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THE SITUATION ROOM
Americans Fight Pirate Hijacking; U.S. to Join Direct Talks With Iran; Doctors' Ethics vs. Medical Science
Aired April 8, 2009 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Pirate drama. Americans battle pirates trying to hijack their ship off Somalia, and one of the crew members tells CNN the captain is being held hostage.
The accused. Iran claims an American woman posed as a journalist but is really a spy. Now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urges Iran to let her go.
And twist of fate. Two lives barely just begun fight for life. One baby expected to die actually lives, causing another sick baby to be in more danger.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Don Lemon, in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics, and extraordinary reports from around the world.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
LEMON: It is a dangerous drama not quite like anything ever seen. Unfolding right now, breaking news.
A hundred miles off Somalia, a hijacking pits Americans on a cargo ship against pirates. And just a short time ago, a crew member was able to talk to CNN on the phone. Here's a dramatic account of what's happening.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEN QUINN, U.S. SHIP'S SECOND MATE: Right now, they want to hold our captain for ransom and we're trying to get him back. We have a coalition warship that will be here in three hours, so we're just trying to hold them off for three more hours, and then we'll have a warship here to help us.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Can you tell me where your captain is in proximity to your cargo ship? Where is he? Who is he with? What type of boat is he on right now?
QUINN: He's in the ship's lifeboat. They sank their boat. When they boarded our ship, they sank their boat, so the captain talked them into getting off the ship with our lifeboat. But we took one of their pirates hostage and we did an exchange with them.
What? Huh? OK.
I've got to go.
PHILLIPS: Ken, can you stay with me just for two more seconds?
PHILLIPS: Can you tell me about the negotiations, what you've offered these pirates in exchange for your captain?
QUINN: We had one of their hostages. We had a pirate we took, and we kept him for 12 hours. We tied him up and he was our prisoner.
PHILLIPS: Did you return him?
QUINN: Yes, we did. We returned him, but they didn't return the captain, so now we're just trying to offer them whatever we can -- food. But it's not working too good. We're just trying to hold off until the...
PHILLIPS: Are you in control of the vessel right now? Are you in control of your...
QUINN: Yes. They're not aboard now.
QUINN: We're controlling the ship.
PHILLIPS: So can you see that lifeboat with your captain, with the pirates? Is he OK? Is he still alive?
QUINN: Yes. Yes, he talks -- he's got one of our ship's radios, yes. We talked to him.
PHILLIPS: So what is it the pirates want now in exchange for your captain?
QUINN: I've got to hang up. I can't -- I got to go right now.
PHILLIPS: OK, Ken. Ken, I don't want to hold you up. Appreciate it.
Ken Quinn, second mate there on the Alabama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: That played out on our air in the CNN NEWSROOM not very long ago.
Once again, we want to tell you, the crew member says the pirates are holding the ship's captain hostage and that the crew is negotiating for his release, and that the Americans battled the pirates to retake the ship.
CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr with us now, with the U.S. military in Bahrain. She joins us now.
Are we hearing anything from the Pentagon, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, at this hour, here in the Persian Gulf, where, as you say, the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is headquartered, very quiet at this hour. You know, they do -- they are watching the situation very carefully.
U.S. military sources confirming to CNN a U.S. Navy warship is on the way, aircraft are expected to be flying over the situation. What is clearly afoot is an effort to get this all under surveillance to see exactly what is going on.
First light, however, here in the Gulf will be maybe perhaps in about six hours. So they're going to put some assets in the area, but they may not be able to see much, you know, for several hours. It's pretty clear there's some communication with the ship, so they take at face value that the captain is being held hostage.
These are some of the most dangerous waters in the world. Fifteen ships already being held by Somali pirate hijackers, we are told.
What typically does happen in these cases is the commercial company that owns the ship winds up paying a multimillion-dollar ransom to get the mariners, the merchant seamen, back. That is what has happened in the past. This, however, is a very tense situation with the captain being held hostage, so we're going to have to just wait several hours and see what happens -- Don.
LEMON: Barbara, the people who have called in, one of the guys who is on the ship, said they tricked the pirates into thinking that they had control of the ship in order that they could sort of get some order themselves before it got too far.
What do you know about that?
STARR: Well, I'm going to be honest and say we don't know much here about that kind of detail. You know, Kyra, of course, Kyra Phillips, has talked to one of the crew members. There are indications that they tried to fight the pirates off with fire hoses for some time to engage in evasive maneuvers. You know, these are the typical things that the shipping industry warns cargo ships now, to warn their crews to be prepared when they sail in these waters.
What is really extraordinary about this situation, Don, is the extent to which the pirates went to try and gain control of this ship. It was sailing some 350 miles off the coast of Somalia, so these pirates had some capability to sail out all that way and try and take this very large ship over -- Don.
LEMON: Barbara Starr in Bahrain.
Barbara, thank you very much for that.
Hijackings like these often involve daring raids, kidnappings, and a multimillion-dollar demand for money. One head of a shipping company knows exactly what that feels like, and he takes CNN inside a pirate hijacking.
For that, we turn to our Brian Todd -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Don, this man describes the experience as surreal, like living out a movie. Part of it has to deal with how disproportionate the initial encounter is.
Now, to illustrate that, we have a graphic here.
Here's the Maersk Alabama, 780 feet long. Now, we've put an image of a typical pirate's ship -- pirate's boat up here. You couldn't see it if we put it down here. That vessel is only about 16.5 feet long, and it only takes one or two of them to capture a massive tanker. Then the shipping company's nightmare begins.
TODD (voice-over): A tanker crew taking on their captors. High drama on the high seas, but not how it usually plays out when a cargo ship has been captured.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's a very, very long cycle incident.
TODD: For 56 days, the crew of the Buscaglia (ph), owned by James Christodoulou's Industrial Shipping Enterprises, was held hostage. Christodoulou was in what he calls a turkey coma last Thanksgiving night, when he got an overnight call that the Buscaglia (ph) had been hijacked by pirates about 50 miles off the coast of Somalia.
Experts say before they strike, hijackers' skiffs often blend in with fishing boats.
TOM FUENTES, FMR. FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Hundreds of boats. It's hard to tell that one of them is going to break away and attack.
TODD: Christodoulou says his tanker had non-lethal security on board.
JAMES CHRISTODOULOU, INDUSTRIAL SHIPPING ENTERPRISES CORP.: Barbed-wire, flares, and very loud, loud speakers to deter the pirates.
TODD: Still, about 10 pirates with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades overtook the nearly 600-foot Buscaglia (ph) while it was moving. Tankers like this do evasive maneuvers, but the hijackers are agile.
CHRISTODOULOU: They come alongside the boat in rowboats with outboard motors or, you know, little zodiac boats. They throw either grappling hooks or aluminum ladders up on the railings of the ships, and they scale the ships.
TODD: Christodoulou says he negotiated directly with the pirates with only a translator as go-between. He says the final transaction is often primitive. CHRISTODOULOU: The cash is dropped out of a plane, in a plastic tube, with a parachute on the end of it. And it's picked up by the pirate skiffs. They count the cash on board the vessel, they get off the vessel, and the ship steams away back to a safe port.
TODD: In the end, all 28 crew members were returned safely to their families.
TODD: Christodoulou won't say how much he paid in ransom money, but he says the case of a vessel called the Serious (ph) Star, a hijacked Saudi supertanker that was released in January, set the high water mark for ransoms about $3 million, Don. It can get very expensive.
LEMON: So he's watching very closely.
TODD: That's right.
LEMON: What does he think of the crew's reaction this time?
TODD: Very hard to second-guess the actions of the crew. We're still in a very fluid situation, and none of us were there, of course.
Christodoulou does say that it's always got to be about getting the crew out of there safely. And he also says he does not believe that armed security teams should be on these vessels.
A lot of these ships have teams of mercenaries, essentially, with weapons on them. He doesn't think that's a good idea, he says it escalates the situation. So there's kind of an implication there, this was a very dangerous undertaking.
LEMON: Dangerous indeed. Thank you for very much for that.
CNN's Brian Todd.
We're monitoring the pirate situation and we're going to keep on top of that. But also, we want to turn now to another major story we're following.
The Obama administration announces a huge shift in American policy when it comes to dealing with Iran.
Let's go straight to CNN White House Correspondent Dan Lothian.
Dan, what do you have?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, you know during the campaign you might remember that then-Senator Obama talked about how he would be willing to have some face-to-face negotiations with Iran without preconditions. Well, what the administration is announcing today is just yet another effort to deal with the concerns they have with Iran.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): Seeking a diplomatic answer to Iran's suspect nuclear program, the Obama administration says from now on it will sit down at the table for direct group talks with Iran, a clear departure from the Bush administration policy.
HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We believe that, you know, pursuing very careful engagement on a range of issues that affect our interests and the interests of the world with Iran makes sense.
LOTHIAN: The U.S. has accused Iran of trying to build a nuclear weapon, but those claims have been repeatedly denied. Now the State Department says Iran will be invited to attend the next meeting of the so-called P-Five Plus One talks. That's when senior diplomats from the U.S., Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany will discuss Iran's nuclear program.
ROBERT WOOD, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Any breakthrough will be the result of the collective efforts of all the parties, including Iran.
LOTHIAN: Last month, President Obama used a video to speak directly to the Iranian people about improving what he called a strained relationship.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.
LOTHIAN: Iran's leader, Mahmoud Ahmadeinjad, says he's encouraged by these positive overtures.
MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): If a hand is extended to Iran with honesty and justice, the Iran nation will welcome it.
LOTHIAN: Now, in addition to Mr. Obama's video, Secretary of State Clinton sat down with an Iranian official last month at a conference overseas, and Mr. Obama just a few days ago, while he was in Turkey, talked about how Iran and other challenging situations in the Middle East are very difficult, but he believes that a lot of progress can be made -- Don.
LEMON: Dan Lothian at the White House.
Thank you very much for that, Dan.
Americans battle pirates who hijacked their ship. We're following the breaking news off Somalia. The pirates apparently are holding the captain hostage, and the U.S. Navy will attempt to help out.
We have the very latest for you. Also, actor Michael J. Fox battling Parkinson's and talking about potential medical breakthroughs. He also talks to CNN about President Obama lifting the ban regarding embryonic stem-cell research.
And a restaurant hopes to attracting customers, but instead, it's attracting a lot of controversy. The restaurant name, Obama Fried Chicken.
LEMON: I want to turn now to another story where some people's ethics clash with medical science. A group of Christian doctors is arguing in favor of keeping a controversial Bush administration rule that allows medical workers to refuse to provide services or information about medical procedures they object to on moral grounds.
CNN's Elaine Quijano is following that story for us.
Elaine, what is at issue here?
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, what this really boils down to, Don, is the rules, basically, on what a doctor, a nurse or a pharmacist can and should do for a patient when it comes to controversial services. Now, we're not just talking about abortion here. We're also talking about things like contraception and family planning.
DR. SANDY CHRISTIANSEN, OB/GYN: How are you guys doing?
QUIJANO (voice-over): Dr. Sandy Christiansen is an OB/GYN firmly against abortion. She believes because of her Christian convictions, she was discriminated against in medical school, excluded from learning opportunities given to other interns.
CHRISTIANSEN: I asked my chief resident if I could have that opportunity, and she replied that, "Well, your colleagues are working hard performing the abortions which you refuse to do, and so they're getting that perk and you're not."
QUIJANO: That's why she was on Capitol Hill, trying to keep the provider refusal rule, a regulation the Bush administration implemented in its final days. The Bush rule expanded the longstanding conscience clause beyond protecting health care professionals who don't want to perform abortions. The Obama administration and it's allies argue the Bush rule goes too far and could allow medical professionals, including pharmacists, to refuse to provide contraception and family planning services.
JUDY WAXMAN, NATIONAL WOMEN'S LAW CENTER: The danger is it adds a layer of confusion. It tips the balance away from patients being able to get the care they need, not from any individual person, per se, but just being able to get the care they need.
(END VIDEOTAPE) QUIJANO: Now, the Department of Health and Human Services is wrapping up it's public comment period on the issue. Then the administration will likely take a few months to review those comments before taking action -- Don.
LEMON: Elaine Quijano.
Thank you for that, Elaine.
New information on that mass shooting in upstate New York last week. Police now say that the man who gunned down 13 people at an immigration center in Binghamton fired 98 shots from two handguns in a little more than a minute.
That was one of a string of high-profile mass shootings over the past month. Now we have a new poll on American attitudes towards guns.
Our Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider has been breaking down the numbers for us.
So, has public opinion shifted on gun control here, Bill?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it has, Don, and in a very surprising way.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Binghamton; Pittsburgh; Oakland; Samson, Alabama; Carthage, North Carolina; sensational incidents of gun violence all over the country. Are we seeing an increase on public opinion?
Since 2001, a majority of Americans has favored stricter gun laws, though support has been trending slightly down. And now a sharp, sudden drop. Only 39 percent of Americans now favor stricter gun laws, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll.
It may have to do with President Obama and the new administration.
SEAN HEALY, ATTORNEY: If he and the people in control of Congress right now could have what they want, they would heavily restrict or eliminate guns from this country.
SCHNEIDER: They may have heard what the new attorney general said...
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: There are just a few gun- related changes that we would like to make. And among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons.
SCHNEIDER: ... and what the new secretary of state said about the ban.
CLINTON: I, as a senator, supported measures to try to reinstate it. Politically, that is a very big hurdle in our Congress. But there may be some approaches that could be acceptable, and we are exploring those.
SCHNEIDER: The country is seeing a surge in gun sales.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody kind of got scared, the market got depleted.
SCHNEIDER: Support for tougher gun laws has held fairly steady among Democrats. The sharp drop has been among Independents and Republicans, where there are fewer Obama supporters.
SCHNEIDER: Now, the Gallup poll reveals a gradual long-term decline in support for gun control from the early 1990s until 2008. Now, that coincides with a decline in the nation's murder rate. But this year's sudden drop seems to be influenced by politics -- Don.
LEMON: All right, Bill. Thank you very much for that.
We want to tell you, we're following very dramatic news coming to us off the coast of Somalia, where an American crew was held hostage. We're going to be speaking to one of the fathers of the crew member. He spoke to his father. His father will tell us exactly what happened.
And another tragedy we want to tell you about, the amazing stories of survival, the latest on the devastating toll after that earthquake in central Italy and how singer Madonna is helping out in this one.
And a CNN exclusive with one of the world's richest men. Billionaire investor George Soros lays out his ideas to get credit flowing again. He does not think the Obama administration's plan is working.
LEMON: Breaking developments here in the CNN NEWSROOM when it comes to that cargo ship that was being taken hostage by pirates.
I want to show you this real quick. We're just getting this in to THE SITUATION ROOM here.
The Department of Defense has released a photograph showing the Navy en route to help out that ship, it is believed. It's the one right there.
You see our Jason Carroll. We're going to talk to him in a second. He's getting ready to talk to the father of a crew member.
But that photograph, three hours away, they believe. The Department of Defense releasing that photograph just a short time ago. As soon as we get more photographs and get more information from the Department of Defense to let us know where exactly the Navy is, we'll let you know.
But meantime, we want to turn to our Jason Carroll, because he's standing by live with Joe Murphy. He's the father of Shane Murphy. He spoke with Shane Murphy just a little while ago, his son.
And Joe Murphy also spoke earlier, but we have him now live in person, Jason. What is his telling you.
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, basically, it's been a very, very long day for Joe Murphy and the entire Murphy family. We Joe a little earlier today, where he explained exactly what had happened, the chain of events that had unfolded starting at around 6:30 this morning.
That's when you initially got the call that something was happening. Take us back and tell us what happened.
JOE MURPHY, SHANE MURPHY'S FATHER: Well, at 6:30 in the morning -- how the world has changed -- I got a call from my son who was on a Navy ship in the Philippines, that he had seen that his brother's ship had been taken off the African coast.
CARROLL: Shane's ship?
MURPHY: Shane's ship had been taken, yes.
So he asked me to call and verify it, which I did. I called the company, got in touch with the company down in Norfolk, Virginia. They were very receptive, very helpful. They confirmed that the ship had in fact been taken, that pirates were on board. And it just proceeded from there.
CARROLL: Now, then at 10:30, Shane called, spoke to his wife, Serena (ph), explaining exactly what had happened, saying that he was alive, he was OK, and that they were able to talk one of these pirates down.
Tell us about that, that conversation.
MURPHY: Well, of course she was very upset this morning when I called to inform her. She said that she called me and told me that Shane called, that he said that, first, of course, that he loved her, and that he was alive, the crew was safe.
And he said that they had managed to take down one of the terrorists. And it was by sheer force; they have no weapons. So it must have been -- obviously just overpowered them. We got a secondary report that three others had gone into the water.
CARROLL: Three other pirates.
MURPHY: Three other pirates had gone into the water. We're not really sure how they got into the water or what happened. But they had regained at that point control of the ship. Shane called her again. He said he was OK, the crew was OK, and he didn't want to go any further with the discussion because he didn't want to upset his wife.
CARROLL: Obviously, there's still uncertain word about the captain of the ship and his condition, whether or not the pirates still have control over him.
Any more word in terms of his status?
MURPHY: I have no further word. I've been so occupied today with other things here on campus that I have not been able to get in touch with any daughter-in-law, who's really stopped answering the phone. I was just told that the pirates -- that Shane is actually negotiating with the pirates for the release of the captain, and that they anticipate military intervention very shortly.
CARROLL: Any idea how those negotiations are going at this point between your son Shane and the pirates?
MURPHY: I have absolutely no idea, and I'm sure he's taking explicit direction from the corporate headquarters and the command center in Norfolk, Virginia.
CARROLL: And a lot of people watching may not be aware of this, but your son is well trained. He was trained right here. You are an instructor here at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where you teach these cadets about dealing with situations like this, dealing with pirates.
MURPHY: That's correct. Shane was in my class two weeks ago. He was a guest lecturer with the students.
I had some second thoughts of, now the cadets got to meet him, and now, of course, he's embroiled in this situation. But this is a classic example of Murphy's Law. I teach the course, my son goes to sea and he gets captured. So hopefully it's all going to work out. I think this is going to end as a very positive story.
CARROLL: But what a roller-coaster ride this must be for you and your family. How have you been dealing with and handling this whole situation?
MURPHY: Well, I've had a lot of experience with this type of thing, so I'm really prepared to deal with it. It is much more difficult, of course, when it's a family member. And it's also difficult when you have a knowledge of the degree of risk.
I mean, this is a very, very tenuous situation. I would say there's a positive from this. This is a wake-up call for America.
These people are members of organized crime. There's millions of dollars transferring through banks and so forth. They're making more money in piracy than the gross national product of Somalia, so it's not going to go away anytime soon until there's international concern and international law enforcement.
CARROLL: Joe Murphy, our hearts go out to you and your son, as well. Joe Murphy standing by, waiting for more word from his son, for that next phone call. Hopefully that will come in saying that the negotiations between himself and the pirates are going well, and that the situation can be wrapped up.
Don, back to you.
LEMON: CNN's Jason Carroll.
Thank you, Jason.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, pirates strike off the coast of Somalia. This time, the hijacked victims are an American crew. We're following all the latest developments for you.
Iran charges an American journalist with spying. The Iranian government says Roxana Saberi confessed to engaging in espionage -- how the U.S. is fighting to get her back.
And what was supposed to be a heart transplant between two babies takes a dramatic and unexpected turn.
Our Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Don Lemon. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Barack Obama is back in Washington, after a jampacked trip that had him visit six countries in eight days. So, how did he do on the first overseas trip?
Senior CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry takes a look.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The headlines say it all: Obama goes on the same road with Turkey.
There's no doubt that this trip has generated positive press around the world. The tougher question is whether he accomplished much.
(voice-over): President Obama tried to make sure there was one dominant image, from Britain to France, Germany, to the Czech Republic, and Turkey: The new American leader is doing more listening than talking.
OBAMA: I also came here to listen, not to lecture.
We must listen to one another and seek common ground.
Sometimes, it suggests that America has become selfish and crass, or that we don't care about the world beyond us. And I -- I'm here to tell you that that's not the country that I know and it's not the country that I love.
HENRY: This helped accomplish his primary goal of reminding the world he's not George W. Bush.
NICOLAS SARKOZY, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): And it feels really good to be able to work with a U.S. president who wants to change the world, and who understands that the world does not boil down to simply American frontiers and borders. And that is a hell of a good piece of news for 2009.
HENRY: But the contrast only raised expectations for Mr. Obama.
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Why didn't the waters part, the sun shine, and all ills of the world disappear because President Obama came to Europe this week? That wasn't our expectation. That -- that -- that will take at least a few weeks.
HENRY: The results were mixed, from the G-20 summit, where he succeeded in getting leaders to pump $1.1 trillion into the global economy, but not in the stimulative way U.S. officials had hoped for.
To NATO, where the president got more resources for the war in Afghanistan, in the form of police trainers, but no more combat troops from allies. He was able to begin both talks with Russia on reducing nuclear stockpiles and outreach to the Muslim world, both of which will need plenty of follow-up.
AXELROD: There will be a harvest. It will come at different times and in different ways. But the seeds were planted. And that was the goal of this trip.
HENRY (on camera): Asked if this trip leaves the president with more self-confidence, senior adviser David Axelrod quipped that he never thought self-confidence was a problem. Translation: For all the talk about listening to others, team Obama, which already had a high opinion of itself, is feeling pretty good.
Ed Henry, CNN, Istanbul, Turkey.
LEMON: All right, joining me now to discuss President Obama's overseas trip, you can see our political -- senior political analyst here, Gloria Borger, our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, and the Washington bureau chief for Al-Arabiya, Hisham -- Hisham Melhem.
Thank you for joining us so much today.
You know, I watched the speech in Turkey, and it appeared that -- that the president was very confident in what he was doing. Does he have an advantage over the Bush administration in the way that he relates to Muslims and when he talks about Islam, just because of who he is?
HISHAM MELHEM, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, AL-ARABIYA TELEVISION: Absolutely. He was liked, before he arrived in Ankara and Istanbul, because of his pronouncements on Islam, on reconciliation, on dealing -- on having mutual interests and mutual respects with the Muslim world, more so because of his decisions, closing down Guantanamo, ending torture, getting out of Iraq, the reconciliation message to the Iranians, dispatching George Mitchell to work on Arab-Israeli peace.
They saw the un-Bush in -- in Obama. And they see a break with the president -- with the previous president, not only in terms of tone, but the lack of combustible language. There is no axis of evil. There's no Islamo-Fascism. There's a real focus on the real enemy of the United States, which is al Qaeda, and al Qaeda only.
There's no lumping of all these Islamist groups. And he needs -- he needs to do that. That's the only way to mobilize support in the Muslim world against al Qaeda and their friends.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And, you know, Candy, we have -- we have had some developments today, because now the U.S. wants direct talks between the United Nations, European powers, and Iran.
And we have a new CNN poll which shows that the American public is kind of divided on whether we should engage in these talks. In the next few weeks, our polls show, 59 percent yes, we should engage in diplomatic talks with Iran, but 40 percent say only after Iran makes significant changes.
So, politically, is this a good for the president or not?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Listen, I think that they have looked at this in practical terms. They watched eight years of the Bush administration saying, hey, we will -- we will talk as soon as you do something about your nuclear capabilities.
And the -- the Obama administration looks at this and says, well, this hasn't worked. And we -- we saw this in the campaign. It should come as no surprise that they are making incremental steps to move toward Iran.
And I think you will see those numbers move, depending on success or failure.
LEMON: We're talking about the timing of all of this.
I just wonder, and whether or not there's any tangible about what the president brought back, obviously very liked everywhere he went. Was there anything tangible. And then these talks that we're talking about that, you know, both sides may be open to, is this something that can be directly traced to that trip?
CROWLEY: I think what his trip did was fortify his numbers back here. I don't know that you're going to see him go to -- I mean, he's at 61 or something, so I don't know how much you're going to see them go up or down. So, I think it fortified. People see the trip as necessary to the U.S. recovery, going to the G-20. I have to tell you, though, I thought the power picture in that...
CROWLEY: ... trip was Iraq...
CROWLEY: ... when he was surrounded with his troops, and the pictures and the cheering and the shouting, clearly a boost to this commander in chief, who's highly popular...
LEMON: But, just real quickly, you thought Turkey, though, you thought that speech may be at his peril, even though some people thought he was very confident?
CROWLEY: I thought that it was -- I thought, you know, some of the things that people took exception to, not just in the speech, but in the meeting afterwards, we are not a -- we don't see ourselves as a Christian nation -- his mentioning that he's one of the people with Muslim ties, that was always something that sort of dragged him during -- but I think it -- I think, you know, you can do that less than 100 days into your administration, and have no price to pay later on.
But, Hisham, very quickly, is this long-lasting, the goodwill that you say that he -- that he's got right now, or does he need to build on it?
MELHEM: No, he needs to build on it. He needs to show, with his actions, that he means what he says, especially -- especially when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
This is the issue that resonates the most with Arabs and Muslims throughout the world. He has to stand up to certain American principles, ending settlements, pushing both the Israelis and the Palestinians when they both don't deliver on their previous commitments.
I think that that's going to be his test. And that's going to be the test after Mitchell's return to the region next week.
BORGER: Big test. Big test.
LEMON: Candy, Hisham, and Gloria, thank you very much for that.
(CROSSTALK) LEMON: Pirates try to have their way with an American ship, but the Americans on board, they fight right back. We're following breaking news of the hijackings off Somalia and efforts to get back the captain who was captured.
Also, a Mother's Day magazine issue about an incredible bond between mother and daughter. "Essence" magazine interviews first lady Michelle Obama and her mother. And we have a preview.
And could hackers turn off the power in your and other Americans' homes from their computers? Well, there are new fears today about cyber-attacks on the electrical grid.
LEMON: Billionaire investor George Soros says the financial system collapsed of its own weight.
Well, today, he sat down with CNNMoney.com's Poppy Harlow.
She joins us now from New York.
Poppy, what did he have to say?
POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Don.
Well, it was a rare conversation with a billionaire investor who is certainly known around the global. We discussed the state of the economy in great detail today, specifically the collapse of the economy after Lehman Brothers failed. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE SOROS, FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN, OPEN SOCIETY INSTITUTE: You can't be in a freefall forever. It was a shock, but people are adjusting to it.
So, we are finding now a bottom. The stock market made a very good bottom in February. And that would mean that the economy might also find a bottom within three to six months.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Well you heard it there, within three to six months, a possible bottom for the U.S. economy.
Once we do see that, though, the challenge, Soros says, Don, will be to rebuild. And he says we have recapitalize the banks, but the current system that we're seeing in terms of recapitalizing the banks, Soros he does not exactly agree with. Take a listen here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SOROS: Right now, with the recapitalization of the banks is not going the way it ought to, because what we are doing, we are keeping a wounded banking system.... HARLOW: Right.
SOROS: ... a banking system that is effectively insolvent, alive.
SOROS: So, we have zombie banks that are going to -- we are allowing them to earn their way out of the hole.
And that is going to sap the energies of our economy.
SOROS: There is a serious shortfall. You need probably a trillion-and-a-half dollars to properly recapitalize the banks.
I think you could raise a lot of it from the private sector, if it's properly done, but you would -- the government would have to underwrite it. And that opportunity, I think, has -- has been missed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: You heard it there, Don. He said he thinks that opportunity has been missed.
But, to be clear here, Don, Soros is a big proponent of President Obama. He says the administration's handling of the financial crisis really deserves top marks. Really, he says, though, the only area where he would have liked to see more of a sea change from the Bush administration is through the TARP program -- Don.
LEMON: Yes, just not happy with that one thing.
LEMON: All right, Poppy Harlow, thank you very much for that.
LEMON: Could Chicago be the next American city to host the Olympic Games? Members of the International Olympic Committee wrapped a trip to Chicago this week to consider the city's bid for the Summer Games of 2016.
CNN's Susan Roesgen is in Chicago with the very latest for us.
SUSAN ROESGEN, GENERAL ASSIGNMENT CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Don, the city pulled out all the stops. The Olympics officials were wined and dined. And even President Obama is trying to persuade them that Chicago is their kind of town.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): This is my kind of town. ROESGEN (voice-over): Ah, Chicago. Forget about the other contenders, Tokyo, Madrid, and Rio. President Obama says, the only choice for the Summer Games in 2016 is right here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Once you discover the Chicago that I know, the city that I made my home, the city where my wife grew up, the city where we raised our daughters just blocks from where these Games will be held, I am confident you will discover that you're already in the perfect host city for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROESGEN: Unfortunately, this famous Windy City was also dreary and wet during the Olympic officials visit, making the idea of an Olympic stadium here a little bit harder to picture.
But even if the sun had been shining, the International Olympic Committee members could not have missed this.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: No contract, no peace! You've got to pay your police!
ROESGEN: Chicago police officers don't want the city to get the Olympics unless they get a pay raise. Other protesters say the city ought to improve the schools and help the homeless, instead of using property taxes to build an Olympic village for the athletes.
And then there's the question of what happens to an Olympic host city after the Games? The '96 Olympics in Atlanta dressed up the downtown area, bringing new hotels and tourist attractions around the Olympic Centennial Park. But the London Olympics in 2012 are still three years away, and, already, the budget has doubled. That means British taxpayers may have to cover a lot of the cost.
The Olympic Games can be golden, but, in the race to the finish, critics say it might be better if Chicago didn't win.
(on camera): That was the last stop for those Olympic officials here in Chicago. Now they're going to go on to Madrid and Tokyo and Rio, before making their final decision by secret ballot in October -- Don.
LEMON: All right. It's a beautiful city. Thank you, Susan.
An American firefighter (sic) hijacked by pirates, it's a life- or-death drama playing out right now. We're closely monitoring the breaking news, and we will be checking back with the latest in just a few minutes.
Also, for you, Michelle Obama and her mother together for a rare interview.
LEMON: All right, Gloria -- Gloria Borger back with us.
During the presidential campaign, we know that Barack Obama promised to move away from what he called the stale and divisive politics of the past. But has he become a polarizing figure?
We're going to talk to these folks now in our "Strategy Session."
Joining us is Democratic strategist and former deputy national director for the Obama presidential campaign Steve Hildebrand, and Republican strategist Karen Hanretty.
Thanks to both of you.
I want to read something that was written by -- in "The Washington Post" -- by Michael Gerson.
He says: "Polarization in American politics has its own disturbing momentum, aided by some strident Republican voices. But that does not require a president to make it worse. And it is a sad, unnecessary shame that Barack Obama, the candidate of unity, has so quickly become another source of division."
KAREN HANRETTY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, here's where I diverge with this op-ed.
I -- there's absolutely division if you look at the polls. I don't think it's just Barack Obama. I think it is the Democratic Party in general right now. I think you're seeing Republicans very fearful of some policies they don't agree with. They aren't quite sure where those policies are headed.
I think Nancy Pelosi, quite frankly, you know, has done a lot, I think, to damage the Obama brand with Republicans who are more inclined to think, yes, maybe he won't be that bad.
BORGER: But, Steve, if you look at Barack Obama's job approval rating, there is a 65-point gap between Democrats and Republicans. So, doesn't that show that he's kind of been a divider here?
STEVE HILDEBRAND, FORMER OBAMA DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think the more important figure in that polling is the fact that 67 percent of independents, people who self-identify themselves as independents in this country, believe Barack Obama is doing a great job.
You know, Democrats -- people who identify themselves as Democrats...
HILDEBRAND: ... and Republicans are partisans.
BORGER: Yes. HILDEBRAND: People who identify themselves as independents, you know, they should probably be a much greater gauge. And I think that your poll shows...
HILDEBRAND: ... pretty significantly that this guy's not a divider. He's actually doing a great job.
LEMON: Karen wants to jump in here.
HANRETTY: Well, you know, there have been a few polls recently, though, that show he actually is losing a little support among independents.
We will see where he is, I think, over the next couple of days after, you know, he -- I think he will get a bump, slight bump, from this trip. But, look, it's all about independents. I agree with that. He can't go retire with Democrats.
HANRETTY: And the question is, where are these independents going to fall in the coming weeks and months if the economy -- if we don't see significant improvement in the economy?
HILDEBRAND: The best part about the op-ed we're discussing and the polarization is the fact that, you know, this was one of George Bush's speechwriters suggesting that...
BORGER: A thoughtful guy, a very thoughtful guy.
HILDEBRAND: He can be thoughtful, but...
HANRETTY: You can demonize the man for writing an op-ed, but...
HILDEBRAND: You -- you can suggest that George Bush was one of the most polarizing figures in this nation.
LEMON: But, when you -- but, when you look at the numbers, and if you look at them closely, do you think that the -- the positive numbers, the approval rating, is really bolstered by sort of rabid Democrats, who...
HANRETTY: Rapid Democrats.
LEMON: Yes, it's the sort of rapid Democrats are -- are people who love Barack Obama. So, don't you think those numbers are sort of bolstered by that, and necessarily, like you said, the independents, and...
BORGER: But you have them.
HANRETTY: You have got Democrats, I think, who are very happy to have one of their own in the White House finally, after eight years.
HANRETTY: And they're seeing a lot of policies that they have been waiting for, for a long time. And you're seeing Republicans who are terrified.
HILDEBRAND: But what you are also seeing is that so many -- you're -- you're seeing in every poll a decline in the number of Republicans, people who self-identify.
HILDEBRAND: It's -- it's going down, because they're moving to independents.
BORGER: And you're also seeing -- and you're also seeing Barack Obama being a lot more popular personally than his policies.
LEMON: We have got to run, guys. We appreciate it. Thank you very much.
Because we're some following breaking news, a lot of news to cover today.
This one is about that hostage drama you on the high seas that is playing out. We're going to give you the very latest on that.
Also, an American journalist is now charged with spying by Iran.
And Michelle Obama and her relationship with her mom -- they open up in a rare interview.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
LEMON: Well, when you see first lady Michelle Obama, her mother usually isn't very far away. Now the two are paired up in a magazine cover.
And CNN's Erica Hill has that for us.
ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Don. Good to see you.
The first lady, of course, is famously a mother first. But she readily admits she couldn't do it all without her own mom. In the May issue of "Essence" magazine, mother and daughter open up about life in the White House and their Mother's Day wishes for families everywhere.
HILL (voice-over): She is, above all, mom in chief. But even this champion multitasker admits she would never be able to devote as much time to that role without her own mother by her side.
TATSHA ROBERTSON, DEPUTY EDITOR, "ESSENCE": When mom and dad are busy being, you know, first lady and president, it's -- it's Marian Robinson who they call the secret weapon who keeps the two kids really grounded.
HILL: For the Mother's Day issue, "Essence" magazine sat down with Michelle Obama and her mother, Marian Robinson. The two are incredibly close, something that was obvious from the moment they arrived for the interview.
ROBERTSON: Michelle, being a great daughter, you know, hugged her mom and pushed her hair out of her eyes, and they talked and they giggled. You could tell, there's this really loving bond.
HILL: Mrs. Obama has often talked of her love, admiration and appreciation for her mother. But this is one of the few times we've heard directly from the first grandmother.
"I have always looked up to Michelle because she's been able to do things that I couldn't do emotionally, psychologically or physically," Mrs. Robinson tells "Essence." "I think she is amazing."
Much of America agrees, her latest approval rating, 72 percent.
But the first lady is quick to point out she's able to do so many things because her mom is there for her and for and for the girls, and because of the White House staff, a luxury many working families don't have.
"When you have children and a career or a job and you're trying to make it all work, it's tough," Mrs. Obama says. "We need to have truthful and honest conversations about what it requires to do all that we ask of families and women."
Carol Evans is the president of "Working Mother" magazine.
CAROL EVANS, PRESIDENT, "WORKING MOTHER": Because she has been a working mother and is a working mother, she speaks for all of us every day. She is, just by being herself, that really strong woman, a symbol for what the average working mother is like.
HILL: A woman who is driven, torn, and intensely dedicated to her family, telling "Essence" -- quote -- "There isn't a relationship in a family that is more important than the relationship a child has with her mother or someone in that role. And we have to value that. We cannot wait to value it. We've got to value it each and every day" -- a lesson learned from her mother and passed along to the first daughters every day.
HILL: Now, Don, "Essence," of course, is a magazine aimed at African-American women.
And the author of this article asked about the impact of this picture of the first African-American family in the White House.
Mrs. Obama said, look, there could be an impact on the negative stereotypes that are out there. But, frankly, this image is just a reminder of what the reality already is, that this is a normal family, just like any other family you would find down the street -- Don.
LEMON: Erica Hill, we appreciate it. Thank you, Erica.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.