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THE SITUATION ROOM
Show of Anger vs. Show of Force: P.R. Disaster Chases Olympic Torch; Presidential Candidates Plan Iraq Strategies
Aired April 9, 2008 - 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: Thanks very much, guys.
Happening now, what's supposed to be a show of Olympic pride could become a show of anger confronted by a show of force. In San Francisco right now, runners are about to start carrying the Olympic Flame. But the Torch they're carrying has sparked rounds of fiery protests.
In presidential politics, Hillary Clinton appears to be getting more aggressive regarding Iraq. She says she will do what John McCain and Barack Obama can't do regarding the war.
And McCain's campaign suggests you should beware of Barack Obama, says Obama's on the verge of breaking an important promise to you.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
Right now, the Olympic torch is starting a run through the sunny streets of San Francisco. Chasing after it is a public relations nightmare potentially.
We've learned the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, will not attend the Olympics opening ceremony, although he's not boycotting the actual games. And that's putting new pressure on President Bush to do the exact same thing. This, as many people are angry at China's human rights record and the treatment of Tibet, and they're trying to disrupt the torch relay as they did in London and Paris in recent days.
In San Francisco right now, the police department cut short police officers' vacations, so swarms are on hand to try to protect the runners and control mobs of protesters. They've called in backup from other agencies as well. And there's basically a no-fly zone over the entire route out in San Francisco.
That route has been cut short already and could even be changed more. It starts at the park home to the San Francisco Giants, heads north towards Fisherman's Wharf, and then turns back south, ending at Justin Herman Plaza.
The flame is on a 130-day, 23-city tour, but this is the only stop it will make in the United States. The only stop in North America, for that matter. China says it condemns any deliberate disruption to the torch relay, calling them -- and I'm quoting now -- "despicable activities." And today in San Francisco there are pro-China activists amid the anti-China protesters.
CNN is watching every angle of this developing story right now. Our man John Vause is in Beijing. Thelma Gutierrez and Dan Simon are in San Francisco along the torch relay.
But let's begin with Ted Rowlands. He's right at the beginning of this relay.
Ted, tell our viewers what you're seeing right now and what you anticipate will happen over the next few moments.
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are getting some indications that there's already some trouble along the route. They have shortened the route, a couple of the torchbearers have dropped out. Two more, according to the organizers, have declined to take part in this over safety concerns.
And the San Francisco Police Department is reporting that the bus was vandalized by a large group of protesters. No arrests, no injuries there. There's also some protesters lying on the route, down the route from where we are.
We're at the beginning of this route, behind the AT&T ballpark here. And this is more of a celebration. These are invited guests, mainly. This is pro-China, pro-Olympics to the core here. It is down the route a little bit where they do foresee some problems.
Right now we're still awaiting the torch ceremony to begin. It's supposed to be a short ceremony before the torch relay starts off from this point. Right now there's still a band on stage here, as you can obviously hear. And it seems like preparations are ready and it's only a matter of time before they start this.
BLITZER: Ted, I want to interrupt you, Ted, for a moment. Ted, we're showing our viewers already some live pictures that are just coming in of protesters.
They're already starting to lie down on some of the streets, some of the expected route for this torch relay. And you can see in these live pictures that are just coming in what is already going on, and presumably a lot more of this expected.
Now, local law enforcement authorities, as we've been noting, they've been bracing for this for some time. They've already decided to, what, cut short the original route that the torch was expected to go. Is that right?
ROWLANDS: Yes, that is right. They're shortening the route, and now they may shorten it even more. They're keeping all of their options open. The plan here was to barricade the entire route and have San Francisco police officers along it. And you can see they have that in place here at the early stages of it. And they have issued an edict -- anybody who goes over those barricades is subject to arrest. They say they have the manpower to pull it off.
But, when you look at those pictures of people lying in the street, obviously the only way to get them out would be with significant police intervention. Whether or not they will reroute the torch or they will go in and try to remove those people, we'll have to wait and see. And we expect more of that to come as the torch gets under way.
We're still waiting for that. As we said, right now they're still having some sort of celebration here, but no sign of the actual torch.
BLITZER: And it's a festive event at the beginning of this relay where you are right now. We hear the music in the background and we see a lot of pro-China supporters. You say these are the invited guests that the Olympic committee and other local organizers have brought today?
ROWLANDS: Yes. Right in this immediate area is invited guests. And along the first -- the first part of the route is significantly -- overwhelmingly, actually, pro-China.
These people have been out here. They came out in busloads. They got out here in the predawn hours, and they sort of staked out their position along the initial route here.
It is past where you can see, past along the route a little longer where there are other factions and people with other interests. And the real concern is not only what will those folks, the protesters, try to do to the torch run, but also the interaction between the two sides.
We got a glimpse of it here. There was someone with a Tibetan flag who snuck into the invited guests only area. And immediately, that person was mobbed. Pushing, a little bit of shoving, and a lot of screaming back and forth.
This is such an emotional issue on both sides. You talk to the people here, they're overcome with emotion that China has the Olympic games and they're so proud of that fact.
On the other side of the coin it's the exact opposite. They are overcome with anger that China has these Olympic games with what they perceive is an atrocious human rights record. So, police very cognizant of the blending of these two factions as the torch which is going to ignite those feelings go through the streets of San Francisco.
BLITZER: All right, Ted. I want you to stand by. We're going to be coming back to you.
Thelma Gutierrez is also in San Francisco. She's watching this.
Thelma, you're basically in the middle of this relay where these runners are expected to go right behind you. But set the scene where you are.
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I can tell you, I'm on the southern end of the financial district, about a half-mile from where Ted Rowlands is actually starting. And you can see right behind me thousands of people already gathering here along the Embarcadero to watch that torch pass by.
I can tell you that there is a very definite police presence out here. We have just seen a busload of police come through the Embarcadero right now, presumably looking for people who are ready to stop these torch runners. Now, also, Coast Guard have been patrolling the bay here, keeping an eye on things.
Now, the police have warned protesters. If you take a look right here, they put up these metal barriers. If any of the protesters cross these barriers, they are subject to arrest.
And Wolf, something that's been very interesting to me is really what the torch runners are going through right now. I heard one talk about a secret meeting they all had yesterday. He said he felt like a sequestered juror.
They were put into a room and then quickly moved into another room, citing security concerns, according to the organizers. And he said that they were very nervous.
He was talking to many of the other runners, just average people. I mean, you have a nurse. You've got a 74-year-old great grandmother who's running. Many people who are very emotional about carrying the torch down the Embarcadero and making this route, but also very concerned that they may be the subject of physical violence. So a very difficult thing for these people.
BLITZER: And at least one of those runners has already dropped out expressing concern about his security running through, what, about six miles of the streets of San Francisco? Have we heard of any other runners deciding, you know what, I'd rather not do this?
GUTIERREZ: Well, we heard that there was a young teenager who decided to drop out. I believe that the parents were very concerned about the security of this teenager. But they've been very tight- lipped.
I talked to a runner yesterday, a writer, an author here, Chinese-American who's also a human rights activist. She told me she was very concerned about making this run. She was actually practicing.
She was running around her neighborhood with a couple of weights to try to mimic the weight of the torch because she says, "I want to make sure that I hang on to it in case anyone tries to wrestle it away from me. And I want to make sure that I'm able to hang on to that torch if someone tries to take me down."
So, lots of people very concerned. It should be a moment of pride, they say, a moment that's emotional for them to carry the torch. At the same time, they're just not sure how this is all going to play out -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And we're showing our viewers, Thelma, live pictures of the barricades that are being put up along some of this route. And we're also now going to some live pictures along the waters of San Francisco to make sure that there are no disruptions coming from the waters as well. These are police officials in these little -- in these little vessels going up and down to make sure that there's no surprises coming from the water as well.
This is like a major military maneuver here in San Francisco, Thelma. The preparation must be intense. Was there ever, based on what you know, any serious consideration to actually canceling the whole thing?
GUTIERREZ: You know, there was a lot of talk about that, Wolf, but not really a serious consideration, because the mayor came out yesterday and said anything could happen. We could shorten the routes. We're not even telling the runners where they're going to run exactly. But really, they decided that they were going to move forth with this.
Now, you were talking about police presence and people making sure that these runners are protected as they make their way down the Embarcadero. I can tell you that there have been many white vans parked along this way, Wolf.
And if any of these protesters are picked up, those vans are in place. They're all staffed with police. Those protesters will be put in there quickly and then hauled away. So, we've seen quite a few vans all along the street behind us.
BLITZER: And just to be precise, there are plenty of individuals there supporting China right now, very proud that China's about to host the Olympic games in August in Beijing. But the other side are complaining not only about human rights abuses in China, but also what's happening in Tibet, China's refusal to go along with much of the world in dealing with the Darfur situation in Sudan, as well as in Myanmar as well.
There's a lot of other concerns about what's going on in China and China's policies dealing with these other issues as well. And I assume you see the demonstrators, Thelma, raising those concerns throughout all of these areas.
GUTIERREZ: Yes, that's true, Wolf. In fact, just a few minutes ago, we saw several hundred people carrying the "Free Tibet" banners. And they rushed behind us right before this route was just closed off.
In that group you also have the people who are protesting China's association with the Sudanese government, saying that they, of course, are leading to the problem of genocide in Darfur. So, everybody has a cause.
In addition to that, you've got other people on the fringe who want the Olympics to go back to the way that they were played in the old times. They want them to be played in the nude. So you've got protesters out here for that.
So, almost every cause, Wolf, under the sun is being represented out here because they know that the world is watching.
BLITZER: We're watching these live pictures coming in from a helicopter showing some of the motorcycles, the police officers coming in on motorcycles. I don't know if they've got a motorcade that they're leading up to, some sort of convoy, or whatever. But we see what's going on.
Ted Rowlands, you're at the beginning of this. Set the scene where you are, because we expect it to begin any moment now, right?
ROWLANDS: Yes. Right now, Wolf, we're getting the first glimpse of the beginnings of this event here.
You can see the individuals -- the first two runners are being accompanied, it looks like, by Chinese officials as they start to make their way up to the podium. And there is one of the Chinese security members. These are the folks that were under a lot of criticism, the people in the blue sweat suits, blue and white sweat suits.
He is holding the Olympic flame. And in that cardboard box presumably is the first torch. This torch will be used using that Olympic flame.
The Olympic flame you can see is encased there and being held very tightly by the security. This is security from China.
It's been accompanying this torch throughout this entire run. In London and in Paris, those individuals in blue did come under a lot of scrutiny because it was seen by many that they were too aggressive with the protesters and that they made matters even worse. That is one thing that'll be watched very closely today here in San Francisco.
You can see them in the back now of the podium getting everything organized. The people around here are -- have been here for hours and hours waiting for this moment. And again, most of the people here are completely pro-Chinese.
A lot of Chinese immigrants. We talked to some citizens of the U.S. that came over years ago, and they say that this moment to them is one that is immensely emotional because it gives them a deep sense of pride in the sense that China is hosting its first Olympic games, and really being accepted by the world community on one level.
I asked one of the individuals, well, what about the protests and what about the situations in Tibet et al? And he said, "You know what? It's getting better slowly and slowly."
But they look at this as a huge accomplishment for the country of China. And they're looking at this moment with a lot of emotion.
They're starting the ceremony now.
BLITZER: And they'll be speaking there.
I want to go to John Vause, our man in Beijing. It's the middle of the night there.
What, after 4:00 a.m.? What time is it over there, John? What -- give us a sense of how this is playing in China.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's a quarter past 4:00 on Thursday morning here right now, but really the Chinese government is just incensed by these demonstrations. And time and time again they have portrayed these protesters as just a handful of malcontent who are intent on tarnishing China's international image, intent on denying China its moment of Olympic glory. They say most of them are loyal to the Dalai Lama, who they've describe as a monk in wolf's robes.
Now, the coverage of these protests here in China has been very limited indeed, especially on state-run television. Independent broadcasters like CNN have at times been blocked out by government censors.
To give you an idea of how the state media has been covering these protests, when the flame went out about four or five times in Paris, Xinhua, the state-run news agency here, reported that it's being caused by technical difficulties. So, what you're having here in China is essentially one line being carried by the government. Any other voices are being censored out.
So, most Chinese people see this now, see these protesters and these demonstrations as being a personal attack on them and on their country -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's interesting that you don't see a lot of this, as you say, on official Chinese television, although we're carrying it on CNN and CNN International. So it's -- presumably, people in China know what's going on.
VAUSE: Well, you know, when it comes down to CNN and other international broadcasters, they're only available in very limited places, like diplomatic compounds but and in hotels, and a couple of apartment blocks. Certainly not widespread availability when it comes to international media and broadcasters like CNN.
So we are limited in the number of people who see us. So, most people here, most of the 1.3 billion people in this country, rely on the state-run media for all of their information.
And what we're also seeing on the Internet, which has been traditionally a place of discontent, where people can voice a differing opinion to the government, is that anybody who throws up anything which is counter to the government line, those blogs are closed down. The only blogs which are being given oxygen by the government right now are those which are attacking the western media for having an anti-China bias, those which are attacking these protesters as saying basically they're the ones who are against China, they're the ones who want to ruin China's moment of glory.
So, that's what's getting the oxygen here. That's what's fueling the debate here in China -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And that torch run is set to begin momentarily. We're going to wait and see when that run begins. They're doing a little preliminary discussion about what's going on, but we're showing our viewers live pictures right now.
The torch run, the flame, that will begin the process through the streets of San Francisco. Originally about a six-mile run. It was expected to take maybe an hour, hour and a half. It could take two hours. We'll see how much of that run actually takes place.
I want John Vause to stand by in Beijing.
Dan Simon is also covering this.
You're at the end of this expected run. It looks very nice and lovely behind you, very quiet, Dan. Tell us what's going on there.
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. We are in front of the historic Ferry Building. And behind me, quite honestly, these are the images that the Chinese government would prefer we show you. But we of course are going to be continuing to monitor what is happening out on the streets of San Francisco, but behind me this is really a celebration of Chinese culturalism.
We've seen a lot of Chinese dancers. There's a band here. And right now on the screen there's a gentleman talking about the torch relay. They've also been showing past Olympic highlights.
In front of me, you can't really see it, but there's just a wave of people. These are mainly Chinese supporters.
In terms of protesters that I've seen here and over the last 24 hours, mainly pro-Tibet people. And this has really been a global P.R. campaign.
They're very well-coordinated. Because the Olympics are in Beijing, they knew that this would draw attention to their cause.
And because the relay cities are publicized so well in advance, they really had the advantage of preparation. They knew that this was going to happen for many, many months.
Just for example, what we saw a couple of days ago at the Golden Gate Bridge, these were pro-Tibet supporters. That had been planned for at least a year in advance. So in terms of what we're seeing here on the streets, it is a very well coordinated P.R. effort -- Wolf.
BLITZER: At the end of this run, they will be where you are, the various runners carrying the Olympic torch. They'll wind up where you are. But we don't know if they're going to take the route that was originally planned, if they're going to deviate. We do know already, Dan, that they've decided to cut short some of the original route for security reasons given the number of demonstrators who are out there.
Where you are now, can you see any of those anti-China demonstrators or hear them, or is it basically just the invited guests at the end of the ceremony?
SIMON: Mainly the invited guests. You know, in the crowd I'm seeing a few Tibet flags, but these are mainly invited guests and pro- Chinese supporters.
We know that this would be the second time that the city of San Francisco has shortened the torch relay. Originally this was going to be nine miles, and then when you had the situation in Europe they shortened it to six miles. Now we're told that it's shortened even further.
But, again, this is the finish line. And once the torch passes here, they're going to have something of a closing ceremony, and again display some of this Chinese culturalism -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Dan. We're going to be coming back to you.
Thelma Gutierrez is moving along the parade route right now where the torch will be run.
What's going on where you are, Thelma?
Hold on, Thelma. We're not hearing your audio. We're going to try to fix that, Thelma.
Stand by. If we can fix your audio, we're going to come back to you in a moment and hear what's going on. But we can see a lot of activity.
We're only moments away, we're told, from the actual start of this torch relay through the streets of San Francisco. And there you see the actual -- the actual flame that's going to be -- that's going to be lit, and the torch. That first runner is right there dressed in that blue jumpsuit, sweat suit, whatever it is.
John Vause, how worried are the Chinese? They're lighting that flame right now and you can see that.
How worried are the Chinese that President Bush and other world leaders who are expected at the Olympic games will boycott the opening ceremonies? Won't boycott the games -- there it is. The torch is now lit.
How worried are they won't attend the opening ceremonies?
VAUSE: Yes, extremely worried, because that will be an extremely embarrassing moment if those seats next to Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, are, in fact, empty. We know that Gordon Brown isn't coming. George Bush is talking about problems with his schedule. The Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, has also said he needs to check his diary.
I mean, people are running away way from these Olympics now because of this controversy. And that probably is the only thing which will have any impact on China when it comes to changing its policies in Darfur, or in Tibet, and those parts of the world.
There's also a great deal of concern with the IOC, the International Olympic Committee, when it comes to future torch relays. What they've said is that this torch relay will continue on as planned, the international leg.
From San Francisco, it heads off to South America, and that will continue. But future torch relays are another matter. And that will be discussed. And there could possibly be a decision on that here in Beijing on Friday.
So, if future torch relays are, in fact, canceled, what you have is a situation that the torch relays started in 1936 with Nazi Germany and may now end possibly end with Beijing in 2008 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It was supposed to be an 85,000 mile journey for this torch, 20 nations participating. But as you say, that could be cut short given the angry mood, the demonstrations that have been taking place in various capitals.
And there you see they're beginning this process.
Ted Rowlands, you're there on the scene at the beginning of this relay. Tell us what's going on.
ROWLANDS: Well, Wolf, you just saw it. They officially lit the torch with the flame, and now it's coming around the backside of the stage. It'll go right by us here.
This is the first runner making her way through, and going around the crowd through the secure area rather than going through any of the crowd. She's going around the backside of the portioned-off area. And now it is assumed that they will start in on the run through San Francisco.
Where this actually takes them remains to be seen. Whether they'll go two, three, four, five miles, we just don't know. There are security concerns obviously. But there it is. The torch has been lit and is on its way through the streets of San Francisco.
BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong, Ted. This is not the route they were originally expecting to take. This is obviously a change of plans, because they're going inside there. It looks like they're running some places that originally they didn't plan on having to run, through these warehouses, if you will?
ROWLANDS: Yes. They went into a secure area, into a large warehouse with the torch initially here. Whether they're going to come out of here on the backside, you know, motorcade scenario -- or there is also a boat docked on the side. And there had been some talk that they may ferry the torch over to Embarcadero, Justin Herman Plaza area, by boat. That's also a possibility apparently on the table.
But I can see some chopper -- or some motorcycle police officers that were inside that building now moving out of the building. And they may have gone into the building to join in with the extra security and the motorcycle police officers. That may be what's going on.
Quite frankly, we just don't know. I'm trying to get a good vantage point here. I lost visuals of the torch itself, but I could see those security guards, a few of them, with the blue sweat suits still from my vantage point, and they're inside. They're inside this warehouse behind what would have been the beginning of the torch route.
Very curious whether or not they're going to utilize the beginning of this route or not. It remains to be seen. They may just be buying some time to get some sort of security in place.
It's very tough to tell, but obviously this event got under way late. And there is so much potential problems out there, so many potential problems out there. From the beginning, they said that they were going to have everything on the table and they would be making decisions as potential incidents came up on whether or not they were going to go through with this run as planned.
Right now, at best there's a delay. At worst, they are making a significant change in their plans.
BLITZER: And if they have some route that has not been announced, maybe they're doing that and we have no idea where they are. But that would seem to defeat the entire purpose of this very public demonstration of global support for athletes, which is the tradition of the Olympics.
So, obviously we have no pictures of where that torch is right now. The runner, we saw her go into that warehouse. We haven't seen anyone emerge.
We did see, Ted, a bunch of motorcycles emerging from that warehouse. And like you, I thought maybe those motorcycles would be the cutting edge for the eventual run through the city. But nobody followed those motorcycles as they emerged from that warehouse.
So we have no clue where that runner is, where the entire delegation is. Obviously a mystery under way right now in San Francisco.
Thelma Gutierrez is on the route as well.
You're about a half a mile away from where Ted was. What are you seeing, Thelma?
GUTIERREZ: Well, Wolf, I can tell you that there are many, many people here. Thousands of people here on the southern end of the financial district that have lined the streets here waiting to catch a glimpse of the runner.
Many people very confused which side of the street the runner will come down, whether or not the runner will even take this route. So, people kind of scratching their heads wondering what is happening.
At this present time, we saw a group of "Free Tibet" people who came through and, you know, they're beating their drums. There was a cacophony of slogans that were being chanted.
On the other side, you could see very prominently many Chinese flags. Many people here carrying Chinese flags.
And as the protesters went by things were actually very peaceful. They stared each other down, but very little else besides that. And police were very concerned that there would be some kind of a skirmish, perhaps, as these "Free Tibet" people came across the supporters of China. That did not happen where we are.
I can also tell you, Wolf, that since we are in the financial district, there are many people, there are hundreds of people on all the balconies up above us that are standing outside waiting to catch a glimpse of this torch. Many people in business suits out here also waiting to see what happens.
But so far, things have been rather quiet, at least from this vantage point -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Thelma. We're going to wait to see what happens.
We're still looking. And all of our affiliates, they have helicopters flying over this area. They have a basic no-fly zone over much of San Francisco except for the media helicopters, and we have got several affiliates showing us pictures. But we don't see the torch, we don't see the runner.
We don't see what's going on over there right now. And clearly they're trying to avoid some sort of ugly situation by perhaps keeping that runner out of our sight. But we'll continue to look, we'll continue to watch, and hopefully we'll catch up with that runner at some point, assuming that runner is actually running some place outside of that warehouse.
Once again, the last we saw was the runner going into the warehouse. And since then we haven't seen the torch or the runner. But we're watching it.
Ted Rowlands, you're still there on the scene of the beginning of what was supposed to be this route. You got any additional information?
ROWLANDS: No, Wolf. It's a mystery.
Obviously there's -- from my vantage point, I can see inside the warehouse. And there's a group of people. You can see the Chinese contingent with the blue jackets talking with law enforcement. A lot of people on their cell phones. And there is a San Francisco police boat parked on the dock adjacent to this warehouse. And the San Francisco police -- that folks that are on the jet skis have also come over towards the dock next to the warehouse.
There is a chance that they may have abandoned the plan to take the torch by ground, or on foot, running towards -- through this initial portion of the run. And they may have abandoned that portion of plan, and they may be ferrying it by boat over to the other side in San Francisco. That's a possibility. We don't know.
But just from what we're seeing, which isn't much, it's basically that the torch has vanished, and it -- last we saw, it went into this building. And, obviously, there are people making a -- making decisions as we speak on what to do here. What's behind this, we don't know. But from the beginning...
BLITZER: Let me interrupt and tell you, "The San Francisco Chronicle" now, on their Web site, is reporting what you have been speculating about, that they have actually decided to use the boat and to ferry the runner and the flame across the waters of San Francisco to the other side. That's what "The San Francisco Chronicle" is now reporting.
So, I assume, at the other end of this warehouse, where the runner went in, they -- they have emerged and gone on to some sort of boat. And I -- I also assume our affiliates in those helicopters will be seeing what's going on. We're seeing a live picture of one boat right now. But I don't know if that's the boat carrying anybody or if that's just a security boat.
ROWLANDS: That would be -- well, Wolf, that would be the boat, presumably. This is right next to the warehouse -- we just literally panned over from that opening over to the boat -- if, indeed, that's the plan.
And, boy, if that is the plan, there are going to be a lot of very, very disappointed, people that came here to celebrate this Olympic moment and this moment for China that have been out here all day long, thousands of people, along this route, hoping to get a glimpse of the torch as it goes by.
And if indeed what seems to be the situation, they're going to avoid it, there will be a lot of disappointed people here along the route. But that would be the boat, presumably. It's surrounded by police and jet skis, and it's just adjacent to that opening that we saw the torch go in shortly after it was lit.
We still see a huge group of law enforcement people and Chinese and other IOC members talking and seemingly discussing what the next stage of the plan is. And now we're seeing the San Francisco police jet ski folks sort of assembling next to this boat. Presumably, if this is how they're going to get it over, they would be escorting this police boat with the Olympic flame. BLITZER: And that -- and, by doing it, they would be by passing the entire route that had been expected, about a six-mile run or so through the streets of San Francisco, where there was a potential for some violence, if you will, demonstrators really angry about China's human rights policies.
Thelma Gutierrez, you're beyond -- about a half-a-mile or so down into the route. What are you seeing?
GUTIERREZ: Wolf, I can tell you what's very interesting about what Ted has been reporting is that we, when we first arrived, noticed lots of white vans, lots of police, busloads of police brought into this area (INAUDIBLE) Embarcadero.
And, suddenly, they have all kind of disappeared. We don't know where they have gone. But it would lead us to believe that perhaps this part of the route maybe has been abandoned, because the police presence is no longer here.
And one thing that's interesting, Wolf, is that we had reported that San Francisco police had put up all these metal barricades on both sides of the Embarcadero to protect the torch runners that came through here. But, as you take a look right around me, you can see there's absolutely no way to do this. Thousands of people have come up. They have lined this area. They are totally on the other side of those barriers.
You can't even see them anymore. So, perhaps that was one reason that they may have wanted to abandon this route, because it's very difficult to protect anybody who would think they could get through here.
Now, I'm talking to Ann (ph) now. We just met her a couple of minutes ago. She says she's very disappointed. She came to see her friend who was going to carry the flame.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... was supposed to be carrying the flame. We don't know where she is. We can't contact her because -- well, first of all, she can't talk, because she has ALS. But she doesn't have a cell phone, and they took their cell phones away from them. So, we don't know where she is.
But there are a whole lot of us here, back here, and there is a whole other group down there that are here to talk about Strike Out ALS. So, you can see, there's a zillion causes, and we're one of them.
GUTIERREZ: Right. And, now, did you hear from your friend last night?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, last night.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This morning. We heard about it this morning. She was -- she told us to come to Howard and Embarcadero. So, that's why we're here.
GUTIERREZ: Perhaps she didn't know.
All right, thank you very much, Ann.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
GUTIERREZ: So, Wolf, you can see lots of disappointed people along this route waiting to see those torch runners.
BLITZER: Well, we may still see some of them if in fact "The San Francisco Chronicle" is right and that boat that we have been showing live pictures of ferries the runner and torch across the waters of San Francisco to that destination site, where we saw Dan Simon just a little while ago.
Let me reset the scene for viewers in the United States and around the world who may just be tuning in right now. It was supposed to start about a half-an-hour ago, a run through the streets of San Francisco. The Olympic torch would be run through the streets, the only stop of the Olympic flame in North America.
Unfortunately, that has not happened yet. The -- we did see the runner get that flame and the torch, but ran into that warehouse that you see -- seeing live pictures. And we haven't seen anyone emerge yet. We do see that boat, though, a San Francisco police boat, that "The San Francisco Chronicle" says will ferry the runners and torch across the waters of San Francisco to the destination, thereby avoiding this run through the streets of San Francisco, where there are a lot of very angry demonstrators concerned about China's human rights policies, concerned about China's policies towards Tibet, towards Darfur in Sudan, towards Myanmar, also known as Burma.
You can see the jet-skiers there, police authorities. Perhaps that runner will be on that boat and we will see that boat leave the dock momentarily, if we see that. Of course, we are going to be watching that boat very, very closely.
This is obviously a huge mystery, what's going on right now. We will stay with the story, given the international ramifications of what's going on, given China's hope to emerge from these Olympic Games with greater international prestige, given the fact that this is the first -- the first time China has hosted an Olympic Games. There's so much at stake right now, not just the Summer Olympics, but a lot of diplomatic and economic ramifications, as well, as we watch very, very closely to see what's going on.
Abbi Tatton has been watching online. Abbi, what are you picking up?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, the protesters, Wolf, have been receiving -- the protesters on the ground in San Francisco receiving through their cell phones updates every few minutes in the last couple of hours, where are the police, where's the major police presence, and where is the torch as well.
Talking to one of the organizers from Students For a Free Tibet earlier on that is running, this blog site that has constant updates of information that they're getting in, he said it's like playing a game of "Where's Waldo?" They just didn't know where this torch was going to go. And they have been updating this map through Google Maps, trying to give the most -- the latest information to the people that they have gathered on the ground of just where that torch is right now, where the major centers are of protest, and where the police presence is.
The updates that they're sending out on the cell phones are also reading, "Remember to stay nonviolent." But, right now, they have just sent out an appeal through the cell phones of the 1,500 protesters that have signed up through their service to say, please send in your pictures. Send in your information to us of where the torch is right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's a -- it's a fascinating development, what's happening in San Francisco right now, a show of force by local police authorities clearly designed to deter any angry protesters from getting violent. And let's hope there is no violence as a result of what's going on.
But there's no doubt that local authorities fear the potential for some violence, as we saw in Paris and London earlier. We're watching all of this.
Ted Rowlands, you're right at the beginning of where this event was supposed to start. Any new information you're getting?
ROWLANDS: Well, Wolf, I did see a number of people moving through the warehouse towards the back of the warehouse. And, also, a police van just pulled out of the warehouse and sort of is staging in the front end of it, but hasn't moved much at all.
We haven't seen the actual torch. We have seen the security detail, though, that accompanies the torch. From our vantage point, we just saw them head towards near the back of the warehouse. That would be towards the opening near the boat, if that is the decision that they're making. There are a lot of things that they could possibly do. They could use the boat or they could just increase the security around the torch and try to make it through the streets as well.
Presumably, they're making that decision now. One other thing that could be at play here, Wolf, is that we understand that a number of the anti-Chinese groups had plants, if you will, that were actual torchbearers, people that would be in possession of the torch during this route. And they had come out through the day.
And now I -- actually, I'm seeing now the -- looks like the group that has the torch and is responsible for the security moving towards the front of the warehouse accompanied by some San Francisco motorcycle officers.
We will see if they emerge from the front of the warehouse or if they're just simply going to be -- they're just moving within the warehouse. Right -- I can't see them right now. But, clearly -- clearly, we don't know what's going on, Wolf. And they may be making these decisions as they go along.
We don't know why the delay, why they brought it into the warehouse. We're just going to have to wait and see. But one of the things, as I was saying, it could be that they had these actual torchbearers that, throughout the day, I was getting calls from one of the organizations, saying that, we -- they were saying, we have four torchbearers now. And they were saying that be on the lookout and beware, because we have these torchbearers, and they are going to protest.
And maybe that factored into this decision, if they don't know who those individuals are and they didn't want them to actually have the torch and the world's attention.
BLITZER: And the whole reason why this is taking place in San Francisco, Ted, is because of the large, what, Chinese-American population there? And that was originally when they made this decision that this would be the only stop not only in the United States, but in North America, because of the large Chinese population there; is that right?
ROWLANDS: Indeed, yes. And, you know, at the time when they made the decision, they thought that this was going to be a celebration of the Olympics, to build enthusiasm going into Beijing '08. And they thought San Francisco would turn out the people, turn out the Chinese, American Chinese, and Chinese people from around the United States. And, obviously, that did happen. There are thousands of pro-Chinese people along this parade route.
And that's another difference between San Francisco and some of the other cities, including London and Paris, where there were some pro-Chinese people, but not in these numbers. So, what it did was, it added another component to this volatile equation, where you had Tibetan -- or pro-Tibetan and pro-Chinese people next to each other along this six-mile route.
BLITZER: And when you have that kind of anger, that kind of passion, the local authorities obviously clearly concerned that it could turn violent, when you have passionate people supporting China, supporting the Olympics, and, on the other side, you have very passionate people protesting China's policies in Tibet, or Myanmar, or Sudan, or within China itself, there's a potential there for some fireworks, as they say. And let's hope that it doesn't get violent, by any means.
ROWLANDS: Wolf, now -- Wolf...
BLITZER: Go ahead.
ROWLANDS: Wolf -- Wolf, we are now seeing the buses that carried the security detail and the original torch runners leave that warehouse. And they are going out the back way.
There's a convoy of about six to seven vehicles accompanied by San Francisco police vehicles. And this may have -- may be -- they may have the torch inside those vehicles. They are not going along the prescribed route, or the original route. They are going around the back of the San Francisco AT&T Park parking lot.
And they -- they appear to -- they were moving obviously in a unit. And I can see them visually. I don't know if our camera can see them all the way across the -- the parking lot. But, boy, the way it looks, I would bet that the torch may be inside one of those vehicles.
BLITZER: But wouldn't that defeat, Ted, the entire purpose of this run? They're supposed to be running through the streets, not driving through the streets, carrying the Olympic torch.
ROWLANDS: Well, they may be driving a segment of it, and they will pick up a run at another location and -- and run for a while.
But you're right. It would obviously defeat it. Taking it by boat across the water to the endpoint would obviously defeat it. But I think it's safe to say that there's real concern here about safety.
And now you can see that convoy off in the distance. I'm watching it go across the Fourth Street Bridge in San Francisco, getting off of the backside of the stadium. And it will now be emerging, this convoy, out on to the Embarcadero area. Whether or not we will have a camera or not or be able to see it from the affiliate helicopters, I'm not sure.
But I'm now losing visual sight of this convoy, which presumably has the security detail and torch inside of it.
BLITZER: And -- and no authorities are really giving out any information. No public affairs spokesmen or spokeswomen are telling us anything, are they, Ted?
ROWLANDS: Not at all. And to what extent they know what is going on, at least the ones that are responsible for the updates, who knows. But we do know that there was a plan in place that they would update their Web site, the San Francisco police public information Web site, every half-hour. And we haven't gotten an update in the last probably two hours from that.
BLITZER: This is really an embarrassing moment for the mayor of San Francisco as well. He's got a lot at stake on how he deals with this particular situation, doesn't he, Ted?
ROWLANDS: Well, potentially embarrassing in terms of the Monday- morning quarterbacking, because there's going to be a lot of questions. Why -- why, you know, at the last minute, did you completely do X, Y and Pope? There will be -- they will analyze this.
But, on the other hand, if this decision was made by the mayor and by -- and police because of safety reason and a credible threat, and it's explained, he could come out of it OK politically. Of course, "The San Francisco Chronicle" just announced -- just ran an article recently -- this week, I believe -- that he was -- had some aspirations for running for governor of California.
We're talking, of course, about Mayor Gavin Newsom. He was out here today talking with folks. And he was very candid. He said -- people asked, well, how do you feel? And he said, well, I feel probably a lot like the mayor of Paris did before the torch run there. Didn't know what to expect, but, again, emphasized that everything was on the table, including what we're seeing here. And that is a dramatic change in the plan.
BLITZER: And there's been -- and there's obviously enormous political ramifications as well.
We're going to continue to watch. Ted, if you get any more information where that flame is, where that torch is, where the runners are, what they're doing, are they going in a van, in this van that we're seeing these live pictures right now, thanks to our affiliate KGO in San Francisco, or through the boat that we saw docked at that little warehouse over there -- we don't know what's going on.
But we're going to watch all these various routes to see what is happening, a symbolically important moment in San Francisco right now, with significant diplomatic, economic ramifications, also political ramifications.
Let's talk a little bit more, as we continue to show these pictures.
Joining us, Dee Dee Myers. The former Clinton press secretary is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Tony Blankley used to be a spokesman for Newt Gingrich, a well-known writer and editor as well.
This is a big deal, isn't it, Dee Dee, for these three presidential candidates and for the president himself, who is planning on going to Beijing to observe the Olympic Games?
DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Olympics are always a big deal. They always come in the middle of an election year. They're very symbolic, both at home and around the world, and figuring out how to negotiate what is a very tricky political situation, both in terms of the issues represented -- I mean, people are protesting over China's actions, human rights around the world, particularly in places like Darfur. And there's a lot of passion attached to those -- to those questions.
BLITZER: It's not an easy decision that President Bush will have to make, whether to...
MYERS: No, it's not.
BLITZER: He's going to go. He's going to go watch the Games. Whether to participate in that opening ceremony, to watch it -- and the White House -- the White House press secretary, among other White House officials, they have been coy over the past day or so, saying it's -- they're not going to tell us whether or not the president will participate.
TONY BLANKLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": Well, for all the leaders, whether it's Brown of Britain or Merkel of Germany or Bush...
BLITZER: Or Sarkozy of France or others.
BLANKLEY: ... There is a big business calculation as well. The Chinese will not forget which country embarrassed them.
And, so, you can bet that, with the British announcing today that they're not going to participate, that the British Shanghai Chamber of Commerce is probably not very happy right.
BLITZER: How much should that money part of it -- and I say that as someone who knows that America's debt around the world, in terms of who -- who owns those loans that we have taken out, in terms of the national deficit, the national debt -- Japan has the number-one amount, but China has the number-two amount of U.S. debt.
BLANKLEY: I think it's less the debt issue than business opportunity. The Chinese government can make it easier or harder for Americans and Europeans to do profitable business in China. They're going to be remember.
This is their moment to shine. The countries that give them a black eye will have a more difficult time there in business. And it's a real calculation that leaders of each country have to make, because it's money, it's jobs, it's employment, it's productivity for each country. So, it matters.
BLITZER: So, the argument -- the argument on the other side, of course, Dee Dee, is, well, the Chinese knew this would come. And why didn't they ease up, for example, in Tibet? Why didn't they cooperate more fully with the West in terms of Darfur, knowing that these issues would be front and center for so many who are concerned about China's policies?
MYERS: I think they're taking a firm stand on their own sovereignty. It's up to them to make those decisions is their argument and challenging to do something about it. That's been their posture. That's sort of how they're approaching this.
And, as Tony said, they know that they hold a lot of cards because of the economic ramifications and also the symbolic ramifications. President Bush is going to be loathe to change his plans. It's unclear whether he is going to attend the opening ceremonies, but he's still going to be there. He -- you know, it's sort of -- this is a bit of a game of chicken. BLITZER: And I just want to point out, Tony, we're showing our viewers pictures from our affiliates, helicopter shots. We have got them all over the place in San Francisco. But let's be honest. We don't have a clue where that runner is, where that torch is, the flame.
We see police. We see demonstrators, pro- and anti-China demonstrators, but we have no clue. We saw a runner with the torch go into that warehouse. We don't know what's going on right now.
MYERS: But, you know, it's interesting to contrast it to what usually happens when the torch travels through America en route to an Olympics, particularly in 1984, when the Olympics was here in Los Angeles.
You know, you had this sort of majestic entry into the Los Angeles Coliseum and up the steps of the Coliseum by the Olympian Rafer Johnson. It was quite a wonderful and uplifting moment, contrasting with what we're seeing today. It's a long way.
BLITZER: And Dee Dee speaks as someone who grew up in California.
MYERS: That's right. I remember vividly.
BLITZER: So, she remembers that quite well.
BLANKLEY: Yes. But going back to the Chinese government's attitude, they're very cocky on the international scene.
They're not -- they spend a lot time being respectful to the West, and don't feel that -- the need to be right now. So, this -- whether it's in Sudan, where it is, on any issue, they're going to do what they want to do and let the world live with the consequences.
BLITZER: Is there a chance -- should there be a chance that what happened after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when Jimmy Carter said the United States is not going to the Olympic Games in Moscow, is that on the table at all right now, Tony, you think?
BLANKLEY: I don't think so. I think the general review of Jimmy Carter's decision years later was, it was not the right play, that, if you wanted to assert yourself, assert it some other way than simply -- than simply to boycott the Olympics. It was too little for the event and not enough to -- to make a difference.
So, I would be surprised if the boycott develops. I think this will pass, you know, although it's ugly, because not only do you have the abuse of Tibet, but you're dealing with a country that still has -- is a tyranny on its own people. So, I mean -- but that decision was made a long time ago, when everyone agreed to give China the Olympics.
BLITZER: You agree, Dee Dee? MYERS: I think there will still be some -- a lot of tension around it going forward. And I think each of the presidential candidates is going to be constantly faced with questions about it.
But I agree that I don't think there's going to be tremendous pressure to boycott the entire Games. I think the only people who really got punished in 1980 were the athletes themselves, who sacrificed their entire lives to make it to the Games.
BLITZER: I think you're both right. I think they will go forward with the Games themselves.
BLITZER: And the world's athletes, the greatest athletes in the world, will participate, although there will be protests. There's no doubt about that.
And we will see what happens at that opening ceremony. That was a moment that China really was hoping would showcase China as a new global power, an economic power, a military power, a political power.
BLANKLEY: And it's still some time ahead. We all live with a short-attention-span theater. And, by then, maybe the passions will have passed.
MYERS: Well, and the passions aren't going to play out in China anyway.
MYERS: I mean, the Chinese are going to cover -- you know, they're going to control the environment in which the opening ceremonies and the Games themselves proceed. So, you won't see any of this on the streets of Beijing.
BLITZER: Smart politics for Hillary Clinton to formally call for a boycott of the opening ceremonies?
MYERS: Well, she certainly puts herself in line with other leaders of Europe and the rest of the world, France, England, Germany. Australia is considering the same. So, I think she's certainly in good company.
And it puts President Bush and the other candidates for president on the spot to answer these, and I think put her in good stead with the human rights community.
BLITZER: Obama hasn't done that, and McCain hasn't done that, at least not yet.
BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong. BLANKLEY: No, no, I think you're right. I think it was a lay- down hand. It's obviously -- for Hillary, she should do that. And I think, on the other hand, Obama has the opportunity now to play the shrewd judgment man. And he will say -- so, he's saying, well, let's not jump to quick conclusions. And he will try to play that issue. She had to move and be decisive and get into the news in a positive way, because she's been having so much bad news recently.
BLITZER: And just want to point out, we have got a lot of pictures, as our viewers in the United States right now and around the world are seeing pictures of the streets of San Francisco. We see demonstrators, pro-China demonstrators, anti-China demonstrators.
What we don't see is that torch. We don't see the runner. We don't see that motorcade, the escort, the security for the runners. It was supposed to be a run through the streets of San Francisco, about six miles. We see a lot of people there, Dee Dee Myers. We don't see the runner. And I'm acknowledging, confirming to what our viewers already know. We don't have a clue where that runner is.
MYERS: ... people. We see a lot of people. We see a lot of security. We see a lot of potential for out-of-control conflict.
And you wonder, what's the mayor thinking right now, as he is basically calling the shots, deciding how to deploy the various security forces in the city, how to help reroute the torch, what to do if things get out of control? Which, you know, San Francisco has a bit of a history of tensions spilling out into the streets. So...
BLITZER: They know something about these kinds of things.
MYERS: Yes, they do.
BLITZER: But, you know, at issue right now, Tony, isn't just the political ramifications, but there are real -- real security concerns.
The mayor has to worry about, you know, these two groups clashing, potentially, and somebody getting hurt. That's obviously something that's very disconcerting.
BLANKLEY: Obviously, any major wants to make sure there's no violence in his city. On the other hand, as you say, San Francisco has had demonstrations from the anarchists and others. And if they have to use a little tear gas to break up a mob, it won't be the end of the world for San Francisco.
BLITZER: Well, we are going to see what happens on that front.
BLITZER: And you're seeing the bus that is there. And you're seeing these live pictures. You're not seeing, as I said, the runner. You're not seeing the Olympic torch run through the streets of San Francisco, which would have been a nice picture to show you. But we don't have that picture, unfortunately, even though there are hundreds of television cameras, I can assure you, out there.
Everybody is searching. No one seems to know what is going on. And there may be legitimate reasons for that, given the security concerns right now. These are obviously very, very delicate, difficult decisions that have to be made.
BLITZER: That's Ted Rowlands. I want to just go to Ted.
If you can hear me, Ted, right now, it just looks so chaotic and so mysterious, since we don't know what has happened. And just to remind our viewers, it's been almost 45 minutes or so since we saw that runner and that torch, but we haven't seen anything since.
ROWLANDS: Yes. We haven't seen...
BLITZER: Go ahead, Ted.
ROWLANDS: Yes, we haven't seen anything. We saw the -- the convoy leave. And it's very strange. You have got thousands of people here that are waving Chinese flags that kind of have -- with a strange look on their face, wondering, should we stay here? Are we going to see this torch? There's been no communication.
Even the police are still in their spots. So, presumably, this thing could still be in the warehouse and it will come gallivanting out here in moments.
But, obviously, it appears as though it's in that convoy. But there has been no communication. And you see all these police officers standing in the middle of the road,surrounded, as they have been, for the last four hours, by these folks with the red Chinese flags. They're still playing the music. The party atmosphere is still going on, but there is a sense of bewilderment.
It's just also there's a sense of, what do we do now? Do we stay here? Do we board our bus and go home? It's a very, very strange situation. And, boy, in the end, I think there's going to be a lot of very, very disappointed people.
BLITZER: And, you know, it's approaching 2:00 p.m. out on the West Coast, 5:00 p.m. out here on the East Coast. We see something over there. I don't know if that's a real runner with a real torch or somebody dressed up like that. Are you looking at these live pictures, Ted?
ROWLANDS: I do not see the live pictures, no.
BLITZER: Well, we see two people holding a torch. But -- and we see two police officers next to them. But I'm not sure that -- that those are the actual runner -- that's the actual runner or someone else. Maybe they're doing a symbolic relay or whatever.
But it's a very, very strange situation, I must say. I have seen a lot of these Olympic torches run through cities over these many years around the world. I have never seen anything quite like this happening right here in the United States, in San Francisco.
Dee Dee, you see these pictures that are -- that we're looking at right now?
MYERS: Right. They look like they're getting ready to run. And, in previous relays, there have been -- the flame has been passed to multiple along routes of just a couple miles to give everyone a chance to run. So, they're waiting for something.
BLITZER: Yes. Maybe this is the real runner. Maybe we have finally caught up with the Olympic torch. And maybe we know something.
Carol Costello is watching all of this unfold.
Carol, what are you picking up?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, apparently, these are the real runners, Wolf. They're going at Van Ness and Pine (ph). And they're going to run for a while.
And, you know, I have run the Olympic torch. I ran it in 2004. And I can tell you what's going on. They're carrying this torch. It has something like butane in it, so the torch is always lit. And, as you run, there are police officers who are always beside you, protecting you, even if it isn't in San Francisco. I happened to be in Atlanta, where there was nothing like this.
But there's always a police presence there. And what happens is, the runner will take that torch. And, at some point, he or she -- and it looks like she, because she's wearing those shorts and the outfit that is issued by the Olympic committee -- will join with another runner, and she will light his torch. And then he will run for a while. He will light the next torch, until they come to the end of the route.
BLITZER: And it look like -- as Carol says, she herself once did this back in 2004.
What was it like when you did it? As we're looking at these live pictures, Carol, remind our viewers. I remember when you did it. We were all very proud of you then. It was -- it must have been a great feeling.
COSTELLO: You know, it's a wonderful feeling. And my heart goes out to these people, because, really, you're running to represent your country and you're running to represent these great athletes from around the world.
And, you know, when you're nominated for this, and they choose you to run the torch, I can't tell you the feeling of pride that you have. So, I'm sure a lot of these people who are -- who have chosen to still run the torch in San Francisco have all of these feelings inside of themselves. Yet, they have to deal with this.
Just a tidbit about what exactly is going on, apparently, they're heading south towards Pine. And then they're going to run for a while. I'm not -- I'm not quite sure what the ladder in the truck means. But I'm sure the police officers have a plan there -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Maybe they will run up that ladder into the truck and then drive away. Who knows.
BLITZER: That would be a pity, if that happened.
But, first and foremost, we want to make sure that everybody is safe and no one gets hurt as a result of what's supposed to be a really symbolic act of international unity and support for our athletes around the world. But you can see, this is a really tense situation in San Francisco.
And, you know, the other sad thing is, if you're -- I mean, you have to assemble hours and hours earlier than the time that you're set to run the torch. And you get to know the others who are running the torch with you. And you become friends. And you share in this historic moment.
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