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Interview With Ambassador Stuart Holliday

Aired March 21, 2013 - 05:30   ET



ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: (voice-over): Happening now, President Obama is in Ramallah, meeting with President Abbas. Will securing a lasting peace be on the table? The expectations are low. We are live with the latest.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The so-called Craigslist killer is closer to learning his fate. The jury's sentence, we'll tell you about it in a moment.

SAMBOLIN: And newly released video of a bus driver literally kicking a student off the bus. We'll tell you what happened in this particularly outrageous incident.


BERMAN (on-camera): Wow! All right. Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Thirty-one minutes past the hour. Well, right now, President Obama is in the west bank city of Ramallah for the second leg of his historic Middle East visit. The trip already marred by violence. Two rockets fired from Gaza, landing in the southern Israeli city of Sderot. It appeared just a few hours ago while the president was still in Jerusalem. That's about 60 miles away.

There are reports of property damage, but there are no injuries reported. Chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is live from Ramallah in the west bank this morning. And Jessica, how have the rockets affected what the president hopes to accomplish today?

JESSICA YELLIN, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Zoraida. Good morning. It, frankly, is not going to stand in the way of the president's agenda, and it has not changed his schedule at all. The White House isn't commenting on the rocket attacks, but unfortunately, these sort of things are all too common in Israel.

And so, the White House, clearly, the secret service did not feel it was a threat in any way to the president and so didn't feel it was necessary to alter his movement. So, the president, as you point out, is here, meeting with the leader of the Palestinian authority. He's in a bilateral meeting right now. I was here in the presidential compound in Ramallah as there are four Blackhawk helicopters all together that landed here. And the presidential team of several dozens of people came by. They're all in closed door meetings now. The president's goal essentially is to see what it would take for the Palestinians to sit down and resume talks with the Israelis to head toward a peace. Fundamentally, the difference right now is about the Israeli settlements, Israeli home building in land that Palestinians believe is and should be part of a future Palestinian State.

The Palestinians think that the Israelis should not continue building them and that should be a so-called precondition of any talks. The Israelis do not want that to be a so-called precondition. And so, that's sort of a struggle before they even begin, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. And then, you know, announcing that the expectations are low. I don't know. That's a little shocking to me. You know, as everybody is hoping that these talks of peace will actually resume and lead to something. Jessica Yellin, live for us in Ramallah, thank you.

BERMAN: Joining us now to talk about all this is Stuart Holliday. He's the president and CEO of the Meridian International Center, which is a public diplomacy organization that works with the state department. He is formerly the U.S. ambassador for special political affairs to the United Nations. Good morning, Mr. Ambassador. Thank you so much for coming in.


BERMAN: Let me first ask you about these rockets that did hit in the southern city of Sderot. You're involved in the world of diplomacy. When something like this happens when you're on a trip like this, does that tend to derail things or do you just have to keep focus and move on?

HOLLIDAY: I think it's a question of scale. And what we see here, as Jessica said, is all too common. It's a reminder that the Palestinian authority doesn't control Gaza. And, that underscores, I think, the weakness that we face in terms of the talks restarting, the fact that the Palestinian government isn't unified. It's also a reminder for everyone about how, you know, vulnerable Southern Israel is to these rocket attacks.

BERMAN: You get a sense that the hopes that the Palestinians were raised after President Obama was first elected and he took office in 2009. He gave that famous speech in Cairo. There were some raised expectations among the Palestinians there. But now, there is the sense of a bit of disappointment. How do you think they look upon the president's visit today?

HOLLIDAY: I think it's a mixed bag. I mean, first of all, they were very excited when the president laid out an agenda, which talked about reinvigorating the talks. And you know, he gave George Mitchell and then Secretary Clinton, and now, Secretary Kerry the mandate to go push for a two-state solution, and it's been very difficult. I do think that this is a significant visit. His first visit as president and Secretary Kerry's, obviously, come earlier and is going to be staying later and doing a little shuttle diplomacy. So, the Palestinians are very skeptical. But I do believe that they would view the president's visit and they look for any opportunity to get these talks restarted. And of course, they've been on the sidelines, waiting for what they see as a critical issue, the settlements to halt.

Israelis have said, look, we're ready to talk at any point as long as you don't put preconditions on these talks.

BERMAN: I'm glad you brought that up.

HOLLIDAY: And hopefully, something can get started.

BERMAN: Ambassador, I'm glad you brought that up, because the really interesting report in "The New York Times" today which says that an internal Palestinian memo suggests that President Abbas may no longer call for the Israelis to publicly state they will halt the settlements. In other words, they're not going to make that a precondition to negotiations anymore.

If this is true, would that be a significant development here, something that could get them back to the table?

HOLLIDAY: It would be very significant. And what President Abbas has to do, though, is balance domestic pressure. Is he going to be the first, you know, Palestinian leader to, in effect, acknowledge that the facts on the ground from 1968 to now are going to be dictated by what we have as a so-called agreement that part of the west bank, part of Jerusalem or all of Jerusalem is going to be part of Israel?

And so, I do think it would be very significant if it happens. And they'll probably look for some wording or some way to kind of get through to allow President Abbas to save face again, because he's really the only partner the Israelis have for peace if they're interested in one.

BERMAN: I want to talk about a lot of the pictures we've seen. So much has been made about President Obama's relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They went to great ends yesterday to make it seem like they really liked each other. There was an abundance of smiles.

Talk to me about the body language you think we will see today. We are already seeing today between President Obama and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian authority, because in some ways, it looked a little stiff to me.

HOLLIDAY: Well, President Abbas is of an older generation. He is, of course, you know, not a -- I guess, you would say a hugger, despite the fact that there is a customary greeting in the Arab world of an embrace as there has been in other parts of the world. I think that there is obviously some sense of disappointment as you've eluded to in the beginning of your segment about what the expectations are. And I think for President Obama, obviously, there's been a lot of work with President Abbas. There is a channel, there's a relationship. But the body language, frankly, with Prime Minister Netanyahu, despite the fact that it was very positive yesterday, really sort of masks what has been called a very tense relationship in the past. So, I wouldn't read too much into the body language piece.

BERMAN: And a smile only means so much. Ambassador Stuart Holliday, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Security Council, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.

HOLLIDAY: Thank you.

BERMAN: Later on "Starting Point," we're going to speak with Hanan Ashrawi. She's from the Palestinian organization (ph). That is at 7:15 eastern time. She's a key player in the peace process for years.

And at 8:00 eastern, former senator, George Mitchell, he, too, deeply engaged in the peace process. He will be with us as well.

This just in to CNN. Police in Chicago are investigating an early morning shooting at a nightclub that injured at least seven people in Chicago. The shooting believed to be gang related. This happened just after 1:00 am at Club G's on the city's south Westside. Investigators say there had been an album release party for an unnamed rapper.

Six men and a woman have all been taken to hospitals. None of the injuries appear to be life threatening. No arrests, so far.

SAMBOLIN: Dazzled and concerned. A Senate hearing tackles the use of drones within the United States. Experts testifying yesterday that drones can have practical applications, monitoring crops and livestock, looking at damage to buildings, perhaps. But lawmakers express concern, saying new legislation may be needed to protect Americans' privacy and to protect their safety.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there is a real concern that the day-to- day conduct of American citizens going about their business might be monitored, cataloged, and recorded by the federal government. And I, for one, would have very deep concerns about that.


SAMBOLIN: According to a U.S. official, the Obama administration is seriously considering shifting lethal drone operations from the CIA to the U.S. military for the sake of greater transparency. The military would reportedly operate and fly the drones, but targeting would still be done jointly among the agency. No final decisions have been made, and there's no specific timeframe either.

BERMAN: A jury in Ohio recommending the death penalty for so-called Craigslist killer, Richard Beasley (ph). Fifty-three-year-old Beasley was found guilty last week of murdering three men who answered a Craigslist ad for work on a cattle farm in 2011. A judge will hand down the formal sentence next week.

SAMBOLIN: A not guilty plea from the Idaho man accused of slapping a crying baby on a plane. There's his picture right there. Lawyers for Joe Rickey Handley (ph) say their client denies hitting the 19-month- old during a flight to Atlanta. This was last month but admits using a racial slur. They say the 60-year-old was under a lot of stress, having to decide whether to remove his only son from life support after an insulin overdose left him in a coma. The son died the day after that flight.

BERMAN: Some pretty shocking newly released video to show you this morning of a school bus driver in Florida literally kicking a student off of her bus. This incident happened last fall. Police are just releasing the images now. Tampa police say an eight-year-old special needs student slapped the driver, Stephanie Wilkerson (ph), after being told to wait her turn getting off the bus.

A security camera shows Wilkerson giving the student a swift kick as the girl exits the bus. Investigators say Wilkerson can be heard on the video saying, quote, "I'd buy a belt if she were mine." She would not hit adults ever again. So, apparently Wilkerson was fired after this incident.

SAMBOLIN: That was a special needs child.

All right. Forty-one minutes past the hour. Coming up, we're following the meeting between President Obama and Abbas in Ramallah. EARLY START back in a moment.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Forty-four minutes past the hour. By the way, happy birthday.


SAMBOLIN: I had to. I had to. All right. We're going to take a look at your top stories this morning.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Competing written requests to the U.N. for an independent investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. President Bashar al Assad and his government claims opposition activist used chemical weapons during clashes in Aleppo and in Damascus suburb. The opposition saying exactly the opposite of that, that the Syrian government actually used those chemical weapons.

But a number of officials, including the U.S. ambassador to Syria, says, so far, there is no evidence to substantiate those reports.

BERMAN (voice-over): So, two police snipers took down a desperate man holding a toddler hostage in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Earlier in the day, the man pulled his ex-girlfriend off a city bus and fatally shot her. He ended up in a house and held the three-year-old hostage for more than four hours before snipers got a clear shot. They took it. The child was not hurt, thankfully.

SAMBOLIN: Facing a $1 billion deficit, the Chicago public school system is making some really big changes. CEO, Barbara Byrd Bennett, released a statement saying the district's underutilized schools will be closed. So, students can have access to schools with more resources like air-conditioning, digital materials, and libraries. They have not said how many schools are expected to close, but, opponents say they unfairly target minorities.

BERMAN: Twenty-four and counting for the Miami Heat, but it was not easy. It hasn't been easy the last few games. LeBron James and company came back from 27 points down in the third.

SAMBOLIN: Can you believe that?

BERMAN: They beat his old team, the Cleveland Cavaliers 98-95. LeBron had a triple-double, 25 points, 12 boards, 10 assists. The Heat are now within nine games of the NBA record for consecutive wins that, of course, held by the 1971-1972 Los Angeles Lakers who won 33 --

SAMBOLIN: Do you think they'll do it?

BERMAN: No, actually. It's just -- it's getting harder and harder. They almost blew it against the Celtics. They almost blew it against the Cavs. It's a lot more wins to go. I think they are the best team I have seen in years. I don't think they should ever lose necessarily, but that's a lot of games to win in a row.

SAMBOLIN: I can't believe they were down by that much and came back.

BERMAN: That's right. You can't do that every night. Sooner or later --


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): I think they're doing it on purpose.

All right. A piece of NASA's history recovered from the ocean floor, the treasure trove from space coming up next.

And if you're leaving the house right now, you can watch us any time on your desktop or your mobile phone, just go to


SAMBOLIN: Fifty minutes past the hour. Let's get you up-to-date. Good morning to you, by the way.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): President Obama in the West Bank right now, the second stop on his visit to the Middle East. He's holding talks with Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. And earlier this morning, two rockets fired from Gaza landed in the southern Israeli city of Sderot while the president was in Jerusalem. The attack caused some property damage but no reports of any injuries.

BERMAN: The man who become pope finding a middle ground on same-sex marriage? Gay rights activist says the height of the same-sex marriage debate in Argentina in 2010, Archbishop Brigolio, who is now Pope Francis, told him he would support civil unions. CNN contributor, Father Edward Beck, explained this compromise to Erin Burnett on "Out Front."


FATHER EDWARD BECK, HOST, "THE SUNDAY MASS": Now, it looked like same-sex marriage was going to pass in Argentina. And so, as a compromise, he said, look, we want to come out for human rights. Let's support same-sex civil union. For the first time in six years, they voted him down.


BERMAN: Ultimately, Argentina approved legalizing same-sex marriage. Later this morning, Father Beck will join us on "Starting Point." That's coming up at 8:30 am eastern time. So, stay tuned for that.

SAMBOLIN: Baseball's biggest rivals will set aside their differences briefly on opening day to honor the victims of the Newtown massacre. Ceremonies will include a moment of silence at Yankee Stadium on April 1st before the New York Yankees take on the Boston Red Sox. Baseball commissioner, Bud Selig, is asking all major league teams to wear special ribbons on their uniforms to remember those 26 victims.

BERMAN: Red Sox and Yankees have actually come together for charitable events before. It's a wonderful thing.


BERMAN: And Newtown is actually lies, right, between the two cities. So, they're fans of both teams there.

Space history at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Recovery teams have brought up two rocket engines from the Apollo Space Missions. chief, Jeff Bezos, lead a personal mission to find, recover, and restore these engines. He says the serial numbers have worn out. So, it's hard to tell what missions the rockets were used for when they were launched into space.


BERMAN (on-camera): But that is very, very cool to able to recover some of these engines.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): It is.

BERMAN: So, when will spring finally start showing its colors? I don't expect it to ever start at this point.

SAMBOLIN: Anybody's guess now.



BERMAN: But, hopefully, we can find some better news from Jennifer Delgado live in the weather center in Atlanta for us. Hey, Jennifer.

DELGADO: Hi, guys. Unfortunately, I don't have better news for you. Let's wait (ph) spring is not officially here yet. it's on the books, but the problem is, we're still looking at snow. You could see some flurries up there through parts of New York as well as Washington, D.C. and the same for areas like Hartford.

Now, you can see on the radar, this little band moving through again, seeing some light flurries around through about 9:00, 10:00 am, but big snow coming down, of course, lake effect. We are talking another day between four and nine inches of snowfall. They picked up a lot yesterday in some locations, up to nine inches as well.

And that lake effect warning is in place until tomorrow morning. Now, we move over towards the Midwest. We have a new storm developing, bringing it through parts of Nebraska as well in the Kansas. This is going to be a big snow maker for areas, including the Ozarks, I should say, and the southern part of Missouri. We're talking two to four inches as well as four to six inches in some parts.

And then, we're also going to add in some sleet as well. So, be careful on the roadway. That really is going to start to get into its act a little bit later into the afternoon. Now, I also want to point out to the Texas panhandle, we are talking about severe storms popping up. Big rain and snow out in the pacific northwest once again, but sunny in the south and cloudy in the northeast and temperatures once again running 20 degrees below average for this time of the year.

For Chicago, high today, 34 degrees, Minneapolis, 25, Atlanta, 52. That feels really bad here. But let's talk more about this snow. We have some video coming out of Milwaukee. Now, we do know that opening day is two weeks away. Well, this is Miller Park. Look at this video. John, Zoraida, you're seeing them shoveling big-time snow out of there.

They have to get this all out of here over the next two weeks. You better hope there's no more snow. I am not endorsing Milwaukee Brewers.

SAMBOLIN: Good for you.

DELGADO: Not endorsing. Not saying they're a bad team.

SAMBOLIN: We all want to head to our baseball games, but the snow is going to be a huge impediment.


BERMAN: Baseball is happening.

DELGADO: It is. Absolutely is. BERMAN: Mother Nature better catch on because baseball is happening.



SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you.

BERMAN: Still ahead on EARLY START, we're going to go back to Ramallah where president Obama has arrived for talk to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. We're going to show you a live picture of the podium. They will be speaking from there in just a little while. We will bring it to you live as soon as it happens.

SAMBOLIN: But up next, Tina Fey revives her impression of Sarah Palin during a sit-down with James Lipton on "Inside the Actor's Studio." We're going to share that with you. You're watching EARLY START. Good morning.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone, on this great, happy morning. We're taking a look at the top CNN trends online this morning.

Tina Fey with an encore during an interview with James Lipton on Bravo's "Inside The Actor's Studio." She reprised her famous -- world famous, I should say, impression of Sarah Palin. Take a look.


TINA FEY, COMEDIAN: You know, Jimmy, I believe that if everybody had guns, then there would be fewer guns in the stores.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Same-sex marriage, what is your view on that?

FEY: Well, the bible says it's gross.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No same-sex marriage?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Marriage is meant for people who wear different kinds of swimsuits.


BERMAN: EARLY START continues right now.


BERMAN (voice-over): Right now, President Obama meeting with Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, just before they meet the press at this hour. We will go live to the west bank.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Is Syria using chemical weapons or not? We'll look at the conflicting information this morning.

BERMAN Is "The Tonight Show" returning to its roots? I'm talking about New York. Rumors swirling, Jay Leno may be out, Jimmy stepping in. Intrigue.


SAMBOLIN (on-Camera): Yes. Lots of intrigue. Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida sambolin. It is Mr. John Berman's birthday today. happy birthday. (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN (on-camera): We're not observing, though. It is 6:00 a.m. in the east, as she said. I am John Berman, and I am old.

Happening right now, President Obama in the west banks for talks with the Palestinians just hours after an early morning rocket attack in Southern Israel. Two rockets fired from Gaza, landing in the southern Israeli city of Sderot. This happened while the president was still in Jerusalem. That's about 60 miles away. We are getting some reports of property damage, but so far, no injuries.

This is the second leg of the president's visit. He's already had talks with Israeli leaders on three critical issues, Iran, Syria, and the west bank. In about 45 minutes, the president is scheduled to sit down with Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, for a working lunch.