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THE SITUATION ROOM

Syrian Regime Members Killed; Interview With Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren; Punishing Drought Across Midwest; Israel Suspects Iran In Bus Bombing; Middle East Peace Going Forward; Peace Process And Presidential Race; Invite Palin To Speak At GOP Convention; NCAA Examining Penn State Football; Tattoo Rules Imposed On U.S. Capitol Police

Aired July 18, 2012 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Israel pointing a finger at Iran after today's deadly bombing aboard a bus full of Israeli tourists visiting Bulgaria. Israel's ambassador to the United States joins me live here in THE SITUATION ROOM this hour.

Also, another bomb takes out four top members of the Syrian regime. In my exclusive interview, Jordan's King Abdullah warns we are getting to the level, he says, of a full-out civil war.

And Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, that's right, all three of the Republican Party's biggest stars campaigning today in one very, very important state.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin this hour with tensions ratcheting up between Israel and Iran in what the Israelis say is -- quote -- "clearly a terrorist attack." A bomb went off just as Israeli tourists boarded a bus in the Bulgarian resort city of Bourgas. Six people are confirmed dead. Some 30 others are wounded.

President Obama is strongly condemning the attack, calling it in his word barbaric.

CNN's Elise Labott is joining us now from Jerusalem with the very latest.

Elise, Bulgarians are, of course, investigating. I'm sure the Israelis are as well. First of all, what are the Bulgarians saying?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, forensic investigators on the scene. It's all very preliminary at this point, but they're saying that this was caused by a bus bomb already placed inside the bus.

That's really all they know, but they're not ruling anything out. They say it's possibly a terrorist attack. Obviously, the Israelis saying that they're sure of it, but Bulgarians not ruling anything in, not ruling anything out at this point, Wolf.

BLITZER: Didn't take very long for the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, to directly blame Iran for this attack.

LABOTT: That's right.

A short time ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Wolf, put out a statement saying all signs are leading to Iran. His defense minister, Ehud Barak, just spoke to reporters a short time ago. Let's take a listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER: This is clearly a terrorist attack initiated by probably Hezbollah, Hamas, Jihad, or any other group under the terror auspices of either Iran or other radical Muslim groups. We're in a continued fight against them. We're determined to identify who sent them, who executed it and to settle the account.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LABOTT: Now, Wolf, this is part of a pattern that Israeli officials say of Iran targeting Israeli targets.

This year, they have thwarted attempts on Israeli targets in Georgia, in Cyprus, in Kenya. And if you remember, in February, three Iranians were arrested in Bangkok for setting off explosives. And the Bangkok, the Thai authorities said they were trying to target Israeli diplomats.

You really have this kind of asymmetric war going on between Israel and Iran, Israel saying Iran is building a nuclear weapon, obviously, and Iran saying Israel is going after their nuclear scientists. It's really ratcheting up a lot of concern obviously here in Israel that there could be future attacks. Israeli officials telling me we have been able to thwart a lot, but this one unfortunately, we weren't able to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. It looks like the tensions really are at a fever pitch, as if they could get higher. We heard Ehud Barak, the defense minister, saying Israel will -- quote -- "settle the account," and the prime minister, Netanyahu, earlier in a statement saying Israel would respond with force to what he called Iranian terror.

We will get some details on what the Israelis might be up to.

Elise, thanks very much.

In about 25 minute, my live interview with the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I will ask him among other things what proof Israel has that Iran may have been involved in this attack in Bulgaria. That interview with the Israeli ambassador later this hour.

Now to the major repercussions from another bombing, this one in Syria. It killed four top Syrian officials, including the country's defense minister and a deputy who was the brother-in-law of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. After the bombing, I had a long exclusive interview with Jordan's King Abdullah II. He's deeply worried Syria right now is at the point of no return and a full-scale civil war may be inevitable.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING ABDULLAH II, JORDAN: I'm seeing, for the first time, have been watching this for the past two or three weeks, where the sectarian violence has begin to appear to a point where different groups of Syrian society is having a go at each other to a point where we are getting to the level of the potential of full-out civil war.

In other words, it's getting very, very messy, to a point where I think the worst-case scenario for all of us in the region is when you get full-out civil war, there is no coming back from the abyss.

If it breaks down, if civil order breaks down to the point of no return, then it'll take years to fix Syria.

And I have a feeling that we're seeing the signs of that over the past three weeks. The only people that can bring us back from that brink is, obviously, the president and the regime. And I believe this is the last chance that they have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: My exclusive interview with King Abdullah will air during our next hour, during our 5:00 p.m. Eastern hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You're going to want to hear what he has to say about Syria, a lot more detail.

Also, we spoke about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in the interview. He's got some serious thoughts about these two individuals.

Let's get to the presidential race right now and today's Republican triple play in Ohio. Not only is Mitt Romney campaigning there. So are two men getting mentioned, lots of mentions, in fact, as possible running mates, the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, and the former Florida governor, Jeb Bush.

CNN's national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is in Bowling Green, Ohio, where Mitt Romney just finished a town hall.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mitt Romney is launching an all- out attack on something the president said at a campaign event last week, when Mr. Obama used the words, you didn't build that. The GOP contender's response can be summed as, oh, no, you didn't.

(voice-over): After days of attacks on his business record, Mitt Romney hopes he has found a way to change the story. And it has nothing to do with naming a running mate.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How many people here -- would the people who began a business or are leading a business in this room please stand up? What he's saying is that if someone has succeeded, if they have built something, he's saying they didn't really build it. No, it was the government. It was the government that takes responsibility.

ACOSTA: That get out of Bain free card may have come in remarks made by the president last Friday, a comment Romney is blasting as anti- business.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you have got a business, that -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.

ACOSTA: Romney's campaign manager is now fund-raising off of the comment, saying they are a slap in the face to the American dream. A top aide to the GOP contender says the remarks summarize the president's world view like this comment in 2008 to Joe the plumber.

OBAMA: I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody.

ACOSTA: The Obama campaign says Romney is grasping for straws and that the president was making a point about how public spending can help the private sector.

OBAMA: There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges.

ACOSTA: In Ohio, where the Bain attacks may be weighing down Romney's poll numbers, his campaign is flooding the zone, sending the candidate to the northern end of the state, Bobby Jindal to Columbus and Jeb Bush to outside Cincinnati.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor, will you release your income tax records?

ROMNEY: That's been the tradition. And I'm not opposed to doing that.

ACOSTA: But Democrats are also hitting hard, unleashing this Web video showing what looks like the Romney family dressage horse prancing as Romney is dancing around the question of his tax returns.

Meanwhile, the Romney campaign is defending Bain, noting Michelle Obama once praised a day care company that was founded by the investment firm.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: The Partnership for a Healthier America is working with private providers like Bright Horizons. That's the nation's second largest private child care provider.

ACOSTA: But the personal attacks aren't just coming from the campaigns. Consider how one supporter referred to the president at Romney's town hall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This monster... ROMNEY: That's not a term I would use.

ACOSTA (on camera): As for naming a running mate, Romney told this town hall he hasn't reached a decision yet, but he said his vice presidential pick will be a conservative -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Jim Acosta in Bowling Green, thank you.

Ohio is certainly one of the most crucial states, if not the most crucial state, in this year's presidential election. Lots of focus on Ohio.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is over at the magic wall to show us precisely why.

Walk us through Ohio, Ohio, Ohio.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here's a simple fact of history. No Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio in the modern times.

So when Mitt Romney looks at the 2008 calendar and sees Ohio blue, he knows he most likely has to change that to get elected. And we also know, as you noted, both campaign spending such a ton of time and a ton of resources in Ohio. Let's look at the TV ad spending first.

This is just over the last three months from April. The Obama campaign by a more than two-to-one margin outspending the Romney campaign. More than $10 million straight from the Obama campaign, a little over $4 million from the Romney campaign. That's just the campaigns.

But the president who leads narrowly in Ohio right now spending heavily to protect that lead. If you add in the super PACs, it's a bit more even, but still a Democratic advantage.

The president's campaign, plus pro-Democratic, pro-Obama super PACs, almost $12 million, three Republican super PACs helping Governor Romney close that gap a little bit. But the Democrats are spending more. Where do you look for in Ohio? Let me get these out of the way so they don't show you. Number one, here's a big place to keep an eye on.

Stark County just south of Akron, look at this from four years ago, 52 percent for Obama, 46 percent for John McCain. This is a key swing county in the state. We will go back to '04, John Kerry carried it barely when George W. Bush was carrying the state in the year 2000. Bush carried it.

One other key place to watch, as we look at '08, there are many, many swing counties but look at this blue down here in the bottom part of the state, Cincinnati. President Obama carried Hamilton County in 2008. That is a big sting for Republicans in the state. For Republicans to win statewide in a close election, watch that county down there. I will give you a little highlight for it right here.

For Republicans to win in a close statewide election, guess what, they need Cincinnati. That's President Bush in '04. That's President Bush in 2000. Even when Bill Clinton carried the state in '96 Bob Dole won down there. The fact the president won there last time, you're going to see a lot of the Romney campaign right there in the Cincinnati area. They know how important it is.

BLITZER: When you point out at the beginning, as you accurately do, that no Republican has won the White House at least in modern times without carrying Ohio, let me ask you this question. I guess it's theoretically possible, but is it likely that Romney could win the race for the White House even without Ohio?

KING: That is what I will call the big yeah but question in American politics. Can he? Can he realistically? Most likely no.

Let me show you why. Here's our map as we see it right now, 247 solid or leaning Obama, 206 electoral votes solid or leaning Romney. Romney has what Karl Rove calls and the Romney adopts as the 3-2-1 strategy. Here's what I mean. Win the three most Republican states carried by Barack Obama, they would be Indiana, North Carolina, which we already lean Romney's way and Virginia.

If you get those three, Romney closes the gap. Where's the two? That would be win Florida and win Ohio. If you get to that point, Romney is actually in the lead. And then he would only have to win one of the remaining tossups. Would not have to turn any blue states red if they do that.

But you asked the question, so let's shade Ohio blue. Even if you give Romney those other states I just gave him, if the president wins Ohio, most people believe if he's winning Ohio, then he's holding Pennsylvania, he's holding Michigan and he's probably holding Wisconsin. Look how close that puts the president, Wolf. If he can win Ohio, he'd only have to win one out of Iowa, Colorado and Nevada and he gets reelected.

BLITZER: Good point. Thanks very much, John King, at the magic wall. Appreciate it.

More politics coming up later.

Also, Jordan's King Abdullah II, my exclusive interview with him. He says Syria's near a full-out civil war right now. He's also warning that any use of Syria's chemical weapons, what he calls Syria's weapons of mass destruction, he says that could change everything, the full interview, exclusive interview coming up in our 5:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

Also, during our brand-new third hour of THE SITUATION ROOM, during our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour, we will air part of my colleague Piers Morgan's rare interview with the Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Piers is over at the Supreme Court right now. He's sitting down with Antonin Scalia.

But up next, we go live to America's heartland, where crops are withering in one of the worst droughts in decades.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty's here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf.

It is time for Mitt Romney to man-up, pick up the phone and ask Sarah Palin to the dance. That's a quote from a "Daily Beast" piece that argues Romney ought to invite Palin to speak at the Republican National Convention in Tampa next month. Palin is whining to "Newsweek" that she hasn't been asked to attend the convention yet. She says, quote, "One must remember this isn't Sadie Hawkins and you don't invite yourself and a date to the big dance," unquote.

Maybe Republicans are thinking about the down sides of inviting Sarah Palin anywhere. They're pretty obvious. The former vice presidential candidate and half-term governor of Alaska is a wild card. And her off-the-cuff remarks could create headaches for Romney.

Palin is polarizing. She could turn off independent voters. Plus, she doesn't seem to have a lot of love for Romney, so there's always the risk that she could go rogue. Well, never mind all that, Romney might be making a big mistake by not inviting her. It's not like he has this thing wrapped up, you know?

Sarah Palin can do something that Mitt Romney can't and that is fire up the base. The party faithful went nuts when she delivered her pit bull hockey mom convention speech in 2008. And let's face it -- Romney could use something to spice up his campaign. So far electric it ain't.

There are few if any other Republicans in 2012 who generate the kind of enthusiasm Palin does. Plus, Mitt Romney was never a Tea Party favorite. As "Newsweek" describes it, "party activists feel stuck with a guy served up by Republican elites who speak conservatism with an establishment accent", unquote. That's a great quote.

Bringing Sarah Palin onboard in Tampa might help in this department, too. You see, her accent is anything but establishment.

Here's the question, should Sarah Palin be invited to speak at the Republican convention? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on the blog. Or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

There's no immediate relief in sight for the parched Midwest. The Department of Agriculture designated 39 more counties as disaster areas due to the excessive heat and drought. Vital crops are at risk, but the agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, says it will be a while before consumers see a spike in the price.

Our meteorologist Chad Myers is over at the CNN weather center. He's got more on the forecast. What is the forecast over there?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, you know what, Wolf? It's not good. Even if it rains from here all the way to the end of harvest season, a lot of this corn cannot be saved. Didn't set right. The cobs aren't there. The pollen didn't come out at the right time.

This is just a flash drought they're calling all the way from Ohio all the way back into Kentucky, Tennessee, into Nebraska and Kansas as well. It just stopped raining as soon as the crops went in the ground.

Indiana, you have 71 percent of your corn crop, that's 12 million acres at poor or worse. That means 30 percent maybe of what you'd expect for yield.

Illinois, 56 percent. The problem here, it's a much larger crop, 23 million acres planted there. And not all corn goes to, you know, cattle right away. Cattle have to look at the ground and eat a lot of grass first before you just give them corn.

Missouri, 92 percent of your pasture is poor or very poor. There's just no grass out there, wolf. There's no hay. I don't know where these farmers are going to get the hay to feed the cattle because you can't buy it from anyone because nobody has it. And the forecast with this brown map right here, there's no relief in sight. We're just not going to see the amount of rain we need.

Now, that's not the case in the Northeast right now. We have severe weather all the way from Boston to New York City. Even you in D.C. are going to see a couple showers and thunderstorms.

And here's Columbus Circle. Rain coming down.

I just heard from Ali Velshi. He says he's looking for an arc.

It is raining so hard in New York City, Wolf.

BLITZER: They could use some of that water in the Midwest to be sure. Hope it starts raining out there. Thanks so much, Chad, for that report.

Other news we're watching including a massive drought in the United States. We'll have more on the drought, the growing potential to affect the entire country with crops withering in the heat. And you just saw Chad's report. We'll take a closer look in our next hour at the possible impact on nearly everything we get over at the supermarket and the grocery store.

And experts say it's as bad as smoking. What British researchers find as the latest threat to your health.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Top officials in the U.S. government are being sued over drone strikes in Yemen. Lisa Sylvester's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.

Well, Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, his son and another man were killed in those drone strikes last year. Two civil rights groups have now filed a wrongful death lawsuit today on behalf of the families. The suit names the head of the CIA, Defense Department and two military commanders. The U.S. says the killing was justified because Anwar al-Awlaki had ties to al Qaeda.

And 300,000 people signed a petition to reinstate a lesbian mom back into the Boy Scouts of America. Jennifer Tyrrell (ph) delivered the boxes of petitions today to the Boy Scouts headquarters in Texas. She was forced to resign as a den mother in Ohio this year.

The Boy Scouts of America is refusing to bend. Just yesterday, the organization reaffirmed it's long-standing policy of not allowing openly gay members.

And being a couch potato may be just as hazardous to your health as smoking. That's according to a British study. It estimates that one in 10 people around the world die annually from physical inactivity. That's more than 5 million people. Researchers say not exercising has the same risks as smoking tobacco. And just walking 15 to 30 minutes a day will help you.

So when you do get moving, don't wear flip-flops. A new study links the comfy shoes with painful health risks. The National Foot Health Assessment found 78 percent of adults have experienced one or more foot problems in their lives mostly because of flip-flops, things like stubbed toes, sprained ankles and blistered feet. Experts say they are OK to wear some of the time, just not all of the time.

And, Wolf, speaking of exercising, I know you run, what is it, five miles a day?

BLITZER: I try to on a treadmill. Not outside. And certainly not wearing flip-flops.

SYLVESTER: That's right. Good for you.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you, Lisa Sylvester. We'll be back.

Other news we're following: Israel pointing the direct finger of blame at Iran. We're going to talk to Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. He's standing by live.

We'll talk about today's explosion in Bulgaria and why the Israeli defense minister say it was a terrorist attack.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Recapping this hour's top story, at least six people are dead, 30 others wounded, after an explosion today aboard a bus carrying Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian resort city of Burgas.

President Obama is calling it a, quote, "barbaric terrorist attack."

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says all signs are leading to Iran.

Joining us on -- joining us now from New York is the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

Mr. Ambassador, there's so much.

First of all, our condolences to you. I know many Israelis were killed and injured in this attack.

What's the latest information you're hearing?

What happened?

MICHAEL OREN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Well, it was, indeed, a barbaric attack on innocent civilians, many of them young people on vacation, Wolf. And -- and several Bulgarians were also killed and wounded in the attack. And our condolences go out to the people of Bulgaria.

What we know is that seven people have been killed and many wounded in -- in this attack. And it's part of a string of attacks which have, in the previous -- in the previous instances, been linked directly to Iran, whether in India; in Cypress; in Thailand; in Azerbaijan, which was an attack -- a planned attack against not just Israeli tire -- targets, but American targets; in the capital of the United States, Washington, DC, a planned attack against the Saudi ambassador, against the -- the Israeli embassy, right in the capital of Washington, DC.

This is part of a pattern. All paths here lead to Tehran. And we've seen this pattern. It's -- it's global terror. And this is the same regime that is supporting the Assad government and its massacre of its own civilians...

BLITZER: Well...

OREN: -- in Syria.

BLITZER: I want to get to that. But I -- I -- I want to specifically, is there any direct evidence that you have so far on this Bulgarian attack other than the supposition, similar attacks, other attacks in other places?

Is there any hard evidence that you have that Iran was involved in today's attack in Bulgaria?

OREN: Well, we're still investigating. We're only several hours after the attack. But we can look at the pattern. And we've seen that every several weeks, the Iranians have tried to mount these attacks against Israeli targets, also against American targets, throughout the world.

This is Global Terror, Inc.

BLITZER: Was this an improvised explosive device?

What -- what kind of bombing was this?

OREN: We don't know yet. We don't know the actual, you know, the technical details around the bombing. What we have are seven dead and many wounded.

BLITZER: What were these Israelis -- and you say there were several young Israelis there -- what were they doing in Bulgaria?

OREN: Bulgaria has become a -- a favorite destination for Israeli tourism. A lovely country, a friendly country, wonderful countryside. As you know, Israelis love to travel. And -- and young people, particularly, before and after their military service in Israel, love to travel. And we've had word that there are Israeli young people among the casualties.

BLITZER: Because some of the Israeli -- reports in the Israeli media are suggesting that Bulgaria was warned back in January about possible terrorist attacks against Israelis there.

Can you share -- shed any light on that?

OREN: Well, we've been warning about possible terrorist attacks around the world from the Iranians. And we've been on a heightened alert because of this.

Again, this is the Iranian regime that stops at nothing. It will plan an attack in -- in downtown Washington. It will plan an attack against American and Israeli targets in -- in Aberbaijan. It will sput -- send fighters to join with Bashar al-Assad in killing -- in massacring Syrians, too.

So this is -- this is an Iranian regime that's also trying to acquire and develop nuclear weapons. It's a danger not just to Israel and the Middle East, but to the entire world, Wolf.

BLITZER: Was Bulgaria given any notice, in recent months, about a possible terror attack, as far as you know?

OREN: As far as I know, I don't have details, but I know there's been a general warning about the heightened chances of attacks, because we've seen these attacks mounted every two or three weeks, either against Israeli and American diplomats, or Israeli civilians.

BLITZER: The Israeli prime minister and the Israeli defense minister both suggesting, in strong terms, that Israel will respond. In that statement that the Israeli prime minister put out, Benjamin Netanyahu, "All signs point toward Iran. Over the last few months, we have seen Iran's attempts to attack Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, Cypress and other countries. Exactly 18 years to the day after the horrendous attack on the Jewish community center in Argentina, deadly Iranian terrorism continues to strike at innocent people. This is a global Iranian terror onslaught and Israel will react firmly to it."

And the defense minister, Ehud Barak, says, "Israel will settle accounts."

So give us an example.

What does that mean, "Israel will settle accounts, Israel will react firmly to this?"

OREN: Well, I'm not -- I'm certainly not going to go into details about how and when we will react, but Israel knows how to defend itself. We've been fighting terror for many, many years. We're the world's experts in fighting terror in our region. And -- and I assure you that the government and people of Israel...

BLITZER: But...

OREN: -- will respond at the right time and respond firmly to this attack.

BLITZER: And -- and -- but -- but you're not ruling out military action against Iran in retaliation for what you allege is this Iranian attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria?

OREN: Israel will respond firmly and unequivocally to this attack, Wolf.

BLITZER: One other note. The president of the United States, President Obama, issued a very strong statement condemning this attack, also expressing his condolences to the people of Israel and Bulgaria, for that matter. But there was no mention at all in his statement or in the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton's, statement about Iran or any alleged Iranian involvement.

What, if anything, do you read into that?

OREN: I don't read anything into it now, because we don't have proof about Iranian involvement. But again, it is part of this pattern. And the pattern is really unmistakable. It's every -- every several weeks in some capital, the Iranians are plotting to kill Israelis or kill Americans or both.

So we can't overlook that pattern. It's a very clear pattern.

And as you know, Wolf, that the -- President Obama is about to call Prime Minister Netanyahu and personally express his condolence and outrage over this attack.

BLITZER: And I'm sure they'll talk about any alleged Iranian involvement.

One final question, Mr. Ambassador, before I let you go. And there's no reaction yet from Iran to Israel's charges, but in the past, they've accused you, Israel, of assassinating some of their nuclear scientists on the streets of Tehran and they have vowed revenge for that. What do you say about those kinds of allegations?

OREN: I think that the Iranians have been trying to kill Israelis for many, many years now, whether it by -- by supplying 60,000 rockets to Hezbollah or 10,000 rockets to Hamas that have been fired at our civilians. They have backed terrorist operations against Israelis that have killed well over 1,000 of our civilians and -- and -- and maimed many thousands more. And this was before any recent round of supposed assassinations of Iranian scientists.

And Israel is not involved in those.

BLITZER: Israel is not involved in the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists?

Is that what you're saying?

OREN: I'm saying I know nothing about those assassinations. But this is now. We're talking about the massacre of innocent young people traveling abroad. It's -- you're talking about targeting American and Israeli diplomats around the world.

Could there possibly be any excuse, any justification for that, other than the fact that Iran is the world's greatest sponsor of terror?

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, thanks for coming in.

OREN: As always, Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael Oren is the Israeli ambassador to the United States.

Other news we're following, Capitol Hill police are pushing back. They say new rules on tattoos go too far. We're going to tell you about the latest so-called grooming standards.

And a flexibility of incumbency, Jordan's King Abdullah discusses how the outcome of the presidential election here in the United States could dramatically affect the Middle East peace process.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jordan's King Abdullah's weighing in on the U.S. presidential race. It's part of my wide-ranging exclusive interview we're going to air in our next hour.

But here's what he had to say about Mitt Romney and the Middle East peace process. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, as you know, he's going to be going to Israel to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. I think he's going to be meeting with the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, as well.

What would you, as a country that's been so intimately involved in the Middle East peace process, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process over the years, a country that has a full peace treaty, a diplomatic relationship with Israel for so many years, what would you hope that Mitt Romney leaves the region with? What impression?

KING ABDULLAH, JORDAN: Well, he came to visit me, I think almost a year ago, and we had a discussion about the challenges of the peace process. He understands that with Arab Spring and all the challenges that we have, that the core issue of the Middle East still is the peace process, the two-state solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

I presume that his visit to Israel and to meet with both the Israeli and Palestinian counterparts will be to bring him up to speed on the ongoing negotiation between the Israelis and Palestinians. And in that fact, I will just add that these Israelis and Palestinians, discussions are still ongoing.

The peace discussions, so to speak, are not dead. Our job is to keep the process alive until the end of this year, when American elections are finalized. And depending on who wins, as of the two candidates, then that puts us into a better position to understand how to move the process forward at the beginning of next year.

BLITZER: Do you see any significant difference between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama as far as the peace process is concerned?

ABDULLAH: Well, obviously, there's always going to be a difference between a second term president and a first term president in dealing with this core issue. A second term president is going to be in a much more comfortable position in dealing with the Middle East peace process.

Obviously, a first term president will tend to be less willing to take on such a difficult issue, at least in the first two years of his presidency. That's something that we have been used to for so many decades.

But, again, the presidential candidate is fully aware of the issues. We have exchanged our views a year ago and whoever it is that becomes president, I'm sure both of them fully understands that whatever is happening in the Middle East, the core issue still is that of the two- state solution and the challenges of the Israeli-Palestinian people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's talk about that and more in our "Strategy Session." Joining us on the Democratic side, CNN contributor, Paul Begala, he is a senior strategist for the Democratic fundraising groups "Priorities USA, Priorities USA Action," so-called "Super PACs."

And Republican strategist, Ana Navarro, she is the former National Hispanic co-chair for the John Huntsman presidential campaign.

What King Abdullah said was very accurate in his analysis. A second- term American president, i.e. President Obama, he is going to have a lot more political flexibility since he doesn't have to worry about getting re-elected to deal with some of these sensitive issues.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right, and when a hidden microphone picked up when the president said that to Medvedev --

BLITZER: On a different issue, on arms control and on a missile defense shield in Europe.

BEGALA: It's simply a fact Ronald Reagan had more maneuverability in his second term. I think President Clinton certainly did in his. I want President Obama in a second term.

But I will say this, no one in the Middle East or the world should misunderstand we have this election. We have terrible arguments about domestic issues.

The truth is Mitt Romney is very strong in defense of Israel, which is the most important American imperative in that region and so is President Obama.

It's one of the few things I think that the two parties and two candidates agree on. I'm not for Mitt Romney, OK, but he is strongly pro-Israel, so is the president.

I was moved to see the ambassador on our air on a day when Israelis targeted for terrorism again and murdered in cowardly way. I think it's important people know Republicans and Democrats are united in defense Israel.

BLITZER: Did you read into his answer subtle maybe endorsement of President Obama for a second term because he would have more political ability to squeeze the players if you will out there, doesn't have to worry about domestic political concerns.

ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I actually thought he gave almost a very political -- U.S. political answer. Seemed to me he was giving a little bit to both of the candidates talking about how Mitt Romney's been trying to cultivate relationships and understands the issue and talking about the flexibility that Barack Obama would have.

But you know, I think what he says is true. Traditionally, what they're used to he says a second-term president that has more flexibility and able to get more players at the table.

But we are a lot worse off today than we were four years ago when it comes to the Middle East. And I think one of the things when you see a second-term president is because they build on, they complete, they conclude or try to conclude what they built on those first four years.

BLITZER: You're blaming President Obama for the U.S. being in a worse situation --

NAVARRO: No. I'm for the Middle East being in a far worse situation. I'm not blaming President Obama. But I will tell you that I think the Middle East process requires a long building process.

It requires cultivating relationships. It requires spending capital. It requires, you know, making a priority and negotiating from a position of strength. Barack Obama has not done those things in his first four years.

BLITZER: I know you want to respond. But also in the context of Romney's decision to go to the Olympic Games in London, but then go to Israel, meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and also meet with the Palestinian prime minister.

BEGALA: I think that's a good thing, Romney's experiences in business and building a vast fortune. He knows more about the Swiss banks than the west bank.

But now he's going to learn and I think it's important and I think that's good. I will point out though, Ana, that the two things that I believe as a pro-Israel-American have hurt Israel the most were when George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice forced elections into Gaza, which gave Hamas terrorist group I think a claim -- a false claim to legitimacy.

We forced those elections. The American president did, Mr. Bush, and secretary of state, Dr. Rice. That hurt Israel and helped Hamas. And the war in Iraq, because the winner of the war in Iraq was Iran. And you saw the ambassador today talking about Iran's pattern of terrorism against Israelis all around the world.

BLITZER: Ana, respond very quickly.

NAVARRO: Democrats love re-litigating Bush and bringing Bush back to every single issue. I think what's hurt the most in the Middle East right now is we are not negotiating from a position of strength.

Just last week, Barack Obama told the "Miami Station" that Hugo Chavez was not a national security threat. Iran is expanding its intelligence network in the western hemisphere and doing it with the complicit cooperation of Hugo Chavez.

We have got a president in Barack Obama who is naive and does not understand the threats of this --

BLITZER: You guys are obviously going to disagree on this. I think the issue, by the way, on the elections, the Palestinian elections, they all wanted elections.

The question is was Hamas authorized since it didn't support the peace process a two-state solution. Should they have been allowed to participate in the elections? Condoleezza Rice and President Bush said yes. The Israelis are upset about it.

BEGALA: Most Americans were upset too.

BLITZER: Hamas won that election. It was a democratic election that Hamas won.

BEGALA: That's why it was wrong to have the elections --

BLITZER: Whether or not the U.S. should have allowed -- that was the negotiating dispute at the time.

BEGALA: Thank you for -- you know more about that than anybody I know. I'm still steamed about Americans on those elections.

BLITZER: Thank you.

For an athlete, an Olympic medal is a crowning achievement, but just how much is the medal worth? We're going to break down the numbers.

And should Sarah Palin speak in primetime at the Republican convention? Should she speak at all? Jack Cafferty with the "Cafferty File" and your answers.

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BLITZER: Jack's back with "The Cafferty File," -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the question this hour, should Sarah Palin be invited to speak at the Republican National Convention?

Joshua writes, "Palin should be invited to the Republican convention because she will rip Obama on the facts. Not like some partisan hack who makes an issue about a tax return that's 10 years old but on the real issues that affect millions of Americans today."

Dale in Massachusetts says, "Of course, she destroyed the Republican's chances last election. At least she can do is give them an encore. Besides, all the late-night comedians need the material. Romney's tax problems are getting a bit long in the tooth."

Tom in Virginia writes, "Probably. She's an inspirational speaker even though most of what she says doesn't make a lot of sense. But it does get people excited. She should fit right in since most of the Republican Party doesn't know what it stands for either."

David writes, "I think Sarah Palin should speak at the convention if America was smart in 2008, she'd be our vice president."

Tom in Atlanta says, "To be politically correct, they'll probably have to, but if they're smart, they'll do it quickly and get it over with. The people who are most important to Romney's chances of being elected are turned off by Sarah Palin. Let's ask it this way, would Obama ask John Edwards to speak in probably not."

Em writes, "Sure. What could possibly go wrong?" And Raymond says, "Only if she's introduced to the music of "Send in the Clowns."

If you want to read more about the subject, go to the blog cnn.com/caffertyfile or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page. Somehow I doubt she's probably going to be making a speech.

BLITZER: Ask me if I think she's going to speak there?

CAFFERTY: Ask if you think -- Wolf, do you think Sarah Palin's going to speak at the convention? BLITZER: You bet you.

CAFFERTY: Good. That's good.

BLITZER: I think she will, but we'll see. It will be entertaining to be sure.

We have an important news making interview coming up right at the top of the hour, Jordan's King Abdullah II. He speaks to me about today's bombing that killed four top Syrian officials.

Also, a nerve racking waiting game for Penn State's football program. New information coming out.

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BLITZER: There could be some big changes to Penn State's football program. Lisa Sylvester's monitoring that and other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, the NCAA is considering what penalties if any the university's football program will face. The group's chief says he's not ruling anything out including a so-called death penalty, which could suspend the football program altogether.

Last week a report claimed former head coach Joe Paterno could have done more to stop the alleged child sex abuse by Jerry Sandusky.

And imagine putting on more than layers of clothes in this sweltering heat. Yes, that's what police officers and security at the U.S. capitol will have to do if they have too many tattoos.

The "National Journal" reports any tattoos that are considered too big, offensive, profane or unprofessional must be covered up while on duty.

And athletes from around the world will be going for the gold next week at the summer Olympics in London. Well, it turns out the medal use in the Olympic gold medal isn't actually gold, it's mostly silver.

But it is worth more than the others, about $650 if melted down. The silver medal, by the way, is worth about half that and the bronze medal is worth less than $5, but ask any athlete and I'm sure just getting a medal of that kind is privceless.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Certainly is. Lisa, thank you.