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Attorney General Calls America 'Nation of Cowards'; President Obama Meets With Canadian Prime Minister

Aired February 19, 2009 - 15:00   ET

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


STEPHEN HARPER, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: I would just say this: You know, obviously we're operating within a parliamentary resolution. I would just say this, in terms of the United States looking at its own future engagement, we are highly appreciative of the fact United States is going to be a partner with us on the ground in Kandahar.

The goal of our military engagement -- its principle goal, right now, beyond day-to-day security, is the training of the Afghan army, so the Afghans, themselves, can become responsible for their day-to- day security in that country.

I'm strongly of the view, having led, you know, as a government leader having been responsible, now, for a military mission in Kandahar province, that we are not in the long term, through our own efforts, going to establish peace and security in Afghanistan; that, that job ultimately can be done only by the Afghans, themselves. So, I would hope that all strategies that come forward have the idea of an end date, of a transition to Afghan responsibility for security, and to greater Western partnership for economic development.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll continue with (SPEAKING FRENCH)

QUESTION (through translator): Good day.

In French for you, Mr. Harper, with regard to the environment, going beyond green technology, to how far are your two countries prepared to harmonize your strategy to reduce greenhouse gases, and how will you reconcile your approaches?

They seem different when it comes to the tar sands, for instance.

(INAUDIBLE) of the environment, beyond research, technology and science, how far you two countries willing to go to harmonize your strategies, in terms of greenhouse gas reductions? And how can you reconcile your two approaches when they seem so different, especially considering the fact that Canada refuses to have hard caps, in part, because of the oil sands?

HARPER: Do you want me to answer first?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Please.

HARPER (through translator): Yes.

The U.S. don't have their own national strategy yet. Of course, there are decisions that will have to be made in the U.S., and the president will have to make these decisions in the future.

It's rather early to talk about harmonization of such things. Today we're establishing a very important dialogue on strategies to reduce greenhouse gases through the development of technology. The president and his administration are making significant investments in this regard, and we are doing the same.

Now, with regard to the differences in our approaches, as I just said, the U.S. has just started developing their approach. And, as you know, Canada had difficulties for decades now in getting a single approach in an integrated continental economy.

So, on our side, we have to examine, as the U.S. do, as they make progress and we will make progress in this system, we will seek opportunities to harmonize this to meet our own needs.

But the approaches aren't that different. If I look at the proposals made in President Obama's electoral platform and in our own, the reality is that, generally speaking, the targets are more or less the same. If we're talking about intermediary targets, intensity targets, in an absolute way, these are simply two ways of measuring the same thing.

You can convert one to the other. So, I'm convinced that we will have a great deal in common as we move forward.

Briefly, first of all, really premature to talk about anything like that, anything like harmonization with the United States.

The United States has not had a national dialogue and debate on its own detailed approach. And, obviously, that's something the president's administration will be doing.

What we have agreed to today is a dialogue on clean energy, and particularly on the development of clean energy technology.

Both of our governments are making large investments in things such as carbon capture and storage and other new technologies designed to fight climate change.

We share our -- our document on this clean energy dialogue, talks about things we can do together to improve the electricity grid in North America.

There are all kinds of things we can do together independent of any American regulatory approach on climate change.

We will be watching what the United States does very -- with a lot of -- with a lot of interest, for the obvious reasons. That as we all know, Canada has had great difficulty developing an effective regulatory regime alone in the context of an integrated continental economy. It's very hard to have a tough regulatory system here when we are competing with an unregulated economy south of the border.

So we'll be watching what the United States does. We'll be looking ourselves for our own sake at opportunities for harmonization, to make our policies as effective as they can.

And I don't think the differences are near as -- as stark as you would suggest. When I look at the president's platform, the kind of targets his administration has laid out for the reduction of greenhouse gases, are very similar to ours.

You say we have intensity, they have absolute. But truth is these are just two different ways of measuring the same thing. You can convert one to the other if that's what you want to do.

So I'm -- I'm quite optimistic. I will be watching -- I will be watching what's done in the United States with great interest. But I'm quite optimistic that we now have a partner on the North American continent that will provide leadership to the world on the climate change issue. And I think that's an important development.

OBAMA: This not just a U.S. or a Canadian issue.

This is a world-wide issue that we're going to have to confront.

There are good, sound economic reasons for us to address this issue to the extent that on both sides of the border we can make our economies more energy efficient. That saves consumers money. That saves businesses money. It has the added advantage of enhancing our energy security. And we are very grateful for the relationship that we have with Canada, Canada being one of -- being our largest energy supplier.

But, I think, increasingly, we have to take into account that the issue of climate change and greenhouse gasses is something that's going to have an impact on all of us. And as two relatively wealthy countries, it's important for us to show leadership in this area. I think the clean energy dialogue is an extraordinary beginning, because, right now, there are no silver bullets to solve all of our energy problems. We're going to have to try a whole range of things. And that's why sharing technology, sharing ideas, sharing research and development is so important.

Here in Canada, you have the issue of the oil sands. In the United States, we have issues around coal, for example, which is extraordinarily plentiful, and runs a lot of our power plants. And if we can figure out how to capture the carbon, that would make an enormous difference in how we operate.

Right now, the technologies are at least not cost-effective.

So my expectation is is that this clean energy dialogue will move us in the right direction. We're not going to solve these problems overnight, as Prime Minister Harper indicated.

We have to complete our domestic debate and discussion around these issues. My hope is is that we can show leadership so that by the time the international conference takes place in Copenhagen, that the United States has shown itself committed and ready to do its part.

I think the more that we can coordinate in -- with Canada, as well as Mexico, a country that has already shown interest in leadership on this issue. And when I spoke to President Calderon, he indicated this is an area of interest to him.

The more that within this hemisphere we can show leadership, I think the more likely it is that we can draw in countries like China and India, whose participation is absolutely critical for us to be able to solve this problem over the long term.

And, as Prime Minister Harper suggested, there are going to be a number of different ways to go after this problem. You know, we've suggested a cap-and-trade system. There are other countries who've discussed the possibilities of a carbon tax.

I think there's no country on Earth that is not concerned about balancing dealing with this issue on the environmental side and making sure that in the midst of a severe recession, that it's not having too much of an adverse impact on economic growth and employment.

So we think that we can benefit by listening and sharing ideas, and my hope is is that we emerge from this process firmly committed to dealing with an issue that ultimately the prime minister's children and my children are going to have to live with for many years.

QUESTION: I have got a question for both of you: Mr. President, on Tuesday you said that now is not the time to reopen NAFTA.

QUESTION: But your aides said that you would be trying to convince our friends in Canada and in Mexico of the rightness of your position.

So, first, did you convince our friends in Canada?

And when is the right time to incorporate labor and environmental standards into the main body of NAFTA?

Second, for Prime Minister Harper: Mr. Prime minister, is there a way for a "buy American" provision to be compliant with the U.S. obligations under the World Trade Organization?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I'm not sure that was my exact quite. I always get a little nervous about responding to quotes without me actually seeing it.

I think what I said was that now is a time where we've got to be very careful about any signals of protectionism.

Because, as the economy of the world contracts, I think there's going to be a strong impulse on the part of constituencies in all countries to see if we -- they can engage in beggar-thy-neighbor policies.

And as obviously one of the largest economies in the world, it's important for us to make sure that we are showing leadership in the belief that trade ultimately is beneficial to all countries.

Having said that, what I also indicated was that, with a NAFTA agreement that has labor provisions and environmental provisions as side agreements, it strikes me, if those side agreements mean anything, then they might as well be incorporated into the main body of the agreements so that they can be effectively enforced.

And I think it is important, whether we're talking about our relationships with Canada or our relationships with Mexico, that all countries concerned are thinking about how workers are being treated. And all countries are concerned, or thinking about environmental issues of the sort that Emanuel (ph) just raised earlier.

So, you know, I raised this issue with Prime Minister Harper. My hope is that, as our advisers and staffs and economic teams work this through, that there's a way of doing this that is not disruptive to the extraordinarily important trade relationships that exist between the United States and Canada.

Now, you didn't ask me about the Buy America provisions. But since it relates to our recovery package, let me just reiterate. And I said this very clearly before the bill was passed and before I signed it, that I think it was very important to make sure that any provisions that were there were consonant with our obligations under WTL and NAFTA. And I think that was what we achieved.

I recognize the concerns of Canada, given how significant trade with the United States is to the Canadian economy. I provided Prime Minister Harper an assurance that I want to grow trade and not contract it. And I don't think that there was anything in the recovery package that is adverse to that goal.

HARPER: I will answer both questions, as well. First of all, I just think it's important to reiterate that since NAFTA came to force and, more importantly, since Canada signed its free trade agreement with the United States in 1988, trade agreements between our two countries have been nothing but beneficial for these two countries. There has been a massive explosion of trade. It was already the biggest trading relationship in the world. It's so much bigger now. And that trade supports, you know, countless -- millions -- of jobs.

And I don't think we should also forget the leadership that was established in that. You know, this was both the end of the cold war. Canada and the U.S. signed the first modern generation trade agreement that really started -- started the proliferation of these types of agreements, which gave us the growth of the global economy.

Now, you know, I know some aspects of trade invariably cause political concerns. But nobody should think for a minute that trade between Canada and the United States is anything but a benefit between the two of us.

And, quite frankly, the trade challenges we face are common trade challenges. The trade challenges we face in North America are common trade challenges; they're not problems between our countries.

So, I just think it's always important to keep this in mind. The president and I did have a good discussion of his concerns. You know, our position is that we're perfectly willing to look at way we can -- we can address some of these concerns, which I understand, without you know, opening the whole NAFTA and unraveling what is a very complex agreement. But we had a good discussion on that, and I think -- I'm hopeful we'll be able to make some progress.

On the "buy American" provisions, all right, let's also be very clear as well that in both WTO and NAFTA, there are -- there are industries and there are ways in which and there are levels of government at which one can have domestic preferences and purchasing policies. These things are allowed in some cases, but they are certainly not allowed without limit. We expect the United States to adhere to its -- to its international obligations; I have every expectation, based on what the president's told me and what he said publicly many times in the past, that the United States will do just that.

But I can't emphasize how important it is that we do that. We have agreed, in Canada and, you know, all the major countries of the world through the G-20 -- we agreed to pursue economic stimulus measures. Not just to stimulate our own economies, but to recognize that we have a synchronized global recession that requires policies that will not just benefit ourselves, but benefit our trading partners at the same time.

If we pursue stimulus packages, the goal of which is only to benefit ourselves, or to benefit ourselves, worse, at the expense of others, we will deepen the world recession, not solve it.

So I think it's critical that the United States has been a leader for a long time it the goals of an open global economy. I think it's critical that that -- that that leadership continue. And I'm -- I'm quite confident that the United States will respect those obligations and continue to be a leader on the need for globalized trade.

If I could just comment on our stimulus package, one of the things we did in our stimulus package was actually remove duties on some imported goods. Now, part of the reason we did that, it's in our economic interest, but also as well it will help stimulate continental and global trade. And this is important for our recovery.

We know, as a small economy, we can't recover without recovery in the United States and recovery around the world. But that's true for all of us these days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have time for one last question.

Jennifer Ditchburn, "Canadian Press."

QUESTION: I have a question for both of you. Mr. President, during your meetings today, did you discuss the possibility of Canada stepping up its stimulus plan?

And secondly, for both of you: What do you think the Canada-U.S. relationship will look like in four years? What will the auto sector look like? Will the border be thicker or thinner? And will you have a carbon market?

OBAMA: You stuffed about six questions in there.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Were you talking to Jonathan? Is that...

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

OBAMA: Yes, I will bet.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I will answer your last question first. I expect that four years from now, the U. S. -Canadian relationship will be even stronger than it is today.

I expect that you will see increased trade. I think we will see continued integration of efforts on energy in various industries. And I think that's to be welcomed.

I am a little biased here because I have got a brother-in-law who's Canadian and I have two of my key staff people who hail from Canada. And I love this country and think that we could not have a better friend and ally.

And so I'm going to do everything that I can to make sure that our relationship is strengthened.

You mentioned a couple of specific issues. The idea of thickening of borders. One of the things that I would like to see is -- and we -- Prime Minister Harper and I discussed this -- how we can use some of our stimulus and infrastructure spending that is already being planned around potentially easing some of these bottlenecks in our border.

Now, we've got very real security concerns, as does Canada.

But I think that it is possible for us to balance our security concerns with an open border that continues to encourage this extraordinary trade relationship, in which we have $1. 5 billion worth of trade going back and forth every single day.

With respect to the auto industry, obviously we are concerned -- we're deeply concerned about the current state of the North American auto industry. It is an integrated industry. When we provided our initial federal help to the auto industry, Prime Minister Harper stepped up and provided assistance that was commensurate with the -- the stake that Canada has in the auto industry.

We have just received the report back from G. M. and Chrysler in terms of how they intend to move forward. My economic team is in the process of evaluating it.

One thing we know for certain is that there's going to have to be a significant restructuring of that industry. And as that restructuring takes place, one in which all parties involved -- shareholders, creditors, workers, management suppliers, dealers -- as all of those parties come together to figure out what is a sustainable and vibrant auto -- North American auto industry, it's going to be very important for our government to coordinate closely with the Canadian government in whatever approach that we decide to take.

And we're committed to doing that.

And, finally, with respect to stimulus, I think that, as Prime Minister Harper mentioned, Canada has put in place its own stimulus package. We, obviously, are very proud of the recovery act that I recently signed, not only because it provides a short-term boost to the economy and provides relief to families that really need help, but I think it also will lay the groundwork for long-term growth and prosperity.

We were talking, earlier, about the issue of the electric grid. The potential that exists for creating ways of delivering energy from wind and solar, across vast plains to get to urban areas and populated areas, is enormously promising.

That's why we are investing billions of dollars to help jump- start that process. And so we think we've taken the right approach to not only get the economy moving again, and to fill domestic demand as well as global demand, but, also, I think Prime Minister Harper has taken the same approach.

And to the extent that, as we go to the G-20 summit, that we are seeing the most significant economies in the world all taking these steps in concert, then the more likely we are that we're going to be able to slow the recessionary trends, reverse them, and start growing the economy again, which ultimately is the bottom line for both the prime minister and myself, making sure that Americans, Canadians have good jobs that pay good wages, allow them to support a family and send their kids to college and let their children aspire to new heights.

So I think we're going to continue to coordinate as closely as possible, to -- to make sure that we are helping families on both sides of the border.

HARPER: You did ask several questions. I will try and touch on a few of them.

On stimulus, first of all, it's important to understand that Canada's economic stimulus package is very large. It's certainly larger than the kind of numbers the IMF was talking about in the fall. With the provincial action that we will bring into our stimulus spending, it will be close to 2 percent of GDP this year, 1. 5 percent for next year.

This is not as large as the stimulus package in the United States, but the -- the issues in the United States are different, and in fairness, they are bigger than in Canada.

Let me just give you a concrete example of the difference. I could talk about housing or the banking sector, but America's stimulus package contains significant money, a significant pot of money being transferred to lower levels of money to deal with health care.

Well, in Canada, as you know, we already have permanent health care transfer arrangements with our provinces before this economic crisis.

So, not all of these things are directly transferable to the Canadian experience. But by any measure, ours is a very large stimulus program.

As the president mentioned, we talked about today how we can use our investments in infrastructure to focus specifically on border Windsor infrastructure that we share. We -- we know well at Detroit- Windsor and elsewhere in Canada that the growth of our trade is straining our border infrastructure, that's independent even of security demands.

So there may be things we can do there and jointly, in the name of economic stimulus, that are beneficial for the long term. The statement lays out, today, whole bunch of initiatives we're undertaking, and I think President Obama mentioned them. Beyond border infrastructure, we have doing action going on the auto sector.

We were working closely with the outcoming administration; we will be continuing to work with President Obama's administration on what is an integrated industry -- needs an integrated solution.

We're engaged in Afghanistan, we've talked about that at length. We are launching a clean energy dialogue on one of the most important challenges of the next decade, and that is climate change.

So, you know, I see a range of initiatives that will carry us forward for many years.

I do want to address specific things, though, you raise. One is border thickening, and one is, kind of, four years from now. On the thickening of the border, I just want to make this clear -- I want to make this clear to our American friends: Not only have we, since 9/11, made significant investments in security and security along our border -- the view of this government is unequivocal. Threats to the United States are threats to Canada.

There is no such thing as a threat to the national security of the United States which does not represent a direct threat to this country. We, as Canadians, have every incentive to be as cooperative and alarmed about the threats that exist to the North American continent in the modern age as do the governing people of the United States.

That's the approach with which we treat the border. Obviously, we've been concerned about the thickening of the border. You know, in our judgment -- and we'll have time to talk about this, as we move along in our respective governments -- we're looking at -- the key is to look at how we can deal with security in a way that does not inhibit commerce and social interaction. That is the real challenge.

But let there be no -- and that's where thickening of the borders concerns us. But let there be no illusion about the fact that we take these security concerns as seriously as our American friends. In terms of the big picture, you know, I think this would be the safest prediction in the world, that, today, Canada and the United States are closer economically, socially, culturally, in terms of our international partnerships, than any two nations on the face of the Earth -- closer friends than any two nations on the face of the Earth. And I think we can safely predict that in four years' time, we will be in exactly the same spot.

What we can do with that, in the meantime -- and I'm sure President Obama will want to do with that -- is to take that close relationship that is so deeply integrated when it comes to things like trade, and military and defense considerations, things where we have not only established a close friendship, but where we have established models that others who want to pursue close friendships have used around the world; that we can take those things and we can continue to lead in the future.

We can continue to show how two countries can work together in ways that pursue global cooperation and integration to mutual benefit. And as we all know, one of President Obama's big missions is to continue world leadership by the United States of America, but in a way that is more collaborative.

And I'm convinced that by working with our country he will have no greater opportunity than to demonstrate exactly how that model can operate over the next four years.

OBAMA: And let me just say that -- to echo what the prime minister said -- we have no doubt about Canada's commitment to security in the United States as well as Canada. Obviously we've got long lasting relationships, around NORAD, for example, and the same is true with respect to border security. There's been extraordinary cooperation, and we expect that that will continue.

And Prime Minister Harper is right. It's a safe bet that the United States and Canada will continue to enjoy an extraordinary friendship, and together I think we've got an opportunity to show the world that the values that we care about, of democracy, of human rights, of economic growth and prosperity, that these are values that the world can embrace and that we can show leadership.

And I'm very much looking forward to working with -- with this government and -- and all Canadians in order to promote these -- these values.

I want to also, by the way, thank some of the Canadians who came over the border to campaign for me during the -- during the election.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: It was much appreciated. And I'm looking forward to coming to Canada as soon as it warms up. (LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This brings an end to the press conference.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

Thank you very much, everybody.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And there you have it, the president of the United States with his first trip abroad to meet with a foreign head of state, choosing, of course, Canada, as many presidents have done traditionally.

Very understanded -- understated news conference, for the most part, very collegial, as one would expect with the foreign heads of state, or the two heads of states from these two respective countries.

Topics touched upon, interestingly enough, NAFT, as expected, borders, auto plants, jobs, and the thickening of the borders. Let's bring in Patricia Murphy, if we can now.

Patricia, thanks so much for joining us. Joe Klein joining us as well, with "Time" magazine. I want to show you guys some pictures real quick. This is interesting. Prior to this meeting, I want to show you the pictures that are being released today from Canada when the president arrived.

Now, keep in mind this is the first time that he's gone outside the United States representing the United States of America. You almost get a sense that he was certainly not jocular. never flippant, not goofy. Very light on his feet, seemed almost very comfortable in this setting, Patricia?

PATRICIA MURPHY, EDITOR, CITIZENJANEPOLITICS.COM: Well, I totally agree. And that is definitely the message that he wanted to send. And he wants to send this message, not just to Canada, but to the world. This trip is actually being watched from around the world, since it's his first foreign trip.

But to say America is your friend, Canada. America is a friendly presence. He wants to really hit the reset button with America's relationship with the rest of the world. And so you see him there with the prime minister. We also saw him meeting with the Queen's representative. He went outside and waved to Canadians right when he got to Parliament Hill. It's definitely a new image he's trying to portray.

SANCHEZ: Joe, is it a different image? One really does -- look, you would be nervous. I would be nervous. You're going abroad. You're the president of the United States. You're relatively a young man as presidents go. He's African-American. How do you rate it?

JOE KLEIN, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, "TIME": I don't get it. I don't get this guy at all. His dad left when he was two years old. His mom spent half her time in Indonesia, while he was in Hawaii. He was raised by white grandparents who were the sort of people who didn't vote for him this year. Yet he is the most comfortable, confident fellow I have ever covered in such a high office. And it's constant. It's across the board. And I think it works very well for him, and for us.

SANCHEZ: Well, he's coming into the presidency at a very challenging time for the United States of America. He faces some situations in terms of foreign policy, and the agenda where not only the surroundings are difficult, but the promises he has made are going to be hard to keep up with.

How do you fit Canada, Murph, into this equation? Or do you?

MURPHY: Well, Canada is certainly a crucial ally for the United States. We saw there that he was -- that Obama was speaking with the prime minister of Canada about Afghanistan. And Canada's role in Afghanistan. They've been a great partner to us there. Also talking about trade, talking about energy; Canada, the United States are crucially integrated on all of those topics. But they have to be a very close ally. We can't take that great relationship for granted and that's why he's going there first.

SANCHEZ: But a lot of people, you know the former president of the United States chose to talk to Mexico at a time when things weren't really that difficult in Mexico. One would argue, or some maybe would argue that given some of the scenes -- in fact, some of the scenes we're seeing in Mexico. Here's one right now. I want to show you something we got in yesterday.

Net sound up, guys, in the control room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: That's a reporter. And that's a gun battle between national police and drug dealers. This is a very serious problem. That's not only affecting Mexico, but the United States border states as well.

Joe, some might argue Mexico's a country that really needs his attention. Are they right?

KLEIN: Well, both do. He's already met with President Calderon of Mexico. And I may be breaking a little news here, but I've heard it rumored at the State Department that Hillary Clinton's going to send a special envoy to deal with some of the serious, serious problems of stability that exist in Mexico, and Venezuela, and some of the other problems we have in Latin America.

SANCHEZ: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You're saying an envoy just as we've sent an envoy to Pakistan and just as we've sent an envoy -

KLEIN: Absolutely.

SANCHEZ: - to the Middle East?

KLIEN: Just as we're going to send an envoy for global warming and may send another one to North Korea. I mean this is going to be - she's really changing the shape of the State Department.

But to get back to Canada for a second?

SANCHEZ: Yes.

KLEIN: I was down in Kandahar Province, where those Canadian troops are, and they are walking the walk. You know, they are a very good ally for us right now. And they're looking pretty good. They regulated their financial community. A little bit more strict fashion than we have. So they're not hurting as much. They're helping tremendously in Afghanistan. And so I think that this visit today was a real acknowledgement of the fact that the Canadians are doing -- are being very good friends to us right now.

SANCHEZ: Do me a favor. Let's follow up tomorrow on what you just reported about sending an envoy to Mexico. It's something that certainly has been asked for by many leaders in Latin America. And it's paying a different kind of attention to that part of the world, which for the most part has been feeling ignored for the last eight years.

KLEIN: Rick, I think we're going to have to wait a little bit for it, because the secretary of state is still in Asia right now.

SANCHEZ: Yes.

KLEIN: And it's just something that's been rumored. But I wouldn't be surprised if it happens.

SANCHEZ: It would be different. We can certainly say that. Mr. Klein, Miss Murphy, thanks to both of you for joining us.

MURPHY: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Appreciate it.

KLEIN: My pleasure.

SANCHEZ: The shoe thrower. The shoe thrower is on trial. And we are there in Baghdad where he is explaining his actions. And why is he being hailed as a hero in much of the Arab world. Both sides of this story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: In things racial, we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SANCHEZ: A nation of cowards? On the same day the chimp cartoon releases, our attorney general makes that bold statement. Here's the question. Are we? And was that the right setting for that statement? What do you say? That's ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Start loaning the money that we gave you!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Totally and thoroughly failed in your mission.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There has to be on the sense of the American people that you understand their anger.

SINGERS: Grandstand.

JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": Previously on "American Grandstand".

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, please, fix this thing so we can get out of this stuff. Thank you Mr. Chairman.

STEWART: Fix this thing so we can get out of this stuff? Slow down, college. Not everyone here is an economist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: We welcome you back to the World Headquarters of CNN. I'm Rick Sanchez.

Love him or hate him, the world seems to be fascinated by the reporter who took it upon himself to throw two shoes at former President George Bush. That man, that reporter is now on trial. Showing up in court for the very first time, and CNN was there. Here's Arwa Damon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN INT'L. CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is the infamous incident that has journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi facing charges that could send him to jail for 15 years. At Iraq's criminal court al-Zaidi testified that as he listened to former President Bush speaking of his accomplishments in Iraq, all he could see are what he called the more than 1 million Iraqi martyrs and a sea of blood. And that is what provoked him to hurl his shoes at the man he called Iraq's main murder. Al-Zaidi was detained, accused of assaulting a head of state on an official visit.

(On camera): Cameras were not allowed inside the courtroom. Al- Zaidi appeared to be in high spirits wearing an olive green suit and black shoes. He was greeted with cheers and a female relative draped an Iraqi flag around his neck.

Inside he also testified that he felt his actions were the only way he could restore even a fraction of Iraq's dignity.

(voice over): Shoe throwing, one of the biggest insults in the Arab world. And many here now consider al-Zaidi a hero, his detention sparked widespread protests both inside and out of Iraq. A reflection f Arab sentiment on Bush's policies towards the Middle East and support for the man who dared express what many Arabs feel.

But some in Iraq call al-Zaidi an embarrassment.

"Bush was a guest of the government, and the government represents the people," this man says, "It's considered an insult to the government."

The trial adjourned until March 12th while the court investigates the nature of the Bush visit, whether it was official or not, something that could impact the charges and sentence. At al-Zaidi's TV station, his defense team said they were asking for all charges to be dropped. Arguing they do not apply to the case. That al-Zaidi's intent was not to harm, but to humiliate. Al Zaidi's His family says he was influenced by witnessing the daily agony and suffering of his countrymen, often ending his TV report with the reports with the words, "from occupied Baghdad".

Arwa Damon, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Let's talk about this a little bit. I'm joined now by our Arab Affairs Correspondent Octavia Nasr.

This guy has had parades in his honor, marches in his honor, ovations for him while he's been sitting in jail. And there is something else I want to show you. Take a look at this picture that we have. This is a monument to this guy. It's a big giant shoe, that was put in one of the areas. Roger, you got that up?

Let's take a look at that. Look at this. This is a monument to what the guy did in the form of this big giant shoe. That's perplexing to most of us as we look at that. What's going on? Why the hero worshipper of this man?

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN SR. EDITOR, ARAB AFFAIRS: It is interesting. Let's start with this one shoe, this monument here. Two and a half meters long shoe, that was erected, where? In Tikrit, that's the birthplace of Saddam Hussein. So obviously this is someone trying to basically take advantage of the situation, and tried to get some political attention for themselves.

SANCHEZ: Kick started you might say.

NASR: Yes.

SANCHEZ: Pardon the pun.

NASR: Good point. Now, across the Middle East, let me tell you, when the event took place, when the man threw both shoes at President Bush, women online, went on and said they want to marry him. Men went on and said they have a prize, millions of dollars for him. They cheered him on. They called him a hero. Well, today, none of these people are there for this man. He was in court alone. There were some demonstrations in Iraq. But there's not really --

SANCHEZ: Is that -- his family was there. I understand they gave him quite an ovation and some friends were there, as well. But small group-- they stood up and they applauded.

NASR: That's it. Across the Middle East, the attention that he got back then is nowhere to be seen today. That is a very, very interesting point.

SANCHEZ: Why is that?

NASR: Why is that? Because it was a spur of the moment kind of reaction. When it happened, people cheered him on. They thought that -- they were shocked at what he did. No one would have imagined -- I mean, in the Arab world you just don't throw your people at people. It's a no-no. You don't do it.

SANCHEZ: With Bush out of the picture now, as president, does that mean that the angst against the United States has been lessened somewhat?

NASR: It is lessened somewhat. As a matter of fact, at the editorial desk we read, around the incident and even today, as people remembered the incident, they say that that was over. That what this man did closed the Bush era in Iraq. And this is how Bush will be remembered in Iraq, and his actions in the Middle East. He'll be with a shoe throwing.

SANCHEZ: Almost a sense of finality. By the way, one more thing before you go. Let me ask you this. Will this guy be prosecuted? Will they end up putting this guy in prison? If so, for how long?

NASR: People are saying he will end up serving time, but he won't serve the 15 years that are possible. This they'll say they will put him in jail for a few months and then say, OK, call it quits.

SANCHEZ: We're thankful that we have you to watch it for us. We appreciate it, Octavia.

NASR: Anytime.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOLDER: One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: The attorney general with a mild-mannered personality, makes a bold and emphatic statement about race relations in the United States, calling us all cowards. If he wanted our attention, he has certainly achieved that. Race in America and the cartoon that has also set off an argument over race and the presidency. That is next. Stay right there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez here in the World Headquarters of CNN. A lot of stuff going on and we have a lot of reaction coming in from you as well. I want you to watch this, first of all.

Let's go to Myspace if we can. Robert, pull in tight on that.

It says, "Hey, Rick, that shoe thrower is not just a hero in the Middle East. He's my hero, too."

Now, here is an interesting sentiment, as well. It is kind of comparative to that one. Flip it around, Robert. Let's go to the Twitter board, if we can.

Domo Robato, that's a great name, says, "The Iraqi shoe thrower did what a lot of Americans wanted to do. The only reason why it's news is because he's Iraqi." But now look underneath that. Go ahead. Good job, Rob. Listen to what this fellow says.

He says, "Rick, I'm an Arab. And this shoe thrower guy is not my hero. What he did was very rude in our culture."

Interesting perspective. Speaking of interesting perspective, when was the last time you heard a U.S. official, the attorney general of the United States, no less, one who happens to be for the most part mild mannered, when we've seen him before, come out and call people who live in the United States cowards? Listen to Eric Holder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOLDER: Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as a ethnic melting point, in things racial, we have always been and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many way, essentially, a nation of cowards.

SANCHEZ: A nation of cowards? We are joined by UCLA Professor Mark Sawyer, he is the director for Race, Ethnicity and Politics. And we've got Amy Holmes joining us as well. Our CNN contributor, my thanks to both of you for being with us. Let us begin with you, professor. Was it proper to use that form him to use that forum, as the AG of the United States, to make that statement?

MARK SAWYER, DIRECTOR- STUDY OF RACE, ETHNICITY & POLITICS: It is proper in any forum to give straight talk. American social life is still very segregated in some unfortunate ways. We need to confront it. And, you know, a lot of times, we don't talk about race in polite company, but it is an issue that we need to take up and we don't spend enough time together.

SANCHEZ: Some would wonder, though, Professor. I certainly don't mean to interrupt. Some would wonder what that has to do with his post as attorney general of the United States. Or is there, is there a parallel there?

SAWYER: Well, on some ways he intends to enforce civil rights laws. But that only gets so far. And I think he's trying to use it to urge us to really think seriously about our day-to-day lives and how we think about race and whether we really interact with and care about one another.

SANCHEZ: Is he saying, Amy, that the problem is we, as people, in this country tend to self segregate ourselves, whether you're black or white. And by doing so, we don't achieve the things we could achieve if we came together more often. Is that what he's saying?

AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he did say that, but I thought it was a little bit peculiar, because I wonder who is the audience? Who is he talking to? Is he talking to young African- American students who choose to go to historically black colleges? Like my brother did. My brother went to Morehouse? Is he talking about Vietnamese Americans that live in ethnic enclaves in lots of major cities, you know, where signs are in Vietnamese, and DVD shops and restaurants and so forth? So, I guess when he says we're voluntarily self-segregating, he says that's a bad thing. Whose he taking about?

SANCHEZ: There's something else. And I'm wondering if what he's trying to say has something to do with this. I'm want to show you something now. Everybody in the country has been talking about this. I was wondering yesterday if it's a story. Obviously it is.

"They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."

This is that "New York Post" cartoon. That many people find extremely offensive. I want you to listen now to what the Reverend Sharpton has to say about this. His group, the National Action Network, marched on "The New York Post" building today. Here's the Reverend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: This is a very serious affront. This is race based. This is offensive, to act as though the president of the United States, who is synonymous and personifies that bill, is the equivalent of a shot chimpanzee, a monkey, speaks to all of the racial stereotypes and offenses that we've had to deal with historically.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Professor, is the Reverend right?

SAWYER: He's very right. I mean, we've -I like to have a sense of humor, too. But this was tasteless. We've all seen those pictures in anthropology textbooks, that showed, you know the progression from, and the closeness of what people perceive to be a scientific take, that African-Americans were close to being monkeys.

SANCHEZ: So anytime you associate an ape with anything that has to do with an African-American, bad choice? Wrong choice?

SAWYER: Very wrong choice.

SANCHEZ: And you would say because of a historical perspective, where it's been used in the past?

SAWYER: Yes, it's been used in the past and it was even used in this campaign. Everyone saw the Curious George references to President Obama and people had monkeys with them at the RNC. This kind of stuff just doesn't help our political discourse.

SANCHEZ: Amy, do you think that was the intent of this cartoonist? And do you think it's proper for the Reverend Sharpton to be protesting "The New York Post"?

HOLMES: Well, you would be assuming this was a depiction of Barack Obama and I don't think that it was. I think that everyone knows that this legislation was written by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, and that it was along almost entirely partisan lines. So, when I looked at that cartoon, I thought the cartoonist was referring to politicians in the Democratic Party, here in Washington, D.C. who passed a $787-billion stimulus package, primarily behind closed doors.

SANCHEZ: But you get -

HOLMES: Did I like the image? No. Did I think that it was tasteful? No. But cartoons and comedy are supposed to push the envelope.

SANCHEZ: But was it -

HOLMES: I think the, you know, the -

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: But look, Amy, pushing the envelope is one thing.

HOLMES: Sure.

SANCHEZ: But the question that is being raised here is should this guy have known better? You're talking about the very first African-American president of the United States and whether you're referring to him or not -

HOLMES: But that's the question. Are we talking -but that's the question. Does this cartoon talk about Barack Obama or is it talking about the Democratic Party and the legislative process? I looked at that cartoon and thought it was talking about the latter. Now for those people who saw Barack Obama with two bullets in his chest, I would wonder why they're drawing this direct link between monkeys and the president of the United States.

We also know there was this hugely disturbing, shocking story in Connecticut about this chimpanzee that mauled the neighbor. Those were the connections I was making, not the racist ones.

SANCHEZ: How about it, Professor?

SAWYER: There is not connection between a chimpanzee and the stimulus bill. Everyone knows the stimulus bill is most associated with the president. And look, I mean, Amy is very interesting. But when you try and defend the indefensible it just sounds foolish. There's just no connection between these two stories.

HOLMES: This is precisely the reason why so many people do not like having a racial conversation because if they disagree, they're called foolish, or they're called cowards. And we can't have simply a civil conversation about something that affects all of us.

SANCHEZ: She makes a good point, Professor. If people are a little too sensitive, then it's difficult for one to embark or confront in true racial conversations about how we get along.

SAWYER: Oh, yes, we need to have a sense of humor, but a monkey with two bullets in his chest is just not funny. It's not funny. It's tasteless. And the fact that, you know, you have to contort yourself to say, well, there really isn't his bill, it's Nancy Pelosi's and a whole different set of things demonstrate -

HOLMES: I don't see it as a contortion, nor did the cartoonist, nor did "The New York Post", who actually ran the cartoon. And that was their explanation for it. But I think leaping to these conclusions that the cartoonist or the newspaper is racist. I think it distracts us.

SANCHEZ: Yes.

HOLMES: Let's talk about a real story like the young man who was just shot in his car, in the driveway, in Belair (ph), Texas

SANCHEZ: Point well made.

HOLMES: I think to be using our political capital on a cartoon, when we have far more pressing racial issues to be addressing, is really a waste of time.

SANCHEZ: Point well, made. Professor, my thanks to you for being with us.

Amy, as usual, my thanks to you as well.

HOLMES: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: You hear that? They're said to be crying. And now whether you love animals or not, this video is really hard to watch. Those are dolphins and they are trapped in the ice that's thickening around them, and time is running out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back now. A quick MySpace comment that just came in a little while ago. It says, "People get too choked up over political cartoons." Nonetheless, the debate continues.

One final thing I want to share with you. On the heels of this chimp on the loose attack that has the nation shaking its collective heads, today, we offer another wild animal story.

To Newfoundland, that is where you can actually hear white beak (ph) dolphins, if you're careful, crying for help. Five of them are trapped by ice and the fear that they will starve to death has grown. There is talk of using an ice cutter, but that maybe too dangerous. It could kill them. The plan, as it stands, right now. A hope for warm weather. That was tough to figure out, wasn't it?

Thanks so much for being with us. I'm Rick Sanchez. Wolf joins you now from Washington with "THE SITUATION ROOM"