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tv   News  Al Jazeera  December 17, 2014 2:00pm-2:31pm EST

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>> i have to say happy holiday season to all of you. today is the first day of hanukkah, and i guess so far it's the best hanukkah i'll be celebrating in a long time. what a blessing it is to be a citizen of this country, and thank you, president obama, for everything that you have done today and leading up to today. i want to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of my wife judy. 44.5 years we've been married. and my lawyer and personal scott gilbert and their efforts to
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produce my freedom. the relentless and intense efforts by judy scott, they made me take the jacket off. but they made me take it off. they have been inconceivable, their efforts have been inconceivable. senator patrick leahy of vermont, and i want to thank all the members of congress from all sides of the aisle such as senator flake, van holland and others who spoke up for me, subjected themselves to my ranting and helped me to regain some of my weight. even in cuba m & m's melt in
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your mouth and not in your hand. for all those who were trying to visit me but were not able to, thank you for trying. i'm looking forward to new teeth, and i hope they're strong enough to make a difference. to all the executive directors, staff and volunteers participating in jcrcs, schools, and other jewish, christian, and muslim organizations nationwide, god bless you and thank you. it was crucial to my survival knowing that i was not forgotten. your prayers and your actions have been comforting, reassur ing and sustaining. to my extended family, especially my sister bonnie, my
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cousins and friends, howard, bruce, our shah ba group{^l" ^}, so many others who exemplify the true meaning of friendship, thank you. i do understand that there are many others who actively participated in securing my freedom, of whom i'm only nominally aware of at this juncture. i promise to express a more direct and personal gratitude just as soon as i know who you are. but ultimately, ultimately the decision to arrange for and secure my release was made in the oval office. to president obama and the staff, thank you. in my last letter to president obama i wrote that despite my five-year tenure in captivity, i would not want to trade places with him and i certainly would not want to trade places with him on this glorious day.
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five years of isolation notwithstanding i did not need daily briefings to be cognizant of what are undoubtedly incredible challenges facing our nation and the global community. i also feel compelled to share with you my utmost respect for and fondness of the people of cuba. in no way are they responsible for the ordeal to which my family and i have been subjected. to me ku cubanos, or most of them are incredibly kind and talented. it pains me to see them treated unjustly as two governments' belligerent policies. we have learned that such
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belligerent do not work, two wrongs do not create a right. it was particularly cool to be sitting next to the secretary of state as he was hearing about his job description for the next couple of months. in all seriousness this is a game changer which i fully support. in the meantime i ask that you respect my wishes for complete and total privacy. a judicious lesson that i've learned is that freedom is not free, and that is personified by scott and our entire team. we must never forget the two pillars of moses covenant, freedom and responsibility. i'm incredibly blessed finally
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to have the freedom to resume a positive and constructive life. but for now i'll close with a quote from one a character, it's good to be home. thank you, and i wish you all a happy holiday season. thank you. >> thanks, everybody. >> i support the president. thank you very much. >> happy hanukkah. >> happy hanukkah. >> now alan gross, what a remarkable 24 hours he has had. he was kept in prison in cuba for five years for allegedly helping the jewish community there gain access to the internet. today he said what a blessing it is to be a citizen of this great country in the united states. he thanked everyone who had been supporting him including the greater washington, d.c.
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community, not only the jewish community but christian and muslim community who led their support to the efforts and brought attention to the fact that he has been in prison. he certainly has not lost any of the fistiness. he joked about how cool it was to be sitting next to secretary of state john kerry. as they try to lift the trade embargo and whether cuba should no longer be listed in the sponsorship. >> it was great to see him in feisty spirit. it's sad to see that he lost 100 pounds, he lost his teeth. but it was funny for him to smile and show the teeth he has lost.
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to see this family reunited. >> there is one thing that everyone has been unified on today. everybody has unanimously said how supportive has been his family. he spoke about the fondness of the people of cuba caught between two b belligerent governments. >> like we mentioned before. there was a ground swell of potential change in the air in 2008 when barack obama was elected president, that this could be something else. but in meanwhile too look at this, when alan gross was detained, that was in 2009. to see him now standing at the podium joking with the press. he has lost some weight. his teeth are broken, but he
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seems to be in good spirits. it's a truly historic day for him, but potentially in terms of the dynamic of our two countries go forward. >> i want to get some reaction from jamie mcintyre and mike viqueira in washington. jamie, in terms of the choreography we were mentioning earlier, i mentioned that the obama administration could not be more pleased about the sort of character who has put an exclamation point on a dramatic change in u.s. policy. >> you saw his engaging personality, and ability to apparently maintain his spirits despite his very adverse circumstance. and of course the obama administration has to be pleased that toward the end of his remarks he essentially wholeheartedly endorsed the president's policy, saying that for two long both sides have been belligerent in this conflict, and he hoped that both countries could move beyond that. he called it a game changer, these policies by the president.
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so the president getting an endorsement from one quarter, the man whose release he helped to engineer. you heard alan gross say he wants absolutely respect for his privacy now. that will be his last word on the subject. >> you wonder how some of the television networks are going to treat that statement. i have a feeling some will still be sending him flowers and potato laktes to win over his good graces. let's go to mike viqueira and see what the white house has been coordinating here. and they put out that statement , and giving details that reporters eat up, the cornered beef sandwich, the popcorn, the time the plane landed and the time it took off. that personalizes the stories and buildings it u anding it
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and building it up in a way for the obama administration. >> you talk about the sizzle and not the steak. the plane took off at 2:00 a.m. to retrieve alan gross with his wife on board. but popcorn is a dietary choice for someone who is having trouble with his teeth. i think you're right. when you talk about the choreography, and you talk about jill zuckman, who spoke, and anita dunne, communication director and hillary rosen a long time operative here in washington as well. no mistake there is a certain degree of behind-the-scenes choreography. standard public relations playbook and they'll need it. the fanfare, the feel-good
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atmosphere and those who are condemning what the president has done, the john boehners and the marco rubios of the world are very careful to celebrate in their comments the release ofcallen gross, obviously a very happy day for him. but the fight has just been joined now. what the president has done is shocking, dramatic, unexpected to a certain degree. we knew there were negotiations ongoing with cuba, in particular on the fate of alan gross. what we did not expect is the president to come out today and essentially say that 50 years of cuba policy he is now going to do his utmost to erase. to open a diplomatic mission in havana. normalize relations, open restrictions, and abolish the economic embargo, and try to tak have secretary of state john kerry do what he can to take cuba over the terrorist
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nation list, like north korea and iran, around the world. a stunning development capped off by a happy appearance, and i think you're right. this is a familiar plea we hear from people who are in similar situations, who would like some privacy. they would like time to spend with the family. you can bet a lot of booking producers and others are going to be on the job and doing their best to court alan gross. >> and mike in that building behind you, the spokesperson started speaking. they are pleased that alan gross is home. let's listen to josh earnest. >> as it relates to support in congress i have seen the comments of some who had been critical of this decision. i think the president acknowledged that there would be some who did not agree with this decision.
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at the same time, there are many in congress both democrats and republicans who are strongly supportive of this decision. let me read you the comments, senator flake said i've been in the congress house and senate for 14 years. all 14 of those years i pushed to lift the travel bans. it's high time for a trade. that's the sentiment of the president today. and it's also strongly supported by the vast majority of the american public. >> senator flake illustrated that he has been trying to do this for quite some time, and he has not been able to. what change in attitudes.
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>> president obampresident bush did not support making this change in political. president obama vowed to address the cuban policy that for more than five decades has failed to bring about the results that are in the best interest of united states security. the president president has long sought to make that change, and his chief impediment was the unjust attention to mr. gross. because he was released today on humanitarian grounds, because through the work of this administration they were able to secure the release on humanitarian grounds, they removed the impediment to implement some of the policy changes, that the president believes are in the best interest of our economy and best interest of our security.
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>> this georgia who has been i in--this gentleman who has been in prison for 20 years, how has he helped, given the arrest in 2001-2009, how was he able to do this? is this information that he supplied before? can you she had some light? >> he is now on american soil. i can tell you that he provided valuable intelligence and valuable counter intelligence, and he provided information about americans who were sharing information with the cuban regime, and because of his
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efforts, and because of information that he shared it led to the discovery and conviction of a couple of these americans who were spying for the cubans. we also know that he provided valuable intelligence to help us uncover the wasp network, which was essentially a cuban-run intelligence network in florida. and the kind of spy swap that was executed today, trading some members of that wasp network in exchange for this highly valued intelligence asset in cuba is consistent with the spy swaps that have been executed by many presidents not just this decade but over many centuries. we're able that we could bring that highly valued intelligence
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asset, a legitimate hero, back to american soil. >> you don't know when he provided that information. >> i'm not going to give more on this intelligence swap. >> how will this open up relationship with cuba. >> administrator shaw is someone who has served in role of administrator of u.s. id. he has used his expertise both in medicine, but his background in development to take on very significant responsibilities. the success we had in terms of the contribution to the efforts
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to rebuild after the haiti earthquake, to even putting a person on the ground to try to stop this ebola outbreak in its tracks in west africa. he has been remarkably effective, and we're incredibly grateful for his service. i understand that the transition announced today is one that has been in the works for quite some time now. >> and you know the cuban government has not been happy with u.s. programs-- >> the u.s. did, the agency that alan gross was working for. david? >> the u.s. intersection there works as an embassy. it record works for the cuban
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government there, it processes visas and functions just like an embassy. in years past that embassy used to flash these pro-democracy slogans for passersby the idea of spawning some homegrown revolution. obviously that has not happened, but the idea of an embassy is significant, but it's not as traumatic as they might make it seem. >> and we have an embays is for all practical purposes. not for legal and official purposes. >> so the logistics in terms of transferring the name of u.s. intersection to embassy, and whether congress wants to make a bigger deal as we continue the white house briefing. michael shure with reactions to the president's decision to normalize relations with cuba.
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michael? >> again, this is, as you stood and watched alan gross and you saw senators leahy, flake, and as mentioned by senator flake, not the type of person who would be on this type of mission, but he has been insistent that the time for cuba is now. it always has been, and it's not surprising that he was there. bill nelson, the democratic senator from florida, who has had to tender foot around this for years, said that i'm as anti-castro as anyone, but this is a good move. the political stories that we're not hearing from yet, it's very early, jeb bush faxed his in. but you're not hearing from rand paul or hillary clinton on this, hillary clinton the secretary of state probably worked closely with cuba and said how behind
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ending the embargo she was. these are s some of the stories to hear today. >> we did have an opportunity earlier after alan gross to get your reaction to him. it was interesting and entertaining on so many levels. i'm not sure that the jewish holiday of hanukkah has gotten as much attention from our national discourse as alan gross provided today. but what did you make of alan gross? >> again, he was an endearing guy. i'm a lifelong hockey fan, so i've seen people look like that at press conferences for a very long time, so i wasn't put off by the teeth. yes, the opening with the reference to hanukkah, talking a
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lot about the jewish community in maryland. but what you saw was somebody who liked cuba. he was able to converse with us about the fact that people, he said almost everyone, not every cuban, but almost every cuban are good people. i think it has to wane, and that's a good first conferenc conversation to have, and a compelling story. you can see the architect of the obama presidential museum already busy at work, devoting a little room to today. >> it's been just such a remarkable day. and we'll take a quick break, we'll have final thoughts with antonio mora on the other side of this. you're watching al jazeera america.
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>> reaction pouring in to the president's policy change towards cuba. it's not just political reaction but folks who have been deeply involved with this conflict between the united states and cuba for many years. what do you say? >> it will take a while to see am ramifications and what this all means. one mother said that she feels she has been slapped by the face by the obama administration. and then we have yolani sánchez known as a cuban blogger very critical of the cuban government from havana. she points out, no reaction from fidel castro, and her other statement was it feels like fidel that raul castro speech felt like the bitter taste of surrender. interesting perspective there. >> very interesting, indeed. on behalf o of antonio mora,
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