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Obama in the West Bank; Jodi Arias Trial Resumes; Pope Francis' Stance On Same-Sex Marriage

Aired March 21, 2013 - 06:30   ET



ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening right now, President Obama meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas just before they go before the press this morning. We're live in Ramallah.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Heated testimony in the trial of a woman accused of killing her ex-boyfriend. Did the prosecution poke damaging holes in the defense psychologist's testimony?

SAMBOLIN: And check this out. A doe that a police officer believed was dead leaps out of this trunk and gives him a huge scare.

BERMAN: Is that -- could that possibly be for real?

SAMBOLIN: It is. It looks like it's real.

BERMAN: Oh, my goodness.

All right. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It's 32 minutes past the hour.

BERMAN: Happening right now: President Obama in the West Bank City of Ramallah for meetings with the Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas.

The visit already marred by a little bit of violence. Two rockets fired from Gaza early this morning, landing in the southern city of Sderot. This happened while the president was in Jerusalem, 60 miles away, preparing to leave for the West Bank. There are no reports of injuries.

Joining us right now from Washington to discuss all this is Stuart Holliday. He's the president and CEO of Meridian International Center, a public diplomacy organization that works with the State Department. He's formerly a U.S. ambassador for special political affairs to the United Nations.

Good morning, Ambassador, thanks for coming in.

Let me first ask about these rocket attacks, because they did happen while the president is in Israel. I think a lot of people at first might find that a little bit alarming. Is something like that in and of itself enough to send a bit of shockwaves through this diplomacy? AMBASSADOR STUART HOLLIDAY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL: Not really. This is a tough neighborhood and I think both parties are used to seeing these kinds of things. It's a reminder, though, of the fact that Gaza is controlled, of course, by Hamas and today the president's meeting -- excuse me, Hamas, the president is meeting President Abbas in Ramallah.

And there has been a rivalry between these factions on the Palestinian side. There could be internal Palestinian dynamics at play here. They will be looking, the Israelis, of course, will be looking for some sort of statement, some sort of recognition by President Abbas that this is obviously not to be tolerated.

BERMAN: There's a diplomatic term that we here from time to time in meeting like this called deliverables -- deliverables means you will leave this trip, this journey with some kind of concrete statement, some kind of thing to hang your hat on saying we achieved this.

The White House has made clear in this trip to the Middle East -- to Israel, to the West Bank -- we are not supposed to expect any deliverables.

So what's the point?

HOLLIDAY: Of course, on these trips, of course, the unexpected can happen and expectations are really dashed. Really, these are very, very difficult issues.

However, in this trip, the president -- his first trip to Israel since his election and his re-election and actually as president was very significant to do at the beginning of his first term because the major issues he will face over the next two or three years are going to be in this region. There's Iran, Syria, this what happens in Egypt.

And he has to go and meet face to face with the Israelis. He has to recognize the historic nature of the alliance. And then he hopes to, with John Kerry, of course, as secretary of state, restart some kind of dynamic with respect to the peace process.

BERMAN: There was an interesting development reported in "The New York Times" this morning. It says that the Palestinian Authority, that President Mahmoud Abbas, may no longer demand that Israel publicly renounce settlements in the West Bank as a precondition to going back to the negotiating table.

I know that sounds complicated but essentially what's important for people to know here is that this seems as if the Palestinian leader may be taking steps to get back to the table.

Is that how you read it?

HOLLIDAY: I do. Obviously, that's the objective of Secretary Kerry. It would be very significant if that were to take place.

I think the key word there is publicly. Of course, there's an enormous amount of pressure in the new Israeli coalition to not make the Palestinian issue the principle issue. There are a lot of domestic pressures, a lot of concerns and Iran looms large.

But for the United States, of course -- and for a large part of the Israeli population this is an issue that they're concerned if they don't act now that they could be missing the window for a two-state solution in the next two years.

BERMAN: Ambassador Stuart Holliday, former ambassador to the U.N. Security Council, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.

HOLLIDAY: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: Chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin is traveling with the president and she joins us now live from Ramallah.

And, Jessica, President Obama is meeting right now, as we were just discussing, with President Abbas. The question is, what can they accomplish, or are we just waiting for Secretary of State Kerry to take over and get these dialogues moving?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Zoraida, I think it's -- we're waiting for Secretary Kerry to take over and get the dialogue moving, but the goal for the president today is to start by seeing what it will take to get Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

You know, peace talks stalled in 2010. And, yesterday, the president essentially said he did not come to the Middle East with his own road map to peace because you wanted to listen to leaders in the region. He said his role today is to listen to Palestinians.

And I'm sure some Republicans in Congress will chuckle at that description of the president's role -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: As a listener in chief on this trip.

How much time is he actually spending there? Is he giving equal time to Israel and Palestine on this trip?

YELLIN: No, he is not. The focus of this trip really has been on Israel and on healing any hurt feelings with the U.S.'s long-time ally. But the president would not come to this region without visiting Israel's essential partner for peace. The Palestinians.

And so, he's spending -- well, just a total of four hours in the West Bank, but a quality four hours, sitting down in these bilateral talks, lunch and then taking a question from a reporter before he returns to Jerusalem.

He'll spend, again, a total of four hours in the West Bank -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Jessica Yellin, live for us -- thank you very much.

BERMAN: And coming up on "STARTING POINT," we're going to hear from Hanan Ashrawi with Palestinian Liberation Organization. That's at 7:15 Eastern Time. She has been a key player in the peace process for years.

And former Senator George Mitchell, also a key player in the peace process, he joins us at 8:00 Eastern Time as well.

Thirty-eight minutes after the hour right now.

Court resumes in a few hours in the Jodi Arias trial. It ended early Wednesday after an unidentified spectator got sick and vomited in the gallery just after recess. That will stop a trial. Due back on the stand today is defense psychologist Richard Samuels. He'll be answering questions from jurors.

Arias is charged with murdering her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander. If found guilty, she could face the death penalty.

To save money, the Chicago school system is making big some changes. But not everyone is happy about it.

CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett announced the district's underutilized schools will be closed to consolidate resources. The remaining welcoming schools as they'll be called, were providing a better learning condition like digital materials and libraries. Opponents say the closures will unfairly target poorer neighborhoods.

SAMBOLIN: Officials in Japan are blaming a dead rat for latest troubles at a nuclear power plant that was slammed by a tsunami. They have released a picture of a rodent they say caused a short circuit that shut down cooling systems at the Fukushima facility for 30 hours. A tsunami caused by an earthquake two years ago caused a massive meltdown at the plant.

BERMAN: That's just crazy, nuclear rat.


BERMAN: Trending this morning for the first time, American Academy of Pediatrics is supporting same-sex marriage. The group says they studied scientific literature going back more than four years and their report says that children's well-being is affected much more by the strength of family relationships than by parents' sexual orientation.

SAMBOLIN: Has Voyager 1 left the solar system or not? Yesterday, one group of scientists said yes and celebrated the first manmade craft to travel that far. But NASA says nope, claiming the spacecraft is probably in an area called a magnetic highway that scientists know much about.

Voyager left Earth 35 years ago.

BERMAN: You have to look at this. Objects in the trunk are closer than they appear. This is a real shocker for cops in Kalamazoo, Michigan, when they stopped a guy who said he hid a deer and took it home for food. So, when they popped the trunk, the deer popped out. Surprise.

Obviously scared and determined not to be road kill, the deer fled the scene. Can you imagine?

SAMBOLIN: I wonder why they stopped him and just happened to look in the trunk and find the deer.

Anyway -- could Pope Francis lead reform for the Catholic Church? Why there are signs that he may not oppose civil unions. That's coming up next.


BERMAN: Help us all. Christine Romans joins us now with a look ahead of what's going on, on "STARTING POINT."

Hey, Christine.


Well, ahead on "STARTING POINT", we've got the president just minutes away from holding a live news conference from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. We're going to bring that to you live, along with some instant reaction from the region, and a look at implications of the meeting with former homeland security chairman, Peter King.

And there's this manhunt in Colorado as police try to find the person who murdered the chief of Colorado's prisons in cold blood. The clues they're focusing on this morning and we're going to tell you the very latest from the undersheriff of the county where he was killed.

And a passionate plea from a 12-year-old speaking out for same-sex marriage. We'll talk to Daniel Lefew (ph) who was adopted with his sister by two gay fathers. We'll talk to him about the letter he wrote to Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and why he says John Roberts' family is just like his.

BERMAN: It was really interesting to see.

ROMANS: It really was.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thanks, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

Forty-four minutes past the hour.

The man who would become pope finding a middle ground on same-sex marriage. At the height of the same-sex marriage fight in Argentina, 2010, Archbishop Bergoglio -- now, of course, Pope Francis -- got into a very public verbal battle with the country's president. He called her gay marriage bill a destructive attack on God's plan, but privately, Pope Francis' stance may have been very different. Here's Rafael Romo.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A cordial Vatican meeting between the president of Argentina and the new pope with the two Argentines exchanging gifts. But their get-together Monday was in sharp contrast to the war of words between the two leaders less than three years ago.

In mid-2010, Argentina was polarized over a same-sex marriage bill supported by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner who called the church's actions against the measure, attitudes reminiscent of medieval times and the inquisition. Then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio blasted the bill, dubbing it, a destructive attack on God's plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The church has asked Catholics to oppose this, and that's exactly what I'm doing as a Catholic.

ROMO: But some say the future pontiff was much more conciliatory than he appeared. Marcelo Marquez is a gay rights activist and former theology professor at a Catholic seminary near the Argentine Capital. He says Bergoglio told him in private in 2010 that he favored gay rights and went as far as saying he didn't oppose gay civil unions.

MARCELO MARQUEZ, GAY RIGHTS ACTIVIST (through translator): He told me that he understands that homosexual people should have their rights protected in society. He also said he believed that Argentina was not ready for a gay marriage law but said he would favor a law granting civil unions.

ROMO: Marquez says the meeting happened after he sent Bergoglio this letter on behalf of gay Catholics supporting the same-sex marriage bill. The "New York Times" reported Wednesday that a private meeting of bishops also in 2010, Cardinal Bergoglio advocated that the church in Argentina support the idea of civil unions for gay couples.

(on-camera) A senior Vatican official said the Roman Catholic Church could neither confirm nor deny the report at this point. The official added that while Pope Francis might have expressed such view while he was a cardinal, he should be given time to develop his policy position as pontiff.

(voice-over) Rafael Romo, CNN, Atlanta.


SAMBOLIN: And coming up on "STARTING POINT," we'll get reaction from CNN contributor, Father Edward Beck. That is at 8:30 eastern.

Well, the Heat get another win, but the victory wasn't the only crazy moment on the court. That's next in our Bleacher Report.


BERMAN: So, Lebron James, the Miami Heat, the NBA champs, won their 24th straight last night after really mounting an amazing comeback. Andy Scholes is here with the Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey. Good morning, guys. Well, the Heat are now just nine wins away from tying the 1971-1972 Lakers for the longest winning streak in NBA history, and the way they kept their streak alive last night in Cleveland was incredible. The game got off to an odd start. Its tip of was delayed a 35-minute because the scoreboard was leaking some sort of liquid.

Now, the delay must have affected the Heat, because they fell behind by 27 points. Now, team is trailing by 27 or more on the second half, had come back to win only five times in 2,018 games coming into last night. But once again, Lebron would not be denied. He led a furious comeback in the final 18 minutes of the game.

He finished with a triple-double as the Heat win in amazing fashion, 98-95, to keep their streak alive. Now, one of the craziest moments from last night's game is the number two story in the lineup on right now. A fan doning a "we miss you Lebron T- shirt ran on to the court during the fourth quarter, but didn't rattle Lebron.


LEBRON JAMES, PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYER: He said he missed me and come back please. And I didn't have much time to say much to him because, you know, the security got to him. But I just patted him on the head.


SCHOLES: The playing games for the big dance wrapping up last night. La Salle back in the tournament for the first time in 21 years and having no problem with Boise State. They won 80-71. And they'll play Kansas State on Friday. And rounding out the field of 64 will be James Madison. The Dukes won their first tournament game in 30 years, taking care of LIU Brooklyn 68-55 to earn them a match up with one seed Indiana in round two.

By now, you should have your bracket filled out and ready to go for today's action. In case you had any hope of ending up with a perfect bracket, let me end that for you right now. The odds of filling out a perfect bracket are one in over 9.2 quintillion. Now, to put that number in perspective, if all the people on the Earth filled out one bracket per second, it would take over 43 years to fill out every possible bracket.

Also, if all possible brackets were stacked on top of each other, the pile would reach from the moon and back over 1.1 million times. Now, if you do know anything about basketball, like 16 seeds don't beat number one seed, your odds actually increase, guys, to one and 128 billion.


BERMAN: You know, I didn't know there's going to be math on this test. I mean, there's a lot of math right there.

SAMBOLIN: Somebody spent a lot of time putting that together, too.

BERMAN: I've already, by the way, blown my entire bracket. I have two losses, so far, on just the play-in games. Andy, thanks for that. Thanks for nothing, man!


BERMAN: All right. This just in to CNN. Two police helicopters crashed in Germany at Berlin's Olympic Stadium. Several people are hurt. Police say the rotors of the two choppers hit each other as they were landing.


BERMAN: Stay with CNN for more on this developing story. We'll bring you the news as it comes in.

SAMBOLIN: It is 54 minutes past the hour.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): President Obama is in the west bank right now, the second stop on his visit to the Middle East. And we're waiting for a live news conference with him and Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. And earlier this morning, two rockets fired from GAZA landed in the southern Israeli city of Sderot.

It happened while the president was still in Jerusalem, preparing to leave for Ramallah. That attack caused some property damage as you're seeing there. But, we have no reports of any injuries.

BERMAN (voice-over): So, we may narrowly avoid a government shutdown with a few days to spare. The House is expected to vote on a short- term budget measure today that would keep the government funded beyond March 27th. The Senate passed a six-month budget measure yesterday that keeps most of the automatic across-the-board spending cuts in place.

SAMBOLIN: First lady, Michelle Obama, brought first dog, Bo, and a basket of goodies to military families in Maryland. She handed out tickets to the annual Easter egg roll at the White House during a visit to the Walter Reed Medical Center. The south lawn tradition could be canceled this year if Congress can't reach a deal to fund the federal government. I thought the Easter Egg Roll was not in jeopardy.


BERMAN (on-camera): No. I think they're saying right now the Easter Egg Roll will go on. And Bo, the dog, has played a big roll in it. He's starring a White House video promoting it.

BERMAN: Fifty-five minutes after the hour right now.

And up next, the NFL taking another step to cut down on concussions and head injuries. So, why are some players so angry about this rule change? We'll tell you. You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Fifty-eight minutes past the hour. Hit what you see, see what you hit. NFL owners voting to penalize running backs who lower their heads and use their crown of their helmets to ward off would be tacklers. A similar rule already applied to defensive players, but it's not sitting too well with some running backs.

Former Giant, Brandon Jacobs, not mincing words tweeting, you're going to have to look here, "how the F can we protect ourselves?"

All right. That's it for EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "Starting Point" with John Berman and Christine Romans starts right now.

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I'm Christine Romans. Soledad has the day off today. Our "Starting Point," two rockets land in Israel during President Obama's historic trip there. We're live in the west bank as the president is just moments away now from a live news conference with Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. We will bring that to you live.

BERMAN: A manhunt happening right now for the person who gunned down the head of Colorado's prison systems. Police in a desperate search for a car and a witness who may have some answers.

ROMANS: More saber rattling from North Korea overnight with threats that U.S. bases are, quote, "within striking distance of their country."

BERMAN: And the Heat just on fire. Down by double digits late in the game, they rally to keep the winning streak alive, 24 games and counting. Will it ever stop?

ROMANS: Wow! Good morning. It's Thursday, March 21st. "Starting Point" begins right now.