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Threats Close U.S., British Embassies in Yemen; Nation Feels Blast of Arctic Air

Aired January 3, 2010 - 08:00   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: From the CNN Center, this is CNN SUNDAY MORNING. It's January 3rd.

Good morning, everybody. Thanks for being here. I'm Betty Nguyen.

RICHARD LUI, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Richard Lui, in for T.J. Holmes this weekend. Thanks for starting your day with us.

We're going to get straight to some breaking news out of Yemen.

Three days after warning Americans to be on the lookout for possible terrorist violence, the U.S. embassy shuts down -- and we just got word in the last 45 minutes -- that the British embassy has also closed.

The president has already blamed and al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen for the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a plane bound for Detroit and the U.S. military's top commander just held a meeting with Yemen's president.

What can be done here to stop the growing threat of al Qaeda in Yemen? We'll take a look at that.

NGUYEN: Yes. Plus, can you say arctic blast? Many of you are already feeling it because nearly half of the nation is waking up with temperatures either at/or below zero. Reynolds Wolf we'll have your frigid forecast in just a few minutes.

But I do want to take us right back to our breaking news now.

The U.S. embassy in Yemen is closed today prompted by ongoing threats from al Qaeda in the region to attack American interest there. We have also learned just minutes ago, that the British embassy has closed, as well.

Our Mohammed Jamjoom joins us from nearby Dubai.

And, Mohammed, do you know the nature of these threats? Because now both the U.S. and the British embassies are closed.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Betty, we don't yet know the specific nature of the threats. We know from the announcement by the U.S. embassy that there were threats directed at U.S. interests in Yemen. That's no surprise considering all the tension the past couple of weeks. The British embassy as well has now announced they're going to shut down.

Now, with regards to the U.S. embassy, they're shutting down for an unspecified period of time. Again, not a big surprise that the U.S. would do this. The U.S. in countries where there are threats against their interests tend to go ahead and proactively take these kinds of measures to avoid any casualties and to avoid any kind of basically strikes against them.

As far as when they might open again, we don't know. They closed several times in the past few years because of threats against them. In 2008, there was an attack launched against them by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and they closed for an indefinite period of time after that, as well.

As far as the embassy of the U.K., they're saying that they're going to reassess the situation tomorrow. They don't know yet if they'll reopen then it might be a few more days. But because of the nature, there's so much tension in the region and the U.S. is so concerned about threats by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that it just makes sense for them to go ahead and shut down for the time being -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Well, help us understand just the nature in that region, because there is essentially a lot of people will claim and many experts will say, confirm, that it's a breeding ground for terrorists. Is Yemen a breeding ground for terrorists?

JAMJOOM: You know, Betty, more and more, Yemen is being described as not just a breeding ground for terrorism, it's a magnet for terrorists and it's a real hub. I mean, you're seeing more and more militants coming to Yemen.

A lot of the international community -- it seems like they weren't as aware as possibly they should have been as to how dire the situation has become in Yemen in the last few years. Yemeni government officials will tell you they've been battling al Qaeda there since the '90s. The U.S. only took notice after the attack on USS Cole in 2000. Nonetheless, it's only gotten worse.

In the past year, you've seen al Qaeda from Saudi Arabia and al Qaeda from Yemen merge. That made the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula group in Yemen even stronger. They were able to carry out spectacular attacks within Saudi Arabia, within other regional neighbors. That really got the attention of the world community as to how bad the situation had gotten.

And because Yemen's government is so weak and so ineffective and there's so much corruption in Yemen, they're not seen as being able to handle this. So, now, you're seeing the U.S. try to team up with Yemen to form this partnership to battle al Qaeda.

But a lot of the analysts that I've spoken with in the past few weeks wonder if it's not just too late. Because it's gotten so bad and because al Qaeda there has gotten so strong, they don't know how the U.S. and Yemen and other regional neighbors will be able to effectively battle al Qaeda in the coming weeks, months and years -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Very quickly let me ask you this -- how much U.S. involvement is taking place in Yemen to try to shore up some of these borders and prevent some of the terrorism activity?

JAMJOOM: Betty, it's very clear that the U.S. has taken a very keen interest in Yemen right now. They're going to be providing them with much more aid, with much more intelligence.

In the past few week, there's been a lot of report and there's been a lot of speculation that the U.S. is helping Yemen launch these air raids against al Qaeda -- these different locations within Yemen -- that they're actually providing air support and/or sending in drones. The U.S. has not commented on that. They have not confirmed that.

Yemen's government maintains until today that all the attacks that are taking place against al Qaeda are all done simply by the Yemen military. But again, Yemen's military is seen as weak. The government is seen as weak.

We know that the U.S. is playing an increasing role and we now know that the U.S. is trying to plan joint retaliatory strikes against al Qaeda with Yemen's government.

So, it seems more and more like the U.S. will play a greater role. They will try to get involved more. How much more and when that will happen, we don't yet know -- Betty.

NGUYEN: All right. Mohammed Jamjoom joining us from nearby Dubai -- thank you for that.

And on the heels of the British embassy closing in Yemen, we want to take you now live to London and our Paula Newton who is standing by.

Paula, give me the latest on the decision behind closing the embassy there.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very much similar to the U.S. decision, Betty. I can tell you having been to both of these embassies, while they are heavily fortified, if they are under attack, if al Qaeda sees them as a target, sometimes what has happened is people outside those embassies have also been hurt. Obviously, people want to take precautions. Also, for the local staff engaged in these embassies.

Now, specifically, what was mentioned was a threat from al Qaeda, but I can tell you, from having been to both embassies, they are fairly exposed in the sense that it is not without precedent that people have tried to lob in rockets or mortars into an embassy area like that.

What the U.S. and what Britain wants to do now, Betty, is make sure they review security procedures. It's always been pretty much an open secret that the Yemeni government officials could not, at times, secure the capital itself, Sana'a. They will want to review all security procedures that they're dealing with in that city and make sure that they can reopen again.

NGUYEN: We understand that the U.S. embassy is closed indefinitely at this point. I just heard from Mohammed Jamjoom that the British embassy could possibly open in the next day or so.

Do you have any word on that?

NEWTON: Well, the British as well are taking a wait-and-see attitude. As I just said, in terms of reviewing those security measures, they do not know what they'll find in place. They may ask for some road closures in the capital itself, which will make the flow of traffic a little bit easier. That is the prime concern right now.

And while, obviously, no one can drive right up to these embassies themselves, there are other businesses around them. They may ask for a check point specifically on that road before they feel comfortable enough to open them up.

NGUYEN: All right. And we will be watching very closely, as well.

Paula Newton is joining us live from London -- Paula, thank you for that. Richard.

LUI: Well, Betty, the U.S. and British embassies closing in Yemen are not the only developments we're following on this story this morning. Less than 24 hours ago, the president vowed to hold those responsible for the failed Christmas Day attack accountable. And the road keeps leading back to Yemen.

A leading U.S. authority on that country says this is not a short term commitment.


GREGORY JOHNSEN, FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE: I think one of the most important things for the U.S. to remember is that it's not going to defeat al Qaeda in Yemen today, tomorrow, next month, or even next year. It's going to be a very long, a very hard slug. There's o magic missile solution.

LUI (voice-over): The Obama administration is working on its own answers. General David Petraeus made that known in a visit Saturday to Yemen. According to reports, the general promised Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Salih substantial support to fight al Qaeda.

Resources are tight. Yemen is the poorest nation in the Arab world. Yet, Yemen acted this week quickly to tighten security along its coast. It's also sending additional troops to known al Qaeda strongholds, a region the suspected Christmas Day bomber may have visited.

It is not a new fight for the U.S. and Yemen, however. CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom points out, the two countries are in this one together.

JAMJOOM (via telephone): It is a huge problem right now what's going on with al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula in Yemen. Yemen clearly needs help from the U.S. A lot of people have speculated over the past few weeks that the U.S. is giving more help than they have disclosed.

LUI: There are numerous reports that the U.S. has sent in drones and air power, but the U.S. has not confirmed that.

Another footnote, General Petraeus was in Yemen in July, yet that visit got a lot less coverage. This time, though, he was bringing a message directly from the president. This message...

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The investigation into the Christmas Day incident continues. And we're learning more about the suspect. We know that he traveled to Yemen, a country grappling with crushing poverty and deadly insurgencies. It appears that he joined an affiliate of al Qaeda and that this group, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, trained him, equipped him with those explosives, and directed him to attack that plane headed for America.


LUI: Now, those words, the strongest yet from President Obama linking al Qaeda and Yemen to the failed attack. The president is also calling a high level meeting on Tuesday with senior intelligence and national security officials there -- Betty.

NGUYEN: All right. Well, there are a lot of moving parts to this picture: Tuesday's meeting, General Petraeus in Yemen, the strong language from President Obama, long standing history of al Qaeda's activity in Yemen dating back to the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

So let's bring this altogether and kind of understand what is happening right now and why now.

CNN national security analyst, Peter Bergen, joins me now.

Peter, Tuesday's meeting -- what will be on that agenda?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, obviously, there's a question of what went wrong with the Detroit bomber getting on the plane with the explosives. But -- I mean, in terms of Yemen, you know, I think it's significant that David Petraeus was sent. I mean, there are a lot of other people you could send, John Brennan, the counter terrorism adviser of the president, has been to Yemen. You could you send the secretary of state.

But you're sending a four-star general why not whose area of responsibility includes Yemen. I think that's a very strong signal that the United States is going to follow through on what President Obama has said, which he's going to hold people to account. I think that is a not very subtly coded way of saying there will be retribution and it will be military retribution. And we've already seen strikes on December 17th and December 24th at al Qaeda targets in Yemen. But I imagine there's going to be more of those strikes.

And I think that -- I don't think General Petraeus was bringing a "thank you" note to President Salih of Yemen for your help on the war in the terror. I think he was bringing kind of more of an ultimatum -- which is to say, "If that plane that had blown up, you know, 300 mostly Americans would be dead. And this is coming from your territory. And if you can't control your own territory, we can help you, we're already giving aid, we can increase that aid, but we also, you know, this poses a major threat to the United States and we can do this with you or without you."

And I think that's the substance of the conversation. I can't imagine that he would have said anything else given what the president said yesterday.

NGUYEN: Yes. Saying that holding those responsible accountable. But at the same, we are learning today, Peter, that the president is also saying -- in fact, the counterterrorism chief -- that the U.S. is not opening a new front in Yemen against terrorism. Yet, at the same time, we're seeing this meeting taking place.

And so, my question to you is this: what can the Yemeni government do? We've been told that it's a weak government. The borders are easy to bypass so that terrorist activity can go in and out of the country. What can be done to stop the flow of not only the activity but the recruitment?

BERGEN: Well, you know, as you see in the map here, you know, Saudi Arabia and Yemen border, it's a very long one. It's -- much of it is desert.

You know, the Saudis, by the way, also have a big role to play here. After all, al Qaeda in Yemen also very narrowly missed killing the chief of their counterterrorism on August 27th. And the Saudis are trying to increase, you know, the border security.

Yemen, you know -- I mean, I don't blame the Yemeni government. I mean, they have so many problems as Richard said in his piece. You know, this is the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula. This is a country that has basically two different kinds of civil wars going on. Topographically, it's very similar to Afghanistan. It's a country ideally suited for guerrilla warfare, quite mountainous, also very tribal.

And, so, you know, I mean, already -- a lot of things were already being done. But the problem is one of capacity. It's not a question necessarily of one of lack of willingness for the Yemeni government. I think it is, you know, really, a lack of capacity. So, it's building up that capacity.

And, you know, obviously, the United States has been helping -- and I imagine with drones, which United States is never going to acknowledge. It doesn't acknowledge the use of drones in Pakistan. And there have already been 50 drone strikes this year under President Obama.

So, you know, I think that -- it's just going to be -- already a lot of these things are happening, but I think they're going to be amped up considerably with this new threat emanating from them.

NGUYEN: And we're also hearing, Peter, that both the U.S. embassy and the British embassy closed after threats by al Qaeda that it will attack interests in that region. So do you think an attack is imminent? Will al Qaeda make good on those threats?

BERGEN: Well, they certainly will try and has tried in the past. And, you know, we mentioned on the program already that the history of al Qaeda against the United States goes back to the Cole. In fact, it goes back even further. You know, al Qaeda kidnapped a group of western tourists in 1998, including Americans, some of the western tourists died in a rescue operation by the Yemeni army.

So, you know, this al Qaeda after all, you know, is founded by somebody called Osama bin Laden, whose family original mates in Yemen.

This is not a new story. This is a very old story of al Qaeda's presence in Yemen. It's pretty deep-rooted. It's not going to be something that will be rooted out overnight.'

But clearly, this is a whole new era, and that's the message that Petraeus I'm sure delivered to President Salih.

NGUYEN: All right. Peter Bergen, the CNN national security analyst, joining us live. Thank you, Peter, as always. We do appreciate your insight.

And a reminder that "STATE OF THE UNION" will have much more on the embassy shutdowns in Yemen and the terror probes in this country at the top of the hour.

LUI: There is much more ahead, including a major milestone reached in Iraq, encouraging news for anyone with loved ones overseas.

NGUYEN: Yes. And even a mega church can feel the squeeze of a recession. We're going to tell you what happened when Rick Warren asked his congregation for some cash.

LUI: And, is it cold enough for you, huh?

NGUYEN: Man, oh, man. Many parts below zero.

LUI: Most of the parts of the country. Reynolds Wolf has been tracking below zero wind chills and knee high snowfall to boot. His forecast when we come back.


LUI: Well, you know, promised cold. But there's lots of it.

NGUYEN: Well, you know, January usually brings in plenty of cold weather. LUI: Yes.

NGUYEN: But I don't know. Has it been this cold on record this early in the year?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It feels like we've entered the Ice Age.


NGUYEN: What is going on?

WOLF: I expect to look outside and see a woolly mammoth, you know, puppet over the head and carried into the cave.

It's crazy stuff out there and I'll tell you, it looks like it's going to continue to bring that cold air continuing to march its way to the south. There's a reason why we're seeing that happen.

Very quickly, let me get all geeky for you and show you why in the atmosphere what's happening. An area of low pressure up in parts of the northeast that will get a counterclockwise flow moving in this direction. So, it's almost like a fly wheel, if you will. Then you have high pressure which moves in a clockwise direction.

Now, the two of those working in concert means you're going to have a lot of cold air that's going to pull its way in across the Midwest and into the southeast. That's the effect this morning. That's why we're shivering so much here in the southeast.

But the heart of that cold air is right now moving across parts of the Great Lakes, the western half of the Great Lakes and into portions of the Midwest. Nineteen degrees this time in Fargo, 16 in Duluth, Des Moines with one degree.

Also single digits in Chicago, the Windy City. And Chicago will have some winds today. It's going to live up to the billing. And what it's going to mean for people is that it's going to feel like it's anywhere from 10 to 20 degrees below zero this Sunday morning. In parts of the Ohio Valley and Tennessee Valley, basically the same thing. And then when you get into the Deep South, although it has, you know, a reputation of being warm here in the south, it's going to feel like it's anywhere from 10 to 20 degrees. So put the feather in your cap.

High temperatures today in Atlanta, 38 degrees. The shot we have outside looks pretty good, feels awfully cold. A few scattered clouds here and there and as we pan the camera a little bit farther from left to right, seeing some of the city's backdrop -- looks fantastic, but, yes, it is certainly a chilly time out there. Security guys outside the building all bundled up trying to stay warm.

If you happen to be in Boston, New York, where we're going to be seeing there, certainly that cold air, but I want to also show you is what we're going to be dealing with up there, almost blizzard-like conditions for upstate Maine. This low is going to tap into that moisture, not just from the St. Lauren Seaway but, of course, the Atlantic Ocean.

As that moisture falls throughout lower levels of the atmosphere, it's going to move in a shallow level of cold air, which means it's going to turn into snow. That snow coupled with the winds is going to give you blizzard-like conditions, treacherous driving conditions for those of you who happened to be along parts of 95, much less the back roads, it's going to be a nightmare.

As we wrap things up, keep in mind, all through this area, let me expand that one more time, let's see if we can get back to this. As we wrap things up, know that you're going to have some issues in places like New York, all your airports there, back in Boston, certainly in D.C., travel issues, you better believe it. So be patient out there. It's going to be a rough day weather-wise.

Let's send it back to you at the desk.

NGUYEN: All right. Reynolds, we do appreciate that warning.

WOLF: You bet, guys.

NGUYEN: And up next, understanding Yemen. The U.S. just closed its embassy there. Also, the British embassy closed. That country does remain a huge priority for our national security.

LUI: And what you need to know about this newest terror hot spot when we come right back.


LUI: All right. More now on this morning's top story.

The U.S. has closed the embassy in Yemen, saying it's a response to ongoing terror threat there. Britain closing its embassy today, as well, due to security continues. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claims responsibility for the attempted bombing of a U.S. airline on Christmas.

NGUYEN: Yes. And we've been speaking to our experts today. And we understand that the U.S. embassy closed indefinitely. The British embassy closed at least for the next few days. They may be requiring -- at least asking for roads leading into those embassies to be blocked off.

But al Qaeda has made threats against U.S. interests in the region. So, that has prompted the closing of this.

Our Josh Levs is here to tell us a little bit more about Yemen and why that region is so very volatile.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. You know, because we keep hearing about taking action in Yemen and that is important, but we really can't understand what the U.S. and Britain and other nations are going to try to do unless we also look at the surrounding nations, which include Saudi Arabia. I have found that using the simplest maps I can find offers opportunity for simplest explanation. So, we're going to use this right here from Google Earth. And, basically, you're seeing the big picture first.

You got Africa all the way through here. And when you go up to here, this is the region that connects, basically, Africa to the Middle East, as you hear about it. Now, right here in that corner is Yemen.

And the key here when you hear about that -- yes, the U.S. will be taking action in Yemen, but this group, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, also has operational structure inside Saudi Arabia. Anything at all done about this group will require some sort of action by the Saudi government or whatever it is in both nations. Now, that's one thing to look at.

You also see up here all the complexities. You got Iraq there, Iran there, Syria. The entire Middle East with Israel and Palestinian territories all right in that region.

Now, if that wasn't complex enough, this is what I'm going to show you now, a bigger map here. We've made it bigger. This is Yemen here and here's what I want to you see, something not everyone is thinking about. I showed you what's north of, right? You've got Saudi Arabia, you've got all those nations, but we're going to come down here south across the Gulf of Aden and this right here is Somalia.

Now, a lot of us familiar with the piracy concerns in Somalia. There's been this huge power vacuum there. It's been a breeding ground of terror for al Qaeda. And you have seen that there are terrorists -- there are al Qaeda network operatives who have been managing to work their way over from Somalia up across that Gulf of Aden over here to Yemen.

So it's really important to think about all that to understand what's happening. One of our experts spoke about that and the challenges inside Yemen itself on "AMERICAN MORNING."


PROF. FAWAZ GERGES, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Al Qaeda appears to have merged with local conflicts and this is where the danger lies. So, you not only have an al Qaeda footprint, an alien one, you have al Qaeda now leading the struggles in the south against the north. And also, you have tens of thousands of Somali refugees. Somalia is a refugee state. So, you have interaction between al Qaeda members in Yemen and Somalia.


LEVS: So, to summarize all that, you've got serious, serious complexities in that region. You have the complexities in Yemen and then you have Saudi Arabia just north of it, and you have the entire Middle East structure. And on the south side, you have Somalia and all the challenges there. All of that is the big picture for any action of the United States and other nations try to take with respect to this group that has, you know, an operational structure inside Yemen -- guys.

LUI: So, terrorist issues, geopolitical issues, but also, as we were looking at that map there, Josh, oil.

LEVS: Oil.

LUI: That's an important economic point.

NGUYEN: Yes, economics.

LEVS: It's critical because Saudi Arabia is the biggest supplier of oil to OPEC and the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia is important, as well. And as we know, the Saudi government has been taking actions against al Qaeda over recent years. So, you have all that. You also have oil transport...

LUI: Right.

LEVS: ... throughout the region, as well. So, all of this is really important economically to what fuels our economy currently.


LUI: It goes through that very small opening right there in the Gulf of Aden. It's a tiny little area.

LEVS: There's a lot of it that travels through that area. We're talking about this area right through here the Gulf of Aden.

LUI: Right.

LEVS: And this is what I made bigger over here.

So, again, anytime you hear about that, what you have to keep in mind is that there is this economic structure. Sorry -- zooming way out, this is the Gulf of Aden.

So, you have to keep all that in mind when you look at the U.S., Britain and other nations trying to face what's happening inside Yemen.

NGUYEN: Right.

LEVS: Yemen is a point in a huge circle there.

LUI: Yes.

NGUYEN: All right. A very good explanation. Thank you, Josh.

LEVS: Thanks, guys.

LUI: Yes, good stuff. NGUYEN: Well, you know, this could be the year that we see a total overhaul of the health care system and some people coping with serious illnesses say that the help cannot come soon enough.

LUI: So, up next, "STATE OF THE UNION's" John King has one man's battle against cancer. His story and the health care bureaucracy.


NGUYEN: All right. So, in the first year of Barack Obama's presidency, chief national correspondent John King traveled to all 50 states -- yes, all of them -- to tell the compelling stories of every day people living outside the corridors of power.

LUI: So, we go to the end of July when John looked at the health care debate through the eyes of a 23-year-old here that was facing leukemia without medical insurance.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gregory Rose is seven months in to his new life. A feeling of invincibility that comes with being 23 shattered when even a few simple steps became unbearable.

GREGORY ROSE, CANCER PATIENT: Each step from my back to the ball and socket in my hip was like on fire, grinding. I know that kind of pain, I've never felt like that before. They tested my blood and my white blood cell count was over 62,000, which for a normal person is five to 10.

KING: Leukemia, diagnosed finals week. A shock being to a young man whose plan was to pay down his student loans then worry about health care.

ROSE: Being healthy, I figure, going a little ways without health insurance should be OK but got caught.

KING: The JPS Cancer Center is part of a Fort Worth area public hospital network that not only has given Rose care, including five cycles of chemotherapy, but also helped him navigate the dizzying health care bureaucracy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you able to pay your bills with your check for the most part?



KING: First, Medicaid, then Social Security disability payments. Next, a painful lesson. In Texas, the modest income from Social Security put Gregory over the limit to receive Medicaid.

ROSE: Now, I have no insurance again.

KING: No insurance, but a bag full of medications that run more than $5,000 a month.

ROSE: Every day. Every day.

KING: And the prospect, if the cancer comes back, of much more daunting expenses.

ROSE: The bone marrow testing alone costs like $300,000. That's just the testing part of it. At least that's what I was told.

KING: 800,000 patients pass through JPS every year. Fewer than 7 percent of them have private health insurance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got surgery in two. Three.

KING: Those here who do have coverage are likely on Medicare or Medicaid and when the JPS CEO Robert Early (ph) and chief of medicine Dr. Gary Floyd hear the president promise to squeeze billions in savings from those federal programs, they worry. And among other things it could exacerbate an already acute doctor shortage in Texas.

DR. GARY FLOYD, JPS HEALTH NETWORK: In Texas, we have a significant problem with Medicaid only 38 percent of our physicians participate in Medicaid programs. So if we start squeezing the payment rates down or freezing them, we're going see fewer and fewer physicians who will want to participate in those programs.

KING: While public hospitals like JPS see the bulk of the uninsured, Dr. Cara East (ph) also sees a steady flow when Baylor Medical Center in Dallas advertises for new clinical research studies.

DR. CARA EAST, BAYLOR MEDICAL CENTER: They'll come to us knowing they have high blood pressure and haven't been on medicines for two years and absolutely the trial provides those medicines, so that is an option for that person.

We even had a gentleman come to us one time who didn't have health insurance and I always ask them, well, why don't you have that? And I asked him, "What do you do?" He runs an insurance agency. And I went what? He said, "Well, I can't afford it."

KING: Gregory Rose proudly displays a sign of his political allegiance, but as he watches the debate in Washington, he is more and more frustrated.

ROSE: Typical Washington fight.

KING: His first reflex is to blame Republican, but Rose knows Democrats not only have the White House but big majorities in the House and Senate. He says Democrats fighting among themselves over how to pay for reforms should spend some time in his shoes.

ROSE: They really need to get their heads together and get their act straight. With those majorities in place, things should be happening. If they don't get it done, there's got to be a lot of people that's going to be hurting because of it.

KING: John King, CNN, Fort Worth, Texas.


NGUYEN: And "STATE OF THE UNION" starts at the top of the hour.

LUI: That's right.

Today's guests will talk about the threats from Yemen, the Christmas day terror plot, and lessons learned from 9/11.

Again, that's "STATE OF THE UNION" right after CNN SUNDAY MORNING.

NGUYEN: So when Rick Warren asked the faithful to help his mega- church through a crisis, the response was overwhelming. You'll definitely want to stick around for the details on this one.

LUI: Yes, it was mega, right? And call it reverse collection (INAUDIBLE) -- reverse collection plate. We'll take you to a church that's handing out cash at the end of each service.


NGUYEN: Well, good morning and welcome back on a Sunday.

Yes, we do have some breaking news to tell you about. The U.S. Embassy is closed in Yemen following threats from al Qaeda. The British embassy also closed today, as well. U.S. General David Petraeus has met with the Yemeni president yesterday to discuss the situation in Yemen. It is an evolving situation.

LUI: Right. And the way they're coordinating efforts, whether it be military or non military and of course what has been said is that the -- what we understand at least, yesterday was that the Yemeni president saying that their forces -- Yemeni forces -- will be undertaking any military operations. That could change, of course.

This is new video coming out of that country from Sanaa, Yemen (ph). And as we look at this, the question is the central government and how strongly they can enact any sort of strategy that they may have come up with General David Petraeus yesterday and today in his discussions.

NGUYEN: Well, it's a difficult situation; it's a volatile region. The borders are easily passable as a hub as many would say for terrorist activity. And a breeding ground in fact for terrorism.

And so the question is what can be done by the Yemeni government to crack down on that and the U.S. government obviously hoping to assist in that in some way but the president today saying that it's not opening a new front in Yemen in regards to all of this. But of course, we're watching it very, very closely and we'll bring you the latest as soon as we get more information.

LUI: Let's go to something else right now, just for a bit.

Quitting smoking or losing weight, spending less; you've heard those, right? All pretty good goals for the New Year.

NGUYEN: Yes. Seems like it. But as our Kitty Pilgrim tells us, there's only one New Year's resolution that matters to many in the U.S. and that is getting a job.


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Happy New Year.

More than 15 million people in the country are unemployed. Many of them lost their jobs in 2009.

What's ahead for 2010? Elena Escalona who spoke to us late last year about her career hopes after sending out dozens of resumes and searching for a job, she suddenly realized what she wanted to do in life.

ELENA ESCALONA, SEARCHING FOR A JOB: Luckily out of all of this and something that really positive that has come out of it is that I've discovered that I want to become a teacher. And I would have never discovered that out of this entire year of looking for a job, that instead of having a job basically handed to me, I've really had to fight for it and kind of discover where I belong in the world.

PILGRIM: As the unemployed site surf and soul search, there is some glimmer of hope. The last report in December found that new claims for unemployment benefits fell sharply; down by 22,000. That was the lowest level since July 2008. And the four week average of people who filed for benefits has been decline for 17 weeks straight.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are in a very different place today than we were one year ago. We may forget, but we're in a very different place. We can safely say that we are no longer facing the potential collapse of our financial system. And we've avoid the depression many feared. Our economy is growing for the first time in a year.

PILGRIM: Next week will also provide a good snapshot of how manufacturing and service sectors held up in December. As the economy gradually recovers from the worst recession since the Great Depression, going from cutting jobs to creating them is a slow adjustment. Businesses are likely to be cautious, fully convinced in recovery before adding any new hires.

DR. MARTIN REGALIA, CHIEF ECONOMIST, U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: We're out of the recession everywhere. But we're not growing enough on Main Street to put people back to work. When the average person thinks of a recession, they don't think of it like economists do, zero GDP growth or whatever. They think of it as you know, "Am I losing my job? Am I getting a raise?"

PILGRIM: Kitty Pilgrim, CNN.


LUI: Yes, a big concern for many in this coming year. NGUYEN: No doubt.

LUI: Still ahead here, another check of the top stories this hour, including the Obama administration's latest move in Yemen.

NGUYEN: Yes. This comes as the first family wraps up their Hawaiian vacation. But before they say aloha, we caught up with friends who knew the president when he was still Barry, the basketball player.


NGUYEN: Well, the prayers have been answered for Evangelist Rick Warren. The Associated Press says his mega church in Southern California has -- get this -- raised $2.4 million since Wednesday. It's more than enough to cover the Saddle Back Church's $900,000 deficit and is more expected to roll in?

Of course it is. Warren made his plea for donations online.

But -- let me tell you about this -- instead of asking for money, another church giving it away in Illinois. It's turning the end of each service into a game show.

But as our Christine Romans tells us, not everybody wants to play along.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Father, you get it all. It all belongs to you. We thank you. It all is yours now in Jesus' name. Let's go.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At the Lighthouse Church of all Nations in suburban Chicago, parishioners are lining up every week hoping to receive more than just the Sunday sermon.

Church pastor Dan Willis also recently began giving away money. With a congregation hit hard by the economic down turn, Willis finishes every service with a cash prize; giving away $1,000 every week.

PASTOR DAN WILLIS, LIGHTHOUSE CHURCH OF ALL NATIONS: If you are in seat number 365, you've just won $500.

Due to the economic recession, I wanted to teach the parallel between faith and finances.

WILLIS: 300, 400, 500. How you feeling right about now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm happy. Thank you so much.

ROMANS: Willis doesn't call the prize a lottery; instead, referring to it as a love gift, a chance to bless the lucky few while also helping fill his pews. He says church attendance has grown from about 1,600 to 2,500 in just a few weeks. WILLIS: Debt is not a financial condition. Debt is a spiritual condition.

ROMANS: Recent winners say the money couldn't come at a better time.

FRANK CRUZ, PARISHIONER & $250 WINNER: I went down to red lobster and celebrated with my wife and my kids. And then after that, I paid a couple of bills off and I did groceries.

CARYN POWELL, PARISHIONER & $250 WINNER: As I drove out, my gas tank was on E, so I drove straight to the gas station.

WILLIS: Could you imagine what would happen, and I get passionate about this part, if every church did something like this?

ROMANS: That's exactly why some others in the religious community are concerned.

WILLIAM SCHWEIKER, THEOLOGICAL ETHICIST, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: The whole point of the Christian life is to care for others, to love others, to give. And yet this could set up a mind set where the purpose of going to church is to acquire for one's self which is what Christians usually call sin.

WILLIS: We love you and there's nothing you can do about it.

ROMANS: Still, Willis says it's not just the love that he hopes will continue to grow at the Lighthouse Church, but also the parking lot. He plans on building an additional lot to handle the hundreds more people coming to church every week, praying for a chance to win some cold hard cash.

WILLIS: Sweetheart, you just won $100.

ROMANS: Christine Romans, CNN.


LUI: Interesting.

NGUYEN: I have seen it all. They're saying they've increased the number of parishioners going there. Well, they're giving out cash.

LUI: That might work.

Let's talk about that big chill that's on from Maine to Miami and other M-lettered cities.

NGUYEN: A lot of people wondering can we get some relief sometime soon? Reynolds Wolf returns with the workweek forecast when we come right back.


NGUYEN: So it is January. We should not be surprised that it is cold outside. But this cold, Reynolds?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, yes. I mean, you know you don't expect to have 70 degrees in Chicago in early January. You're right. It is to be expected.

But still, that just incredible shock of cold air that's moving through at least half the nation affecting millions of Americans is something that's going to be a little bit uncomfortable this morning. But it's really just one of the -- one element of the one-two punch that we're getting from Old Man Winter today.

With one fist you have a lot of snow; with the other you have the cold and temperatures.

Let's start with the snow first. That big snow maker is going to be caused by this area of low pressure that we have spinning right over parts of Maine. You're going to have snow; you're going to have some strong wind. And those wind gusts are going to cause things to be kind of shaky as far south as Boston where we have a live tower cam for you compliments of WHDH.

You see the Charles River at the very bottom of the screen, right underneath the "Good Morning Boston" sign. You see the bridge and then right in between, a few snowflakes here and there. You might see one dark right in front of the screen.

But farther to the south, the story is entirely different in Miami where we have a mixture of sunshine and cloud, should be a beautiful day there where high temperatures are expected to reach all the way up to about 63 degrees by late afternoon.

However, not every one is so lucky. Let's show you some of the unfortunate few unless you're a fan of cold weather, you're going to be a happy camper. And you should be happy in Minneapolis because your high today is going up to 7 degrees. 17 in Kansas City, that's later on.

But right now in places like Minneapolis, you've got 11 degrees below zero; Fargo, 19 below; in Duluth 16; single digits for Des Moines, for Chicago from Milwaukee even into Green Bay. And one of the warmer spots, believe it or not, Denver, Colorado with 25. A little bit warmer in Cheyenne, Wyoming with 28.

But what we can expect plenty of sunshine in parts of the four corners and back out West, things looks pretty good. But as you start your work week on Monday expect that frontal band to come ashore in parts of the Gold States. You want to see some scattered showers, snow possible in the Sierra Nevada.

Snow today in parts of the Wasatch range and bank into the northern Rockies. Central Plains, parts of Missouri, especially in Jefferson City and Kansas City, you might have some light snow to deal with through the afternoon hours. Possibly heavier snow away from some of the main roads. That is the latest on your forecast. We're going to have more coming up right here on CNN SUNDAY.

See you.


LUI: To Iraq now where U.S. forces are supposed to start draw down this year. Nearly 3,500 U.S. troops have died in combat there since March 2003. But a positive sign: December was the first month since the war started without any U.S. combat deaths.

Our Diana Magnay is in Baghdad. She tells us what will change and what will stay the same in Iraq in 2010.


DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Iraq 2010. There are two key dates in the calendar which will fundamentally shape this country's future. March the 7th, national elections; Iraqis will choose whether they want a secular or religious leadership, whether Iraqi nationhood matters more than a myriad of ethnic and sectarian tensions.

Then there's the time it will take to form an actual government.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTCOM: You really have two elections here. You have the election for the members of parliament, the over 300 members of parliament. And then you have the -- what may be the more important election, which is the election of the prime minister, president, council of representatives and the determination of who will hold key ministry positions and so forth in government.

MAGNAY: The U.S. is banking on that transition to power being a smooth one because less than five months later, it plans to have pulled some 60,000 troops out of Iraq. Only 50,000 will stay after August 2010, all advise and assist brigades. And the U.S. says that's a fixed date if the security situation follows its current improving trend.

While still this is going organization you also have the vote of foreign investors; their see increasingly willing to bank just on Iraqi oil but also on the country's reconstruction.

Their confidence, though, depends on the political landscape and on security. And that once again depends on the elections.

Diana Magnay, CNN, Baghdad.


NGUYEN: Well, before he was President Obama, he was Barry to his Hawaiian friends.

LUI: That's right. Up next, those friends talk ice cream, body surfing, some basketball, too Betty, and protecting the president. We'll be right back.


LUI: The holidays...

NGUYEN: Got you.

LUI: Yes, the holidays -- holidays depending where in the world you're saying words like that. But we're here in the United States, so I'll say holiday.

NGUYEN: Yes, all day long.

LUI: It's a time for catching up with friends and family, practicing words that you can't say normally. And that goes for the President of the United States, too. He's visiting with family and friends.

NGUYEN: Yes. So he's in Hawaii. A wise destination when most of the country is shivering in a deep freeze.

A senior White House correspondent is on the trip, as well, and he tracked down some of the president's old buddies. We're talking about Ed Henry.


ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: In between intelligence briefings, the president has carved out time to reconnect with his home state. Indulging in local delicacies like shaved ice and other frozen treats.

OBAMA: The ice cream starts melting and the syrup makes a mess.

HENRY: Turns out Mr. Obama used to be on the other side of the counter; a part time job in high school scooping ice cream at this Baskin-Robbins in Honolulu. And old friends reluctantly admit the future president used to give them free stuff.

(on camera): He used to hook you up a little?


HENRY: I think the statute of limitations has passed, so you can say you got a free cone...

TAVARES: Ok. He gave us some.

HENRY (voice-over): Larry Tavares has fond memories of the classmate at Punahou who he body surfed with.

TAVARES: I didn't know his real name was Barack, to tell you the truth. He was Barry to us. So when he said Barack, we kind of raised our eyebrows a little bit. Ok that's cool.

HENRY: They played together on the basketball team that won the state championship in 1979. Larry was point guard; Barry, the power forward.

(on camera): He was physical. TAVARES: He was real physical. Not scared to mix it up. I guess if you equate to being the president, he's not scared to do something or make a decision.

HENRY (voice-over): Many high school acquaintances like Bart Dasilva lost touch with Barry. So they were blown away in 2004 by his stirring Democratic Convention speech. And election night left many in tears.

BART DASILVA, OBAMA HIGH SCHOOL CLASSMATE: I got more and more excited. I couldn't believe this moment that had months and months of leading into was actually becoming a reality. And as everybody waited for the president-elect to make his speech after being elected, it just became, again, I use the word surreal, but it was just a climactic moment.

HENRY: They're also fiercely protective of their friend, getting fired up by all the attacks from critics.

TAVARES: You can take it so much and then let's go outside, throw all the gloves off and let's settle this outside is how I really feel. But, you know, that's not going to happen.

So I think people just have to be a little bit most of patient with him. He's doing the best he can.

HENRY (on camera): Larry Tavares has played basketball with Mr. Obama a few times in recent years. He says the president is a big trash talker, loves to needle his friends.

But when we asked Larry for an example, he said no, that stays in the gym. Basically these old friends want to stay friends. They're not going to talk out of school.

Ed Henry, CNN, Honolulu.


NGUYEN: Yes. Just keep it on the court.

LUI: That's right. Leave it right there.

NGUYEN: Well, we appreciate you coming in and spending some time with us this weekend.

LUI: Thank you so much.

NGUYEN: Thank you Richard.

LUI: I had a great time.

NGUYEN: Oh, good. Glad you did.

And "STATE OF THE UNION" is coming up at the top of the hour with counterterrorism chief John Brennan, but first here's a quick check of this morning's headlines. A look now at your top stories: both the U.S. and British governments have closed their embassies in Yemen. Both countries cite security concerns after threats from al Qaeda in that region. There's no word yet on when the embassies will reopen.

President Obama's counterterrorism adviser John Brennan says Yemen will remain a security threat against the United States unless the Yemeni government does a better job containing terrorists there. Britain tells the Associated Press there are several hundred militants from al Qaeda operating in Yemen.

He's going to talk more about this on "STATE OF THE UNION" coming up at the top of the hour. So stay tuned; "STATE OF THE UNION coming up in just minutes.

You've been watching CNN SUNDAY MORNING.