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Powerful Explosion in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Interview with Representative David Dreier

Aired April 21, 2004 - 08:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. It's just half past the hour on this AMERICAN MORNING. We're going to get back to the situation in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in just a few moments. A large explosion, as we've been reporting all morning, near the Saudi Information Ministry. A number of different explanations coming over the wires about what happened and also the casualty count at this point. We'll get the very latest word from a newspaper reporter who is on the scene. That's just ahead.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Also, we'll get you back to Illinois in a moment here. And medical news this half hour, Sanjay is back, talking today about the anticholesterol drugs known as statins, and not what they can do for your arteries, but what they can possibly do for your eyes, interesting topic. We'll get to that in a moment.

O'BRIEN: Interesting topic. Let's talk a little bit what's happening in Utica, Illinois. You can see the devastation, a wide swathe of the area just run over by a tornado, three people now known dead. They are searching for another four or five, apparently trapped in the basement of a building that then collapsed. That search and rescue ongoing at this hour. That's just some of the devastation across this area.


HEMMER: There was news from overseas we need to get to as well. At least one powerful explosion in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia today. Details on how many have been killed and how many blasts took place still coming in. Hussein Shoboski is a journalist. He's by telephone now in the Saudi Arabian capital.

If you can hear me, sir, what's the information you have at this point?

HUSSEIN SHOBOSKI ASHARO AL SAWAT, JOURNALIST: Well, it's tentative information. As you know, the incident did not take place long time ago, and we have account of one dead, and it's most likely one of the terrorists. There was about 16 injured. There has been quite an extensive material damage to the building. The building is located in the district, where mostly housed by governmental agencies. This has been a setback in a series of victories that was conducted by the authorities here against the terrorist networks, where they've had quite a successful streak in breaking up their cells and arresting some of them as well.

HEMMER: Hussein, what are you reporting on the possibility that six explosions were set to go off, police got to five of them and defused them, is that a fact?

ASHARO AL SAWAT: This is what we've heard. This is what we've heard. This does it not come as a surprise, because there has been a series of arrests and confiscation of trucks, armored, booby trapped, ready to explode. They had about eight different arrests before the five of today, and the sixth one did go off and caused the casualties we are talking about.

HEMMER: Have police said where they got that tip, Hussein?

ASHARO AL SAWAT: They have been arresting people. I think the arrest momentum has been building up, and the information crack (ph) has been taking place.

I do think the arrest of the people has led the police to this particular information today.

HEMMER: And what do you believe would have been a target in this neighborhood in Riyadh?

ASHARO AL SAWAT: The main reason that they were aiming to do it, I think, to create chaos, by exploding six different bombs in trucks. It would have caused havoc in the city, but this particular explosion was targeting the older headquarters of the security forces.

HEMMER: Just to be clear, we're getting reports of at least one dead. Other reports say at least two are dead and dozens are injured. What numbers do you have in Riyadh?

ASHARO AL SAWAT: I have confirmed one dead, and it's most likely a terrorist, and at least 16 injured, maybe a bit more.

HEMMER: All right, Hussein Shoboski, a journalist there working the story in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Thanks for all that. Again, we'll get back to Saudi Arabia in a moment here.

There's Iraqi news as well, and significant, too -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, more casualties are being reported, in fact, in those car bombings in Basra, Iraq. The 68 Iraqis are dead, about 100 now reported wounded. Iraqi and British officials say car bombs went off near three Iraqi police stations in the southern Iraq city.

Meanwhile, U.S. Marines have been attacked in Fallujah. At least three Marine were wounded. The attack is threatening to derail the peace initiatives there.

The Israeli army has launched a new operation in northern Gaza. Palestinian sources say six Palestinians, most of the militants were killed. Troops stormed the region early today with tanks and bulldozers. The chief Palestinian negotiator is condemning the Israeli military escalation in Gaza.

John Kerry's military record being called into question by a decorated Vietnam War veteran who served in Kerry's Navy unit. Houston lawyer, John O'Neal, who says he is not affiliated with either political party, has broken his silence after 30 years. He says Senator Kerry's anti-war protests make him unfit to be president. Senator Kerry is posting his military record on his campaign Web site, hoping to put an end to criticism from his critics.

And a development finally on a story we told you about yesterday. The parents of a Florida teacher who's been implicated in a fatal hit and run accident, now say they will cooperate with police. James and William Porter had been threatened with jailtime before they agreed to tell prosecutors what their daughter, Jennifer, told them about a March crash that killed two youngsters. Their attorneys say the Porters believe they have information that will clear their daughter of a potential vehicular homicide charge.

Earlier here on AMERICAN MORNING, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright criticized the restive situation in Iraq as a Bush administration failure.


MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FMR. SECY. OF STATE: The U.S. is beginning to really see the effects of our lack of credibility, that people have not understood how this war is being prosecuted, why it had to happen now, and that there were not adequate plans made for what next. And it's basically, I think, a sense that there's doubt about American leadership.


O'BRIEN: Joining us this morning to address that criticism and some other major political topics is California Republican Congressman David Dreier.

Nice to see you.


O'BRIEN: We've heard from both Republicans and Democrats that they want to hear a clear plan for the June 30th handover. Are you concerned that at this point, really just 10 weeks away, there is no crystal clear idea of what's going to happen and who the U.S. is going to hand authority over to in Iraq?

DREIER: Well, Soledad, there is a clear plan and few people are actually reporting it. Mr. Brahimi from the United Nations has come forward with a plan that calls for a president, a prime minister, two vice presidents, and I believe that if you look at this argument that is out there that somehow planning has not gone into this handover, it's really inaccurate. No one knows with absolute certainty.

I mean, we are dealing with -- and this tragic news that we've just gotten from Basra and Riyadh this morning shows that we are in the midst of a global war on terrorism. And as Prime Minister Blair and President Bush said in their press conference last week, as we approach June 30th, there are still going to be tremendous forces that will seek to undermine this plan for a handover. But it is set for June 30th. I will tell you that last night we had a leadership meeting with the president of the United States and we saw in him a man who is concerned, but very confident. One of the points that he made is that as we look at this difficulty, the difficulty that we're facing is in large part because of the success that we are seeing there as we move toward June 30th.

So I feel that if you compare that, the strong, confident leadership that the president has, of course, addressing concern for those who have suffered and been victimized, but at the same time I look at this morning's Washington Post and see a headline that an old school team is going to be turning John Kerry into a modern-day centrist and they are already talking about the sale of John Kerry and how that's going to come about; I think that there's a really incredible juxtaposition here.

So I found from having just visited 12 countries in the last 12 days leading a delegation of my colleagues, strong confidence on the part of the international community toward President Bush and the leadership we are showing, and that was throughout southern Europe, Central and South Asia.

O'BRIEN: No administration official appeared at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing yesterday. Senator Biden said it was arrogance on the part of the administration. Do you think it's arrogance? Do you think somebody should have been there?

DREIER: You know, I'll tell you something, it's very interesting.

Yesterday afternoon I had lunch with the chairman of the International Relations Committee in the House, Henry Hyde, and he had -- in talking about the 9/11 commission and frankly, a lot of this, he said, "It's incomprehensible that at a time of war we're seeing all of this scrutiny of strategies and exactly what's taking place."

You know, this is a very challenging time for our country, and it's true that those of us in the United States Congress have the responsibility for congressional oversight.

But I believe that having this administration focusing on winning the global war on terrorism and doing what we can to ensure the safety and security of the United States and keeping this battle off our shores is really the highest priority, and there will be plenty of time for people to scrutinize and analyze and go through these challenges with which we're having to contend.

O'BRIEN: But I guess some of the criticism is that it appears, and there's been word, again, on both sides of the aisle, that it appears that the administration -- I think I'm quoting Senator Hagel actually -- he's baffled by the administration's continuing pushing away of the Congress. So it's less that someone didn't show up, but more an indication, I think is what they are trying to say of a lack of respect and a lack of a willingness to work with Congress.

DREIER: I will tell you, last night, we spent nearly two hours, the bicameral leadership, Republican leadership with the president of the United States talking about this issue of Iraq, talking about the challenges with which we have to contend.

The president has tremendous regard -- I mean, I've known him for a quarter century. Twenty six years ago this spring, he and I ran for Congress together. He understands that. We both lost those elections, by the way, Soledad.

But he understands the importance of the United States Congress. His father served as a member of Congress. And so, this view that somehow there's arrogance on the part of this administration toward the Congress, I've never seen it and I know that it's not there.

O'BRIEN: My condolences on losing that election, although it looks like it turned out all right for you.

A quick question about Bob Woodward's new book. Lots of issues have come out. But $700 million, it looks, as if were diverted from money that was due to be spent in Afghanistan for the build-up of war in Iraq apparently, or so Bob Woodward says, without the knowledge of Congress. Do you believe it's true? Are you concerned? Do you want to investigate this further?

DREIER: Bob Woodward's work is a very, very serious document and it's one which -- you know, he's one of the most highly regarded reporters and writers in this town.

I will say this: Since September 11th of 2001, $159 billion in supplemental appropriations have been provided for the global war on terror. The $700 million about which we speak was, in fact, provided as part of a supplemental appropriations bill. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee made it very clear that flexibility was provided to the administration and that was a decision that the United States Congress made.

Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution places that responsibility for taxing and spending in the House of Representatives, and we made that decision.

The president did not take money specifically targeted for Afghanistan. They are resources for the global war on terror. So it was done very correctly, and I understand that Democrats have said the same. But we will continue with our proper constitutional role of oversight.

O'BRIEN: Congressman David Dreier, nice to have you as always.

HEMMER: In a moment here on AMERICAN MORNING, much more on Saudi Arabia. We're watching that story quite closely out of Riyadh. Not quite sure of all details right now, but they continue to come into us about every 15 minutes here.

Also, in a moment, Andy is "Minding Your Business," checking Alan Greenspan's second visit to Capitol Hill, set for today. We'll see which way the markets go on this one.

O'BRIEN: Plus, Dr. Sanjay Gupta's got a report on an exciting class of drugs that could prevent blindness.

Stay with us. Those stories are all ahead as AMERICAN MORNING continues, right after this short break.


HEMMER: Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in Americans over the age of 55, but a certain class of drugs may actually reduce the risk of eye disease.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta writes about that in this week's edition of "Time" magazine. And Sanjay is at the CNN Center to talk more about this this morning.

Sanjay, good morning to you.


Yes, the more we're hearing about these statin medications, very important story, the more we're realizing the effects they may have. Certainly we've heard about statin medications like Lipitor, Nevacor, actually warding off heart disease, stroke, maybe even Alzheimer's. But now, some new research showing that perhaps these medications could also have a significant effect on the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the United States, something that you already referred to, age-related macular degeneration. About 85-90 percent of the patients that have this have the dry form of this macular degeneration. Ten percent or so have the wet form. That's when the very back of the eye, the retina, actually becomes -- you have difficulty seeing through that area of the eye. The wet form, you actually get blood vessels forming in that part of the eye as well, making it very difficult to see, if not leading to total blindness completely.

Now, there's been some speculation for some time that these medications could ward that off. So some researchers decided to put it to the test. Here's what they found: interesting, statin medications actually decreasing the likelihood of age-related macular degeneration, converting from the dry to wet form by about 50 percent. What they also found, incidentally, 81 milligrams of Aspirin a day as well reduced the chance of the wet form of the macular degeneration. About 40 percent, so pretty significant effects from the Aspirin as well.

They found that the statins and the Aspirin work independently toward trying to fix this problem. Bill, the doctors that we spoke to, I talked to lead researchers. They're not ready to start recommending these medications to try and prevent this yet. There are side effects of both Aspirin, as well as statin medications. But that might be something that's coming on down the road as well. Keep an eye on that.

HEMMER: Are doctors already prescribing Aspirin and statins for AMD, Sanjay? GUPTA: They're not doing it yet, Bill, because there are some -- it's one of those risks/benefits things. Like anything else in medicine, there are risks, potentially small, but potential risks to these medications. There is going to be some new studies, more studies needed to try to determine the link conclusively, but I think it's something that's probably going to happen down the road.

HEMMER: So if statins aren't used for AMD now, what Do you do to try and prevent it then?

GUPTA: Well, there are various options?

HEMMER: First of all, it is the leading cause of irreversible blindness. Cataracts, on the other hand, the leading cause of reversible blindness. You want to prevent this from ever happening. That's the key, because it is very difficult to treat if you do get it. There are some options for that as well. These are the things people find are most related to it, smoking, don't -- stop smoking or don't start. Fruits and vegetables with high folate in it. Sunglasses when you get outside. You talk about it for your skin, very important for your eyes as well. And get those eye checkups; especially if you have a family history of macular degeneration, make sure you do that -- Bill.

HEMMER: Sanjay, thanks. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Center -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, when Fed chairman Alan Greenspan talks, markets listen. What can we look forward to today? Andy Serwer's got a look at that ahead, as AMERICAN MORNING continues.

HEMMER: All righty. Welcome back.


HEMMER: All right, welcome back.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Alan Greenspan back to Capitol Hill today. The market will be watching. He caused the market to go right in the toilet yesterday. Andy Serwer is "Minding Your Business." The big surprise, the Fed chief says interest rates might go up. They do that sometimes.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Yes. I don't know what the big hullabaloo is all about yesterday. I don't think today we're going to any kind of fireworks like that. Let's check it out. Yesterday, a triple-digit loss on the Dow. And this morning, things are looking better. Future up for JP Morgan, Coke, all reporting earnings, looking pretty good.

Let's talk about food, though, from high to low, Jack. This is going to be a big problem for you. Caviar now in trouble. Jack Cafferty must love caviar, don't you think? You've got to wonder.

Anyway, the baluga sturgeon now just determined to be threatened. These are big fish, Jack. And unfortunately, when you harvest the caviar, the fish dies.

CAFFERTY: That's disgusting. Look at that.

SERWER: The fish is threatened. They are overfishing in the Caspian. There's domestic caviar that may be coming on line. So that's the situation there.

Let's talk about other food groups.

CAFFERTY: I can relate much more to KFC than I can to that.

SERWER: Kentucky Fried Chicken. All right, they are tearing down the first Kentucky Fried Chicken which, of course, is in Salt Lake City. Not Kentucky, it's in Salt Lake City. Why do they do this? This guy, Pete Harmon, that's the aftershot, just turned down yesterday. Pete Harmon, this guy, he met Colonel Sanders at a food convention in Chicago. The colonel gave him a license. He attached it to his restaurant in Salt Lake, and the rest is history.

CAFFERTY: Now it's all over.

What's with the ad in the "Times" today?

SERWER: There was this add in "USA Today" that shows Ronald McDonald with a tear in his eye.

CAFFERTY: Do we have a picture of that?

SERWER: I was supposed to bring it up, but I didn't.

CAFFERTY: You forgot. Ronald McDonald with a tear over the passing of...

SERWER: Over the passing of the CEO, and it says, we'll miss you, Jim. I thought it was a little strange.

CAFFERTY: Where Jim is, he ain't going to get that paper.

SERWER: Yes, it's a little strange. It's a sad thing, but it's a little strange.

CAFFERTY: On to the Cafferty File.

Thank you.

Things people said that get our attention. Next time, bring the props.

SERWER: Sorry.

CAFFERTY: Beginning with this: "I didn't break into this studio with a sledgehammer." That is 9/11 commission member Richard Ben- Veniste on CNN's "PAULA ZAHN NOW" that he and other commission members have been grandstanding on TV.

"I don't care if you have a tattoo last week. Lie. I don't care if you have a cold. Suck it up. We all do. Lie. Recent piercings. Lie." Sorority blood drive coordinator Christie Key in a e-mail to 170 members of Gamma Phi Beta, at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Key told them to lie about their health in order to qualify as blood donors. This is a kid in college.

"I'm covered with loser dust. I can't even get an autographed 'Charmed' poster for my daughter," but I know how to score some really cool drugs. This would be Courtney Love on her legal problems and the bad press she's getting.

O'BRIEN: Did she really say that drugs part?

CAFFERTY: No, no, I made that part up.

SERWER: You lied.


O'BRIEN: Just trying to clarify.

CAFFERTY: I will deny nothing. I will defend nothing. Uma Thurman on rumors of mutual infidelity surrounding their breakup with husband Ethan Hawke.

SERWER: I thought it was all him.

O'BRIEN: I thought it was all him, too.

HEMMER: There's two sides to every story, by the way.

Original or extra crispy, by the way, at KFC.

CAFFERTY: Well, original.

HEMMER: Original. Take the grease and go for it.

In a moment here, heavy damage in the Saudi Arabian capital city of Riyadh. We understand it could have been much worse. The latest details there in a moment, here on AMERICAN MORNING.



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