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Defense Secretary Gates Says If New Iraq Strategy Doesn't Work U.S. Can't Throw In The Towel; Heated Diplomatic Spat In Northern Iraq; John Burns Interview; Howard Dean Interview; Lance Armstrong's Tough Fight With Illness; Minimum Wage Hike Loophole Coming Under Fire; New Iran Worries

Aired January 12, 2007 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, it's 5:00 p.m. on Capitol Hill, where the Bush administration tries to give a boost to its troop boost. The Senate is divided on the Iraq plan. But our new poll shows among the American people, it's not even close.

Democrats share those doubts, but can they do anything about it?

I'll ask their national chairman, Howard Dean, this hour.

What's behind the seizure of Iranians by U.S. forces in Iraq? Is the president's tough talk about Iran and Syria just the beginning?

And he may be the world's best known cancer survivor.

Can his heroic battle help other Americans save their own lives?

I'll speak with legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong.

That's coming up.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The Pentagon bosses were back on Capitol Hill today facing the backlash over the plan for a troop increase in Iraq. They called on Congress to give the new strategy a chance, saying if it works, a withdrawal might begin sooner than expected.

But Americans oppose the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq by a nearly two to one margin. According to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, 66 percent say they oppose the troop increase, 32 percent say they are in favor.

We'll hear from CNN's Michael Holmes in Baghdad.

I'll also speak with the "New York Times" bureau chief in Baghdad, John Burns. But let's go to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, first -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Pentagon has high hopes for the new strategy in Iraq. But Defense Secretary Gates said today if it doesn't work, the U.S. can't just throw in the towel.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): In his Senate testimony, Defense Secretary Robert Gates conceded the new Iraq strategy could fail, but argued Plan B should not be the phased withdrawal advocated by some Democrats.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If we talk about the consequences of American failure and defeat in Iraq, then saying if you don't do this, we'll leave, and we'll leave now, does not strike me as being in the national interests of the United States.

MCINTYRE: While a fresh brigade of U.S. troops from the 82nd Airborne Division is moving from Kuwait to Baghdad now, the new strategy won't be put to the test until early next month, when the first of three promised Iraqi brigades is scheduled to arrive.

As the U.S. flows additional brigades in at the rate of one a month, Gates will be looking at three benchmarks to get a quick read on whether the plan is on track. The critical indicators will be if all three brigades of Iraqi troops show up, as promised. Last time, they didn't; if there's no political interference that frees suspects after they are caught; and if U.S. and Iraqi forces have access to all of Baghdad.

Gates optimistically predicted that if the strategy shows results, he may not send in all the extra troops and could even begin withdrawing forces by year's end.

GATES: And if these operations actually work, you could begin to see a lightening of the U.S. footprint both in Baghdad and potentially in Iraq itself.

MCINTYRE: But the problem is success is beyond the control of the U.S. Everything depends on Iraqis doing things that so far they have been unwilling or unable to do.


MCINTYRE: Gates admits that if the Iraqis fail again, he doesn't know what the consequences are, except they would have to re-look at the strategy. And he says the alternatives don't look that good right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks, Jamie, for that.

There's growing controversy today over the seizure of several Iranians by U.S. military forces in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil. This as the White House flatly denies the president's tough words about Iran and Syria this week were a prelude to military action against those countries.

The White House press secretary, Tony Snow, calling that an urban legend.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What the president was talking about is defending American forces within Iraq and also doing what we can to disrupt networks that might be trying to convey weapons or fighters into battle theaters within Iraq to kill Americans and Iraqis.


BLITZER: So is that what U.S. troops are up to in northern Iraq this week?

Let's turn to CNN's Michael Holmes in Baghdad -- Michael.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what happened Thursday in northern Iraq, close to the border with Iran, is fast becoming a heated diplomatic spat.

As we now know, six Iranians detained in the city of Irbil, prompting the Iraqi foreign minister to tell us we don't want Iraq to become a battleground for settling scores with other countries.

Now, this incident was a U.S. military raid. There were six people taken into custody because the military says that they are closely tied to activities targeting Iraqi and coalition forces.

Now, the Kurdish Regional Government, which has -- is based in the city of Irbil, has slammed that U.S. operation and demanded the immediate release of the six people, one of whom, we are now told by the U.S. military, has already been let go.

All of this timed right after some stark comments made by President Bush in his speech on Wednesday when he accused Iran of providing military support for attacks on American troops.

All of this, of course, as more U.S. troops head to Iraq and the diplomatic language becoming increasingly stern between the two countries -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Michael, thanks very much.

Michael Holmes in Baghdad.

As the United States casts a stern eye at Syria, the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, will travel to Damascus this week, the first Iraqi president to do so in some three decades.

Damascus won't be on the itinerary as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads to the region, as well. She'll make the rounds of the other major capitals, pushing the president's plan for Iraq.

But that plan is not exactly being celebrated in Iraq itself.

And joining us now from Baghdad, the "New York Times" Pulitzer Prize winning correspondent, John Burns.

John, the spokesman for Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq had a rather, in your words, tepid response to the president's address to the nation the other night. "What is suitable for our conditions in Iraq," he said, "is what we decide, not what others decide for us."

Since so much of the new U.S. strategy depends on cooperation from Nouri al-Maliki, what's going on?

JOHN BURNS, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, it's pretty clear that there are contending American and Iraqi agendas here. The United States is looking for a road home which, requires at least a minimal fulfillment of American objectives here. To accomplish that, they've got to have some kind of healing process amongst Iraqi politicians of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Mr. Maliki, on the other hand, is a tribute of a Shiite religious interest and, as he would see it, of the 60 percent of the population that are Shiites who have waited a thousand years for this opportunity to rule here. And they do not intend to be reflected or, if you will, constrained by the United States.

So I think what we're going to see here is a growing contest of wills. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if the loser in that is Mr. Maliki.

There is much talk across the river in the Green Zone about easing him out over the next few weeks or months.

BLITZER: So in other words, Nouri al-Maliki could be in trouble unless he delivers.

Bottom line, do you think he has the guts to go stand up against Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army, this Shiite militia in Sadr City?

BURNS: You know, I don't think it's a question of guts. I think all these people who went through the fire with Saddam, they are all former exiles, as you know. All of them, Mr. Maliki included, lost large proportions of their family to Mr. Saddam Hussein's gulag.

I think it's a question of will and whether or not Maliki, Nouri al-Maliki, can break with 30 or 40 years of commitment in the Shiite religious cause. There is no sign to date that he has been prepared to do that.

He makes the right speeches. He sat across the table from President Bush and said all the right things, he did right from the start when he took office eight months ago. He just hasn't done it. He continues to look for ways around it. Indeed, at the extreme, he has intervened to persuade the Americans to release captured Iraqis who the American military command has designated as death squad leaders in the Shiite interest.


I beg your pardon.

So the signs are not good. And I think one interpretation you can make of the Bush plan is that they've built this assumption in, that Maliki will not fulfill those pledges, he won't meet the benchmarks and the Americans have been working desperately behind the scenes to create a kind of parallel political movement, a moderate political movement based on factions within the existing Iraqi parliament that could be used as a vehicle for a parliamentary coup against Mr. Maliki.

BLITZER: Fascinating material.

One related question, his U.S. military operation in the northern part of the country in Irbil, the Kurdish area, against these Iranian officials, supposedly diplomats, is causing some heartburn in the Iraqi government, among the Kurds.

What's going on?

BURNS: Well, I'm in Baghdad. It happened in Irbil, 150 miles north of here. But it seems to me, from everything I know about it, that it's a straw in the wind. Whatever else it may mean -- and clearly the Iranians have been up to no good here. They have been supplying sophisticated weapons, including armor penetrating missiles and rockets, to insurgents here. They have been killing -- helping to kill American soldiers.

Whatever else it may mean, I think it's part of the no more Mr. Nice Guy attitude. I think when you see General Petraeus come in here as the new U.S. military commander, there is going to be a lot less patience from the part of the American military commanders, of the American embassy here. I think there is going to be a lot less niceness about Iraq's so-called sovereignty.

I think the line is going to be, this is the last chance. We're bringing in 20,000 of our troops. We know more of our boys are going to die. This time we expect you to perform and we are not going to sit by and see Iranian diplomats or any other kind of Iranian agent in Iraq, in effect, arm or supply, advise, finance our enemy.

So I think it was a signal event.

BLITZER: John Burns, thanks so much for your reporting.

John Burns in Baghdad.

Appreciate it.

BURNS: Thank you, Wolf. BLITZER: And this week at a White House briefing, I learned that as the president wrestles with the situation in Iraq, he's reading a book about another very difficult war, "A Savage War of Peace." That's the book by Alistair Horne about the battle between France and revolutionaries in its then colony of Algeria. That war occurred between 1954 and 1962. This is the book.

It describes an unsuccessful war against a bloody terrorist insurgency, an occupation that becomes a civil war between factions, a costly conflict that becomes very unpopular at home in France.

And when the president gets to page 528, if he hasn't yet, he'll find that the French withdraw and much of the French minority in Algeria ends up fleeing that country. A fascinating book with ramifications for today.

Jack Cafferty is in New York with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the Senate passed a measure today that will make convicted lawmakers lose their taxpayer funded pensions. Imagine that. It's part of an ethics and lobbying bill, the first piece of legislation taken up by the new Senate.

As we talked about earlier this week in The Cafferty File, Senator John Kerry said that there are currently at least 20 lawmakers convicted of serious crimes continuing to draw their pensions, some of them as much as $125,000 a year.

House members passed a similar measure last spring, but that reform package died when they couldn't reach an agreement with the Senate. Apparently there's some argument, some question about whether convicted criminals coming out of the Congress should be able to continue to draw their pensions.

Don't get too excited. The Senate's measure is not retroactive. Which means people like former Congressman Duke Cunningham, who is rotting away in prison, will still draw his $64,000 a year pension, which you and I pay for. Boy, they've got some guts down there in Washington, don't they?

Here's the question -- why should convicted lawmakers continue to receive their taxpayer funded pensions?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: that's a good question, Jack.

Thanks very much for bringing it up.

Still to come, cycling champion Lance Armstrong in a different kind of uphill battle, fighting for more government funds for cancer research. I'll get details from him in a one-on-one interview this hour. That's coming up.

Also, a major announcement about the first presidential debate. We'll have details of where it will be and the special role we're going to be playing.

And Iraq playing a very important role in the next election. I'll talk about it with the Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean. He's standing by to join us live.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: CNN today has an important announcement regarding the 2008 presidential campaign. We're partners in the very first presidential debates of the primary season that's coming up in New Hampshire.

CNN, WMUR Television and the "New Hampshire Union Leader" will sponsor back to back debates among the Democratic and the Republican presidential campaigns on April 4th and April 5th of this year. That's coming up in a few moments.

Democrats made some news of their own this week, naming Denver as the site for their 2008 presidential convention. The underlying theme, as the campaign, though, gears up, is certainly Iraq.

Joining us now to discuss all of this, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean.

He joins us from his home state of Vermont.

He's in Burlington.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.


Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: I want to talk about all the politics in a few moments.

Let's talk about Iraq right now.

The Democrats seem to be split on whether or not they should use the power of the purse to try to get U.S. forces out of Iraq.

Where do you stand on this?

DEAN: Well, I think that there's a lot of options being discussed right now. We need to be out of Iraq. We never should have gone in there. We went in there under false president -- false pretenses. The president was not truthful with the American people when we went in.

But we have to leave in a careful, methodical way so as not to allow more destabilization to occur than is already going to occur.

Now, the question is how to get the president to do that. There are going to be lots of different opportunities, I think, to express our displeasure and there will be some opportunities to have some effect on the course of the war and how to bring our troops home.

But the thing to remember is this. The president of the United States constitutionally has authority over our military policy and our foreign policy. That's not going to change. It didn't change when Richard Nixon pursued the war with a Democratic Congress. Cutting off funds didn't work then. I think we have to be very careful what we do in terms of abusing the power of the purse, because we don't want to cut off support for our troops.

You know, the president is sending the troops over there now without adequate body armor.

Our question is what's he doing spending another $6.5 million sending more troops over there when he hasn't done right by the ones that are there already?

BLITZER: So what I hear you saying is you don't necessarily think Russ Feingold, the Democratic senator who's made a proposal to use this power of the purse, that that's the right way to go, at least not yet.

DEAN: I think that, you know, first of all, I don't have a vote here, so I think -- I think I'd like to make it as easy as possible on the leadership. There are differing opinions. There's pretty much unanimity of opinions among Democrats that we don't belong in Iraq.

Now, the question is how to get out of there in a thoughtful, careful way without making things worse than they -- than the president has already made them.

But there'll be debate in the Congress and I think there's plenty of time to have that debate. The bill will perhaps -- the appropriation will pass the House first and then go to the Senate.

BLITZER: Listen to Senator John McCain. He's an outspoken supporter of what the president is doing and even if he would have even sent more troops in as part of this increase. But he says that you, the Democrats, have a responsibility to tell the American public what the consequences of the withdrawal you're calling for would be.

Listen to what he says.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Do they not fear Iranian, Saudi and Turkish involvement in Iraq? A wider regional war? A haven for terrorists? A humanitarian catastrophe?

Do they truly believe that we can walk away from Iraq?


BLITZER: All right, what do you say to Senator McCain? DEAN: He sounds very much like Richard Nixon, you know, just stay a little longer, stay a little longer. We'll stay long enough to lose another 5,000 or 10,000 people. It still won't change anything. We never should have gone there in the first place. Senator McCain bears some responsibility for supporting the president when we went. His prescription for getting out is no prescription for getting out.

The American people have already rejected the stay the course position of Senator McCain and of President Bush. We need new leadership in this country and that's what the presidential election is going to be about in 2008.

BLITZER: You announced yesterday that Denver is the winner for the Democratic presidential convention. That'll be in the summer of 2008.

Why Denver as opposed to New York, which was also in the running?

DEAN: New York is a great city and they've done this before. They know what they are doing. It was a close call. We took a lot of time to do it. But, you know, since I've been in the chairmanship of this party, I've tried to expand the battlefield with the Republicans to the West and the South and other places where we have not been particularly competitive.

We know we can win in the West. We've had a great run in the '04 elections and in '06 elections. And I think we have five or six governors in the Western states, in the Western Rocky Mountain States. It's terrific. And we need to continue there.

I, you know, in politics, I think if you're playing defense, you're losing. And I think we ought to be fighting on the Republican grounds, not on the Democratic grounds. And that's what we're really doing. We're looking to make the West a reliably Democratic part of the country and I think we can do that.

BLITZER: You ran for president four years ago. You spent a lot of time in New Hampshire in the process. A neighbor or yours. We're going to be co-hosting this first Democratic presidential debate and the first Republican presidential debate April 4th and 5th in New Hampshire.

I'll ask you a question I asked our Strategy Session earlier.

How important is it for presidential hopefuls to show up at these early debates?

DEAN: I think it's important. I think you'll see people doing it, too. We went through about 27 of them four years ago and the reason is if four or five people say yes, then you really have to not miss the opportunity to go and speak your peace or people are going to wonder why.

I'm glad you chose New Hampshire. I think New Hampshire has been feeling a little bruised since we added two additional early states to the early times. But this -- I think this shows that New Hampshire remains just as important as it always was. And I'm -- I welcome that and I hope to be able to be there in the audience.

BLITZER: We'll see you there, Governor.

Thanks very much for coming in.

DEAN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And coming up, he beat cancer, he won the Tour de France seven times.

But can Lance Armstrong get the government to increase cancer funding?

I'll ask him about the new uphill battle he's facing.

Plus, details of a major and deadly ice storm. Millions of Americans feeling the freeze right now.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, President Bush facing an uphill battle as he tries to convince the country more troops are the answer for Iraq.

And, at the same time, new problems involving Iran. Growing controversy over the seizure of several Iranians by U.S. troops in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.

An uphill battle, also, for seven time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong. We'll show you what the cancer survivor is doing right now that could prove to be one of his toughest battles yet.

And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi having to fend off allegations of hypocrisy. We're going to show you who's making the allegations and how it's tied to the minimum wage hike.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Lance Armstrong knows what it takes to overcome the odds and achieve victory. He beat cancer and went on to win the Tour de France a record seven times.

But now, as an advocate for increased funding for cancer research and treatment, he's facing an entirely new battle.

My interview with Lance Armstrong.

That's coming up.

But first, let's turn to CNN's Carol Costello. She's in New York.

She has more on Armstrong's fight to beat this illness -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor, world champion, father, celebrity, politician?

Yes, Armstrong is becoming quite the political player, to the delight of cancer researchers everywhere.





COSTELLO (voice-over): Call it a full court press. He's been on TV, an American super athlete who successfully fought cancer providing inspiration for others. And has he ever. His yellow "live strong" plastic bracelets, a symbol of cancer awareness, became so wildly popular, they spawned a whole fashion trend.

But Armstrong is more than just an inspirational figure. He's become a flat out lobbyist for the American Cancer Society, able to get the ear of the big guy himself, President Bush, telling him face to face that funding for cancer research is coming up short, something that doesn't please everyone.

DR. RICHARD DARLING, THE FAIR FOUNDATION: Lance Armstrong's efforts are laudable to bring attention to cancer. But his statements that the funding for cancer is not -- that the funding is not fair is not factual.

COSTELLO: But Armstrong and the American Cancer Society don't agree, saying funding for next year has been cut 30 percent because cancer isn't sexy.

ARMSTRONG: When you come along and you talk about cancer and talk about funding, it's not, for lack of a better word, it's not sexy anymore. But, you know, we can all remember the frenzy around the bird flu. We can all remember the frenzy around SARS. People were freaking out. But what we need now is we need people to re-engage in the fight against cancer.

COSTELLO: And that means an Armstrong-led grassroots effort at making the Feds re-engage, like this one on Capitol Hill back in September.

But again those critics, who say celebrity clout sometimes clouds the issue, directing money where it doesn't deserve to go.

Take a look. According to the National Institutes of Health, $5.6 billion federal goes toward cancer research. That compares to $2.3 billion for cardiovascular disease, which kills twice as many people in this country, and $1.1 million for diabetes, a growing health care crisis in the country.

And as for HIV-AIDS research, that clocks in at $2.9 billion.

DARLING: We are calling for a redistribution of some of that 10 percent that now goes to HIV to other diseases.


COSTELLO: But, Wolf, the American Cancer Society says this isn't a contest and there certainly is no denying this -- 1.3 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer every year.

BLITZER: And we know many of them.

Thank you very much, Carol, for that.

So can the Tour de France champion win this uphill race and get the federal government to increase cancer funding?


BLITZER: And joining us now is Lance Armstrong.

Lance, thanks very much for coming in. Thanks for what you're doing.

LANCE ARMSTRONG, BICYCLIST AND CANCER ACTIVIST: Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: You wrote a piece on this week. It's got an incredible number of hits. Among other things what you said is this. "What are we going to do to effectively fight cancer? Millions of Americans with cancer are asking, 'I'm not known for my patience when it comes to cancer, I hope you aren't, either.'"

What's going on? Tell us what your new initiative is all about.

ARMSTRONG: Well, it's -- you know, it's really a 10-year initiative for me. I mean, I was diagnosed more than 10 years ago. And, you know, looking back to that day, if you just said to me at the time, you know, what's cancer going to look like 10 years from now? I probably wouldn't have guessed that it looks the way it does today.

You know, having said that, we've had success stories. I mean, I'm obviously sitting here, came back to win seven tours. You know, there's 10 million cancer survivors in this country.

But the fact of the matter is that we lose 600,000 American lives every year to cancer, and so, you know, that is a huge number. And if that happened on one single day in an act of terrorism, this country would go absolutely crazy.

So, you know, obviously it doesn't happen in one day, but it is -- you know, that breaks down to 1,500 Americans every day. So a 9/11 every two days.


BLITZER: So what do you want the government to do to try to deal with this problem?

ARMSTRONG: Yes, and I just want to be clear. I'm not -- I don't want to get in and start criticizing the government and the administration.

I do think that -- ultimately, I think the onus falls on the American people. I mean, we the citizens, have to sit down or stand up and say, listen, this is what matters to us. Is it terrorism, is it education, is our healthcare, is it cancer research, is it funding, what is it?

And ultimately we're the ones who have to stand up and say this is what we care about, this is what we're voting for, and we would like a change. And, you know, to me it's an old issue and it. And again, it's our responsibility to stand up and say, you know what? We care about it, we want to make a difference and ultimately we want to end the fight against cancer.

BLITZER: What do you say to those who argue, you know what, there's a limited pot out there, there is a certain amount of money, ex amount of money. If you devote more to cancer automatically that means less is going to go to heart disease or diabetes or some of the other major killers in the United States?

ARMSTRONG: Yes, I'm very realistic and know that this is a competitive issue. Not only are we competing against a defense budget that's strapped, but we also compete, as you said, against heart disease, diabetes, AIDS, all the other issues that fall under the umbrella of the NIH but I think that we have to look at the ones who are the deadliest to this country.

And even, Wolf, just taking it a step farther, look, we've done a lot of work in cancer, and let's just say we lose 600,000 lives a year. Two hundred thousand of those we could cure today just applying what we've already paid for. What we've already researched and what we've already discovered so let's save a full third of these American lives and then let's go with a last two thirds with an increase in leadership and funding and research.

BLITZER: I want to quote to you Hamilton Jordan, he was the White House chief of staff under former President Jimmy Carter. What he said in "Sports Illustrated," get your reaction. Almost -- and he's a cancer survivor, Hamilton Jordan himself.

"Almost half the people alive today will have cancer in their lifetimes. That's a damned epidemic. And what are we doing about it? If you went back and added all the budgets for the National Cancer Institute over the past three decades, we spent as much money on cancer as we spent in Iraq on nine months."

Two billion dollars a week we're spending in Iraq right now. Is that an apt comparison? ARMSTRONG: Well, I think Hamilton is probably pretty close to accurate when it comes to the sheer numbers and I was watching a program the other night and you realize that the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are more than a million dollars every five minutes.

And listen, I'm not here to say that's right or that's wrong. This is basically like a household. And you've got the mom and the dad and the income that comes in and then after that you've got to buy food. You've got to pay the energy bills, you've got to pay for your gasoline.

And at the end of the day you have what you have left and maybe you get to take a vacation.

So our little country club - or this great country is just that. We have a budget to manage and under that we have to pick and choose how we spend the money but again, it's up to us, the people, to say, you know what, cancer just shouldn't be this way. It's such an exciting time scientifically, let's go out and do the easy things right now.

Let's continue to seek the best leadership. Fund the most promising you scientists out there, the guys that are starting to turn away from basic science right now, and give these guys money. And give them attention.

BLITZER: Fair enough. Lance Armstrong, thanks for your good work. Appreciate you coming in.

ARMSTRONG: Thank you.


And Lance Armstrong teams up with CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta this weekend for a cancer special. "Saving Your Life" airing Saturday and Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Something you're definitely going to want to see, especially if you or anyone you know or love has cancer.

Sanjay and Lance this weekend, only here on CNN.

Coming up, a tuna fish plant in American Samoa is let off the hook when it comes to the federal minimum wage hike. We're going to tell you why Republicans are now casting barbs at the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

And all eyes are on Iraq. But is Iran the next target for U.S. military action? Reading between the lines in the president's ominous words.

Much more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Carol for a closer look at some other stories, including a developing one we're just getting in right now -- Carol.

COSTELLO: I'm telling you, Wolf, this is an incredible story. This from our affiliate KMOV in St. Louis.

Authorities have located two missing boys. One 13-year-old, Ben Ownby, he's been missing since Monday. They found him in an apartment in Kirkwood, Missouri, which is near St. Louis, but here's the most amazing part.

They also found Shawn Hornbeck (ph). He has been missing since 2002.

We don't know what condition these boys were in, but we do know they have been found. That's according to numerous authorities and numerous police agencies -- and this is again according to KMOV. They're stationed outside FBI headquarters.

When we get more information on this incredible story of course we'll pass it along to you.

Also in the news, at least two deaths are blamed so far on icy conditions that stretch from Texas to Missouri. Our own CNN meteorologists are calling it a major ice storm, and they're forecasting its spread over the weekend. It's the result of the coldest arctic blast to hit the United States so far this winter. The cold temperatures stretching all the way to California, where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency.

An investigation now under way in the crash of a business jet a few hours ago in southern California. It went down while taking off from the Van Nuys airport, killing two people on board. An airport spokeswoman says the pilot said he was having some difficulties. And an FAA official says an emergency was reported, but there's no details yet on what exactly went wrong.

That's the latest for now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll check back with you, Carol.

What an amazing story on those two little boys.

Thank you.

Up head, there was swift reaction online to the news that soccer superstar David Beckham is coming to the United States. But it's not necessarily the kind of reaction you might expect.

We're going to explain.

Also, there is an intriguing and controversial loophole in the federal minimum wage bill that just passed the House, and it's right in Nancy Pelosi's back yard.

We'll tell you what's going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is coming under fire from some Republicans for a loophole in the minimum wage hike passed by the House earlier this week as part of the Democrats' first 100 hours agenda.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's following this controversy -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're not even a quarter of the way into those 100 hours, and already this minimum wage dispute forces the new speaker to fend off partisan accusations of hypocrisy.


TODD (voice-over): Barely a week with the gavel in their hands, Nancy Pelosi and her allies have to use it to ward off a Republican onslaught.

REP. PATRICK MCHENRY (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Would it be appropriate to offer an amendment at this time exempting American Samoa just as it was from the minimum wage bill?

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: No. The gentleman will sit tight.

TODD: That sarcastic Republican challenge on the House floor symbolic of a speaker under political siege over the minimum wage bill Pelosi so fervently pushed through for her first 100 hours agenda.

It raises the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 a an hour, even for the first time to the Northern Marianas Islands, a U.S. territory. But not to American Samoa. That territory gets to keep its minimum wage well below $7.25.

A huge opponent to a minimum wage hike there? StarKist Tuna, which owns a packing plant on American Samoa, a big employer. StarKist's parent company, Del Monte Foods, is headquartered in Pelosi's San Francisco district.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), VIRGINIA: Now we find out that she's exempting her hometown companies from minimum wage. This is exactly the hypocrisy and double talk that we have come to expect from the other side.

TODD: Hold the hypocrisy talks, say top Democrats. Their aides tell CNN America Samoa's always been held to a different wage standard, including when Republicans were in power, because it's so difficult for the island's tuna canneries to compete with plants in Pacific Rim countries that pay their workers next to nothing.

A Pelosi aide denies she's been lobbied by Del Monte. Company officials say the same.

Records show Del Monte's employees contributed very little to Democrats over the past two years. A Pelosi aide even says she had nothing to do with this part of the legislation. But today the political storm forced her to backtrack.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I don't think it is OK. I asked the energy -- the education (ph) and labor community to go forward with the legislation to make sure that all of the territories have to comply with the U.S. law on minimum wage.


TODD: So, now Nancy Pelosi may have an internal fight on her hands. The Democratic congressional delegate from American Samoa tells me he's going to talk with the party's leadership about this doubling back. He says his island needs the special consideration because of its reliance on the tuna business. And they have gotten that consideration since the 1950s -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Brian, for that.

Brian Todd, as our viewers know, he's part of the best political team on television.

And this important announcement. We're partners in the very first presidential debates of the primary season in New Hampshire. CNN, WMUR television out of New Hampshire, "Union-Leader," will sponsor back-to-back debates among the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates on April 4th and April 5th of this year.

Mark your calendars.

Lou Dobbs getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of the hour. He's giving us a preview -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you very much.

Tonight we're reporting on the latest on the case that's being called an outrageous miscarriage of justice. Two former U.S. Border Patrol agents convicted of shooting a Mexican drug smuggler given immunity by the U.S. Justice Department could soon find out whether they'll be going to prison next week or will finally receive justice.

We'll have that report.

Also, congressional Democrats swept into power promising to reform the culture of corruption. But wait. It seems some of those Democrats aren't as enthusiastic about ethics reform as first appeared.

We'll have that story.

And there are troubling new questions tonight about those e- voting machines used in last November's election. It turns out that a lot of that testing wasn't testing at all.

We'll have that and a great deal more right at the top of the hour right here on CNN.

Please join us.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Lou. Thanks very much. Sounds good.

Coming up, by the way, in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton heading over to Iraq right now as she weighs a possible White House bid. We'll have details of her trip and the possible impact.

And straight ahead, is President Bush alluding to possible military action against Iran? Our special correspondent, Frank Sesno, helps us read between the lines.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: As we reported earlier, the White House today is downplaying suggestions the president's tough talk about Iran could be a prelude to military moves. But in all the talk and the action this week on Iraq, you can certainly read a lot between the lines. A lot of worry about Iran.

Let's bring in our special correspondent, Frank Sesno -- Frank.

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you're right. You know, all week long it's been talk about Iran. About Iraq, rather. But the growing concern by the day about Iran raises serious questions about their role in the region, about their nuclear program, and about what the Bush administration's going to do about it.


SESNO (voice-over): The president's public case against Iran started in the days just after 9/11 when he said it was part of...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... an axis of evil arming to threaten the peace of the world.

SESNO: As Iran pursued its nuclear program and stiff-armed European and U.N. negotiators, the warnings grew sharper and more explicit.

BUSH: They shall not have a capacity to make a nuclear weapon and/or the knowledge as to make a nuclear weapon.

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

BUSH: Iran armed with a nuclear weapon poses a grave threat to the security of the world.

SESNO: Iran has remained defiant. Its president boasting about its nuclear program, insisting it's Iran's business and for peaceful purposes. But also issuing menacing threats directed at the U.S. and its ally, Israel.

Last April, he called Israel a rotten, dried tree that will be annihilated in one storm.

In his Iraq speech this week, President Bush mentioned Iran half a dozen times.

BUSH: And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.

SESNO: Just how remains unclear.


SESNO: But look at all the signals. How starts to get a little bit of clarity.

An aircraft carrier group moving to the region, Patriot anti- missile batteries being given, deployed to Gulf allies in the region, increasing efforts to tighten the screws down on banking and business where Iran is trying to work on the global stage. So great concern, Wolf, and new moves on a number levels to try to tighten the screws.

BLITZER: So is a military action imminent?

SESNO: Well, we saw Irbil. We saw the raid on the Iranian facility there in the North of Iraq yesterday. But the people I talk to say, no, it's not imminent, but there are signals being sent that the United States is capable.

There's a lot of concern that the Iranians are reading all of this questioning in the United States and all the flak the president is getting as an inability to project power. And there's a strong desire that that not be the case.

BLITZER: All these signals that the U.S. is sending right now, what are they meant to achieve?

SESNO: They're meant to achieve resolve, a demonstration of resolve both for the Iranians, but also for the Sunni-led American allies in the region.

BLITZER: The Saudis.

SESNO: Saudis, Gulf states, the Jordanians, who may see all this debate in the United States and feel the United States is going to leave. But there's also another audience, and that's here. And the politics are nasty and rough on Iraq and they're nasty and rough on Iran as well.

Yesterday you heard Joe Biden tell Condi Rice that, if you're planning something on Iran, you better come back to the Congress first or you'll spark a constitutional crisis.

BLITZER: Yes. When I was at the White House earlier in the week for a briefing, I was told specifically that the U.S. allies, the Sunni-Arab allies, like the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, very worried about Iran right now.

SESNO: And talking about starting their own nuclear program. You can have an arms race in a very unstable part of the world.

BLITZER: We'll watch this with you, Frank. Thanks very much.

Our special correspondent, Frank Sesno.

Up next, Jack Cafferty wants to know, why should convicted lawmakers continue to receive their taxpayer-funded pensions?

Jack with "The Cafferty File" when we come back.


BLITZER: What's the first thing you did when you heard that soccer star David Beckham signed a reported $250 million deal with the Los Angeles Galaxy? It probably wasn't buying up as many Web sites as possible with words like "Beckham" and "L.A. Galaxy," but that's exactly what a few people actually did.

Let's turn to Abbi Tatton for details -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf,, -- within 30 minutes yesterday, people started buying up some of these Web sites.

Now, this is the official Web site here of the others. We spoke to a couple of the new owners. One told us from California that they bought theirs because their girlfriend was a huge fan of Beckham. Plus, they wanted to make a little bit of money.

Another new owner said that they didn't wanted to make money at all. They were interested more in Beckham's charity work.

But these different sites are all in a different stage of development, but they have one thing in common. They either have the name "Beckham" or "Galaxy" in the Web address, sometimes both.

So, the question is, is Major League Soccer or Beckham going to do anything about it? There are laws against cyber squatting. That's using a brand name or a trademark and trying to profit off of it, using it in bad faith. That would have to be proved.

We tried to Beckham representatives today, but they weren't available for comment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you for that.

Let's go to Jack in New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The Senate passed a measure today that would make convicted lawmakers lose their taxpayers-funded pensions. But it's not retroactive, which means that weasels like Duke Cunningham and Dan Rostenkowski and John Murphy, who are rotting away in jail, are still collecting their pensions. And you and I are footing the bill. The question is, why should they be allowed to do that?

Jim writes from Egg Harbor City, New Jersey, "Yes, that's real fair. If a service-connected-disabled U.S. veteran somehow screws up and gets sentenced to prison, his VA disability pension stops, maybe rightly so, maybe not. But when high-and-mighty lawmakers get tossed in prison, they still receive their pensions. Nothing ever changes, does it?"

Mark in Eagan, Minnesota, "Absolutely not! If Americans really understood how obscene their pensions really are they'd be outraged. As a matter of fact, the pension should be done away with entirely and they ought to have to rely on Social Security like the rest of us."

Doyle in Littleton, Colorado, "The fact that the Congress continues to allow congressmen convicted of a felony to receive benefits shows how corrupt the body has become. It should never have been allowed in the first place."

Bob writes from Southfield, Michigan, "Why shouldn't congressional pensions of convicted felons be applied to reimburse the federal penal system for their room and board?"

There's a good idea.

Priscilla in Moreno Valley, California, "I worked 17 years for the government, and guess what I get? $391 a month. And guess what? I didn't commit a crime while I worked for the government. I'd love to get $10,000 of Duke Cunningham's pension."

Cunningham collects $64,000 a year. Some of these numbers range as high as $125,000.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to and read some more of them online.

BLITZER: A lot of outrage I sense out there, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well, it's absurd, isn't it?

BLITZER: I assume that, yes, the answer is yes.

CAFFERTY: Good. You got an A in the class.

BLITZER: Let's see what the Congress does this time around.

Jack will be back in one hour with all of us.

We're always here in THE SITUATION ROOM from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, back at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.


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