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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Clinton Trying to Broker Cease-Fire; Egypt President A Key Player; 22 Inured in Tel Aviv Bus Blast; A Look at Holiday Travel

Aired November 21, 2012 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning is breaking news. There's been a bus explosion in Tel Aviv. It's been called a terrorist act, as rockets fly into Gaza.

Now, reports of possible retaliation. How much will this hurt Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's chances of brokering a cease- fire? We'll take a look at that.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Also this morning, millions of Americans hitting the roads, the rails, and the sky here ahead of Thanksgiving. We're going to have an outlook for you on really what is one of the busiest travel days the entire year.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And oil prices are rising as the violence overseas escalates. What this means for your bottom line, just ahead.

O'BRIEN: It's Wednesday, November 21st, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

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ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody.

We're going to update you on that breaking news. The bus explosion -- bus bombing and what might be retaliation for that bombing with a strike, we know, in Gaza City. We're getting some early word from the BBC.

First, though, I want to introduce the team this morning. Will Cain is with us. He's a columnist for TheBlaze.com, CNN contributor. Dana Bash is a CNN senior congressional correspondent. Richard Socarides is former senior adviser to President Clinton, writer for NewYorker.com. Brooke Baldwin, as we mentioned, is filling in for John Berman, who is out today. Jamie Rubin is the former assistant Secretary of State under President Clinton, currently serves as counselor for competitiveness and also international affairs for the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Nice to have you all with us. That was a mouthful.

Let's update you on what's happening in Gaza. Overnight, we know that, in fact, there was more carnage. Bomb exploding in a bus in Tel Aviv, 10 people at least injured. I've seen reports as high as 13 people, three of them seriously.

Mrs. Clinton, the Secretary of State, releasing this statement moments ago, saying this: "The United States strongly condemns this terrorist attack and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and people of Israel. As I arrive in Cairo, I am closely monitoring reports from Tel Aviv and will stay in close contact with Prime Minister Netanyahu's team. The United States stands ready to provide any assistance that Israel requires."

And now, there's word that they may already have retaliated for that bus bomb. It has not been confirmed by CNN yet though. But overnight, air strikes killed 27 more Palestinians in Gaza City. The death toll there up to 137.

As you can tell by the secretary's mention, she wrapped up talks with the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank, Israeli prime minister in Jerusalem and now, she heads to Cairo where she's going to have face-to-face meetings with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

Mrs. Clinton telling the world that the U.S. wants more than just a quick fix for this conflict. Listen.

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HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

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O'BRIEN: I want to begin with Reza Sayah. He is live for us in Cairo. Mrs. Clinton mentioned in her comments that she is on her way to have meetings with the Egyptian president, Morsi, at the same time, offering any assistance that Israel might need.

Tell me a little bit about the positioning and navigating she has to do in her meeting with Mr. Morsi.

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, we can report to you that, according to the U.S. embassy here, Secretary Clinton has arrived here in Cairo and she's going to be meeting with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi very soon.

Obviously, with the violence escalating, the spotlight, the pressure is on Secretary Clinton and Washington. The U.S. seems to be broadening its role. And I think the key role the U.S. is going to play here is with its sway over Israel.

Obviously, Israel and Washington are best friends. Washington has a lot of influence with Israel. But the problem is, Washington does not have a relationship with Hamas. The U.S. sees Hamas as a terrorist group, of course. I think that's where Egypt could play a significant role here. Look for Secretary Clinton to push Egypt, its president, Mohamed Morsi, to get Hamas to make some concessions to possibly hammer out a cease-fire.

Of course, yesterday, Egyptian officials were optimistic that a cease- fire would come. Today, it's not the case. But all parties here seem to be continuing the push to hammer out some sort of truce while the violence seems to be escalating.

O'BRIEN: Reza Sayah for us this morning. He's in Cairo. Thank you, Reza. Appreciate that.

Couple of new things to tell you. The White House has a statement now on the bus explosion saying this: "The United States condemns today's terrorist attack on a bus in Tel Aviv. Our thoughts and prayers are with those that were injured, with the people of the Israel. These attacks against innocent Israeli civilians are outrageous." It goes to say that the U.S. "reaffirms unshakeable commitment to Israel's security, and our friendship and solidarity with the Israeli people."

We want to get to Sara -- Jamie Rubin, let's check with you first before we let you go. We'll check in with Sara Sidner about this bus explosion.

We're getting word there's actually been retaliation in the wake of this bus explosion, some reports on the BBC says there's been a massive bombing or -- I guess, rockets being launched into the sports stadium in Gaza City. So, with all of this, which to me reads as an escalation as the Secretary of State is trying to negotiate or navigate with the president in Egypt, what kind of a position does this put her in? I mean, how much harder is it now in the wake of this violence and retaliation, if that's what this is?

JAMIE RUBIN, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: I think it is much harder even to do the first step, which is to get some sort of de-escalation, cease-fire, whatever you want to call it.

Look, prior to this bus bombing Israel had begun to feel that it had found a way to prevent these kind of attacks inside Israel that come from terrorists themselves. And, secondly, they began to feel that their defense system, their air defense system was shooting down rockets. So, as bad as things were, they were feeling like maybe technology can help deal with this for them.

I don't think they're going to feel that way now. I think this is a reminder of how bad it can be in Israel, going back to the days when bombs were going off in cafes and buses and malls --

O'BRIEN: Frequently.

RUBIN: -- throughout Jerusalem, frequently. And this is a reminder of that.

So, it will make it that much harder for Secretary Clinton to convince the Israelis that things need to be de-escalated. Again, she said she wants to go beyond just a de-escalation, but a longer term cessation of hostilities. I see that as extremely difficult because neither Hamas nor Israel will want to give anything up for that. They'll want to make it seem like violence and warfare made their position worse. And so that strikes me as a very, very difficult hill to climb.

O'BRIEN: What kind of pressure is she going to be able to put on the Egyptian President Morsi, right? So it seems like she's trying to put a pressure here, that he, in turn, can put pressure on Hamas since U.S. does not negotiate with Hamas. Is that going to be effective?

RUBIN: Well, I don't think we have nearly as much leverage with Egypt as we used to have. When it was President Mubarak, it was very straightforward. We tended to agree with each other about Hamas, about the use of terrorism and the danger to Palestinians from these kind of conflicts.

Remember, the big losers in these situations are the innocent Palestinians who die in Gaza. Egypt was prepared to say that sort of thing to Hamas, to make clear that Palestinians are suffering because of this conflict.

However, the new government has a completely different perspective because President Morsi is part of the Muslim Brotherhood. The long term struggle against Israel is part and parcel of their ideology. So, therefore, what's left is a sense that if Egypt doesn't play its cards properly, doesn't stay in sync with the rest of the world, that it could lose something on the economic side, that it could lose loans or lose support from the world.

But when people are dying and the public mood is turning against Israel so dramatically, those economic incentives may not be quite as powerful.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Jamie, when we have this conversation moving toward a peace process, we always talk about Egypt having influence or leverage over Hamas. Do they have a lot of influence over Hamas right now? I know that Morsi in his -- run-up to his election, gave a lot of strong rhetoric, anti-Israeli rhetoric. Is there a sense among Hamas that he hasn't lived up to that? Does he have Hamas' ear like we think he does?

RUBIN: Oh, I think they have a fairly synchronized world view. I think we shouldn't, however, exaggerate that Hamas is used to being isolated. Remember the last time this kind of a situation developed when Israel actually invaded Gaza, Hamas was fully isolated. This time they have the Egyptian Foreign Minister, the Turkish Foreign Minister, the Secretary General of the Arab League, Arab foreign ministers coming to Gaza and showing support. So they're feeling more supporters.

O'BRIEN: Dana, I'm going to hold you there for a second because I want to get back to Sara Sidner. She now has the chief inspector with the Israeli police with her to talk a little bit about this bus explosion and give us the breaking news. Sara, what's the latest from where you are?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm having a little trouble hearing you, but, Soledad, I think you just asked me the latest information. Let me first tell you where we are.

This is along the route where the bus was about a few hundred yards behind me. The bus was -- blew up. The windows were completely blown out.

We now know from hospital officials, 22 people have been injured. That includes people on the bus and people outside of the bus. Some of them suffering from things like panic attacks. We know one person is seriously injured. She is in surgery right now, something to do with her shoulder.

Let me give you the latest on the investigation now. We do have Mickey Rosenfeld with who's here from the police department who has graciously agreed to talk to us live.

Can you tell me the latest? Has there been any suspect found in this case yet?

MICKY ROSENFELD, CHIEF INSPECTOR, ISRAELI POLICE: At the moment, three hours after the explosion in the heart of Tel Aviv, the Israeli police are continuing to search around the Tel Aviv area and neighborhoods for the possibility of a suspect who left the scene. What we confirmed is that there was an explosive device that was put on the bus as a result of that explosion. Three people were injured seriously, more than 20 taken to a nearby central hospital here in Tel Aviv.

The investigation and bomb disposal experts have examined that device. And what we know is that at least one person fled the scene, fled the area. We're looking into the possibility if they left by foot or possibly arrived here by vehicle. We didn't have any specific warnings of that explosion or attack this morning here in Tel Aviv.

SIDNER: OK. This happened in a very specific area with some very important buildings behind us. We've got the military headquarters just here.

Is there any indication as to who might have done this and the purpose of this attack?

ROSENFELD: The investigation is continuing -- a very intensive investigation, with the different security organizations working together, both the Israeli national police, the internal security, homeland security.

From what we know until now is that there was definitely one person who fled the scene. They managed to make their way inside the heart of Tel Aviv. We're also looking to see if there were any specific orders that were given to that person either by the Hamas or any other terrorist organization in Jordan, Samaria, and different Palestinian areas. Apart from that, that's what we have at the moment, just three hours into the investigation after that explosion here in Tel Aviv.

SIDNER: And you said that this was definitely not someone who had an explosive device on their person, but something that was left on the bus, at some point in time. You're not quite sure when.

ROSENFELD: We know that the explosion took place on the bus itself. We know it wasn't carried out by a suicide bomber. That's 100 percent for sure. It's part of the investigation.

Bomb disposal experts examined the device itself. It's going to take a bit of time but we're working carefully and cautiously in order to understand exactly how they arrive at the scene, what's the place. That's the situation at the moment three hours after. Luckily, no one was killed here at Tel Aviv at the moment.

SIDNER: I want to ask you about the situation. Are you on high alert right now? What is the situation as far as the alert level in this city and around Israel?

ROSENFELD: Since the beginning of the IDF operation eight days ago, we heightened security in general around the different areas. We were not at the highest of levels. But since the attack, we raised the level of alert here in Tel Aviv by one level, which means different units that are located in and around the city.

If we look around now, hundred meters -- several hundred meters away from where the attack took place, the roads have been opened again. We're trying to get things back to normal as quick as possible. Our units have continued to work on the scene itself and now continuing on an intelligence level.

It's going to take time. They're going to work quickly and cautiously. And the most important aspect at the moment is to prevent any further attacks taking place either here in Tel Aviv or any other cities inside Israel.

SIDNER: Thank you so much. Micky Rosenfeld here for you live, giving you the latest on the investigation into the bus blast that happened here in central Tel Aviv -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Sara Sidner for us -- Sara, thank you. Sara reporting from Tel Aviv.

And it is always amazing to me to watch her when there are explosions. She and Ben Wedeman do not even flinch. Anderson Cooper will dive, but the two of them don't even -- do not even flinch. It's absolutely terrifying.

We're going to take a break. We'd come back in a moment. We're going to continue our conversation with Jamie Rubin. We want to ask a little bit about some of that conversation with the police chief about some of the aftermath of that bomb explosion.

We're back in just a moment. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: We're back with Jamie Rubin and our panel. And I want to update everybody the number now of people injured on this bus bombing is 22 people who are injured. Still, nobody is reported dead there. We heard from the police chief saying that they're going to work to prevent these kinds of activities.

Realistically, how can they? I mean, clearly, it's been a while since we've seen that bus bombings and cafe bombings, but part of the point of the terror, right, is that it's very difficult to prevent.

RUBIN: Well, it is difficult. And, I think you're absolutely right. You know, single individuals using small explosives are very difficult to prevent. But I think Israel has gotten better.

And the putting up of this famous fence along the west bank, the increased security measures, and importantly which everybody forgets, the fact that the Palestinian Authority in the west bank is now much more secure than it used to be, has its own police force working with the Israelis to prevent people from going from the west bank into Jerusalem and launching these kinds of attacks.

So, Israel is safer when it has a relative partner to work with in the Palestinian territories. In Gaza, it has no partner. It has an enemy. And that's why most of the violence is in Gaza.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Can we talk about that? Because when you were in government and you were dealing with these issues on a day-to-day business, you had the partner or foe, depending on the day, was the Palestinian Authority. And that's not the case anymore. And so, now the United States just --

O'BRIEN: Secretary Clinton is meeting with President Abbas but why --

BASH: Who doesn't have any power? For people out there who are not as engrained in this and steeped in these issues, it's very complicated. It's always complicated, but especially now.

RUBIN: You're absolutely right. What's new and different and harder and makes this all much more complex is that the United States is not actually dealing with the player that is most important right now. Hamas, they're the ones who escalated their use of rockets. They're the ones who are going to have to decide to stop if this violence is going to stop. Yes, we can deal with the Israelis.

We've always been able to deal with the Israelis, but prior to this time, we had -- in the Palestinian Authority formerly, you were referring to Yasser Arafat. He really had control over the Palestinian. Hamas is a new player. And we don't have the control, not only over Hamas we don't have, but we also don't have the relationship with Egypt that we used to have when we had a single individual, a so-called dictator, Mubarak, who was very pro-western, very pro-American.

We could speak to him like this and have this kind of conversation what's best for the Palestinians, what's best for the Israelis, what's best for the Egyptians. And now, you have an ideological group, Hamas, in charge of Gaza and an ideological president, Morsi, in charge of Egypt.

BASH: Ironically, both democratically elected.

RUBIN: That's true. The downside of the Arab spring is that in the near term, the views of the people are if you take them into account are very, very difficult to deal with.

O'BRIEN: Or just dictators sometimes can manage their people in terrible ways, but also just can handle it and that is both the upside and the downside of the uprising, right?

RUBIN: Yes. I mean, absolutely. Look, the Mubarak did have control over his population. He did -- but he had a pro-western view of -- you know, when he left, we lost three things. We had an Egyptian leader, the most populous country in the region against Iran, against terrorism, and against Hamas. So, these three crucial goals of the United States were lost in the Arab spring.

Now, over time, I think with, you know, time and with effort and with public diplomacy and with intents efforts by key countries around the world, we can hope that the Arab people become more in sync with our view and then their popularly elected leaders will be more in sync with our view.

O'BRIEN: Jamie Rubin, it's always nice to have you. We just sitting like this (ph) --

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O'BRIEN: We appreciate that. Thank you very much.

We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we're going to talk about what could be misery tomorrow, travel tomorrow and today. What is it, like a million people or something are just going to travel today alone for Thanksgiving?

CAIN: I'll be one of them.

O'BRIEN: Are you?

BASH: I'll be one of them, too.

O'BRIEN: Wow! We're going to take you to some of the busiest spots in the country so you can be depressed by what you're seeing with long lines. That's straight ahead. Back in a moment.

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O'BRIEN: (INAUDIBLE) traffic jams in the road and the skies today, tomorrow. Everybody is trying to travel for Thanksgiving. All the folks who have drawn the short straw today, CNNs George Howell, who's live this morning for us at Atlanta's International Airport. Ted Rowlands as well is at Chicago O'Hare airport. So, Ted, let's begin with you. I'm so sorry. How is it looking?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: not bad, actually, Soledad. The big issue is the fog. You can see it in the background. And this fog has really blanketed the Midwest. Not only here in Chicago, but Milwaukee, St. Louis. Other cities are experiencing the fog issues. There's no ground stop here in Chicago, which is good. Hopefully, there won't be.

But we're starting to see those initial delays. The first flights out of here were fine. They left on time, because the airplanes were here overnight. But now, the sun has come up. Visibility has dropped down. So, we are seeing some of the delays. But look inside here. We're at the Delta check-in area. And it's not. It's not bad at all.

In fact, the busiest day, a lot of people think it's today. It's actually Sunday, when people come back from their Thanksgiving vacation. A lot of people have staggered their travel on the outward side of it. So, so far, so good here in Chicago. Of course, if we see more significant delays here, that will have a ripple effects across the country because Chicago, one of the major hubs, of course, in the United States.

Let's get more on Delta from the Delta Command Center at Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport. That's where George Howell is. Good morning, George.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ted, yes, good morning. You know, for you and I when it comes to Delta check-in or any check-in, it's a matter of getting there on time, making sure that we get there early to get on our flights. But this is really where they take that a step further.

I want to show you this room. This is the operations control center for Delta Airlines. At any given time, some 300 people in this room monitoring a number of things, anything from reservations to delayed flights, making sure that passengers get on their connecting flights. They're watching the weather. And the good news right now, weather not so bad across the country except for the Pacific Northwest where there's some rain.

But that is the Pacific Northwest being the Pacific Northwest. So, they know how to handle that. But also look at this. This is really cool. It kind of looks like ants on the ground, but it's all of the Delta jets that are in the sky right now. We know some 5,000 jets flying for Delta today, which is typical of a big day. Some 2.4 million people flying Delta Airlines between now and Monday.

Today being a big day. Monday being busy. So, this is what we expect to see as this day goes on -- Soledad?

O'BRIEN: George Howell for us this morning. Thank you, George. Appreciate it.

Got to take a short break. Still ahead this morning, following that breaking news out of Israel, bomb explosion on a bus in Tel Aviv. Now, the number is 22 people who've been injured. No deaths reported as of yet. We're going to talk to the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren. That's coming up next. Back in a moment.

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