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AMERICAN MORNING

Sailors Coming Home; Pet Food Crisis; Locked In A Hospital; Rear-End Crashes

Aired April 5, 2007 - 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: Breaking news. Homecoming for 15 British sailors and marines held for 13 days in Iraq.
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: It looks like quite diplomacy rules the day. We're live in London to find out what went on behind the scenes. We're expecting to hear from Prime Minister Tony Blair in the next hour.

O'BRIEN: And we'll talk with the families about to see their loved ones after 13 days of anxious waiting.

We're live from Heathrow Airport, London, Amman, Jerusalem and New York City on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning to you. It's Thursday, April 5th. I'm Miles O'Brien.

CHETRY: And I'm Kiran Chetry, in for Soledad. Thanks for joining us today.

M. O'BRIEN: We begin in London with the surprising, happy ending to that ordeal for 15 British sailors and marines and their families. They're due to arrive at Heathrow Airport in about an hour. And that's where we find CNN's Paula Hancocks. She joins us on the line right now.

Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello there.

I'm on the tarmac just near where the flight is going to be landing. It's just over an hour leaving from Tehran earlier this morning. And just as there was a tremendous media interest in Tehran, it is a similar welcome for the 15 military personnel here.

Now what we're being told by the ministry of defense is that basically they will not be here for long. They're trying to keep them away from the media, away from the public. So they will be boarded straightaway on to military helicopters to take them to a royal air force base in southwest England.

Now once they're there, the 15 of them will undergo medical tests, a physical, to make sure that they're OK physically. They'll also be extensively debriefed by the military itself. Obviously, they have very interesting information that the military wants to know about their captivity and where they were when they were taken captive. And then, most importantly, for these 15, I should imagine, they'll finally be able to meet up with their family and their loved ones.

O'BRIEN: Paula Hancocks at Heathrow Airport. Thank you.

Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, for two weeks, neither country seemed to change its position. Then in the last 24 hours, a flurry of diplomacy and suddenly the marines and sailors were freed and talking on Iranian television.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. FELIX CARMAN, ROYAL NAVY: Since we've been captured, we've been treated with a great deal of respect and dignity. All our needs have been catered for. We've been given food and bedding. And I'd just like to thank, on behalf of my team, the Iranian people for looking after us so well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: CNN's Robin Oakley is live in London.

What can you tell us, Robin, about how all of this went down so quickly yesterday?

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kiran, what was the turning point in all of this was Tuesday evening, a direct phone call between Nigel Sheinwald, the foreign affairs adviser to Tony Blair here in 10 Downing Street, and Dr. Ari Larijani, the head of the national security council in Iran. That was the turning point.

It was the engagement in direct conversations with the Iranians which changed the scene. But those were conversations because Tony Blair, when he came out to greet the release of the captives yesterday, chose his words very carefully.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Throughout, we have taken a measured approach, firm but calm, not negotiating, but not confronting either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OAKLEY: So not confronting, not negotiating. So Britain insistent that there was no deal here behind the release of the captives, but there are an awful lot of questions still to come and particularly what is in the letter sent by the British that President Ahmadinejad referred to in which they promised not to go into Iranian waters in future.

Kiran.

CHETRY: And, you know, you have the British sailors and marines on Iranian television essentially praising the Iranians. Who really won this battle?

OAKLEY: The propaganda battle, I think you'd have to say, was won at the end of the day by Iran. Tony Blair will point to the fact that the captives have been released. That was his major preoccupation. A success for him, they've been released and Britain didn't apologize.

But in terms of geopolitics, Iran has enormously enhanced its status in the Middle East, particularly with Arab nations suspicious of the United States and Britain. It has stood up to Britain over a period of a fortnight.

And then at the end of it, President Ahmadinejad has refashioned his image. The man who has called for Israel to be wiped off the face of the map, suddenly showing a gentler, more magnanimous side, releasing the captives and trying to show to the world, you treat us with respect, you talk directly and nicely to us, you can get results that way.

Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Robin Oakley reporting from London this morning. Thank you so much.

And just ahead, we're going to be live in Hale, England. It's the hometown of one of the sailors. His family, obviously, anxiously awaiting for him to get home.

O'BRIEN: More troubling news for pet owners this morning. Health officials in Oregon believe 38 animals have died after eating bad pet food there. That one state tally more than twice the officials national death toll so far. And there are now calls for a congressional investigation amid allegations the Canadian pet food maker knew about the sick animals yet waited weeks to announce a recall. One pet owner from Oregon is heartsick. She was unaware of the recall and tried to entice her sick cat with even more tainted food.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANGELA BABB, PET OWNER: I made the mistake of pouring the little packets on top of her Kibbles, thinking that I could just give her some food and then not knowing at the time that there was any issue with the food.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: It's tragic. CNN's Sumi Das caught up with scientists trying to unravel this deadly mystery.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUMI DAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): It's not quite CSI, but in this California lab, leading researchers are investigating a mystery that's literally sweeping the nation. What's causing kidney failure in potentially dozens and dozens of dogs and cats? ALEX ARDANS, CALIFORNIA ANIMAL HEALTH & FOOD SAFETY LAB: Something that strikes fear or really gets a laboratory sensor's are uptight is to hear of a large number of animals dying.

DAS: Using powerful and precise equipment purchased with California's homeland security grants, scientists analyze pet food samples eaten by a cat who later died.

ROBERT POPPENGA, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-DAVIS: The fluid that extracts out certain chemicals from the pet food.

DAS: One substance they found that may provide vital clues is called melamine. It's used in plastics and as fertilizer. The FDA says that chemical was traced to a source to wheat gluten, a common pet food ingredient.

The toxicologists and chemists here were among the first to detect melamine. But the lab is receiving additional pet food samples and conducting further tests to make sure nothing is overlooked.

Scientists say melamine by itself isn't believed to be toxic.

POPPENGA: In laboratory rodents, it seems to be relatively nontoxic. The problem is that cats may be a very sensitive species to melamine and we really haven't answered how sensitive cats are to that chemical as of yet.

DAS: Verifying that melamine is indeed the reason healthy pets are suddenly dying would require tests that animal rights advocates are likely to fight.

POPPENGA: You know, what you ideally would like to do is be to expose cats to the pure compound and see if it induces renal disease. And that is a very politically sensitive issue, using dogs and cats as experimental animals.

DAS: That's not an option immediately available to the lab, but it won't stop testing and searching for additional clues.

POPPENGA: We just want to make sure that we're not overlooking something.

DAS: Sumi Das, CNN, Davis, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: You can find a complete list of the recalled pet food at www.menufoods.com/recall.

This morning, we planed to speak with the Food and Drug Administration's chief vet about this, but the FDA canceled for the second time. We're trying again for tomorrow. Stay tuned to see if he shows up.

Kiran. CHETRY: Well, the Army this morning investigating whether two soldiers who died in combat were actually killed by friendly fire. It happened in Iraq's Anbar Province back on February 2nd. The Army says it initially told the families of Specialist Alan McPeek and Private Matthew Zeimer that they were killed by enemy fire. But an investigation by the soldiers' unit concluded that might not be the case.

The parents of John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban, want President Bush to commute his 20 year sentence. Lindh was captured in Afghanistan by American forces in 201. He was charged with conspiring to killing Americans and support terrorists. But he plead guilty to lesser offenses and now, in light of the one-year sentence Australian David Hicks got for similar offenses, Lindh's parents what their son's sentence commuted.

O'BRIEN: This morning on Capitol Hill, they're waging a partisan battle over semantics. Lawmakers are bickering over the term "global war on terrorism," a favorite of the Bush administration. Democrats want the phrase removed from the 2008 defense budget. They say the phrase is used to justify spending for the Iraq War. Republicans are calling the debate over the words absurd.

Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, there's been another twist in the case of the fired U.S. attorneys. One of those attorneys, David Iglesias, claims that he was fired for missing work, but it was to serve in the Navy Reserve. In a Justice Department document explaining why he was fired, Iglesias was called a "absentee landlord." The federal watchdog agency is investigating.

O'BRIEN: In California, a horrific head-on collision takes the lives of a famous movie director and his son. Police say Bob Clark, and his son, Ariel Hanrath-Clark, died when a drunk driver veered into their lane, hitting them head-on on the Pacific Coast Highway in L.A. Clark was 67. His son, 22. He was best known for directing the holiday classic "A Christmas Story."

CHETRY: Well, coming up, temperatures are way below normal from Maine all the way down to Florida. We have Rob Marciano tracking the forecast for us.

Roberts Daniels is a danger to the rest of us. Who is he? Well, we're going to tell you who he is and also why he's locked up for life, even though he hasn't broken any laws.

Also, will your car seat protect your neck? We're going to find out how safe your car is. You may be surprised if you think you can only get what you pay for.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. It's the most news in the morning and it's on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Imagine the relief, joy and anticipation families of those 15 British sailors and marines are feeling right now. They are on their way to an emotional reunion after that stunning about-face by the Iranians yesterday. In Hale, England, they're preparing to welcome hometown hero Sailor Nathan Summers. April Rawsthorne is his grandmother and she joins us now from Hale.

Miss Rawsthorne, so good to have you with us. Tell us the emotions that are running through your mind right now.

APRIL RAWSTHORNE, GRANDMOTHER OF NATHAN SUMMER: Just excitement and overjoyed that Nathan's on his way home and that this thing has turned out fine.

O'BRIEN: Would you ever have expected that sudden turn about we saw yesterday from the Iranian president?

RAWSTHORNE: No. It was quite a shock. But a good one.

O'BRIEN: Were you watching him as he gave that speech?

RAWSTHORNE: Yes. Yes, we were.

O'BRIEN: And it took about 45 minutes.

RAWSTHORNE: And we didn't know what to --

O'BRIEN: I bet. You know, it took 45 minutes. In our business we'd say he buried the lead. For the first 44 minutes, what were you thinking before he dropped the bomb shell?

RAWSTHORNE: Well, we were quite frightened about everything. Very nervous.

O'BRIEN: Let's go back just a little bit to Friday when there was some videotape released of your grandson. I want to share it with viewers and then ask you what you were thinking at the time. Let's play it just briefly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NATHAN SUMMERS, RELEASED BRITISH SAILOR: I'd like to apologize for entering your waters without any commission. I know it happened back in 2004 and our government promised that it wouldn't happen again. And, again, I deeply apologize forever entering your waters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Clearly all that was coerced. What was it like having to see him under that kind of duress?

RAWSTHORNE: Well, we were very happy to see that Nathan was alive and well. I think he was being prodded at times, but I think he handled himself really, really well.

O'BRIEN: All right. Tell us what's planned now for the big reunion, the homecoming? What are the celebrations?

RAWSTHORNE: Well, we're a large family and we've got loads of friends and Nathan's friends, we're all going to get together and have a real good nice out.

O'BRIEN: All right.

RAWSTHORNE: A big party.

O'BRIEN: All right. Enjoy and saver the moment. April Rawsthorne, we're glad it came out this way. Congratulations.

Once again, we're waiting for that flight to arrive at Heathrow Airport. It should happen within the hour. Plus, in a little while, we're going to look at the stagecraft of Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That's just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

Kiran.

CHETRY: In the meantime, it's quarter past the hour now. Rob Marciano is at the CNN Weather Center watching the cold air that's certainly put quite a damper on spring. Let's put it that way.

It doesn't feel like April, Rob.

(WEATHER REPORT)

CHETRY: Well, coming up, a dreaded disease, very common a century ago, is popping up again in modern America. Right now a man is locked up in Arizona with an extremely rare by virulent form of tuberculosis. We're going to hear from him now. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): In Phoenix, Arizona, Robert Daniels is in custody, in solitary confinement in a hospital prison ward. Not because he's committed a crime, but because he's sick. Very sick.

ROBERT DANIELS, QUARANTINED TB PATIENT: I never thought that this could happen. I'm telling you, I'm sometimes sitting on the bed and I'm just crying because of all the quietness.

GUTIERREZ: We can't see Robert Daniels. We can't meet him. Daniels has tuberculosis. A deadly, drug resistant strain. And he's been quarantined by the state.

DANIELS: I'm not being isolated, I'm being incarcerated.

GUTIERREZ: For the past eight months, the 27-year-old has been confined to his room, equipped with a special ventilation system. His only contact with the outside world is the medical staff who feed and treat him and a telephone.

DANIELS: I don't have nobody to talk to. I have -- my mental health is going down. I'm just slowly dying.

GUTIERREZ: Daniel says he contracted TB while living with his wife and children in Moscow. He returned to the United States for medical treatment. Arizona health officials told Daniels that he was infectious and repeatedly warned him to wear a mask in public. He didn't.

BOB ENGLAND, MARICOPA COUNTY HEALTH DIRECTOR: I hate locking people up.

GUTIERREZ: Maricopa County health director says, when the public is at risk, he has no choice.

ENGLAND: It is a very rare individual for whom we need to pursue legal remedies and legally isolate somebody so that they don't expose others.

GUTIERREZ: But some say Daniels' civil rights are being violated because he has not been charged with any crimes.

DANIEL POCHOOA, ARIZONA ACLU: He gets no TV, no phone. He has a light on in his cell 24 hours a day, seven days a week. His phone calls are monitored.

GUTIERREZ: The Maricopa Sheriff's Department says Daniels created his own problem.

JOHN MACINTYRE, MARICOPA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: I personally would have been perfectly if Mr. Daniels had shown the sense that God gave a goat and kept his mask on.

GUTIERREZ: For Robert Daniels, there's no end in sight. Doctors say treatment for the type of TB he has could take years.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Phoenix, Arizona.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHETRY: Coming up at 7:45 Eastern this morning, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to talk to us more about tuberculosis. How dangerous is it? Don't we all get vaccinated for it? And does this man pose a major health threat? We're going to get those answers a little bit later.

O'BRIEN: Coming up, are you at risk for identity theft because of a big mistake by the IRS? Well, you might very well be. We have the audit, shall we say. Plus this.

GREG HUNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Can your car seat save your neck in a rear-end collision. I'll tell you when AMERICAN MORNING continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: All right. Well, have you ever had whiplash? Neck injuries from a car crash, one of the most common results of the rear- end crashes and they result in about $2 million insurance claims each year according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. So how well does your new car protect you? AMERICAN MORNING's Greg Hunter is live in Brooklyn, New York, this morning.

You're going to show us how, but hopefully not by crashing.

HUNTER: No, not by crashing. I'm at Bay Ridge Nissan. One of the biggest Nissan dealerships in the country. Well, every couple of years, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests car seats. Some of the models in this room were tested. But they tested 80 in all. More than 80. Well, the good news is, there's been an improvement. The bad news? Two-thirds probably won't save your neck in a rear-end collision. Here's the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HUNTER, (voice over): It's a painful wreck you never see coming and it costs insurance companies and ultimately consumers more than $8 billion a year for treatment of neck injuries. That's why the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests seats.

ADRIAN LUND, INSURANCE INSTITUTE FOR HIGHWAY SAFETY: The best way to get automakers to improve their seats is to tell the public that their seats aren't protecting them now. And that's why we're getting better seats.

HUNTER: Ford make a big improvement to its seat design for its new Ford 500. The new one is on the bottom half of your screen. Compare that to its predecessor, the Ford Taurus. Watch the dummy's head in the bottom frame. It's head is cradled in the seat rest and its neck and torso stay aligned. Compare that to the old Taurus seat on top. The dummy's head go over the headrest and the neck and torso are out of alignment. According to the IIHS, if your head and torso don't move together and stay in alignment, you're more likely to have a whiplash injury.

LUND: It's not just that you have to buy an expensive car to get god protection. In fact, there are expensive cars that don't offer good protection.

HUNTER: For example, the Honda Accord, one of Honda's high-line models, rated poor. Compared that with the economical Honda Civic, which rated good, the highest rating. Other high-line models such as the BMW 5 Series, the Acura TSX and the Toyota Avalon, all rated poor. The lowest rating when it came to their seats.

But economy cars, like the Chevrolet Cobalt, the Nissan Sentra and the Kia Optima all rated good. Again, the highest rating. Honda says "the next Accord will have the Ace body structure." In other words, they'll have good-rated seats in its new models this fall. Regarding its Acura TSX model, Honda told us, "we have applied active head restraints on new models. We would definitely look at that result."

Toyota told us, "its important to measure the whole car and not just the seats. Our tests show the Avalon received good ratings and should protect passengers from whiplash." And BMW did not comment. So when buying a car, remember, a high price tag won't necessarily afford you a high level of seat safety.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HUNTER: This is a Nissan Sentra and it did well. It got the top honors. It's kind of an economy car. It doesn't look like an economy car, but it did seat back really well. This is the Maxima, their flag-ship car, high-line vehicle. This seat back only did marginal in the Insurance Institute's test.

But here's how you get the most out of your headrest, even if it doesn't test well. Look at the way the headrest is now. It's up behind my head, right? When it's down like this, that doesn't give you as good of protection. So the headrest, if you're tall, should be up right here in the middle of your head. And that's the best way to get the most out of your headrest, whether it tests well or poorly.

Make sure that head rest is right in the middle of your head. Sometimes it's not as comfortable because it kind of pushes your head forward a little bit, but that's the best way to get the most out of this headrest in terms of protection.

Back to you guys.

CHETRY: All right. Some good information this morning. Greg Hunter live in Brooklyn. Thanks so much.

O'BRIEN: This morning, some more reasons to loath the Internal Revenue Service. Four hundred and ninety reasons to be exact. That is the number of IRS laptops that have gone missing in the past three years. Personal data for about 2,400 taxpayers was in those machines. And while the machines are encrypted and password protected, the watchdog group that discovery the MIA laptops says the security is not good enough.

Well, the emotional roller coaster for those British sailors and marines sent ripples into the volatile oil market. About 25 minutes past the hour. Ali Velshi is "Minding Your Business."

Good morning, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles.

Good morning, Kiran.

For about an hour yesterday morning, there was a big sale on crude oil. Let me tell you how it all went down.

It started, as Miles said, yesterday morning with the announcement that those 15 British sailors were being released in Iran. Now the price of oil dropped more than $1 in that first hour. But then the U.S. government came out with its weekly report on oil and gas stockpiles right here in the United States.

And because we're headed into a holiday weekend and spring is here, we're expecting gasoline stockpiles to drop by about 300,000 barrels. No. They were down 5 million barrels and that pushed the price of gasoline and oil back up. Now by the end of the day, most of the sale was over. Oil did settle lower than it opened, but just 26 cents lower to $64.98.

Now about 80 percent of the U.S. economy consists of services, as opposed to goods that are manufactured. The U.S. sector weakened last month to a four year low. And that's just another sign that the U.S. economy is slowing down.

March numbers showed some unexpected weakness in lodging, food services and information providers. There is some good news and that is that there seems to be some growth in education services, retail, and, no surprise, in health care.

And remember, it is a short trading week this week. U.S. and most European stock markets are closed on Friday for Easter. The Dow, yesterday, did manage an almost 20-point gain. Today we're going to get the weekly jobless claims report. And tomorrow morning we'll get the monthly employment report.

So it's not expected to be an awfully busy trading day today, but we'll keep an eye on everything that develops.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Ali.

VELSHI: OK.

CHETRY: All right. Coming up, the top stories of the morning.

We're live from Heathrow Airport awaiting the return of 15 British marines and sailors. They're making their way home right now. We're also expecting to hear from Prime Minister Tony Blair in the next few minutes.

Plus, there are new numbers coming out on just how many cats and dogs died from poisoned pet food.

And all week we're live in the holy land, looking for the truth about Jesus. Today, the garden tomb. Why do so many think Jesus was buried there?

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, Thursday, April 5th.

I'm Miles O'Brien.

CHETRY: And I'm Kiran Chetry, in for Soledad.

Thanks for joining us today.

O'BRIEN: We're watching a huge international story right now. Fifteen British sailors and marines held in Iran due to land in London in the next half hour or so. The prime minister expected to make an address shortly. We'll have that for you live.

CHETRY: Also, hearing from the first individual state new numbers on the pets that may have died from toxic pet food. It's more than twice the number reported by the FDA for the entire country.

O'BRIEN: And we continue our special series this morning, "The Truth About Jesus." These are live pictures from the so-called Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, yet another place where Jesus may or may not have been buried. Not everyone convinced, however.

We begin, though, in London. Fifteen British sailors and marines due to arrive at Heathrow airport in about a half hour.

That's where we find CNN's Paula Hancocks -- Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles.

Well, this is going to be the first stop of that homecoming for those 15 British service personnel. Now, in just about 15 minutes, we're expecting a couple of helicopters to be landing just behind us, and that is where these 15 are expected to be transferred.

Within half an hour, we're expecting that commercial jet that flew from Tehran this morning to land just behind us. And we should see about 50 meters away from us those 15 walking towards the helicopter.

Now, there will be no interviews. There's going to be no access to the people at this particular time. We're hearing from senior officials that they're considered to be still on active duty. They're expected to be in fatigues, and then they'll be going straight on to this helicopter to go down to an RAF base, a Rural Air Force base in southwest England.

Now, there will be ministers -- officials, excuse me, on board. There's going to be a couple of lieutenants on board. Whether or not the debrief is going to start at that point is uncertain, but surely, as soon as -- in a couple of hours' time, they get down to that Royal Air Force base, they're going to have a physical to make sure that all 15 of them are in good shape, as they appear to be on the videos we've been seeing, and also to find out any information that they can give as to where they believe they were, was it Iranian waters, was it Iraqi waters.

And then the all-important thing for those 15 is they will finally get to meet their families again -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All-important thing.

Paula Hancocks at Heathrow.

Thank you -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, the sailors and families surviving a drama that lasted nearly two weeks. Beginning on March 23rd, Iran detained the 15 British sailors and marines who were inspecting a cargo ship at the time. Now, the British claim they were in Iraqi territory, while Iran says that the crew entered Iranian waters. Two days later, British Prime Minister Tony Blair made his first comment, calling the Iranian action unjustified and wrong.

On the 28th, Iranian state TV shows the 15 British detainees, including Faye Turney. She was the only woman detained, and she admits that the crew trespassed into Iranian waters. Likely forced to say that, though. The Iranian foreign minister says that Turney will be released soon. The next day, though, Blair demands the unconditional release of the personnel.

On March 30th, an Iranian television station showed video of British serviceman Nathan Thomas Summers, who was shown saying, "I would like to apologize for entering your waters without any permission."

On Saturday, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Britain is arrogant for failing to apologize. President Bush accuses Iran of inexcusable behavior.

Then on Tuesday, Iran says that British diplomats have joined in talks aimed at securing as solution.

And then yesterday, Ahmadinejad is shown on Iranian television joking with the sailors, announcing the sailors are being released as a "gift" to the British people.

So, did Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have a plan all along?

Here to help us sort it all out is CNN Middle East correspondent Aneesh Raman, who is live in Amman, Jordan.

Hi, Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kiran. Good morning.

CHETRY: They had insisted that there had been no negotiations taking place with the Iranians. So, what is your sense about how all of this came about?

RAMAN: Yes, I think the sense we have is that negotiations were taking place in private in the background between Tehran and London. They really hit a stride, as you mentioned, on Tuesday evening. But even the British government was surprised at how quickly this came to an end. The rest of us were, as well, I should mention. I won't remind our viewers were for the press conference yesterday.

But look, Iran was demanding a public apology from the British government for entering Iranian territorial waters. The British government showed no indication it was willing to do that. Perhaps there was some wording that they could have worked out where Britain said, look, we won't enter Iranian waters in the future. But in the end, it seems a pragmatist view emerged in the Iranian government. They said, we'll gain more in terms of international clout by seeming magnanimous, by being conciliatory, than we would by getting that apology.

So, I think it shocked a lot of people, not the least of which observers who were actually inside Iran.

CHETRY: Yes. And from a P.R. standpoint, you know, you have the video of the sailors and marines. They were dressed in suits, they were lining up to meet with President Ahmadinejad. He even tried to crack a few jokes. He asked one of them, "So, you came on an enforced vacation?"

What do you make of all of that show?

RAMAN: Yes, that joke getting a bit of awkward laughter from the sailor who just said, "Thank you for letting us go."

This was precision P.R., an orchestrated effort by the Iranian government. The Iranian president didn't even mention this pardon until 40 minutes into this press conference, almost as an aside.

Meantime, these British military personnel were outside waiting to hear the news. They were dressed, as you said, in suits.

Here they were, British military personnel smiling and thanking a man, Ahmadinejad, who the British government has often vilified. It was a coup for him to have this sort of image, Ahmadinejad smiling, looking like he's the one bestowing this great gift on the British people. So, I think the surprise element, too, was a big thing for Ahmadinejad, the fact that he waited so long to even announce the news.

CHETRY: Right. Well, he comes out looking like a rose, but some of the British papers are saying that Ahmadinejad was against the release but he was overruled by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

What are you hearing? And what's their relationship like?

RAMAN: Yes, it's a great point. It's important to keep in mind that on issues of national security and foreign policy -- and this standoff kind of crosses over into both -- the supreme leader has the final say.

Their relationship is not particularly strong. Khamenei is always looking to sort of keep Ahmadinejad's power base limited by playing him off of other people. And as we spoke about this yesterday, we said Ahmadinejad wasn't really involved in the decision making in this standoff. It had been handed over to a man named Ali Larijani, who is a close ally of the supreme leader.

So, I don't think Ahmadinejad had a lot to do with how this played out. But it is very interesting that in the end he was such a public face of this magnanimous gesture by the Iranian government. It could be that the regime in Tehran wants to bolster his image. Ahmadinejad is a guy who has often been vilified by the West for any number of things, and here he was smiling. So, it could be an attempt by them to soften an image that has been quite hard in the rest of the world -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Very true.

Aneesh Raman, live in Amman, Jordan, for us this morning.

Thanks.

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: All right. Take a look. Live pictures, Heathrow airport.

We expect in about seven or eight minutes to see British Airways Flight 6634 carrying on board those 15 British sailors and marines who were held captive in Iran for 13 days. This will be the first stage of their homecoming, and they'll be taken to helicopters, and then on their way to a military base, and then on their way to families, friends -- and that could be the helicopters there arriving, as a matter of fact.

And we do expect to hear from British prime minister Tony Blair. As it stands -- there's Number 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's home in central London, home and office. Easy commute for him. And we're going to hear from him in -- we suspect, in between five and six minutes from now.

As we have been telling you all this morning, this is the culmination of a 13-day ordeal for those marines and sailors and for their families. We just heard from the grandmother of one of them who watched this whole thing and has been through a real emotional roller- coaster, talking about the joy she had as she watched Iranian President Ahmadinejad in his 45-minute ramble of a speech, and then at the end saying, oh, by the way, as a gift to the British people, I'm going to release the 15 British sailors and marines -- as we say in this business, burying the lead there -- obviously causing a tremendous amount of joy and laying the groundwork for a joyous homecoming celebration which is being planned all throughout Great Britain right now.

Those are the helicopters that will take them to the military base. They're going to go through a medical checkup, of course. No reason to believe they're in any physical harm in any way, or were harmed in the midst of this ordeal, but that will be pro forma in a situation like this, of course.

Of course, for the families, that means just delaying that long- awaited embrace, which is what they're thinking about this -- well, it's getting toward afternoon in that part of the world, this morning for us. So, we are watching this unfold. As we say, we'll hear from the British prime minister in a few minutes. The landing at Heathrow, if everything goes according to schedule here, will happen shortly thereafter. Then we'll watch the first stage of this joyous homecoming.

CHETRY: Some of the interesting tidbits, apparently they're doing some celebrating already, because one of the sky television correspondents that was on that plane says that there was a lot of champagne being drunk and lots of laughter on the plane. They were sitting in business class, and, of course, very thrilled, I'm sure, more thrilled than normal when that plane finally took off from the airport in Tehran.

O'BRIEN: Certainly entitled to pop some bubbly, I should say...

CHETRY: How about that?

O'BRIEN: ... after they've all been through. And, you know, watching them, as the grandmother of one of the sailors told me a little while ago, clearly his -- I'm putting quotes around an "apology" was coerced and under great duress. But she, and I think we all can agree, she believes her grandson handled himself quite well in the midst of this captivity and this ordeal.

CHETRY: Yes, absolutely.

We also noted with -- with some surprise, it was interesting they had those suits, two and three-piece suits that looked like they were issued by the Iranians. They're not going to be wearing those, because apparently they were given fresh military uniforms upon their arrival there. And they're going to be landing at Heathrow airport, and we will see them in their -- in their uniforms, not in the -- in the three-piece suits given to them by Iran.

O'BRIEN: Yes. It looked like they came right out of the closet of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Mahmoud collection, I guess. Many of them very ill-fitting, but that kind of light suit, no tie look. And clearly more appropriate for the British audience, and certainly, I'm sure, the marines and sailors feel more comfortable at this juncture being in their -- the military uniform, depending on their service.

CHETRY: Now, before they boarded, they were also given some gifts on behalf of Ahmadinejad, including some handy crafts, a vase, and some special Persian sweets. That's according to an Iran state- run news agency. I wonder if they'll keep them for posterity or toss them as soon as they get home.

O'BRIEN: Or eBay is another option. Who knows? That could be something that might -- in this day and age, that could be something we'll see, as well.

One can only imagine what families there are thinking right now as they watch this whole process unfold. It's just a matter of time now.

I'm sure what is happening -- this has been an awful long 13 days, but even at this juncture, I'm sure time is slowing down for them as they're trying to just -- they know what is going to happen, which is good, but I'm sure they're just very anxious to see their loved ones.

CHETRY: Absolutely. And for Faye Turney, I'm sure she can't wait to see her baby, as well. A mom separated -- we don't know a lot about the personal lives of all of them, but, of course, we did see those touching pictures of her holding her baby and some shots of her with her husband, as well.

It was interesting. There were some press reports that she had broke down in tears after some strange comments from Ahmadinejad questioning why she would be serving in the British military given that she's a woman.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. Well, he certainly is -- his rhetoric can be volatile, to say the least.

What will be interesting in the coming days as we watch the emotional homecoming today, it will be interesting to see as we get a little more meat on the skeleton of the deal here, I think we have some fairly good circumstantial evidence that there was -- there was something more going on than we know beneath the surface, perhaps a plausibly deniable prisoner exchange. Well, prisoner -- whatever exchange -- a captive exchange that was under way.

Of course, there were some Iranian diplomats held by the U.S. in Iraq. There was another Iranian diplomat who was released by the Iraqis in the midst of all this.

The question is, what was the deal? How did this all come to pass?

In the end, Tony Blair not even offering so much as any sort of apology to the Iranians, and never conceding for one moment that those marines and sailors had crossed over into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf. So, how this all kind of played out, it will be very interesting to see how that develops.

CHETRY: Right. The public apology that Iran had demanded did not come from Tony Blair. But, unfortunately, it still looks like -- at least in the P.R. game -- Iran elevated its status with the shots of the president looking quite diplomatic and cheerful, shaking the hands and greeting these 15.

It's also interesting, because Syria apparently looks like it's trying to get in on the game, as well, claiming to have played some sort of role, saying they exercised a quiet sort of diplomacy to solve the problem and encouraged dialogue between the two parties. That quote coming from Syria's foreign minister in Damascus.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. Interesting. That will be an interesting wildcard to throw into the mix as we try to figure out how this all transpired.

And maybe in the end it was just, you know, the capricious decision of Ahmadinejad in the moment. We'll see exactly how all of that plays out. But as you suggest, Kiran, that decision, however it was made, appears to be a bit of a public relations coup for the Iranians at this juncture.

CHETRY: Yes. And some of the British papers are reporting this morning that it wasn't Ahmadinejad's call, actually. That if he had his way, this wouldn't have happened, and that it was actually the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, that made that happened, coming from a more pragmatic standpoint, saying, you know, this is the last thing that Iran wants to deal with right now. Instead, they come off looking quite benevolent in this situation, with the pictures that we saw on Iranian television that, of course, then came to us of that meet and greet before the Brits landed -- boarded their plane to head back.

O'BRIEN: And, you know, interesting, that whole little piece of stage craft there. After making his announcement, standing out there and individually sort of granting them their walking papers there, Ahmadinejad did, with these odd comments, one reducing the woman to tears, the other, a real strange attempt at a joke, saying it was an involuntary vacation of some such.

CHETRY: Right.

O'BRIEN: I'm sure that they weren't exactly in the laughing mood, but nevertheless, quite relieved to be, you know, at least in that moment and being given their freedom.

CHETRY: Yes.

And if you're just joining us right now, you're looking at the video coming to us. There's a split screen right now of Tony Blair's residence. We expect the prime minister to speak shortly.

Also, a shot at Heathrow airport, we are eagerly awaiting the British Airways Flight 6634, which will be carrying those 15 marines and sailors who have had a hellish journey. But now it's almost over.

They're going to be making their way back from being captive in Iran. We expect that they are going to be arriving within the next few minutes.

Some of the reports from that plane say that it's a very merry situation on there. They're drinking champagne, laughing, and, of course, eagerly awaiting their arrival back on -- back on home turf.

O'BRIEN: And one of the questions that will be in addition to this whole notion of how the deal was brokered was, were they, in fact, in international waters, or had they potentially strayed into Iranian waters? Now, during the news conference yesterday, Ahmadinejad claimed to have received a letter from Britain to the foreign ministry pledging that entering Iranian waters will not happen again.

Of course, that comes from Ahmadinejad. We'll take that all with a grain of salt. And certainly, publicly, Tony Blair and his deputies have not in any way conceded that those British sailors and marines were anywhere where they were not supposed to be. They were out there in international waters.

Their mission was to interdict potential smugglers. And they were approach one of these so-called dowels on the concern that there might be some contraband inside. They had already boarded the dowel when the Iranian navy appeared on the scene and seized those British marines and sailors.

Where that happened precisely, where that pinpoint was on the map, is, of course, a matter of dispute between the Iranians and the Brits. But publicly, at least, the Brits are saying that they were in international waters.

Along with the crowd there is CNN's Paula Hancocks. She's at Heathrow airport right now, not far from this scene.

Paula, what do you see from where you stand?

HANCOCKS: Well, I'm probably about 30 meters away from the two helicopters that have just landed in the past five minutes here. This is the VIP area of Heathrow, and this is where those 15 British service personnel will be getting off that plane, which is expected to land in about 10 minutes, and get on these helicopters.

Now, we are expecting them to be in army fatigues, according to a senior military official. He's saying that it's considered they were still on active duty.

Then what we're expecting is an hour and a half helicopter trip down to southwest England. And I think we can now see the plane itself.

It does appear as though the British Airways plane is on the way. We're just double-checking that this, in fact, is the one with those 15 British service personnel on board.

But once they have made that hour and a half trip down to southwest England, the Royal Air Force base, they will have an extensive debrief. They will be asked exactly what happened. What was the situation of the captivity?

O'BRIEN: Paula, can you hear me OK before I ask a big, long question? Can you hear me?

HANCOCKS: I can hear you just about, yes. I'm hoping you can hear me.

O'BRIEN: Oh, yes. No, you're fine. You're fine. It's just a question of whether you can hear me.

Paula, tell me about your sense of the mood there in Great Britain this morning. What are the headlines, what are the stories in the papers this morning? Is it pure euphoria, or is there something more subtle at work?

HANCOCKS: Well, there is certainly a sense of happiness that, in fact, these 15 have been released without bloodshed, without military action. But the fact is, the question now being asked is, who came out on top? Was it Iran? Was it Britain?

Many of the newspapers today have the headline of "Humiliation," saying that President Ahmadinejad has played a very shrewd game and has made Britain look weak. So, certainly, the questions are being asked right now, and they want to be answered in the next couple of days, were they in Iraqi waters, were they in Iranian waters? And the fact is, the way this has played out, does it actually matter? Because it does appear as if in the propaganda war, according to the British tabloids, Iran has beaten Britain.

O'BRIEN: So -- that's an interesting point. And how -- how do you suppose Tony Blair, who we expect to hear from at any moment -- of course, we'll bring that to our viewers as it happens. It will be interesting to see whether he waits to see this picture before he speaks.

How do you suppose Tony Blair will offer a counterpoint to that allegation that the Iranian got the better of the Brits?

HANCOCKS: Well, he's certainly going to have to tread a very careful line. He can't be seen to say anything too openly hostile, too openly against the Iranian government, because what Tony Blair, the British prime minister, has been saying is that this was because of a measured approach.

He said the British government was firm, but calm, not negotiating, but not confronting, either. So it's very important, I should imagine, for Tony Blair for this to be seen as a very hopeful day, the fact that these 15 have been released unharmed, they appear to be in very good health. And so, certainly, I shouldn't imagine he's going to want to (INAUDIBLE).

It's very politically sensitive. And certainly, he's not going to be talking specifically about what British tabloids are reporting. The British tabloids for some years now have liked to goad Tony Blair, but he's not likely to give them a direct response.

O'BRIEN: Let's -- I want to ask you about this supposed letter which was sent to the Iranian Foreign Ministry from Great Britain. This is President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad referring to it yesterday in that long speech before he dropped the bombshell and said as a gift to Great Britain he was releasing those marines and sailors.

He claims that in that letter, the British government pledged it would not happen again, referring to entering into Iranian waters. A concession, if you will, that they might have strayed into Iranian waters.

What's the public response and the British government to that?

HANCOCKS: Well, that's certainly a very interesting development. That was something that certainly wasn't going to be publicized on the British side.

But what people are going to be wondering now is whether or not that is a direct admission that they were in the wrong, that the British service personnel, through accident or on purpose, were in Iranian waters, or whether -- as many experts say, it's just very difficult to tell which part of the water you are in. It is the sea. There is not a clear boundary that can be seen from a boat.

So, at this point, what many people are asking is not necessarily whether or not Iran or Britain was in the right, but remarking on how both sides managed to save face, if you like. Neither had to back down and say, you know what? We were wrong. We apologize.

Neither side has done that. Both sides have played its own particular game. And so, certainly, if it does emerge that they were in Iranian waters at that time of this capture, or if they were in Iraqi waters, then there are going to be fingers pointed. Then there could be another political statement. But at this point, I think Tony Blair and the British public just want to make sure that this is a happy day.

O'BRIEN: All right. Paula Hancocks, don't go far. And we'll be right back with you shortly. We want to get people back up to speed here at the top of the hour.

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