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President Bush At U.N.; Delayed Troop Reductions in Iraq; Detainee Compromise?; On the Hunt for Kidnapped Newborn; Spinach Concerns Around U.S.; Gas Prices on the Decline

Aired September 19, 2006 - 10:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Profits are wilting.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And Missouri police on an urgent mission this morning, tracking down the person who snatched a newborn. You are in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: On the world stage, President Bush at the United Nations this morning for a major address. He will try to sell his vision for the Middle East. The region right now is a battleground for U.S. led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

HARRIS: In between those two countries, Iran. It remains defiant over its nuclear program. The stalemate will likely be the focus of the president's speech. A few hours later, Iran's fiery leader will fire back with his own speech at the U.N. What's said will rumble across the world. We begin our coverage with CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux. She has this preview.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, President Bush this morning will address the United Nations General Assembly. He will try to sell his war on terror. This is really a culmination of a series of speeches the president has given in the past. Also, of course, looking forward to the congressional midterm elections, trying to push for a tough anti-terrorism measures through Congress.

What we expect today is a 15-minute speech where he'll focus on his so-called freedom agenda. Saying that the Middle East really is the battlefront in this war on terror. That the united community, the international community, needs to play a role in trying to help those fledgling democracies. Those who are struggling in Iraq, in Lebanon, in the Palestinian authority.

And the president, of course, will also single out Iran as one -- as a state sponsor of terror, saying that Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons program, its ambitions for nuclear weapons. That is what the administration believes that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, is involved in.

And the big question, of course, the kabuki (ph) dance, if you will, everybody will be watching to see if President Bush and the Iranian president happen to meet face-to-face, bump into each other during this summit. I asked President Bush on Friday if he had any plans to meet with him. He said, no. That first it must stop, suspend its enrichment uranium program before any talks can go forward. The administration is pushing for tough sanctions, but that is something that the European community, the larger community, is not very excited about.

Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, New York.


COLLINS: As you just heard, Iran's president also taking the world stage today. Even though he won't have a meeting with President Bush, he will meet with plenty of protests. CNN's Mary Snow has the story now from the United Nations.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Should an elected official, who denies the Holocaust ever happened and has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, be allowed to attend the United Nations General Assembly? Jewish leaders say no

MALCOLM HOENLEIN, CONF OF PRESS OF MAJOR JEWISH GROUP (ph): I've asked if Hitler had come in the '30s, would they have let him in. And to many people say, we would have been required by law to do so, but we certainly would have let our voices be heard.

SNOW: Malcolm Hoenlein is organizing a rally outside the United Nations Wednesday to protest the visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Among the featured speaker, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Outside of the U.N., New York's mayor is making no secret of the fact that he won't be rolling out the red carpet for Ahmadinejad. He says the city does have a duty to provide security.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (R) NEW YORK: The United Nations has, under our agreement with the United Nations, has a right to invite whom they please. I can tell you, I will not host this person in my home. I don't plan to meet him or have any other contact with him. But the NYPD will do their job and make sure that everybody's safe in the city.

SNOW: Outside of his U.N. events, Ahmadinejad has an invitation that's drawing criticism. The prestigious Council on Foreign Relations has asked him to speak to about two dozen members, saying it has held similar talks with controversial leaders in the past, such as Yasser Arafat, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. A spokeswoman says, "it is the mission of the Council on Foreign Relations to create a direct dialogue with world leaders and others. It is never an endorsement of their position and policies." But critics say dialogue with Ahmadinejad is useless

HOENLEIN: Do they think that they're going to change his mind? That he's -- they're going to convince him that the Holocaust took place?

SNOW: As for the extra security the city will have to provide, the NYPD would not site specifics. Says it works with the State Department and Secret Service to provide security and that some, not all, of the overtime costs are reimbursed by the State Department.

Mary Snow, CNN, New York


COLLINS: The Security Council is at the heart of the United Nations. A closer look now at the council's duty and its memberships. Under the U.N. charter, the council's main responsibility, maintaining international peace and security. While it usually meets at U.N. headquarters in New York, the panel can hold sessions elsewhere. They met in Ethiopia in 1972 and the following year in Panama.

Five countries are permanent members of the 15 member security council -- the United States, China, France, Russia, and Britain. Each has veto power. There are 10 non-permanent members elected for two-year terms. And right now, the non-permanent members are Argentina, Congo, Peru, Denmark, Ghana, Greece, Japan, Qatar, Slovakia, and Tanzania.

And CNN will have live coverage of President Bush's speech at the U.N. next hour. He is due at the podium at 11:30 Eastern, 8:30 Pacific. Of course, you can see it live right here in the NEWSROOM.

Ahead of his speech at the U.N., a bit of a bounce for President Bush. It comes in a new "USA Today"/Gallup poll. Forty-four percent of respondents say they approve of the way the president is handling this job. Fifty-one percent disapprove. The approval rating up 5 percentage points from earlier this month.

For the first time in nine months, a majority of people polled did not say the war in Iraq was a mistake. The respondents in the latest survey split on that issue at 49 percent each.

When asked this question, do you think George W. Bush does or does not have a clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq, 36 percent said he does, 61 percent said he does not.

HARRIS: We have a developing story to report on the war in Iraq. Just last hour, we heard from the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, General John Abizaid, says that there will be no reduction in U.S. force levels until at least the spring. Let's get the latest from CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tony, General Abizaid, this morning, has held a breakfast meeting with a number of reporters here in Washington and has said that he expects that troop levels, U.S. troop levels in Iraq, will be maintained at least through the spring of '07.

Now, there are about 147,000 U.S. troops in Iraq right now. That is a bit of a plus-up, partially because of the security situation in Baghdad and partially because right now they're in the middle of a troop rotation. But General Abizaid saying if the violence continues, they will re-evaluate it, but he does not expect to see any recommendations for a major troop reduction, at least until early next year. So what they are really talking about is the plan they had to possibly bring two brigades, about 10,000 troops, back to the United States in this time frame. That looks to be shelved. The violence, the level of sectarian violence in Iraq means the current troop level is largely going to have to be maintain for at least several more months unless things improve.


HARRIS: And, Barbara, just thinking about the reaction to this news among military families, particularly of those two brigades who were obviously looking to be heading home soon, this has to come as some disturbing and devastating news to those families.

STARR: Well, they weren't sure which brigades and they had never made it exactly public. But that indeed was the plan behind the scenes. In army circles it was very clear that they were working towards the notion of being able to bring two brigades home.

But the sectarian violence has escalated. And the military in the last several weeks has also made it very clear that it has shifted the weight, if you will, of its own efforts from al Anbar province out in western Iraq where there had been a good deal of fighting, to Baghdad. Baghdad, the capital, now the weight of the U.S. military effort, trying to get a handle on the sectarian violence there. And General Abizaid's comments indicating that that is going to be a very tough fight for some months to come now.

HARRIS: Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr for us. Barbara, thank you.


COLLINS: The congressional number just don't add up. With that realization, it looks like the White House might be willing to compromise with GOP senators on proposals for dealing with terror suspects. We want to go live now to CNN's Andrea Koppel at the White House.



Well, after days, there is finally a sense of optimism in the air. Nobody is talking about a breakthrough, but certainly both sides are talking and both sides are exchanging ideas. According to a Republican staffer who's familiar with the White House proposal that was sent over here last night, and the negotiations that are taking place behind the scenes with Senators John Warner, Lindsey Graham and John McCain, he said that the senators thought that this proposal was promising. They said that it is the most serious offer that they have seen from the White House since the initial proposal, the president's draft legislation, was sent over here earlier this month.

At the same time, though, he said that the senators are not accepting this proposal in its current form and intend to send it back to the White House with a counter proposal of their own. According to this Republican source, the White House proposal focused on what is known as the main sticking point, Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. President Bush had argued it was necessary to redefine Common Article 3, which requires humane treatment of prisoners of war, while Senator Warner and his colleagues said that to do so, if Congress agreed to do that, that could endanger U.S. troops captured on the battlefield.

Now, this source said that the sense among staffers right now and among the senators is that there's a 50/50 chance. In fact, last night, Heidi, Senator Lindsey Graham said, he said, have you ever bought a car? He said, this is how negotiations work. The implication is, of course, that there are proposals that go back and forth. And while nobody is saying they know that there is going to be some kind of a final deal, at the end, they are talking, Heidi.

COLLINS: It's got to be a good sign. All right. Andrea Koppel coming to us from Capitol Hill today. Thanks, Andrea.

The standoff with Iran, could it come down to military action and how would the U.S. handle it? We'll take a closer look ahead in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: Also, a search for a Missouri baby. Is this the face of a kidnapper? A live report straight ahead.

COLLINS: And questions today about the state of security at the U.S. Capitol. This SUV got a little too close for comfort. Coming up in the NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: It is day five of the search for a Missouri baby, and police are hoping a new sketch will lead to a breakthrough in this odd case. CNN's Jonathan Freed is live from Union, Missouri, now.

Jonathan, what's the latest here? Any word, any new tips coming in from that sketch?


What police are telling us is that there is nothing specifically new, aside from the fact that since the sketch was released yesterday, they say that the phone has been ringing off the hook. And that's really what they were hoping for. They said that the mother has told them that the sketch is not perfect. They worked on it with her for a couple of days. But police decided to get it out there, even though they feel it wasn't ideal to try to generate these phone calls. And they say that in a case like this, you're never going to get a perfect sketch anyway.

The suspect is described, Heidi, as a white female, between 30 and 40 years of age, roughly 5'8", weighing in the neighborhood of 200 pounds. They said that she had dark hair that was pulled back and that she was wearing a baseball cap.

Now, the other interesting thing to note that came out yesterday, and that is still being focused on today, is a photo of a scarf, a black scarf, and police brought this out at the end of the day yesterday. They decided to release it because they're hoping that it might jog somebody's memory. That somebody will notice something, anything, they say, about this scarf and call in. The suspect here, according to the mother, is believed to have been wearing a scarf at the time that all this happened.


COLLINS: All right. Jonathan Freed on the ground there, will keep us updated should any new information come in. Jonathan, thanks.

Fresh spinach contaminated with E. Coli. How did it happen? We still don't really know. From the fields, to the lab, the search for the source goes on. See the very latest in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: At the podium and before the world's diplomats, will President Bush win support or deepen divisions? A closer look at this morning's speech ahead in the NEWSROOM. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.


HARRIS: The big board, Wall Street, inside the first hour of the trading day. Boy, the Dow down 28 points early on. The Nasdaq down 4. What's the Fed going to do tomorrow with interest rates? Once again . . .

COLLINS: Lower them. I say lower them.

HARRIS: Lower them. Once again, the Dow down 28 points, just inside the first hour of the trading day.

Let's look at a live picture now, United Nations, the front door, just inside the building, everything takes place the center of the world today, it seems. President Bush delivers the annual address to the United Nations General Assembly, 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time. The president expected to push his freedom agenda which calls for spreading democracy throughout the Middle East, continuing the fight against global terrorism. His address, 15 minutes in length, and you can watch it right here in the NEWSROOM 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

COLLINS: Federal inspectors are heading out into California's spinach fields. They are trying to pinpoint the source of a deadly E. Coli outbreak that's forced bags of fresh spinach to be pulled from store shelves. The number of E. Coli cases now jumped yesterday to 114 across 21 states. One death is confirmed and one still being investigated for a link to it. For now, spinach lovers are warned not to eat the greens fresh. Let the spinach go, is what we've been saying. Seriously. We want to find out more about E. Coli and its particular outbreaks, so I am joined by our medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

To me the first thing is, wow, we haven't found a source. We have not been able to track this thing down yet. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is pretty remarkable. In some ways, the investigation's actually broadening as opposed to narrowing down as well. You remember we talked about just fresh bagged spinach, particular states. And as you just mentioned, the cases are increasing, the states are increasing. And what is being sort of recommended not to eat is also increasing. And now instead of just fresh bagged spinach, they're talking about all sorts of spinach. Also spinach that's in other salads. So spinach mixed with something else. The mixed greens, for example, also being advised against.

COLLINS: So you have one piece of spinach in there with some other -- I think spring mix was one that we talked about yesterday.

GUPTA: Right.

COLLINS: It contaminates the whole bag.

GUPTA: That's right. This looks like a very hardy bacteria, if you will. A bacteria that really likes to stick around, spread from, you know, one leaf of spinach to some lettuce and something else. So they're very concerned about that.

COLLINS: And the other thing is the amount of people affected. And then within those people who are sick, the ones with pretty serious complications.

GUPTA: This was really striking to me. You know, you talked about the 114 cases. What gets a little bit lost there is 18 people have what's known as HUS, Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome. It's a type of kidney failure. That's typically, Heidi, a very rare thing. We're talking about 15 percent of these cases. What does this say to me? It says this is a very bad strain of bacteria. You hear about E. Coli outbreaks. You know, they do happen from time to time. But to have that many people so gravely ill is concerning.

COLLINS: And is it also true, I think I was reading, that more women are affected. Is that just because we are the consummate salad eaters kind of more so than men?

GUPTA: That's all it appears to be at this point, but it does appear to be women who are older than 20. So not necessarily old women, but women who, you know, typically eat that kind of food regularly. They're getting sick as well. Typically you think of E. Coli infections being bad in very young and very old, which it still is, but there are certainly people sort of in that middle range that are getting sick as well.

COLLINS: And so -- because my understanding that this is a group effort now -- CDC, FDA, Public Health, everybody trying to track the source. What specifically are they doing at this point?

GUPTA: What they need to do ultimately is they need to find some E. Coli in a person who got sick and match it, by DNA, so that an actual genetic fingerprint to the E. Coli sitting on a spinach leaf somewhere, in some farm, contaminated by some water or whatever the source might be. That's what they need to do to say absolutely this is the source. Here we've pinpointed it. Stop making the spinach here. Stop selling the spinach here. Whatever they do at that point.

COLLINS: Wow. Not an easy thing, I bet.

GUPTA: May not happen for a few days. Yes.

COLLINS: All right. And we know you'll be watching it. Thank you, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Absolutely. Thank you.

HARRIS: Well, plenty of security questions on Capitol Hill this morning. Police say a man with a gun dashed past guards and made it into the Capitol Building Monday. Here's CNN's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Five years after 9/11, eight years after a gunman entered the U.S. Capitol and killed two people. Witnesses and workers here say this is an extraordinary breach of security. A man who law enforcement officials say carried a small, loaded hand gun and possessed a small amount of crack cocaine, ran through the center of the Capitol, just a short distance from leadership offices. The chase triggered a full lockdown. It began when the man, driving this stolen SUV, got to within a few feet of the Capitol steps.

This is the construction vehicle entrance to the Capitol visitors center. And normally this entrance is blocked by police vehicles. But the suspect was able to ram right through those vehicles and enter the construction site right on the premises.

JILES RICHARDS, WITNESS: He had actually went over a wall and crashed into another wall and got out of the truck and started running. By that time, I was trying to take some cover. I thought, you know, somebody was going to start shooting or something. And then, by that time, it was like the Capitol Police were on him like ants.

TODD: The acting Capitol Hill Police chief then describes how the suspect, identified as 20-year-old Carlos Greene, got into the building

CHRISTOPHER MCGAFFIN, ACTING CAPITOL POLICE CHIEF: The individual who was operating the vehicle exited the vehicle and ran to the Capitol building and accessed the Capitol through a construction entrance in the area of the third floor of the Capitol itself. After a brief foot chase by officers inside the building, the individual was isolated, contained and subdued.

TODD: But not before running through the center of the building and nearly out the other side. CNN congressional producer Deidre Walsh and I tracked his likely route, down a main staircase, probably toward a security checkpoint near a police substation. But he wasn't apprehended there, according to police, so we turned down another hallway he could have taken that goes past the Capitol flag office, where he was finally captured. Police say the suspect then had seizures and was taken to a local hospital. The police chief says the suspect was tracked by cameras and policemen throughout the building, but police are conducting what they call a security assessment to find out how he got as far as he did.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


COLLINS: President Bush at the United Nations. His focus, the Middle East. How will it play on the world stage? That's the question. A closer look coming up next in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: And how about this? Hungary's prime minister calls it the longest and darkest night since communism fell. A violent protest in Budapest. That story ahead on CNN, the most trusted name in news.


COLLINS: It's all happening in New York today. On the world stage, President Bush at the United Nations this morning for a major address. He'll try to sell his vision for the Middle East. The region, right now the battleground for U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

HARRIS: In between those two countries, Iran. It remains defiant over its nuclear program. The stalemate will likely be the focus of the president's speech. A few hours later, Iran's fiery leader will fire back with his own speech at the United Nations. What's said will rumble across the world. Our senior United Nations correspondent Richard Roth is watching the parade of world leaders. He is with us now from New York.

And, Richard, how was President Bush's day expected to play out?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's already met, we believe, with the French president, Jacques Chirac, and then he'll head over here to the United Nations where he'll address the General Assembly in an hour or so. Brazil, by U.N. tradition, is the first country to speak. President Bush, after meeting or maybe before the meeting, before photographers with the French leader, again telling Iran that it faces sanctions should it fail to cooperate and freeze its uranium enrichment program.

However, the United States has certainly indicated more flexibility regarding willingness to dialog further with Iran. Finland, head of the European Union at this current moment, a few moments ago said we're not talking sanctions right now. The Europeans are very reluctant to join with America to pursue the sanctions track as long as they think there's a chance that Iran wants to continue dialog. And Iran certainly wants to present that kind of image.

The president of Iran, Mr. Ahmadinejad, will address the General Assembly much later today, maybe 6:30 New York time. He arrived earlier today in New York City at the airport, didn't make comments to other journalists, just a few Iranian journalists. The Iranian journalists have complained that many of their colleagues were not given visas in time to cover this speech. The United States is going to say in its remarks today that the freedom agenda should be pressed here inside the general assembly and that the Security Council and U.N. member countries should back up what resolutions they do pass in the Security Council. We've heard some of this before from President Bush, but that's going to be the line today. Tony?

HARRIS: And, Richard, do we know whether or not Iran's president will attend the secretary general's luncheon this afternoon?

ROTH: He didn't last year and it's possible again he won't this time. One of the main reasons is that alcohol is served there, in the strict Muslim nation, the Iranian leader chose not to attend the lunch. Last year he was inside the general assembly hall when President Bush made his remarks.

HARRIS: And as a bit of a scene-setter, give us a sense of the security around the U.N. today.

ROTH: Well security is, what else, as usual pretty tight. There aren't as many world leaders as there were last year during the 60th anniversary of the general assembly. Leaders of China, Britain, and Russia are not here. So, it's pretty intense. Certainly New Yorkers have been advised the usual gridlock nightmare. And there's a large demonstration against President Ahmadinejad expected around the U.N. environs in the next few hours.

HARRIS: Ok. Richard Roth for us. Richard thank you.

Let's see if we can keep that picture up there because we just saw French President Jacques Chirac just a moment ago. So we'll -- there he is, we'll continue to watch that picture as we explain to you that there are a lot of VIPs on today's list of speakers at the United Nation. In addition to President Bush and Iran's president, more than two dozen other world leaders are also taking the podium. Among them, South African President Thabo Mbeki, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in the war on terror as should be mentioned. French President Jacques Chirac who you saw just a moment ago, his country is a major player in the nuclear negotiations with Iran and Mexico's President Vicente Fox. Also, Africa's first elected female head of state, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and U.S. ally King Abdullah of Jordan.

And CNN will have live coverage of President Bush's speech at the U.N. He's due at the podium in about an hour from now, 11:30 a.m. eastern time, 8:30 a.m. pacific. And you can see it here live in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: President Bush is pushing diplomacy on Iran, and now we see Mrs. Bush, I see, and the president.

HARRIS: There he is.

COLLINS: And Condoleezza Rice arriving at the U.N., Mr. Bolton there, I believe as well. Everybody coming up that escalator, the escalator of power, escalator of world leaders today. We of course have our eye on this for you and we'll continue to watch it and wait to hear what will happen next.

In the meantime, as we know --

HARRIS: There's a better picture of the president.

COLLINS: There he is.

HARRIS: Yes. Just a better picture there with the president as he came up the escalator. I like that, the escalator of power at the U.N. today.

COLLINS: There's Kofi Annan. Can we hear anything?

As you can see here, just introductions going on, on this important day. We've got quite a few people gathering together. Richard Roth still standing by.

HARRIS: Richard, can you help us with the play by play of this?

ROTH: President Bush there was -- is with Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary general. This is the last general assembly for Kofi Annan after 10 years as secretary general and there have been differing views between these two men, though both say they have a good, cordial working relationship. The United States went to war in Iraq over the objections of Kofi Annan aides and those who follow Kofi Annan says he was almost depressed, very upset at that. They now are debating who will replace Kofi Annan. The U.S. with a veto power will have a big say in that. It's unknown who the next secretary general will be. Probably will be chosen in the next two months or so, likely a candidate from Asia. There is one woman candidate. Kofi Annan has also said something must be done about Darfur, the two men certainly agree about that crisis. The president of Sudan is likely to be here also. But the secretary general certainly prefers dialogue and Sudan is not allowing U.N. peacekeepers in, and because Sudan has not said come on in, the U.N. member countries have stood by that. Though George Bush on Friday seemed to indicate maybe it's time for the U.N. to go in alone, but no country wants to supply troops to go in shooting. So these are the traditional ceremony before the speeches that take place in the confines of the U.N. The president of the United States will also meet with the current president of the general assembly, a woman from Bahrain, the first Muslim to lead the general assembly. Now 192 members since last year, Montenegro, from the Balkans join. Now back to you.

COLLINS: Richard Roth, our man at the U.N., has been covering the U.N. for several years, a lot happening there today. We're going to get to those speeches as you see on the bottom of your screen, 11:30 a.m. eastern time. President Bush will address the general assembly. We'll have it for you coming in just a few minutes.

Meanwhile, as we well know by now, President Bush pushing diplomacy on Iran but he says the military option remains on the table. CNN's senior pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre has a closer look.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The objective, stop Iran from being able to enrich enough uranium to make a nuclear bomb.

BUSH: Can you imagine a Middle East with an Iran with a nuclear weapon threatening free nations?

MCINTYRE: The military option, preemptive air strikes by American stealth bombers, strike air craft and cruise missiles, using the latest bunker-busting munitions in an air assault lasting several nights and dropping thousands of bombs.

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I'm not going to answer about confirming or denying any plans that we may have. I can tell you we can deal with any problem that comes up militarily in the region.

MCINTYRE: The potential targets, more than two dozen nuclear facilities spread across Iran. Some secret, some deep underground and some in populated areas that would have to be hit multiple times.

COL. SAM GARDINER, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): Most people that have a sense of the Iranian nuclear program say it has two parts, the part we see and that's the part we can target. And then there's probably a part we don't see.

MCINTYRE: The best case scenario is Iran simply rebuilds and military action is needed in another two to five years. Worst case, Iran retaliates, sponsors terrorism, attacks U.S. troops in Iraq, disrupts oil shipments through the Persian Gulf, pushing gas prices to record highs and inflames anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world.

TRITA PARSI, NATIONAL IRANIAN AMERICAN COUNCIL: In the rest of the Middle East we're working very hard to win the hearts and minds of the people. In Iran we just need to make sure we don't lose it. By the first bomb we will lose it.

STEPHEN BIDDLE, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I think at the end of the day we may very well end up deciding that we'd rather live with a nuclear Iran and deter them from using the things once they get them, than do the things we have to do to prevent them from getting it.

MCINTYRE: Pentagon sources say all of the planning for possible military action in Iran comes under the category of prudent and routine contingency planning, nothing more at this point. And the possibility of a ground invasion is even more remote, considering the U.S. military has its hands full in the two countries that flank Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.


COLLINS: A man says he was beaten and tortured and the U.S. played a role in it. Turns out, he was innocent. That's ahead in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: Pope Benedict's regret, not enough for many Muslims. Today the Roman Catholic leader faces more fallout over his comments about Islam. Details straight ahead.

And we are talking gas prices with Cheryl Casone and we like what's happening there, Cheryl.

COLLINS: Down 12 cents or something, right?

CHERYL CASONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good news. We sure do, believe it or not, yes summer is over, gas prices have been tumbling lately, but how low will they go? I'm going to be right back after the break with the latest. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.


COLLINS: Some new video in to us here at CNN. We are looking at a meeting that happened a little bit earlier today, about 10 minutes after 9:00 or so Eastern Time, President Bush meeting with French President Jacques Chirac. That was on the agenda right out of the gate this morning. After that, he was to -- and we had a little bit of video of this moments ago as well, around 10:15 or so, about a half hour ago. He met with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, we saw him arriving there, and we see several other people in the room. Not exactly positive what they talked about. A little bit of a pow wow which we see oftentimes on a day like this as the president joins the U.N. general assembly, will address them, I should say at 11:30 this morning. Very interested in this meeting for several reasons, one, at least we've been talking about so much another world leader besides Jacques Chirac that is there, is the Iranian president, Ahmadinejad, who he will not be holding a meeting like this with.

HARRIS: Interesting with this meeting a bit of the backdrop here, President Chirac not in favor of a sanctions regime right away, believes that the problem with Iran needs to be negotiated out fully before there is any discussion of a sanctions program. Mr. Bush saying even this morning that if Iran continues to stall on the nuclear issue, sanctions will be discussed. One wonders if that's being discussed, probably not in this setting but will be discussed at some point later this day.

COLLINS: That's right. Both the Europeans very reluctant in fact to join in with the possibility of U.S. sanctions against Iran. Let's go ahead and let's take a listen for a moment as to what happened in this meeting earlier today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- We concur on these matters. Believe particularly on the issue of a possible agreement with the Iranians, that will (INAUDIBLE) United States, the American administration and the French government see eye to eye on these matters on how to address them.

BUSH: One question at a time. Heather?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, thank you Mr. President. President Chirac has proposed suspending sanctions against Iran as an incentive to get him to the negotiating table. What do you think of that idea?

BUSH: First of all, France and the United States share the same goal and that is for the Iranians not to have a nuclear weapon. Secondly, we share the same goal, we'd like to solve this problem diplomatically. And we understand working together is important. And the Iranians have to understand we share the same objective and we're going to continue to strategize together. The EU3 will continue to dialogue with the Iranians to get them to the table so that they will suspend, verifiable suspend their enrichment activities, in which case the United States will come to the table. And we believe time is of the essence. Should they continue to stall, we will then discuss the consequences of their stalling. And one of those consequences of course would be some kind of sanctions program. But now is the time for the Iranians to come to the table and that's what we discussed.


HARRIS: Once again as we mentioned just moments ago, the French president and President Bush meeting. Both of them on the same page in terms of the ultimate goal, which is for Iran not to have a nuclear weapon, but how to get there, the approach. We see some differences here. The president basically saying that there is a window for discussions and diplomacy to bring Iran to the table, but if Iran continues to stall, that one of the issues that will be discussed is a sanctions program and the French president saying, ok, let's continue to talk this out. So, that's just one of the side meetings, one of many that will be happening over the course of this week and over the next two weeks as these world leaders meet at the United Nations.

COLLINS: That's right. We want to go ahead and listen back in to a little bit more of this meeting and see what we can glean from it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then we can move on to finding solutions to the other problems that arise or stem from this issue.

BUSH: Final question?


COLLINS: In case you are just joining us, we are watching some new video that came in to CNN moments ago, this meeting took place a little over an hour ago. This is the meeting between French President Jacques Chirac and President Bush and several interpreters, obviously, in the room, as we're hearing quite a bit of French at the very moment. Tony would like to interpret that for you. He's just taking a few notes. The main issue here that they are addressing, of course, is Iran and the Middle East and the possibility of U.S. sanctions and the reasons that France is not in favor of that, along with the other European countries that are members of the U.N. HARRIS: Including what those other countries are looking for in Europe is just a slower track than the president, at least at this moment, seems comfortable with. The president, you heard just a moment ago, saying now is the time. The French president has said that we need to exhaust all negotiation, work the process through fully, diplomatically and at the end of that process, if there is still no agreement with Iran, then and only then, should there be discussions about a sanctions program. The president again saying now is the time, as you can see there, for the Iranians to come to the table and to talk. The president saying this morning that if Iran continues to stall on the nuclear issue, sanctions will be discussed.

COLLINS: Certainly that is the other reason why the president will not be holding a meeting similar to this one with Iranians and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad which was sort of -- I think that there was an invitation but that was quickly, as we heard on Friday in the president's address to the press, he said absolutely not, not until they abandon their nuclear program and their uranium enrichment he will not be meeting with them, as he has said all along. So that type of meeting will not be happening today. What will be happening today, coming up at 11:30, the president will address for 15 minutes the U.N. general assembly. We are standing by for that. And much later today, 7:00 p.m. eastern, that is when we will hear from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

HARRIS: So what is it that the president will talk about? We have a bit of a sense of what the president will discuss in his 15- minute address. We understand the president will discuss some of the positive steps that have occurred, and have begun to occur as we see the two leaders wrap this up. So, why don't we wrap this up as well, Heidi.

And turn our attention now to business news.

The summer driving season as we do that, is over and that's been helping drive down gas prices. Cheryl Casone. Cheryl, we have pronounced your name about five, six different ways. It is just our way of saying welcome to the NEWSROOM. The welcome wagon has a flat but it's loaded with gas. Good morning to you.

CASONE: Welcome to CNN, right?

HARRIS: Yes, welcome.

CASONE: I'll tell you what Tony, you know who is using a lot of gas today that is New Yorkers in Manhattan, it is gridlock with the president here and of course all the dignitaries. It is U.N. week, its official. That's why the subway was invented, just to let you know. All right, gas prices rose steadily here throughout the summer as most of you know throughout America. Now they're dropping just as quickly. You may have seen that at the pump lately. Both the Energy Department and AAA found that a gallon of self-serve regular now averaging less than $2.50 for the first time since March. No mystery here really. People are driving less, the summer is over, and that, of course, reduces demand. That's no big surprise there. But you know the hurricane season coming to an end, no real disruptions to production and refining operations in the Gulf of Mexico, so there's some good news there. Now, those aren't convincing arguments, believe it or not, for 42 percent of people polled by "USA Today" and Gallup who believe the Bush administration is manipulating gas prices to help Republicans in an election year. Tony, everyone has an opinion, I guess.

HARRIS: Oh, my goodness. All right Cheryl. Let's talk about those high gas prices a little more this summer. Well, particularly over the summer, they had people sort of holding their wallets a little tighter. Now that the prices are coming down a bit, are folks ready to -- I don't know -- spend a little more?

CASONE: You know you would think so. Really it's interesting because retail sales are starting to look up a bit, but this year's holiday shopping season -- we are already talking about the holidays, believe it or not, is going to be a little disappointing. The National Retail Federation expects sales in November and December to increase 5 percent but there is some nitpicking here because that's a bit below last year's growth. So picky on Wall Street. That is bad news for retailers who count on that holiday season for about one fifth of their total annual sales. But if gas prices do continue to fall it's going to put a little extra cash in consumers' pockets that could give an extra boost to holiday sales. So if you're out there shopping, you will be one of many, Tony.

HARRIS: Yeah, not going to happen. Cheryl Casone, what is happening on Wall Street this morning?

CASONE: I tell you, we are waiting on the Fed. It is all about the Fed right now. Investors are holding the line ahead of tomorrow's decision on interest rates, a big day here tomorrow. General consensus the Fed's going to hold those rates steady. All right, right now the Dow is down 34 points, the NASDAQ is trading up about a quarter of a percent. Well that is the latest from Wall Street. Heidi and Tony sending it back to you.

HARRIS: All right Cheryl, thank you.

COLLINS: Thank you Cheryl. Thanks for playing with your name.

HARRIS: Still to come, GOP senators ready to force a presidential compromise? There is word the White House is trying to strike a deal on terror suspects.

Plus, Colin Powell weighs in again on the detainees issue. That's coming up in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: And Hungary's prime minister calls it the longest and darkest night since communism fell. Violent protests in Budapest, ahead in the NEWSROOM. Stick around everybody.


HARRIS: And you are looking at a live picture of the U.N. general assembly, the main auditorium there, President Bush to deliver the annual address to the U.N. general assembly, 11:30 a.m. eastern time. The president arriving just a short time ago, meeting there with Secretary General Kofi Annan, then a quick side meeting with the French president Jacques Chirac. The president expected to push his freedom agenda, that speech coming up in about 35 minutes.

COLLINS: And, he's been there, done that, Bill Richardson, that is, an expert on the ways of the U.N. Of course he's the former ambassador to the U.N. and current New Mexico governor. He's going to be with us, coming up in the NEWSROOM. You'll find it only right here on CNN.


VALERIE MORRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The stock market isn't soaring like it was in the dotcom glory days. However this means it's a good time to invest on Wall Street.

STEPHEN GANDEL, "MONEY" MAGAZINE: There's never been a 40 year period when stocks have underperformed any other assets. So, if you're investing for retirement, don't worry about the economy or the trade deficit or anything else you read in the newspaper. Stocks are your best bet.

MORRIS: Next week on at this age, the 30s. If you have a hot business plan but lack the money to launch your idea, we'll tell you where to look for funding.




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