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U.N. Secretary General Says, Assembly Meeting Happening at Time of Great Peril; Judge Tosses Murder Conviction of Serial Podcast Subject Adnan Syed; CDC Says, Four Out of Five Pregnancy-Related Deaths Could Be Prevented. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired September 20, 2022 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Today, world leaders gathering for the United Nations General Assembly in New York during a, quote, time of great peril, according to the U.N. secretary general. He says divisions are the worst they've been since the cold war. Tomorrow, President Biden will try, in his speech, to bridge those divides when he addressed the group.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Jeremy Diamond joins us from the White House. Jeremy, good to have you. Do you have a sense what the world will hear from President Biden at the U.N. tomorrow?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, if you look at the context of his speech, Ukraine will undoubtedly be front and center during much of President Biden's visit to the U.N. General Assembly, including during that speech tomorrow morning at the UNGA. And that's because, of course, we've seen Ukraine's recent success with its counteroffensives in the south and in the northeast of the country.

But despite that, there has also been some questions about the commitment, the resolve within the international community and the west in particular towards continuing to support Ukraine as we entering these winter months with energy shortages and questions about the flow of gas during the winter months to Western Europe.

So, President Biden's mission will continue to be at the UNGA, as it has been throughout the months in Ukraine, it will be a mission of trying to maintain that international solidarity and continuing to keep the pressure up on Russia.

As we look towards the president's schedule tomorrow in New York, the president in the morning will deliver remarks at the U.N. General Assembly and then he's going to be meeting with the U.N. secretary general as well as the U.K. prime minister. Liz Truss. That will be their first bilateral meeting, notable, of course, because the United Kingdom has been the second largest donor of military aid. And then you'll see other events that the president is hosting in New York later in the day. But, of course, these U.N. General Assembly remarks, they are generally, fairly broad, presenting the U.S.'s broad foreign policy outlook and how it plans to interact with the world during this important speech.

SCIUTTO: So, Jeremy, President Biden on 60 Minutes on Sunday was asked if the U.S. would defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion. He said that before, the U.S. would intervene militarily. But he was specific in his answer on Sunday saying that he would commit U.S. forces, soldiers and sailors to defend the island. Is the White House backing off those comments today or did the president announce in clear terms a new U.S. policy?

DIAMOND: I mean, look, you listen to his words, Jim, and, once again, it does appear as if the president of the United States is casting aside this decades-long policy of strategic ambiguity as it relates to Taiwan and whether or not the U.S. would intervene militarily.


Despite that, the White House is insisting once again that the U.S.'s policy has not changed. Of course the U.S. remains very concerned about the Chinese military movements around the island. We heard the deputy CIA director saying recently that China -- President Xi wants to have the capability of taking Taiwan by force by 2027, though he hasn't yet made that decision. Undoubtedly, that will also be a key issue that will be a backdrop as the president makes this trip to New York. He heads there later this evening and, of course, has a full day of events tomorrow.

SCIUTTO: We will be there. Well, the words of the commander-in-chief certainly have changed, regardless of what they're saying. Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thanks so much.

Well, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to address the U.N. General Assembly virtually tomorrow. He's the only leader who will be able to do that. This as pro-Russian separatist leaders in the occupied regions, that is occupied by Russian forces of Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk, announced plans to hold referendums to join Russia. Major questions about how free those are.

Ukrainian officials say the plan votes stem from fear of defeat in the face of the ongoing and progressing Ukrainian counteroffensive. Parts of Kherson are on the frontlines between Ukraine and Russia. The progress there is more in the northeast.

Joining me now, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton, CNN Military Analyst. Good to have you.

Okay. So we are a couple of weeks into this counteroffensive, lots of fast progress in the northeast, frankly unexpected certainly to that degree and with that focus, and some more progress in recent days in and around Kherson or towards Kherson. Are -- do you agree with General Petraeus who told me last week that the tide of the war has changed? COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, I do, Jim. And the reason I agree with General Petraeus is that once you have established a certain degree of momentum in a military operation of this type, it becomes almost irreversible. And that is what we're seeing.

The Ukrainians are moving very quickly in a very methodical way, and they're doing it in two areas. You mentioned Kherson in the south, but you also have the northeastern area around Kharkiv. That is incredibly important for the Ukrainian forces to be able to do this to gain that and hold that momentum until the winter months set in. And that is what they're trying to do. They're trying to achieve that goal at this point in time.

SCIUTTO: So, there is always a wish list of weapons from Ukrainian forces, and oftentimes the U.S. and the west gives a lot but not everything. And we reported last week that the U.S. is not going to give these ATACM systems, as they've requested, which is a longer range missile system, concerned about their ability to strike within Russia.

But news today, U.S. senior defense official saying tanks are certainly on the table at least. And that would be a change because that is something, to this point, has been resisted. Is that important? Is that impactful?

LEIGHTON: It is extremely impactful, because the types of weapons allow certain things to happen. So -- and, obviously, if the Ukrainians had slingshots, they couldn't do what they are doing now. The fact is they have weapons that are workable within the Ukrainian environment but they also want greater capabilities.

And what I'm looking for is to see if the restrictions that U.S. and NATO have imposed on Ukrainian forces in terms of missile distance and things like that, if those restrictions are going to be waived in order to make the Ukrainian forces even more effective, in other words longer range equals greater effectiveness but also greater risk and whether or not NATO and the U.S. are willing to take that risk.

SCIUTTO: The nuclear card often gets raised in either indirect terms or sometimes quite direct terms from Russian officials in the last 24 hours. We've heard from Russian state T.V. again. Do you believe that is a genuine threat, a clear and present danger, as they say?

LEIGHTON: Yes. I think with Putin being backed against the wall, in essence, in terms of his movements in Ukraine, I think it is very important for us to take a look and see what kinds of things he'll be doing in the nuclear arena. And some of that may be completely unconventional in the sense that he will use Zaporizhzhia, for example, as a --

SCIUTTO: Striking around a nuclear plant, yes.

LEIGHTON: Exactly, striking near Zaporizhzhia, near the other Southern Ukrainian plant. Those types of actions could very seriously impact results in a nuclear accident, could impact the Ukrainian forces and on the ability of the Ukrainians to move forward with their offensive.

SCIUTTO: Like a massive dirty bomb.

Okay. Let me ask you about Taiwan. The president, yet again, and he didn't hesitate and it wasn't mincing of words here, I mean, he said deliberately, the U.S. will defend and he will commit U.S. forces to defend Taiwan. Again, you hear the White House saying that the policy hasn't changed. But I listen, I understand English. Has the policy, in effect, changed if it hasn't been printed as such?

LEIGHTON: So, this is interesting, because on the one hand, you have a State Department-type policy, which says it is one China policy, in other words, we recognize one government of China. That government is in Beijing. However, the military, for many decades has added, what they call an Op Plan, or an operations plan called 5077, the Chinese are well aware of this, which is the defense of Taiwan.


And it commits U.S. forces in terms of a military plan to defend, whether from the sea, from the air, from land, to actually keep Chinese forces, as in People's Republic of Chinese forces, at bay before they can actually take over the island of Taiwan.

So, this has been in military a piece on the shelf, if you will, for many, many decades. Several iterations of this, the Chinese know about this. But they also know that the possibility exists that these kinds of plans could be implemented by the U.S., and that is something that they have to keep in mind in Beijing before they do anything else.

SCIUTTO: The president has the power to order it. Cedric Leighton, good to have you on. Thanks so much. Poppy?

LEIGHTON: Thanks, Jim.

HARLOW: All right. Well, ahead, Adnan Syed, who was the subject, you'll remember, of the podcast, Serial, has been freed from prison after 23 years. Up next, the legal road ahead, what victim's family is saying and potential new evidence, how it could all impact the future.



SCIUTTO: After more than 23 years behind bars, Adnan Syed, the man at center of the popular Serial podcast, which is a remarkable story, is now waking up this morning at home.

HARLOW: That's right. This is after a judge in Baltimore vacated his conviction for the murder of his former girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, citing materials in the state investigation that was not turned over to defense attorneys, as well as the existence of two other suspects who may have been improperly cleared.

Our Correspondent Alexandria Fields has been following all of this for a long time and joins us now. So, you've got what happens now. It is vacated. The question is, will prosecutors try to bring this to trial again. They're looking at new DNA evidence.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. Prosecutors are making it very clear that the fact that they pushed to have his sentence vacated was not a statement of their belief in his innocence. It was more to question the integrity of the conviction, which they had come to severely doubt after this year-long investigation into the case. So, now, they will have 30 days to decide whether or not to bring Adnan Syed to a new trial and they say that that decision will hinge largely on DNA results that they're trying to expedite.

DNA has always played a key role in this case but the technology has developed over time. They're applying that new technology to some of the old items seized from the original crime scene. So, once they get those results, they could proceed to trial, or they could dismiss all charged against Syed.

Certainly, that is the result that so many of his supporters are hoping for. They thronged him outside of the courthouse when he was released after the judge vacated the life sentence against him. Those who were left most in shock though perhaps by this sudden decision, the family of Hae Min Lee, they say they were blindsided. Listen to their attorney.


STEVE KELLY, ATTORNEY FOR VICTIM HAE MIN LEE'S FAMILY: The family just wants answers. And what should have happened here is that a responsible prosecutor's office would have sat down with them and explained it to them. And maybe they would have been on board with the motion. But what you don't do is you don't shut a family like this out of the process and sort of ram a deal like this down their throat. And that is what happened yesterday. This family was railroaded, they were excluded. This was a done deal. It made for good press but it was devastating to this family.


FIELD: This family explaining that for the last 23 years, they have believed that their daughter's murderer was behind bars. Now, Poppy, really left not knowing what to think at all.

HARLOW: Right, not told in advance, not consulted. Alex, thank you very much for the reporting. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Still ahead, disturbing new numbers, the CDC says that four out of five deaths during pregnancy in this country are preventable. The causes and what can and should be done, that is coming up.



SCIUTTO: A new report from the CDC underscores just how serious maternal mortality remains in the United States.

HARLOW: That is right. Wait until you hear this number. It shows that a vast majority, 83 percent of pregnancy related deaths are actually preventable.

Let's bring in CNN Medical Correspondent Dr. Tara Narula to help us understand this. They're talking about the mother, right, and the child.


HARLOW: And so you look at a number like that and you think how can that be?

NARULA: Absolutely. I mean, it is startling when you think about the fact that 700 women die in this country annually from pregnancy or pregnancy related complications. This is supposed to be the happiest time in the family's life. And exactly what you said, 80 percent of this is preventable. It is really heartbreaking.

And so when you look at the breakdown of how this is happening, about 20 percent of the deaths are happening during pregnancy, 20 percent in that first week postpartum, and then over 50 percent in the one week postpartum to one year.

When you breakdown the types of things that are causing death by far and away, cardiovascular disease leads it, about 38 percent of the cause. Other causes, mental health, infection and hemorrhage. So, really a lot of work there to improve, but in particular, I want to stress the cardiovascular as a cardiologist, this is something we try to keep teach OB/GYNS and cardiologists to work so closely together to identify women who might be at high risk of future events.

SCIUTTO: So, Doctor, what are the steps the country has to take? I mean, the richest country in the world, to see these kinds of levels, is just shocking. What needs to be done?

NARULA: Right. I think there is a lot that can be done. I mean, first and foremost, we need to look at what we're doing preconception. It is really important that we counsel women before they get pregnant to have a healthy diet, to have a healthy weight, to exercise, to control any chronic conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure.


When a woman is pregnant, you want to make sure she's really plugged in for her checkups with her OB/GYN to screen for things that might cause infection or even things that might cause hemorrhage at delivery, like placenta accreta. These things can be picked up.

It is also important to educate women about the warning signs and what to look for. So, the CDC has a campaign called Hear Her that shows women very easily what to pay attention so they can get treated early. And then I think one of the biggest things is really what happens in the postpartum period. ACOG, the society for obstetricians and gynecologists says -- come out very strongly and saying that that should be considered the fourth trimester. So often, women get discharged and really lost to follow-up with one postpartum visit.

And that should really be a time when we're tailoring our treatment to women who were having ongoing supportive care and addressing physical, social, emotional health. 40 percent of women don't attend the postpartum checkups. So, real work for improvement.

HARLOW: Doctor, thank you so much. It makes me think of the work every mother counts has been doing for years and years trying to highlight this issue. And I'm glad it is getting more is attention now. Thank you very, very much.

And thanks to all of you for joining us. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

At This Hour is Kate Bolduan starts right after a short break.