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Violent Crackdown on Protests in Syria Continue; Mitt Romney and Rick Perry Attack Each Other's Records; Michele Bachmann Criticized for Linking HPV Vaccine with Mental Retardation; Palestinians Seek U.N. Seat; Michele Bachmann Coins Term 'Perrycare'; Florida Millionaire's Murder Trial

Aired September 16, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much. Happening now, Rick Perry's opponents are throwing new darts his way. They're talking about Ponzi schemes and Perry-care. But only one of them is getting a full on counterattack from the GOP frontrunner. Stand by.

New evidence that some Americans who voted for Barack Obama now may regret it. Would things have been different for the Democrats if it were President Hillary Clinton running for reelection right now? New poll numbers are out.

And the Palestinians push for an official seat at the United Nations. But the United States and Israel are ready to push. We'll set the scene for the expected fireworks at the U.N. next week. -

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now the Republican presidential race is looking more than ever like a two-man contest between Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. The dust is settling after our landmark CNN-Tea Party debate and the fur is flying. Michele Bachmann is defending one of her harshest lines as scientists come forward to challenge her claims about the controversial HPV vaccine. Let's begin our coverage this hour with CNN's Jim Acosta. He's covering the race to unseat Perry right now as the GOP frontrunner. Shall we say it is a race indeed, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely is, Wolf, and the only thing missing from the campaign trail this week, Michael Buffer, the professional wrestler master of ceremonies who's known for his battle cry, "Let's get ready to rumble."



ACOSTA: If the main event for the GOP nomination comes down to Rick Perry versus Mitt Romney, stand back.

RICK PERRY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just yesterday, that jobs legacy in Massachusetts got even worse.

ACOSTA: In Iowa, Perry is laying into Romney's health care plan from his days as governor of Massachusetts, pointing to this study from a conservative think tank that concluded the program has cost the state 18,000 jobs, a finding Romney aides call deeply flawed.

PERRY: It kills too many jobs and gets between you and your doctor. Doesn't make any difference whether it's passed in m Massachusetts or Washington, D.C. It is bad medicine and needs to be stopped.

ACOSTA: Romney is still swinging on Social Security. His campaign is holding up this "USA Today"-Gallup poll on Perry's now infamous crack on Social Security as a Ponzi scheme. The poll found 40 percent of independents say the remark will hurt him in a general election.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Social Security is not a Ponzi scheme.


Social security has worked for 75 years pretty darn well. You guy haves not taken advantage of Social Security. You contributed to it.

ACOSTA: But Perry isn't backing away from the comment.

PERRY: It is broken. Kids know that paying into something that's not going to be there into the future is called a Ponzi scheme.

ACOSTA: After losing her heavyweight status in the polls, Michele Bachmann is looking for a knockout on Perry's decision to order HPV vaccines for Texas schoolgirls. In this web video she's come up with a new name for the policy.

MICHELE BACHMANN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So whether it's Obamacare or Perry-care, I oppose any governor for president who mandates a family's health care choice choices.

ACOSTA: With contenders like Rick Santorum, the fight is for attention.

RICH SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I get a kick out of Herman Cain and Mitt Romney. They say we're not the career politicians. You know why? They lost.


ACOSTA: Same goes for Jon Huntsman, who's hoping a centrist endorsement from former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge will attract moderates.

TOM RIDGE, FORMER PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR: I believe Jon Huntsman is THE experienced, accomplished and pragmatic leader that America needs now.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: This is all A warm-up for next week's debate In Florida, Republicans are gathering for a straw poll. And Wolf, one potential line of attack we have found out from the Texas Workforce Commission, the unemployment rate in the lone star state ticked up to 8.5 percent from 8.4 percent. So the Texas jobs report is perhaps not as shimmering as it was just a few short weeks ago.

BLITZER: It's still below the national average of 9.1 percent, so that's at least something, obviously. There have been a lot of jobs created. The debate and you can correct many if I'm wrong, the debate is, are those government jobs, high paying jobs, do they come with benefits, not come with benefits. That's the debate in Texas right now.

ACOSTA: That is the debate, but if the unemployment rate is ticking up, perhaps it's not good ammunition for other Republicans like Mitt Romney, whose record after all was 47 when he was governor and Rick Perry likes to bring that up, but the fact the unemployment rate is ticking up is potentially a problem for Rick Perry. If the job situation is getting worse done in the lone star state, that does not bode well for him.

BLITZER: Jim, thank you.

Now let's go to Michele Bachmann and questions about whether she has her facts straight when it comes to her claims about the HPV vaccine. This issue is central to her most combustible attack to Rick Perry. But will Michele Bachman be the one who is politically wounded by this line of attack? Brian Todd is looking into this part of the story for us. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, most observers thought Bachmann had scored some points when she challenged Rick Perry over his record on the vaccine during that debate, but that bounce was short lived. Now Bachmann is being challenged by two respected medical experts over comments she made about the vaccine later, and that's adding to her political woes right now.


BACHMANN: Hi, everybody!

TODD: The challenges from her GOP opponents are tough enough. Now, Michele Bachmann's being challenged by two respected bioethicists to prove a highly charged claim. It was made after the CNN Tea Party debate. Bachmann had challenged Rick Perry for once trying to mandate that young girls be vaccinated against HPV. She then told NBC' "Today Show" about the woman she met after the debate.

BACHMANN: She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter.

TODD: There's no evidence any such link exists. Now Arthur Caplan from the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Steven Miles from the University of Minnesota are challenging Bachmann -- produce the victim and the medical records. The stakes -- they give more than $10,000 to a chart of Bachmann's choice. She gives the same amount to a pro vaccine group if she can't.

ARTHUR CAPLAN, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: I'm willing to use gimmickry if that's what it takes to fight ignorance.

TODD: Caplan and Miles have both given money to Democratic candidates, but both say it's the science driving them in this. A Bachmann spokeswoman said they won't engage, and Bachmann said this.

BACHMANN: I'm not attesting to the woman's comments, only that she made them to me. Again, it was completely unsolicited.

TODD: Rick Perry says he made a mistake in trying to mandate those vaccines by executive order. For Perry it had also been a personal issue. He befriended a woman who died of cervical cancer.

But for Bachmann the vaccine controversy only adds to a series of questions about facts and exaggerations. She told a New Hampshire audience that the shot heard round the world during the Revolutionary War was fired in their state. She said the founding fathers tried to do away with slavery. She mistakenly claimed President Obama's trip to India would cost taxpayers $200 million a day. Now this.

TODD (on camera): Could this hurt her credibility enough to sink the campaign?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL EDITOR: It is going to be problematic for her. Right now, she can no longer focus on her message.


TODD: Mark Preston and other analysts say factual or not, Bachmann's stand on the vaccines may still play well with her base, people who don't want government playing a role in their medical decisions. But they also say Bachmann's got bigger problems right now, mainly the fact that Rick Perry's managed to grab that base away from her.

BLITZER: And she has some of her former political adviser criticizing her.

TODD: Ed Rollins tells John King last night it was a mistake for her to relay this woman's story. There was no evidence. She's got to get back to the economy. Ron Carey, her former chief of staff, tells Anderson Cooper that Michele Bachmann doesn't, quote, "digest information as well as she sometimes should." You wonder how long she can sustain. Right now her standing in the polls is just dropping.

BLITZER: She's working hard. Thanks very much. We're hoping to speak with Michele Bachmann here in THE SITUATION ROOM next week.

But let's get to a politically charged issue here in the United States and around the world right now. We're talking about the Palestinian's goal to have their own state. The Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas making a renewed appeal today to the United Nations before world leaders address the General Assembly in New York next week.

MAHMOUD ABBAS, PRESIDENT, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY: We are going now to the United Nations to demand our legitimate fight, which is to become a full member of the United Nations as a state of Palestine.


BLITZER: United States and Israel are warning U.N. membership would complicate the Middle East peace process. Our senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth has more on the Palestinian's options and the obstacles.


RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: The nations of the world got yet another reminder from the Palestinians of their desire for a state of their own. A symbolic seat from Palestine was flown in, arriving in New York at U.N. headquarters, accompanied by activists. Despite heavy pressure before the upcoming General Assembly debate, achieving statehood on the world stage is not as easy as staging a photo op.

This is the potential first stop for the Palestinians to apply for U.N. membership. This is the U.N. Security Council, and though this chamber may pose the toughest obstacle to potential Palestinian membership, under the rules of the organization and U.N. charter, the Palestinians must first get approval from the Security Council in order to obtain membership. However in this room are permanent members who have veto power and one of them, the United States, has vowed to deny any requests for potential membership.

HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The only way of getting a lasting solution is there direct negotiation between the parties and route to that lies in Jerusalem and Ramallah, not in New York.

ROTH: If they want to avoid a U.S. veto, the Palestinians are likely to come here to the U.N. General Assembly, already full of 193 countries.

RIYAD MANSOUR, PALESTINIAN-AMERICAN DIPLOMAT: If one road is blocked, we will follow another one, but the objective is still the same, and as they say, there are many roads that lead to Rome, and we know that well and we will act accordingly.

ROTH (on camera): The Palestinians already have a seat here at the General Assembly, but their status is known as observers. The assembly may grant them upgraded estate status, not full membership, though, but they may get more rights which will allow them to join more U.N.-style international organizations. But their status would be on par with the Vatican. So, in effect, their prayers to get a full U.N. member state would not be granted.

(voice-over) With upgraded diplomatic status, the Palestinians may be able to demand action against Israel at the international criminal court. The Palestine chair could be a hot seat for other U.N. members.

Richard Roth, CNN, United Nations.


BLITZER: I'll be in New York all of next week to cover the United Nations General Assembly. I'll also be interviewing the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton, at his Clinton Global Initiative conference. That will be underway in New York next week as well. My interview with Bill Clinton next Tuesday here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll talk about all of these issues and a lot more.

Meanwhile, Gadhafi's loyalists are fighting on and CNN is there as forces for Libya's new government try to root them out. And fresh protests and deadly violence in Syria, but the country's ambassador to the United States is disputing eyewitness accounts. Stand by. We have an exclusive interview.


BLITZER: Let's go to the brutal unrest that's exploding across Syria right now where one activist group says at least three dozen people have been killed today. Our CNN international anchor and correspondent Hala Gorani just got through an exclusive interview with Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to the United States. He hasn't done a lot of interviews, but you managed to talk to him.

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is, in fact, Wolf, his first TV interview since the uprisings began in Syria. He's given one radio interview. And we had an opportunity to challenge him on what activists, human rights groups, many western governments had been saying about the regime in Syria, that they are cracking down on peaceful protestors, that they are cracking down and they are using live ammunition, torturing and detaining democracy activists.

Here's a portion of my conversation with Imad Moustapha a little bit earlier in Washington.


GORANI: One of the things you said in a radio interview a few days ago is that not a single demonstration in Syria has started from anywhere other than a mosque. Now, I was in Syria in June as you know, and that was not true. There were demonstrations at Damascus University.


GORANI: A sky news team filmed a demonstration that started nowhere near a mosque.

MOUSTAPHA: It's untrue.

GORANI: Why would everyone be lying about Syria? I don't understand.

MOUSTAPHA: Look, let us be respectful and reason. Everybody knows, everybody inside Syria and outside Syria that religious groups have started those demonstrations from mosque. Every Friday it is the day in which people fear for their lives. Even the clergymen are saying publicly, are condemning the fact that fanatics have changed some of the mosques. Not every mosque in Syria has witnessed a demonstration.


GORANI: And there you have it, Imad Moustapha. This is the narrative we've been hearing from the government since the beginning of these uprisings, Wolf, that those reasonable for violence are armed gangs, armed terrorists. I asked him and challenged him on that point and said how did they just all of a sudden materialize, these armed gangs that we hadn't heard from or seen before this wave of revolutions hit the Arab world. And he said, well, these are foreign powers that have agents inside Syria that just want to destabilize the regime.

BLITZER: We've invited Imad Moustapha and the ambassador many times over these months to join us in THE SITUATION ROOM, but you managed to sit down with him. Did he explain why all of a sudden he's doing a television interview?

GORANI: Well, he didn't, but I think at this point that perhaps government officials feel that they need to get their message out, that by staying silent -- and we saw it in Syria in June as well. Some government officials, the presidential spokesperson, did grant interviews as well.

And I think every few months or so, we've been seeing that government officials feel they need to get their message out, and we did run a big chunk of the interview on CNN International, and I think they need to be able to at least in some way explain their version of events. But in the face of the video we've seen over the last few months, Wolf, it's very difficult to maintain that these are solely armed gangs that are causing the unrest.

BLITZER: There's no doubt about that.

Did you get a sense that he's sincere in talking about Bashar al Assad and the Syrian government the way he is strongly defending it, or simply the ambassador of that government and has got to do what he's got to do?

GORANI: It's always hard to tell what portion of what's been said by any kind of diplomat whose job it is to send the message of his government to the outside world, what portion of it is sincerity, what portion is also spin, to be quite frank.

It did appear he was sincere, and having spoken to him before and you know him as well, Wolf, he did appear just a little bit more on edge than I'd seen him in the past. She's a jokester. He jokes around. Kind of uses that humor and speaks frankly in a colorful way. Today, I found him to be perhaps more stressed, I think.

BLITZER: A little bit more reserved, for good reason, obviously. He's under enormous, enormous pressure. We invite him back. He never used to refuse in the old days. He would always be here. So we'll invite him back. Hala Gorani, thanks very much. Good work.

GORANI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Are voters having buyer's remorse when it comes to President Obama? You're going to want to see what they're now saying about Hillary Clinton in a brand new poll. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Michele Bachmann is using a new buzz word to attack Rick Perry today. Will the term "Perry-care" take off and give Bachmann some traction? Also coming up in our strategy session, Hillary Clinton what if scenarios on the minds of voters disgruntled with President Obama.


BLITZER: Let's get straight to our strategy session. Joining us right now, two CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist Hillary Rosen, Republican strategist Mary Matlin. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Mary, let me start with you, you fellow Republican Michele Bachmann, she seems to be doubling down on the whole issue of this HPV vaccine, going after Rick Perry, the frontrunner. She's got a new web video she posted today. Let me play this little clip. The audio's not so good, but you'll make it out.


BACHMANN: I believe that parents are the ones who should decide whether or not our young daughters should receive injections for sexually transmitted diseases. Whether it's Obamacare or whether it's Perry-care, I oppose any governor for president who mandates a family's health care choices and, in turn, violates the rights of parents on these issues.


BLITZER: Doesn't she have someone who checks her audio? You'd think she can do better. She looked great, but the audio was not so good.

Let's talk about the substance, though. She's going after Rick Perry, branding this new phrase, "Perry-care." We've heard about Obamacare, Romneycare, Obamneycare, now Perrycare. Is that smart on her part, Mary? MARY MATLIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: She, I'm not the first to say this, is jumping the shark. She raised two legitimate issues, the role of government and crony capitalism. Both those are legitimate. Governor Perry did rebut them adequately and well, and clarified his position on HPV executive order in the first place. Those were legit.

What is not legit is to just make up stuff like the vaccine causes mental retardation. And it follows a troublesome pattern of her having done that in the past.

So, she -- and whatever his executive order, and his position on HPV -- 41 states have addressed this issue in some form of fashion -- 28 states, including Minnesota, have something on the books. So it's not some outlier issue, but she's in perilous danger of branding herself batty. I hate to say that, but she ought to pull back, not double down.

BLITZER: "Batty," that's a pretty strong word. But before I get to Hilary, I just want to be precise. She says she didn't make it up, some woman came up to her after the debate and told her about her daughter who developed -- became mentally retarded as a result of the vaccine. She said she was simply reporting what some woman said to her.

You don't buy that?

MATALIN: It doesn't matter if I buy it or it actually did happen. You don't -- when you're operating at that level, you don't repeat charges like that.

All kinds of people have said strange things to all of us in the 30 years we've all been in politics. You don't go out and repeat them not once, but twice. And she hasn't rebutted it either.

So, she ought to do what we talked about earlier, Wolf, which is to just hold her ground, try to keep her reputation in tact to be a force. If not the nominee, she can still have an impact, but not if she keeps walking up to the edge like this.

BLITZER: Hilary, what about this new phrase, "Perrycare," the mandate, if you will, for this vaccine, the HPV vaccine for little girls, 11 and 12 years old, to prevent cervical cancer? What do you think of that line of attack on her part?

ROSEN: Look, I think Michele Bachmann's made a lot of mistakes, and I disagree with almost everything she says, except, you know, thank God there's a female Republican presidential candidate standing up for teenage girls. And it was a dumb decision on Governor Perry's part to try and mandate this vaccine, and it later came out and he did not tell the truth about this at the debate. He said, oh, I had a $5,000 contribution from Merck, the pharma company.

It turned out that that company gave over $300,000 to him when he was chair of the Republican governors, that his former chiefs of staff and top aide was a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical company. You know, if Michele Bachmann moves in on this issue and calls Governor Perry for the cronyism and bad decisions that affect young women's lives, more power to her on this one.

BLITZER: Yes, $300,000 may have been given to the Republican Governors Association , but not to him.

ROSEN: But he was chairman. He solicited the money.

BLITZER: But he personally, in terms of all his various campaigns -- we've done some reporting, Hilary -- he received about $30,000 personally. Not to various other organizations.

ROSEN: Sorry, that might be true, Wolf, but when you're chair of the Republican governors, it's your job to raise the money. He went to his friends at the pharma companies. At Merck, they gave it to him. And what did he do in return? He created some bad policy that affects a lot of families.

BLITZER: You want to weigh in, Mary?

ROSEN: That's pretty --

MATALIN: Yes, that is a jump. I'll say again, 41 states. Then you'd have to accuse legislators in 41 states all of crony capitalism.

ROSEN: They haven't mandated this in 41 states though, Mary.

MATALIN: They have addressed it. And any gynecologist, Hilary -- you've got girls. You go to the gynecologist. Then they're all crony capitalists, because my gynecologist is insisting I give this to my kids, and I'm not.

ROSEN: Yes, but guess what? It's your choice. If you were living in Texas under Governor Perry, you wouldn't have that choice, and that's the key issue. And that's what matters.

MATALIN: Well, and I disagree. But then he backed off. He said he should have an opt in, not an opt out. But you were just making the crony capitalism charge, not the substance of opting in or out and executive order role of government.

ROSEN: But it's the connection of the two that I think shows a pattern about Governor Perry. And if the only one is going to call him on it is Michele Bachmann, more power to her.

BLITZER: Let me move on to this other issue. We've only got a little time left.

Another Hillary, Hillary Clinton. We have a new Bloomberg poll that's out. They asked, "How would things in the U.S. be if Hillary Clinton had been elected president?"

Hilary Rosen, 34 percent say better, 13 percent say worse, 47 percent the same, six percent not sure. A question for you -- is there any buyer's remorse among Democrats that Hillary Clinton is not the president, but Barack Obama is? ROSEN: Look, 47 percent say it would stay the same. Hillary Clinton has been a fantastic secretary of state. She's had the nice advantage of going around the world in the last couple of years and staying out of sort of messy domestic politics, which tends to bring any politician's numbers down.

And I think that mostly, people want to economy to be better. And President Obama is doing everything he can be doing to make it better, with very little help from the Republicans.

He's out there pushing a jobs bill, not getting enough traction from the Republicans. I think Hillary Clinton would be the first person to say that if people were making the same effort President Obama's making to get this country back to work, we wouldn't even have this as an issue.

BLITZER: Hilary Rosen and Mary Matalin, guys, as usual, thank you.

Critics say the Palestinians are seeking a back door to statehood by trying to get an official seat at the United Nations. Coming up, I'll speak live with the Israeli ambassador to the United States and I'll ask him, what's wrong with that?

And accident or murder? Stand by for some bizarre twists in the trial of a millionaire charged with killing his wife.


BLITZER: Accident or murder? That's what jurors will have to determine in a very bizarre murder trial. It's now unfolding in Orlando, Florida.

Here's CNN's national correspondent, Gary Tuchman.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Florida millionaire Bob Ward is on trial for the murder of his wife. His defense? She shot herself as he struggled to stop her. But it was a much different story he told on the night of her death two years ago.

OPERATOR: Sir, what's your emergency?

BOB WARD, DEFENDANT: I just shot my wife.

OPERATOR: You just what?

WARD: I just shot my wife.

OPERATOR: Where's your wife?

WARD: She's right here on the floor.

TUCHMAN: Three more times in the same 911 call, he admitted he shot her. WARD: I just shot my wife.

OPERATOR: Where is the weapon at, sir? Is she breathing?

WARD: She's dead. She's done. I'm sorry.

TUCHMAN: Later in the call, Ward said the shooting was an accident, but there was never any emotion in his voice.

In court, a very different picture from his attorney.

KIRK KIRKCONNELL, BOB WARD'S ATTORNEY: This entire incident happened in the blink of an eye. Her death was an unexpected and tragic accident. No crime was committed by Bob Ward on the night of September 21st, 2009.

TUCHMAN: But from the prosecution --

ROBIN WILKINSON, PROSECUTOR: Ladies and gentlemen, this case is about the fact that it was Bob Ward that shot her, almost dead between the eyes.

TUCHMAN: Police say his story changed during his police interrogation.

WARD: It was an accident and I will tell you more about it later.

TUCHMAN: His demeanor also changed as time went on and his bizarre behavior has made defending him more of a challenge. The emotionless man on the phone became the jokester as captured on jail video. Here he was doing a strip tease of sorts.

PAULA SAARE, SISTER-IN-LAW: I'll make sure that -- no, I wouldn't do that. Do you want to hear --

TUCHMAN: What makes this video even stranger is who is visiting him. The woman talking to him? Hid dead wife's sister. The woman in the background? Bob and Diane's daughter.

SAARE: She's had hundreds of phone calls about you and everybody is very, very supportive, you know.

TUCHMAN: The three in this video, all thought it was a hoot that the plumbing wasn't working in the cell.

MALLORY WARD, DAUGHTER: What a lifestyle change for you. I can only imagine. I know you're missing your bidet.

WARD: You can't even turn on the water. See this? No water!

M. WARD: He's showing there's no water.

SAARE: No water in the toilet?

WARD: Nobody seems to care, though. M. WARD: Well, I do and I know you do. And I also want to let you know how nice I think you look. I've been trying to get you to wear pajamas for years now. A lovely fall collection you have on.

TUCHMAN: The prosecutors hope to build their case on these points. They say Bob Ward's DNA was found on the gun and that his wife was shot from more than a foot away, much farther than someone would shoot themselves. They say Diane Ward was about to give a deposition in a financial investigation against her husband, but the defense said Diane Ward had high levels of anti-depressant drugs in her system. It will be up to the jury to decide, which Bob Ward to believe. This one --

KIRKCONNELL: Diane Ward was killed by a single gunshot wound as she struggled with her husband over a loaded gun.

TUCHMAN: Or this one --

OPERATOR: OK, what's going on there?

B. WARD: I just shot my wife.

TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.


BLITZER: A last-ditch global effort to save a death row inmate before time runs out. Ahead, we'll go live to one of the many rallies taking place around the world right now. Stand by.

Plus, a growing scandal around that solar company once touted by President Obama as a symbol of green jobs. There are new details about what happened after it received millions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer money.


BLITZER: It will be one of the most contentious issues when world leaders attend the United Nations General Assembly next week, the Palestinians' request for an official seat at the United Nations. It's raising red flags for many supporters of Israel.

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas contends Israel should not feel threatened. Listen to what he said today.


MAHMOUD ABBAS, PRESIDENT, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY (through translator): We want to delegitimize the occupation and not the state of Israel. What we want to achieve is to end the occupation and delegitimize the occupation and its measures, practices, that is a nightmare that we face every day. And these measures continue in the form of arrests -- breaking into our cities, destroying houses, increasing settlement activities, and attacks by settlers who uproot trees and torch mosques. These days, we are crossing an important historical time. Our people have proved in the past and will prove again that they are capable of passing all these examinations and tests, and underline the importance of the peaceful and nonviolent form of our moves and resistance. All of our activities should be peaceful.


BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss what we just heard and more. The Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: I know you came here right from the White House. I want to talk about that in a moment. But what's wrong with what President Abbas just said? He doesn't want to delegitimize Israel, only the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory.

OREN: Israel wants peace. And we understand that peace involves painful compromises by both sides, that peace involves sitting down as we're sitting here across the table from one another and working out the hard problems together to achieve mutual respect, mutual recognition, and true peace.

You can't end-run the peace process. You can't get around sitting as we're sitting now and working out those problems. That's precisely what the Palestinian president pretends to do. He wants to create a Palestinian state ahead of the peace process, whereas the Palestinian state is supposed to be the result of the peace process.

BLITZER: But you do support the Israeli government's two-state solution, the new state of Palestine living alongside Israel?

OREN: But we have to know what that state is going to look like. He says that state is going to be peaceful, but that same Mahmoud Abbas has made a pact with Hamas. It's a terrorist organization. It's been listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and by the European community.

Now, what happens when that state comes into being, it doesn't have peace with is us, it doesn't have recognition, it doesn't have mutual respect, and Hamas is there, and Hamas has fired thousands of rockets at us? Is that state a state that's going to accept peace?

BLITZER: Couldn't you just accept the two-state solution, a Palestine and Israel, and leave the borders for negotiations and accept this resolution at the General Assembly?

OREN: Again, we have to work this out together. The Palestinian state was to emerge as part of the peace process as the end result of the peace process, after we worked out the very difficult concessions we'll both have to make around security, around borders, around the Jerusalem issue. But to declare it unilaterally is a violation of Palestinian commitments not just to Israel, but the United States. And the Palestinians have committed never to leave the process, and they just have.

BLITZER: Well, they will dispute that, but you just came from the White House. Is there daylight between the Obama administration and your government, the Israeli government, on what to do in the coming days?

OREN: I think we're closer today in our two positions than we've been probably ever time before.

BLITZER: Closer, but that means that there's still some differences.

OREN: Oh, I think we agree on the principles of moving forward. The Obama administration is committed to a two-state solution based on direct negotiations and dealing with all the core issues. That is precisely the Israeli position. We see totally eye to eye on that.

BLITZER: Where do you disagree with them?

OREN: No disagreements right now. We agree fully that the --

BLITZER: On the strategy and what to do on the Security Council and the U.N.? There's no differences between the Israeli government and the Obama administration?

OREN: The Obama administration has said publicly and to us that it intends a Palestinian move to create a Palestinian state unilaterally in the U.N. And the two of us, Israel and the United States, remain committed to direct negotiations, working out all those hard problems to reach a two-state solution based on mutual respect and mutual recognition.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, the Obama administration asked the Israeli government to free settlement activity. And some the U.S. officials say if you would have done that, there would have been direct Israeli/Palestinian negotiations since that became the Palestinian condition for direct negotiations.

OREN: Well, we responded to that. We froze settlement building activity for 10 whole months.

BLITZER: But they wanted you to do it more.

OREN: And we were willing to do it more, but the Obama administration concluded, and we think they concluded correctly, that even that would not have brought the Palestinians to the negotiating table. So that entire period --

BLITZER: They say it would have, the Palestinians.

OREN: The Palestinians didn't. It's a fact. They didn't come back to the negotiations at all. BLITZER: They say that's their condition, a freeze on unsettlement activity, and then they would negotiate. Are you saying the Palestinians are lying?

OREN: Well, they had 10 months to prove it, and 10 months they didn't show up at the negotiating table. That's the fact.

Right now, we are willing to negotiate, and Prime Minister Netanyahu said this again. He said it in English, he said it in Hebrew, and he said it to the Arabic news station, Al Arabiya, that he is willing to meet with Mahmoud Abbas any time, any place in Jerusalem or in Ramallah without preconditions.

BLITZER: Is it your understanding that the Palestinians will go first to the U.N. Security Council for this resolution?

OREN: Well, they have just said today that they're going to go to the Security Council.

BLITZER: And what will happen there?

OREN: Well, we hope that they'll be blocked, that the United States and likeminded nations will also see that this move will not contribute to peace, but set peace back.

BLITZER: So let's say it's vetoed in the U.N. Security Council. They will then take it to the General Assembly, where it will be passed overwhelmingly. Then what?

OREN: Well, as of today, Mahmoud Abbas has not said that he's going to the General Assembly. But again, if they try to go to the General Assembly, and whatever they pass there, it will be a blow to peace. And there is no alternative, again, but to sit down and negotiate face to face, because we want that peace, we want to negotiate. We understand that both sides have to make compromises. We're willing to do our part.

BLITZER: Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, was here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday, and I asked him what he would do if he were president dealing with this issue we're discussing.

Listen to what he said.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This vote and the course being pursued by the Palestinians and by others in the United Nations is another testament of the president's failure of leadership. This could have been avoided, in my view, had the president made it clear from the very outset that we stand by Israel, that we lock arm and arm. Instead, the president tried to communicate to the Palestinians and to others that support their effort that, well, there may be some distance between us and Israel.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: And Rick Perry, the other front-runner in the Republican race, echoed that. He didn't disagree at all with Mitt Romney.

In "The Wall Street Journal" today writing -- he said, "Errors by the Obama administration have encouraged the Palestinians to take backward steps away from peace."

Is that true, what Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are saying? Basically, they're blaming President Obama for this current crisis.

OREN: Let me, first, say, Wolf, as the Israeli ambassador -- and I'm not going get involved in an internal partisan debate in the United States. Israel enjoys far-reaching bipartisan support in this country based on our common values, our common institutions, our respect for law, and the fact that we face the same enemies as well.

We've had some differences with the Obama administration on tactical issues, about how to reach the end goal of two states, for two peoples living side by side, mutual respect and recognition. But as I said earlier, right now we're pretty much on that same page, trying to divert the Palestinians from declaring their statehood unilaterally, and to get them back to the negotiating table to talk with us directly.

BLITZER: Pretty diplomatic for a good diplomat like you. Thanks very much.

OREN: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Thanks for coming in, Mr. Ambassador. I know you're going have to a tough week next week. The prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu, will be in New York as well, right?

OREN: He will indeed, Wednesday.

BLITZER: All right. Hopefully we'll see him as well. Thank you very much.

A renowned author and journalist says President Obama should be very worried about China's rise right now. Thomas Friedman of "The New York Times" explains how the U.S. can maintain its role as the world's top economic power. Friedman joins us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: iPhones and iPads have certainly propelled computer giant Apple to levels of wealth rivaling that of the entire U.S. government. So what if other businesses and individuals around the country benefit from that success?

Here's's Poppy Harlow.


BRENDAN MCELROY, "DR. BRENDAN": We do everything from iPhone, iPads, the iTouch.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Remember him, Dr. Brendan, AKA "The iPhone Doc"? We introduced you to him last year when he was fixing everything Apple out of his tiny New York City apartment.

MCELROY: Courtesy of China, and that is a new iPhone screen there.

HARLOW: But a year's been good to the doctor.

MCELROY: Hey. Come in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How's it going?

HARLOW: His business has exploded, like Apple stock.

(on camera): This is your first shop?

MCELROY: This is my first shop right here. My office is my apartment and coffee shops and the Fiat.

HARLOW (voice-over): Now he's got four stores, eight employees, and boasts 300 percent growth since January, thanks to customers looking for a quick fix.

MCELROY: You're welcome.

HARLOW (on camera): Did you think about going to Apple?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To be honest, no, I didn't.

HARLOW (voice-over): Emily Spilino (ph) has come here six times.

EMILY SPILINO (ph), CUSTOMER: I was bending down to tie my shoe in Philadelphia, and my phone dropped about 12 inches on the concrete.

HARLOW: The most common fixes? iPhones averaging $100, and MacBooks averaging $200.

(on camera): One broken screen. Two -- you've got hundreds of them in here. And you know what that means? Big business for Dr. Brendan.

(voice-over): But it's about a lot more than that these days. The Web site's been expanded for more mail-in repairs, and his team now makes IT service house calls in the Dr. Brendan Mobile.

MCELROY: Your metro is actually boiling the heat exhaust directly on to your server switch.

HARLOW (on camera): This is one of the downside of house calls, $115 parking ticket.

(voice-over): One secret of Dr. Brendan's success? Hiring employees right from Apple, like Travis Sluss. TRAVIS SLUSS, COO, "DR. BRENDAN": We're not going after Apple's business. We love Apple. The product is simply so popular for very valid reasons. That's one of the reasons why we're here. There's simply so many of them out there.

HARLOW (on camera): Do you ever question that the demand for Apple products will fall and that would hurt your business?

SLUSS: That's a great question. No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is where we work with customers.

HARLOW (voice-over): The offers have started rolling in from franchisees and private equity firms, but he's not interested.

MCELROY: In the beginning, I think it's smart to just -- to do everything by yourself as much as you can handle. And I really didn't want to get in over my head in something I really didn't understand.

HARLOW (on camera): You're not ready to hand this business over to anyone yet?

MCELROY: Not yet, no.

There's my other shop, right there.

HARLOW (voice-over): In fact, Dr. Brendan has got his eye on global expansion.

(on camera): You're seeing strong growth, but the economy's tough. Are you worried?

MCELROY: No. No, I'm not worried.


MCELROY: Because I started this business in the middle of the economic meltdown. OK? If I was going to be worried, I would have been worried then, not now.

HARLOW: Apple hasn't come calling. Have you heard to this day from Apple at all?

MCELROY: No, I have not. And I hope to keep it that what.

HARLOW: Not once?

In New York, Poppy Harlow,