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YOUR WORLD TODAY
Former Iranian President has Tough Message for Washington; Gunman Kills British Tourist in Amman; Operation Medusa Targets Insurgent Taliban; Steve Irwin Killed by Stingray in Australia
Aired September 4, 2006 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: A message for Mr. Bush. A former Iranian president says U.S. policy is fueling global terror and needlessly stirring up a nuclear standoff.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN HOWARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: It's a huge loss to Australia. And he was a wonderful character, he was a passionate environmentalist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: An unlikely death for an adventurer who seemed invincible. Tributes pouring in for the man many knew simply as the "Crocodile Hunter."
GORANI: And a deadly attack in Afghanistan. A suicide bomber hits a British convoy on patrol in the capital.
FRAZIER: And whether they like it or not, those lazy days of summer are stretching on for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian kids. We'll see why they are shut out of school.
Hello, and welcome to our report broadcast around the globe.
I'm Stephen Frazier.
GORANI: And I'm Hala Gorani.
From Tehran, to Kabul, to Ramallah, wherever you're watching, this is YOUR WORLD TODAY.
Well, fans and wildlife enthusiasts around the world are mourning the untimely death of Steve Irwin, also known as the "Croc Hunter."
FRAZIER: We'll have much more on his death and, more importantly, on his life, coming up in just a few minutes.
GORANI: But we begin in Iran, where a still defiant Tehran says it believes in a peaceful resolution to the nuclear dispute.
FRAZIER: And tough words for the United States during an exclusive interview with former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami.
GORANI: Now... FRAZIER: With the threat of sanctions ever closer now, Iran is hailing the United Nations secretary-general's visit to Tehran as positive, but in the very same breath it is accusing the United States of trying to sabotage efforts to resolve the dispute.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GHOLAM HOSSEIN ELHAM, IRANIAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN (through translator): Some powers, like America, are trying to influence the rational process of talks on Iran's nuclear issue. The ongoing process is a fair one, and it is continuing.
We have stressed it from the very beginning that we are pro talks and negotiations. We are after peace, stability and sustainable security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FRAZIER: Assurances aside, some members of Iran's parliament, though, this week signed a measure that, if passed, would bar the United Nations from inspecting nuclear facilities. In spite of this and Iran's insistence that it will not suspend uranium enrichment, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan maintains that the best solution is negotiation. Annan was unable to win any commitment from Iran to suspend uranium enrichment during his weekend visit to Tehran.
GORANI: In spite of Kofi Annan's message, not everyone remains hopeful. Germany's foreign minister, for instance, says he is skeptical talks between the European Union and Tehran later this week will succeed.
Meantime, former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami is visiting the United States. And as Zain Verjee reports, he's got some strong- worded messages for Washington.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Mohammad Khatami is the highest ranking Iranian to visit the United States since the 1979 revolution. He's not been invited to meet with any U.S. officials, but he does have a message for President Bush.
MOHAMMAD KHATAMI, FMR. IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I would tell him that the United States and all -- with all of its might and resources can, side by side, with the good people of the Middle East, bring about a new experience in the creation of democracy and the advancement of democracy.
VERJEE: However, he sharply criticized President Bush as well, blaming him in part for the rise in terrorism.
KHATAMI: As a result of such wrong policies, such unilateral violent policies, that the voice of logic decreased and the voice of terror, the attractiveness of terror, unfortunately, among the youth has increased.
VERJEE: Khatami flat out rejected accusations that Iran wants a nuclear bomb.
KHATAMI: And it has never been the policy nor the mindset of any branch of the Iranian government to pursue atomic weapons which can be the source of vast, numerous deaths in the world. We have no interest in building such weapons.
VERJEE: Khatami says President Bush's stance towards Iran has derailed relations that were beginning to thaw under President Clinton, and he insists dialogue between the two nations is the best hope for resolving the current deadlock.
KHATAMI: Through communication and negotiations, the needed guarantees can be given to give assurances that we're not pursuing the atomic weapon.
VERJEE: The threat of war, he says, is only making things worse.
(on camera): Couldn't the deadlock, if it does come to that over the nuclear issue, lead to an attack on Iran? Do you worry about that?
KHATAMI: We are definitely worried and hopeful that such a thing will not take place, such an attack will not take place. I think, in all honesty, the probability of such a thing taking place are very low. And I firmly believe the only power that can undertake -- can take such steps is the United States, and, quite frankly, I think the United States has caused itself enough problems in Iraq.
VERJEE (on camera): The former president will be in New York and in Washington next. There he'll be talking less about a clash of civilizations and more about a dialogue among civilizations between countries and cultures to promote a greater understanding for peace and security.
Zain Verjee, CNN, Chicago.
FRAZIER: On this unofficial visit, the former president of Iran had a lot more to say on topics ranging from Israel to the man who succeeded him as president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
We'll have that coming up at the half-hour.
GORANI: All right. Over to Jordan now.
A British citizen was killed when a gunman opened fire at a tour group in Amman. Six more people were wounded, including a tour guide. Now, the incident took place at the Roman amphitheater in downtown Amman, which is a major tourist attraction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The police surrounded him. He started shouting, "God is greatest!" and he started shooting. When he finished the bullets, he got out more bullets and resisted until his bullets were finished and the police caught him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: The Jordanian Interior Ministry says the gunman is now in custody and they are treating the incident as an act of terrorism.
Neil Connery has more.
NEIL CONNERY, REPORTER, ITV NEWS (voice over): On the streets of the Jordanian capital, police try to cope with the aftermath of the lunchtime attack on the group of foreign tourists. Eyewitnesses say a lone gunman cried the Islamic chant of "God is greatest!" before opening fire at the group.
Jordanian officials say a British man was killed and three other Britons were wounded, along with two other tourists. No further detail have been released about their condition.
Police cordoned off the site of the attack near the Roman amphitheater in the downtown area of the capital. It is one of the most popular attractions in Amman. Jordanian officials say they've arrested the gunmen believed to be a Jordanian and are questioning him.
This isn't the first time tourists have been targeted in Jordan. Last November, al Qaeda in Iraq launched suicide bombings against three hotels in Amman popular with foreigners, killing 56 people and wounding more than 100. One of the blasts destroyed a banquet room where some 250 people were attending a wedding reception. The fathers of the bride and groom were among the dead.
More and more, tourists find themselves being targeted abroad. In April, a series of coordinated bombs went off in the Egyptian resort of Dahab, popular with holidaymakers and divers.
Officials from the Foreign Office in London are now in touch with the Jordanian authorities to try and establish the identities of those caught up in this morning's shooting and to see what help British Embassy staff can offer on the ground. The policeman who overpowered the gunman was also injured in the attack. A group of locals also joined in the struggle to disarm the man.
Even before today's shooting, British tourists were warned to be aware of the high risk from indeterminate attacks in the region.
Neil Connery, ITV News.
FRAZIER: We have been tracking an upsurge in violence in Afghanistan which comes during Operation Medusa, the biggest anti- Taliban operation mounted by NATO forces since they took over southern Afghanistan July 31st.
Here's Tim Lister.
TIM LISTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): On a road just outside Kabul, the aftermath of the car bomb used to attack British troops. One soldier was killed, as well as four Afghan civilians. Three British troops were injured.
Military officials see a disturbing echo of Iraq in such attacks, which have killed more than a hundred people in Afghanistan this year, most of them civilians. But they are a rare event in the capital.
The attack came as NATO troops continue a big offensive against Taliban guerrillas close to Kandahar. Commanders say Operation Medusa is inflicting heavy casualties.
LT. DAVID RICHARDS, NATO COMMANDER: The report of more than 200 I'm confident is correct. A lot of Taliban, sadly, in many respects, because no one likes such loss of life, have been killed, a number have been captured by the Afghan police, and we are fighting through a difficult position which needs clearing.
LISTER: Taliban commanders have denied such heavy losses. NATO has taken casualties of its own as some 2,000 troops attack a Taliban stronghold in the (INAUDIBLE) district. Four Canadian soldiers were killed over the weekend, the largest single combat loss for the Canadians in Afghanistan.
MAJ. GEOFF ABTHORPE, CANADIAN MILITARY: As Canadians, I think we like to go in maybe a little softer-handed because we're not used to this. Well, we're getting our noses bloodied, so it's time to hit back a lot harder.
LISTER: Another Canadian was killed Monday as a NATO warplane accidentally fired on NATO ground forces. Several more were wounded.
The offensive, which also involves the Afghan army, is in response to a resurgence of Taliban attacks in southern provinces. This year has seen more violence than any since President Hamid Karzai's government came to power. More than 130 international troops have been killed.
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: And so, over the last few years, the Taliban have regrouped, re-supplied themselves. They're also benefiting from the drug trade, and also apparently from contributions from Middle Eastern donors, according to U.S. military officials I've spoken to.
LISTER: And according to the United Nations, drug production in Afghanistan is soaring. It says cultivation of opium poppies his increased nearly 60 percent this year and the whole (ph) is 6,000 tons, despite major investment by the international community in eradicating crops. It's now estimated that Afghanistan is the source of more than 90 percent of the world's heroin.
Tim Lister, CNN, Atlanta. (END VIDEOTAPE)
GORANI: Now, Sudan is telling peacekeepers to leave the troubled Darfur region at the end of the month. Embattled African Union forces have been unable to stop a deepening humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council voted to send 20,000 international peacekeepers to take over from the African Union, but the U.N. won't deploy troops without Sudanese government approval. And Khartoum says it won't allow U.N. troops in.
FRAZIER: Still to come on YOUR WORLD TODAY, he spent an adventurous lifetime spreading awareness of animal conservation. And the "Crocodile Hunter," Steve Irwin, gave his life for the same cause in the waters off Australia.
GORANI: And water, or lack of it, is causing misery for millions in China. We'll take a look at China, where the worst drought in decades shows no signs of letting up.
Stay with us.
GORANI: Welcome back. This is YOUR WORLD TODAY.
FRAZIER: Where we bring CNN's viewers around the globe up to speed on the most important international stories of the day.
GORANI: Well, he wasn't the first naturalist to become famous, but Steve Irwin's brash approach to animal conservation gained him an international following, as well as the nickname the "Croc Hunter."
FRAZIER: It made him irresistible, really, all those up-close- and-personal interactions with every variety of predator, including his namesake, crocs. All in a day's work for Irwin, but that approach took a terrible turn on Monday.
Melissa Downs (ph) has the story of Irwin's death.
We're actually going to hear that from John Vause.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For many Australians it just doesn't seem real. The man who built a global reputation wrestling crocodiles and playing with deadly snakes who cornered death with enthusiasm and a broad smile seemed invincible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my god.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It can't be right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course he seemed invincible, but, yes, it's an absolute tragedy what happened.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He died doing what he loved, didn't he?
VAUSE: Even harder for many, the way he died, swimming in shallow waters on the Great Barrier Reef, not far from the resort of Port Douglas in north Queensland. He was filming a segment for a children's TV show he was making with his 8-year-old daughter Bindi. She wasn't with him at the time, but those who were say Irwin was killed by a stingray, normally a defensive animal which rarely attacks.
JOHN STAINTON, IRWIN'S FRIEND AND MANAGER: He came over the top of a stingray and a barb -- the stingray's barb went up and went into his chest and put a hole into his heart. It's likely that he possibly died instantly when the barb hit him.
VAUSE: Irwin's support crew made a 30-minute dash to a nearby island and awaiting medical helicopter, but no one could save his life, making this the third fatality in Australian waters from a stingray attack.
HOWARD: Well, I am quite shocked and distressed at Steve Irwin's sudden, untimely and freakish death. It's a huge loss to Australia.
He was a wonderful character. He was a passionate environmentalist. He brought joy and entertainment and excitement to millions of people.
VAUSE: Those who know him best, the man who turned "crikey" into a catch phrase and spent a lifetime trying to make crocodiles, snakes and sharks loveable, died doing what he loved most of all.
John Vause, CNN, Brisbane, Australia.
GORANI: Well, to many in Australia and around the world, Irwin seemed larger than life. A brash performer with a breezy attitude, as we saw there, he was also a dedicated naturalist with a love for the wildlife he presented to the world.
Alex Smith has more now on Irwin's legacy.
ALEX SMITH, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Steve Irwin was more than extraordinary. He was an international phenomenon.
STEVE IRWIN, "CROCODILE HUNTER": I can't stop, mate. I'm on fire. I wake up in the morning and I'm on fire. I just can't do enough.
SMITH: And the world couldn't get enough. Long before he was a household name at home, he was star of the week on U.S. television.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Irwins are the real crocodile dundees of Queensland in Australia.
SMITH: It all started at his parent's Australian zoo on the sunshine coast. That grounding, and his boots and all approach.
IRWIN: Pull push. Pull push. Go, go, go.
SMITH: And that trademark style.
IRWIN: Crikey, that's the biggest crocodile upheaval in Australia zoo's history.
SMITH: Made Steve Irwin and one Australia's most successful exports.
IRWIN: I want you in there with me, Charlie, mate, all right. You're coming in with me.
SMITH: Even Hollywood beckoned.
IRWIN: There you're going, mate.
SMITH: But along with wife Terry, and their two children, Steve's heart was never far from the Aussie bush and his beloved Australia zoo. There were controversies along the way.
IRWIN: Watch his eyes. Watch his feet.
SMITH: But no controversy could shake his self belief.
IRWIN: Life is all about big peaks and troughs and trying to keep a nice level, happy playing field and surround yourself with your family.
SMITH: He leaves behind a massive nature conservation project funded by his multimillion dollar empire. But perhaps his greatest legacy will be to encourage others to follow their dreams.
IRWIN: I am the proudest Australian bloke on the face of the earth.
FRAZIER: Steve Irwin's adventures in the wild thrilled and inspired millions of viewers, especially young ones.
GORANI: Now, hundreds of you have been sharing your memories of Steve Irwin through our I-Reports feature on our Web page, CNN.com. Here are just a few.
Curtis sent in this photo from the Australia zoo. He writes, "Today we lost a great person. I've always watched Steve on TV. And this past April I had the chance to visit his zoo. I can honestly say this was the most comfortable zoo for the animals I've ever seen. He will be missed."
FRAZIER: And Maria in Rochester, New York, sent us this picture of her own son dressed as the "Crocodile Hunter."
She writes, "How does one explain to a 7-year-old that his idol has been fatally injured? Steve has brought countless hours of laughter, enjoyment and education into our home while teaching love and respect for all wildlife. Steve, you are forever in our hearts."
GORANI: All right. We're going to take a short break here on YOUR WORLD TODAY.
Coming up, critics say they are ugly, kill birds and hurt property values.
FRAZIER: But supporters want to see them all over the United States. We'll look at the debate over wind turbines and how they could revolutionize the U.S. energy industry.
GORANI: And children caught in a government cash crunch. A major strike shuts down Palestinian schools.
Stay with us.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And hello, everyone. I'm Tony Harris at the CNN Center in Atlanta.
More of YOUR WORLD TODAY in just a few moments.
But first, a check of stories making headlines in the United States.
You just saw it moments ago on CNN. President Bush in Maryland on this Labor Day talking up the economy. Mr. Bush was visiting a maritime training center in Piney Point, Maryland.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today on Labor Day, we honor those who work. And we honor those who work because in so doing, we recognize that one of the reasons why we're the economic leader in the world is because of our workforce. And the fundamental question facing the country is, how do we continue to be the economic leader in the world?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: President Bush outlined ways to keep America competitive, saying the government must keep taxes low and become less dependent on foreign oil.
Another wave of immigration rallies across the country this week. You're looking at live pictures from one of those rallies in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, now. Congress comes back into session this week and will begin -- the conferees will begin to work on a compromise to the two immigration bills that are standing right now.
Once again, this is a live rally ongoing right now in Milwaukee. Another one is under way in Illinois and in Phoenix as immigration moves to the front burner once again. Citing excalating violence, top congressional Democrats are calling for change in Iraq. In a letter to President Bush, Democrats asked him to consider a different war strategy. They also want him to change the Pentagon's leadership, among other things. The Democrats propose the president begin the phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq before the end of this year.
He snatched thrills from the jaws of danger and turned his passion into prime TV ratings, even a movie. Earlier today, "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin was working on his latest adventure, filming under water along Australia's Great Barrier Reef. There, a massive stingray plunged a barb into his chest. It's believed he died within moments.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK HANNA, "JACK HANNA'S ANIMAL ADVENTURE": There's only one Steve Irwin. The guy really lived his life this way, he -- I've filmed at his zoo in Australia, I filmed at the Great Barrier Reef. And Steve really knew what he was doing. He's one of the finest reptile people in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: And tune in tonight. CNN re-airs Larry King's one-on- one interview with Steve Irwin. That encore presentation is tonight at 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.
A manhunt takes on new urgency in western New York State today. One of two troopers shot in an ambush last week died over the weekend. The officers were helping search for fugitive Ralph "Bucky" Phillips. Police say Phillips escaped from a New York prison in April.
Doctors say the second trooper shot last week is improving.
Looking for answers in Chicago today. Six children are dead, another three children and an adult injured after a terrible fire on the city's north side. The likely cause, fire crews say, a candle used to light an apartment that had no electricity.
The dead range in age from 3 to 14. Five are from the same family.
San Diego Charger Steve Foley is out of surgery now, according to his agent. Foley was shot in the leg, arm and chest by an off-duty police officer. The shooting happened early Sunday near Foley's San Diego home. Officials say an off-duty policeman followed Foley's car after it weaved through traffic.
According to police, Foley eventually stopped and got out of his car and advanced on the officer. That's when he was shot. Foley was arrested in April and charged with battery, drunkenness and resisting arrest.
A teacher strike hangs over one of the nation's largest school systems. A judge in Detroit has ordered around-the-clock talks to end a walkout by 9,500 teachers. Students are still being told to report tomorrow for the first day of class but it's been shortened to a half- day session. The district wants teachers to accept $88 million in pay and benefit cuts in order to balance the budget.
Confidence from NASA that bad weather won't delay Wednesday's shuttle launch. Thunderstorms are not expected at Kennedy Space Center until after Atlantis lifts off. Launch has already been delayed several times by storms. If Wednesday is a no-go, NASA says it will try again on Thursday and again on Friday, if necessary.
Let's get a check of weather now. Jacqui Jeras in the CNN weather center.
JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hey, Tony Harris.
JERAS: Back to you, Tony.
HARRIS: CNN NEWSROOM this afternoon at 1:00 Eastern. A close friend of Steve Irwin shares memories of the Aussie "Croc Hunter."
Meantime, YOUR WORLD TODAY continues after a quick break.
I'm Tony Harris.
FRAZIER: Welcome back to YOUR WORLD TODAY. I'm Stephen Frazier.
GORANI: I'm Hala Gorani. Here are some of the top stories we are following for you this hour. Four civilians and a British soldier are dead after a suicide car bomber took aim at a NATO convoy in the Afghan capital of Kabul. Earlier, NATO war planes accidentally gunned down a Canadian soldier in southern Afghanistan. The violence comes on day three of NATO's Operation Medusa, which aims to knock down a resurgence of Taliban forces in Kandahar province.
FRAZIER: A British tourist has been killed when a gunman opened fire on a tour group in Amman, Jordan. Six other people were hurt, including a tour guide. The shooting took place at the Roman amphitheater in central Amman. That is a major tourist attraction. The gunman was taken into custody. Jordan's interior ministry says it is treating the shooting as an act of terrorism.
GORANI: Steve Irwin defied danger innumerable times during his career. But the crocodile hunter's adventure ended with a fatal stingray attack during filming off the coast of Australia today. Irwin gained international fame handling every manner dangerous animal during a career spent focusing attention on the importance of animal conservation.
FRAZIER: We're hearing reports that United Nations chief Kofi Annan has agreed to take a role in trying to get two Israeli soldiers released by their Hezbollah captors. News agencies are citing an Annan spokesman who says the secretary general's role comes on requests from Israel and Hezbollah. CNN has not yet confirmed this arrangement. We will bring you details as they reach us here.
GORANI: The former president of Iran says the Bush administration's policies are inciting terrorism. Mohammad Khatami is in the U.S. on a two-week visit. In an exclusive interview with our Zain Verjee, Khatami talked about U.S. foreign policy and also current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's provocative statements on Israel.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. government, the American people may say in the region it is actually Iran and countries like Syria that are supporting, backing groups that are also responsible for fomenting extremism and terror in the region and not just the policy of the United States that creates the instability in the region. How do you respond to that?
MOHAMMAD KHATAMI, FORMER IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Well, see, talking about the particular case of Afghanistan, the Taliban, who were actually the originators of terrorism were as opposed to us as they were to the United States. But we undertook policies that helped to undermine the power of the Taliban and brought about a new regime. We have been the backers of democracy in Afghanistan.
Today, thank God, we have the best of relations with Afghanistan's government. We have been the biggest helpers to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. In the case of Iraq, even though we were and we still continue to be against American intervention in Iraq, we have been, nevertheless, very glad, regarding the elimination of Saddam Hussein, who was a threat and a source of instability. And he headed a violent regime in Iraq.
And obviously, we also were happy that he was eliminated. But we firmly believe that through closer cooperation with different countries in the region, such objectives could have been obtained without paving the way for more extreme fervor in Iraq and in the region.
You see now, the extremists are the same ones who are the sworn enemies of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran is one that wants security in the region and in the country in particular, in Iraq. But it has to be done the right way. We don't believe that people who are opposed to occupation can be labeled terrorists.
Even though we condemn terrorism in all of its forms from wherever it originates. I believe that a country that brings about democracy through a revolution cannot be the backer of terrorism and violence.
For example, I'm sitting in front of you here today as the fifth elected president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And you see that all presidents have been chosen democratically through elections if you will, in the region, where most of its leaders are unelected and have to be pushed aside through violence.
But I don't see how a country that is as culturally rich as ours, and has opposed terrorism and violence in all of its forms, and was mentioned from the president of this country, of the United States, as such a rich country, such an old country, cannot be labeled a sponsor of terrorism, a backer of extremism.
We sincerely believe that a lot of the policies that are so- called executed in order to fight terrorism and violence, we believe that they are the originators of such terrorist activities. We believe that such efforts can be executed hand in hand and side by side with the people of Iran.
VERJEE: Sir, it is easy to criticize and to attack the United States, the government, the policy, Israel. Don't you think, too, though, that Muslim leaders themselves have a responsibility in addressing policies in their own region that undermine their own security, and deal with the problems in their own backyards before pointing fingers at the U.S. and Israel?
KHATAMI (through translator): I definitely will admit that there may be some problems and mistakes that exist in the region. But I firmly believe that the problems and challenges of the region must be resolved through the participation of the people of the region and cooperation between the countries of the region.
Taking one side only with an unfair view, particularly regarding the true crimes of Israel, will only increase the challenges and problems. The United States can, through the creation of a new and fair policy in the region, and with close cooperation with the countries in the region, can instill a long-lasting, multilateral peace in the region.
And, obviously, we do have some mistakes, some challenges in the region, wrong decisions taken by the leaders in the region. But I firmly believe it's only increased through foreign intervention. I again firmly believe that through dialogue and close cooperation and understanding there is a better way to work through and eliminate the problems and challenges, rather than threats and violence.
VERJEE: President Ahmadinejad has said that Israel should be wiped off the face of the map. What are your thoughts on a comment like that? Do you agree?
KHATAMI (through translator): I personally never said that Israel should be wiped off the map. I always said and backed fair and equal peace in the region with the main pillar -- one of the main pillars of which would have to be fair treatment of Palestinians and also the repatriation rights of the Palestinian refugees, and also the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
Only in that case, we firmly believe, that Christians, Jews, and Muslims can live side by side in peace and prosperity. We firmly believe, however, that occupation cannot be a source of dictating conditions. A country cannot go and occupy a territory and upon such occupation being complete then turn around and say, I am the owner of such land and such parts of any countries.
If that were to be the case, then the Nazi occupation of France should have been accepted. But as you see, one of the greatest sources of pride of the French people today has been defeating the foreign occupiers.
I firmly believe, as I said before, that fair peace must be brought in to the region, must be created in the region. And also one of the deciding factors will be the public opinion and the thought of the Palestinians and those who live in other territories. And it's only natural that whatever conditions they accept must also be accepted by others in the region.
GORANI: All right. And that was the former Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami, speaking to our Zain Verjee a bit earlier.
Now taking you to the Middle East, a Qatar Airways flight has landed at Beirut International Airport. It's not just another plane, it's the first regularly scheduled commercial airliner to land at Rafik Hariri Airport since the war began in July. Now Israel says it gave permission for the flight and expects more to come. The airline says there will be a daily Doha-to-Beirut flight very soon.
Speaking of Qatar, it's promising to send a small detachment of troops to the U.N. peacekeeping forces in southern Lebanon. The announcement came after Sheikh Hamad held talks with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who is touring the Middle East currently. Qatar is expected to send 200 to 300 troops. Now if that happens, it would be the first Arab country to commit soldiers to the force.
FRAZIER: In Gaza, Israeli helicopters firing missiles have demolished a house. Palestinian sources say nobody was hurt when this house in the Jabalia refugee camp was utterly destroyed. Israel says the building was used for the manufacture and storage of weapons. The occupants were apparently warned an attack was coming. They fled before the missiles struck.
GORANI: Saturday was supposed to have been the first day of the Palestinian school year. Instead, many students across the West Bank and Gaza found their classrooms shut tightly. That's because their teachers are striking. Demanding several months' worth of salaries from the Hamas-led government.
Paula Hancocks has more on this story from Ramallah.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thousands of schools across Gaza and the West Bank remain closed as a weekend of strikes by unpaid teachers drags on. Many of the teachers say they haven't been paid for six months. This headmaster from Hebron says: "It is our natural right to request our paychecks. The government should be paying us in a normal way." But since Hamas came to power in March, the Palestinian government's coffers have dried up. The West is still holding back millions of dollars of aid until Hamas renounces violence and accepts Israel's right to exist. Many children who did turn up to school were told to go home. Those who were allowed to stay weren't being taught.
FIDA'A ALOMARI, MOTHER: The first days, they give them books and they send them to the new classes and they write their names. You know, everything what's happening in schools in the beginning. And he told me, no, mama. We just played there and sat in the classroom. Nothing else.
HANCOCKS: Alomari's children now just sit and watch television. Her eldest daughter is not here. Her school's private, so it's open.
ANAR ALOMARI, STUDENT: I see my sister go to school. I go to where my -- I talk with her. I say, I want to go to school. And I feel bad.
HANCOCKS (on camera): The strikes in the government-funded schools started on Saturday. The main problem for the parents is they have no idea when they'll end. Depending on who you talk to, it could be days or it could be weeks.
(voice-over): This open-ended strike by civil servants is the first of its kind since Hamas took power. It's widely seen as a challenge to the government's authority by the rival Fatah Movement which strongly backs the strike.
Paula Hancocks, CNN, Ramallah, the West Bank.
FRAZIER: Large parts of southwestern China are enduring the worst drought there in decades.
GORANI: The lack of rain is forcing many in the region to resort to extreme measures. And that's just to survive. YOUR WORLD TODAY returns in a moment.
GORANI: Welcome back.
FRAZIER: Well, seen live in more than 200 countries across the globe, this is YOUR WORLD TODAY on CNN INTERNATIONAL. So take a moment now to reflect on the sensations of heat and extreme thirst, the parched throat, the desperation of an entire body craving moisture.
GORANI: Well, it's what's happening in central and southern China. Millions of people have been enduring this feeling for months now as the worst drought in decades extends its grip.
FRAZIER: Our Stan Grant takes a closer look at what's happening.
STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When water won't fall from the sky, there is no choice but to go underground. For three days, this family has chipped away at the rock hard earth trying to dig a well. It is back-breaking work. One man underground clearing the rock in a bucket passed to another man. And then on to this woman who empties it and so it starts again.
And what do they have to show for all of this? Barely two inches of water in the bottom of a bucket.
LIU JIAN, CHONGQING RESIDENT (through translator): All the crops are dead. It's so dry. There's no point.
GRANT: Liu Jian's uncle, Fiu Anquan has lived here for decades. He's 63 now and says he's seen nothing like this. And the government, he claims, has deserted them.
FIU ANQUAN, CHONGQING RESIDENT (through translator): The government doesn't help us. No one has come by. We help ourselves.
GRANT: This is a scene being played out right across western China. The people here say they have seen no rain for two months. The government admits it has left 17 million people without regular drinking water. Farmers forlornly work the fields. Crops have died. The land cracked and parched.
(on camera): And it is not just the lack of rain these people have to contend with, but day after day of baking temperatures. It's noon now and already over 40 degrees Celsius. That's more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
(voice-over): Yet, as extreme as the drought is for some, life does go on as normal in the larger nearby towns. There is water to spare. Even water to waste washing cars. While back at the well, they break for lunch. Three days of work yielding only this pitiful puddle. Not even enough to drink, just enough to hope.
Stan Grant, CNN, Chongqing, China.
GORANI: Well, a pioneering conservationist loses his life doing what he loved, communing with nature.
FRAZIER: Next on YOUR WORLD TODAY, we'll talk more about the life of Steve Irwin with another wild life crusader, Animal Planet's Jeff Corwin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE IRWIN, "THE CROCODILE HUNTER": This is wet. That means the crocodile has come up here just moments before I got here. He's probably sitting out there in a camouflage position. Hey, hey, hey! Hey, Terry, I got him!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: That was Steve Irwin's trademark presentation style there. A clip from Irwin's 2002 film, "The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course." Steve Irwin was killed Monday by a stingray. The naturalist's controversial interaction with crocodiles made him famous around the world. But it was his interaction with a different kind of creature, a stingray, as we just mentioned there, underwater, that ended up causing his death.
Joining us on the line now from Nome, Alaska, is conservationist Jeff Corwin. Like Irwin, Jeff Corwin is known -- very well-known for his work on cable's Animal Planet.
And thanks for joining us there. Now you've never met Steve Irwin, I understand, Jeff, but you were very aware of his work, of course. You two did and do the same type of work. What are your thoughts on this day?
JEFF CORWIN, ANIMAL PLANET HOST: Well, it's just -- it's shocking, and incredibly tragic. And it's just one of these bizarre events that just really makes you take stock of your life and appreciate every moment you have.
GORANI: Do you think it's going to change the way you and others like you on television and those who handle dangerous animals will do their work in the future?
CORWIN: Well, the reality is that there's always a risk when you work with wildlife. And you do your best to take precautions. As for myself, I want to make sure that when I'm doing hands-on work with wildlife, we have a legitimate reason behind that, to tell the story of the moment that we're looking at, to share the message of that particular species or creature.
And, personally, I am still going to do what I do. I am very focused and cautious when I work with wildlife. You know, Steve Irwin had a tremendous amount of experience working with wildlife, and it's just one of those things. It was just an absolute fluke.
GORANI: And it is a fluke really because, although a fluke, I mean, Steve Irwin died from a stingray attack. You, yourself, I understand, were severely injured handling a stingray. Is that the case?
CORWIN: Well, I wasn't handling it. I was knocked down by the sort of quintessential way of getting knocked down by a stingray. I was walking on a beach in Costa Rica, basically setting up a shot, talking about this pristine coastline, and the water was very murky, and I just felt like a lightning bolt hit me and I went to the ground. And it was incredible, incredible pain.
So, you know, I can't imagine sort of the situation that he was in where he was dealing with a much larger stingray and clearly in a much -- with a much more devastating impact. I mean, many thousands of people are stung around the year accidentally by stingrays.
They are not an aggressive animal. But, you know, if the numbers line up and the situation presents itself, it is possible to be stung by them. But when they do so, it's totally out of defense. They're not an offensive animal.
GORANI: It's as if they view you as a predator essentially. Quick last question on children. I know you yourself have a small child. Steve Irwin had two kids as well. How does that change the way you approach your job now, or does it?
CORWIN: Well, I think when you have a child, it changes everything in your life. People go from not wearing seat belts to wearing seat belts and take care of themselves because you want to be around for your children. You know, personally for myself, when I became a father, and I'm sure as Steve Irwin was in the same boat, your focus is about keeping yourself healthy, you know, for your children so you can be there. And for me, what really echoes out of this is, you know, how blessed we are to have our children and how tragic his family is in the state they are that -- you know, Steve was known for his work with animals and crocodiles. But as I understand it, people around him also knew him as a fantastic father and as a fantastic husband.
So the undercurrent of this whole story is a family that's broken, a wife has lost her husband and two precious children have lost their father. And that can never be fixed.
GORANI: Jeff Corwin, host of the "Jeff Corwin Experience" on Animal Planet. Thanks so much for joining us to talk about Steve Irwin on this, the day of his death. Steve Irwin, dead at 44.
And that will be it for this hour of YOUR WORLD TODAY. I'm Hala Gorani.
FRAZIER: I'm Stephen Frazier. This is CNN.
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