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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Obama Supports Same-Sex Marriage; Violence Continues in Syria; Cuba-U.S. Dust-Up Over Jailed American; "Fifty Shades of Sex"; Royal Weatherman
Aired May 12, 2012 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
Barack Obama became the first U.S. president in history to support same-sex marriage sooner than he planned. This hour, the back story on his announcement, and how vice president Joe Biden forced his hand.
What would it take for Cuba to release the jailed American Alan gross? Stand by for my exclusive interview with a top Cuban official.
And, an international tag of war is playing out right here in the SITUATION ROOM.
And the book that's lighting the fire in millions of women. We'll explore "50 shades of gray" and the so-called mommy porn phenomena.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
The historic headline from the White House this week, the president of the United States endorses same-sex marriage. But the story behind the headlines may be just as dramatic and it culminated with vice president Joe Biden apologizing to President Obama for forcing his hand on this hot button issue, a sore subject among some White House insiders.
Our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin has been working the story for us. Jessica is here on the SITUATION ROOM.
Tell our viewers what you are hearing right now.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I understand the vice president apologized to the president for putting him in a tough position on this situation. And as I'm told, the president gave essentially an understanding reply saying he knows that the vice president was speaking from the heart.
The vice president's office also issued a statement saying it was the president who has been the leader on this issue from day one and the vice president never intended to distract from that.
YELLIN (voice-over): President Obama says he was planning to say this sometime before the democratic convention. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.
YELLIN: But vice president Biden forced up the timing with his unscripted remarks on "Meet the Press" or as the president put it --
OBAMA: He probably got out a little bit over his skis but out of generosity of spirit. Would I have preferred to have done this in my own way, in my own terms without I think there being a lot of notice to everybody? Sure. But all's well that ends well.
YELLIN: Some of the president's aides are not as for giving. Senior officials say they're frustrated, annoyed the vice president got out ahead of the president's policy and possible plans for a roll-out. This is hardly the first time Biden's gone off script. Remember this?
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a big (bleep) deal.
YELLIN: Or, when the administration was trying to advise the public about the swine flu outbreak.
BIDEN: Put you on a confined aircraft when one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft. That's me. I would not be at this point, if I have another way of transportation, suggesting I ride the subway.
YELLIN: Adding to the frustrations, some officials here say the vice president had previously counseled the president against speaking out in favor of same-sex marriage because of potential political risks. But officials say the president has a close personal relationship with Biden which will trump his advisers' frustration.
And they add the president knows sharing the building with Biden comes with risks and rewards, as the president has acknowledged.
OBAMA: He's warmed. He's cuddly, loyal, enthusiastic. You just have to keep him on a tight leash. Every once in a while he goes off in the wrong direction and gets himself in trouble, but enough about Joe Biden.
YELLIN: And, the vice president and the president appeared together for the first time this morning at a White House event. And if you need further prove that the vice president is not in the dog house so to speak, Wolf, Biden is going to Ohio this week on a campaign swing. That's a critical state for the president.
But, we will be watching his words closely.
BLITZER: They are going to be watching everything very closely. But, they do have a good relationship. I think there is no doubt about that.
YELLIN: Yes, very close relationship, the two men.
BLITZER: They work closely together, even though occasionally Joe Biden seems to get ahead of the president.
YELLIN: He's and he's great person to reach out to middle class voters, blue collar voters, catholic voters, et cetera.
BLITZER: Jessica, thanks very much. Jessica Yellin, reporting for us.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate found himself bombarded with questions about same-sex marriage in the wake of the president's announcement.
Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is here in the SITUATION ROOM as well. What is the Republican candidate saying specifically?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, after a week dominated by the president's reversal on same-sex marriage, Wolf, Mitt Romney is studiously staying away from the issue. That could be because the subject is not a potent political winner for Republicans as it once was.
ACOSTA (voice-over): In his public comment on the president's new found support for same-sex marriage, Mitt Romney seemed reluctant to pounce on the issue.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a very tender and sensitive topic, as are many social issues.
ACOSTA: In an interview with a Denver TV station, Romney got testy with a reporter who pressed him on same-sex marriage, among other issues.
ROMNEY: Aren't there issues of significance you'd like to talk, about the economy, the growth of jobs.
ACOSTA: That may be because it's not 2004 anymore. Many pundits say John Kerrey lost the presidency in the state of Ohio where same-sex marriage amendment through scores on Christian conservatives to the polls ending George W. Bush a second term.
Ohio put its amendment on the ballot after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, ironically when Romney was governor.
But attitudes have changed. Back then 55 percent of Americans said same-sex marriage should not be legal the public is more split today while President Obama's comments may cost him support among independents. ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: He is going to lose, I think, a few Reagan Democrats in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and North Carolina working class white males.
ACOSTA: But consider how quickly House Speaker John Boehner changed the subject back to the economy, 14 seconds.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. And the president, the Democrats can talk about all this all they want. Well, the fact is, the American people are focused on our economy, and they are asking a question, where are the jobs?
ACOSTA: Both campaigns appear ready to move on. The Obama campaign has put out a rash of new ads that focus on the economy. Meanwhile the Romney campaign is talking up Mrs. Romney, who got an op-ed out in the "USA Today." It was on the virtues of motherhood, Wolf, just in time for mother's day.
BLITZER: Important stuff. She's going to be a huge asset over the next six months for the Republican candidate. And all this bullying stuff he supposedly did 50 years ago while he was in high school, how is the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, handle it?
ACOSTA: Well, right now they're not saying a whole lot about it. I mean, I should know. He's done some interviews where he says he doesn't recall this incident. But, I have to tell you, Wolf. I talked to one of the former classmates identified in the "Washington Post" article, had a long conversation with Phillip Maxwell, this former classmate. He tells me he is still haunted by this incident. He wishes he had stopped the incident from happening. He said he did not do that.
But, when he describes to me in a conversation that we have, he can only be scribed as a bullying incident. He called it an assault and he said the fact that Mitt Romney does not recall this means he's basically not owning up to something.
He said he's disappointed from that, Wolf. The Romney campaign put out statements from other former classmates from Romney's days and that's who say no, Mitt Romney was not that kind of person. He might have cloud around but he was not a malicious person.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. I'm sure that story will continue to percolate.
Democratic strategist and CNN contributor James Carville doesn't likely seeing right now in this overall campaign. I spoke about the state of the race with him and he's sending a very blunt warning to his own Democratic Party and to the White House.
BLITZER: James Carville is joining us now from our New York bureau. James, a powerful piece you wrote on CNN.com including these words. WTFU, translated -- wake the you know what up. There is an earthquake. What are you smoking? What are you drinking? What are you snorting or just what in the hell are you thinking?
All right, James. What the hell are you thinking? What's going on here?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What's going on here is I go around the country and I talk to democratic donors, talk to supporters and even some Democratic office holders and there's this sense we're going to win the next election.
And you look at what's happening to incumbents around the world and my question to these people, what are you thinking? I hope we will. I think we have a very good chance to win the next election. But man, we're going to have to run a picture perfect campaign. We are going to do everything right. We are going get the opposition on the defensive. We are going to have to raise a bucket load of money. And I don't see Democrats out there as nervous as they should be about this, and they way, way too comfortable with their position right now which is not very good.
BLITZER: You include the DNC leadership, the Obama-Biden campaign, the White House, who is asleep right now?
CARVILLE: Well, I mean. Look. It wasn't really directed at the White House or something like that. I think that we got to prepare for one of the hardest campaigns that we're ever going to be involved in here. And, you know, it just across the board to the whole party. We got to buckle up here.
What incumbents are standing offish here? And, you know, we have to go here early and often. And that you know, some of our so-called super PAC guys. They need to be raising more money. We need to have, you know, a better coordinated attack out there. There are a lot of things we need to be doing here and gearing up here. And I don't get the sense people really feel like it's time to get out now and it is.
BLITZER: Why is it that Karl Rove's pro-Republican super PAC is raising tens of millions of dollars and the pro democratic super PAC is having a tough time raising any at all?
CARVILLE: Well, to be fair. The pollution industry is supporting Mr. Rove's things. And there are more piece of money but, you know, about polluting things and again, by stopping people. They have an enormous financial stake in this.
But, a lot of this -- it's not just the Democratic super PAC. But, it's all across the board. There's this sense of sort of comfort that we're going to have a good year in 2012.
We may and I hope we do. I'm certainly not going to suggest that can't happen. But right now, I don't see, you know, we're like tied into polls when incumbent, you know. And I think part of me too is people look at Romney and I, as I point out, I think he's not a bad - he is the worst ever. He is the worst candidate I ever seen. And I think people just assume that Romney can't get any better, and I think that's a dangerous assumption to me.
BLITZER: You wrote an article on cnn.com back in September of last year. Among other things you said, what should the White House do now? One word came to mind -- panic.
And you also went on to suggest, start firing people. Did they heed your advice?
CARVILLE: Well, if they indicted some bus, did far indict to fight, that they did the same to fight a little bit harder, they indicted somebody in the financial services thing. You know, I think that -- if it's me, I'm a different personality. I will be on fire right now. I'd be screaming at people, I'd be trying to, you know, to motivate. You know, I wouldn't be as comfortable. And I think that they got to send a signal that they've gotten back the jobs that Bush lost but that's where we are.
People are not satisfied in the sense that there's a lot more to do. I would probably try to convey that. But, you know, it's -- that's the way that they are sort of doing it and, you know, they've been pretty successful so far. Sure hope they're successful in November. But I think that people's lives are really sort of hurting out here. And we have to tag Romney really hard. I'm ready to get started here.
BLITZER: Mincing no words, James Carville, thanks very much.
CARVILLE: You bet.
BLITZER: Escalating violence in Syria with a single deadliest attack yet in that nation's capital. And a secret agent with strong western ties, how a plot to bring down a U.S. bound airplane was stopped?
Plus, an American jailed in Cuba. I'm talking to all size to a line of communication open. You can only see the dispute here in the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: A week of deadly violence in Syria, including a massive car bomb in the capital, Damascus.
CNN's Arwa Damon is following all the developments for us from Beirut.
Arwa, it looks like we're heading into a new chapter in Syria right now. The level of violence, if you can believe it, is going from bad to so much worse.
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It most certainly is, Wolf. And it's not just the level of the violence. It's the nature of the violence. We have essentially begun to move from seeing the type of violence that would involve Syrian security forces opening fire on demonstrators or that would involve regime forces fighting against those in the oppositions, to free Syrian army to an increase in al Qaeda-style bombings that really began back in December. And that since then, especially over the last few weeks, there have been a significant number of explosions in Damascus and in Syria's second largest city, Aleppo, that do most bear the hall marks of groups like al Qaeda.
Now, up until now, there's only been one organization so far that's claimed responsibility for them, and that is the group that's called (INAUDIBLE) front that is very much home grown but is calling for Jihad against the Syrian regime, violent Jihad. And then, of course, you have that horrifying attack that took place in Damascus on Thursday where you had more than a ton of explosives detonated by two suicide bombers that resulted in the single largest deadliest attack to take place in the capital since this uprising began.
BLITZER: Fifty five people dead, 400 injured and it looks like more of that is on the way. Does it look like that United Nations observer mission inside Syria is accomplishing anything?
DAMON: I mean, look, Wolf, if it comes to asking whether or not they're accomplishing anything in terms of actually be able to force both sides to adhere to a cease-fire, the answer is most obviously no.
Now, their mission is supposed to be monitoring the ceasefire and trying to enforce it. So, in that sense yes, they have failed to that degree because if anything, we're not seeing compliance by either side, especially not the government side. Because we continue to hear reports of unarmed demonstrators being shot out of Syrian tanks, heavy armor still inside cities and towns.
The issue now is if Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan is declared dead in the water, what is the alternative? And that is what is incredibly, incredibly chilling at this point because there is no plan b.
BLITZER: What a situation. All right, Arwa. We'll stay in close touch. Thank you very much.
We also have new information coming into the SITUATION ROOM about the mole who penetrated the most dangerous branch of al Qaeda and snatched a sophisticated bomb.
Plus, 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.
BLITZER: We now know Saudi Arabia played an enormous role in the secret operation that thwarted an al Qaeda airline bomb plot. Sources tell CNN the mole who penetrated terrorist forces in Yemen was under the control of Saudi intelligence from day one.
Our Brian Todd has uncovered new details about the informant who snatch al-Qaeda's newest weapon.
What are you finding out, Brian? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've been in contact with a researcher and analyst in the Middle East who was 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 new bomb out of Yemen before it could blow up a U.S.-bound passenger jet. The informant has strong western ties.
MUSTAFA ALANI, GULF RESEARCH CENTER: My information basically indicates that he's a British citizen with a genuine British passport. So basically he isn't Arab origin or Middle Eastern origin but holder of a British passport. This is the reason actually, one of the major reason why they recruited him.
TODD: Mustafa Alani is with the Gulf research center. He has been briefed by Saudi counterterrorism officials on the plot.
Alani says the operatives had previously moved in Hijadi's circles. He says that heads 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.
Alani says after the mole was sent into Yemen by Saudi counterterrorism officials to pose 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 will to evacuate from Yemen.
ALANI: The person who made contact him needs to evacuated as well as because he's the link between the person and intelligence service.
TODD: He said 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 standing 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 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, dual detonators to set it off? How would that work? TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Well, there are number of possibilities. There would be one detonator could be literarily a box of matches, another detonator could be a liquid chemical that would served as accelerant, put in a syringe or a baby bottle or something and inject it to the chemical to cause ignition.
TODD: According to Mustafa Alani, the device contained PETF, a white powder explosive, tough to detect with body scanning machines. This device was apparently smaller than those hidden in the printers. But Alani sources say it contain 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: Now, as we know the Christmas day bomber failed to ignite his device. Experts say the detonation charge failed to set off the PETN explosive in that 2009 attacker's own perspiration neutralized key chemicals. Those are factors which the bomb maker in this latest plot very likely try to eliminate it. Apparently he might have eliminated those factors, Wolf.
That is of course, a Syrian, the bomb maker, or al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
BLITZER: Now. As far as the informant, the mole if you will, the double agent, any indication he may be in danger or his family?
TODD: According to Mustafa Alani, his sources are telling him that the guy's family is secure. They won't go any more detail than that. And they say he is out of the Middle East somewhere being protected. But they shell him into a place, but he is no longer in the region.
BLITZER: I'm sure he's being thorough lee debriefed as well. Thanks very much, Brian.
An American jailed in Cuba says he feels like a hostage. We are following up on my exclusive interview with Allan Gross. He's desperate to be reunited with this family. I'll press a top Cuban official about Gross's fate.
And what can Cuba do to improve relations with the Obama administration?
Plus, the book that's turning on millions of American women, some of it calling it "50 shade of sex."
BLITZER: The Cuban government is urging U.S. officials to sit down and talk about the fate of a jailed American, Alan Gross, who tells me he feels as though he's being held hostage. Stand by for my exclusive, very rare interview with a top Cuban ministry official who spoke with me from Havana.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) (voice-over): An international negotiation is seemingly playing out on CNN. It started Friday, when Alan Gross, an American imprisoned in Cuba for the last two-and-a-half years, called in to the CNN SITUATION ROOM.
ALAN GROSS, AMERICAN IMPRISONED IN CUBA (via telephone): 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 pounds. 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 to link the island's tiny Jewish community to the Internet as part of a U.S.-funded aid program. The Cuban government disagreed, charging Gross with smuggling in 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 my -- 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'm -- 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, sent CNN a letter refuting some of Gross's 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 Cuban diplomat here in Washington, Jorge Bolanos, 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 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's 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 under way 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 detained, 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 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: As 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 started to serve his prison term three years ago, and the conditions under -- 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 Cuba. And I told her what I'm hearing from my U.S. sources about what Cuba could do to improve relations. Stand by for the rest of my exclusive interview.
And look who's reading the weather forecast. Look at this!
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRINCE CHARLES: The rain, of course, will be heaviest over the borders and around Edinburgh, where it could lead to difficult conditions on the roads.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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 for 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 peoples, and this is our position.
We have reiterated (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 was reestablished. 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 modus vivendi 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 this 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's 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 relationship. 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's 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 -- 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: So here's part of the State Department's reaction to my interview with Josefina Vidal. I'll put it up on the screen.
"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's view that he is a hostage of the Cuban regime."
We'll continue to stay on top of the story.
It's the book captivating millions of women around the country, "Fifty Shades of Grey," or as some are calling it, "Fifty Shades of Sex."
Plus, look who's reading the weather forecast, Prince Charles. Jeanne Moos is coming up, as well.
BLITZER: It's the book that's captivating millions of women around the United States, introducing them to "Fifty Shades of Grey," or as some are calling it, "Fifty Shades of Sex." Here's CNN's Richard Roth.
PATRICIA MOLINA, READER/WRITER: Are you hungry?
RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Molinas are always hungry now -- not for food -- thanks to the book you may have heard of, "Fifty Shades of Grey."
P. MOLINA: I had a friend who suggested the book to me. And her husband said to me, Oh, it'll be, you know, the best sex you'll ever have and it's going to change you so much.
DEMETRIUS MOLINA, HUSBAND: She started to see, you know, I don't know, sexuality in a whole different perspective, I would say, thanks to the book.
ROTH (on camera): And how did you notice this?
D. MOLINA: Intimate nights.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You only live once!
ROTH (voice-over): The charged-up couple are not alone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Instead of sleeping, we're just, you know, having a good time.
ROTH: Carrying their "Fifty Shades of Grey," 500 fans lined up Monday night in Long Island, New York, to meet British author E.L. James.
E.L. JAMES, AUTHOR: Stunned by the reaction to these -- this love story.
ROTH: So am I.
(on camera): I'd pay very good money to watch.
(voice-over): Why does it seem so many women are turned on by the book?
(on camera): Everybody's read this book?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
ROTH (voice-over): I sat down with members of Divamoms.com.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is a modern-day fairy tale.
ROTH: The "Shades of Grey" trilogy is about a controversial relationship involving S&M between a college student, Anastasia Steele and a handsome young billionaire, Christian Grey.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "I think you're toying with me, Ms. Steele (ph). I feign innocence."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a Disney romance for adults.
ROTH (on camera): Aren't you married already?
LIRO FARBER, READER: Well, you know what? We all have our own Prince Charming, but sometimes we have extra fantasies that they don't always satisfy anymore.
ROTH (voice-over): Disney never made a romance involving bondage or young women signing contracts with princes who use something called a flogger on them.
(on camera): What part gets whipped, anything and all?
LOGAN LEVKOFF, SEXOLOGIST: This is an awakening in a lot of ways for women, not just about what they may fantasize about. I think women are also surprised that when they read something, their bodies can have this kind of reaction.
ROTH (voice-over): It's been called mommy porn. When was the last time you saw "Saturday Night Live" do a skit about a book?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy Mother's Day!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happy Mother's Day!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy Mother's Day!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are you doing? Get out!
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: "Fifty Shades of Grey."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROTH: Women are turning to sex and song.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SINGING) Set you 50 shades free...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "I said when can I have" -- Wow, wait a minute. Whoa! Wait. Where can I buy this book at?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "This is the first time I have ever had sex in my home."
ROTH (on camera): Do you need a book to get turned on?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
ROTH: What do you need?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything.
ROTH: Don't look at me.
P. MOLINA: We don't have a big bed, but we sure get around it!
ROTH (voice-over): Richard Roth ...
P. MOLINA: Thank you.
ROTH: ... CNN, New York.
BLITZER: Prince Charles takes a break from his day job -- look at this -- to do the weather.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRINCE CHARLES: In the west, rain will be lighter and patchier. There'll be maybe a few drier interludes over Dumfries House in Ayrshire. Aha! There'll be snow for the higher ground of the Highlands and Aberdeenshire. The potential for a few flurries over Balmoral -- who the hell wrote this script? -- as the afternoon goes on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: 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 weatherman this week, and he gave the forecast with a royal touch. Here's 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: Your highness?
PRINCE CHARLES: Well, it's an unsettled picture as we head towards the end of the week...
MOOS: The weather got the royal treatment...
PRINCE CHARLES: ... 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.
PRINCE CHARLES: Aha!
MOOS: As he read, he realized places where the conditions were highlighted were ones frequented by the royals.
PRINCE CHARLES: The potential for a few flurries over Balmoral -- who the hell wrote this script? -- as the afternoon goes on.
MOOS: At least the prince knows a high from a low.
PAUL LYNDE, COMEDIAN: Is "H" for hot or humid? It's both!
MOOS: And the prince didn't knock over any cold fronts...
LYNDE: What does that mean?
LYNDE: Or what did that mean?
MOOS: ... as late comedian Paul Lynde did when he filled in at a Toledo, Ohio, station back in the late '70s.
LYNDE: Twenty-six percent Centigrade, 79 Fahrenheit, 41 percent chance of twisters.
MOOS: Nor did Prince Charles adjust his bosom...
SNOOKI, "JERSEY SHORE": Oh, my God!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's all right.
MOOS: ... as Snooki did when she subbed...
SNOOKI: Some light snow with PM flurries...
MOOS: ... at a New York City station. And at least the prince knew not to wear green.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the one color that we can't wear. Oh, there we go. See.
MOOS: The color wreaks havoc with green screen technology.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like this!
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's cloaking it very well!
ELLEN DEGENERES, TALK SHOW HOST: Oh! Oh! The low pressure came up!
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've 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're rising and falling faster than the barometer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over there!
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aha.
MOOS: ... New York.
BLITZER: Very nice.
Before we go, I want to make sure we wish a happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful mothers out there. Hope you're having a great weekend.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.