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F-16s Escort Jet Back to Amsterdam; More Marines Needed; Campaigning on Terror

Aired August 23, 2006 - 08:59   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We're following a developing story out of Amsterdam this morning.
A Northwest Airlines flight grounded now if it was turned around in mid air and escorted back by F-16s.


Some Marines thought they were done with military service. Well, maybe not.

I'll have that story coming up.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Ed Henry at the White House, where a new CNN poll suggests the war on terror may not be as politically potent as Republicans are hoping.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Ed Lavandera in Boulder, Colorado.

We keep digging into the story of John Mark Karr. New details coming up.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And I'm meteorologist Chad Myers in Atlanta, watching Debby. It may just be a number and a name that we get rid of. The next storm we worry about may be Ernesto. I'll show you where that can be developing next.


A big-time Hollywood breakup for Tom Cruise.

I'll have that story ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Rick Sanchez, filling in for Miles O'Brien.

O'BRIEN: Let's begin with a developing story that's coming to us out of Amsterdam this morning, and it involves a Northwest Airlines plane. Two Dutch fighter jets had to escort that Northwest Flight that had pretty much just taken off. Back to the airport. Earlier this morning, an airline spokesman says a couple of passengers had displayed behavior of concern. That's a quote. The plane had 149 passengers onboard. It was headed to Mumbai when it returned to Amsterdam. An airport spokeswoman says there have been some arrests made.

Eleven suspects charged in an alleged airline plot remain in a British jail this morning. All the suspects appeared in court yesterday.

Meanwhile, a deadline is looming in connection with the 11 other suspects in the case. A hearing is going to be held today to determine if those suspects will be freed or charged or ordered to remain in custody.

And investigators are hoping that a key piece of evidence are going to help them determine what caused a deadly plane crash in Ukraine. A passenger jet went down near the Russian border yesterday. Bad weather killed all 170 people on board.

Investigators have now recovered the flight, data and voice recorders. There are indications that lightning may be to blame, also some questions about whether it was pilot error -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Now to that developing story that we've been telling you we've been following since this morning, and there's a new development now just within the last half-hour in the kidnapping of the two FOX News journalists that happened in Gaza. They've been held longer than anybody has ever been held that's been kidnapped in Gaza, at least as far as American press is concerned.

The CD disk of the two correspondents, Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig, is appearing on an Arab television network. Now, Centanni is from the United States, Wiig is from New Zealand.

The two were kidnapped August 14th in Gaza City. Reuters is reporting that the group Holy Jihad Brigades, previously unknown, has set a 72-hour deadline for the United States to release Muslims in U.S. prisons. So apparently that is their demand, to release Muslims in U.S. prisons.

We should also tell you we just talked to Paula Hancocks, who is reporting for us out of Jerusalem as well, and she said those who have viewed the tape say that they look good on the tape as far as health is concerned. If there is a possibility they we get that tape and we're able to turn it around and show you at least parts of it, we will do that.

Meanwhile, as many as 2,500 Marine reservists could be getting a call from the Pentagon soon. The Defense Department has been authorized to call the Marines back to duty beginning next spring. They're needed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

CNN's Barbara Starr is joining us now live from the Pentagon.

Barbara, good morning. STARR: Good morning to you, Rick.

Well, the Marines say that this is not a recruiting problem. They're getting plenty of fresh recruits, but what they do need is more experienced Marines in some very particular jobs.

So they are turning to something called the Individual Ready Reserve. That's Marines who may have finished their active duty commitment but still owe up to four years on their Marine Corps contracts, so they still have a contractual obligation.

They want to call back perhaps as many as 2,500. They hope to get volunteers. If they don't get enough volunteers, they will simply bring some people back on board. These Marines will get five months' notice they're about to be activated, deploy next year, and deploy for something like 12 to 18 months.

So what are the jobs that they need them for? Well, they say they need them in combat, communications, intelligence, engineering and military police positions.

And as you might expect, the Marines who have just finished their combat tours might be the most concerned that they are headed right back to a war zone, but the Marines say that they will call those people last. That they will look for people who have not yet done combat tours -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Meanwhile, if they go back to that theater, what could they expect? What are you hearing about the security situation in Iraq?

STARR: You know, it's very interesting right now. We've been covering for a number of days this issue of the upgraded security in Baghdad, where attacks had virtually risen to more than a hundred people a day being killed in the capital. So the U.S. and Iraqis got together and, of course, about 3,500 additional U.S. troops now back in Baghdad.

What the military is saying is that operation is working. In the areas where there have been more troops in those Baghdad neighborhoods in the last several days, attacks have gone down. That there is more peace on the streets, people are back on the streets, shops are open again.

So, the new security operation appears to be working, but perhaps proving what some critics say, which is more troops are needed. With more troops, less violence.

And those troops aren't going to stay on those streets forever. So, of course, the test will come when the U.S. troops leave. And then we'll see what the security situation looks like after that -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Yes, indeed.

CNN's Barbara Starr following that story for us from the Pentagon.

We thank you.

Soledad, over to you.

O'BRIEN: Thanks, Rick.

Which party do voters trust when it comes to fighting the war on terror? There are some clues in a new poll, a new CNN poll that's out this morning.

The Opinion Research Corporation polled more than a thousand people. On terrorism, 48 percent of those polled said Republicans do a better job. On the war on Iraq, 47 percent said Democrats do a better job.

CNN's Ed Henry at the White House.

Split right down the middle, Ed.

HENRY: That's right. Good morning, Soledad.

I mean, in a way it confirms what we already knew, which is that if this midterm election, if Democrats can frame it as a referendum on the war in Iraq, Republicans are going to be in a lot of hot water. But if Republicans can somehow recast it as a referendum on the broader war on terror, the president, the Republican Party tends to score better there. And that's why Monday in that press conference we saw the president again and again lump Iraq in into the broader war on terror, saying if you don't stop the terrorists in Baghdad, they're going to follow us back to the United States if you withdraw U.S. troops too quickly.

But this new poll is suggesting that maybe the American people are separating those two issues out more than the president would like. When you look deeper at the numbers, in fact, when the American people were asked about Iraq, another number in this poll, 52 percent of Americans, say Iraq has been a distraction from the broader war on terror. Only 44 percent of Americans saying Iraq is "essential to the war on terror."

This shows that that broader war on terror that helped deliver the 2002 and 2004 elections for the Republicans, the Karl Rove playbook, it may not be the saving grace for Republicans in 2006 that they'd been hoping it will be -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Ed Henry for us this morning.

Ed, thanks.

HENRY: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Another poll to talk about shows that most Americans think Osama bin Laden is planning another attack on the U.S. A new CNN poll out this morning shows 74 percent of people polled believe bin Laden is planning another attack, 21 percent don't. Fifty-eight percent said they think Osama bin Laden is going to be captured or killed. Forty percent said nope.

And 47 percent said bin Laden would have been captured by now if there had been no war in Iraq. Fifty-one percent disagree with that.

The Opinion Research Corporation conducted the poll for CNN.

Don't miss "In the Footsteps of bin Laden". That's a "CNN PRESENTS" special two-hour investigation Christiane Amanpour is hosting. It's going to be on the air tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific, and it's only on CNN -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: John Mark Karr, the suspect in the JonBenet Ramsey murder, sits in a Los Angeles still this hour. He's awaiting a trip now to Boulder, Colorado, to face charges there. And this morning there's new information coming out about Karr and the case.

Live now to Boulder and CNN's Ed Lavandera, who's been following the story.

Good morning, Ed.

LAVANDERA: Good morning, Rick.

Well, a law enforcement source in Los Angeles tells CNN that John Mark Karr was heard saying while he was in custody there that he doesn't understand how people can question how he got into the Ramsey's home on Christmas Day in 1996, the day that JonBenet Ramsey was murdered. According to this source, John Mark Karr says he got into the house around 5:00 and while the Ramseys were away at a Christmas party, and that's how he was able to learn the layout of the house and figure out how he could get to JonBenet Ramsey.

Of course, this is just one of the many pieces of this confusing puzzle in the mystery surrounding John Mark Karr, whose arrival is expected here in Boulder, Colorado, at some point, although it's definitely not going to happen with all of the hoopla and the fanfare that it occurred with when John Mark Karr was taken into custody in Thailand last week. The sheriff here in Boulder says that he won't have information about his travel plans from California to Boulder, and, in fact, he won't confirm his arrival here until after he has been booked and his mug shot has been taken here -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: It doesn't really make him a more definitive suspect when he says, well, this is how I got in the house, when you consider a couple of things, right, Ed? One of them is he really is enthralled by this case, has been studying it for years. And two, a lot of the details about what the parents did that day were public.

LAVANDERA: Well, absolutely. That's what makes this -- the situation so confusing. And as we've been reporting and digging into this story, every time you hear a couple of things that take you down one road, there always seems to be something else that, you know, kind of knocks you off that path and says, oh, you know, there always seems to be an explanation for certain things. And you have to -- you have to assume that that's exactly the kinds of issues that investigators are running into as they try to make sense of everything that John Karr has been saying over the last six days now.

SANCHEZ: So it all is going to really come down to the DNA. Yes.

Ed Lavandera following that story for us out of Boulder, Colorado.

We thank you, as usual, Ed.

Soledad, over to you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you.

Tropical Storm Debby gaining a little strength this morning in the eastern Atlantic. Severe weather expert Chad Myers is keeping an eye on Debby and other things as well.

Hey, Chad. Good morning.

MYERS: Hi, Soledad.


O'BRIEN: Let's talk about entertainment news now. Tom Cruise in the middle of another high-profile split, not with his fiancee, but with Paramount Pictures.

CNN Entertainment Correspondent Brooke Anderson's in L.A. this morning.

Hey, Brooke.

ANDERSON: Hey there, Soledad.

And this split is far from amicable. It's a situation where each side has a different explanation for what really happened. It's Paramount Pictures versus Tom Cruise, and Cruise's recent off-screen antics are at center of this very contentious war of words.


ANDERSON (voice over): It's a Hollywood breakup of monumental proportion. Tom Cruise and his long-time producing partner, Paramount Pictures, are splitting up. Their 14-year relationship produced mega hits like "Top Gun"...

TOM CRUISE, ACTOR, "TOP GUN": I'm losing control! I'm losing control! I can't. I can't control it.

ANDERSON: ... "Days of Thunder"...

CRUISE, "DAYS OF THUNDER": We can fix it right here. Now what's it going to be?

ANDERSON: ... the "Mission Impossible" franchise...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "MISSION IMPOSSIBLE": I can understand you're very upset.

CRUISE, "MISSION IMPOSSIBLE": You've never seen me very upset.

ANDERSON: ... and "War of the Worlds".


ANDERSON: ... movies that made more than a billion dollars in domestic ticket sales alone. But the once happy union is coming to an end in a classic he said-he said scenario.

In an interview with the "Wall Street Journal," Sumner Redstone, the chairman of Viacom, which owns Paramount Pictures, said, "As much as we like him personally, we thought it was wrong to renew his deal. His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount."

That conduct Redstone is apparently referring to includes a public relations blitz for Scientology, a bizarre stint on Oprah's couch where he professed his love for Katie Holmes...


ANDERSON: ... and a confrontational interview with the "Today" show's Matt Lauer in which he spoke out against taking certain prescription drugs.

CRUISE: Just knowing people who are on Ritalin isn't enough. You should be a little bit more responsible.

ANDERSON: The Cruise camp disagrees with Redstone's version of the breakup. A representative for Cruise-Wagner Productions tells CNN it was their decision to part and they're setting up another operation financed independently.

Cruise's business partner, Paula Wagner, tells "The Wall Street Journal" that Cruise's behavior has not cost Paramount box office receipts, but his last movie, "Mission Impossible 3," grossed $133 million domestically, a disappointment considering "Mission Impossible 2" earned $215 million, proving the old Hollywood adage, you're only as good as your last picture.


ANDERSON: We have called both Viacom and the Church of Scientology to get reaction on Redstone's comments and are waiting for a response.

Now, many in Hollywood believe that Cruise's production deal was one of the richest of any star, if not the richest, incredibly lucrative. There were reports that Paramount paid as much as $10 million a year to Cruise-Wagner productions to cover expenses, but the production company hasn't divulged specific dollar amounts. Again, Paula Wagner tells us it was their decision to step away from negotiations.

So, Soledad, drastically different stories from each side on this one.

O'BRIEN: And not exactly a surprise.

ANDERSON: No, it's not. It's not. In Hollywood you can expect the unexpected, always.

O'BRIEN: Exactly.

All right. Thanks, Brooke -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Still to come, the polls say that Republicans have the upper hand when it comes to the terrorism issue, but one GOP congressman is learning that may not be the case. Find out why his reelection campaign may signal some trouble for Republicans.

O'BRIEN: Also, civil war or not a civil war? What's happening in Iraq? We're going to bring that question to an expert roundtable just ahead.

SANCHEZ: Also, Iran's nuclear program. Is Israel thinking about a preemptive strike?

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: A new poll out shows that Republicans are seen as being stronger on terror, but Democrats seem to have the edge when it comes to the war in Iraq.

What do those numbers mean for elected officials? And what do they mean for the upcoming midterm elections? Well, one congressional race in Pennsylvania could speak volumes about what lies ahead for politicians.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Bob Franken in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia.

Hey, Bob. Good morning.


And here we have a longtime incumbent in a district outside Philadelphia that's on the Delaware River, with all of the oil refineries which have their own national security implications, a perfect laboratory for the implications on the national political campaigns.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you doing? How have you been?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good. FRANKEN (voice over): Curt Weldon has deep roots and intimate knowledge of the local issues, but the Republican congressman insists that terrorism is a local issue.

REP. CURT WELDON (R), PENNSYLVANIA: We have to fight this battle. We either fight it over there or we're going to fight it in the supermarkets and the streets of America.

FRANKEN: But for the first time in his 19 years in Congress, Weldon his own tough fight on his hands.


FRANKEN: Weldon's Democratic opponent, Joe Sestak, claims his own terrorism expertise. He's a retired Navy three-star admiral who talks about what he learned while on the National Security Council in the Clinton White House.

JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: We must secure a safer America by redeploying our forces.

FRANKEN: But Weldon charges the first fatal mistakes on U.S. national security were made when Sestak was at the NSC.

WELDON: The steps that we should have taken back in the '90s would have allowed us to minimize or perhaps even prevent 9/11 from ever happening. We're paying the price for that today.

SESTAK: It happened on President George Bush's watch. We all know the information was available in the government at various pieces. It just wasn't tied together.

FRANKEN: In fact, Weldon charges U.S. intelligence had identified some of the 9/11 conspirators before the attack, a claim administration officials vehemently deny.

AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: I think the issue of national security gets brought up here partly because of who the candidate are.

FRANKEN: And both candidates are hoping to turn the issue to their advantage.

SESTAK: Are we using our national treasure of our military, as well as the other elements of our agencies, beset to address it? I don't believe we do. That's why I disagree with Curt Weldon.

WELDON: I don't think anybody has been as active on the issues involving terrorism and preparing the country to protect itself than I have.


FRANKEN: Previously, the GOP and the president have taken the offensive when it comes to issues of national security and terrorism, but this time the Democrats feel these issues might make the Republicans vulnerable -- Soledad. O'BRIEN: Everybody's watching that race.

Bob Franken for us.

Thanks, Bob -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Iran says it's ready for serious talks on its nuclear program, but if it refuses to shut it down, as it seems to be doing now, would Israel's military do it for them? A preemptive strike? A possibility being discussed, it's next on AMERICAN MORNING.


SANCHEZ: Interestingly enough, Iran wants to talk about its nukes, but that may not be an option. The French foreign minister saying this morning that talks with Iran can only start if they first suspend their nuclear activities.

Iran hasn't publicly refused the latest Security Council demand to stop enriching uranium, but it seems to be moving in that direction. And right now several Security Council nations, including the United States, are discussing what to do next.

Well, Israel is understandably concerned with the outcome of those talks since they are in the immediate path of any Iranian rockets.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is joining us live now from Jerusalem with more on what could be a real threat for the Israelis.

Good morning, Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rick, the feeling here is Israelis hope that Iran does comply with the U.N.'s demands, but they're making plans assuming that Iran will not.


LAWRENCE (voice over): Rockets fired from Gaza. Katyushas launched from Lebanon. But senior officials say Israel's ultimate enemy is Iran.

RAFI EITAN, ISRAELI SECURITY CABINET: We should be ready for rockets from Iran.

LAWRENCE: Iran has been refusing demands that it stop enriching uranium. Tensions with the United States have been escalating over its nuclear program. And a senior cleric says if the United States attacks Iran, Israel will pay the price.

(on camera): Rhetoric aside, do you really believe that Iran would directly attack Israel?

ERAN LERMAN, FMR. ISRAELI INTEL. OFFICER: I think Israel has to be worried. LAWRENCE (voice over): Former Israeli intelligence officer Eran Lerman says Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made his intentions clear, the end of Israel. Iran says its uranium enrichment program is not designed to build bombs. But Lerman says Iran's missiles are designed to one day carry a nuclear warhead.

LERMAN: Shahab series was refitted and -- and made to reach Israel quite specifically.

LAWRENCE: Some Israeli officials believe the Shahab missile could reach as far as Tel Aviv.

EITAN: We have enough anti-missile missiles that we are able to attack the center, but not -- not all of Israel.

LAWRENCE: (AUDIO GAP) test--fired another shorter-range missile. Iranian officials say they're designed to defend the country from an Israeli or American attack. But former spy master Rafi Eitan is warning Israelis to prepare for Iran's aggression.

EITAN: They should put the public on alert.

LAWRENCE: Israelis have been climbing out of their bomb shelters after the Katyusha attacks. Eitan is urging them to immediately reinforce those bunkers for what may be the greater war to come.


LAWRENCE: In fact, Israeli newspapers are reporting that Israel has signed a deal to buy two new submarines to increase its second strike nuclear capability -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Chris, back in 1981, Israeli fighter jets took out an Iraq nuclear reactor. It was a preemptive strike. Is there any indication at all, are you hear any word, any talk that there's a possibility that this could happen again? This time, though, the target obviously would be, instead of Iraq, Iran.

SANCHEZ: Nothing overt. No Israeli official is going on record saying that they would definitively take out Iran's nuclear capability before it came on line, but as you mentioned, if you go back in history and look at a historical precedent, that air strike, that was the first air strike ever on a nuclear plant. And Israel conducted that air strike just a few months before most believe Iraq's nuclear plant would have been capable of going on line.

SANCHEZ: We'll have to wait and see.

Chris Lawrence following that story for us out of Jerusalem.

We thank you, Chris.

Soledad, over to you.

O'BRIEN: We'll take a look at our top story straight ahead. A new tropical storm forming out in the Atlantic Ocean. Severe weather expert Chad Myers will tell us where it's headed.

Plus, Paramount Pictures, did they dump Tom Cruise because of his off-screen behavior? What really happened? We'll take a closer look in "AM Pop".

Those stories and much more ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



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