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Prospects for Peace in Middle East; Potential for U.S. Military Action Against Iran

Aired February 8, 2005 - 08:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: From the CNN broadcast center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Bill Hemmer.

Welcome, everybody.

Bill Hemmer has got the day off, but Rob Marciano has been kind enough to sit in for us.

Nice to have you.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN ANCHOR: Good to be here.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much.

In just a moment, we're going to take you back to the Mideast summit. The main participants are still talking to reporters. We'll have a little bit more on just what they are saying.

MARCIANO: Also, we'll talk to retired General David Grange about the tense times right now between the U.S. and Iran. What are the chances of military air strikes on nuclear targets? And would they work?

O'BRIEN: Jack Cafferty has got the Question of the Day and "The File."


Coming up in the "Cafferty File" in less than an hour, "Desperate Housewives" uncensored. Viewers of this year's Super Bowl apparently longing for the days of wardrobe malfunctions. And a zoo in Germany figuring out why they haven't had any baby penguins in six years.

That's later.

O'BRIEN: I'm not going to touch that.

CAFFERTY: Assuming we don't get run over by the summit thing over there.

O'BRIEN: Oh, yes.

CAFFERTY: These are the important stories.

MARCIANO: You're right, Jack.

O'BRIEN: The baby penguins. Well, it's true, you know, they do discuss Mideast peace a lot, although many people are feeling much more hopeful about it this time around.

CAFFERTY: This is...

O'BRIEN: It is not the first cease-fire, though. It's the tenth.

CAFFERTY: Yes, but this is the best chance they've had at this thing in a very long time, I think.

MARCIANO: It's a good start.

O'BRIEN: We'll see. It certainly is. We're going to have a live update in just a little bit about that cease-fire and developments coming to us from the Middle East this morning.

Let's first, though, get a check of the headlines with Heidi Collins -- good morning again, Heidi.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you guys once again.

And good morning to you, everybody.

We want to begin in Iraq. In fact, another attack in Iraq this morning. It happened just six hours ago near an Iraqi recruitment center in central Baghdad. U.S. military sources say early reports suggest more than 20 people were killed. Some 27 others wounded in that blast.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice set to give a major foreign policy address just three hours from now in Paris. Rice is nearing the end of a tour of Europe and the Middle East. She met with officials in Rome earlier today, including a top Vatican official. CNN will have live coverage of Secretary Rice's address in Paris beginning at 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Meanwhile, doctors in Rome say Pope John Paul II's condition is improving. But a Vatican official is leaving open the possibility the pope may step down one day. When asked if the 84-year-old pontiff would consider resigning, the official replied: "Let's leave that hypothesis up to the pope's conscience."

There are no indications, however, the pope is planning to step down.

And Britain is welcoming home Ellen MacArthur. A lone sailor hitting shore just about an hour ago, very happy, indeed. She now holds the record time for sailing solo around the world. MacArthur crossed the finish line in 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds, just in case anybody is counting. She beat the standing record by nearly 33 hours. MacArthur says she's absolutely exhausted and looks forward to being around people again.

I can't imagine being alone that long.

MARCIANO: That's a long time on the water.

COLLINS: Yes, it is.

MARCIANO: Thanks, Heidi.

O'BRIEN: All right, Heidi, thanks.


O'BRIEN: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is now speaking at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. He is being hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and also Jordan's King Abdullah. They are expecting to announce together, or all four of them, really, along with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, a cease-fire, an historic cease-fire, even though it is one of many. Many people have said this is the best chance for peace at this point.

Earlier, we heard from Mahmoud Abbas.

Let's listen to what he had to say and his announcement of the Palestinian perspective on the cease-fire.


MAHMOUD ABBAS, PRESIDENT, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): ... with the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to cease all acts of violence against the Israelis and against the Palestinians, wherever they are. The tranquility and quiet that will be witnessed in our land starting today is the beginning for a new era, the beginning of peace and hope.

What we announced today, in addition to being the implementation of the first article of the road map that was established by the quartet, it is also a step and the a basic step, an important step, too, that provides a new opportunity for restoring the peace process and its momentum and so that the Palestinian and the Israeli peoples restore hope and confidence in the possibility for achieving peace.


O'BRIEN: You're listening to the words of Mahmoud Abbas. He is the president of the Palestinian Authority. And you're looking at pictures of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, King Abdullah, who, the two of them are the co-sponsors of this summit.

While the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, makes his comments, we heard Mahmoud Abbas say that this is a basic and important step, it's the beginning of peace and hope in the region, and that the efforts are to get back on this road map to peace.

We will continue to monitor what comes to us from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, where this summit is now underway.

We turn now to what's happening here, though, in the United States.

New poll numbers coming out. They're mostly good news for President Bush.

In the latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, the president's approval rating jumped six points, to 57 percent.

Senior political analyst Bill Schneider in Washington, D.C., always running up the numbers for us -- hey, Bill, good morning to you.


O'BRIEN: Let's begin with these numbers.

What factors do you think played the biggest role in this significant increase, I think it's fair to say, for the president?

SCHNEIDER: Well, this is not unusual for a president who was just inaugurated. We saw that with Clinton in 1993 and 1997, when he was reelected. We saw that with the first President Bush after he got elected. And we're seeing it now with this President Bush.

They get inaugurated, there's a lot of good feeling, their numbers go up. So this has happened before and it's happening now. He had the inauguration and the State of the Union and some very good news after the election in Baghdad.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I was going to ask you, what kind of a role did the election play? I mean you talk about good feeling, and I think that the good feeling certainly was pervasive here in the U.S., because people really didn't think, necessarily, that this election would go off, I don't want to say without a hitch, because there was some violence, but it went off fairly -- very well, I think.

SCHNEIDER: Americans were surprised, Soledad, that it went off better than they expected. Sixty-one percent of Americans said the Iraqi election went better than they expected. And what we found is that that is what gave Bush his biggest boost. It wasn't good news from Washington, it was good news from Baghdad, because his biggest gain in the polls was for his handling of Iraq. People thought his handling of Iraq was noticeably better. It didn't go up at all on the economy and only very slightly on his handling on Social Security, which, of course, was the main topic if his State of the Union.

It was Baghdad and the Iraqi election that really gave the president a bounce.

O'BRIEN: But when you look at Social Security, large disproval numbers, 50 percent, I think it is, disapprove of the president's approach to the Social Security system and the changes that he's proposing.


O'BRIEN: We've seen him barnstorming across the country to try to pitch his ideas.

What does this signify?

SCHNEIDER: It signifies that Americans are very dubious about what the president wants to do, not that they oppose private accounts. Most Americans think that might be a good idea. But they don't like the fact that his plan seems to include a cut in guaranteed benefits.

For most Americans, guaranteed benefits are what Social Security is all about. And if you can't guarantee them, they're not sure what the security element is in Social Security. And the president's plan, so far at least, includes reducing guaranteed benefits in order to pay for the private accounts.

Well, that's something Americans don't think very much of.

O'BRIEN: A hundred and fifty different programs are on the chopping block in the president's new $2.5 trillion budget that's made its way to Congress now.

How big of a political battle is this going to be? Some of these seem like they're perennial favorites. They come up to be cut and then they're not cut.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, that's right. No, this is a perennial battle. Ronald Reagan had to fight these fights. And the usual procedure is the president presents a lot of cuts and then Congress restores most of them.

Take last year. President Bush proposed 65 programs be completely eliminated.

Do you know how much Congress actually ended up eliminating? Four.

Well, the outlook may be a little bit better for the president this year because the deficit situation is worse. But essentially each of these programs has a very vocal and passionate constituency. Imagine farm subsidies, all those farmers in key Bush states who grow cotton on soybean and wheat. They don't want to lose those subsidies and their senators and representatives are going to fight for them.

So most of these programs are not going to be significantly reduced, if at all.

O'BRIEN: It's going to be a tough battle.

Bill Schneider for us this morning.

Bill, thanks.


O'BRIEN: President Bush promotes his budget to the Detroit Economic Club today.

You can stay tuned for CNN, to CNN, rather, for live coverage of that speech at 12:00 Eastern -- Rob.

MARCIANO: A 90-year-old woman is recovering this morning after she fell into a cesspool in her backyard. Rescuers used a makeshift crane to carefully lift the woman out of the hole. Authorities say Catherine McCleary fell into the eight foot hole then was pinned down by a concrete lid that landed on top of her. A mailman heard her cries for help. McCleary was taken to the hospital. Her injuries did not appear to be life threatening.

And a Hollywood screenwriter and the son of an actress, Annie Potts, are safe after getting lost while hiking a California mountain. Searchers were called out when Jonathan Lempkin and Clay Senechal did not return Sunday night. The pair said they lost their way in heavy fog, so they decided to spend the night and hike out when the fog lifted in the morning.

Senechal's mom, "Designing Women" star Annie Potts, well, she was relieved.


ANNIE POTTS, ACTRESS: I think prayers worked. My son is back and this is what you get for teaching them to be independent and brave.


MARCIANO: Cries of relief and joy.

The 10,000-foot mountain is the tallest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's talk a little bit more about that fog.

Chad Myers is at the CNN Center with the latest forecast for us -- Chad, just from the pictures we could see how dense it was. And if they couldn't make their way out, obviously it had to be pretty bad.

How bad is it today?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, you know, you had that marine layer that rolls in there every once in a while. There's a very large low pressure system that, in fact, is going to roll through the Southwest, part of that very active, what we call southern stream, kind of indicative of what El Nino can bring. And there is an El Nino episode out there in the Pacific. And then that weather is actually going to get itself together and make a snowstorm possible for Boston Thursday afternoon and Friday.


MARCIANO: Well, it's a country famous for its cigars. But now Cuba is doing the unthinkable. We'll explain.

O'BRIEN: Also, the war of words over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Will it escalate into something much more serious? MARCIANO: And a verdict in the latest of a defrocked priest. Were repressed memories enough to convict him of rape? That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: The European Union resumes talks today with Iran, trying to get Iran to stop its nuclear development program. The effort by the E.U. comes amid an escalation of words between the United States and Iran following the president's State of the Union address last week.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror, pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve.


O'BRIEN: Retired Brigadier General David Grange is a CNN military analyst.

He's in Chicago this morning.

Nice to see you -- general.

Thank you for being with us.

If the E.U. talks do not succeed, let's talk about potential military action, because there's been a fair amount of speculation about it.

What shape, potentially, could any military action take against Iran?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, as you know, there's always plans being produced on any type of threat that we perceive this nation to have. And so you can assume that there's plans to attack Iraq in different levels of intensity. One may be, if need be -- and it would be a last resort, I really believe that -- to do air strikes or missile attacks to take out any type of nuclear production facilities or weapons systems, which they have other weapons that are quite dangerous that could be used against forces of ours in the region or allies of ours in the region.

O'BRIEN: Certainly the folks in Iran have said, including Iran's top nuclear negotiator, has said if there are air strikes, you could destroy the sites themselves, but you cannot destroy the nuclear knowledge that we have accumulated. He has a point.

GRANGE: Well, that's exactly right. And, you know, it's not -- it goes back a little bit to Iraq in a way. It's not so much the item that someone possesses, but their intent to use it or use it in concert with other means of power. North Korea is a good example. I mean you have a leader there that his intent may be very probable that he would use something against Seoul, South Korea as an example.

In Iran, their intent to use it may be their only option, in their viewpoint, tied to, let's say, acts of terrorism which they have quite a robust support apparatus of Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations.

So you're right, the intent, the knowledge, the capability is really the long-term threat.

O'BRIEN: Also, that same negotiator, nuclear negotiator, has said that if there is an attack that Iran would retaliate.

Give me a sense of what shape or form any kind of retaliation against the United States would come in, potentially.

GRANGE: Well, as an example, let's say that the United States or Israel or any other country did attack the nuclear site, sites of Iran. If you were in Iran's shoes, what could you, what would you do? And obviously you would try to use your terrorist capabilities, which is very prominent, kind of laying low right now because of the emphasis on al Qaeda in Iraq around the world. They would go ahead and they would do some things in Lebanon, working out of Syria and Lebanon against Israel, as an example, or U.S. bases in the region.

They have quite a ballistic missile capability, different levels of payload, of explosive capability or range, ranges. And so it's not just the nuclear capability we're concerned about, but these missiles.

So missiles, terrorists. And then if you ever attempted, let's say, to do something besides air strikes, do a land invasion, it's a very tough country to operate in. I've operated in Iran during the shah's time on -- in the mountains and it's a tough go. It's not quite as easy of an environment as, let's say, Iraq, for land forces.

O'BRIEN: We should point out that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said no military action at this point.

David Grange, Brigadier General David Grange joining us from Chicago this morning.

Nice to see you, sir, as always.

Thank you.

GRANGE: My pleasure.


MARCIANO: Soledad, well, if you're one of those people who are always looking for a nice Cuban cigar, well Cuba may not be a good place to look. There's a new health law there that bans smoking inside most buildings. It gets rid of cigarette vending machines and makes it illegal for kids under 16 to buy tobacco. Fidel Castro, who gave up his famous cigars years ago, says the best thing you can do is give them to your enemies. I wonder who he's talking about.

O'BRIEN: Interesting.

MARCIANO: Hold that thought.

O'BRIEN: Well, Dennis Rodman is back in the headlines. The former NBA bad boy makes a scene with what he is not wearing. Ooh, be afraid. Be very afraid. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


MARCIANO: Monday morning quarterbacks, unite. Some people say it was Donovan McNabb's interceptions. Others say it was the Patriots' smothering defense.

But David Letterman has his own ideas about why the Eagles lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: Number 10, spent two weeks practicing the toy and coin toss.

Number nine, discouraged by half-time show's lack of nudity. See, that's exactly what I was talking about.

Number eight, we were missing "Desperate Housewives." Who could think straight?

Number seven, we were overwhelmed by the awe inspiring metropolis that is Jacksonville.

Number six, oh, suddenly referees are too good to take bribes?

Number five, who really wants to get Gatorade dumped on them?

Number four, should have campaigned harder in Ohio.

Number three, it's totally unfair. The Patriots are really good.

Number two, maybe being from the land of cheese steaks ain't a good thing.

And the number one Philadelphia Eagle excuse is when Tom Brady looked at us with those gorgeous eyes, we just melted.


MARCIANO: Good stuff. They're rolling around in the parade today in Boston, celebrating yet another championship in that city.

O'BRIEN: Wooh-hoo.

MARCIANO: And, Jack, you must agree that Tom Brady has got beautiful eyes, don't you? O'BRIEN: I know I melt.

How about you, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Don't start up with me this morning. You picked on me yesterday. I ain't going for it.


CAFFERTY: Don't you do the weather ordinarily?

MARCIANO: They were desperate.


MARCIANO: That and nobody else would work with you.

O'BRIEN: Oh! I'm going to save your life. Rob, I'm going to save your life.

MARCIANO: I'm sorry, Jack. I'm sorry.

O'BRIEN: It's OK, Jack.

Go ahead.

CAFFERTY: An Arkansas developer has filed a $2 million lawsuit claiming that home sales in a new subdivision have come to a standstill after a registered sex offender, Randall Collins, and his wife, moved into the development. Collins is a level three sex offender, convicted of molesting girls. The lawsuit says that sales have come to a standstill because the developer is now required to tell potential buyers about Collins.

The question this morning is can a real estate developer sue a sex offender for slowing home sales?

J.R. in Monroe, Louisiana writes: "How ridiculous. What's next, suing African-Americans for sinking real estate value when they move into a predominantly white neighborhood? How about suing a same-sex couple when they move into a Southern Baptist neighborhood?"

Courtney in Denver writes: "I have zero sympathy for sex offenders, but we have a system of jurisprudence in this country and no one should be punished twice for the same offense."

I mentioned double jeopardy an hour ago and I was -- I misspoke. That refers only to criminal prosecution and this is obviously a civil case.

This letter from Karen in Cortland, Ohio: "Why stop at suing? Let's just segregate Americans by sexual preference and perversion. We could have Missionary Only Hills. We could have the Separate Bedroom Subdivision of Abstinence Acres. Across town, we'll have McKinsey Heights, Experimental Estates, Condom Condominiums. And then, of course, there'll be that area probably called The Other Side of the Tracks. There you'll find Perversion Place, Gay Manor, Lesbian Lane, and, of course, all the best restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques."

O'BRIEN: Karen sounds like she put a lot of thought and effort into that this morning.


CAFFERTY: Indeed, she did. And we're grateful to Karen for spicing up an otherwise rather mediocre segment.

MARCIANO: No, it was good stuff, Jack.

O'BRIEN: That's not true.

Thank you, Jack.

All right, this next story you've got to -- where are you going, Jack? This is a good story. Come here.

This next story you have to see to believe, and even then it is still a little bit fishy. A Florida fisherman says that two years ago, he put his wedding ring on the bill of a sailfish and last month he and his buddies caught that same fish again. You can see the gold ring is halfway down the bill there.

MARCIANO: I don't believe it.

O'BRIEN: Eric Bartos admits the story is hard to believe. But a polygraph test says that he's actually telling the truth. A local radio station paid for that test. I guess he was...

MARCIANO: That's -- that's amazing.

O'BRIEN: ... angry. Yes, it's still weird.

MARCIANO: All right, we'll just believe it. You said it so I believe it. And he took a polygraph test, as well.

O'BRIEN: I said this one is going to be hard to believe.

Well, a question now -- have the Israelis and the Palestinians taken a real step toward peace? We're going to take you to Sharm el- Sheikh in Egypt, the scene of that big announcement this morning.

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

Just about half past the hour on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Bill Hemmer has got the day off, but Rob Marciano has been kind enough to hang out with us for yet another day, so thank you.

MARCIANO: He's still recovering from the Super Bowl, I guess.

He'll be back tomorrow.


Yes, Mr. Hemmer is. And we feel so sorry for him.


O'BRIEN: No, we don't.

We'll see him tomorrow.

A hundred and fifty federal programs are on the chopping block in the president's new budget proposal. You can believe there will be plenty of fights about what remains there. Round one starts today in Washington and Detroit, as well. We'll explain just ahead.

MARCIANO: Also, scientists are taking a closer look now at the size and the power of the tsunami that devastated Asian countries. And it appears the wave might have been much bigger than anyone thought. We'll talk about it with one leading researcher who just returned from Sumatra.

O'BRIEN: I can believe that with all the damage there.

MARCIANO: Eighty feet, they're saying.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it wouldn't surprise me when you look at sort of the scope of what was ripped out.


O'BRIEN: Thanks.


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