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No New Pope Announced; President Obama's Charm Offensive; Raining on Obama's Parade; Reaching Out to Democrats; Staring Into The Mouths Of Sharks; Iran's President Takes Heat For A Hug

Aired March 12, 2013 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: One of these men will become the new pope. As the cardinals meet behind closed doors, we are going to take you to the Vatican and to cities around the world hoping to provide the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

Some in Washington, even inside the administration are not charmed by the president's charm offensive. Is it all just for show?

And thousands of sharks head north past Florida's beaches, scientists rushing to do some research that may save the lives of shark bite victims.

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

Black smoke from the chimney of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel signaling that the cardinals locked inside have not picked a new pope in their first vote. When they do decide, you will all see, all of us in the world will see white smoke.

Drawing on centuries of tradition and pageantry, the princes of the Roman Catholic Church today began the secret election to choose a new pope. Today became with a solemn mass at St. Peter's Basilica where the 115 voting cardinals prayed for guidance. After the cardinals took vows of secrecy in the Sistine Chapel, the doors were closed behind them and they got down to work, very serious work, indeed.

Let's go straight to Rome.

CNN's Chris Cuomo is on the scene for us.

So, Chris, what's the mood like now? It's, what, about an hour or so after we saw that black smoke coming up.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think you get two very different pictures. Here, right here, the Vatican, the people have left and there was a real expectation around the event. Very few people expected a pope tonight. It had been a long time tonight since we had a pope on a first vote, Wolf, but the people were satisfied that the process has begun.

You get a different picture of mood with the 115 cardinals right now because they're eating dinner together, but, Wolf, then they will break into different groups. They have free time. And now they know what names are on the table and now the hard talks begin before tomorrow morning when the next set of votes begin, Wolf.

BLITZER: Walk us through what will happen tomorrow and the day after assuming they haven't selected a pope yet.

CUOMO: This is a very specific and regimented process, the conclave, that means with the key as they locked them as we saw the doors closing when Guido Marini, the man who shut them, said -- that means everybody gets out.

So, they get up in the morning. They have breakfast. Then they go to the Pauline Chapel. They celebrate mass. They then proceed into the Sistine Chapel. They don't do the chants and hymns that they did today, but they proceed in and they get down to business. Voting, however, is totally unlike, Wolf, what we know from presidential politics.

There is no politicking and there is no nominating speeches. There is no dickering or bantering, and it is like being in another mass. Each man must write down their vote and they must carry it over their head in a piece of paper and fold it into thirds, placing it into an urn saying in Latin that this is the man I truly believe God wants to be pope.

And each does that in succession 115 times. Then they have six different cardinals count the votes. It's a very specific process and that's why each round of voting can take well over an hour.

BLITZER: As far as we know, and it's obviously very secretive inside, does one cardinal go over to another? Do they start lobbying each other, if you will, for a certain cardinal to emerge? Do they talk amongst themselves? How much chatter, for example, is there?

CUOMO: In the conclave, our understanding is zero chatter. It's a straight process, almost like a ceremony, ritualistically done with that mind towards a solemnity in prayer and quiet.

However, lunch is the ultimate power lunch, dinner and the free time afterwards, heavy politicking that follows up on these 10 general congregation meetings they have had up until the day the conclave begins, but a lot of it is just figuring out for them -- we can't let it go too long because then we don't along strong, we don't look unified.

But you have such big questions in front of us right now that we have to make sure we get someone who can lead us in the right direction.

BLITZER: We will stay obviously in very close touch with you. Chris, thanks very much. Chris Cuomo is on the scene for us in Rome.

From the Vatican for far-flung corners of the world and even the United States, there are a number of cardinals who could wind up as the next pope. We're covering this story the way only CNN can with correspondents not just in Rome, but indeed, around the world.

Let's begin in New York. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Deborah Feyerick at St. Patrick's Cathedral, home to Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

The archbishop of New York is popular, friendly and well- respected by both congregants of church leaders for his simple, but modern preaching of traditional Catholicism. Global bishops, American archbishops, even Benedict XVI have shown confidence in the American choosing him for various positions and honors.

But is he too American, too outgoing to lead the world's diverse Catholics? Vatican watchers say the American is a long shot, but if the cardinal is deadlocked, he is certainly on the short list.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I'm Mark Preston in Boston, the home to Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who is quickly becoming the dark horse candidate to become next pope.

Boston is the epicenter of the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal. And so O'Malley's efforts over the past decade to address this matter that has put him in this unique position to potentially be the next pope. O'Malley's friends tell us that he's very conservative, he's compassionate and he's scholarly. He would make history if selected to be pope as the first American to lead the Catholic Church.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I'm Paula Newton in Montreal, Quebec, the home providence of Canadian papal contender Cardinal Marc Ouellet. He's from North America, seen as a compromise candidate by some. But spent more than a decade preaching in Latin America.

That makes him very important to some looking for change and growth in the Catholic Church, but he is not a reform candidate. He has very conservative views about ordaining women, about abortion, about same-sex marriage and for that reason he may be seen as a steady hand and someone who would be capable of ushering in reform, but mind you, at a very, very slow pace.

Many here believe that he would be a good candidate. Others believe he would be controversial in what is really one of the most liberal places in North America. This would be a very conservative choice.

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Shasta Darlington in Sao Paulo, where excitement is growing over the possibility that the next pope could be Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer. That would make him the first Latin American pope ever.

He celebrates mass right here. This is Sao Paulo's main cathedral. Some of the points in his favor include the fact that he's a pastoral pope in the world's biggest Catholic country and yet he also has experience in the Vatican bureaucracy. Working against him are his age. He's relatively young, 63 years old, and experts feel that the Roman Curia could manipulate him. BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Ben Wedeman in St. Peter's Square, where we have just seen the black smoke of the first vote coming out of the chimney over the Sistine Chapel.

When you speak to Vatican watchers, one of the first names they mention when it comes to the so-called papabili is Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan and one of the cardinals in the conclave. He's the man who worked in the diocese of Milan and Venice and considered to be somebody who understands the real-life problems of ordinary people. He's also considered an intellectual along the lines of Benedict XVI, but one who is a much better communicator and he's also been instrumental in building bridges between the Vatican and the Muslim world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Want to thank all of our reporters around the world for their reports right now.

Remember, stay with CNN for complete live coverage of the selection of the next pope, but tonight, by the way on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT," an up-and-comer within the Catholic Church, you will meet the soccer star who gave it all up to become a priest.

And on "ANDERSON COOPER 360," Anderson, is live in Rome with a close look at celibacy, female priests potentially out there and the future of Catholicism. "ERIN BURNETT" starts at 7:00 p.m., "A.C. 360" 8:00 p.m. Eastern all later tonight.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the cardinals have taken vows of secrecy and they meet behind locked doors. What else is the Vatican doing to prevent leaks?

And up next, why some even within the White House are not especially charmed by the president's so-called charm offensive.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama has been trying to change the mood in gridlocked Washington, but it's not necessarily all sunshine and roses yet as he reaches out to rank-and-file lawmakers.

Not everyone, apparently, is charmed by his charm offensive.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is over at the White House reporting on this story.

What's going on, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president's offensive kicked into gear today as he met with Senate Democrats up on Capitol Hill before his upcoming visits with congressional Republican, but the trip down Pennsylvania Avenue has already hit a few speed bumps.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUESTION: Mr. President, what do you hope to accomplish with these meetings?

ACOSTA (voice-over): For a leader in search of kumbaya on Capitol Hill, President Obama's schmoozing skills are already being tested. While the president has lined up three days of dates with lawmakers in both parties after his dinner with Republicans last week, it's a charm offensive that at least one White House official appears to find, well, offensive.

"The National Journal" quoted one White House official speaking anonymously who said: "This is a joke. We're wasting the president's time and ours. I hope you all in the media are happy because we're doing it for you."

(on camera): Is this a show? Does the president feels this is a joke?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I saw that story, Jim, and I appreciate the question, because I have no idea who said that, but I can tell you that that opinion has never been voiced in my presence, in the president's presence, in the West Wing. It does not represent the president's view. He believes strongly that it is important to engage with lawmakers of both parties.

ACOSTA (voice-over): That engagement will be critical to solving what's become the budget Rubik's cube. The president is expected to submit his own budget to Congress during the week of April 8th, but that's two months after he's required by law to do so and his plan will be at odds with what's being offered by House Republicans who are still calling for the repeal of the president's healthcare law.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), BUDGET CHAIRMAN: So, we will never be able to balance the budget if you keep Obamacare going because Obamacare is fiscal train wreck.

ACOSTA: Democrats have their budget that closes tax loophole and deductions -- ideas Republicans are resisting.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: This week, we're seeing a revealing contrast. The president's reaching out to Republicans in the Senate and on the other side of the building, House Republicans are moving further away from the compromise. ACOSTA: But the question is whether both sides can listen to each other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a rule of mathematical reasoning.

ACOSTA: Last November, top GOP leaders, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell turned down invitations from President Obama for a special screening of the film "Lincoln" at the White House. The spokesman for Boehner said the invite came at short notice. The offer was just too last minute.

So far, it's a political romance story with no happy ending in sight.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: A Boehner spokesman tells CNN the speaker takes the president secretary here at the White House for his word that the president does not view this latest round of outreach as a joke. But that spokesman went to say the proof will be in the follow through.

Meanwhile, Republicans are finding some humor in what the White House calls its balanced plan to reduce the federal budget, the GOP leaders say, the budget according to the White House's plan will never be balanced -- Wolf.

BLITZER: If the president was supposed to release his own budget, let's say in early February, he's not going do it now until early April? Why the delay? Why didn't he do it on time?

ACOSTA: They're saying a lot of this was kicked back, Wolf, because of dealing with the fiscal cliff, that dealing with that budget crisis really pushed back their work on crafting a budget for this coming fiscal year and of course, the so-called sequester reared its ugly head in early March and the White House's excuse is they've been careening from one fiscal crisis to another and that's the reason for the delay -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta is over at the White House -- thank you.

So how did today's visit to Capitol Hill go?

Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash has been getting reaction from various lawmakers.

Dana, take us inside the president's meeting with Senate Democrats as best as you can. What are you learning?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are told, Wolf, that the president took a dozen questions from Senate Democrats inside this lunch, on everything from the budget to gun, to immigration and even to his drone policy which, of course, is controversial among many Democrats.

You know, you would think that this would be the easy meeting because it's with Senate Democrats and the president was a Senate Democrat. But, you know, maybe it wasn't so easy going in and the reason is because I've talked to many Senate Democrats who said they are frustrated. That it's not just that he isn't reaching out and talking with Republicans, it's that he doesn't have enough of a relationship with fellow Democrats.

One of those was Joe Manchin of West Virginia. And I spoke to him just after the lunch ended and here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I'm very, very impressed with the tone today that I'm hearing today that, you know, maybe we haven't seen or heard for a long time, and maybe, you know, I think that he realizes that we've got to work together. (END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: What sounds kind of odd for a Democrat to talk about the president needing to work with follow Democrats, but it really does speak to the relationship or maybe lack thereof that he has with Democrats, and it is very clear in talking to several senators that he got it, he the president got it, at the beginning of his presentation, and it was sort of the tone that he set out throughout of it.

BLITZER: Apparently, the meeting, Dana, as you point out, went a little bit longer than it was supposed to go. Do we have an explanation why?

BASH: You know, he kept taking questions. It went an hour and a half. You're right, it was supposed to go an hour, because he was taking questions on substantive issues -- the budget, entitlements, things like that. But I'm also told that there were moments of levity, and one sort of story I will tell you that I was told is that the president was joking around with Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader. He took his notes and he was looking at them and he was making fun of the doodles that Harry Reid did and said that he maybe he should send it to his psychiatrist for analysis.

BLITZER: Maybe that's a good idea. We'll see what they come up with.

All right. Thanks, Dana. Thanks very much.

Coming up, by the way, in our next hour, I'll speak with Ron Fournier. He's the writer of that "National Journal" article which sparked so much of today's controversy, one senior White House official, anonymous, saying that the president's so-called "charm offensive" is a joke, designed to appease the news media. We're going to get reaction to what the White House has to say about that quote, as well. That's coming up in our next hour.

So, not every day that one gets to meet with the president, but wait until you hear how the sultan of Brunei made his way to the Oval Office. Even President Obama was pretty surprised.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Queen Elizabeth canceled another public event due to an illness. So, just how sick is the British monarch? We're live in London with the latest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Federal jury has reached a verdict in the case of the so-called "cannibal cop".

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what happened?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a federal jury has convicted New York police officer Gilberto Valle of plotting to kidnap, cook and eat women. Prosecutors say Valle used a federal law enforcement database and fetish Web sites to research to research potential victims. They said one of those potential victims was his own wife who tipped off the FBI. Valle could get life in prison.

And nearly a year after he first appeared in court with shocking dyed red hair, the man accused of gunning down moviegoers at the screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" was back in a Colorado courtroom today. James Holmes is accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 others. A judge entered a standard not guilty plea for him, but Holmes could still enter a not guilty by reason of insanity plea at a later date.

And in other news, Syrian rebels are slamming accusations by the U.N. that they have engaged in murder, rape, torture and kidnapping. A just-released report by U.N. investigators accuses the regime and the opposition of atrocities in Syria's civil war. It says both sides have recruited children as young as 12 to fight and to act as lookouts and informants. Rebels called the report a stung exaggeration.

And Michael Vick has canceled a string of book signings across the country because of what his publisher says are credible threats. The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback had planned to promote his autobiography "Finally Free." Vick, of course, spent nearly a year in federal prison after pleading guilty to dog fighting charges back in 2007.

And, OK, it's one thing to meet face-to-face with the president, but wait until you hear from President Obama himself how one of the world's wealthiest men, the sultan of Brunei, got to today's Oval Office meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm glad that he said he has -- he got here yesterday and flew in his own 747, meaning, he actually piloted it himself. I think he's probably the only head of state in the world who flies a 747 himself, and so, in case Air Force One, the pilot has problem, we know who to consult.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER: Yes. I think President Obama is probably right. He's probably the only head of state to do that. Well, the sultan is worth $40 billion and he's apparently used to flying himself around. He's piloted his plane to India and New Zealand and South America. And, by the way, his custom-fitted 747 reportedly has wash basins made of solid gold.

How about that, Wolf?

BLITZER: Now, if you worth, what -- did you say $40 billion, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Yes, $40 billion. That's how much he is worth. So, yes, I think he can afford a 747, Wolf.

BLITZER: He can afford it. Absolutely. Thanks very much, Lisa.

Up next, if locked doors aren't enough to keep the papal election secret, how about jamming devices and electronic debugging?

And the secrets to be found in shark's teeth. How scientists hope to save the lives of shark attack victims. That's coming up, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's one of the biggest threats this country faces: cyber attacks. Up next, why some of the nation's top intelligence leaders are now pointing the finger at one specific country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Back to our top story. The secret election to choose the next pope now underway at the Vatican.

Chanting the names of the saints, the 115 cardinals who will pick the next leader of the world's Roman Catholic Church entered the Sistine Chapel and took a vow of secrecy. After everyone else was ushered out, the huge wooden doors were closed with the cardinals locked inside. They will vote and vote again until two-thirds of them agree on a candidate.

And after the first vote today, black smoke was sent up through the Vatican chimney, meaning no decision yet. When there is a new pope, white smoke will be sent up. We will all see it at that time.

Meanwhile, the doors are now closed and the cardinals have vowed confidentiality, but there have been leaks in the past. So, here's the question, how does the Vatican keep this secret election secret? CNN's Tom Foreman has been looking into that. He's joining us now from the virtual Sistine Chapel. Tom, what are you seeing?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is really the only way you can see the inside of the Sistine Chapel right now is virtually, but you can bet many people are trying to get a peek inside so they can understand how the deliberations are going, why we saw black smoke today and why we might see white smoke later on. That has led to an unprecedented level of security around this conclave for modern times, and there's a good reason. The Vatican was embarrassed by some high-level leaks last year and as they gather in this, one of the most sacred places in the church for one of the most sacred rites, they just do not want that embarrassment again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: With worldwide media swirling and one imposter already caught -- he was a protester who got close enough to shake a cardinal's hand -- extraordinary measures have been taken to protect the privacy of the conclave. The doors are locked, the windows blocked, and the cardinals have all taken a vow of secrecy.

But here are three ways the Vatican code could still be cracked. First, the Russian gambit. No one in the chapel is allowed to have any sort of cell phone or Blackberry. Cardinals with Twitter accounts are now tweetless. The room has been swept for electronic bugs and a jamming system has been installed beneath the floor.

But security experts point out every item brought in from clothing to furniture to the stoves to burn the ballots could carry a spy device. Think not? A few decades ago, the U.S. had to rebuild a brand-new embassy in Moscow after so many bugs were found to have smuggled into the architecture and fixtures. Still, security analysts suspect the Swiss guard can keep the electronic threat to a minimum. CNN's Mike Brooks:

MIKE BROOKS, HLN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think they've got that wrapped up. They've gone over all of those pieces with a fine- toothed comb to make sure there's nothing embedded in anything.

FOREMAN: But what about the connection? The cardinals deliberate by themselves and sleep only 100 yards away. But they need food, water, supplies and possibly medical care. Each person who provides a service represents another potential leak.

BROOKS: Well, they're threatened with ex-communication from the church. So, are they willing to give away any secrets, if you will, while facing possible ex-communication? That remains to be seen.

FOREMAN: And finally, there is the inside man. Remember, the oath of secrecy is standard. But after Pope Benedict was elected, some still-unnamed cardinal leaked information about the other top contenders.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: So will any of this play out? We don't really know, Wolf. What we know is this, this 2,000-year-old institution is acutely aware of the fact that the entire world is trying to find out what is happening in this room over in Rome. And many people will stop at almost nothing to get that information. Wolf?

BLITZER: It's a beautiful room indeed. All right, Tom Foreman, thank you.

Even as the Vatican buttons up, trying to prevent electronic leaks about the papal vote, the United States is now grappling with an unprecedented cyber security threat. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been looking into this. And there was disturbing new information, Barbara, just released today.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. The nation's top intelligence officer told Congress that the threat of a cyber attack in the U.S., a massive cyber attack, is now one of the top worries, and there is plenty of reason to be concerned.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: From the nation's power grid to online banking, the U.S. economy is utterly reliant on the Internet. The Pentagon is now watching the cyber threat to the economy every minute.

GEN. KEITH ALEXANDER, U.S. CYBER COMMAND: We've seen the attacks on Wall Street over the last six months grow significantly. Over 140 of those attacks over the last six months.

STARR: In the face of growing cyber attacks, many from China, President Obama recently signed an executive order to improve cyber security.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.

STARR: A recent investigation even pinpointed this building in China that houses part of a shadowy Chinese military unit responsible for thousands of hacks into American business and government agencies.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES CHAIRMAN: China's massive campaign to steal technology, business practices, intellectual property and business strategy through cyberspace continues, and it continues relentlessly.

STARR: For the first time, the president's national security adviser saying cyber attacks are now the number one U.S. issue with the Chinese government.

TOM DONILON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It takes time to (INAUDIBLE) serious stuff to investigate and put a stop to these activities.

STARR: The administration's new strategy to deal with it all? Overcome privacy issues and share more information about attacks between government and business.

GEN. ALEXANDER: Think of this as going up to New York City on the New Jersey Turnpike. The Easy Pass would see a car going by. What we're telling the Internet service providers is if you see a red car, tell us that you saw the red car, where you saw it and where it's going.

(END VIDEOTAPE) STARR: Now, a recent DoD report noted that even the Pentagon's own cyber systems are so vulnerable to an attack that during the drill, an exercise, those playing the role of opponents were very easily able to overwhelm Pentagon cyber defenses. Wolf?

BLITZER: It's a real serious problem out there, and I know they're working overtime to deal with it. It's only going to presumably get worse down the road, as well. Barbara, thank you.

And aside from sounding the alarm on cyber security, the director of national intelligence is now warning about a nuclear threat from North Korea. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I'm very concerned about the -- the actions of the new young leader -- very belligerent. And the rhetoric that has been emanating from the North Korean regime. The rhetoric, while it is propaganda-laced, is also an indicator of their attitude and perhaps their intent.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Does deterrence work with the country like North Korea or -- or Iran? I don't -- it's sort of the same question, do they care? Mutually assured destruction: are they responsive to that kind of rational thinking that guided U.S. policy for 50 years? Are these countries like the Soviet Union that we can have some confidence that they're going to make a rational decision, knowing that if they do something crazy that they're going to be wiped out?

CLAPPER: Well, I do think -- I do think they both understand that. I'm not sure that -- particularly to North Korea, whether they expect us to use a nuclear weapon, but they do - they certainly respect the capability of our military.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In our next hour, we're going to be speaking about North Korea and the latest threats coming from North Korea. The former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson, who's been in North Korea several times, will join us live with his assessment.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth just got out of the hospital, but now she's bowing out of several public engagements. Up next, we are live in London with the latest on her health.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Britain's Queen Elizabeth is canceling yet more public engagements. Let's go right to CNN's royal correspondent, Max Foster, in London for more on what's going on. Why did she cancel today, Max?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting. Last week, she canceled all her engagements. She was meant to be back up and running this week. She did carry out one engagement yesterday, but now we are told she's effectively homebound. Any engagements in the palace she'll do, but she's canceling anything that involves going outside.

Now, we're told she's at the tail end of her illness. A source told me she's still recovering from her recent illness but is otherwise in good health. But lots of people, Wolf, really asking the questions what's really wrong with her?

BLITZER: Well, what's the answer? What do we think is really wrong with her? This is a woman who is what, she's 86 years old?

FOSTER: People have been going back over the statements we've had, and they keep referring to her recent illness or the system of gastroenteritis. Not talking to anything specific. And that's led one royal correspondent, a respected one from the newspaper -- the newspapers -- to put this headline out today: "Just how ill is the queen?". People are really wondering if there is an underlying issue here that we should all know about.

The palace very much playing that down. But if she's not up and running next week as the palace says she should be, I think we'll be asking some more searching questions.

BLITZER: Max is on the scene for us. Max Foster, thank you.

Bacteria from a shark bite can be a ticking time bomb. But some scientists hunting sharks are hoping some bacteria will actually help them save bite victims' lives. We have a report. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: After months of not hearing from Sarah Palin, at least not in public, the former Alaskan governor, Republican vice presidential nominee, she is now back taking on something that doesn't necessarily happen all of the time. You can hear what's going on. We'll explain. That's coming up in the next hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Sharks moving passed Florida beaches, well, that's certainly getting a lot of people's attention on the sand. Others are wading in so they can stare right into the mouths of the sharks.

CNN's John Zarrella reports, what they're finding could save the lives of shark bite victims.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No one went in the water, the sign warned sharks. A lot of them migrating north were close to shore off Palm Beach, bad for swimmers and good for shark fisherman, Joshua Jorgenson.

He had one hooked quickly, fighting it through the waves. Jorgenson working fast got it close enough to grab and pull it to the beach. This wasn't about sport. It was about research.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch out, watch out, watch out.

ZARRELLA: Jorgenson and Nova South Eastern University Assistant Professor Nathan Unger --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's 6'1."

ZARRELLA: -- are hunting bacteria in the mouths of sharks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going swab the mouth of the shark around the teeth and the gums.

ZARRELLA: Once the samples taken, the shark is released. They're hoping to find out what bacteria sharks carry and whether it's the same in every species. ASSISTANT PROFESSOR NATHAN UNGER, NOVA SOUTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY: We're pursuing tiger sharks.

ZARRELLA: One of the biggest problems doctors face when treating a shark bite is not knowing what antibiotic will work to fight infection because they don't know what bacteria they're up against. Ask Anthony Segrich.

ANTHONY SEGRICH, SHARK BITE VICTIM: The first bite went through the kneecap and the ankle at the same time and it was about 17.5 inches wide, the mouth.

ZARRELLA: Segrich was spear fishing off Palm Beach two years ago when he was attacked by a 10-foot bull shark, the most vicious there is. He underwent five major surgeries and five weeks in the hospital, much of the time fighting infection that could have cost him his leg.

SEGRICH: You name the antibiotic I had it at that point. They hit you with everything.

DR. ROBERT BORREGO, TRAUMA DIRECTOR, ST. MARY'S HOSPITAL: The biggest problem is once with infection sets in and the patient is in the hospital a lot longer than if there was no infection and the whole care becomes a lot more complicated.

ZARRELLA: St. Mary's Hospital in West Palm Beach where Segrich was treated is participating in the research project.

BORREGO: What they'll do next is they'll take this and they'll put it in the slide.

ZARRELLA: If they can isolate bacteria sharks carry they'll know what antibiotics work best perhaps a game changer for doctors fighting to save a bite victim's life. As for Segrich --

(on camera): Here's the question, have you been back diving again?

SEGRICH: As luck would have it, on the very first time, back on scuba, a 7-foot bull shark came by. Check this out --

ZARRELLA: No.

SEGRICH: Yes.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): No fear. John Zarrella, CNN, West Palm Beach.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Amazing story. John also tell us, by the way, they've taken samples from 20 sharks so far and they're hoping to increase that to 100. Let's hope they figure this out.

Just ahead, private information related to the first lady of the United States. Michelle Obama, the former secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and the vice president, Joe Biden splashed, guess what? All over an internet site. There's an urgent investigation underway. We'll have full details. That's coming up at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hotshots." In Mongolia, check it out. A boy prepares camels for an upcoming polo match.

In New Orleans, horse-drawn carriages wait for passengers by historic Jackson Square with the St. Louis Cathedral in the background.

In Boston, a sparrow searches for something to eat in the snow. Remember, you can always send your photos to cnnireport.com or through Instagram using the hashtag cnnireport.

It was a high-profile condolence call, but now Iran's president is in some hot water with conservative clerics back in Iran after hugging the widow of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. CNN's Reza Sayah has the details from Cairo.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Most people would probably see these images as nothing more than an innocent and a comforting mini hug and a holding of the hands, but that's certainly not what members of Iran's clerical establishment are seeing.

This incident happened this week at Hugo Chavez's funeral. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in attendance and at one point he came face-to-face with Hugo Chavez's mother. Video posted on YouTube shows Ahmadinejad reaching out during an emotional exchange and touches Chavez's shoulder.

A still picture shows an emotional exchange where the two are clasping hands and leaning in with their heads apparently touching. These are the images that have sparked controversy in Iran, a country where a strict interpretation of Islamic law says a man cannot touch a woman if they are not related.

One cleric said President Ahmadinejad was clowning around and failing to uphold the dignity of the presidency. Another cleric said this was clearly a sin and reminded everyone that men cannot touch women in Iran unless women are drowning or in need of medical attention.

The reaction to these images underscore a remarkable political conflict that has emerged in Iran where you have President Ahmadinejad on one side and members of Iran's clerical establishment and political elite on another.

Ahmadinejad's critics, many of them believe that during his two terms he overstepped his power. He became too prominent. Ahmadinejad is not up for re-election in June, but he is hoping one of his aides can make a run for the presidency.

Perhaps this intense fallout from these images are an effort by Ahmadinejad's political enemies to undermine his aides potential run for presidency. As far as the picture goes, some of Ahmadinejad's supporters have tried claim the photo was doctored and changed, but clearly, many of the critics don't buy it. Reza Sayah, CNN, Cairo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: A fascinating story. We'll see how much trouble Ahmadinejad really is in once he is in Tehran. The fallout continues and we'll continue to watch the story closely for all of our viewers.