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Remembering Pop Legend Michael Jackson; Syrian Ambassador Talks About U.S/Iranian Relations

Aired June 27, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: The death of a pop legend. Remembering Michael Jackson. A complicated man and a lifetime of amazing music. Also this hour, the angel and the sidekick. Tributes to Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon, two other entertainment giants who died this week. And blood and blame in Iran. Reaction to an Iranian official's shocking suggestion that protest icon Neda may have been killed by the CIA.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

All across the world right now, we're seeing an outpouring of grief and appreciation for a man who truly made music history. Perhaps the best way to honor Michael Jackson in death is to listen to his songs, hits that spanned over decades, like this one, "Billie Jean."


BLITZER: What a song. CNN's Anderson Cooper looks right now at Michael Jackson's life and death at the age of 50.



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: This is how Michael Jackson first burst onto the music scene. An adorable child, a precocious pop prodigy set to become a big star.

He was born Michael Joe Jackson in 1958 in Gary, Indiana, the seventh of nine children. His father, Joe, was a retired steelworker, who turned his sons into the original boy band, the "Jackson 5" with 5-year-old Michael taking the lead.

PETER CASTRO, PEOPLE MAGAZINE: He was the symbol for the consummate entertainer. You know, not since Sammy Davis Jr., had someone come along with such a diverse range of talents.

COOPER: He was just 11 when the group's first single "I Want You Back" made it to number one on the billboard charts. Two more hits would quickly follow: "ABC" and "The Love You Save."

It was clear from the start that Michael would outshine his singing siblings; the young boy being groomed for life as a superstar. RANDY TARABORRELLI, BIOGRAPHER: From the time that most kids were building tree houses, Michael Jackson was building an image. And Michael was happy to play along with that because he understood at a very early age that image-making in public relations was very important.

COOPER: But even then, there were rumors, that behind the happy family facade stood a secret; stories of violence, of a father driven, riding his children hard, pushing them to succeed.

TARABORRELLI: When Michael discusses these beatings today, he gets very emotional. It's clear that he hasn't come to terms with any of that yet.

COOPER: Michael still made music with his brothers throughout the 1970s but managed to move ahead on his own at the same time. He released his first solo album, "Got to Be There," in 1972. The first solo number one hit was a romantic ballad about a rat named "Ben."


COOPER: Five years later, the album "Off The Wall" put Jackson's solo career over the top. It sold seven million copies and produced four top ten singles. But that would be nothing compared with what was to come.

In 1982 and the release of "Thriller."


COOPER: It was this album which sold 26 million copies. It sat at number one on the charts for 37 weeks that transformed the child singing sensation into a superstar.

TOURE, ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Michael was not a phenomenon with "Thriller." He was beyond phenomenon. I mean, the record flew out of stores. It could not be stopped.

COOPER: And with his skyrocketing stardom came the trademark touches, now so much of a part of his persona.

JOHN NORRIS, FORMER MTV REPORTER: From the iconic look to the moonwalk to the glove.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The red jacket and with the zippers and glasses and the white socks.

COOPER: But there were also the first signs that something wasn't right.


COOPER: In 1984, Jackson carried home a cart load of Grammys, seven in all. He arrived at the ceremony with two dates, Brooke Shields and Emmanuel Lewis. It was also the start of his obsession with cosmetic surgery, an obsession that would change his face forever.

TOURE: Every few months you would see him and you would go, whoa. That's -- you're looking weird, dude. But I think it was about '85, '86. I was like, "Wow. He's not going to be able to get any weirder than this." And then two years later, I was like, I was wrong.

COOPER: A 1986 photo showed Michael asleep in an anti-aging chamber. In 1987, he reportedly tried to buy the bones of "Elephant Man" John Merrick. And then of course there was Bubbles, the Chimp and an odd array of disguises.


COOPER: If life seemed strange, at least the music still matters. Jackson's album "Bad" hit the shelves in 1987 and sold eight million copies. And in 1988 he bought a 2,700-acre ranch for $28 million and he called it "Neverland."

JOHN NORRIS, FORMER MTV REPORTER: There's a reason it's called "Neverland Valley," you know? His fixation on the "I won't grow up, I'm a lost boy, I'm Peter Pan."

COOPER: With the ranch came the rumors. TARABORRELLI: Michael began to sort of surround himself with young boys. And much to, I remember, the chagrin of people who were working for him.


COOPER: 1991 brought another album, "Dangerous," another number one single, "Black or White" and more speculation about Michael's mental state.

His skin seemed to be getting lighter. Jackson said it was caused by a congenital skin condition.

CASTRO: That a lot of people think that he has bleached his skin. With Michael Jackson, you never know what the truth is.

COOPER: He became more reclusive and in 1993 faced his first allegation of child molestation. Jackson denied the charges but settled the case for $20 million.

Less than a year later he married rock and roll royalty, Lisa Marie Presley.

TOURE: It was quite obvious to all of us from the beginning that it was a sham. That it was a publicity stunt. And it was just kind of disgusting and silly.

COOPER: And it lasted just two years, but Jackson would marry again later the same year. This time the bride was Debbie Rowe, nurse to his dermatologist. She gave him children of his own, Prince Michael, born in 1997, and Paris Michael Katherine, born in 1998. They divorced in 1999, and Jackson got full custody of their kids.

But a third child from a surrogate mother who put Jackson back in the headlines when he dangled the newborn from the balcony of a Berlin hotel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's sort of like the anti-King Midas, it's like everything he wants to do just gets screwed up.

COOPER: And the tabloid tales were starting to take a toll on the music. Michael's 2001 album "Invincible" sold a mere 2.1 million copies. His troubles quite clearly were far from over.

In 2002, he fought publicly with Sony Chairman Tommy Mottola calling him a racist. A 2003 "Vanity Fair" article said he was financially strapped and stated that he bought the silence of other potential molestation victims.

In January 2004, Michael Jackson stood before a judge and pleaded not guilty to child molestation charges. And even his friends can only guess at what brought the self-proclaimed "King of Pop" to this moment.

URI GELLER, MICHAEL JACKSON'S FRIEND: No one knows Michael Jackson really but Michael Jackson himself. I once asked Michael here in this house, I looked into his eyes and I said to him "Michael, aren't you lonely?" And he looked up at me; it was like a ten-second stare. And then he said "Uri Geller, I am a very lonely man."


BLITZER: CNN's Anderson Cooper reporting for us. So much lost this week for the entertainment industry. Just ahead, memories of two performers who left an indelible mark on our culture. The actress and poster girl Farrah Fawcett and long time "Tonight" Show sidekick Ed McMahon.

Plus, journalists just back from Iran on the threats, the intimidation and the restrictions they endured. And a new surge of violence in Iraq, as troops pull out of major cities. How bad could it get? And could the withdrawal be affected?


BLITZER: She was hailed first for her beauty, and later for her talent, and in her final days for her courage. The actress Farrah Fawcett died this week, losing a long battle to cancer. Here's CNN's A.J. Hammer.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We proudly welcome to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Miss Farrah Fawcett. Farrah, baby.

A.J. HAMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Farrah Fawcett will be remembered as one of the sexiest women of the 1970s. Her poster hung in the bedrooms of teenage boys around the country.

FARRAH FAWCETT, ACTRESS: Hi, fellas. What are you playing?

HAMMER: And her break-out role as one of Charlie's Angels made her a star. Fawcett was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1947 and made her way to Hollywood as a 21-year-old. The blond beauty was soon dating TV star Lee Majors and appearing in commercials and on various TV shows.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: This is my secretary.

HAMMER: She married and became Farrah Fawcett-Majors in 1973. And then she had her first big break.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once upon a time, there were three little girls who...

HAMMER: In 1976 stick, Charlie's Angels made its debut, and she was the blond. The top-rated Aaron Spelling show about three female private detectives grabbed the nation's attention. Farrah's face started showing up on magazine covers and even lunch boxes. And a poster of her in a swimsuit sold millions of copies, becoming one of the iconic images of the '70s.

Then, just as suddenly as her rise to fame, she made a stunning choice, deciding to leave the Angels after just one season to focus on a movie career. Her popularity immediately went on the wane.

FAWCETT: We need him, Victor.

HAMMER: The next few years saw several forgettable movies like "Logan's Run" in 1976. She got better box office with "Cannonball Run" in 1981. The following year, she and Lee Majors divorced.

But she proved that she could be a serious actress in 1984's "The Burning Bed." Fawcett took the role as a battered wife who kills her husband, a true story based on a landmark legal case. The role earned her an Emmy nomination, one of three in her career, though she never got home to take home a statue.

She also became involved in the longest romantic relationship of her life. She dated Ryan O'Neal for 15 years before the relationship ended in 1997. And although they never married, they did have a son, Redmond O'Neal. Fawcett continued to turn heads well into middle age. She continued to get roles on TV and in the movies, and shocked many by posing nude as she neared the age of 50. The magazine was one of Playboy's best sellers. But as Fawcett approached her 60s, the spotlight turned away from Farrah the sex symbol to Farrah the celebrity battling cancer in 2006.

FAWCETT: The disease has spread. Suddenly, there were nine tumors in my liver.

HAMMER: The documentary, "Farrah's Story" which aired in May of 2009, focused on Fawcett's battle to beat cancer and stay alive. Her courageous journey was cathartic in allowing Fawcett to finally tell her story in her own words to the world.

A.J. Hammer, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And now to one of the most famous sidekicks in history. That would be Ed McMahon, who spent decades making "Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson look good. McMahon died Tuesday at the age of 86. CNN's Brooke Anderson looks at the highs and lows of his career.


ED MCMAHON, TV HOST: Here's Johnny!

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For 30 years, Ed McMahon was a fixture in American households as Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" side kick. In that role, he played announcer and Carson's set-up man.

MCMAHON: I hold in my hand the last envelope.

ANDERSON: He was a loyal source of laughs. And always knew his place.

MCMAHON: You had to know how to do that, how to be the second banana. To be in when you needed to be, out when you weren't needed. ANDERSON: McMahon got his start in radio and in the early 1950s hosted a number of TV shows in Philadelphia. His long association with Carson began in the late '50s culminating with their final "Tonight Show" together in 1992.

JOHNNY CARSON, HOST, "TONIGHT SHOW": I want to thank the gentleman who shared this stage with me for 30 years, Mr. Ed McMahon.

ANDERSON: Even before Carson retired, McMahon had branched out with his own ventures, among them, hosting "Star Search." He co- hosted "TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes with Dick Clark."

MCMAHON: We got a lot of things planned tonight.

ANDERSON: While always genial on air, McMahon's personal life was not as charmed. He went through two divorces and in 2002 he sued after toxic mold was found in his house.

In 2007, he broke his neck in a fall leading to more lawsuits. With all of the money he had earned over a lucrative career, it came as stunning news in 2008 that a lender had started foreclosure proceedings on his house.

MCMAHON: You spend more money than you make, you know what happens. And it can happen. You know, like a couple of divorces flown in, a few things like that, and you know, things happen.

ANDERSON: Notoriety from his mortgage problems did lead to some commercial opportunities, including a 2009 Super Bowl ad.

MCMAHON: Now's the time to send your unwanted gold for cash.

ANDERSON: McMahon will forever be remembered for his work in late night which earned him a place in television history alongside Johnny Carson. CARSON: Who did you take to high school prom?

MCMAHON: Madeline Mason (ph).

CARSON: You remember?

MCMAHON: Got to her before you did.

All of a sudden you did 30 years and you kind of look back and you see this monument you created. And I helped put in some of those stones with him. It's wonderful.

ANDERSON: Brooke Anderson, CNN, Los Angeles.


BLITZER: Violence surges at the U.S. mission in Iraq nears a critical juncture. U.S. troops about to withdraw from the country's largest cities. CNN's Michael Ware is standing by in Baghdad.

In an unprecedented week in Iraq, I'll talk to two journalists, who witnessed the government's deadly crackdown on political protesters. They're just back from Tehran.


BLITZER: A bloody wave of violence is washing over Iraq with scores of people across the country killed in a series of gruesome bombings this past week. And it all comes only days before U.S. forces are scheduled to withdraw from all major Iraqi cities.

Let's go to Baghdad, CNN's Michael Ware, who's standing by. The deadline is Tuesday for U.S. combat forces to leave the cities. Michael, what's likely to happen?

MICHAEL WARE: Well, on the morning of July 1st, not a great deal to be honest, Wolf. This withdrawal has been going on since January. Now you're still going to see some odd Americans out on the streets. You're going to have U.S. advisers embedded with Iraqi units. You'll still see them occasionally. There's going to be some partnered operations. There's some partner patrols, some joint events. But by and large, you're not going to see the presence of U.S. forces that we've become so accustomed to.

Because as you point out, as of Tuesday, all U.S. forces by then have to have had retreated to predesignated bases. They're allowed to operate in the green belt around Baghdad. They're allowed to around in the desert, but they're not allowed in the cities or the townships without the true commanders of the Iraq War as of Tuesday, the Iraqis.

BLITZER: Why has there been, at least it seems like there's been an upsurge in violence, deadly violence over the past week or two?

WARE: Well, it all comes within, you know, the breadth of a longer running campaign. I mean, let's not think that just because a rocket slipped off the public radar, that people weren't dying here all this year. There were.

There's a broader bombing campaign trying to reignite the bloodbath of the sectarian civil war. But in the past week from bombings, mortar attacks, shootings, roadside explosions, at least 210 Iraqi civilians have been slaughtered. And many of them, I regret to report, are women and children because a lot of these blasts, a lot of these attacks are in market places.

This is ratcheting up the pressure. Not so much on the Americans. There's no questions about the Americans coming back in the streets, not unless the Iraqi government, which has been hardlined as a 180 and invites them. America is out of the decision-making process. The American-led war will be over as of Tuesday.

The real point I think here is to put pressure on the Iraqi government. The prime minister here staked his claim. He has said that I will stop the violence. He had success in Basra, some limited success in Sadr City last year. However, if this continues, it's he who will suffer at the ballot box next January, according to most diplomats and analysts here on the ground. Wolf?

BLITZER: Michael Ware, be careful over in Baghdad. We'll check in with you throughout the week. Michael Ware is reporting for us.

Reporters trying to tell what's happened in Iran. They've been arrested and some have not been heard from at all. That's what's happened to many journalists in Iran, including a "Newsweek" reporter. I'll speak with CNN's Fareed Zakaria also with "Newsweek" and asks what he knows.

And gone too soon, the king of pop, Michael Jackson is dead. We'll look back at his life and the legacy of his music.



BLITZER: A new round of unrest and violence in Iran this week. Witnesses describe a brutal crackdown on anti government protestors at a Tehran square. Iran's ambassador to Mexico is denying widespread reports that demonstrators have been beaten and even killed. And he's making a shocking allegation. Ambassador Mohammed Hassan Gaderi told me that the woman who has become an icon of the protests may not have been killed by his government's forced. Instead, he suggests Neda probably was killed by the CIA, a charge the agency flatly denies.


BLITZER: Are you seriously accusing the CIA of killing Neda?

MOHAMMAD HASSAN GHADIRI, IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO MEXICO (through translator): We say that. The bullet that we found in his -- in her head was not the bullet that you would find in Iran.

These are the bullets that the CIA and terrorist groups use. Of course, they want that there would be bloodshed in these demonstrations and then they could attribute that to the Islamic Republic. This is part of a common act of CIA in various countries.


BLITZER: A pretty shocking allegation. Let's talk about it with two reporters who just left Iran and are now back in the United States. CNN's own Reza Sayah. He's joining us from the CNN Center and Roger Cohen, the columnist for "The New York Times" is joining us from New York.

Roger, let me start with you. You've heard all sorts of wild accusations. But now officially, a spokesman for the Iranian regime is accusing the CIA effectively of killing Neda.

ROGER COHEN, "NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, hi, Wolf. Well, it doesn't really surprise me. The line right now is that everything we're seeing on the streets, including 3 million people remember just ten days ago, protesting what they regard as a fraudulent election, everything, all of it, is the work of foreign agents, Western governments, foreign media, Zionist controlled media. So I think what the ambassador to Mexico, the Iranian ambassador to Mexico is saying is exactly in line with what the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei said in her sermon a week ago. It doesn't surprise me.

BLITZER: Reza, was that what they were saying to you? Because you were in Tehran for several days before abruptly being forced to leave?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, that's what they were saying. They are convinced that the international media, including CNN, are part of the conspiracy to incite violence and destabilize the government. And they've had a habit of making audacious claims. They have one claim that CNN has instructed its viewers how to hack government websites. And of course, you heard the audacious claim, far fetched claim when it comes to Neda, the 26-year-old who was killed.

Keep in mind the timeline of Neda. She was shot and killed on Saturday, buried on Sunday under pressure from the government. And they want you to believe that during two or three days, they finished off the investigation. And they're convinced, as you heard, the CIA is the culprit.

And another theory is the MKO, the militant organizations committed to toppling the government, that they're possibly the culprits.

BLITZER: We just got a statement, by the way, from George Little, the spokesman for the CIA telling us this. He says "Any suggestion that the CIA was responsible for the death of the young woman is wrong, absurd, and offensive." He actually went further, Roger, and he said the U.S. was spending about $400 million right now to prop up the opposition, those who support Mousavi in order to get rid of the Iranian regime. He had some detailed specifics, obviously, you know, trying to make it look like this is all a U.S. government plot. COHEN: Wolf, I think we've got to be very clear here and very sober. There are matters of great gravity taking place in Iran. And we need to look at it with a sober eye. What is happening is an election took place in which supposedly two-thirds of the electorate voted for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. If you have two-thirds of the vote, you should be happy. You should relax. Instead of which, we saw what looked to me on the ground like a (INAUDIBLE). Everything got closed down. The military revolutionary guards, the CG militia, everybody was out in the street.

A lot of Iranians, millions, probably tens of millions, feel they were defrauded in that vote. What have they done? They have tried to protest. We saw massive protests on the street. I think this is a very spontaneous uprising on the part of people who feel that they lost their vote.

I think that there was a historic opportunity for the Islamic republic with this election. You've had a society that's young, that is interested in the world, that was moving in one direction, and a regime moving in another.

In this election traditionally, there was a possibility for Iranians to nudge things in the direction they wanted things to go. And the government could have accepted that. They chose not to. And there's been an eruption. And they're now trying to deal with it.

And one of the ways, the central ways they're trying to divert attention from what really happened is by saying this is the work of foreign agents, foreign governments. I'm sure foreign governments, the idea that foreign governments could somehow get three million people in the street overnight, it is, I'm afraid to say, simply absurd and unbelievable.

BLITZER: Reza, tell our viewers what happened to you because you were reporting excellently until all of a sudden, they told you can't leave the office, you can't report anything. And then you were called in what Tuesday for a meeting with an Iranian intelligence official.

SAYAH: Yeah, that happened on Tuesday. We got the call earlier in the day. It was at 4:00 p.m. You have a meeting. They wouldn't tell me who. We walked into the ministry of guidance there. Alone in a room, I met with an intelligence official. And he proceeded to tell me that they had evidence that we had violated the ban on reporting since it went into effect on Saturday. He wouldn't substantiate it, but he said we have evidence. And then he proceeded to say that we're willing to put that behind us, as long as you do this.

He pushed forward a piece of paper. He said I need you to write on this piece of paper that you are no longer going to report anything out of Iran, unless it's a positive report. And unless you do this, you have 24 hours to leave. And if you decide to stay, we can't guarantee your safety and we can't guarantee you'll come back and report again. And it was a pretty easy decision. There was no way we were going to sign a statement declaring that, especially with a government that has a reputation of suppressing journalists. So we made the decision to leave. I'd love to still be there and covering this story. It's such appear crucial juncture, but we made the decision to leave.

BLITZER: Did you ever, Roger, get intimidated like that, threatened like that?

COHEN: I think everybody is being intimidated in Iran, or at least there's an attempt being made to intimidate people. I -- my press pass, along with everybody's, was revoked a week ago, a week before I left. I simply made the decision that I was going to go on reporting from the streets until somebody told me to stop, because I think what's going on in Iran is hugely important. And we are here to bear witness, at least that's how I regard my job. And I tried to do that for as long as I could. I did it until my visa expired.

But the aim is intimidation. And let's not forget, the "Newsweek" local reporter is in jail. A Greek reporter for "The Washington Times" has been accused of spying. He's disappeared. The BBC correspondent has been thrown out. This is a very concerted, highly organized. The intelligence ministry is pretty efficient in Iran. And a decision has been taken to clamp down, not only on the -- what the Iranian population is actually doing, but on any reporting on what's happening.

And this is the result that we're seeing. I left with a very heavy heart. What is going on in Iran is intensely moving. It's heartbreaking. It's uplifting. And it's unresolved.

This story, although the demonstrators are not on the streets in the same numbers any more for obvious reasons, Iran is a different place from two weeks ago. A radical faction within the government has made a power push. There are a lot of people within the religious, political and military establishment who are entirely happy with that. These tensions are playing out in some ways that are visible, in some ways that are invisible. But I can assure you that they're going to go on for the coming weeks and months. And it's very important, I think, that we try to follow these developments as closely as possible, even given the restrictions we're operating under.

And for President Obama, there are going to be some very difficult decisions to take about his engagement policy. Clearly engagement is on hold for now. And as long as the situation remains as fluid as it is today, I think it has to remain on hold, but those dilemmas lie ahead for the administration.

BLITZER: Roger Cohen of "The New York Times," Reza Sayah from CNN, thanks to both of you for joining us, and for your excellent reporting out of Iran.

Has there been a coup in Iran? A top Middle East expert says he believes the revolutionary guard has seized control. CNN's Fareed Zakaria is standing by with his take.

Plus, Michael Jackson's music, hits spanning decades. We're playing his songs.


BLITZER: One Middle East expert says what we're seeing unfold in Iran right now isn't just a government crackdown, but an actual coup by the country's elite revolutionary guard.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think it's pretty clear that the government has the ability to really consolidate power and crackdown on this?

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Fareed, I'm quite sure there's been a military coup d'etat by the Islamic revolutionary corp in Tehran. They're taken over. And the fact that the Basij came out so quickly. They could have only done that on orders from the IRGC. The fact that Ahmadinejad's a former IRGC officer, he has the backing of senior officers. I think what we've seen is a military coup against the old clerical establishment.


BLITZER: Let's bring in Fareed Zakaria to join us now. Fareed, what do you think? You are an authority on this subject?

ZAKARIA: I think that Bob Baer is on to something. I'm not sure I would use the word coup, you know, that strongly, but there is no question what we're witnessing in Iran is the displacement of the old clerical establishment and the rise to power of some new clerics, but mostly a group of people who have much closer ties to the military, to the intelligence organizations, to the police, and to the Basij. So what you're seeing is a kind of consolidation of a pure military dictatorship, losing the trappings of the Islam and the ideology as much.

And by the way, this is very much part of Ahmadinejad's strategy when he is now attacking America. It is an attempt to consolidate power and to move beyond the debate about what's going on in Iran.

BLITZER: Can millions of Iranians, especially young people, women, intellectuals, university students, can they though be brutally suppressed given what's happened over these past last few weeks?

ZAKARIA: Unfortunately, the answer's probably yes. You know, usually people -- the people with guns and money win in the short run. And the Iranian regime has lots of guns and lots of money because of the oil. There is, however, a huge ideology crack in the regime. And that ideological crack is very, very important. And it may be fatal in the long run.

But what the regime now has to try do is to use brute force to win in the short run, and to try to drum up a new ideology. That's why Ahmadinejad is trying to pick on America. That's why he's accusing us interfering. And by the way, that is precisely why President Obama has been very wise in trying to be a little bit cautious, stay out of this fight, not get entangled into it. It powerfully helps Ahmadinejad to be able to turn this into a U.S. versus Iran, tit for tat. Look at what's happening right now. We've stopped talking about Mousavi and we're talking about Obama and Ahmadinejad. That's exactly what Ahmadinejad wants.

One of your reporters, Fareed, from "Newsweek" magazine has been picked up, arrested, or I don't know if anyone's been in touch with him. But give us the latest - tell us what's going on, because I know you're working as hard as you can and your colleagues are to get him out.

ZAKARIA: It's a very troubling situation, Wolf. He's one of 23 at least journalists who have been picked up, arrested without any charges. And what is most troubling about it is this is a guy who has been accredited in Iran, in the Islamic republic of Iran under their laws for ten years. He's a very distinguished journalist. He's been a "Newsweek" correspondent for ten years, a very distinguished documentary, filmmaker. He's won many awards in Iran and outside.

And there seems to be no procedure that was followed. So what we're hoping, and what we have appealed for, is that the regime, the Islamic Republic of Iran follow its own laws, its own -- it has procedures in this matter. We think he is entirely innocent. And we believe - and we have some hope that perhaps he will be released when they see that, you know, he is, in fact, very balanced, very nuanced, very professional.

BLITZER: Have you been able to hear from him? Have you been in touch with him at all?

ZAKARIA: You know, some of this is somewhat sensitive, Wolf. And I don't want to say anything that will get him into trouble. We're trying very hard to get him out.

BLITZER: Well, good luck, Fareed. We wish him and all of our journalistic colleagues, everyone in Iran for that matter, we wish them only, only the best.

Fareed of course will covering all the latest developments in Iraq this Sunday. "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" 1:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

It's what we will remember most about Michael Jackson, his music, chart-busting hits spanning decades including the top selling album of all-time.


BLITZER: Amid the protests, the violence, the media crackdown in Iran, the world is watching what might happened next. Among those who are especially watching and reacting are other key players in the region.


BLITZER: And joining us now, Syria's ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha. Mr. Ambassador, welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's talk about what's happening in your neighbor, Iran. You had very good -- Syria has very good relations with Iran right now, but as you see these pictures coming out, especially the shooting of this young 26-year-old girl, Neda, are you disgusted by what's going on there?

MOUSTAPHA: Look, Iran is very important regional player. And Iran is a close friend and ally to Syria. And what I believe is that the Iranians should be left alone to sort out their problems and issues. Interference from outside of external countries can be very damaging to the whole stability and the whole prospects for engagement in our region. Attitudes here in the United States should be careful towards Iran so that they will not jeopardize possibilities for further engagement between the United States.

BLITZER: But listen to what President Obama said this week. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats and beatings and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions. and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.


BLITZER: Does Syria join the United States, the European allies and so much of the rest of the world in condemning what's going on in Iran right now?

MOUSTAPHA: Look, it's not about do you condemn or do you support. Whenever there is violence, this is the result of very, very unfortunate conditions and situations.

BLITZER: These are people that are protesting against the system.

MOUSTAPHA: (INAUDIBLE) Syria and what's really, really concerns me is the following, how come that you have double standards when it is related to Iran? I mean, it is reported, non-stop, 24 hours every day. And when the massacre happened in Gaza, it was almost not mentioned. I am troubled by every loss of every human life, regardless of the color of the face or of the race. I hope that the United States of America will show the same sensitivity to all issues, not only when it suits the United States.

BLITZER: Do you believe President Ahmadinejad was fairly elected?

MOUSTAPHA: We never interfere in the businesses of other countries. We believe that the best thing is to leave the Iranians sort out their defenses, and evolve to whatever they want to...

BLITZER: But you've recognized his re-election?

MOUSTAPHA: Of course we do recognize. We don't interfere in other countries.

BLITZER: You think this excellent U.S., excuse me, this excellent Syrian-Iranian relationship is going to change or it's going to continue the way...

MOUSTAPHA: Look, you have excellent relations with Israel. Israel kills Palestinians. Why do you about this? Why do you always try to have two different standards and scales whenever there is an international crisis?

BLITZER: So basically, the relationship between Syria and Iran will remain unchanged?

MOUSTAPHA: Well, we hope it will become stronger with time. We want good relations with all our neighbors regardless. We are extending our hand to the United States of America. We want good relations with America. This is how we regard relations between countries.

BLITZER: Are you at all concerned about that what's happening in Iran right now, what some see as this popular uprising, people wanting to demonstrate against the regime there, could spill over into Syria?

MOUSTAPHA: No, there is no such a spillover phenomena. I believe that there are major differences in opinion among the constituencies in Iran, but we still believe that the Iranian government is a legitimate government. And they have a very wide constituency in Iran.

BLITZER: The United States -- the Obama administration has now decided after what four years to send an ambassador to Damascus in an effort to try to improve relations between the U.S. and Syria. Is the Syrian government ready to respond by improving relations with the Unite States?

MOUSTAPHA: Definitely. Syria never believed that we are enemies to the United States, or that the United States is an enemy to Syria.

BLITZER: U.S. polled the ambassador after the assassination of the Lebanese...

MOUSTAPHA: What's so unfortunate that during the Bush administration, the United States play hostile and aggressive towards Syria. This was damaging both to the United States national interests and to Syrian national interests. Today, we believe that there is an ample opportunity to work together with the United States of America for the good of our region.

BLITZER: Are you ready to resume direct peace negotiations with Israel without any preconditions?

MOUSTAPHA: Only when we believe that there is a constituency for peace in Israel. Right now the situation is not promising. We are not very optimistic. Only when we believe that on the Israeli side, there is commitment and an understanding for how important it is to make peace with the neighbors of Israel, then we will be able to move to that.

BLITZER: Would a complete withdrawal by Israel from the Golan Heights result in a full peace treaty with Syria?

MOUSTAPHA: This is what President Musharra (ph) has said.

BLITZER: So you say that offer is still on the table?


BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for coming in.

MOUSTAPHA: Thank you.


BLITZER: Michael Jackson's legacy. Decades of hits from the Jackson 5 to the King of Pop. His music lives on.


BLITZER: And onto the music if Michael Jackson. It all started with the Jackson 5's first single "I Want You Back."


BLITZER: The king of pop's solo album "Thriller", here it is, eventually sold over 100 million copies. Here is "Thriller."


BLITZER: Michael Jackson's album "Bad" had five number one singles, including "The Way You Make Me Feel."


BLITZER: And Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Lionel Ritchie, they convinced the biggest stars to help them fight hunger with this song "We Are the World .


BLITZER: Michael Jackson, dead at the age of 50. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Join us weekdays from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern and every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN, and at this time every weekend on CNN International.

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