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THE SITUATION ROOM
Libyan Foreign Minister Resigns; Syrian President Fails to Ease Crackdown; Report: Secret U.S. Help for Rebels; Congress Receives Briefing from White House Cabinet Regarding Operations in Libya; President Criticized For Not Gaining Congressional Authorization; Energy Secretary Chu Assures Americans U.S. Nuclear Plants Are Safe
Aired March 30, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.
Happening now, breaking news -- Libyan rebels in retreat, as Moammar Gadhafi's forces crank up their firepower. This hour, President Obama secretly may have -- may be ready to give the rebels more help.
Stand by. There's breaking news.
Also, Syria's president fails to give anti-government protesters any significant hope of reform. His rambling speech today now unleashing new anger and unrest throughout Syria.
And new tests show soaring radiation levels in the water near Japan's crippled nuclear power plant.
I'll ask the Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, what the Obama administration is doing to prevent a Japan like disaster here in the United States.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: But we begin with breaking news.
CNN has now confirmed that the Libyan foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, has, in fact, resigned his position. He showed up in London today the -- at the British Foreign Office telling CNN in a statement that Moussa Koussa arrived in London and told the British government he has resigned his position as Libyan foreign minister.
A dramatic development today, a senior source -- a senior official close to Moammar Gadhafi clearly showing up in London and resigning. As we know, so many Libyan ambassadors, including the Libyan ambassador here in Washington, DC, the Libyan ambassador here at the United Nations, Libyan ambassadors in other countries, earlier had stepped aside, had broken with Gadhafi. But now, it looks like Moussa Koussa, the foreign minister, has broken with Gadhafi.
Here's the question -- does this signal a significant crack in the inner circle surrounding Moammar Gadhafi?
We're staying on top of this story.
Ben Wedeman is joining us now.
He's embedded with rebel forces in Eastern Libya -- Ben, let me get your quick reaction. Moussa Koussa, someone familiar to a lot of us who have covered Libya over the years, if, in fact, he has now split with Gadhafi, how significant would that be?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it does represent a fairly significant blow to Moammar Gadhafi. This was a senior official. And very -- even though shortly after the outbreak of the revolt in Libya, there was a string of resignations of ambassadors, for instance, for Libyan ambassadors around the world (AUDIO GAP) the justice minister has defected so (AUDIO GAP) to the anti-Gadhafi forces. So certainly, the foreign minister defecting is significant.
Is it critical?
I don't think so, because clearly (AUDIO GAP). He has a very small circle around him, upon his sons, who -- each of which has a military unit (INAUDIBLE).
So it's a blow, but I don't think it's a critical blow to Moammar Gadhafi.
BLITZER: And at the same time, as we take a look at all of this, Ben, the rebels -- and you're embedded with rebel forces -- they seem to be, clearly, on the defense right now. They've lost a lot of ground over the past 48 hours in the face of this major Libyan Gadhafi offensive.
WEDEMAN: Yes, what we're seeing is actually something of a change of tactics by the Libyan Army. Before, they were very dependent upon heavy armored tanks, heavy artillery. Now it appears that they are depending more on small, mobile units that, for instance, today ambushed rebels outside the town of Brega, to the west of Brega. And that caused a complete panic among the rebel forces, even though eyewitnesses say they were ambushed by just a couple dozen men and the people who were ambushed had very heavy machine guns. But they just caused panic in their ranks. And we saw they came straight into Ajdabiya, (AUDIO GAP) where they seem to be regrouping at the moment.
But yet again, this underscores the disorganization and sort of the institutional chaos among the rebels, who -- that they simply are not able to hold ground and really move forward very much.
Certainly, my colleague, Arwa Damon, followed the rebels to Bin Jawad, which, from here, is about a two hour drive. But the forces have easily driven them back. And this despite the fact that, of course, they now, essentially, have cover. There's a no-fly zone over Libya. And the NATO aircraft have taken out much of the heavy army of the Libyan Army -- the armor. But that doesn't seem to have really put a dent in their ability to send the rebels packing when they want -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Ben.
Reuters is reporting that President Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. support for rebel forces. I want to talk to Ben Wedeman about that.
Let's talk about that, also, with retired U.S. Army General George Joulwan, the former NATO supreme allied supreme commander.
If, in fact, this is true, General Joulwan, that the president, in recent days, maybe the past week or two, signed a covert action order -- a finding, as they call it -- to secretly assist the rebels who are fighting Gadhafi's forces, what does that say to you?
GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, first of all, I have no knowledge of whether he signed a finding or not. It may be one of two things. It may be an actual sort of action or it could be to keep pressure on Gadhafi, to really feel the heat that he's feeling now with the resignation of his foreign minister. And also, with what I think is what is happening in -- in London, where the international community is now very much united in what needs to be done for -- in the region.
BLITZER: For all practical purposes, the coalition, now NATO controlled, they -- they have taken a side in this war, in this civil war. They want to help the rebels. They want to see Gadhafi go, even though the U.N. Security Council resolution didn't go that far, as we all know.
Here's the question. If, in fact, the president signed a secret finding that goes way beyond what the coalition has accepted, including the U.N. Security Council, how much of a wrench does that throw in the NATO consensus?
How much does it complicate what NATO is doing?
JOULWAN: It does, to a degree, complicate it. But remember, this is directed at one individual, not at bombing forces in -- which is not included in the U.N. resolution. I think it's a separate, to me, a separate action. Whether -- how this will affect the coalition, how this will affect the entire NATO group, I'm not sure.
But it will have an impact. If true, it will have an impact. But I think it will also have an impact on Gadhafi. And I think that's intended.
BLITZER: Because some of those countries, the NATO allies, specifically Germany and Turkey, especially, they're not going to be very happy about this.
Stand by for a moment.
I want to go back to Ben Wedeman. He's joining us from Eastern Libya. He's embedded with the rebel forces.
How is this going to play over there?
I assume the rebels are getting arms from the outside. We don't know if the president of the United States covertly signed this finding authorizing armed shipments directly or indirectly to the rebels, but I assume they would be thrilled if the president did -- Ben.
WEDEMAN: Well, certainly, at this point, they're fairly desperate for more help, because, clearly, a no-fly zone is simply not enough to stop the Libyan government forces from launching an offensive here over the last two days.
In fact, indeed, today a senior official with the Libyan transitional council said that they would welcome foreign trainers on (AUDIO GAP) the gripping of a change of -- of attitude. Initially, certainly when we first got here, shortly after the outbreak of this revolt, there was a real stress on their desire for no foreign intervention whatsoever. But as the going has gotten tough (AUDIO GAP) and certainly, they would welcome some sort of other (AUDIO GAP) involvement to help them turn the tide, so to speak, because at the moment, clearly, they are simply outgunned, out organized, out everything -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it certainly seem like that. I apologize for that transmission. But obviously, he's in Eastern Libya. It's not easy to get any signal out of there to begin with.. General Joulwan, it looks to me -- and you're a former NATO supreme allied commander -- that the pounding of Gadhafi's forces from the air, the aerial bombardments have eased up over the past 24 to 48 hours, as the Libyan government and their regime, they've made this offensive.
Here's the question. Now that NATO is in command of the aerial strikes, has there been a reduction, compared to when the U.S. was strictly in control of the aerial strikes against ground forces loyal to Gadhafi?
JOULWAN: Yes. In my view, yes. And I think that is now because you have a wider coalition involved. NATO is involved. NATO is a political body. And as you said, there are some nations, as part of that NATO, that have had reservations about the conducting of direct air strikes.
And -- and so I think you're going to see that will play out.
The more important thing, to me, that needs to be understood, even if what I've scene of the rebel army -- and your report was made no differently -- it's going to take an enormous amount of equipment and training and time to train them up where they could be an effective force, in my view. I think the psychological impact that we're seeing may have more of an effect than what can be done on the ground.
BLITZER: The psychological impact of?
JOULWAN: Of what -- the pressure we're putting on, particularly on Gadhafi, outlawing him from the international community, if this finding is true. I think all of that will have, I think, a psychological impact on Gadhafi.
BLITZER: What is your understanding -- and this is a little technical and we don't know if the president of the United States has signed any finding, for that matter.
But what does the law say about signing a finding to kill a foreign leader, whether bin Laden or somebody else?
JOULWAN: We have had findings in the past, so I'm sure this has been tested by law. You would have to ask lawyers about that question. But there have been findings in the past. And again, the president puts his own signature on this and he -- he authorizes it. And it's very seldom used, but it has been used and I think it will continue to be used.
BLITZER: General Joulwan, thanks very much.
JOULWAN: It's always a pleasure.
BLITZER: All right.
So we've got a couple of breaking news stories that we're following right now.
Moussa Koussa, the foreign minister of Libya, resigning, we're told. We can confirm that Moussa Koussa arrived in England not that long ago, on March 30th, we're told, from Tunisia. He traveled there under his own free will.
This is a statement coming in from the British government. And the British statement goes on to say: "He told us that he's resigning his post. We are discussing this with him. We will release further detail in due course."
That official statement coming in from the UK Foreign Office just a little while ago, a significant development. A close adviser and aide to Moammar Gadhafi stepping down.
The other story that we're working on, the Reuters report that the president of the United States has signed a finding, a covert action to support the Libyan rebels who are fighting Gadhafi. Much more on this part of the story coming up, as well. This, the first day that NATO is now in direct control of all of the military operations in Libya. And you just heard General Joulwan say that suggests that the pounding of Gadhafi's positions probably easing up somewhat, as a result of NATO, not the United States, being in charge. NATO is a coalition. They act by consensus. And certain NATO allies, like Germany and Turkey and a few others, they're not very anxious to take sides -- direct sides -- in this war.
Syria, meanwhile, its president has been confronted by anger and protests. We're also following the backlash in Syria after Bashar al- Assad failed to lift a state of emergency.
Will Syria be the next Middle Eastern nation to explode?
Plus, the state of Moammar Gadhafi's regime now that his foreign minister is calling it quits.
And President Obama is defending nuclear power in the United States, despite the crisis in Japan. I'll speak with his Energy secretary, Steven Chu. We'll talk about the risks that may be keeping him up at night.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: Much more on the situation in Libya coming up, including the resignation of the foreign minister, Koussa, a top aide to Moammar Gadhafi all of a sudden showing up in London and saying he is resigning as the foreign minister of Moammar Gadhafi.
Also, this Reuters report that there has been a secret finding, supposedly signed by President Obama, authorizing covert action to help the rebels fighting Gadhafi.
Much more on those stories coming up.
Meanwhile, anti-government protesters on the march in Syria, accused by President Bashar al-Assad of being part of a conspiracy. Bashar al-Assad failed to lift the state of emergency today in his widely anticipated address to the nation. After the speech, at least one person reportedly was killed in the city of Latakia, in clashes between demonstrators and security forces.
CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is reporting on the Mideast unrest from Abu Dhabi -- Mohammed, it's been several hours since President Assad's address.
What's the reaction that's coming in, in Syria, from the opposition?
MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, to put it simply, it's a reaction of profound disappointment. So many of the activists, the opposition figures that we spoke with today, the anti- government demonstrators, they were expecting something much more from President Bashar Assad today. They expected him to at least announce more reforms, at least announce when this emergency law would be lifted.
They got none of what they were expecting. They say that this didn't measure up even at all to what they thought would happen. Because of that, they're very disappointed. Now, many of them said they didn't expect it would live up to their expectations, certainly. But they didn't think it would be this much of a disappointment -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It -- obviously, it doesn't look like he learned from the experience of President Hosni Mubarak. At least that was my initial reaction. The expectations would be, at least, he would lift the state of emergency that's been in business, as you say, since 1963. Everyone thought he would do that.
He didn't do that. And that's going to generate, as you correctly point out, widespread anger.
So what is the opposition in Syria planning on doing next?
JAMJOOM: The opposition telling us now that they plan to continue protesting. This is significant, not just because it's remarkable that people are coming out day after day in the streets of various Syrian towns, in a country with an authoritarian regime like that, but because these people know -- the people we're speaking with know that they are putting their lives at risk. They anticipate another crackdown. They're saying that they don't think that they will get the reforms that they have been promised. They don't believe the government, what has been promised so far is too little too late.
Now the government keeps countering with pictures of pro- government rallies that are going on in Damascus. But the people we're speaking with in the streets there, in towns like Latakia, in towns northwest of Daraa, which is where this protest movement really started taking root, they're saying they're going to continue to come out. They're calling for protests again on Friday. They say that no matter what the government says they're going to do, they feel that they did not get what they were promised, that Bashar al-Assad has promised reforms for 10 years now.
What he's saying now, too little too late. They are going to keep coming out. They're going to keep demonstrating no matter the ramifications, no matter what they might face -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mohammed Jamjoom is watching all of this unrest unfolding, not only in Syria, but throughout the Middle East and North Africa. We'll check back with you, Mohammed.
Thanks very much.
Let's check in with CNN's senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, right now, who is watching all of this unfold.
I'm going to play a couple of sound bites -- Gloria.
This is the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, Sunday on "Face The Nation," when she was asked about Bashar al-Assad and -- and is he the real thing, as far as a reformer is concerned or not?
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: There is a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress, of both parties, who have gone to Syria in recent months, have said they believe he's a reformer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. We didn't hear any of that, so let's see if we can queue that up one more time so our viewers can hear it.
Here is the secretary of State on Sunday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: There is a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress, of both parties, who have gone to Syria in recent months, have said they believe he's a reformer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Wow, a lot of people, when they heard her say that they believe Bashar al-Assad is a reformer, at least quoting some members of Congress, they got crazy, to a certain degree, Gloria.
She was asked about that Tuesday in London at a news conference and she clarified.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Backtracked, yes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I referenced opinions of others. I was not speaking either for myself or for the administration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. She got a lot of grief --
BORGER: She did.
BLITZER: -- for saying that. And, clearly, she was referring to some members of Congress who have been to Damascus, including Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who has come back and given these private briefings to the White House, to the State Department, suggesting that Bashar al-Assad might be moving in the right direction --
BORGER: Not so much.
BLITZER: Well, he didn't -- he didn't seem to be showing that today, at least.
BORGER: He -- he didn't today. And I spoke with a senior administration official who clarified it even further. He said, look, we know he's aspired to be a reformer. He says that he is a reformer. But if you listen to that speech today, they were as disappointed as the opposition seemed to be today, because they said, look, it fell far short of what anyone had expected, of even what he had promised. They would have liked to see a lifting of emergency law, maybe the release of political prisoners. But they didn't see anything, Wolf.
So they're saying, look, he just didn't live up to our expectations or -- or what he had told us he would do.
So the question is, I guess, where we naive? Are American officials who have gone over there and met with him naive about what he actually said he was going to be?
BLITZER: You know, a lot of people wonder about Bashar al-Assad. He's the younger --
BLITZER: He's the son of, you know, Hafez al-Assad, who clearly had no compunction about killing a lot of fellow Syrians when -- when they revolted against him back in '82 in Hama. He killed tens of thousands of Syrians.
BLITZER: But they were expecting more from him. And they're certainly not getting it.
And the question -- guess the question is did the secretary of State buy into that notion that, let's say, John Kerry and some others had?
BORGER: Well, she may -- she may have bought in, but I don't think anymore, Wolf. I mean I think given -- given the speech today, nobody has any question about where Assad really stands. I think the big question out there is whether we would use -- we would intervene in any way. And in talking to people in the administration, they say no, no, no. There's a big difference between Libya right now, where an army was advancing, about to have a humanitarian crisis, and what you're seeing right now in Syria.
BLITZER: All right, Gloria.
Thanks very much.
We're going to have much more on Syria coming up.
Also, much more on the breaking news out of Libya coming up.
Just ahead, the latest on a new report that President Obama has authorized secret U.S. help to help the rebel forces fighting Gadhafi.
Plus, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia reportedly fined for causing a four car accident. We have the details of that coming up, as well.
BLITZER: We'll have more on the breaking news out of Libya coming up.
But let's check in with Kate Bolduan.
She's monitoring some of the other top stories here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Kate. KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a little update on a Supreme Court justice, but not what you would normally here me updating you on the Supreme Court. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has reportedly been fined $90 following a minor fender bender. According to "The Washington Post," Scalia rear-ended one car, triggering a four car chain reaction. The accident happened yesterday. You'll remember, that is the same day that the court was hearing arguments in the Wal-Mart workplace discrimination case.
Also, George Clooney, he could testify in Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's sex trial next week. An attorney for the prime minister confirms the Hollywood star is on a list of potential witnesses. He's reportedly cited in court documents as being a guest at one of Berlusconi's dinners.
Berlusconi, I'm sure you remember, faces charges of paying a minor for sex.
And finally, a whale that killed a SeaWorld trainer appeared in front of an audience today for the first time since that fatal incident -- accident during a February 2010 show. A trainer drowned after the orca grabbed her pony tail and pulled her under the water. That was -- I remember that story very well. That was very, very sad. And the -- the orca has been out of commission, basically, since, until today.
BOLDUAN: So back in performance, I guess.
BLITZER: Everything is smooth.
BLITZER: Thanks. Thanks, Kate. BOLDUAN: Thank you.
BLITZER: There's much more on the breaking news in Libya. A new report out saying President Obama has now authorized secret government support for the opposition in Libya.
We'll have more details, though, coming in.
And senators getting briefed right now on the military operations in Libya.
Are all their questions getting answered?
I'll ask a key U.S. senator just out of the meeting. That's coming up.
BLITZER: All right, let's follow the breaking news this hour in Libya's civil war. Britain now confirming that Moammar Gadhafi's foreign minister is in London. He has resigned his post, saying he can't and won't represent the Libyan government anymore.
Reuters, meanwhile, is reporting that President Obama has signed a secret order authorizing support for the rebels fighting to remove Moammar Gadhafi. NATO and coalition members have raised concerns that any weapons they give to rebels might wind up helping Al Qaeda.
Let's bring in our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty. She's working this part of the story for us. Jill?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. You know, the administration says that the rebels are a mixed bag of groups united by one thing, and that is they want Moammar Gadhafi out. But just because they do, does that mean that the U.S. should support them or even arm them? That's what this administration has been debating.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Freedom fighters, Al Qaeda sympathizers, just who are Libya's rebels? Colonel Moammar Gadhafi calls them terrorists.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Of course Gadhafi would say that. Like any propaganda there's a small element of truth in it, but, you know, this rebellion is much larger.
DOUGHERTY: NATO's top commander concedes there are flickers of Al Qaeda in their ranks.
ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS, NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER, EUROPE: I don't have details sufficient to say that there's a significant Al Qaeda presence or any other terrorist presence in and amongst these folks.
DOUGHERTY: But a spokesman for the rebels said Wednesday any fighters were Al Qaeda links have cut off ties. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton twice has met with the head of the rebels' interim national council Mahmoud Jibril, a university of Pittsburgh educated lawyer.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We don't know as much as we would like to know or expect to know.
DOUGHERTY: In spite of coalition airstrikes, the rebels are retreating and begging the west for help.
MAHMOUD SHAMMAM, INTERIM NATIONAL COUNCIL: We don't have arms at all. Otherwise we would finish Gadhafi in a few days.
GENE CRETZ, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO LIBYA: They have made requests for arms and requests for a whole range of things. And on each of those issues we have said that we would -- we would consider that.
DOUGHERTY: President Obama is cautious, telling CBS --
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's why I think it's important for us not to jump in with both feet but carefully consider what are the goals of the opposition, what kind of transition do they want to bring about inside of Libya.
DOUGHERTY: A former U.S. army captain in Afghanistan and Iraq says Mr. Obama should not fall into the trap of supporting rebel leaders who simply say everything the U.S. wants to hear.
MICHAEL BREEN, TRUMAN NATIONAL SECURITY PROJECT: But it's really important to assess carefully not just who looks good on television but who has the most guns at their back.
DOUGHERTY: And another red flag for this administration. Back in the 1980s in Afghanistan the U.S. armed the Mujahedeen who were fighting the Soviets, and we know one of them was Osama bin Laden. Wolf?
BLITZER: Jill Dougherty at the State Department, thanks very much.
Let's get back to the breaking news out of Libya and discuss it with the retired General George Joulwan, the former NATO supreme allied commander.
How concerned should the U.S. be that there might be Al Qaeda fighters among the rebel supporters?
JOULWAN: We have to be very careful about who comes to power. Remember, this was a source of terrorists from 9/11, and so I think very to be very careful here. And we need to assess all that before providing arms or whatever other equipment we're going to give them.
BLITZER: Well, 15 of the 19 9/11 terrorists were Saudis. Were there any Libyans, I don't remember?
JOULWAN: I understand that some of the terrorists were Libyan.
BLITZER: Some of the actual 19?
JOULWAN: Well, let me backtrack by saying those involved in terrorist acts have come from Libya.
BLITZER: We know that, and we know that a lot of the Al Qaeda who operated in Iraq against U.S. forces came from Libya in certain areas of Libya. I think that's why the NATO commander, the current NATO commander suggest there had may be slivers of Al Qaeda elements still in Libya with the opposition.
JOULWAN: But we should be very cautious here as we go forward. I think we need to understand what our long-term objective is, what is the end state we want to achieve here, and what sort of government is going to follow Moammar Gadhafi? BLITZER: Easier said than done?
BLITZER: General, thanks very much.
JOULWAN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Much more of the breaking news coming up on Libya. We'll assess that. Also, could the nuclear crisis now crippling Japan ever be repeated here in the United States? The energy secretary in the Obama administration, Steven Chu, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He'll answer your questions.
Also, several NBA players are raising money for relief efforts in Japan following the deadly earthquake and tsunami.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL HORFORD, NBA PLAYER: I'm Al Horford of the Atlanta hawks, and you can make an impact of the people of Japan.
My agent thought it would be a good idea for a lot of us players get involved and help with the Japan relief fund so I was excited about it and told them to count me in. It's very sad what's going on over there, and I can imagine it's much worse actually being there and having to deal with everything.
A lot of professional athletes do things every day to impact their community and help. I'm trying to do the most I can.
Join the movement impact your world, CNN.com/impact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Members of the U.S. Senate are due to be briefed this hour on the mission in Libya. Some members got a -- some House members got a similar update hours ago. Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Dana, what are you hearing about the briefings and what are we learning?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Senate briefing is going on as we speak. I just came from the capitol where house members, al house members, got a chance to ask senior members of the administration, Hillary Clinton and others, the questions that they said that they really wanted to ask, and from talking to many lawmakers coming out, this is classified, but, still, many lawmakers said that they actually didn't feel like they got a whole lot new.
But interestingly, Wolf, probably not surprisingly, one of the main topics of discussion was the question of whether or not to arm the rebels in Libya. And what I'm told by multiple lawmakers administration officials made clear no decision has been made but I'm told they got an earful from both members of Congress.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. GEOFF DAVIS (R), KENTUCKY: In that complex, tribal patchwork that makes up this insurgency that's very uncoordinated, there are significant amount of air defense systems that are portable that are on the ground that we know just for public discourse.
We now know that there are Islamic radicals who are coming in to join with this as well as Islamic radicals in eastern Libya, a hotbed of recruitment of jihadists to head to Afghanistan and Iraq who may in fact get access to very dangerous weapons that could be used elsewhere.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Given the current economic climate, Dana, I suspect there are lots of questions about the financial cost of this operation.
BASH: There were a lot of questions. Defense Secretary Gates said very clearly this. He said that operational costs for the no-fly zone so far have been $550 million, and that ultimately it's going to cost $40 million per month to maintain the no-fly zone.
The key thing is how long that's going to last, the administration officials briefly made clear there is no timeline. They just don't know how long that money will be spent or how long this mission will last.
BLITZER: Is he advertising basically that they won't use a lot more tomahawk cruise missiles, for example, because each one of those costs about $1.5 million apiece?
BASH: It does sound like that because, you're right, they cost a lot of money. I think that the Pentagon and you know this as well as I do made clear that the costs up front would be very high because of all the tomahawk missiles to try to get rid of Gadhafi's assets on the ground and that these costs are mostly fuel and supporting the planes that are in the air.
BLITZER: And it also assumes that the U.S. won't lose another F- 15 or F-16s because that could be $50 million or $75 million or even more per plane.
BASH: Exactly right. And on that note going forward, one of the other things I was told, Wolf, by multiple lawmakers in both parties coming out is that there was intense, intense frustration vented from administration officials about the fact they didn't come to Congress.
And I was told one lawmakers actually said Hillary Clinton told them if you don't -- even if you don't approve anything going forward, even if you have a resolution, we still feel that we're on solid legal footing going forward without Congress' approval at all. Listen to what one of the president's fellow Democrats said about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: We're not talking about consultation, we're talking about authorization. And Secretary Clinton said well, that question has been debated for decades and the administration and its lawyers believe that they had ample constitutional legal constitutional grounds to stand on. For my part I don't think that's an adequate answer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Again, that's a liberal Democrat. We're hearing the same thing from some of the most conservative lawmakers in congress. They don't feel that it's right that the administration is going forward without congress' approval.
BLITZER: Strange alliance going on, on the Hill, protecting their congressional instincts, to be sure. Dana, thank you.
Could the nuclear crisis we're seeing in Japan ever occur here in the United States? You're going to want to hear what the energy secretary Steven Chu is saying about that. Stand by.
BLITZER: There's also breaking news in Japan's nuclear crisis. International watchdogs are reporting high radiation levels outside the evacuation zone around the Daiichi nuclear power plant. They are urging Japan to consider evacuating the town of Etati. Officials are denying radioactive material found in sea water is a problem even though levels are 3,000 higher than normal.
President Obama today spoke of reducing American dependence on foreign oil. He lightened up his otherwise very serious remarks by giving kudos to his Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Chu's the right guy to do this. He's got a Nobel Prize in physics. He actually deserved his Nobel Prize.
(LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: And this is the kind of thing that he likes to do for fun on the weekends. You know, he goes into his garage and he tinkers around and figures how to extract natural gas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And joining us now, the aforementioned Energy secretary, Steven Chu.
Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for joining us.
STEVEN CHU, ENERGY SECRETARY: Oh, thank you. Glad to be here.
BLITZER: Is the president right? You actually deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. He -- he didn't necessarily deserve his?
CHU: Well, I think he deserved his, but he is being very gracious. You know, it remains -- I think I do, but, you know, you would have to ask the fellow scientists.
BLITZER: All right, well, it's nice to be praised by the president of the United States like that.
BLITZER: Let's get to some very serious issues right now.
So many people, not only in Japan, but around the world, including here in the United States, are worried about the nuclear disaster that has occurred in Japan. There are 104 nuclear reactors here in the United States, almost all of them at least -- what -- 20 or 30 years old, many of them, they're -- they're old, old equipment, old safety standards.
The question to you is this: Could what happened in Japan happen here in the United States?
CHU: Well, we -- we think it's highly unlikely. One of the things the American public should understand is even after a reactor is built, the show is not over. There are constant upgrades to these reactors, as we learn more about it, as we realize we can make them still yet safer, and this is continuing. And it will continue, especially, of any lessons learned in Japan, we will constantly upgrade the safety of our reactors where warranted.
BLITZER: Because the Japanese were about as well prepared, if not better prepared, than any other place on Earth to deal with nuclear reactors, probably better prepared than even the United States was, but look at what's going on there.
Are we right to be deeply concerned about these 104 nuclear reactors in the United States?
CHU: Well, I -- I, first, I -- I don't want to get into a comparison of whether the Japanese reactors are safer than the United States.
I -- I will say to the American public that way -- when we design our reactors and when we build them and as we learn more about them, the design basis is we don't want something that could occur, whether it's a hurricane or a tsunami or an earthquake or a combination of a number of things, that could lead to a breakdown in the safety system we design so that it's unlikely to occur once in maybe 10,000 years. And we -- we are constantly vigilant in the safety of our current reactor fleet.
BLITZER: So can you look into the camera and assure the American public if there's -- forget about an earthquake or a tsunami, if there's a hurricane or a tornado or a flood or a terrorist incident or a complete power outage, for that matter, these nuclear reactors will be safe, the spent fuel rods will be safe, we won't to have contamination from radiation?
CHU: I can look -- I can say to the American people that we have safe reactors and whatever we can do to upgrade the safety, we will do.
As I emphasized before, we are trying to look at extremely rare events. Loss of power is certainly not so rare and in the sense of -- that's why there are backup generators. That's why there are generators upon generators as backup.
And so, I think that the safety of reactors is something we constantly upgrade. But we -- they are safe today.
BLITZER: Because in Japan, the backup generators, if they had them, they didn't work.
Is every reactor here in the United States loaded with backup generators? And if they don't work, there's other fail-safe measures to make sure, for example, those spent fuel rods don't explode?
CHU: Yes. I -- I think there are backup generators. The generators in Japan did work for a while, but there was 40-foot waves that overtook them.
And, again, we design our reactors so that a multitude of things could go wrong and we try to think through the combination of -- of events that could happen. And that's where we're improving the vulnerability and we're improving the resistance to these vulnerabilities on a year-by-year basis.
BLITZER: Is it time to take another look at Yucca Mountain and get those spent fuel rods in a -- a safe, secure facility like that, even though the president basically abandoned that entire plan?
CHU: Well, I think you shouldn't confuse what happens in a -- a spent-fuel pool with long-term storage of 10,000 years to a million years in Yucca Mountain.
What happens in a nuclear reactor is you have spent fuel. You take them out and you put them in a pond for several years. Maybe after four or five years, you can -- you transition to dry-cask storage. Dry-cask storage means air-cooled, passive storage without maintenance.
This is something that is happening in the United States. The NRC, the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, has determined that dry-cask storage will be safe for a half a century or more. And -- and this is -- this is the option.
BLITZER: As Energy secretary, what keeps you up at night?
CHU: What keeps me up at night? There are a number of things.
I think -- I think my primary concern is that we need the United States to develop a coherent plan going into the future. We've seen these terrible oil shocks (ph) and the hardships it causes on Americans. We've seen other things. And so what we think, these are -- these are likely events. They've -- it's happening now. It happened three years ago. And so we need a coherent plan going forward that can give Americans a diversity of choices in transportation and energy.
We need America to be -- we're in a -- in a competition with the rest of the world on developing those clean energy technologies. The country and the companies that develop these technologies in the future will own the market, and I want the United States to own the market.
Those are the things that keep me up -- awake at night. These other issues, we are worried about, we're concerned, we're acting responsibly and we'll continue to act responsibly.
BLITZER: Secretary Chu, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck, we're all counting on you.
CHU: OK. Thank you.
BLITZER: New video coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about the battle in Misrata in Libya. We're taking you live for a closer look at what this video tells us about the rebels. Stand by.
And several senators behind closed doors getting the latest classified information on Libya. We're going to be talking to one of them just out of that briefing. He'll brief us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's go back live to the breaking news in Libya in moments, but escalating fears of civil war in another African country happening now as well. Kate Bolduan is back. She's monitoring that and other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.
What is going on?
BOLDUAN: So much going on, and fighting continuing in the Ivory Coast. The fighting is intensifying between supporters of the country's self-declared president and his challenger, who is recognized by the international community as the legitimate leader. Control over a number of cities is now shifting hands. The United Nations says almost one million residents have fled the country and at least 25 people have been killed just this month.
Another story we're watching today. Health officials are trying to determine if a bacterial infection spread intravenously caused the deaths of nine Alabama hospital patients. And 19 people were affected in total. Although the bacteria can prove fatal, investigators haven't yet determined it's to blame. The contaminated IV bags have been recalled and no longer pose a threat. Very troubling, though.
And shocking video of a plane crash, see it right there, caught on tape during an air show in Florida. Amazingly the pilot and passenger aboard survived. The plane was reportedly having mechanical problems. The pilot managed to push the plane toward the water to avoid hitting the sea wall. It's really amazing video, Wolf. I hate to see these types of things. Thankfully, they're OK.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
We're going back to Libya in a few moments. Stand by. Nic Robertson is on the ground in Tripoli. Ongoing efforts by Gadhafi's regime to convince the world they're winning. We'll check in with Nic. Also, if Libyan rebels are armed, how would it all work? We're digging into the details.