Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with Tony Blair; Rick Santorum has Dropped Out of Republican Presidential Race; George Zimmerman to Appear at Bond Hearing; Italy's Foreign Minister Interviewed; A New Look for the National Mall; Rare Look Inside New Mormon Temple; Coyotes Make a Home in DC

Aired April 14, 2012 - 18:00   ET



It's open political warfare between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama after Rick Santorum's exit from the political race. This hour in the state of the 2012 election, after a week of very dramatic develops.

Plus, will George Zimmerman get on a jail next week? We will take a closer look at the legal wrangling ahead now that Zimmermann is charged in the death of Trayvon Martin.

And soon you may not recognize parts of the most recognizable tourist attractions right here in the nation's capitol. We are taking a closer look at plants to give the national mall in Washington D.C. a make-over.

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

You certainly could say the general election campaign began this week when Republican candidate Rick Santorum declared "the race is over for me," now that Mitt Romney's toughest challenger is out of the picture, Romney and President Obama are taking direct jabs at one another.

Let's bring in our senior correspondent, Joe Johns.

Romney, it's his race right now. He's the challenger. He moved to the right during this campaign, the primary season, but now presumably he's got to move a little closer to the center.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: It does sound that way certainly, Wolf. And you know, it's been a very good week for Mitt Romney. Now it's up to him and his staff to try to keep it going. What we've essentially entered the general election phase of the 2012 campaign with lightning speed thanks to social media and a debate over the role of working mom versus stay-at-home mom, that debate right here on CNN over controversial remarks about Mitt Romney's wife Ann, made by Democratic strategist Hillary Rosen, which Rosen later on apologize for it. Both sides say what's more important in this debate is what playing in the background.

Recent polls show Mitt Romney running behind President Obama with women voters by double digits. The question really is how can he close that gap? Of course, Wolf, that certainly is a huge question and moving back to the middle presumably would be at least part of it.

BLITZER: You know, he's also got to make sure that the Republican base, the Republican establishment all are on the same page. He's got to have peace, if you will, with Santorum and the others.

JOHNS: Absolutely right. The conservative base, keeping them energized is absolutely critical. Whether he's going to try to make that move that's so traditional among candidates once they're assured the party's nomination is a question.

But what I've been finding at least anecdotally talking with values voters and other conservatives, for example, the National Rifle Association that after Rick Santorum announced he was suspending his campaign, the Republicans were saying they realize now frankly, they have nowhere else to go and if the primaries showed us anything, conservatives said again and again, that they are prepared, Wolf, to vote for anybody but President Obama.

BLITZER: Because one thing is clear, they might -- some of the conservative base, they may not necessarily love Mitt Romney but they certainly don't love President Obama.

JOHNS: That's absolutely right. And if -- the one thing that's clear is those people who are highly energized in this election are highly energized to vote against the president.

BLITZER: Joe Johns reporting for us. Joe, thanks very much.

All of this happening as I spoke to one of the candidates still in the race, the former house speaker Newt Gingrich. We spoke about the future of his campaign.


BLITZER: Why do you think you still have a chance?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's fascinating to me, Wolf. You say everyone else. I was in North Carolina yesterday. Not a single person asked me to drop out. And many, many people asked me to stay in. We've had over 4,200 people go to and give money since 2:00 yesterday and encouraging me to stay in.

I was in Philadelphia last night. Not a single person asked me to drop out. A number said they're proud I was staying in. I have been campaigning in Delaware all day today. Not a single person asked me to drop out. Many said they're glad I'm staying in.

I think it's fascinating that the voters in the states that have not yet voted think it's good to have a contest and the only people who ask me about dropping out are the elite media. So, I think this is a Washington-New York fixation. These are often the same people wanted to drop out back last June. I didn't do with that. I'm not doing it now. And I'm very happy to be campaigning. And anybody who wants e to continue, I hope to go to and help us.

BLITZER: So, listen to the chairman, the leader of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus, after Santorum announced he was dropping out yesterday. He said this.

He said "today senator Santorum has made a commendable decision. He has decided to put his country, party and desire to defeat President Obama ahead of any personal ambition."

As you well know, Mr. Speaker. That was seen as a direct reference to you. I guess he's suggesting maybe it would be wise if you put yourself, the country, the party ahead of everyone else in order to beat President Obama in November.

GINGRICH: And because it was misinterpreted, Reince Priebus, an old friend of mine, called me to say that it should not be interpreted in any way except to his exactly what is said about his effort to be positive about Rick Santorum's decision. And Reince and I talked clearly about my staying in. I think he's quite happy with my staying in and he understands that this brings new ideas and energy to the party.

And that's been my role for my entire career. I'm going to continue to talk about things like $2.50 a gallon gasoline, creating a national debt retirement fund with oil and gas oil, this developing a program that will make us energy independent, developing --I'm here tonight. I'm going to talk at Wesley College about a personal Social Security savings account for young people, much like the Chilean model. If we had that system today, if we had adopted it in 1983, we'd have $26 trillion - I'm sorry, we have $16 trillion in savings in those Social Security savings accounts today if we adopted it back in 1983.

So, I want to continue doing what I do best which is to talk about big solutions and big approaches. I want to keep campaigning and we will see what happens. As you self-admitted, governor Romney does not yet have the nomination, despite every effort to get people to concede it and have I every right to continue to campaign until he gets a majority.

BLITZER: You certainly have every right. I'm not suggesting you don't have a right to continue or Ron Paul for that matter. We were only assessing given the delegate count.

But very quickly. What does it say about your campaign, which has some financial problems as I take it right now, that a $500 check in Utah from your campaign bounced?

GINGRICH: Nothing. That check was issued four months ago and the account that it was issued to was closed interim. When the state finally got a run the cash, again that account was close. We simply re-issued it and they have the money. That was entirely a technical error on the banking system. And they have nothing to do with how much money we have in the bank.

BLITZER: Because to a lot of people it makes you look like you're in deep financial trouble.


BLITZER: I know, you're going into debt like that. Go ahead. GINGRICH: Wolf, I think the nature of the media is if Jerry Ford, who was a great athlete was decided he was a bungler and "Saturday night live" made him a bungler, therefore every time he slipped, he was a bungling. All the way in fact, a very, very good athlete. The fact is the news media picks up a certain story and we interpret everything into it. Had they called our office and anybody asked to verify, it we would have told them the facts because it's purely a technical mistake. And it wasn't on our part. We issued the check in December.

BLITZER: Your think tank and I know you've spoken about it often over the years, the center for health transformation. That too, has now filed for bankruptcy. I know you must be sad really about that. But what happened here?

GINGRICH: Well, I am sad about it. These are good people. It turned out that one side left over a year ago, it was very, very hard for them to sustain it. It's very unfortunate. Particularly if Obamacare is repealed, the ideas and the concepts of the center for health function, the books they'd written, the material that accumulated, the network they had would have been very valuable.

But this was a very bad economy. I would happen and it happens to a lot of small businesses And because they have been gone for over a year, they simply were not able to sustain the membership and the momentum that we have while I was there. it was a great operation. They are very good people. And I feel very sad it didn't work out.

BLITZER: I know, you do. Mr. Speaker, as usual, thanks very much for coming in.

GINGRICH: Thank you.


BLITZER: Trayvon Martin's shooter could get out of jail on bond by next Friday. Details of a bond hearing for George Zimmerman.

Also, my one on one interview with the former British prime minister, Tony Blair. Why he says, he doesn't trust the Syrian regime at all.

And look who's taking up residence here in Washington. We have details of the surprise rise of the U.S. coyote population.


BLITZER: Mitt Romney simply doesn't have Rick Santorum to worry about anymore. But would it matter one way or another if Newt Gingrich actually dropped out of the race?

Let's talk more about this dramatic week in the presidential race for the White House.

Joining us, our chief political correspondent Candy Crowley, the anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" and our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein of the "National Journal."

Why is Newt Gingrich still in this race?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think there are probably personal reasons. I'd rather not try to analyze him. But I think it's tough for everyone to get out, particularly if they're in the twilight of their career. I think there's that. I think that he would like some delegates. So, that he has said he wants to change the platform. So, there's that practical reason. The more delegates he can pick up, the more likely he is to be able to shape the platform. And I think there's probably some animus with Mitt Romney in there as well.

BLITZER: Because he's going deeper and deeper into debt and a lot of folks are raising questions about his legacy.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He's still in the race. I'm sorry.


CROWLEY: We were going to discuss this.

BROWNSTEIN: No. Look. I think, you know, I think Candy is exactly right. And, you know, and we saw even when Rick Santorum got out of the race this week. Breaking up is kind of hard to do when you invest running for president is really hard. It's really demanding, really draining. I think it's a very difficult moment for candidates to reach to conclude they've hit the end of the line.

So, I mean certainly, Newt Gingrich is always someone who enjoyed having his ideas heard. The fact he's running for president makes it more likely this one appear with show -- on shows like this. And I think, you know, that enough - that is enough in his case to go and keep him going when there really is no hope of really having any meaningful influence.

BLITZER: For all practical purposes, this general election campaign is full scale under way right now?

CROWLEY: Yes. Yes. And actually, sort of has been periodically off and on while we did this during the primary season.

BLITZER: The only question I have is if Santorum would have won in Pennsylvania in May, then Texas, Kentucky. There are states where he could get some delegates.


BLITZER: But that's got to wait.

BROWNSTEIN: There are states where he could have embarrassed Romney. I mean, that's why getting him out is actually a good thing for Romney. Because May could have been an odd month where the media consensus could have been correctly Romney is the nominee but he might be losing on number of states --

CROWLEY: And that's what's happened so far and that's what hurt him all along, was he couldn't ever get the traction he needed to look like the strong front-runner.

BLITZER: You have a column in the "Nation Journal." Santorum's legacy among other things you sub-headline is Rick Santorum's cultural conservatism will shape November more than his economic nationalism. Explain.

BROWNSTEIN: Santorum offered a vision of kind of a different Republican agenda aimed at blue collar workers. I don't think that's likely to sustain in the Romney campaign. Romney is not a credible messenger. Even Romney's campaign doesn't say he was a credible messenger. But that empathy that Santorum expressed for declining upward mobility and sort of blue working class America.

On the other hand the cultural conservatism that he espoused and that redirected the Republican race much more heavily toward issues like contraception and abortion, that is having an impact. I mean, if you look at the polling in the last few weeks, the group where the Republicans have lost the most ground with, are college educated white women who tend to be the most socially liberal and that has I think created a lasting imprint that may be difficult for Romney to completely erase.

BLITZER: Will he pivot now dramatically, maybe not so dramatically from the right toward the center?

CROWLEY: Well, probably not so dramatically. Because it's a pretty deep hole here that he's in. He has sort of a balancing act here because what's the rap on Mitt Romney? Oh, he's a flip flopper.

So, every time he sort of moves one direction, you can be sure he's going to be hit from the White House, well, what does he really stand for? He isn't the first person to be in position. I mean, I have argued for some time that the reason that George W. Bush - George H.W. Bush lost his reelection bid was that he was so pushed so far in the right in his first primary about taxes that he had no place to go.

So, this is not the first time it's happened. Mitt Romney knows he has to sort of pivot back but the pivot can't be so obvious, as you put it.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, Wolf. A lot of the problems that Romney has had in the primary, I think they do get a reset on in general in terms of representing him an historic. But I think there are three areas where they may have had lasting issues that go on to the general.

One are these social issues and the positions that he took on issues like funding Planned Parenthood or allowing it of course, denying contraceptive coverage. That is an issue with as I said, college educated white women. The second is with Hispanics, the position he took on issues relating to immigration that could be a lasting issue. And the third one I think is the vehement of the opposition, the sustained opposition to auto bailout. And I think that is going to a question for him in the upper Midwest particularly Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio.

A lot of the primary problems will go away with time. But I think those three are different and it's going to be very challenging, I think, for him to completely undo the images he created.

CROWLEY: Those are also three very basic issues to the core of the conservatives.

BROWNSTEIN: And to the core of this new Democratic coalition as well.

BLITZER: How much of a setback, if you believe it was a setback for the Democrats this week? Hillary Rosen, our CNN contributor, the democratic strategist, what she said about Ann Romney, the wife of the Republican candidate?

CROWLEY: You know, lasting setback, I don't think this is going to be the time it all turned and suddenly women came rushing to Mitt Romney. He has work to do. I'm not saying it won't happen. But I don't think this is like some big thing in that. But it did, you know, put everything on pause for a while the Democrats going to clean up. And they didn't take it very long. And the reason they didn't take very long was they didn't want to have lasting damage.

BLITZER: Yes. Because they really threw her under the bus very, very quickly.

BROWNSTEIN: It's not an argument they want to have. It's not the cultural line they want to draw. They want to draw the cultural line much more around social issues like contraception and abortion.

Just to be clear. I mean, we should not be talking about women as monologue. The movement has been predominantly among this college educated white women, who are more socially liberal, more open activist, that men also not incidentally feeling better about the economy. Mitt Romney is still ahead among white women without a college education. And of course, you have minority women who were overall done on it as well.

CROWLEY: Let me add that if in the end if people in general are feeling the economy is doing well, then that is going to bode very well for President Obama. And women, you're right, it's not monolithic and women also we've seen in the polling in recent years have not been likely to change something without a good reason. So if there is no good economic reason for women to change, then, you know, President Obama is sitting pretty well. But we've got some time to go.

BLITZER: We'll see you Sunday at the "STATE OF THE UNION." Candy, thanks very much. Ron Brownstein, we will see you here on CNN. We will read you in "the National Journal" as we do every week as well.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: The Mormon church opens a new temple amid it growing controversy. We get a rare look inside.

And a blunt disaster of the crisis in Syria by Tony Blair. I go one- on-one with the former British prime minister.

Stay with us. You're in "the SITUATION ROOM." (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A bond hearing is set for this coming Friday for George Zimmermann. He face as second degree murder charge for the shooting of unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin. After weeks of hiding, Zimmerman turned himself over for arrest and made his first appearance in court this week.

CNN's Martin Savidge is following the case for us.

Martin, it's really been an amazing week. But walk us through what we can expect in the coming days.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it has been an amazing week, no doubt about it. And this is clearly the turning point in the whole investigation. You've gone from a point where George Zimmermann had been a man who was not charged with anything, still allowed to be out and free and then came down the charges and of course, it was second degree murder, charges that surprising to a lot of people. We thought it was going to be a manslaughter case. But no, it appears the state attorney thinks it's far more serious than that.

But potential here means, that if he is found guilty, it goes to a trial, George Zimmermann could face well, anywhere from 30 years to maybe a life sentence as a result of this tragic incident that took place back at the end of February.

The next step, of course as you point out, is that bond hearing. Is he going to get bond? It's a good question. I mean, his attorney will argue that he turned himself in and that he is not a flight risk. So all of those are good things. He will be in court when he's told to be in court. But others say look, this is a very serious crime. He's charged with.

And the other factor to weigh in here, Wolf, is how safe will he be when they're out on the street? There's still a lot of people who are not happy with George Zimmermann. He could still be in danger.

BLITZER: As we take a closer look at the strategy that the prosecutor is setting up, the criminal defense attorneys that Zimmerman has retained, what his strategy might be. A lot of folks are wondering if the prosecutor may have overcharged, if you will, second-degree murder hoping that in the end of it, even if it's manslaughter, that he will spend a lot of time in jail and this is sort of like a bargaining position.

SAVIDGE: Right. Well, there are a lot of people who said look, it has to be a heavy charge that comes down. Otherwise, the supporters of Trayvon Martin are going to think that somehow George Zimmermann is still getting preference treatment.

But second-degree murder; that could be difficult. We felt that there must be other evidence that state has that hasn't come out yet. However, we saw the probable cause affidavit and that read like everything we've already heard about. There was no real shocking revelation there. It's a very one-sided telling of the story and it's a story that Trayvon Martin's family has been saying from the very beginning. That is George Zimmermann is the man that instigated this tragedy when he began by profiling 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. So, that is what we know for the prosecution side.

Mark O'Mara is the new defense attorney. By all measures, he's said to be quite sharp and very much in control. He's trying right now to prevent any further leaks coming out of the public. So, two very different strategies of course. He's going to say it was self- defense. The prosecutor says it was nothing like that.

BLITZER: Martin Savidge on the scene for us. We'll be staying in very close touch with you in the coming weeks. Appreciate it very much.

Many western leaders simply don't trust the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad. I will ask the former British prime minister Tony Blair for his insight into what could happen next in Syria. And whether Bashar Al Assad will stay in power.

Also, we are looking at plans that tried to squeeze up the national mall here in Washington D.C. Are the changes though, too dramatic?

And the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tries to show us, there is nothing secret about a huge new temple.


BLITZER: As many as 11,000 people have been killed in Syria's bloody 13-month crackdown. There was some progress in implementing a United Nations peace plan this week. But the former prime minister Tony Blair says bluntly, he simply doesn't trust the Syrian regime.


BLITZER: Let's talk about Syria. Do you have any confidence at all in President Bashar Al Assad that he will live up to the so-called commitments he offered the former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan?

TONY BLAIR, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: He has got the commitment so far.

BLITZER: Do you trust them at all, Bashar Al Assad?

BLAIR: I don't trust them at all, no, frankly. What I do think, however, is that if you keep ratcheting up the pressure on him and make it clear this isn't going to disappear, this issue is not going to disappear, and we're going to keep coming back to it. We're going continually to look for new ways of putting pressure on the regime to do the right thing, then I think it's an outside chance. It's got a chance of working. I hope it does.

BLITZER: There are so many experts, Syrians and others have said to me either he survives or the rebels survive, both can't survive, this is a war of survival between the regime of Bashar Al Assad and those opposed to him. BLAIR: So, the question is, is he prepared even at this stage to teak a chance of a negotiated way out? I mean, there's no way can you have the situation stable again unless there's an agreed change in the way that the country operates and works.

BLITZER: Do you think there can be a negotiation that will allow him to remain in power?

BLAIR: No, I don't think there will be a negotiation that allows him to remain in power. But I think it is possible, I'm not saying it's likely, but possible that you have a situation in which if Kofi Annan's initiative is allowed to work then you could have an agreed process of transition.

BLITZER: In other words, that he goes away he leaves the country, is that what you're saying?

BLAIR: I think there are all sorts of possibilities as to how -- we haven't seen personally. I think the most important thing is that there's a change in the country.

For us, from the outside, what is important is that the people inside the country know we're not abandoning them. We're going to stick with them.

We're going to make sure that this process have changed and we're prepared to take further steps if necessary in order to put pressure on the regime.

The one good thing that's emerged in the last few weeks is a general consensus I think in the international community there has to be a change.

BLITZER: You know, his wife is British. She was born in Britain. Is this farfetched to think give them asylum in Britain, given the fact that she is a British citizen?

BLAIR: I've not come across that suggestion.

BLITZER: You're former prime minister.

BLAIR: I am former prime minister.

BLITZER: Would be that something that would be appropriate to think. Let them escape and set up shop, if you will, in Britain?

BLAIR: Wolf, let's get the first stage under way. I think the issue now is will they break the promises they're making now as they've broken the previous promises? I hope not.

But the only thing that will give us a chance to keeping them to the promises is if we keep up the pressure. What happened to Assad and his family personally is for another day.

BLITZER: What about arming them? Senator McCain and Senator Lieberman say, you know, it's time to arm the rebels. BLAIR: I think you know there are a whole set of ideas that you can look at. For example, Turkey's idea of creating some zone of security or stability inside Syria for people to congregate that will be protected.

There a host set of ideas that you can look at if this latest initiative fails. It's worth giving it a chance to succeed. I think there's no doubt it will only succeed if Assad and the people around him know that we're not giving up.

We're not going away, this isn't going to be resolved by history repeating itself and an uprising of the people being crushed and, you know, we've had thousands of people already dying in this.

It's really important I think for all sorts of reasons the international community makes it clear we're sticking with this, there's got to be change.

And if these promises are broken as previous promises have been broken, then there's going to be action that follows.

BLITZER: Your other job is to try to negotiate peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, obviously a tough challenge. What are the chances any time soon that Prime Minister Netanyahu will sit down with President Abbas and you and others and work out a deal?

BLAIR: There is a chance. There is always a chance.

BLITZER: How good of a chance is it?

BLAIR: Well, somewhat better than it was maybe a few months back.


BLAIR: Because I think on both sides there is a willingness to engage if the negotiation's credible. The key thing is the Palestinians need to know that if they're going into, sitting down with the Israelis.

And talking about issues like borders and security that the Israelis are prepared to engage with what's necessary for a viable Palestinian state.

And the Israelis need to know that on issue like security, there's recognition by the Palestinians. They have a genuine concern. So over these past few months with the Jordanians playing a very central role in this, we've been trying to work out, is there a way that we can get the sides back together.

BLITZER: How far apart are they right now?

BLAIR: It's hard to judge, frankly. I mean, on one level I think with a bit of creativity and imagination we can actually get people into a negotiation where the differences are clear, but not unreachable.

BLITZER: Do you think the Israelis will bomb Iran's nuclear facilities any time soon?

BLAIR: I don't know. The Israelis will take a view about their own national interests and security interests. What I do think is Iran with a nuclear weapon is a very bad idea. So I think, here again, as we thought to be strong, clear and determined.

BLITZER: Are you with President Obama that there is no policy of containment, in other words, allowing Iran to have a nuclear weapon that it will be removed one way or another before it gets to that.

BLAIR: He's absolutely right. I'm in that region a lot. It would be a disaster for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. I would also a consequence on the stability of the region, on other powers in the region trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability.

And I think this is one of the president's main concerns and you have the potential leakage of the technology or even of the weaponry. So, no, he's absolutely right.

You, in my view, I think one of the things that submerged over this past period is a very clear and agreed position, how you can debate, how we deal with it, but the clear position is we mean what we say. Iran should not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons capability.

BLITZER: Prime Minister Tony Blair, thanks very much for coming in.

BLAIR: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good luck.

BLAIR: I need it.


BLITZER: He certainly will. It won't be easy. But let's get another take right now on some of the critical global hot spots.

I also spoke with the foreign minister of Italy about whether Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb and if Italy will intervene in Syria as it did in Libya.


BLITZER: Is Italy ready to play a more assertive military role together with NATO potentially to get rid of President Bashar Al Assad?

GIULIO TERZI, ITALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: It has reached a napoleon level of consequence, more than 9,000 casualties, a huge number of refugees in Turkey, in Lebanon, in Jordan. Yesterday, the foreign minister made a very impressive presentation to the G8 minister and showed how much the pressure is from the inside of Syria population.

BLITZER: Are you ready to play a military role to help the rebels?

TERZI: There's no use question of having military forces or using force against the Bashar Al Assad regime now. The use of force could be mandated only by Security Council.

BLITZER: Minister, would you be open to arming the rebels even without a United Nations Security Council resolution?

TERZI: We will not do anything, which applies the use of force without a framework of legitimacy, which can be done only by the Security Council.

BLITZER: Do you believe Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb?

TERZI: There are many gray areas or very dark areas in the explanation that Iran has up to now given to the international community concerning its nuclear problem.

The board of director resolution and six resolutions of the Security Council have pinpointed exactly where the areas of explanation are few and they have not been given.

The monitors have not been gained free access to facilities, which are very important. So this is the point. Iran has a credibility problem. There is no confidence within the international community.

BLITZER: So do you believe they are trying to build a nuclear bomb?

TERZI: This is a widely accepted assumption. That they are going towards enrichment, which can have only a military purpose because when you have a large amount of fuel, which is above 20 percent of enrichment.

And there is no possible commercial or reserve expectation of all this fuel they are producing, there must be something else. Therefore, they have to explain what is something else.

BLITZER: Have you severed, Italy, all commercial ties with Iran, its central bank, you no longer purchase Iranian oil, have you?

TERZI: We are not purchasing Iranian oil and we have been among the promoter of toughest sanction measures.

BLITZER: So no connection with the central bank of Iran?

TERZI: No connection with the central bank. We have frozen activities of Iranian banks. There no financial activity from Italy to Iran concerning the purchase of Iranian oil.

And we've been among the most forthcoming among the small group of countries in the world community. It is our expectation that also the other major purchase ever of Iranian oil could do the same.

The sanctions are biting. The Iranian economy is feeling the effect and perhaps this show that they are coming back to the table.

BLITZER: A lot of Americans are very worried, Greece, Spain, Italy. Is the economic situation in your country, Italy, looking any better or is it about to get worse? TERZI: It's looking much better than it was when the government, the Prime Minister Monte came to power. There's been a very impressive set of reforms. It's not up to me to say that, but there's been a common understanding among international observers, media and the foreign governments.

Every time I travel around the world, there is always a very positive reaction, even if I don't ask what you think about the economic policy of Italy. There is always a question, also a very positive assessment. Italy is going fast in the right direction.


BLITZER: The Italian foreign minister, Giulio Terzi, speaking with me earlier. One of the most recognizable tourist attractions here in Washington, D.C. will soon look rather different. We're taking a closer look at the unusual ideas for making over the National Mall.

And we're allowed inside a new Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. A new temple for a rare look at a place of worship few people ever get to see.


BLITZER: Certainly, one of the most popular tourist spots here in Washington D.C. is getting a facelift. When the renovations are complete, the historic National Mall will look rather different than the architects of the capital envisioned.

Our Lisa Sylvester takes a closer look at the proposed designs under consideration right now.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A new skating rink with a glowing glass pavilion over looking it or a new terraces and walkways where people can have lunch on the patio while kids are fishing.

These ideas are some of the top contenders for sprucing up the National Mall. The park has come a long way since its early days with train tracks and a stinky canal. Some look at cracked sidewalks and fading seawalls and say it's time for some upgrades.

CAROLINE CUNNINGHAM, TRUST FOR THE NATIONAL MALL: You know, what we see today on the National Mall is not what I think the people of the country expect. We picked out the top three areas that needed the most work and that would meet the needs of the public who visit here.

Twenty five million people come here every single year and we want to better meet the needs of the visitors with more food facilities, more bathrooms and more amenities.

SYLVESTER: Caroline Cunningham and the non-profit Trust for the National Mall, this week are presenting the finalist from their design competition and are asking the public to weigh in. This Amphi Theatre right next to the Washington Monument could be replaced with a new underground theatre for performances or how about a restaurant with a grass roof?

In front of the capital, this reflecting pool could be upgraded with a new shape, new fountains or pathways crossing it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the bridges are a good idea. Again, it's an interactive element. It's pretty. I like the row of scalloped fountains. It's very pretty.

SYLVESTER: One designer wants to have microphones that transmit sounds into ripples in the water, some coming from the sounds of the House and Senate, others coming from a microphone where the public can talk back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that would be a nice way to let people know what they're saying and what they're thinking about it.

SYLVESTER: And that the third location, this neglected pond, proposals for flowing water stocked with fish, waterfront terraces and a cafe.

CUNNINGHAM: One of the restaurants that I've seen in renderings are on Constitution Avenue side. They flank around 18th and Constitution. One is actually underground so you wouldn't necessarily see it from the street. It would have a grass top, a sustainable top, and then orient visitors' views towards the Washington Monument.

SYLVESTER: The Trust for the National Mall says the winning designs will be announced next month. No taxpayer money would be need for the improvements. They say instead they plan to raise $350 million from private donors. Lisa Sylvester, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: It's something few people ever get a chance to see. Up next, a rare look inside a new Mormon temple.

Plus, they are the latest newcomers to the nation's capital, Coyotes, yes. Details coming up.


BLITZER: We're about to get a rare look inside an impressive building that relatively few people have ever seen. It's a new Mormon temple and as CNN's Brian Todd reports, it highlights not only the growing influence of the Mormon Church, but also the growing controversy surrounding it -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this 32,000-square foot temple will be dedicated next month. For the next three weeks, it's going to be open to the public, a window for a rare look inside a Mormon temple. And it comes at a time when the church is dealing with significant controversy.


TODD (voice-over): It is unmistakable, rising up like a castle from a rolling prairie, the gold leaf statue of an angel adoring its main spire.

The new Mormon temple in Kansas City symbolizes a rare pattern at a time when many faiths see their numbers in North America shrinking.

WILLIAM WALKER, ELDER, LDS CHURCH: The church is growing very nicely. We now have over 14 million members of the church worldwide, about 6.5 million members of the church in the United States.

TODD: And for members of the church, this is the house of the Lord. We were shown around by Elder William Walker, a top church official who oversees the operation of 137 temples worldwide with 30 more on the way.

TODD (on camera): How much did it cost to build this?

WALKER: A lot.

TODD (voice-over): He won't say how much, but it doesn't look like any expense was spared. The chambers are striking. We saw ceiling rooms where weddings take place, an instruction room with a mural depicting earth as Mormons believe just after creation.

And the pristine celestial room, the most sacred space inside for reflection and meditation, complete with crystal chandeliers. This is the biggest room you'll find in the temple. There is no large sanctuary.

WALKER: The purpose is not for a big meeting. We have other chapels throughout the church and throughout the world, assembly and meeting halls. When we come to the temple, this is more for private and individual communion.

TODD: While we were given an extensive tour, the church denied our request to record it and provided these pictures. I asked Walker if that doesn't play into perceptions right or wrong that the church is secretive.

WALKER: It is not about secret, it is about sacred. We feel it is a sacred, special place, and therefore, it's reserved for those worship functions and ordinances that take place in the temple. It is not about secret.

TODD: But once the temple closes its doors to the public next month, not even all Mormons will be allowed in.

(on camera): Worshippers are supposed to wear white when they come in here on normal basis. During these visits, we have to wear foot covering so we don't mess up the carpets.

Now once this place is dedicated, you can't come past this front desk, it's called the recommend desk, unless you have a recommendation from your local Mormon Church leader. (voice-over): Inside, the ornate baptismal font resting on 12 oxen symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel, but the font also symbolizes controversy for the LDS church.

Here they will perform hundreds of posthumous baptisms specifically for Mormons ancestors who were not of the faith, an invitation to accept Mormonism as an avenue into heaven.

But some Mormons have used the church's genealogy database to baptize others who are not Mormon ancestors, like murdered Jewish reporter Daniel Pearl and holocaust victims like Anne Frank. A practice that has outraged Jewish leaders.

(on camera): The critics say it speaks of theological arrogance and intolerance, your faith is the only avenue in which to get into heaven. What do you say to that?

WALKER: Well, I would say to that. Jesus didn't say this is just for people of a particular persuasion. Jesus taught it is necessary to be baptized to enter the kingdom of heaven.

TODD (voice-over): Walker says there's no desire to offend anyone. It says the church used this as a loving, kind gesture, but is cracking down on those who violate their policy.


TODD: When I asked him how he would respond to those who say the damage is done, that too many people have already been offended by posthumous baptisms, Elder Walker said maybe we didn't do some things as well as we should have.

He said, we would tell them we're sorry, but we live by our word when we say we'll do something about it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.

Coyotes are taking the nation's capital by storm. Up next, the latest going on here in Washington and in cities around the country.


BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots."

In Georgia, a young man jumps over a bone fire at a festival ritual. In North Korea, female soldiers stand guard while awaiting a controversial rocket launch.

In India, devotees carry human remains to appease a Hindu God. And in Rome, men dressed in Roman costumes protest the ban on posing with tourists in front of the Coliseum. "Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world.

Democrats and Republicans alike are making room for a new breed here in Washington, this one without any political baggage. CNN's Tom Foreman has details on the growing trend of coyotes, not just in the nation's capital, but in cities around the country.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just a few miles from the White House in this popular Woodland Park, wildlife officials are thrilled by their latest discovery. It is only 5 seconds of video, but solid proof that coyotes have taken the capital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know around there, like in this area.

FOREMAN: The images were captured by a camera in the trees by this 15-year-old Spanish exchange student.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know there were coyotes here. I've took pictures of foxes a bunch of times. So yes, a fox or a big dog or something.

FOREMAN (on camera): That's what it was.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Wildlife officials were surprised too, to find a coyote in such a busy area.

MARTIN OGELE, NORTHERN VIRGINIA REGIONAL PARK AUTHORITY: We got probably 20,000 to 25,000 people in the park every year, maybe more, we don't know exactly. So there are definitely people on these trails all the time.

FOREMAN: And yet in some way, that discovery was expected. Coyotes have been expanding from their western ranges for many years adapting to suburban and urban environments where face no major predators like wolves and thrive on small rodents such as rats.

In Chicago, more than 600 have been tagged. Caught on video dodging traffic, racing through shopping districts, and yet one of the nation's top coyote experts, Stan Gehrt at Ohio State, admits they remain elusive.

STAN GEHRT, WILDLIFE ECOLOGIST, OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY: We have no idea how many coyotes there are in north America. It is a pretty safe assumption though, I think to say that there are probably more coyotes now than there has been in the past historically, and that's continuing to increase.

FOREMAN: Part of the issue is that like the old cartoon suggests, coyotes are wily. They pose little threat to people because with rare exceptions, they avoid human contact. Still, even if we don't see them, our pets might and keeping them safe as the coyote population booms may require vigilance.

MEGAN DRAHEIM, COYOTE RESEARCHER: That means keeping dogs on leashes in areas there might be coyotes, keeping small dogs and cats, not letting them go outside at night if they're unattended.

FOREMAN: A warning that people here had better heed. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't let my poodle out at night.

FOREMAN: Because Wildlife officials say now that coyotes are calling D.C. home, they're unlikely to ever leave. Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: That does it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.