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@THISHOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Obama's Expansive Comments on Ukraine; Latest on MH370 Search; Families Coming to Grips with News of MH370.

Aired March 25, 2014 - 11:30   ET

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


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So we will uphold that and there will be a series of NATO consultations. A NATO ministerial is going to be coming up in which we further develop and deepen those plans. But I have not seen any NATO members who have not expressed a firm determination with respect to NATO members.

Now, those -- those border countries that are outside of NATO, you know, what we can do is what we're doing with Ukraine, which is trying to make sure there's sufficient international pressure and a spotlight shined on the situation in some of these countries and that we're also doing everything we can to bolster their economies, make sure that through various diplomatic issues they know we stand by them.

But when it comes to a potential military response, you know, that is defined by NATO membership.

That's what NATO's about.

STAFF: Carl from ABC news.

QUESTION: Mr. President, thank you.

In China, in Syria, in Egypt and now in Russia we've seen you make strong statements, issue warnings that have been ignored. Are you concerned that America's influence in the world -- your influence in the world, is on the decline?

And in light of recent developments, do you think Mitt Romney had a point when he said that Russia is America's biggest geopolitical foe, if not Russia, who?

And, Mr. prime minister, do you think these sanctions will change Vladimir Putin's calculation, will cause him to back down?

And do you see -- where do you see a Russian red line, where if they go any further, if they go into eastern Ukraine, into Moldova, where options beyond sanctions have to be considered?

Thank you.

OBAMA: Well, Jonathan, I think if the premise of the question is, that whenever the United States objects to an action, and other countries don't immediately do exactly what we want, that, that's been the norm, that would pretty much erase most of 20th century history. I think that there's a distinction between us being very clear about what we think is an appropriate action, what we stand for, what principles we believe in versus what is, I guess, implied in the question, that we should engage in some sort of military action to prevent something.

You know, the truth of the matter is, the world's always been messy, and what the United States has consistently been able to do, and we continue to be able to do, is to mobilize the international community around a set of principles and norms, and where our own self defense may not be involved, we may not act militarily -- that does not mean that we steadily push against those forces that would violate those principles and ideals that we care about.

So, yes, you're right, Syria -- the Syrian Civil War is not solved, yet Syria's never been more isolated. With respect to the situation in Ukraine, we have not gone to war with Russia, I think there's a significant precedent to that in the past. That does not mean Russia's not isolated. In fact, Russia's far more isolated in this instance than it was five years ago with respect to Georgia, and more isolated than it was, certainly, during most of the 20th century when it was part of the Soviet Union.

The point is, there's always going to be bad things that happen around the world, and the United States is the most powerful nation in the world, understandably, is looked to for solutions to those problems and what we have to make sure we're doing are -- that we are putting all elements of our power behind finding solutions, working with our international partners, standing up for those principles and ideals in a clear way.

There are going to be moments where military action is appropriate. There are going to be sometimes where that's not in the interests, national security interests, of the United States or some of our partners, but that doesn't mean that we're not going to continue to make the effort or speak clearly what we think is right or wrong, and that's what we've done.

With respect to Mr. Romney's assertion that Russia's our number one geopolitical foe, the truth of the (inaudible) is, you know, America's got a whole lot of challenges. Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors, not out of strength, but out of weakness. The Ukraine has been a country in which Russia had enormous influence for decades, since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

And we have considerable influence on our neighbors. We generally don't need to invade them in order to have a strong cooperative relationship with them.

The fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily and lay bear these violations of international law indicates less influence, not more.

And so my response then continues to be what I believe today, which is Russia's actions are a problem. They don't pose the number one national security threat to the United States. I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan, which is part of the reason why the United States, showing its continued international leadership, has organized a forum over the last several years that's been able to help eliminate that threat in a consistent way.

MARK RUTTE, PRIME MINISTER OF THE NETHERLANDS: There is no geopolitical conflict which can be solved without the United States. And, therefore, I'm applaud the fact that President Obama's administration is active in every arena, Ukraine, Iran, Syria, the Middle East peace process, and so many other parts of the world.

Take the initiatives Secretary of State Kerry is taking now in the Middle East peace process. I was in December in Greece (ph) and I spoke with the Syrian (ph) leaders, both in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, And they are extremely grateful for the fact that America is providing the leadership.

This is a difficult issue. It can't be solved overnight. There is no magic wand which can handle this. But progress is being made.

Take Iran, I spoke with President Rouhani in the fall at the World Economic Forum in January. We have now an interim accord. The fact that I was able, first Dutch leader in over 30, 40 years who spoke with an Iranian leader, President Rouhani, was possible because of the interim accord, and it seems that it is holding. America provided leadership there. So I really applaud President Obama's role in all these major issues. And it is necessary, because the United States is the leader of the free world and needs to provide leadership, and he's doing that.

Then on your question about President Putin, I cannot -- it's very difficult to exactly judge what is happening in the senior leadership in Moscow, in Russia, at this moment.

But, as I said earlier, a highly undiversified economy like the Russian economy, which is so much oil and gas dependent, which has not invested in infrastructure, invested in other areas of its economy, it will be worried ad if there is a risk that in the financial sector or in weapons or in trade or, indeed, in energy, there could be potential sanctions, that will hurt them.

And that's what I said earlier, we have to design and accentuate that they will particularly hit Russia and not Europe, the U.S., Canada, or Japan. That is what we are working on, and we hope we won't need it.

And then, on the red lines, I cannot envision this conflict ending up in a military conflict. I don't think that's likely. I don't think anybody wants it.

And at the same time, I totally agree with President Obama's answer on Article 5, where this conflict will be taken to the borders of one of the NATO countries, but luckily, that is at this moment not the case.

STAFF: OK, final questions for (inaudible).

QUESTION: You met a lot of leaders here. Many were angry about the NSA story. Have you fixed the relationships with these leaders? And the second question is, many are shocked by the extent of which the NSA collects private data. Today, we read in the New York Times that you plan to end the systematic collection of data of Americans, but can you address the concerns of the Dutch and the rest of the world about their privacy?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, we have had a consistent, unbreakable bond between the leaders of Europe over the last several decades, and it's across many dimensions, economic, military, counterterrorism, cultural.

And so any one issue can be an irritant in the relationship between the countries, but it doesn't define those relationship. And that continues to be the case and that has been the case throughout the last couple of years.

As I said in the speech that I gave earlier this year, the United States is very proud of its record of working with countries around the world to prevent terrorism or nuclear proliferation or human trafficking or a whole host of issues that all of us, I think, would be concerned about.

Intelligence plays a critical role in that process. What we've seen is that as technology has evolved, the guidelines and structures that constrain how our intelligence agencies operated have not kept pace with these advances in technology.

And although, you know, having examined over the last -- over the last year, year and a half, what's been done, I'm confident that everybody in our intelligence agencies operates in the best of intentions, and is not snooping into the privacy of ordinary Dutch, German, French, or American citizens.

What is true is that there is a danger because of these new technologies that at some point, it could be abused. And that's why I initiated a broad-based review of what we could do.

There are a couple of things that we did that are unprecedented. In my speech, I announced that for the first time under my direction, that we are going to treat the privacy concerns of non-U.S. persons as seriously as we are the constraints that already exist by law on U.S. persons. We're doing that not because we're bound by international law, but because ultimately, it's the right thing to do.

With respect to some of the aspects of data collection, what I've been very clear about is that there has to be a narrow purpose to it, not a broad-based purpose, but it's rather based on a specific concern around terrorism or counter-proliferation or human trafficking or something that I think all of us would say has to be pursued.

And, so what I've tried to do, then, is to make sure that my intelligence teams are consulting very closely at each stage with their counterparts in other nations, so that there's greater transparency in terms of what exactly we're doing, what we're not doing. Some of the reporting here in Europe as well as the United States, frankly, has been pretty sensationalized. I think the fears about our privacy in this age of the Internet and big data are justified. I think the actual facts people would have an assurance that if you are just the ordinary citizen in any of these countries, that your privacy in fact is not being invaded on.

But I recognize that because of these revelations, that there's a process that's taking place where we have to win back the trust not just of governments, but more importantly, of ordinary citizens. And that's not going to happen overnight, because I think that there's a tendency to be skeptical of government and to be skeptical in particular of U.S. intelligence services.

And so, it's going to be necessary for us, the step we took that was announced today, I think is an example of us slowly, systematically, putting in more checks, balances, legal processes.

The good news is that I'm very confident that it can be achieved. And I'm also confident that the core values that America has always believed in, in terms of privacy, rule of law, individual rights, that that has guided, you know, the United States for -- for many years, and will continue to guide us into the future.

Thank you very much everybody. Thank you again.

(END LIVE FEED)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You have been listening to President Obama in a news conference with the Dutch prime minister. There is the president finishing up with the Dutch prime minister.

I think really some of his most expansive comments to date over the crisis in Ukraine, the president is saying there is no simple solution. He is saying it would be dishonest to suggest there was a simple solution to un-do what's already done. In other words, get Russian troops out of Crimea. He did lay down something of a marker about what the United States would do if Russia acts further. He took something of a rhetorical slap at Vladimir Putin calling Russia a regional power.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: The sanctions are meant to isolate Russia economically and politically. Also, taking a stab at a bit of a slap at his ego if you will and those kinds of comments will make it back to Vladimir Putin.

Let's bring in Wolf Blitzer. He is in our D.C. bureau.

Wolf, we noticed the comments and the two leaders and President Obama talking about the linking of arms between the remaining G-7 countries about what they are doing to isolate Russia.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: They are pretty much united right now. I think there were some substantive disagreements on specific steps if, in fact, the Russians up the ante if you will. If they do anything beyond holding on to Crimea. The president basically said that's a done deal. The facts on the ground. He realizes that Russia is now in control of Crimea even though the U.S. and European allies, almost all of the world, still regards Crimea as part of Ukraine. But the Russians are in charge in Crimea. And the president himself even acknowledged a whole lot of people in Crimea who are happy about that. But he did warn if the Russians do take steps going against other parts of Ukraine or if they were to take steps against other countries in that part of the world, eastern Europe, certainly, if any steps were taken against NATO allies, like Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Article 5 of the NATO charter would go into effect. You attack one and you attack all. The United States would have to come to the aid of that ally. The president did set a strong, firm maker on that but he did acknowledge, for all practical purposes, Russia is now in control of Crimea.

BERMAN: He didn't lay out the limits. He said there would be military support if Russia encroaches on NATO countries.

Wolf Blitzer, in Washington, we know you will be covering much more on WOLF at 1:00 p.m.

We are going to take a quick break. When we do come back, we will take a look at the search for flight 370. Would get in between my dentures and my gum and it was uncomfortable.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PEREIRA: Now, to what is happening AT THIS HOUR with the Malaysia Airlines plane mystery. Families of the passengers are still trying to come to grips with the devastating announcement from the Malaysian government that according to the data they have, they believe the plane went down in the Southern Indian Ocean and no one aboard survived.

BERMAN: Hundred of family and friends marched furious over what they say are lies coming from the government.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SHOUTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Obviously, you can see the crowds flashing the police. Once they got to the embassy, the families gave a petition there.

PEREIRA: Meanwhile, on the search front, Australian maritime officials suspended search efforts today because of storms, high seas, gusty winds in the Southern Indian Ocean. We are told that crews are likely to be back on task tomorrow. Australian officials are cautioning the search operation is complicated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not searching for a needle in a haystack but trying to determine where the haystack is.

DAVID JOHNSTON, AUSTRALIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: This is 3,500 meters deep, 2,500 kilometers from Perth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That search area has narrowed. The Malaysian government says they have called off search operations in the so-called northern corridor. They base that decision on the new analysis of satellite data.

PEREIRA: We are going to bring in a couple of guests to help us sort it all out. We have Steven Chealandner, a former NTSB board member, has been a commercial and air force pilot. We have Dr. Bob Arnot. He is with us once again as well, a pilot and veteran aviation correspondent.

Thank you so much for joining us.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Steve, I want to start with you.

The problem today is a lack of search. There is no search going on. They had spotted debris of some kind, wanted to get a closer look. How much of a setback is this?

STEVEN CHEALANDNER, FORMER NTSB BOARD MEMBER & FORMER PILOT: It's certainly a setback. I think the safety investigation needs to be ongoing, and, of course, you've got to identify a crash site before you can begin the investigation in earnest. So a bit of a setback, but an act of nature so we've got to comply with that and we'll be done with in a day or so. And hopefully they'll find the wreckage and the crash site soon.

PEREIRA: We appreciate that optimism.

Bob, let's talk to you about this information that we saw. The Malaysian government delivers to the world and to the families of the passengers. And I think the families specifically were struggling with the fact that they said this information has led to us believe that the plane went down in the south Indian Ocean with the absence of any wreckage. How do we accept this information as a definitive cause or result of what happened?

DR. BOB ARNOT, VETERAN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT & PILOT: I really think, given the Malaysian government's track record, it's a little hard to take it at face value here. This is a very, very sophisticated analysis. As you know, it's based on what they call the Doppler Effect. When you hear a siren coming towards you, that frequency changes, that's the Doppler Effect. Well, they're looking at the satellite versus airplanes flying away from it. First time it's of been done. None of us have seen the data. I think the Chinese are right. We want to look at this data to make sure they really got it right this time, because they certainly had it wrong most of the last couple weeks.

BERMAN: And, Steve, as we know, we are in a race against time. Quite literally here. Those black boxes, they stop pinging after 30 days or so after the plane, you know, disappeared. There will not be some of the equipment they need, the tow pinger locater won't arrive. They won't get it on the ship until April 5th and could stop pinging by April 8th. That's very difficult. They're up against it here.

CHEALANDNER: I agree. The pinger is important in finding the black box. But keep in mind, Air France 447, it was almost two years before we found the recorders on the bottom of the ocean. So, yeah, it would be nice if we could do it via pinger, and a Navy ship can find it with their equipment. But if it's not found by the end of the battery life of the recorder -- the pinger battery life, that is, they'll at least continue to search with all their other sophisticated equipment until they find it.

PEREIRA: Want to say a big thank you to Bob Arnot and Steven Chealandner. A real delight. Thanks so much.

We talk about the families and it's really important to always bring the focus back to them. They say they're not going to believe the government's version of what happened until they see proof with their own eyes.

BERMAN: Joining us to talk about the grief and frustration they are displaying right now, you know, it's very hard for all of us to see is Heidi Snow. Heidi understands this. Heidi lost her fiance in the TWA 800 crash. Since then, she has become a leading advocate for survivors, founding the group ACESS, and she has trained care teams and aid disaster responders for major airlines. She is also the author of the book "Surviving Sudden Loss."

Heidi, we're all looking at these pictures and hearing just the emotion coming from the people in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur. When you see it, you have such a unique perspective. What do you see?

HEIDI SNOW, FOUNDER, ACESS & AUTHOR: Well, for me, it always brings me and all of us back. We had over 1,000 calls to help to ACESS. Over the years for different air disasters and a lot of calls from people from past air disasters, as well as a few of these families now. And for those of us who have been through it before, it brings us back to that crash site, the family assistance center. We all remember being there, just looking for answers, just holding out hope. And I feel like they're very much in that situation right now. And basically, we just kind of went back and forth, hold south hope and then going back to facing the reality that they may never come back to us and our lives are going to be forever changed. And we're going to have to live without them.

And until there's some kind of confirmation through wreckage or some type of remains, I really believe that there really is no closure or any way to really get out of going back and forth with this hope that we cling on to and going back it to the reality. I think there needs to be a lot more evidence for the families to really be able to accept that their loved ones actually are gone. And I remember so well at the site, the varying personalities, we really learned at ACESS. Everybody goes through their grief in their own way. And a lot of the emotions that we have seen do remind me of what it was like. We had people who were very quiet, who were in shock. Then we had those people who were very angry. And then we had people who were just sobbing. And so it really does resonate with all of us who have been there before. And after interviewing hundreds of people for our book, so much of what we're watching now just really is what the common reactions are for all of us.

And what distinguishes air disasters from other types of losses is this waiting period, is this not having answers. And we certainly have a lot of people at ACESS who still do not have any remains or any confirmation from other air disasters that their loved ones actually were on board. So it is something that we all live with.

And one of the things we find most important is really being able to talk to somebody else who has been down that road. And who has had to go through this process, by pairing them according to the relationship of their loss and specific circumstances that they're facing. So we match mothers to mothers, siblings to siblings, spouses to spouses. And if remains are not found, we pair them up with somebody else who also had to wait a long time. So we really find that what has helped the most for our families is really being able to validate some of these feelings that are extremely difficult. And this is such a difficult time. And the rest of the world, I think it's hard for them to understand the hope piece. But all of us know that. Because we would do anything we could to keep them alive.

PEREIRA: Heidi, we want to say thank you, because we know this work that you do is ongoing. You have spoken with us before about the ongoing need after the press conferences are over, after the cameras go away.

BERMAN: Thank you so much, Heidi Snow, who works with providing emotional support services to survivors and family members of air aviation disasters. Thank you so much for joining us.

You can read more about Heidi's support group, Aircraft Casualty Emotional Support Services at ACESSShelp.org.

PEREIRA: She said they need help much beyond these first few weeks.

BERMAN: It's not going to get any easier.

PEREIRA: It's not going to get easier.

That is certainly it for us. Thank you for joining us. I'm Michaela Pereira.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman.

"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right now.