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Interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Aired April 24, 2012 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, HOST: OUTFRONT tonight, my exclusive interview with Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel. He is moving the goal post and he says he knows exactly what Iran is up to right now.

Plus, a new case of mad cow disease discovered in the United States and Mitt Romney about to get a five-state sweep. What will Barack Obama do about it?

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett and I'm OUTFRONT tonight live from Jerusalem. The Old City is behind me, as you can see the walls. And just a few hours ago, the sirens went off in the city, people stopping on the sides of the streets in honor of the beginning of Memorial Day. Later on this week it will be the 64th anniversary of the State of Israel.

It is an important week in this country and the world is watching this country. It has a big decision to make, whether to strike or not strike Iran, is a conversation topic at dinner tables around the world. What will happen is a crucial election issue in the United States as well. It matters a whole lot to Americans, to Barack Obama, to Mitt Romney.

I had a rare conversation with Benjamin Netanyahu at his home today. We talked about Iran, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama and a whole lot more as he opened up at his home.


BURNETT: Mr. Prime minister, thank you so much for inviting us and letting us come and see your home.

BENJAMIN NETANYAU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Well, welcome to Jerusalem. Take a look around.

BURNETT: We came here to your courtyard. I know we had to move -- there was a table here earlier, when we got here, there were two coffee cups on it, I guess it was yours and Tony Blair's, when you were talking this morning, but how important is this space for you? This is sort of your -- this is your getaway space, right?

NETANYAHU: No this is my prison courtyard, because the prime minister of Israel, like I suppose the president of the United States, and maybe the Pope one or two other people.

BURNETT: Does it ever feel like you're sort of under house arrest? I mean this --

NETANYAHU: Yes, for good reason, but I suppose so. But it doesn't mean that there aren't an endless number of people who want to get into this prison cell --

BURNETT: Oh I'm sure --

NETANYAHU: -- and live here.

BURNETT: I'm sure there are. Iran, there's been 16 years of diplomacy as you've talked about. You've said repeatedly, you said it in March; I know you said it to the Army radio this morning. It is not a problem of days but it's also not a problem of years. Now you said that first in March so I would imagine not years, plural. That means you think this will be resolved by next spring?

NETANYAHU: Well, I hope it is resolved and I hope it is resolved peacefully. Certainly the international community is putting a lot of pressure on Iran and making clear that its nuclear program must stop. If it stops with the sanctions, the combinations of sanctions, diplomacy, other pressures, I, as the prime minister of Israel, will be the happiest person in the world.

BURNETT: Do you think that sanctions are working? I mean, I saw a story today that about -- I think it was 56 percent of Iranian -- of Iran's fleet, tankers, sitting off the coast with oil, full of oil, because they can't sell it. It would appear that sanctions are working.

NETANYAHU: Well, they are certainly taking a bite out of the Iranian economy but so far they haven't rolled back the Iranian program or even stopped it by one iota. I mean, I hope that changes, but so far, I can tell you the centrifuges are spinning. They were spinning before the talks began recently with Iran. They were spinning during the talks. They're spinning as we speak. So, if the sanctions are going to work, they better work soon.

BURNETT: How do you know what they're doing?

NETANYAHU: Oh, we know.

BURNETT: You know?

NETANYAHU: We know and others know and we share what we know. This is not the case of the questions that people had about Saddam Hussein.

BURNETT: They say that it is for peaceful purposes --

NETANYAHU: They stay it is for peaceful purposes.

BURNETT: They say it is for peaceful purposes. NETANYAHU: Well you have a sense of humor. I mean they said it is for medical isotopes, right? That's why they are developing ICBMs to carry medical isotopes to Europe or Israel or the United States. That's why they are building these underground bunkers between -- underneath mountains for medical isotopes. You know that's why they are telling the world that they are going to erase Israel, with the medical isotopes. This is a farce. Nobody can seriously -- nobody can take them seriously.

BURNETT: No nations with nuclear weapons have ever gone to war with each other. I mean, take India and Pakistan. They haven't used them. Could it be that Israel and Iran could end up in a situation like that where the acquisition of the nuclear weapon ensures it would never be used?

NETANYAHU: Well, I'm not going to comment on Israel's purported capabilities. I will say that to date, since the advent of the nuclear age after Hiroshima all nuclear powers have been very careful with the use or more accurately, the nonuse of the nuclear weapon when it comes to militant Islamic regime, I wouldn't be too sure. Because unlike, say the Soviets, they can put their ideology before their survival, so I don't think you can bet on their rationality. Iran has given its terror proxies Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, it's given them the most advanced lethal weapons, whatever weapons they have to give them and they fired now 10, 12,000 rockets on Israel's cities.

They've been helping them to murder diplomats worldwide and to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan. Think of what they do with nuclear weapons. And I don't think you want to bet the peace in the Middle East and the security of the world on Iran's rationale behavior. I think it is a much safer bet to do what I and President Obama and others have said, prevent Iran from acquiring atomic bombs.

BURNETT: One thing it's interesting though and you talk about some of the negative parts about the regime there is a Jewish member of parliament in Tehran and one of the most popular soap operas there, there was a zero degree turn or zero turn, main character, an Iranian falls in love with a Jewish woman. He helps smuggle Jews out of Paris to save them from the Holocaust. And it's very popular in Iran. What makes you so sure that they are anti-Semitic in a way that would cause them to use the weapon against Israel?

NETANYAHU: Well I'd draw a distinction between the people of Iran and the regime that has terrorized (ph) them, taken over their lives.

BURNETT: The regime let the show air though.

NETANYAHU: Well the regime is the one that, you know, has to kill people in the streets and goes into their homes after they cull (ph) the Internet and they just make people disappear. So this is a regime that is very brutal to its own people. Iran is not free. Jews in Iran have a lot to worry about. But the Jewish state that Iran openly calls a cancer that has to be excised from the Middle East that has to be eradicated, certainly must take seriously Iran's claims to annihilate it.

BURNETT: The way the talks seem to be going, U.N. negotiators, U.S. negotiators, Iranian negotiators, (INAUDIBLE) saying that the sanctions are working and that they may, in fact, roll back some sanctions. That's what the Iranians want and there has not been a direct rebuttal to that from the other side, the really tough sanctions that are supposed to take effect this summer --

NETANYAHU: Well I think it would be a big mistake --

BURNETT: What do you do -- OK.

NETANYAHU: I think it would be a big mistake to rescind the sanctions or lighten the sanctions. I think there has to be a cascade of sanctions and so far, that's the acid test, the sanctions haven't worked. How do we know that? Because nothing has been stopped. What has stopped in the Iranian program?

BURNETT: What if they halted full enrichment to 20 percent started importing that, would that be enough?

NETANYAHU: I think what they need to do are three things. One, they have to stop all enrichment, second to take the --

BURNETT: All enrichment, even the three percent for medical?

NETANYAHU: Yes. Yes, because they say they need it for what medical isotopes? So you can -- the second point is after you stop all enrichment is remove the enriched material and you will get these rods from another country that can allow you to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. And third, dismantle the underground bunker (INAUDIBLE). If they have no military goals, they should respond to this readily. What we want are factual results. We want to see the Iranian program rolled back. That's, unfortunately, not achieved by talks in which Iran has one goal, to stall, delay, run out the clock. That's basically what they are doing.

BURNETT: Do you worry that you are going to put yourself in a position though that you may have to strike, a strike which even former head of the Mossad has said would only delay, not end the Iranian nuclear program? That by staying is not days, it's not -- you are going to end up with a date where if you don't do it, you look like you couldn't or you wouldn't so you have to?

NETANYAHU: I'm not worried what we look like. I am worried about stopping this. And I think there are really three principles that should guide us. They have been echoed by the United States and I think any sensible person understands that. The first is that Iran's nuclear weapons program must be stopped. The second is that containment is not an option. And the third is that Israel, the state of the Jewish people, must have the capacity to defend itself by itself against any threat.


BURNETT: Obviously, very significant that the prime minister is saying the only standard Israel will accept is that Iran not enrich at all, not even the three percent that they would need for medical use. Well, there could be an issue that is even bigger for Israel right now and we're going to talk about that next.


NETANYAHU: I could deliver a peace agreement. I could get the Israeli people to follow me if I believed that I have a serious partner on the other side.



BURNETT: Well you just heard a little bit of my exclusive interview with Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel. We are OUTFRONT tonight live from Jerusalem, where you can see the Old City behind me. Israel right now honoring its dead in Memorial Day. We had a chance to talk about Iran, as you just heard. Zero enrichment is what he is willing to accept on that front.

He says he know what is Iran is doing but there is an issue that could be bigger around and that issue has to do with Palestine, which you haven't heard a whole lot about recently, maybe because Iran has been dominating the headlines. But he had something to say about Palestine he has never said before.


BURNETT: I want to ask you about another issue that hasn't gotten much coverage recently because Iran has been getting so much coverage. I was in Dubai recently, interviewing Sheik Mohammed (ph) the prime minister of (INAUDIBLE) UAE, ruler of Dubai and we talked about Israel and here is what he said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know I tell you we have nothing against Israel. You know we have nothing against Israel. And what we want is for the Palestinian, a country for the Palestinian and a country for Israel. And I promise you that (INAUDIBLE) Israel will benefit more than us because Israel have things to offer in the market.


NETANYAHU: That's very wise. That's very wise and I agree with him. I think that peace would benefit us, as I think would it would benefit the Palestinians, as it would benefit the entire region. I think there's one other thing. I think that I could deliver a peace agreement.

I could get the Israeli people to follow me if I believe that I have a serious partner on the other side, willing to make the necessary compromises on the Palestinian side. Many compromises that people talk about on the Israeli side, but there are necessary compromises on the Palestinian side and you know, peace is always a two-way compromise.

BURNETT: Would you accept their belief though that they should have a country which is contiguous, not islands here and islands there, but one space?

NETANYAHU: Yes, we talked about --

BURNETT: No checkpoints.

NETANYAHU: I don't think that this is what -- no checkpoints? I'm the prime minister who removed 400 checkpoints, barriers, road- blocks and so on to facilitate the growth of the Palestinian economy. This is in line with what I believe is essential that is the economic growth that is a great supplement and a great bulwark of actual peace. It is not a substitute for a political peace, but it helps, and I'm very much in favor of that. Look, there are so many issues to discuss, but you have to discuss them. You can't discuss them in the press, not even on CNN. You have to sit down opposite one another. That's what leaders do.

BURNETT: You know yesterday I saw some of the best of Israel. You know we saw winery. We saw the Moroccan (ph) oil, the hair plant (ph) that I was telling you about --


BURNETT: At the end of the day, it was sunset, I went to a refugee camp outside Jerusalem and we were actually -- we were going to talk to some adults, you know what happened, children come flocking over and lots of boys came flocking over. And they were playing soccer football, and I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up? And they all spoke in Arabic and they said and this was pretty amazing considering that most of them weren't in school, dentist, engineer, and I want to fight Israel, everyone of them.

NETANYAHU: The first two I like. The last one I didn't.

BURNETT: How can you change that? When you talk about hinges (ph) of history, isn't this issue more important than Iran or anything else?

NETANYAHU: How do you change it? You change it by educating people for peace. And I think one of the failings of the Palestinian Authority has been that they air on their national media, they control the media. They air all this stuff about Israel, doing away with Israel. They have kindergartens for reveling in suicide bombers, kindergarten kids, so I'm not surprised that kids grow up (INAUDIBLE). The only way you change it is by having peace agreement and speaking peace to your people. I spoke three years ago to my people about a solution of a demilitarized Palestinian state that lives alongside -- recognizes the Jewish state.

BURNETT: How can you have a state --

NETANYAHU: Because they'll become --

BURNETT: -- be demilitarized --

NETANYAHU: They will become dentists. They will become doctors if they become a peaceful state.

BURNETT: Don't they have a right for a real state --


BURNETT: -- demilitarized?

NETANYAHU: Well demilitarized is a real state. It just means that they can't field the armies. They can't fire rockets. We want to make sure that if we have a peace arrangement, we walk away from certain areas that they won't be used a third time by Iran and its Palestinian proxies to fire rockets on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but we don't want to run their lives. I don't want to govern the Palestinians. I don't want them as subjects of Israel or as citizens of Israel. I want them to have their own independent state but a demilitarized state.

BURNETT: And to be clear, one that isn't separated by Israel as in there's a Palestine part here, Israel --


BURNETT: All one --

NETANYAHU: That is Swiss cheese (ph) now --



BURNETT: Swiss cheese, an analogy that was used by George W. Bush years ago. At that time, Benjamin Netanyahu did not support it. Contiguous a crucial word, is there going to be a contiguous state? Not something that the prime minister said before, we talked to sources in the Palestine -- the PLO today, and they said that it's not something he had discussed with them, so that could be significant if peace talks do again start, to have a contiguous -- to use that word contiguous a lot of weight in that particular word.

Well we're going to hear what the prime minister has to say about the U.S. elections. It is an important issue for him and what he has to say about Iran important there. How well does he know Mitt Romney? We're going to get some answers to that. Plus his obsession with a map and a new case of mad cow disease in the United States a lot of people wondering what it means and we have some answers.


BURNETT: Welcome back. OUTFRONT tonight live from the Old City in Jerusalem. I was just spending some time with Prime Minister Netanyahu today. One of the interesting things about it was not only that we were talking there in the courtyard where he smokes his cigars because his wife won't let him do it in the house, but we also got to go inside and see his study. And while we were there we saw a map of, well, the Middle East. Here is quick glimpse of a kind of interesting moment.


BURNETT: This is your neighborhood?

NETANYAHU: This is gigantic Israel. You know, I can cover it with my thumb. I mean --


NETANYAHU: -- this is the Arab world, right, Saudi Arabia, Iran. This is all of -- this is this gigantic Israel that you hear about. That's it. From here to here.

BURNETT: With all the focus on Iran, what about Egypt? Your foreign minister said that could be a bigger threat to you than Iran.

NETANYAHU: Well, you know, I'm not sure that's a correct quote but certainly where he is concerned with Iran and we are both concerned with the direction of Egypt and I hope that any government that is established in Egypt understands that peace between Egypt and Israel is as much an Egyptian interest as it is an Israeli interest and I hope to continue the peace. That's our desire.


BURNETT: Just for the record, the quote was in "The Jerusalem Post" from the foreign minister on Egypt. And obviously, it is an ongoing debate over what is really going on between those two countries right now, but that moment when he stayed this is the Middle East and he gestured to North Africa and he put his thumb on Israel, I said that is such an interesting moment. You know it makes an interesting point. And then, well, someone in our bureau here in Jerusalem said wait a minute, you have to look at this and I said who is that? Well, it was Prime Minister Netanyahu, who, at the time deputy foreign minister, back in, what was the date, January 18th, 1991. Take a look.


NETANYAHU: This is the Arab world. And I'm just going to put my hands on it for the benefit of the viewers. I have a size 10 shoe, American size 10 shoe. I could walk on this map on the Arab world. Here's Israel. I cover it with my thumb.



BURNETT: I mean, you got to say, some things never seem to change in this part of the world. There's always worth putting a little bit of humor when you're talking about very serious subjects. One thing we talked about very serious was well what does Bibi think about Mitt? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Do you like him?

NETANYAHU: Well, look, here's an answer that will -- should satisfy you.



BURNETT: All right, we start the second half of our show with stories we care about, where we focus on our own reporting, do the work and find the "OutFront 5". I'm live in Jerusalem tonight. More of the Netanyahu interview in just a moment, but John Avlon has the "OutFront 5". Hey, John.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hey, Erin. Up first, two additional Secret Service agents have resigned and a third has lost security clearance in the ongoing Colombian Secret Service scandal. One of those that resigned was an individual who was staying at the Hilton and brought a woman there just five days before the president arrived. The president was asked about the scandal as part of his appearance on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon". He said the agency does a great job 99.9 percent of the time and that quote, "a couple of knuckleheads shouldn't detract from the great job the agency does."

Number two: former aide to John Edwards took the stand today, again revealing details about Edwards' secret life with while he was a presidential contender. Testifying for the prosecution, Andrew Young recalled the time he received calls from Edwards' mistress, Rielle Hunter. She threatened to go public if she didn't speak to Edwards immediately.

Edwards is accused of using campaign money to hide his extramarital affair. Our Joe Johns said Young's testimony also recalled when Edwards found out about Hunter's pregnancy, quoting Edwards as saying, "She's a crazy S." Well, stay classy.

Number three: a new case of mad cow disease was discovered in a dairy cow in California. The USDA said the cow was never prevented for the slaughter and at that time presented a risk to humans or to food supply.

This is the fourth case of mad cow disease, the second in the United States and the first since 2006.

CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen says the potential threat from this one cow is slim to none.

Number four: it was a blockbuster three months for Apple. The numbers are just staggering. The tech giant reported sales of $39.2 billion. The company sold 35.1 million iPhones, almost twice as many as they sold a year ago. They sold 11.8 million iPads, making Apple's fastest selling device. The company also has $110 billion in cash.

It has been 264 days since the United States lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back?

Housing is still a main area of concern for the U.S. economy. New data today showing that new home seams fell in March and home prices sunk a further 3.5 percent in February.

Now, let's go back to Erin in Jerusalem.

ERIN BURNETT, HOST: All right. And housing, obviously, a crucial issue for the U.S. election. But so is what's happening here in the Middle East, with Israel and with Iran. Israel has some very big decisions to make.

But the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also an important player in U.S. politics and a lot of people want to know what he really thinks about Barack Obama and how well he really knows Mitt Romney.

Well, that was very interesting part of our conversation, I'll put it that way, and let you judge for yourself.


BURNETT: I want to talk a little bit about U.S. politics. Obviously, you are an important player in U.S. politics, and is the prime minister of Israel.



NETANYAHU: Yes, I'm going to stop you right there, Erin. You know why?


NETANYAHU: Because I have enough politics to of my own, I don't need to enter American politics.

BURNETT: Like it or not, people care about what you think about all kinds of things in the U.S. and you know Mitt Romney. You worked with him at Boston Consulting Group, right? Am I --

NETANYAHU: I didn't work with him. But when I entered the Boston Consulting Group 35 years ago, something like that, he was -- I was a young recruit and he was already a star manager. He looked the same.

BURNETT: You must not have said that. (INAUDIBLE)

NETANYAHU: Isn't that disturbing? I don't look the same. He looks the same.

BURNETT: He has that kind of Ken doll look, but -- he always looks young.

NETANYAHU: But, you know, I didn't see him for many years and then I met him many years later when I was minister of finance and he was the governor of Massachusetts, and we've been in touch since.

BURNETT: Is he a friend of yours? Do you like him?

NETANYAHU: Well, look, here's an answer that will -- should satisfy you. I respect Mitt Romney as I respect Barack Obama, the president of the United States. And that's the end of the ranking and the questions that you will undoubtedly try again and again to draw me into.

I have enough politics here. I don't want to get into American politics.

BURNETT: I want to ask you one thing though about the Iran issue and Mitt Romney. He wrote an op-ed in "The Washington Post," in which I'm sure you saw.

NETANYAHU: You don't stop, do you?

BURNETT: You know, I'm paid to be relentless.

NETANYAHU: No, no, go ahead. And I will be --

BURNETT: As I believe is your job.

NETANYAHU: No, I'll be relentlessly fending you off. You'll get the same result.

BURNETT: OK. He said that he would, as it pertains Iran, press for ever tightening sanctions, buttress my diplomacy with military option and speak out on behalf of democracy.

That sounds like identical to Barack Obama.

Is that your perception, that they would have pretty much the same U.S. policy or not?

NETANYAHU: You know, I'm just not going to get into American politics. If you want to talk to me about the American policy, then I think the right policy is to make sure that Iran doesn't get nuclear weapons. By the way, that would be a catastrophe for world peace, a grave danger to American interests and to American lives.

BURNETT: The Israel that the world sees is a lot about the start-up. It's entrepreneurial, it's creative. It's successful. It's wealthy. It's incredibly powerful.

It's not an underdog. And a lot of the narrative about Iran or being attacked seems to be more of a victim -- everyone is out to get us. But a lot of the Israel that we see is a dominant powerful Israel, not a victim.

NETANYAHU: I wouldn't say dominant. I would say Israel is vibrant democracy, tremendously creative, as wild entrepreneurs. They're changing -- they're curing disease around the world.

Your cell phone probably has four or five Israeli I.T. application inside.


NETANYAHU: It's just changing the world. We have the greatest number of Nobel Prize winners per capita of any country. So, there's tremendous creativity that is useful for good, for peaceful means.

We're not seeking to dominate anyone. We are seeking to live in peace with our neighbors. I hope they decide to do the same with us. We don't teach our children to say I want to be a doctor, I want to be a dentist, I want to be a technologist and I want to fight the Arabs.

BURNETT: About 40 percent of the world's Jews live in the United States, nearly as many as in Israel. Peter Beinart's new books "The Crisis of Zionism" talks a lot about the Jews that I know, that I'm friends with. They are marrying people who are not Jewish about half, non-orthodox American Jews now do. He talks about non-orthodox American Jews under the age of 35.

And I thought this was amazing, they're half as likely as over people 65 to say they are emotionally attached to Israel. Less than half American Jews under 35 say they feel a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people. Part of the reason for that appears to be Israel now seen more as an occupier than as a victim in the traditional sense.

Are you worried about American Jews?

NETANYAHU: No, I think there's a much stronger bond than meets the eye. There's a very strong bond that we can encourage and develop, especially by having young Jews from the United States and elsewhere from around the world coming here and these fantastic programs that just bring them in by the tens of thousands, just to visit Israel.

I think ultimately the future of the Jewish people is intimately bound with the future of the Jewish state.

And my job, as the prime minister of Israel is to ensure that future.

BURNETT: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much.

NETANYAHU: Thank you. Good to see you.


BURNETT: Amotz Asa-El joins me now. He's a columnist with "The Jerusalem Post." John Avlon is with us. And Fran Townsend, CNN contributor and, of course, national security expert.

Amotz, let me start with you just on this final issue. I think a lot of issues in that book were very interesting, in Peter Beinart's book. But among them was the increasing lack of connection that American Jews seem to feel for Israel by a lot of those polls, younger American Jew. Is that a real issue for this country?

AMOTZ ASA-EL, COLUMNIST, THE JERUSALEM POST: We have to separate between what the actual average American Jew thinks and what happened Peter Beinart thinks. He purport there is to speak on behalf of a large audience. That is yet to be proven statistically. That's one thing.

Secondly, concerning the substance of his arguments, one of them we all share -- we are all very disenchanted with the fact that power -- that life necessitates power. We are sitting here just opposite the place where the Hebrew prophets in ancient times first called on humanity to beat swords into plow shares and has inspired Jewish history for better and for worse, but it has also disempowered Jews along for generations with an exorbitant cost and the need for the Jews to have power and to deploy it when necessary unfortunately is imperative and he isn't happy with that. That is one thing.

Secondly, I think that more deeply speaking, Peter Beinart perhaps is unaware of this, but he voices I think a deep disappointment with the fact that Israel is becoming the leader of the Jewish people. I mean, not only inspirationally and morally, but also demographically.

Three years ago, the Israeli Statistical Bureau reported matter of factually and hardly made a headline, that for the first time ever, there are more Jews in Israel than in America and in fact, you are sitting now in this country as it is home to the biggest -- the largest Jewish community in the world for the first time since antiquity. This is disagreeable to some Jews in the world.

BURNETT: And I want to let you know, we are going to be talking to Peter Beinart soon, about that controversial and very interesting book. Let me ask you about what the prime minister had to say you specifically about Iran. Is he bellicose? Is he going to too far?

What do the Israeli people support when it comes to Israeli strike against Iran right now?

ASA-EL: I think the average Israeli certainly shares Netanyahu's and Defense Minister Ehud Barak's general alarm. They certainly understand that Iran is an enemy, an implacable enemy, that everyone understands and everyone agrees also that their nuclear program constitutes a madness.

All this is not a subject of debate here. The question is what to do in the face of this. I think that the average Israeli is concerned that somebody might, on the spur of the moment, be tempted to resort to an adventure and doing the right thing is one thing and resorting to an adventure is another thing and Israelis at least who are middle aged remember very, very -- very, I would say traumatically the adventure of 1982 in Lebanon. This is one thing they want to avoid.

Beyond that, there is also the longer term concern, that Israelis understand, I'm sure Netanyahu understands this, that Iran is trans- Arab. It is not an Arab country demographically. Nationally, historically, civilizationally speaking and geographically, it is beyond the Arab world. And Israelis recall the days when pre- revolutionary Iran was Israel's ally.

BURNETT: An interesting point. I want to --


ASA-EL: And we should not harm that kind of future with a wrong kind of action .

BURNETT: Right. That they used to be -- they used to be allies.

And, Fran, I want to bring you in here because I'm curious about something that the prime minister said earlier when he seemed to say there is no negotiating, there is no medical -- there is no enriching to 3 percent. There's nothing, there's nothing Israel will settle for.

It seems like we could be reaching a real point this summer as talks continue, where we have another big decision point.

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, that's absolutely right, Erin. Look, Israel, the United States, the world understands, Israel's greatest leverage is before the U.S. election.

You know, John can speak to the politics of this, but there's no question that that's the case. The prime minister did say though, Erin, in fairness to him, that look, he'd be the happiest man in the world if sanctions work. But how you define sanctions working?

There's no question, again that sanctions are having an impact, but they need to have an impact on Iran's nuclear program to be truly assessed as effective. That's the reason we put them in place. Unless they actually impact Iran's nuclear program, they're not truly effective.

And then there's the third and final point I'd make here, Erin, is that look, Israel understands the timeline in the United States. The president is facing an election, one. Two, you have sequestration for the military budget coming up at the end of the year. And three, we are facing a drawdown.

So with less money and less presence after the first of the year, the United States will be in less of a position, frankly, to launch an attack in support of any Israeli action.

AVLON: And, Erin, while Prime Minister Netanyahu was very careful to say he was going to stay out of American politics, honoring the bipartisan bond between our two countries, it's a fascinating fact that he has a long-standing relationship, a friendship with Mitt Romney, going back to the 1970s when they were both young men working at the Boston Consulting Group. It's similarly no secret that he has had differences with President Obama in the past.

So, this adds a fascinating personal relationship wrinkle to the backdrop of how the issue of Israel plays out in the American election with these pivotal decisions ahead of us before the presidential.

BURNETT: And, Fran, how does the U.S. make a decision on what to do here? I mean, if Israel goes ahead and I know you saw the conversation, not days but not years, plural, I mean, the prime minister seems to be very adamant about that. Of course, that put you in a timeframe of before next spring, I'm just curious what happens here, as I asked him. You have a moment where you speak so much about these deadlines, and then if you hit them and you don't do something, you kind of lose all your credibility.

TOWNSEND: No, Erin, I think it is a very good point. In fact, what is going on now behind the scenes: the U.S. military is very actively engaged with their Israeli military counterparts. One, trying to show them the sort of planning effort that goes on out of public view, frankly, for the U.S. what would we have to do if we had to respond to an Israeli action, what would we do if we had to actually take action affirmatively on our own, what planning is there, how prepare ready we to do that.

And so that's in essence to give Israelis a sense of confidence, that we are truly taking this seriously. The other piece to this is we are going to have to persuade the Israelis that these sanctions are effective against the program. You heard the prime minister say talking's not enough and if impact on the Iranian economy is not enough.

And so, it really is going to require policymakers to persuade Iran that the sanctions are effective against the specific program.

BURNETT: All right. Amotz, Fran, John -- thanks very much to all of you.

And, of course, as we talk about Mitt Romney continuing his sweep tonight, getting ready for the general election against Barack Obama, we are going to talk about the details of that next.

Plus, well, books. We'll explain.


BURNETT: We are back with tonight's "Outer Circle", where reach to our circles around the world.

And yes, we are in Jerusalem tonight. But we begin in Sudan where a military commander says that 1,200 people from South Sudan have been killed this week in fighting. It's an awful story that continues to go on with fighting in that country.

David McKenzie is in nearby Nairobi and I asked him how bad the violence has really gotten.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erin, the conflict continues in the volatile border regions of South Sudan and Sudan, with aerial strikes on Monday in the South, as well as overnight reports of bombings near the border. And while this hasn't reached a full-scale war, certainly the rhetoric has. Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, visiting the Heglig oil fields, saying that they won't go to the negotiating table and that they have spoken with, quote, "guns and bullets."

The president of the south is in Beijing, trying to gain support for investment. But for its part, China will be trying to protect its investment in a diplomatic dance between the two sides -- Erin.


BURNETT: And now, let's check in with Anderson Cooper with a look what's coming up on "A.C. 360."

Hey, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "A.C. 360": Hey, Erin.

Yes, we got breaking news tonight. For the first name six years, a case of mad cow disease has been discovered here in the United States, this one in California. The scary part is the disease was discovered by a random test on a dead cow. We are going to have the late-breaking details.

Our other breaking news tonight, polls closing shortly in four of the five states holding GOP primaries tonight, important speech by the expected winner, Mitt Romney. Also a big night for different reasons for Newt Gingrich. There is speculation he may announce the suspension of his campaign.

We'll bring all of that to you live. Also bring it in the 10:00 hour, the top of the hour, live as well.

My interview also with Senator John McCain. You're going to hear what he has to say the U.S. should do to stop the slaughter in Syria that the U.S. is not doing.

Also, tonight's "Ridiculist."

All that at the top of the hour, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much to you, Anderson.

Anderson mentioning a big night for politics and for Mitt Romney. So, let's hand it back to John Avlon to get the very latest on where we stand -- John.

AVLON: Thanks, Erin.

President Obama kicked of a three-state university tour today, hoping to win over those millennial generation voters who pushed him into the White House four years ago.

First stop: North Carolina, where the president told an enthusiastic college crowd, that he and the first lady, well, they know what it's like to be in their shoes. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Check this out. I'm the president of the United States.


OBAMA: We only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago.


AVLON: President Obama young won voters by 2-1 margin in 2008. Can a message like that help him do it again?

CNN contributor David Frum joins us now. And Faiz Shakir is research director for the Center of American Progress, editor in chief for They are both in Washington tonight.

Now, this is a serious issue, gentlemen. But before we begin, I've got to share something with you that just happened a little while ago that highlights what stage of a full court press we're at right now when it comes to youth voters. President Obama was on Jimmy Fallon and he slow jammed his message on this issue. Let's take a listen.


OBAMA: What we said is simple. Now is not the time to make school more expensive for our young people.




AVLON: Now, I'm going to go on a limb and say that is a presidential first -- a presidential slow jam message to the nation.

But, David, seriously, from slow jams to a slow job growth, this is an issue right now with young voters, many of which are going back to school right now because of the sluggish job market. Is this kind of message going to work? And with Congress needing to renew their student loan deduction, is this something Governor Romney really needs to see Congress do if he's to stay competitive with young voters?

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think a loan message is terribly double edged. It's also a reminder of how desperately overpriced universities have become, how terribly cost-insensitive they've become. And people who studied this understand that one of the reasons that tuition has risen so fast is precisely that these loan guarantees enable the colleges to say, we'll take everything the student has anyway and then all the money they can borrow.

And if the student is able to borrow more, we'll then, we'll just take more because we're not going to leave the students' parents with any home equity in their house.

The issue for the students is what happens to you after college? And that situation is just desperately dismal. The Romney campaign had a powerful release on this today about how half of new college graduates now are unemployed or underemployed.

Those loans, whether the interest rate is 3 percent or 6 percent, if you're unemployed, you can't service them.

AVLON: Well, __, David brings us a critical point, which is youth unemployment right now is 14 percent for folks in their 20s -- well above the national average. How does that cut into President Obama's attempts to reconnect with that generation that push him into office and what can be done about it?

FAIZ SHAKIR, RESEARCH DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, the challenge is if he can send the message to youth he's fighting on their behalf, I think he still wins them over. I think, obviously, they can be a little disenchanted with the fact that there hasn't been enough progress in some of the core economic issues that they care about. But he will win them because he's fighting for them.

I think what's different about this current fight is we're used to campaign rhetoric that has no impact, no substantive merit. It's just rhetoric barbs going back and forth.

What's happening here is campaign rhetoric that is having a substantive impact. You've got an actual debate over student loan interest rates that is about to be changed dramatically because the president weighted in at a politically important moment. If he wins this fight, it means that students would save $1,000 a year in their pocketbooks, as a result of the facts that the president made this a campaign issue.

So I think it's important not just as a rhetorical campaign fight, but a substantive one the president could win on behalf with of students.

AVLON: Let's go deeper into this youth gap that exists. David, right now in polling, President Obama still enjoys that 2-1 margin over Governor Romney. And to complicate things farther, Romney's greatest strength in the primaries with voters over age 50.

So, if you're advising Governor Romney, what should Romney do to close this gap and appeal to some younger voters?

FRUM: Well, first, he needs to understand a big part of this youth gap is an ethic gap. America under 30 is a more non-whites place than America over 60. And we know that non-whites and whites vote differently.

Be careful of understanding what is about youth and what is about ethnicity. And then Republicans need to think intelligently about those as separate issues.

The issue here has to be employment and making job opportunities more available. And the president's policies really have not only failed but his latest response, I just -- I don't -- Faiz, I think it was quick on the policy here. Making it easier for students to go deeper into debt is not a good response to the problem that colleges have been overcharging and they are empowered to overcharge by federal lending programs.

AVLON: Well, it's going to be a fascinating thing to watch. It is election night tonight. We've got five states voting, a pivot to the general election. This is going to be something to watch.

Faiz, very quickly, do you think we see the general election right now? Are you -- is the president ready to combat Governor Romney?

SHAKIR: Well, of course, the whole campaign for the past five months has been Obama positioning to take on Romney. So, he's well- positioned to do that. I think he's got that personal empathy factor that Romney doesn't have. I think he connects with youth in a way, whether he's playing hoops or slow jamming or singing or cracking jokes on the campaign trail. He connects with them.

AVLON: Thank you, Faiz. I want to go back to Erin Burnett in Jerusalem.

BURNETT: All right. And coming up next, we're going to go inside the prime minister's house. I'm going to show you something I found.


BURNETT: Part of spending some time with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today, we went inside his study. Well, I found he liked something that I love, books.


BURNETT: OK. Can I just say something I know you didn't want to talk about earlier. Did you know people look at your shelf? Or is it just random that I have Mitt Romney's book, Fidel Castro's book, Tony Blair's book, and Barack Obama's book all up there.


BURNETT: Yes? I'm just looking, you know? This is a window into someone's mind.


BURNETT: That's one of the reasons I love those kinds of interviews. It gives you a moment, just a moment, to glimpse what the person is really like. And that makes it all worth it.

Thanks so much for watching.

Anderson Cooper starts now.