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Is Middle East on the Verge of Meltdown?; Bloomberg's Environmental Initiative

Aired May 22, 2007 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, unrelenting violence raging from Iraq to Lebanon to Gaza and U.S. officials growing increasingly concerned the entire Middle East could be on the verge of a serious meltdown.

Also, New York's mayor ordering the city's taxi fleet to go green.

Is his environmental initiative a sign Michael Bloomberg is driving toward a bid for the White House?

I'll ask him.

And Hugo Chavez goes Hollywood in an unlikely alliance with the actor Danny Glover on a major project.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


There are major new developments today as the fighting rages between the Lebanese army and Islamic militants inside a Palestinian refugee camp. The United Nations now reporting tonight that one of its humanitarian convoys was caught in the crossfire and as many as 10 U.N. aide workers are now trapped inside the camp, even as thousands of refugees flee the violence.

This latest Lebanese crisis is adding to Middle East turmoil, including the war in Iraq, increasing violence in Gaza. And all of this raising serious concern the entire region could be on the verge of a serious meltdown with the worst yet to come.

Let's go straight to our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee.

She's watching all of this. How concerned are top U.S. officials -- Zain, officials you've spoken with?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the entire Middle East is on edge. And there's a chance it could go over the edge.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) VERJEE (voice-over): The Middle East a cauldron threatening to boil over. Bloodshed in Lebanon, Iraq, Gaza. Mounting fear the region will spiral out of control.


VERJEE: U.S. officials tell CNN they see Iran and Syria as the spoilers, using the militias under their control to light fires throughout the region, distracting the U.S. and its allies with chaos and conflict.

MCCORMACK: It's a struggle. And we see evidence of it on our television screens every single day.

VERJEE: And Bush administration officials worry if the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq gets worse, it could spill over and trigger even more Sunni-Shia confrontations in neighboring Gulf states.

FAWAZ GERGES, SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE: If Iraq does sink into all out war, I fear that the entire region might implode from within.

VERJEE: All out civil wars not just in Iraq, but in Lebanon and Gaza. Oil prices would shoot up, seriously jacking up the cost at the pump. A chaotic and radicalized region -- the perfect breeding ground for terrorists to thrive and plan attacks. U.S. officials also worry that if the U.S. pulled out of Iraq, Iran would dominate the region and create more trouble.

Mideast experts say the U.S. needs an aggressive diplomatic strategy with Iran and Syria.

GERGES: I think the administration has boxed itself in. It has become a hostage of its own rhetoric. And that's why American diplomacy is not as effective as it should be.


VERJEE: But U.S. officials say the price of dealing with Iran and Syria may be too high. One U.S. official, Wolf, told us that that would essentially amount to surrender -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, what -- what would that price be?

Elaborate a little bit, Zain, on what they're telling you, because a lot of the experts -- including the Iraq Study Group -- say if you really want to try to resolve this, negotiations, diplomacy that's the key. And you've got to talk directly to the top officials in Syria and Iran and every place else, for that matter.

VERJEE: Right.

Exactly, Wolf.

Well, U.S. officials have said that dealing would essentially amount to, firstly, giving both Syria and Iran regime protection, giving Iran concessions on its nuclear program. And, also, Syria doesn't want a tribunal to set up that's essentially going to investigate the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, because Syria has been accused of being involved in that killing. The U.S. wants that tribunal to go ahead.

So those are some of the red lines the U.S. has, and it doesn't want to cross it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain Verjee watching this disturbing situation at the State Department.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese government is putting out an urgent plea for more U.S. military aid, and the Bush administration now answering the call.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara, what are the Lebanese -- what are they asking for?

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the government of Lebanon has now submitted an urgent request to the Bush administration.


STARR (voice-over): As Lebanese Army troops battle militant gunmen, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is urgently asking the Bush administration for some of the most basic help for his troops.

MCCORMACK: Right now, we are considering a request for additional assistance coming from the Lebanese -- the Lebanese government there. The Lebanese armed forces are engaged in a -- in a tough fight against...

STARR: CNN has learned that request includes ammunition, armored vests and helmets. A U.S. official told CNN a cargo flight carrying initial supplies could be in Beirut as soon as Wednesday. Other countries may ship arms in, as well.

The U.S. has been trying to beef up the Lebanese military since the war last summer. An existing $30 million package includes Humvees, five ton trucks and more than 3,000 M-4 and M-16 rifles. In September, a delivery of more than half a million rounds of ammunition was completed.

But experts point out any effort is limited.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Bear in mind, we are not creating a traditional army. There is no point in trying. Lebanon's army would be crushed in -- in any kind of an all out war by Syria, regardless of how many weapons we had transferred.

STARR: Instead, the hope is that the Lebanese Army will operate as a very powerful police force, keeping peace inside the country and keeping Hezbollah and Al Qaeda militants at bay.

Even that will be tough. More than two dozen Lebanese troops were killed early on in the confrontation with these Fatah al-Islam gunmen, a group linked to Al Qaeda.


STARR: Now, Wolf, even before this latest emergency, the U.S. was trying to get Congressional approval for another package of military assistance to Lebanon totaling some $260 million. The next step, in fact, could be larger weapons, such as mortars and artillery pieces, being shipped to Lebanon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And over at the Pentagon -- Barbara, correct me if I'm wrong -- they see this potential U.S. military aid to Lebanon as very significant for the U.S. itself, for the U.S. military.


STARR: Well, it's very important to U.S. security strategy to have a stable security situation, of course, inside Lebanon. Now, no one expects the Lebanese military to really be a massive military force. But the U.S. wants them to be able to protect their own borders, keep Al Qaeda and Hezbollah at bay and not let it develop into another safe haven in the region -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara is watching this unfolding situation at the Pentagon. Lebanon's latest crisis, by the way, is putting the spotlight on its Palestinian refugee camps. There are 12 official camps housing about 215,000 registered Palestinian refugees out of some 400,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon. That's about 10 percent of the country's population.

Some of the camps have been around for as long as 60 years. Conditions in most of the camps are dismal, with the United Nations citing lack of proper infrastructure, overcrowding, poverty and unemployment among the most pressing problems.

We're watching this situation very closely.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty.

He's in New York with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at the end of the day, the Democrats folded up like a cheap tent from Sears, Wolf.

In an effort to get the war spending bill back on the president's desk and signed before the week's end when the go on recess, Democratic leaders have stepped back from a timeline set for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq.

The reason given by the Democrats for caving in on this is that they lack the necessary number of votes to override an expected presidential veto.

Democrats have now agreed to draft a war funding bill that will provide cash for the military operations in Iraq through September the 30th of this year. A date for withdrawing troops will not be included in this bill, but the first federal minimum wage hike in more than a decade might be.

Both the House and Senate have approved a hike in minimum wage. That's something the Democrats have promised to make law since taking over Congress earlier this year -- quite a bit earlier.

Here's a question -- did the Democrats drop the ball by backing down on a deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq?

E-mail or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Did you notice, Jack, in the last hour, when we interviewed the deputy White House chief of staff, Joel Kaplan, and I pressed him on if the president would sign into law a bill that included a raise in the minimum wage, finally he said yes, he would.

CAFFERTY: Well, that's -- that's good. I mean there hasn't been one in this country in more than 10 years. So I would guess that if we're going to continue to pay these illegal aliens that are running all over the landscape, we ought to raise the minimum wage for our citizens here at home.

BLITZER: That could be part of the deal, indeed.

Thanks, Jack, very much.

Still ahead, New York's mayor fed up with the federal government, taking environmental matters into his own hands.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), NEW YORK: The people and their representatives are tired of the inaction in Washington. And we're just not going to wait around anymore for Washington to try to do something about the air we breathe or about stopping global warming.


BLITZER: New York City taxis going green. I'll talk about that and a lot more with the mayor, Michael Bloomberg. My interview coming up.

Also, details of the new hurricane forecast just released today.

Will we see more killer storms like Katrina?

Plus, a major new development in a real life thriller. Find out whom investigators now think poisoned a former Russian spy.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: In Iraq today, a deadly bombing in an outdoor market in western Baghdad. The country's interior ministry says a parked truck carrying vegetables exploded late this morning, killing at least 25 people, injuring 60. The interior ministry also says 33 unidentified bodies were found across the capital today bringing the total for the month so far to 495.

Meanwhile, American military commanders leading the search for those three missing American soldiers in Iraq believe they may be getting closer to finding them.

CNN's Arwa Damon is with U.S. troops right now, scouring one of Iraq's most dangerous regions for their missing comrades -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at least 15 operations were conducted today as the search for three kidnapped soldiers continues. Three individuals are now in custody, according to the U.S. military, one of whom they believe was directly involved in that attack that took place that left four U.S. soldiers dead, one Iraqi soldier dead and the three U.S. soldiers kidnapped.

The other two detainees were picked up during routine searches conducted southwest of Yusufiya. The military saying they possibly may have also been involved.

Now, senior commanders here do believe that they are getting closer. They say that after multiple interrogations, hundreds of individuals being detained and questioned, informants coming forward and giving them tips, they are beginning to put together the pieces of the puzzle.

What is missing right now, though, is that final link -- the link that will tell them where their missing men are -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon with U.S. forces searching for those missing American soldiers.

Let's hope they're found safely very, very soon.

There are also new developments today in a real life spy thriller, the case of that former Russian agent who was killed in London with a radioactive poison. British officials now think they know who did it.

But can they get their man?

Phil Black is in London with the latest -- Phil?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it has been six months since Alexander Litvinenko was murdered here in London by radiation poisoning. He was an outspoken critic of the Russian government he once served.

Now, Britain has named the man it wants to prosecute for his bold assassination.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) BLACK (voice-over): It was a slow, horrible death -- a murder plot so intriguing, it has often been compared to a spy novel. Now, British officials have accused one Russian citizen of responsibility.

KEN MACDONALD, DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS: I have today concluded that the evidence sent to us by the police is sufficient to charge Andrei Lugovoi with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko by deliberate poisoning.

BLACK: The day Litvinenko fell ill, he met with Andrei Lugovoi and another Russian at London's Millennium Hotel. A former KGB officer, now businessman, Lugovoi has always insisted he had nothing to do with Litvinenko's death.

ANDREI LUGOVOI, FORMER SECURITY SERVICE AGENT (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I am absolutely calm, as I am absolutely innocent.

BLACK: The statement offered by the British prosecutors is no more than a version. But Alexander Litvinenko's widow welcomed news Lugovoi may face British justice.

MARINA LITVINENKO, WIDOW: I'm glad to say I'm very happy about all job what Scotland Yard done already.

BLACK: Alexander Litvinenko was a former Russian spy. He was granted British asylum in 2000, and later became a citizen. He persistently irritated the Russian government with criticism.

On his deathbed, Litvinenko said that Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, was involved in his poisoning. Putin rejects that. But Litvinenko's family and friends maintain the highest levels of Russian government played a part.

ANDREI NEKRASOV, LITVINENKO FRIEND: Alexander's whole point -- and possibly the hatred he generated in his ex-colleagues -- was that the FSB, the Russian secret service, is becoming like a criminal gang. So if it's true, he predicted his own murder.


BLACK: Britain's foreign secretary has told the Russian ambassador she expects full cooperation from his government. But Russia says extradition is against its constitution. Relations between the two countries have grown very cold since Litvinenko's death, and they could get cooler still -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Black in London for us.

Let's get some fast facts now about the KGB.

The agency was created back in 1954, responsible for domestic security and foreign intelligence. It was dissolved in 1991 by Boris Yeltsin after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Today, Russian spying is done by the Federal Counterintelligence Service, known as the FSB. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, by the way, was a KGB agent for 17 years and later went on to head the FSB.

Coming up, Turkey's president now calling a deadly rush hour explosion in the capital terrorism. We're going to have details of this deadly attack.

Plus, find out about the movie project that has Venezuela's fiery anti-American president teaming up with a leading Hollywood actor.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring other stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what do you have?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, let's start with Lynchburg, Virginia. That's right outside the church where the Reverend Jerry Falwell's funeral was being held today. Well, we found out that a Liberty University student was arrested for allegedly having several napalm-like bombs.

Authorities say the student intended to disrupt protesters. No one was injured.

Thousands of people attended Falwell's funeral. The Evangelist died last week, appeal of a heart rhythm abnormality. He was 73 years old.

A very intense manhunt happening right now in Chicago. Police are looking for three bank robbers who shot and seriously injured three people in a morning heist. The robbers were wearing masks, but surveillance tape did catch the license plate of the car they may have been using. Officials say because of the extreme violence of the crime, they are offering a $50,000 reward.

The Denver Zoo is trying to prevent an epidemic of plague now that one of its monkeys has died. The Capuchin monkey tested positive for the plague. A zoo veterinarian suspects the monkey ate the carcass of an infected squirrel. Zookeepers are now isolating the primates and treating them with antibiotics.

The two wayward whales in California's Sacramento River are now stalled at a bridge in Rio Vista. They made it 20 miles back toward the Pacific Ocean before stopping at the bridge and swimming in circles. They're apparently upset by vibrations from the traffic. Coast Guard crews and scientists plan to try to coax the whales back toward the Pacific, which is still 70 miles away. So, they thought it was going well, Wolf, but not so much.

BLITZER: Let's hope they get back to the Pacific. That would be good.


BLITZER: Thanks, Carol, for that.

Coming up, revealing new details from the diaries of Ronald Reagan. Find out what he was thinking after being shot.

Plus, the New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg's, bold environmental initiative.

Is it part of a drive toward a possible -- possible presidential campaign?

I'll ask him.

Stay with us.



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

Happening right now, B.P. is shutting down its operations in Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska because of a leak. And that's cutting off the output of 100,000 barrels of oil. We're watching that story.

At least five people are dead and 60 injured after a bomb ripped through a shopping district in Ankara, Turkey during evening rush hour. The Turkish prime minister says it's an act of terrorism.

And there's new insight today into how young Muslims living in the United States feel about suicide bombings. There's a new poll that shows how many of them believe that such tactics can be justified to defend Islam. We'll have a full report on that in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


New York City's yellow cabs are going green. Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today the entire fleet will be converted to hybrids in the coming years.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow

She is in New York -- Mary, the mayor is making a major initiative. He announced it earlier today.

Tell our viewers what's going on.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is part of a bigger plan to cut down on carbon emissions. And the mayor says because there are thousands of city cabs out on the streets every day, he wants to make them environmentally friendly.


SNOW (voice-over): They'll keep their hallmark yellow color, but from now on, New York's cabs will be greener.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg is mandating that the city's entire fleet of cabs become fuel-efficient hybrids.

BLOOMBERG: Anything we can do to reduce the pollution in the air and to reduce our dependence on outside energy sources, we're all better off.

SNOW: The city is phasing in the plan, requiring that within five years its roughly 13,000 cabs be hybrids, like the kind Gulzar Choudry drives.

GULZAR CHOUDRY, CAB DRIVER: I used to drive a regular car before. And I used to put like $35 to $40 of gas every day. Now I am putting like $12 to $15 every day.

SNOW: Choudry says he had to shell out $10,000 extra to buy a hybrid, but he says he's making back the money by saving about $1,000 a month in gas.

But that up front sticker price is making some drivers balk.

ABE CALDES, CAB DRIVER: It's going to have to come out of our pockets, and it's not right, because the mayor isn't giving us anything extra.

SNOW: Along with the costs, a group representing drivers says the car's durability is another concern.

BHAIRAVI DESAI, NEW YORK TAXI WORKERS ALLIANCE: What we're afraid of is that this is a new market and these cabs have not been fully tested, yet they're going to be made mandatory.

SNOW: To that, the mayor says...

BLOOMBERG: They're going to be using them for five years and they'll get a good chance to test them, and that will be great.

SNOW: The cars are being phased, in since taxi drivers have to replace their cab every five years. So it's expected by 2012, every cab will be a hybrid. And the city estimates that drivers will be saving thousands a year in fuel costs.


SNOW: And the cab driver we spoke to said he's also seeing an immediate benefit. He says he's been getting better tips since he's been driving a hybrid cab -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So when are we going to see a lot of these hybrids on the streets of New York, Mary?

SNOW: You know, so far, there about 375 hybrids already out on the streets of New York. But next year is when they're going to be phased in. About 1,000 will be added to the fleet.

BLITZER: And there's about 13,000 taxis in New York at any one time.

Mary, thanks very much.

This, by all accounts, an ambitious plan.

What does New York City hope to get out of all this?

And how big of an impact will it really have?

And joining us now in New York City is the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, with the Brooklyn Bridge behind you.

I take it no one's selling that bridge, at least not today, Mr. Mayor.

You've got a different agenda right now.

BLOOMBERG: No, the bridge is not for sale.

The bridge is not for sale, Wolf, but it's a great bridge to jog over and to drive over.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk about driving in New York.

This is a major decision involving, what, 13,000 cabs in New York City over the next five years.

Is it really going to have a practical impact on the environment on global warming?

Or are you simply trying to send a symbolic message out there that other people should take notice?

BLOOMBERG: Well, the message is always good, but this will make a real difference.

We have 13,000 taxis. They get roughly 14 miles a gallon. The hybrids that they're going to be replaced with get better than 30 miles a gallon. And having the 13,000 hybrids is the equivalent of taking 32,000 cars off the roads in terms of pollution.

So it really makes a difference.

Also, they are much more efficient, so the taxi drivers and owners will do better, as well as the -- all the rest of us breathing cleaner air.

BLITZER: So, in terms of fares for the passengers, is it going to have an impact and the prices is going to go up, going do go down? What's going to be the net effect?

BLOOMBERG: There's no reason to move it. It's a small change. And it will be to the benefit of the drivers. But next time they come for a raise, I suppose you can say, well, you're getting a little bit of a benefit here. The real answer is the 13,000 cabs are one of the major ways that people get around this city. And we have too many cars on the roads, we're not going to have any more roads. We want people to use mass transit, but if they have to go in a motor vehicle, buses or taxis are a heck of a lot better than if they bring their own cars into the city.

BLITZER: What does it say, Mr. Mayor, when a mayor like you or a governor like Arnold Schwarzenegger, that you have to make these kinds of decisions within your own communities, as opposed to the federal government making these kinds of decisions that could impact global warming, the environment? What does it say to you as a politician?

BLOOMBERG: I think what you're seeing is that at the local level, the people and their representatives are tired of the inaction in Washington. And we're just not going to wait around anymore for Washington to try to do something about the air we breathe or about stopping global warming.

We're not going to sit around and let them play pork barrel politics with homeland security funds. We're not going to sit around and let them have all this inaction on immigration.

There are major issues facing the people that we represent as mayors or as governors. And we've got to go and do some things, because what we do is on the streets the next day. We can't just sit around and be on both sides of every issue and talk about it forever. We've got to do something.

BLITZER: What about after the taxis? What about the other vehicles, including the city vehicles, whether from the police department, the fire department, other city vehicles? What are you trying to do? What, if anything, do you want to do with those cars?

BLOOMBERG: We're going in the direction of getting more fuel- efficient buses. We've got a lot of those. Garbage trucks that burn cleaner fuels and pollute a lot less. We've -- a lot of police officers that are on motor scooters and on foot. So we're trying to use cars less.

We're out there trying to do all of that with motor vehicles, but also we're trying to green all of the city's buildings. The city has a lot of buildings in this city. And 80 percent of the pollution in a big city like New York comes from buildings, as opposed to cars.

So, get people on to mass transit, reduce the use of cars, get more efficient vehicles on the road. But at the same time, go to our buildings, change all of the incandescent light bulbs to these compact fluorescent light bulbs that save an enormous amount. Green the roofs so that the water stays up there and keeps the building cool in the summer and helps us with runoff.

There's a whole variety of things that we're trying to do. And we want to lead. We've got a commitment to reduce the carbons that we emit by the year 2030, but to do it for city buildings within the next 10 years. And we're on our way. BLITZER: One final question and we're out of time, Mr. Mayor. I just want your quick reaction to what your friend Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, said the other day after meeting with you amid speculation maybe there should be a third party team out there running for president.

He said, "It's a great country to think about a New York boy and a Nebraska boy to be teamed up leading this nation."

What do you think?

BLOOMBERG: Well, maybe he was talking about somebody else from New York.

Chuck Hagel's a good guy. He's very smart. He's independent. He says what he thinks. And I'm proud to have him as a friend.

BLITZER: I think he was referring to you, though.

BLOOMBERG: We don't know. You'll have to go ask Chuck.

He's doing the right thing. He's out there trying to give the public more choice. And I think that is an interest. I'm not a candidate for president, and I don't know whether Chuck Hagel is, but the more candidates, the better the public will have -- will be served.

BLITZER: It is time for a third party also?

BLOOMBERG: It depends. If the public comes up with candidates that they find acceptable from two parties, no, and they don't find them acceptable, three or four parties.

There's nothing magical about two. The public wants people that have experience and that clearly state what they're going to do, and then are willing to have themselves held accountable after they get elected for delivering what they promised.

We tried that with a scorecard here. And I think all these candidates should be held to the standard of, OK, don't just tell us you're in favor or against something, what are you going to do about it?

BLITZER: Michael Bloomberg is the mayor of New York with a major announcement today involving a lot of cabs out there.

Mr. Mayor, thanks very much.

BLOOMBERG: Wolf, enjoy the good weather in Washington. It's great weather here in New York.

BLITZER: And still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the weather experts are out with their predictions about the ferocity of this year's hurricane season. Here's a hint: it does not look promising.

Susan Roesgen standing by with a report from New Orleans. That's coming up.

Also, the Venezuela president, Hugo Chavez, often very vocal against U.S. policies. So why is he hiring a big American star for his next project?

Carol Costello's standing by with that story.

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


BLITZER: Government weather experts are now out with the forecast for this year's hurricane season, and what they're saying gives some serious cause for concern.

Our Gulf Coast correspondent, Susan Roesgen, is live in New Orleans. She's joining us now.

They're still struggling where you are to recover from Hurricane Katrina. But what are the projections for the new hurricane season, what, that begins in the next week or so?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it begins June 1st, a week from Friday, Wolf. And the numbers do not look good.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting that we could have as many as 17 named storms this season, and possibly five major hurricanes.


ROESGEN (voice over): Before satellites and radar, no one could see a hurricane on the horizon or predict how many might be coming. But now the coastal U.S. has come to depend on and dread the yearly hurricane prediction.

VICE ADM. CONRAD LAUTENBACHER, NOAA: We are forecasting 13 to 17 named storms, of which seven to 10 will become hurricanes, and three to five of those hurricanes will be in the major category, or Category 3 strength and higher.

ROESGEN: That's an above-average season, part of a cycle forecasters say started back in 1995. But last year's dire prediction didn't pan out.

NOAA initially predicted as many as 10 hurricanes, but there were only five, and no major hurricane hit the U.S. last year. An unexpected El Nino stopped most hurricane development. But don't be lulled into thinking we'll get off easy this year.

LAUTENBACHER: All of the conditions associated with the current active era were still in place last year as we had expected. Therefore, last year's activity should not be considered an indicator that this active era has ended. There is no indication that this active hurricane era has ended.

ROESGEN: In the end, no matter how many are predicted, one is all it takes to spell disaster.


ROESGEN: And something else to keep in mind, Wolf, 53 percent of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a coastline. So in spite of the predictions, whatever they might be, we all have to be ready in case the next big one is coming our way -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, that leads to my question. You're in New Orleans. Is New Orleans, God forbid, ready for another hurricane? Have the levees been rebuilt, is the infrastructure ready to withstand another hurricane?

ROESGEN: You know, Wolf, I think that's still a big question mark. The Army Corps of Engineers is still diligently working on the levees. They're also working on the pumps that pump the water out.

Whether we are physically or psychologically ready in this city for another major storm, a Category 3 or higher, is really still a question mark. We really would like to have another year like last year that was quiet on the hurricane front. Whether we'll get one or not, it doesn't look as likely this year. So we'll just have to see.

BLITZER: Let's hope it is quiet. But they've got to be prepared for the worst.

Susan, thank you.

As for the Pacific Ocean, by the way, government forecasters are predicting two or three tropical cyclones slightly less than average. Hurricane-strength storms strike Hawaii about once every 15 years. The last being Hurricane Iniki back in 1992.

The next storm will be named Kika. The Central North Pacific system uses names one after the other, all of them Hawaiian. And unlike the Atlantic system, doesn't start a new list each year.

The actor Danny Glover is taking on a new project with an unlikely partner. That would be Venezuela's fiercely anti-American president, Hugo Chavez. He's providing financial backing for a new movie.

Let's go back to Carol Costello. She's watching this story for us.

So what are they working together on, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Danny Glover has been in Caracas talking to the Venezuelan government about filming a movie. And it looks like the Hollywood actor is going Hollywood Caracas-style.


COSTELLO (voice over): Hugo Chavez does it again, using his country's money to add a little Hollywood razzle-dazzle to his insistent effort to influence American culture. His lethal weapon? Actor Danny Glover.

DANNY GLOVER, ACTOR, "LETHAL WEAPON 3': And I would not make a stupid mistake.

COSTELLO: That's right. The star of "Lethal Weapon" and dozens of other films is taking $18 million from Chavez' Venezuela to make two movies.

The first about Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture. That's him. He led a slave uprising in Haiti in the 18th century.

And that's Danny Glover at a news conference in Washington today talking about debt relief for Africa. We tried to ask him about his partnership with Chavez, but we got very little.

GLOVER: I have no comment.

GLOVER: We wanted to know why any American would take so much money from a country whose leader has called President Bush "an ex- alcoholic," "sick," "dangerous," "a menace," "a threat against life on the planet," and, oh, yes...

HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I think he's the devil.

GLOVER: But Glover wasn't talking.

Of course this isn't the first time Chavez has tried to influence American culture. Former representative Joe Kennedy's Citizens Energy gets oil from a subsidiary of Venezuela's national oil company and sells it at a discounted price to poor Americans. Kennedy says the benefits outweigh anything political, like Chavez's close relationship with communist Cuba's Fidel Castro.

Chavez has been keeping in touch with the ailing American foe.

As for Glover, he's long been a political activist. That's him being serenaded by admirers as he was arrested for disorderly conduct at a Darfur protest in Washington.


GLOVER: So, what do you make of an actor-activist, a Haitian slave and Hugo Chavez? Well, as the British newspaper "The Guardian" put it, a movie to mobilize world opinion against western oppression. Something, Wolf, Hugo Chavez talks about all the time.

BLITZER: Thank you for that.

Carol Costello reporting for us from New York.


BLITZER: Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, you heard him say, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." But what happened after that speech? Ronald Reagan reveals himself in a diary published today.

Frank Sesno standing by with details.

Also, did the Democrats drop the ball by backing down on a deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail.

All that still to come.


BLITZER: We're getting a fascinating, much closer look at the newly published diaries of the former president Ronald Reagan, which go on sale today. They give us a candid look inside his mind as he grappled with some of the most important events of his presidency, including the attempt to kill him.

Our special correspondent, Frank Sesno, covered the Reagan administration. He's here with some pretty amazing details -- Frank.

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Here's the book, Wolf. It's pretty substantial. Day after day, entry after entry, edited by historian Douglas Brinkley, who calls these diary entries humble and uncomplicated notations.


RONALD REAGAN, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear...

SESNO (voice over): Almost 3,000 days in office, and Ronald Reagan never missed a day in his diary, except when he was shot. His account of that event reveals his humor, humanity and faith.

"Getting shot hurt," he wrote. "No matter how hard I tried to breathe, it seemed I was getting less and less air. I focused on that tiled ceiling and prayed. But I realized I couldn't ask for God's help while at the same time I felt hatred for the mixed up young man who had shot me. We are all God's children."

The diaries reveal a president who believed strongly in a few big ideas but was neither introspective nor boastful. The most memorable line of his presidency was very public.

REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

SESNO: Afterwards he wrote simply, "I a got a tremendous reception -- interrupted 28 times by cheers. Then it was back to the airport."

He was one of the first presidents to face the toll of terrorism. And he often took it personally. After a day of mourning U.S. Marines killed in Beirut, Reagan wrote, "One father asked if they were in Lebanon for anything that was worth his son's life."

REAGAN: My fellow Americans, I want to begin tonight by... SESNO: The actor loved the camera.

REAGAN: Over my dead body.

SESNO: The politician, the bully pulpit.

"If we can't get a bipartisan agreement..." he wrote during one political showdown, "... then I take to the air, and there will be blood on the floor."

But he could also be detached, even bored by all those meetings. An admission: "Mid afternoon, I could hardly keep my eyes open. In fact, I didn't."

His love for Nancy appears throughout. And he mixes the mighty with the mundane.

After the two of them dined with Chinese leaders he reports, "We both did well with our chopsticks."


SESNO: Seven hundred pages of diary excerpts in this book, Wolf, ranging over every experience in the man's presidency. It's quite remarkable.

BLITZER: And you remember when the Israelis bombed the Iraqi reactor, Saddam Hussein's -- back in June of 1981. The U.S. at that time opposed that decision. What did he write in his diary?

SESNO: He wrote -- first of all, he was clearly annoyed. He wrote that he was blindsided by it and annoyed with the Israeli prime minister. He also wrote that that gave him fear of Armageddon.

BLITZER: At that time.

SESNO: At that time. So, it was -- you know, in the end, he kind of fell in line behind it because he felt that a nuclear program was taken out. But he was clearly annoyed and very concerned about it at the time.

BLITZER: Frank Sesno, going back in history and doing it well.

Thanks, Frank.


BLITZER: Up next, Jack Cafferty with your e-mail question of the hour. Did the Democrats drop the ball by backing down on a deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq?

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at The Associated Press.

In northern Gaza, Palestinian militants launch two rockets in the direction of Israel.

On the outskirts of Jammu, India, a Sikh boy rides his bicycle past tires burned by protesters during a strike.

In Belarus, special forces soldiers break concrete slates with their foreheads at the opening of the international exhibition of arms and military hardware.

And in Sandpoint, Idaho, a pair of pups sport fashionable eyewear in the annual Lost in the '50s Parade.

Very cute. Some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth a thousand words.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Some people just don't have enough to do. Breaking slabs with their heads and putting eyeglasses on dogs. Got to get some activity in their life.

The question this hour is this: Did the Democrats drop the ball by backing down on a deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq?

Dewey says, "The Democrats proved just what everyone know, that they would crumble after the first few attempts of getting a war spending bill signed. Everybody knows the president is going to veto. That's not the point. The point is to do what the American people want, to get some kind of management and accountability with this war."

"Now what we're going to have is more of the same. The Democrats are weak."

Terry in North Carolina, "Yes, Jack. In fact, they dropped the ball by responding to the president's veto and extortion tactics with anything other than impeachment proceedings. Publicly holding the troops hostage for money and hounding critically ill government officials to participate in illegal acts is criminal behavior, which the Congress has an obligation to prosecute, not fund or participate in."

Randy in Ohio, "The Democrats have no nerve. They got voted in on a lie, left all of us who believed them and thought they would end the war and bring the troops home holding the bag."

Ruie, Brownstone, Michigan, "Not only did they drop the ball, they decided to run it to the wrong goal line. Democrats better get some nerve soon or they're going to lose big time in 2008."

Bernard in Chattanooga, Tennessee, "President Bush's sharply- worded reprisal against President Carter might have been better directed at congressional Democrats. It's they who prove time and again their increasing irrelevance. The voting public gave them a mandate in 2006 in the elections and they refused to act on it."

"It's an unpopular war waged by an unpopular president. The Democrats' inability to secure a withdrawal timetable is testimony to their mind-boggling political ineptitude"

Tom in Sacramento, "Regarding 'The Cafferty File' remarks comparing the Democrats folding like a cheap tent from Sears: That's a terrible thing to say about Sears."

And Brian in Albuquerque, "I'm not a Democrat or a Republican. I'm an American. We, the people, need to bring down this government because they Don't speak for us. Forget about impeachment. I'm a tar and feathers man myself."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to There's more of this stuff awaiting you there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. See you in an hour.

We'll be back, 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Much more of our coverage coming up.

Until then, thanks for watching.

Let's go to Lou in New York.


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