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THE SITUATION ROOM
U.S. Not 'At War With Islam'; Ridding the World of Nuclear Weapons
Aired April 6, 2009 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, charm and military offensive. President Obama tries to move Muslims from a Muslim nation. Its support could sway what happens in Iraq and Afghanistan and way beyond.
The Pentagon announcing some deep budget cuts involving the military's most expensive fighter jet and presidential helicopter, but adds, at the same time, billions of dollars to help fight insurgencies. Will Congress go along with all of this?
And no more warm kisses. There's controversy right now between Governor Sarah Palin and her almost son-in-law. Levi Johnston breaking his silence on national TV, revealing his true feelings about Governor Palin.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics, and extraordinary reports from around the world.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
This is what greeted President Obama on this, his first visit to a Muslim nation as president of the United States -- warm and welcoming newspaper headlines. One of them even saying, and I'm quoting now, "Our hearts have been broken over the last eight years." "Now," it says, "it is time to mend hearts."
That's what the president hopes to accomplish with Turkey, telling the Muslim nation the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. It's a message partly designed to get more help for Afghanistan and pull troops out of Iraq.
Our White House Correspondent Ed Henry is traveling with the president -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as part of his outreach to the Muslim world, the president got personal, alluding to the fact that he grew up in Indonesia and his father was Muslim. A political risky move since last year, he spent a lot of time denying false rumors that he's Muslim too.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Barack Hussein Obama..
HENRY (voice-over): It was no accident President Obama chose Muslim majority Turkey for the final stop of his European tour. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States has been enriched by Muslim-Americans. Many other Americans have Muslim in their families or have lived in a Muslim majority country. I know because I am one of them.
HENRY: Mr. Obama also tried to turn the page on the Bush years, touting his plans to wind down the war in Iraq and close down the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo.
OBAMA: There is an old Turkish proverb, you cannot put out fire (AUDIO GAP). There's some who must be met by force. They will not compromise. But force alone cannot solve our problems and it is no alternative to extremism.
HENRY: But the outreach also has practical goals. Turkey has the second largest army in NATO, so it's support is crucial in Afghanistan. And since Turkey borders Iraq to the north, its cooperation with moving U.S. military personnel and equipment out of Iraq could be pivotal too.
OBAMA: I know there were differences about whether to go to war, but now we must come together as we end this war responsibly.
HENRY: The courtship included a careful massaging of his previous support for a U.S. resolution declaring Turkey committed genocide of up to 1.5 million Armenians starting in 1915. At a news conference, the president used the word "killings" instead of genocide and said he wants the Turks and Armenians to work it out.
OBAMA: If they can move forward and deal with a difficult and tragic history, then I think the entire world should encourage that.
HENRY: A far cry from Mr. Obama's campaign promise, when he said that genocide "... is a widely documented fact..." and "America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully..." about it.
HENRY: Campaign rhetoric can sometimes be difficult to square in the complicated world of diplomacy. The president doesn't want to offend Turkey, which could also wind up being a key mediator in Israeli/Palestinian peace talks -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry traveling with the president in Turkey for us.
With the president determined to get his message out to the world's Muslims, Turkey is an especially good place to deliver it. Virtually all the people who live in Turkey are Muslim, with less than one-half of a percent mostly Christians and some Jews. And as Ed Henry just explained, Turkey has the second largest army in NATO, giving it an important role potentially in Afghanistan. The country has 660 troops there right now.
The Pentagon wants some major changes in American military priorities. Today, the defense secretary, Robert Gates, outlined the 2010 proposed budget. Among the proposals, phasing out production of the military's most expensive new fighter jet, the F-22, in the fiscal year 2011, and terminating a proposed new fleet of new helicopters for the president.
Here is the defense secretary explaining his priorities.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: This department must consistently demonstrate the commitment and leadership to stop programs that significantly exceed their budget, or which spend limited tax dollars to buy more capability than the nation needs. Our conventional modernization goals should be tied to the actual and prospective capabilities of known future adversaries, not by what might be technology feasible for a potential adversary given unlimited time and resources.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Meanwhile, the almost $534 billion proposed Pentagon budget hopes to spend more on anti-terror tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan, less on preparing for conventional wars. The Pentagon hoping to create what it describes as a more mobile, flexible force.
Amid all these proposed Pentagon cuts is President Obama's very ambitious plans for nuclear disarmament. What's going on, on this front?
We asked our Brian Todd to take a look.
Brian, what did you find?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if you think his economic agenda is ambitious, this is something else -- eliminating the world's nuclear weapons.
First, let's look at the stockpiles. Now, exact numbers are closely-held secrets, but we asked the Federation of American Scientists and a group called GlobalSecurity.org for estimates.
Russia has the most, an estimated 13,000 nuclear weapons. Those include non-operational weapons. The U.S., second, with about 9,400.
Then a big drop-off. France is third, with about 300 nuclear weapons in its arsenal. China is next, with about 240, you see it there. Great Britain is right after China, with 185.
Israel, believed to have about 80 nuclear weapons, but it will not confirm that it has any. Pakistan and India both have about 60 nuclear weapons. And North Korea is said to have less than 10, but their delivery systems are a big question right now.
Nine countries with more than 23,000 nuclear weapons. So we dug into how tough it's going to be to wipe out these weapons.
TODD (voice-over): The president himself says he's not naive about his plan to eliminate the world's nuclear weapons.
OBAMA: This goal will not be reached quickly, perhaps not in my lifetime.
TODD: But on the way, what's realistic? We asked experts about the president's goals.
One is reducing current stockpiles of nuclear weapons, and within that...
OBAMA: We will negotiate a new strategic arms reduction treaty with the Russians this year.
TODD: Experts say that may be the most realistic goal.
PROF. JIM WALSH, MASSACHUSETTS INST. OF TECHNOLOGY: The Russians have already indicated that they are willing to negotiate with the U.S. to reduce their nuclear stockpile.
TODD: But other ways of getting countries to reduce their arsenals will be tougher.
OBAMA: The United States will seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons.
PROF. MATTHEW BUNN, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: The states that are still producing nuclear material for weapons, which is primarily India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea, are not interested in participating in such an agreement.
TODD: Another goal is to prevent those who don't have nuclear weapons from getting them. To achieve that, tougher inspections and penalties. And...
OBAMA: ... an international fuel bank so that countries can access peaceful power without increasing the risk of proliferation.
WALSH: The fuel bank already exists on a pilot scale. That's already been funded and set up.
TODD: The final piece, locking down vulnerable nuclear material so terrorists don't get it. That, experts say, will also be very hard to achieve.
BUNN: Almost every country that has this kind of nuclear material regards its specific procedures for how that material is protected and secured from theft as being closely guarded national secrets.
TODD: One idea from the president is to try to get a treaty finalized that would ban nuclear testing. The U.S. and other countries have already agreed to that in principle, but a big hurdle for the president there is here at home in the United States. The Senate failed to ratify a comprehensive test ban treaty 10 years ago, and about one-third of the current Senate are people who voted against that treaty, Wolf. He's up against it on that one.
BLITZER: Yes, it's going to be a political problem, presumably, this time around as well.
What are you hearing behind the scenes, Brian, about this sense of urgency that's propelling the Obama administration right now to push for this paring down of these nuclear arsenals around the world?
TODD: One national security official in Prague laid it on the line. He said that, look, the countries, like the United States, Russia, other countries who have the weapons, have to be willing to pare down their arsenals, cut off production, in order to force other countries into agreeing to pressure Iran, North Korea, other countries into not getting them in the first place.
You can't just sit there and wag your finger when you're not willing to do it yourself. So they have got to be willing to do it themselves. That's what they're talking about right now. Iran and North Korea the big problems right now.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much. A major issue on the agenda right now.
By the way, tomorrow, the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, will be our guest right here THE SITUATION ROOM. We'd like you to be a part of the interview. What question do you have for the vice president?
You can commit your questions to ireport.com/situationroom. Watch the interview tomorrow to see if your questions are answered.
Let's start the week once again with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File."
Jack, I hope you had a lovely weekend.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It was three days long and it was delightful.
President Barack Obama has the biggest partisan gap in his early job approval rating of any president in the last 40 years. A new Pew Research Center poll shows 88 percent of Democrats approve of Obama, only 27 percent of Republicans though think he's getting it done, and that's a rather stunning 61-point gap.
Even George W. Bush had only a 51-point partisan gap early in his administration. Of course, that was before 9/11 and the phony reasons for invading Iraq. President Clinton had a 45-point gap.
Researchers suggest that this growing partisan divide is part of a long-term trend. When you look at early approval ratings for Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon, a majority of Republicans actually approved of Carter's job performance, and a majority of Democrats backed Nixon at similar points in their first terms. When it comes to President Obama, the partisan gap is especially curious since this is someone who won the election by forming a coalition of voters from across the political spectrum. Then- candidate Obama promised to bring a post-partisan brand of politics to Washington. Good luck with that.
Since his inauguration, the president has tried. He made an effort to reach out to Republicans in Congress, met with them privately about the economic stimulus package, invited them to the White House Super Bowl party, even including them in various on-camera meetings at the White House. But apparently it's not working.
So here's the question: What happened to the idea of bipartisanship? Go to cnn.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Not there yet. But if they keep working at it, Jack, one of these days maybe they'll find it. Right?
CAFFERTY: Don't hold your breath.
BLITZER: No, I'm not. All right, Jack. Thanks very much.
More than 100 people now reported dead, thousands injured, 50,000 or so homeless. A powerful earthquake ripping through parts of Italy. Officials fearing the death toll is going to rise.
And most wanted. The EPA is keeping a most wanted list of people it accuses of violating environmental laws.
And many of you are rating the president's overseas trip, especially with statements like these...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Let me say this as clearly as I can. The United States is not and will never be at war with Islam.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Obama makes his first trip to a Muslim nation as president. He visited Turkey today to deliver the message of cooperation between the United States and Muslims, and hopes to convince Turkey to do more for Afghanistan and Iraq. But part of the president's message concerned Iran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: A piece of the region will also be advanced if Iran forgoes any nuclear weapons ambitions. Now, as I made clear in Prague yesterday, no one is served by the spread of nuclear weapons, least of all Turkey. You live in a difficult region, and a nuclear arms race would not serve the security of this nation well. This part of the world has known enough violence, it has known enough hatred. It does not need a raise for an evermore powerful tool of destruction.
Now, I have made it clear to the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran that the United States seeks engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We want Iran to play its rightful role in the community of nations.
Iran is a great civilization. We want them to engage in the economic and political integration that brings prosperity and security. But Iran's leaders must choose whether they will try to build a weapon or build a better future for their people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And the president is also looking forward. He's urging stronger ties between the U.S. and Turkey. Indeed, with the entire Muslim world.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I know there have been difficulties these last few years. I know that the trust that binds the United States. and Turkey has been strained. And I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced.
So let me say this as clearly as I can. The United States is not and will never be at war with Islam.
In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical, not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject, but also to strengthen opportunity for all people.
I also want to be clear that America's relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world cannot and will not just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world, including in my own country.
The United States has been enriched by Muslim-Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim majority country. I know because I am one of them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The speaker of the Turkish parliament, by the way, made a point of introducing Barack Obama as "President Barack Hussein Obama." The president also has been making a major splash throughout the entire European tour, but how is his trip playing right here at home? We have some brand new poll numbers, and our Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider is joining us now, reviewing what's going on.
How does the American public see the president's overseas adventure, Bill?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they see it as a success, but not primarily because of what he accomplished.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Americans like to be liked. President Obama helps.
OBAMA: I came here to put forward ideas, but I also came here to listen and not to lecture.
SCHNEIDER: Nearly eight in 10 Americans think the president has made people in other countries feel more positive about the United States. He's re-branding America. Less dominating, more collaborative.
OBAMA: If it's just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy, you know, that's an easier negotiation. But that's not the world we live in, and it shouldn't be the world that we live in.
SCHNEIDER: Did the president accomplish a great deal overseas?
OBAMA: I think we did OK.
SCHNEIDER: The public agrees. Only 16 percent say the president accomplished a great deal. The prevailing view? A fair amount.
Mr. Obama claims he got NATO allies to do more in Afghanistan. But in the public's view, they're not doing enough.
The president went to Turkey to try to improve relations with the Muslim world.
OBAMA: Our focus will be on what we can do in partnership with people across the Muslim world to advance our common hopes and our common dreams.
SCHNEIDER: Asked whether the United States should trust a Muslim ally as much as any other ally, the public was split.
The administration's response to North Korea's missile launch was stern.
SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: We will not stand for violations of international law, which this launch today represented, that there will be consequences.
SCHNEIDER: Should the U.S. take military action against North Korea? The public is split on that too.
But they're not split on President Obama's job rating, 66 percent approval.
SCHNEIDER: It's not mainly his policies that are winning raves, it's the president's personal style -- very un-Bush -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting stuff.
Bill Schneider, thanks very much.
Bill renewing the latest numbers.
North Korea's rocket test flies in the face of international warnings and makes many question whether someone should have taken stronger action than simply condemnation. Should the U.S. have tried to shoot it out of the sky? I'll ask the former NATO supreme allied commander, retired General Wesley Clark. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And the feud between Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and her grandchild's father re-ignites. What family secrets did Levi Johnston reveal to get Governor Palin fuming again?
BLITZER: More than 100 people are now known dead, thousands injured, 50,000 potentially made homeless. And the historic Italian city of L'Aquila decimated. Thousands of rescuers right now scrambling feverishly to find survivors after this morning's devastating earthquake.
Italy's police chief says the magnitude 6.3 quake left a horrible scene of death and destruction.
CNN's Phil Black has more.
PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The desperate search for survivors. These piles of rubble were once homes and buildings in L'Aquila, a medieval town in central Italy.
Many of the homes that remain standing are severely damaged and unstable. These structures, some centuries old, were not built to withstand a 6.3 magnitude earthquake.
Survivors and rescue workers are scrambling over what remains of them, trying to find those trapped beneath.
AGOSTINO MIOZZO, DIRECTOR GENERAL, CIVIL PROTECTION (through translator): It's a disaster on a huge scale. Thousands of houses have been destroyed, many have collapsed, many seriously compromised. And thousands and thousands of people have been evacuated. We are still counting the number of casualties.
BLACK: Men, women and children are among those already known to have lost their lives. There are many injured. Some were able to walk into the local hospital, others had to be carried. Makeshift outdoor facilities also provided treatment for those hurt and comfort for those dazed and now homeless.
The scars from this quakes are not just on the buildings. Here, the earth opened up, swallowing a car. Across the town, other vehicles were crushed by falling debris. The earth began to tremble around 3:30 local time Monday morning as most in the town slept. Clouds fled onto the streets as historic buildings began to collapse around them.
JOSHUA BROTHERS, AMERICAN MISSIONARY: It was just a really big shake. It sounded as if a 747 was actually coming in to land. You can feel the entire building swaying back and forth.
BLACK: Around 70,000 people live in and around L'Aquila. It's the capital of a region where earthquakes are common. This quake was felt about 17 miles to the west in Rome.
Phil Black, CNN, London.
BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on the Italian earthquake coming up at the top of the hour.
Meanwhile, it's one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan, and CNN is there right now. In an exclusive tour with the U.S. military, you're about to see where thousands of Marines are headed, and you're going to hear about the threats they face.
And now that North Korea has launched its rocket and earned U.S. and international ire, what might be next?
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, an F-22 phaseout. Big shifts in the Pentagon's priorities. The defense chief, Robert Gates, announcing his budget proposals. Critics say they gut U.S. defense when the country needs it most, others strongly disagree.
He split from the Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's daughter. Now the father of her grandson is going on national TV.
And if you thought the flap over executive bonuses ended with AIG, think again. A new round at the top, and Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae likely to rekindle taxpayer outrage.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Thousands of U.S. Marines are being deployed as part of a troop buildup in Afghanistan. In advance of their arrival, there's new intelligence suggesting they're entering an increasingly dangerous region.
Our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr and her crew, they're traveling exclusively with the U.S. Marine commandant, General James Conway -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this place, Forward Operating Base Delaram, has taken so much fire in recent days, some people thought it was too dangerous for General Conway to come here.
(voice-over): Despite the violence across this region, General James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, came to the Forward Operating Base Delaram to see firsthand some of the threats facing the 8,000 Marines headed this way, the Marines, part of the administration's new counterinsurgency strategy to increase troop levels on the ground.
Across southern Afghanistan, the news is not good. In an exclusive interview with CNN, the only news organization traveling with Conway, the general warned of new Taliban threats.
GENERAL JAMES CONWAY, U.S. MARINE CORPS COMMANDANT: There is, we believe, increased enemy involvement in the south. They are going to try, I believe, to create spectacular attacks before an increased U.S. presence can be brought to bear.
STARR: Conway also revealed there is new intelligence the Taliban now could have heavy-caliber machine guns that can potentially shoot down helicopters.
The general chooses his words carefully.
CONWAY: There are rumors, there are intercepts, there are indications that there could be something like that in -- in -- in the weeks and months to come.
STARR: The Marines already here are being hit by a growing number of roadside bombs and suicide attacks. Conway says it's a war that could go on for years.
CONWAY: I think, in terms of the requirement to accomplish what the objectives are right now, it's not going to be done in a short period of time.
STARR (on camera): As more Marines move into southern Afghanistan, the next step, they will start moving out, out into the towns and villages, to bring security to this very troubled region -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr, she's traveling with General Conway in Afghanistan right now.
So, can the United States and its allies actually win the war in Afghanistan?
Joining us now from Little Rock is retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, the former NATO supreme allied commander.
A lot of experts who know Afghanistan well, General Clark, as you well know, say this is really not a winnable situation.
WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, I think that's right.
And I think -- I do -- I think they do say that. I think it's a very tough situation.
But our objectives are -- we're principally there to go after Osama bin Laden and the international terrorist movement that he has led and inspired. And the rest of it is what we can do, the most we can do to help the people of Afghanistan.
And, of course, we want to help stabilize the situation in Pakistan, a nation of 170 million armed with nuclear weapons. So, there's a three-part effort. But the winning part is breaking the back of the terrorist organization.
BLITZER: And when someone like the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, signs a law -- signs into law this Sharia provision that, if a husband doesn't have sex with his wife, he can rape her, and he allows that to go forward, what does that do to the overall combat mission, the military mission, in a country like Afghanistan?
CLARK: Well, it makes it a lot harder for the United States to convince other nations to join in and help promote the economic development in Afghanistan.
And, ultimately, Hamid Karzai's future depends on economic development, because, if you don't give people hope and a belief in the future, they can't succeed. On the other hand, he's dealing with internal constituencies. And all of these things have to be balanced off, one with the other.
He said he will review the law. I hope he will. I will hope -- I hope it won't go through.
BLITZER: Did Secretary Gates, the defense secretary, have the right priorities today, when he's going to phase out the F-22, this new advanced fighter, and -- and spend a lot more money on insurgencies, as opposed to old Cold War-type contingencies?
CLARK: Well, I have loved the F-22. I testified for it in front of the Congress back the 1990s. I'm a big proponent of American airpower. As you know, Wolf, I used it in Kosovo.
But I think, at this point, given the budget realities, we can't go forward with the F-22. We have got to put our money in -- we have got to have a balanced force. The F-22 is a wonderful aircraft. Nobody's got anything like it in the world. We would love to have more of them, but we have got to have balance across the force spectrum. And we need that money to go in some other directions now.
We still want to keep abreast of the highest technology. And we have got to have air and space superiority.
BLITZER: When North...
CLARK: But we can do it.
BLITZER: When North Korea launched that missile over the weekend, that long-range missile, the U.S. had the capability, potentially, at least, to shoot it down. Did the U.S. make a mistake by not shooting it down?
CLARK: I don't think so.
I think the potential to shoot it down is there, but I think that our real leverage against North Korea is, we have got to bring other nations to bear. We have got to use international diplomacy. I certainly agree with the aspect of taking it to the United Nations.
I think Japan is outraged. I think China should be concerned. And I think putting international pressure is the next step forward. We still want to resolve this situation through diplomacy. We want them disarmed, and we want them to be a member of the international community.
We have got to find a way to do it against a very tough, hard- edged North Korean regime.
BLITZER: Are you worried the Israelis, with a new government there, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are going to launch a preemptive strike, trying to take out Iran's nuclear facilities?
CLARK: I think the Iranian situation is urgent, Wolf. I think we have got to really focus on it.
I think President Obama and Secretary Clinton are attempting to do that by offering negotiations. Of course, no one knows whether any diplomatic opening will work. And nothing is off the table. So, if I were the Iranians, I would pay attention, and -- and I would be looking for some way out of this.
BLITZER: But, based on what you know, do the Israelis have the capability of doing that on their own, without U.S. assistance?
CLARK: Well, it depends on how broadly you define capabilities. They certainly have strike capabilities that are required. Their aircraft can certainly penetrate into the airspace. They can certainly hit the targets.
Could they put ground troops in, if necessary, to follow up? Probably could. Do they know where everything is? Don't know. Maybe not. Maybe they do. But, if I were the Iranians, I wouldn't bet on the fact that the Israelis don't have the capacity to do it. And I can tell you that, in the region, there are -- there's a lot of concern and a lot of other nations in the region that would like to see the Iranian nuclear threat taken out.
BLITZER: Good to have you back in THE SITUATION ROOM.
CLARK: Thank you.
BLITZER: General Clark, thanks very much.
CLARK: Thank you very much, Wolf. Good to be with you.
BLITZER: General Wesley Clark, the retired U.S. NATO commander.
Who's on the list of most wanted? The EPA is keeping names of people it accuses of violating environmental laws. You're going find out who some of these fugitives are.
And a key aide to President Obama praising President Bush, but slamming Dick Cheney. Do you think Dick Cheney should do what George Bush is doing?
And it knocked down whole buildings, left thousand homeless and more than a hundred dead. Italy sees its deadliest earthquake in almost 30 years. We're going to go there. That's coming up.
BLITZER: The FBI has its top 10 most wanted. So does the EPA. It's going after the nation's most-sought-after polluter.
CNN's Elaine Quijano is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
All right, Elaine, who's on the list?
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a number of people, 21 people, to be exact.
Take a look. In the same way that the FBI has its most wanted list, as you mentioned, so, too, does the EPA. These are some of the 21 people the EPA accuses of violating federal environmental laws, marked men and one woman on the run.
QUIJANO (voice-over): Undercover surveillance tape, a criminal investigation, but it's not the FBI. It's the EPA.
And Albania Deleon is the first woman to make the Environmental Protection Agency's most wanted list.
DOUG PARKER, CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION DIVISION, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: What her business was, was a fraud. She was in the business of training asbestos workers. She often preyed on undocumented workers, who would come in, and, rather than get the required training, she would charge them a required amount, but provide no training, and then send them off into the work force.
QUIJANO: Doug Parker with the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division, says Deleon was convicted of running that sham operation in Massachusetts, but never showed up for sentencing.
PARKER: She made a great deal of money off of this and, in the process, may have endangered these workers and may have put other folks who occupy these buildings later at risk.
QUIJANO: Another EPA fugitive, Mauro Valenzuela, a former mechanic for the now defunct aircraft maintenance company SabreTech. He's accused of illegally having oxygen canisters loaded onto the doomed ValuJet plane that crashed into the Florida Everglades in 1996.
PARKER: We focus on a very small segment of our society, the folks -- the bad guys, the folks who are trying to make a buck or save a buck, and getting over on the system, and, in the process, occasionally endangering people and the -- and the environment.
QUIJANO: Now, since the most wanted list started in December, one fugitive has been captured and another surrendered.
As for rewards, Wolf, right now there aren't any offered, but officials say that could change in the future.
BLITZER: Interesting stuff. Nice -- nice bunch of pictures.
All right, thanks very much for that, Elaine Quijano.
He's given high-profile speeches, seen huge crowds, and glowing headlines, but how do you think President Obama is doing in this, his first test on the global stage? Your answers in our fresh poll, and our political strategists standing by to talk about it.
And how would you react if the boss of your company reached into his or her pocket and just handed you a $1,000 bonus?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELISSA DELANEY, EMPLOYEE, BOLLINGER INSURANCE SOLUTIONS: I was just so excited, yelling, screaming, running around to everyone like a crazy person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now.
Joining us, the Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, and Republican strategist Nancy Pfotenhauer. She served as a spokeswoman to -- and economic adviser -- to Senator John McCain during the presidential campaign.
All of remember, Nancy...
BLITZER: ... from those days. How could we forget?
All right, let's talk a little bit about the president's overseas adventure right now.
In our brand new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, we asked this question: How much has Barack Obama accomplished on his trip? Sixteen percent said a great deal. Forty-five percent said fair amount, not much 24 percent, nothing at all, 11 percent. It sort of breaks down along, I'm guessing, partisan lines.
What do you think?
JAMAL SIMMONS, ADVISER, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I don't know.
I think, if you looked inside of this one -- I have seen another poll today that had the same thing -- a lot of Republicans also think President Obama did a good job. And what he's done is, he's gone around the world and really sold America, and said, listen, it's a new day. I know we have had our problems in the past. Let's get past that. Let's look forward.
And people are responding to that. They are responding to that, not only abroad, but also here at home. And it's improving our image.
BLITZER: Are you one of those Republicans?
NANCY PFOTENHAUER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I guess, in one way, I am, in that I think he's obviously a very articulate, telegenic -- telegenic spokesperson. And, in that way, he -- he makes a good appearance for the country.
I do think he benefits, like most good politicians, by convincing the American that process is actually progress. And, of course, we won't know if it's actually progress for quite some time, which is why the are you better off now than you were four years ago ends up always being the ultimate test in any political presidential contest.
BLITZER: Or right track/wrong track...
BLITZER: ... is the country moving in the right direction or the wrong direction.
He does -- he's... (CROSSTALK)
BLITZER: Go ahead.
SIMMONS: Let's keep in mind, Wolf, we had eight years of some pretty rough relations around the world. So, I think what President Obama's doing in the beginning, process is product in this sense, is that it's kind of stopping the digging, getting us out of the hole, and starting to reestablish some of those relationships.
BLITZER: We asked the general question, job approval numbers, how is President Obama handling his job as president?
Sixty-six percent right now say they approve of the job he is doing. Thirty percent disapprove. And, just in contrast, at the end of President Bush's tenure, it was in the low 20s approving of the job he was doing.
PFOTENHAUER: Well, and I think no -- you know, presidents are usually at their high point when they come into office.
And I think that why it's important to look at if their party is in control in Congress, where those approval ratings are, because, ultimately, the two tend to converge. And I think that you have got a growing number of people, not just Republicans, but certainly a strengthening in the American -- in the Republican Party feeling that he came in, and even though they wanted to give him a great shot, that he believed that he had a blank check.
BLITZER: She makes -- she makes a good point, because, if you look at this stage in President Bush's tenure, early on, before 100 days, or President Clinton's tenure, their job approval numbers were roughly about the same.
But I think what we're really seeing, though, is that people are looking -- taking a look at Barack Obama. He's different than, I think, the last couple of presidents that we have had. He's more along the lines of somebody like a John Kennedy or a Ronald Reagan, in the sense that people just genuinely like him.
And here's one thing that he's doing in particular. He's speaking directly to Americans as adults. Even when they disagree with him, they trust him that he's got a reasonable process, he's coming up with reasonable results, and they're waiting to see what the product is.
BLITZER: He does have high likability, at least right now. And obviously politics being what it is, that could certainly change as we go forward. We will see what happens.
The vice -- former vice president of the United States, as all of us remember in that interview with John King a few weeks ago, he said openly he thinks that national security is being undermined by some of the stances, some of the positions taken by President Obama. And David Axelrod, the senior adviser to President Obama, yesterday was asked about that. And I want to play the clip of what he told John King on "STATE OF THE UNION."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING")
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Let me say, in contrast, how much we appreciate the way President Bush has behaved.
He was incredibly cooperative during the transition. And when he left, he said: "I wish you guys the best. I'm rooting for you."
I believe that to be the case. And he's behaved like a statesman. And, as I have said before here and elsewhere, I just don't think the memo got passed down to the vice president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Pretty good sound bite.
Who is -- who's right -- would it be Dick Cheney or George Bush -- in terms of being willing to openly criticize the new president?
PFOTENHAUER: Well, I think you have got two gentlemen who are very different stylistically.
And Dick Cheney, who's been in this town for decades, as everyone knows, whether you agree with him or disagree with him, he's an extraordinarily bright man. And I think, in this instance, what you see is that his concern for national security trumps protocol.
And I have to say, I think the Obama team is one of the thinnest- skinned I have run into in 23 years, that they really can't take a punch this way, and that, if they feel like there's any criticism, they -- they overreact.
If I were them, I would have just ignored it.
SIMMONS: You know, there's no former vice president who had more of a right to be critical of his predecessor -- or the next president than Al Gore was of George Bush in 2001.
And he was...
BLITZER: The first President Bush.
SIMMONS: The first president -- no, George W. Bush...
SIMMONS: ... in 2001.
BLITZER: Oh, I see...
SIMMONS: And he was actually not that critical of George W. Bush for months when he first came into office -- for months.
Many of us who were on his campaign wanted the vice president to come out and be more critical of the first President Bush. And I think Dick Cheney should go to Europe, grow a beard, maybe...
SIMMONS: ... find some time to teach someplace, and get out of...
SIMMONS: ... and get out of the limelight.
BLITZER: Is that what Al -- is that what Al Gore did...
SIMMONS: That's exactly what Al Gore did at the beginning.
BLITZER: I remember the beard.
PFOTENHAUER: In 2004, at a rally -- I mean, and I remember this -- Al Gore lost it, and was unbelievably critical. I mean...
SIMMONS: That was four years later.
PFOTENHAUER: Yes, but, still, I mean, you have to -- I -- I think it's fine that -- that former Vice President Cheney answered the questions substantively. He was asked a question. He answered it.
And if I were the Obama administration, I would -- instead of crying foul, I would simply make the case for what we were doing, and not give it more airtime.
SIMMONS: If the Republicans want to keep Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh out front as their...
SIMMONS: ... and Michael Steele, as front as their spokespeople, Democrats are happy to have them...
BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks. Thanks very much.
BLITZER: And we have some video just coming in of the vice -- the current vice president of the United States throwing out the opening pitch over at the Baltimore Orioles game against the New York Yankees.
Let's take a look, see if we have -- oh, there he is. He's on the mound. Let's just watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... some political aspect attached to it.
Moments ago, the 47th vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, through out the first pitch to Chad Moeller, the backup...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, I'm sure...
BLITZER: I'm sure he practiced that pitch. Not bad.
By the way, the vice president will be our guest here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow. We would love you to be a part of the interview. What questions do you have for the vice president? You can submit your video questions to ireport.com/situationroom.
Watch the interview tomorrow to see if your question gets answered.
The man who would have been Sarah Palin's son-in-law is revealing how he really feels about the Alaska governor, and speaking -- actually, he's sparking controversy with some other details.
And echoes of AIG -- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have both received billions of dollars in bailout money, and their regulator wants to pay out bonuses right now, huge bonuses, to employees.
BLITZER: A top executive at a New Jersey insurance firm has taken economic stimulus into his own hands, and it has made many employees very happy.
Our personal finance editor, Gerri Willis, has details -- Gerri.
GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: In an era of outrage against CEOs collecting big bonuses while their companies suffer, this is a breath of fresh air. In Short Hills, New Jersey, the chief executive of Bollinger Insurance Solutions paid each of his 344 employees a $1,000 bonus out of his own pocket, this at a time when New Jersey is getting hit harder by unemployment than most states. The CEO's only requirement, Wolf, use it or lose it.
DELANEY: I was just so excited, yelling, screaming, running around to everyone like a crazy person.
WILLIS (voice-over): When Melissa Delaney opened up her mail, the last thing she expected was a big fat check.
DELANEY: I was so nervous with everything going on. A lot of my friends, a lot of family members are getting laid off. You never know.
WILLIS: Melissa is just one of more than 400 employee from a New Jersey-based insurance company who landed a surprise $1,000 bonus from the boss.
PHIL MILLON, FACILITIES COORDINATOR, BOLLINGER INSURANCE SOLUTIONS: I have seen a lot of different things happen in 25-and-a- half years, and this is one of the most craziest and one of the most rewarding and just super CEO, a man whose integrity is above and beyond anyone else's.
JACK WINDOLF, CEO, BOLLINGER INSURANCE SOLUTIONS: Did you spend your thousand dollars yet?
WILLIS: Call him super CEO or Superman. It was Bollinger chief Jack Windolf handing out the checks using his own bonus. Last year, Windolf sold part of his company to another firm, giving him half-a- million dollars in deferred pay and an option allowing him to give that cash to his staff.
WINDOLF: All we hear about are the problems that banks are having and the economy is having. So, that just kind of clinched it in my mind, that now is the time to share this with the employees. And we did this as the Bollinger mini economic stimulus package.
WILLIS: Employees were given these instructions: "Spend this $1,000 bonus on yourself, your spouse to help jump-start the economy."
TAWANA ROMAN, ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE, BOLLINGER INSURANCE SOLUTIONS: I knew where it was going to go.
ROMAN: Definitely going towards some much-needed home improvement.
MILLON: My wife was laid off yesterday, so this has been a tremendous help in more ways than one.
DELANEY: After my excitement kind of got to a normal level, the second thing that was on my mind was Disney World.
WILLIS (on camera): Jack Windolf tells CNN the bonuses are a win-win for the company. Morale is at an all-time high. He says employees are accustomed to bonuses around Christmastime, but these checks were completely unexpected.
His wish is that other private small businesses around the country will follow his lead, and adds, giving boosts like this to employees is by far the most effective way to jump-start the economy -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Maybe it will take hold elsewhere. Thanks very much, Gerri, for that.
Let's check in with Jack once again for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: What happened to the idea of bipartisanship, which seems to be in short supply inside the beltway?
Daniel in Indiana: "It doesn't exist in America at the present, and probably won't for a generation or two. The Republican Party still believes in the Bush technique of you're either with me or against me. They have no desire to compromise, even if it costs them another election."
Chris in Buffalo writes: "After we elected the most radical left- wing president in our nation's history, why should we be surprised that there is a lack of bipartisanship in Washington today? Bush, Clinton, Carter, Nixon, these men were all middle-of-the-road moderates compared to the way Mr. Obama has been governing during his first two-and-a-half months in office."
Lisa in Georgia: "Jack, bipartisanship died when the Republicans didn't win the election. They are selfish people that will let America fall because of their divisiveness. They must remember we the people have woken up now, and it will be a long, long time before they hold office again."
Diana in San Miguel Allende, Mexico, "Since Rush Limbaugh has become the spokesman for the party of Hoover, I would say that bipartisanship is in the toilet."
CAFFERTY: Alex in Miami: "Bipartisanship seems to have gone the way of the rest of Obama's campaign promises. He's brought in all the same old politicians from Chicago and the Clinton administration. He has been as partisan as he was in the Senate. I see neither hope nor change in his presidency thus far."
And Sharon writes: "What happened? The GOP thinks bipartisanship means -- quote -- 'You give us whatever we want and you can have what's left' -- unquote. It was Republican Grover Norquist, Bush's so-called field marshal, who famously called bipartisanship date rape. That should tell you all you need to know."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile. Look for yours there, among hundreds of others that are posted -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, breaking news: a desperate search for survivors, as a powerful earthquake slams central Italy, toppling entire blocks of buildings, killing at least 100 people. We're on the scene.
The defense secretary takes an axe to some key Pentagon programs, recommending a halt to the F-22 fighter jet, and putting a new presidential chopper on the chopping block. Will lawmakers defend their pet projects?
And, visiting Muslim Turkey, President Obama reaches out to the entire Muslim world, saying, the United States is not at war