Return to Transcripts main page


Gunmen May Still Be Hiding in Mall; Will Obama Meet Iran's New President?; Singled Out For Slaughter; Obama's First Remarks On Kenya Terror Attack; Obama's High-Stakes Visit to the U.N.; Four-year-old's Epic iPhone Meltdown

Aired September 23, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jake, thanks very much.

Happening now, security forces storm a shopping mall, trying to clear out the terrorists who killed dozens of shoppers. But there could still be gunmen inside. We're going live to Kenya.

And I'll also speak with a journalist who got into the mall just hours after the terrorists struck.

Meanwhile, a high stakes visit to the United Nations for President Obama. And it comes amid a charm offensive by Iran's new president.

Will these two leaders actually meet here at the U.N.?

And a high stakes week in Washington, where a government shut down looms, as conservatives target ObamaCare.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the United Nations.


It's midnight in Nairobi, two-and-a-half days since terrorists attacked an upscale shopping mall and began methodically slaughtering people inside. It's now been several hours since Kenyan security forces stormed the mall.

One official says some al Qaeda-linked gunmen may still be inside.

The death toll, as of now, at least 62 people.

Dozens of people are said to be unaccounted for. Scores of people are injured. Americans are among the wounded victims. And the terror group Al-Shabab claims three Americans took part in the attack.

CNN's Zain Verjee is outside the mall.

She's joining us live -- Zain, earlier, we all watched in horror. You had to take -- you had to duck for cover.

Tell our viewers what happened and what's going on right now.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Kenyan military is insisting that they are in control of Westgate Mall. But I'm hearing now from two senior officials on the ground here that that is actually not the case.

I'm hearing that there are several gunmen still in Westgate Mall. And among them are snipers. Now, the situation is fluid. It's moving quickly. It's very difficult to get any kind of information from officials on the ground and the military and everyone involved in that attack from a planning and also any forces that are going in there. We're not getting anything from them.

But what we do know is that 65 people are missing. And tonight, there are so many questions about hostages.

Where are they, if they were rescued?

And the gunmen -- we're hearing three are dead, but also many are on the loose. We're trying to get information about that and we're not getting that much.

The day today, Wolf, has been one of an ebb and flow. There has been some periods of calm and some periods of real fear.

Just watch this.


VERJEE: That's more gunfire?

Was that more gunfire?



Can we have the helmet?

Where is the helmet?

Come here.


VERJEE: Wolf, Nairobi is really tense tonight. I was out on the road just a short while ago and there is barely anyone. It was just me out there on the roads moving back and forth a little bit.

People are really scared. They're hunkering down. There are questions, too, about whether there could be any other potential attacks.

I've talked to two different officials here on the ground that say that they have fears that that could be the case. But they are warning all Kenyans just to stay calm, as we continue to get more information -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We know -- at least we -- we have these reports, Zain, these terrorists were going inside and they were asking people if they were Muslim or non-Muslim. If they were Muslim, they were supposedly letting them go. If they were Christians or non-Muslims, they were killing them.

What do we know about this -- these reports?

VERJEE: There are mixed reports about that, Wolf. I've heard from many Muslims that they recited the prayers or said something religious and they were let go. There are many others that were killed.

Also, Nairobi is a pretty secular cosmopolitan society, so not all Muslims have their heads covered in any kind of hijab or religious attire. And from people that I've spoken to here in this area, specifically, where the emergency rescue and response are, they brought this exact same thing up to me a couple of times. And they said that many Muslims were killed, regardless.

So it seems to me that a few got really lucky and did get away, but many people were caught up, like those of other faiths, and killed brutally.

BLITZER: Brutally, indeed.

What an awful situation. Zain, be careful over there.

Zain Verjee reporting from Kenya.

Nichole Sobecki is a Nairobi-based journalist who managed to get inside the mall shortly after the terrorists struck and documented the bloody attack.

She's joining us now by phone from Israel, where she's on assignment.

So, Nichole, tell us what happened.

You heard from your husband, who's a photographer for the "New York Times," what was going on.

Pick up the story.

What did you do?

NICHOLE SOBECKI, JOURNALIST: Well, I actually called him to let him know what was going on. I had heard word of what was happening, checked in with the A-S Ki (ph) Nairobi bureau and then gathered my protective gear and cameras and got down to the scene as quickly as possible.

Once I arrived there, I quickly realized that it was pretty serious. There were people running out of the mall holding each other, crying. And as I got closer, I saw some ad hoc first aid stations set up -- strangers trying to help each other into any cars, getting injured victims into -- on their way to the hospital as soon as possible.

BLITZER: And you were courageous enough to go inside.

Were security forces already on the scene?

What was it like when you got there?

SOBECKI: When I arrived, there were already security forces on the scene. It was unclear exactly what the situation was inside the mall, but I knew that I wanted to try and get inside, if possible, to cover the scene from inside the mall.

I was able to gain access before they completely sealed it off and join up with a security team that was going from shop to shop, into the cinema, trying to clear the mall of innocent victims who had been trapped inside and held as hostage and also looking for the remaining attackers.

BLITZER: What about those who were evacuated?

How did that go?

What did you -- your eyewitnesses account.

Explain what you saw.

SOBECKI: The scene in the mall was really surreal. There were, from our vantage point on the third floor, you could see bodies of victims on both the second and first floor. There was sporadic gunfire. There -- it seemed like every store you went into, everywhere you looked, there were people who were trying to hide from the attackers. It was really a strange and unreal scene, to see this horrific terror take place in a place that I personally frequent, as a resident of Nairobi. It really was surreal to see it turn into a scene of terror.

BLITZER: And you describe a sort of eerie silence. A very high scale mall. As you say, you had frequented there. You had gone shopping there on many occasions. But then all of a sudden, you're walking around and you describe an eerie silence.

Pick up that thought for us.

SOBECKI: Well, you know, normally when you're at the mall, you're seeing families, friends gathering, conversation, people making purchases, going about their daily life.

But on Saturday, that scene of commerce and conversation was transformed into a scene of terror. There was, as you said, an eerie silence broken up by sporadic gunfire. And the mall sound track had not been turned off, so there was pop music playing throughout, you know, mixed in with the gunfire. And it truly was surreal.

BLITZER: Nichole Sobecki, thanks very much.

Thanks for that eyewitness account.

Nichole Sobecki joining us.

President Obama, meanwhile, makes a high stakes visit to the United Nations. Could there be a breakthrough meeting with his counterpart from Iran?

Also coming up, while jihadists at a Nairobi mall target non-Muslims, a Taliban group claims responsibility for slaughtering scores of Christians at church in Pakistan.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the United Nations.

President Obama is here in New York already. He'll address the U.N. General Assembly tomorrow morning. We'll have live coverage here on CNN.

He's already begun meeting with his counterparts. But the big question is whether or not he will meet with Iran's new president, who has been waging a sort of charm offensive since his recent election. Topping the agenda here, what to do about Syria.

Let's bring in our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, who is watching what's going on.

As far as Syria is concerned, they handed over a list to this U.N. watchdog organization outlining where their chemical weapons are. But you're getting new information.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. The key thing was with this organization called the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. What they say -- what Kerry and Lavrov agreed in Geneva is technically feasible.

Now, obviously, we know Russia and the U.S. can't agree on anything in this. But we've learned of another roadblock at that organization in the Hague.

The Americans and the Russians can't agree what the mechanism would be to decide if Syria is keeping up with its end of the bargain. The Americans want the OPCW to decide, because they have a simple majority. But the Russians, we're told, want the Security Council to decide, where, of course, we both know they have a veto.

So not only do we have a problem, potentially, here at the U.N., when they come to put a resolution together to back up what Kerry and Lavrov agreed in Geneva, they can't even decide in the Hague on the technicalities of how they would work out if Syria is complying.

So people...

BLITZER: Because they have to do this within the next few weeks. They have to send a delegation of inspectors there to actually see if this report that they gave, this catalog, is accurate.

PATON WALSH: Absolutely. And that's under Syria's obligations under the convention that they've agreed to sign up to.

Interestingly, they did not agree to the expedited American/Russian timetable publicly. But they did still, all the same, make their deadline by declaring what they had this weekend.

It's enormously complex, but at the end of the day, at every possible opportunity, America and Russia seem to fall out over the bare essentials about how to make this actually happen -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, we'll see if they can get their act together.

Nick Paton Walsh doing excellent reporting for us here at the United Nations.

Thanks very, very much.

Let's continue, get back to the top story, what's happening in Kenya, the Al-Shabab terror attack.

Witnesses say the Nairobi attackers singled out non-Muslims, at least in part, labeled as infidels for slaughter, although plenty of Muslims were also killed.

Terrorists, meanwhile, in Pakistan targeted a Christian church on Sunday, killing 81 people in a suicide bombing.

Two bombers struck as services were ending. Children and choir members among the dead. A Taliban splinter group claims responsibility.

Joining us now is our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria, "Time" magazine's editor-at-large, the host of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS."

Fareed, what's going on here with these attacks on Christians? Now, there are reports in Kenya, a slaughter of Christians in Pakistan. We know Coptic Christians in Egypt have been targeted, including at their church. Give us some perspective.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Wolf, it's a very serious and tragic situation. Remember, many of these groups have always had this kind of very strong, violent attitude towards what they regard as heretics, any non-Muslims. What's interesting here is in most cases, these terror groups are now attacking locals because they have despaired of the rospect of doing the kind of large attacks on Americans, on American military installations.

In al Shabaab's case, they have been driven back in Somalia very effectively. But it's always possible to attack civilians. It's always possible to do terrorism. So, where they are failing to advance politically and even militarily in places like Somalia, in Pakistan, they then turn to these more spectacular acts of terrorism as a way of getting attention.

But underlying it is, of course, a very hateful ideology. It is at some level a sign of their weakness, but it's also a sign of this incredibly warped agenda they have. You know, it's happened quietly for years now. The Christians in Iraq have fled in droves. There used to be, I think, close to a million Christians in Iraq. They're down to a few hundred thousand.

You pointed out Egypt is having the same problems. In Syria, many of the Syrian Christians fear that these jihadi groups are going to do the same thing to them and they have begun to flee. This is one of the great cancers at the heart of the Muslim world.

BLITZER: I want Christiane to weigh in as well. Christiane, how much of a threat do these Christians face in some of these countries?

CHRISTIAN AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I think as Fareed laid out, it is a real problem. And whenever you hear this word infidel, it really makes you want to, you know, it's a very, very deeply disturbing concept, this concept of infidel. And therefore, you are worthy of being slaughtered. Deeply, deeply disturbing and reminds you of the worst crimes against humanity certainly in the 20th century.

But I think what al Shabaab in this particular case, as we've been reporting, has been pushed back, a combination of African union troops, U.S. advisors and help, a new Somali president just recently in the last year being recognized by the United States. They have lost a lot of their foothold certainly in Mogadishu, the capital and in Kismayo, the main port city which they controlled.

And some are attributing what happened to a desperation. And again, as Fareed said, not able to mount the kind of, you know, spectacular 9/11 attack but rather going after soft targets which are much, much easier. Having said that, there have been a lot of security experts warning that that's what al Shabaab was going to do.

Al Shabaab itself warned that Kenya's intervention in Somalia which was in 2011 would draw a response, and you kind of wonder, you know, if the mall wasn't more protected, why wasn't it. So I think, you know, it's very, very troubling, and these are the kinds of soft targets that we've seen erupt in modern day terrorism over the last ten years or so since 9/11.

BLITZER: On the other subject that's big here at the U.N. this week, Fareed, the possible meeting between President Obama and the new Iranian president, Rouhani. I know there are pros and cons and we're hearing from U.S. officials, no final decision has been made. Where do you think this decision should be?

ZAKARIA: I certainly think that the secretary of state should meet with President Rouhani, if that's possible. I know that's not quite at the same level, but often, that does happen. Whether the president should meet with him, I think, would depend on whether or not they got some really encouraging signs out of the Iranians. You don't want to -- I would be hesitant about a presidential meeting.

That's a prize that the Iranians probably want and it's probably worth delaying that until there are some actual achievements on the ground. But what is coming out of Iran right now, it's just all quite encouraging. There has been a consistent pattern. It has come out of the mouth of the president, the foreign minister and the supreme leader, perhaps, the most encouraging thing was last week, the supreme leader talked about the importance of flexibility in negotiations.

He talked about how Iran had no intention of ever having a nuclear weapon, that this was not something it was doing to please the Americans, that it was un-Islamic. He also said crucially to the revolutionary guard, you know, the hard line elements of Iran, he said your job is to defend the republic, not to be involved in public policy and foreign policy.

That was a way of telling them, let the president take the lead role here. So, all of this very encouraging. It has to be tested, but you know, how do you test it? So, I would say at least John Kerry should begin some kind of process of human contact. Remember, we have not had any contact with Iran in any meaningful sense since 1979.

BLITZER: Christiane, very quickly, I know you're going to be interviewing Rouhani in the coming days. What do you think? where do you stand on this?

AMANPOUR: Well, look, I think exactly as it's been floated in public, neither side is saying that they have agreed on this. Historically, actually, it's the U.S. side which has wanted to run into or shake hands with an Iranian president and the Iranians have not been able to do that because they haven't, until now, had the backing of the supreme leader.

And I remember back in the 1990s when ayatollah -- sorry, Mohammad Khatami was elected, the first reform president, and if you remember, schedules were juggled for the United States so President Clinton could sit in the general assembly hall and listen to Khatami's speech and Khatami listened to his speech, and this was meant to be a signal of some kind of, you know, opening to the fact that a new reform president had been elected.

But it didn't go so far as Khatami being able to shake Clinton's hand. And we know he wanted to do that or at least exchange some words. This time, it's different. Both presidents have admitted publicly that they have exchanged letters. Both presidents have admitted and talked publicly about, you know, looking at a new possibility, a new flexibility, and wanting to resolve the nuclear issue particularly and obviously, others.

It seems like President Obama may, according to what the White House has been saying, be more flexible on this issue.

We'll wait to see if the Iranians actually do it. But I do think what Fareed has said and what we've been reporting is that the drama of Ayatollah Khomeni, the supreme leader of Iran, who holds all the cards, of him saying to President Rouhani that he authorizes him to negotiate and to make all these things -- try to resolve all these issues is very important.

That's the key difference between Khatami who didn't have the backing and Rouhani who does have that backing. And yes, I have that interview tomorrow and we'll have it on air tomorrow and the next day.

BLITZER: We'll be anxious to hear it. Christian, thank you very much. Fareed, thanks to you as well.

Much more news coming up. When we come back, President Obama makes his first public remarks about the terror attack in Kenya as he kicks off a big trip to the world stage here in New York City.


BLITZER: Happening now --


BLITZER (voice-over): Reports of Americans among the 175 people injured in that horrific terror attack in Kenya. The state department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, she is here at the U.N. I'll ask her about the conditions.

Right now, also, Kenya now one more thing to add to President Obama's already full plate as he kicks off a huge week that starts on the world stage in New York City.

And some possible good news for airline passengers desperate to use their electronic devices in flight. We have details on why the FAA may be relaxing some of those rules.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the United Nations. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A huge week for President Obama here on the world stage in New York with a number of critical issues on the table, including Iran, Syria, now the horrific terror attack in Kenya. He started his visit with his first public remarks about the deadly tragedy at the shopping mall in Kenya.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This, I think, underscores the degree to which all of us as an international community have to stand against the kind of senseless violence that these kinds of groups represent, and the United States will continue to work with the entire continent of Africa and around the world to make sure that we are dismantling these networks of destruction.


BLITZER: Our senior White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is joining us from the White House with a closer look at so much on the president's plate right now. It seems it's growing and growing and growing, these crisis points.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And hanging over this very busy week for President Obama is the concern over a looming government shutdown if Congress cannot come to agreement.

That would happen here in about a week if they don't come to agreement. Just look at what the president has on his plate this week, that big speech before the U.N. General Assembly tomorrow, then he'll be meeting with the president of the Palestinian authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

He has a conversation to talk about Obamacare at the Clinton Global Initiative where he'll be discussing that with President Clinton. We'll get a glimpse at that. And then, he has a Democratic fundraiser before heading back here to Washington on Thursday. He will be touting Obamacare, his signature health care reform initiative.

He'll be doing that in Maryland. And then, on Friday, he welcomes the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, to the White House. But as I said, Wolf, all hanging over all of that is that next Monday at midnight, the government is set to run out of funding to fully fund agencies and government services, and you have some Republicans in Congress who say they want to strip out the funding for Obamacare if they're going to approve that funding.

This is a fight that is going on and really just to show the sensitivity of how to deal with it. There've been a lot of questions about will the president be meeting with members of Congress. We found out that the speaker's office and the White House were actually going back and forth about a possible meeting this week before the Senate is set to take action on this.

And ultimately, it was House majority leader, Harry Reid, who said he didn't want to attend one of these meetings. You've seen them before, Wolf, where you see Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and Harry Reid meeting with President Obama.

Apparently, Reid said he didn't want to attend because he felt that the optics were off, that if President Obama as he says or as we're getting the sense is really trying to play hardball with Speaker Boehner and say that he doesn't want to negotiate on things like the debt ceiling, Reid felt that you shouldn't be inviting the speaker over to the White House.

So that's sort of just the sensitivity of how they deal with the optics here, Wolf, because there is so much concern about the blame that goes around if there's a government shutdown.

BLITZER: There certainly is. Brianna, thank you. Brianna Keilar at the White House.

Let's dig a little deeper right now. The president's growing to-do list. Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger is joining us. Also our chief national correspondent John King.

Gloria, give us some perspective: how big of a week is this for the president and what would be considered a win?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think any movement on any front would be considered a win, Wolf. Look, at this point, the president has an opportunity here. You were just talking about it with Christiane and Fareed, to achieve or be on the path to achieve some kind of peaceful resolution to very important foreign policy disputes. We don't know quite how he's going to do that. We don't know if there will be a meeting with Rouhani or not. We cannot predict what will happen with the Syrians, but that's one front.

On the other front, he's got this big problem as Brianna points out, at home. There's a lot of scar tissue here in Washington, Wolf, when it comes to the debt ceiling and keeping the government funded. And there's a lot of bad feelings to the point where they can't even agree when to meet. If this can gets kicked down the road to a certain degree, maybe that would be a win for the president. But again, it would come up again presumably when it comes time to consider raising the debt ceiling. And someone said to me, a senior House Republican said to me, this could go on until Christmas. Hate to say it.

BLITZER: What a nightmare that would be.

John, you know, he's got the national security issues, whether Syria, Iran, now Kenya, so many other problems. All these domestic problems as well, including a possible government shutdown, a debt ceiling that's got to be raised by mid-October. We've covered a lot of presidents and it's juggling -- this is not going to be easy for him.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is not easy, but it's never easy to be the president of the United States, Wolf. This is a reminder that often in a president's second term, especially as they get toward that midterm election in the second term, foreign policy crises do tend to start to dominate. So the president has a very interesting week this week.

I think goal number one for the White House is to avoid the quicksand. You don't want to make a bet on Iran that turns out to be a bad bet. You want to try to move the ball with Russia on the Syrian crisis but don't want to get caught in extended negotiations there. And now he has the return of terrorism in Africa. So the president has very difficult challenges.

Back here at home, look, look, I think the White House has been dead clear when it comes to the government shutdown and the question of defunding the president's health care bill: that is a nonstarter. And you should expect the president, look for the president to hold firm on that.

The tougher position to defend would be if they get through that, is will he not negotiate at all when it comes to the debt ceiling? I'm not saying he should give up his principles, but he will face pressure on that front because the Republicans do control one chamber of the Congress, and they will push for him. If he wins on the shutdown, that's going to be interesting to see if that just strengthens his spine on the debt ceiling or if he's willing to give a little as he has in the past.

BORGER: And you know, Wolf, I think in the bigger picture here, as the weeks tick on, the opportunity for sort of policy creativity and accomplishment gets smaller and smaller. This is a president with a lot of goals. He's always wanted his presidency to be transformative. He wants to deal with immigration. He wants to deal with energy. He's got a lot of big issues on his plate.

The thing that he has going for him, Wolf, is that the Republican Party is so divided, they're not quite sure how they want to proceed on the budget front. They're also not united on what they want to do on immigration. So there is a possibility for this president to divide and conquer, if you will. But you know, at this point, everyone in the White House is aware that the clock is ticking.

BLITZER: You know, yesterday the president made another pitch for gun control legislation, John. Let me just play a quick little sound bite from his remarks at the memorial service for those 12 people gunned down at the Navy Yard in Washington one week ago.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our tears are not enough. Our words and our prayers are not enough. If we really want to honor these 12 men and women, if we really want to be a country where we can go to work and go to school and walk our streets free from senseless violence, without so many lives being stolen by a bullet from a gun, then we're going to have to change.


BLITZER: He thought he had a shot, at least an opportunity, right after Newtown to get some gun control legislation passed. Background checks, whatever. It didn't happen. John, is it going to happen this time?

KING: No. It's not going to happen before the midterm elections, anyway, Wolf, unless the president can somehow change the dynamic. Largely because it's not just the opposition of Republicans, the opposition of conservative Democrats. You always check after these tragedies, has anybody changed their mind? On that issue, they're still a handful to a half dozen votes shy on background checks in the Senate. And while the president mentioned that in the memorial service, there has been no evidence that they're trying to twist the arms or cut any deals to change those votes in the Senate.

So it's very hard to see, almost impossible to see it happening before the midterm elections. Then after that, you're heading into 2016, a very difficult dynamic as well. If the president's going to get almost anything done now, it has to be on domestic issues, on issues in which the Republicans see it in their self-interest. That's why, as Gloria noted, immigration is a possibility. On these other issues on the president's list, beyond just managing to get by on a day-to- day basis, keep the government running, the outlook is bleak.

BORGER: You know, Wolf, there is one small part of gun control that perhaps the president could get,and that is the piece that has to do with mental health.

KING: Mental health. BORGER: Because what everybody agrees on that is you don't want crazy people to get guns, period. The NRA agrees, they don't want crazy people to get guns, either. So -- and there are bills pending about mental health education. And, you know, if Congress, you know, in its wisdom might find a way to possibly agree on keeping guns out of the hands of schizophrenics, that might be considered an achievement.

BLITZER: All right. Gloria, John, guys, thanks very much.

Lots more news coming up. Will President Obama or even the secretary of state John Kerry meet with their respective Iranian counterparts here at the United Nations this week? The State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki is here with me at the U.N. She's joining us.

Also, will airline passengers soon be able to make more use of electronic devices during flights? We have new information.


BLITZER: The woman who first confirmed the Internal Revenue Service had unfairly targeted certain political groups is now retiring, according to an IRS statement. Lois Lerner, director of tax exempt organizations, was placed on paid leave in May, weeks after she admitted the IRS was applying extra scrutiny to groups with the names Tea Party and Patriot in their titles.

Later investigations revealed the IRS had also scrutinized some groups, not as many, though, but some groups that used the word progressive. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Here's a quick look at some of the other top stories we're monitoring in THE SITUATION ROOM.

According to state-run news, an Egyptian court is now banning all Muslim Brotherhood activities and freezing its finances. It's the latest in a major government crackdown against the group that started months ago when the military ousted the Brotherhood-backed president Mohammed Morsi. Since then, hundreds have been killed in the turmoil.

The vice president, Joe Biden, is visiting flood-ravaged Colorado today to see the horrific damage firsthand and survey recovery efforts as the body of an unidentified female brings the death toll from the storm to eight people. Torrential rains, meanwhile, pounded the region for days this month, dumping more than a foot of water in some areas and stranding hundreds. Many are still cut off with roads and bridges simply wiped out.

Some relief could be on the way for airline passengers who want more freedom to use their electronic devices in flight. A government industry group studying the safety of the devices is meeting this week and expected to make recommendations to the FAA by the end of the month, recommendations which could loosen rules on e-readers and similar products. Airborne use of cell phones, laptops with wireless network capabilities would still remain banned. Just ahead, we're watching the top news coming out of Kenya. The group behind the Kenya shopping mall attack says Americans were among the terrorists. I'll ask the State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki -- she's here with me at the U.N. -- about that and more.

And a new appeal by a Republican lightning rod. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Is he making the government shutdown more likely?


BLITZER: BlackBerry plans to become a private company in a deal that's worth $4.7 billion. BlackBerry's largest shareholder, the Canadian insurance company, Fairfax Financial, hopes to buy the smartphone maker for $9 per share. That's an extremely low premium for a once dominant company, but BlackBerry sales have fallen sharply. The company recently announced a $1 billion loss and plans to lay off about 4500 staffers.

More news right after this.


BLITZER: A huge week for President Obama. He's here in New York City for the U.N. General Assembly. Looming over all of this, at least right now, the bloody events still playing out in Kenya, where dozens of people are dead in an attack on a shopping mall.

And joining us now, Jen Psaki. She's the State Department's spokeswoman.

Jen, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: A lovely place you've got over here at the United Nations.

PSAKI: It is. It is. I did a lot of work here.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about Kenya right now. First of all, does the United States government know for sure that American citizens were among the terrorists who committed this massacre?

PSAKI: Well, Wolf, we've seen these reports just like you have and we're looking into them, but we have no definitive evidence at this point of the nationalities or citizenship of any of those involved. Now it's ongoing and we'll continue to look into it as the days continue.

BLITZER: But you're in very close touch with the government of Kenya on this?

PSAKI: Absolutely. We're in close touch with -- with the government of Kenya about also where they go from here. We've offered assistance. Our ambassador on the ground has been very engaged, and that will continue as well. BLITZER: I know some Americans are injured. I think fatalities among Americans who may have been at that shopping mall --

PSAKI: No American citizens at this point. There have been a handful, about five, reported injured in the attack.

BLITZER: And so the U.S. embassy obviously is trying to help them.

PSAKI: Absolutely, as we would with any citizen who was impacted anywhere around the world.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about diplomacy here at the United Nations.

Is John Kerry, your boss, the secretary of state, going to meet with his Iranian counterpart, the foreign minister of Iran, this week?

PSAKI: It was just announced this morning, Wolf, that the foreign minister of Iran will be attending the P5 Plus One meeting on Thursday. So the secretary will be there. They will be, of course, interacting there. There's no meeting, bilateral meeting scheduled.

BLITZER: So this will be a meeting with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

PSAKI: It will be.

BLITZER: Plus Germany. The secretary of state will be there.

PSAKI: He will be.

BLITZER: And there will be an opportunity for him to engage in some conversation with the foreign minister of Iran?

PSAKI: Well, there's been conversations for a long time, of course, with Iran. And obviously there have been concerns for a long time about their nuclear program. The United States has always been open to engagement. The ball has been, for a long time, in Iran's court. So what -- we'll see where things go. But we don't have the expectation that we will resolve issues of the last few decades on Thursday, but hopefully we can start a roadmap forward.

BLITZER: This is a pretty high-level exchange. The foreign minister and the secretary of state.

PSAKI: And the other P5 foreign ministers as well. I'm not sure how much of the meeting he'll be attending, but certainly we see this as an opportunity to set a roadmap forward.

BLITZER: Will President Obama meet with Hassan Rouhani, the new president of Iran?

PSAKI: Well, there's no meeting scheduled. We've always been open to engagement as the president has said long back to when he was running for office, but there's no meeting scheduled at this time. BLITZER: Because a lot of people, including Henry Kissinger, have suggested maybe there should be low-level or medium-level dialogue before you reward the Iranians in effect with a meeting with the president of the United States.

PSAKI: Well, there's no meeting scheduled, so that's a hypothetical at this point. However, we all believe that there's an opportunity to engage with Iran, and we're open to it, but the ball is in their court to do what is necessary for that engagement to continue. And --

BLITZER: So for President Obama to meet with President Rouhani, do they have to do something? Do we have to see how that meeting with the foreign minister and the secretary of state go first and then they'll make a decision?

PSAKI: Well, Wolf, as we've long said we need to see a credible and serious response from the Iranians. And meeting with them is just a step in that process. Actions here speak far louder than words, so we don't expect to resolve anything this week, with or without a meeting, with the P5 meeting on Thursday, but of course engagement is always an opportunity.

BLITZER: OK. So no final word yet on whether President Obama will meet with President Rouhani.

PSAKI: There's no meeting scheduled.

BLITZER: Syria, another important issue right now. Are you satisfied with this initial report from the Syrian government on their stockpile of chemicals -- chemical warfare?

PSAKI: Well, that report has gone to the OPCW, that hasn't been shared with all the member states at this point. And there's an ongoing process with the U.N., with all of the members who are just this week to evaluate where we go moving forward. But there's no question we need an accountable process, we need it to be verifiable. That's what we're working on with the resolution. And that's where a lot of the focus is this week.

BLITZER: Is this a good initial step on the part of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad?

PSAKI: Well, diplomacy is always the preferred option. And if we can get there and eliminate chemical weapons and make sure never again can they be used against men, women and children in Syria, that would certainly be a positive step. But we're also going into this with eyes wide open. And we need to see action more than we need to see words.

BLITZER: Jen Psaki, the State Department's spokeswoman, thanks very much for joining us.

PSAKI: Thank you, Wolf. Always a pleasure.

BLITZER: Right at the top of the hour, by the way, new concerns about al-Shabaab's efforts to recruit right here in the United States. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: An epic tantrum.

Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We adults clutch our smartphones like babies with pacifiers, and now babies hold smartphones like adults.


MOOS: So why should we be surprised --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's different?


MOOS: When a 4-year-old has a meltdown because Apple changed its operating system.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your friends never looked more attractive.

MOOS: Four-year-old Jack isn't laughing over Apple's new iOS 7.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you're just going to have to get used to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't want it.

MOOS: At its launch, the iOS 7 may have been cheered. It brought Jack to tears.

(On camera): The dad who posted the video says his son doesn't actually own an iPhone. He just uses his father's iPad.

(Voice-over): But that didn't save Jack from being mocked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want it.

MOOS: As one poster noted, "Children in Africa upset because they don't have clear water and food to eat. Children in America are upset because of iOS 7."

(On camera): I especially liked the guy who posted, "When I was 4, the closest thing I had to an iPhone what's Etch-A-Sketch."

Siri, do you even have a clue what an Etch-A-Sketch is?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I suppose it's possible.

MOOS (voice-over): Siri is getting grilled by iPhone users in diapers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know what you mean by -- www.

MOOS: Before anyone criticizes Jack's tantrums, adults do it, too. Jimmy Kimmel had a field day with a customer who walked into an Apple store thinking she could pick up a certain part.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was told by Apple Care that I could walk in the store and get the part.

MOOS: That tirade got the ultimate tribute harmonized by the Backstreet Boys.

As for Jack, his dad told ABC he's already fine with the new operating system, that he was upset mostly because his dad told him he would never see the old operating system again. But when Apple demoed the new version --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got some thunder brewing.

MOOS: Little did they know --


MOOS: -- that a 4-year-old would be the one thundering.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want it.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know what you mean by --

MOOS: New York.