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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
D.C. Trains Collide; Iranians Remain Defiant
Aired June 22, 2009 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, breaking news: deaths and injuries, as rush hour trains collide in Washington. One lands on top of the other. Witnesses say bodies went flying.
ADRIAN FENTY (D), MAYOR OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: This would then be the deadliest accident in the history of our Metro train transit system.
KING: And, then, new protests in Iran -- despite the harshest warnings yet, defiant demonstrators in Tehran confronted by riot police with tear gas and live bullets. Overwhelming. Intimidating. Ruthless. The militias out in force. Is Iran on the verge of a bloodbath?
Live reports from inside the country -- next on "LARRY KING LIVE."
KING: Good evening.
As of this hour, eight people are dead. Two have life- threatening injuries, and dozens more are being treated. It's the result of a collision involving two Metro trains north of downtown Washington, D.C., and, as the mayor just said, the worst disaster in the 33-year history of the District's rapid transit system.
It happened just before 5:00 p.m. Eastern time on an above-ground track on the red line. That's near Takoma Park, Maryland. Many people walked away unharmed.
We're going to get the latest going right to the scene with the mayor of Washington, Adrian Fenty. And also with us is its fire chief, Dennis Rubin.
Adrian, any more to -- any more casualties to report?
FENTY: Not right now, Larry.
In fact, the -- the actual confirmed number is six, but there's one car that has been about 75 percent compressed. And we just haven't been able to cut through to it to -- to see if there's bodies in there.
So, we will know more by about 8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, but, definitely, an unbelievable tragedy, the worst of the transit system's four-decade history.
KING: Adrian, Chief Fenty -- Chief Ford -- Chief Rubin -- I'm sorry -- Dennis Rubin is the D.C. fire chief.
How quick was the response?
DENNIS RUBIN, WASHINGTON, D.C., FIRE CHIEF: We had response and units on the scene in less than six minutes. The call initially came out for what we thought was a little bit minor incident, if you will.
And, as it turned out, as the mayor described, one car had leapfrogged over the top of the other, causing tremendous damage, compressing that car tremendously, creating a very disastrous situation, requiring a tremendous amount of rescue.
KING: If memory serves me correct, Mayor, as you know, having lived there for many years, I -- I thought that's one of the safest systems in the country.
FENTY: It's a safe system. It's a clean system.
I think the most fatalities in four decades was about three in one bad accident. You know, we -- we don't know why this happened, Larry. And we're going to get to the bottom of it. NTSB is on the scene. But, right now, we're just handling calls.
We transported 76 people to the hospital. We're hoping that all of them pull through the night. And, obviously, as you can imagine, people from all around the region are calling in, trying to find out if their loved one was on the train. So, we have got local numbers for people to call because of that. And -- and we're -- it's still -- it's still a rescue scene right now, because we -- we haven't cleared it.
KING: Chief Rubin, any suspicion of a criminal act?
RUBIN: Not at this point.
Quite frankly, NTSB will start in earnest as soon as we're able to clear the cars. We're working through a process to clear each and every car to make certain that nobody is left behind, whether they're alive or otherwise. So, we will be working throughout the night. It will probably take another five or six hours minimum to clear all the areas.
We're using very heavy equipment to open up areas and explore areas and to make sure that all of the folks that were in there have been properly removed. So, we really don't have any details about exactly what occurred. But I know NTSB will be providing that shortly.
KING: Mayor, you mentioned suppressed cars. That sounds hideous.
FENTY: Well, it is, Larry. I mean, I walked up to the scene an hour-and-a-half ago. And you can -- you can tell immediately what happened. There was a -- a train that was stopped on the tracks and another train that drove right into it from the back.
Again, that should not have happened. We don't know why it happened. But it was going at a -- at a speed -- we don't know what speed, but at a speed that would have made than initial car literally compress to about one-fourth of the original size.
And it's that part of the train that's compressed together now that we have to go in and find out whether there's any remaining bodies. And we will -- we will have a full report first thing in the morning.
KING: Chief, what are Metro officials telling you, if anything, yet?
RUBIN: Well, we went to a third alarm with our response, which is about 200 firefighters from the District of Columbia. We have also brought in response units from Maryland, as well as Virginia, Fairfax, Arlington, Prince George's and Montgomery Counties.
And, again, I -- I think, between all these resources, we will be able to determine that the cars are all clear, meaning that there's no more life left on the cars, whether it's living folks or otherwise, and then be able to turn that scene over to the NTSB. They're here in force. The mayor has briefed them several occasions.
I think they're ready to go. I think they're getting the preliminary information out of the way tonight. I know we're going to have rescue workers throughout the night.
And I would also have to say, the Metropolitan Police, the FBI, the Metro Transit Police, and others have just done an outstanding job. Two firefighters received minor injuries. They have been treated, sent to the hospital. We will check on those guys throughout the night. But, again, I think it's truly been a heroic effort here today.
KING: Mayor, you will have the sad duty, will you not, of talking to the families of the deceased?
RUBIN: Well, I certainly will do that.
Our police chief is working right now to take the bodies that we have recovered. And then they will fingerprint them and do an identification. We will be calling people throughout the night and into the morning. Hopefully, the death toll doesn't rise any higher than six.
But we are monitoring the hospitals. And we're -- again, we have got to kind of literally cut open this compressed train to find out if there are any more bodies there. But those are -- those are the worst types of calls to have to make, Larry, as you know.
KING: I know.
We will continue our coverage of this D.C. train tragedy after this.
KING: Joining us now in Washington is Jasmine Garsd. Ms. Garsd was on board one of the Metro trains involved in the collision. She's an editorial assistant for NPR's terrific "Tell Me More."
And on the phone is Dr. Johnnie Ford, director of patient relations Howard University Hospital. He's also, by the way, an attending physician in their emergency department.
Jasmine, where were you? What happened?
JASMINE GARSD, TRAIN PASSENGER: Oh.
Well, Larry, I was traveling from Maryland to D.C., where I live. I was on the train that was moving. And, all of a sudden as we approached my station in D.C., it was like nothing I have ever felt before. It was like we hit a concrete wall.
And, almost immediately, I fell off my seat. Another person -- I don't know who -- flew off their seat. And the lights went off, and smoke started filling the train cart, the Metro cart.
KING: How did you get off?
GARSD: Well, I mean, at the moment, panic kind of ensued, because we -- the doors didn't automatically open. And people started pounding against the doors. Eventually, somebody opened one of the doors. And there was a Metro employee who took us all off.
KING: Oh, boy.
Was the -- was the weather conditions all right?
GARSD: Well, that's the thing, Larry. I mean, to top it off, it was ridiculously hot and humid, as it is in D.C. at this time of the year.
And, you know, at that moment, my main concern was that there was a woman in the train with me who was probably around seven or eight months pregnant. So, at that moment, my main concern began to be, let's -- let's move away from this in case anything explodes, you know, or something collapses further.
KING: Yes. Did -- did your train ever leave the track?
GARSD: I -- I don't believe it did. What I did see as soon as I got off and -- and took a few steps back, and I looked to the left, and I -- I literally saw that it seemed as though our train had, if you can imagine, mounted the other -- the -- the stationary train, so that, I mean, there was an entire train cart diagonally pointing at the sky.
KING: To your knowledge, did everyone in your car get out?
GARSD: Yes, everyone in our car got out, absolutely.
KING: Dr. Johnnie Ford is on the phone with us.
Stay there a moment, Jasmine.
Doctor, what's the situation at Howard University Hospital?
DR. JOHNNIE FORD, HOWARD UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: OK.
Presently, everything is really kind of calming down. We got an initial notification from our med control that, you know, there was a disaster, you know, involving two trains. And we, at that point, alerted them to, you know, what our capacity -- what our surge capacity was here.
And, you know, each hospital in turn gave a report on just what their capacity was, you know, for this disaster. And we received three casualties here, what we call one major and two minor, major being I think she was like 14 -- about a 14-year-old girl with like two broken legs. And she's being evaluated by our trauma surgeons as we speak.
The other two patients, what -- we call them minor or walking wounded, they're also being, you know, evaluated to make sure there's nothing else going on. I had the, I guess, fortune or privilege to examine one of them. And, basically, you know, he was just bumps and bruises everywhere. He looked like he -- he had been in some sort of accident. He had bruises and cuts from head to toe, so...
KING: But were you -- were you -- was the hospital all set up for this?
FORD: Correct. Yes, we were.
KING: So, there was no delays or people having to be called in from the outside to aid?
FORD: No, that is correct. We -- you know, we were ramped up. And, you know, they gave us adequate notification. And, you know, everybody was ready to rock and roll.
KING: Going to ride a train again, Jasmine?
GARSD: Oh, I don't know, Larry. I think I'm going to be taking a taxi for the next couple of days. I don't know. It's going to be difficult to get on a train again. I don't even know how much -- I mean, how soon the trains will be back up.
KING: Because this is the last thing you would think of on a Metro train as really super-developed as the one in Washington was. GARSD: Oh, absolutely.
And, you know, Larry, I mean, you don't even realize how fast the train is actually going until you collide with -- with something that's stationary. And another thing you don't realize is how far you have gone. I mean, when we got off and decided, well, we -- the entire road to closest -- the tracks to the closest station were -- were blocked off.
So, we decided to walk back with this pregnant woman and a couple, a few other people, to -- because, in the moment that this happened, it was like a deserted island. Nobody knew what was going on.
GARSD: It was silent.
And as we walked back, we just walked for 20 minutes on the track. And there's barbed-wire fence. And, you know, you don't realize the distance that you cover.
KING: Jasmine, thanks so much.
Thanks, Dr. Ford.
GARSD: Thank you for having me.
KING: We will stay -- thank you.
We will stay on top of this story, of course, throughout the evening and into the morning hours.
We will move on to Iran and the breaking news there in 60 seconds.
KING: Needless to say, the situation in Iran remains tense. In a moment, we will talk with it -- about it with Roger Cohen of "The New York Times." He's one of a dwindling number of Western journalists still reporting from inside Iran. He will join us on the phone.
At our Atlanta's Iran desk is Ivan Watson, CNN International correspondent. He's reported from Iran numerous times. He's been tracking social networking, input, iReports, tweets, Internet postings on the Iran situation.
What exactly is the latest, Ivan?
IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we had a day where demonstrators tried to gather in a downtown square, Larry, and they were stopped by large numbers of security forces, who pushed them back. These demonstrators were trying to gather to remember a woman who was gunned down on Saturday at one of these opposition protests, gunned down.
She's known around the world now as Neda. And she was caught on local cell phone cameras, her image, the image of her last moments caught on camera and -- and broadcast around the world. She's really become a symbol of this opposition movement, Larry.
KING: And we understand you have a report that you can toss to about your latest interview with a young woman.
WATSON: Well, yes.
An incredible phenomenon here is that women are at the forefront often of these protests. And because we're not allowed to operate on the ground in Iran, there are also women citizen journalists. And there's one in particular, a 19-year-old girl, who started sending us photos on iReport, remarkable photos, on Saturday, in the thick of the battle.
And I -- I spoke with her on the phone on -- on Sunday. She was beaten by one of the pro-government militiamen for taking these photos on Saturday. And, then, today, she went back out, Larry. She went back into the thick of things in Tehran and faced off against these security forces, trying to attend this memorial.
And I asked her -- you know, she told us why -- why she's going back out on to the streets. Let's take a listen, Larry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are different from -- I, personally, I'm different. I think I'm different from the next week -- from the previous week -- I'm sorry -- because I think I'm a little braver now, because, when someone gets hit once, the second time, I think, doesn't matter.
For me, it is like this. Because when one hits me -- I say hit, I have been hit so many times. And, this time, it doesn't matter. I just want to help my brothers and my sisters.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WATSON: And this...
KING: We will be checking in with Roger Cohen momentarily, as soon as we can clear a phone signal.
Ivan, you have been atop this Iran scene for a long time. Maybe this is impossible to answer. Where -- where is this going?
WATSON: I really don't know.
I -- I haven't seen anything like this in a generation. This is the biggest challenge, biggest threat from inside to the Iranian regime since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. And what's remarkable is that this -- this regime that's been so effective at controlling its people in the past seems to have taken some serious missteps here, and -- and doesn't seem to have judged properly the -- what the incredible reaction of the people would be to the results of this election., so many people accusing the government of rigging this month's very controversial presidential elections in favor of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the incumbent president.
KING: No -- no way to forecast anything, then, at this point?
I mean, some of the questions rise -- the death of this woman, for instance, on Saturday. She's one of at least 10 people who was killed on Saturday. She becomes a symbol, in a way. And what we're hearing is that the government has been trying to prevent people from attending -- from turning her into a martyr, really. And they're failing.
And, in Shia Islam, the -- the worship of martyrs, the reverence of martyrs is a really big deal. And what we saw in 1979 is, when the shah, when his forces killed people, it started a cycle of protests. Every 40 days, in honor of somebody who was killed out on the streets, they would hold a memorial 40 days later. And this continued.
The question is, will that repeat, now...
WATSON: ... that the government has used this deadly force against these protesters?
KING: Thanks, Ivan, as usual. Outstanding reporting -- Ivan Watson, of -- CNN's international correspondent.
Iran's foreign ministry has accused CNN and the Voice of America and the BBC of seeking the disintegration of this country because of ties to Israel and Zionism.
It also claims that CNN is officially training people to -- quote -- "hack government and foreign ministry Web sites" -- end quote.
CNN has now released this statement in response: "The accusations are completely false. CNN stands by its comprehensive coverage of the Iranian election and the protests that followed. CNN has been and will remain committed to continuing its efforts to bring news from Iran to the world in whatever way it can. The images and the events coming from Iran speak for themselves. CNN is beholden to no government in its reporting on international affairs."
We will be right back.
KING: Roger Cohen is now with us on the phone from Tehran. Joining us from London is Lindsey Hilsum, correspondent for ITN. She was in Iran covering the election and its aftermath. And, from Dubai, Jim Sciutto, senior foreign correspondent ABC News. Jim was also in Iran covering the election and what happened after. And he's the author of "Against Us: The New Face of America's Enemies in the Muslim world."
Lindsey filed a report on the Iranian government's crackdown on those who dared to defy the supreme leader's edict to stop protesting.
Take a look.
LINDSEY HILSUM, ITN REPORTER (voice-over): Pictures online today showing police dressed in black and besieged militia in green fatigues beating and arresting two men.
They seem to be in a car park or garage. Unknown people film from above. The police pull up the first man's T-shirt over his head to blindfold him, and lead him away. Then they start to tie up the second man. Half-a-minute later, women scream, and a shot is heard.
HILSUM: The policemen react by pointing at the second man's head.
KING: We will now engage the whole panel.
First, Roger Cohen, columnist of "The New York Times," how are you still able to be there?
ROGER COHEN, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I still have a visa, Larry. So,I'm hanging on for as long as I can and reporting until I'm told to stop, which, thankfully, hasn't happened yet.
KING: Does the visa have an end date?
COHEN: It does. But I don't really want to talk about that, Larry, at least not right now.
I think the most important thing is to just trying to get as much information out of here. As you know, and as what you just said about the charges against CNN suggests, the regime is going to all possible lengths to curtail coverage of this uprising against the results announced to the June 12 election.
KING: So, how do -- how do they stop you from seeing what you see and telling us what you see?
COHEN: Well, they're not stopping me. It's very tense on the streets. And there are very few correspondents left here. It's been a little less violent over the last couple of days.
But you see still in people's eyes how -- how rage is smoldering, along with fear. I was, today, down at a small ceremony for this young woman Neda, whose -- whose murder Saturday was caught on video and has now gone global.
And about 60 people gathered in this small square outside a mosque which was closed by the security forces. And a prayer was said. And the city police were helpful, joined in this, until the stick- and truncheon-wielding Basij militia arrived on motorbikes and broke the whole thing up.
Neda's family is not even being allowed a -- a proper service for her. She's now been buried. The regime is going to great lengths to ensure that anyone killed does not have a grave that then becomes a gathering point for protesters.
KING: We will pick up with Lindsey and Jim right after this break. And Roger will stay with us.
Don't go away.
KING: Lindsey Hilsum in London, if the government succeeds and puts down all these protests, what -- will the status quo come back, like it was before the election? Where does Iran go?
HILSUM: I don't think so, because we're seeing the protests on the street. But we're not seeing is all the machinations behind the scenes.
And Iran's senior clerics are very divided now. Many of them are against the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. He came out in favor of one presidential candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Now, the president is not popular amongst many other clerics.
And I think that, by coming out in this way, he has undermined his own position. I think that things have changed in Iran. We just don't know exactly how they have changed yet.
KING: Jim, do you think the incumbent lost this election?
JIM SCIUTTO, SENIOR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: I think there's very serious questions.
And it's interesting, because those questions are not just coming from the protesters you see in the street. They're coming from very senior political figures in Iran. You have a former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, questioning the results. You have the current parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, saying that the protesters' concerns should be heard.
Even another one of the presidential candidates, Mohsen Rezai -- he's not a softy. He was the head of the Revolutionary Guards. He questioned his own result in that election.
I think that speaks to Lindsey's point as well, that these divisions go very high in the leadership in Iran. And they're being expressed publicly in a way that they're not normally expressed publicly. Normally, these sorts of divisions are kept behind the scenes. To see them out there, they cannot be easily forgotten.
These are divisions. They're going to take some time to be papered over, if you see the protests in the streets fading.
KING: Roger, do you talk to people who, by American standards, would be called moderates, people who are torn in this, in that they don't know who's right?
COHEN: I talk to a lot of moderates. I think they have decided who is right and wrong. I think that's one of the fundamental changes here, Larry, is that you have millions, maybe even tens of millions, of Iranians who were kind of in the middle, who didn't particularly like the regime, but had found ways to live with it, and were encouraged during the campaign for this election to believe that at least, at the margins, they could bring some changes.
Iran, since the revolution, has had reformist government that adopted a more moderate tone. And its had under Ahmadinejad, for example, much more aggressive and repressive tones at times. What's happened is that these people, because of what happened with the June 12th election, they no longer believe that they can work with this government. And so they've gone into outright opposition.
That is a very, very fundamental shift. But I think people at this point have taken sides. Things have been clarified. As Lindsey just said, even the supreme leader, who was kind of an opaque figure, who stood above the fray, he's aligned himself with Ahmadinejad. Everybody has aligned themselves. There are many, many more people opposed to the regime than there were 11 days ago.
KING: When I come back, I'll ask Lindsey if this was festering, does she think, way before the election. Don't go away.
KING: We'll get right back to the Iranian situation. Let's right to the train scene again in Washington, for a quick update from Elaine Quijano, our CNN correspondent at the scene. What's the latest, Elaine?
QUIJANO: Larry, the latest comes from D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty who says six people are dead after those trains collided earlier today. About a dozen or more people at area hospitals being treated for their injuries. Dozens more, we understand, were treated on the scene here, and did not require further medical attention.
But witnesses described just a horrible situation here, as two trains collided. It happened, again, at the height of rush hour, 5:00, as the trains were carrying commuters in the Washington, D.C. area. Mayor Adrian Fenty, Larry, calling it the deadliest train crash in the D.C. Metro train history. Larry?
KING: Thanks, Elaine. Back to London and Lindsey Hilsum. Do you think all of this in Iran, Lindsay, was festering before the election? HILSUM: Well, to some extent. Certainly the middle class, young people in Tehran were very fed up with the restrictions. The girls were fed up with having to wear their head scarfs forward. The problems with the economy, difficult to get a job and so on. All that was there.
But I don't think anybody expected this to happen. I think that the idea was that people would be able to campaign for the election, have a couple of weeks of freedom to be able to come out on the streets, and then everything would go back to normal. The big change is that the man who these protesters are following, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the man they say should have won the election, he's not a rebel. He's a 72-year-old former prime minister. He's part of the establishment, part of the Islamic Revolution.
He's sort of like an accidental rebel. Nobody was ever expecting him to be part of a movement like this. It's not really clear whether he is leading this, or whether the protesters are, in fact, leading him.
KING: Jim, is there any remote chance this election could be overturned?
SCIUTTO: I think that's a very distant possibility. You've seen the government giving some ground, saying today that there were irregularities in 50 voting districts. It's interesting talking to the protesters, themselves, I'm hearing the first signs of frustration from their side, frustration with the lack of leadership.
I spoke to a student leader today who said that one of the reasons you didn't see more protesters at today's event is that it wasn't well-organized in advance. They didn't get the word out. They've been looking to Mir Hossein Mousavi for leadership. And at the same time, Mousavi has been feeding off the number of people in the streets.
I think in these last couple days, you've seen both sides of that equation muted. And as that happens, that, I think, takes some of the momentum away from the protesters. I think there be will be a test tomorrow. They're calling for a general strike in Tehran. If you see people responding to that call, that will be a sign of the opposition reasserting their influence.
KING: Thank you all very much. Outstanding reporting. "Time's" Joe Klein wrote this week's cover story, "Iran Versus Iran." He's here in 60 seconds.
KING: If you got this week's "Time Magazine," you saw a terrific story by Joe Klein, their famed columnist. He was in Iran covering the election and its aftermath. He wrote the story called "Iran Versus Iran." Well titled.
During the break we were talking. He said that our friend, Mr. Cohen of the "New York Times," ought to get out of Iran. Why? JOE KLEIN, "TIME MAGAZINE": Because there aren't very many of us left there. I was out on the streets with Roger a week ago. My visa expired, so I left. You know, other staff members from "Time Magazine" have also left because the regime there made it very clear that they didn't want us around.
And I think, especially given the reporting Roger did today at Neda's funeral, which was so moving and so excellent, I think he's going to be a target now. I just hope my pal, Roger Cohen, is safe. He's a great reporter and he's a good friend.
KING: Mousavi is calling on supporters to stage peaceful demonstrations tomorrow. Do you think they will be, Joe?
KLEIN: I think the demonstrators will be peaceful. I don't think the Basji and the Revolutionary Guard will be peaceful. I think there is a real, you know, desire now to knock these things down and close them off.
But I also think this story is moving into other realms at this point. The street demonstrations were never going to be enough. There was always a need for support from the very top of the Iranian political structure. And, you know, as your previous guest said, this is something we've never seen before in 30 years of this revolution. We've never seen the people at the top at logger heads with each other.
Right now, there's a move being made by the Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president, in the religious city of Qom. There's this body in Iran-- Iran has all of these different governmental bodies. It's a very confusing system. There's a body called the Assembly of Experts, which is kind of -- the way to think of them is that they're kind of like the College of Cardinals. They get to name the supreme leader, but they also get to remove him if they want.
Now that has never happened. I am told by U.S. government sources that the current state of play within the Assembly of Experts -- there are 68 of them -- is that Rafsanjani has the support of about a third of them, perhaps a little bit more. Ahmadinejad and Khamenei have the support of about a third. You have a third who are leaners, who are undecided.
I think that if they make a decision against the supreme leader, then we have a chance of seeing an outcome of justice. But I'm not tremendously optimistic either.
KING: President Obama's holding a news conference tomorrow. What do you expect? Do you expect him to respond to critics and get tougher?
KLEIN: I certainly hope not. I think his response has been appropriate so far. And I think that some of his critics have been very unseemly at a very, very delicate moment when we don't want the supreme leader or Ahmadinejad to be able to blame the United States for these protests. You see what they're trying to do with CNN and with the foreign journalists. To me, it's significant that last Friday, when the supreme leaders spoke at Friday prayers, who did he blame? He didn't blame us. He blamed the British. You know, the British BBC Persia services is a major factor in getting the information out in Iran.
The reason why he couldn't blame us is because the people of Iran know that Barack Obama has held out his hand to them. And I think that the president's playing this very correctly, because those protesters in the street may be against the regime, but they're also pretty skeptical about our role in their country for the last 50 years. We've had a pretty checkered past.
KING: Senator McCain is going to be here tomorrow. He is one of those critics. What would you say to him, Joe?
KLEIN: Be quiet. You don't need to do this. You know? What you're doing is a self-indulgence at this point. Senator McCain, if he's going to talk about this, should also talk about the fact that the United States supported Saddam Hussein in the Iran/Iraq war for eight years. Every one of those protesters out in the streets, every last one of them believes the United States supplied Saddam Hussein with the poison gas that has debilitated tens of thousands of Iranian men.
I interviewed a woman in south Tehran last week who got married and then her husband off to war. He came back a chemical victim of the war. She's been supporting the family for the last 30 years. You see that all the time in that country. They lost a million casualties in that war.
They blame us for that. They blame us for identifying them as part of the Axis of Evil, with two countries that they disdain, the Iraqis and the North Koreans.
Our history with this very unique and special country has been -- has been very checkered. I think we have to be a lot more careful when we're dealing with them.
You know, the reason why I love Iran -- it's the second time I've been there for this -- is that it really is different from the other countries in the region, because the people are much better educated, especially the women. They're far more sophisticated. It's a much more middle class country.
It breaks your heart to see the difference between that sophisticated population and this brutal regime. We have to be careful not to be an excuse for the regime to get much tougher than it's been.
KING: Joe Klein, we're going to call on you again, probably tomorrow. Outstanding reporting.
KLEIN: Thank you very much.
KING: We'll talk about the impact of women on the protests in Iran next.
KING: Our old friend Mavis Leno is here, board member of the Feminist Majority Foundation. Joe Klein just reported how the women of Iran are not only better educated than any other women in the area, they're more active as well. What's your reaction to the events unfolding there?
MAVIS LENO, BOARD MEMBER, FEMINIST MAJORITY FOUNDATION: It's pretty stunning. You know, 60 percent of the voters in Iran are 30 or under. So I think one of the things we're seeing here is the wave of the future, and very definitely women have played a huge role in this -- in the election, in the activism that's going on now, And, you know, they are the ones that are the most restricted by the situations in the government as it stands now. So they have the most to gain by any change.
KING: The so called Neda tape, graphic video showing the apparent killing of a young woman this weekend in Iran, has taken on global iconic force. Watch these images as CNN international's Octavia Nasr narrates. We must warn you, her report contains extremely graphic video. It is disturbing.
In addition, parents may decide that the next few moments are inappropriate for children. We'll have Mavis comment. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OCTAVIA NASR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Her name is Neda. The fact surrounding her life and her death difficult to verify. She appears to have been a young student who joined thousands of her countrymen to voice her disapproval of Iran's election results.
Eyewitnesses say Basji militiamen hiding on a building roof top shot Neda in her chest, silencing her forever.
A man who appears to be her father desperately calling on her to open her eyes.
A stranger begging her to stay awake. "Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid, Neda," the man says.
But Neda doesn't respond. She dies right there on the street, another protester capturing her last moments on a cell phone camera.
Just like that, Neda who came to the square thinking she is one voice among thousands, turned into the voice of an entire opposition movement.
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KING: Mavis, as a woman, a feminist, as a human being, how do you react to this?
LENO: Well, it is heart wrenching and it's incredibly touching that all the people who are out there know this could happen to them. Because they are young, maybe they don't know it quite as much as older people do, you know, that sense of invulnerability you have.
But women have put it on the line over the centuries in order to win the freedoms they won. Here is an example.
KING: What does the Feminist Majority Foundation have, if anything, in terms of clout in Iran?
LENO: Well, there is a huge organization of feminists in Iran already. There are feminist organizations in every country in the world. This society, as you know, was once a lot more open, and was closed down with the Ayatollah's regime. Now, these young people want to move forward again.
I think the women just want to use what they learned. There are more women students at Tehran University than there are male students. They want to do something with their lives.
KING: Are you in touch with people there?
LENO: Well, we know Sharin Badi (ph). By we, I mean the Feminist Majority. We have honored her in the past. And she is a very remarkable woman, and she represents a huge number of women in Iran trying to make things better.
KING: Have you spoken to her about this?
LENO: I have not as yet. I understand she is in Switzerland now. Hopefully, we will be able to be in touch with her to ask what we can do. That is the main role we try to play at the Feminist Majority. You tell us what you need, because, obviously, it is a different culture, a different situation, rather than to barge in. Once we know, we'll try and provide it.
KING: More with Mavis Leno of the Feminist Majority Foundation after this.
KING: We're back with Mavis Leno. What do you make of the fact that women are a cogent part of this whole thing?
LENO: I think that these are all very young people, and that they are the wave of the future, not just for this country, but I think this is what is happening, little by little, over the world.
I believe this may be the century of the women. And, true, I'm an optimist, but repeatedly studies show that countries in which women have relative parity in their culture and government are the most peaceful and prosperous cultures.
KING: Do you think what is happening there might impact the struggle for women's rights in other areas of the region?
LENO: I think there is some element of that going on, yes. An Iranian woman told me once that women have a joke in Iran that you can tell how women are doing in their society by how far down on their forehead the head scarf comes. And I predict it is going to be coming up, up, up again.
KING: Is there a result here that could be really bad for the women of Iran?
LENO: Well, perhaps for a time, but I think we've seen what these people are willing to put on the line in order to get a more progressive society. These women want to have more hope for their own futures and more hope for their daughters to come.
KING: Joe Klein said the president has acted correctly? Do you believe so?
LENO: I think the president is spot on. The more we remove ourselves as the whipping boy, and recast the dialogue with this country, the more they are forced to confront the schism that exists between Iranian and Iranian, instead dragging out the west again.
KING: Are you optimistic?
LENO: I am very optimistic.
KING: But you are by nature optimistic?
LENO: I am. But if you look at history, as gory and horrible as history is, people keep inching on. We have dialogues now that would never have gone on in my childhood, or even in my adolescence. So just in my own life time and in yours, we have seen such a curve of progress, my god. I tell the interns at Feminist Majority some of the things I experienced when I was in my teens and early 20s, and it's like I'm telling them something from Cromagnon times.
KING: What a change. I can't let you go without a quick question about our friend Jay? Is he uptight or nervous?
LENO: Oh, no. You know Jay, he is just work, work, work.
LENO: Exactly, everything yields to work, as far as he's concerned. It is a chance to shake things up.
KING: How do you feel him being on prime time?
LENO: I think it's an excellent idea. I think it is great. Plus, there is hardly any down time for him. Down time is not a good thing for Jay.
KING: There is a comedy store open, go.
LENO: Exactly. KING: Thank you, Mavis.
LENO: My pleasure, Larry.
KING: Mavis Leno, terrific lady, board member, Feminist Majority Foundation. Madeleine Albright will be with us tomorrow night, and Senator John McCain, with all of their thoughts on Iran. Time now for "AC 360" and my man John Roberts. John?