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Protests Erupt in Serbia; Clinton and Obama Prepare For Presidential Debate; Senators' Chopper Makes Emergency Landing

Aired February 21, 2008 - 15:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: You can call it anti-independence day in Belgrade, and the fireworks are for real.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Furious Serbs take aim at the U.S. Embassy over U.S. support for an independent Kosovo.

Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

LEMON: And I'm Don lemon.

You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia, what you're seeing is absolute chaos. A group of Serbians escalating a peaceful rally of unity to an explosion of violent defiance. Fires at the U.S. Embassy burned, but not destroyed. At least 30 people are injured. What led up to this? We're not sure. It is a declaration, of course, of independence by Serbia's former province of Kosovo.

But the question is, what led to the violence? Let's go now to our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee.

She is in Washington with the very latest on this -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, what led to the violence, there are a lot of people in Serbia, hard-liners, Serbian nationalists, that say they did not want to see the United States supporting the independence of the province of Kosovo.

They say that Kosovo is their birthright. It's a cultural, a spiritual and religious heartland, and that should never have happened. Now, that's just a handful of people in Belgrade that are hooligans here out protesting and attacking the U.S. Embassy.

A lot -- the majority of people in Belgrade have more of an urban outlook and say, fine, if Kosovo wants to go it alone, let it go it alone. Now, we have spoken to two U.S. officials here about the current situation on the ground and what they are telling us is that Serbian police have secured the perimeter of the U.S. Embassy compound.

They say that the situation from what they are hearing is now under control. They do insist, though, that this is still a very fluid and a very volatile situation. They're telling us that the next step now is going to be to clear all the people, all the protesters that have been sent there to listen to that service.

Just a short while ago, the State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, had this to say.


SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Whether or not there's protest in downtown Belgrade, that is for the Serbia government to deal with. As for -- as for their disagreement with our policy decision, we understand that. We have maintained an open diplomatic line with the Serbian government.

They understand clearly the reasoning behind the actions that we have taken. They disagree with those actions. But going forward, we want to have a good relationship with the Serbian people and with the Serbian government. And I know that the same is true for the E.U.


VERJEE: A senior State Department official tells us that all U.S. Embassy staff, including the ambassador, are now out of the embassy, and when this incident happened, they weren't even in there. Only people remaining are a handful of people, security officials, U.S. Marines as well as diplomatic security, and what they're doing is protecting the embassy and protecting the classified documents that are in the embassy.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, this official told us, has also been just been briefed. She's been traveling in Africa with the president. And Nick Burns, the undersecretary of state of political affairs, who is basically in charge of this region for the State Department, has been talking to Serbian officials and his message to them is secure this compound. It's their obligation and responsibility to do so.

LEMON: CNN's Zain Verjee -- thank you, Zain.


LEMON: All right, back now to our developing news, our breaking news, we should say, in Serbia, the U.S. Embassy targeted there for a violent protest.

Well, our Alessio Vinci was in the capital city on Sunday when Kosovo declared its independence. And he joined us just a short time ago by phone from Italy to talk to us about his perspective of the protests going on and also same a church service at the same time.


ALESSIO VINCI, CNN ROME BUREAU CHIEF: Kosovo is very important on a religious point of view for the Serbs, because it is there that the sacred religious sites are located. Kosovo is often described in Serbia as Serbia's Jerusalem, if you want, and certainly this unilateral declaration of independence, many Serbs, especially those living in the rest of Serbia, see it as a situation which they will no longer be able to go there.

Although, one should not forget Kosovo has been under the U.N. administration for the last decade. And no real Serb would drive from Belgrade to visit those monasteries and those churches. I mean, Kosovo has long been no longer under the control and under the authority of Belgrade. And the few remaining Serbs in Kosovo, about 10 percent of the population, certainly live in enclaves heavily protected by U.N. forces there.


WHITFIELD: All right, our Alessio Vinci there reporting on the unrest now taking place in Belgrade, Serbia. We are going to get back to that top story in a moment.

And then there are others. So, for example, when the U.S. Navy took aim at a falling spy satellite, guess where our Suzanne Malveaux was? Well, she was in Hawaii, but covering politics.

So, but a bit of a diversion. You're maximizing your trip, we see.


WHITFIELD: So, let's talk now about your new assignment there on what took place involving the U.S. Navy ship and the shooting down of this spy satellite, all taking place. Right now you are, at Pearl Harbor, right?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, that's right, Fredricka. And, actually, it's Secretary of Defense Gates who is here. He's starting a 10-day tour around the world. He started here in Hawaii right before the USS Russell. That's where he gave us a briefing, an assessment on the shoot-down of that spy satellite.

The Pentagon providing video, showing that it was a direct hit, that it was a success. You see a fireball, a vapor cloud and they say lots and lots of debris, that they hit the fuel tank that was so critical to them. They say it would have been a danger if it had come down in its natural path in about March or so through the Earth's orbit, because they say that hydrazine gas that was aboard the satellite could have erupted and perhaps caused a cloud that would have affected people about the size of two football fields.

So, the hydrazine gas is kind of like ammonia. So, it's not good for people. But should also let you know, Fred, that there is a discussion here, a lot of analysts who are looking at this shoot-down and saying, well, maybe that's one of the reasons. But there's some other possibilities as well, that, if there was technology, information aboard the spy satellite, it would not be good to get it in the hands of rogue leaders or states, dangerous people.

The second thing is, is that a lot of people believe that this really was an opportunity for the Pentagon to show off its U.S. missile defense capabilities. You may recall it was last year that China actually destroyed one of its own weather satellites, caused a lot of consternation with the U.S. government. And they believe that perhaps it was, you know, a political act and that the U.S. was returning the favor.

The Chinese, a bit concerned about what happened here, but Gates, we asked him about this, and he said that he was willing to at least share some information about U.S. missile defense technology, trying to really allay the fears of China and some others that this was some sort of political exercise and not one that involves world security -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Suzanne Malveaux, thanks so much, from Pearl Harbor there.

LEMON: A Texas showdown for the Democratic presidential candidates at the University of Texas in Austin. They're making final preparations. There you see them there. It's for tonight, a CNN debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

The stakes are especially high for Hillary Clinton. After Obama's recent string of victories, she badly needs a win in the March 4th Texas primary. Live CNN coverage starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

As Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton get ready to debate in Texas tonight, our latest political poll shows the two running virtually neck and neck among Texas Democrats. Now, the poll conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation shows Clinton with 50 percent and Obama with 48 percent. The CNN poll suggests that if the general election were held today, either Democrat would lose Texas to Republican John McCain. Texas voters who were interviewed preferred McCain over Obama 52 percent to 44 percent. They preferred McCain over Clinton 55 percent to 42 percent.

WHITFIELD: And straight ahead, much more on the unrest taking place in Belgrade, Serbia. We have got new images to show you there, disturbing images, of what's taking place at the hands of some rogue protesters.

We're also going to be joined by former Defense Secretary William Cohen. He was defense secretary under the Clinton administration all at the time during the Kosovo war -- much more when we come right back.


WHITFIELD: Well, back to our top story, trying to make some sense, understand what is taking place in Belgrade, Serbia, right there. Is this a repeat of the unrest from 1999 during the Milosevic years?

Helping to make sense of all this, the former Defense Secretary William Cohen. He joins us from New York.

You worked during the Clinton administration years during the time of the unrest that we saw in Kosovo. So, when you see these new images, what comes to mind for you?

WILLIAM COHEN, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, what comes to mind is how deeply emotional this issue is for the Serbian people. But I must say that the Serbian government has a fundamental responsibility, and that's to protect the property and the personnel at our U.S. Embassy. And they are failing in that responsibility. This crisis was precipitated by the actions of Slobodan Milosevic, as you pointed out, back in 1999, in which they attempted to cleanse some -- ethnically cleanse some one million Albanian Kosovars.

And as a result of that, NATO took action to protect them. And following the military action that we took, President of Finland Ahtisaari tried to set a path forward, which included Serbia. But the Serbians objected to participating in that. So, now we have a situation in which Kosovo has declared its independence and the Serbs are reacting in the violent way in which they're doing right now.

WHITFIELD: Well, I spoke with a former ambassador, Richard Holbrooke, earlier, and he mentioned what should have taken place as soon as Kosovo were to declare this kind of independence that the U.S. and others support, that NATO should have been in place in anticipation of this very thing happening.

Would you agree with that assessment?

COHEN: I do agree with that. I think given the -- again, the emotional issue involved and the foreknowledge that there was likely to be this kind of an outbreak of passion, I think it was incumbent upon the NATO military to have its forces deployed, all of the NATO countries to be to be involved in this and for the Serbian government, again, to bear a large measure of responsibility in protecting the property and the personnel.

WHITFIELD: What's your concern about this point forward? Clearly, the Serbian government perhaps cannot handle what is at hand right now.

COHEN: Well, then, the NATO countries are going to have to intervene rather quickly. The United Nations Security Council certainly has to be called into conference right now and to get the U.N. involved and the NATO countries involved in terms of protecting the people of Kosovo and protecting our personnel to be sure.

WHITFIELD: Or, if this action represents a minority, is it unfair to infer that the Serbian government can't handle this kind of unrest?

COHEN: It's not unfair to impose it. The Serbian government has been stoking these fires, as a matter of fact, expressing its great objection to the Kosovo independence. And so we have seen this coming.

Others have also expressed their deep objection to it. So, anticipating that this is going to be an emotional issue, I think that the Serbian government should have been much more involved, should have tried to allay all of the passions as much as possible, rather than stoking them. And, in addition, as we pointed out, now, the NATO countries should have anticipated this in a much more proactive way than they have.

WHITFIELD: A lot of work went into bringing about some peace in that region from NATO, the U.S. and the U.N. And now just eight, nine years after the fact, how much of a setback do you see this as unfolding right now?

COHEN: Well, I think it has to be seen as a significant setback. And it's one that's going to require a NATO presence for much longer than perhaps anyone anticipated.

WHITFIELD: What went wrong, that NATO pulled out in the first place?

COHEN: Well, NATO has some presence there. It does not have the substantial presence that's required with this declaration of and vote of independence by Kosovo. So, it's a question where NATO forces are stretched. They're in Afghanistan in some significant numbers. And it is just that I think there was not enough of an anticipation here, which -- which foreseeable, if not foreseen.

And now we're seeing the consequence of not having more forces on hand in order to deter this kind of an outbreak. You have a significant force on hand, then you have an opportunity at least to discourage the mob violence that you see taking place now. And this is another case of mob rule and not the rule of law.

WHITFIELD: Do you see this escalating further?

COHEN: Well, if quick action is taken with significant forces put in place, with the Serbian government calling for the mobs to disperse, with a show of presence, then I think it can be brought under control. Hopefully, that will be the case in very short order.

WHITFIELD: So, you don't see another Balkan war in the making here, do you?

COHEN: I don't see it in the makings, but the way to prevent that from taking place is to make sure that the U.N. Security Council is deeply involved. Russia also has a major role to play here. And, of course, Russia has not been in favor of independence of Kosovo.


WHITFIELD: And they made that very clear after this weekend, as well as China.

COHEN: As well as China. China is concerned that there will be breakaway provinces so to speak that will seek independence as well.

But, on the other hand, neither China nor Russia should want to see this kind of flare-up, because it does undercut the authority of the rule of law as such, which Kosovo has been trying to follow. This is going to be brought before the U.N. for a vote. And that was the proper procedure. But this is something now that has interrupted that rule of law. And, again, mob rule is now prevailing for the moment.

WHITFIELD: Former Defense Secretary William Cohen, thanks so much for your time from New York.

COHEN: Glad to be with you.

LEMON: Joining us now from Georgia State University is Jelena Subotic.

And the big question obviously is, why didn't the government anticipate this type of violence? But I want to say, you were listening there to the interview. You said no war. You don't think this will be a continuation of the war in Kosovo, but you think it will be low-intensity violence.

JELENA SUBOTIC, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY: That's right. I don't think we should expect major warfare. The appetite for violence at a large scale is low in Serbia. I think we need to put this riot in a context.

This is a riot. This followed a largely peaceful demonstration of about 100,000 to maybe 150,000 people. However, this is a significant development, a very unfortunate development, and a development that indicates to me that there's really a continuing outrage in Serbia, and really a low government intervention in preventing these types of actions from occurring in the future.

LEMON: And just -- I was speaking to Wesley Clark just a couple minutes ago, and he said obviously there's going to be more NATO troops brought in. There's probably going to be some trust issues, some concern issues to go along with that.

But here's the thing that I would ask you first off. Why wasn't this anticipated? Why wasn't the embassy guarded? How did all of these protesters get out on the street and then in such a violent fashion so quickly?

SUBOTIC: That's an excellent question. And I completely agree with Secretary Cohen that the large share of responsibility for the events of tonight are with the Serbian government. As I said, this riot followed a largely peaceful demonstration where the prime minister of Serbia, Vojislav Kostunica, addressed the people. However, in his address, he did not say, make sure there's no violence. He did not say that Serbian people will make sure that no violence will occur.

In fact, his speech was very bellicose. And while he did not really incite violence, I think that it's fair to say that his speech and speeches of others promoted an atmosphere of such outrage for Serbian victimization in this issue and not really an awareness of a larger issue at hand, such as Serbia's relationship with the rest of the world.

LEMON: OK, so we want -- again, we don't want to characterize this as all-out chaos, because, by the numbers, it's clearly not. But it's definitely disturbing to see those images on television and to see the U.S. Embassy as well as other embassies there on embassy row violated like that, and also the flags that are being burned and what have you. More than a dozen nations supported Kosovo's independence. What is it going to mean for those nations when it comes to relationship with -- with their relationships with Serbia?

SUBOTIC: I think we can see very soon a cooling-off of relations of those countries that accepted and recognized Kosovo's independence. Those would be United States, obviously, and also major European powers, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Netherlands and many, many others.

In fact, Serbian government has indicated that it wants to cool off relation from their end. And some Serbian ambassadors to major world capitals have already been recalled. Now, what -- the problem with this for Serbia is that this further isolates Serbia's position in the world. And it doesn't really promote the cause that they're trying to fight.

LEMON: Jelena Subotic? Did I get that right?

SUBOTIC: Almost right.

LEMON: Almost right. Say it correctly for me...


SUBOTIC: Subotic.

LEMON: Subotic. All right, thank you very much for that.

SUBOTIC: Thank you.

LEMON: An assistant professor of political science at Georgia State University. We appreciate you coming in for us.


WHITFIELD: All right, Isha Sesay and the international desk continue to monitor the events there out of Serbia. We are going to check in with her right after this.


WHITFIELD: All right, this story just coming in -- three high- profile U.S. senators on board a helicopter in Afghanistan had some pretty frightening moments. Their chopper had to make an emergency landing in Afghanistan, on board, U.S. Senators John Kerry, Joseph Biden, and Chuck Hagel. You're looking at some of the recent images right there while they were in Pakistan. They were in the region particularly to kind of oversee and monitor the developments involving Pakistan and its elections.

They had just said prior to their trip -- and this image -- these images right here as they're meeting with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai -- but they had already said, as it pertains to the Pakistan trip, that they were fairly satisfied with the election process there. Meantime, we're still trying to get more information about what exactly took place involving their chopper, why they had to make an emergency landing there in Afghanistan. We're continuing to monitor the developments there. As you see, those fairly recent images of them visiting with president of Afghanistan while they are in the region. They are also to be visiting India, Turkey, as well as part of this trip of the region to Afghanistan and Pakistan -- more on that when we get it.

LEMON: All right, he served as the secretary of state under George H.W. Bush, Lawrence Eagleburger. And he joins us on the phone now to talk to us about Serbia.

Thank you for joining us, sir.


LEMON: Speaking of diplomatic pressure in all of this, what kind of diplomatic pressure are the nations who -- especially the 10 nations who supported Kosovo's independence, what type of diplomatic pressure might they be under right now?

EAGLEBURGER: I don't know -- by the way, I need to add, I was ambassador in Belgrade some years ago, in fact, at the time of Tito's death. So, I have a fairly intimate knowledge of what's going on in Belgrade right now. What sort of pressure are they under? The issue I suspect is not a great deal of pressure on these countries.

It is rather an attempt now that -- we're all going to now have to see whether this is possible to bring this, if anything, bring this, what's going on in Belgrade right now, under some control. I personally think that give it another 24 to 48 hours, and it will diminish in Belgrade and it isn't as dangerous as it now looks. I could be wrong, but I don't think so.


EAGLEBURGER: The longer-term relationship, the longer-term dangers of this unilateral declaration of independence are fairly substantial.

LEMON: Fairly substantial, mean by that -- go ahead and reiterate and elaborate on that.


EAGLEBURGER: First of all, first of all, I think you have to understand that the Kosovo is not able by itself to support itself. Its economy is hopeless, in that sense. It's very, very backwards. And it will be some period of time before it's even able to come close to supporting itself.

So, it's going to be it's going to be an orphan which the international community's going to have to support for some time. Secondly, I expect that in the Kosovo itself, before too many months go by, there will be -- we will see the beginnings of the attempt on the part of the Kosovar Albanians to bring in to the regime -- into the country those parts of Macedonia which are largely populated by Albanians, so -- and perhaps other parts of that region, whether Albanians outside of the Kosovo.

So, I think we can see probably we're going to have some serious problems with the Kosovars trying to build up a bigger, a greater Albania, if you will. On the other hand, the Serbs are just not going to happily accept the fact that the Kosovo has sort of been yanked out from under them by the international community. And this is not to excuse the Serbs. They have done some really awful things to the Albanian Kosovars over the course of the last decade.

LEMON: OK. As former -- you said you were an ambassador there.


LEMON: Then you might know. According to General Wesley Clark, he said that we are going to see an escalation of NATO forces in that region because of this. Can you talk about that?

EAGLEBURGER: Well, I can only say that, if we do, it better not be U.S. forces. If NATO wants to become involved in this -- and I suppose the siren song will be that the U.S. will have to put in troops. I think it is a serious mistake if -- and I, frankly, am not at all certain that it's, at least immediately, going to be necessary to put forces in there. We'll have to see.

But I am inclined to think that the problems in the area are going to be more long-term than short-term. In other words, the short- term issues may, in fact, not escalate too fast. If they do, I suppose it may be necessary to put troops in. But I do not believe that we have any business putting troops into that area anymore. It's time for somebody else to take this responsibility.

LEMON: Why do you say -- and I think I'm quoting -- you said it better not be U.S. forces. Why not?

EAGLEBURGER: Because I think we have done enough of this sort of thing in the course of the last decade. And I think it's about time that our NATO allies take on some of these responsibilities for a change. So I don't see any need for the U.S. to put more troops there. We have other things to do with our troops now.

I'm being a little bit more firm on this than I think I really am. I can recognize a situation where, if things really turn to an absolute mess, we might have to contribute troops. But I think it ought to be very much only if it's really absolutely necessary to bring about some peace in the area.

LEMON: Right.

EAGLEBURGER: And even then, it is more than time that our NATO allies picked up these responsibilities so we didn't have to do so much.

LEMON: All right. Lawrence Eagleburger. We appreciate you. Thank you so much for joining us.

EAGLEBURGER: My pleasure.

WHITFIELD: And this breaking story now, Don, we're following out of Afghanistan. We've reported just moments ago that three high profile U.S. senators were in a chopper in Afghanistan which had to make an emergency landing.

On board, we're talking about Senators John Kerry, Joseph Biden and Chuck Hagel, who were all in the region primarily to monitor the developments of the election process in Pakistan. And then they met with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, as you see in these images right here.

We now have confirmation of this, as well as some information coming from Senator Kerry's spokesperson, which is saying that they believe the reason why that chopper had to make an emergency landing was because of ominous weather. Our Brianna Keilar is in Washington.

You're working the sources there, as well. Pretty frightening moments for the senators, but as a precaution, they had to make this emergency landing and got the support of the U.S. troops there, right?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, frightening perhaps, but it's certainly nothing that their representatives are raising red flags over. Apparently, this was, as we're hearing from sources, not because of gunfire or some sort of hostile encounter, but instead it was a weather issue. And so these three senators, Senator Kerry and Biden, of course, Democrats, Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican -- all of them on the Senate Foreign or -- the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had to make this unscheduled landing -- that's according to a Kerry spokesman -- in the mountains in Afghanistan due to this weather.

But we should definitely tell our viewers that no one was injured. Everyone is safe. And according to Senator Kerry's office, after several hours, the senators were evacuated by American troops and they were returned by land to Bagram Air Base. And, actually, they're not even in Afghanistan anymore, that they had left for their next scheduled stop, which was Ankara, Turkey -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: OK. So from Afghanistan to Pakistan, now on their way to Turkey. They were to be in the region for a number of reasons, this being kind of an unexpected stop. But we're glad to hear that all is well and the pilots had to simply make a good decision there, which was the weather is bad, let's make an emergency landing. And they did so in the right place.

Brianna Keilar, thanks so much, from Washington.

LEMON: Well, as we monitor the situation happening over in Afghanistan with those senators -- we obviously don't want anything to happen to them.

We're also monitoring the situation in Serbia. Our international desk has been a big help on both of these stories. And there's our Isha Sesay. She's on top of it for us. We're going to get her take on it and see how the foreign media is reporting this and see what our international desk is bringing home for us, after a break.


LEMON: Belgrade, Serbia the seat of unrest today. And our international desk is on top of it.

Isha Sesay following the latest developments for us -- Isha?

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Don, indeed, dramatic developments in Serbia's capital, which we are monitoring closely. We want to share with you now some images coming to us via the Associated Press, which really give us a sense of the dramatic tension that's being felt in the Serb community right now, after Kosovo declaring their independence -- that move taking place last Sunday.

Now, the first image that you're looking at is showing the U.S. Embassy that was burning earlier on in Belgrade. This after mass attackers broke into the building and set an office on fire. Now we know there was about 150,000 people gathered earlier on earlier on today in the capital, in Belgrade. And these protests really aimed at, you know, signaling their nationalism and their feeling that Kosovo belongs to Serbia.

The second image that you're looking at, a closer view of the mob setting fire to the U.S. Embassy. The embassy is now secure, just to underline that to viewers just joining us. It is now secure. And at the time of that attack, only Marines and other security forces were in the building.

Finally, we want to show you this -- that I think is the most dramatic image -- of a demonstrator silhouetted by flames. He's throwing a street sign. That's a street sign he is throwing into the burning embassy. And, you know, you can practically feel the heat of the flames.

We are going to continue monitoring this story. Everyone on the International Desk is working flat out, reaching out across the world and monitoring images coming from Serbian TV and the Internet. As soon as we get fresh pictures, fresh developments, we'll bring them right to you -- Don.

LEMON: Isha Sesay. Thank you very much for that.

WHITFIELD: All right, other news straight ahead, particularly presidential politics. John McCain says presidential politics are very, very tough. And he also got a reminder. He also got a tough response to a newspaper report of possible impropriety. That and more with our political roundtable next.


MILES O'BRIEN, CHIEF TECHNOLOGY & ENVIRONMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the Sony store in midtown Manhattan, a svelte little TV is drawing some rave reviews.

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O'BRIEN: No baloney there. This is the first OLED TV to hit the market. OLED as in organic light emitting diodes. No time to explain all the nitty-gritty here. Suffice it to say it is a sandwich of conductive films that generate a matrix of pixels -- as in television.

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JIM ARVANITIS, SONY: Well, I think OLED is the holy grail of television, to be honest with you.

O'BRIEN: Unlike LCD or plasma TVs, there is no backlight, so it uses half the juice. You may need the utility bill savings to help pay for this baby.

(on camera): Would you pay $2,500?


O'BRIEN (voice-over): The price is sure to come down and the size is sure to go up. That's important, of course. In fact, Sony was showing off a 27-inch model at a recent trade show in Las Vegas. You can bet it won't be cheap, either. But for the first time since the old Trinitron days, Sony TVs are the picture of innovation.

Miles O'Brien, CNN, New York.



LEMON: Well, they were supposed to be on a trip to watch the parliamentary elections in Pakistan, to observe there.. But apparently, their helicopter ran into some weather and then, thus, some trouble. I'm talking about three U.S. senators -- John Kerry, Joe Biden and Chuck Hagel. They were aboard a helicopter when it had to make an emergency landing in Afghanistan.

Now here's the latest from Joe Biden's press secretary. She says the helicopters transporting the Senate delegation in Afghanistan made an unscheduled landing this morning due to a snowstorm. There were no injuries and all members of the traveling party were safely transported to their destination at Bagram Air Base.

That's according to Joe Biden's spokesperson, Elizabeth Alexander. Again, the three senators were there on a trip, most importantly, observing the elections -- the parliamentary elections in Pakistan. There they are meeting there with leaders. And, again, they're all fine and all safe after an emergency landing for a snowstorm.

WHITFIELD: All right, good news.

Let's talk politics now. It can't be pleasant to stand up and try to explain a relationship -- especially for a presidential candidate who finds little else standing between him and his party's nomination. Well, that's what it was like being John McCain today.

And as you may have heard, "The New York Times" reports aides to McCain's presidential campaign in 2000 were worried about his dealings with a female lobbyist. Well, here was John McCain this morning in Ohio.


QUESTION: Senator, did you ever have any meeting with any of your staffers in which they would have intervened to ask you not to see Vicki Iseman or to be concerned about appearances of being too close to a lobbyist?


QUESTION: No meeting ever occurred?


QUESTION: No staffer was ever concerned about a possible romantic relationship?

MCCAIN: If they were, they didn't communicate that to me.

QUESTION: Did you ever have such a relationship?



WHITFIELD: All right joining me to talk about this and the ongoing Clinton/Obama showdown, as well, our CNN senior political analyst, David Gergen. Good to see you. Republican strategist Amy Holmes. Good to see you, as well. And Jonathan Martin, senior correspondent for

Good to see all of you.

All right, so McCain, his response was it's not true and we were friends, defining the relationship.

So, Amy, was his response enough? Does this make this issue go away or does it make matters worse?

AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think his response is so important, as "The New York Times'" responsibility in publishing this. It was full of -- it was just pure innuendo, pure speculation. It seems "The New York Times" wanted to be first rather than right. And this morning, John McCain gave a very definitive response. And he said no. And he even said no to the crux of this story, which is that these unnamed disgruntled ex-employees intervened to try to get him to stay away from this woman. And he said that never happened.

So, you know, we'll see how the story unfolds. But so far, it looks like "The New York Times" tried to drop a bomb and it exploded more in their face.

WHITFIELD: So, David, is this "The New York Times'" mess or is this McCain's mess?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ADVISER: In my judgment, there's a lot of smoke here but there's absolutely no evidence of any fire. And there's -- you know, when you get down to the crux of it, there's nothing you can find here. There's nobody who said he had a relationship with this woman. And especially, very important, there's nobody who said he ever did any special favors for her as a lobbyist. So when you really get right down to it, it doesn't amount to very much.

I think, as a journalistic matter, it would be a hard call to publish this. But if you're sitting in John McCain's seat, if you're a Republican, you get angry. And I think the McCain people in coming back effectively -- Amy Holmes kind of responded to this -- has actually, in an ironic way, rallied a lot of conservatives behind John McCain today.

I think if they -- if they beat up on him for a couple more days and there's nothing more here, I think it goes away. I do not think it damages him. And it may even strengthen him with his base.

WHITFIELD: So, Jonathan, here's Amy and David here, you know, that there is agreement on the timing and the motivation behind this story. "The New York Times" had already endorsed John McCain. Is your feeling that they sat on this story for a long time, even though they endorsed this candidate, and it was would just simply make for a great headline to now put the story out there?

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO.COM: Well, I think there are some internal issues at "The Times" about why they printed it now. I don't have enough information to speculate about that. But my conversations today with sources inside and outside the McCain campaign reflect folks who are fairly upbeat. They think that this is the sort of development that will finally bring conservatives around to them.

Look, there is no bigger boogeyman in the media constellation than "The New York Times". And conservatives may not like John McCain, but, Fredricka, they hate "The New York Times" much more. And the McCain campaign today is exploiting that for everything it's worth.

WHITFIELD: All right. And we even heard from, you know, Cindy McCain, who came out front and center. I mean, she was very close at hand, as she always is, behind John McCain. But this time a little closer.

Amy, how do you, you know, dissect this moment?

HOLMES: Well, certainly in any of these types of allegations, particularly including -- you know, including -- sorry infidelity and those types of allegations, usually the wife is right there. And if she's not, that would have raised more questions. The media might have said, there's smoke there, there must be fire.

But talking about, you know, the conservative responses, the RNC has already put out a press release bashing the liberal media -- liberal media bias and looking to raise money so that they can compete against...


HOLMES: ... the liberal media. And let's face it, this was "The New York Times". It does have this reputation. Putting this story on the front page, A1, above the fold, without any real evidence that any of this went on.

WHITFIELD: All right, well, let's talk about the Democrats now. Texas, Ohio...

GERGEN: Let me, can I just want to say...

WHITFIELD: OK, go ahead.

GERGEN: I'm going to be real quick.

WHITFIELD: Real quick.

GERGEN: I just want to say, I don't think there's any evidence that "The New York Times" withheld this, that there's anything purposeful. This is journalism. And, you know, during the Clinton years, the Clintons complained bitterly about "The New York Times" and the way they were treated. This is the way the journalism works today. I do not think there's a conspiracy behind this.

WHITFIELD: All right, let's talk about the Democrats, Clinton in particular. We heard from the former president, who said Hillary Clinton needs to win Texas and Ohio, it is in your hands. They understand the gravity, meaning they, the Clintons, understand the gravity and the importance of these two states.

How in the world do you break the momentum of a Barack Obama, Jonathan?

MARTIN: Not very easily. But you have to hope for two things. First of all, that you are able to finally get your message through. And that, of course, is the fact that he is not right now ready to be president. He does not have the experience and the gravitas in these times to be president. I --

WHITFIELD: David, is that enough? Is that what Texas and Ohioans are going to be thinking and doing?

MARTIN: But also -- also, you have to hope that he makes a mistake, too. There are two debates now coming up before Texas and Ohio. Hillary Clinton needs luck. She needs the ball to bounce her way in those debates.

WHITFIELD: All right. OK, you guys. We're out of time. I'm sorry. We wanted to share the wealth there as best we could.

David, Amy, Jonathan, thanks so much.

Much more straight ahead in THE NEWSROOM.


LEMON: We're getting some information -- actually, it's just in, I'm looking it over here -- on the three U.S. senators who had to make that emergency landing in Afghanistan. We're talking about Senators Joe Biden, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. Apparently they were on a helicopter and ran into some bad weather, a snowstorm. And they had to make an emergency landing in Afghanistan.

We've heard from Joe Biden's press person, also, John Kerry's press person, explaining to us what happened. But we're getting more details. Of course, they say no one was injured, everybody's safe. But here's the new stuff. After several hours, the senators had to be evacuated by American troops and returned over land to Bagram Air Base and left for their next schedule, to stop in Ankara, Turkey. But, again, John Kerry's, of course, thanking the American troops about the way they handled it.

But, again, a very dicey situation, because we know there is a war going on in Afghanistan. They had to make an emergency landing and you don't know what you're going to run into there on the ground. So they had to be evacuated by land.

Not exactly sure of the conditions that they had to go through in order to get to safety and get back to Bagram Air Base. But, again, they had to be returned over land to Bagram Air Base. All three senators reported to be just fine right now. And it was an emergency landing for weather.

WHITFIELD: And in "THE SITUATION ROOM," we at CNN are going to continue to follow with what's taking place in Serbia, the unrest there. We've seen the outburst of violence and the protests against Kosovo's declaration of independence this past weekend.

Now day four after that declaration and this is what we've been seeing taking place right in the capital of Belgrade. The protests that started out as very peaceful, involving about 150,000 people, ended up erupting in violence when a small few decided to take to the U.S. Embassy there.

You see the fire right there outside the building of the U.S. Embassy, which was closed at the time. The U.S. Embassy closing early because of the anticipation of what may take place with the growing protests for the declaration of independence for Kosovo. We're going to continue to follow that here on CNN, as well as in "THE SITUATION ROOM." LEMON: Yes. And it's very interesting, I mean, the way it just happened, just sort of looking at the pictures. We're not exactly sure, because we were monitoring the peaceful protest in the Serbian Orthodox Church service, and then all of a sudden, we started getting these pictures in of the violence and it escalated very quickly.

So you're absolutely right, "THE SITUATION ROOM" on top of this. And, of course, in prime all evening, we'll be following up on this.

We're going to talk about political news now. And at the top of our Political Ticker, in the Democratic presidential race, pundits have been calling the Texas and Ohio primaries must-wins for Hillary Clinton. In Texas yesterday, someone very close to Mrs. Clinton -- you might recognize him -- agreed.


WILLIAM CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If she wins in Texas and Ohio, I think she'll be the nominee. If you don't deliver for her, I don't think she can be. It's all on you.


LEMON: Both Texas and Ohio hold their primaries on March 4th.

Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama, meanwhile, has picked up yet another victory. Officials say he won the Democrats Abroad global primary -- the Democrats Abroad global primary -- with about 65 percent of the vote. About 20,000 U.S. citizens living in nearly 200 foreign countries participated, casting ballots in special polling places by mail or via the Internet. Seven delegates were at stake. Seven at stake.

It's the 11th straight primary victory for Barack Obama. And I want to tell you about our coverage. It's the big face-off tonight in Texas -- a key state in the tight Democratic presidential race. Our special debate coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. And you can see it only here on CNN.

Meantime, speaking of politics and debate, it's time now to check in with Wolf Blitzer.

WHITFIELD: Good idea.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, guys.

Coming up at the top of the hour, John McCain defends himself after published reports accuse him of giving special treatment to a lobbyist. Ahead in "THE SITUATION ROOM," my live interview with McCain's attorney, Robert Bennett. We'll talk about the controversy and more.

And countdown to tonight's Democratic presidential debate. It could be a make or break moment for Hillary Clinton. Coming up, what she needs to do to stage a comeback. And rioters attacking the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade during a massive demonstration on the streets of Serbia's capital. We'll have the dramatic pictures and a response from U.S. officials.

All that, guys, and a lot more coming up right here in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

LEMON: Thank you, Wolf.

WHITFIELD: All right, the closing bell right after this.


WHITFIELD: I'd say it's time for the closing bell ring, just because I say so.

LEMON: I know. I can't remember her name, because we haven't seen her all day -- oh, Susan Lisovicz.

LISOVICZ: Let me -- allow me to introduce myself.

LEMON: Susan, have you been sitting there watching?