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THE SITUATION ROOM

Historic Talks: U.S., Iran Meet in Iraq; Creation Museum Opens

Aired May 28, 2007 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DAMON: When they get home, these men will visit the graves of the fallen. But for now, this Memorial Day ceremony has helped give them new resolve.
LT. MORGAN SPRING-GLACE, U.S. ARMY: I don't know how exactly how this day would bring closure. It actually opens a page and gives us, you know, something to honor them with. And every time we go out from now on, you know, we go out, you know, with their warrior spirit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the lost, for the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), for the fallen, we'll look after you.

DAMON: Arwa Damon, CNN, Yusufiya, Iraq.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

JOHN KING, HOST: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, long time enemies sitting down for landmark talks, even as nuclear tensions between them grow.

Can the United States and Iran work together to help Iraq?

Also, he made assisted suicide a national issue, earning the nickname "Dr. Death." Now, Jack Kevorkian is about to get out of prison.

Will he help kill again?

And dinosaurs on Noah's Ark?

One of the many controversial displays at the new creation museum. We'll show you why it has some Christians celebrating and scientists scowling.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm John King.

You're in the in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Direct and historic talks between the United States and Iran -- the first time in almost 30 years. Diplomats representing the two long time enemies sat down in Iraq to discuss the violence ripping that country apart.

But looming over the meeting, growing tension between Washington and Tehran over Iran's nuclear program.

Let's go straight to CNN's State Department correspondent, Zane Verjee -- Zane, any breakthroughs in these talks? Or were any expected headed in?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the U.S. is really hoping that by breaking the diplomatic deep freeze with Iran, it could help the situation in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): November 1979 -- Americans held hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. U.S./Iran relations ripped apart.

Now, for the first time in almost 30 years, the two sides meet face to face for high level talks.

RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: The atmosphere of the talks has been business like.

VERJEE: The burning issue -- Iraq. The U.S. says Iran is pumping in money and weapons, including roadside bombs that kill U.S. troops.

Iran denies that. In Baghdad's sealed off green zone, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, confronted the Iranians. He has 36 years of the diplomatic game under his belt and guided the four hours of conversation in English, Arabic and Farsi.

Crocker says the U.S. wants to see Iran take action.

CROCKER: We're going to want to wait and see not what is said next, but what happens next on the ground.

VERJEE: Crocker said Iran blames the U.S. for what it calls an occupation and even criticized U.S. training of Iraqi forces, saying it was inadequate.

At the same time, a bomb killing 20 people in the heart of Baghdad -- a grisly reminder of the realities on the ground, underlining the performance of the talks.

But the historic talks come as tensions between the U.S. and Iran seem to be getting worse. The U.S. is war gaming, with nine ships near Iran's shores. Iran insists it will push on with its nuclear energy program, saying once again, it's ready to share its nuclear expertise with its neighbors.

The U.S. fears Iran wants a bomb and is considering a new round of sanctions to punish Iran.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

VERJEE: Ambassador Crocker says that just a single meeting, John, can't really lead to instant results. That, he says, is just not realistic. He also added that he was encouraged by the talks and overall the atmosphere was positive -- John. KING: So, Zane, both sides say it was positive. No breakthroughs. That was not expected.

Will round one beget a round two?

VERJEE: Well, Ambassador Crocker said the Iraqi side has already indicated that they want to invite both sides together for another meeting some time in the near future. Crocker says that once the U.S. gets the information formally it will consider it, but nothing is really fixed just yet about any follow-up meeting -- John.

KING: Our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee.

Zane, thank you very much.

There are growing insurgents and extremists in Iraq are taking their tactics beyond that country's border and fighting and unleashing terror throughout the Middle East. Some fear the United States could be next.

CNN's Brian Todd joins us live -- Brian, what evidence are we seeing that Iraq is exporting terror?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, we're now told that that evidence is manifesting itself in a deadly standoff just outside Iraq's borders that may soon reach a very ugly conclusion.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Explosions and gunfire in northern Lebanon. Lebanese security forces encircle a refugee camp, battling a militant group called Fatah al-Islam.

A top Lebanese security official tells CNN some of the militants they're fighting came straight from Iraq.

Experts say after years of drawing in militants from around the world, insurgent groups are exporting fighters from Iraq into Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan. And it may not stop there.

FAWAZ GERGES, AUTHOR "JOURNEY OF THE JIHADISTS": If the situation continues in Iraq, if Iraq becomes a major foothold, a major base for Al Qaeda, I would argue that Al Qaeda could very easily send militants and terrorists and suicide bombings into American shores.

TODD: And it's not just fighters being exported, according to a former State Department intelligence official, who just wrote a report on this development.

DENNIS PLUCHINSKY, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Iraq is a laboratory for tactics and terrorist techniques -- how to put cells together, how to work cells, how to carry out surveillance of the target.

TODD: November 2005 -- militants believed to be from Al Qaeda in Iraq, then led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, stage nearly simultaneous bombings at three hotels in Amman, Jordan, killing more than 50 people.

Zarqawi, since killed by U.S. forces, bragged about those he'd sent from Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AYMAN AL-ZARQAWI (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Three lions left their dens in Baghdad and headed to the heart of Amman to carry out the blessed attacks against three targets known to be headquarters of Jews, crusaders and other enemies of god.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: One of the biggest frustrations, according to terrorism expert Fawaz Gerges, is we that we've seen this pattern well before those 2005 attacks, when militants from the afghan jihad against the Soviets back in the 1980s were left unchecked. They then set up training camps, which were later attended by some of the 9/11 hijackers -- John.

KING: And, Brian, you note there the examples of the exporting within the greater Middle East.

Any evidence as yet that terrorism has been exported from Iraq beyond the Middle East?

TODD: Well, experts say that there is evidence that has been exported beyond those borders. Former State Department intelligence official Dennis Pluchinsky, who just put together this report, says ethnic militants in Bangladesh, Thailand, even some criminal gangs in Mexico, have started to imitate some of those tactics.

KING: Troubling, to say the least.

Brian Todd for us today.

Brian, thank you very much.

New questions also about whether lawmakers read a key intelligence report on Iraq before they voted to authorize the war, specifically the presidential candidates.

CNN's Mary Snow has been investigating -- Mary, tell us exactly what was in this report.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it was a report in 2002. This was before the war. And it detailed the intelligence community's assessment of the situation in Iraq. And it also contained some dissenting opinions.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Democrat Hillary Clinton was grilled about the classified report on the campaign trail last month. QUESTION: Did you read it?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: No. I was briefed on it.

QUESTION: Did you read it?

CLINTON: I was briefed on it.

SNOW: A spokesman said Senator Clinton says Senator Clinton was briefed multiple times by several members of the administration on their intelligence regarding Iraq, which included the classified aspects of the NIE.

Clinton was not alone in not reading the roughly 90 page classified report assessing Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction.

A spokeswoman for Republican Senator John McCain says Senator McCain was briefed on the NIE numerous times and read the executive summary.

John McLaughlin, former deputy director of the CIA, says the report raised questions about Saddam Hussein's ability to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think if someone read the entire report, they'd walk away thinking the intelligence community generally thinks he has weapons of mass destruction, but there's quite a bit of differences.

SNOW: Now a CNN contributor, McLaughlin says dissenting views by the State Department, Department of Energy and the Air Force made up 10 to 12 pages of the report. Critics say they were not prominently highlighted.

In order for members of Congress to read the report, they would have to physically go to a secure location on Capitol Hill. The "Washington Post" reports no more than six Senators and a handful of House members were logged as reading the document.

A spokeswoman for Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd says he did not read it.

A spokesman for former Democratic Senator John Edwards says: "Having served on the Intelligence Committee, Senator Edwards read and was briefed on the intelligence provided to the committee.

A spokeswoman says Senator Joe Biden chaired a closed Foreign Relation Committee briefing by the then CIA director and the national intelligence officer, saying Senator Biden viewed the NIE at this time and provided a forum for his colleagues to view, as well."

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SNOW: And Senator Biden told us here in THE SITUATION ROOM in this last hour that he did read the entire report and he said he spoke to those who had dissenting opinions -- John.

KING: And, Mary, help our viewers understand, how long was this report available for Senators and members of the House to read before they had to cast that vote? SNOW: The NIE came out about 10 days before the vote. And usually, some of the security experts say, it takes about six months to compile these kinds of reports. But in this case, it was requested by the Senate Intelligence Committee and that it was put together in just about a month's time.

KING: Mary Snow connecting the dots for us.

Mary, thank you very much.

And among its key judgments, that National Intelligence Estimate declared with "high confidence" that Iraq is continuing and in some areas, expanding, its chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programs, contrary to United Nations resolutions. It also declared "Iraq possesses proscribed chemical and biological weapons and missiles and Iraq could make a nuclear weapon in months to a year once it acquires sufficient weapons grade fissile material."

Jack Cafferty is off today.

He'll be back here tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up ahead, violent protest in Venezuela as the country's anti- American president yanks a popular TV station off area.

Also, Jack Kevorkian, the man some call Dr. Death, getting out of prison.

Will he resume helping people take their own lives?

Plus, sentencing approaching in one of the most closely watched cases of the year.

Will "Scooter" Libby go to prison and for how long?

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

COMMERCIAL

KING: Sentencing day is approaching for Louis "Scooter" Libby. The former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney was convicted in the CIA leak case and now could be facing years in prison.

CNN Justice Department correspondent Kelli Arena has all of the details.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: John, this week Libby's defense team is expected to ask a judge not to sentence him to any jail time; and if he does, to allow Libby to remain free while he appeals.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

ARENA (voice-over): If the prosecution has its way, "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's former top aide, will serve between 2 1/2 to 3 years in federal prison. Despite charges his investigation was politically motivated, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald defended his sentencing recommendation, saying that every witness, whether he works in the White House or drives a truck, must tell the truth.

PATRICK FITZGERALD, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: If someone knowingly tells a lie under oath during any investigation, it's every prosecutor's duty to respond by investigating and proving that if you can.

ARENA: Libby was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements during the investigation into who blew the cover of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame.

Plame's husband, a former ambassador, had openly questioned the Bush administration's basis for invading Iraq. And it was alleged that Plame's name was leaked by the administration in retaliation.

In his strengthen recommendation to the judge, Fitzgerald again raises the question of whether the vice president orchestrated that leak.

Libby says no. But Fitzgerald contends that because Libby lied, we'll never know the answer.

FITZGERALD: There was a cloud there, caused by -- not caused by us. And by Mr. Libby obstructing justice and lying about what happened, he had failed to remove the cloud.

ARENA: Vice President Cheney has refused to comment on the trial.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ARENA: As is often the case in Washington, Libby is the only person who faced charges in the leak investigation -- not for the actual crime, but for the cover-up.

He'll be sentenced next week -- John.

KING: Kelli Arena, a fascinating case.

Kelli, thank you very much.

The man known as the suicide doctor is expected to be released from prison Friday. Dr. Jack Kevorkian served more than eight years for the lethal injection of a terminally ill man.

CNN's Carol Costello is following that story -- Carol, what is Dr. Kevorkian planning to do once he's free?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it's likely he'll go on a speaking tour and make lots and lots of money. Word is he'll continue to sell assisted suicide in speeches across the country.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

DR. JACK KEVORKIAN:

COSTELLO: When the patient hits the switch, the saline is cut off at the same time that the pentothal is started, a concentrated solution, which puts a patient in a deep coma.

COSTELLO (voice-over): Jack Kevorkian helped so many die with his cocktail of lethal drugs, he earned the nickname Dr. Death.

Due to be released from prison on Friday, he's preparing to tell the world again why he believes doctors should help terminally ill help die.

Telling a reporter in Detroit: "All I'm doing is trying to prepare for the big press conference coming up. I've got to have answers at my fingertips."

Answers that were not good enough when he helped kill a man on national television. Prosecutors in Michigan were appalled as they watched Kevorkian helping a man commit suicide on "60 Minutes."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "60 MINUTES," COUNTRY CBS NEWS)

KEVORKIAN: And we're ready to inject. We're going to inject you in your right arm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Fifty-two-year-old Tom Youk suffered from Lou Gehrig's Disease. After the program, Youk was dead and Kevorkian in court.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guilty of lesser charges, second degree murder.

COSTELLO: He was sentenced to 10 to 25 years. After eight years in prison, and now 79, he seems to have lost some of his bravado.

Kevorkian in 1990.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVORKIAN: I will break the law because it's immoral. And if you send me to jail, you'd better keep me there, because I'll do it again when I get out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Today, he says assisted suicide has got to be legalized: "I will work to have it legalized, but I won't break any laws doing it." Kevorkian's initial efforts did cause several states to take up the issue of assisted suicide, but only Oregon allows people the right to die.

The law took effect in 1997 and according to the Associated Press, since then 292 people asked their doctors to prescribe drugs to end their lives -- which they did.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

COSTELLO: Kevorkian's lawyer says there is plenty of interest in Kevorkian's ideas. Some are offering the so-called Dr. Death $100,000 per speech -- John.

KING: An emotional issues sure to be reignited.

Carol Costello, thank you very much.

Coming up, rocked by scandal -- the Duke lacrosse team strives for a comeback.

Can they take the title?

Plus, creation controversy -- we'll take you inside a new museum with a different take on the history of world -- to say the least.

You're in the in THE SITUATION ROOM.

COMMERCIAL

KING: Venezuela's most watched TV station is off the air. At midnight, President Hugo Chavez replaced the opposition-aligned network with a new state funded channel. And as midnight approached, police clashed with protesters. And there are more protests today.

CNN's Harris Whitbeck is there.

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, students at several universities in Caracas have been gathered on their campuses, attempting to protest what they see as an attempt on freedom of expression in this country.

Police armed with tear gas are at the entrances to several universities, to prevent those students from taking to the streets to continue with a protest that started over the weekend.

Sunday night, as RC-TV went off the air for one last time, tens of thousands of people were on the streets, again protesting a measure taken by Hugo Chavez to silence what he sees as opposition media. Chavez says RC-TV had incited rebellion and was poisoning Venezuelans by promoting capitalism and he cited those reasons for not extending RC-TV's license to broadcast in the country.

That move has sparked criticism inside Venezuela, of course, and also outside of the country. Germany, which currently holds the presidency of the European Union, expressed its concern. And the Society for Inter-American Journalism, the Organization of American States, several human rights organizations, the Chilean Senate and the U.S. Senate have all expressed concerns about the closing of RC-TV.

Again, they say that Venezuelan freedom of expression is being severely hampered -- John.

KING: Harris Whitbeck in Caracas.

We'll continue to keep an eye on that one.

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

COSTELLO: A couple of things to tell you about, John.

Three people lucky to be alive after their plane crashed near Napa, California, landing upside down. The small plane took off this morning from Concord. Ten minutes later, the pilot radioed authorities, saying he was having engine trouble. The plane crashed a short time later. Two people suffered minor injuries. A third person was not hurt.

The two whales that ended up 90 miles inland in the Sacramento River in California are now halfway back to the Pacific Ocean. The mother hump back whale and her calf have traveled about 24 miles in 24 hours, but their pace has slowed. Rescuers are concerned encounters the whales might have with large ships as they near the San Francisco Bay.

A big disappointment today for Duke's University's lacrosse team. Today's game in Baltimore against Johns Hopkins was close, but Johns Hopkins won, 12-11.

Wow!

Duke was plagued last year by allegations of rape against three Duke players that authorities say turned out to be false.

Checking the bottom line right now, retailers are hoping Memorial Day weekend will be profitable. The first projections of the three day sales tally are expected tomorrow. Now, historically, Memorial Day weekend tends to be a key time for shoppers looking for summer clothing, home furnishings and seasonal outdoor merchandise. Retailers are hoping shopping activity this weekend will help reverse last month's downturn at chain stores.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- John.

KING: Maybe that's where Wolf is, out shopping.

COSTELLO: Oh, yes, I'm sure he is.

KING: Carol, thanks...

COSTELLO: You know, how Wolf loves -- Wolf loves the malls.

KING: Uh-huh.

Carol Costello, thank you.

Coming up, what might the presidential candidates be cooking up this Memorial Day?

They talk about their favorite foods.

Plus, an Iranian-American woman seized by the government and held in Iran. We'll have the latest on her case.

You're in the in THE SITUATION ROOM.

COMMERCIAL

KING: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, at least 21 people are dead after a suicide bomb attack in a busy commercial district in Baghdad. The attack damaged a Sunni shrine.

The G-8 summit is next week and President Bush is laying some of the ground work. In a phone chat with Russian President Vladimir Putin, they discussed Kosovo and other issues.

And the family of that 4-year-old British girl who disappeared while vacationing with her family in Portugal will meet with Pope Benedict. She's been missing three weeks.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm John King.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

More now on our top story. Iran and the United States holding direct talks today for the first time in 27 years. American diplomats are offering fairly positive reviews.

For Iranian reaction, we go to CNN's Aneesh Raman in Tehran.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, with both sides calling this historic meeting a positive step, the waiting game now begins within the Islamic Republic.

The question is who wins the public support here?

Hard-liners in this country have been eager to torpedo any thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations. They think the Bush administration is out for nothing more than regime change, and only have to look as far as the Persian Gulf to see why -- where U.S. warships remain and where gunboat diplomacy, in essence, is reminding Iran that the U.S. has other means.

The other side are moderates within Iran, who see Iraq as a vehicle, perhaps, to bring the two countries together. Iran, it seems, brought up the idea of a committee with Iran, the U.S. and Iraq all members, to discuss the security situation there. It was contradictory to what the foreign minister had said earlier, that Iran would not hold talks unless the U.S. admitted to a failed foreign policy.

So we don't know where that is heading.

But the biggest indication on all of this are words that we're likely to hear soon from Iran's president and the country's supreme leader -- John.

KING: Aneesh Raman for us in Tehran.

And you might recall, direct talks with Iran were among the many recommendations made by the Iraq Study Group in its report last December.

Joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM is former Congressman Lee Hamilton, who, of course, was a co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group.

Sir, thank you for your time today.

I want to begin with the threshold question of the talks today in Baghdad. For nearly 30 years the United States refused to sit down face-to-face at a high level with the government of Iran. Those talks were held today, ambassador to ambassador.

No breakthroughs, but we're told that the talks were positive and that there is a probability of a second meeting.

I assume you think that's a good thing, sir?

LEE HAMILTON, CO-CHAIR, IRAQ STUDY GROUP: I do think it's a good thing. It's been a long time since we have had regular, sustained conversation or dialogue with the Iranian government. And this is a beginning. It is a breakthrough.

It's limited, obviously.

HAMILTON: It's a change of policy by the Bush administration. I find it hopeful and encouraging. The failure to talk to Iran over a period of a very, very long time, I think, has not produced very good results.

KING: Well, I want to you listen to something the president said back in December 2006 and ask for your thoughts. This is what Mr. Bush had to say back then. "We have made it clear to the Iranians there is a possible change in U.S. policy, a policy that's been in place for 27 years. And that is that if they would like to engage the United States, they have got to verifiably suspend their nuclear enrichment program."

Not only have they not done that, Congressman Hamilton, suspend their nuclear program, they have been bragging in recent days that it's making good progress. And the U.S. side says the nuclear program did not even come up in the talks today.

So, a major retreat by President Bush.

I know you believe it is the right retreat, but should they have raised the nuclear program in these talks? Or too soon for that?

HAMILTON: We have a long list of very difficult problems with Iran. I would put, I think most people would put, the nuclear problem at the top of the list. But you can't solve all of those problems in one sitting. You certainly can't solve the nuclear problem in one sitting. You have to start, and you have to start somewhere.

KING: Another issue that apparently did not come up is the five Americans now being detained in Iran. One of them a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, sir, of which you are the president. You have written President Ahmadinejad on this issue.

A, have you received any response from the Iranian government yourself? And are you disappointed, sir, that the Bush administration in these talks did not at least raise this issue briefly and put it on the table?

HAMILTON: I have not received a response from the president. That letter was written on February the 20th, so he's had plenty of time to respond. Clearly, that's a disappointment to us. I have written some other officials as well.

We at the Wilson Center would like to have seen this issue on the agenda for the discussions today. But we certainly want to see it brought up at some future point, if it could not, for whatever reason, be brought up today.

Haleh Esfandiari now is in, I think, the third week of imprisonment. We haven't even been able to see her. We don't know what her well being is.

She's had extremely limited conversations with her mother, 93 years of age, of a minute or two minutes at a time by telephone. So we are very anxious for her welfare and, of course, the welfare of the others that are being detained.

KING: Let me ask you, sir, about the Democratic debate in the primary season back here at home. You were a Democratic congressman from Indiana. One of your party's most respected voices on international policy were you were in the Congress.

If you were still Congressman Lee Hamilton and had to vote on the supplemental appropriations bill last week that would have -- the decision was cut off funding for the war as many Democrats voted because there was no timetable to bring the troops home. Would you have voted for that bill and given the president money even though you did not have a timeline for withdrawal? Or would you have voted against it?

HAMILTON: I would have voted for it. I see it as a process. I think it's terribly important that the president and the Congress develop a unity of effort in our war in Iraq. You can look back and find all kinds of mistakes that are made, but we are where we are.

The president is beginning to show some flexibility. He's beginning to show a change of course in Iraq. And I think the Congress has been pushing and prodding him in that direction.

This is not the end game in the relationship between the president and the Congress. I see it as an ongoing effort. There will be four, five, six or seven more votes in the Congress on this topic. And my hope is that at the end of the year, my belief is that you will see the president and the Congress beginning to come together.

We are not going to succeed in Iraq unless we have a unity of effort. We have not had that in the past. We are in the process of trying to get there, and I see this bill as a step in that direction.

KING: Well, let me ask you this then, sir. You say you would have voted for it. One of those who voted against it is Senator Hillary Clinton, who, of course, is seeking the party's presidential nomination.

And she said after she voted against it, she said this, "I think the president has resisted every effort by -- not just the political process -- but independent experts like the Iraq Study Group. And you know, enough is enough. At some point you have to draw a line."

You were the co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group. Is she wrong in using the Iraqi Study Group, if you will, as cover for her vote no?

HAMILTON: This is a very difficult judgment to make as to what you should do at this point in time. I think the supplemental was a step forward.

If you look at the principal recommendation of the Iraq Study Group, primary mission of U.S. forces should be training Iraqis. President Bush is beginning to move in that direction. Not quickly enough, but is beginning to, in my view.

Secondly, benchmarks with consequences. There are mile consequences in the supplemental bill, not tough enough in my view, not enough punishment, in effect, if Maliki and his government do not meet them. But at least you have the idea of conditional benchmarks. That's a step in the right direction.

The third major recommendation of the Iraq Study Group was to have a very robust diplomatic offensive. We are beginning that process as well -- talks with Syria, talks now with Iran.

Is it moving quickly enough, robustly enough? No, not in my view. But it's a move forward and a change of position.

All of those things I find somewhat encouraging. All of them I would like to see pushed forward much more aggressively.

KING: Former Congressman Lee Hamilton, the co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group.

Sir, thank you for your time this Memorial Day.

HAMILTON: Thank you.

KING: Up ahead, were their dinosaurs on Noah's Ark? Just make if you believe dinosaurs and humans existed at the same time. It's one of the controversial beliefs at the Creationism Museum. We will take you there next.

And Memorial Day on the campaign trail. How are the presidential candidates handling the issue of the war in Iraq? Dana Bash has that in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour of THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: On our political radar this Monday, more than a year and a half before the first primary season votes were cast, the top Democratic presidential candidates already have locked up some of the delegates they need to win their party's nomination. They are what's known as superdelegates, mostly members of Congress and the nation's governors who get a vote at the Democratic convention in Denver next year.

According to a tally being kept by The Associated Press, Senator Hillary Clinton has the most superdelegates so far, 37. Senator Barack Obama has 22, and former senator John Edwards comes in third with 15 superdelegates.

Today is Rudy Giuliani's 63rd birthday. The former New York City mayor was born in the Bronx on this day back in 1944. Giuliani is off the trail today, but his campaign isn't saying just how he's spending his big birthday.

Tomorrow morning, the current frontrunner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination will celebrate his birthday event in the Bronx.

They can chew on policy and whip up a speech, but can the presidential candidates cook? The Associated Press asked them about their favorite foods to prepare. We've heard from the Republicans last hour. Here's a taste of the Democrats.

Hillary Rodham Clinton says she's a lousy cook, but she makes pretty good soft scrambled eggs.

Barack Obama says he likes to make chili.

Bill Richardson says he makes a mean diet milkshake, though we are at a bit of a loss to see how much cooking is involved in that.

And as a vegetarian, Dennis Kucinich prefers mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, but his wife says he does -- this is important -- does know how to boil hot water.

A controversial new museum has some Christians celebrating, but scientists scowling. It presents the history of the world from a literal biblical perspective.

CNN's Jason Carroll is live in New York.

Jason, what is this museum's message?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it does have a message, and it's a big one. This new museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, is not afraid to embrace the bible's version of creation, regardless of what scientists say. It's a new voice in the national debate about evolution versus creationism.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL (voice over): "One Million B.C.," a popular sci-fi fantasy movie of the late 1960s where humans battled dinosaurs on prehistoric Earth. A new museum doesn't believe that story is fiction or fantasy, but a biblical fact, now on display at the newly opened Creation Museum.

KEN HAM, FOUNDER, THE CREATION MUSEUM: We believe that dinosaurs and people lived at the same time, and that's what the bible would teach, because all land animals were made on the same day as Adam and Eve were made.

CARROLL: The religious controversy getting traction at a recent Republican debate where three presidential candidates took a stand against evolution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm curious, is there anybody on the stage who does not agree -- believe in evolution?

CARROLL: Surely, any number of scientists would debate the theory behind these exhibits, which show dinosaurs living side by side with humans. Here the bible's account is taken word for word, that Earth and all its inhabitants were created in six days. A much different account of what you will hear at a natural history museum.

MIKE NOVACEK, PROVOST, MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY: There's absolutely no scientific evidence aligned with the notion that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

CARROLL: But Creation Museum director Ken Ham says if Christians don't take the bible literally, they undermine its message. So he's confronting the theory of evolution head on.

HAM: The purpose of the museum is really to give people information that's currently being censored from the public schools, from the secular universities, information they don't hear about that actually shows that evolution is not fact.

CARROLL: Demonstrators who disagree with the museum's message protested outside the opening today.

HAM: They do not want children even hearing the possibility that evolution has problems or that it could be wrong. They Don't even want them to hear that. They don't want them to hear the other side. CARROLL: And if that means believing there were dinosaurs on Noah's Ark, then so be it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: And that museum is 60,000 square feet and features some of those life-sized animatronic dinosaurs you saw there. The museum's founder says the $27 million cost, John, came mostly from private donations.

KING: Jason, thank you very much.

Controversy sometimes will bring you a crowd. We will see how that works out.

Jason Carroll, thank you very much.

Clearly, a wide chasm between the beliefs of creationists and evolutionists. While creationists believe the Earth is only 6,000 years old, most scientists believe the planet is about 4.5 billion years old.

We saw that creationists believe dinosaurs and the first humans lived side by side, but science holds that dinosaurs became extinct long before humans evolved. And The Creation Museum contends there were dinosaurs, as you just heard, on Noah's Ark, and that the great flood of the bible formed the Grand Canyon. Science maintains the canyon is the creation of the Colorado River.

Up ahead this Memorial Day, tracing your ancestors. A treasure trove of information available online. Abbi Tatton looks at the amazing things you can find out about family members who have served in the military.

And later, in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, now that Rosie O'Donnell is in "The View's" rearview mirror, our Jeanne Moos looks at O'Donnell's latest, unvarnished views. That's in our 7:00 p.m. hour of THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: More now on the landmark talks today between the United States and Iran. The first in almost 30 years.

We are joined by our world affairs analyst, former defense secretary William Cohen. He's chairman and CEO of The Cohen Group here in Washington.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us.

Let's start before we get to the substance of what might be accomplished down the road with the atmospherics.

Just in December, President Bush said, no, he would not sit down with Iran until Iran promised to give up its nuclear uranium enrichment program. Also, since then, five Americans now being held in detention by the Iranian government. And yet, the United States sits down now to this face-to-face meeting. Clearly a retreat in Bush administration policy.

Does Iran have more leverage in these talks than the United States now?

WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, I think Iran has had more leverage. The United States doesn't have much to give to the Iranians in return for sitting down and talking to them, telling them to stop funding the militias and providing material for it.

The issue, it's important, as Lee -- Congressman Lee Hamilton said before. It's important that this change in policy be made. It was something that the Hamilton -- the Baker-Hamilton and Iraq Study Group recommended.

I think most people supported sitting down and discussing issues with them, but we shouldn't raise expectations too high. I think that the issue is, for the Iranians, what do you have to offer in this case? And the answer is, not much at this point, which is one reason why the discussion has to be broadened, and rather quickly.

The notion that we would focus on this issue to the exclusion of the -- Iraq's Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons I think is a mistake. We have to have a sense of urgency that this issue has to be addressed and quickly with the international community, because if the international community is satisfied that the Iranian shouldn't get a nuclear weapon, they've got to do much more.

So, intensify those discussions. That gives us more leverage than we have right now in simply asking them to stop supporting the materiel and militias.

KING: Even though the United States doesn't have much to give, or at least much it would give, the president's certainly not going to retreat on his position that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapons program. There are some Iranians in detention in Iraq held by coalition forces, mostly U.S. troops in that regard.

Is a prisoner swap a good idea in the sense that obviously those Americans are being held in Iran? The American government says, wrong, let them go. Is a swap an idea, or is that a bad precedent?

COHEN: That sounds like some kind of moral equivalence to the captors being held by the Iranian and those agents of Iran who were captured in Iraq itself. I think that's something that they'll have to consider, but I think not a good idea to start talking about trading with them.

I think the important thing, talk to them. Express to them our concern. Also understand that to the extent that diplomacy is not successful, that only increases the possibility of conflict in the future. It's something we don't want to see, it's something the international community doesn't want to see. It's something that will become an increasing reality in the event that diplomacy fails.

KING: So help us out then. Take us behind the scenes.

You've been party to very sensitive negotiations from your time in Congress, your time in the cabinet. Oftentimes, the deal is cooked beforehand, so that when the big guys show up, there's a deal ready to be hatched. Obviously, you can't do that with Iran because we don't have the day-to-day dialogue with them.

How do you get to a round two, where you can show something, some tangible progress to avoid the situation you just noted, where if diplomacy fails after one, two, or three meetings, then we don't know what comes next?

COHEN: I think, once again, we have to discuss this with the Iranians from a position of strength. We can only get that strength by bringing the international community to bear here. Intensify the economic consequence to the extent Iran doesn't comply with the proposals before them.

It was a year ago in June that the international community said this is the way forward for Iran. Here is a proposal. Iran said at that point, we need three months to study it.

They waited three months, slow-rolled the United States and the international community along, and then said, we are sorry, we can't accept it. And since that time, they have accelerated their development along the path of nuclear weapons.

So it's really an issue. Does the international community really oppose them getting nuclear weapons? If they do, time is to really intensify those sanctions and the consequences. That gives the U.S. some strength.

So, I think we should move on two parallel tracks. One being willing to discuss issues with them. The second, intensifying international pressure to say this is not a good idea, because if you go forward with nuclear weapons, others will follow suit, including the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians and others. That's not good news for the world.

So, that's what we have to do, push on both accounts.

KING: I want to bring you to the political debate back home, although it has quite a bit to do with Iraq. You've watched the debate over the spending vote, the Democratic candidates for president.

Joe Biden voted for it. Senators Clinton and Obama against it. Iraq is obviously the big issue.

When you watch this debate, do you find it to be intellectually honest or dishonest in the context of everyone is saying, elect me, I will bring the troops out of Iraq; elect me, I will get the troops out fast, I will end this war? Is there any scenario you can see, whether there is a Democrat or a Republican elected to succeed President Bush, in which the United States would not have 50,000, 75,000 troops oar more in Iraq for four, five years into the foreseeable future? COHEN: I think the fundamental issue is to decide on the strategy, the long-term strategy for this country. Is it one in which we are going to try a containment of the violence in the region? If so, what is the strategy to do that?

I think at this point, I hope it's not too late, but that the administration or the Democratic majority could say, let's pursue the Baker-Hamilton approach. We need a consensus here in this country in order to be successful ultimately. If it's a containment strategy, let's pursue that. If it's one in which we think we can win militarily, which I think most people don't agree with, then we have to make that clear, and then let the public decide which candidate they want to support.

But I think we have to have some sort of long-term strategic goal in mind and then tailor our tactics to achieve that. And that means having a consensus here at home.

Right now we are seeing this battled out with a lot of partisanship, and I don't think it's good for the country. But, you know, there's always hope there that somehow we can come together and agree on a single point of departure here.

KING: You would sainthood if you can find that consensus.

Our world affairs analyst, former defense secretary, William Cohen.

Thank you for coming in today.

COHEN: Thank you.

KING: And up next, some of the sights and sounds of a particularly poignant Memorial Day as the United States fights an unpopular war in Iraq.

And now you can find out if any of your ancestors fought in any war, dating all the way back to the revolution. Abbi Tatton looks at an amazing online treasure trove.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Memorial Day observances are taking place all across the country today. Here's how President Bush and others are paying tribute to U.S. troops who have fought and died for freedom.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now this hallowed ground receives a new generation of heroes, men and women who gave their lives in places such as Kabul and Kandahar, Baghdad and Ramadi.

ADM. WILLIAM J. FALLON, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: In difficult circumstances, trying to do the right thing for you, for our country, and all that it stands for.

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, VIETNAM WAR VETERAN: All of us here will again be reunited with these brave soldiers, who we remember the last time we saw them when they were alive, frozen in time, their youth, their optimism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Memorial Day began as a way to honor the Civil War dead, but it didn't become an official national holiday until 1971. On this holiday we remember fallen heroes and the survivors of wars past and present.

In World War I, more than 116,000 Americans were killed. Fewer than 25 who served are still living.

In World War II, more than 405,000 U.S. troops were killed. More than three million members of the so-called "Greatest Generation" still are with us.

In the Korean War, more than 36,000 Americans were killed. More than three million Korean War veterans are still live.

In the Vietnam War, more than 58,000 U.S. troops killed. More than seven million veterans live to tell the story of that controversial war.

The most recent wars in the nation's history, 382 U.S. troops were killed in the Persian Gulf War. Slightly more, 386, have died in the war in Afghanistan.

And more than 3,400 U.S. servicemen and women have been killed in the current war in Iraq.

You can track down ancestors who fought in conflicts going all the way back to the American Revolution.

Let's bring in our Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, how can we find this online?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: John, it's a site called ancestry.com, and you will find everything from prisoner of war records, from the War of 1812, to newsreels from the Second World War, like this one showing preparations for D-Day.

Nineteen million U.S. war records have been added to the Web site, and some of the most remarkable are the ones that have been scanned in. So you actually see the handwriting, like these draft registration cards. Some of the names will be familiar.

This is Babe Ruth's from the Second World War. And Babe Ruth's also from the First World War here. Present occupation, baseball. Location, Fenway Park.

Here's another one you might be able to make out the name -- Houdini, middle name listed as "Handcuff".

These records go from the 17th Century, through to the Vietnam War. And they'll be available free to search the public through June 6th -- John.

KING: Fascinating stuff.

Abbi Tatton, thank you very much.

And we're back at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Coming, up, we're on the campaign trail. How are the presidential candidates handling the issue of the war in Iraq this Memorial Day?

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" is just ahead, but first a check of the headlines with Randi Kaye.

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