Return to Transcripts main page
YOUR WORLD TODAY
Pervez Musharraf Considering Move to Give Role as Army General; Comprehensive Progress Report on Iraq Due September 15th; Virginia Tech Report
Aired August 30, 2007 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Resisting what he calls ultimatums, but staying open to negotiations, Pakistan's president and army chief considers a move to give up one of his roles.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: A slow response to a gunman's rampage. A report cites failures by police on an American college campus.
SESAY: Shying away from military service, a growing number of Israeli men hone other skills and resist the mandatory draft.
HOLMES: And five nations rush to stake a claim. A retreating ice cap opens a new roof to untapped oil reserves.
SESAY: It's noon in Blacksburg, Virginia, 9:00 p.m. in Islamabad.
Hello and welcome to our report broadcast around the globe.
I'm Isha Sesay.
HOLMES: And I'm Michael Holmes.
From Jerusalem to Jakarta, Brisbane to Baghdad, everywhere you're watching, welcome to YOUR WORLD TODAY.
SESAY: Now, we begin with some major political maneuvering in Pakistan that could determine the future leadership of a crucial U.S. ally in the war on terror. As president and general, Pervez Musharraf mulls whether to part with his military title.
The man he deposed in a coup eight years ago now says he's coming back to Pakistan to re-establish the rule of law. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif plans to end his exile and return on September 10th. All this comes amid word of a possible power-sharing deal between President Musharraf and another former leader.
Tim Lister helps to sort it all out.
TIM LISTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Will he or won't he? The questions on the streets of Pakistan. And if President Musharraf does hang up his military uniform eight years after seizing power, what comes next? Exiled opposition leader Benazir Bhutto says the general has already agreed to step down as army chief and allow her to come home to compete in elections due by the end of the year.
BENAZIR BHUTTO, FMR. PAKISTANI PRIME MINISTER: I think he wants to make the right decision, and so I suspect that he's going to take the uniform off.
LISTER: Not so, say Musharraf aides. The president rejects any pressure or ultimatum to step down. But talks between the two sides are continuing.
For Musharraf, the risk in any deal is that, without his army title, he'd lose his power base. For her part, Ms. Bhutto, a former prime minister, wants guarantees that Pakistani law would be changed to allow her a third term and corruption investigations would be shelved.
WENDY CHAMBERLIN, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO PAKISTAN: What we're seeing here is a very complicated dance in the pre-election period, where the stronger parties are beginning to negotiate. This is democracy, ad you do make compromises and form alliances.
LISTER: A dance that's drawing mixed reviews among Pakistanis. Padi Mahmed (ph) says Benazir Bhutto shouldn't do any deals with Musharraf because that would Musharraf a way out of his political difficulties.
"It's a big fraud," says Mian Camran (ph). "Until yesterday, the exiled politicians were all thieves. Musharraf said he'd never allow Nawaz Sharif and Benazir to return to this country. Now, again, they're making a deal with these thieves."
Not involved in any deal, another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.
NAWAZ SHARIF, FMR. PAKISTANI PRIME MINISTER: We (ph) just struck a deal between Benazir Bhutto and President Musharraf in (INAUDIBLE) restoring democracy in Pakistan. It is the only strengthening they have.
LISTER: Whatever deal is reached, Pakistan's greatest challenge won't just evaporate -- the growing influence of al Qaeda and the Taliban in frontier provinces. Soldiers and police are killed or abducted every week by militants. But one veteran of the army thinks an end to military rule could help in this battle.
LT. GEN. TALAT MASOOD, FMR. PAKISTANI ARMY OFFICER: We are hoping that if democracy turns in the true sense, then I think it will be very helpful in also fighting the security problem in Pakistan, because you could at least have the support from a large majority of people.
LISTER: But before Pakistan can even begin a tentative return to democracy, the diplomatic dance must run its course.
Tim Lister, CNN, Atlanta.
SESAY: All right. This news just coming into us here at CNN.
Wire services are reporting that the last three South Koreans held hostage in Afghanistan have now been released. The release brings to an end a nearly six-week ordeal which began when 23 Christian volunteers were seized last month. Twelve of the hostages were freed on Wednesday after the South Korean government reaffirmed its commitment to withdraw from Afghanistan. Two were killed and two others were released earlier this month.
HOLMES: Well, two weeks before a long-awaited Iraq progress report is due, another U.S. government agency is said to be painting a rather dismal picture of the Iraqi government. The Government Accountability Office, or GAO, reportedly says Iraq failed to meet 15 of 18 standards for political and military progress mandated by the U.S. government, what would become to known as benchmarks.
According to a draft of this report which was obtained by "The Washington Post," the GAO concludes that, overall, violence in Iraq remains high and the capabilities of security forces low. The document also finds that the Iraqi government has failed to pass key legislation or allocate billions of dollars in reconstruction funds.
That report is currently under review by the Pentagon. And important to remember, it is draft. It's due to be delivered to Congress next Tuesday.
All of Washington, of course, is anxiously awaiting the administration's progress report which is due in mid-September.
As Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre now reports, that comprehensive assessment will be a collection of several opinions.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): First off, the Pentagon says there will be no written report from General David Petraeus next month, only Petraeus reporting his assessment directly to Congress and the president.
GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for printed material from this building, as I understand it.
MCINTYRE: Defense Secretary Robert Gates is concerned that formal reports which aim for a consensus end up watered down by bureaucratic massaging, so he's arranged for Mr. Bush, the decider, to get at least five separate Pentagon opinions, from Gates himself, General Petraeus, CENTCOM Commander Admiral William Fallon, outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace, and the new chairman, Mike Mullen, as well as the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff.
MORRELL: The secretary is determined that each of these people will be able to present their advice directly and in an unvarnished way, so that the president will be getting each person's individual assessment on where we are and where we should be going.
MCINTYRE: That's why the Pentagon says a report the White House will ask for $50 billion to fund the surge is premature. It all depends on how long Mr. Bush decides the surge should last and when troop cuts should begin. Defense Secretary Gates reportedly expressed surprise at the front-page "Washington Post" report.
MORRELL: He picked up the paper this morning and said, that's news to me.
MCINTYRE: But the $50 billion figure is not out of line if the surge continues full strength until April. Already, the Pentagon is trumpeting the strategy for a drop in U.S. casualties in July and August.
MORRELL: And, thankfully, American men and women in uniform there are right now the beneficiaries of a slightly safer environment, thanks to the surge.
MCINTYRE (on camera): So, while General Petraeus will not be issuing a formal report, there will be no shortage of reading material next month. In addition to an independent review of Iraqi forces, both the White House and the Government Accountability Office will issue separate reports on Iraqi benchmarks. But while the GAO will be looking to see if the benchmarks have been met, the White House criteria will be a little lower, just looking for satisfactory progress
Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.
SESAY: OK. Let's check some other stories making news around the world.
HOLMES: Let's do that.
SESAY: Now four months after the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, a new report says delayed reaction by Virginia Tech police may have cost lives. The report also says the mental health system failed to identify the gunman as a potential threat.
Brianna Keilar has been following the story.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Virginia Tech was widely criticized for not alerting students immediately after the first shooting. Instead, waiting just minutes before the second shooting, where Seung-Hui Cho took the lives of most of his victims.
The report says some lives may have been saved by a quicker alert, and this report puts the blame for that very much on Virginia Tech police. It says they may have erred in prematurely concluding that their initial lead in the double homicide, the first shooting, was a good one.
Remember, they thought that first shooting was a domestic dispute and that the suspect in that shooting had left campus. And this report says they weren't prepared for the possibility that their assumption was inaccurate. This report also says Virginia Tech police should have immediately told the university to issue a campus-wide alert.
Now, one of the most eye-grabbing parts of this report is a detailed record of Cho's mental health history. It tells us Seung-Hui Cho was not a troubled young man who just appeared out of nowhere when he enrolled at Virginia Tech. His parents and school officials were very aware that he had emotional problems from a young age -- we're talking elementary school through high school.
He was diagnosed with selective mutism. He wouldn't talk. He spent a year in high school on anti-depressants.
The report says Cho was closely monitored until he went to college. The panel found as Cho transitioned to Virginia Tech, records of his mental problems did not follow him.
But even so, this panel points out that there were enough red flags at Virginia Tech, students, professors, residence hall staff, Virginia Tech police, counseling staff, all having encounters with Cho, but then failing to communicate with each other. So, the big question is why?
Well, this panel says it's because there was concern that it was illegal -- an illegal violation of Cho's privacy. And according to the report, that concern was actually misguided. This report says it would have been perfectly legal for school officials and mental health officials to share information in a potentially dangerous situation.
Brianna Keilar, CNN, Washington.
SESAY: Several nations are trying to tap into a rather ironic development in the search for oil and gas.
HOLMES: That's coming up. We'll tell you why they're looking into one area that, thanks to global warming, is becoming much more accessible.
SESAY: Can Republican politicians in the U.S. still claim the moral high ground? We'll consider the long-term fallout of Washington's latest sex scandal.
HOLMES: And, do unto others as they have done unto you. We'll look at the work of one woman who uses life's hard lessons to help others in need.
HOLMES: All right. Welcome back, everyone, to CNN International and YOUR WORLD TODAY.
SESAY: We're seen live around the globe this hour.
Let's start with this, the melting of the polar ice caps does wreak havoc on animals living in the Arctic, but it's actually opening up a whole new source of energy for humans.
SESAY: That's right. And the race to claim those untapped oil and gas reserves is getting ugly.
Jon Snow has more.
JON SNOW, REPORTER, ITV NEWS (voice over): Norway's high Arctic listening dish tracks quasars, far-distant emerging stars bursting with energy. But below its field of vision, the helicopter landing here carries two men with a very different kind of energy on their minds.
This is Neolicent (ph), the farthest north in the high Arctic that humans live year-round. Home to some 70 scientists from 14 nations. Their principal goal, to map the ravages of global warming.
The two men are the prime ministers of Germany and Norway, coming further north than any two European foreign ministers have ever traveled, ostensibly here to bear witness to the retreating ice cap. But they're here, too, to consolidate the strongest energy relationship in Western Europe.
But the scientists they find here have been fanning out across the snowy waste for a quarter of a century, accumulating the most detailed and shocking evidence yet of the drastic retreat of the ice cap. But as it retreats, so the opportunity to exploit the oil and gas beneath becomes ever more economically viable.
Twenty-five percent of the world's world's remaining supplies lie beneath these snowy wastes. No wonder, then, that the Russians have planted a flag on the sea bed beneath the North Pole claiming it is theirs and Canada's prime minister has walked the ice cap above, with his navy firing shots in the Arctic Sea.
So are these two ministers simply doing their own flag-waving?
FRANK-WALTER STEINMEIER, GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): I agree with my Norwegian colleague. First of all, the spectacular missions involving the planting of flags is one thing. But we do have international law to govern these complex problems, the convention of the law of the sea. And if all parties would respect this law, there would be no conflict over future exploration and exploitation. SNOW (on camera): But can you explore and exploit and protest the loss of the ice cap?
JONES GAHR STORE, NORWEGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Yes, it is a paradox. But it is not only Norway's paradox, it is the world's paradox, because we know that for the coming decades, the world will still need fossil fuels. If that's going to happen in a way which will protect the environment, we have to get the emissions down. We have to get new technologies that they can handle that. And that has to be Norway's mission.
SNOW (voice over): The ministers take to the boats, anxious to observe the telltale glaciers, some of which have retreated several kilometers in the lifetimes of the scientists working here. Officials and press alike surge on the bows as the two ministers observe the icy wreckage ahead of them. One lone seal rides a glacier ice lump, but for him and for the millions of ring seals and thousands of polar bears, this is the wrong sort of ice.
But ice is merely the detritus from the glacier. It's not the pack ice upon which the polar bears and the ring seals depend. Without the pack ice, they couldn't survive.
(voice over): Britain's scientific relations with Norway are second to none. But her political relationship is far from perfect.
(INAUDIBLE) for celebration of Norwegian-German cooperation, behind the scenes we learned that Britain's decision last year to call a meeting with America and Russia to discuss Norway's burgeoning energy activity in the Arctic north without inviting Norway still rankles.
Norway, with whom Britain developed the North Sea, has found no place for British interests anywhere in her new energy fields (ph). Germany, meantime, is playing hard and fast, jointly developing the new Barents Sea field to the south. An old British mining train lies marooned, trackless by the shore. Despite a new pipeline to the U.K., it's increasingly clear that Germany has seized a trick that Britain badly missed.
HOLMES: And that was ITN's Jon Snow reporting.
And a U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, meanwhile, is saying thanks, but no thanks, to campaign contributions from a controversial fund-raiser. Senator Clinton's campaign received $23,000 in donations from Hong Kong-born Democratic fund-raiser Norman Hsu. She says she will turn it over to charity after learning of his legal troubles in California.
A state prosecutor says there is an outstanding warrant for Hsu's arrest after he failed to show up for sentencing in a 1991 grand theft charge. A number of other Democratic figures, including Senator Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, say they will also turn over to charity money that Hsu contributed to their campaigns. SESAY: Well, Democrats are not the only ones with political worries. Some personal foibles by Republican politicians have been on very public display recently.
And as Carol Costello tells us, the party can no longer trumpet itself as holding the moral high ground.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We love you!
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It has become a tough summer for the Grand Old Party.
SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R), IDAHO: I am not gay.
COSTELLO: After a day of disbelief over the unusual news conference held by Republican Senator Larry Craig came a night of witty derision. Comedian Jay Leno spent three minutes and 13 seconds poking fun at the conservative lawmaker.
JAY LENO, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Oh, I think it's the hottest day of the year, isn't it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's really hot.
LENO: It was 105 today? People were sweating like the men's room attendant when Senator Larry Craig walked in.
COSTELLO: Despite the jokes, at least one influential conservative leader thinks the Republicans can get out of this mess.
TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: If you take a snapshot it looks pretty bad, but if you look at the overall panorama of the political landscape there are ups and downs and I think the Republicans are in a valley right now. It doesn't mean they cannot get out.
COSTELLO: But right now it is a deep valley. Values voters are also reeling from Florida State Representative Bob Allen who was arrested for soliciting sex for money at a public restroom. He says he's not guilty. Senator David Vitter whose name turned up on a call girl's phone list, he apologized for, quote, "a very serious sin".
And Thomas Ravenel, a South Carolina state treasurer accused of distributing cocaine. He says he's not guilty. Summer of 2007 now seems a long way from the summer of 2000 when a victorious George W. Bush dismissed a philandering Bill Clinton with promises of a more moral road ahead.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our generation has a chance to reclaim some essential values to show we have grown up before we grow old. They had their chance. They have not led. We will. (APPLAUSE)
COSTELLO: And although Democrats have been caught with their pants down, too, like Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa and his extra marital affair and New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey resigning from office to come out as a gay American, sex scandals seem to affect Republicans more because social conservatism has become part of their brand.
MICHELLE LAXALT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Here we find ourselves virtually every single time getting whacked because of what is perceived to be a hypocrisy factor. The Republican Party needs to have some very serious introspection and return to the values that started us out and that is individual liberty and a live and let live policy when it comes to people's private lives.
COSTELLO: Republicans say they're still optimistic about winning back Washington in '08. The election is still a long way off and voters tend to have very short memories.
Carol Costello, CNN, Washington.
HOLMES: All right. Friday marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana.
SESAY: Coming up, 10 years on, the fascination with her life and obsession over her death still holds strong.
HOLMES: And gives up guns for guitars. Many young Israelis say it is the thing to do. Many others disagree.
HOLMES: Welcome back to our viewers joining us from more than 200 countries and territories around the world, this is YOUR WORLD TODAY. I'm Michael Holmes.
SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. Here are the top stories we're following this hour.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is considering a power sharing deal with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. She says it would end military rule. But a Musharraf spokesman says he hasn't decided whether to step down as army chief.
Another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif says any such deal would only, quote, "only strengthen the hands of a dictator." He's planning to reassert himself on the political scene returning from exile on September 10. HOLMES: A U.S. congressional watchdog agency is expected to release a highly critical report on progress, or otherwise, in Iraq next week. According to published reports, Baghdad has failed to meet the vast majority of goals laid out by U.S. lawmakers. The White House says the report was designed to, in their words, lock in failure because of the strict measurement standards used. A comprehensive progress report from the Bush administration is due mid-September.
SESAY: Well, the last three South Koreans held hostage in Afghanistan have been released by the Taliban. The release brings to an end a nearly six-week ordeal which began when 23 Christian volunteers were seized. We now can join our correspondent Sohn Jie-Ae in Seoul.
And Sohn Jie-Ae, just bring us up to speed with what you know at this point in time.
SOHN JIE-AE, CNN INTL. CORRESPONDENT: We are hearing reports from Afghanistan, that all the remaining South Korean hostages -- they are four women and three men -- have been released by the Taliban.
Now the South Korean government has not officially confirmed it yet. Now, the time difference is basically because the South Korean government will only confirm it when these former hostages are in South Korean custody. And it does take some time between the hostages being released, and then for the International Red Cross, after taking them from the elders, the Taliban elders, into the South Korean hands.
So if, indeed, the reports are true that we should be hearing some confirmation from the South Korean government soon. If it is, indeed, true that it means at least finally the ordeal that began in July with the kidnapping of 23 South Korean Christian aid workers is finally over, Isha.
SESAY: And Sohn Jie-Ae, this has been a long-running saga, as you said, spanning to about six weeks. What can you tell us about the negotiation process? What do we know right now?
JIE-AE: Well, we know that what led to the release of these seven today and 12 yesterday was a deal struck between South Korea and the Taliban captors, in which the South Koreans agreed to pull out its 200 troops from Afghanistan, a schedule that was in place already, by the end of the year. And it also promised to stop any Christian aid workers. So that is what led to their release.
SESAY: All right. Sohn Jie-Ae, there in Seoul. Many thanks.
HOLMES: Let's go to the U.N. now. A briefing is underway. There are apparently some suspicious vials were found at the U.N. And there's been all sorts of speculation on what they may contain. There's a briefing underway, as I said. Let's listen in for a bit.
(BEGIN LIVE FEED, IN PROGRESS) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- and there will be an investigation. And the answer to your question, is the host country, yes, has been in touch with, obviously -- we have contacted the mission here, the mission is in touch with the federal authorities. And they are in turn, in touch with the city. And I am -- I think we were just told that the city has also been -- officials have been dispatched to the scene.
QUESTION: (OFF MIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a total 17 staff members and we are still drawing down further and quickly. But we are archiving. And in answer to the first part of your question, the archival material that we're looking is about 125 five-drawer cabinets. This is 16 years inspection reports, of information from host governments, and so on, and it's very sensitive material. A great deal of it is. And of course, you know, the Security Council is interested to be sure we secure it properly. Additionally, we do have artifacts. We have artifacts in Baghdad, still. These are the actual remnants of the weapons ...
HOLMES: Obviously, the briefing has moved on to other issues, clearly. But what we can tell you, we had word from the United Nations that some suspicious vials had been found. What exactly they contained is uncertain.
As I said, there was some speculation there may have been a gas of some sort. Federal authorities are on the scene. U.N. authorities also investigating this. We're going to get you more information on this and let you know what this is all about.
SESAY: All right. Well, Friday marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
HOLMES: Multiple inquiries, as you well know, have found no evidence of foul play behind that car accident that killed her.
SESAY: But conspiracies fail to die. Paula Hancocks reports now.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTL. CORRESPONDENT: This was simply a tragic car accident, or a premeditated royal murder? Ten years on, conspiracy theories still haunt the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Mohamed al Fayed, the father of Dodi al Fayed who died in the care alongside Diana has single-handedly kept the murder motivation alive.
MOHAMED AL FAYED, DODI AL FAYED'S FATHER: I'm certain, 100 percent, that a leading member of the royal family have planned that.
HANCOCKS: Al Fayed has accused Diana's ex-husband Prince Charles and the queen's husband, Prince Philip, of playing a hand in the death. A claim denied by the royals and no official reports have substantiated the allegations. Still, Fayed remains convinced, saying Dodi and Diana were about to announce their engagement.
MICHAEL COLE, AL FAYED SPOKESMAN: They would not have wanted Dodi, as a Muslim, to be marrying Diana, Princess of Wales. Dodi was all of their nightmares rolled into one.
HANCOCKS: Fuelling the allegations of foul play, Diana's former butler, Paul Baryl (ph) claims Diana wrote him a letter less than a year before she died, voicing fears she would be the target of a deliberate car crash.
(on camera): However, a French inquiry eight years ago ruled the driver, Henri Paul was to blame. He was drunk, on antidepressants, and driving too fast. And British inquiry last year had similar findings. Ruling out murder or the possibility Diana was pregnant or engaged to Dodi.
But Al Fayed refuses to accept his employee, Henri Paul, may have been responsible.
KEN WHARFE, DIANA'S FORMER BODYGUARD: This was a failure of the security that night that brought about the deaths of Diana and Dodi Fayed, simply based on the grounds or lack of experience.
HANCOCKS: The immediate public anger was leveled at the paparazzi chasing Diana's car when it crashed. Some were arrested at the scene, but subsequently released without charged.
KEN LENNOX, FORMER PHOTOGRAPHER: I think we all have a bit of guilt about Diana's death. The night she died, watching the paparazzi being arrested, live on television, and the subject of trials and so on, it was a feeling of responsibility.
PHIL HALL, EDITOR, "NEWS OF THE WORLD," There was a huge feeling of guilt among the media. It was also a situation, we didn't know what we could do. When there was a massive appetite for the stories how could you stop running them?
HANCOCKS: Diana's brother was bitterly direct in his allocation of blame.
CHARLES SPENCER, DIANA'S BROTHER: I always believed the press would kill her in the end. But not even I could have imagined that they would take such a direct hand in their death, as seems to be the case.
HANCOCKS: The full British inquest into the deaths of Diana and Dodi starts in October. More than 10 years after they died. And it could be months after that before the coroner records a verdict. Even then, there are no guarantees that those specializing in these conspiracy theories will be convinced. Paula Hancocks, CNN, London.
HOLMES: A reminder, for our International viewers, they can watch live coverage of Friday's memorial service marking the 10th anniversary of Diana's death. That starts at 100 hours GMT.
And who else but Richard Quest will be hosting that; he'll be at Buckingham Palace. Afterwards, we'll look back at the young girl who would become the Princess of Wales. That program is called "Growing up Diana", a one-hour documentary by CNN's own special investigations unit. That will be at Friday, 1400 hours GMT. And also, throughout the weekend.
Now, we want to go back to what was going on at the U.N. there. We've had word at that U.N. has been evacuated or part of it has after vials of potentially deadly nerve gas were discovered. Now, what it appears is that this stuff was stored at the U.N. in old filing cabinets and was uncovered after the room was being cleared out. One of the U.N. officials spoke a little earlier. Let's just listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIE OKABE, U.N. SPOKESPERSON: Over at the past weeks, the U.N. Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission discovered what was yesterday identified as gram quantities of certain liquid substances, including phosgene, suspended in oil whose present state is unknown, but which could be potentially hazardous.
It was immediately secured by UNMOVIC experts. The office area was screened using UNMOVIC chemical weapons detection equipment and no toxic vapors were found.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: All right. A little bit of clarification there, it's not a scare in the traditional sense of danger, immediate danger, but certainly vials of what was really a type of nerve gas discovered during a routine clearing out. Jim Acosta is with us.
Jim, fill us in on what you've heard?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Michael one thing we've heard in the last few minutes here. And I guess it's of some comfort, is that this was not found in the main U.N. buildings. I guess some people have assumed that UNMOVIC's office would be also be in the main building.
From what we understand, these offices are locate at 48th and First Avenue. It's part of the U.N. Plaza, but not in that main building. As you heard a few minutes ago, the discovery was made a few days ago, but apparently, the United States, according to what we're hearing so far was not contacted until yesterday.
At this point, from what we understand from talking to various sources, there are FBI teams on the way to safely remove this substance. But at this point, from what we understand, the substance has not been removed yet.
As you mentioned, his was a type of nerve gas that was found, according to what the U.N. just said. This was a nerve gas known as phosgene and it is lethal. And apparently it was discovered in a container about the size of a coke can. And according to what the U.N. is saying, had this been opened improperly if a janitor or someone not trained with dealing with these substances had stumbled upon and it opened it, it's quite possible that somebody could have been hurt.
Now, from what the U.N. is saying at this point, this substance was actually picked up by UNMOVIC during weapons inspections back in the 1990s. Apparently in 1996, a U.N. weapons inspecting team went to the Musana (ph) Weapons Facility in Iraq where they discovered this particular substance, the substance that was just stumbled upon a few days ago. Apparently, that's where it is from. It dates back to the mid 1990s.
So if people are wondering, well, this was a nerve gas found in Iraq. No, it was not found after the current war in Iraq started. It was found post the first Persian Gulf war, during the mid-1990s when there were weapons inspections teams in that country -- Michael.
HOLMES: So, Jim, at this stage, it's fair to say, this is not a traditional threat, this is something that was put somewhere it shouldn't have been put, maybe it should have been destroyed a lot earlier than this, rather than perhaps a traditional threat?
ACOSTA: That's right. I don't think this was something deliberate. This sounds like a goof, to use a technical term there.
This was apparently stored in some containers where apparently it just slipped the minds of the people who were keeping track of it. When this was stumbled upon and the authorities were alerted, that's when the process got started. As we know, from time to time, things do not move as quickly as perhaps they should over at the U.N.
So while the discovery was made, quote, a few days ago, we don't have an exact time frame. The United States, apparently, from what we're hearing, was only notified yesterday. And the FBI, and various authorities here in New York, may not have known about this until today, which is why the FBI is on its way right now to go pick up the substance, from what we're hearing right now.
This is very early in this. So some of this might change. But as far as where things stand now, yes, this does appear to be some sort of not deliberate, accidental leaving of this toxic substance, inside -- not the main building, we should emphasize, of the U.N. But the UNMOVIC offices that are just down the street.
Apparently in an office building that is also shared with the U.S. ambassador from Jordan. And other diplomats who, you know, use office space here in the New York City area to do business over at the U.N.
HOLMES: All right. Jim Acosta there with the latest. I preferred goof. I think that was a good term there, Jim. Thanks for that.
We also have some more information from the U.N. As they were trying to explain this a few moments ago. Let's listen to another bit of further explanation. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OKABE: The material, unknown liquid substances, was contained in metal and glass containers ranging in size from small vials to tubes the length of a pen in one of the sealed plastic bags.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: All right. Richard Roth is on his way to the U.N. building in question at the moment.
Richard, you've covered a lot of this over the years, from the U.N., the inspections and all of this sort of stuff. This sounds like a heck of a mistake, doesn't it? Somebody's left some nerve gas lying around?
RICHARD ROTH, CNN U.N. CORRESPONDENT: It's really a very surprising last blast, you might say, from the U.N. organization call UNMOVIC, which was charged with inspecting Saddam Hussein's arsenal. UNMOVIC was fading away, a few weeks ago it was, in effect, voted out of business and existence by the U.N. Security Council, which first established it in 1990 or so, when the Gulf war, the first Gulf war, broke out.
And UNMOVIC had even been ignominiously shoved out of the U.N. official headquarters building, up the street to other offices, and many of its employees had been terminated, as the Security Council did not want to pay anymore for their services.
UNMOVIC had no access really in Iraq. It was a U.S. show, once this second war started, Hans Blix was the former chief weapons inspector there. And he lead missions that many countries thought was making progress. The U.S. did not want to give Han Blix enough time.
So for UNMOVIC they have had gyroscopes and other equipment that they discovered, whether in the Tigris River in Baghdad, and other places, they were hauled back for analysis and presentation, sometimes to diplomats to make their case. That's what was in this other building. And they had been in the process, you might say, of finding location for all of their stuff. That's what the several staff members who were left on the payroll -- that's what they were doing, I believe, when this was discovered.
HOLMES: Richard all of your years at the U.N., what's going to be the fallout from this?
ROTH: Probably, there will be some hew and cry about how are we cataloging and what are we doing with everything we find. I don't think it is going to cause a big stir unless there's some type of injury or some type of threat to personnel. And it is a little too early to find out about that.
I mean, at the U.N. it's all politics. And there are many countries that wanted UNMOVIC done with. I think they'll judge today that this is further evidence to say they didn't get their act right on the way out, either. Let's do away with them. And let's clean this up and do away with everything.
HOLMES: Jim Acosta touched on this earlier. But I'll try to get more specifics from you, Richard, where is this building in relation to the main building?
ROTH: It's just within two minutes walking up the street. There are many U.N. offices that are housed in buildings around Manhattan, on the East Side, near the U.N. Of course, the U.N. has to undergo now years of renovation to do away with asbestos and poor ventilation, and the lack of sprinkler systems. They also have to find new space for those employees while the building is being renovated.
So, UNMOVIC has now discovered these germ qualities. It's too early to assess really how did this happen, what happened. They were found. It was brought back from Iraq in a box, put in a desk. This has happened before with the U.N. Usually, it's just a document. This time, it's a little bit worse than that.
HOLMES: One assumes if it's been sitting there for the best part of 10 years, if there had been danger involved with this stuff, it would have been uncovered by now?
ROTH: Well, I think a former emergency services director of New York was quoted as saying if it was properly sealed it shouldn't pose much of a threat, unless it is dropped. The U.N. officials who spoke a short time ago, from UNMOVIC, the U.N. weapons agency, said it did not pose a danger at this moment.
And, look, the U.N. for years dealt with paper. It really wasn't used to dealing with sophisticated technology that might go into guidance systems. This is what they were finding with Saddam Hussein. There was a famous chicken farm raid, in Iraq, where a general who defected from Saddam Hussein turned over a lot of evidence and told the UNMOVIC inspectors where to find things like this.
And Hans Blix himself said Saddam Hussein was never able, and his team, they couldn't really pinpoint what happened to vials, possible VX (ph) nerve gas. They were never able to determine what happened to all of the quantities that were listed on the books in Baghdad. And that's what they were trying to find in the final days before the U.S. invaded.
HOLMES: Richard, you touched on this before about documents and the like, do the U.N. generally get much criticism for how it handles stuff like this? Not just this, but documents, information, is it a bit open to criticism there?
ROTH: The biggest criticism comes from certain countries who do not have the powerful seats on the Security Council or from non- government groups or human rights groups who say the U.N. is famous for burying documents. Sensitive materials, one of the most famous cables was the one from their U.N. general in Rwanda, warning that there was a potential flash point involving weapons from the Hutu side in Rwanda. That cable and how it got transmitted to the Security Council and the failure to act on it, is one of the most famous documents in infamy, you might say, in the U.N. system. Because critics say if that had gotten greater notoriety a genocide could have been prevented. And that the U.N. failed to properly communicate the threat. U.N. officials at the time, including then director of peacekeeping, Kofi Annan, said the Security Council was aware of that. And there are other incidents where people and ambassadors, let's just say, they have a way of making sure a document doesn't get passed around.
But the U.N. is also famous for leaking, not necessarily nerve gas certainly, but documents, because a paper has to be translated into the six official languages and that's how word can get out on things that people want to keep secret. So it can go both ways.
This is really not the U.N.'s game, cataloging in a cabinet nerve gas in vials. The U.N. does not have a massive science lab here. If anything, those are in Europe and other U.N. facilities.
HOLMES: Precisely, on assumes you don't just take that back to the office and put it in a filing cabinet, one would imagine. I know we don't have all of the details yet.
ROTH: No, probably staff members inside the U.N. building are glad that this was up the street a bit. But it could possibly have been -- I assume, had been upstairs in the U.N. for years.
A couple of months ago, I don't want to give this great publicity. But people have a habit of sending false alarm letters filled with white powder. One of those got into the U.N. and my office, and a crew, they had to be, quote, decontaminated. And a few years ago, we had another threat which turned out to be bogus, involving a biochemical threat. The U.N. is certainly on guard for that.
But they were criticized for being slow. The New York police and the U.N., very slow in how to react to that threat, as various staff members could have exposed, if that envelope was real. Someone in the mailroom just brought around the suspicious envelope, throughout the whole building. If it indeed was anthrax or something serious, a lot of people could have been seriously hurt.
SESAY: All right, Richard Roth, it's Isha Sesay here. I'm just going to jump in. Because there are many, many questions still to be answered to give a sense of what exactly happened here. How this could have happened. A short time ago, a U.N. spokesperson addressed the media. Let's listen to what she has to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIE OKABE, U.N. SPOKESPERSON: Over at the past weeks, the U.N. Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission discovered what was yesterday identified as gram quantities of certain liquid substances, including phosgene, suspended in oil whose present state is unknown, but which could be potentially hazardous.
It was immediately secured by UNMOVIC experts. The office area was screened using UNMOVIC's chemical weapons detection equipment, and no toxic vapors were found.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: All right, Marie Okabe, there, the U.N. spokesperson addressing the media short time ago. Trying to give us a little more information about that chemical agent found in an U.N. office.
Let's join our Jim Acosta he is in New York. He can give us a little bit more now, a sense of what's happening at the scene right now -- Jim.
ACOSTA: Well, Isha, in terms of what's happening at the scene right now, we do understand there are FBI teams, or officials, on the way to go about recovering and securing the recovery of this material.
Apparently, this discovery was made, and we're just hearing this now on Friday. Last Friday, the 24th, UNMOVIC's staff discovered two small packages, with metal and glass containers with unknown liquid substances.
It was yesterday, I suppose, when it was determined what this substance was. That time line and those facts I think are still up in the air. There are still some questions that need to be raised about some of this. Because the question that's going to come to a lot of people's minds, is why on earth is that that when this discovery was made on Friday, and perhaps this indication came through as to what this was being made yesterday, why is it that there was a gap between this discovery and when U.S. authorities were told.
You know, having said all of that, this was dangerous substance. And it been opened by unqualified people, it could have caused some damage. It could have hurt somebody. This was a toxic nerve agent used back in World War I.
SESAY: All right, Jim Acosta, in New York. Many thanks for the update. There we must leave it.
HOLMES: Yeah, amazing.
SESAY: It's a ultimately a "goof" almost, is how it's emerging right now.
HOLMES: And the U.N. statement says this stuff was not meant to be here. It was meant to be transported directly to appropriately equipped laboratories for analysis. Didn't happen.
SESAY: Didn't happen. You know people at home will be asking the question, if they found this ...
HOLMES: What else? It's was all just sitting there.
All right. We'll keep you updated as the day goes on. Thanks for watching.
SESAY: I'm Isha Sesay.
HOLMES: I'm Michael Holmes. Bye for now.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com