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THE SITUATION ROOM
Obama's $15 Million Dinner with Clooney; Report: Reusable Bags Could Make You Sick; Interview with Josefina Vidal, Cuban Foreign Ministry Official; Apology in the Oval Office; Royal Weather Man
Aired May 10, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, new evidence that al Qaeda's most dangerous branch may be more capable than ever of attacking the United States with new bombs and more coming terrorists.
Plus, will there be a breakthrough that could free an American prisoner in Cuba Alan Gross. I'll press a top foreign official to reveal exactly what Havana wants from the United States. This international tug of war playing out right here in the SITUATION ROOM.
And what would you pay to attend a dinner with George Clooney and President Obama? We're standing by for a record-breaking fundraiser at Clooney's home tonight.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'M Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
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BLITZER: Right now, we're learning more about an all-out effort by al Qaeda terrorists in Yemen to attack United States and how a secret agent prevented one terrifying bomb plot from being carried out. Let's bring in our Brian Todd. He's uncovering new details about the informant who apparently snatched al Qaeda's bomb and some details. What are you picking up?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've been in touch with a researcher and analyst in the Middle East who's been briefed on this plot by Saudi counterterrorism officials. He's giving us new insights on the bomb itself, and as Wolf mentioned, on the operative who brought this plot down.
TODD (voice-over): CNN has obtained new information on the agent who penetrated al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and got that group's ne bomb out of Yemen before it could blow up a U.S.-bound passenger jet. The informant has strong western ties.
VOICE OF MUSTAFA ALANI, DIRECTOR, SECURITY AND DEFENSE STUDIES: My information basically indicates that he's a British citizen with a genuine British passport. Basically, he's an Arab origin or at least of Middle Eastern origin, but he is holder of a British passport. And this is the reason why they actually, one of the major reasons why they recruited him.
TODD: Mustafa Alani is with the Gulf Research Center. He's been briefed by Saudi counterterrorism officials on this plot.
(on-camera) Alani says the operative had previously moved in jihadist circles. He says that and his western travel documents made the agent attractive to al Qaeda's powerful branch in Yemen. Alani says that group is determined to recruit operatives who can travel to the U.S. and with a British passport, that's easy.
(voice-over) Alani says after the mole was sent into Yemen by Saudi counterterrorism officials to post as a willing suicide bomber, he received training on how to use the explosive device.
ALANI: He received training, and he received instruction how to avoid detection in the airport, how to behave.
TODD: Alani says there was more than one person who Saudi handlers had to evacuate from Yemen.
ALANI: The person who made contact with him need to be evacuated as well, because he's the link between the person and the intelligence service.
TODD: He says the bomb was flown by Saudi officials from Yemen to Saudi Arabia then handed to U.S. officials, and he has new information on the bomb itself. Alani's understanding is that the device may have been designed to fit in a garment worn over underwear.
Alani says this device was more sophisticated than those used in the 2010 printer bomb plot and the 2009 Christmas Day attack, both from that same group. A U.S. official tells us this latest bomb had redundancies built into it to make sure it worked. I asked CNN contributor, Tom Fuentes, about that.
Could it be assembled with two detonation devices as two detonators to set it off and how would that work?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, there are number of possibilities. I mean, one detonator could be literally, you know, box matches. Another detonator could be a liquid chemical that would serve as an exhilarant, put in a syringe or a baby bottle or something and inject it into the chemical to cause the ignition.
TODD: According to Mustafa Alani, the device contained PETN, a white powdery explosive tough to detect with body scanning machines. This device was apparently smaller than those hidden in the printers, but Alani's sources say it contained at least 300 grams of high explosives, even more than the device carried by the Christmas Day bomber, and this is a demonstration of what his bomb could have done.
TODD (on-camera): The Christmas Day bomber failed to ignite his device. Experts say the detonation charge failed to set off the PETN explosives in that 2009 attack, and it's possible the attacker's own perspiration neutralized some of the key chemicals. Factors which the bomb maker in this plot very likely tried to eliminate, and he might have eliminated those factors, Wolf. That is Ibrahim al-Asiri very likely, the master bomb maker from al Qaeda--
BLITZER: Interesting. The operative who was helpful, obviously, the double agent, the mole, is there any indication he or his family may be in danger right now?
TODD: Mustafa Alani tells us, according to his sources, that operative's family is secure. The operative himself is no longer in the Middle East. He was apparently shuttled to several places, but that's all they're really willing to say to anybody. He is no longer anywhere in the region.
BLITZER: So, they're protecting him, and he's going through a lot of debriefing sessions right now.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian, for that.
Now to some terrifying new information about al Qaeda's ongoing effort to attack the United States with new bombs, including one that might be hidden inside animals. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is working this part of the story for us. What are you picking up, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Wolf, we have all heard an awful lot this whole week about al Qaeda in Yemen, but now, we're really learning about how strong they may be.
STARR (voice-over): A senior U.S. official tells CNN that communications intercepts and reports from spies on the ground in Yemen over the last several months had indicated a growing effort by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP to attack the United States. It's all coming from what is described as the military wing of AQAP which according to one source is, quote, a "whole outfit designated to target the U.S."
This deadly al Qaeda wing includes multiple bomb makers and willing suicide bombers. One source telling CNN they are now working on several types of bombs that can be hidden in clothes, cameras, and even inside animals.
GREGORY JOHNSON, NEAR EAST STUDIES SCHOLAR: The talent of the organization is getting better. That is, they're much more capable of carrying out attacks.
STARR: The Obama administration says it's working closely with the Yemenis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're working very closely with the Yemeni government, their security, intelligence and military forces to ensure that that growth of al Qaeda in Yemen can be blocked.
STARR: But that only goes so far. U.S. intelligence is now trying to recruit other spies inside Yemen, especially from tribes in the southern sector where AQAP exerts extensive control. Despite U.S. and Yemeni efforts to attack AQAP with stepped up drone strikes, al Qaeda in Yemen is on the rise since the failed 2009 underwear bomber attack.
JOHNSON: AQAP at that time was about 200 to 300 members, and it controlled no territory in Yemen. Now, today, about two and a half years later, AQAP has more than tripled in strength to over 1,000 members, and it controls a great deal of territory in Southern Yemen. In fact, it controls towns. It's running its own police department.
STARR (on-camera): Defense secretary, Leon Panetta, insists that the U.S. is being successful in attacking AQAP, al Qaeda in Yemen, but many experts will tell you it remains a cat and mouse game for the U.S. to stay one step ahead of them -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting. Fewer than a hundred al Qaeda operatives left in Afghanistan, according to U.S. intelligence, but now, more than 1,000 operating in Yemen. Obviously, a very significant story. Barbara, thanks very, very much.
Jack Cafferty is here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, America's problems are still big. It's most of our leaders who have gotten small. That's a quote from a great piece today on Politico by Roger Simon (ph). He hits the nail on the head describing a Congress which used to do thing, but now specializes in not doing things.
Simon writes Congress today is about making sure nothing gets done, because if something actually gets done, then one party or the other will take credit for it. What a sad state of affairs. Our leaders who used to be able to reach across the aisle will no longer budge and those who are seen as bipartisan, people like Republican senators Dick Lugar, Olympia Snowe, Democratic senators, Jim Webb, Kent Conrad, they're being voted out or they're not bothering to run for office again.
Simon describes Congress as collapsing from its former state of sluggishness to one of paralysis. Even when it comes to issues both sides support like low interest on college loans that can't get it done. According to the "New York Times," this week's Senate vote on student loans was the 21st time that Republicans have successfully filibustered a Democratic bill since January of 2011.
Meantime, our country is drowning in big trouble. From skyrocketing deficits, $15 trillion in debt, high unemployment, ongoing housing crisis, record poverty, food stamp use, but the people that we elect to represent us turn a blind eye to those things that if left unattended will bring us down. No foreign enemy will have to fire a shot. Here's the question. Why won't our leaders focus on the problems that are destroying this country? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
A lot of people would certainly consider a dinner with the actor, George Clooney, to be priceless, but it will be worth a record $15 million to President Obama's re-election campaign effort.
And will Cuba give any ground on releasing an American prisoner who tells me he feels like a hostage? Stand by for my rare interview with a top Cuban official in Havana.
And wait until you see Prince Charles do something he's always wanted to do.
BLITZER: President Obama has a lot to look forward to when he lands in Los Angeles tonight. He is likely to get a hero's welcome for his newly declared support for same-sex marriage. And he has dinner plans with George Clooney along with a bunch of wealthy donors eager to rub elbows with the actor and the president.
CNN's Nischelle Turner is standing by for the record-breaking fundraiser. It's going to be lively out there on the west coast, Nischelle.
NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely, Wolf. It's going to be a really big night, and tonight's has been -- is on track to be the biggest one-time fundraiser ever for a presidential candidate and along with that big money, expect to see some big stars.
TURNER (voice-over): Will Ferrell has hosted him. Will smith has, too. Ditto for Hollywood couple Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith.
ANTONIO BANDERAS, ACTOR: It's exciting, obviously, to have the president of the United States in your house.
TURNER: But no other Hollywood fundraiser for President Obama's re-election has gotten the buzz or pulled in the bucks like the event George Clooney and producer, Jeffrey Katzenberg, are hosting Thursday night. Even Jimmy Kimmel joked about it at the recent White House correspondents' dinner.
JIMMY KIMMEL. HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": I've always dreamed of eating a hot pocket with the president and Batman.
TURNER: In a town with the social calendar of year-round red carpet event, this is the one party everyone in Hollywood is talking about. Why? Well, for one thing, it's being held at George Clooney's home.
MITCHELL SCHWARTZ, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL CONSULTANT: And then I think it makes it more appealing to a lot of people. It's not at some venue that's just not interesting place at a hotel or something. It's at his house. So, I'm sure he -- and he's supposed to be a very gracious and generous host. So, that does add a nice level of comfort and elegance to it.
TURNER: Mitchell Schwartz ran President Obama's 2008 campaign in California. He says you can expect celebrities and Hollywood heavy weights to be among the 150 guests at this exclusive event.
(on-camera) So, I'm just yards away from George Clooney's house, and as you can see by these party rental trucks here, they are getting ready for the fundraiser on Thursday. Now, we are in the studio city area of Los Angeles, and George has lived here for nearly 20 years. Here's a little Hollywood history for you.
He reportedly bought his house from Stevie Nicks. Now, the media is not invited to this event. So, it looks like this is just about as close as I'm going to get to having dinner with George Clooney and President Obama.
(voice-over) Capitalizing on all the Clooney fans out there, the Obama re-election campaign held a raffle for a suggested $3 donation, a supporter could buy a chance to win a trip to the event. Proceeds from the raffle, combined with the $40,000 each invited guest is putting up, are set to bring in an estimated $15 million. So, what do you get for $40,000?
SCHWARTZ: But every penny that they spend is less money for the campaign, and that's how the campaign people look at it. They look at it very coldly and efficiently. So, yes, the people will have -- they're not going to be drinking swell, but it's not going to be as nice as you would think for a $40,000 a head event.
TURNER: Perhaps, the party won't be as glamorous as one might imagine, but with Clooney as your host, who cares what you eat?
TURNER (on-camera): All right. Maybe the glam factor will be in effect tonight at George Clooney's house, and reportedly, celebrity chef, Wolfgang Puck, will be doing the cooking at the party tonight. So, the president and all the guests, Wolf, will actually be eating quite well.
BLITZER: Yes. Wolfgang Puck's doing the cooking. The food, I know this from personal experience, will be delicious. All right, Nischelle, thanks so much.
BLITZER: We'll be watching what's going on.
Meanwhile, a hot red Ferrari leaves an embarrassing and very damaging mark on history. Just ahead, the daring moves that have one country in an uproar.
And they're supposed to help the environment, but those reusable bags you take to the grocery store actually could make you sick. We have details of a disturbing new report.
BLITZER: Russian authorities say they foiled a plot to attack the 2014 winter Olympic Games. Mary Snow is monitoring that story, also some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, according to state media authorities arrested three men in connection with the plot and seized weapons including surface-to-air missiles, a mortar, and a flame thrower.
The men are suspected ring leaders of Cheche group on the U.S. state department's list of foreign terrorists. There is a $5 million reward for information leading to its leader's arrest.
A speeding Ferrari has severely damaged an ancient Chinese site dating back more than 600 years smearing it with black tread marks but clears haven't been able to remove. It happened right before a scheduled publicity event for the Italian car giant. Ferrari issued a statement expressing deep regret for the incident and calling it, quote, "unacceptable."
They may be helping the environment, but those reusable bags you take to the grocery store could also make you sick. The Journal of Infectious Diseases reveals a norovirus outbreak was traced to one of them back in 2010. It spread among members of an Oregon girls soccer team who all ate cookies from the same bag. Health officials recommend keeping the bags clean and disinfected.
And finally, we're learning some juicy new details about Queen Elizabeth from a new biography. According to "The Daily Beast," author, Robert Lacy (ph) writes in the book the queen that Prince Philip's pet name for his wife is get this, Cabbage. Elizabeth, apparently, made a pact with former British prime minister, Toby Blair, never to see the famous movie "The Queen."
And in case there was any doubt, the queen does, in fact, know her Spice Girls. The book is due out next week -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm sure a lot of people want to read that book. Thanks very much for that, Mary.
An American jailed in Cuba tells me he now feels like a hostage. We're following up on my exclusive interview with Alan Gross (ph) who's desperate to be reunited with his family.
Also, the Castro and Obama governments, they are sparring over Gross' fate. I'll press a top Cuban official to tell us what it would take to let this American go home free.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have my hands in many hives. I help run the New York City Beekeepers Association. I help run bees without borders.
I am a paid consultant to restaurants and hotels. I have my own private hives from which I extract and bottle honey, and sell at Union Square. You need to kiss a beekeeper. That's what you need to do. I sleep from time to time. My name is Andrew Cote (ph), and I'm a beekeeper.
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BLITZER: Some information here in the SITUATION ROOM. A disturbing incident involving a U.S. airways flight in Boston's Logan Airport. Lizzie O'Leary is getting the information. What are you picking up?
LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know this flight did land safely. That's the first thing we want to tell our viewers. We're talking about a U.S. Airways Express flight operated by Air Wisconsin, some 50 people on board, a passenger became unruly on the plane, tried to open a cabin door or a cargo door on the airplane.
He's now in custody by mass state police troopers. They are telling us they don't exactly know what's going on. He is in custody. They took him off of the plane. The plane landed safely at around 4:37 this afternoon. It was going from Philadelphia to Portland, Maine.
We don't know why this person became unruly, but obviously, Wolf, as you know, any time this happens on the plane nowadays, they turn around, they come back, they land as quickly as possible.
BLITZER: Which is smart.
BLITZER: They got to do. That's the standard operating procedure in the situation like this. Lizzie, thanks very much.
The Cuban government is urging U.S. officials to sit down and talk about the fate of the jailed American Alan Gross (ph) who tells me he feels as though he's being held hostage in Cuba. Stand by for my exclusive, very rare interview with a top Cuban foreign ministry official in Havana. She spoke with me from Havana, but first, some background.
BLITZER (voice-over): An international negotiation is seemingly playing out on CNN. It started Friday when Alan Gross (ph), an American imprisoned in Cuba for the last two and a half years called into the SITUATION ROOM.
ALAN GROSS, IMPRISONED IN CUBA: I'm in Carlos Finlay Military Hospital. It's a secured facility.
BLITZER: During my 25-minute interview with Gross, we touched on several topics, including his health.
GROSS: I lost about 100 pound, and I exercise as much as I can. My hip is starting to give me a little bit of a problem.
BLITZER: The Maryland contractor who's now serving a 15-year prison sentence says he was in Cuba in the lengthy island's tiny Jewish community to the internet as part of the U.S.-funded aid program. The Cuban government disagreed, charging Gross with smuggling an illegal equipment and being a threat to the security and independence of the state.
GROSS: It was laughable, and if I weren't in this situation, I would be laughing about it, because I'm about as much of a threat to the security in the state as the chair that I'm sitting on right now.
BLITZER: Gross is now pleading with the Castro regime to let him fly to the United States and see his cancer-stricken 90-year-old mother. The government hasn't officially responded to his request. Instead --
GROSS: They offered to send a plane to Miami to bring her here. My mother does not live in Miami. My mother lives in Texas. She's not allowed to travel. That's baloney. I -- I'm trying to catch myself so I don't use a stronger word.
BLITZER: Shortly after that interview, the Cuban representative in Washington, Jorge Bolanos (ph), sent CNN a letter refuting some of Gross' claims saying, quote, "Gross is in good, physical conditions. He receives specialized medical care, balanced meals, regular consular access, visits by friends, and political and religious personalities."
He added, "Mr. Gross violated Cuban laws by implementing a U.S. government program aimed at attempting against Cuba's constitutional order. He is not an activist who came to Cuba to assist the Cuban people. He is a professional paid for by the U.S. government."
Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, fired back in an interview with CNN.
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Mr. Gross was not a spy. Mr. Gross was not an intelligence agent. Mr. Gross worked for a development group that was helping Cubans, principally, in their small Jewish community in Cuba to have access to the internet. and Mr. Gross, in our view, is being held without justification and has been detained already far too long.
BLITZER: The letter I received from the top Cuban diplomat here in Washington, Jorge Bolanos (ph) clearly suggested to me that the Castro government is interested in a prisoner swap exchanging Alan Gross for members of the so-called "Cuban five". They're serving lengthy prison sentences in the United States after being convicted on spy charges. I've been reaching out to both Cuban and U.S. officials to try to clarify their positions and to also try to keep the lines of communication open.
And Josefina Vidal is joining us now from Havana. She's the head of North American Affairs for the Cuban Foreign Ministry. Are you prepared to tell us what you want in exchange for the release of Alan Gross?
JOSEFINA VIDAL, CUBAN FOREIGN MINISTRY OFFICIAL: Wolf, thank you for having me in your program. We have conveyed to the U.S. government our willingness to have a dialogue to try to solve all our problems and to normalize relations between our two countries. In this specific case we have made clear to the U.S. government as you said that we are ready to have a negotiation in order to try to find a solution, a humanitarian solution to Mr. Gross' case on a reciprocal basis.
I am not -- we are not advancing any specific formula. It has to be discussed with the U.S. government because the U.S. government has a direct responsibility on the situation for the situation of Mr. Alan Gross, but again, we have been waiting for a response on the side of the U.S. government on this specific matter.
BLITZER: So there are no active discussions or negotiations underway right now between the Cuban government and the U.S. government to try to free Alan Gross?
VIDAL: We have conveyed to the U.S. side that we are ready to sit down to talk and to have a negotiation on this matter, and as I mentioned already to you, we have been waiting for a response. We are ready to do that.
BLITZER: Is there, from your perspective, is there a linkage between the release of Alan Gross and the release of what's called the "Cuban five"?
VIDAL: Again, we are not advancing a specific solution, a specific formula. It has to be discussed among us, but definitely Cuba has legitimate concerns, humanitarian concerns related to the situation of the "Cuban five".
BLITZER: What do you say in response to what the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told CNN?
VIDAL: You know Mr. Gross was not working in Cuba as a volunteer, aid worker. He was detained in Cuba because of conducting a well-financed program by the U.S. government aimed at provoking changes in Cuba, attempting against Cuba's constitutional order. So Mr. Gross when he was retained was a professional under a contract by the U.S. government fulfilling this, trying to implement this program financed by the -- by some U.S. agencies.
BLITZER: What --
VIDAL: But he was -- he was, of course, in violation --
BLITZER: What evidence do you have that he was doing that?
VIDAL: He was convicted for violating Cuban laws, attempting against Cuba's constitutional order is not just a crime in Cuba. It is also a crime in the United States and in many other countries and this is the reason why he was convicted because of attempting against our independence, our constitutional order.
BLITZER: Mr. Gross told me that when he brought all of the equipment in the people at the airport, the authorities saw the equipment and they said you have to pay duty on it, 100 percent. He didn't want to pay 100 percent so they just said pay $100 and you can bring the equipment in, but they inspected all of those cell phones and all of the satellite phones, whatever he was bringing in and allowed him to bring it into the country. As a result, he says he doesn't understand why he was arrested.
VIDAL: It has been written in some media reports Mr. Gross misled U.S.-Cuban authorities about the kind of equipment he was introducing into the country without the proper authorities and he also misled members of the Cuban- Jewish community about the purposes of his trip to Cuba and what he was doing in Cuba.
BLITZER: Alan Gross says his 90-year-old mother is dying from cancer in Texas right now. She can't travel. She can't get on an airplane. He would like to spend two weeks and he promises he would come back to Cuba if you let him say good-bye, in effect to his mother. What's wrong with that?
VIDAL: In the case of Mr. Alan Gross he has started to serve his prison terms three years ago, and the conditions under which he is now do not allow him to go outside of Cuba.
BLITZER: Even for humanitarian reasons to visit his 90-year-old mother who has cancer and is dying? Are you open at all to letting him say good-bye to her?
VIDAL: In the case of Mr. Gross, we have guaranteed for him a good treatment as he himself told you. He's in good shape. He receives specialized medical treatment, balanced meals. He receives visits, regular consular access and visits by friends, by religious and political leaders from the U.S. and other countries and we have facilitated for their families and friends all the visits they have requested so far.
BLITZER: I also asked Josefina Vidal about other issues involving U.S.-Cuba relations. I told her what I'm hearing from my U.S. sources about what Cuba could do to improve the relationship. Stand by for part two of this exclusive interview and look, look who is reading the weather forecast.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The rain, of course, will be heaviest over the borders and around Edinboro (ph) where it could lead to difficult conditions on the roads.
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BLITZER: The case of the jailed American, Alan Gross, is a new thorn between the United States and Cuba after a half a century of tensions. I spoke about the prospects of improved U.S.-Cuban relations with Josefina Vidal, the head of North American Affairs for the Cuban Foreign Ministry.
BLITZER: What do you think of President Obama and his efforts over these past three and a half years to reach out to try to improve relations between the United States and Cuba?
VIDAL: This is our position, I mean, for many years the Cuban government has been conveying to the U.S. side our willingness to have a comprehensive, political dialogue with the United States to solve all our historical problems and to move on in order to have a productive, beneficial relationship for the benefit of our both people, and this is our position. We have related (ph) that to the U.S. government and we are continuing -- are willing to have the possibility to see that future for our two countries.
BLITZER: Is there any dialogue under way right now between your government and the Obama administration?
VIDAL: We have had talks in the last two or three years. As soon as the new president, President Obama took office, some level of official dialogue that suffered a lot during the previous administration that was established and we have had our biannual migration talks and we have talked -- we have conveyed in those meetings the position I just described to you about Cuba's willingness to -- for the best of our two countries, to find a civilized -- civilized (INAUDIBLE) with the United States.
BLITZER: Are you hopeful? Are you optimistic that the relationship will improve over these next few months?
VIDAL: We are always hopeful. We have been waiting for that moment for more than 50 years, but we are still strong believers that the future is possible for the good and the benefit of the U.S., of Cuba, of our both mutual national interests and for our people.
BLITZER: Based on my conversations with very high U.S. officials, Ms. Vidal, I can tell you that if you were to make a gesture and release Alan Gross, he served already two and a half years that would go a long way in setting the stage for an improved U.S.- Cuban relationship.
VIDAL: In that regard I have to be honest with you, Wolf, and tell you that we see this statement as a new pretext by the U.S. side in order to -- not to move on, on our bilateral relationships. We have seen all over our history that any time one pretext disappears, there is another one ready at hand in order to try to justify not to normalize the relations with Cuba.
BLITZER: It sounds like a relatively easy situation for you, test the United States, send Alan Gross home and see what happens. If there's no improvement, what have you lost?
VIDAL: As I mentioned to you in the beginning of our interview, this is something that Cuba cannot do unilaterally, because there is a responsibility by the United States government for the situation of Mr. Alan Gross, so this is a topic, this is a matter, an issue that has to be discussed directly between Cuba and the United States in order to look for a solution.
BLITZER: And you're saying the U.S. is not ready to discuss Alan Gross' situation with Cuba? Is that what you're saying?
VIDAL: We have been waiting for a response and a reaction by the United States government to what we have conveyed about our willingness to sit down, to have a conversation and to initiate a negotiation on that matter.
BLITZER: We will continue this conversation, Josefina Vidal. Thank you so much for joining us and we will continue to talk. We'll stay in close touch.
VIDAL: It is my pleasure, Wolf. Thank you.
BLITZER: And we've received State Department reaction to my interview with Josefina Vidal. Let me read the statement that they gave us. "We reject the suggestion that this is a matter for negotiation. Alan Gross is unjustifiably imprisoned and his case is not related to the 'Cuban five'. Josefina Vidal's statements only seem to reinforce Alan Gross' view that he is a hostage of the Cuban regime."
The statement goes on. "The continuing imprisonment of Alan Gross is deplorable, it is wrong, and it is a violation of human decency as well as human rights. We raise this issue with the Cuban government at every possible opportunity. We call on people around the world to raise this issue with the Cuban government because Mr. Gross deserves to come home."
The U.S. statement adds "we will continue to use every appropriate channel to press the Cuban government for Mr. Gross' release so he can return to his family where he belongs. To date, the government of Cuba has presented no realistic proposal for Alan Gross' release", that statement coming in from the State Department. By the way, the full interview with Josefina Vidal we posted on our website, CNN.com/TheSituationRoom.
All right, new this just coming in as well, reports of tension between President Obama and Vice President Biden regarding the same- sex marriage issue. Now there's new information on how the vice president has reacted. Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin. Jessica, what's going on?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well we just have learned that the vice president went into the president's Oval Office yesterday morning before the president's interview with "ABC News" and apologized for putting him in a tough position on this issue this week and the president responded by saying effectively that he knows that the vice president is speaking from the heart.
Separately, the vice president's spokeswoman has put out a statement saying that "the president -- this is a quote -- has been a leader on this issue from day one and the vice president never intended to distract from that", so clearly the vice president's office taking the high road on this one. A bit of a sideshow from the bigger story which is the fact that this is the first White House to come out on this issue and as we've discussed, does not seem like this will be any kind of lasting rift between these two men -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I suspect it won't be at all. All right thanks very, very much Jessica.
All right look at this. It might look like a jungle, but it's actually someone's basement, basement filled with more than a half a million dollars worth of pot. Up next details on a major bust that went down just outside Washington.
BLITZER: The prosecution rest in the corruption trial of former presidential candidate, John Edwards. Mary Snow is monitoring that, also some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. Mary, what do you have?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, prosecutors wrapped the case without calling Edwards' mistress, Rielle Hunter to the stand. Instead they focused on hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses she allegedly concealed during his failed presidential run. The prosecution alleges Edwards used campaign funds to hide Hunter and the child he fathered with her. He maintains his innocence. If convicted, Edwards could face up to three -- up to 30 years, that is, behind bars.
The wreckage of a Russian passenger plane that went missing over Indonesia has been spotted on the side of a volcano south of Jakarta, but officials have yet to find any survivors. The plane was on a demonstration flight when it disappeared off radar screens yesterday. More than 40 people were on board. The cause of the crash is unclear.
Here in the U.S., take a look at this, check it out. It may look like a jungle, but it is actually a basement reportedly filled with more than 100 pounds of marijuana worth more than a half million dollars. Now according to our affiliate, WUSA, detectives confiscated the plants from a Maryland home. A suspect has been arrested in connection with what police are calling a substantial marijuana growing operation.
And more huge losses for the U.S. Postal Service, which is reporting a staggering $3.2 billion loss for its second fiscal quarter ending March 31st, now it's using this announcement to push its plan to cut Saturday service and consolidate postal processing plants to stem the bleeding. The Postal Service says if Congress doesn't step in to help, it could be out of cash by October -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, thanks Mary. Thanks very much. Let's get back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Just another example of nothing being done about a problem that's sitting right in front of those people in Washington. It has been there for a couple of years now and they do nothing.
That's the question. Why won't our leaders focus on the problems that are destroying this country?
Wilene writes from Texas, "they don't want to hear people's complaints when they start taking away benefits, Saturday mail delivery."
George in Italy, "the current leaders of America can't focus on ongoing destructive problems because these issues appear much too difficult for them to solve. All attempts in the last 15 years have failed. Innovative ideas are lacking and there are no charismatic leaders, plus the brain matter needed is absent."
Devon writes, "Why do you think Ron Paul supporters are so determined and passionate because through Dr. Paul they have learned what the real problems are and see the gravity of the situation and the futility of voting for the current presidential frontrunners."
Randy writes, "That is too easy. The rich and the corporations just love the status quo."
Josh in New Orleans writes, "Our leaders do represent the American people. We are greedy, self-centered and looking out for our own self-interest. Our leaders in Washington view compromise as a sign of weakness."
Mark writes, "nothing is going to change, left or right, liberal or Democrat, Republican or -- liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat until we have term limits in Congress. Why does the presidency have a term limit but Congress doesn't?"
And Kristen writes from Olympia, Washington, "they can't focus on the problems that are destroying this country. They are so wrapped up in partisan politics and getting reelected that focusing on real problems would be political suicide."
If you want to read more about this depressing stuff, go to the blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page. See you Monday. BLITZER: See you Monday, Jack. Thanks very, very much. Prince Charles takes a break from his day job to do the weather. Look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the west, rain will be lighter and patchy. There will -- may be a few (INAUDIBLE). Aha, there will be snow for the higher ground and the highlands (INAUDIBLE), the potential for a few flurries over Balmoral (ph) -- who the hell wrote this script -- as the afternoon goes on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hotshots". In South Korea, marine engineers display robots built for deep sea exploration. In Greece, the Olympic flame is lit signaling the final countdown to the Summer Games. In India, a boy sells coconuts on the roadside and in Russia, a gymnast competes on a vault (ph) during a European artistic's gymnastics championships -- "Hotshots", pictures coming in from around the world.
If Prince Charles ever decides to quit his day job, he could have a future in the weather business. He tried his hand as a weather man today and gave the forecast a royal touch. Here is CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was anything but low pressure when the anchor tossed to the weatherman by saying, "Your Highness".
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it is an unsettled picture as we head towards the end of the week --
MOOS: The weather got the royal treatment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cold, wet, and windy across most of Scotland.
MOOS: As Prince Charles delivered the lunch forecast during a tour of BBC Scotland. Instead of someone holding the umbrella for the royals, the prince was holding a button to control the weather map.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just press it once.
MOOS: The princely meteorologist read smoothly off a teleprompter with the occasional ad lib.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aha --
MOOS: As he read he realized places where the conditions were highlighted were ones frequented by the royals. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The potential for a few flurries over Balmoral (ph) -- who the hell wrote this script -- as the afternoon goes on.
MOOS: At least the prince knows a high from a low.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is "h" for hot or humid? It's both.
MOOS: And the prince didn't knock over any cold fronts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does that mean --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did that mean?
MOOS: As late comedian Paul Lynde (ph) did when he filled in at a Toledo, Ohio station back in the late '70s.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twenty-six percent centigrade, 79 Fahrenheit, 41 percent chance of twisters.
MOOS: Nor did Prince Charles adjust his bosom --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my god --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's all right.
MOOS: -- as Snooki did when she subbed --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some light snow with p.m. flurries --
MOOS: -- at a New York City station. And at least the prince knew not to wear green.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is the one color that we can't wear -- oh there we go -- see.
MOOS: The color wreaks havoc with green screen technology.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
MOOS: When Ellen barged into a Chicago newscast, she was sort of a miming meteorologist.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at this area of low pressure that's behind Ellen. She is cloaking it very well --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) low pressure (INAUDIBLE).
MOOS: Triumph, the weather dog, resorted to his usual insults.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The clouds are coming into the sky, oh poor, Hawaii, (INAUDIBLE) cloud or two. Screw you Hawaii.
MOOS: And these two Playboy bunnies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's see that tail --
MOOS: Tried to pin a tail on the regular weatherman.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have already helped me more than you know.
MOOS: But how do you expect English-speaking Tom Hanks to do the weather at Spanish speaking Univision?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
MOOS: They are rising and falling faster than the barometer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over there (INAUDIBLE).
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aha.
MOOS: New York.
BLITZER: Very good weather men, thanks Jeanne. And thanks for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.