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President Clinton, World Leaders Pushing for Mideast Summit; Investigation Intensifies Into Attack of USS Cole

Aired October 13, 2000 - 4:30 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The sun sets on Ramstein Air Base in Germany as the U.S. Navy begins bringing home the lost sailors of the USS Cole. Its gaping hole concealed, the Cole remains in port as investigators launch a full-court press to learn who targeted the ship for the bomb attack and why.

And in the Middle East, skirmishes break out throughout the region as this man, the United Nations chief peace broker, meets with Yasser Arafat. Kofi Annan presses the Palestinian leader for an emergency peace summit.

Hello, I'm Lou Waters at CNN Center in Atlanta. CNN's "SHOWBIZ TODAY" is preempted so that we can bring you this special report.

And we begin at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. One day after the deadly attack on the USS Cole, the bodies of five Americans killed in that attack are heading home to the United States. The bodies arrived at Ramstein several hours ago. CNN's Chris Burns is there and joins us on the phone -- Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN BERLIN BUREAU CHIEF: Well Lou, at the moment what we're waiting for are two planes, C-9 Nightingale planes, named after the famous nurse, samaritan. They will be carrying -- the first one will be carrying 28 injured sailors from Yemen and the second will be carrying 11 injured sailors from Djibouti. That is the from the latest word that we have from here. The planes should be arriving sometime in the next few hours.

But in the last few hours as we've been here, there has been a very moving ceremony for the five sailors, the bodies of the five sailors brought back from the USS Cole. They were brought aboard a C- 17 military transport plane and they were greeted by an honor guard ceremony. The honor guard carried each casket, flag-draped casket to a hearse and each hearse drove on to Landstuhl Medical Center where the caskets will remain overnight.

They are to continue their trip back to the States tomorrow some time, according to officials here. But we will be waiting to see the next about 40 injured sailors who will be arriving in the next few hours. We'll be watching that in the coming hours -- Lou.

WATERS: CNN's Chris Burns in Germany. The attack on the USS Cole is caused for agonizing concern in Norfolk, Virginia. The destroyer is part of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet based in Norfolk and CNN's Martin Savidge joins us now with reaction from there -- Marty.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. Navy officials here in Norfolk notified all of the family members of those that have been killed or those that are listed as missing as a result of the explosion on the USS Cole. That official notification process now complete. It was done in person as is the Navy tradition.

As for those members of the crew that were injured, their families were told either on the telephone or through a number of meetings that have been held here on the base. The next assessment is going to be for the injured, those that are being moved to Germany. Medically, it will be determined who is fit and capable to be transferred back to the United States. If they are not, then arrangements are going to be made for their loved ones here to be reunited with their family members over in Germany.

It has been a very difficult time for the people here in Norfolk. This is a community that is intimately intertwined with the U.S. Navy historically and in many any other ways. So when there is a loss in the Navy it is felt throughout this community here. And there has been an outpouring of support for their sailors. That is something that Navy officials say has been significant and comforting.


ADMIRAL TIMOTHY LAFLUER, U.S. NAVY: A great outpouring, I might add, from the community with food and other things to help support the families. But the unknown part for the families was very difficult for them to deal with as we are waiting for the information to come from the ship.


SAVIDGE: The waiting has been very tough on the families. It always is. It has also been extremely hard on this community as a whole. But they have been through it before in the past and they are relying on that now to carry them through the present.


BOB ALEXANDER, NORFOLK RESIDENT: This is a military area, you know, so you're used to all the upheavals in the community from time to time when war -- whether it was hurricane and all the ships leave or whatever, we're all connected by the water, by the sea.


SAVIDGE: Grief counselors and psychological support groups are now being made available to the families of the victims. There was a special emphasis that's being placed on children. The reason for that is, of course, many children in this area have parents that are serving in the Navy. Those parents may have not been involved in any way with this tragedy, but because of the extensive coverage it was felt that the needed to be explained to carefully as to what has happened and exactly why it has taken place. And the special emphasis on them. Meanwhile the celebration that was to be this weekend. that is the 225th anniversary of U.S. Navy, Fleet Week, it is going ahead but changes are being made to observe the tragedy. A concert tonight will include a candlelight ceremony and a moment of silence to remember the people and the sailors of the USS Cole -- Lou.

WATERS: And Marty, this afternoon, the Pentagon spokesman mentioned the outpouring of support and affection from Americans. Can you give us some idea of what that is about?

SAVIDGE: Well, there has been a tremendous amount of support, not just in this area, but nationwide. There is, obviously, in times of crisis, in times of terrorist attack, a great rallying around the U.S. flag and those in the military service.

So, it is not just this area in particular that feels drawn to the Navy, but across the country as well and they have been expressing it through e-mails, through telephone calls and through calls to the Congress and even to the White House as well -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Marty Savidge in Norfolk. In Yemen the search for answers in yesterday's deadly bombing already has begun. Dozens of FBI agents and other experts from the United States will be involved in the coming investigations.

CNN's Matthew Chance joins us from Aden, the port of Aden in Yemen.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Lou. Well, the FBI legal attache has now arrived here in Aden in Yemen to really start off that process of finding out exactly what it was that happened on Thursday at about 12:00 midday local time when that apparently, according to eyewitnesses, small boat packed with explosives appeared to ram into the side of the USS Cole.

According to eyewitnesses, the same people, they said that they saw two men standing to attention on that small craft in the moments before the detonation.

Now, even though there have been those eyewitness report, U.S. authorities on the ground here have said they're not going to announce this yet as an actual act of terrorism at all until they have completed their investigation. That's why the FBI personnel are on their way here. Many more of coming, making their way to Yemen in the days ahead to find out exactly what it was that caused not just the very serious damage to this ship, but also that incredible loss of life.

Remember, according to U.S. officials at the moment, some 17 U.S. personnel have lost their lives. Seven of them confirmed dead; another 10 missing but presumed to be dead. Back to you.

WATERS: That's Matthew Chance in Aden, Yemen and we will return with the latest in the crisis in the Middle East when this special edition on CNN continues.


WATERS: Now the latest on the crisis in the Middle East: Following a flurry of diplomatic activity, there is a flicker of now hope that a Middle East summit can be held this weekend: that as unrest continued in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. In the West Bank town of Ramallah, a key flash point throughout this crisis, a gun battle broke out today between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen.

In addition to this incident in Ramallah, there were skirmishes and scuffles elsewhere: Fighting in Hebron, also in the West Bank reportedly led to the death of a Palestinian man. More than 100 people have been killed in more than two weeks of Israeli-Palestinian clashes.

Let's check in with one of our key outposts in the Middle East: Joining us from Jerusalem now, CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour.

Christiane, it's all yours.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, there are increased efforts at diplomatic activity today. Both sides, the Israelis and the Palestinians, under incredible pressure to attend a summit, pressure from the United States and pressure from Secretary- General Kofi Annan, and a whole host of international diplomats and negotiators, who've been here over the last several days, trying to get the two sides together, trying to get an end to this violence.

Now we just heard in the last half an hour that the secretary- general, Kofi Annan, just finished a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, and his spokesman told me that Arafat has told to the secretary-general that in principle he's interested in attending a summit. However, he has to have more consultations with his leadership, and we're told, will get back to the secretary-general on the matter of a summit tonight.

In the meantime, the secretary-general is heading to Tel Aviv for a meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak.

So, that's the latest from here on the diplomatic activity. You mentioned yourself the level of confrontations that have been going on today: Essentially, a much lower level of confrontation and clash than we've seen over the last 24 hours, certainly and indeed over the last couple of weeks -- Lou.

WATERS: Christiane Amanpour, we'll, of course, be checking back with you.

One day after a pro-Israel rally in New York, thousands of pro- Palestinian demonstrators took to the streets in downtown Manhattan. They protested yesterday's Israeli military strikes against Palestinian targets. They also (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to the U.S. for its support of Israel and called for peace in the Middle East.

Today's demonstration took place under heavy police escort, not far from the United Nations headquarters. In Washington, rallies supporting both sides of the Middle East crisis today near the White House. At one, dozens of demonstrators waved American and Israeli flags and carried signs such as "We stand with Israel." As in today's pro-Palestinian rally in New York, speakers at today's pro-Israeli rally in Washington called for peace in the Mideast.

Not far away, Arab demonstrators gathered for their own rally, including a prayer vigil.

Is the genie already out of the bottle or can stability be restored to the Middle East? Joining us from Washington, former Congressman Lee Hamilton, who served for several years as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Mr. Hamilton now is director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Welcome, sir.


WATERS: You just heard Christiane. We also have a report from the White House of a hoped-for summit within the next 48 hours, the president on standby to fly there some time Sunday and Monday.

Folks are already rightly asking, since the collapse of the Camp David summit, what good would another summit do? Do you see any promise here at all?

HAMILTON: Oh, I do indeed. I think this is a ray of hope, perhaps the first ray of hope we've had over the past few hours. At end of the day here, there's only one solution to stopping the violence, and that's dialogue and discussion and eventually negotiations.

If these parties can be brought together under the auspices of the United States or the United Nations, that's a definite step forward and a most encouraging sign.

WATERS: Well, apparently now, if I understand the dynamics correctly, Yasser Arafat is going to talk to his people and then get back to Kofi Annan and let him know if there will indeed be a summit. The White House reported earlier that there would be a summit only if some positive outcome could be realized.

I guess the question is, what could be the positive outcome that Washington would like to realize from a talk in the region?

HAMILTON: I think the positive outcome is to get a very firm commitment from Chairman Arafat, especially, but also from the prime minister of Israel, Mr. Barak, that they will do everything in their power to stop the violence. That would be the most positive outcome, and it would lay the basis for discussions to see if we can get back to some kind of dialogue with respect to peace.

WATERS: After the last major meeting between all the leaders, including the president of the United States, many Jews, many Palestinians, indeed most Americans thought, hey, we're pretty close to a deal here, and then we've had these past 16 days in the Middle East where the world is agonizing over the outcome.

What happened, do you think?

HAMILTON: Well, I think a lot of things happened, but I think it's very important now to remember how close they were to a deal just a few weeks ago. Indeed, except for the issue of Jerusalem -- nobody sees a solution to that at the moment -- there really was a drawing together of the parties.

Once the summit failed, then the possibilities of violence certainly increased. The Arabs were deeply frustrated and deeply concerned about the so -- the apparent, to them at least, apparent to them, tilt of the United States toward the Israeli position. Their frustrations grew.

But on the Israeli side, there was also a lot of disappointment, because they felt that their prime minister had gone forward with a very forthcoming proposal, that Arafat had not responded to it. So the frustration level on both sides became very high.

Where do you go after the summit? There was no peace alternative, no peace process at that point. And when you don't go forward, you tend to go backwards in the Middle East toward violence, and that's exactly what happened.

WATERS: I don't know if you read Thomas Friedman in today's "New York Times," but he suggested when Ariel Sharon went to the holy site in Jerusalem, if Yasser Arafat had met him and said, "Mr. Sharon, after we have sovereignty over the old city, you and all the Jews would be welcome here," that would have been a rare act of statesmanship and might have gone a long way to solving the problem over Jerusalem.

Is there a solution to that?

HAMILTON: There is a solution if the leaders will step forward and lead. This is the crunch time for the leadership. They must not let events control them as I think they have done in the past few days. Rather they must control the events themselves.

The incident you mentioned, in Mr. Friedmans's column, what a remarkable event that would have been and what a change it would have brought in the climate for Middle East discussions and dialogue and negotiations. But it didn't happen. But the leaders will have another chance.

This is what leaders are for. This is the time for them to step forward, and lead their people away from violence, away from confrontation, toward dialogue and discussion and peace, which is the only way these matters can be resolveed.

WATERS: And we will follow the hopeful signs of course. Lee Hamilton, thanks so much for joining us today. Ahead in this CNN special report, we go to the Pentagon for an update on the investigation of the attack on the USS Cole.


WATERS: The United States is determined to find out who is responsible for the attack on the USS Cole. To the pentagon now, CNN military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre with the latest from there -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, the Pentagon says it still has no firm evidence to say who is behind this attack. The investigators, including those from the State Department and the FBI, are on the scene in Yemen.

Navy divers have examined the hole that was blasted in the side of the USS Cole, determined it was bigger than they thought -- it's really 40 by 40 instead of 20 by 40.

All of the injured personnel are -- have now been evacuated or are en route to hospitals in Germany. Three of them were very seriously injured, they were stable enough still to be moved. So all of the 30-something injured have been taken to Germany now.

The Pentagon today responded to questions about why a U.S. ship would stop in a port where there was a threat of a terrorist attack. The Pentagon today rejected any criticism of that, saying it's important that the U.S. engage countries in the region.


KENNETH BACON, DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: It would be an absolute victory for terrorists, if they're behind this attack, if we pull back and stop doing our job in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world. And we are not going to give them that victory.


MCINTYRE: Pentagon sources tell me that from the size of the hole it looks like there were between 400 and 500 pounds of high explosives on that small boat that pulled up next to the Cole. The Pentagon says there will be a memorial service Wednesday of next week in Norfolk, Virginia for the 17 dead. And again, the Pentagon is basically saying now that there are 17 dead. That will be Wednesday in Norfolk, attended by the president and defense secretary and other top officials.

Back to you.

WATERS: Military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

President Clinton keeps close watch on both of tonday's big stories: The USS Cole investigation and the crisis in the Middle East.

Checking in now, CNN's senior White House correspondent, John King.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, first, quickly, on the investigation of the USS Cole, we're told by White House officials the president's phone calls today included a telephone conversation with the president of Yemen in which the president requested and received assurances the U.S. investigation would receive all the help of the government of Yemen. He also spoke to the commanding officer of the ship, we're told, and several other senior Navy officials, promising that this investigation would get to the bottom of this apparent terrorist attack on the USS Cole.

Now on the broader crisis in the Middle East, Mr. Clinton working the phones in the Oval Office at this hour, due to meet with his national security team shortly. White House officials telling us no final decision has been made, and they say it will probably be several more hours before it is. But several senior administration sources telling CNN it now appears increasingly likely there will indeed be an emergency Mideast summit, probably on Monday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

The president's schedule being juggled. He had cancled domestic political travel. The White House in a few moments will announce the president will go out tomorrow and do a domestic fund-raising trip for the Democratic Party, return to Washington late tomorrow night.

Plans being made here, awaiting that final decision for the president to travel to Egypt for that summit, leaving here on Sunday, meetings on Monday.

Again, though, in the past, they've gotten very close to this announcement to find out there was a misunderstanding between the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, about just what would be on the table for that summit meeting. So the president looking to speak to both of those leaders this afternoon to make sure everyone's on the same page.

Again, though, increasing confidence here that there will indeed be such a summit early next week in Egypt -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, John King at the White House. And we'll be back in a moment with one more look at today's top stories.


WATERS: Again, our top stories: as the investigation into the bomb attack on the USS Cole begins in Yemen, the bodies of some of the Americans killed in that attack are on their way home.

The bodies of five crew members arrived today at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany. They're scheduled to be flown back to the United States tomorrow.

In Yemen, the first of dozens of U.S. investigators arrived to begin looking for clues to that explosion. So far, there are no confirmed suspects and no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. And on the crisis in the Middle East, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is meeting this hour with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, in Gaza. Annan is pressing Arafat to attend an emergency Middle East summit. Such a summit has yet to be arranged, but the secretary- general says he expects one to be held within the next 48 hours. White House sources tell CNN a summit now appears likely in Egypt, likely, on Monday, with President Clinton attending.

We'll keep you posted. More news any time. I'm Lou Waters. Stay with CNN and CNN Interactive for the very latest developments on the Mideast crisis and the USS Cole investigation.

CNN's "INSIDE POLITICS" comes your way in just a moment. Take care.



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