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Fulbright Scholar Returns to United States After Russian Captivity

Aired August 8, 2001 - 16:49   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: John Tobin, the American scholar who had been imprisoned by Russia -- he thought on trumped-up charges -- he's speaking before reporters live now at Kennedy International Airport. Let's listen.

JOHN TOBIN JR., SCHOLAR PAROLED BY RUSSIA: I want to thank my friends and my family for a lot of support. I want to thank the staff, the entire staff and the ambassador at the United States Embassy in Moscow for all their hard work. And they came down and visited me regularly and brought me messages from home, and kept the people at home informed as to my conditions.

I want to thank all the congressmen and senator, you know, for going out on a limb for me. I want to -- for their support and all their hard work. I also want to thank Dr. Rice and Secretary -- Secretary of State Colin Powell and President Bush ultimately for making themselves aware of my case.

I want to thank the Fulbright people. I'm very proud to be a Fulbright scholar, and I hope that they can be proud of me. And I will produce a work that -- that will make them proud of me.

I want to thank all the people that I don't know and all across America and all across the world: the people who sent messages of support. Some people put together a great Web site I got a chance to look at real briefly, but just it was great to see messages of support from all over the world.

And I want to thank the Lord God above for his support, and he kept an eye over my health and my conditions, and everything went all right.

I'm just going to take a few questions, and then we'll probably maybe have another press conference or something next week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just before we start the questions, let me elaborate on what -- what Mr. Tobin said. Jack intends to come and do additional press conferences with people and interviews and all of that. But that's for another time, and we will try to have a few questions now. And then he's got some rest to do.

I see the hand up and then Mike in the front. Go ahead. QUESTION: John (OFF-MIKE), CBS (OFF-MIKE). Do you consider yourself a lot more patriotic now, and did you learn something about your own duty and honor and such?

TOBIN: I definitely learned about myself throughout this entire process. I think sometimes it takes spending time abroad to really appreciate your own country. It's great to be back in the land of the free and it's great to be back in a country where basic human rights are respected and due process of law is also a respected institution.

And it's something, you know, that we work hard to keep here, and it's something that doesn't exist in a lot of countries, no matter they -- we may -- they may claim to be democratic or maybe introducing democratic institutions. But a lot of countries in the world have a long way to go to attain the level of democracy that, of course, we have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mike?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

TOBIN: How you doing?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE). At what time during (OFF-MIKE) were you most frightened? Any one moment that stands out for you?

TOBIN: I think I was most frightened in the very beginning when I spent some time in the dark. I didn't know what charges were going to be brought against me. I didn't see anybody for a couple of weeks. I didn't see, you know, a lawyer, and I didn't see any investigators, and I really was sort of just not knowing.

But I was never terribly afraid of my own physical well-being, because that was fairly well looked after. And I was mostly afraid for my friends and family, too, because I knew they were home and they had no idea where I was or what my situation was or in what conditions I was living. So I think in the very beginning.

Let me take one more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lady in the back.

TOBIN: (OFF-MIKE). We spoke with your dad, and he really wanted you to apply for the pardon. He said, "But Jack never takes the easy way out." Why didn't you apply for the pardon? You could have been home sooner.

TOBIN: I think it's possible I could have been home sooner applying for the pardon. There definitely was some pressure and indication that my appeal for a pardon would be favorably looked upon. But the unwritten rule with a pardon is you are in effect admitting your own guilt, and for me that was just something I wasn't -- I didn't want to offer myself up as a nice political gesture when it was something I didn't feel I was guilty and I saw -- I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. As it was six months wasn't so bad.

QUESTION: What's your opinion about the allegations (OFF-MIKE) about Russia, that you went to study? Now your perspective is what?

TOBIN: I didn't follow the question.

QUESTION: About -- not only about the allegations that were made against you, but also about this country that you went to study?

TOBIN: My overall opinion about Russia? I mean, it's -- in its own way, it's a beautiful country. It's an interesting country. And the people are very kind, very hospitable. And you know, it's got a long way to go until it reaches the level of development that the Western world has.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) allegations that they made against you?

TOBIN: The allegations are false.

QUESTION: How (OFF-MIKE) saying to you when they (OFF-MIKE)...

TOBIN: Let's -- let's...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're done?

TOBIN: Yeah, I think we're all done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. We'll take...

TOBIN: Thank you very much.

CHEN: All right. Some reporters trying to interview John Tobin. He is the U.S. scholar, Fulbright scholar, just freed by Russia, now back in the United States.

He was convicted in Russia on drug charges that he says were trumped up and had been held there and had served about half of his one-year term of the sentence that had been imposed on him by the Russians. There had been a great deal of speculation that he was actually the victim of some of the political tensions between the United States and Moscow over spying cases between the United States and Russia.

John Tobin freed and back on U.S. soil today.

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