty Davis has more now on this potential breakthrough.


PATTY DAVIS, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice over): TWA 800 exploded in midair in July, 1996 killing all 230 people onboard. Federal crash investigators blame a spark for igniting heated vapors in the center wing fuel tank. The FAA believes it may soon be able to prevent such accidents with this piece of equipment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This module right here is actually a smaller version of what's contained in these three modules here.

DAVIS: The lightweight unit, located in the belly of this Boeing 747, takes in air from the engine and separates out the nitrogen, pumping it into the center fuel tank making vapors inflammable.

JOHN HICKEY, FAA: This is a major breakthrough. We believe that this combined with preventing ignition sources is going to be the complete solution for fuel tank safety in the future.

DAVIS: Up until now, the FAA has focused on ignition sources like air-conditioning units and even very hot runways, which can heat up the vapors in the fuel tank. And recently, the FAA ordered airlines using certain Boeing jets to carry enough fuel so fuel pumps are always submerged. That prevents them from overheating and possibly causing an explosion. Industry groups have predicted that such accidents could happen four times a decade if nothing is done and other government agencies have been pushing for changes.

CAROL CARMODY, NTSB: Well, it did happen again in Thailand two years ago when a 737 blew up at the gate. Again, it was a center wing tank where the ignition source is unknown but it blew up so potentially it could. It's very rare. It's unusual but it's a concern.


DAVIS (on camera): Early attempts to make that center fuel tank inflammable were opposed by the industry, by the manufacturers, by the airlines. They said it was hazardous. It was too costly. But with this new breakthrough, in fact, research going on right now inside this 747, Boeing now onboard.

It says it wants to test this technology on its 737s and 747s and has applied to the government to do so. Now, FAA officials say that this new safety fix could be onboard commercial airplanes as early as 2004 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Patty Davis in Washington, Patty thanks very much. Teenage sniper survivor, when we come back a first glimpse at the 13- year-old who defied death. Plus, a court decides whether to allow cameras in the courtroom for the trial of the alleged shooter. Stay with us.


ANNOUNCER: We return to a special edition of WOLF BLITZER REPORTS live from the Persian Gulf. Reporting from Doha, Qatar, here's Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Let's get back to our stop story, the developments have been moving in quickly. Our CNN Congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl, is now getting some reaction from Senator Lott on a story in "TIME" magazine.

Jon, tell us, first of all, what you're hearing from the senator.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Senator Lott has now -- through his office, has put out a statement in reaction to this explosive story in "TIME" magazine that he led the fight against the integration of his old fraternity at the University of Mississippi back in 1962.

The statement says -- this is from Senator Lott's office -- "That was 40 years ago when our country was in a different era. Senator Lott repudiates segregation. It is immoral and he supports the integration of his old fraternity." That fraternity was eventually integrated in 1969, after Senator Lott had graduated from the University of Mississippi.

This was an issue, Wolf, as you reported earlier, that was simply just his -- excuse me?

BLITZER: Yes, I was going to say, how many -- are you getting a lot of other Republicans who are weighing in on this yet?

KARL: Well, not yet directly on this fraternity story, but more Republicans are coming out now and addressing the question of what Senator Lott needs to do after the president's strong rebuke earlier today. One of those was Senator McCain who told CNN a while ago that he believes that Senator Lott has not done enough to address the concerns, that Senator Lott must come forward in a national press conference, take all questions and strongly show that he believes the Republican party is the party of inclusion, the party of Lincoln. There are a lot of unanswered questions.

Also, Wolf, Republican, Anne Northup, who is in the House of Representatives, has also had a statement saying that she is very critical of Trent Lott and questioning whether or not he should be one of the Republican Party's leaders. So yes, Republicans starting to come out now.

Many of them -- as you know Congress is in recess. Many of them have avoided any comment whatsoever. One other comment that we do have -- a new statement that has come from Jim Talent, the newly elected senator from Missouri, very critical of Senator Lott's statements, but again stopping short of calling on him to resign and saying that Senator-Elect Talent called Senator Lott directly about this and Senator Lott assured him that he did not intend to say that he was obviously supporting segregation. Senator-Elect Talent accepting that explanation, but very anger about the original comments.

BLITZER: Jon, how surprised were they on Capitol Hill today when President Bush openly criticized Senator Lott in that speech in Philadelphia?

KARL: They were very surprised, Wolf. And people have been waiting up here on Capitol Hill, not just senators who are still around here, but also top Republican aides, waiting for some indication from the president, some direct words of the president, how he would react. And that was a surprise. That was a lot harsher, stronger rebuke than many up here thought.

And many up here now are wondering about Trent Lott's future. They believe he will ride out this controversy, but nobody's willing to say 100 percent that they believe that he will go on as majority leader, at least privately. A lot of people are very concerned about this and very concerned about Senator Lott's handling of this and saying, agreeing privately with Senator John McCain that he must come out publicly and very strongly address all of the concerns.

BLITZER: Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill, we'll be following this story obviously as it continues to unfold. Thanks very much.

Let's move on now to the showdown with Iraq here in the Persian Gulf. The troops are far from home, an especially difficult period during this holiday season. But they did get a pep talk today from some very high-ranking visitors.


BLITZER (voice-over): They came into a large building to answer questions from battle-ready troops who had assembled for this military version of a town hall meeting.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I'm here to introduce General Tommy Franks.



BLITZER: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General Franks, the central commander, putting the finishing touches on an Iraq war plan, were received as virtual rock stars.

Taking a break from the current computerized war games in Qatar, called internal look, they answered questions at the U.S. military's supposedly temporary headquarters in the Persian Gulf. Rumsfeld made clear he wants U.N. weapons inspectors to find Iraqi military and scientific defectors and take them out of the country for questioning.

RUMSFELD: Most of what has been discovered in prior inspections, regimes, has been provided to the inspectors not by a discovery process on the ground in Iraq, but rather by defectors.

BLITZER: As he was leaving, General Franks told me the war game was proving to be exactly what was needed to prepare these troops for warfare.

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: And we're absolutely gangbusters.

BLITZER (on camera): Any problem?

FRANKS: We're absolutely gangbusters. The kind of problems that we find are the kind of problems we want.

BLITZER (voice-over): But the talk here is not just of war.

(on camera): This is what you hear repeatedly from these troops here at this base. It isn't so much preparing for the battle that's so hard, it's missing their friends and their families back home, especially around this time of the year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd like to say hello and Season's Greetings to my daughter, Shabri (ph), in Orlando, Florida, and my daughter, Caress (ph) in a Miami, Florida. I love you guys! I miss you!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to say Merry Christmas Rosa, Denny, Ivani (ph), Carlos, my family, my mom back in Massachusetts. God bless you all and Merry Christmas.

BLITZER (voice-over): Even Rumsfeld, despite his hard-nosed reputation, got emotional.

RUMSFELD: It's tough on some of you to be sure. It's also tough on your families and -- excuse me -- we recognize that.

BLITZER: By all accounts, those emotions will increase in the coming weeks.


BLITZER: Earlier today, I had a chance to sit down and speak with the defense secretary here in Doha. The topic of the day, a possible conflict with Iraq.


BLITZER (on camera): Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us. How close is the United States to going to war right now?

RUMSFELD: Well, Wolf, that's not knowable, really. It depends on how the Iraqi government responds to the U.N. resolution and what the reaction of the United Nations and the Security Council members is to the way they respond.

BLITZER: Am I hearing you suggest that it's going to be up to the U.N. Security Council to make that decision, or the United States government?

RUMSFELD: It's up to the members to individually and collectively, if they wish to. But certainly, the president's been very clear what his views are.

BLITZER: You're not giving the U.N. Security Council veto authority over a U.S. decision?

RUMSFELD: No, indeed, he has not done that.

BLITZER: Is the U.S. military, right now, ready if the president were to give that order, to go into battle?

RUMSFELD: The United States is capable of doing what the president might ask it to do.

BLITZER: If you conclude that the Iraqi report doesn't tell the truth, that they do, indeed, have weapons of mass destruction capabilities, will you, the U.S. government, make that information public to the world?

RUMSFELD: That's a decision, of course, for the president and not for me. The -- it is clear that the Iraqis have weapons of mass destruction. The issue is not whether or not they have weapons of mass destruction. The issue is whether or not the Iraqi government has made a decision that the game is up and that it will comply with the United Nations resolutions and it will disclose what it has, and participate in a process with the U.N. monitoring and inspection group to disarm itself of those capabilities.

BLITZER: Is Saddam Hussein capable of making that kind of change?

RUMSFELD: Time will tell. People do unusual things when they feel in duress. Obviously, he wouldn't have inspectors in right there right now if he didn't feel that he'd been pressured to do so by the threat of the use of force, if there had not been an overwhelming vote in the United States Congress and a unanimous vote in the nations. Absent those things, he'd still be just fine, developing his weapons of mass destruction.

BLITZER: So you're leaving open the possibility he could have a change of heart?

RUMSFELD: Well, I kind of look at all the options. One option, he could get up tomorrow morning and decide the game's up, I'm going to leave town and I'm going to go live with Edi Amin (ph) or some ex- leader in the world.

The second thing that could happen is his team could get up tomorrow morning and decide that they're tired of him, and that they prefer he not be running their country, because he's not doing a good job for his country. And that's a possibility.

A third possibility is he could get up in the morning and decide the game is up, I'm going to let the U.N. inspectors come in. I'm going to tell the truth. I'm going to show them everything.

Now, the fourth choice is the one he's been on for a decade and that's to string along the U.N. and the rest of the world and lie.

BLITZER: That's the most likely option isn't it?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't guess. I'm into probabilities. I'll wait and see.


BLITZER: The Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, speaking with me here in Qatar earlier today.

When we come back, this sniper victim you never saw. We heard from him earlier today. We'll get to that, but first, some greetings from troops serving here in the Persian Gulf.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, my name is Staff Sergeant Phalisis Stoddard (ph) from Miami, Florida. I'd like to say hello and Season's Greetings to my daughter, Shabri (ph), in Orlando, Florida, and my daughter, Caress (ph), in Miami, Florida. I love you guys! I miss you!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Cici West (ph). I'm from Texas, Fort Hood (ph) and I'd like to say hi to all my family, all the kids and everybody, my mom and dad especially.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Sergeant Ward based out of Ford Hood (ph), Texas. I'd just like to say hello to American and Merry Christmas. We're here for you.


BLITZER: Back in the United States, the first trial of the Washington area sniper suspect, John Allen Muhammad, won't be televised after all. In Virginia today, a judge said set an October date for Muhammad's first trial on charges he murdered a man in a Manassas gas station. The judge denied a media request to televise that trial, ruling that cameras in the courtroom would compromise the defendant's rights. Muhammad and 17-year-old, John Lee Malvo are accused in connection with a series of sniper attacks that terrorized Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia.

Meanwhile, there's some good news we can report today about that 13-year-old sniper victim. The boy is doing well in Maryland and he had an extraordinary meeting today with the First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush. Our national correspondent, Bob Franken, has this report.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And a member of the Children's National Medical Center.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What a remarkable, wonderful sight. The young man sitting next to the First Lady at Children's National Medical Center, the strikingly robust young man whose name, we're learning for the first time.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: ... and Iran brown, who was also a patient here, is going to actually get to go back to school soon.

FRANKEN: The 13-year-old's recovery is described as almost miraculous, considering that just a little over two months ago, on October 7, he was near death. One of the victims of snipers who kept the Washington, D.C. region under a state of siege for weeks. Iran brown was shot as he walked into his middle school in Bowie, Maryland, bringing horrified parents streaming to the school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know what the world is coming to. This shooting in broad daylight and a 13-year-old boy got shot.

FRANKEN: For weeks afterwards, classes and activities throughout the area were curtailed. To many, this attack was particularly shocking.

CHIEF CHARLES MOOSE, MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE: Someone is so mean-spirited that they shot a child. Now, all of our victims have been innocent and have been defenseless. But now, we're stepping over the line.

FRANKEN: Iran Brown is on his way to once again being as normal a teenager as one can be after suffering such abdominal injuries.

(on camera): Dedicated medical care, along with a determined spirit of this young man and the intense love of his family, combined with a deluge of support from well wishers around the world to contribute to a rapid recovery.

(voice-over): It has become a holiday gift to his extended family everywhere and, of course, to his immediate family, who have gone from tragedy to celebration.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks for all of your wonderful prayers and blessings. We've felt them immensely and Happy Holidays to everyone.

FRANKEN: Bob Franken, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: Chemotherapy boosting your odds for successful treatment and survival. When we come back, medical news making headlines right now. Find out how one treatment might better your odds in the fight against breast cancer and the pros and cons of being vaccinated against smallpox. Our medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, with that right when we come back.


BLITZER: Turning now to some important medical news. There's a new study on breast cancer and chemotherapy. A clinical trial suggested when breast cancer spreads to the lymph nodes aggressive chemotherapy is in order. Researchers say more chemotherapy over a shorter period of time increases survival rates. In the past, doctors have been reluctant to accelerate chemotherapy because it can damage bone marrow. Experts say medication can usually help that.

Meanwhile, CNN has confirmed that President Bush will announce details tomorrow of smallpox vaccinations. Military personnel will go first but eventually, all Americans will get the option of receiving that smallpox vaccine. That raises certain, important questions as our medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, reports.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Should people be given a dangerous vaccine to protect against smallpox, a disease that doesn't even exist anymore, just because Iraqi president Saddam Hussein is said to have stores of the smallpox virus in the lab? One side of the argument says do not vaccinate. Why? Because we know the vaccine will kill a certain number of people and why kill people when Saddam Hussein may never attack with smallpox?

DR. CARLOS DELARIO, EMORY UNIVERSITY: I think if we start vaccinating massively right now, because we may get smallpox, I think would be a big mistake because, you know, again, it's a risk issue.

COHEN: These are the risks. Out of every million people vaccinated, one or two will die. An additional 15 out of every million who are being vaccinated for the first time will suffer life- threatening complications and scores more will feel terrible with fevers and swollen lymph nodes.

But here's the other side of the argument. Start vaccinating now because if Saddam Hussein attacks with smallpox, the results could be devastating. It's a contagious disease that killed 15 million people a year in the 1950s. Smallpox killed one out of every three people it infected and left most of the survivors disfigured.

DR. STEVE BLACK, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EXPERT: It would go through the population, much like the Black Plague did, and kill off scores of individuals. And it was very painful, frightening death.


COHEN: Now, half of all Americans have no immunity to smallpox because they're under age 30 and never received the vaccination. The older half of us may have some limited immunity left over from the shots we received long ago -- Wolf?

BLITZER: I know some people should not be getting the smallpox vaccine under any circumstances. Who are they, Elizabeth?

COHEN: Right, there's a large group of people, millions of people actually who should not get the smallpox vaccine. Let's run through who those people are.

First of all, people who have eczema or even who had it as a child should not get the vaccination, because it could be very dangerous for them. Secondly, people with immune deficiencies, HIV, people who are taking certain cancer drugs, should also not get the vaccination. And thirdly, pregnant women and people living in a house with a baby under the age of one should also not get the vaccinations.

Now if you live with anyone in that group, in other words, if a man's wife was pregnant, he should also not get the vaccination, because he might pass on some complications to his wife if she were to touch the vaccination site -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting, very important information. I know you've also been speaking with a lot of doctors and nurses. Presumably, these are the people who would receive the first vaccines. How are they reacting in your private conversations?

COHEN: You know, Wolf, the reactions have been all over the spectrum. Some of the doctors and nurses I've talked to have said, "I want this vaccination and I want it now. I think it's important. If Saddam Hussein attacks with smallpox, I will have to treat the sick people. If you're going to treat someone who's sick, you have to be vaccinated." So some people really want it.

Others say, "Are you kidding? This is a dangerous vaccine. I am not going to be a guinea pig." They perceive that there's no real threat from smallpox, as Saddam Hussein is not poised at the border with it, so they say, "Why should I get a vaccine that would kill me" --Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, as interesting as that town meeting today here in Qatar, where the defense secretary met with a lot of U.S. troops, one of the guys stood up and asked a very nervous, apparently, when is he going to get his smallpox vaccine? And the defense secretary said, "I signed that order just the other day and you'll be getting that vaccine, all the troops serving in this part of the world." Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much for that useful information. I assume the next day or two, and, indeed, the next few weeks, we'll be hearing a lot more about these smallpox vaccines. Thanks very much.

Time's running out for you to weigh in our "Web Question of The Day." Earlier, we asked this question -- should Senator Lott give up his leadership post? Log on to That's where you can vote. We'll have the results when we come back. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Our "Picture of The Day," a military shout-out here in Qatar.












UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any Marines in here?






UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any Navy in here?





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Depending on your service branch, duty or position, this military cheer takes on very, very different forms. No matter how you say it though, it signals extreme enthusiasm, as you can tell, from this videotape. They were all very excited earlier today at that town meeting at the Osceola Military Base here in Qatar.

Here's you're weighing in on our "Web Question of The Day." Earlier, we asked the question -- should Senator Lott give up his leadership post? Look at this -- 66 percent of you say yes, 34 percent of you say no. You can find the exact vote tally, and continue to vote by the way on our Web site, This, of course, is not a scientific poll.

Let's get to your e-mails. Kathy is writing this -- "I can't believe that people are ripping Trent Lott's face off just because of a slip of the tongue. What about all of the good that Mr. Lott has accomplished? What a society we have. One mistake, and off with his head. Give the man a break."

Robert strongly disagrees -- "Trent Lott should resign from his position. I hope that both sides of the aisle in the Senate come together to take this outrageous comments and show that our country will not tolerate bigotry in any form."

On another topic, from Spence -- "With the mounting protests against a conflict in Iraq, I hope the American public will not direct its hostility toward American troops. A generation of Vietnam veterans suffered through undeserved humiliation. I hope the public at large will remember that the American military is an instrument of foreign policy as a whole. All soldiers do not necessarily agree with the policies they enforce."

So an opinion, a lot of people share, of course, here, U.S. military personnel serving in the Persian Gulf. That's all the time we have today for our special edition of WOLF BLITZER: REPORTS. Join me tomorrow twice, at noon Eastern for "SHOWDOWN IRAQ" and at 5:00 p.m. Eastern for WOLF BLITZER REPORTS. Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting live from Doha in Qatar. "LOU DOBBS MONEYLINE" is coming up next.


Visits Persian Gulf to Rally Troops>

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