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Bush Expresses Support for Iraqi Prime Minister; Senator Biden Proposes Solution to Iraq; Radioactive Spots Found around London; Wintry Weather Hits Midwest; Family Fears Paxil Led to Birth Defect

Aired November 30, 2006 - 13:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm Kyra Phillips at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta.

A new twist in the death of a former Russian spy. Radiation found around London and on at least two commercial airplanes. Thousands of passengers on alert. Find out who's at risk.

PHILLIPS: Stuck between a rock and a hard place. An alliance with the U.S. and inner struggle with his own people. What's next for the leader of Iraq? Is al-Maliki's government falling apart?

LEMON: And double whammy in the Midwest. Back to back storms bring a wintry blast of sleet and snow. You're looking at live pictures. And we're going to have coverage right now, starting in the CNN NEWSROOM.

President Bush stands by his man after 2 1/2 hours of face-to- face talks in Jordan. The president repeated his public support for Iraq -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki -- and vowed to keep U.S. troops in Iraq as long as it takes.

The latest now from CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, who is traveling with the president.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Despite the serious doubts the White House has about Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki's abilities to curb the violence in his country, President Bush today gave him a vote of confidence.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's the right guy for Iraq. And we're going to help him.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush is facing an increasingly unpopular war with a new Congress actively seeking exit strategies. So the president is trying to push more responsibility on the Iraqi leader, to govern and protect his people. Mr. Bush acknowledged the U.S. could do more to help.

BUSH: Part of the prime minister's frustration is, is that he doesn't have the tools necessary to take care of those who break the law. MALVEAUX: The president promised more resources to speed up the training of Iraqi security forces. But he flatly refused to commit pulling out U.S. troops, even gradually, as recommended by a bipartisan commission, the Iraq Study Group.

BUSH: I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq. We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done, so long as the government wants us there.

MALVEAUX: Even if that means U.S. troops will have to fight in what some consider a civil war.

BUSH: Killers taking -- taking innocent life is, in some cases, sectarian. I happen to view it as criminal.

MALVEAUX: Maliki also issued a thinly veiled warning to his neighbors, Iran and Syria, for any role they may have in supporting the insurgents.

NURI AL-MALIKI, PRIME MINISTER OF IRAQ (through translator): so everybody who is trying to make Iraq their own influence peer on account of the Iraqi people needs to recalculate.

MALVEAUX (on camera): As billed there were no major, bold new initiatives coming out of this summit, but rather a re-commitment from both leaders to keep plodding ahead.

Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, Amman, Jordan.


PHILLIPS: Well, if you're struggling to hold a government together in Baghdad, a pat on the back from President Bush isn't a badge of honor.

CNN international correspondent Nic Robertson has more now from the Iraqi capital -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kyra, well, before Prime Minister Maliki could even get back to Baghdad, one of the main oppositions to him, the Muqtada al-Sadr political bloc, who had just yesterday withdrawn their support from the parliament, said that their bloc had now grown, that they now had support from two leading Sunni groups and other independent parliamentarians.

We talked to a Sunni politician, part of that alliance. He told us that now they believe that their group is the group that should -- that should be talking to President Bush, not Prime Minister Maliki. They say they want to reshuffle the government.

Now, when Prime Minister Maliki got back here, he told the journalists who were waiting to speak to him that Muqtada al-Sadr and his bloc should back down from their position.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AL-MALIKI (through translator): The political partnership means commitment, and there is a mechanism to make a decision or express it through the parliament or the government, which the Sadr bloc and other blocs participate in. I hope they reconsider their decision, because it doesn't constitute a positive development in the political process.

We're looking forward to receiving the whole security portfolio, along with a total sovereignty on our security forces.


ROBERTSON: So what is significant here is this opposition to Maliki is growing. And we're seeing something we haven't seen here before. And that is an alliance between Shias and Sunnis, crossing the normal sectarian lines of the politics here.

What Sadr's group is saying, they have to have a date for the U.S. troops to pull out of Iraq before they'll get back into the parliament. But now this opposition to Maliki really seeming to grow here, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: We'll follow it. Nic Robertson, live in Baghdad, thanks.

The studying is over. Now comes the test. Is the White House ready for big changes in Iraq? A source tells CNN that the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, due to report its findings next week, will recommend a draw-down of U.S. troops, though not a specific timetable.

It will call for gradual but meaningful troop reduction, starting early in the new year. And it will emphasize training of Iraqi forces over purely combat operations.

The White House says the report will provide Mr. Bush with an important set of views and data, but not the only set.

LEMON: And the president is shooting down what he terms as a graceful exit of U.S. troops from Iraq. But pullout isn't the only "p" word being debated. There's also partition, dividing Iraq among Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds. And the White House opposes that, too.

Let's bring in CNN senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Senator Joseph Biden, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has his own plan for what he thinks ought to be done in Iraq. He's been pushing it now for over six months.

But he hopes that the one lesson that will come out of the Iraq Study Group is yet another "p" word, that is political. He's convinced that, as his plan underscores, that a political settlement has to be at the heart of any plan to get out of Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MCINTYRE (voice-over): The first thing Senator Joe Biden wants you to know about his plan for saving Iraq and salvaging U.S. credibility is that it is not partition.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: The fact of the matter is partitioning is not a good idea, but autonomy is necessary. It's called for in their constitution.

MCINTYRE: The autonomy plan first outlined by Biden and Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations last May has five points, the main one being a version of divide and conquer. Iraq's three rival groups would each get a part of the country.

(on camera) The Kurds would get the north; the Shia, the south; and the Sunni would have the central part of the country. It would all be able to form regional governments. And the central government in Baghdad would be responsible for border security and making foreign policy.

That leaves one big problem: oil.

(voice-over) Here's where the oil is: Every place the Sunni minority is not. Which brings up point two: Guaranteed 20 percent of oil revenue to the Sunnis because they make up about 20 percent of the population.

LES GELB, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: And you've got to tell -- we've got to tell the Shiites and the Kurds, look, you're not going to get anything out of the oil you have if there's civil war is in that country.

MCINTYRE: Next, the U.S. would have to get Iraq's neighbors to buy into the plan and pledge to support it.

BIDEN: You have to have the international community get together all the neighbors, including Iran and Turkey and all the areas, the neighbors, to agree on a hands-off policy with regard to Iraq.

MCINTYRE: That would allow, under point four, all about 20,000 U.S. troops to withdraw by the end of next year.

And lastly, the Biden plan calls for oil-rich Arab Gulf states to take the lead in funding reconstruction and providing jobs. The linchpin is focusing on political power sharing, instead of military firepower.

BIDEN: The fact of the matter is, absent a political solution, none of this matters. And a political solution requires more autonomy in the regions that they've already voted for in their constitution.

MCINTYRE: Biden's plan has gotten a cold reception from U.S. military commanders. And in the end, it will likely be the Iraqis, not the U.S., who decide whether breaking up is the way to go.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MCINTYRE: And, as some details are beginning to leak out of the Iraq Study Group, Senator Biden is among those who's looking anxiously to see some of the fine print, to see if some of the principles of his policy might have been embraced by the bipartisan commission -- Don.

LEMON: Jamie, why isn't this proposal getting much attention?

MCINTYRE: Well, you know, the general -- there seems to be a general agreement that splitting the country up into three different parts is going to be so disruptive, particularly because it would require, perhaps, the mass movement of people on the ground, as they move from one area to another. And that it might just simply foster more sectarian fighting between the areas.

The other thing, of course, is it relies on an agreement to particularly share oil revenue and share power. And right now, the Sunni and the Shia are demonstrating a complete inability to reach agreement on anything.

So a lot of people say that it may end up that Iraq simply divides itself into three areas. But a lot of people believe that it's not something that the U.S. should try to impose. And by the way, U.S. military commanders are dead set against it. They think it's a bad idea.

LEMON: CNN Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre. Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Let's get straight to the NEWSROOM. Carol Lin working details on a developing story for us.

Carol, where is it?

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Kyra, it's in Sacramento, just outside of the city limits, on Interstate 80. Take a look at the footage that we've got in. A bus overturned.

And according to the Associated Press, this is a bus from U.C. Davis, the University of California at Davis, where at least 40 passengers were on board. At least 20 of them, students, health workers, are injured.

Apparently, according to eye witnesses who spoke with the Associated Press, a couple of the passengers described a situation where they were on board, asleep. When they woke up, all of a sudden they were on a bus that was sliding across the highway. And one of the students described at one point that they were airborne.

So I don't have any more specific information as to how this accident started. But it happened about a little over an hour ago. And obviously, traffic backed up severely on Interstate 80.

PHILLIPS: All right, Carol, we'll continue to follow those live pictures coming to us from KCRA. Thanks, Carol.

We'll talk about hot spots. Twelve sites around London and at least two airliners have now tested positive for traces of radioactive material. Today, Britain's home secretary updated Parliament on the mystery surrounding the former Russian spy who apparently was poisoned in London by the radioactive isotope polonium 210.

CNN's Matthew Chance standing by with the latest now -- Matthew.


Every day that passes seems to see this -- this spy scandal become more and more mystery -- mysterious. Already today it's been confirmed, as you mentioned, by the British government, that 12 venues. 12 locations across the British capital, have now been detected to be contaminated with radiation.

So it obviously has profound potential public health, public safety, consequences, though the government is saying the risk to the public at this stage is very low. They're saying any measures they are taking are purely precautionary.

Also, as you mentioned, a number of British Airways flights said to have been detected with radiation, as well. At least two of them have that radiation. A third plane also grounded, this time at the airport in Moscow, awaiting forensic tests.

British authorities saying that it may well be that other airplanes as well may have to be checked. And, indeed, they've done that over the course of this day.

And this trail of radiation seems to be leading into all sorts of different areas. Earlier today, we had a report that doctors in Russia had said that the former Russian prime minister, Yegor Gaidar, had fallen sick with some kind of poisoning, as well. That's an unconfirmed report.

And certainly, it seems that, in some sense, that's being pulled back on now by members of his family, saying that they believe it may not have been a deliberate poisoning.

But certainly, there's so many layers to this story. It is getting very, very complicated and bizarre, indeed -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: OK. Matthew, any other reports -- I mean, slowly but surely -- this just seems to be becoming bigger and bigger and bigger, not just what we've seen happen within the past couple of weeks. But now whether it's aircraft or other leaders within this country.

What are your sources telling you? Could it get bigger? Could it reach out more into the country?

CHANCE: Well, the police are carrying out their investigation. They say they're making progress. But they're being very tight-lipped about what progress that is. The shutters are really very much down in Scotland Yard.

But certainly, the accusations are out there. The evidence seems to be pointing more and more to some kind of connection with Moscow. Now, Alexander Litvinenko himself, the former Russian agent who died a few weeks ago now, and he accused the Kremlin, from his death bed, of being involved in his killing, of ordering it, because of his intensive criticism of the Russian government. There's been absolutely no evidence to support that.

But were that evidence to be found, then obviously that would have very grave diplomatic consequences for relations between Britain and Russia.

PHILLIPS: Matthew Chance, live from London, thanks.

LEMON: Let's get more now on the airline angle. Investigators are focused on four commercial jets that flew between the U.K. and Russia. Three of the jets belonged to British Airways, and they carried thousands of passengers over the past month.

CNN's Paula Newton is following developments at London's Heathrow Airport.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: British Airways tells us the two airplanes in question continue to be in quarantine at Heathrow Airport here, awaiting more forensic tests.

While it did show low-level radiation, they want to see if it is, indeed, polonium, and that requires more extensive testing.

On to the plane in Moscow that is still awaiting more tests to determine if it, in fact, has traces of any kind of radioactivity or, in fact, polonium.

In the meantime, British Airways says it continues to try and contact passengers who were on those flights, more than 200 of them in and around Europe. They're encouraging passengers to check the web site, see if they've been on any of these flights, and call in.

But certainly the British home secretary, John Reid, indicated that the risk to the public was quite low. In the meantime, the investigation into what killed Alexander Litvinenko continues. An autopsy will be carried out tomorrow. Those results are not expected to be made public for a long, long time.

Scotland Yard has been very quiet. They continue to try and piece together this crime. Really not saying very much, except that perhaps this investigation will now have to move through to Russia. The British government says that it does expect the full cooperation of the Russian government.

Paula Newton, CNN, London.


PHILLIPS: Straight ahead, it's a popular anti-depressant. But a new report warns that pregnant woman -- that Paxil could cause birth defects. Do the risks outweigh the benefits? That's straight ahead, from the NEWSROOM.

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jonathan Freed, live in Kansas City, where the temperature is 20 degree, the wind chill factor is about 7, and snow is on the way. I will have that story come up in the NEWSROOM.


LEMON: An early taste of winter is barreling through Texas. And now much of the nation's heartland is bracing for the worst. Case in point, CNN's Jonathan Freed in Kansas City.

Hey, Jonathan.

FREED: Hey, Don.

Right now what we have here is cold. The wind chill factor is around 7. Temperatures actually around 20 degrees. And yesterday is when we really saw that freezing rain as we were driving into town coming up from the south. We saw a lot of cars off the road.

But look at what a difference, you know, roughly 24 hours will make. If you look over here, early this morning, Don, we were up before dawn. And that slope here, this sloping, structured street was covered with ice and snow, and cars really were taking it very, very carefully. They've been salting it all day. And now, as you can see, it's down to the pavement.

But there's still, if you look at the railing here, Don, there are other surfaces around town that are still dangerously coated in ice. This ice has been here all day, despite the sun coming up, and it's just not going anywhere.

So basically, people here having to be careful and getting ready for snow that we hear could be on its way in the next few hours.


FREED (voice-over): From the southwest to the Midwest, fierce winter weather is roaring through at least a dozen states today. In New Mexico, heavy snow may have looked beautiful, but it made for treacherous conditions on Interstate 40.

ROBERTA PETERSON, DRIVER: I went from back there where the gas station is to here, and I slid everywhere. So it's just -- it's too dangerous for me to move anywhere.

FREED: Most drivers decided to pull over and wait for the plows. But there are always the adventurous ones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm headed -- I'm going out here, I'm headed to Albuquerque. I'm headed straight for the Gulf of Mexico south until this turns away from snow to rain to something else, because we're not staying tonight. I don't want to stay here and get buried in this stuff. FREED: In the heartland, they're getting ready for the second storm in a winter double whammy. The first storm left nearly half an inch of ice in eastern Kansas, causing accidents and power outages. A second storm expected this afternoon could dump a foot and a half of snow from Oklahoma to Missouri.

Folks in St. Louis are bracing for the first big storm of the season, stocking up on the essentials.


FREED: And, Don, we're talking about a 7-degree wind chill factor here. And there's the wind right there. It's definitely been picking up as the day has progressed.

A lot of ice, still, here on the balcony that we're on. We put a little bit of salt down earlier, and it had some effect. And we've been watching people around town with picks and shovels, trying to clear the snow and really the ice away from the front of buildings. Everybody here pretty well just waiting to see just how bad it might get later on -- Don.

LEMON: Yes, I think the ice is usually worse in the snow. And possibly more dangerous, getting around in it, Jonathan.

FREED: Absolutely, although -- when you look at the side streets -- come on over here, Chris. When you look at the side streets, you know, as is often the case, they're not as well cleared as the main streets are.

And if there is ice remaining on some of these roads, on some of these side streets, when snow settles on top of it, that can be pretty problematic, of course, because you can't really see what's underneath. It can be pretty slick.

LEMON: Jonathan Freed, thanks for showing us around. Nice live shot. Thank you, sir.

FREED: Thanks.

PHILLIPS: All right. Let's get the big picture. Reynolds Wolf, working it all from the CNN Weather Center.

Hey, Reynolds.


REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: So we're looking at a wintry time. Very good time to get out those mittens, don't you think? Is that a good idea?

PHILLIPS: Just so long as they don't block your shot, Reynolds.

WOLF: I know, man, right there.

PHILLIPS: Then we would have really been upset. All right. WOLF: Whatever it takes.

PHILLIPS: Well, when weather becomes the news, you can become a CNN i-reporter. You know what you've got to do. You just go to and click on "i-report" or type in "i-report" at on your cell phone and you can share your photos or video.

LEMON: Making history, yes, but making amends as Pope Benedict pays a historic visit to an historic mosque. We're checking to see how it's playing in Istanbul. A live report, straight ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.


PHILLIPS: Pregnant and depressed? You may not want to pop that pill. While mothers to be once had the all clear to use anti- depressants, well, the message now is steer clear, at least until you know all the risks.

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports that one particular anti- depressant is getting special attention.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some fresh new information coming from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, taking a hard look at anti-depressants during pregnancy.

This has been a point of debate for some time, the question as to whether women should take anti-depressants or continue anti- depressants while they are pregnant, really asking women to weigh the pros and cons of this with their doctor but even more specifically looking at a specific medication, Paxil, and recommending to women they find other options if they are taking this medication and they are pregnant.

There's already been a lawsuit filed on this. Here's the story.

(voice-over) From his very first breath, Adrian Vasquez has fought to stay alive.

MATILDA VASQUEZ, MOTHER: I was scared to death. I was just hearing all these machines and beeps.

GUPTA: Just before his birth, Adrian's parents, Anthony and Matilda, received stunning news from their doctor.

M. VASQUEZ: She says, "I'm sorry, honey." She's like, "But there's something wrong with your baby's heart."

Are you ready?

GUPTA: Adrian was born with a double outlet on his right ventricle. That's a potentially deadly condition that restricts oxygen from getting through his body. ANTHONY VASQUEZ, FATHER: You see something wrong with your child, you know you're -- what are you going to do to fix it? When you can't fix it, you know, what are you going to do?

I know, buddy.

GUPTA: Now 2 1/2, Adrian has endured three open heart surgeries. A pacemaker keeps him alive.

A. VASQUEZ: Good job!

M. VASQUEZ: Careful.

GUPTA: The family says it has no history of heart disease. Matilda says she did everything by the book during her pregnancy.

Then Matilda started to wonder. Did Paxil, the pill that she took for anxiety, possibly cause Adrian's problems? She says when she got pregnant, she asked the doctor if it was OK to keep taking it.

M. VASQUEZ: I said so it's safe? And he said yes.

GUPTA: Then late last year, Anthony searched the Internet. In December of 2005, the Food and Drug Administration issued a public health advisory about Paxil.

The FDA said early results from two studies suggested women who took paroxetine, which is available under the brand name of Paxil, during the first three months of pregnancy were one and a half to two times as likely to have a baby with a heart defect as women who received other anti-depressants or women who simply didn't take anti- depressants. In July, the family sued GlaxoSmithKline, the makers of Paxil. The Vasquez's (ph) attorneys believe the company was aware of the drug's risk before Adrian (ph) was born and didn't do enough to warn doctors or expectant mothers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean how long did they know about this? You know, did they know way before, you know, whenever the memo came out?

GUPTA: GlaxoSmithKline declined to comment on the lawsuit. But in a written statement said it "has diligently monitored the safety of Paxil before and after its approval by the FDA in 1992." A company internal study released in 2005 and shared with the FDA found a one and a half fold increase risk for heart malformations for Paxil compared to other anti-depressants.

To be clear, normally the risk of giving birth to a child with a heart defect is about 1 percent. That increases to between one and a half to two percent for patients taking Paroxetine in the first trimester. At the urging of the FDA, GlaxoSmithKline changed Paxil's labeling in September of 2005 to warn about the risk of birth defects. For some women, getting off an anti-depressant can be excruciating. And there is a chance the mother could harm herself or her unborn child. DR. LILLIAN SCHAPIRO, OBSTETRICIAN-GYNECOLOGIST: I think patients need to know that they're taking a risk, but they need to know that they're also taking risk by not taking the medication.

GUPTA: Deborah Cloaninger is one of Dr. Schapiro's patients.

DEBORAH CLOANINGER, PATIENT: I would stay up thinking about my children's mortality and how they might die.

GUPTA: After giving birth to her second child, she went on Zoloft. Deborah continued taking it while pregnant with her third child, Lillian. She says she has no regrets about taking an anti- depressant.

CLOANINGER: The benefits have definitely outweighed the risks. I think indirectly more harm could have happened to my unborn child had I gotten off of it.

GUPTA: But for Matilda Vazquez (ph), that's a risk she would have been willing to take.

MATILDA VAZQUEZ: He's going to need surgeries for the rest of his life. You can never assume that it's not going to happen to you.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: News just in. Let's get to Carol Lin in the NEWSROOM. A train derailment in Ohio.


CAROL LIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a serious situation. It's outside of Toledo Ohio, an area called North Baltimore. And this is what we know so far.

There has been a train derailment. And apparently it's a freight train. And apparently the wreckage has fallen on top of several vehicles. All right. So there are people who are trapped in at least one car right now. Several injuries. Fire and rescue crews are on the scene. Apparently there was a life flight helicopter that was sent out to the scene but it had to be canceled because, according to wire service reports, the helicopter could not fly in the rainy weather conditions. So, obviously, there are injuries that are serious enough, Kyra, that they feel that they've got to get these people to the hospital right away.

So we're waiting for video or a live picture to come from the scene, but we wanted to get on record and let you know that this is happening outside of Toledo, Ohio.

PHILLIPS: Do we know where the train was coming from?

LIN: No. It's a freight train. Wood County sheriffs are saying that it's a freight train, according to the wire service reports. And this is happening about 40 miles outside of Toledo.

PHILLIPS: Got it. All right. We'll track it.

Thanks, Carol.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Wal-Mart commercials in December? Not exactly shocking. But the king of the retailers isn't going to like these. They're anti-Wal-Mart ads by one of the chain's loudest and best-funded critics.


CYNTHIA MURRAY: What are Wal-Mart's values?

CHARMAINE GIVENS: What are Wal-Marts values?

MURRAY: I'll tell you.

GIVENS: Salary caps.

RAMIRO GONZALEZ: Poverty wages.

GIVENS: Unaffordable healthcare.

GONZALES: Locking employees in the stores.

MURRAY: We even get punished if we have to leave to take care a sick child.

GIVENS: We don't deserve to be treated this way.

MURRAY: Sam Walton would have never treated us this way. Never.

GIVENS: With $11 billion in profit, it doesn't need to be this way.

MURRAY: This holiday season . . .

GONZALES: Tell Wal-Mart to do the right thing.

GIVENS: Put America's families first.


LEMON: Wake Up Wal-Mart says those angry employees are actual Wal-Mart workers. A Wal-Mart spokesman says Americans know the chain creates jobs and is cutting the cost of health care through its low- cost generic drug program.

Meanwhile, it's shaping up to be a not so happy holiday season for the world's largest retailer. Susan Lisovicz join us now from the New York Stock Exchange to tell us about a dismal holiday forecast, at least for Wal-Mart. They're experiencing growing pains. Is that correct?


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PHILLIPS: Can the clerics who pray together live together? Or at least find together the way of peace for the good of all humanity? That's a quote, a prayer, from Pope Benedict XVI, who today became only the second pope in history to set foot in a mosque. It happened in Istanbul. CNN's Alessio Vinci is there.


ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pope Benedict made history today by becoming the second pontiff ever to walk into a Muslim place of prayer. And he did it here in Istanbul, in the magnificent blue mosque. The pope, as it is customary in Islamic tradition, took off his shoes before entering. He was escorted by Istanbul's grand Mufdi (ph), with whom he paused for a moment of prayer, and then they exchanged gifts. And that moment the pope said, we praying for fraternity and for all of humanity.

The visit was added only at the last moment in the pope's busy schedule. And it was yet another gesture of reconciliation towards Islam after infuriating much of the Muslim world when he quoted a medieval emperor suggesting that Islam was a violent religion. The Vatican hopes these pictures of a pontiff inside a mosque will replace those of his effigy burning, which were broadcast around the Muslim world over and over again back in September. The pope had already defused some of the tensions in recent days by supporting Turkey's bid to join the European Union. But this one was a photo opportunity that he could not miss.

Now before visiting the mosque, the pope made a stopover at the Haghia Sophia museum, just across the street. A domed compound which was built as a church, transformed into a mosque by Ottoman Turks and eventually made into a museum by the founding father of modern Turkey. The pope here refrained from any explicit religious act as a respect for Turkey's secular society and not to awake antique (ph) Ottoman fears that Christians want to reclaim the building as a church. And for that reason, some nationalists had opposed the visit here. But protests today and throughout his visit here in Turkey have been minimal, indicating that the massive security operation is working well and that most Turks perhaps have accepted that the pope's mission here is a gesture of reconciliation.

But the pope did not come here only to mend fences with Islam. He also met with the head of the Christian orthodox church, Patriarch Bartholomew I. The two leaders prayed together and again promised to work together towards the full unity of Christianity's two largest churches, which has played almost 1,000 years ago over issues such as the power of the papacy. No big breakthrough on that front by the two leaders. Again, urged Turkey to do more towards granting more religious freedoms to the minorities in this country.

I'm Alessio Vinci, CNN, with the pope in Istanbul.


PHILLIPS: And we're going to talk with a catholic and a Muslim about that historic meeting when the NEWSROOM returns. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: We've been talking about the pope's trip to Turkey all throughout the week. You saw the video right there. The pope in a mosque, the second pope to do such a thing. And the question is, can a moment of meditation undue weeks of outrage and offense? Joining us now to discuss the pope's visit to Turkey, Imam Yahya Hendi, Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University, and Father Francis Tiso of the U.S. Conference of Bishops.

Great to have you both.



PHILLIPS: Imam, your first reaction to the pope's trip? What do you think?

HENDI: You know, united we stand, divided we fall. I think this was a wonderful trip. A wonderful journey. Whereas he made it very clear that Catholics and Muslims are on that path of dialogue. We are not in confrontation. We are two different, wonderful civilizations that have to come together in dialogue for the best of all humanity.

PHILLIPS: What about you, father? What did you think of the trip?

TISO: The trip had us very, very nervous. We were very concerned that there might be demonstrations and other difficulties. But, in fact, I think things have gone very, very well. And, also, the symbolic gestures add into the pope's intention, expressed a number of times, back at Cologne, also at Regensburg in the full text of the speech, and more recently by Cardinal Bertoni (ph), to have an authentic and institutional dialogue of civilizations.

PHILLIPS: And, father, you've been to this mosque. Why did you go to this mosque? And why was this a very important place for the pope to go to?

TISO: Yes, I was there in December of 2004 with a group of Turkish Muslims that I was traveling with. And I had an opportunity to spend a good bit of time there meditating. While the Muslim party performed Salut (ph), the prayer service of the day. And, of course, it's a very important historic site. It is directly opposite Haghia Sophia, the great Christian church that Justinian built in the sixth century. And so the two speak to one another of this dialogue of civilizations.

Islam is not over against the west. It's much more sane and healthy to think Islam and the west, creating a common civilization, which we've seen in many parts of the Mediterranean world. And about which, unfortunately, many Europeans and Americans are uninformed. This is a common civilizational project. PHILLIPS: Interesting. You say you spent time at the mosque meditating. Did you spend time praying in the mosque?

TISO: Well, I had my Psalm book with me.

PHILLIPS: OK. All right. Then you can pray and you can meditate in the book of Psalms, you're right.

HENDI: You know, I have been to many churches and praying in churches. And I know many Christians who come to my mosque and pray all the time. I think it's about time that we open our doors for others to come in and pray with us in their own way.

PHILLIPS: Well, let me ask you both about that because the grand -- and is it Mufdi?


PHILLIPS: Did I say that right? Grand Mufdi. Thank you, Imam.

So the grand Mufdi and Pope Benedict here, in the blue mosque. The Mufdi prayed out loud and the pope appeared separately to prayed with his lips moving. How significant was that moment, Imam?

HENDI: You know, for me, we are praying to the same God, even if we pray in different language and in different methods. You know, I was watching that screen when the pope was praying, when his hands were on top of each other. That's what Muslims do when they pray. So he find a way to pray with Muslims, but in his own -- in his own language or in his own method.

PHILLIPS: Father, you believe the same thing, that they are praying to the same God?

TISO: Yes, I occasionally get e-mails about this one. So we answer that question fairly often. The Muslims themselves have always said, we're praying to the same God as the Jews and the Christians. To deny that conviction would seem to be one of the greatest insults possible against the Muslim people. We may not agree with all of the teachings about God in the Koran, but we certainly recognize that that's the same God. Allah is Arabic for God. The Christian Arabs use this term themselves in the literature, even in the "our father," you know, and so . . .

HENDI: You know, Muslims pray to God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to the God of peace to whom the dominion belongs. And I think that's the God Christians pray to.

PHILLIPS: Let me ask you both about this, too. Pope John Paul II was the first pope to visit a mosque. He went to the grand mosque on May 6, 2001, in Damascus. And this is what he is quoted as saying. "It is my ardent hope that Muslim and Christian religious leaders and teachers will present our two great religious communities as communities in respectful dialogue, never more as communities in conflict. It is crucial for the young to be taught the ways of respect and understanding so that they will not be led to misuse religion itself to promote or justify hatred and violence."

Father, what's interesting is the pope was talking about relations among Muslims and Christians even before 9/11. Before it was, shall I say, trendy to talk about it. Seriously, he was very progressive in his thought, wasn't he?

TISO: We've been at this in a long time. In a document Nostra Atanta (ph), from 1965, the distilled understandings of really more than 100 years, more than 150 years, of Muslim/Christian encounter in the mission field in North Africa, in the Middle East, not to mention the centuries of coexistence in the Middle East, fed into that document where it asserts we have a profound respect for the Muslims and for their devotion to the one true God. That text is 1965. So the pontifical council for interreligious dialogue began to work in the late '60s and continued right to the present day in promoting dialogue and understanding.

In fact, one of the things that's happening is a small program called the Nostra Atanta Foundation, which funded non-Christian scholars to come to study Christianity in Rome, is now being expanded. Cardinal Bertoni had called for additional exchanges of scholars and university students between the Christian universities and Muslim universities in the Middle East.

PHILLIPS: That's a wonderful idea. Oh, that's a wonderful . . .

HENDI: You know, for me . . .

PHILLIPS: Imam . . .

HENDI: For me, the fact that the father spoke about empowering the youth is quite important because the children of today are the leaders of tomorrow.

PHILLIPS: Absolutely.

HENDI: If we can empower our youth today with the language of love, compassion and peace, hopefully we will have a better tomorrow for all of us.

PHILLIPS: And, Imam, let me -- in addition to that, point well made, do you think this trip could make an impact on terrorism, on insurgency, on extreme Muslim activity? Or is it more about non- violent Christians and Muslims just loving each other and understanding each other better?

HENDI: I think it's more than that. I think it will have an impact, without any doubt. It will minimize the ability to recruit extremists and terrorists. And it will empower the moderates, which speak a language of love and compassion against extremism, without any doubt.

PHILLIPS: Imam Yahya Hendi and Father Francis Tiso, what a beautiful conversation. Thank you, both, very much.

TISO: Thank you for allowing us to be here. HENDI: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: A pleasure.

LEMON: A close call in California. An animal trainer is lucky to be alive after an ornery orca doesn't get with the program. A story that will have you holding your breath. That's next in the CNN NEWSROOM.


LEMON: If murder is on your mind, why would you pick polonium to do your dirty work? Next in the NEWSROOM, portrait of an efficient killer.

PHILLIPS: No answers, no peace, at least not yet. Family, friends, supporters, observers, all demand the truth in the shooting death of an elderly Atlanta woman. But who's telling the truth?


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