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Troubled Torch: Protests Against the Beijing Games in San Francisco; Political Impact of Torch Protest; Will President Bush Pass on Opening Ceremonies?

Aired April 9, 2008 - 17:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, again, my heart goes out to these people who have to deal with all of this at a moment that should be kind of a happy, proud time.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Carol stand by. We're going to be coming back to you.

I just want to let our viewers know that we're here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And this is what's happening right now. It's the top of the hour.

Evasive maneuvers, as you've been seeing, in San Francisco. The Olympic torch carriers are trying every trick in the book to stay one step ahead of the thousands of protesters squaring off over China's human rights record.

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

As you've been seeing, the threat of violent protest is prompting major last minute changes to the Olympic torch relay in San Francisco. Thousands of spectators, possibly more protesters and a worldwide television audience left wondering what's going on right now.

We're continuing our live coverage with a team of CNN correspondents covering this important story, including Dan Simon.

Dan, you're there at what was supposed to be the beginning of this relay --

Actually, let's go to Ted Rowlands first. He's there at what was supposed to be the beginning of this relay. I think we saw the runner with the torch and some journal -- and some photographers there and some police. There it is right now. That's the live picture. Set the scene for us -- Ted.

Update our viewers in the United States and around the world who may just be tuning in right now.


BLITZER: Ted Rowlands obviously can't hear me, unfortunately.

But there you see -- this is what we're -- this is what you're seeing, a motorcade -- you see a runner there, two runners. They're holding this torch. We believe this is the real thing. We don't know where they emerged. We saw her go into that warehouse almost 45 minutes or so ago and now emerging.

They've got a lot of law enforcement there getting ready to watch this runner. She's waving to some people who are there. This is not necessarily the way it was all scripted, the way it was supposed to take place. But it's taking place like this right now surrounded by police officers.

We believe she's going to be running through the streets and at least for some part of this route in order to demonstrate this movement of the torch around the world.

Dan Simon, you're in San Francisco right now. What do you know?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it appears that they're trying to make the best of a very difficult situation. It appears that the torch and at least one bearer got into a bus and then they went into a neighborhood I guess where they felt like it was safe and they got out.

And now the torch apparently is back on its correct path. And you have what appears to be an amphibious vehicle sort of taking the lead.

What's striking here where I am, this is the finish line for the torch. We're in front of the Ferry Building. What's striking here is that a lot of people that have assembled here, they are completely oblivious to the events outside this area. They're completely oblivious to what is happening outside of this particular area. This is very much a celebration. You can see a band on stage. They're just waiting for the torch's arrival here.

There's going to be a closing ceremony here. And by and large, the people who have assembled at this location are very much pro- Chinese and they certainly didn't want to see this torch relay scrapped -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. We can hear the music behind you and we see this show of force around the runner and the Olympic torch .

Ted Rowlands, are you there? Are you seeing what we're seeing?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I am. And you could definitely see the security contingent has surrounded the torchbearers. They're on Van Ness Avenue at Pine. Now, where they're going to go from there to make it down to the original finishing spot remains to be seen. They could come down Market, but that would, one would think, afford them a vulnerability from protesters no matter where they go.

If they, you know, they've made the decision to go off the route, which means they're off the tracks -- off of those barricades. How long they're going to run, whether it's just a few ceremonial feet here and there or if they're going to continue to run or use that vehicle behind them -- that boat and land vehicle -- they call them a duck in some parts, where the boat can -- the vehicle can either go on land or can actually go into the water. What that's doing behind them, whether that's being utilized or not, remains to be seen.

But here at the starting point, they've now taken down the barricades and the San Francisco Police Department left. So, obviously, they're not coming back this way. And these disappointed people are moving on.

But you can see now, it's still a very tense situation. They're starting to move, but the security so tight you wonder what the up side to all of this is -- a parade enforced this heavy, it's almost pointless, one would think. If they can't even pull it off to have it so barricaded in an area that people really aren't on the sidelines to watch because this isn't where they were originally going to be running the torch.

BLITZER: They're walking...

ROWLANDS: It's a very bizarre scenario playing out.

BLITZER: You can see them. They're just starting to run, once again, right now. They're behind that big building, so we don't see it -- at least not from this shot. But here you can see another shot that these -- the actual process is underway.

We -- right behind that truck, where you see cameramen, photographers, they're obviously part of this coverage of what's going on. But they're moving very, very slowly right now, clearly concerned about potential security.

But, Ted, correct me if I'm wrong, this was not the route that had been highly publicized?

ROWLANDS: No. Not at all. And that -- they did bring along the pool of photographer vehicle, as you can see. So they decided to move this unit of cars, this convoy, as a unit. And they have kept, obviously, a lot of security. They did keep the photographers. But -- and when you watch a wide shot of this, they're -- you know, what's missing here?

It's the thousands of people, the thousands of people that came out to see the torch going through the City of San Francisco. So now you're running down arbitrary streets that are safe.

Why are they safe? Because there's nobody's there. Well, there's nobody there, so what's the point of running the torch?

And that will be something that will be discussed, obviously, ad nauseam. Now there will have to be some decisions, too, on the back end. How many more cities are they going to try to pull this off in?

It's a -- it just a -- it seems to be a chaotic situation...

BLITZER: Yes. They're obviously...

ROWLANDS: And how they're going to get this now to the end... BLITZER: They're running right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're moving now.

BLITZER: We're showing our viewers the live pictures, the two runners jointly holding the torch, waving as they're running, surrounded by security -- local security, probably some federal security, as well. And we see Chinese personnel, representatives of the Chinese government. They've been part of the security for this torch as it's moved around the world.

We saw those demonstrations earlier -- anti-China demonstrations in Paris and London. And we see plenty of that happening in San Francisco right now.

Originally, Ted, this whole process was supposed to last an hour, an hour-and-a-half, maybe two hours.

Was that right?

ROWLANDS: Yes. They figured that if everything went off without a hitch, that they could probably do the six miles in about an hour- and-a-half, two hours, and then have a closing ceremony, if you will, at the Justin Herman Plaza area. That, of course, has been blown out. How long this is going to take and where they're actually going remains to be seen.

And will the end point be the same?

A lot of people have gathered there, of course, invited guests, for the ending part of this ceremony. Somehow, they'll most likely try to get to that point. How long it's going to take them, though, remains to be seen, because we don't know where they're going.

Again, last -- we did actually get an update from the San Francisco Police Department. It said no arrests. That's it.

BLITZER: Did they announce an...

ROWLANDS: (INAUDIBLE) no information on what's going on?

BLITZER: Did they announce in advance the names of the individuals who would be carrying that torch?

ROWLANDS: Yes, they did. They announced a portion of the 80 -- original 80. And then the rest were sponsor folks that won contests. Not everybody was announced, but a good portion of the -- all of the torch bearers were announced. And it's created some problems because those people, according to the mayor, did get some phone calls, people lobbying for them.

And as were discussing before, some of the torchbearers had vowed to -- once they had that torch in their hand, make a political statement. And this may have something to do with this -- this rerouting and this change of plans, because they wouldn't, obviously, want that scenario -- somebody with the torch actually in their hand then doing something dramatic.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to continue to watch this.

Carol Costello, who herself carried the Olympic torch in Atlanta four years ago, knows something about this.

They're not running, Carol, as you can see. They're really just walking right now, those two individuals holding that torch.

COSTELLO: Yes. And I mean...

BLITZER: When you did it, I remember, you were really running.

COSTELLO: Yes, I was really running. You can run or walk, depending on your physical capability.

But you mentioned, you know, do they publish the names. And, yes, you find out months and months in advance. And, you know, your name is in the newspaper because it really is a big deal. I mean then the volunteers from the Olympic Committee, they get you those outfits so everybody looks the same and everybody looks official. All those people running around those two runners are volunteers. They're around you the whole time. They're going to make sure that you don't drop the torch and that the torch doesn't go out.

If it does, they're right there to relight it. And then eventually, you'll run into more torchbearers who will be ahead of you. And then you saw a little bit ago when these torchbearers will also light the torch of the next runner. And then that runner will run on to meet the next runner with the torch. And, yes, you do get to keep the torch, because I still have mine.

BLITZER: Take a look, Carol, at Google Earth -- that picture we're showing our viewers right now. The green dot that you see at the bottom of that square -- of that rectangle -- that's where they originally started. The blue dot is where we believe the torch is now. So you can see how off route it is, where it wound up. They actually drove about a mile away from the beginning so that they would get away from some of the demonstrators, away from the advertised route, the public route, to a, perhaps, more secure area, where there would be less demonstrations, less potential for violence.

COSTELLO: You know...

BLITZER: That's that blue dot right there where it is.

COSTELLO: ...I absolutely understand that. But, you know, Ted mentioned before that it was kind of a bummer that, you know, they didn't get to wave to the crowd and see their family and friends.

But that's not really why you run the torch. You run the torch because you're representing your country and you're representing the athletes that are going to participate in the Olympics and you're keeping that torch going.

I mean that's the reason you're running, not the wave to the crowd or get pictures taken of you running the torch, although that would be nice. But it's really quite an emotional experience, at least I found it so.

BLITZER: I'm sure it was very emotional -- when you did it, Carol, how much -- you've run marathons. That was not exactly a marathon, but how far did you run with that torch?

COSTELLO: It's only about a quarter mile. But if you can't run that far, you can walk part of it or you don't have to run at all or you can run a shorter distance. They really try to accommodate you, because, you know, the goal here isn't to make you collapse. But, you know, I did practice beforehand, even though, you know, I could run like probably 10 miles.

BLITZER: How did you get selected?

COSTELLO: You know, one of our viewers at CNN nominated me and wrote a really nice letter to the Olympic Committee. And it was a great letter, I guess, because they chose me. I was really lucky.

BLITZER: I remember that. And as I said before, we were really proud of you when we saw that you were representing the United States in this important, important event.

I want to...

COSTELLO: It was pretty cool.

BLITZER: I want to check in with John Vause in Beijing.

He's watching all of this unfold, as well -- John, I can't overemphasize the political, the potential economic and maybe even military ramifications if China is overly embarrassed right now leading up to the Olympic Games. I assume they take all of this stuff very, very seriously in China where you are right now.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They see all of this as very much a personal attack on China.

To give you an example of what some of those ramifications may be, after the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that she would be attending the opening ceremony and after she met personally with the Dalai Lama, sources here with Mercedes have told me that since that has happened, they have not received an import license for one vehicle into this country.

Now, the official reason for that is that it's just a delay, it's a bureaucratic hold up and it's got nothing, obviously, to do -- according to the Chinese officials that they have been dealing with -- with Angela Merkel's decision to meet with the Dalai Lama and not to come to the opening ceremony.

But there is, of course, deep suspicion from the people I've spoken to there that, you know, that has everything to do with it.

So there are ramifications. They won't be overly stated. They'll never be spelled out. That's not how China does business. But there will be ramifications for companies doing business here in China, and especially for companies which come from the countries which embarrass China and didn't turn up for the opening ceremony or where these protests were held.

And after the Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay, there was a headline in one of the newspapers here that France failed to protect the torch. So there is a great deal of anger and they are blaming governments for not protecting the torch and not holding up China's interests in all of this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there any indication, John, that China might change its policies toward Tibet or Myanmar or Darfur, for that matter, in advance of the Olympic Games in August?

VAUSE: Yes, personally, I think there's absolutely a zero chance that will happen. I think right now, China believes that the world has no right to determine, especially what happens internally on issues like Tibet. And then when it comes to issues like Darfur and the Sudan, the Chinese line has always been one of non-interference. They believe that their role in Darfur is their own business and that Western countries, which have their own problems. And they constantly point to the United States, which started a war in Iraq and other countries which have their own human rights issues -- why should they be lecturing China on how they should be conducting their business around the world?

And we heard from one of your guests earlier that certainly this country right now -- China is very confident -- some have even said arrogant at the moment, when it comes to its economic muscle. And it's determined to use that muscle on the world stage -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, John.

I'm going to come back to you.

We're showing our viewers in the United States and around the world these live pictures now of the actual running that's going on. The torch is moving through the streets of San Francisco, albeit not the original route that had been advertised. They've changed it as a result of security concerns.

Augie Martin, one of our CNN producers, is in the vicinity now of the torch -- Augie, what are you seeing hearing, what are you hearing?

AUGIE MARTIN, CNN PRODUCER: Well, Wolf, they are a ways off from the original -- from the original route. They're actually on Van Ness Avenue, which is a portion Highway 101 that runs through San Francisco. It's sort of an interior section of San Francisco. So they're a ways away from the Bay itself.

But if they keep heading north, they will eventually run into Bay Street, which would be sort of the tail end of the original route.

If they turn east on Bay Street, they might actually complete sort of the last couple of legs of the original route, which would eventually bring them back down toward Justin Herman Plaza, where the run was supposed to conclude originally.

BLITZER: Augie, how much -- how much speculation was there going into this event today that they would -- they would change the route so as to avoid the protesters?

MARTIN: Well, there's actually been a lot of speculation about that, more so in recent days since the events in London and Paris, though I must say, the prevailing wisdom was that they were actually just simply going to shorten the route and possibly chop off the part that took the torch through Fisherman's Wharf and sort of the northernmost part of the route.

I think there was less thinking that they would actually alter the route altogether, though there was some mention this morning in "The San Francisco Chronicle" that an idea was being floated about taking the torch by boat instead. So there has been a lot of speculation about that. And I think the San Francisco Police Department was reviewing pretty much everything after seeing what happened in London and Paris.

BLITZER: And so it looks like that's what they've done. It looks like they've in -- they've moved away, inland from the original route, and that they have shortened -- they have shortened that route in order to avoid some of the demonstrations.

We're showing people the live pictures on the right hand side of the screen. On the left hand side of the screen we're showing you some of the video from Monday in Paris, when this was occurring, Sunday in London, when a similar situation was unfolding and there were demonstrations there, as you know, as well -- angry demonstrations protesting China's human rights record, China's human rights policies not only within China, but toward Tibet and Myanmar, as well as Darfur in Sudan.

Can you see the actual motorcade moving where you are, Augie?

MARTIN: Well, I'm actually down at Justin Herman Plaza at the concluding point of the run. But it is moving more slowly on Van Ness Avenue, which is a relatively major thoroughfare through San Francisco. And I suspect -- and it's just speculation -- but I suspect that they probably are going to go up toward Bay Street and then eventually turn east. They're roughly about 15 blocks west of Justin Herman Plaza. They're sort of moving parallel but -- and they're actually moving further away from it at this point. But they are moving North on Van Ness.

BLITZER: And Justin Herman Plaza, that's where the final ceremony is supposed to take place after the entire run through the streets of San Francisco has been concluded. It's the end of the torch relay, the Justin Herman Plaza.

That's where you are, Augie?

MARTIN: That's correct. It's the location of the Ferry Building. And they have a fairly major setup here. There's a whole official program and it's probably likely that they'll still end up here at some point.

It's just the question is, how will they get here and what route will they take to end up here.

BLITZER: All right, Augie, stand by. We're going to stay in touch with you.

But I want to go to Abbi Tatton, because the protesters are regrouping, Abbi, I take it, based on what you're seeing online?


As this has been changing, they've been updating -- this one group, Students for A Free Tibet, through their blog, through this map that they've been putting online, sending out these cell phone messages to people saying this is where the torch is going now.

Here's the route that was expected earlier on in the day. We all knew this could be changing. And as the torch moves around Van Ness Avenue right now, they're telling people, if they can, to head up to this direction -- up the top here around Bay Street, asking them there, if possible, to congregate there. The messages now coming in every couple of minutes, Wolf.

And we're also getting I-Reports showing us that it's not just protesters who are focusing on Tibet here. If we take a look at -- this was organized for this morning, a peace walk for Burma, also known as Myanmar. And these pictures were sent in to us through CNN's I-Report. That protest -- that walk that happened this morning.

And it would seem that it's -- it's not just one group. Multiple groups there organizing and out on the streets now trying to regroup to try and find that Olympic torch and meet up with it again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And there's a lot of information we're getting online, isn't there, Abbi?

TATTON: Yes. It's all coming in thick and fast. And they're really having to change what's happening as they're sharing information. These people with Students for A Free Tibet, they've got lists of people who have signed up through their cell phones for updates, finding out where the torch is right now, finding out where they can launch their protests. These protesters are all getting messages reminding them to continue doing nonviolent protests.

But at the same time, the organizers are receiving the reports from the ground, as well, so that they can update this map and try and let people know as this confusing situation unfolds where it is they should be going -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fascinating material. It's sort of a game of cat and mouse between the demonstrators -- the anti-China demonstrators, the law enforcement authorities. In the midst of all of this, you can see the relay continuing, the torch being moved from one runner to another runner -- although they're not running that much. They're basically walking, walking quickly, sometimes, sometimes running just a little bit, a slight jog. But the flame is going there, as you can see.

Let's discuss some of the ramifications of this with two guests.

James Carville is our political analyst. He's a Hillary Clinton supporter.

And Congressman Xavier Becerra is an Obama supporter. He's a Democrat of California.

Congressman, what do you make of what's going on in San Francisco right now?

REP. XAVIER BECERRA (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, we're a free country and a lot of folks want to express themselves. They've been very frustrated over the years to see how little we've done with regard to China. We know that there are human rights abuses there. We know that they are continuing to send us products that are made with forced labor. People want to vent and I don't blame them at all for trying to express themselves.

Listen, China, if it could become a fair partner -- a fair competitor in trade, if it could be a just and honest partner in the community of nations, perhaps this wouldn't happen. But right now, people are trying to express themselves, since it appears that the administration has not been willing to do that for the American people.

BLITZER: James, what do you think?

What goes through your mind as you see these really amazing pictures that we've been showing over the past hour and 20 minutes or so?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean, you know, people are very, very concerned. And I think, from everything I can tell, justly so, about this government's policies of oppression, if you will.

But the big question is, is President Bush going to go to opening ceremonies?

In terms of the United States and the statement that we want to make as a country, that's going to be an enormous thing. I mean here's an administration that started a war over what it -- after all its other rationales ran out and said over freedom, yet he continues to insist that he'll go to opening ceremonies.

I think Senator Clinton, for sure, has called on him not to do that. This is going to be an interesting thing that's going to happen this summer and it's going to relate directly to what's going on here in the United States. This is not an issue that's going to go away.

BLITZER: You know, Hillary Clinton has called on President Bush not to attend the opening ceremonies, although he says he's going and it's unclear. The White House is leaving it vague right now whether or not he will participate in the opening ceremonies. Barack Obama has not yet stated -- correct me if I'm wrong, Congressman -- where he stands on this specific issue of whether the president of the United States should represent the United States at the opening ceremonies.

What do you think that the president should do?

BECERRA: I think the president should represent the American public. And he hasn't done that vis-a-vis in relation to China for quite some time. I think he...

BLITZER: So should he go to the opening ceremony?

BECERRA: I would prefer not to see the person who represents our country most as the official representative, our commander-in-chief, our leader, go to China at this time. I'll let him go if he wishes to go. But again, once it's a lost opportunity on the part of the president to reflect the opinions of the American people that we want a better relationship with China.

BLITZER: Well, you're a great sportsman, James, as am I.


BLITZER: Isn't it a slap, as some of the people will say, if the American athletes who will be representing our country at the Olympic Games if, in fact, we vis-a-vis -- vis-a-vis these Games or if the president doesn't participate?

CARVILLE: Well, I think the question is about opening ceremonies. I think, Wolf, we can remember the 1980 boycott, which, you know, was something that I guess President Carter thought he had to do in light of the Afghanistan policy of the then Soviet Union.

I don't think anybody is calling on us to boycott the Games and such, but just that the president doesn't go to the opening ceremonies, which would make a big statement that the United States has some solidarity with these people in China and Tibet who are being oppressed.

I know that a lot of European leaders are not going to do this. The best thing to do is -- and I think the congressman would agree with me -- is for China to change its human rights policy. And then everybody could go and be happy and all of us sports fans would get a chance to watch some excellent sporting events there.


CARVILLE: That's -- the real answer to it is for China to change its policies.

BLITZER: Yes. We heard John Vause, Congressman, say -- our man in Beijing right now -- that he believes there's about a zero chance that China will succumb to that kind of pressure and change its human rights policies toward Tibet or Darfur or Myanmar or within China, that this is a proud country and they're not going to cave to international pressure.

But go ahead, Congressman.

BECERRA: And that's fine. I think the Chinese should do what the Chinese think is best and America should be able to do what we think is best.

But I want to make something very clear. I don't think any one of us wants our athletes to not go to the Olympics. They've been training, working very hard. They deserve their chance in the sun. Just the way we don't ask our troops to do politics in Iraq, we wouldn't ask our athletes to do politics in China. But our politicians have every right to express politically the American viewpoint with regard to China.

BLITZER: James, is there any difference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama when it comes to this specific issue?

CARVILLE: Well, I mean, Senator Clinton has called on the president to boycott the opening ceremonies. I don't think Senator Obama has said anything. And it would be interesting to hear his views. And I would say in terms of what the congressmen said and our athletes and their place in the sun, it might be that they're placed in the smog in Beijing, if these stories are right about the pollution over there. There might not be too much sun in these Games.

BLITZER: Has Barack Obama said anything, Congressman?

You support his candidacy.

BECERRA: I know he has said quite a bit with regard to China and how he would like to see them change. And he would be much more active in trying to use the force of the White House to make sure that China doesn't continue to use its currency to devalue its products and then send them over here.

I know he's done quite a bit of that. I'm not sure what his position is with regard to the Olympics and the president attending the opening ceremonies.

CARVILLE: I don't think he's very sure of his position, that's the problem.

BECERRA: Oh, James, that's -- we'll get into politics in a second. Right now we're talking about trying to deal with China.


BLITZER: And I just want to show our viewers and remind our viewers what we're looking at. These are live pictures of this torch -- the Olympic runners going through the streets of San Francisco right now. This is a different route than was originally planned. They obviously had to change the route because of security concerns.

There are a lot of anti-China demonstrators out in the streets of San Francisco, but not necessarily where the torch is being carried right now, because they had this circuitous route that they got and now they're moving along the streets of San Francisco. They're waving. I'm not sure how many people are on the actual sidewalks they're waving, too, because you can see a lot of police presence -- a lot of police presence there are this torch and the Olympic Flame is moving through the streets of San Francisco.

And, James, you know, this is the only stop in North America for this event -- the only stop in the United States and Canada that was scheduled to take place. Button this -- button this part of the conversation up for us before I go back to our reporters out on the scene.

CARVILLE: The -- I'm sorry, Wolf.


BLITZER: I think we're losing some of James. It looks like we've got some satellite problems.

I'll let Congressman Becerra button this up for us. You're out in California. You're in Washington right now, but you're from California. This was supposed to be, when they selected San Francisco to represent the United States at this event, a really glorious moment -- a place to shine, so proud these 80 runners were going to be representing the United States. But if you look at that police presence surrounding the runners right now, it's not exactly the way it was supposed to be.

BECERRA: Well, Wolf, remember San Francisco is home to one of the largest populations of Chinese-Americans in this country. And so many thoughts go through my mind. But I must say, as long as it's done in a way that is civil and, once again, reflects our nature and our history of protest in a civic way, I think it's good. I think China needs to hear a message. And maybe the Chinese won't change a bit, but we have a message to send them. And our athletes will do our speaking on the playing field for us on sports issues. And our politics, I think the American public, so long as they do it civilly, are doing some good political talking for us on the political front.

BLITZER: Should we be concerned, James, that Chinese could retaliate economically against the United States?

They obviously have a huge trade relationship with the United States. They own a lot of our money.


BLITZER: They have a lot of our debt. After Japan, they own more U.S. loans than anyone else in the world.


BLITZER: How concerned should we be?

CARVILLE: I think, you know, anybody should be concerned because they're our banker. Basically, they're holding a lot of our paper over there. And that's the consequence of some pretty flawed policy. And I think we should be concerned. And I think that's part of the reason that President Bush is a little timid on this issue, because he understands that a lot of the policies that he instituted have contributed to this.

So it is a problem. But at some point, it's not just the United States involved in this. The Europeans are getting involved in this. And a lot of other people around the world see these human rights abuses that's taking place in China. And these things are pretty serious.

And I think the congressman makes a very good point. There's a very large, highly educated, highly active community of Chinese- Americans in San Francisco (AUDIO GAP) area and they feel -- and justifiably so -- very intently. This is bad scheduling on the part of the -- on the part of the Olympics to schedule this in San Francisco at a time like this.

If I could add something there, Wolf, I don't think we should be concerned about what message the Chinese take, whether they take this and decide to do something economically. Our concern should be the fact we are borrowing so much from the Chinese; the fact that we're concerned that they may use this embarrassment if they consider it an embarrassment to then punish us economically. That we're in that kind of circumstance is what causes us difficulties. That's why so many people are so down on what President Bush has done.

The fact that in Iraq we're so concerned about oil and that we have to continue to stay in Iraq is a problem we have in Iraq. The problem in China, again, we import so much from China and we borrow so much from China that now we have to worry they may indirectly try to punish us. That's what your concern is not the fact that Americans wish to protest what the Chinese have done.

BLITZER: Congressman Xavier Becerra, a Democrat of California, thanks very much for coming in.

James, thanks to you as well, James Carville.

We'll talk politics over the next few days, real politics, presidential politics.

We've got a breaking news story on what's happening in San Francisco right now we're watching. Ted Rowlands has been watching it as close as anyone.

What are we seeing, Ted? What do we know?

ROWLANDS: Well, it's continuing to move slowly on an alternative route, if you will. You mentioned it earlier, Wolf. It seems to have turned into a game of cat and mouse to try to keep the torch away from protesters, meanwhile the protest organizations are sending out cell phone messages trying to alert people to where the torch actually is. It has really turned into this strange game of cat and mouse.

The real losers here are the people of the public that came out to see and take part in this. The people were looking at the torch as a symbol of the Olympic experience, it has turned into a symbol of China, and the different views, either pro or against, and it is unfortunate most definitely for the city of San Francisco.

They are able to obviously move this torch through the streets. The people are not able to take full advantage of it and witness it.

David Perry is part of the organizing committee, the spokesperson in San Francisco.

What happened?

DAVID PERRY, ORGANIZING COMMITTEE, TORCH RELAY: Well, I think what we saw today is how nimble the city family meaning the San Francisco police department, the office of the mayor and all our security professionals working on behalf of the city and the United States can be when faced with an unprecedented situation.

ROWLANDS: Specifically do you know what it was that came up that made them decide to dramatically change the route?

PERRY: I think it's a culmination of things. We all saw the footage from Istanbul, London, Olympia, Paris.

BLITZER: Ted, I want to interrupt for a moment because we're actually seeing -- if you could just apologize for a second to your guest, these are live pictures we're seeing. We're seeing some demonstrators obviously getting way too close to police as they're moving down trying to protect the runners as they're going through. Some demonstrators are trying to interfere.

These are live pictures you're seeing right now. And the demonstrators getting very, very close to the police, way too close. And the runners right in the middle of all of this right now. These are live pictures.

Thelma Gutierrez, you're pretty close to what we're seeing right now, this one demonstrator right in the middle of the street being surrounded by local law enforcement.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You can see just a couple feet away from me are police are acting very decisively. They're making sure that people are on the sidewalk, off the street, clear the way for this duck boat, amphibious boat that is carrying various key members of the media.

Right behind them you can see the torch. Right behind that duck boat there's a torch bearer. He's surrounded by other torch bearers and members of the Olympic Committee who are protecting them.

Again, right now you see that there are vans with police passing by. Security here is extremely tight. Many people following this route. They found out about it. San Francisco officials had tried to keep this very quiet. Obviously there were reports the torch went into the ferry boat and from there disappeared. People were very disappointed, thousands of people leaving the area because they were wanting so much to see this torch. It did not come down there. People left. We caught up with it through the streets of San Francisco.

Right now this torch is traveling down Van Ness towards the wharf. Right now we're just crossing Chestnut. Again we're heading toward the wharf. You can see that torch runner very much protected by police on motorcycles, on foot. The police have been very decisive, again. People have tried to go up and tried to grab that torch. Police have made sure that they are whisked away.

So Wolf, very interesting to catch up to this finally and to be able to see the torch, be able to see the torch runner make his way down toward the wharf -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We can see this is still a tense situation. They're getting very close right now to the end of this route, aren't they, Thelma?

GUTIERREZ: Yes, they are. And you know Wolf, it's very interesting because we've been talking to some of the torch runners who have told us how absolutely nerve-racking this whole event has been for them. They wanted it to be an emotional, triumphant moment. Knowing they could be the target of physical violence, something that's very scary to them, many people have vowed to stop that torch on its way down to the end of this run.

We had one woman who told us that she's been practicing, she's been running with weights, because she said I want to be strong enough in the event that someone comes and trying to wrestle it away, that I'll be able to hold on to that torch.

So there you see it, the torch in the middle there, being carried by a gentleman who is waving to the crowd. He seems to be extremely triumphant as he's walking with that torch.

BLITZER: Obviously a proud moment for that individual as they're getting ready to wrap up this run. They had to go through a different route to get here because of security concerns.

I want to go back to Ted Rowlands who has one of the authorities with him.

Tell us a little bit more about what happened and how they came up with this decision.

ROWLANDS: Well, I have to ask Mr. Perry that again. You say you weren't privy to this route and this was a last second decision in your estimation. Give us a sense, what do you know? What happened here?

PERRY: The one thing that I do know is this is an accurate portrayal of what the mayor has said all along that due to security concerns the route could change up until the very last minute. What we are seeing is obviously the very last minute. We've all been part of literally months and months and months of planning. I have been aware of numerous contingency plans, none of which we're seeing here. However, it neither surprises nor disappoints me this is the route we ended up.

ROWLANDS: It disappoints the thousands of people who came down here. You said you worked on it for months and months and months and now really is disintegrated into a cat and mouse game keeping this torch from trouble. Haven't we lost the point of parading the Olympic torch through the city?

PERRY: I think that's a question for far wiser minds than mine. What I would say is that anyone disappointed shouldn't be disappointed in actions taken by the city, mayor or SFPD. What they should be disappointed about are the actions of people that were a violent protest.

No one in this city including myself nor Mayor Newsom has in any way opposed peaceful first amendment right protest. What we do oppose is violent reaction to what was supposed to be a glorious event.

ROWLANDS: What was the bar going in terms of here's where we're going to pull the plug if X, Y or Z takes places and what, you know, leading up to this we all knew thousands of people were in town. We saw the people last night. What was that sort of bar that was being discussed if X, Y, or Z happens we're pulling the plug?

PERRY: There's no one bar that was set. The ultimate decision for public safety is with the chief of police. I really want to say they're doing a fine job in the face of an unprecedented event here in San Francisco.

ROWLANDS: You're saying they used caution and the alternative to this, which may be disappointing, may have been catastrophic.

PERRY: I don't think that's going to be a surprise to anyone. I can tell you this. This route would not be taking place now if the SFPD did not feel it could be done safely.

ROWLANDS: David Perry with some insight but still a lot of questions, obviously Wolf, as we continue to watch the torch make its way through the city. We watch the chaos surrounding it as it makes its way to its eventual end. Where that end is we don't know.

BLITZER: Well, eventually they'll get to that end Ted. Thank Mr. Perry for us.

You can see the scene right now it looks like they're running near the end of the route getting to that final destination where Thelma Gutierrez and Dan Simon have been. Dan Simon is on the scene for us right there at the final destination but they still have a little ways to go, an enormous security presence.

They made, as you point out, this last minute decision to change the route so as to avoid the thousands of anti-China demonstrators who have gathered in San Francisco to protest China's human rights policies in China and elsewhere including in Tibet and Sudan, as well as elsewhere in China and around the world. A major embarrassment, obviously, for China right now.

Dan Simon has been there. Are you seeing this motorcade, these runners get close to where you are?

SIMON: We're not seeing it again but the gentleman on the stage just said that the torch is coming closer. This is American rock and roll meets Chinese culturalism here, ancient Chinese culture. You can see the group assembled here anxiously awaiting the torch's arrival.

We're at Justin Herman Plaza. What has been striking here is that this very large group of pro Chinese folks really has had no idea what has happened on the streets of San Francisco. They have no idea that the route was even changed. They're just celebrating this day in general, and, again, just waiting for the torch to arrive, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by. As soon as it does, we're going to go back to you.

I want to continue watching what's going on. Because, as I say, the ramifications are significant in terms of U.S./China relations, in terms of the economic, the military, the political relationship for us. So you can see right now what's going on.

We're going to have two guests that we're going to be talking to in a moment. With very different perspectives on what has happened in San Francisco today. We'll go to that and we'll continue our coverage as they wrap up this run through San Francisco. We'll see what's happening. Much more of our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: We're continuing our live coverage of the events happening right now in San Francisco, the Olympic torch winding its way through the streets, albeit a very circuitous truncated route to avoid many of the thousands of demonstrators who gathered there to protest China's human rights policies.

It's getting close to the end. They're not at the end yet. You see the enormous amount of security surrounding the runners right now holding the Olympic torch and that flame inside.

I want to go to our man, John Vause in Beijing who's been watching all of this very carefully.

I assume the government in China has been watching it oh so carefully as well, John. Give us a little sense, a perspective as the sun beginning to come up in Beijing right now, Thursday morning there, how significant this is potentially for U.S./China relations.

VAUSE: Right now, you have a situation that China has been embarrassed about what's happening in San Francisco and what we'll have to watch for in the coming hours is where they lay the blame for this. When we go to the briefing with the foreign ministry later today, who do they blame for this? Will they be blaming the authorities this San Francisco? Will they say the police, the government there, the local authorities failed to protect the torch or will they place it as they have in the past after London and Paris on a small number of demonstrators intent on ruining China's Olympic glory.

What we saw after Paris though were headlines and state media blaming the French authorities for failing to protect the Olympic torch. What all this means though in the long term is China has been embarrass and that they will not forget what has happened in San Francisco. There won't be any trade wars or boycotts or anything like that launched by the Chinese in direct retaliation in the United States. What we're likely to see is for business operating here in China things could get difficult, Wolf.

BLITZER: But they're sophisticated enough in Beijing, John, to understand the United States is a free country and if people want to protest that doesn't necessarily mean the Bush administration or the U.S. government ordered them to protest. That could go on in China, but that doesn't go on here in the United States.

People are free to protest and express their opinions. I assume they understand that in China, don't they?

VAUSE: Very much so. Slowly they're starting to understand that the United States is not a top down government structure where the president makes an order and it's automatically carried out by all branches of government and all parties and people everywhere like it does here in China. They're slowly working on that and they do understand that to a degree.

This is a very, very sensitive issue for China. You're not just dealing with the parliament. You're dealing with state run organizations. You're also dealing with the population, which to a large extent, has been incensed by these protests in London and Paris and San Francisco. They're venting their anger at those cities where the torch relay was marred by violence and protest.

We're likely to see a similar situation here in China in the coming hours. Those bloggers will be going crazy about what happened in San Francisco. They'll be blaming the government. Obviously that has the flow on effect as well in the weeks and months to come.

BLITZER: I want to play this sound bite, clip from President Bush. He was meeting with the Singapore prime minister speaking about the situation in China. And we'll discuss it in a second.

Listen to this, John.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They'll find if they ever were to reach out to the Dalai Lama they'd find him to be a fine man, a peaceful man, a man who is anti-violence, a man not for independence but the cultural identity of the Tibetans being maintained.


BLITZER: All right. You heard the president say China should change its policies toward Tibet, the Dalai Lama, it would be in their own interest to do so. Correct me if I'm wrong.

The chances of that happening are about, what, nil?

VAUSE: On a good day about zero. These officials here in the bureau have been brought up and raised, being told repeatedly from the earliest of ages that the Dalai Lama is an evil man, he is a criminal master mind, he is intent on splitting China, he is intent on having independence for Tibet.

If you're told that from the earliest of ages and truly believe it, it doesn't matter what the president of the United States says or any other world leader. You will not accept that.

They believe the Dalai Lama is the man responsible for these protests, responsible for these violent demonstrations we saw in Tibet last month, is responsible for those ongoing up risings we're still seeing here in China in these western provinces. They blame him.

They believe he is this wolf in monk's robes and he is the man who is determined to split China. There's no way at this stage there'll be negotiations happening with the Dalai Lama, certainly not in the foreseeable future, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, John.

We're going to be coming back to you but I want to go back to our producer on the scene right now. Augie Martin is there.

This is wrapping up, this run through San Francisco, Augie. What are you seeing?

MARTIN: Well, it's pretty much anybody's guess where they're headed now because they're headed in the opposite direction from Justin Herman Plaza which is where we are and where the original route was supposed to conclude. They're actually headed towards an area of San Francisco called the Marina Green a wide open grassy area and a marina which then leads towards the Golden Gate Bridge. They're headed west in the direction of the Golden Gate Bridge.

BLITZER: We don't know if they're going to wind up at that location where they were supposed to have the official ceremony wrapping up this event? Is that what you're saying?

MARTIN: I have no idea and I'm not sure anyone else does at this point either. The one thing I can tell you is that there is an amphibious vehicle that's been in front of the torch runner ever since they got out in the middle of Van Ness and began running. It's anybody's guess what that vehicle's purpose is there to serve as. Who knows?

BLITZER: All right. We'll stay with you and see what's going on. This has been quite a mysterious couple hours as our viewers in the United States have seen.

All right. We'll take another quick break. When we come back, we'll speak with two guests with very different perspectives on what's been going on in San Francisco.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're standing by to see where that Olympic torch, where the Olympic runners are right now. This has been a rather mysterious couple hours in San Francisco and there's deep division over whether protesters should be targeting that Olympic torch relay in any case.

Let's discuss with two guests. Joining us now, Professor Ling Chi Wang (ph), he's professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California in Berkeley and Jill Savitt is director of the Dream for Darfur. She believes the Olympics are an appropriate forum for protest.

What's your reaction, Professor, to what has happened today?

PROF. LING CHI WANG, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT BERKELEY: I think it's very sad to see two great people, Chinese and Tibet going at each other and then seeing the torch of the Olympic being violated and desecrated here in the street of San Francisco. I had thought San Francisco is the host inviting them to come here and now we invited them to come here to be destructed and to be insulted. I think it's just a -- I thought that they should have canceled this long time ago.

BLITZER: Jill Savitt, you strongly disagree?

JILL SAVITT, DREAM FOR DARFUR: I think that the Olympic -- the Olympic Games are an appropriate forum to discuss human rights policy. It's not a regular sporting event. It's not the Super Bowl. The Olympic actually means something. I see down on the street earlier today can just see the frustration of people. That hypocrisy I think is fueling a lot of frustration.

BLITZER: Professor?

WANG: I have a different look at it. That's because maybe we ought to talk about hypocrisy. There's Guantanamo, the Abu Ghraib, the invasion and the continued occupation and the killing of innocent Iraqis over there. I think that -- I think we should take policies out of this altogether and let people from all over the world participate in a fair and open competition. That, I think, to me, is the true spirit of the Olympic.

BLITZER: Are there other ways, Jill, the world could protest China's human rights policies without stepping on to the whole forum of the Olympic Games?

SAVITT: I think people have tried for many years. What's interesting is the Tibet situation and Darfur situation aren't very much different than they were a year ago. Now everybody's talking about them. Different voices don't reach Beijing.

Those who are extremists, in this case I represent people from Darfur who are dying a slow genocide in Darfur, they want to get China's attention. This is the first time that China has been in a vulnerable position because they care so much about their image related to these games.

BLITZER: For those who haven't followed as all of us have, as the three of us have, what's going on in Darfur, Professor, China does have a good relationship with Sudan and purchases a lot of Sudanese oil among other things. As a result there's concern they're in effect supporting Sudan in terms of its crackdown on the people of Darfur.

WANG: I think there's no question China is getting a lot of oil from Sudan. I think one ought to know as well China really did not get into this Darfur situation until 2002.

And before that, you know, Africa is pretty much up to the European and American for grab. I think it's really unfair to China to put the whole problem solely on one country when China in fact is kind of a Johnny come lately.

We want to talk about human rights. What about all the oil that's coming from another countries like Saudi Arabia, one of the closest alleys of ours? I think it's a no-win situation to get into this kind of shouting match.

BLITZER: Unfortunately we've got to leave it there.

Professor Lin Chi Wang and Jill Savitt, thanks very much for sharing your perspectives.

SAVITT: Thank you.

WANG: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Once again, I want to remind our viewers what we're seeing. We don't know where the torch is right now unless I -- well, maybe we do know. There it is right there in the middle of the screen. It's finally shown up once again.

Carol Costello is joining us. She knows something about this whole business. She herself carried that Olympic torch four years ago in Atlanta and she knows what it feels like to run through the streets representing the United States.

You know, as you see this and you know the issues involved, Carol, and you've been there, you've got that personal sense of what's going on, button this up for us.

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, you know, I have such mixed feelings looking at this because of course people have the right of protests. This is America. For the people running the torch, this is a moving moment. You are emotionally vested in this and you're not running for China because China doesn't even enter your mind. You're running for the U.S. athletes, those athletes who have trained for years and years and months and months to partake in these games.

And you know they're nearing the end of the route, Wolf, and that's the most exciting point and usually the last torch bearer is someone affiliated with the Olympic Games, maybe even an Olympian and then there's a huge street party to celebrate this international celebration of physicality and really politics has nothing to do with it as far as being a torch bearer.

So as I look at this, I feel sorry for the torch bearers in a way because you know it's a nerve racking experience to know you might get attacked at any moment by some protestor.

BLITZER: And they're running the final portion of this route through San Francisco. Carol, stand by.

We're going to continue talking about this, what's been going on.