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Putin Displays Dangerous Double Standard on Military Force; Republican Critics Blast Obama on Ukraine; Netanyahu Warns of Iran Nuclear Ambitions; Obama's 2015 Budget Proposal; Global Markets Rebound

Aired March 4, 2014 - 13:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Here are the latest developments on the crisis in Ukraine. The secretary of state, John Kerry, is on his way to Paris after meeting with the new Ukrainian government in Kiev earlier today. Both he and President Obama made it clear in statements, just a little while ago, they are united with the new government in Ukraine and they're ready to stand with the Ukrainian people against Russia.

Adding to the tensions in Crimea, now occupied by thousands of Russian troops, are reports Russian warships have blocked the narrow Kerch Strait between Crimea and Russia.

At an earlier news conference, President Putin, of Russia, denied there are any Russian troops in Crimea. He said the 22,000 armed forces there are, quote, "self defense teams."

With this action in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, Vladimir Putin appears to be displaying a dangerous double standard, especially after lecturing the United States and its allies about the use of military force.

Brian Todd is covering this part of the story for us.

So what do you see?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it wasn't that long ago he lectured the U.S. and its allies about using military force. A few months ago, after the Syrian chemical weapons attack and the U.S. considering a military strike on Syria, Vladimir Putin was all over that, saying that the U.S. and his allies shouldn't be doing that. Here's a quote from an op-ed piece he wrote in the "New York Times" September 11th, 2013. Quote, "Decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus. We need to use the United Nations Security Council." Well, here we are, thousands of Russian troops in Crimea. He is threatening more. And the U.N. Security Council certainly not part of his process there, Wolf.

He said today, if I take the decision to use military force, as if he hasn't already, it will be completely legitimate and correspond to international law. President Obama coming on after that, saying I think President Putin has a different set of lawyers, interpreting things different ways. He is being prodded in different forms of hypocrisy, especially what he said about Syria just a few months ago.

BLITZER: That op-ed he wrote, he really lectured the United States invasions of --

TODD: Sure did.

BLITZER: -- Iraq and Afghanistan, what NATO air power did in Libya.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: And so now people are saying, why were you lecturing them then if you go into Crimea now.

TODD: That's right. Here's a quote from the op-ed, just about Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Quote, "Alarming that military intervention didn't help conflicts in foreign countries has become common place for the United States." Fast forward to now, now he's doing it in Crimea. And that also came five and a half years after he invaded Georgia to try to focus forces in and assert his dominance over an internal dispute there, just what he was lecturing the U.S. not to do. So Vladimir Putin caught in various forms of hypocrisy now, last year, and in Georgia. It's this game we're playing constantly.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting, thanks very much.

Up next, Republican critics of President Obama are blasting him over the Ukrainian crisis. But what options are they putting on the table? Let's take a closer look.

And later, Israel's prime minister sounding a hopeful tone about piece with the Palestinians, and he also sounds the alarm about Iran.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama has come under fire for the administration's handling of the Ukrainian crisis and some Republicans saying the president gave Russia a green light in Ukraine.

Let's start with what Arizona Senator John McCain said to me right here yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), ARIZONA: In addition, incredible misreading of Vladimir Putin, his intentions and the world as we have it today. They keep denying, the president and the secretary of state, this is not East-West. This is not a return of the Cold War. Well, it isn't on our part, but it certainly is on Vladimir Putin. This president, tell -- famous overheard conversation -- "Tell Vladimir that I'll be more flexible when I'm re-elected." Well, what has this flexibility gotten us?

JIM DEMINT, PRESIDENT, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: We're trusting them to do what they say. And that is a foolish, naive notion now. We are not modernizing our own capabilities, which creates more of a perception of weakness and it's encouraging even our allies to get into the nuclear business, because they're afraid we're no longer going to be capable of protecting them.

SARAH PALIN, (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR & FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Lookit, people are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's discuss. Joining us from Philadelphia, CNN political commentator, Michael Smerconish, host of the new program Michael Smerconish program here on CNN, starts this coming Saturday, by the way, 9:00 a.m. eastern, Saturday morning, "Smerconish." That's the name of the show.

Michael, thanks very much. Congratulations on the new show.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & HOST, SMERCONISH: Thanks.

BLITZER: Let's talk about what we just heard. Some of the president's supporters say these Republicans have gone way too far in their criticism of the president. What say you?

SMERCONISH: Well, I agree that the criticism has gone too far, particularly where it's offered, as far as I can discern, without any alternative. "Feckless" is a word that I'm hearing. "Jimmy Carter- esque" is another word. Take a look at the "New York Post" lead editorial today, and I think it's indicative of the criticism of the right of the president.

But what you don't find are specifics they think he should be pursuing. Other than that saying Vladimir Putin is kicking sand in the face of the president, I really haven't heard anything substantive as to what he should do. They haven't wanted to play the military card, either. But the implication, Wolf, is that, militarily, we should be doing something, and I don't think the American people want that.

BLITZER: Yeah, well, I think in fairness to John McCain, he says, no boots on the ground, no military action. He was here yesterday. But he does have three or four points that he says the U.S. could be doing right now, and maybe the administration will consider it. He talks about the Magnitsky Act, so he has a few ideas. But for the most part, you're right. We're not hearing a whole lot of other proposals coming from the critics, other than the president had a red line in Syria, Syrians used chemical warfare, killed hundreds of fellow citizens. The U.S. said it would take action and didn't. That's the argument you hear, and that emboldened Putin.

SMERCONISH: I think that's a legitimate debate to have. Whether the drawing of the red line in Syria and then not acting on it has diminished our creditability, I think that's a fair subject of conversation.

My own impression is that Vladimir Putin wouldn't have been impacted, regardless of what we had done in Syria. He seems to march to the beat of his own drummer, particularly where we're talking about territories that, at one time, were under the umbrella of the old Soviet Union.

BLITZER: I think you're right. Because you go back to August of 2008, when he saw that -- what he believed to be Russian interests at play at Georgia, a neighboring republic, the Republic of Georgia, he moved troops into Georgia at that time, as well, despite the criticism from the Bush administration that poured out. He sees this as his national interests. That's a lot more important to him than any kind of sanctions or political action that might be taken in retribution against them, right?

SMERCONISH: It's hard for me not to reflect on Sochi and to think about the opening and the closing exercises, which seemed to be a real nostalgia play by Putin, to the extent he had a hand in what that messaging was. And I wonder if, from a foreign policy perspective, this, too, isn't a nostalgia play. That's how I interpret it.

BLITZER: How do you think the criticism of the Obama administration's foreign policy over these past five years plays, for example, in other capitals, including Moscow?

SMERCONISH: Well, I think probably in Moscow, they wonder what happened to the days when we thumped our chests and we really were going to go into Iraq or we really were going to go into Afghanistan. But we've had two elections in this country now, and I think the message from those elections has been a message of restraint and diplomacy, and that's what the president has pursued.

You know that some among us, regardless of what he says, regardless of what he does, if he's for it, they're against it. If he's against it, they're for it. I don't know whether those tea leaves can be properly interpreted overseas. But here at home, that's what we recognize the difference to be between Obama and his predecessor.

BLITZER: Michael Smerconish, thank you very much for joining us.

SMERCONISH: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And don't miss the debut of "Smerconish" -- that's the name of the program --

(LAUGHTER)

-- Saturday morning, 9:00 a.m. eastern.

Michael, we will all be watching. Good luck with the new show.

SMERCONISH: Thank you.

BLITZER: There was a big sell-off of global markets yesterday as the Ukraine crisis escalated. Later, I'll tell you if the sell-off deepened today or if investors stopped to catch their breathe.

Up next, we heard a glimmer of optimism about the peace threat in the Middle East today from Israel. We'll tell you what the visiting Israeli prime minister has said here in Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounded an optimistic note about Middle East peace but he urges caution when it comes to Iran. In a speech today before AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, here in Washington, the prime minister warned about Iran's nuclear ambitions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Iran doesn't want a peaceful nuclear program. Iran wants a military nuclear program. I said it here once. I'll say it here again. If it looks like a duck, if it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, then what is it? Well, it ain't a chicken. And it's certainly not a dove. It's still a nuclear duck.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in Jane Harman, she's the director, president and CEO of the Wilson Center, former Congresswoman from California.

He's making it abundantly clear, Jane, that he disagrees with the president of the United States and the secretary of state on the effectiveness, if you will, of this interim nuclear deal with Iran.

JANE HARMAN, (R), DIRECTOR, PRESIDENT, CEO, THE WILSON CENTER & FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN: Sort of. I'm trying to figure out whether the metaphor of the duck is better or worse than the hot-water bottle with the line across it that he showed at the U.N.

But I think, I've heard him say, and I just heard the Israeli minister of intelligence, who's very closely aligned with him say that they are not against diplomacy, they just want the final deal to deter an arms race in the Middle East and truly protect Israel and U.S. interests. And, therefore, they think zero enrichment has to be part of the final deal. So I don't think he is against diplomacy. We could argue whether that's achievable and whether the U.S. will support that position, but I think that it does not put him against our strategy in Iran.

BLITZER: Is zero enrichment something the Iranian would agree to?

HARMAN: Well, they're saying, of course, not. But the point that they just made at the Wilson Center 30 minutes ago was, if they have to choose between enriching on their soil, he's not against their having a civil nuclear program. He just doesn't want them to have the enrichment capability, as many countries do not have. If they have to choose between enriching on their soil and getting their economy back and actually building their economy, they're going to choose their economy.

Now, I don't know how they think, but certainly his point is no one is buying the charm offensive of the new Iranian government in the Middle East. No one in the Middle East is buying it. He says the West is buying it. And I have seen Rouhani and talked at length to many in our government who are negotiating this, I can't tell you what the final deal could look like but I have to say I know a lot of people are listening to him since he's come to Washington.

BLITZER: As far as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the prime minister actually sounded a bit optimistic today. I'll play a little clip. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NETANYAHU: Peace is Israel's highest aspiration. I'm prepared to make a historic peace with our Palestinian neighbors --

(APPLAUSE)

NETANYAHU: -- a peace that would end a century of conflict and bloodshed.

(APPLAUSE)

NETANYAHU: This would be good for us. This would be good for the Palestinians. But peace would also open up the possibility of establishing formal ties between Israel and leading countries in the Arab world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Sort of sounds a little bit like John Kerry. I've heard John Kerry make those same points, and Jeffrey Goldberg, who was here on our program yesterday. When he interviewed the president of the United States about the peace process the other day, he tweeted that, "Netanyahu was actually selling the benefits of peace, hopeful move."

Are you hopeful?

HARMAN: I am hopeful and I applaud the speech. His reference to a moral divide, "you can be on the right side or the wrong side," I thought was extremely powerful, and no one is missing, certainly I'm not missing, this congruence of interest on Iran between Israel and her Sunni neighbors. And finally the possibilities -- and Netanyahu said this -- of a regional economic powerhouse leveraging Israel's strengths and the strengths of many Arab countries is becoming something people are willing to entertain. There's been a Saudi peace initiative on the table -- you know this, Wolf -- for 12 years. No one has really moved toward it. But this was the first speech that Netanyahu has given that gave me real hope. And you can hear some of President Obama's words in his words, but you can really feel the influence of John Kerry, whom he called indomitable. I've got to say this, Wolf. I saw Kerry speak to APAC last night, in a long, thorough speech. Then he got on an airplane and then I saw him putting roses on the graves of the 82 opposition folks who died in Kiev, Ukraine. And all of this in one -- less than a news cycle. The guy is astonishingly impressive.

BLITZER: He's got a lot of energy, indeed.

Jane, thanks very much. Jane Harman of the Wilson Center.

HARMAN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, markets around the world in a big sell-off yesterday on the crisis in Ukraine. We're going to the New York Stock Exchange. What a difference a day makes. Why?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama says his proposed 2015 budget will help low and middle-income families while also growing the economy and creating jobs. He outlined his plan in a speech just a little while ago. He said he wants to expand tax credits for lower-income Americans and says he'll do it by closing loopholes that benefit wealthier individuals.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right now, our tax system provides benefits to wealthy individuals who save, even after they have amassed multimillion dollar retirement accounts. By closing that loophole, we can help create jobs and grow the economy and expand opportunity without adding a dime to the deficit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president also wants to expand the earned-income tax credit for the working poor without children. His budget would also expand the Child and Dependent Care tax credit and create automatic IRAs to help workers save for retirement, but it's unlikely those plans will get through Congress. He needs legislation to enact all of that, and that does not look likely.

Global markets are rebounding today as investors digest the situation in Ukraine. Even the Dow Jones flew out of the gate this morning.

Alison Kosik is over at the New York Stock Exchange.

How much have we bounced back today, Alison?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Quite a bit. What a difference a day makes. Even the S&P 500 at a record high. The Dow up 200 points, 205 points. All 30 stocks in the Dow are in the green. Very different story yesterday. It was a sea of red. We also saw that turn-around happening overseas, all the way -- there were those down arrows we saw yesterday in Europe, Asia, Russia, they all turned up today. Analysts say investors today aren't on red alert. It's not such a dire situation. I think when Putin spoke and said Russia doesn't want to annex Crimea, analysts said that the Ukraine should fade as an issue. Through these geopolitical events, markets become volatile, but wind up recovering after a week or two. But that volatility will continue -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Yeah, the roller coaster will continue, I suspect, for several days, up and down, up and down. We'll see what happens tomorrow and the rest of today. Alison, thanks very much.

That's it for me.

For our international viewers, "AMANPOUR" is next. For the rest of you, I'll me back at 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks very much for watching.

NEWSROOM starts with Brianna Keilar right now.