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The Situation Room
Interview with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak; Romney Affirms Jerusalem as Israel's Capital; 140 Counts Of Murder, Attempted Murder; Battle in Syria; Interview with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; Dust Storm in Arizona; Mountain Climbing Tragedy for Two Americans
Aired July 30, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, my exclusive interview with the Israeli defense minister. He talks very candidly about stopping an Iranian nuclear weapon, Israel's relationship with President Obama and avenging the deadly terror attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria.
Also, the Colorado theater massacre suspect charged, now facing more than 100 counts in the biggest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Plus, the heartbreaking end to the high tech search for two American climbers missing in Peru. We're learning new details of how they died.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's a major concern in the United States, but here in Israel, Iran's nuclear ambitions are even more disturbing. This country sits within striking distance of a possible Iranian nuclear weapon, one that Israeli officials are determined will not be built.
I talked about that and a lot more in an exclusive interview today with the Israeli defense minister, the former prime minister, Ehud Barak.
BLITZER: Defense Minister, thanks so much for joining us.
EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER: Thank you.
BLITZER: There was a
This week in one of the Israeli newspapers that the U.S. The Obama administration, presented the Israeli government with a military plan to take military action against Iran's nuclear facilities.
Is that true?
BARAK: I -- I don't think that that's a correct description. We all are aware of the fact that this administration has done more in diplomacy, more in sanctions than previous administrations, probably for good reasons. And they did a lot in terms of operational deployment in the Gulf area and in the operational preparation.
But that's about what we know.
BLITZER: Are you and the U.S. On the same page as far as Iran is concerned?
BARAK: I think that in general terms about the intelligence, we are on the same page. In the rhetoric and the -- I don't know how to call it, observation, we are on the same page. We both know that Iran is determined to turn nuclear. We both know that Khamenei did not yet ordered, actually, to give a weapon, but that he is determined to deceit and defy the whole world.
We all are convinced and say publicly that Iran should not be allowed to turn nuclear and that all options should remain on the table.
BLITZER: What -- what does that mean, that the ayatollah has not given the order to build a nuclear bomb?
BARAK: It's something technical. He did not tell his people start and build it -- a weapon on -- an explodable device. We think that we understand why he -- the -- he does not give this order.
He believes that he is penetrated through our intelligence and he strongly feels that if he tries to order, we will know it, we and you and some other intelligence services will know about it and it might end up with a physical action against it.
So he prefers to, first of all, make sure that through redundancy, through an accumulation of more lowly enriched uranium, more medium level enriched uranium and more centrifuges and more sites, better protection, that he can reach a point, which I call the zone of immunity, beyond which Israel might not be technically capable of launching a surgical operation. The United States can do more.
And by then, he will have to consider when and how to -- to go into -- into building it.
But that's not the issue. The issue is that we agree on the rhetoric, but we do not agree on the consequences. There are certain differences. We respect each other. We feel that the -- that the -- the -- our stopwatches are -- are ticking this at a different pace. Because of our limited operational capabilities, we -- our clock ticks...
BARAK: -- much faster.
BLITZER: -- so I just want to be precise. Israel has a more limited military capability in dealing with Iran's nuclear facilities than the United States, so the U.S. Thinks there's more time available, Israel thinks there's less time available?
BARAK: Yes. Yes. But add to it the fact that we feel responsible for the security and future of the state of Israel. So we feel that we cannot afford delegating in regard to Iran being a major challenge for us. We cannot afford delegating the sovereign right of decisions about what should be done about it, even to the most trusted and trustworthy among our allies, which is the United States of America.
BLITZER: So even when the president of the United States says flatly that the U.S. No longer would support containment of a nuclear Iran, the U.S. Will not accept a nuclear Iran, that's not good enough for Israel?
BARAK: No, we -- we highly -- highly respect the president's position, this president, for what he has already done. We highly respect America. And Panetta coming here. He did a lot heading the Pentagon, probably with presidential inspiration or permission, to go further than anybody in the past to make a qualitative military edge for Israel vital (ph) and the relationship, including about protection against incoming missiles better than ever.
But -- but having said that, we know that they say -- they -- they -- they get -- say publicly what we say. But we feel that when it comes to crucial issues regarding our security and future, we cannot afford -- we -- we have to live up to this responsibility. And I believe the administration basically respects this observation. Israeli sees -- Israel sees the issue in a different manner and that we feel that ultimately, only the government of Israel should take this decision.
BLITZER: You've studied U.S.-Israeli relations over many years.
How would you describe the relationship today?
BARAK: I think that from -- from my point of view as defense minister, they are extremely good, extremely deep and profound. I can see long years, administrations of both sides of the political aisle, deeply supporting the state of Israel. And I believe that that reflects the profound feelings among the American people.
But I should tell you, honestly, that this administration, under President Obama, is doing, in regard to our security, more than anything that I can remember in the past.
BLITZER: More than any other president?
BLITZER: -- Bill Clinton... BARAK: Yes.
BLITZER: -- or George W. Bush?
BARAK: In terms of the support for our security, the cooperation of our intelligence, the sharing of thoughts (ph) in a very open way, even when there are differences, which are not simple sometimes, I found their support for our defense very stable.
Of course, we have...
BLITZER: But just to be precise, the most supportive ever, in your opinion?
BARAK: Yes, from the -- the kind of two generations I can bring to -- to memory, from probably Carter on. I cannot say exactly about LBJ, because I didn't watch it from close these times. But from Carter on, the -- the defense relationship between Israel and the United States are extremely stable and -- and good.
It doesn't mean that we agree on anything. It is very well known that we have differences between our government and the American administration about the peace process, about other issues.
But I believe that in regard to world terror and in regard to Hezbollah, in regard to what happens in Syria, in regard to Iran, we basically -- basically agree on the diagnosis.
We -- we don't agree on the prognosis on -- on some of these.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: Very, very effusive praise for the president of the United States from the Israeli defense minister.
We're going to have much more of my exclusive interview with eh Ehud Barack still ahead. Coming up, he's going to reveal how he once dressed as a woman for the mission avenging the Israeli athletes murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, telling me -- and I'm quoting him now -- "We killed them in their homes."
More of this interview coming up.
Also, separately, an exclusive interview with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. He says lessons from Iraq will be put to use when the Syrian regime falls. And he says it will fall.
Plus, a new day in court and a very different demeanor -- details of charges against the Colorado theater massacre suspect.
BLITZER: We're here in Jerusalem.
I also interviewed presumptive Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, in Jerusalem.
He was in town to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as part of his international tour. You can see more of the interview coming up in our new 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour. That's in our next hour.
But Romney certainly has angered many Palestinians with two remarks he's made here in Jerusalem, including one about the controversial issue of the city of Jerusalem.
Listen to what he told me in our one-on-one interview.
BLITZER: Do you consider Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel?
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, of course. A -- a nation has the capacity to choose its own capital city. And Jerusalem is Israel's capital.
BLITZER: If you become the president of the United States, would you move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?
ROMNEY: I think it's long been the policy of our country to ultimately have our embassy in the nation's capital of Jerusalem. The decision to actually make the move is one, if I were president, I would want to take in -- in consultation with the leadership of the government which exists at that time.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: All right, let's bring in CNN's Sara Sidner.
She's in Jerusalem, as well -- Sara, what are the Palestinians saying about Mitt Romney's remark on Jerusalem?
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let me tell you, Wolf, they are certainly not happy about it. This comment angering the Palestinian Authority as well as the Palestinian people because this -- this comment about Jerusalem being the capital of Israel is really kind of one of those things that is very contentious. It's one of the -- the bones that they -- these two groups, the Israelis and the Palestinians, have been picking over ever since the 1967 War, because, the Palestinians say that East Jerusalem must be their capital in a two state solution and Israel says that all of Jerusalem is it -- is its territory and it has no plans to give that East Jerusalem to the Palestinians. And that has really been a bone of contention.
So this comment by Romney really upsetting the Palestinians, not only the Palestinian Authority, but also generally the Palestinian people not happy to hear this from the presumptive Republican presidential candidate -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, I bet. It's upsetting a lot of the Arabs in much of the Arab world, including a lot of Muslims, as well -- but, Sara, there's another comment that the Republican presidential candidate made today at a fundraiser -- a political fundraiser in Jerusalem -- that I suspect is even more upsetting but -- but maybe at least as upsetting.
Tell our viewers what he said.
SIDNER: Yes, I think you're right to say that this is, perhaps, more upsetting, especially to the Palestinian leadership, than the comment about Jerusalem, because as you know, there have been plenty of U.S. presidential candidates who have come to Jerusalem and made that comment but then backed away from it once they were in the presidency.
Let's talk about this comment that Romney made. He was basically talking about the vast differences between the GDP per capita in Israel as compared to that in the Palestinian Territories, remarking on how much higher it was in Israel.
And let me read to you what he said to this group of very high- powered, high monied people who came to his fundraiser. He was talking about the book he had read called "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations." And said this: "If you can learn anything from this economic history of the world, it's this -- culture makes all the difference. and as I come here and look over the city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things."
Now, that comment really got the ire of the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat. He fired back a response in saying this, and here's a quote from him. He has angrily talked about this comment a couple of times saying, the Romney statements on Jerusalem and the racist statements about the Israeli culture being superior to the Palestinian culture reflects someone who needs to be educated, who needs knowledge.
His statements are serving the extremists in the region. Now, and that we have to mention that Romney has said that his statements have been taken out of context, but Erekat is not buying that, basically saying that Romney really needs to get his history straight and blames the Israeli occupation for the economic troubles in the Palestinian territories.
BLITZER: The controversy will continue. Sara Sidner reporting for us from Jerusalem. Thank you. And by the way, you can see and hear more of my one-on-one interview with Mitt Romney, that's coming up on our next hour, our new 6:00 p.m. eastern hour. Parts -- more of this interview, stand by for that.
Tomorrow, by the way, my interview with the current president of Israel, the former Prime Minister, Shimon Peres. Very candid information he's releasing in this interview. That interview with Shimon Peres tomorrow in the SITUATION ROOM.
Other news, parts of Phoenix, Arizona covered in a wall of dust. Ahead, a closer look at what's behind the surge in monstrous storm.
BLITZER: Quite a different day in court today for the man being held in the Colorado theater massacre. He has now been charged. James Holmes facing two dozen counts of first-degree murder, two for each victim and more than 100 counts of attempted murder. CNNs Ed Lavandera was inside that courtroom today where Holmes appeared. Ed, tell our viewers what happened.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, this time, there were no video cameras allowed in the courtroom. But you know, looking at someone who is now clearly staring down at the death penalty, you wouldn't be able to tell that by looking at James Holmes today.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): James Holmes sat calmly in the courtroom, apparently, unfazed when the judge announced that he'd been charged with 142 criminal charges, including 24 counts of first-degree murder, two for each victim. Theater shooting survivor, Don Lader, needed to see Holmes up close to send the accused mass killer a message.
DON LADER, SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I think the guy is a coward and seeing him just confirmed that, 100 percent. He looked defeated. And, he knows that he's not the one with power anymore. That is us.
LAVANDERA: In his first court appearance last week, Holmes displayed a bizarre range of bewildered expressions. This time, he appeared more lucid and aware of what was going on around him. His red hair matted down. At times, he stared blankly at the judge's bench in front of him, and then his eyes would open wide as if trying to process the court exchanges.
There were dozens of victims and family members in court today to see and judge Holmes' demeanor for themselves.
MARYELLEN HANSEN, ASHLEY MOSER'S AUNT: I got a sense that he was very aware of what was going on. I do not believe that he's insane, but of course, I'm not a psychiatrist. He responded very appropriately.
LAVANDERA: Survivors and their families filled half the courtroom as well as an overflow courtroom where they could watch the hearing. Among them, Rita Palina (ph), who was brought to the court by her family in a wheelchair, her left arm and leg still bandaged from the gunshot wounds.
Don Lader and Amber Harris (ph) came together, total strangers the night of the shooting, Don found Amber in the movie theater parking lot dazed in the chaos of the shooting aftermath. Today, they're friends bonded by a horrific experience. Don wore a batman T-shirt to court and says he's been to a movie theater and seen "The Dark Knight Rises" twice since the shooting.
LADER: I'm hoping that people (INAUDIBLE) with a shirt will take it as a sign of strength of the community. That's we're not going to sit down and take this. We're not going to let his fear (ph) spread that he wanted to. We're going to stand up. We're going to fight. And that's what this is a representation of.
LAVANDERA (on-camera): Wolf, after the court hearing today, prosecutors met privately with the victims and victims families that showed up at the court hearing today and explained their strategy in filing 142 criminal charges. There were some questions, and obviously, many people think that many more charges could have been filed.
But according to family members, prosecutors said they wanted to go after the most reasonable charges that they could get the most severe punishment for and not prolong this legal process any longer than it needs to be -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting stuff. All right. Thanks very much, Ed Lavendera, on the ground for us in Colorado.
Other news we're following, CNN is on the ground inside Syria. We're watching firsthand the fierce fighting going on. There are new developments. We'll check in with our own Ivan Watson right after this.
BLITZER: The battle for the commercial heart of Syria is expanding right now. The fighting intense as rebel forces are moving in and around Aleppo. CNN's Ivan Watson is on the ground for us. We're going to talk to him in just a moment, but first, here's this report he sent to us just a few moments ago.
IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The fires are still smoldering after Sunday night's rebel attack on a large Syrian army base next to the main highway between Aleppo and the Turkish border to the north. And look at the results of this attack. An armored personnel carrier blown open, and just take a look at how ferocious this assault was.
The torrent was blown off the vehicle, something like 20 yards away. We were listening as the battle unfolded on Sunday night. Tracer fire lighting up to the night sky, explosions. The Syrian army calling in artillery all the way from Aleppo which was located miles away.
And we could hear the rebels as they approached the earth works around this army base, crawling on their stomachs, carrying rocket propelled grenades, which can only fire at close range to take out heavily armored vehicles like this. The day after the battle, the rebels are celebrating.
This is why this outpost was such a strategic victory for the rebels. It overlooked the main highway that runs from the city of Aleppo all the way to the Turkish border. And with this kicking out, the rebels have resumed control of a crucial artery, transport artery, between these two destinations. (INAUDIBLE) was one of the key commanders of this battle, and he's now showing us the tanks and armored personnel carriers, just three of them that they captured in Sunday night's battle.
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
WATSON: The regime forces have been pushed out of this area, but they are still making their presence known with artillery strikes. We've now heard at least four shells crash probably within a mile of where we are right now. You can see dust over here from an artillery strike, which is our cue to get the hell out of here.
BLITZER: And Ivan Watson is joining us right now from on the ground, inside Syria, as he's been for the last several days. Ivan, can the rebels hold onto this position? What is the assessment where you are?
WATSON: Well, they held all the villages around this government check point, this government base. And they've held onto these towns for months at a time and as well as the surrounding countryside. And the fact that the Syrian government couldn't bring any reinforcements in suggests that their own troops were cut off. So, yes, it does seem unless the Syrian military can amass a significant number of troops, it seems like they have seated yet another piece of territory to the armed opposition in northern Syria.
BLITZER: And morale right now among these rebels, how would you describe it?
WATSON: They were celebrating, but not wildly. I mean, people were congratulating each other. They were kissing each other on the cheeks, but they're also hard at work pulling out all of the ammunition that they had captured in this base, carrying out enormous tank shells on their shoulders they had captured and stocking them away, as well as rolling away the tanks and the trucks that they had captured. They know they scored a victory. But the war is far from over. Four of their comrades were killed in this battle and they know that more are likely to die in the coming days and weeks, if not months as they continue their battle against the Syrian government.
BLITZER: When you meet with these rebels, Ivan, they know you're obviously from the United States. Do they say to you, we wish you would do "x", "y" or "z" to help liberate the country from Bashar Al- Assad? What do they say to you?
WATSON: It's absolutely a common refrain from the fighters. There's deep disappointment I think from the opposition here. Not just the fighters, but also the families that support them. The communities around here. Many have even come up with the conspiracy theory that Washington is hiding behind the Russian and Chinese vetoes in the United Nations Security Council, or perhaps pushing the Russians and the Chinese to veto any measure to try to help the opposition more inside Syria.
That gives you a sense of how deep the disappointment is, and basically the people here say you all know what is happening here but you are not doing anything. So they believe that -- they've started to believe that America seems to want them to get killed by Bashar Al- Assad. They seem to believe that the U.S. wants Bashar Al-Assad to stay in power and to keep killing his own people. That's what I hear again and again from Syrian people here who are fighting against their government.
BLITZER: Ivan Watson on the ground for us in Syria, as I say, as he's been for several days now and I always tell him to be careful. Amazing reporting, Ivan. Our viewers in the United States and around the world are grateful to you for that.
Elsewhere in the region here in the Middle East, the defense secretary, Leon Panetta, he is watching developments in Syria unfold from Tunisia. That's the first country to sweep aside its dictator in the so-called Arab Spring uprising. Panetta spoke exclusively to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr about what happens when, when, not if, when the Syrian regime falls and how lessons from Iraq will factor in.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Do you want to see the Syrian military preserved, even after Assad falls, if he falls?
LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think it's important when Assad leaves, and he will leave, to try to preserve stability in that country. And the best way to preserve that kind of stability is to maintain as much of the military, the police as you can, along with the security forces, and hope that they will transition to a democratic form of government. That's the key.
STARR: What is your thinking, if Assad comes down? Do you want to see the Syrian military preserved? Do you think that's a lesson we learned from Iraq? Don't disband the military?
PANETTA: I think it's very important that we don't make the same mistakes we made in Iraq and that particularly when it comes to things like the chemical sites. They do a pretty good job of securing those sites. If they suddenly walked away from that, it would be a disaster to have those chemical weapons fall into the wrong hands, hands of Hezbollah or other extremists in that area.
BLITZER: And Barbara is joining us now on the phone from the Tunisian capital of Tunis (ph). Barbara, what else is the secretary telling you about U.S. military options in Syria?
STARR (via phone): Well, Wolf, here's what he says. He says that there are a full range of military options that he has got in hand. But his problem, he says, is in this part of the world, the U.S. cannot act unilaterally, especially the U.S. military. It's not looked upon very kindly, and he knows it. So he's looking for support from Russia and China. But in particular, of course, the Russians, who are the big supporters of Bashar Al-Assad and he said he's very frustrated that the Russians are not getting on board and exercising, you know what he calls leadership.
And he knows he's here right now during a political season. He's following in the footsteps of Mitt Romney as he makes his way across the region. And what he's trying to do is make the case for a unified U.S. position on all of this and really get Russia on board. He believes that's key to moving ahead.
BLITZER: We'll see if he can do that. All right, Barbara, Barbara Starr reporting for us from Tunisia. Appreciate it.
Leon Panetta's itinerary, as Barbara just said, includes a stop here in Israel. He'll be meeting with his Israeli counterparts, the defense minister, Ehud Barak. Barak gave me a preview of what their agenda will be.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Sounds to me like you have a lot on your plate right now and I know you're getting ready to meet this week with the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER: I'm looking forward. He's a great friend and great friend of Israel and great secretary of defense for America. And I highly appreciate him. I'm looking forward -- confident we'll have a lot to talk about from Hezbollah to Syria to Egypt to Iran.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Ehud Barak. By the way, we're going to have much more of my exclusive interview with Ehud Barak, that's coming up next, including his detailed account, his detailed description of the mission that he was involved in years ago avenging the Munich Olympic Game massacre and how Israel will, quote, in his words, "settle the account -- a direct account -- direct quote -- settle the account with the people behind the recent attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria."
Also a major U.S. city choking under a huge cloud of dust for the second time in just days.
BLITZER: Let's get some more now my exclusive interview with the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. We spoke about that terrorist attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last week and the defense minister of Israel made it clear that Israel is getting ready to seek revenge.
BLITZER: What evidence can you share with us that you believe Iran and Hezbollah were directly responsible for the murder of those Israeli tourists in Bulgaria?
BARAK: We are confident without any doubt about the responsibility of Hezbollah to the actual execution of the operation, operations planning and execution. And we know that Hezbollah is (INAUDIBLE) under Iranian inspiration and we know from previous cases just read the Indian press today the -- it became clear that behind the attack on our diplomats in New Delhi, there were Iranians active players on the ground. The same applies to the terror event in Thailand and to the other one in Georgia (ph). All occurred within several weeks.
BLITZER: But do you have direct hard evidence about Bulgaria?
BARAK: We have direct hard evidence. I'm confident we shared it with your intelligence, we debriefed them with a few others. So I have no doubt and it of course for obvious reason we cannot share the exit (ph) evidence.
BLITZER: So what are you going to do about that?
BLITZER: Are you going to retaliate?
BARAK: We will find a way to settle the account with those who executed, ordered and (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: Because I speak to someone, and your history is well known, somebody who has settled accounts in the past.
BARAK: Yes. We --
BLITZER: You personally.
BARAK: -- 40 years ago. Yes. We -- we settled accounts with the murderers of Munich. We are now commemorating the 40th anniversary of this. Golda Meir was, at the time, the -- the prime minister, she ordered the Mossad and -- and the IDF to find a way to settle the accounts with every individual that was part of it. And we did it with most.
BLITZER: What can you tell our viewers, because we're watching the Olympic Games in London right now?
We're talking about 40 years ago in Munich. Israeli athletes were killed. And Golda Meir was the prime minister. You were then in the military.
BLITZER: And what did she say to you?
BARAK: The -- the -- she told us, you have to sit down together with Mossad and find a way. Here is the list of the people. And just start to -- to plan operations.
We planned a lot. The Mossad executed most of them. I led, personally, disguised as a young woman, a raid into the -- into Beirut to the apartments of three of the leading terrorists. And we killed them in their homes. And where it was part of a world campaign that basically we -- we are proud of our capacity as a nation not to (INAUDIBLE) and see our people being flouted by terrorists.
I think that the British, then and now, are extremely good in -- in security. I don't believe that anyone will dare to -- to reattempt such an event in -- in London.
BLITZER: So basically when you say settle accounts, the way Israel settled accounts for the murder of the Israeli athletes in Munich, you could see settling accounts to the murder of these Israeli tourists in Bulgaria?
BARAK: (INAUDIBLE) unfortunately we have too many accounts to settle with different terrorists and we did it in a different way each time. But we have a long memory. In the Middle East you should have a long memory in order to survive and be able to settle accounts (INAUDIBLE) killed indiscriminately your people.
BLITZER: Very blunt comments from the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. That interview here in Jerusalem with me earlier in the day.
I also sat down in Jerusalem with the Republican presidential- candidate Mitt Romney. We're going to have more of that interview coming up in our next hour, our new 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour. Stand by for that. You're going to want to hear what Mitt Romney has to say on a whole host of issues.
Also coming up, a string of monster dust storms unfolding right now, slamming parts of Phoenix, Arizona. Just ahead we're going to tell you what's causing them and how much longer this phenomenon will go on.
Plus, we're getting brand new information on what may have killed two Americans on a dangerous 20,000 foot climb. Our own Brian Todd speaks with a lead investigator in this case.
BLITZER: For the second time in days, parts of Arizona, Phoenix, Arizona, to be specific have been blanketed in a massive cloud of dust. Sunday's monster storm is just the latest to barrel across the state and the region. Our meteorologist and severe weather expert Chad Myers is joining us now with more. Chad, tell our viewers what's going on here because these pictures are amazing.
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, you don't expect thunderstorms to create dust. You would expect them to create mud and flash flooding. But Arizona across most of the rest of the country has been in the middle of a drought. So a lot of the desert is now very dry. When you get a thunderstorm to blow wind and let's picture this in the northeast. If you get wind blowing out of a thunderstorm, you knock down trees, you knock down power lines and the power goes out everywhere, especially New York, Virginia, all those areas that had power outages the past couple of weeks.
Well when the wind blows out of a thunderstorm in the desert like it did here south of Alatooki (ph). That's almost over to about -- that's Apache Junction and up into the Superstition Mountains (ph) like they did yesterday, these storms blow the air out. They blow wind out rather than knocking power lines down and knocking trees down because they aren't really that many trees in the desert and the cactuses are doing just fine, it blows dust.
It picks up dust and it blows it up into the air. And here are some just dramatic pictures of how when you get into this, you literally, you can't even see where you're going. And the key is here to get off the road if you can't see. You don't want to stop in the middle of the road because the person behind you may not be stopping. But look how this dust storm -- you think you're in the middle of the Middle East of Saudi Arabian desert. But in fact that is just Phoenix, Arizona. It's been that way for the past couple of weeks. Every time a thunderstorm comes, the wind blows and the dust goes back up -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What amazing pictures indeed. Thanks very much, Chad, for that.
Investigators think they now know what happened, what killed two Americans on a dangerous 20,000-foot climb, a mountain climb to be precise. We're going to have brand new information just ahead. Also an African-American couple in the United States, yes, the United States of America right now forced to move their wedding to another church because of the color of their skin. That's coming up in our brand new 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour.
BLITZER: Just two days after the bodies of two American climbers were found in Peru, we're now learning new information, new details from the lead investigator in the case about their dangerous quest and how authorities now believe they may have died. Brian Todd has been working the story for us. Brian is joining us now with details. Brian, tell our viewers what you're learning.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a short time ago, we spoke to the leader of that rescue and investigation team in Peru. He does have harrowing new details on where the climbers were on that peak and how far they may have fallen.
TODD (voice-over): In one of their last communiques, climbers Gil Weiss (ph) and Ben Horne (ph) gave an indication of what they were up against. Just before they vanished earlier this month on the 20,000 foot Peruvian peak called (INAUDIBLE) Horne (ph) wrote on his blog that he had encountered hurricane force winds that had knocked him off balance and quote "very deep and loose snow". The two Americans were found dead at the base of that peak over the weekend. We spoke with Ted Alexander who coordinated the rescue effort from nearby. He says his team believes the two men had a horrific fall. (on camera): About how far do you believe they fell?
TED ALEXANDER, COORDINATED RESCUE EFFORT: The evidence being their equipment was strewn over the glacier. There was sign of great impact. Would lead us to believe that they did fall, my guess looking at the photos and from talking to our guys out there that it was probably about 1,000-foot fall.
TODD (voice-over): The rescuers who pulled the bodies from that mountain have just given Alexander new details on how they believe the men fell. He passed that information on to us.
(on camera): Alexander says from what he and his team have put together, it looks like this was the route used by the two climbers to climb that mountain. Alexander says they believe the men reached the summit, then descended down this way. Now about halfway down, roughly in this area, Alexander says he believes that they reached what's called a serrac (ph), a large hanging chunk of ice. Investigators believe one of the men may have been looking over that chunk of ice trying to determine if they could descend to the next level from there.
Now at that point, investigators believe something gave out from underneath that climber causing him to fall roughly 65 feet. But because they believe the two men were tethered together, that fall pulled the other man off the edge causing both of them to be pulled off the larger cliff and down. Both of the bodies were found in this area.
(voice-over): Ted Alexander who knew Gil Weiss (ph) says the two men were experienced climbers, not reckless but he says they had not taken on this dangerous peak before. A relative of Ben Horne's (ph) tells us he had worked with the Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan and developed a love of hiking in the Boy Scouts.
Gil Weiss (ph) had started his own production company in Colorado and had photographed a wedding staged on a peak there. His sister told us what she would like the world to remember about Gil.
GALIT WEISS, CLIMBER'S SISTER: Gil had the most optimistic view on practically everything and I think it's really important to understand that you have to make the most of what you've got and you've got to be grateful for everyone in your life.
TODD: Galit Weiss says one thing the family will cherish now is a hiking trip that Gil took with her and their father recently in Colorado. She says Gil got their father to climb what's called the first Flat Iron. That's a difficult trail near Boulder and that they were all very thrilled with that. Gil Weiss was 29 years old. Ben Horne (ph) was 32 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That mountain range, Brian, has been known to be dangerous to climbers, hasn't it? TODD: That's right. It's called the Corriere Blankout Range (ph). According to one report, eight people have died on that range just this year. The head of a police high mountain rescue team says at least 40 people have been evacuated from there due to medical problems. It is very, very dangerous.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thank you.
Happening now, Mitt Romney tells when he might order an attack on Iran if he's elected president. President Obama decides he needs Bill Clinton despite their history of some tension. And a Mississippi church refuses to let a couple get married there because they're African-American.
I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Right now, the Republican presidential-candidate Mitt Romney he is trying to prove to the world that he is a commander in chief potential to be sure. The soon to be presidential nominee is visiting Poland right now after some controversial remarks cast shadows over his trips earlier to London and then here to Jerusalem. Stand by for more of my interview with Mitt Romney on critical foreign policy issues, presidential politics and more.