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White House Responds to Woodward's Allegations; Have Saudis Promised Bush Election Eve Reward?

Aired April 19, 2004 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now. The White House responding forcefully to two serious allegations in the new Bob Woodward book of a secret oil deal with Saudi Arabia and a possibly illegal use of funds to plan for war in Iraq.

Stand by for hard news on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.

Saudi surprise? Has the key ally promised the president an election eve reward?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That is outrageous and unacceptable to the American people.

BLITZER: Pull out. Spain is bringing its troops home from Iraq. Others may follow. Is the coalition coming apart?

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMIT, U.S. ARMY: Are we looking at pulling out? Absolutely not. Do we fear the terrorists? Hell, no.

BLITZER: Yellow ribbons. He's held hostage in Iraq. And his hometown is heartsick.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just can't say, OK, we're going to pray for you. It's going to be all right.

BLITZER: Homeland threats.

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We soon enter a season that is rich with symbolic opportunities for the terrorist to try to shake our will.

BLITZER: From celebrations to conventions. Are Americans at greater risk?

ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Monday, April 19, 2004.


BLITZER: As Americans face sticker shock at the gas pumps there are stunning new allegations that the president struck a secret deal with an old ally to create an October surprise. CNN's Brian Todd reports. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Did the Bush administration get assurances from Saudi Arabia to increase oil production and lower prices ahead of this year's election? "Washington Post" managing editor Bob Woodward says Saudi Arabia was prepared to do so and that President Bush got a pledge from Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S. and a long-time Bush family friend.

Quote, "according to Prince Bandar, the Saudis hoped to fine-tune oil prices over ten months to prime the economy for 2004. What was key, Bandar knew, were the economic conditions before presidential election. Not at the moment of the election. One of many revelations in Woodward's book "Plan of Attack," that's put a Capitol and a campaign into a lather.

KERRY: If as Bob Woodward reports it is true, that gas supplies and prices in America are tied to the American election, then tied to a secret White House deal, that is outrageous and unacceptable to the American people.

TODD: Reaction is swift.

DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: There was no talk with the president about making sure the prices are the same by presidential election. No secret deals. It seems Senator Kerry is more interested in trying to do books reviews about books that he probably hasn't even read and not really talking about the facts.

TODD: From the foreign affairs adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, "we do not use oil for political purposes. Saudi Arabia also does not interfere in elections."

Another claim in Woodward's book drawing serious questions that in the summer of 2002, $700 million was taken from Congress's appropriation for the war in Afghanistan to develop a war plan for Iraq. A diversion which Woodward said may have been illegal and Woodward writes Congress was deliberately kept in the dark about it.

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA: What this president has done in conducting a secretive, deceitful, highly costly war which has taken our attention off the very people who represent our greatest threats, they are not living in Iraq, they are living in the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

BARTLETT: But that was dollars that came from a -- accounts that were not earmarked for Afghanistan. They were given broad discretion to the Department of Defense. And that discretion was given by the Congress.

TODD: That's also up for debate. Contacted by CNN several congressional offices say they are looking into whether this shift of resources was illegal. The office of Democratic Representative David Obey, ranking member of the House appropriations committee tells us he's upset at the diversion of funds and that Congress was not told. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: While the Woodward book has sparked a great deal of controversy the president made it clear today he intends to stay the course in Iraq. Let's turn now to our senior White House correspondent, John King. What else are they saying, John, over at the White House.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as the day has gone on the administration answering another allegation or suggestion in the Woodward book just tonight. One of the suggestions is that the Saudi ambassador Brian Todd just spoke of in his piece about oil, Prince Bandar, received a detailed briefing on the final war plan last January even before the Secretary of State Colin Powell.

In an interview a short time ago with the Associated Press, the secretary of state says that is flatly not true.


COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The question that has arisen seems to be that Prince Bandar received a briefing on the plan with some suggestion that I hadn't. Of course, I had. I was intimately familiar with the plan and I was aware that Prince Bandar was being briefed on the plan.


KING: Now we saw the secretary here at the White House in the Oval Office a little earlier today seated on a couch across from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The main event there in the Oval Office the president announcing that the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, is his choice to become the administration's point man in Baghdad on June 30.

Mr. Negroponte is the president's choice to be ambassador to Iraq on June 30. The new Iraqi government is supposed to take sovereignty. The coalition provisional authority will shut down, Paul Bremer will come home and John Negroponte, if confirmed by the Senate, will be the president's point man in Baghdad. Wolf, the president is saying that John Negroponte is someone of enormous skill and expertise. He predicted he would do a good job on the ground in Iraq.

The president also voicing confidence that political transitions will go smoothly and Iraq will be, as he put it, democratic and prosperous. Overall, Wolf, in reviewing the Woodward book, they take issue of some of the facts in there but overall they say they want people to read this book. They say it shows the president repeatedly asking questions and having a very detailed planning process for the war. We're going to debate this one throughout the campaign, I think, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. John King at the White House. Thanks, John, very much.

Here's a little bit more information about the president's pick for the next ambassador to Iraq. As John mentioned he is 64-year-old John Negroponte, currently the United States ambassador to the U.N. Negroponte once was an aide to the former secretary of state Henry Kissinger. He served in the career foreign service from 1960 to 1997. He served in posts in Europe, Latin America and Asia. He was also the U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. He must still be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Bob Woodward's "Plan of Attack," that's the name of his book, says the Bush administration set its sights on Iraq right from day one, actually even before day one began, it begins before the inauguration. William Cohen was the secretary of defense during the Clinton administration. He's joining us now live. Thanks, Mr. Secretary, as usual, for joining us. Let me read a passage from the beginning of Bob Woodward's book. "In early January 2001, before George W. Bush was inaugurated, Vice President-elect Dick Cheney passed a message to the outgoing secretary of defense, William S. Cohen. We really need to get the president-elect briefed up on some things, Cheney said, adding that he wanted a serious discussion about Iraq and different options. The president-elect should not be given the routine, canned, round-in-the-world (ph) tour normally given incoming presidents, topic A should be Iraq."

Do you remember that session?

WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I do remember that session. I had had two previous sessions with Secretary Rumsfeld to give him an around-the-world briefing in terms of issues that I felt needed to at least be called to his attention but with respect to the president when he came in the company of his team, Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld, the vice president and Condoleezza Rice, that was the principal subject for discussion. I would say three quarters, two thirds of the discussion really centered around Iraq. Other discussions on North Korea and I think, as I recall also Columbia.

BLITZER: What was your main message to them about Iraq?

COHEN: What we were doing to that point. How the containment policy was working. The no-fly zones in the north and the south (UNINTELLIGIBLE) zones. Whether we felt he was reasonably well contained and what the options were in the event that Saddam was successful in shooting down an American pilot or taking them as captive. And, also, whether he moved against any of his neighbors, all of that was considered and briefed to the president.

BLITZER: Later in the Woodward book there's a whole section about when Rumsfeld was asked by the president to get a war plan potentially to go to war against Saddam Hussein, he looked back at what existed at the Pentagon. There was a '95 plan he says was woefully out of date. Was that the last time when you were at the Pentagon you had a contingency plan to go to war against Iraq?

COHEN: Actually it was updated around '97 or '98 but it was in the context of us moving against him if he violated the integrity of the fly zones and the drive zones or attacked his neighbors. It would have had to have been certainly updated even more. We had several, I think at least a dozen, maybe 13 contingency plans available that could be pulled off the shelf and implemented in fairly rapid implementation of them. We also had preposition equipment, we had moved a number of forces closer to the borders and other place so that he would not be able to move against Kuwait in the future.

BLITZER: Most people don't realize that at any one time there are contingency plans at the Pentagon virtually for every possibility.

COHEN: There are literally hundreds of contingency plans. There's a difference between having what they call con-ups, conceptional operation versus an actual war plan. That war plan involves many moving parts and those moving parts involve a lot of people and a lot of discussion has to take place.

BLITZER: When Cheney said to you topic A should be Iraq. Did that set up any red flags in your mind?

COHEN: Well, it was clear that that was a subject of discussion during the course of the campaign that the president was focused on it and I think since that time we have seen the books, a trilogy of books, not only Bob Woodward's first book, "Bush at War," but also the book Mr. O'Neill, the treasury Secretary, Mr. Clarke who was serving as the counter terrorist specialist and now Bob Woodward's last book.

BLITZER: Everybody seems to be coming up with the same conclusion. They were much preoccupied with Iraq.

COHEN: They had a very intense focus on Iraq. I think it was clear from the beginning. And it goes back to the early '90s when Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was talking and discussing whether the options would be to remove Saddam in the few future.

BLITZER: You were the secretary of defense, you were also the key member of the Senate, House of Representatives based on this decision to move around $700 million appropriated for use against Afghanistan in the war on terror -- Afghanistan. Then to use that money to prepare for war in Iraq. If the administration had not notified Congress, didn't go back and get authorization, for that, would there be some sort of illegality involved.

COHEN: Well, there's certainly going to be a lot of attention paid to it by members of Congress. The real issue will be, how is the appropriation bill written. How much flexibility or latitude did the administration have under the language of the bill. If it was restricted to Afghanistan and the money in fact was moved without notification of the Congress, I think there will be some serious consequence tote. It may be pretty broad base. There may be some flexibility. It's the kind of flexibility members of Congress don't like for this very reason. They think money is going into one program and can be moved on an emergency basis or covert basis into another then the appropriation process starts to break down. So, they will be looking at it fairly closely.

BLITZER: Secretary Cohen, I'm sure you'll be looking at it very closely as well. Thanks very much for joining us.

And here's your chance to weigh in on this important story. Our "Web Question of the Day" is this, will Bob Woodward's new book hurt the president's approval rating?

You can vote right now. Go to We'll have the results later in this broadcast. While you're there, I'd love to hear directly from you. Send me your comments any time. I'll try to read some of them on the air each day at the end of this program. That's also where you can read my daily online column.

And you can hear it straight from Bob Woodward tonight. "The Plan of Attack" author appears on "LARRY KING." That starts 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 pacific. Only here on CNN. This additional note, he'll be with me this coming Friday right on this program.

A call for insurgents to disarm in Iraq and word that some 1,400 Spanish troops are pulling out. Will Iraq be ready for self-rule by the end of June? I'll speak with Brigadier General mark Kimmitt, and civilian spokesman Dan Senor.

Staying the course in Iraq, how Americans have responded to President's Bush's prime time speech. There are brand new poll numbers that we have. A CNN/"USA TODAY"/Gallup poll has just been released.

New calls against Israel. Hamas issues another threat after there second leader has been assassinated. Will it carry through this time?

Stay with us.


BLITZER: A spectacular day here in Washington. What Americans think about sending more troops to Iraq. How the Clinton the Bush White House handled warnings of al Qaeda activity prior to the 9/11 attacks. How President Bush is doing on the job. These are questions all asked in a brand new CNN/"USA TODAY"/Gallup poll. Here to look at the numbers as he always does, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. Take a look at the first number. A head to head match-up between the president and John Kerry look at this, Bush 51 percent, John Kerry 46 percent.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: That's remarkable given the fact the last few weeks have been bad weeks for the president. There's been losses in Iraq, 9/11 Commission revelations, gasoline prices, what many regarded as an unconvincing performance in the president's prime time press conference. What Americans seem to be doing is rallying to the president in the time of international crisis. His ratings went up. That lead is a little higher than it was couple of weeks ago, because Americans instinctively support the president. You mention troops in Iraq, support for sending more troops in Iraq has actually gone up.

BLITZER: Clearly this is the first major poll done since his nationally televised news conference. Who is doing a better job, who would do a better job as far as handling Iraq is concerned. Bush 55 percent, Kerry 41 percent. What do you make of this? SCHNEIDER: Despite the losses, what Americans think two words, bush in Iraq, they remember something the United States won. They went in with overwhelming force, they got rid of Saddam Hussein regime and Saddam Hussein is now in captivity. So, the view is if you want someone that can handling a situation like that, a man of strength and decisiveness and resolve, Bush is your man.

BLITZER: Now as far as handling terrorism, similar result, even better for the president. Would do a good job handling terrorism, yes, Bush 64 percent, 43 percent for Kerry. That's more than a 20 point slip.

SCHNEIDER: It's a huge advantage for Bush, and this is the issue he wants to run on. He said this election will be on the following question, which one of us can better win the war on terror?

He said that because it's his strong suit.

BLITZER: All right, there's a weak suit he has as well. That's the economy. Look at this. Would do a good job handling the economy, 49 percent say the president, a 55 percent give a better mark to John Kerry.

SCHNEIDER: This is his weak issue. The Democrats would like to make a referendum on the economy. They are hoping it would be like '92 was for father. Remember the economy (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the referendum no the economy. But there's a difference, the difference is 9/11. And for the reasons we just saw, the president's determined not to let this simply be a referendum on the economy, and the figures show why.

BLITZER: Bill, correct me if I'm right. There seems to be a disconnect between the elite, the pundits here in Washington, inside the Washington beltway and the rest of the country based on the numbers that we're seeing, especially on job approval and Iraq and terrorism.

SCHNEIDER: And not for the first time is there a disconnect. I remember when the Clinton scandal over Monica Lewinsky broke in January of 1998, official Washington declared his presidency over until we took a poll and we asked the American people do you think he should stay in office, and the answer was yes. His ratings went up. So, repeatedly we find the views inside Washington and the views outside are very different. And that's what appears to be happening now.

BLITZER: So, clearly what the president said at his news conference on Iraq and terrorism was a lot better received around the country than a lot of the so-called elite media thought it would do?

SCHNEIDER: The president does connect with ordinary Americans, very well. Even though people say he's not articulate, and he didn't seem to be in command of the issues. Nevertheless he got his point across when he said when I say something I mean it and the world knows that. And Americans you can hear and see in these numbers nodding in appreciation. BLITZER: Bill Schneider our analyst as usual, thanks.

There's progress on one front, but a crack in the coalition. The latest for the battle in Iraq.

Plus my interview with the top U.S. military and civilian spokesmen in Iraq. That's coming up.

Major high profile events this summer. What is being done to keep them from becoming terror targets?

And an American soldier held hostage in Iraq. We'll take you to his hometown for an update on his ordeal. Stay with us.


BLITZER: New numbers out from the Pentagon show the increasingly high cost of the battle for Iraq. Seven hundred and two Americans have now died since the war began last March. Of those, 505 died in hostile action, 197 deaths are classified as non-hostile.

The figures come at the same time as a major crack develops in the U.S.-led coalition.


BLITZER (voice-over): Najaf, word that some 1,400 Spanish troops based in the area are pulling out, and leaving Iraq altogether.

It was one of the first official actions by Spain's new prime minister, making good on a campaign pledge. U.S. soldiers are locked in a standoff in Najaf with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who welcomed news of the Spanish withdrawal.

U.S. military leaders stress there will not be a security vacuum.

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: We know that the departure of the Spanish and any other forces that will be departing at the same time will be orderly. We know it will be professional.

BLITZER: Regardless of which foreign troops are in Iraq, the chief U.S. administrator says flatly the country is not ready to handle security alone.

PAUL BREMER, U.S. CIVIL ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ: It is clear that the Iraqi forces will not be able on their own to deal with these threats by June 30, when an Iraqi government assumes sovereignty.

BLITZER: Fallujah, progress reported in talks aimed at ending a two-week standoff between U.S. Marines surrounding the city and insurgents inside. Coalition officials outlined a deal in which American forces will promise not to resume their offensive if insurgents hand over their heavy weapons.

But a coalition spokesman says it's not clear whether the Iraqis can deliver, and without a full cease-fire major hostilities could quickly resume, at the risk of inciting anti-occupation raids.

DAN SENOR, CPA SPOKESMAN: We have been very clear that time is running out. There's only so much longer we can continue this process before we have to re-engage and reinitiate operations. And so we remain hopeful about...


BLITZER: Much more on the conflict in Iraq. That's coming up just ahead, as Spanish troops prepare to pull out. Will the move jeopardize America and other coalition troops standing firm? I'll ask coalition military spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt and Dan Senor.

Tense wait, will Hamas this time carry out its threat of revenge for the assassination of its new leader by Israel?

Also, a convicted sex offender released from jail is now back behind bars. Find out how his past caught up with him once again.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Spanish soldiers preparing to withdraw right now from Iraq. How their departure will impact American troops? I'll talk with the top U.S. military and civilian spokesmen in Iraq. First, though, a quick check of the latest headlines.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command confirms sometime in the decade before 9/11 it held a regional training exercise that simulated a hijacked airliner crashing into a building. But NORAD emphasizes it was just testing procedures and had no reason to believe the scenario would actually happen.

Police in Kansas City say a supervisor for a Missouri trash hauling company could be the worst serial killer in the city's history. Authorities have charged Lorenzo Gilyard with strangling 12 women, or girls, from 1977 to 1993. They are investigating possible links to other killings.

Today is the ninth anniversary of the bombing that killed 168 people at the Murrah federal office building in Oklahoma City. Survivors and relatives of the victims gathered for a ceremony at a church near the national memorial marking the site of the blast. The event began at 9:02 a.m., the minute the bomb exploded in 1995.

And in McAlester, it's week five in the state murder trial of the man accused of helping Timothy McVeigh build and pack the Oklahoma City bomb. Terry Nichols is already serving a life sentence on federal convictions for his role. McVeigh was convicted in the case and executed in 2001.

The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq is showing a brave public face despite the announcement by Spain that it will withdraw its troops and the highest monthly American death toll so far in the conflict.

Earlier, I spoke with the coalition's military spokesman, U.S. Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt and civilian spokesman Dan Senor.


BLITZER: General Kimmitt, Dan Senor, thanks to both of us for joining us.

General Kimmitt, how do you do an effective withdrawal of those 1,300 Spanish forces without causing potentially incredibly difficult problems for the U.S. and other coalition forces on the ground?

KIMMITT: Well, Wolf, I think the way do you it is the same way you do it any time you replace troops outgoing with incoming. You try to schedule the time so that you can get the incoming troops there a couple of weeks ahead of time, so that you can go through what we call a right-seat, left-seat program, so that when, in fact, the Spanish do depart, they have left a pretty well trained unit behind.

BLITZER: We're also hearing, Dan, that the Honduran government may be pulling out a few hundred of their troops in Iraq. Have you heard that?

SENOR: Wolf, I haven't heard any confirmed reports to that effect. But I think it's important to keep in mind we've got over 30 countries with troops on the ground here, 15 of the NATO countries; 17 countries have civilian resources on the ground.

It is a very international operation. And while we are grateful for the service of each individual country, we also have to keep in perspective here the totality of the effort.

BLITZER: We're hearing, General Kimmitt, that the roads to Baghdad, the two main highways, one from Kuwait, one from Jordan, may be too dangerous for U.S. military convoys. What is the situation? How difficult is it to drive into Baghdad now?

KIMMITT: Well, first of all, the roads are -- the north-south roads coming out of Baghdad, the one west to Jordan is pretty much in good shape, after you get past Abu Ghraib.

There has got to be some road repair done for those roads. They have been pretty beat up lately with the combat operations that we've been right now, but we don't think that's going to have a significant effect. There will be some times during the day when different segments of the road will have to be closed out. And what we'll do is the way you would work any normal road repair, just divert traffic around that area.

BLITZER: Dan Senor, we have heard anecdotal reports that a lot of Iraqi civilians are now reluctant to work, to cooperate with the CPA, the Coalition Provisional Authority, they are not showing up to work, that it's simply too dangerous for them. And that's going to complicate your mission. But what can you tell us about that?

SENOR: Well, we have seen -- and I think you're right, Wolf. It's anecdotal. We've seen anecdotal examples of folks not showing up. But by and large, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis who work with us are continuing to work with us.

The uptick in the intelligence we have been receiving since the capture of Saddam Hussein from Iraqis that are sort of in play now, Iraqis that were either hopeful before the capture of Saddam Hussein or fearful about his possible return, fearful that he would return or hopeful that he would return, those Iraqis that were beginning to provide us intelligence are continuing to do so. So there is some reticence on the part of some Iraqis.

But by and large the trend we have been seeing since Saddam Hussein's capture really hasn't changed. And it's too early at this point to determine if the violence of the last couple of weeks is going to have a ripple effect going forward.

BLITZER: General Kimmitt, how is that so-called cease-fire holding up in Fallujah?

KIMMITT: Well, clearly, the Marines are observing the unilateral suspension of offensive operations. I wish we could say the same for the enemy.

Over the past 48 hours, there's been 16 documented indirect fire attacks coming from the enemy and 18 direct fire attacks.

BLITZER: Why not simply go in there and bring stability, security, to the region?

KIMMITT: Well, first of all, Fallujah is not the entire region. Fallujah is just a microcosm of the region the region. It's a microcosm of Iraq.

But at this point we've been asked by the Iraqi Governing Council and some other significant Iraqi leadership to give the political track an opportunity and so we have held up. We have suspended offensive operations until those political discussions either bear fruit -- but if they don't bear fruit, the Marines are certainly prepared to continue the offensive operations to finish this fight.

BLITZER: Dan Senor, what about in Najaf, where the Shiites are in control right now? There are a lot of U.S. troops outside of Najaf. How complicated is that situation to try to establish the coalition presence there?

SENOR: We don't believe, Wolf, that Najaf is the issue here. Muqtada al-Sadr and his band of thugs, his illegal militia, are what is the issue. They are not only in Najaf. And we are making it clear to anybody who listens, anyone who approaches us, that the rule of law must prevail in Iraq and Muqtada al-Sadr must be tried in an Iraqi court under Iraqi law by an Iraqi judge, that there is no room for occupying government buildings, taking over government properties.

There's no room for illegal militias. Our message is clear. Muqtada al-Sadr, if he wants a peaceful resolution to this process and wants to minimize bloodshed, he knows what he wan do.

BLITZER: General Kimmitt, there's at least one American soldier who is being held captive by elements, insurgents in Iraq. What is wrong with trying to negotiate some sort of prisoner exchange?

KIMMITT: Well, simply, we don't negotiate with terrorists. And we never have and we never will.

BLITZER: That's the bottom line, Dan Senor?

SENOR: Well, yes, I think that's correct. We don't negotiate with terrorists.

What we do, though, is we put all of our might and our resources, our intelligence resources and our military resources, behind the pursuit of these hostage takers with the goal of the safe release of our -- of these hostages. We have been making that clear to the terrorists who have taken hostages. We will not negotiate. That's the bottom line. But we will also do everything in our power to secure their safe release.

It is certainly a high priority. We're working now with law enforcement agencies from around the world who are involved, with this. The FBI is involved. This is something we're pretty focused on right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Senor, General Kimmitt, as usual, thanks very much for joining us. Be safe over there. And we'll speak to you soon.

SENOR: Good to be with you.

KIMMITT: Thanks.


BLITZER: Two leaders assassinated in less than a month, now new calls for revenge by members of Hamas against Israel.

Plus, this:


TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: In this country, we soon enter a season that is rich with symbolic opportunities for the terrorists to try to shake our will.


BLITZER: Highly attractive terror targets. Now Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announces a new aggressive plan to keep Americans safe.

Plus, a small town on edge after one of its soldiers is kidnapped in Iraq, an update on U.S. Army Private Keith Maupin.

But first, a quick look at some other news making headlines around the world.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER (voice-over): Holocaust day. Israelis stopped in their tracks as sirens sounded to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day. The annual observance mourns six million Jews killed by Nazis during World War II. And it was marked by observances across Israel and in other countries.

Terror arrests. Britain's antiterrorism campaign continued with 10 more arrests, following a series of raids in Manchester and other parts of England. Authorities say the suspects, all of North African or Iraqi Kurdish origin, are suspected of committing, preparing or instigating terror.

Roman holiday. Make-believe emperors, legionnaires, gladiators and even vestal virgins marched through the streets of Rome to celebrate the city's 2,757 birthday. Legend says Rome was founded on April the 1753 B.C. That would make Wednesday the official anniversary, but Rome wasn't build in a day, they say. So there is probably nothing wrong with starting the celebration in advance.

Making a splash. Water polo usually isn't much of a spectator sport. But it was a big hit at a collegiate tournament in Wales. The main attraction, Britain's Prince William in a bathing suit. The prince's team lost, but that didn't seem to bother the women in the crowd, who cheered him on.

And that's our look around the world.



BLITZER: The radical Islamic group Hamas is vowing 100 retaliations for Israel's assassination of its leader in Gaza, Abdel- Aziz al-Rantissi. The weekend missile strike came less than a month after the killing of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Israelis are now bracing for a wave of suicide bombings. But is Hamas still able to carry out its threat?

CNN's John Vause reports from Gaza.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Everywhere in Gaza, there are calls for revenge, from little girls barely 10 years old, to those gathered on a dusty football field to mourn. They filed past the faces of the four dead Hamas leaders, all victims of Israeli assassination. Abdel-Aziz Rantissi's elder son says retaliation is only a matter of time.

MUHAMMAD RANTISSI, SON OF SLAIN LEADER (through translator): I have confidence and trust Hamas will retaliate. In the past, Hamas has been attacked by Israel, but Hamas has continued with their resistance.

VAUSE: But when? Two leaders killed in less than a month, the remaining leadership underground and despite promises of an earthquake like response, so far nothing.

ZIAD ABU-AMR, POLITICAL ANALYST: It's like a family which loses the father and the big brother.

VAUSE: Among the high-profile leaders left behind is Mahmoud Zahhar. He is in hiding from the Israeli military, but turned up briefly at the mourners tent.

MAHMOUD ZAHHAR, SENIOR HAMAS LEADER: This is serving Hamas. The popular support increased. Our legitimacy is increased and intensified inside and outside.

VAUSE: Both business, schools and government offices closed for three days of mourning. And many here believe Hamas is still a potent force in the fight against Israel.

AZZAM ABU-JARAD, GAZA RESIDENT (through translator): Hamas has not been weakened. Even if they assassinate the leaders, 20 others will take their place.

VAUSE: For more than three years, Hamas has led a campaign of suicide bombing. It remains to be seen if the new leader, whoever that is, has the ability to continue those attacks.

(on camera): For many within Hamas, it is now a question of credibility. They believe to maintain widespread support among Palestinians, they must deliver on their promise of a major blow against Israel.

John Vause, CNN, Gaza.


BLITZER: Cities across the United States are preparing for some high-profile gatherings this summer on top of the season's usual events. And there's concern any of them would be an enticing target for terrorists.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is here with more on how officials plan to enhance security -- Jeanne.


The Memorial Day dedication of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, the Fourth of July holiday among those big symbolic events coming up on the calender that will bring increased security. But in light of the Madrid train bombings, with their possible impact on the Spanish election, an administration official says that upcoming events involving political leadership are of greatest concern.

That includes the G8 Summit, which will bring together key world leaders, the political conventions, the election and the inauguration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RIDGE: And, at this time, obviously, we do not have specific threat information around any of these events. But, ladies and gentlemen, we do have our common sense. And we don't need a change in the threat level to make us safer and more secure.


MESERVE: To better prepare for all the high profile-events on the calendar, political and otherwise, Ridge today announced a new interagency working group to include his own department, the Departments of Justice, Energy, Transportation and others to improve preparedness. It will pay particular attention to critical infrastructure such as chemical plants and the electrical grid, increase in coordination with state and local governments and the private sector.

Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York asked, wasn't this what Ridge was supposed to be doing all along, although she says she is supportive of any efforts to improve security -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne Meserve, thanks very much for that report.

A U.S. soldier held hostage in Iraq, his family has just released a statement. We'll have a live report from U.S. Army Private Keith Maupin's hometown.

Plus, tough race, 26.2 miles in record high temperatures. We'll get to all of that.

First, though, a quick look at some stories you may have missed this weekend.


BLITZER (voice-over): There was a memorial service at the University of North Dakota for 22-year-old Dru Sjodin. Sjodin's disappears in November prompted an intensive search, but her body wasn't discovered until Saturday in a ravine near Crookston, Minnesota.

Mad. A notorious sex offender is back in custody; 49-year-old Edward Stokes once claimed to have molested 212 victims and his release from a California prison earlier this month enraged critics. Stokes was arrested again in Oregon Sunday because he allegedly gave a false address in an application for a driver's license.

Space shot. A Russian Soyuz spacecraft was launched from Kazakhstan on its way to the International Space Station. It carried a multinational crew, a Russian commander, an American flight engineer, and a Dutch research specialist.

And that's our weekend snapshot.



BLITZER: The Army has changed Private Matt Maupin's status to captured. Missing in Iraq for 10 days, Maupin was shown on the Arabic-language network Al-Jazeera Friday surrounded by masked gunman. The Reverend Jesse Jackson and the former hostage Jessica Lynch have reached out to Maupin's family in Ohio as they await word in his fate.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is live from Union Township with more -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today, for the first time, we saw Matt Maupin's oldest sister, and although she never said a word, you could see the concern written all over her face. And although we've known this for days, the Army has now officially identified Matt Maupin as the soldier that video.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At 08:00 this morning, his status had been officially changed to captured.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Private Maupin's family said they knew it immediately. But it's taken a few days for the Army to examine that videotape and officially reclassify the captured American soldier.

Since the tape was released Friday, Matt Maupin's family has been dealing with this privately. But whenever they do go out, they see the yellow ribbons on Sunday heard from former POW Jessica Lynch and her mother, who both called the family's home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jessica and her family conveyed their compassion for our family situation. And then we shared a tender moment with us in prayer. We concluded that call stating that we cannot wait for the day that Matt can personally thank Jessica and her family for being there during these most difficult of times.

LAWRENCE: Before he was captured, Private Maupin was accepted into the local American Legion post. Army veteran Ron Hartman (ph) had planned to mail his membership card overseas, but now he's waiting to hand it to Maupin in person.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's being held captive against his will. We certainly wish he was here with us.


LAWRENCE: And no one wants that more than Matt Maupin's family, who told us today they are positive he'll be home again soon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence reporting for us -- thanks, Chris, very much.

Our "Web Question of the Day" is this: Will Bob Woodward's new book hurt the president's approval rating? You can vote right now, That's where you can go. We'll have the results when we come back. Plus, a spring marathon with summer temperatures makes for one tight race in Boston. We'll have the results of that just ahead as well.


BLITZER: Now we're getting this story just in to CNN.

Jordan's King Abdullah has postponed this week's planned trip to Washington. Diplomatic sources tell CNN the move is in response to Israel's killing of Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz Rantissi and U.S. support for Israel's proposed unilateral disengagement plan from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. A senior State Department official paints the postponement as due to -- quote -- "ongoing developments in the region." Officials say the visit has been tentatively rescheduled for early May. We'll follow this story.

Here's how your weighing in on our "Web Question of the Day": Will Bob Woodward's new book hurt the president's approval rating? Look at this: 66 percent of you say yes; 34 percent of you say no. As always, we remind you, this is not a scientific poll.

Let's read some of your e-mail.

Bill writes this: "Bob Woodward is an accurate and truthful reporter. This is not a Republican vs. Democrat issue. It's about getting the truth out to the American people about how Bush had this war plan before 9/11. There were plenty of other news outlets that reported the same info. Wake up, America. Bush led our country into an unjust war."

Lynnette writes this: "This is a political ploy against Bush being reelected, but it will backfire. This new book by Woodward says that President Bush was willing to risk his presidency because he knew the Iraq war was the right thing to do. he puts the country before his political career. How many politicians can say that?"

It was a good day for Kenya at the 108th Boston Marathon. Both the men's winner and women's winner were Kenyans. Battling unusually temperatures in the mid-80s, Timothy Cherigat won the men's race in 2 hours, 10 minutes and 37 seconds. Catherine Ndereba took the women's competition by just 16 seconds. She finished in 2 hours, 24 minutes, 27 minutes to win the marathon for the third time. That's our picture of the day.

A reminder, you can always catch us on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS weekdays 5:00 p.m. Eastern. I'll see you tomorrow noon as well. Until then, thanks for joining us.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.


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