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CNN NEWSROOM

Russia Saying No to Chobani Yogurt; President Obama Addresses National Prayer Breakfast

Aired February 6, 2014 - 09:00   ET

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


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Discussed this threat with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A real grave concern to hear a report of this nature. And you basically want to know more. Are we going to put in place immediately restrictions on any kind of tubes or any kind of cosmetics going in flights toward Russia?

But as individuals, as airlines, people are concerned given the specificity of the nature of this threat. And the fact that there's almost nothing they can do to prevent something of this nature from perhaps being put on to an aircraft.

WALSH: Despite security concerns, the Obama administration has not advised Americans to avoid the games. Secretary of State John Kerry telling CNN's Jake Tapper before the toothpaste alert was issued --

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I believe that anybody who wants to go to the Olympics, which are just a great event, should go. We feel that everything that's been done that can be done to try to guarantee people safety and security.

WALSH: This latest threat coming as athletes continue to arrive in Sochi. One German snowboarder at his first Olympics had just landed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm really surprised because we just touched down and just saw all the soldiers next to the runway. That was -- wow.

WALSH: Athletes now head into the ring of steel behind dogs, cameras on balloons, warships and antiaircraft batteries. Precautions taken to protect participants in what experts say may be the most dangerous Olympic Games in history.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH: Now the key issue here is Russia's history with explosives on airliners. Almost 10 years ago, two female suicide bombers blew up two planes almost simultaneously. Many worried they'd actually the explosives in their makeup.

So Russians have a long history of this. They have also banned at this point carry-on liquids being brought, or carry-on luggage from Moscow to Sochi. Another universal band. It was deeply unpopular but they're trying to restrict that. So indications Moscow was previously aware that people now looking to perhaps see if this constant background noise of security concerns can, in fact, subside.

And people will go back to the original purpose of this remarkable spectacle behind me and that's getting on with the games themselves -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Nick Paton Walsh, reporting live from Sochi, Russia, this morning.

Russian authorities are also saying niet to Chobani Yogurt, leaving 5,000 containers of Greek yogurt meant for American Olympians sitting in a cold storage at the New Jersey airport. The yogurt will not clear Russian customs.

Say what, you say? Christine Romans is in New York with more on that story.

Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Russia's version of the FDA says the U.S. Olympic Committee cannot import this. These thousands of cartons of Chobani Yogurt, can't import it into Sochi.

Chobani is the official yogurt of the U.S. Olympic team. It's Greek yogurt, it's made in New York. And Russia says the official reason is safety.

Now right now 5,000 single serve cups of this and some big tubs of it languishing in refrigeration just outside Newark waiting for the green light to fly to Sochi.

Now the cold aisle cold wars, we're calling it, Carol, playing out in Washington. Senator Chuck Schumer insisting to the Russian ambassador that, quote, "sanitary standards have been met." And that it should be allowed to proceed for U.S. Olympians and some of the media who are covering it.

Now the Obama administration seeking a special one-time approval for this yogurt, Carol. Chobani's marketing officer says he'd like to think his yogurt could get diplomatic immunity.

Unclear if this is some sort of a snub or just some sort of paperwork delay. But, clearly, these Olympians would like to get their yogurt -- Carol.

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: Clearly so. You'll keep us posted.

Christine Romans, many thanks to you.

There is a live event going on right now in Washington at the -- no, you don't -- oh, there it is. The live event. This is the keynote speaker, Rajiv Shah. He's speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast. President Obama will speak shortly. This event happens every year. It's an attempt for the president and the members of Congress to try to, you know, get together and actually talk like human beings. It's also a chance to honor God.

When the president begins speaking, of course, we'll take the event live.

In the meantime, our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is standing by at the White House because the president had this big meeting with Senate Democrats the other day. What came out of that. You've been doing some digging.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I have been doing some digging. And just a quick note on the prayer breakfast, as you say, Carol, this is an opportunity for the president every year to talk about his faith. And I would be really surprised just to briefly touch on that, Carol, if he does not talk about Pope Francis.

The president is going to be traveling to Rome, the Vatican, on March 27th to meet with the Pope. And the president has talked about the Pope's attention to income inequality which is also a goal of the president's to tackle income inequality. So the president may tip his hat to the Pope or we'll have to wait and see in these remarks in just a few moments.

But getting back to, yes, this meeting with Senate Democrats yesterday. The president has been doing this a lot lately. He's been meeting with House Democrats over here at the White House. Senate Democrats over at the baseball stadium here in Washington. Did that with Bill Clinton yesterday.

And from what I am hearing from one Democratic source, the president did make an offer to some of those endangered red state Democrats who were up for re-election this fall. He's not going to travel to states. He's OK with not traveling the states where his presence may not be helpful. So that is one tidbit that did come out of this meeting.

Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash, my colleague, has also been reporting on this. The president apparently did not say he would -- you know, he's not going to be offended if he's not asked or -- she said that he didn't hear or didn't say that he would not be offended if he's not asked, but is basically making the offer at this point to stay out of those races where he won't be helpful.

And we have been hearing over the last several weeks people like Mike Begich from Alaska, saying that, you know, not only does he not want the president to go and campaign in Alaska. He'd like him to come up to Alaska just to show him around and see how his policies may not be working.

We've seen Mary Landrieu who's up for reelection this fall down in Louisiana, urged approval of the Keystone Pipeline. Something that the president is weighing right now. And so interesting to see that come out. Also hearing from a Democratic source that Bill Clinton and his remarks last night sort of lay out what he thought about the political landscape for 2014, engaged in a question and answer session with some of those Senate Democrats. We're trying to get more details about that -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Well, you have to wonder, Jim, if the president is trying to mend fences with Senate Democrats. He already doesn't get along with Republicans. Right? So if he's not able to repair relationships within his own party, will anything get done?

ACOSTA: I think that is a very big question for 2014. I mean, you have to -- you know, whether it's the debt ceiling, how Republicans look at the debt ceiling, and how that's going to play out over the next several weeks or it's immigration reform, that -- all of these items, these legislative items like the minimum wage and extending unemployment insurance for the longtime jobless.

All of those things are now being put through a political prism. And that is the midterm election and how it affects certain Democrats and Republicans who are up for re-election in the fall. Over in the House, it's also a dicey situation. House Republicans don't want to lose seats. Democrats would like to gain seats.

And so that is, in part, why you're seeing this president go out and talk about these executive actions. Talking about using his pen and his phone because he knows, and people here at the White House know, that there's not a whole lot of hope of getting a lot done legislatively up on Capitol Hill over the next several months.

And so that is -- I think that is why you're seeing this president sort of rally the troops as he has been doing over the last week or so, you know, engaging in this discussion, this strategy session, so to speak, over how to tackle these upcoming midterm elections. He's going to be out in Cambridge, Maryland, next week with the vice president going on a retreat with House Democrats talking about the upcoming midterms.

So this is very much on the mind of the president right now. And Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said as much yesterday during the White House briefing said, of course, this is on the president's mind. He's the head of the Democratic Party. Why would it not be on his mind right now? And we're seeing that play out in a lot of these meetings right now with the president.

COSTELLO: All right.

ACOSTA: And lawmakers up on Capitol Hill today.

COSTELLO: All right. Jim Acosta, we'll get back to you. We're still awaiting word from the president at the National Prayer Breakfast. Of course when the president begins speaking, we'll take some of his remarks live.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, that massive winter storm is over, but more than a million people are without lights or heat this morning. Margaret Conley has that story from Pennsylvania.

MARGARET CONLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're here in Abington Township, Pennsylvania, where a lot of people are probably happy to see the sunshine. Last night we were in some of these homes where people were surviving by candlelight.

We'll be back with more after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: All right. Let's head back to Washington and the National Prayer Breakfast. As you can see the president has now taken the podium. Let's listen.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They love each other, but they've got to go at each other a little bit.

I, by the way, have always found Louie to be unbelievably gracious every time I've seen him. Now I don't watch TV.

(LAUGHTER)

I've got to admit. So -- but he is a good man and a great storyteller. And Janice was just reminding me the first time we saw each other was at one of my first events when I first ran for office. It's wonderful to see all of the dignitaries and friends who are here today to the presidents and prime ministers, the leaders of business and the non-profit community.

To my incredible friend and vice president, Joe Biden. To my cabinet members who are here and members of the administration who do such great work every single day. To my fellow Hawaiian, it is wonderful to see you. I should tell you that I -- my surfing is not that good. I just want to be clear. But my bodysurfing is pretty good.

(LAUGHTER)

Yes. It is. And to Raj Shah who is just such an incredible young leader and is out there every single day, I could not be more proud of his outstanding leadership at USAID. And it's a good reminder --

(APPLAUSE)

It's a good reminder of the dedicated public servants that I have the chance to interact with every single day. And they do great work and don't always get a lot of credit. Sometimes get subject to the sort of criticism that you do when you are in public life, but Raj is single minded in terms of trying to help as many people as possible all around the world and is an extraordinary representative for our country.

So I'm very, very proud of him, although he does always make me feel like an underachiever whenever I --

(LAUGHTER) Whenever I listen to him. I think -- I should have been working harder and not slouching.

(LAUGHTER)

Dale Jones and everyone else who worked on this breakfast this morning, thank you. And, obviously, I'm thrilled to be joined by my extraordinary wife. And she does a great job as --

(LAUGHTER)

Keeping me in line. Just two other thank you's. To our men and women in uniform all around the world, we pray for them. Many of them who do such great work to keep us safe.

And then there is one colleague of mine who is missing today. A great friend of mine who I came into the senate with, Senator Tom Coburn. Tom is going through some tough times right now, but I love him dearly, even though we're from different parties.

He's a little closer to Louie's political perspective than mine, but he is a good man, and, you know, I am keeping him and his family in my prayers all the time. So, just a shout-out to my good friend Tom Coburn.

(APPLAUSE)

So each time we gather, it's a chance to set aside the rush of our daily lives, to pause with humility before an Almighty God to seek his grace and mindful of our own imperfections to remember the admonition of the Book of Romans, which is especially fitting for those of us in Washington.

Do not claim to be wiser than you are. So here we put aside labels of party and ideology and recall what we are first. All children of a loving God, brothers and sisters called to make his work our own.

But in this work, as Lincoln said, our concern should not be whether God is on our side but whether we are on God's side.

Here we give thanks for his guidance in our own individual faith journeys. In my life, he directs my path to Chicago and my work with churches who were intent on breaking the cycle of poverty and hard-hit communities there.

And I'm grateful not only because I was broke and the church fed me, but because it led to everything else. It led me to embrace Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior and lead me to Michelle, the love of my life, and blessed us with two extraordinary daughters. It led me to public service and the longer I serve, especially in moments of trial or doubt, the more thankful I am of God's guiding hand.

Now, here as Americans, we affirm the freedoms endowed by our Creator, among them freedom of religion. Yes, this freedom safeguards religion, allowing us to flourish as one of the most religious countries on Earth. But it works the other way, too, because religion strengthens America. Brave men and women of faith who challenged our conscience and brought us closer to our founding ideals from the abolition of slavery to civil rights, workers rights. So many of you carry on this good work today for the child who deserves the school worthy of his dreams, to the parents working overtime to pull themselves out of poverty, for the immigrants who want to step out of the shadows and become a full member of our American family, for the young girl who prays for rescue from the modern slavery of human trafficking -- an outrage that we must all join together to end.

And through our office of office of faith-based and neighborhood partnerships led by Melissa Rogers, we're proud to work with you on this and many other issues. And I invite you to join us in a new initiative that I announced in my State of the Union address. An effort to help more young men of color overcome the odds because so many boys in this country need that mentor to help them become a man and a good father.

I felt the love that faith can instill in our lives during my visits to the Holy Land and Jerusalem, sacred to Jews and Christians and Muslims. I felt it in houses of worship, whether paying my respects at the tomb of Archbishop Romero in San Salvador or visiting a synagogue on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the blue mosque in Istanbul or a Buddhist temple in Bangkok.

And I felt the compassion of so many faith leaders around the world, and I'm especially looking forward to returning to the Vatican next month to meet his holiness, Pope Francis, whose message about caring for the least of these is one that I hope all of us heed. Like Matthew, he has answered the call of Jesus who said follow me. And he inspires us with his words and deeds, his humility and missionary impulse to serve the cause of social justice.

Yet even as our faith sustains us, it's also clear that around the world, freedom of religion is under threat. And that's what I want to reflect on this morning. We see governments engaging in discrimination and violence against the faith. We sometimes see religion twisted in an attempt to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, how they pray or who they love.

Old tensions are stoked, fueling conflicts along religious lines, as we've seen in the Central African Republic recently, even though to harm anyone in the name of faith is to diminish our own relationship with God.

Extremists succumb to an ignorant nihilism that shows they don't understand the faiths they claim to profess, for the killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God's will -- in fact, as the ultimate betrayal of God's will.

Today, we profess the principles we know to be true. We believe that each of us is wonderfully made in the image of God. We, therefore, believe in the inherent dignity of every human being -- dignity that no earthly power can take away. And central to that dignity is freedom religion. The right of every person to practice their faith how they choose, to change their faith if they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do this free from persecution and fear.

Our faith teaches us that in the face of suffering, we can't stand idly by, that we must be that Good Samaritan. In Isaiah, we're told to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed. The Torah commands, know the feelings of the stranger having yourself been strangers in the land of Egypt. The Koran instructs stand out firmly for justice.

So, history shows that nations that uphold the rights of their people, including the freedom of religion, are ultimately more just and more peaceful and more successful. Nations that do not uphold these rights so the bitter seeds of instability and violence and extremism. So, freedom of religion matters to our national security.

(APPLAUSE)

As I've said before, there are times when we work with governments that don't always meet our highest standards, but they are working with us encore interests such as the security of the American people. At the same time, we also deeply believe that it's in our interest even with our partners, sometimes with our friends to stand up for universal human rights.

So, promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy. And I'm proud that no nation on earth does more to stand up for the freedom of religion around the world than the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

It is not always comfortable to do, but it is right. When I meet with Chinese leaders, and we do a lot of business with the Chinese and that relationship is extraordinarily important, not just to our two countries but to the world. But I stress that realizing China's potential rests on upholding universal rights, including for Christians and Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims.

(APPLAUSE)

When I meet with the president of Burma, a country that is trying to emerge out of a long darkness into the light of a representative government, I've said that Burma's return to the international community depends on respecting basic freedoms, including for Christians and Muslims. I've pledged our support to the people of Nigeria who deserve to worship in their churches and mosques in peace, free from terror. I've put the weight of my office behind the efforts to protect the people of Sudan and South Sudan, including the religious minorities.

As we support Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in direct talks, we've made clear that lasting peace will require freedom of worship and access to holy sites for all faiths. I want to take this opportunity to thank Secretary Kerry for his extraordinary passion and principled diplomacy in this cause -- he's brought to the cause of peace in the Middle East.

Thank you, John.

(APPLAUSE)

More broadly, I've made the case that no society can truly succeed unless it guarantees the rights of all of its peoples, including religious minorities. Whether they are Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan or Bahai in Iran or Coptic Christians in Egypt. And in Syria, it means ensuring a place for all people Alawites and Sunni, Shia and Christian.

Going forward, we will keep standing for religious freedom around the world. And that includes, by the way, opposing blasphemy and defamation of religion measures which are promoted sometimes as an expression of religion, but, in fact, all too often can be used to suppress religious minorities.

(APPLAUSE)

We continue to stand for the rights of all people to practice their faiths in peace and in freedom. And we will continue to stand against the ugly tide of anti-Semitism that rears its ugly head all too often. I look forward to nominating our next ambassador at large for international religious freedom to help lead these efforts, and we're moving ahead with our new strategy to partner more closely with religious leaders and faith communities as we carry out our foreign policy.

And I want to thank Shaun Casey from the Wesley Theological Seminary for leading this work at the State Department. Shaun is here today. We want to thank him for the outstanding work that he's done.

Thank you, Shaun.

(APPLAUSE)

So, around the world, we're elevating our engagement with faith leaders and making it a regular part of our diplomacy. Today, I invite you to join us in focusing on several pressing challenges. Let's do more together to advance human rights, including religious freedom. Let's do more to promote the development that Raj describes -- from ending extreme poverty to saving lives from HIV/AIDS to combating climate change so that we can preserve God's incredible creation on all these issues, faith leaders and faith organizations here in the United States and around the world are incredible partners and we're grateful to them.

And in contrast to those who wield religion to divide us, let's do more to nurture dialogue between faiths that can break cycles of conflict and build true peace, including in the Holy Land.

And finally, as we build the future we seek, let us never forget those who were persecuted today. Among them, Americans of faith. We pray for Kenneth Bae, a Christian missionary who has been held in North Korea for 15 months, sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. His family wants him home, and the United States will continue to do everything in our power to secure his release because Kenneth Bae deserves to be free.

(APPLAUSE)

We pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini. He's been held in Iran for more than 18 months, sentenced to eight years in prison on charges relating to his Christian beliefs. And as we continue to work for his freedom today, again we call on the Iranian government to release Pastor Abedini so he can return to the loving arms of his wife and children in Idaho.

(APPLAUSE)

And as we pray for all prisoners of conscience, whatever their faiths, wherever they are held, let's imagine what it must be like for them. We may not know their names, but all around the world, there are people who are waking up in cold cells, facing another day of confinement, another day of unspeakable treatment simply because they are affirming God.

Despite all they've endured. Despite all the awful punishments, if caught, they will wait for that moment when the guards aren't looking when they can close their eyes and bring their hands together and pray.