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Yulia Tymoshenko Says Help Save Crimea; Russia Says No Ultimatum Given to Ukraine; Ukraine Affecting World Markets; Obama's Message to Israeli's Netanyahu; How Will Israel Receive Obama's Message; Interview with Mark Regev; Why Crimea is Vital to Russia

Aired March 3, 2014 - 13:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YULIA TYMOSHENKO, FORMER UKRAINE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): And then we'd have to accept to state that in 21st century, one country, an aggressor, can violate all the international agreements, take away territories wherever she likes. We can't afford this in the world. That's why if the instruments of diplomacy won't work, if all the negotiations won't work, the world has to apply strongest means.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ms. Tymoshenko, you sound like you are raising the stakes and you are calling for the West, the United States, Britain, Europe, to use military force against Russia. Am I reading you correctly, is that what you are calling for?

TYMOSHENKO (through translation): I am asking all of the world, personally, every world leader, to use all the possibilities in order to avoid Ukraine losing Crimea.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: Now, what she had started by saying was that she had received information that is subsequently being confirmed that the Russian parliament has been debating a draft law that would provide for the annexation of Crimea. So she was incredibly worried about that.

But to give you an idea of how out of control this whole thing is, all sorts of rumors and counter rumors have been flying around, some of which turns out to be true, some apparently not. The latest, which caused a huge international sort of go-round was this alleged ultimatum given by Russia allegedly, the head of the Black Sea fleet there, for all Ukrainian military installations to surrender, and gave a specific time of before dawn tomorrow morning, or else, quote, "those bases would be stormed." Now that did create a storm of criticism, certainly on social media, certainly in the press on cable networks and 24-hour networks. And in the last couple hours, the Russians or the people who are ahead of the Black Sea fleet, and apparently also the Russian defense ministry, has said actually that's not true. There's no ultimatum. So a little bit of breathing room there -- Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And they called it utter rubbish. Let's hope that's the occasion.

Christiane, thanks very much.

We're going to walk you through a map of the region around Russia and Ukraine and show you why Crimea is so critical and how it matters to the United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Russian state media now reporting of an ultimatum to Ukrainian troops, saying that ultimatum is utter rubbish. Earlier, Ukraine's defense minister said a Russian naval commander warned the Ukrainian forces to swear allegiance to the new authorities, surrender, or face an attack. What we know right now is about 6,000 Russian troops are in control of Crimea. The European Union is demanding an immediate Russian withdrawal.

Secretary of State John Kerry is due in Kiev tomorrow. He leaves Washington tonight. He has condemned Russia's invasion of Crimea as a, quote, "incredible act of aggression."

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, personally inspected Russian military exercises in Western Russia. He called for snap drills and surprise inspections throughout the region.

The crisis in Ukraine is also being felt on markets around the world.

Maribel Aber is at the New York Stock Exchange.

The number is not looking good on this day. What's the reaction so far?

MARIBEL ABER, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, as you said, huge selloff on Wall Street. We knew before the open there was going to be a wave of selling. But it's gotten stronger as the day goes on. It's not just here in the U.S. Markets in Asia and Europe plunged 1 to 3 percent overnight and commodities are surging -- oil, wheat, corn and gold. Those are things generally considered safe for investments.

No doubt about it, Ukraine had big problems before today. A weak economy in need of financial bailout. But what was a financial problem has turned into an economic problem. So trade could be impacted because Ukraine is a major wheat and corn producer. Also, a lot of oil from Russia has to go through Ukraine before it gets to Europe. And Russia's economy could take a hit if Western countries put sanctions in place.

So we're seeing that fear in the market, Wolf, but some analysts don't expect a selloff to last and say, actually, this might be a buying opportunity -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Let's see if it is. Right now the Dow Jones down almost 200 points.

Maribel, thanks very much. We'll keep you updated on the crisis in Ukraine throughout the hour, throughout the day.

Also coming up, President Obama getting ready to sit down with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, only minutes from now. We'll tell you the blunt message the president plans to deliver to the prime minister.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama has a message for the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Time is running out on the Middle East peace process. The prime minister scheduled to meet within the next few minutes with the president over the White House.

In an interview with "Bloomberg View," the president spelled out what he's about to tell the prime minister: among other things, quote, "if not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who"? He also said that, "If Netanyahu does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach."

Jeffrey Goldberg is a columnist with "Bloomberg View." He conducted the exclusive interview with the president. And he's here.

Jeffrey, thanks very much.

The president was pretty blunt in his comments, and coming on the eve of his meeting with Netanyahu. What was his motivation right now? Why would he do that?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, COLUMNIST, BLOOMBERG VIEW: I think he wants to shape the conversation, remind the prime minister, that it's on his shoulders.

I gave the president a couple of opportunities to talk about the Palestinian leader, Mahmud Abbas, and he turned it back toward the prime minister each time. He said that the Palestinian leader is the most moderate leader that the Palestinians may ever have. And so it's really up to the prime minister to take advantage of this situation. And that time is running out. Like, there is not going to be these endless opportunities for peacemaking. So he was sort of setting the stage in a fairly candid way.

BLITZER: And he's got a plan, a so-called framework plan --

GOLDBERG: Yeah.

BLITZER: -- that Kerry has put together with his advisers, that he thinks is in Israel's own best interest. And is going to try to sell it in the next few minutes to the prime minister.

GOLDBERG: Exactly. It will be interesting to see how much prime minister is buying. But he basically says, you know, look, your demographics are changing, you can't hold on to the West Bank. Palestinians don't want to hold on to you. You can't hold on to that forever. And, you know, this thing might fall apart eventually. And if you want to be a Jewish majority democracy, you have to make some painful moves rather quickly. So the president believes that his analysis is correct and he's trying to convince the prime minister that his analysis is correct.

BLITZER: Hovering over all of this is a major disagreement between the prime minister and the president over dealing with Iran's nuclear program.

GOLDBERG: Right. The prime minister would rather come and talk about how to be tough on Iran. Obama is coming to be tough on Israel over the Palestinian issue. So there are -- they are competing here a little bit. And the prime minister is worried about the president's opening to Iran, these ongoing negotiations. And so it's a little bit of a recipe for tension.

I asked the president very bluntly, I said, do you think the Iranians still believe that all options are on the table, especially after the Syria walk-back when he chose not to strike at Syria. And in this interview that's now on "Bloomberg View," you can see, he says absolutely they believe that our deterrence is strong, and they believe that I'm capable of using military force. I'm not sure that the prime minister of Israel believes that at this point.

BLITZER: There's been a history of a little tension between these two --

(CROSSTALK)

GOLDBERG: They have a very emotional relationship, yeah. They have a very tumultuous relationship. They need each other. The prime minister obviously needs the American president. He needs to convince the president of his position. And they have been having the same argument in some ways for years.

BLITZER: Excellent interview, excellent article on "Bloomberg View."

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Goldberg, thanks for coming in and setting the stage for this important meeting between the president and prime minister.

So how is President Obama's message to the Israeli prime minister likely to be received? We're going to talk with the spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mark Regev is standing by live here. We'll discuss that and a lot more. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Middle East peace efforts and the interim nuclear deal with Iran, they are very high on the agenda. Over at the White House right now, President Obama and visiting Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, about to sit down in the Oval Office for a very important meeting.

Mark Regev is the spokesman for the Israeli prime minister. He is here with us right now.

When I say very important meeting, it certainly is. A lot at stake on the peace process, the nuclear deal with Iran. But what's been the reaction from the prime minister to the tough words that the president told Jeffrey Goldberg in this interview with "Bloomberg View" that the prime minister has to really come to terms with this as a make-or- break moment in the peace process?

MARK REGEV, SPOKESMAN FOR ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: The last few months, we have been working very closely, very energetically, very intimately with John Kerry, with the secretary of state. I think my prime minister has been speaking to Secretary Kerry almost every day to try to get this process moving forward. And we have moved. I think this process has the ability to jump forward. Our problem has been this, it's not enough that Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Netanyahu want this process to succeed. We need the Palestinians to also be a full partner in this process.

BLITZER: But the president seems to be putting all of the pressure, at least in this interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, on the prime minister right now. You heard what Jeffrey just said. He really feels that the prime minister has to make this decision. It's up to him to accept this so-called framework.

REGEV: We in Israel support two states for two people. We want peace. If I can say personally, Wolf, I have a daughter in the military, doing her military service. I have a son about to go in. The Israelis want peace more than anyone else. No one has to tell us that peace will be good.

BLITZER: Why do you think the president call Jeffrey Goldberg in, give him this exclusive interview, have these candid words for the prime minister, on the eve of this meeting at the White House?

REGEV: I can say the following. We want this process with Kerry to work. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been engaged and I think making -- willing to walk the extra mile to make this work. And our frustration is being so far the Palestinian side has been unwilling to come to the table with any flexibility.

The whole idea that Israel can just pull out and hope for the best, that's not an option. That's what happened in Gaza. We took down the settlements and went back to the '67 line. And what did we get? We didn't get peace.

BLITZER: So hovering over this is the Iran deal. There is no doubt of a major split between President Obama and prime minister Netanyahu and the wisdom of this interim deal easing up on the sanctions a bit in order to freeze, in effect, the Iranian nuclear program. How big of a difference is there between your government and the Obama administration?

REGEV: We were not particularly enamored with the interim deal. We didn't like it. We thought it was possible to get a better deal with the Iranians by keeping up the pressure. We're focus now on the final deal and we believe firmly it's crucial to deny Iran the capability of being a nuclear-threshold country because --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But do you believe the president has that same objective?

REGEV: The trouble is, if Iran reaches that threshold capability, they will cross that threshold at a time of their choosing.

BLITZER: There is always a military option, either an Israeli or a U.S. military option. Are either of those military options credible to the Iranians?

REGEV: On that, you will have to ask the Iranians.

BLITZER: But you believe they are?

REGEV: Israel will do what needs to be done to protect our country.

BLITZER: So what are does it mean?

REGEV: Let's be clear here. They are talking about a process of negotiations to destroy the Iranian nuclear program, to end their ability in Iran to make a nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: There's nothing wrong with giving diplomacy. You're a diplomat. Giving diplomacy a chance.

REGEV: Israel wants to see the diplomacy succeed. But we don't want to see a deal that, for the sake of a deal and a photo op, don't solve the problem. It's crucial --

BLITZER: I don't think the president wants to see that either.

REGEV: We want to see the dismantlement of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure. That means no centrifuges and no ICMBs, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and no plutonium-producing heavy water reactors.

The truth is the Iranians say they only want the energy for peaceful purposes. You don't need ICBMs if you only want them for peaceful purposes. You don't need a plutonium-producing heavy water reactor and you definitely don't need enriched uranium. In fact, you should know, Canada to then north, Mexico to the south, both of them have peaceful nuclear programs. Neither of them has plutonium. Neither of them has enrichment. You don't need those elements in a peaceful nuclear program.

BLITZER: So forget about the means to those. The ultimate goal, the points you out lined, is the Obama administration on the same page as Israel?

REGEV: Well, on the big picture --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: In terms of the big-picture goals?

REGEV: Definitely. We don't want to see Iran with nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: In other words, has the Obama administration ready to make sure that there are no ICBMs from the Iranians?

REGEV: We have to wait and see. And the discussions are ahead of us, as you know. But our position is clear. We cannot allow the Iranian regime to get its hands on the nuclear weapons capability.

They have been talking the talk of moderation. The Iranian new president smiles and their new foreign minister is a very smooth talker. But if you actually look at Iranian policy, what they are doing at home and the executions of their own citizens, at an all-time high. What they are doing in Syria. They are on the ground in Syria supporting the Assad murder machine with their fighters and their weapons, funding Assad, supporting terrorists -- Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic jihad. They have not changed. They refused to recognize my country. They still call for Israel's annihilation. They still chant in Tehran, "Death to America, Death to Israel. We have to be very careful that this terrible regime does not achieve nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: Sounds like it will be a critically important meeting that is about to begin in the Oval Office at the White House.

Mark Regev, thanks very much for coming in.

REGEV: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Once again, President Obama is about to meet with the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. They will make statements at the beginning of their meetings. The president will make a statement and then the prime minister will make a statement. We'll see if reporters in the Oval Office are able to ask any questions, specifically about the situation in Ukraine. We will see what the president has to say, if anything, on that. As soon as the video comes in from the Oval Office, you will see it right here on CNN.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get back to the top story, the crisis unfolding in the Ukraine. Why is Crimea, which is part of Ukraine, so vital to Russia, so vital that Vladimir Putin is willing to risk conflict and political isolation for it? It's all Crimea's strategic value.

Tom Foreman is here to walk us through what's at stake -- Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has a value not only in its own right, but in relation to the eastern part of this country. When you look at all of Ukraine, if you want to talk about agricultural production, it's over here. You want to talk about iron and steel production, it's over here. You want to talk about critical gas lines for carrying natural gas for the rest of Europe, it's all over here. You can see it's anchored down here at the bottom.

But beyond that, you mentioned word "strategic." That's one of the reasons it matters so much. Crimea, down here on the Black Sea, is home to several thousand Russian troops. I say a thousand because right now we're getting different reports about how many are there. The opposition, the government in Kiev said they are about 15000 there. They are less on a normal basis. But those troops are always there. They have been for a long time. In part, because they are there to support the much-renowned Russian Black Sea fleet, which is based out of this area. You can see, physically, the enormous influence it can have.

Why aren't the Ukrainians going to fight back? Simply put, because they can't. Their military in every way is so much smaller, so less prepared, Wolf, that even with all the value of the east in Crimea, there is not much militarily they can do about it -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Tom, good explanation.

Thanks very much.

That's it for me this hour. I will be back at 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room." Thanks very much for watching.

NEWSROOM with Brianna Keilar starts right now.