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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Obama Embraces U.N.; Thousands Gather to Protest Ahmadinejad; Taking Down Gadhafi's Tent
Aired September 23, 2009 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, President Obama gives United Nations members a verbal hug, and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi bashes them. This hour, building bridges and burning bridges at the United Nations General Assembly.
Will the Obama administration order an about-face in Afghanistan? We're getting new information about private White House talks about troop levels and the alternatives on the table.
And Sarah Palin's debut on the international speakers circuit. We'll tell you who was the target of her toughest attacks and why she says a lot of people right now are "nervous."
I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics, and extraordinary reports from around the world.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Today, President Obama told U.N. members in not so many words that he's not George W. Bush. His first speech to the General Assembly gave him a new chance to put a friendlier face on the United States and to distance his administration from the previous one.
Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is traveling with the president in New York. He's joining us now with more -- Dan.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in his address to the U.N. General Assembly, President Obama tried to dispel a go-it-alone reputation that he says has fed anti-Americanism. Mr. Obama is pushing for a new era of engagement and touting policy changes his administration has already made.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): It is President Obama's global embrace, urging world leaders to build new coalitions and bridge old divides.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation.
LOTHIAN: A new tone, even as Mr. Obama made clear he will never apologize for defending U.S. interests.
For leaders who still have doubts, the president offered up a progress report after only nine months in office. OBAMA: In Iraq, we are responsibly ending a war. I have outlined a comprehensive agenda to seek the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. I appointed a special enjoy for Middle East peace. I prohibited, without exception or equivocation, the use of torture by the United States of America.
LOTHIAN: But the president says global challenges require a global response. This push comes as Mr. Obama's enjoying high marks from the European Union, plus Turkey, for how he's dealt with issues abroad.
In a poll conducted by the nonprofit German Marshall Fund of the U.S., 77 percent of those questioned over two months this summer said they approve of his handling of international affairs. Only 19 percent backed former President Bush in 2008. But experts warn popularity alone won't translate into blind approval of everything the president wants from the global community.
JON ALTERMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Although there's a general sense of relief that there's a new tone, a new respectfulness coming out of the United States, a desire for the president to succeed, but not a felt need to help the president succeed.
LOTHIAN: The president said very little about Afghanistan in his speech today, but his administration, behind the scenes, is reassessing its Afghan plan. But overseas, many are questioning the U.S. strategy. In that poll we just mentioned, nearly two-thirds of Europeans are pessimistic about the situation in Afghanistan, that it will be stabilized, and the prevailing view is that their troop numbers should be reduced or forces completely withdrawn -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dan Lothian is in New York.
Get ready for more fireworks in New York over at the United Nations later today. We're standing by to hear from the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He's going to be speaking at the podium at the General Assembly.
Israel's deputy foreign minister is urging world leaders to walk out of that assembly when Ahmadinejad speaks. He's calling the Iranian leader, and I'm quoting now, "the most dangerous anti-Semite since Hitler."
Meantime, hundreds of people are gathered near the U.N. right now to protest Ahmadinejad.
Let's bring in CNN Senior Correspondent Allan Chernoff. He's there with more -- Allan.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SR. CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's actually thousands of people here in the plaza right across the street from the United Nations, and right now they are chanting, "Sixty-three percent! Sixty-three percent! Where is your 63 percent?" The people here believing that the June 12th presidential election was a fraud that put Ahmadinejad into office, but it is not purely Ahmadinejad that has brought all these people out. It is pictures like this, pictures of torture, pictures of people being oppressed (ph) and trying to demonstrate in the streets of Iran, but facing horrific consequences, and that is why so many of these people have come.
They have come from all over the country. They have come from Canada. As a matter of fact, this gentleman biked with several friends from Toronto.
What is your name?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Minez (ph).
CHERNOFF: What is your purpose here? What is the point of biking all the way and being here at the United Nations?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cycled over 800 kilometers to remind the members of the United Nations that when they deal with Iran, they should not forget that human rights should be their priority.
CHERNOFF: It is not just a matter of saying Ahmadinejad is not my president, which we've heard from so many people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct. What we want to do is to remind the world of that there are atrocious violations of human rights occurring in the country.
CHERNOFF: And perhaps the best known of all is that of the case of Neda, that beautiful woman who was tragically killed during one president. We all saw the video of her bleeding to death.
And let's see who is holding that picture. Your name is?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Nazarene (ph), and I came here from Toronto.
CHERNOFF: You're also from Toronto. And what is your hope that this demonstrate will deliver?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, basically the people of Iran, they want change. And we want people of the world to know that, as you can see, I'm holding the picture of Neda. And her death was an historical moment for our people. And the people of Iran, they are looking for a change.
They do not think this government is a legitimate government. We want Ahmadinejad and his government to know that they are not welcome anywhere in the world. I mean, I drove 10 hours to get here, but if I have to fly even 20 hours anywhere he goes, we'll be there.
CHERNOFF: Thank you.
And Wolf, that is very typical of the feeling here. People do want change, but most of all they want to end the violence in Iran.
Back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to get back to you soon.
Allan Chernoff is there with thousands of demonstrators protesting Ahmadinejad. He's going to be speaking later at the United Nations General Assembly. We're standing by for that.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: When the bomber of Pan Am Flight 103 was released, Libya and its leader, Moammar Gadhafi, threw a huge celebration to welcome home their favorite mass murderer. After the civilized world expressed collective outrage at Scottish authorities for releasing this mutant, there was Gadhafi putting on a display of affection for someone who isn't fit to eat with your dog.
Then, Gadhafi had the stones to waltz into New York and share his warped views of the world with all of the rest of us in a ranting, raving, nonsensical diatribe on the floor of the U.N. General asibly. It turns out, since nobody would rent a hotel room to this creep, he spent weeks trying to find a place to pitch his tent.
Most recently, he settled on the town of Bedford, New York. The problem was the land he was using was owned by Donald Trump -- yes, that Donald Trump.
Trump explained he leased the property to some Middle Eastern associates who, in turn, allowed Gadhafi to camp out on the lawn. When the Bedford authorities found out -- I love this story -- when the Bedford authorities found out, Gadhafi was then told to roll up his sleeping bag and hit the road.
All of which is to wonder what purpose is served by allowing these kinds of people to come here every year for the U.N. meetings. In addition to creating traffic and security nightmares, a guy like Gadhafi or, for that matter, Ahmadinejad, manages to send everybody's temperature up a couple of degrees. And quite frankly, here in New York City, where we just don't need their help.
Here's the question. Should the rules be changed to keep people like Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi out of this country? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.
BLITZER: He wants the United Nations, Jack, to leave New York because he complained 20 hours it took him to get there. He was suffering from jetlag.
Why does the United Nations have to convene, he said -- did you hear that part of the speech where he was complaining about the jetlag?
CAFFERTY: This may come as a shock to you, but I didn't hear any part of his speech. I refuse to spend my time watching or listening to something like that.
BLITZER: All right. Well, then you're going to be interested, because we're going to have some highlights coming up. Also spoke, among other things, about Barack Obama, the president of the United States.
CAFFERTY: Well, he loves Obama.
BLITZER: And also, he wants to reopen the JFK investigation as well.
CAFFERTY: Oh, swell. I mean, we need this? We don't need this? Is he on Twitter?
BLITZER: I don't know. All right, Jack. Stand by. We're going to have some highlights coming up.
Also coming up, a daring robbery that took thieves through the roof with the help of a stolen helicopter.
And Sarah Palin, yes, the former governor, is speaking -- honing her speaking skills before a whole new audience. How did the hockey mom-turned-ex-governor play in Hong Kong?
BLITZER: The Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi reminded the world today why so many nations had shunned him for so long. In his very first appearance before the United Nations, Gadhafi delivered a long, rambling tirade. His top targets, the United Nations Security Council and the United States.
But the Libyan leader also veered off into a variety of rather unusual topics. Among other things, he called for a new investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. MOAMMAR GADHAFI, LIBYA (through translator): And then the assassination or the killing of Kennedy in '63 or '62, the president of the United States of America, why? We want to know, who killed him?
Somebody who -- by the name of Lee Harvey, and then another, Jack Ruby, killed Lee Harvey. Why did he kill him? Jack Ruby, an Israeli, killed Lee Harvey, who killed Kennedy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Gadhafi also talked about his jetlag.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GADHAFI (through translator): Some of our countries are nighttime. And they are asleep. And now you should be asleep because your biological hour -- your biological mind is accustomed to be asleep at this time.
I wake up before dawn, because in Libya it is 11:00 in the morning. Because when I wake up at 11:00, I'm supposed to be late. At 4:00 I'm awake.
Why? (INAUDIBLE), should we keep it up to now? Why can't we think about a place that is at -- the other point, America, the hosting country, that bears the expenses and the looking after the headquarters and looking after the peace and security of heads of state who come here, very strict. And they spend a lot of money in New York and all of America.
I want to relieve America from this hardship. We should thank America and we say to America, thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He also congratulated President Obama for breaking racial barriers. At one point he called the U.S. president "my son."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GADHAFI (through translator): One day the flag doesn't go where (INAUDIBLE). Now the American people, the black African Kenyan, voted for him and made him a president. This is a great thing and we are proud of that.
You are the beginning of a change.
He did go for a change, but as far as I'm concerned, Obama is a glimpse in the dark for the four years or the next eight years. And I'm afraid that we may go back to square one.
Can you guarantee America after Obama? Can you guarantee after Obama how America will be governed? No one can guarantee America. We are content and happy if Obama can stay forever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He says he would like President Obama to stay in office forever, not just for four or eight years, because he's worried what could happen after the Obama administration.
By the way, Gadhafi spoke for a whopping one hour and 36 minutes. Still, he didn't come close to the record set by Fidel Castro back in 1960. His U.N. speech lasted just under four and a half hours.
Gadhafi's appearance here in the United States is causing lots of anger right now, and not just because of what he's saying. As we've reported, there's been a lot of controversy over where he's staying.
Our Mary Snow has the latest on that tent that he was trying to get up there, and the Donald Trump connection to that tent.
All right. Explain what's going on here, Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Donald Trump has found himself smack in the middle of controversy over Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's visit to New York. That's after a tent was put up on property belonging to Trump in the suburban town of Bedford, New York. It's about 40 miles north of New York City.
Now, the State Department says it was their understanding that Gadhafi would hold meetings there, but the town of Bedford is furious. An attorney for the town tells CNN that he's told the Trump organization he would take legal action if the tent wasn't taken down by 5:00 p.m. today, saying it violated required building permits.
Now, we've reached out to Donald Trump's office today. He has not said anything about the controversy since his office released this statement yesterday saying, "The property was leased on a short-term basis to Middle Eastern partners who may or may not have a relationship to Mr. Gadhafi. We are looking into the matter."
Now, that was yesterday. That answer, however, did not sit well with demonstrators protesting against Gadhafi at the U.N. today, and some took aim at Trump, including a rabbi who successfully fought against Gadhafi pitching his tent in the New Jersey town of Englewood.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH: And what message do you send to them, Mr. Trump, by housing Gadhafi's tent on your property?
SNOW: He said he was not aware. Do you take him at face value?
BOTEACH: He's aware now. Let him do something about it. I mean, if he says he's not which aware, he's aware now
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: Now, aside from Donald Trump, the Westchester County executive is now saying that Gadhafi will be in the town of Bedford. He's expected at some point today. Town and county police are being asked to assist with security, according to the Westchester County executive, who also released a statement saying, "We have no choice but to help with law enforcement, but I remain outraged that our taxpayers have to protect someone that we don't want in this county."
BLITZER: So, you're basically getting similar information, Mary, to what The Associated Press is now reporting. They are quoting an official as saying the Secret Service has told them that Gadhafi is now coming out to Donald Trump's estate in Bedford, New York, outside of New York City. They didn't know an exact time, but he was basically on the way. You're getting similar information from county executives?
SNOW: Right. He had just released a statement a short time ago saying that he was told to have local police help with security, that he had talked to the Secret Service.
BLITZER: All right. So maybe he'll get a good night's sleep out there. He was complaining about jetlag, so he obviously needs a good night's sleep.
Mary, thanks very much.
At least two people hurt and dozens in custody after a shootout at the border between suspected Mexican smugglers and federal agents. We're going to have the details.
The president's Afghan war dilemma. Is there growing uncertainty inside the Obama administration about whether to send in more troops?
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, what he says about George W. Bush when he wasn't sticking to the script. We're going to talk to the former White House staffer and author of a brand new book that might leave you speechless. That's coming up.
And you've seen him report for all of us from around the world, and he's been fighting for his own health in a war zone. One of CNN's own gets the swine flu. Stand by for that.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The drumbeat has been building for weeks, high-level calls for the president to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. The top U.S. military commander there reportedly warning that the war could be lost without reinforcements, and reinforcements quickly. But now we're learning the top members of the Obama administration are debating other ideas for moving forward.
We've got some new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
Barbara, it looks like there's a debate going on at the highest levels of the Obama administration.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: A debate to say the least, Wolf. Think of it as the Clash of the Titans -- on one side, people like Vice President Joe Biden, who are very reluctant to see more troops being sent -- on the other side, the generals, who say, if you want to win, it's going to take more combat boots on the ground. The bottom line is, it is all getting messier.
STARR (voice-over): President Obama's national security team is now scrambling to give him new options for Afghanistan, alternatives that would not require the tens of thousands of additional combat troops envisioned by General Stanley McChrystal as the only way to win the war. Officially, the Pentagon is trying to put the best face on a political firestorm.
GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: This is a natural reassessment point.
STARR: But a senior U.S. official deeply involved in war strategy tells CNN a much different behind-the-scenes reality. He confirms that, when McChrystal sent Washington his Afghan assessment, including the need for additional U.S. forces to carry out the president's strategy, the administration was taken aback.
Several officials tell CNN that report is now seen as putting the president in a messy box, with no way out, other than to agree with his generals -- one alternative now being explored, move quickly to reconcile with key Taliban leaders and also put a significant military intelligence presence into Afghanistan to keep militants from planning attacks against the U.S. -- the number of troops needed still the number one political controversy.
Put Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the undecided column.
MORRELL: His view, ultimately, on more troops is still a work in progress.
STARR: But some Republicans say, there's no time to waste.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: First, with insufficient troops in the field, we have put the troops that we do have there at greater risk.
STARR: McChrystal may now return to Washington in the coming weeks, and possibly meet with the president and other top officials to hash out a way forward.
STARR: Now, remember that troop request that McChrystal was told don't call us, we will call you. Well, there's been a development there as well. The general has now been told, send it in to Washington, but Secretary Gates is going to keep it tucked away until some of these ideas are sorted out, and they decide one more time whether they want a new strategy.
Senior officials are not steering us away from the notion that General McChrystal is telling the White House it would take about 40,000 troops to see success in Afghanistan -- 40,000 more -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much.
Let's bring in our Christiane Amanpour.
Christiane, you have been doing a lot of reporting on this. You spent some time with Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S. envoy, the representative dealing with Afghanistan -- and Pakistan, for that matter. It looks like this debate is heating up inside the White House.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, indeed.
Been watching it from the ground in Afghanistan and with some of the senior officials who you mentioned. Obviously, Richard Holbrooke, who is the special representative, was not about to come out and say anything definitive about that publicly.
But I have also talked to the secretary-general of NATO, the new secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who will be visiting President Obama, and he says he agrees with General McChrystal's assessment and that he trusts General McChrystal and more resources are needed.
He did say what would have to happen, of course, would be development on the political side, but also an Afghanization of the situation, which is code for getting up the Afghan army, getting up the Afghan police. But that is going to take a while.
Most people, many people who I speak to say that you cannot do an effective counterinsurgency with the ratio of troops to people on the ground as there is in Afghanistan right now. There's not enough troops for an effective counterinsurgency, and that will be required to move back the Taliban and the gains that they have made.
BLITZER: No easy answer on this one. The president's got his hands full.
No easy answer on the Arab-Israeli peace process either, Christiane. You had a chance to speak with the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who himself is very involved in trying to get this Israeli-Palestinian peace process off the ground.
That handshake yesterday between Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, with President Obama watching, did it really achieve anything?
AMANPOUR: Well, you know, there's a huge amount of -- of best face being put on what happened yesterday. Many people are saying it was nothing more than a photo-op because there's no commitment to start negotiations, which is what the president wants.
He's getting full marks for really being an activist in trying to move these peace talks forward. However, there has been a drop of the U.S. demand or preference for an Israeli settlement freeze before negotiations can start. They dropped that demand because they couldn't get Israel to agree to a settlement freeze -- Tony Blair saying that, of course, that does upset the Palestinians, because that is, under international law, what should happen.
But, nonetheless, he believes, eventually, these talks will start.
This is what he told me today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY BLAIR, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: So, what they say is, if you are don't lay down these conditions, the negotiation won't be credible. What the Israelis say is, look, we will negotiate without precondition. But we're not prepared until we start negotiation to yield this or yield that.
Now, personally, I think what -- what -- what will happen and should happen is that we try and put together the best possible context for the launch of the negotiation. It may not be everything that everyone wants, but get the thing under way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And the other notion, of course, is, according to the Palestinians, you know, this is putting them in a bind, obviously, with the Arab foreign ministers and -- and people who are thinking, well, will the Obama administration actually be able to forge towards final status agreement, if they can't even get this settlement freeze?
So these are -- these are issues that are -- are really coming into play and hopefully won't reduce the credibility or the effectiveness of the Obama administration on this very vital issue.
BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour, thanks very much.
An important programming note to our viewers: Please be sure to watch Christiane's new show. It's called "AMANPOUR." The global interview program airs Sundays -- it starts this coming Sunday -- 2:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.
You might think that the city of Pittsburgh would welcome thousands of visitors with open arms, but a summit of the world's leading economic powers is making a lot of people nervous in Pittsburgh. We will explain.
Also, she's a long way from Alaska. How did Sarah Palin's conservative brand of politics play in Hong Kong?
And they took the cash, they took the chopper, and they flew.
BLITZER: Pittsburgh is certainly hoping its economy will get a big boost when the world comes to town tomorrow for the G20 summit, but many locals are concerned the heavy security and the protests are going to disrupt their lives and their businesses.
We sent our Brian Todd to Pittsburgh to take a closer look.
Brian, what are the folks there saying to you?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, authorities here say thousands of protesters could potentially disrupt this event. We're here at the Convention Center, where the G20 summit is going to be held.
And city officials have designated two areas for protesters to gather. We are going to show those to you. One is a grassy area over there, on the other side of the natural barrier of the Allegheny River there, that area by those two red buildings and beyond those yellow bridges. Another is where this railroad bridge converges with the other side of the river, just beyond that thick thatch much of trees.
They are going to try to contain the protesters in those two areas, but authorities here admit protesters are a real wild card. And, from the mayor to small-business owners, you get a sense that the stakes in trying to contain the chaos here are enormous.
TODD (voice-over): The early morning rollout at Mancini's Bakery -- within minutes, the dough is pulled, shaped, and carefully tended in a massive oven until it comes out in batches of hoagie sticks, Tuscan loaves, and a local favorite, pepperoni rolls.
(on camera): Thanks very much, Erin (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure.
TODD: I appreciate it. Wow.
(voice-over): A routine that may soon be thrown off, as leaders of the world's economic powers and potentially thousands of protesters converge on these neighborhoods.
(on camera): We're here in what's called the Strip District. It's one of the most vibrant and genuinely most multicultural areas in all of Pittsburgh. Most of the businesses here are locally owned, run by immigrant families that have been here for generations. But they're all a little bit anxious about the summit being here -- one of the protest marches expected to go right down Penn Avenue right.
Some of these businesses, like Wholey's fish market, are going to remain open, try to stick it out. Others, like Mancini's Bakery here, are planning on shutting down. It could be a real disruption.
(voice-over): The local upholsterer is boarding up and sending people home this week. How big are the stakes for this town?
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has spent years trying to change the city's image from that of a gritty, depressed shell to a magnet for biotech and health care jobs. He's consulted with leaders in Seattle and London, where protests at major economic summits got violent.
His main concern? So-called anarchists, whose chief objective is destruction.
LUKE RAVENSTAHL (D), MAYOR OF PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA: We don't want to be remembered as the city that had, you know, a big event, you know, whether it's a violent event. We want to make sure that we can avoid that. That's what is at stake here.
TODD: Nick Mancini Hartner, owner of Mancini's Bakery, says he shut down his shop in the Strip District out of concern for his employees' safety.
(on camera): As for how the city is remembered for how it handles this, what's the crucial factor here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, it's going to be -- come down to the Pittsburgh police and our security in the area. I -- I'm confident that -- Pittsburgh has a good reputation -- that they are -- they're going to handle it the best they can.
TODD (voice-over): They will handle it with some 6,000 police and National Guard troops. As they slice up a swordfish at Wholey's, the owner is resolute.
(on camera): What are the stakes for your business, your neighborhood, your city, if things don't go well in the next couple of days, if things get violent?
DAN WHOLEY, OWNER, WHOLEY & CO. FISH MARKET: Brian, we have been in business since 1912. We have had a lot of hardships. We had the -- the Saint Patrick's Day flood of 1936. The building was under water. We have had all kinds of problems. And we have survived and just carried on. And we're going to care on after the protesters come and go. And -- and that's what we're going to do.
TODD: Now, some businesses, like Wholey's, that are staying open are taking on security themselves, manning the doors and windows. Others, Wolf, we're told, are going to hire some private security firms to handle it. It's really on edge here.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to have you stay there in Pittsburgh and watch what happens tomorrow and Friday. Brian, thanks very much.
Here are some facts on the G20. It's a group of 20 finance ministers and central bank governors from 20 countries representing 90 percent of the global gross national product. The summit will be held in Pittsburgh, as I said, tomorrow and Friday.
The G20 was actually created in a response to the financial crises of the late 1990s. President Obama is chairing this year's meeting. Five thousand eight hundred and fifty, that's the number of hotel rooms dignitaries from the visiting G20 countries have reserved.
An estimated 2,000 international journalists, by the way, are covering the G20 summit.
It's the ultimate getaway vehicle. Thieves in Stockholm, Sweden, used a helicopter to raid a building full of cash, getting away with bags full of money.
Abbi Tatton is walking into THE SITUATION ROOM.
Abbi, tell our viewers, how did they do it?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is a warehouse in Stockholm, Sweden, absolutely jampacked full of cash. So, it had heavy security on the ground.
So, thieves stole a helicopter last night and went in through the roof, this roof right here. This is the G4S building in Stockholm. That's the glass window that they went in through, stealing that helicopter right there -- 5:00 a.m. this morning, they were on the roof, used explosives to blast through, getting away with unconfirmed amounts of money, making their getaway through the southern part of -- of Stockholm here, landing in a field, and then abandoning the helicopter.
This is a building that essentially is the -- the storehouse for all the bank notes that are eventually going to go into the ATMs around Stockholm. So, a lot of money was taken.
BLITZER: How did they get away with it?
TATTON: Well, the police had problems of their own at 5:00 a.m. this -- this morning. There was a suspicious package that was left marked with the word "bomb" at the helipad that police use, so they couldn't get away in their helicopter to chase the thieves.
We don't know how much money was taken, but this happened just a couple of days before Swedish pay day. So, there was a lot in there.
BLITZER: A lot of cash there. Very clever thieves. All right, thanks very much for that.
Another fiery world leader getting ready to address the United Nations General Assembly. We're standing by. Iran's president could be even more controversial, shall we say, than Moammar Gadhafi. More on that, that's coming up.
And the author of a tell-all on former President George W. Bush talks to us about some of his more controversial claims.
BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session."
We have two CNN political strategists joining us, the Democratic strategist Robert Zimmerman and the Republican strategist Alex Castellanos.
Ahmadinejad said upon arriving in New York last night, Robert, that he's -- he's willing to work with President Obama, if Obama does what he wants him to do.
What's going on here? Because, as you know, the outreach that the president initially gave to Ahmadinejad is no necessarily playing all that well. ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, the reality is, Ahmadinejad -- Ahmadinejad is going to come to the United Nations and look like he's auditioning for a segment on "The Jerry Springer Show."
He will engage in theatrics. He will engage in vulgar and hateful sound bites. But the reality here is that the United States has been very clear that an Iran with nuclear weapons is not acceptable.
And, in fact, I give Barack Obama great credit for in fact canceling the anti-ballistic missile system and -- and going to short- and medium-range missiles that would be very much -- be very critical in terms of our efforts against Iran.
BLITZER: What should he be doing, Alex, right now, because there could be an awkward moment when Ahmadinejad might be in the same room as the president?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I will tell you, Wolf, today, what the president should be doing is the opposite of what he said today. He said the -- the president said something very scary today.
You know, we're seeing -- at the U.N., we're seeing this parade of madmen and terrorists come to our doorstep. That's the world in which we live. And, in the face of that, in the U.N., the president of the United States today said that a -- a world order in which one nation tried to elevate itself above others would not work.
Well, wait a minute. That's called leadership. And a world without American leadership would be a much more dangerous place. The United States is the world's most powerful defender of freedom and liberty. A world without our leadership is a world that looks like this U.N., where everyone leads and no one does.
CASTELLANOS: So, it's a very scary thing that the president said today, that we're just one nation among others, and why can't we all get along? That's weakness. That's invites trouble.
ZIMMERMAN: I don't know what part of the speech you were listening, to, Alex, but, actually, what the president did say was very much along the lines that you suggested. He spoke about the fact that our nation is going to play an important leadership role, and he really chastised nations for previously...
ZIMMERMAN: ... criticizing the United Nations for going it alone.
CASTELLANOS: Here's the part... ZIMMERMAN: And then he said -- excuse me, Alex.
And then he said -- made the point, which was so important, where he said that you have to work with us, instead of just criticizing us for going it alone...
CASTELLANOS: Robert, the part...
ZIMMERMAN: ... if we're going to take on terrorism.
CASTELLANOS: You asked a question, and I think it's a good say. What did the president say?
And I will quote him. "No world order that elevates one nation or group of people above another will succeed."
That is called leadership. And, again, no...
ZIMMERMAN: No, actually, that's called the Bush foreign policy, Alex, and that's why it failed, because the Bush administration took that arrogant position, where they were above all else. They didn't need allies.
CASTELLANOS: We are.
CASTELLANOS: Leadership is not -- is not a luxury we can throw away. It's a responsibility we must embrace.
ZIMMERMAN: And we embrace it by building allies to fight...
CASTELLANOS: And if we walk away from the role and say we're just one nation among others -- this is what the president said today.
CASTELLANOS: We do have a responsibility to lead, and the president walked away from it.
BLITZER: Well, let me interrupt.
BLITZER: Hold on for a second, Robert.
BLITZER: Is the president showing that he's tough enough to handle all these world leaders? ZIMMERMAN: In fact, his speech today demonstrated that toughness, in terms of the way he really took on our allies and demanded more of them. And I think what's critical here is, we saw eight years under the Bush administration of a foreign policy that Alex is articulating.
And, in fact, we didn't have allies to help us fight in the war on terrorism. And we lost valuable time. And we're seeing the results of that now in particular in Afghanistan. And, so, clearly, what the president was saying is, we expect you, as allies, to work with us, both militarily, in intelligence-gathering...
BLITZER: All right.
ZIMMERMAN: ... and in law enforcement, if we're to take on al Qaeda and the Taliban.
BLITZER: Very -- very quickly, Alex, go ahead and respond.
CASTELLANOS: It was a disappointing day today.
Again, this president may be loved by foreign leaders, but he is not respected. And America has a job to do as the defender of liberty and freedom in the world. We must be respected first. When Putin winks at us, when China scolds us, when -- when the terrorists of the world come to our doorstep and scold us, and our...
ZIMMERMAN: And, Alex...
CASTELLANOS: ... president doesn't respond...
BLITZER: All right, hold it.
CASTELLANOS: ... it does not help.
BLITZER: We have got to leave it there, guys.
BLITZER: Good discussion.
ZIMMERMAN: Good to be with you.
BLITZER: Robert, Alex, thank you.
Sarah Palin is making her debut on the international speakers circuit, but is she playing to a political audience right here at home as well?
And stand by to hear our chief medical correspondent's firsthand account of what it's like to get swine flu. Dr. Sanjay Gupta went to Afghanistan and came home with the H1N1.
BLITZER: Let's get to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: All right, Wolf, the question is, should the rules be changed to keep people like Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi out of the country?
Linda in Kentucky writes: "I once ditched my best friend because she had the nerve to insult me in my own home. When I confronted her about it, she said, get over it. Well, I did. I never spoke to her again. Why we allow this subhuman to set foot in our house is beyond me. It's like opening your front door and inviting a mangy cur to come in and pee on your rug."
CAFFERTY: Jay writes: "Imagine if the U.N. headquarters was in Venezuela, and Hugo Chavez had prevented President Bush from speaking. America would have lost its collective mind, and, yet, you suggest America has the right to forbid people it doesn't like from coming to what is considered international soil, not American soil?"
Excuse me, Jay. Bedford, New York is not international soil. Bedford, New York is American soil.
"If you don't like it," he writes, "put the U.N. headquarters at the South Pole. Then it won't be anybody's problem."
That's not actually not a bad idea.
John writes from Wisconsin: "No. No rules needed here. Gadhafi got the message without any rules. If there were rules, we probably wouldn't have the opportunity to express just how unwelcome he is."
Frankie writes: "No, he is part of the U.N. As President Obama said in his speech, the U.N. is what we make it. I think the U.S. dropped that ball the past several years. We need to regain the power to be a force for the good in the United Nations. A very strong and active U.S. could further trivialize things like Gadhafi's words and actions."
Joe in Miami writes: "If people like Amy Winehouse are banned from entering this country, why are convicted terrorists allowed, and to speak publicly, no less? I'm a bleeding-heart liberal, but I have no tolerance for allowing enemies of democracy to participate in one."
Cindy writes from Miami: "A shout-out to Mr. Donald Trump: You're fired."
And Michael says: "No. Everybody ought to be allowed to speak at the U.N. Sometimes, it's good to highlight how insane some people are. And, when we see people like Gadhafi, it reminds us Michael Jackson's plastic surgeon is still employed, even in a bad economy."
CAFFERTY: If you didn't see your e-mail here -- I liked those -- go to my blowing. There's lots more there -- Wolf. BLITZER: Will do. Jack, thank you.
The former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin delivering a big new speech with some of the ingredients her conservative fans certainly would love.
Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is joining us now with more on her big speech in Asia.
How did it go, Jessica?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Sarah Palin chose Hong Kong for her big debut on the paid speaking tour. And the thrust of her speech? She was defending what she calls commonsense conservatism.
YELLIN (voice-over): On the streets of Hong Kong, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is no celebrity.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This woman?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have never seen her before?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, never.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you ever seen her before?
YELLIN: She might be better known there today. Palin just headlined a Hong Kong investment conference whose past speakers have included Bill Clinton, Alan Greenspan, Al Gore, and Bishop Desmond Tutu. This year?
SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: ... diversity of ideas.
YELLIN: There were no cameras inside, but someone snuck out this cell phone video. Now "The Wall Street Journal" reports, Palin had governments from East to West in her sights, telling the audience of business leaders that China "rightfully makes a lot of people nervous."
And, according to Bloomberg News, she said Japan, not China, "must continue to be the linchpin of U.S. foreign policy in the region."
But Palin saved her most pointed attacks for -- quote -- "liberalism" and the philosophy that -- quote -- "there is no human problem that government can't fix." Her charge? That the U.S. government caused last year's financial collapse. "The Journal" quotes Palin saying, "We got into this mess because of government interference in the first place."
And she reportedly said: "We're not interested in government fixes. We're interested in freedom."
DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN, FORMER CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE DIRECTOR: She gets a chance to try out her ideas and see what the response is.
YELLIN: Doug Holtz-Eakin was a top economic adviser in the McCain-Palin campaign. He says the government did make mistakes, but disagrees that government was solely to blame for the collapse, and says of Palin's theory:
HOLTZ-EAKIN: Well, you don't want to take it to its logical conclusion, which says, we don't need a government.
YELLIN: He believes the former governor has great gifts, but the question is:
HOLTZ-EAKIN: How will she combine those skills with a set of ideas that will be more appealing to a broader demographic in America? We know the Republican Party has become too narrow.
YELLIN: Now, Wolf, according to those who listened to the speech, Palin got a mixed reaction. Some people left it early, calling it boring. Others said they were very impressed with her remarks -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thank you.