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Fire Threatens to Destroy Houston Office Building; Interview With Senator Obama

Aired March 28, 2007 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
There's breaking news in Houston we're following right now, a raging inferno on top of a Houston building. We're watching firefighters rescuing people inside right now. We're going to have a report on what's coming up.

Also happening now, Iran raises the stakes, showing off its captives. There's some shocking new video. Was this female sailor forced to make a confession? We'll hear from Americans about what it's like to be in Iranian hands.

From Iran's threats to a raging insurgency in Iraq -- what would Barack Obama do if he were commander-in-chief -- my exclusive interview with the Democratic White House hopeful.

And he's revered in Cuba as a revolutionary hero, but now there's a startling new claim and it's starting a new mystery. Whose bones are in Che Guevara's tomb?

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

First there's some breaking news in Houston we are following right now. Check it out, some dramatic pictures where a rescue is underway after a building catches fire. Let's go right to CNN's Carol Costello. She's watching the story unfold.

Carol, these are dramatic pictures and we are seeing people trapped inside being let out of this building.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, very dramatic pictures. This fire has been burning since about 5:00 this afternoon, Wolf. This is an office building six stories high on the East Loop at Gellhorn. That's in northeast Houston. Two alarms have gone out right now. People were trapped inside of this building.

You see these pictures of the people going down the fire ladders to safety. Now, the first -- the top two floors of that building now totally consumed by fire -- we don't know if anyone remained trapped in there, but we do know according to our affiliate KTRK that fire fighters are now searching the bottom four floors.

They are going door-to-door to see if anyone else is inside that building. They are still spraying waters on the top floor as you see right there. The fire chief says he's not really familiar with high- rise structure fires. This is quite unusual for them to fight, so they are doing the best they can.

We understand -- I'm just getting this latest information for you. Seven to 10 people have been taken out of the building. As I told you before, not sure how many more people are inside that building, but of course we'll be keeping an eye on this, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll come back to you for an update soon as we get some more information. Let's hope for the best for those people trapped inside. Carol, thank you.

Other news we're following, prisoners put on public display. There are some dramatic developments tonight as Iraq puts out some shocking new video showing off its British captives. And one captured sailor is speaking up. Was she forced to make a confession? Could Britain use force to free its people?

Let's go live to London. CNN's Robin Oakley is standing by right outside number 10 Downing Street with the latest -- Robin.

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's day six and the temperature's rising.


OAKLEY (voice-over): Iran infuriated Britain by showing these pictures of the captives, apparently well treated on its state television. It was Tehran's response to satellite tracking evidence which Britain said proved the captured sailors had never left Iraqi waters.

FAYE TURNEY, CAPTURED BRITISH SAILOR: My name is leading seaman Faye Turney.

OAKLEY: The Iranian state television footage included this claimed confession. Under circumstances, CNN cannot verify from the only woman among the 15 sailors and marines. Seaman Faye Turney.

TURNEY: I was arrested Friday, the 23rd of March. And obviously, we trespassed into their waters. They were very friendly, very hospitable, very thoughtful, nice people. They explained to us why we had been arrested. There was no aggression. No hurt, no harm. They were very, very compassionate.

OAKLEY: Tony Blair had earlier displayed his anger to lawmakers over the seized sailors.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: These personnel were patrolling in Iraqi waters under a United Nations mandate. Their boarding and checking of the Indian merchant vessel was routine. There was no justification whatever therefore for their detention. It was completely unacceptable, wrong and illegal.

OAKLEY: Totally unacceptable was, too, the expression used by Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett about Tehran's filming of the captives.


OAKLEY: The words have got sharper, but at least at this stage it's only a propaganda war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Has the release of this video of these British captives, has it made the situation better or worse from the British perspective?

OAKLEY: In a kind of way, Wolf, I think things are getting a little bit better because when you've got a big diplomatic stand-off you need to leave people a way to climb back down the branch they've gone out on. Now the British have got a propaganda success with given the coordinates and proving that their sailors were in Iraqi waters. The Iranians will feel they've scored a propaganda success with this film, so maybe the way is now open for some more diplomacy to cool things down again, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. This story is changing by the hour. We'll stay in touch with you, Robin. Thank you.

Would Britain attack Iran? Right now it's putting a diplomatic freeze on Iran, but if that can't free its sailors and marines, are there military options?

Let's turn to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if the British decided to order a rescue operation, how tough would it be? What are the military options?


STARR (voice-over): If ordered, could the British military rescue their sailors and marines from the secret location somewhere in Iran where they are being held?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It would be very, very difficult at this point to know exactly where they are located and then be able to launch an operation that would clearly be within Iranian territory, without being detected.

STARR: The British want a diplomatic solution. Rescues in hostile territory are a huge challenge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And there would have to be very, very clear intelligence before they would do it. Because you would put the Brits, the Brit military forces at great risk. You would put the hostages at risk. And that intelligence would have to be very current and very precise.

STARR: Intelligence experts say the British would either need an Iranian snitch to reveal the location where their personnel are being held or electronic eavesdropping to listen in on the Iranian military. It's the kind of military support the U.S. might offer, using its high tech ships and planes already in the Gulf or satellites flying overhead.

Another problem -- how the British get aircraft in and get the military personnel out of the country. Iranian radar's most likely would detect foreign aircraft. Some nearby Islamic country or the military base at Diego Garcia might have to be used as a staging area unless a British or U.S. aircraft carrier in the Gulf is available.


STARR: There's grim history here. In April 1980, when President Carter tried to rescue 53 hostages being held at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, it ended in disaster. Eight servicemen were killed when their plane crashed at a desert staging area -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon -- a lot of people -- a lot of us remember those days very, very vividly.

Many candidates see themselves in the White House, but how would they handle the role of commander-in-chief? How would Barack Obama handle a crisis with Iran? Earlier today I had an exclusive sit-down with the Democratic White House hopeful.


BLITZER: You're president of the United States...


BLITZER: ... 15 American sailors and Marines are captured by Iranians, the Revolutionary Guard in the northern Persian Gulf, and they're held. What do you do?

OBAMA: Well, I think that the British obviously are taking the prudent steps that are required, sending a strong, unequivocal message to the Iranians that they have to release these British soldiers. I think that they are handling it in the appropriate way.

You know, my sense is that the Iranians are going to stand down fairly soon, but, look, one of the obligations of the commander-in- chief is to make sure that our troops are protected, wherever they're projected around the world.

BLITZER: So if they were to hold them, let's say, for 444 days -- Iranians have held Americans hostage for a long period of time -- what, do you just let them be held there?

OBAMA: No, you don't. I think you take firm action to make sure that those troops are returned.

BLITZER: Do you want to be specific?

OBAMA: You know, I think that it's important to say that all options, including military, would be on the table in such a circumstance.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And we're going to have a lot -- excuse me -- a lot more of my exclusive interview with Senator Barack Obama. I'll ask him how he'd handle the current crisis in Iraq, that situation. Much more of the interview with Senator Barack Obama, that's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But I want to get back to those dramatic pictures we've been seeing out of Houston. These are live pictures, a high-rise building there inflamed right now, people inside. The fire chief, Tommy Dowdy, is joining us on the phone right now. Can you tell us what's going on, Chief?

VOICE OF CHIEF TOMMY DOWDY, HOUSTON FIRE DEPT.: At this point we have no idea what started the fire. It's a six-story office building. The top two floors are totally involved. We have crews inside basically going door-to-door, desk-to-desk, closet-to-closet searching for everything. Maybe there's smoke all the way down to the bottom floors. We have no way to get an accurate count of how many people were inside the building to start with, so it's a struggle for us to figure it out.

BLITZER: Are people still trapped inside?

DOWDY: We don't know. We're still bringing -- we are still actively bringing people out, so until we go door-to-door, desk-to- desk and physically look in every cubbyhole, we won't know that.

BLITZER: Are you worried, Chief that this building could collapse?

DOWDY: It doesn't appear that the structure of the building is in jeopardy at this point. The fire is well vented, which is somewhat good news for us, because it's not allowing as much heat to come outside which would incur structural problems.

BLITZER: What about injuries so far among the people inside or your own fire fighters?

DOWDY: I know that we have transported three civilians. (inaudible) at this point. I don't have any news about on their condition, but at least three have been transported and we are still actively bringing people out of the building.

BLITZER: All right. Chief, we'll stay in touch with you. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the men and women who are trying to put this fire out. We're going to stay on top of this story for our viewers.

In the meantime, let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's in New York. Those are pretty dramatic pictures out of that building, that office building in Houston, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Scary stuff. Let's hope they get everybody out of there.

The line between public and private, Wolf, getting very blurry when it comes to the race for the White House, some of that's our fault. It seems like everything's on the table now from the multiple marriages of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to the cancer of John Edwards' wife Elizabeth. In other words, voters are looking over a lot more than just the candidate's stand on the issue.

At a recent campaign stop, Edwards was wanting to unveil his plan to regulate coal-burning power plants. Instead, he ended up facing a barrage of personal questions. Does he spend enough time with his kids? Will Elizabeth's cancer take precedent over his presidential duties? Some of the candidates try to come forward with personal information, hoping it will dull the impact a little.

Senator Barack Obama has admitted in his autobiography to drug use when he was younger. When Senator John McCain ran for president in 2000, he acknowledged that he was responsible for the break-up of his first marriage. And of course who can forget Senator Hillary Clinton's marital problems from when she was first lady? Experts say it's not clear what kind of effect all of this has on the voters, but personal details can play a big part in a candidate's image.

So the question is this. How much will candidates' private lives matter to you when voting for president? E-mail us at or go to You know, time was, Wolf, this stuff was all off limits. Jack Kennedy when he was president had a well-worn staircase in the rear of the White House that was not just used for food deliveries, but the media didn't fool with it.

They didn't report on it. And a lot of that stuff was just considered bad form. Now nothing seems off limits for the media. And there is an insatiable appetite on the part of the public for the smallest details about these people's personal lives.

BLITZER: On the other hand, people are getting numb to a lot of these details as well.

CAFFERTY: That's true. That's true.

BLITZER: Jack, stand by. We're going to get back to you soon.

We've got a lot of news coming up this hour. Also the question every presidential candidate will have to answer. I put it to Democrat Barack Obama in my exclusive interview.


BLITZER: If you are president of the United States in January 2009, and the situation is basically the same in Iraq as it is now...

OBAMA: Right.

BLITZER: ... what would be your immediate first step?


BLITZER: We'll have Senator Obama's answer about Iraq, a lot more -- my exclusive interview with the Democratic presidential candidate, that's coming up.

Also, a key former Justice Department official is now set to testify tomorrow in open session, under oath. Can the prosecutor purge investigation? We'll have a preview of his testimony tonight. Does it contain the smoking gun?

Plus, it could be the hottest ticket in town. This town, that is. But the show may not go on because of a heated global warming war of words.

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


BLITZER: President Bush says he won't be pushed around on Iraq. Ed Henry is over at the White House.

Ed, will the president in the end have to compromise on these House and Senate bills?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We'll see. But for now, Wolf, the president is really digging in. It may have been appropriate that he started this speech today to the Cattlemen and Beef Association by joking that he didn't get such a bad introduction from a cowboy, because you saw some of the Bush swagger back.

He was really lashing out at Democrats after weeks and weeks of really taking it on the chin from the Democrats on one issue after another, especially Iraq. He was pushing back hard and basically declaring that they were meddling with military strategy and it was going to blow up in their face.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If the House bill becomes law, our enemies in Iraq will simply have to mark their calendars.


HENRY: Now the president also charged that in the end voters are going to see heading into 2008 exactly who is with the troops and who is not. That's clearly a dare to the Democrats and he wants to stick it right back at them, Wolf.

BLITZER: Why is the White House so confident, Ed?

HENRY: Well, the bottom line in the short term, the White House knows that the Democrats on the Hill just do not have enough votes to override a veto, but in the long term they can't necessarily be so confident. Because every time is there a vote in the Senate on a timetable to withdraw troops, the Democrat vote total keeps increasing and increasing. So while they don't have enough votes right now to override a veto, the bottom line is an increasing number of lawmakers in both parties, mostly Democrats, but both parties are lashing out at the president's policy -- Wolf. BLITZER: Ed Henry reporting for us from the White House. Ed, thanks.

And we are just getting this. It's just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM -- new details on a key aide to Alberto Gonzales about to testify before Congress. Our justice correspondent Kelli arena is getting this story. What are you learning?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we obtained a copy of Kyle Sampson's opening statement, of course Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff of Attorney General Gonzales. In it, Sampson admits that he was responsible for organizing and managing the U.S. attorney dismissals.

He says that he was not working alone. That he received input from a variety of justice officials. He says that he believes that each prosecutor was selected for legitimate reasons. And he makes the argument, Wolf that presidential appointees are different from civil servants.

And that they are judged not only professionally, but by how they support the president's priorities. Here is a quote from his statement. He says, "The distinction between political and performance-related reasons for removing a U.S. attorney is largely artificial"

In another quote he says, "This is a benign rather than sinister story, and I know that some may be indisposed to accept it, but it is the truth as I observed and experienced it".

BLITZER: Which raises this question; does he explain at least in what you got, his opening statement, why he resigned?

ARENA: Well, Sampson said that this whole mess is due to a combination of poor judgment, poor word choices, poor communication. He says that he feels partly responsible for that, that he let the attorney general down and that's why he resigned. He does say, Wolf that he wasn't asked to.

BLITZER: Kelli Arena reporting for us -- thanks very much.

And my interview with Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, that's coming up shortly. You're going to want to hear what he has to say about the war in Iraq.

Also coming up -- they survived a deadly ordeal at sea only to be washed up at a Florida beach, so what happens to more than 100 desperate migrants right now?

Plus, surprising new allegations about a Cuban hero sparking a new mystery about his remains.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We are following that story, a huge office building in Houston on fire right now. There is fear that there are people trapped inside. Carol Costello is monitoring this story for us.

Carol, update our viewers on what we know.

COSTELLO: I'm telling you it's still pretty intense, Wolf -- live pictures now from northeast Houston where that fire is raging in a six-story office building. Rescue workers are still bringing people out of the building.

We know they've airlifted at least one person to a hospital and brought several others by ambulance to a hospital. Right now, they say they don't know how many people might still be in the building or if anyone else is trapped, but there are reports of 911 calls coming from inside the building.

It is unclear if an alarm sounded. Some witnesses say they did not hear one and were called from home about the fire. Bottom line here is a lot of people couldn't use the elevators or the staircases to escape. They had to be rescued by climbing out of the windows. And the firefighters, you know, they used the firefighters' ladders to get to safety -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We just heard that from the police chief, the structure itself probably not in danger of coming down. Thanks, Carol, very much -- the fire chief telling us that just a little while ago.

There is also more information coming in online. For that, let's turn to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this information and pictures coming in online from Boxer Properties (ph). This is a firm that -- one firm that leases space in this office building, a six- story office building in northeast Houston.

And what we know from these online records is that it was built in the early '80s. Part of the building recently renovated. And looking through online records, you see that there is a variety of businesses within this six-story building.

There are doctor's offices -- the offices of a woman's magazine. There's a restaurant, state government offices. We just heard from Houston's police chief that firefighters are currently going door-to- door within this building trying to find if people are in there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you for that, Abbi. We'll stay on top of this story.

Just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama gives us a blunt assessment of the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: After having spent hundreds of billions of dollars, after seeing close to 3,200 lives lost, what you now see is chaos and there's no end in sight.


BLITZER: So what would he do if he's elected president? I'll ask him in my exclusive interview.

And who is buried in Che Guevara's tomb? We'll find out why one man insists it's not the Cuban revolutionary.

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


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, harsh words from a key U.S. ally -- the Saudi Arabian king, King Abdullah calling the U.S. presence in Iraq and I'm quoting now, "an illegitimate foreign occupation". Also, new hints the current U.S. troop increase in Iraq will last for months. The top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq saying it will be fall before commanders can evaluate the success of the mission in Baghdad.

And President Bush reassuring the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, about U.S. plans for a missile defense shield in Europe -- they spoke by phone. The Kremlin firmly opposes it, but a U.S. spokesman says Mr. Bush stressed continuing consultation.

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

A new development just in from Tehran -- according to The Associated Press, Britain must admit that its 15 sailors and marines entered Iranian waters for the standoff to be resolved. That's from Iran's foreign minister. Iran has put its prisoners on display in public.

Iran portrays it as hospitality. Shown on video, a British sailor almost seems to thank her captors, but Americans who were once held by Iran suggest the reality is very, very different.

Here's CNN's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): People who have been there say don't be fooled by these pictures of the British marines or this assurance from the Iranian government. They are in safe hands and have a better life than the risky mission in the Persian Gulf waters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are more likely scared out of their mind and you know probably been beaten up a little bit and stuff like that.

TODD: Zach Howell (ph), one of four U.S. servicemen captured by the Iranian navy off the coast of Iraq in 2003. He says he'll never even tell his family some of what happened to him during those few days.

Don Sharer will tell you what he thinks of the so-called better life claimed by the Iranians.

CAPTAIN DON SHARER (RET.), FORMER HOSTAGE IN IRAQ: They probably had the same intimidation. You know, if you don't cooperate with us, you're going to be tried as spies and executed.

TODD: Sharer, one of 52 Americans held by anti-U.S. protesters at the U.S. Embassy in Teheran nearly 30 years ago, says the Iranians often took that threat of execution to the very edge. He says he went through three mock executions in one day. In one instance...

SHARER: They had about 12 of us lined up against the wall, and had kind of a firing squad routine going. We're blindfolded, handcuffed. And they -- they said -- they started chambering rounds and laughing, and they told us to lie down. And I just figured, we were dead.

TODD: An Iranian official at the U.N. denies this took place and denies claims by Sharer and another former hostage of beatings, solitary confinement, constant interrogations.


TODD: One of those former hostages from the late '70s says, among his interrogators...

BLITZER: All right. Unfortunately, we are having some problems with Brian Todd's audio -- Brian Todd reporting on this developing situation.

We are going to stay on top of it, not leave for very long.

We're -- we are learning more, though, about that abducted British sailor Faye Turney. It comes from an interview she gave to a British newspaper only hours before her capture five days ago.

Let's go to CNN's Abbi Tatton. She has got more on what she is saying -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, Turney told a reporter from London's "Independent" newspaper just the day before her capture that the atmosphere, the morale on the HMS Cornwall was very good, although she did say that, since arriving in the Gulf, "We were made aware that some things can be dodgy, but we have not really had anything that bad at the moment."

In this interview that was conducted on the deck of HMS Cornwall, what the reporter said she really talked about is her 3-year-old daughter, Molly, saying that, "I know , by doing this job, I can give her everything she wants in life," her daughter, her 3-year-old daughter, back home in England.

And this is Faye Turney, whose face we saw featured front and center today in those images from Iranian TV -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you for that -- Abbi Tatton reporting.

Earlier this hour, in my exclusive interview, you heard Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama say what he would do if he were president of the United States, and Iran seized American sailors and marines.

Well, what's he doing right now about the situation this entire country is talking about?


BLITZER: And joining us now on Capitol Hill, Senator Barack Obama.

Senator, thanks very much for inviting us into your office.


BLITZER: Let's talk about the dominant issue right now affecting the country, the war in Iraq.

OBAMA: Right.

BLITZER: Some of your critics say you have not done enough to stop this war since coming into the United States Senate.

What do you say?

OBAMA: Well, I'm very proud of the fact that I was against this war from the start. I thought that it was ill conceived, and -- and not just in terms of execution, but also conception.

What I also said way back in 2002 is, once we were in, we were going to have to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in, and that we had some obligations to the Iraqi people, as well as the national security interests of the United States, to make sure that we handled an exit properly.

And -- and that's what I have tried to be consistently projecting over the last two years of my time in the Senate.

BLITZER: Some ardent opponents of the war, like Dennis Kucinich, for example, who is a Democratic presidential candidate...

OBAMA: Right.

BLITZER: ... he takes a principled stand. He's not going to vote to fund troops going off to this war, because he believes that would help bring the troops home.

OBAMA: Right.

You know, the problem is, is that you have got an obstinate administration that has shown itself unwilling to change in the face of circumstances on the ground.

And, in that situation, what you don't want to do is to play chicken to -- with the president, and create a situation in which, potentially, you don't have body armor; you don't have reinforced companies; you don't have night-vision goggles.

Now, there is a ratcheting-up of pressure on the president. And I am very pleased about the vote that took place yesterday, where a majority of the Senate for the first time said we need to have a timetable.

BLITZER: But he says he is going to veto that right now.

OBAMA: I understand.

BLITZER: And there is a game of chicken going on right now.

OBAMA: I understand that he says he is going to veto it. There is no doubt he will veto it.

But what you are starting to see, I think, is a bipartisan movement in the direction of having a clear endgame. And I am very pleased that the bill that I presented back in January calling for a phased withdrawal starting on May 1 of this year, with the aim of getting all combat troops out by March 31 of next year, that many of the elements in that bill ended up being part of this -- this package that was voted on yesterday.

BLITZER: If the president does veto it, as he vows he will, what do you do next?

OBAMA: Well, I think we continue to put these votes up to the Senate. We put more pressure on many Republican colleagues of mine, who I think recognize that the Bush approach has not worked, but are still unwilling to put pressure on their -- on their president.

BLITZER: Because he says the money starts drying up in mid- April...

OBAMA: Right.

BLITZER: ... for the troops to head over to Iraq.

OBAMA: I think that we continue to put a series of votes up and try to convince our colleagues on the Republican side that the only way that we are going to change circumstances in Iraq is if you see a different political dynamic, that there are, at this point, no military solutions to the problems in Iraq, that what we have to do is get the Shia, the Sunni, the Kurd to come together and save themselves.

We, in fact, are willing to start making some compromises around oil revenues, around arming of militias and so on.

In the absence of that, we can send 20,000 more troops, 30,000 more troops. We're not going to see a significant change. BLITZER: Yesterday, I interviewed Republican presidential candidate John McCain. And he said this:


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Failure is catastrophe. Failure is genocide. Failure means we come back. Failure means they follow us home.


BLITZER: What if he's right? What if he's right, and what you're proposing and a lot of Democrats are proposing results in genocide in Iraq?

OBAMA: Well, look, what you have right now is chaos in Iraq. After having spent hundreds of billions of dollars, after seeing close to 3,200 lives lost, what you now see is chaos. And there's no end in sight.

Now, John McCain may believe that it's an option for us to maintain an indefinite occupation of Iraq, regardless what happens in terms of the politics within Iraq, so that we're, every year, sending $100 billion over to Iraq, so that, every year, we're seeing hundreds or thousands of young Americans dying, so that we continue to see a deterioration of America's standing in the world.

I don't think that serves the best interests of the United States. And I don't think it will ultimately result in the kind of...


OBAMA: ... stabilization in Iraq that's necessary.

Now, these are judgment calls. I don't question John McCain's sincerity in believing that the approach that he wants to take, which is essentially a continuation of Bush policies over the last six years, are the right ones to take.

BLITZER: If you're president of the United States in January of 2009, and the situation is basically the same in Iraq as it is right now...

OBAMA: Right?

BLITZER: ... what would be your immediate first step?

OBAMA: Well, the bill that I put in, I think...

BLITZER: But assuming that bill doesn't go in.


OBAMA: No, no, but I think it -- assuming that things are the same, I think the same dynamic will be at work, which is to say, we're going to pull out our combat troops out of Iraq in a phased, systematic way, that we continue to provide the Iraqi government with logistical and training support, that we have those forces over the horizon to respond to crises that spill over into the remainder of the region.

And, most importantly, we have an aggressive diplomatic initiative with those countries in the region to make sure that we are part of a broader conversation about, how can we stabilize Iraq and stabilize the region?

BLITZER: You must wake up every morning and say to yourself: I'm running for president of the United States. Am I ready, not only for a campaign -- but if you're elected president -- am I ready, really, to be commander-in-chief?

What do you say to yourself when -- when you ask yourself that question, because you know the enormity of the responsibility that you would have?

OBAMA: Well, the -- when I thought about getting in the race, I was much less concerned with the campaign than actually serving as president.

I think anybody who runs for president and isn't mindful of the enormous responsibilities that a president has to shoulder is making a mistake. And I'm under no illusions that the pressures and the pace and the extraordinary determination that's required to carry out the responsibilities of that office are ones that are unlike anything else that you do.

I believe that I am ready to lead this country. And I think that, during the course of this campaign, people will a sense of what my values are. I think they will come to trust my judgment. And I think, as a consequence, we will end up doing very well.

BLITZER: Senator Obama, thanks very much for inviting us into your office.

OBAMA: I had a great time. Thank you.


BLITZER: And we just received a statement from John McCain's staff.

Let me read to it our viewers, responding to Senator Obama: "As Senator Obama knows, I opposed the status quo in Iraq and long argued for a change in strategy there. We are now executing a new counterinsurgency strategy, and we have a new general in command who believes it in."

McCain goes on to say this: "If Senator Obama would take a few minutes out of his day to examine the early progress made by General Petraeus, he would realize that the status quo is changing, and, while many difficult challenges remain, we have begun to provide the security to the Iraqis necessary to encourage a political solution. The enemy still resorts to suicide bombers and the occasional mortar strike, but such tactics don't win wars, unless they cause politicians to lose their nerve. That is what the enemy is counting on. We have a ways to go in Iraq, but let's not lose our nerve."

McCain says this: "The catastrophic consequences of our defeat in Iraq justify this renewed effort. Senator Obama believes it's better for the United States to cover those consequences than to take the necessary steps to avert them. I do not, nor do I support an indefinite American commitment in Iraq at this level. But I do support the idea that succeeding in Iraq is preferable to surrender. Senator Obama can explain why he prefers the latter" -- a tough statement from Senator John McCain, reacting to earlier statements, a tough one, from Senator Obama.

Up ahead tonight: Is one major Cuban hero really buried where people think he is? Coming up: the latest allegations regarding the resting place of Che Guevara.

And can one man stop Al Gore from spreading his global warming message? You won't believe the bizarre turn this fight is now taking.

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


BLITZER: A war over global warming unfolding right now between the former Vice President Al Gore and a leading Senate skeptic.

CNN's Carol Costello is in New York.

What's at the heart of this battle, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It sounds ridiculous, but it's a concert called Live Earth set to take place on July 7 in D.C. It will feature the hottest acts in music. Sounds pretty cool, right?

But do not put it on your schedule just yet. Republican senators have refused to authorize the concert take place, in part because Al Gore is working with organizers.


COSTELLO (voice over): For Al Gore, a political smack-down after a whole lot of love from Hollywood, and love too, from Prince Charles, the Sundance Film Festival, the Japanese, Tony Blair, but not Republican Senator James Inhofe, who does not like the idea of a global warming awareness concert held on the Capitol grounds.

Inhofe once called global warming a "hoax perpetrated on the American people. It is so politically driven."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take your time.

COSTELLO: That's something the former chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee tried to get at as Gore testified before the Senate. SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: Why don't we do this? At the end, you can have as much time as you want to answer all of the questions.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: No, that isn't the rule of -- you're not making the rules. You used to when you did this. You don't do this anymore.

BOXER: Elections have consequences.



COSTELLO: Oh, but Inhofe still wields influence, arguing, Live Earth and its message don't belong, saying that he -- quote -- "objects to having any events on the Capitol grounds that are either highly partisan or politically controversial, and the proposed Gore concert is both."

Live Earth organizers disagree, pointing out that, back in 1990, Congress approved Earth Day festivities at the very same Capitol location. And they have tried to make Live Earth nonpartisan by inviting not only groups like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but conservative-friendly performers like Faith Hill.

They are so frustrated, late today, they told us: "It's unfortunate for the American people that we are being blocked from staging the U.S. concert in our nation's capital. The show must go on, even if it's in another city."


COSTELLO: That's right. They are thinking of moving it. You know, this is a complicated political process, Wolf. But it was Senator Mitch McConnell who formally objected on the floor. He cited concerns about costs.

BLITZER: We will see if this concert takes place, and where.

Thank you, Carol. Good report.

He is a revolutionary hero in Cuba, his remains laid in a place of honor there -- or are they? One man is making some startling new claims about Che Guevara's bones.

CNN's John Zarrella reports on this new mystery.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Trumpets blared. Guns fired. The remains of revolutionary hero Che Guevara, who fought alongside Fidel Castro, had been returned to Cuba for a state funeral. It was 1997, 30 years after Che was executed in Bolivia and his body disposed of in an unmarked grave.

FIDEL CASTRO, PRESIDENT OF CUBA (through translator): Che is fighting and winning more battles than ever.

Thank you, Che, for our history, your life and your example.

ZARRELLA: But there is one man, a Cuban exile, who says the bones resting in that mausoleum in Santa Clara, Cuba, are probably not those of Che Guevara.

GUSTAVO VILLOLDO, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: I instructed the chauffeur to back up the pickup truck. We say -- or I did -- a small prayer, and I gave the order to dump him.

ZARRELLA: And Gustavo Villoldo says he can prove it. This lock of hair, Villoldo claims, he snipped from Che's head before he got rid of the body.

(on camera): What possessed you to snip a lock of Che Guevara's hair?

VILLOLDO: The symbol of the revolution is the long hair and the beard. And what I did at that moment was basically, I would say, to satisfy my ego, say, I took away the symbol of the revolution.

ZARRELLA (voice over): Villoldo was part of the team that hunted down and captured Che in Bolivia, and Villoldo was the man instructed by the Bolivian government to get rid of Che's body -- all this confirmed in declassified CIA documents.

Villoldo says there are inconsistencies that also make him doubt the bones dug up 10 years ago in Bolivia are Che's. The number of bodies unearthed don't match the number he disposed of.

VILLOLDO: I put in three. Dead people do not walk. Neither do they multiply. I put in three, and they uncovered seven.

ZARRELLA (on camera): Villoldo wants the Cuban government to test DNA from the hair against the bones. So far, the Cubans have had nothing to say about either the Villoldo's claim or his request.

John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.


BLITZER: Lou Dobbs getting ready for a special town-hall meeting here in Washington, at George Washington University tonight.

Lou, give our viewers a little preview of what's coming up right at the top of the hour.


It's been 30 years since this nation declared a war on drugs. We are still battling alcohol and drug abuse and addiction. Tonight, we are here at George Washington University. We will be examining the crisis of our war within, this country's battle, losing battle, to this point, against both drug and alcohol addiction. We will be discussing the roots of alcohol and drug addition, the stubborn problem, and the tragedy of underage drinking, and the need for improvement and uniformity in rehabilitation and treatment.

And, tonight, you will hear some solutions and new strategies in the war on drugs. And you will also hear some amazing personal stories of addiction and recovery. They are no less than fights for survival.

We hope you will join us at the top of the hour for our special report, "The War Within" -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: We will see you in a few minutes, Lou. Thank you.

And still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM: When it comes to running for president, how much should a candidate's private life matter?

Jack Cafferty and your e-mail -- when we come back.


BLITZER: Let's go right to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: How much will candidates' private lives matter to you when you vote for president?

Bruce in Maine writes: "Jack, a candidate's private life matters as much as my doctor's or my auto mechanic's. If they're doing their job and earning the money we pay them, I don't care. It's their other half that has to live with them. Just don't bring it to work."

Nick in Minnesota: "Jack, the personal life of our future president is very important. Our country is weary, becoming untrusting, and needing to know who these candidates really are."

Rhiannon, Arkansas: "Very damn little. I frankly don't care what a president does in his private life, particularly if it's OK with his first lady. It's nobody's business but theirs. And, if she can live with it, so can I. I'm sick to death of the media's obsession with people's sex lives. In the long view of history, some of our greatest presidents had questionable private lives, according to today's standards. And, yet, where in the world would we have been without them?"

Shari in Michigan: "The reason the personal lives of the Republican candidates are more relevant than the personal lives of the Democratic candidates is because the Republicans hold themselves out as the arbiters of social morality. And, more often than not, they can't live up to their own standards."

Dan in California: "The private lives of candidates matter in direct proportion to the amount of time the media wastes in talking about them over and over. It seems the media will go to any length to avoid in-depth consideration of issues and what the candidates actually have to say about them."

And Bobby writes from Sherman Oaks, California: "The candidates' personal lives have absolutely no impact on how I'm voting, none at all. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to get back to watching my Giuliani-gone-wild video."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to, where we post more of them, along with video clips of "The Cafferty File" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks. See you tomorrow.

Still ahead, Jeanne Moos has a tall tale about a remarkable mismatch that led to marriage.

We will be right back.


BLITZER: It's a tall order, marrying the world's tallest man.

CNN's Jeanne Moos has a "Moost Unusual" look at some neck- straining nuptials.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a marriage milestone. OK, maybe not a mile, but 7 feet, 9 inches must seem like a mile to his new bride.

She is a 5 foot, 6' saleswoman, about two-thirds his height. The groom is a herdsman from Inner Mongolia who holds "Guinness Book of Records" title for tallest person in the world.

You might remember Bao Xishun. These dolphins probably remember him. After all, he put his three-and-a-half-foot arm down their throats, all the way to their stomachs, to retrieve deadly plastics that the two dolphins had nibbled from the side of their pool.

The Chinese newspaper that reported Bao's marriage says the bride is half his age. These two now join other famous mismatched couples, ranging from Mutt and Jeff to Arnold and Danny.


DANNY DEVITO, ACTOR: I hope nobody is looking in the window.


MOOS: No word on whether Bao's new wife feels a little like Mini Me.

Already, there is a Web site for taller women and shorter men, the sort of pairings that get you on "The Maury Povich Show."

Maybe Tom Cruise, with his taller wife, Katie, has some inkling of what Bao's bride is experiencing. Looking up to your husband physically...


MOOS: ... doesn't mean you won't end up looking down on him metaphorically. After all, Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra split up.

Like Arnold and Danny...


DANNY DEVITO, ACTOR: OK. One, two, three.


MOOS: ... just imagine these two slow-dancing, for richer or poorer, for taller or shorter.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: We want to congratulate the bride and groom.

That's it for us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next: Lou Dobbs with a special town hall meeting live here in Washington -- Lou.


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