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U.S. Demands Syria's Dictator Step Down; Interview With Mayor Michael Nutter

Aired August 18, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. Tonight, finally, the United States has an explicit demand for Syria's brutal dictator.


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The transition to democracy in Syria has begun, and it's time for Assad to get out of the way.


KING: Also he angered some African-Americans by calling flash mob thugs, an embarrassment to their race. Tonight Philadelphia's mayor on race, the jobs crisis, and the stunning new crime problem.

Up first, though, a punishing day on Wall Street raises serious alarms about the risk of another recession, and adds new urgency to the political debate here in Washington over new jobs initiatives. The Dow Jones industrial average was down just short of 420 points, or 3.7 percent. The Nasdaq down 5.2 percent, and the S&P 500 down 4.5 percent.

It's what drove the markets down that is, again, stoking recession fears. Overseas more jitters as Europe struggles to contain its debt crisis, and here at home data some see as evidence of a new downturn. Weekly unemployment claims rose much more than expected, and sales of existing homes dropped by 3.5 percent in July. Analysts had been expecting a modest increase. A key manufacturing index was way down. And inflation on consumer goods was up. Add in collapsing consumer confidence, and you get sober advice like this -


SUZE ORMAN, PERSONAL FINANCE EXPERT: 2012 could be a very difficult year. I'm on the camp that we have more chance of being in recession than avoiding it. So, they should be conservative right now. Their confidence should be down, because there's every reason out there that they shouldn't feel confident.


KING: Getting us started tonight our Chief Business Correspondent Ali Velshi takes us behind the numbers. ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: John, when you have days like this, it's hard to get a sense to pull back, and take a look at the Dow, which is what a lot of people's 401(k)s look like. Wanted to take a look at it from the beginning of the year.

Take a look at this. We started just above 11,500 on the Dow. And you know, for the first several months it was volatile, there is no question. It went up to above 12,500,000, went back down in June. Take a look at July went back up. Boy, the middle of July you would have thought everything was fine. Then in take a look at what happened in August. Look at that big drop down well below 11,000. Then it popped back up to 11,500. It looked like things were OK for a while. And then back down.

What triggered this? You mentioned some of the things. We got into the trading day with a lot of trouble over in Asia and Europe. In fact, those European markets took a major, major beating on news that Germany's economy has almost stalled, and France's is completely even.

We got a report out from Morgan Stanley this morning, and it said things that we had all sort of thought but, now it was on paper. Number one, it said we are dangerously close to a recession. Dangerously close. It doesn't say it's entirely likely. It doesn't even say it's their base assumption, but dangerously close. It also says that Europe and the U.S. have made policy errors, policy errors. That is the central banks and the political system. In fact, it referred specifically to the drama of the debt ceiling debate in the United States. That has sucked the confidence out of investors worldwide.

And number three, it says both the Fed and the European Central Bank may need to intervene again. Boy, you've been talking about this decision by -- this comment by Rick Perry that any intervention, further intervention, by the Fed between now and the election would be considered treasonous. So, on one hand investors are saying we may need more money from the central banks and politicians in the United States are saying it's treasonous.

Let's look at the U.S. situation. There's a few things that happened today in and of themselves wouldn't have caused the selloff that we saw, but they exacerbated it. You mentioned some of this a little bit earlier. Number one, every week on Thursday, we get jobless claims from the previous week. We got those numbers today. They were higher than the previous week. Not by much, but any bad news rattles a market like this.

Number two, existing home sales were down in July and that means prices were down as well. That's very unusual. Prices are so low you'd think people would be snapping up houses particularly since you can get a 30-year mortgage for under 4.5 percent if you have good credit and the a down payment.

Number three, consumer prices are up. Prices for the goods you pay are up. The money you earn is not up. The value of your house is not up, and your investments are not going up, but the cost of living are going up, that's a problem. Number three -- by the way, that means less money to put into the economy because you're spending it on the things you're already buying.

Number four, manufacturing, that's actually been an area of some strength in the last year and a new report, as you said, showed it weakening. You put that all together and you have investors saying I don't want to be in stocks, I want to be in things that are safe. They were buying gold; gold hit another record. And putting their money into Treasury bills, which by the way, these days offer virtually no interest because they're safe. That's the story of what happened today, John?

KING: So, what can be done to keep the economy from slipping back into recession and to create more jobs here in the U.S. of A. Let's get some perspective from CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

Fareed, you write-and I want to read, right here, right off in "The Washington Post," today. "Everything we do as a country should be geared toward the central task of boosting employment. Some of this will involve government spending, an infrastructure bank that uses current low interest rates, includes the private sector and chooses projects based on merit rather than patronage is one of the best ideas to come out of Washington in years."

Best idea to you. Speaker Boehner, the other House Republican leadership said, that's more stimulus spending, not happening.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANALYST: This is part of the problem, we've gotten into an absurd political debate where everything the government does is called stimulus spending. It's important to under what we're talking about. We're talking about rebuilding America's infrastructure, bridges, highways, but also, for example, a power grid, also broadband. All this would be done using an infrastructure bank that would largely use private sector money. That is, it would borrow from the private sector, using and taking advantage of current low interest rates.

You know, the odd thing is that America actually builds its infrastructure under current -- under the current setup in a quasi- socialist way. The government does everything. What I'm suggesting and this is President Obama's suggestion, this is Kay Bailey Hutchison's, a republican, suggestion. What I'm suggesting we use a method used in lots of other countries that basically gets the private sector involved in all these projects.

KING: How do we crack that code, if you will, and break the paralysis? Because you make an interesting point. Yesterday the president was in rural Illinois, after his town hall meeting there, I talked to a Republican congressman, Bobby Shilling, who was right there. The president said hello to him. Afterwards they shook hands and had a brief conversation. I asked him about infrastructure, and he said that's not Democrat or Republican, that's a red, white and blue issue. We can probably agree on that. And then it was almost as if a switch flipped in his head and he quickly turned and said this -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. BOBBY SHILLING (R) ILLINOIS: What we need to look for is private sector, permanent jobs, not taxpayer funded temporary jobs, because we've already seen a failed stimulus that's cost our kids and our grandkids over a trillion bucks. We're willing to work with him. I shook his hand today and I said, you know, Mr. President, we're here to work with you, you know, but we're going to need a little bit of help from your side also.


KING: How do we break this code, if you will?

ZAKARIA: Well, if you talk to the CEOs, if you listen to what Jeff Immelt, Andrew Liveriest of Dow, any of the major CEOs, in the market, they all point out that we have terrible infrastructure, we're falling behind. And the ironic thing here is what is being proposed is actually a much more private sector friendly, much more market friendly approach than we have. What does the congressman mean by permanent jobs? There ain't no such thing as permanent jobs anymore. Small companies start up and go out of business all the time. They hire people when they need them. They let them go. The same would be true of construction projects. And, by the way, it's very important to point out when you think about infrastructure, this is not government workers. The government would be in part paying for private sector firms, for private sector construction firms. We have a 20 percent to 25 percent unemployment rate in the construction industry.

KING: Another point you make in your column that I think it's an incremental step, but I wanted you to tell me how important you think it would be. You write, "We should make it easier for visitors to get visas, and work hard to make them feel welcome. They are, in the words of Starwood Hotels CEO Frits Van Paasschen, a walking stimulus program."

So that's not going to create thousands and thousands of jobs, but you say the government could do something like that, that would help a little.

ZAKARIA: In our country, the United States these days, ever since 9/11, we've basically been trying to stop people from coming into this country. That has been-to the extent we have a policy towards visitors, it's basically to say how can we stop you from coming in because one out of every 10 million of you might possibly be a terrorist. It's crazy. What we should be trying to do, we should be leading tourist destination in the world. Right now France is. We're five times the size of France. We've got everything from the Grand Canyon to Disney World to Broadway to the Metropolitan Museum, we should be the world leader in this.

And if we were to do it, it would create tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of jobs in the hotel business, in the hospitality business, in travel. And it doesn't require much congressional action. This is actually an area where the administration would need courage because, of course, you're going to have people claiming that we're being soft on terrorism and all this kind of nonsense. But it is something that we could mercifully do while Congress is in recess.

KING: In the course of this conversation we've mentioned several CEOs that you keep in touch with and have spoken with in your reporting. What is their sense, if we were having this conversation three or four months ago, people thought the economy would grow slowly, but not stumble back into a recession. In recent days, when you see consumer confidence down, soft housing reports, soft manufacturing reports, the volatility on Wall Street, the European debt crisis, and more and more smart people are saying, you know, what 2012 might be another recession.

ZAKARIA: What they would say, to answer your question, is it's actually not as bad as it looks. Meaning that the data is softer than what they're seeing on the ground. And they read the data as being a temporary blip downward. Nobody thinks there's going to be robust growth, but none of the ones I talked to seem to think that we were going into a second recession.

KING: Let's certainly hope they're correct. Fareed Zakaria, as always, thank you.

ZAKARIA: A pleasure.

KING: Still ahead, you see it right there, flash mob crime is proving much more than a summer fad. Philadelphia's mayor is here to describe his tough-love approach to stopping it.

And next, maybe it took too long, but tonight President Obama has a simple message to Syria's brutal dictator. Step down.


KING: It took five long bloody months, but today, finally, it came. And it had a loud echo. First a paper statement from President Obama with the explicit call that those brave anti-government demonstrators in Syria have long wanted, quote, "For the sake of the Syrian people," President Obama said, "the time has come for Assad to step aside."

The first echo came from America's top diplomat, who it is worth noting, not too long ago, praised the Syrian strong man as a reformer. But today the blood of those killed finally meant more than some romantic theory that Bashar al-Assad might some day see the light.


CLINTON: And we will stand up for their universal rights and dignity by pressuring the regime and Assad personally to get out of the way of this transition.


KING: Next a joint statement calling on Assad to step down from the leaders of the United Kingdom, France and Germany, a united front Secretary Clinton says sends an important message.


CLINTON: The Assad government has now been condemned by countries in all parts of the world. And can look only to Iran for support for its brutal and unjust crackdown.


KING: Let's check in with CNN's Arwa Damon who is monitoring the Syria political crisis from Beirut.

Arwa, the big question is will the president of the United States saying Assad must go, will the European leaders, the U.K., France, Germany, saying Assad must go, will it have any impact on his behavior?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think what we're going to have to wait for is to see how Turkey is going to react, how countries like Saudi Arabia, other Arab nations, if they do, then, follow suit. That could possibly lead to greater pressure on the Syrian government.

But since the onset of this, this has been a government that whenever the U.S. talked about the president's loss of legitimacy, it has merely scoffed. It has been a government that has quite simply said in the past, if you'll remember, that Europe would just cease to exist for Syria and it would continue to look to its friends toward the east. Other critical players are also going to be China, India, Russia as well, because Russia is still, at this point, continuing to sell weapons to the Assad regime. So it's going to take a bigger union of many more countries before Assad really feels that diplomatic pressure. But analysts will tell you this is at least a first step towards that.

KING: If the regime would feel a little heat initially or moderate heat initially, what about the conduct of the human rights activists? You talk to many in the community who for months said the United States has a moral obligation to stand with us. Will it have an impact on the brave souls who have been risking their lives across Syria?

DAMON: And, you know, John, since the onset of this, people have always been asking us, wondering what it is going to take for global leaders, like the U.S., that always promotes democracy, they say, and others to begin to stand with the activists. Some of them will say that they were under no illusion that the Assad regime was going to ever change its course, so why did it take America this long. That being said, I was speaking with one young man, an activist from Hama, who we had been in touch with fairly regularly, providing us updates from there. He's now gone into hiding. His family has been threatened. But he said after hearing this announcement, at the very least, at this point in time he felt as if he, the Syrian opposition, was no longer standing alone.

KING: No longer standing alone. We'll see how it plays out from here. Arwa Damon for us from Beirut tonight. Arwa, thank you. Let's continue the important conversation with Nick Burns, he's the former undersecretary of state, currently a professor at Harvard; and Syrian human rights activist, Mohammed al Abdullah.

Nick, you said many times on this program, this should have happened sooner. Finally it has happened, the question is, now what now? Can the administration somehow create some momentum, in addition with the Europeans, maybe the Saudis to not just say it's a killing machine, but Assad must go? What has to happen next?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FMR. U. S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Well, John, it's a significant step by the Obama administration because it isolates Assad. It depreciates his credibility in the region and internationally and hopefully will empower the opposition. Syria matters. What happens next hopefully is other countries, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, will follow suit. If Russia and China would cooperate more on the U.N. Security Council for a hardcore resolution to repudiate the Syrian regime, that would be consequential.

But this country is a very important country. It's a neighbor to Israel, a neighbor to Iraq, an ally of Iran and Hamas and Hezbollah, so obviously the administration now is trying to focus international pressure. It's almost always better when the United States acts with multilaterally with other countries rather than alone, that's why I think, John, you saw the Obama administration wait several weeks longer than many thought they would to take the step today.

KING: So, Mohamed you heard from Arwa Damon. She was talking to some of these brave folks, she keeps in touch with, who say at least morally they don't feel alone. What is your sense from talking to your friends inside Syria, and the community, what difference might it make in terms of the resolve of the demonstrators?

MOHAMMAD AL-ABDALLAH, SYRIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: For a long time I've heard from friends and activists inside Syria that the U.S. administration enlisting President Assad under the table, and they just condemning the human rights violation. It was very significant and important to hear it clearly and loudly that President Assad needs to step away or step aside, step down. Because people cannot believe that the U.S. administration is not supporting him. There's a conspiracy theory in the head of those people in the Middle East.

It was great to hear that and people now encouraged more to go to the street. We're not alone and the international community is with us, and they supporting us, and everybody watching, the U.N. Security Council is gathering to do something to protect us. It's very important step.

KING: You say very important. Nick, Mohammed says that a conspiracy theory that maybe the United States secretly supports Assad through all of this. I think there's a reason people have the doubts and that's because, listen here, this is the secretary of the state of the United States speaking just a few months ago, back in March.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CLINTON: There is a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress, of both parties, who have gone to Syria in recent months, have said they believe his a reformer.


KING: We have seen this play out, Nick, over the last five months, more than 2,000 people killed. We have vivid video proof, Assad is no reformer. Why has there been this romantic view that somehow this guy would be different from his father, somehow he would open up and be a democrat?

BURNS: Well, John, this was the son Bashar Assad who was never supposed to lead Syria. He only came back from his ophthalmologist training in London because his brother died, the brother who was supposed to become president. There's been the feeling for really the better part of the last decade among many people that perhaps he was different, he was better educated.

But you know, this was also the guy who aligned himself with Iran, who opposed the United States and supported extremists in Iraq when we were fighting there. And so I've never believed he was a reformer. And I think we've seen his true colors, especially over the last several months, especially since the start of Ramadan-


KING: But how could so many smart people-

BURNS: -as many as 2,500 people have died in Syria.

KING: I don't mean to interrupt you, but you say you never believed it. How could so many smart people be so wrong about him?

BURNS: I think in that region one is looking for partners and one is looking for friends and there was the feeling that he came from a different place. He'd had significant international experience, unlike most of the other leaders in Syria. And obviously that assumption about him was plain wrong. Because we've clearly seen what he's like over the last couple of months.

KING: So, Mohammad what should we look for in the next several days to see if this added international outrage, the specific explicit call to step down, if it has an impact on the demonstrators, and on the government? What shall we look for?

ABDALLAH: It's going to have to have a sure impact for sure on the protests. We expect a huge protest tomorrow. We looking for a U.N. Security Council resolution. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Because Russia is still sending weapons, Iran is sending weapons and Turkish authority confiscated some weapons on the border. And we need an embargo on the oil and gas company, and the sanctions from the EU countries. This is essential the time that the Syrian government cannot finance and fuel its tanks. This revolution is going to win.

KING: And important day and we will stay on top of the story. Mohammad, Nick thanks for coming in to help us tonight. We promise you we'll stay on top of this one.

Still to come here, will a curfew and a pointed lecture pulpit of a black church stop the flash mob violence in Philadelphia? Mayor Michael Nutter joins us.

Next, another stage collapse send frightened music festival fans running. We'll show you where it happened this time.


KING: Welcome back. Here's the latest news you need to know right now. A storm has blown over another concert stage in Belgium killing three people and injuring 61. Last Saturday, of course, five people died when a stage collapsed during a storm at the Indiana State Fair.

Pope Benedict began a four-day visit to Spain today, declaring a country's economy, quote, "Cannot be measured by the maximum profit, but by the common good."

In a move that could shake up the U.S. immigration system, the Department of Homeland Security tonight says it plans to review all 300,000 pending deportation cases, and put less emphasis on deporting children and students, the elderly, members of the military and veterans.

Just a short time ago President Obama arrived in Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts-you see him right there-for a family vacation. A senior official tells CNN the president also intends to use his vacation time to refine his new jobs plan, which the president promised to announce just after Labor Day.

The president may be on vacation but his Republican opponents, they are busy on the trail. In a little bit, one of Governor Rick Perry's rivals picks a fight over revolution and global warming.

But, next, Philadelphia's mayor, who called flash mob thugs an embarrassment to their race.


KING: The term "flash mob" crime is sadly becoming a summer staple.

In suburban Maryland, there was this shocking recent early morning robbery of a convenience store.

And in Philadelphia earlier this month, a flash mob is blamed for the random beatings of nearly 60 people in the Center City. An 11- year-old boy was among those arrested.

In addition to ordering a 9:00 p.m. curfew downtown, Mayor Michael Nutter delivered a stern message from the pulpit of an African-American church.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MAYOR MICHAEL NUTTER (D), PHILADELPHIA: You damage yourself. You damage another person. You damage your peers. And, quite honestly, you damage your own race.


NUTTER: You damage your own race.

And another thing: take those doggone hoodies down, especially in the summer. Pull your -- pull your pants up and buy a belt! Because no one wants to see your underwear or the back of your butt! Nobody!


KING: An impassioned speech from the mayor there, but not everyone was impressed.

Writing in the "Philadelphia Inquirer," columnist Annette John- Hall suggested this, "There he said it. In a way his white constituents would hear him loud and clear. At that point, he wasn't talking to black people anymore."

Mayor Nutter is with us live tonight.

And, Mr. Mayor, let's begin right there with that criticism, a columnist suggesting that you go into a black church to chastise a community in an attempt to appeal to white people.

NUTTER: Well, I know Annette John-Hall and I respect her a great deal. She was not there.

But the fact of the matter is that I am mayor of all of Philadelphia -- African-Americans, whites, Latinos, Asians, and everyone else. It was my church where I've been a member for 25 years. I had a message that I wanted to deliver for the city, but in particular to the African-American community.

Unfortunately, many of the young people involved in these activities are African-American boys and girls.

Having said that, John, I am, one, a very proud African-American. And it is personally painful to me whenever anyone in this city gets involved in negative activity, but especially African-American boys and girls or adults for that matter.

So, I meant what I said. I said what I said. And I stand by it.

People interpret the things in a variety of ways, but that's the beauty of living in the United States of America.

No one can dispute the fact that it is illegal, inappropriate and ignorant for young people or anyone else to run down the street and attack innocent citizens who have not done anything to you, for which you have no reason to be engaged in that kind of activity.

So, the primary point here is that actually, we have thousands and thousands and hundreds of thousands of really great young people here in Philadelphia. They don't want to be known for this flash stupidity, which is what it is.

And they're working. They're winning contests. Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement won the Brave New Voices national spoken word contest in San Francisco just a few weeks ago. The North Philly Blackhawks won the Pop Warner Football, like, Super Bowl championship for the country, and we've had any other number of young people doing really positive things -- and I'm very proud of those young people.

But I have a different message for those who want to engage in that kind of ignorant, stupid behavior. It will not be tolerated.

And we're looking to have more positive things for young people to do but we are issuing a very stern warning and taking actions for those who just don't get the message.

KING: And for those who just don't get the message, you've imposed this curfew. And that too has received some criticism. I want to get read to you and get your response.

This is from a Professor Marc Lamont-Hill of Columbia University writing in the "Philadelphia Daily News": "Over the past decade, we've seen the rise in anti-youth policies like civil injunctions against gangs, anti-baggy-pants legislation, zero tolerance in the case of schools. In the case of curfew, we literally make it illegal to be young and outside. Through these practices, we alienate our children and produce the very criminal mentalities and behaviors that we hope to destroy."

I assume you disagree. So, Mr. Mayor, make the case that the curfew is working.

NUTTER: Well, I actually know Marc Lamont-Hill, Professor Marc Lamont-Hill very, very well. And in that same piece he did agree with some of the things that we've done and also said that he understood why we did some of them.

The fact of the matter is, is that if you are under 18 years of age, you can still be downtown after 9:00 if you're with a parent or other guardian who is responsible for you.

So, the point here is that instead of parents just sending their kids out to run around at all hours of the day and night, in the two areas where we've had the most trouble which have been different parts of Center City and University City, which is why we imposed it in those targeted areas because that's where the young people have been doing these things -- we want everyone young and young at heart to come to Philadelphia, have a good time. Be downtown. Be in University City. Be in north Philadelphia, northeast, northwest -- wherever you want to be, have a good time.

But we have rules.

KING: I know -- NUTTER: We will not allow this kind of activity. And if young people want to be out, either be out and have a good time and don't do bad things or don't be out after the curfew, otherwise you're going to have a problem.

KING: I know you say that high unemployment, city budget cutbacks that might reduce services are no excuse for thuggery. And I agree with you 1,000 percent, Mr. Mayor.

NUTTER: No, they're not.

KING: But you know, some people have said -- some people have said, look, you've got 39 percent unemployment estimated among African-American teenagers in your city.

Other cities around the country have a similar problem. And some members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been around the country, some of them saying in part that they want more from the president of the United States, the first African-American president of the United States, they say he's not done enough to help his own community. Listen here --


REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: I want him to give us every opportunity. But our people are hurting. The unemployment is unconscionable. We don't know what the strategy is. We don't know why on this trip he's in the United States now, he's not in any black community. We don't know that.


KING: Congresswoman Waters is essentially saying the president is nowhere in her view in the African-American community to help create jobs. Is that fair?

NUTTER: I mean, other than hearing it as you just played it, I don't know the context of Representative Waters' comment. I think the president has done a lot of things to help this country and certainly African-Americans have been beneficiaries in a variety of ways.

But when you look at what's going on in Philadelphia, as you pointed out in your intro, one of the young people arrested was 11 years old. This is not an unemployment problem. This is a lack of parental guidance problem, a 16-year-old, a 17-year-old, a 19-year- old. These are bad decisions being made.

Lack of jobs notwithstanding, we have every one of our rec centers open, everyone of our swimming pools is open, everyone of our libraries is open -- all services being provided.

There is no excuse, none, not even economic status, for engaging in illegal activity or beating people up on the street. I will not tolerate it under any set of circumstances.

Now, we've done some positive things. We extended the hours of our recreation centers. Last weekend, when we started the new curfew on Center City, we also had a number of positive things going on -- 20 rec centers across the city with extended hours in every part of Philadelphia, a huge bowling party that I was at, and did a little bowling myself, 200 to 300 young people out doing positive things.

This upcoming weekend, a roller skating party.

And we'll be doing any number of very positive things for young people. We have mentors and community leaders and civic organizations and the clergy actively engaged and involved. But parents must also stem up as well. They're your children. We can help you raise them, but we're not going to raise them for you.

So, I mean, I know that there are many, many social causes for a lot of things that go on. And there is a lot of pain out there, no question about it. And the president will be announcing his plan for increasing the job opportunities in September. And I know -- you know, people are reporting that and I'm certainly well aware of that.

I think if we'd not spent, as the Congress spent, two months or so of intense debate about whether or not to increase the debt ceiling when they should have been talking about jobs, you know, all of us would be much better off.

But, you know, I look forward to the president's proposal. I know he's been focused on trying to create jobs. He needs a lot more cooperation from the Congress to get those kinds of things done.

KING: Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter -- Mr. Mayor, we wish you the best of luck and appreciate your time tonight, sir.

NUTTER: Thank you, John.

KING: Still ahead here, the deadliest attack in Israel in two years. And authorities say the new Egyptian government shares the blame.

And next, a busy day on the campaign trail, including a dustup over evolution. Really?


KING: "ANDERSON COOPER 360" coming up at the top of the hour. Anderson is with us for a preview.

Anderson, I know you've spent a lot of time covering this serious story and you spoke to the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: Yes, we had a very actually contentious interview, respectful but contentious interview today. He basically said everybody is lying about Syria, the entire international community, certainly the media, me, CNN -- denying all the videos that we've been seeing one after the other, denying what is happening on the streets of Syria. Not just according to me, but according to the U.N. reports and others.

Take a listen to some of this interview, John.


COOPER: We've seen countless videos of children with broken bodies returned after weeks in detention. We've seen people being shot at as they try to retrieve the dead and wounded bodies of their friends and families on the street, and we've seen protests after protests broken up with tear gas and security forces, uniformed or not, firing live ammunition into crowds. Are all of these lies?

BASHAR JA'AFARI, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: I have also countless of other videos showing exactly the opposite. I'm not denying that we have losses of life, lives over there. I'm saying that we should be objective in our approach while analyzing what's going on in Syria.


COOPER: What's amazing, John, he's claiming that reporters have free rein in Syria, that they can go wherever they want and talk to whomever they want, which we know is just absolutely not true based on CNN's and other's own experiences.

So, we're going to basically have to keeping them honest report on what the ambassador said. We'll talk to folks on the ground in the region and also our correspondents who have been there.

KING: Critical, though. We stay on top of this story now that the president have said Assad must go.

Now, Anderson, before I let you go, who is your favorite French actor?

COOPER: Oh, man. I know. Gerard Depardieu. I lost it.

KING: I'm going to see if I can flush you out here on what happed on the program last. I'm going to steal some of your puns as we go.

Now, so you add Gerard Depardieu to the "Ridiculist" and this happens.


COOPER: He hasn't commented on this incident -- Depardieu. I know you got it but --


COOPER: All right. Sorry.


COOPER: I know. I laugh like a 13-year-old. Yes. I acted like a 13-year-old girl at an N'Sync concert. Very depressing.

KING: I know it's worth laughing about, the man urinated in public on a plane. But

COOPER: I know. It's embarrassing. It's never happened to me before. I honestly -- I mean, it was funny, but, yes, it's one of those things. Has it ever happened to you?

KING: No, I was going to jump in on your pun saying will it happen to you again or does that depend? But that would have me, I can't point to the fancy graphic like this -- so, you know, I just --

COOPER: We'll put myself, I think we're going to put our "Ridiculist" on "Ridiculist" tonight. So, we're -- I don't know. Yes, I don't what happened there.

KING: We work in cable television. We all need a good laugh everyday.

COOPER: We'll have the latest on the markets on the Asian markets and also other stuff.

KING: No one's laughing about that, Anderson, nobody. We'll see you in a bit.

COOPER: Thanks.

KING: Plenty of action today in presidential politics and one important contest for the United States Senate. Here's what's happening on the trail.

In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, who helped set up that new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, she filed paperwork and set up a Web site to explore a race against Republican Senator Scott Brown.

In presidential politics, Herman Cain met with the South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley today and posted a picture on Twitter. Haley says she's not yet ready to endorse a Republican candidate.

Also in South Carolina, Michele Bachmann promised to make big changes at the Environmental Protection Agency.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Lock the doors and turn the lights off on that agency. That is the job- killing, regulatory agency, and instead focus on conservation.


KING: In New Hampshire, a Rick Perry comment along a rope line today caught the attention of at least one of his Republican rivals.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hear your mom was asking about evolution. And, you know, it's a theory that is out there, and it's got some gas in it. But in Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ask him why he doesn't believe in science?

PERRY: Because I figure you're smart enough to figure out which one is right.


KING: A bit later on Twitter, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, also a Republican candidate, took issue, "To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust science on global warming. Call me crazy."

Are evolution and global warming new flash points in the Republican race?

Let's begin there with CNN contributor Erick Erickson. He's editor of the conservative blog, And Chip Saltsman, a Republican strategist who managed Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign.

Erick, Governor Perry -- we spent a lot of time on things he said this week. That is his belief about evolution and creationism. He didn't take any reporters' questions today, but saying something like that along a rope line, this is going to be a campaign I assume about jobs, taxes, the size of government. Where are we going with that one?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I find it fascinating. So, he's answered the questions on global warming and evolution and immediately pivoted back to jobs. But now, he's forced Republican rivals to focus on global warming and evolution -- not exactly selling points for them in the Republican primary. He's pushing them to the left with the GOP base, and meanwhile, he goes back to talking about jobs.

And I would just point out what a cowardly mom that was to put her kid up to ask him that question because she didn't want to ask the question. You can very clearly in the background hear her say, "ask him why he doesn't believe in science?" or something like that. I mean, people who know Rick Perry knows he believes in science.

But you know what? Good Lord, what a nonissue.

KING: Nonissue, Chip Saltsman?

CHIP SALTSMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Absolutely. I think what Erick is saying is it's absolutely genius what Rick Perry did. He's got all of his rivals really hanging on his every word. And the fact that Governor Huntsman had to respond to that.

Look, Governor Perry is out there talking about jobs. He's talking about the record in Texas. That's what he wants to talk about.

But I think as you're seeing the race developing quickly, it looks like everybody is going to be responding to what Rick Perry does today, and that's good for the Perry campaign. KING: I want you guys to help with this. I'm going to call a little political chess, because Perry gets in the race this week and it changes the dynamics of the Republican race. So, I'm going to show you a little map here. I'll bring up some of our candidates.

Michele Bachmann, we just talked about her a minute ago. Now, we know that Iowa is key to her. She's the Republican congresswoman. She's hoping to get in Iowa and get the support of Christian conservatives, the Tea Party, get a springboard out of Iowa and then come down to conservative South Carolina.

Now, Governor Romney, he's a different case. He starts in New Hampshire. Of course, he has to protect New Hampshire. I'm going to put him up there. That's his big state right now.

But what changes this week are two things, number one, the Ames, Iowa straw poll. Rick Santorum comes in well enough to say maybe I can challenge Michele Bachmann out here in Iowa for Christian conservative votes. Look for these two to spend a lot of time out there.

Then, Governor Perry comes in -- no accident, he announces in South Carolina. Sorry, Congresswoman Bachmann, you're going to have something here. Southern governor, traditionally state that's quite decisive in Republican politics. But then, Governor Perry says, you know what? I'm not limited, I'm going to come over here. He plays in Iowa, he wants to play in Iowa as well.

Then, bang, where is he today? He wants to go up to New Hampshire.

So, how guys does this change the chess in the sense that Governor Romney wanted a New Hampshire win to springboard him down to South Carolina. Come on down here, Governor Romney.

And then from there, now I'm told that because of Perry, Romney would be happy to have Bachmann win Iowa, but because of Perry look for Governor Romney. He went away.

Let's bring him back up here and come here. Look for governor go -- there we go -- to spend more time and money in Iowa.

Erick, to you first, how much has Perry complicated the chess?

ERICKSON: I think he's complicated a good deal.

Take this evolution-creationism comment. Iowa is wholly unrepresentative of the typical Republican field. It's a wonder that either party has relied on it to be the first caucus. But the evolution-creationism comments, the global warming comments, those help Perry in Iowa, whether he sets foot there or not because it forces all the other candidates to decide whether they're to the left or the right of him.

In New Hampshire, let's not forget that Rick Perry's chief consultant, Dave Carney, is from New Hampshire, knows how to win races in New Hampshire, and then he announced in South Carolina. And after that, you go to Florida, where he's already ahead in the polls there.

KING: So, Chip, you help Governor Huckabee to his big win in Iowa back in the last cycle. If Romney spends a little bit more time out there and you have this essentially being the chess -- I know there are the other candidates, and I'm not trying to disrespect there, but this is the state of play at the moment.

Is Governor Perry shifting other people's strategy, what's going to happen?

SALTSMAN: Absolutely. I mean, Governor Perry's got a pretty straightforward Texas two-step strategy. Iowa, South Carolina, two good conservative states. South Carolina being a southern state, which he's a Southern governor. Iowa, a conservative state where he'll do well at.

Michele Bachmann got to have a win in Iowa. It's almost like you got a rubber match between Bachmann and Perry to see who gets to round two to take on Romney for the nomination.

Romney's got to expand the board, though, because if he lets -- somebody in Iowa, like Rick Perry wins Iowa, gets momentum, and then goes to New Hampshire, loses by a little bit, goes to South Carolina and wins, it's game over for everybody, and Perry's the nominee.

KING: Well, gentlemen, we'll play more chess as this all plays out. It's a lot of fun, and it's kind of complicated. But that's why we're here.

Thanks, Erick. Thanks, Chip.

When we come back, Israel's ambassador to United States, he's back home in Israel tonight. He'll talk to us about the deadliest attack in more than two years in Israel and the other big changes in the region.


KING: Tonight, at least seven Israelis are dead and some 40 wounded following a series of attacks in the Red Sea resort of Eilat. Israel blames Hamas militants from Gaza and says they entered Israel by first crossing from Gaza into Egypt's Sinai region.

A bit earlier, I discussed the attacks and the new U.S. call for Syria's Assad to step down with the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.


KING: Mr. Ambassador, Israel says these attacks happened because the terrorists were able to sneak through Egypt. Egypt says that did not happen. What's your proof?

MICHAEL OREN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Well, all our intelligent services agree, John, that our the terrorists came out of Gaza across Sinai. It's not the first time this has happened. KING: Is this -- I want to focus on the attack in a moment, but in terms of what has happened in the region and the change of the government in Egypt, Israel had a peace treaty, there was general security along that border. Do you have an increasing problem with the new military government that you didn't have under the Mubarak regime?

OREN: Well, it's not a problem with the transition government. It's a problem with the fact that the Egyptian army and police are preoccupied elsewhere. And they are concerned about the growing instability and lack of control in Sinai. It's not just terrorists coming out of Gaza, but it's Bedouin blowing up our gas pipeline there, which provides 40 percent of our natural gas that's been blown up five times in the last few months.

Now, Israel in an extraordinary gesture has allowed Egypt to bring in forces to Sinai in excess of what was allowed under the peace treaty, and we hope they'll be able to restore order and control throughout the Sinai Peninsula.

KING: Tell me more about what you know about the investigation and the intelligence. This is the worst attack inside Israel in, I think, two years, two plus years.

Exactly what happened?

OREN: Well, as several groups of terrorists infiltrated to the border, they laid ambush along the tourist route to Eilat, it's Israel's -- one of Israel's major tourist attractions in the south, along the Dead Sea, lots of reports.

And they began to fire at civilian vehicles. They fired at two buses. They fired at two automobiles. They killed seven innocent Israelis. They wounded dozens.

Israeli forces responded immediately. They killed that number of the terrorists. And later on the day, Israel reacted swiftly and forcibly by striking at the headquarters of this group, a group closely allied with Hamas and Gaza and killed several of its commanders in retaliation.

KING: We're speaking on the day that the president of the United States said President Assad of Syria must go. The prime minister of the U.K., the chancellor of Germany, the president of France followed suit. We got a conference several weeks back, as a matter of fact, back in early June on my program where you said Israel had nothing to wish, Assad could go, that you couldn't to any worse.

OREN: It's not a question we prefer the devil we know to the devil we don't know. Bashar Assad is sufficiently devilish. We can't hard for us to imagine someone a worse devil than he is.

KING: You made clear two months ago, you were done with this devil. You saw no reason to stay in business with him. And Israel was fully prepared to say he should go.

Why did it take two months for the United States to come to that position?

OREN: Well, I'm not privy of the inner workings of the Obama administration. I'm the ambassador from Israel to the United States and not the other way around. But I think -- I get the sense that the president and Secretary of State Clinton wanted to move jointly with allies in Europe and elsewhere, and present a united front calling for Assad to step out or step down.

KING: From Israel's perspective, when you look around the neighborhood, we are months into now what we have called the Arab spring.

Is the security situation from Israel's standpoint improving or deteriorating? Or is it just a big question mark?

OREN: I think it's a big question mark. I think we're in a serious area that is in great flux. It's highly flammable in some cases. We see risks. We see the possibility that radical elements can hijack largely democratic movements as they did in Lebanon and Iran, in Gaza itself.

But we also see opportunities, and here Syria's a classic example of where we see an opportunity. Assad is one of the pillars of this horrific alliance between Syria and Iran. Assad is the architect of political assassinations in Lebanon. He has supplied 50,000 rockets to Hezbollah in Lebanon, 10,000 rockets to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

We really honestly can't think of a person who would be more devilish than this. And so, in Syria, were Assad to depart, we would see that very much as an opportunity.

KING: The Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, in Jerusalem -- sir, thank you.

OREN: Thanks, John.


KING: And that's all for us tonight. I hope to see you right here tomorrow.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.