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Syrian Nuclear Stunner; What Indiana Offers the Democrats; Wesley Snipes Sentenced to Three Years for Tax Convictions; Global Food Crisis has Staggering Ripple Effect

Aired April 24, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But we begin this hour with breaking news. A stunning new claim from U.S. officials now alleging that Syria was possibly only weeks -- weeks away from reaching a nuclear milestone, with North Korean help, and that it was "not intended for peaceful purposes."
The White House calling it a dangerous manifestation -- a direct quote -- of North Korea's nuclear activities. And right now, senior U.S. intelligence and administration officials are briefing reporters. We're expecting to receive intelligence video backing up this new claim. We expect that this hour. We're going to show it to you as soon as it comes into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's get some background, though, from our White House correspondent Ed Henry -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one senior U.S. official is telling CNN that the intelligence they're showing Congress suggests that this nuclear reactor in Syria was months or even weeks away from being functional -- hinting that this was a very serious crisis.


HENRY (voice-over): Breaking nearly eight months of secrecy, the Bush administration briefed lawmakers on allegations North Korea helped Syria build a nuclear reactor -- obliterated by an Israeli air strike. But the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee was not impressed, leveling a startling allegation at the White House.

REP. PETE HOEKSTRA (R-MI), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think many people believe that we were used today by the administration because -- not because they felt that they had to inform Congress because it was their legal obligation to do that, but because they had other agendas in mind.

HENRY: Used, he said, to push an agenda -- trying to convince key lawmakers that if North Korea admits what it did in Syria, the U.S. can trust North Korea to seal a deal -- giving up their nuclear program in exchange for a loosening of sanctions.

But Representative Pete Hoekstra charged the White House had waited too long to get Congressional buy-in.

HOEKSTRA: It will be much harder for them to go through the Congress and get these agreements approved because they have really damaged the relationship between Congress and the administration.

HENRY: At the White House, Spokeswoman Dana Perino repeatedly refused to answer specifics until all of the Congressional briefings are complete.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Again, I'm going to decline to comment.

HENRY: But she did say the administration hopes to address Hoekstra's concerns.

PERINO: We would be very disappointed that he feels that way and would hope he understands our tremendous respect for members of Congress.

HENRY: The White House is also facing heat from Syrian officials, who point to the flawed intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War, to charge the U.S. once again does not have solid evidence.

BASHAR JAAFARI, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: There were no Syrian/North Korean cooperation whatsoever in Syria. And we deny these rumors. And this is what I can say for with this regard.


HENRY: Outside nuclear experts believe there was no fuel for the reactor, suggesting that Syria was not close to a nuclear weapons program. And given the intelligence mistakes in the run-up to the Iraq War, U.S. officials know that they'll have to present what one called "ironclad information" for anyone to believe them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House.

Thank you.

And in just a few minutes, the Syrian ambassador, Imad Moustapha, will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM to respond to these very serious allegations coming in from the White House. We're also waiting on that intelligence video of the alleged nuclear site in Syria. We expect to have it for you within the hour. Once we have it, we'll share it with you. Much more on this important story coming up.

Other news we're following, including Indiana -- the next big battleground for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The primary there only 12 days away and both candidates have reason to be hopeful.

Let's go live to Southern Indiana. Suzanne Malveaux is on the scene for us watching this story.

Give us a little bit of the political lay of the land in this state that's going to be so important on May 6.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there's 72 delegates that are up for grabs. And, really, the role of the Hoosiers is going to be big here. This could make or break Hillary Clinton's campaign. It could also give Barack Obama the kind of momentum to seal the deal, as they say.

Both of these campaigns -- they've opened more than 20 offices or so. They're starting to crisscross the state. Barack Obama was just on this corner yesterday -- the start of the Freedom Trail -- trying to drum up support from those working class voters.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Now it's about helping the Hoosiers.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Right here over 200 Hoosiers built parts that guided our military's smart bombs to their targets. They were good jobs. But now they're gone to China.



SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If the plant moves to China and you've been working there for 20 or 30 years and suddenly you have the rug pulled out from under you...


MALVEAUX: An ad blitz in a state long ignored by Democrats seeking the presidential nomination, now ground zero. Indiana -- heavily Republican, once had a thriving industrial base. Now many here have lost their jobs and homes and fear losing more. The number of Hoosiers registered to vote has swelled to one million -- 150,000 new voters just this year.

JOHN MELLENCAMP, SINGER (SINGING): Well, I was born in a small town and I live in a small town.

MALVEAUX: Rocker John Mellencamp was raised in a small town in Indiana. He opened Obama's campaign here and will perform for Clinton, too. Like Pennsylvania, voters from small towns will play a critical role.

MATT TULLY, "INDIANAPOLIS STAR": We have 92 counties and each one has at least one or more kind of the kind of dusty, old small towns that have been through some tough times.

MALVEAUX: Clinton's success at winning over white, blue collar voters, as she did in Pennsylvania, could give her the edge -- but not necessarily a victory.

TULLY: You can't underestimate the role of small town voters in the rural areas. But we have cities such Gary and Indianapolis and Fort Wayne that really produce a lot of the Democratic vote in the primary.

LINDA GUGIN, PROFESSOR, INDIANA UNIVERSITY SOUTHEAST: The upper part of the state is more urban. And that's -- and I think that's where Barack Obama is doing well.

MALVEAUX: In Northwest Indiana, 20 percent of the state's voters live in the Chicago media market of neighboring Illinois, where Obama is Senator.

TULLY: They watch Chicago news, they get Chicago radio. And they feel like they are more a part of Chicago or Illinois.

OBAMA: People are a little more familiar with me here in Indiana.


MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, both of these candidates are hoping that local endorsements will also help. And the big prize for Senator Clinton, of course, is Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana. He is co-chair of her campaign, a former governor of this state. For Barack Obama, it is the former Congressman, Lee Hamilton, who used to be the co-chair of the 9/11 Commission -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll see who has more clout with those Democrats in Indiana

Thanks very much, Suzanne, for that.

For the latest political news any time, you can always check out our political ticker at The ticker is the number one political news blog on the Web. And that's also where you can read my latest blog post. I posted one just before the show.

Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: As the Democrats continue to fight it out for their party's nomination, Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, is spending the week going where Republicans, for the most part, fear to tread. McCain is on another tour. This one he's calling his Time for Action Tour and it's taking him to parts of the country that may never have seen a Republican. He wants to convince voters in these areas that he says have been forgotten that he cares about them.

He said earlier this week: "There must be no forgotten places in America, whether they've been ignored for long years by the sins of indifference and injustice or have been left behind as the world grew smaller and more economically independent".

Monday, McCain was in Selma, Alabama; Tuesday, Youngstown, Ohio; yesterday, Inez, Kentucky. And today he toured the Lower Ninth Ward, devastated by Hurricane Katrina. He told the residents of New Orleans that if Katrina happened on his watch, he would have immediately landed Air Force One at the nearest Air Force base and come over personally to check it out.

You'll remember it took President Bush more than a week to get to New Orleans after Katrina. And it was precisely at that moment we all learned exactly how much the federal government cares about any of us. Touring seems to be McCain's activity of choice while he's waiting for the Democrats to get their act together. He just completed his Service to America Biography Tour. That was earlier this month. That one was designed to help voters get to know more about John McCain and his family.

The Rolling Stones don't go on tour this often. I mean it's not as though John McCain is unfamiliar to us, right?

Besides being a famous war hero, he's serving his fourth term in the U.S. Senate. That would be 24 years when it's finished. He spent some time before that as a Congressman. and also made an unsuccessful run for president in 2000. We know who you are, John.

Here's the question: What's John McCain accomplishing by all of his touring?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See you in a few moments, Jack.

Thank you.

A high profile Barack Obama supporter has a harsh critique of Hillary Clinton.


MAYOR DOUGLAS WILDER (D), RICHMOND, VIRGINIA: Let her do all of the negative. And she's doing a pretty good job of it, crying about she's not getting a fair shake.


BLITZER: That's not all the former Virginia governor, Doug Wilder is saying. You're going to find out why he accuses Senator Clinton of what he calls "hissy fits."

Also, details of a pending deal that could have major impact on efforts to find Osama bin Laden. We're going to show you what Pakistan is doing right now.

Plus, some Americans stunned to find limits on the amount of rice they can buy. We're going to show you what's going on.

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


BLITZER: Let's follow this breaking news story on Syria, North Korea, Israel. A senior U.S. official telling CNN Syria was possibly only weeks -- weeks away from having a functioning nuclear reactor, until the site was bombed last year by Israeli war planes.

Joining us now in his first interview to discuss this very serious allegation is the Syrian ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: All right. So you've just been called to the State Department. You're coming here from the State Department. I assume they read the riot act to you.

What did they say?

MOUSTAPHA: Actually, they told me a ridiculous story about an alleged Syrian nuclear project. And they told me that they have compelling evidence that Syria was planning to acquire nuclear technology.

BLITZER: Did they share evidence with you?

MOUSTAPHA: They showed me what they had. But I started by reminding them that the last time that top officials from the U.S. administration went to the United Nations Security Council and discussed compelling evidence about WMDs, that was when they were talking about the Iraqi WMDs. That's...

BLITZER: What was the evidence they showed you?

MOUSTAPHA: They showed me ridiculous satellite taken photographs of a building in the Syrian desert, saying this is a nuclear reactor. And I had to remind them that it is, on one hand, preposterous, and, on the other hand, there is something silly about this -- not a single security guard, no barbed wire, no anti-aircraft missiles...

BLITZER: What was that...

MOUSTAPHA: This is...

BLITZER: What was that building?

MOUSTAPHA: This is supposed to be a strategic building without a single policeman, a single security...

BLITZER: What was it, the building that the Israelis bombed?

MOUSTAPHA: An ordinary military building. Nothing else.

BLITZER: What was inside?

MOUSTAPHA: Nothing. It was empty, totally empty.

BLITZER: Here's what the White House statement says: "We are convinced, based on a variety of information, that North Korea assisted Syria's covert nuclear activities. We have good reason to believe that reactor, which was damaged beyond repair on September 6th of last year, was not intended for peaceful purposes."

That's, in part, what the White House said.

MOUSTAPHA: Well, this is a fantasy and this administration has a proven record of fabricating stories about other countries' WMDs. It is so extraordinary. In the same White House statement, they say this was a secret building, yet commercial satellite services provided photos of that quote-unquote secret building in Syria. I hope...

BLITZER: We saw commercial pictures of it before and after.

MOUSTAPHA: I hope the American citizens and the representatives of the American people would not be as gullible this time as they were prior to the war on Iraq and they will stop believing the silly accusations of the U.S. administration.

BLITZER: Here's the other part of this statement the White House put out: "In defiance of its international obligations, Syria did not inform the International Atomic Energy Agency of the construction of the reactor. And after it was destroyed, the regime" -- meaning your regime, Syria -- "moved quickly to bury evidence of its existence. This cover-up only served to reinforce our confidence that this reactor was not intended for peaceful activities."

MOUSTAPHA: Once again, I say I hope -- I hope the truth will be revealed to everybody. This will be a major embarrassment to the U.S. administration for the second time. But prior to that, they lied about the Iraqi WMDs. And they think they can do it again nowadays.

BLITZER: Were North Koreans there at that site?

MOUSTAPHA: No. There was nobody at that site. It was a vacant military building. There were none -- I have to repeat this -- no security guards, no barbed wires, no anti-aircraft missiles. It was an ordinary, plain building. All photos taken by satellite services can confirm what I am saying.

BLITZER: What is the nature of Syria's relationship with North Korea?

MOUSTAPHA: We have a very normal relationship not only with North Korea but with --

BLITZER: Do they supply weapons to Syria?

MOUSTAPHA: Everything that Syria is doing, Syria is doing on an internationally legal basis.

BLITZER: What weapons...

MOUSTAPHA: We are not breaking...

BLITZER: But you purchase weapons, missiles, from North Korea, right?

MOUSTAPHA: We are a country that happens to be under occupation right now by Israel, that is occupying the Syrian Golan, and, also, it is a clear threat. And this is what I have just reminded the guys at the State Department, that the only country in the Middle East that has WMDs happens to be Israel.

If the United States is planning to invade and occupy a country because of its WMDs, then the country that has WMDs is well-known...

BLITZER: Will...

MOUSTAPHA: everybody in the whole world.

BLITZER: Will Syria allow representatives from the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to go visit that site?

MOUSTAPHA: This is ridiculous. First, we never breached any commitments because we were never engaged...

BLITZER: So let them come in and see it.

MOUSTAPHA: See what?

See a building that was never ever intended for any --

BLITZER: They have sophisticated equipment that can determine whether or not...

MOUSTAPHA: They knew --

BLITZER: ...there was something there.

MOUSTAPHA: They know themselves that Syria is not involved in nuclear activities. As you have said, they have the evidence and they have the equipment. They told you the same about Iraq prior to your war in Iraq. You never believed them -- or, actually, you didn't even try to believe them, because the United States never cared whether its stories and allegations about Iraq were...

BLITZER: I did interview the director...

MOUSTAPHA: ...were reliable or not.

BLITZER: I did interview the director general of the IAEA, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, after the Israelis bombed that suspicious site. And he said at that time, the U.S. had not provided the IAEA with any evidence of an alleged North Korean/Syrian plot.

MOUSTAPHA: Actually...

BLITZER: But we'll see what he says now...

MOUSTAPHA: Actually...

BLITZER: ...that the U.S. is going to go forward.

MOUSTAPHA: No officials at the State Department today...

BLITZER: And provide the IAEA with that information. MOUSTAPHA: The officials at the State Department today were kind enough to show me the sort of evidence they displayed to the U.S. Congressmen today. And in a way, I will tell you this. If they will dare to present this evidence to the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Commission, it will be mockery on -- for the U.S. delegation...

BLITZER: What...

MOUSTAPHA: ...because it's just photographs of vacant buildings.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, one final question.

The president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, he's quoted as saying this about direct negotiations with Israel: "Maybe with the coming administration in the United States, we can talk about direct negotiations."

Is Syria ready for unconditional, direct peace negotiations with Israel?

MOUSTAPHA: Of course. Syria has time and again said that we are willing and ready and inviting the Israeli side to engage in serious peace discussions with us, leading to a comprehensive peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict.

It was this administration -- the Bush administration that made it impossible for the Israelis to accept the Syrian offer. This is why we believe that regardless of who will be the next president of the United States, whether it will be a Republican or a Democrat, we believe that the United States will find it in its own national interests to resume the role it used to play in the past, which is the role of brokering peace in the Middle East -- not inflaming one crisis after another, one -- starting one war after another.

BLITZER: Ambassador Moustapha, thanks very much for coming in.

MOUSTAPHA: Thank you.

BLITZER: A powerful boost to calls for a boycott of the Olympic Game opening ceremonies. You're going to find out what the French president is doing that could soon involve the entire European Union.

Plus, American cheerleaders causing outrage in India. We're going to show you what's going on.

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


BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tense moments for four construction workers who were working in a flood controlled tunnel in Kansas City, Kansas. Their boat capsized today. Authorities say it happened because recent heavy rain made the water level in the quarter mile tunnel higher than normal. The workers were all rescued. "The Kansas City Star" reporting that all four were treated for hypothermia at the scene and they're all doing fine.

The president of France says he will push for a European Union agreement on whether to boycott the Olympic opening ceremony. Nicolas Sarkozy says France is encouraging China to restart talks with Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, before the games begin. France will hold the rotating E.U. Presidency while the Olympics are being held in Beijing in August. Sarkozy has suggested that he might skip the opening ceremony in response to China's crackdown in Tibet.

Scantily-clad American cheerleaders are taking Indian cricket by storm. But some outraged politicians say they're degrading Indian culture and they want them banned. The India Premier League cricket games are now underway. The owners of eight teams have all flown in foreign cheerleaders, including the Washington Redskins' cheerleaders to entertain -- there they are -- to entertain the crowd. The state government has put restrictions on the cheerleaders. It's considering banning their performances, which some Indian citizens say are vulgar.

There's a new front on the war on terror. Documents obtained by the Associated Press reveal the Bush administration is now targeting language. Federal agencies are telling their employees not to describe Islamic extremists as Jihadists or Mujahedeen. The reason -- such words may boost support for radicals among Arab and Muslim audiences by giving them a veneer of religious credibility. The term Islamo- fascism is out, too. The preferred in term -- terrorists or violent extremists -- back to you.

BLITZER: Under the theory that words do matter.

All right, thanks, Carol, very much.

A harsh assessment of the Clinton campaign.


WILDER: But these things were described as hissy fits. Let's get past race and gender. Let the American people vote on the issues.


BLITZER: That's the former Virginia governor and Obama supporter, Doug Wilder. He's not only criticizing Hillary Clinton, he's also offering some advice for Obama. You're going to find out what it is.

And they're fighting for Indiana and North Carolina right now.

But how much do those states really matter if they wind up going Republican in November?

Plus, what you need to know about a growing global food emergency and how it's impacting the United States. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, we're awaiting brand new video that could shed fresh light on the startling claim by the Bush administration that Syria was on the brink of firing up a nuclear reactor. Even more stunning, if true, the allegations that North Korea had a hand in it. The Syrian ambassador -- you just heard him here -- denying all of this.

Barack Obama brushes off this week's loss to Hillary Clinton and sets his sights on North Carolina. The big challenge for both Democrats -- rubbing up the NASCAR vote.

And at least one high-powered Congressional leader is singing a different tune about a Clinton/Obama or an Obama/Clinton ticket. Why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has opted out of that common chorus.

All that and a lot more still ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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

An African-American political trail blazer has some choice words about Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy. The former Virginia governor, Doug Wilder, is also dishing out advice to her opponent, Barack Obama.

Carol Costello is back. She's watching this story for us.

All right, what's his take on the issue of race in this campaign?

COSTELLO: Well, more interesting his take on gender. But I'll get to that in a minute. You know, Wilder formally believes Obama is doing all the right things to win. As for Hillary Clinton, he says she needs to stop throwing hissy fits that reinforce the stereotype of a woman in charge.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Douglas Wilder is a legend -- the country's first elected African-American governor, now mayor of Richmond and a big Barack Obama supporter.

WILDER: And I've always said stay above the fray, deal with the issues, concentrate on moving America. And he's done just that. I've never once heard him talk about running to make history because he's an African-American or a member of a minority group.

COSTELLO: But later in the interview, Wilder went, you might say, negative, calling Hillary Clinton emotional and speaking frankly about Barack Obama's difficulties in running against her. WILDER: What he has to do is to understand that it's difficult for some people to come to grips with that. And he can't attack anybody. And particularly for an African-American man to attack a white woman, it's not going to be accepted. Let's face it.

CLINTON: He says one thing in speeches.

COSTELLO: He suggests Obama allow Clinton to go negative, something he says she's done a pretty good job of, thanks to what he calls hissy fits.

COSTELLO: Crying about she's not getting a fair shake. Why am I always getting the first questions? And then these two men are beating up on me. He's never complained about any of those things until just last week when he says, why did we wait 45 minutes before we get into talking about real issues.

COSTELLO: Wilder also says Clinton is hurting her own candidacy by doing things that reinforce female stereo types. Like the time Clinton teared up while campaigning in New Hampshire.

CLINTON: I don't want to see us fall backwards. No.

WILDER: Well, did you see it? People describe things differently. Sobbing. Wiping away tears. But the whole thing is, look, wait a minute, if you say you're strong, I'm tried and I'm tested, be strong. Be tested. Don't weep and cry about it. You don't have to do this. You can quit any day you want to.

But if you stand up to it, measure to the task. And that's what I'm saying. Be the candidate rather than the woman. Be the candidate rather than a person of race. This is what the American people are looking for. Someone who speaks for all of them.


COSTELLO: We did reach out to the Clinton campaign. Her spokesman, Phil Singer, thought about it for a minute and then decided their answer for now is no comment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thank you.

Carol Costello reporting.

Let's discuss this, the candidates' temperament and a lot more with Lisa Caputo. She's a former Clinton press secretary and current Clinton former supporter. Democrat strategist Jamal Simmons, he's backing Barack Obama and Republican strategist, Terry Jeffrey. He's editor in chief of the Cyber Cast News Service.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

All right. Lisa, you know Hillary Clinton. You worked for her for a long time. You know her well. What do you think of what Doug Wilder just said? LISA CAPUTO, FORMER CLINTON PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think it's unfortunate, actually, because it goes to, I think, some of the underlying currents in the campaign. And I know that Governor Wilder also said in that -- in his remarks that there was an ingrained difficulty for Senator Obama because he's African-American more so than Hillary Clinton because she's a woman. I think that there are ingrained difficulties for both. She from a gender perspective, and he talked about it.

It's interesting to me, Wolf, because, you know, she's -- she's damned if she does and doesn't. If she expresses emotion, she's criticized. If she doesn't show emotion, she's seen as superhuman and a steely personality. The fact of the matter is you want a president with a heart.

You want a president who's a human being who does show emotion. And I just think that his comments are really a sad commentary, frankly, on gender.

BLITZER: Jamal, you know Hillary Clinton as well. You worked in the Clinton White House. Does this describe, hissy fit, that is, the Hillary Clinton you know?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Not at all. I do think it's a little unfair. Because I think Lisa's right on this point. The one thing American voters always wanted to know about Hillary Clinton is what's in her heart? Is she really the kind of person we can relate to and be warm with?

Every time that Hillary Clinton has shown that she has a heart, every time she's sort of let the armor down and let people see inside of her, she's done very well. The polls have responded. The voters have responded. I don't think people thought she was having a hissy fit. It's not helpful to use those terms.

I think a lot of women feel the language in the media and from some of the context of the campaign has been kind of gender biased. I don't think it's been coming from Barack Obama, from his campaign, but I do think there are some people out there doing that and it's unfortunate.

BLITZER: Let me let Terry weigh in.

She's not a robot. She's a human being and human beings show emotion from time to time. Terry, what's wrong with that?

TERRY JEFFREY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well you know I think, Wolf, coming into this campaign potentially one of Hillary Clinton's biggest problems is she might come across as too nasty, too mean. I think there were a few occasions in the campaign where she did.

Obama's problem I think is he has to convince voters that he's not too naive to be commander in chief and he has the authoritative personality and knowledge to do it. I think on that score so far in this campaign, Senator Clinton has come across as more authoritative on issues of foreign policy and national security. She has expressed more of the demeanor and temperament you would want in a commander in chief than Senator Obama.

So on the ultimate demeanor test for a presidential candidate, which is whether this person can sit to evil office and run the national security policy of the most powerful nation on earth, I think Senator Clinton is winning and that's why her campaign of late has focused on that.

BLITZER: Terry, is it fair for people to be assessing the temperament of John McCain who supposedly has a well-known temper?

JEFFREY: Absolutely. I think it's completely legitimate. I think voters want to know that when they put someone in command of the armed forces of the United States that this is a person who's going to handle that office prudently. They're going to look at all the consequences of any action they take. And I think, therefore, you want to -- you want to ask yourself, will this person be impetuous in that situation?

BLITZER: We're going to be focusing, Lisa, a lot of time now in Indiana and North Carolina. We just did some checking. The last time a Democrat won these states in a presidential contest, LBJ won in 1964, Indiana. North Carolina, Jimmy Carter won back in 1976. These are very red states in presidential elections. Why should we care that much about who does well among the Democrats in Indiana and North Carolina?

CAPUTO: Well, I think we should care, obviously, because of the state of play of the Democratic primary.

For Hillary Clinton, it's very important coming out of Pennsylvania with ultimately almost a ten point victory. It should give her a slingshot effect certainly into these states.

Now, North Carolina, as we know, has a large African-American voting population. Indiana, perhaps, more of a battleground between the two candidates. I think for her, coming out with that slingshot effect should give her the ability to raise money. She's raised something like $10 million in 24 hours with 80 percent of it coming from new donors.

And, Wolf, I think it also gives her the ability by going into those states and getting a victory in at least one, having the superdelegates hit a pause button on whether or not Barack Obama is really electable.

BLITZER: All right.

SIMMONS: Wolf, here's what's interesting about Lisa's statement just now. She tried to in a way -- I know she probably didn't mean to do this but she did try to dismiss North Carolina. In some sense, she talked about the African-American population. What's interesting is there are -- no Democrat can win the presidency without winning African-Americans and without getting African-Americans to turn out in pretty big numbers.

Senator Clinton has been sort of hard bringing Michigan out, let's have Michigan count. You know Senator Clinton lost every single precinct in the city of Detroit, which is predominantly African- American. She lost every single district to uncommitted. People showed up to vote for nobody over Senator Clinton. She's got a real problem in the African-American community.

We've been talking a lot about white working class voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and other places. When African- Americans go 92 percent to 8 percent versus a candidate, that candidate's got a problem with African-American voters. That's going to cause a real problem in the general election.

BLITZER: Is it realistic, Terry, to think either of these two states, Indiana or North Carolina, will realistically be in play come November?

JEFFREY: No, I don't think so. But, you know, the Democrats ought to want them to be, Wolf.

In the green room, I was looking on the computer there, the electoral maps from 1980 and '84. Ronald Reagan, the model for conservatives, what a Republican ought to be, he won New York and Massachusetts in both of those years. In 1984, he won every state except Minnesota.

In the last two presidential elections we've seen this red and blue divide of the country. If Barack Obama is going to be the unifier he says he's going to be, he has to win those culturally conservative people in his own party, in the upper Midwest. Lately he hasn't shown an ability to be able to appeal to those voters.

BLITZER: He did well in Wisconsin. He did well in Minnesota. That's pretty much the upper Midwest.

JEFFREY: That's a good point, Wolf, but I think if you look at the exit polls from Wisconsin and then from Ohio and Pennsylvania, what you see is that as recent stories have come out about Barack Obama, his relationship with Jeremiah Wright, his comment that bitter people cling to guns and religion, an anti-immigrant sentiment, he started to lose that culturally conservative Democrat vote. He did win it in Wisconsin. He didn't in Ohio and Pennsylvania. He's got to show an ability to get that back.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Jamal, because we've got to go.

SIMMONS: Wolf, these are Democratic voters who are voting in Democratic primaries among Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. They're going toward Hillary Clinton on some of these votes. In a general election, these Democratic voters will vote for the Democratic nominee for president.

CAPUTO: I agree with that.

BLITZER: Jamal Simmons, thanks very much. Lisa Caputo, thanks to you. Terry Jeffrey, and thanks to you as well.

The Bush administration declares it has evidence of a destroyed Syrian nuclear reactor designed for anything but peace. We've got the White House statement. We're now waiting for the new intelligence, the pictures that are about to be released by the administration.

Clinton/Obama or Obama/Clinton. Some say either way it's a dream ticket. We'll hear from at least one of the top Democrats who doesn't think it's such a good idea.

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


BLITZER: In Pakistan today an ironic twist. The cease fire is declared by the man accused of masterminding the assassination of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto now that Bhutto's party is in power. What's more, the new government says it's nearing a deal with border tribes that the U.S. fears might actually undermine the overall fight against terror.

Let's bring back Brian Todd. He's looking at this story for us.

Brian, what are they talking about here? What's going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, that deal involves exchanging prisoners and withdrawing Pakistani forces from those frontier areas. Pakistani officials tell us it brings more accountability to people on the front lines. U.S. officials say this is not an area where deals should be struck.


TODD: It's the area where intelligence officials believe Osama Bin Laden is hiding out, the tribal area of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan. But the trail's gone cold. Now the rules of engagement in that region may change.

A senior Pakistani official tells CNN the new government is close to a security deal with tribal leaders to reduce the Pakistani army's role in security and counterterrorism. And make local elders more responsible.

The White House is skeptical saying of these types of approaches, "We don't think that they work. What we encourage them to do is to continue to fight against the terrorists and to not disrupt any secure military operations that are ongoing."

Pakistan's deal in 2007 with militants in the tribal areas, officials say, gave breathing room to al Qaeda.

MICHAEL MCCONNELL, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: A de facto safe haven in Pakistan's border area with Afghanistan known as the Fattah or the federally administered tribal areas.

TODD: But Pakistan's new government says using the Pakistani army in those areas is not working either and they need help from the locals. Could a new deal produce any better results against al Qaeda? MARK SCHNEIDER, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: The current government is talking about negotiating with the tribal leaders in those areas rather than with the Taliban. But, again, if those tribal leaders are in cahoots with the Taliban, there's no difference.


TODD: Another source of concern here, the role of Baitullah Mehsud, a top Pakistani militant. This week he ordered his followers to stop attacks while talks continue. A top Pakistani official tells us Mehsud is not part of the negotiations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So what makes this supposed deal any different from the earlier one which clearly never worked?

TODD: It did not.

A top Pakistani official insists this deal is going to have more robust enforcement than the last deal including penalties or military strikes if the tribes don't hold up their end. U.S. officials believe anything that involves pulling Pakistani forces out of that area is not taking the fight to the extremists.

BLITZER: All right. The ramifications very serious to the U.S. obviously. Thanks, Brian, very much.

We're still waiting for that new video of Syria, presumably supporting suspicions in the Bush administration that the Syrians were building a nuclear reactor with North Korean help before the facility was destroyed last year by Israel. We'll show you as soon as it comes into THE SITUATION ROOM.

And fears over food shortages triggering unrest around the world. Now grocers are imposing some limits on the amount of rice you can buy right here at home. We'll look at the truth behind the hysteria over rice.

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


BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: What is John McCain accomplishing by all of the touring that he's been doing the last several weeks?

Frank writes: "From my observations, John McCain is a very presentable, likable person. These qualities should gain him some support during these tours. Unfortunately, he's stuck with the political agenda only a moron can support which will likely result in him getting about 30 percent of the popular vote come November."

Carl in San Francisco: "Making sound bytes for the Democrats in the fall. It's his 'No Hope for Change' tour. He's showing the world how well he doesn't comprehend the 21st century or the last part of the 20th for that matter. Keep it up, John. You're more than making up for the damage Hillary's doing to the Democrats."

Alfie in Palmdale, California: "Has it occurred to anyone he might actually be concerned about those folks in the impoverished areas? He's showing up in places the other two candidates have disregarded as insignificant. If not, why haven't that he visited some of those places that are not likely going to vote for them? McCain has shown these people some interest. He's talked to them. In the land of accomplishments, it speaks volumes."

Ann in Seattle writes: "I can only speak for myself. I'm not paying attention because I know who he is and what his policies would be. He has nothing new to say, no plans that will create change in America. He is yesterday's news."

M.R. in North Carolina: "He's pretending he cares about working men and women and that he's listening to their concerns about high prices, loss of jobs, et cetera. I can't think of anything positive John McCain's done in 30 years in the senate to help with the flight of middle and working class Americans or the poor."

And Eric writes: "With the Democratic nomination process in total chaos seems to me John McCain's doing what any smart businessman would do. He's courting the disenfranchised voters on the left who aren't happy with candidates from their party, planting those seeds that will sprout come November."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at Look for your letter there among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See you in a few moments, Jack. Thank you.

Americans haven't experienced food rations since World War II. Some are now seeing limits to the amount of rice they can buy feeling the first pinch of a global food emergency.

Mary Snow has been watching the story for us. It's pretty disturbing.

Mary, what's going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the nation's two biggest retail warehouse chains are limiting the amount of rice shoppers can buy at one time. The CEO of one of the chains says it's in response to people buying up rice because of headlines around the globe but insists there's no shortage here.


SNOW: The ripple effect of the food crisis is hitting home. Sam's Club is limiting bulk purchases of rice, citing recent supply and demand trends. The warehouse club owned by Wal-Mart caters to small businesses like restaurants which will be restricted to buying 80 pounds of rice at a time. Costco also placed limits at some of its stores. The move is seen as precautionary one as rice prices soar.

JACK SCOVILLE, PRICE FUTURES GROUP: I think this is a way for Costco and Wal-Mart to maintain their supplies and make sure the supply gets around. I don't really feel like we'll have a problem here in the United States.

SNOW: The price of rice has skyrocketed over worries about dwindling supply. Vietnam and India put bans on exports. While rice prices have more than doubled in the last year, experts say they don't expect shortages in the rice supply in the United States.

SCOVILLE: I don't see that we're going to have a huge shortage of rice or anything like that here in the United States. I think what we're reacting to is more what's happening around the world.

SNOW: And what is happening around the world is soaring food prices, not only for rice but wheat and soybeans and other staples.

JIM LYONS, OXFAM: We have to recognize that close to a billion people around the world live on less than $2 a day. The impact is really huge. We're seeing that as manifested in social unrest. We've seen food riots.

SNOW: Riots in several countries in Africa, Haiti and Indonesia. Ox Family Group working to fight global hunger says many of these countries rely on imports and says while the U.S. has provided aide for millions, it needs to overhaul its foreign assistance program.


SNOW: And an adviser to the U.N. secretary general calls the food crisis in some countries along with surging fuel prices the worst of its kind in more than 30 years. He says it's threatening a number of governments -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thanks very much.

Take a look at how much the price of rice has skyrocketed amongst some of the world's top exporters. Thailand, which is number one, is now getting $940 a ton up from $324 a year ago. Current number two, India is fetching $2,000 a ton up from $850 last April. And here in the United States, which is the number three exporter of rice, the price has soared to $794 a ton. That's up from $397 a year ago.

The rising price of oil cited as a strong factor in a major airline merger. Delta and Northwest take a congressional hot seat to defend the proposed union. We'll ask Lou Dobbs why the tow airlines say it's the best move for the flying public. What's going on?

Later, a Pulitzer Prize winner gets creamed. CNN's Jeanne Moos considers the long messy history of pie faced political statements.

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


BLITZER: Let's go right back to Carol Costello.

Looks like someone might be going to jail, Carol? What's going on?

COSTELLO: I think so for three years in federal prison. This is according to our affiliate WESH in Orlando. Westerly Snipes, the actor, has been sentenced to three years in federal prison for failing to pay his taxes. A jury found Snipes guilty back in February of willingly failing to file taxes for the past three years. The government said he owed $2.7 million.

Federal prosecutors said they wanted to make an example of Snipes because he refused to pay taxes. He knew he was willfully refusing to pay those taxes so hence the sentence. Three years, federal prison, Wesley Snipes.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Carol, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Lou. He's got a show coming up in an hour. Want to pick his brain right now on this merger, Delta and Northwest, good for the consumer out there or bad for the consumer?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Well, it's all bad for the consumer right now particularly with the airline industry, Wolf. Anyone who's flown on a commercial aircraft in the last year knows that you are treated first and foremost as cattle, somebody looking in your ear for a tag, an identification tag.

These are not -- we're not American citizens any longer flying on our airlines. We're simply cattle. We have -- there's no fierce independence. There's no demand for consumer rights. There's no demand for any kind of courtesy. I mean it's ugly, what's happened in this country.

For this merger to go through, you can say the airline industry's management has been totally incompetent. The reality is, we should re-regulate this industry. We should do so right now and end the discussion.

BLITZER: So specifically what do you want to see Washington do?

DOBBS: Regulate the industry. Take us back to 1978 and regulation, federal regulation of this industry, understand this industry can't function. We have incompetent management being tasked with impossible doles. We have soaring gasoline prices and fuel prices in this country. This is just a ridiculous situation and put the consumer, the traveling passenger, first for a change because we're going to change the mindset of the entire industry.

BLITZER: Lou, thanks very much. We'll see you back here in an hour.