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AMERICAN MORNING

Crisis Continues in the Middle East; Iran-Hezbollah Connection?

Aired August 15, 2006 - 06:00   ET

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


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Tuesday, August 15. I'm Miles O'Brien.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Carol Costello in for Soledad today.

Here's a look at what's happening this morning.

O'BRIEN: In the Middle East, a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah appears to be holding. So far no major violations and Israeli troops have started to pull out of southern Lebanon. Israeli troops could start handing over captured positions to the Lebanese Army as soon as tomorrow.

COSTELLO: Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres visits the U.S. State Department this morning. He'll meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. They're expected to discuss the cease-fire.

President Bush is focusing on counterterrorism today. He'll meet with advisors at the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Virginia. The White House says he'll make a statement just before noon.

O'BRIEN: Dell is recalling more than four million notebook computer batteries. The company says the batteries could overheat and catch fire. The batteries were sold with notebook computers from April of 2004 through last month.

And in the eastern Indian Ocean, a Japanese tanker spilled almost 1.5 million gallons of crude oil after colliding with a cargo ship, happened about 300 miles west of India's Nicobar Islands.

Chad Myers at the CNN Center, early forecast for you.

Good morning, -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Miles. Good morning, Carol.

(WEATHER REPORT)

Back to you guys.

O'BRIEN: All right, thank you very much, Chad. See you in just a little bit. The Middle East cease-fire strained by isolated clashes and falling mortars but holding now for almost 30 hours. In fact, the Israeli military is in the midst of a retreat from southern Lebanon that began yesterday. And Israel says it will soon begin returning captured positions to the Lebanese Army once it is deployed in the south.

CNN's Paula Hancocks joining us from Jerusalem with more -- Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Miles.

Well that retreat by Israeli troops did start last night. It's picking up pace this morning as well, many Israeli troops pulling out from southern Lebanon. But there will be some staying in there until the Lebanese troops arrive in southern Lebanon to be able to replace them.

Now we're hearing from the Israeli Defense Forces that they will stay there. They have no direct timeline. They will not give us, for operational reasons, any direct timeline. They're just saying within the coming days. So this is leading to a lot of speculation as to when Lebanese Army could be there.

Now this is "Haaretz" newspaper, one of the local newspapers, saying it could be within two days. And you can see a picture there of weary soldiers walking out of southern Lebanon.

Now we also know that there have been some skirmishes, there have been some clashes overnight between Hezbollah and the Israeli troops. Four mortars landed nearby Israeli soldiers. But they said if they did not hit them, they did not retaliate. So, at this point, it is holding, this cease-fire. But it just shows how tense and tenuous it is. And those mortar shells just show how fragile this cease-fire is.

Now we're hearing from Israeli military sources that Israeli troops want to be out of there as soon as possible to lessen the possibility of further clashes -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Paula, those mortar shells, had they landed in northern Israel, that probably would have been the end of the cease-fire. Is there any way of knowing if that was the intent in that case?

HANCOCKS: There's no way of knowing that, but this is what people are assuming. And this is certainly what the Israeli media is assuming that those were intended either for the soldiers still left in southern Lebanon as they did land fairly near soldiers or it was for northern Israel. I think if they had actually have hit those soldiers in southern Lebanon that could have been a different situation as well.

So it underlines the fragility of this cease-fire and how important it is for the Lebanese troops and the U.N. troops to get in there very quickly. We know that the Israeli troops have been talking to UNIFIL, the U.N. forces on the ground, to discuss how and when exactly they can hand over those footholds that they have there and those positions -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Paula Hancocks in Jerusalem, thank you very much -- Carol.

COSTELLO: So it is a fragile cease-fire, yet thousands of Lebanese who fled the fighting are eager to return home. Many will find their homes and villages devastated by more than a month of fighting.

CNN's Brent Sadler is traveling in southern Lebanon near the Israeli border. He joins us now live by phone.

Brent, is it too soon to go home safely?

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well certainly by no means do you feel safe driving in the area where I am now, which is right slap bang next to the Israeli border. I've been driving through, in effect, what were Hezbollah's front line positions and the damage levels are extraordinarily high.

I'm not seeing much movement of Hezbollah. I'm not seeing any movements of any rockets or trucks or anything like that. And I'm not seeing any movements that show that the Israelis are here, apart from abandoned ammunition boxes, shell casings and one tank. The track -- the tank was across the road after, obviously, being attacked. But it certainly feels unsafe still, at this moment, even though there are no reports of incidents.

But there are extraordinary scenes I'm witnessing here, Carol, of hundreds of -- tens of thousands of people on the move, a stampede of refugees from the north streaming south. And one extraordinary sight, a short time ago I saw cars trying to ford a shallow river where the Litani is quite shallow, about two or three feet deep, and cars were struggling to drive through that. One car had got stuck in the middle and was sinking slowly into the riverbed. And a woman was actually using her shoes to bail out water from the back where she was trying to keep her children safe from the rising water level.

Red Cross vehicles, ambulances also driving through that river under difficult conditions, and I've just been following these Red Cross vehicles from Navitiah (ph), Lebanese Red Cross vehicles, as they've been able to get for the first time into these heavily- destroyed former Hezbollah strongholds to recover bodies that they have not been able to get to until now for more than two weeks. And some pretty appalling scenes. You can imagine going around that recovery operation right now -- Carol.

COSTELLO: OK, so there are appalling scenes, there's devastation, so people are going back to their homes. Let's say their homes are rubble, I mean, what do they do, where do they live?

SADLER: The ones that are going not so close to the border are fine. There's haphazard damage. Some parts of their villages or towns badly damaged, but other parts are obviously habitable. So they're basically looking what's happened. And of course if their own place is destroyed, it won't be very long before some other family or friend will take them in.

COSTELLO: Brent Sadler reporting live for us this morning.

Thank you, Brent.

O'BRIEN: Syria's president is weighing in on the Mideast crisis, just made some comments denouncing Israel.

Anthony Mills has been monitoring Bashar al-Assad's remarks. He joins us live now from Beirut, -- Anthony.

ANTHONY MILLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles.

Bashar al-Assad began this speech with some general rhetoric about the failure of the peace process. And he assigned blame for that not just to Arab countries but also to this administration.

Let's hear what he had to say about the failure of this administration to deliver peace in the region.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This administration, we adopt the preemptive war, and it contradicts the principle of peace. And six years after this administration, we have proven that there is no peace, and therefore we're not expecting any peace from this administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MILLS: A reference there by the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to what he called the U.S. administration's failure to deliver peace, especially because of the adoption of a preemptive war. And indeed in the absence of peace, there has been war.

He said that -- Bashar al-Assad said that this war had been planned in advance by Israel and its foreign masters and allies. It had been a failure, he said. The kidnapping of the two soldiers was just a pretext, he said. But a failure, he said, that had given pride to millions of Arabs. He got into the specifics then as well with a comparison with Israel's invasion back in 1982 when in seven days it made it all the way up to Beirut. He noted that this time around in weeks it only made limited inroads into south Lebanon.

Finally, as well, in an ominous note, he again drawing a parallel with that invasion back in the '80s said that back then there were certain Lebanese forces who had facilitated that invasion, really collaborated with Israel. And he said that this time around the same thing had happened again.

A fairly ominous statement in the context of a fractured Lebanese society with much debate about the usefulness or need for the Hezbollah resistance at this stage and also amid a warning just days before the resolution was adopted by Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and the speaker of Lebanon's Parliament that there could be, under certain circumstances if Hezbollah wasn't happy with this resolution and its implementation, a civil war in Lebanon again.

O'BRIEN: Anthony Mills in Beirut, thank you very much.

In Great Britain, the clock is ticking as investigators try to unravel that scheme to bomb U.S. airliners over the Atlantic. Investigators have until tomorrow to hold 22 suspects now in custody in the plot. A judge extended detention warrants for the suspects by a day. Investigators believe the suspects tested makeshift bombs in woods near where they lived. They say they are confident they will link them to the explosives.

COSTELLO: Happening in America.

A horrific scene on the New Jersey Turnpike, take a look. A semi truck loaded with bricks could not stop as it approached slower traffic, plowed into a car, flipping over onto another. Four people killed in the accident, including a 2-year-old girl. Four others are in the hospital this morning. The six-vehicle pileup backed up traffic through the evening rush hour.

In Connecticut, a garbage truck ended up on its side after a train filled with tourists slammed into it. Police say it appears the truck was trying to beat the train across the tracks. The truck driver was injured. No passengers on the train were seriously hurt.

More controversy over those government-issued trailers meant to house hurricane victims in the Gulf. FEMA announced as many as 110,000 may need new locks. The reason, one key can open many, many trailer doors. So far, no reports of any break-ins because of these duplicate locks.

The majority of Louisiana residents whose homes were destroyed by or damaged by Hurricane Katrina or Rita will have some extra time to settle their claims. Most insurance companies have offered homeowners another year to settle or file a lawsuit.

And severe weather leaves thousands in the dark in Oklahoma. About 5,000 homes were without power last night after storms ripped through the central part of the state. The rain was much needed, though, bringing short-term relief after a major heat wave. Triple- digit temperatures are expected to return, though, by the end of the week.

O'BRIEN: Listen up Dell laptop owners because, dude, you're getting a recall. Dell is recalling more than four million notebook batteries because they can overheat and catch fire. A Virginia man, who took these photos, says it happened to a Dell computer at his company just last month. Henrick Gustofson (ph) says all of a sudden the laptop started popping and cracking and then burst into flames.

The suspect Lithium batteries power Latitude, Inspiron, Precision and XPS mobile work station notebooks shipped between April 1, 2004 and July 18 of this year. To find out if your computer is affected, call the number on your screen, 866-342-0011, or you can log on to the Web site at www.dell.com.

COSTELLO: Yes, you call that phone number, you get a recording.

O'BRIEN: You do? You already tried?

COSTELLO: No. You can bet you do.

O'BRIEN: Well, yes, but I'm -- they'll probably get you new batteries.

COSTELLO: And I'll have to try because I have a Dell.

O'BRIEN: Yes,...

COSTELLO: And I'm worried.

O'BRIEN: Wow!

COSTELLO: I don't know.

O'BRIEN: Don't want it to get too hot, that's for sure.

COSTELLO: Not going to plug it in until I know.

Still to come, an exclusive interview with a top Iranian leader, tough talk about who really wants civil war in Iraq, and a veiled warning that America should not mess with Iran.

O'BRIEN: A money trail to terror. How concerned people opened their hearts and wallets and how terrorists got a hold of your money.

COSTELLO: A change of direction on AIDS prevention, a new product that protects women. Millions of lives could be saved in just three years.

O'BRIEN: And Carrie Lee with business headlines.

CARRIE LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Miles and Carol.

It is all about the I word on Wall Street today. A look at producer prices will be the key thing to watch on the markets. Looking like a higher open, but we will see what happens later as the session continues and when those numbers come out. That's the latest. We'll have more coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Happening this morning.

Israeli troops have started pulling out of Lebanon. An Israeli official says the Lebanese Army and U.N. forces will be deployed to the area in the coming days.

British investigators have another day to hold 22 suspects in that alleged plot to blow up jetliners. The warrant has been extended until tomorrow. Two of the people arrested have already been released. In Iraq, a suicide bomber has killed at least four people outside of a building in Mosul. The building housed the political party headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Iraq's president is a member of that party.

O'BRIEN: Both Hezbollah and Israel declaring victory this morning as that shaky cease-fire continues to hold, but is the possible -- is it possible the real winner is about 900 miles away? We're talking about Iran, Hezbollah's supporter and benefactor, and as President Bush insists, a fomenter of violence in Iraq as well.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is the only U.S. network reporter in Iran right now. He joins us from Tehran, -- Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Miles, good morning.

It has been victory celebrations here in Iran last night. I heard a number of cars on the streets honking their horns. There is a sense here that Iran is a rising power.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAMAN (voice-over): For every Hezbollah rocket fired on northern Israel comes an allegation that it came from Iran. And now the head of the country's Supreme National Security Council, in an exclusive interview with CNN, responds.

(on camera): Is Iran at all arming Hezbollah?

ALI LARIJANI, SUPREME NATL. SECURITY COUNCIL SECY. (through translator): Hezbollah does not need Iranian weapons. You can find anything on the market. The type of weapons Hezbollah uses are not that hard to find. And, by the way, the Americans haven't admitted that they are supplying Israel with weapons.

RAMAN (voice-over): It seems the Iranian strategy, for every question about their actions comes a response that challenges the United States. When asked about comments made by the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, that Iran is festering civil unrest there, Larijani said it was the opposite.

LARIJANI (through translator): Yes, they want civil war. This is not an analysis, we have information. The same ambassador you just mentioned had a meeting not long ago with terrorist groups inside Iraq. He asked for three things: one, to aim their guns away from the U.S. forces; two, to aim their guns at the Iraqi Shias and three, to aim their weapons at Iran.

RAMAN: A startling accusation he says came from Sunni insurgents, interesting, because Iran is a Shia nation.

In Iran, there is no doubt this day that Hezbollah won the war, that Iran is now in a stronger regional position, and they feel the U.S. must respect that. LARIJANI (through translator): I think the Americans are wise enough not to entangle themselves with Iran. They're still struggling in Iraq. What did they gain in Lebanon? Can anyone claim that Israel has won in Lebanon? Why should the U.S. act unwisely? We are prepared for all eventualities.

RAMAN: Including the August 31 deadline set by the United Nations for Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment. Larijani says there are no plans to do that, leaving Iran on a collision course with the West.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

And, Miles, this hasn't been an overnight rise for Iran. Of course previously the balancing power was Saddam Hussein's Iraq. He has been overthrown. And now in this Lebanese-Israeli conflict with Hezbollah, the Saudis, the Jordanians, the more moderate Arab governments have had to follow suit, fall in line, support Hezbollah against the Israeli war, and that has given even more power to Iran -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Aneesh Raman, the only person there in Tehran, thank you very much -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Let's head to Atlanta now to check in with Chad.

It was a nice two days here, but it's getting a little hot today, isn't it?

MYERS: It is. But, Carol, you know if you go on to the AMERICAN MORNING Web site and you look at all the e-mails that come in, where the heck have you been?

COSTELLO: I have been on assignment.

MYERS: OK. That's good. That's a good answer. Man, everybody was afraid that you were gone.

COSTELLO: No, no.

MYERS: No, no, she's still here.

COSTELLO: They can't get rid of me that easily.

MYERS: It's all right, me neither.

(WEATHER REPORT)

COSTELLO: Sinister, huh?

MYERS: It could turn into something a little bit more than just a tropical wave.

COSTELLO: Well let's hope not.

MYERS: OK. COSTELLO: Thank you, -- Chad.

MYERS: You're welcome.

COSTELLO: Still to come this morning, protecting women around the world from AIDS. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta will tell us about some promising new research.

Plus, Dell Computer is telling notebook computer owners give us your batteries, there could be a very serious problem. We'll have more for you in business headlines.

So stay with us on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Well, Dell is recalling more than four million -- where are you? Over here. Dude, you're over there.

Carrie Lee is here to tell us about those hot batteries.

LEE: Better watch that. Is that a laptop -- a Dell laptop?

O'BRIEN: It's a Dell.

LEE: OK. All right.

O'BRAIEN: It's a Dell, limited ship, though.

LEE: Need to be...

O'BRIEN: Look, there's no battery in it. It's actually quite convenient, it's not going to go on fire, I think, folks, yes.

LEE: Well some of them could.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

LEE: This is a big problem for Dell. Dell recalling 4.1 million notebook computers because some of them have a Sony battery that is at risk of catching fire. So we're talking about Dell's Latitude, Inspiron and XPS models here. Any models shipped between April 1 of 2004 and July 18 of this year potentially at risk. Now Dell has set up a Web site.

O'BRIEN: And this is not an April fool's joke.

LEE: No, no.

O'BRIEN: Even though it's April 1 of 2004.

LEE: This is a very serious...

O'BRIEN: This is for real. OK. All right.

LEE: This is a very serious story. O'BRIEN: Just checking.

LEE: Don't mean to laugh.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Yes.

LEE: But the Web site Dell has set up, www.dellbatteryprogram.com, or you can call 866-342-0011. Dell says this has happened only in rare cases. But still, take a look at some of these photos. If you think your laptop may be at risk, well certainly don't want to mess around.

COSTELLO: Can you imagine using your laptop and it suddenly bursts into flames.

LEE: And it suddenly starts crackling and bursts into flames. That's what's happening.

COSTELLO: That's crazy.

LEE: And the problem here, let's be clear, is really with the Sony battery; but of course Dell and Sony working together to make people aware of this potentially very serious problem.

O'BRIEN: And it'll keep you off those shady Web sites, if you know what I mean, a message from god or something.

All right, what else have you got?

LEE: All right, a quick check on the markets. Looking like a bit of a bullish start for today's session, this after slight gains yesterday. The Dow had been higher by about 115 points but a lot of inflation concerns weighing on investors' minds towards the end of the session. Today we will get a look at wholesale prices, tomorrow consumer prices and these are indicative potentially of inflation. So that is really what Wall Street is going to be paying attention to for the next few days. That's the latest.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, -- Carrie Lee.

LEE: OK.

O'BRIEN: See you a little bit later.

The morning's top stories are straight ahead, including on the money trail in that British terror plot. It begins, believe it or not, in the rubble of last year's earthquake in Pakistan and it ends up helping potential terrorists. We'll explain.

Plus, President Bush in the war on terror, why hundreds of U.S. troops are now heading back to Iraq. Live reports coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Happening this morning. Israeli troops have started pulling out of Lebanon. An Israeli official says the Lebanese Army and U.N. forces will be deployed to the area in the coming days.

British investigators given another day to hold 22 suspects in that alleged plot to blow up jetliners over the Atlantic. The warrant extended until tomorrow. Two arrested in the case already have been released.

And in China, the death toll from last week's devastating typhoon now 295. The typhoon was the strongest to hit southeastern China in 50 years.

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