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Obama Hosts Romney for Lunch; Egypt Rushes New Constitution; Syria Goes Mostly Internet Dark; UK Judge Calls for Independent Panel on Media;

Aired November 29, 2012 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. We're taking you around the world in 60 minutes. Here's what's going on right now.

We begin with breaking news. Former President George H.W. Bush is at Methodist Hospital in Houston after being treated for bronchitis. That is according to a family spokesman, Jim McGrath. Now the President Bush, who is 88 years old, has been at the hospital for six days now. He has been cured of his bronchitis, but McGrath says he is still in the hospital because of a lingering cough. We're going to bring you more details as we get them.

Now to today's big meeting at the White House. We don't know what's on the menu. We'd love to be a fly on the wall when President Obama and Mitt Romney meet for lunch today. That's right, the president's hosting his former rival about 30 minutes or so from now. It is a promise the president made during a victory speech on election night. Listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We embattled fiercely, but it's only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future. In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.


MALVEAUX: Mitt Romney, he was stunned by his defeat, but gracious in his concession speech. It looked like everybody was ready to make nice until Romney's remarks in a phone call to top donors days after the election. He said he lost because President Obama gave policy gifts to key voting groups, including Hispanics, African-Americans, and young voters.


MITT ROMNEY, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (voice-over): What the president's campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote.


MALVEAUX: Fast forward to today when Romney's going to sit down with the president in the private dining room of the White House. The two carrying on kind of, I guess, an awkward tradition. This meeting between the winner and the loser.

I want to bring in Candy Crowley, chief political correspondent.

Candy, if only we knew. If only. Flies on the wall, you know? I mean it's just one of those private things that happens. And they clear out everybody. No cameras. Nobody. And the two of them sit down there and try to hash it out. What can you imagine they are discussing today?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I can't, actually. I -- this is -- this is something that you do. It's good for the country to see the person who lost talk to the person who won and we can all talk about bipartisanship. But, honestly, they fought hard because they don't believe in the same things. They don't believe in the same way to prosperity. They don't believe in the same way in foreign policy.

So they can agree that they love America. We do know, in fact, that there's been some Democratic interest in one of Governor Romney's ideas, which was to put a cap on deductions. Just say, OK, you can only take, you know, this much of your income or that kind of thing. I can see that there might be some sort of discussion about that. But the specifics are not going to be dealt with between Mitt Romney and President Obama. That ship sailed. This has to do with the president and basically the Republicans on the House side.

So I see this more as a photo op. I guess we're going to get a still picture and a read-out about their nice, cordial meeting. I'm not saying nothing could happen. I just think it's hard to figure what it would be.

MALVEAUX: What do you think this means? Because, I mean, you covered the campaign so closely, very much involved in this, and these two men, really, they -- there's not a lot of love between them here. And they've got to make nice. How do they begin, do you think, to work in the same direction? To kind of put that aside? How much of it -- this relationship really needs repairing?

CROWLEY: Well, I don't know that it does -- that either one of them feel it needs repairing, frankly. I don't see Mitt Romney getting into public office any time soon. I think we know apparently from some of our reporting that he's going to rent an office from one of his sons, which sort of signals to me that he will be interested in getting back into the private sector. Maybe raising some money. Maybe doing some things with his church, which is so meaningful to him. So I don't see their paths crossing in a way that makes it necessary that they just bury the hatchet. I mean look at John McCain and President Obama, and who's been one of his fiercest critics, despite the fact that they also had a meeting together after the election.

MALVEAUX: A little lunch. Yes, didn't work out so well. Maybe it's more for us, Candy, you know what I mean? Maybe it's more for the American people just to see these two guys shake hands and move on. (INAUDIBLE) --

CROWLEY: Sure. And I think there's value to that.

MALVEAUX: Uh-huh. Yes.

CROWLEY: I think there's value in those speeches you've just played a little bit about on election night. And I think there's value in a democracy to see two people who are from different parties, who have very different ideas, who had a hard fault election, sit down and have lunch together. I think, in and of itself, the lunch can be a great signal. I just don't think we can sort of see some pathway to harmony through it.

MALVEAUX: Not yet. OK. All right, Candy, thank you. Good too to see you, as always.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Suzanne. Good to see you.


The U.S. embassy in Egypt is now shut down. Violence between protesters and police has blocked roads around the compound in central Cairo. The protesters, they are actually not targeting the embassy. They have been demonstrating, however, for a week. There has been some fighting with riot police around Tahrir Square. You've got rocks, tear gas being hurled in the streets. Demonstrators, they're trying to force President Mohamed Morsi to give back some of the sweeping powers that he seized earlier in the week.

Want to go live to Cairo. Reza Sayah, he's overlooking Tahrir Square.

Tell us, first of all, is it calm where you are and are people assuming that things are going to get better? There are a lot of critics who are saying the Muslim Brotherhood is really now trying to hijack the process, hijack the constitution and get the president to remain in power, as much power as he can hold on to.

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Yes, and many of those critics, Suzanne, are behind us still demonstrating here in Tahrir Square. In the meantime, major developments unfolding. As we speak right now, Egypt's constitutional assembly is voting to approve a draft of Egypt's all-important new constitution. This is going to be the backbone, the centerpiece of Egypt's democratic transition. All of Egypt's laws are going to be based on this document. Everything from the balance of power between the president and the parliament, the power of the army, the independence of the judiciary, the personal freedoms.

Once this draft is approved, and all indications are it is going to be approved, in about 15 days you're going to have a nationwide referendum. Well, all Egyptians are going to have an opportunity to vote yes or no. That all sounds great, but the opposition factions behind us have not liked this process.

Initially there was 100 member panel assigned to draft this constitution. It was dominated by Islamists. Many liberals quit in protest. Some sued to dissolve the panel. You'll recall one of the controversial decrees announced by Mr. Morsi last week banned any authority, even the judiciary, from disbanding this panel. So he wants it moved forward, Suzanne.

And one of the messages he's aggressively pushing now is, once have this nationwide referendum, in about 15 days, and it's a yes vote, all those controversial decrees that people were upset about will be annulled and canceled immediately. He's hoping that will calm the opposition factions down behind us. We'll see if it does.

MALVEAUX: Yes. We have yet to see whether or not that will satisfy the critics that have been on the streets there in Tahrir Square.

Reza, thank you so much. Really appreciate it. We'll be following this story.

This is a piece that you're only going to see on CNN. Rebels, they are making significant gains now inside Syria. We're going to take you inside the country to a site where a government plane was shot down.

Plus, there are celebrations that are going on in Ramallah, but not everybody is happy that the United Nations is making a move to recognize the Palestinians.


MALVEAUX: This is Aleppo, Syria, today. The man taking the video says the explosion and the smoke is from a strike by a Syrian air force jet. Opposition forces inside Syria say at least 12 people have been killed today. Most of them there in Aleppo. We hear the road that is leading to Damascus International Airport is now shut down because there is fighting in that area as well. And we've got another major development this week. Rebel fighters who claim they have shot down three Syrian military aircraft in a 24 hour period, much more on that, including the close-up footage of the wreckage, in just a minute.

But first, on the phone from northern Syria, CNN's Arwa Damon.

Arwa, you have been inside, and we understand that a lot of the communications is now down across Syria. What do we know?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, I can tell you right now that the area I'm in, at the very least, there is no cell phone reception, there is no power. And people here are telling us that -- that is the -- this has been the case for quite some time now. And this particular area, in fact, they say that the Internet has been shut down for three to four months. We're hearing reports that there are various blackouts, Internet blackouts taking place throughout the entire country. There's opposition activists telling us that, you know, this is a tactic that the Assad regime has used in the past, although not as widespread as it seems to be in this case.

We've been traveling quite extensively throughout Aleppo province over the last two days and what is quite striking is that areas, neighborhoods, cities that one could not travel through, say, two months ago because they were under the control of the Assad regime or because they were battle zones, are now beginning to have signs of civilian life returning to them because they are firmly in control of the opposition. In fact, there are vast swaths of territory in Aleppo province that the government no longer controls, except for sporadic cities that are predominantly Shia or Alawite. But by and large, in the parts of Aleppo that we've been going through, we've been able to travel with significantly more ease than one would have been able to do say some two months ago.

MALVEAUX: Arwa, I understand that we are communicating via satellite. That because the cell phone service is down. Who's responsible, first of all, for this blackout, this information blackout, this Internet blackout, and how is that affecting people who are trying to communicate with each other inside the country?

DAMON: Well, the opposition activist that we have been talking to, people who were traveling with from here, have been saying that this is the government's way of trying to shut down communications, trying to prevent various units of the FSA from communicating with each other, trying to make it more difficult for people to upload those YouTube videos that we have come to rely on so heavily, quite simply because it's been so difficult to access many parts of this country. But you can also imagine how difficult it makes life for people out there who just want to be able to call or communicate via the Internet with family members, with loved ones, who are in other parts of the country when they hear about violence taking place there.

Especially the other point is that these electricity blackouts are becoming increasingly more difficult for people to deal with as well, especially because it's winter. It gets dark at around 4:30 in the afternoon here. And people are sitting around, trying to figure out what is happening with their relatives, with their loved ones. They have no electricity. No means of communicating with them. In some areas, including the one I'm in, they're telling me that even the land lines have been down for quite some time now.

MALVEAUX: Arwa, before we let you go, because it is so unique that you are actually inside of the country experiencing all this firsthand, what is the situation on the ground? Do you feel safe? Do you see fighting that is occurring around you?

DAMON: Well, we have been trying to make our way through various parts of Aleppo province and the areas that we have been through, as I was saying, are under control of the opposition, but one does hear fighter jets overhead occasionally.

Closer to the city of Aleppo itself, you do hear the sounds of explosions in the distance. Yesterday, we were at the scene of where opposition rebel fighters say that they shot down that fighter jet in the same area where they actually shot down the two helicopters beforehand and, afterwards, we went to (INAUDIBLE) which is where they said they managed to capture the surface-to-air missiles that they used to shoot down these aircrafts.

And as (INAUDIBLE), we suddenly began to hear again the sounds of explosions in the distance. The rebel fighters we were with were saying that was fairly regular, that ones the sun was down, that is when the intense bombing campaign would begin by Assad's fighters.

But most certainly what is really striking at this point just how much territory this ragtag rebel fighting force has managed to gain given the fact that they are pretty much on their own in all of this and not any sort of significant international support.

MALVEAUX: All right, Arwa Damon, thank you very much. Please be safe. We'll be getting back to you shortly for updates out of Syria.

This was sparked by a phone-hacking scandal by Rupert Murdoch's "News of the World" tabloid. Now, this judge is making recommendations on how the British press should be regulated.

We're going to have a live report from London.


MALVEAUX: Tabloid journalists in Britain lisping in on the private phone calls of celebrities, listening in on the British royal family, even ordinary citizens.

This was a scandal that rocked the British press, but one of their oldest tabloids put them out of business and led to a year-long ethics investigation of phone hacking.

Well, today the judge leading that investigation issued his final report. It calls on the tabloids to set up an independent panel to regulate their practices.

British prime minister David Cameron reacted to the judge's decision.


DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: A regulatory system that complies with the Leveson principles should be put in place rapidly.

I favor giving the press a limited period of time in which to do this. They do not need to wait for all the other elements of Lord Justice Leveson's report to be implemented.

While no one wants to see full statutory regulation, let me stress, the status quo is not an option.


MALVEAUX: We're going to have more on this story from our Dan Rivers out of London in just a bit when we can call him up.

In the meantime, Japanese authorities are now dealing with this mysterious boat. It was found grounded off the country's Sado Island in the Sea of Japan. Now, inside police found a number of decomposed bodies. The damaged wooden boat has markings that appear to be Korean characters.

Now, authorities think the remains may be those of North Korean fishermen or defectors. They don't know how long the boat had actually been adrift at sea. And U.S.-based Continental Airlines is now cleared of blame in the crash of the Concorde back in 2000. One- hundred-thirteen people were killed when the high-speed jet went down on takeoff at Charles de Gaulle airport outside of Paris.

Well, today, an appeals court in France ruled that Continental is not criminally liable of negligence or manslaughter. Now, the ruling comes two years after another court ruled that Continental was responsible for that crash.

Want to go back to Dan Rivers in London. I understand we have got a connection there.

Dan, you've got some more information on what is taking place. The judge ruling the final ruling and recommendation from his report regarding some of the British tabloids that got into some serious trouble from phone-hacking all the way to essentially spying on the royal family and many others. What do we know?

DAN RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so, basically, this is a response to this sprawling phone-hacking scandal in the U.K. which exposed the way that tabloid journalists were going about getting stories, not only doing things in a very underhand way.

In many cases breaking the criminal law to get stories, hacking into the phones of celebrities, of sports stars, of politicians, even of murder victims and of the victims of terrorism, so a broad range of victims.

Now, a huge volume of suggestions, 2,000 pages in total, from the judge that's been charged with trying to come up with a solution to all of this as to how better to regulate the British press.

And, basically, the suggestion is it should be an independent form of regulation of the press with some sort of legislation to back that up, but basically the press should have an independent body overseeing it, making sure that it's playing fair and that the people who feel that they're not treated well have a means, a cheap means, of getting redress, getting apologies on the front pages, getting compensation if necessary.

MALVEAUX: Dan, I notice one thing you said. You said suggestions.

So are -- is this completely voluntarily? I mean, how would this be enforced? Would this body, this independent body, have some real teeth, some real power in enforcing how the press behaves?

RIVERS: Well, it's a very delicate balancing act that he's tried to perform here, Lord Justice Leveson.

We don't have a First Amendment here, guaranteeing the freedom of the press, and so they're very concerned that they don't try and muzzle the press while, at the same time, trying to gently suggest that they all join this scheme.

They're not going to force the press to join this regulatory scheme, but there are going to be -- there's going to be sort of financial jeopardy if papers don't join in, it is suggested.

They could be liable to greater damages in court cases, for example, and they're talking about a kind of stamp of approval that papers who are in this scheme could put on their front page to say this is a trusted brand of journalism.

So, they're trying to entice them in. The question is, though, will the politicians agree to actually implement any of this?

MALVEAUX: Yeah, good question. Thank you, Dan. Appreciate it.

So, we're talking about a brutal $6 billion campaign filled with those nasty attack ads. You remember them. Well, now, President Obama and his former rival Mitt Romney, are they ready to bury the hatchet, break bread together? Well, that is about to happen at the White House, minutes away.

We're going to get a live report. Could be kind of an awkward lunch date.


MALVEAUX: President Obama and Mitt Romney should be sitting down to lunch any moment now. The White House meeting is it's first face-to- face encounter since the election.

It comes at a time when Romney's favorability rating is now down. A new CNN-ORC poll showing that 43 percent of respondents say they have a favorable opinion of Romney. That is down from 49 percent just before the election. The percentage who say they have an unfavorable opinion of Romney is at 50 percent. That is up from 47 percent.

Not exactly the way Mitt Romney had envisioned himself at the White House. Of course, he was picturing himself in the Oval Office, but the president says he does want to hear Romney's ideas for moving the country forward.

Jim Acosta followed Romney throughout the campaign. Now, at the White House there, Jim, I can't tell you how many people -- and Twitter is blowing up over recommendations about the menu and what should be on the menu that these two should be eating. Crow has come up. You get the picture, right? I mean, people are wondering what good will come of all of this.


MALVEAUX: We have taken a live picture there of Romney actually arriving at the White House.

ACOSTA: That's right. He is here.

MALVEAUX: Yep. We see him walking up the side entrance there.

What's the expectation from Romney's point of view?

ACOSTA: Well, Suzanne, you were talking about what might be on the menu for this lunch. I think bipartisanship will be on the menu.

The president extended this olive branch to Mitt Romney in that speech that he gave in Chicago on election night, said he wanted get together with the former Massachusetts governor and talk about ways of bringing the country together and moving the country forward.

And, remember, Suzanne, at the end of Mitt Romney's campaign for the White House, he was talking about bipartisanship. That was a big theme and it was really more than just talk if you at the track record for the former GOP nominee.