Return to Transcripts main page


Meeting with Gadhafi; Alleged Human Rights Abuse; Al Qaeda Regrouping?; Japan Nuclear Crisis

Aired April 6, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. Tonight a highly disturbing new report about conditions at Japan's crippled nuclear facility. It warns of possible dangerous explosions and says some radioactive debris has been blown up to a mile away.

We're also tracking tonight's White House meeting on the budget, a government shutdown looms in just 48 hours if no deal is struck -- tonight, President Obama trying to make a deal.

But we begin with the day's breaking news out of Libya. Tonight the first direct proof that Moammar Gadhafi is feeling the heat of U.S. and NATO airstrikes. In a letter to President Obama -- a letter to the president of the United States, the Libyan dictator complains quote, "NATO is waging an unjust war" and he pleads with President Obama to halt the military campaign -- the response, no. Delivered not in a diplomatic pouch but through another a day of coalition airstrikes and through this stern message from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Mr. Gadhafi knows what he must do. There needs to be a cease-fire. His forces need to withdraw from the cities that they have forcibly taken at great violence and human cost. There needs to be a decision made about his departure from power.


KING: Also tonight, new evidence of possible human rights abuses by the Libyan leader and his lackeys. Images of deaths and beatings you will find highly disturbing and images that are now being cataloged as possible evidence at a war crimes trial.

In his letter to the president Mr. Gadhafi gives no hint of leaving power. And repeats his claim, which we know to be bogus that the opposition against him is being orchestrated by al Qaeda, so the White House used this letter as little more than a message of defiance, not a diplomatic opening, but there is a fresh and you might say unorthodox diplomatic push under way in Tripoli this evening. Former Congressman Curt Weldon who met with Gadhafi back in 2004 says the Libyan government invited him to visit. Now Weldon is not representing the White House, but says he is delivering a message very consistent with the administration's. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CURT WELDON, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: We're here to make him feel very uneasy and to let him know as directly as I can put it that time is up, he's got to move on.


KING: CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson joins us now live from Tripoli. And Nic, you were called to the compound at one point, assumed to cover this meeting, but it has been delayed. Any idea why the hang-up?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not directly. We don't know why there's a hang-up at the moment. But there very definitely is one and it seems that Curt Weldon at this moment is going to have a hard time delivering that message, that it's time for Gadhafi to move on along as -- along with some of his other proposals that he's come here with, cease-fire, interim government, rebels not to continue their advances as well.

All that is, at the moment an idea, and it -- and it won't be a reality until he gets to meet Moammar Gadhafi. Perhaps not surprisingly Gadhafi, typically mercurial and perhaps, again, despite his letter to President Obama, put out by the fact that the bombing has continued here. But also this perhaps some pushback that Weldon wrote an op-ed piece that was published just timing with his arrival here, before he actually met with Moammar Gadhafi. And from what we're hearing, that could be one of the reasons why he hasn't got to meet the leader yet -- John.

KING: And so Nic, Congressman Weldon is invited, so you could see at least Gadhafi's reaching out to people. Gadhafi sends a letter to the president of the United States. Again, the White House views it as semi rambling and semi defiant. Not a diplomatic opening. You know Gadhafi; you know his inner circle very well. Is there anything to read from this other than just more theater, any substance to it?

ROBERTSON: They've been desperate here to sort of break the international diplomatic isolation and they've been keen to get in anyone they can and particularly from the United States. They view the United States as perhaps more sympathetic to their cause and their position. And to bring in former Congressman Curt Weldon is something that they would view as an opportunity, but as we've seen in the past, with Gadhafi, what he -- it may be an opportunity at one moment, he can turn into a disaster or a non opportunity the next minute, depending on his whim and that's one of the things that makes it so difficult for his government officials to operate.

We know Weldon met Gadhafi's chief of staff today. We don't know the content of that meeting or even have a sense of the readout from either side on how it went, but it seems to be typical of Gadhafi that he would now keep Weldon waiting essentially, embarrassing him, this time, when on the other hand he absolutely wants this kind of contact and to sort of break this isolation that he's in -- John. KING: And Nic, we heard from the Libyan government today. They say a British airstrike hit an oil field and caused some significant damage. What do we know about it?

ROBERTSON: Well, we pushed back and said you know what evidence is there that you can say that this was British aircraft? And they said, OK, we're going to have to go back and check on that. This strike seems to be about 200 kilometers, maybe 150 miles or so, south of Ajdabiya, in the east of the country, which is a rebel-controlled city at the moment, so the strike appears to have been on an oil facility there, including some of the pipe structure, not clear why that would have been targeted.

It seems to be well away from the battlefield. The targets typically have been Gadhafi's troops, his military installations, and ammunition storage sites as well as communications. So it may be an indication here, if in fact it proves to be true, that Gadhafi's moving some of his military hardware into oil installations, perhaps in an effort to protect them -- John.

KING: Nic Robertson for us tonight live in Tripoli and we'll try to keep following reports, what we can about this strike. Now we do know the international criminal court is building a case against Gadhafi, accusing him of human rights abuses and other violence by not only Gadhafi himself but his loyalists. And the prosecutor assigned to the case tells the Reuters News Agency there is proof the regime began a bloody crackdown after watching the demonstrations in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt.

Tonight, some new images that could some day, come some day be used as evidence against Gadhafi and his goons. They were found in Zawiya and we want to show them to you. And I want to tell you up front they're disturbing. Here's a montage of the images here. They were found in a burnt-out police building in the town of Zawiya.

You look here. You see a man stripped down -- I'll show you this more closely. You see another man here. I want to warn you these are not appropriate for children if they're watching. We'll bring this up here. We'll bring up this image provided to us by "The New York Times". You can see obviously some kind of beating.

That one -- let me bring that back -- some kind of beating and straps on the man's back there. If you look at this image as well you see a body. Hard to tell what -- you see a body lying flat on the -- on a platform there. It's horrible. This, again, an image here of somebody who clearly has injuries, their hands bound up at the top here.

These found in the burned-out police station, and they're now being cataloged. This again very disturbing -- when you look at it you see a saw. What that was used for, we can't be certain, but the photo was found with the photos of all the people who had wounds from beatings and the like. One last image I want to bring up for you here. This is blood on a wall in a room where "The New York Times" reporters were told that they were signaled that abuses had happened inside this room. Let's discuss what could be a troubling case against Gadhafi and also his letter to President Obama with former under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns. He's also a former U.S. ambassador to NATO and CNN national security analyst Fran Townsend, President Bush's former homeland security adviser. Now a member of the CIA's External Advisory Committee who last year visited high-ranking Libyan officials at the invitation of the government.

Nic Burns to you first -- as someone who has worked the diplomatic channels, when evidence like these disturbing photos and I'll mix them around -- when evidence like these disturbing photos -- you see the montage here -- are found, number one, how do you build a case against Gadhafi? Let me start there. I have a follow-up. Let me start there.

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, John, I think it was -- it's highly unusual for the international criminal court, as chief prosecutor Louise (INAUDIBLE), to come out ahead of an indictment and essentially fire a strong shot across the bow of the Gadhafi government by saying, in effect, that they had a plan to shoot civilians, should there be demonstrations.

He was very specific. It was obviously a threat. There's no question in my mind. I had a chance to hear him at a seminar yesterday that they're planning a prosecution, an indictment and a prosecution if they can get people before them, of the Gadhafi government. And these horrific images that you have shown only add to the strength of the international outrage against Gadhafi.

And I think, John, make it less likely that there's going to be a possibility of some kind of diplomatic solution here that might leave Gadhafi in power. With these allegations out there, I think it takes a diplomatic solution off the table.

KING: And, so, Fran, if it takes a diplomatic solution off the table, however, Nic Burns says that -- I assume you agree with that. The president of the United States likely agrees with that that if Gadhafi knows that, if Gadhafi knows that what are the risks of his behavior inside the country, if he knows he can't negotiate a soft landing, is he likely to keep lashing out?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, FORMER BUSH HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Well as we've seen today, you know we've talked about, John, this letter that Gadhafi sent the administration. Well Jay Carney in his press briefing made pretty clear that this is not the first letter. Gadhafi is apparently a letter writer and sources tell that me he's written letters that they completely disregard this.

Until he stops slaughtering his own people, until he stops torturing people like the pictures you've shown, the administration is really, and appropriately, not interested in having a dialogue or a conversation with him, which means the Curt Weldon visit is a real problem for the administration. This is an individual who, because he's a former member of Congress and has been invited, winds up being used, if you will, by Gadhafi, so that it appears like he's trying to negotiate, when that's really not on the table at all right now. KING: So Nic what happens in a case like that? When somebody goes, invited by the Libyan government and former Congressman Weldon has been clear, he's not there representing the president. He's not there representing the State Department. Obviously they know he's going so they would have given him guidance. How troubled could they be about the mix message -- potential for that?

BURNS: I agree with -- well I agree with Fran, John. I think this is a real complication for the United States and for the Europeans. Because we don't want to give the appearance that we're willing to negotiate with this thug, Moammar Gadhafi, and give -- lend credibility to his regime. What we want is we want to see an effective NATO operation to continue to pressure him.

And I think what the administration really wants, looking at a protracted civil war, a stalemate on the ground right now militarily, they want to see continued defections from Gadhafi's inner circle. They don't want to give them any confidence that perhaps the U.S. or Europe is willing to really negotiate with Gadhafi. They'd like to see Gadhafi brought down from within his inner circle. Now whether that can happen or not, nobody knows, but certainly the Weldon mission is not going to help the administration at this moment.

KING: But again, Fran, if there's no diplomatic opening for Gadhafi and the Weldon mission may complicate things for 24 or 48 hours, but if the former congressman leaves, Gadhafi is still there and he knows the international community is building a dossier with images like this, I assume that means he's not going to leave the country. He's not going to face the world community, and so does it then intensify the pressure on the NATO alliance to be more aggressive, to help the opposition more? You know there have been so many complaints from the opposition the last 24, 48 hours saying where's the help?

TOWNSEND: No, that's exactly right, John. And in fact if he sees no potential, as Nic points out, for a diplomatic solution. We're unwilling to answer letters. We're unwilling to engage in a dialogue, all of that is exactly right. He may act in a more aggressive manner, which will then pose the problem for both the coalition and the administration. Are they going to arm the rebels? What additional support will they provide to the rebels if Gadhafi ratchets up the level of violence that he's already visited upon the opposition?

KING: And Nic, you say you're troubled by the Weldon mission. One of the things the former congressman says is he believes the administration should be dealing -- not negotiating, but dealing, communicating directly with Gadhafi. I assume you think that's a bad idea?

BURNS: We can't trust him. I don't think -- the United States hasn't trusted him in 30 years. His word is not good. This is -- contrast that with the way that the president was able to work with Hosni Mubarak to encourage him to leave power. We don't have that type of relationship with Moammar Gadhafi. And John, after these images were released today, after this very tough attack by the international criminal court, we can't be seen to be associating with him now. So I think the administration is handling this exact -- in exactly the right way. Secretary Clinton's very stiff message was the right thing to do today. And we've got to hope that the military pressure of NATO and some perhaps moves from in the inner circle really to desert this sinking ship, that that will be the way that we all get out of this quagmire in Libya.

KING: No evidence of that tonight -- Nic Burns using the term "quagmire". We'll watch it as it plays out. No evidence of further defections tonight -- only a defiance by Gadhafi. But we'll keep our eye on that. Nic Burns thanks. Fran is going to stay with us a bit.

Ahead tonight, an alarming new report about problems at Japan's troubled nuclear complex. And U.S. intelligence sources tell us al Qaeda activity is up both in Yemen and Afghanistan. Why and what are the risks? That's next.


KING: One troubling byproduct of the political unrest in Yemen is a new opening for the terrorist group based there, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. AQAP is said by U.S. intelligence sources to be under less pressure now because the Yemeni government is using its security forces to defend the regime.

And if that isn't enough to worry about, consider this headline. In today's "Wall Street Journal," "Al Qaeda Makes Afghan Comeback". The article tracks how as U.S. troops withdraw from remote areas of the country, especially up near the Pakistan border, al Qaeda operatives are returning and get this -- even building new terrorist training camps.

Let's assess this sobering challenge. Fran Townsend, our national security analyst is still with us, along with Peter Bergen, of course our national security contributor and terrorism analyst. Let's start, Peter, in Yemen. So the regime is under fire, under threat. Pulls its security forces back and U.S. intelligence says AQAP now has more of a free hand. What's the risk?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, AQAP has always had something of a free hand in Yemen because the central government hasn't -- doesn't really control much of the country even before these disturbances with a war in the north, a war in the south, very weak and very -- and also (INAUDIBLE) tribal society, so you know this was true before these recent events and of course it's more true now.

KING: And more true now. Take a walk with me as we do this. More true now, and you get troubling reports when you talk to U.S. intelligence sources about this. More true now -- the orange part of the country not under the control but under the influence of al Qaeda. If it is more true now why should a citizen of the United States, a citizen of any Western nation be worried? What could be happening? BERGEN: Well I mean you know we've had a long list of attacks for -- U.S. warship here in Aden in 2000, attempts to bring down passenger jets in Detroit in '09, attempts (INAUDIBLE) airplanes in (INAUDIBLE) all from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. I do want to say that this map -- you know this is still a relatively small group. They certainly don't control this territory. That's territory that they can operate in. So you know we -- we -- also on the Afghan story, I mean the absence of a central government -- and is good for al Qaeda, is a general proposition --

KING: Let's hold (INAUDIBLE) for a minute. Fran Townsend, come into the conversation. You're familiar with this from your days in the Bush White House. This is when this first started to become a major problem. If the security forces have been pulled back essentially to protect the capital and protect the regime, Fran, what are the options now?

What should the United States be doing? We know there have been drone attacks there. We know occasionally there have been some -- possibly some Special Forces that we're not supposed to know about or talk about. But the administration is now suggesting that the president needs to find a transition out. If there's regime change here, what's your biggest worry?

TOWNSEND: Well in the chaos, we've seen an increasingly resilient and vibrant al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and in addition to the attacks Peter mentioned, look, they can project power outside. I mean, the attempted Christmas Day bombing is one example and the cargo planes. But there's also been an attack against a cargo ship in the Red Sea area, right off the coast of Yemen.

There's been an attack against the U.S. consulate in Jetta in the -- on the western coast of Saudi Arabia. And so their ability to project power out is my greatest concern. Our greatest ally in this in terms of combating this is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Secretary Gates was there today meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. We need to work with the Saudi Security Services and Ministry of Defense in terms of addressing this problem. They are there. It's on their border and they've got the greatest insight to the problem.

KING: That was a two-hour meeting I'm told between Secretary Gates and King Abdullah and by all accounts we don't get a lot of the details, but what the details they have shared with us, they say it went well. We'll watch how that plays out.

I want to move over to Afghanistan because when you read this "Wall Street Journal" account and you talk to intelligent sources and both of you have better sources than I do (INAUDIBLE) it is kind of stunning I think for the American people especially at home to process. We're almost 10 years after 9/11. Billions of dollars have been spent. Hundreds of lives have been lost.

U.S. troops now starting to phase back -- let the Afghans take over and you read and you hear not only are there more al Qaeda -- remember not long ago the administration was saying maybe a few dozen, maybe 100 al Qaeda. Now they say there are more and not only are they back in here seeking refuge, but Peter they're building those training camps again.

BERGEN: Right, I mean, that's quite predictable. I mean what is the Obama administration trying to do in Afghanistan? Essentially it's a counter sanctuary strategy and it has moved out of these northeastern valleys in Kumar (ph), Nuristan (ph), into the vacuum al Qaeda will come. I mean it's a good-news bad news part of that story. The good news is there are a lot of American forces that can still be deployed into these valleys, even if they're not situated there all the time. The bad news is that they've done this.

KING: And Fran, is part of the bad news also that it is somewhat obvious proof that as the United States pulls back and asks the Karzai government to do more, to prevent them from coming back, and maybe to cut a deal with the Taliban of some sort so the Taliban is not friendly to al Qaeda, that those pieces, critical pieces of the equation are failing?

TOWNSEND: Well, John, I think some of this, as Peter suggests, was predictable. I mean I think both our military leaders and those in the administration who are discussing the strategy understood that one of the drawbacks of announcing what your strategy is, that is, the draw-down of troops, was that al Qaeda, the Taliban, were going to lay back and wait for that and try to embarrass us.

And it's clearly -- it was -- I think the administration and the military expected they would begin to do this. So I think we're going to have to deal with it. And the most important piece here is that the Karzai government and the Afghan people see us push back on the al Qaeda, Taliban surge right now so that we send a very clear message that we're not just going to cede this territory to them and expect the Karzai government to be able to operate on their own.

KING: And so the issue -- we can walk back over to the table -- but the issue then is does -- do the dynamics -- we know that they hate the United States. We know that they hate the West. Do the dynamics of what is happening -- you've talked about how this is bad for al Qaeda, the political revolutions (INAUDIBLE) aimed toward democracy, not about the United States, would -- if al Qaeda is now trying to regroup and pick a target, pick something to do, how do the events of recent weeks maybe affect their thinking?

BERGEN: Well, they're always looking for sanctuary, safe haven, (INAUDIBLE) you mentioned training camps. You know that is the basis -- you know that's the -- al Qaeda needs a base in Arabic. They want to have a base, whether it's in Yemen, whether it's in northeastern Afghanistan, they're always looking for that. So you know our strategy (INAUDIBLE) to confine that base to a smaller and smaller territory and eventually eliminate it.

KING: And Fran Townsend, if you're looking at the daily intelligence briefing that comes into the White House or trying to sort through some of the chatter, is there anything in particular you're looking for now, knowing this is happening at a time when al Qaeda has been largely back on its heels?

TOWNSEND: Yes. I mean look, in my job as the president's homeland security adviser, what I cared about is their ability, as I mentioned, to project power and so what you're looking for right now is who's the external operations chief. We used to say that person had the shortest life-span because it was high on the target list.

But you want to make sure that you're monitoring external operational planning and so that you can disrupt and interrupt that. So you don't -- what you don't want right now is for al Qaeda to have the morale boost of an external success. That is an attack outside of the -- of Afghanistan either in Western Europe or the United States.

KING: Fran Townsend, Peter Bergen, appreciate your thoughts, sober assessment, troubling story. We'll stay on top of that.

Ahead tonight, President Obama calls a late-night negotiating session at the White House hoping, hoping to head off a government shutdown. And a new memo from U.S. nuclear experts warns there could be devastating explosions at Japan's Fukushima Nuclear Complex. We assess the risks, next. And we'll talk to a famous U.S. chef who's taking extraordinary steps to make sure radioactivity from Japan is not on his menu.


KING: An alarming report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Japan's crippled nuclear complex. In a front-page story, "The New York Times" first broke this news. It says the report indicates dangerous conditions at the plant may persist indefinitely that aftershocks that further damage containment vessels (ph) filled with radioactive water and that explosions inside those vessels are possible.

Joining us from Hong Kong, former U.S. nuclear power plant operator and engineer Michael Friedlander and Michael, when you read this report, I have to tell you after all this time you start to think, whoa, we're hoping that they were starting to get to a point where they could stabilize this. And when you read this it seems they are very far from it.

I want to start with one particular in it that some debris may have blown apparently in a hydrogen explosion a mile or so away from the Fukushima complex. What does that tell you?

MICHAEL FRIEDLANDER, FORMER SR. POWER PLANT OPERATOR: Well you know let's go back and talk about the article itself. One of the rules at the NRC is (INAUDIBLE) this type of analysis is actually -- it's very important, because the guys at the plant today, they're basically dealing with the day-to-day, the minute-to-minute crises. And there really needs to be somebody who can sit back and ask the "what if" questions.

And that's in fact what this report that was published by the NRC put out. I think that they were pretty clear in saying that -- these indications that they're seeing and some of the hypothesis's that they've put forth they're not actual plant conditions that they think happened. But there are some of the things that the officials at the nuclear plant need to consider in their planning. Now as it pertains to this -- to that notion that potentially that fuel has been injected and is laying around the countryside (INAUDIBLE) Fukushima (INAUDIBLE) I think we have some pretty solid indications that in fact that has not happened. They've been out doing some radioactive surveys since the early days of the accident.

And the information that's being reported -- now, they may have some data that they're not sharing with us or the NRC may have some confidential information that's not been shared with the public but the radioactive iodine and the radioactive (INAUDIBLE) is perfectly consistent with the kind of core damage that we would have expected to be seen and perfectly consistent with the venting of the primary containments that we saw going on. So from the data that I've seen, the likelihood of there actually being core debris laying around in the countryside is actually pretty low.

KING: So you're skeptical on that point. I want to walk over here to the map. I just want to bring up some of the photos we've seen -- some of high resolution -- these are satellite images. I just want to bring this one up because this report also suggests that in four of the reactors right here that you can see -- four of them -- the report actually suggesting one, two and three, there's some, at least some degree of water blockage. In other words, they're trying to get water in there to cool them and they're having a problem. What worries you about that?

FRIEDLANDER: You must be referring to the (INAUDIBLE). They've been using over the last couple of weeks these long boom trucks that are used to pump concrete up in the high-rise buildings and they had some success in terms of getting the water into the spent fuel pools.

We see from the reports that they'll spend a few hours a day pumping water. We see the steam periodically venting out, which suggests or gives us a pretty solid indication that water is, in fact, in the spent fuel pools. And some of the logs we've seen coming out of the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency gives us an indication that they indeed have been using the normal plant systems to pump water into the spent fuel pools and, of course, they've been doing that for some time by pumping into the reactors.

So, I think, you know, again, in the early days of the accident, some of the issues that were going on, the damage to the equipment and their ability to actually confront the issues was quite seriously challenged. And many of those challenges have been reduced to a point now where I think we can safely say that the reactors themselves and the spent fuel pools, they are stabilizing. I won't say that they stable because they're not. But they are, in fact, in a much better place today than they were three weeks ago.

KING: Michael Friedlander, appreciate your insights on that. And we hope you're right about the stabilization. We certainly do.

How concerned should Americans be about radiation in their food due to Japan's crisis? After all, only a tiny percentage of all food and seafood consumed in the United States is imported from Japan. Even so, people are naturally worried about food safety. Let's get some advice from Eric Ripert, the chef and co-owner of the New York restaurant Le Bernardin, which specializes in seafood. And Eric, let me just start right off by asking you -- I saw a picture of you in the newspaper today. You have a special device that you would not normally see in a restaurant kitchen. Show it to our viewers, how you are making extra, extra precautions to make sure this doesn't happen.

ERIC RIPERT, CHEF: Sure. So we got this detector about a week ago, and we are using it now for a week in the restaurant on all produce, seafood. Everything that comes through the door of the restaurant is tested through the detector.

KING: Now, some would say that's maybe going a bit too far, to an extreme level. Why did you decide this was so important for you to be absolutely positively certain nobody who's in your restaurant is getting anything that could be radioactive?

RIPERT: I wanted to make sure because some of our clients were asking, actually, if the seafood source was reliable, if what we serve is fine and so on. Our staff was concerned. I was concerned myself. I trust obviously the government and the agencies for testing it. However, I thought by having a machine at the restaurant, it will really make us feel much more comfortable to talk to our clients, for ourselves, and I was very confident that we would find absolutely nothing in terms of radiations, and the result is that we find absolutely nothing.

KING: And help put that into context. You say some of your clients, some of your staff were concerned, having questions. What percentage? How widespread were the doubts, were the questions, saying hey, are we sure here?

RIPERT: Well, every night, every lunch, we have about four or five tables out of 25 to 30 tables who are concerned and are asking questions, and they want to know where it's coming from and if we have informations. And, therefore, it's logical for us to have the right tool to be able to address these issues to them.

KING: Am I right in saying you have stopped buying fish from Japan, correct?

RIPERT: Well, we bought in Japan in the past, kampachi and hamachi, which is coming from a farm from the south of Japan, which is supposedly not contaminated. However, our purveyor told us last week that it will be very difficult to get some quantities that we needed and the price would be very high. And therefore, we decided to stop using it at the restaurant, but it had nothing to do with the fact that we thought it was contaminated.

KING: On the one hand, people would watch you and say, amen, bravo, you're taking this extra precaution. On the other hand, some people might say, well, might that not, seeing a famous chef with his dosimeter checking for radiation, might not that add to the concern and add to the alarm unnecessarily? How did you decide, you know what, I'm going to tilt the balance towards extra precautions? RIPERT: No, actually, I thought by adding this machine, we will have a clear message, saying that everything is safe, and it will be a positive reaction from the public potentially. And that's what we are hoping, because we are still using Japanese ingredients coming out of Japan, and I have no intentions of taking it from the menu. And we are using a lot of seafood from the West Coast and from the East Coast, and, therefore, I think today I can clearly say that whatever we have seen on the market and other restaurants, is, to our knowledge, thanks to that machine, not contaminated, and it's good news.

KING: A lot of people get skeptical about information from their government in places like this, and we have seen some conflicting and some confusing messaging from the government of Japan. The United States has been as transparent, we believe anyway, in releasing as quickly as it can the readings from the West Coast and elsewhere. This is so critical to your business. Help reassure people out there. You said earlier you had full faith in what -- the information you're getting from the government about this?

RIPERT: Oh, yes, absolutely. I strongly believe that they're doing the best they can. The government in Japan seems to be very transparent about the issues that they have. And we are confident with them, and now we have the machine, and it's even confirming even more what they are saying, which is the food that comes to America and the food that we are consuming is safe. And I'm happy about that. And it's not -- you know, it's not about scaring people, actually. It's about stopping conspiracy theories and stopping paranoia in some cases, to some degree, to some people.

KING: Amen for that. And can I get one more peek at the dosimeter before we go here?


KING: One of our staff members looked on Amazon today, said it was about $1,500. Is that what you had to pay for that?

RIPERT: No, actually, we paid much less, and even if you pay $1,500, you have to wait. It's sold out and you have to be on the waiting list.

KING: Chef Eric Ripert, we appreciate your help tonight putting this all into context. We wish you the best, sir. Take care.

RIPERT: Thank you very much, sir.

KING: Just ahead here, as he launches his campaign for re- election, President Obama addresses a key support group tonight. That group is headed by the Reverend Al Sharpton. I'll get his take on the president and his relationship with the African-American community, just ahead.


KING: Welcome back. If you're just joining us, here's the latest news you need to know right now:

The political crisis in the West African nation Ivory Coast is not over. The self-declared President Laurent Gbagbo apparently refused to surrender as he indicated he would do. So, President-elect Ouattara's forces stormed his residence. They have yet to arrest him.

A deadly crash today of a Navy jet in central California. Officials say the FA-18 aircraft went down near naval station Lemoore at southwest of Fresno. Sadly, the two crew members onboard were killed.

And top Libyan officials told reporters today the British airstrike hit an oil field in eastern Libya, causing, the Libyan government says. major damage to a pipeline.

And President Obama made a quick stop in New York City this evening. He delivered remarks at the annual gala of the National Action Network. That's the civil rights and social justice group run by the Reverend Al Sharpton. The appearance comes within days of the official launch of the Obama 2012 campaign and as the president's political advisers promised to reinvigorate the grassroots network that was so critical to their 2008 success.

I talked about that challenge a bit earlier with the president's host tonight, Reverend Sharpton.


KING: We know the unemployment will still be high when the president is running for reelection. We know the economy will still be fragile and many say the president is going to have to match if not exceed what he did last time. Last night, of course, you know, in the African-American community, it was a chance to make history. Is it less inspirational and therefore of a motivational challenge this time?

REV. AL SHARPTON, PRES. & FOUNDER, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: I'll tell you, every election is a challenge. But I think from what I've seen at our convention here at National Action network, already today, what I've seen all over the country, as I've toured particularly since these governors that won in the midterm election, is a lot of people are being inspired, saying, "Wait a minute, if they're doing this, winning some statehouses in the midterm, imagine if the right wing got the White House." And I think that now, they understand that this president has had to fight every step of the way.

KING: Eight-point-eight percent unemployment in the country. It's nearly 16 percent in the African-American community. Is there something -- not just the president, but he's the leader here in Washington, is there something the president could do, do you think, that could show people, "I've got you here, I'm trying"?

SHARPTON: I think that the president, as well as the Congress, as well as the private industry, has to deal with the fact that even when unemployment went down, black unemployment, African-American unemployment, went up. I think this is a collective responsibility and I think it has to be dealt with.

Now, what we are dealing with is those that the president alone has to deal with. He has to be careful that he deals with it in a way we get results, not just rhetoric.

KING: How big of a perception is there on the street, if you will, that we have our first African-American president and maybe he hasn't paid enough attention to us?

SHARPTON: I think there are those that want to try to put the president and African-American community on a catch-22, saying on the one hand, he hasn't done enough, force him to do some overtures to do enough so they can say, bang, got you, we told you he doesn't like others. And they are trying to play it both ways. I think that they will find that those of us, black, white, Latino, those that are progressives are a lot smarter than that, and all they have to do is look at '08 to understand that we are not as silly as they think.


KING: Reverend Al Sharpton a bit earlier today.

When we come back, President Obama, a late night meeting at the White House, Democrats, Republicans. The issue? Will the government shutdown in 48 hours?


KING: President Obama's calling congressional leaders to the White House tonight to try to broker a deal to fund the government for the next six months, mulling (ph) over the talk is the Friday deadline and a possibility of a government shutdown that could idle some 800,000 federal workers, close services ranging from the national zoo and the Smithsonian museums, to the processing of tax refunds and veterans benefits. Negotiators report some progress in private talks but you would never know it from the public blame-game and finger- pointing.


REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Let me assure you of this: he biggest gap in negotiations today is between liberal Democrats and the American people.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're stuffing all kinds of issue in there, abortion, the environment, health care.


KING: Finger-pointing there.

Let's get the very latest on the negotiations and help you sort the hyperbole from reality. With me here: our senior political analyst Gloria Borger, and from Capitol Hill, our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. Dana, you've been working this one all day, heading into the meeting with the president tonight. Can they have a deal? Are they close enough to get a deal tonight?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm being told by Republican and Democratic sources not to expect a deal tonight. Now, miracles do happen but that is what I'm being told heading into tonight.

Now, how much progress they made today really depends on who you ask. At the White House, they're saying that they don't think there was really any progress today.

But I've talked to Democratic officials and Republican officials here on Capitol Hill where discussions took place today and they said the progress was made. Are they there yet? Are they really close? No.

But in terms of the big things, how much they're going to cut, more importantly, what they're going to cut from spending -- and what the president just talked about, those policy riders, which are a really, really big deal that Republicans put into this, on abortion and things like preventing the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, those are still big sticking points.

KING: All right. Let's talk a bit about how we got here, because American people might be confused about this. This is to fund the government for the current fiscal year, started October 1st, runs through September. There's a much bigger fight coming about, then, the next year's budget because the Republicans are now in the majority.

I want you to listen to the president today. A lot of blame game going on. Here's the president, his agenda right now is called "Winning the Future." It's his slogan. Listen to this.


OBAMA: It makes it tough to win the future when you haven't passed the budget from last year.


KING: Now, there's a lot of blame to go around. But let's start with this one. We would not be in this mess if the Democrats when they controlled both the House and Senate last year have done their job. Their job was to fund the United States government. They didn't do that. Yes, there were some Republican complications, but the Democrats had big majorities in both chambers.

They didn't do it, in part, Gloria, because they didn't want to take tough votes last year before the election campaign.


KING: But they got thumped anyway. They should have taken the votes.

BORGER: Of course -- of course, they should have taken the votes. And, you know, it's interesting to hear the president right now, John, say, OK, we have to get to the tough stuff. This is the little stuff.

But he had a deficit commission. They came out with some tough suggestions. He didn't exactly endorse it.

The Republicans, the House budget chairman has put a serious budget on the table. It's not going to go anywhere, as we know, but it is going to frame the 2012 debate. Just maybe they're going to have to take some tough votes in Congress before the presidential election to curb entitlements. But they can't get there until they finish this. And right now, it's the same old same old.

KING: It is a system that is afraid at the moment to do not only big things but the basic things.

BORGER: Right.

KING: Now, I'm going to say this a little tongue in cheek. But, often, we find ourselves spending time to fact-check things Michele Bachmann says. She's the Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, the Tea Party favorite. I say that in a context, you can look it up on the interwebs, as I'll call it, Lexington and Concord, it's in Massachusetts. It's not in New Hampshire, Congresswoman.

But, today, Michele Bachmann helped us -- helped us -- fact-check some of the statements by her colleagues. Listen to this.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: We know that Social Security checks will continue to go out. The military will continue to go forward. And we also know that there will be a very large number of government employees that will stay on the job.


KING: Thank you, Congresswoman.

Dana, one of the things you do here in the middle of this, from members of both parties, is if the government shuts down, these horrible things will happen. I'm not saying bad things won't happen. I'm not saying some people won't get a critical service or critical check.

But in the past, 1995 example, Social Security checks went out. The military got paid. Essential people were told you have to come to work and we'll deficit spend to pay for it and we'll clean up all the records later.

But there's a lot of stuff being thrown around that simply isn't true. BASH: Yes, that's exactly right. And there was a conference call by a senior administration official trying to sort of separate fact from fiction. On the military, though, this official did say that his understanding was that the military would not get paid after April 8th, the Friday deadline, if there is no money to give them.

But in terms of what Michele Bachmann said, that there will be federal workers working -- yes, because they're called essential workers. So, I think for people out there who are not working for the federal government who are not trying to get to the Statue of Liberty or the cherry blossom parade, they may -- or trying to get a -- file their taxes on paper, they won't feel it.

But, look, I mean, this is politics. And regardless of whether they feel it or not, they're going to see the symbolism, they're going to see the pictures, and they're going to -- the people out there who say that they want government to work and they want everybody to compromise, they're going to be angry.

KING: There is, though, Gloria, what I call it a trust deficit in town. I just want to walk over here to show some examples. One of the issues we're hearing is the Democrats didn't do their jobs last year. One of the reasons it's so hard now is because the Democrats and Republicans are having, you know, these ideological fights.

I just want to - here's one thing right here of what a shutdown would look like.

National parks in a shutdown, if you're planning to come to Washington, if there's a shutdown, closed.

Smithsonian Museums, most of them right here in Washington, shutdown, closed.

IRS refunds, if you're waiting for yours, guess what? If you don't have it right now, especially if you're waiting for a check in the mail -- let's hit that again -- possibly delayed. I would put likely delayed there.

U.S. Postal Service, you might think the mailman's not going to come. That's not true. They keep their own money. Sure, they have budget issues from time to time. But they run their own money, they keep it.

So, people have to fact-check, Gloria, what might happen if we get a shutdown. But the main question is: can these people be grown- ups? They're in a big historical building tonight. Maybe they can be grown-ups?

BORGER: Well, that's a big "if" and we can't be Pollyanna about this. We -- I was around and you were around in 1995 when the government shutdown. And it did shutdown. And it could happen. It could happen again.

I mean, I think they've got to figure out a way out of it, but we might not know until the last minute. KING: That's the way it always goes.


KING: Gloria Borger, Dana Bash, thanks for your help.

Up next here: "TIME" magazine's Joe Klein on a week in Cairo. The acceleration lives on, yes. But is the Muslim Brotherhood winning the next chapter in Egypt's revolution?


KING: It's important in our business sometimes to circle back, despite breaking news. We want to circle back to Egypt tonight.

Fifty-five days since Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president. This is the most recent rally in Tahrir Square. "Save the Revolution" is the motto here.

Joe Klein of "TIME" magazine, our good friend, has been in Cairo all week long. We talked a bit earlier about what it's like right now.


JOE KLEIN, TIME: It's really fascinating to be here and very exhilarating because everybody is still -- is excited about what's happened here two months ago. But everybody is also afraid about what the peace (ph) may bring. There's an economic crisis in Egypt coming down the road very quickly. This is a country that depends tremendously on foreign tourism. Foreign tourism is off by 80 percent now. People are not going to be paid. People are going to be looking for work. And the economic crisis here may bring everybody back into the square.

KING: Describe for us what you mean there in the apprehension.

KLEIN: Well, one of the young bloggers who led this revolution, his name is Sandmonkey, said to me the largest party in Egypt now is the couch party. People have just gone home and are passive.

There's a fair amount of fear about the Muslim Brotherhood. They're back in the neighborhoods organizing. And yet to show you just how complicated this is, at the same time, there is -- there are rumors and there's real serious reports of splits within the Muslim Brotherhood. The young people feel more in common with the other young ret revolutionaries than they do with the elders. And there's also a split between moderates and extremists. This is bubbling and bubbling and bubbling. And nobody really knows what comes next.

KING: And so, then, is there a sense from the couch party, if you will, that they better get more busy organizing because you have those elections -- September, October, may seem a long time off. But it is not.

KLEIN: It's one thing to organize from the top down and announce, hey, I have a new political party. But it's another thing to organize from the neighborhoods up, from the bottom up, which is what the Muslim Brotherhood do. They provide social services for the people and win their loyalty.

And so, it's going to be very difficult for all of the secular forces to get their act together.

On the other hand, once again, on the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood say they're not going to contest more than 35 percent of the parliamentary seats that are coming up, in part because I don't think anybody really wants to run this country during the four next difficult years.

KING: Excellent points. Joe Klein tonight in Cairo -- Joe, thanks.

KLEIN: Good to be here, John.


KING: Trust me, we'll circle back to this drama again. Hope to see you right here tomorrow.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.