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American Morning

Iran President Scheduled to Speak on British Captives

Aired April 04, 2007 - 07:00   ET


BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ... top Syrian officials, right up to the president himself, Bashar Assad. She began meeting Syrian's foreign minister Walli Moharem (ph), and according to an official inside that meeting, they talked primarily about Iraq and the security situation in Iraq.
They also talked a great deal about the Arab peace initiative that was forged last week. And they also discussed Lebanon and the deep political deadlock there. But it was, I understand, Iraq that took a large part of that conversation.

She then moved on to meet with the Vice President (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Kashara (ph), again, the hot button issues were very a part of those conversations, with Shara (ph), but it really was all eyes on the visit to the presidential palace overlooking Damascus, as Nancy Pelosi sat with President Bashar al-Assad. Also after that, the delegation, their wives, had something to eat with the president and some Syrian officials inside that palace.

And we wait here at the airport at the VIP lounge for a news conference to be held by Pelosi just before she boards an aircraft to fly to Saudi Arabia for the next leg of this Middle East trip. And really shrugging off that stinging White House criticism that essentially this trip is undermining President George Bush's efforts to isolate Syria at this critical time -- Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Brent Sadler in Damascus. Thank you.


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Well, there are some new developments from Iran this morning on the captured British sailors. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could address the crisis when he speaks with reporters in Tehran coming up in the next hour.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is offering one-on-one talks saying last night that he believes Iran wants an early resolution. Meantime President Bush is calling the seizure of the British sailors, quote, "indefensible" and says he supports the Blair government's attempts to solve this issue peacefully. There is also word from Iranian media this morning that an envoy will meet with Iranians that are being held by U.S. troops in Iraq. We'll have full coverage with Aneesh Raman, in Amman, Jordan, for us and Jim Boulden in London. We begin, though, with an Aneesh.


The tense standoff between Tehran and London is getting a bit more complicated. As you mentioned, Iranian media today, reporting that an Iranian envoy will soon get to see the five Iranians, who have been in coalition custody in Iraq since January.

Earlier we heard a spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry say the release of those five Iranians would be a positive step towards securing the release of the 15 British marines and sailors who have now been in Iranian custody for almost two weeks. But the Iranian government has stopped short of saying the release of those five Iranians is a precondition to the 15 British personnel.

In other words, Iran at the moment not saying they are looking for a prisoner swap. But this certainly complicates the matter.

Within the hour, as you mentioned, we expect to hear from the Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a press conference. The sense we're getting on the ground is that he's not calling the shots in this standoff. Instead, that responsibility has been handed over to the country's national security committee, who has more direct contact with the country's supreme leader.

But what we're looking for is what kind of statements Ahmadinejad makes. How does he characterize the situation right now? He is known, of course, for making controversial, if not bellicose, statements. If he does so again today it will signify that things aren't as close to a resolution as some might expect. But if he is subdued in the language -- remember, he's previously called the British government arrogant over this situation -- that might signify there is a resolution to this standoff in the works and it could come sooner rather than later, Kiran.

CHETRY: There's also, I guess, been some rumblings about this possible prisoner exchange, if that were to happen in some way. Wouldn't that send a very scary message about a precedent here?

RAMAN: It would. And in the West they're saying, look, for the moment we're not hearing anything specific about a prisoner exchange. But Western officials are saying why wouldn't Iran bring it up? Iran right now has leverage. Iran really feels it can't be backed into the corner in terms of international pressure any more than it is, whether it's over the nuclear program or over this current stand off. So the suggestions are Iran will try to get whatever it can.

But, as you mentioned, as this standoff goes further, if a prisoner exchange does come about in explicit terms, which we have yet to see from the Iranian government, it will be something that Iran will continually face pressure, even after this ends. But for the moment, Iran's hardliners don't seem to be worried about that. They want Iran to get as much as it can in terms of posturing and results out of this standoff, while they have the British military personnel in custody, Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Aneesh, thanks so much.


O'BRIEN: Now to London, the rhetoric is softening and there is a lot of talk about talking in the standoff, over those 15 captured British sailors and marines. Could there be a deal in the works? CNN's Jim Boulden live in London for us this morning with more -- Jim.


Yes, we are day 13 into this crisis. And it does seem to be a lot of movement overnight. The prime minister's office last night issued a statement that said they are ready for direct talks with Iran. There have been talks at the ambassadorial level. There have been words passed back and forth to try to find a solution to this, but, it now looks like it will move up to a higher level.

Both sides stressing they want a diplomatic solution it this. We may be hearing from the president of Iran soon. He could be making another statement and then we look forward to seeing what the British does then, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Jim, what is the possibility here? I assume they haven't ruled anything out. But is there the possibility of some sort of military action?

BOULDEN: It's a very good question. We have been asked that a couple times. Prime Minister Blair yesterday made a rather strong statement and said they could ratchet up the pressure, there could be other moves they could make. But the foreign office came out later and said, don't read into that, that they're talk about military action.

That's not what he meant. That is not what they're looking at here. It is a diplomatic route at the moment. Iran wants it to be between the two countries and Britain wants other countries to get involved. I think now what they're trying to do is come up with language, to save face on both sides, and get these 15 home -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Jim Boulden at No. 10 Downing Street. Thank you.


CHETRY: President Bush will be speaking to U.S. troops in California later today. He's expected to, again, pound the Democratic Congress over the war spending bill. The president wants what he calls a clean bill, one that offers money for the war, with no strings attached about when the U.S. troops would come home.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They need to send me this unacceptable bill as quickly as possible when they come back. I'll veto it, and then Congress can get down to the business of funding our troops without strings and without delay.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, the president has a swagger and he has, he has been very uncompromising and that's the reason we're in the quagmire we're in, in Iraq. He should become in tune with the fact that he is president of the United States, not king of the United States.


CHETRY: The president stopped short of calling Congress back into session. He's taking some time, himself, off spending Easter weekend at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Until that spending bill is passed and signed, the president says the military will start feeling the pinch perhaps by mid-May. It could be forced to curtail training. Democrats, though, insist there is enough money in the pipeline and combat operations would not be affected until July.

O'BRIEN: Presidential politics now: And some numbers that spell bad news for the Hillary Clinton campaign and some good news for John Edwards. Candy Crowley is in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where the race for the Democratic nomination looking a lot more competitive this morning.

Good morning, Candy.


It is a new day and we have a new poll, and what that adds up to is a new look at how the presidential race is shaping up in New Hampshire.


CROWLEY (voice over): There's a change-up in the batting order of the Democratic presidential race in New Hampshire. A new CNN/WMUR state poll shows frontrunner Hillary Clinton losing her footing, dropping eight points in a month. She's still ahead, but no longer the run away. John Edwards has pulled up five points into a virtual tie with Barack Obama.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think this is pretty clear that this it is a very competitive race. I've been moving up. We have some momentum now.

CROWLEY: On the campaign trail candidates were spread out across Iowa and New Hampshire where the war is never far from the frontline. Locked in a no-names mentioned battle to show who's tougher, who is righter on the war, Clinton and Obama have found new fodder in the president's promise to veto a bill which ties Iraq war money to troop withdrawal. Obama tells town hall meetings, in the wake of a veto, Congress should tell the president he will get war money in four-month increments.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will then review the situation. And if you have not initiated the withdrawal at that point, then we may put you on a shorter leash, right? So, that at some point we are ratcheting up the pressure on him.

CROWLEY: Obama says nobody wants to play chicken with troops on the ground. In Iowa, Hillary Clinton says rather than conceding the president is going to veto the bill, Democrats should pressure him to agree to troop withdrawal. She declined to directly criticize Obama, but no translator needed to read between the lines.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I think is that we need to negotiate with the president from a position of strength. We are now a Democratic majority.


CROWLEY: With Congress in recess, the campaign trail now becomes the place to debate, an arena of one-upsmanship on the war where the audience is increasingly impatient for an end to it -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: How much patience does the audience have in New Hampshire for this incredibly long campaign? People in New Hampshire pride themselves on loving their politics, but this will test their patience on that front, won't it?

CROWLEY: It absolutely will, except for I've got to tell you the crowds are really big. Now, we'll see what happens in the summer when, up here, it's not about snow and rain, but about sunshine and water sports. But the fact of the matter is the people here are really enthusiastic about having these candidates here and we see pretty big crowds.

O'BRIEN: Candy Crowley, in New Hampshire, where she'll be for quite a long time the way things are going. Thank you very much.


CHETRY: Some good news for Elizabeth Edwards this morning. Her cancer is more treatable than doctors first thought. Edwards says that she has a form of the disease that is likely to respond to anti- estrogen drugs. There is still no cure, but the treatment could help her maintain a better quality of life.

O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, extreme weather in the South. Hail, rain, even tornadoes could on tap for today. We'll have the latest from Chad Myers. And you'll find out if you need to take cover.

Plus, presidential candidate Bill Richardson will join us live in a little bit. We'll ask him for the morning's developments out of Iran. Is there a deal in the works? Could there be a prisoner swap?

And booming business: Ending America's addiction to oil has some corn farmers seeing green. Dollar sign green. We'll explain. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning right here on CNN.


O'BRIEN: Live now to Damascus, Syria, via broadband. The Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, speaking to reporters after her meeting with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Let's listen.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: ... further into fighting terrorism. We call to the attention of the president our concerns about fighters crossing the Iraq/Syria border to the detriment of the Iraqi people, and our soldiers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Arabic).

PELOSI: When all the officials met with the foreign minister, the vice president and the president we expressed our concern about Syria's connection to Hezbollah and Hamas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Arabic).

PELOSI: And these are important issues not only to fight against terrorism, but important priorities for us, peace in the Middle East. We expressed our interest in using our good offices in promoting peace between Israel and Syria.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Arabic).


O'BRIEN: We're going to step away from this right now. The speaker of the House continuing her meeting with reporters. Our Brent Sadler is there and we'll monitor it closely and as soon as developments warrant, we'll bring more of that to you -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right, well it's quarter past the hour and Chad Myers is at the CNN Weather Center watching a lot of thunderstorms and a real mess across the country.


O'BRIEN: A lot of movement this morning in that tense standoff between Iran and Great Britain. Could there be a deal in the works to free those 15 British sailors and Marines? Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is slated to hold a news conference in a few minutes that may or may not shed some light on all of this. In the meantime, let's check with New Mexico governor, former U.N. ambassador, and presidential hopeful Bill Richardson, joining us from, where else? New Hampshire, Manchester, New Hampshire.

Governor Richardson, good to have you with us.


O'BRIEN: To all appearances, it may have plausible deniability, but it appears what is happening is some sort of deal may be in the works to swap prisoners, essentially. If you were a president, would you go along with something like that?

RICHARDSON: Well, it depends here on the circumstances. In the first place, we got a back Great Britain. They've been our most consistent ally on Iraq. So, in the Middle East, these kind of prisoner exchanges, I won't say are common, but they do happen when it happens to affect hostages.

What we --

O'BRIEN: Is it important to say, when they happen, to be able to deny they happened?

RICHARDSON: Well, yes. What you want to do is state your case. The British, obviously, saying that they were in Iraq waters, the Iranians, the contrary. My point here is what you don't want is for this to escalate further. You want to resolve this diplomatically and peacefully.

The longer this goes, the more this becomes the potential of a military standoff. S. So, any kind of negotiation involving possibly a swap, although all you get into slippery slopes, is something that may end up happening. But, here it's clear we should back the British. We should follow their lead. They have been our closest allies and what Iran is trying to do is test the resolve, not just of the British but the entire Western coalition, so we have to show some resolve with the Iranians, too.

O'BRIEN: Doesn't it, though -- doesn't it set a precedent, though, a bad precedent. Not just for the Iranians but any enemy of the U.S. that hostage taking works?

RICHARDSON: That's what you don't want happening. Now I still hope that there's basically an exchange of words. Some kind of statement whereby maybe the British don't apologize, but they regret the incident. The Iranians then have a face-saving way to turn them over. Or something else that is resolved by diplomacy, by words, by vague statements, by saving face, rather than by swapping hostages.

But, you know, this is a pretty tense situation and, so, this is a time when you back your ally. You provide any help they need, intelligence. But this, perhaps, could be a case where the some third party can emerge. A Muslim country with ties to Iran, that we could bring in to try to resolve this situation.

O'BRIEN: Let's shift gears, speaking of tense situations. You're on your way to North Korea, part of a delegation there. Actually, not with the goal of getting involved in the six-party talks specifically, which we'll supposedly take North Korea off the road towards nuclear weapons. But I suspect somehow, some way, you're going to get in the mix with that.

Let me ask you this: The North Koreans have said they will shut down their main reactor and sort of lay down their arms, if you will, provided there is some money provided and security assurances. At this point, can you trust the North Koreans, can you take them at their word on this?

RICHARDSON: Well, they have violated agreements in the past. So, you've got to be very careful. What I believe is happening now, the Bush administration is in the right direction, moving in the right direction, with an agreement potentially that basically, in return for them dismantling their nuclear weapons and facilities, then they get food, fuel, energy assistance from six-party countries like South Korea, Japan, Russia, China, the United States. But that has to have strong verification provisions.

And this is what is being negotiated now. So, our mission, which is bipartisan, it's not Democrat or Republican. It's not politics. It's to try to take some areas of previous disagreement and that is the recovery of American remains of Korean -- American soldiers that were killed in Korea that perhaps their remains, they're recovering, is essential for national honor.

These men and women need to be honored, returned their remains to their family, hailed as heroes. The mission to recover those remains is something that has not been happening for several years, and now this is progress. So, it's a bipartisan group that we're going to be going to try to resolve that.

O'BRIEN: A quick final thought here. You have margin of error support, about 3 percent depending on which poll you look at right now. And the president has put you in the limelight, there's a bit of irony there. Do you care to offer a quick observation or comment on that?

RICHARDSON: I was going to go to North Korea anyway. I had been invited by the North Koreans and I approached the White House. And the White House, I think to their credit, saw an opportunity to do the right thing, to not get into politics and be bipartisan and bring back these remains.

So, I don't see any politics in this. By the way, I'm doing a lot better than you say and I am going to win this nomination. So, it's 10 months away, you guys are already settling who is going to win it.

O'BRIEN: You mean it's too early is? Is that what you're saying?

RICHARDSON: Yeah, it's 10 months too early.

O'BRIEN: New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, always a pleasure having you drop by. Good luck on your trip.

RICHARDSON: Thank you, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, coming up, it could be the best thing that has happened to American farmers in decades, but is ethanol really the answer for the nation's energy crisis? We'll talk about that.

Also, the latest in the pet food recall. We go around the world to where officials say the whole mess started. Stay with us on AMERICAN MORNING


CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. We'll go to the nation's heartland now for a lot of hopes being pinned on the bumper crop of corn this year. It is the most planted since World War II, and it's all tied to ethanol. But there are some questions about whether that can truly solve America's energy crises.

We sent AMERICAN MORNING's Chris Lawrence to Bucyrus, Kansas to find out.

Chris, I hope I pronounced that right, good morning.


You know, the farmers had planned to be putting seeds in the ground right now but this cold, wet weather has pushed back the start of planting season and with the government's demand for alternative fuel, these corn fields are more like a gold mine.


LAWRENCE (voice over): President Bush planted the seed.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ethanol has the largest potential for immediate growth.

LAWRENCE: And the industry has been nurtured by government subsidies.

PHILIP FLYNN, ENERGY ANALYST: They want to believe that ethanol is a source and they're spending a lot of our money to prove it.

LAWRENCE: Energy Analyst Philip Flynn says it's fueling demand for ethanol's main ingredient, and could lead to the largest corn crop in 60 years.

FLYNN: This is a wind fall for these farmers.

LAWRENCE: Flynn says corn growers are selling their crops for record prices and then they invest in the factories where corn is turned into ethanol, and make more money off the tax credits.

(On camera): This has the potential to be a record crop. Are corn growers excited about a record profit?

KEN MCCAULEY, NAT'L. CORN GROWERS ASSN.: Corn growers are excited about a profit.

LAWRENCE (voice over): Ken McCauley remembers the years when he barely broke even. Since last month the price of corn already dropped about a dollar a bushel, it's still a lot higher than last year.

MCCAULEY: I think that's good news. I think farmers have looked for something like this for a long time.

LAWRENCE: McCauley says ethanol is bringing business back to rural America. Once it produces 10 percent of the nation's fuel, it won't need subsidies.

MCCAULEY: We're actually creating this new demand for agriculture and also making our country more secure, not buying as much Middle East oil. And as ethanol gets bigger we'll buy less and less Middle East oil.

LAWRENCE: Senator John McCain embraces ethanol after opposing it seven years ago. Some say it plays well in a presidential campaign.

FLYNN: And we're going to have the first primaries in Iowa and corn states and these corn states love ethanol, because it's like a subsidy where the government doesn't really have to write a check.


LAWRENCE: There are well over 100 ethanol plants up and running with another 80 under construction. The experts say that they'll need eventually about 4 billion bushels of corn in order to fuel those plants, but a lot of the farmers say they can provide that and still feed the country -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right, thanks so much for that report, appreciate it.


O'BRIEN: The top stories of the morning are coming up next. We'll take a closer look at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's overnight visit to Syria. She has spoken to both the Syrian president and the press this morning. Says she has a message of peace from Israel.

And a CNN exclusive, frustrated flight attendants raising concerns. Their working conditions could be risking your safety.

And we're inside one of the most contested churches in the Holy Land to find out the truth about Jesus. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. Most news in the morning right here on CNN.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Good morning. It is Wednesday, April 4th. I'm Miles O'Brien.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: And I'm Kiran Chetry in for Soledad. Thanks so much for joining us today.

O'BRIEN: Stories we're watching for you right now. The president of Iran is due to speak very soon about Iran's nuclear program, possibly about those captured British soldiers. We'll keep you posted on that.

Also developments in the pet food scare. We're going back to what officials say is the source of the contamination and that's a Chinese company. That company denying any involvement. But we're there live and we're going to tell you what we found.

O'BRIEN: Plus a CNN exclusive, flight attendants raising concerns about their working conditions and how they may affect your next flight.

And an AMERICAN MORNING special report, the truth about Jesus. We're live in Jerusalem where it's believed Jesus was buried. We have those stories and much more straight ahead.

O'BRIEN: The president of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is due to speak in Tehran any minute now. We're watching for what he's saying about those British troops Iran is holding. There's been a flurry of diplomacy overnight with Britain, Iran and America all making moves that could help get those 15 sailors and Marines released. Aneesh Raman watching this for us from Jordan this morning. Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, good morning. The big question today is, is Iran pushing for a prisoner exchange, in other words, releasing the 15 British military personnel who have been held in Iran now for about two weeks in exchange for the release of five Iranians that have been in coalition custody in Iraq since January. Now, the Iranian government has stopped short of explicitly calling for that, but just yesterday a foreign ministry spokesman was quoted by the Associated Press as saying the release of the five Iranians in Iraq will be a good step towards securing the release of the British military personnel. Iranian media as well this morning reporting that an Iranian envoy will get to see those five Iranians in coalition custody. The U.S. military says they have received a request for that, but have not made a decision as to what to do.

Now, all this further complicates a tense standoff that goes on between Tehran and London. We understand from officials in the Iranian government that those talks have reached a critical stage. We expect shortly to hear from Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There's a press conference. Undoubtedly, he will be asked about this situation and the tenor of his remarks will be a big clue into how close the two countries are in securing an end to this standoff. Miles?

O'BRIEN: Aneesh, we always talk about this in these situations. Is Ahmadinejad calling the shots in that particular crisis or are there others in the country that are kind of driving things?

RAMAN: My sense is that he is not. We saw him silent largely for the first few days of this standoff. He's made some public comments a few days ago, but the sense I get is that he isn't calling the shots. Instead the country's national security committee is, Dr. Hadilari Janeed (ph) who people might remember is also the country's chief nuclear negotiator. He has a direct line to Iran's supreme leader and it seems a supreme leader is much more involved in this standoff and is sort of pushing aside the Iranian president. That's why we're waiting not to hear any news really out of this conference, but instead to see what signal the president has been given, how close are these talks to reaching a solution. That will determine, one would assume, how bellicose his statements are or how subdued. The other expectation is that he's going to make big news on the nuclear front. He's been suggesting that for some days now Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right, we'll leave it at that. That will be interesting to watch and we will be watching it for you of course. We'll keep you posted all throughout the morning. Aneesh Raman, thank you. Kiran.

CHETRY: Moments ago in Damascus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke to reporters about her meeting with Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Her meeting makes her the highest ranking American to meet with the Syria president since 1994, but Pelosi's trip has kicked up a firestorm of outrage back in Washington with President Bush slamming it as counter productive. CNN's Jill Dougherty joins us from our Washington bureau with more. Jill, what did Pelosi accomplish with this visit?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well apparently she got her message across, Kiran. That is the main thing. This was controversial and there are a couple of really good reasons. The United States considers Syria a country that supports terrorism. They say, for example that they are supporting, that Syria is supporting and actually providing weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas, these fundamental organizations. Syria denies it. And then the other thing they charge is that Syria is letting insurgents come over their border into Iraq and carry out attacks. So, just a few moments ago Nancy Pelosi said what she wanted to accomplish in this meeting.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: These are important issues, not only in the fight against terrorism, but important priorities for us, peace in the Middle East. We expressed our interest in using our good offices and promoting peace between Israel and Syria.


DOUGHERTY: Now President Bush has already said that he thinks this is a very bad idea. He said it's not having any effect whatsoever on the behavior of Syria. Here's what he said yesterday.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Photo opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the main stream of the international community, when, in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror.


DOUGHERTY: So, President Bush basically says this is handing a big PR coup to the president of Syria, but it's not really accomplishing anything, Kiran.

CHETRY: All right, Jill Dougherty from our Washington bureau today, thanks so much.

O'BRIEN: A lot to tell you this morning if you're worried about what to feed your pet. Federal food inspectors say they have found the source of all that deadly dog and cat food, a Chinese company. The company denies that link. We'll check in with John Vause at company headquarters in just a moment.

Meanwhile, lawyers are adding a fraud allegation to that class action lawsuit against Menu Foods. That's one of the companies that issued a big pet food recall. If the lawyers can prove fraud, it could pet owners would be entitled to big, punitive damages. Meanwhile, some pet owners are resorting to making their own pet food. Sales of pet food recipe books shooting up the ranks on Amazon. And the scare has raised new concerns about the threat of terror. One survey finding 68 percent of Americans believe the contamination shows how vulnerable the U.S. is for an attack on its food supplies. Let's go to John Vause now. He's in (INAUDIBLE) China, looking for some answers at that company that the Food and Drug Administration indicates is the source of all this. John?

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The (INAUDIBLE) company says the results from its own independent lab tests should be back in the next couple days and then they hope to have a much better idea of what may have gone wrong.


VAUSE (voice-over): The pet food scare across the U.S. can be traced back here, to a rundown warehouse in rural China. According to local residents, this operation belongs to the (INAUDIBLE) biologic company named by the FDA as the source of the chemical melamine which somehow contaminated wheat gluten, an ingredient in almost 100 different brands of pet food which have now been recalled. When we arrived employees began covering what appeared to be sacks of grain. Every year, 9,000 tons of wheat gluten are reportedly exported from here but all worker has come to a standstill after an FDA ban on imports from this privately-held company. This office worker who would only give her name as (INAUDIBLE) seemed overwhelmed by the allegations.

MS. GE, XUZHOU ANYING COMPANY EMPLOYEE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Of course it's not good for us, she told me. We want to clear our name.

VAUSE: The company senior management has been locked away in crisis meetings for days, but denies any wrongdoing during 12 years of operation. In China, all factories that make wheat gluten follow a strict testing procedure. The situation as depicted by these rumors has never occurred. But questions are being asked about the safety of China's food supply. Three hundred million Chinese every year, according to the UN, suffer food poisoning. Last summer nearly 100 restaurant patrons were hospitalized after eating bad snails. A company was recently prosecuted for making lard from sewage. Farmers have been caught adding a cancer-causing dye to duck feed, turning the egg yoke red which apparently is more appealing to Chinese consumers.


VAUSE: Now, when it comes to buying that one crucial ingredient, the wheat gluten, the company here insists it is just the middle man here. It buys it up all the local produce from a lot of those suppliers and then sells it. The management here says they're eager to find that one supplier or suppliers who may be to blame for all of this. Miles?

O'BRIEN: John Vause in Xuzhou, China, thank you. Since the beginning of this recall, we have been asking the FDA and the president of Menu Foods to appear on the program. The FDA has finally agreed to appear tomorrow. We'll ask about claims if the agency was too slow to warn people about the contamination. That's tomorrow on AMERICAN MORNING. Kiran.

CHETRY: And ahead this morning, a CNN exclusive. Frustrated flight attendants are concerned that their work conditions can actually put your security at risk.

Also, we're inside one of the most contested churches in the holy land to find the truth about Jesus. A rare live report from inside of that church. That's next on AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is on CNN.


CHETRY: If you thought you might soon be allowed to use a cell phone on your next flight, well, you can forget it. The FCC says it will keep the rule banning cell phone use on planes. It is concerned that using phones while in flight could jam cell phone networks on the ground. The commission had been considering reversing the ban that has been in effect since 2004.

Well it was a long flight to Hawaii and it was made even longer for some Delta passengers. A rowdy passenger forced the flight from Cincinnati to land in San Francisco. She apparently got very upset after she was caught smoking in the bathroom. The pilot had to leave the cockpit to try to calm her down.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The pilot was talking to her and she was screaming and she said, I require Vicodin for seizures that I have and I have to have it so that I don't have the seizures and it was prescribed medicine.


CHETRY: She didn't really weigh in on the smoking part of it, though. The passenger was removed from the plane in San Francisco and taken to a hospital.

Well, handling unruly passengers is just one of the challenges that faces flight attendants. A lot of them say that they're over worked and they're over tired and that could one day could mean lives could be lost in case of an emergency. AMERICAN MORNING's Alina Cho has been investigating and she is here with an exclusive report. Hi, Alina.

ALINO CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there Kiran, good morning and good morning to you. You may think their biggest job is passing out peanuts and serving drinks, but flight attendants serve an important purpose in terms of safety. They're often the first line of defense in the event of an emergency. The flight attendants who spoke exclusively to CNN say they're simply too tired to do their jobs. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHO (voice-over): Flight attendants may be putting passenger safety at risk by working too many hours at a stretch on too little sleep. This flight attendant won't reveal her identity because she's terrified of losing her job. She says extreme fatigue among flight attendants could be catastrophic in an emergency.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If a flight attendant is not prepared and she hasn't had good rest, I don't know how she can possibly evacuate an aircraft that is on fire in a short period of time.

CHO: And those seconds...

CHARLIE BLACK, MAJOR AIRLINE FLIGHT ATTENDANT: ... ticking away is the difference between life and death.

CHO: Flight attendant Charlie Black has logged 50 million miles over her 37-year career. She says a 16-hour shift is not uncommon.

BLACK: It's the lack of rest, the inability to recuperate.

CHO: The problems have been documented. This comprehensive study commissioned by the Department of Transportation was released in 2005. In it flight attendants say they often work with no more than four to six hours of sleep and the study found that sleep loss can result in slowed reaction time, disorientation and involuntary sleep.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Falling asleep as they're talking, you know, sitting in their jump seat falling asleep, just dozing off.

CHO: The FAA requires nine hours of rest time for flight attendants between shifts, but the nine hours of time off is not actual rest. The clock starts ticking the moment the plane arrives at the gate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As you're getting off the aircraft, my rest has begun and I'm still saying good night, have a good evening.

CHO: There's also paperwork and travel time.

BLACK: I have gotten in my car and driven home and didn't remember the last 30 minutes of the drive.

CHO: In a statement, the FAA tells CNN there is no data that shows current practices pose any risk to airline passenger safety. The Air Transport Association, which represents 90 percent of the nation's airlines says, we rely on the results of the FAA safety studies and there has been no recommendation for change. And airline experts don't expect to see a change in rest time rules any time soon. The reason? The bottom line.

VAUGHN CORDLE, AIRLINE FORECASTS: Financial distress since 9/11. We've had oil prices that are three times higher than they were in the 20 years prior. So, the industry has to make up for that. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really out of control. There's no reason why we should be responsible for peoples' lives and we're not getting enough rest. It's real simple. We're just not getting enough rest.


CHO: So, why hasn't the FAA changed the rest-time rules? Well, airline experts we spoke to say the FAA is resistant to change, first of all and those rules have been in place for decades now. But perhaps more important, experts say the airline industry is strongly against it. As we mentioned in the piece, post-9/11, the airlines are in financial distress and have to do much more Kiran with much less.

CHETRY: Of course, you see that all over the place. If it's been such a big problem for such a long time, why hasn't this been exposed sooner?

CHO: We were wondering that ourselves. This airline attendant we spoke to said she actually fell asleep during an announcement before the plane took off. She was startled by that. So why hasn't this been out there? The answer according to experts is that air travel has gotten steadily safer over the years. We haven't had a crash a major airline crash in many years. And for that reason, we haven't heard about it. In the words of one expert, if planes were crashing all the time, this would have come out.

CHETRY: Alina Cho, thanks. Good thing they're not clocking the hours of how much morning reporters get rest, right? Thanks. Miles.

O'BRIEN: All this week we're looking for the truth about Jesus live from the holy land visiting a different sacred site. Today, CNN's Atika Shubert joining us with a rare live look inside the church believed to be the site of Jesus' crucifixion and his tomb. Atika, hello.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Miles. As you can see, crowds have been coming here all throughout the day and you might be able to see a long queue behind me of people living up to come here and pray. And by Easter Sunday, this place will be absolutely packed with thousands of people. Now, what they're coming to see is right here. This is what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus. Now, of course, 2,000 years ago, it must have looked entirely different, but it was founded under the Roman emperor Constantine and over the centuries, this incredible architecture has been built around it, particularly during the crusades when this architecture actually dates from.

Now, over the course of the year, tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims come here to pray, to light candles. But even though it has been a source for many people of comfort, there have been very violent disputes over this site, specifically because it is so sacred and holy to them. There's been, actually, a power struggle among many denominations. It has literally become the source of conflict among Christians.


SHUBERT (voice-over): Every Easter thousands of Christian pilgrims flock to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to see the miracle of the holy fire, mysterious flames said to have emerged from the tomb of Jesus. Miracle or manipulation? Depends on who you ask. Religious tradition, biblical scholars and archaeologists all agree, this is the most likely place Jesus was crucified and buried.

FATHER JEROME MURPHY O'CONNOR, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR: That's why everyone wants a bit of it and that struggle for power and possession.

SHUBERT: The gospels say Jesus was crucified and buried outside Jerusalem, in an area called Golgotha, the place of the skull. This would have been outside the city walls, archeologists say and the porous bed rock underneath may have looked like a skull. But the tombs provide the most convincing evidence.

STEPHAN PFANN, PRESIDENT, HOLYLAND UNIVERSITY: We have some bed rock and we have these little tombs in the back. This was, in fact, the proper Jewish burial place back in the first century.

SHUBERT: The church that now surrounds the site has little resemblance to biblical descriptions of Jesus' tomb. It is shared uncomfortably between the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian churches. Frequent disagreements have resulted in violence, once after a dispute during a ceremony of the holy flame.

O'CONNOR: The most un-Christian building I know because of the tension, the un-Christian tension between the various groups inside. But, for any archeologists, it is the right place.


SHUBERT: Now, as you can see, they're actually setting up one of the denominations is setting up for a prayer service here. In fact, the different denominations have gotten to so many conflicts that they actually had to come to what was called a status quo agreement where they had to agree that absolutely nothing must be changed in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and this is why if a chair is moved out of place, if a candle is lit out of order, it can become such a source of conflict. Miles?

O'BRIEN: It seems like everything in Jerusalem is a source of conflict on those lines. Let's talk about just within the Christian community. Is it sort of settled history, if you will, that this is, in fact, where Jesus was crucified and entombed?

SHUBERT: It is generally accepted that this is the most likely location to be the tomb of Jesus, but there are other alternative tombs and one of the reasons for that is because there were so many conflicts here at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. For example, Protestants cannot pray here in large groups and as a result, there is actually another alternative tomb called the garden tomb for Protestants and that's the location that we'll be bringing you tomorrow. Miles. O'BRIEN: Atika Shubert, a fascinating journey, thank you very much. We look forward to seeing you tomorrow. Tomorrow, holy week continues in the holy land. Still another place where Jesus may be buried, as Atika alluded to. We'll visit the garden tomb and see why some people there are convinced that is where Jesus was in fact laid to rest and we'll hear from historians, as well. More on all that tomorrow.

Coming up, important news for women who in their 40s and 50s may just be starting to suffer from symptoms of menopause. Hormone replacement therapy may be safe after all.

Plus, a new headache this tax season. Why thousands of returns may now be invalid. The investigation ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING, important new information this morning for women in their 40s and 50s about treating their first symptoms of menopause. It turns out that the hotly disputed hormone replacement therapy or HRT may be safe for them after all. We're paging Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He is in Atlanta this morning. Thanks for being with us. It looks like there is a new study out that disputes some of the findings about the dangers of HRT.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it's kind of interesting. It's becoming a little bit more nuanced. Most people remember hormone replacement therapy and all the dangers sort of cited about it not that long ago. Keep in mind, it was this idea that as women get older, their estrogen production goes down. If you refill that if you will to some extent, you may stave off some of the ravages of time. After they studies this for a while, they found out, not necessarily true, in fact, the opposite of true. Heart disease could have gone up. Breast cancer risk could have gone up. Stroke risk could have gone up and that's why people stopped using it.

But some new findings out, a new report talking specifically about women aged 50 to 59 and they're talking about the fact that it may not actually increase the risk of heart disease at all, in fact, in this particular age group. It seems to change as you get older but in 50 to 59 year olds, it doesn't seem to make a difference. Now remember, there were some current guidelines. There are some current guidelines. The guidelines really aren't going to change as far as who should take it. It should be for relief of symptoms, including hot flashes and night sweats which can be awful in women who are newly pari-menopausal, should still be used for the shortest possible time and the lowest effective dose. This is a little bit of solace, a little bit comfort at least to women who are newly -- knew they are going through menopause. It doesn't seem to increase the risk of heart disease.

CHETRY: Concerns of the link between hormone replacement therapy and an increased risk of breast cancer. Has that changed?

GUPTA: That doesn't seem to have changed. This was specifically looking at heart disease. What most doctors will tell you, look, if you have some sort of family history, if you have some risk factor that puts you at higher likelihood of developing breast cancer or stroke for that matter, blood pressure problems, heart rate problems, you probably still need to talk to your doctor about whether you need the hormone replacement therapy and maybe you need to look for alternatives. You shouldn't take hormone replacement therapy purely to try and stave off heart disease, but, again in the small age group, 50 to 59, it doesn't seem to increase the risk. As you get to 60 or 70 though, the risk is still there for sure, Kiran.

CHETRY: All right, so they did break it up into age groups to make things more clearer for women. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much.

GUPTA: Thank you.

CHETRY: You can also download the doctor's advice, Sanjay's podcast. It gives us a preview of new book. It's called "Chasing Life," all about living longer and living better. We're going to talk with Sanjay about that all week on AMERICAN MORNING.

O'BRIEN: Coming up on the program, we're live from the CNN center in Atlanta where the news got a little too close to home yesterday. Shootings leaving one dead, another in the hospital this morning. We'll give you an update on all that.

Do you think it's illegal to operate a four ton Zamboni while you're drunk? Think again. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning right here on CNN.