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Iran Sets Captives Free; Pelosi's Syria Trip; Obama Campaign Raises $25 Million in 1st Quarter

Aired April 4, 2007 - 10:59   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: At the top of the hour, good morning to you again. Welcome to the CNN NEWSROOM.
I'm Tony Harris.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield, in for Heidi Collins.

HARRIS: We talk about it all the time, unfolding developments here in the NEWSROOM. It keeps happening, we keep bringing it to you. And here's the latest.

Setting the captives free. In a surprise move, Iran frees 15 British sailors and marines captured almost two weeks ago. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with them as they were being released just about a half hour ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're very grateful for your forgiveness. I would like to thank yourself and the Iranian people.


HARRIS: Iran's president calls the release of the sailors and marines a goodwill gesture.

WHITFIELD: CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour has been through the morning with us as this story has been unfolding. She joins us again from London.

Christiane, has the president now in any way kind of bolstered his popularity, if not in his country, but perhaps worldwide because of what he is calling and others are calling a goodwill gesture?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that certainly the drama of what happened today will not be lost on a lot of people. I mean, it was quite dramatic from the fact that he held a press conference that had been postponed already 24 hours. A lot of people were wondering, does this mean something will come out in this press conference? And then the press conference went on for about 45 minutes before he announced that they had been pardoned and amnestied.

That was dramatic. The fact that he presented the head of the navy in that press conference with a medal of courage for having arrested these marines, that was dramatic. And now he's been meeting with them and they are saying "Thank you" and we're happy to be leaving.

But it is a drama. It has been incredibly worked out now, and certainly the British here are waiting for them to come back. We understand they may be coming back tomorrow, according to some of the reports coming out of Iran.

Will it dramatically improve his stature? Hard to tell.

He, himself, was not really involved in these talks or commentary or negotiations. You didn't really hear much from the president over the last nearly two weeks of this crisis.

And he's already fairly popular in many parts of the Islamic world. Not popular elsewhere, but very popular in the Islamic world. Maybe people will see this as a humanitarian gesture.

He didn't get and Iran did not get the apology that they had demanded from Britain. At least that's way said in his press conference.

WHITFIELD: Didn't get the apology, but Great Britain was quite conciliatory. They were very careful in its language. And even just hearing from one of those sailors/marines saying, "We are grateful for your forgiveness," everyone, particularly the Great Britain side, being very careful about the kind of language being used in this dialogue with Iran.

AMANPOUR: Well, it appears that the British have sort of said that they will not sort of get anywhere near these -- this disputed line in the waterway in the future. A way of sort of trying to get out of this diplomatically was not to apologize, but to say and to acknowledge that there is a dispute, that perhaps they got too close, and they won't do it in the future, which appears to be the substance of the letter or the wording between the British and the Iranians.

Now, if you are a captive in anybody's captivity, you are pretty much going to say what you are asked to say, and you are pretty much going to say and do what you have to do to get out. So if it means that the British marines, when faced with the president of the country who's holding them, are going to say "Thank you" and "We appreciate you pardoning us," et cetera, it's probably a small price to pay for them to get out.

Now, in terms of -- the president of Iran acknowledged that, by the way, during his press conference. Because, you know, there was a lot of controversy about parading these marines on the television...


AMANPOUR: ... and getting so-called confessions from them. Several of them came on television over the last two weeks saying that they were sorry, that they had ventured unintentionally into Iranian waters, et cetera. Well, that was not appreciated in the West. And President Ahmadinejad said after he announced that they were being pardoned that he hoped that Prime Minister Blair wouldn't put these marines on trial for "speaking the truth".

So, all that sort of public wording that was on television, every side knows thought's controversial.

WHITFIELD: And you have to wonder now what this might do to the relations between Great Britain and Iran, particularly those in Great Britain that might be most concerned about that. And the British ambassador will continue to remain in Iran, so clearly that's got to be a relationship.

But how might this change, alter, improve or disrupt things?

AMANPOUR: Well, it's an interesting question. Certainly the British have bilateral relations with Iran. The U.S. doesn't, but the British do.

They've had an embassy and an ambassador there for many of the last years. And so they were able to deal with this directly. There weren't third parties. There wasn't another country. It was British and Iranian diplomacy that resolved this.

The British -- the British believe more in engagement with Iran than the U.S. does. But, of course, at the same time, this British government, similar to the Bush administration, really would like to see regime change in Iran. So it's unclear how this is going to play out in the future.

WHITFIELD: Christiane Amanpour, thanks so much, from London -- Tony.

HARRIS: And word that the British sailors and marines being freed was welcome news at Number 10 Downing Street. The announcement by Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, during a lengthy news conference.


MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I declare that the people of Iran and the government of Iran, in full power, given their legal rights to place on trial the military people...


HARRIS: And we expect more reaction from British officials this hour.

CNN's Robin Oakley joins us live from London with details.

Robin, good morning to you.

Are we getting a clearer picture of the negotiations, the direct negotiations between the Brits and Iran at this point?

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN EUROPEAN POLITICAL EDITOR: Not just yet, Tony. We're not, because this came as a surprise to the British authorities. Remember that last night, Margaret Beckett, the British foreign secretary, was saying that there might not be very quick results from the resumed diplomatic contacts.

Tony Blair was saying, yes, indeed, that if they didn't get some progress after 48 hours, then they might have to think about changing tactics. And the very fact that Downing Street was not prepared, ready with its own statement when the announcement of the release of the captives came was a sign that this was not the result of a formal deal. This was not the conclusion of a set of negotiations. It was a one-handed decision by the Iranians to let the captives go.

So, there's a lot more yet to emerge, and particularly about the shape of the letter that the British have apparently set, according to President Ahmadinejad, to the Iranian authorities, saying there will be no future incursions into their territorial waters -- Tony.

HARRIS: And Robin, are we expecting to hear from the British foreign secretary any time soon?

OAKLEY: Well, we know she's coming in to Downing Street here to talk to Tony Blair in the fairly near future. I would imagine that she will have something to say to the world's media in the process.

HARRIS: Great.

OAKLEY: And we'll certainly expect her over the next few hours to give us more details -- Tony.


CNN's Robin Oakley following reaction at Number 10 Downing Street in London for us.

Robin, thank you.

WHITFIELD: Meantime, an important leader in this country, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, takes her Middle East tour to Saudi Arabia after a two-day stop in Syria. In Damascus, the California Democrat sat down with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The visit drawing a strong rebuke from President Bush.

Our senior international correspondent, Brent Sadler, joins us now from Damascus on that visit -- Brent.


Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrapped up her trip to Syria meeting with the top leader here, the president himself, Bashar al-Assad, infuriating the White House because the administration of George W. Bush suggests that it's undermining the administration's policy that's been trying to isolate Syria.

Now, President Assad greeted the Pelosi-led delegation in English. The Syrian president looking relaxed and smiling at times as they began exchanging points of view over a number of crucial Mideast issues, not least, of course, Iraq, which took up much of their time. And Pelosi, in a news conference she gave before heading off to Saudi Arabia, said that the issue of insurgents infiltrating across the border from Syria into Iraq, to the detriment of the Iraqi people, and to the detriment of U.S. troops in Iraq, really had to stop, basically. Also, she expressed concern for continuing Syrian support for terror groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

But also, at the same time, it was quite clear that the speaker wanted to open doors here of dialogue between her -- between the House, her delegation, her congressional bipartisan delegation, and the Syrian leadership. And so far, Fredricka, the Syrians seem to be absolutely delighted that Pelosi's been here, flying in the face of the now three years Bush administration's policy basically has shut (ph) out the cold shoulder to the Syrian president -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Very fascinating.

Brent Sadler, thanks so much, from Damascus.

HARRIS: Stocking the campaign coffers. Illinois Senator Barack Obama just released his fund-raising numbers. So, how does he stack up with his Democratic counterparts?

CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley joins us now from New Hampshire. Candy, of course, is part of the best political team on television.

Someone just slipped me the number, Candy, but I will not steal your thunder. This is quite a number.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The answer to your question is, he stacks up pretty dang well -- $25 million, at least, is what the Obama campaign says it has raised in this first quarter. That's about $1 million less than Hillary Clinton. That is, in real people's terms, is about a dime's worth at this point.

The Obama campaign says all but about $2 million of that is for the primary race. The other $2 million is for the general, should he make it that far. So, this is an enormous amount of money for a couple of reasons.

First of all, just because it is. But second of all, the Obama campaign, at least at this level of fund-raising, is pretty untested, whereas Hillary Clinton has a machine that's been in the works for some time ever since her husband ran for president.

So they are relying on some machinery that was already there. So this is quite a number. They also say they had over 100,000 donors, which is a pretty good number, especially for this first quarter -- Tony.

HARRIS: What does this say about -- I know the answer, but I have to ask it anyway -- about the viability of this -- of this candidate? What does it say to the Hillary Clinton camp about the flight that lies ahead? CROWLEY: It says that they've got a race on their hands. Look, she's still the frontrunner in the polls. And that has to be said. But the fact of the matter is, what any campaign wants to do -- because Hillary Clinton was the presumed frontrunner all along. Everybody said, you know, she'll blow everybody else out of the water.

Now, she may not have said that, and they will argue to you that they knew this would be a race, but the fact of the matter is, there was a lot of expectations that she would raise $25 million, $26 million. This is a surprising number from Obama. We now understand why they kept it for a while, because it makes a pretty big splash here.

So, it obviously says there is a race going on here.


CROWLEY: It is highly competitive. And, you know, we are in for the ride that we thought maybe we would be -- Tony.

HARRIS: Might we expect Hillary Clinton's campaign to roll out the fund-raiser in chief here?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, that's what's interesting. They have rolled him out. He has, if fact, the former president, been out doing fund-raisers for her and with her.

HARRIS: yes.

CROWLEY: So, he has been out there. I expect he will be out there as well for the second quarter numbers.

HARRIS: Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, with us this morning.

Candy, great to see you. Thanks for your time.

CROWLEY: Nice to see you, Tony.

WHITFIELD: Well, this is pretty stunning, too. Iran's president making his announcement today -- captives British troops can go home.

The latest in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: Deadly domestic disputes, they happen all too often.

How to stop the violence, ahead in the NEWSROOM.

WHITFIELD: And powerful storms sweep parts -- sweep through, rather, parts of the South. A trail of damage is left behind.

Severe weather in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: Fatal domestic dispute, police say that was the case in a deadly shooting here at the CNN Center yesterday. The suspect faces murder charges for allegedly shooting his ex-girlfriend.

Disturbing pictures.

She later died at a hospital. The accused gunman shot by a security guard and now hospitalized.

A similar situation one day earlier at the University of Washington. Police say a researcher was shot to death in her office by a former boyfriend. He then killed himself. The woman had apparently sought a restraining order.

So, how can women protect themselves from violent men?

For answers, we turn to Nancy Grigsby, executive director of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Nancy, thank you for coming on such short notice. Thank you for coming in this morning. We appreciate it.


HARRIS: I've got to tell you, the situation that unfolded here at the CNN Center yesterday, while -- while it's important to note that it happened here at CNN because it's such a recognizable location, not only here in Atlanta, but across the country, what struck out to me -- struck me is that this is a situation that happens far too often, where women find themselves in a relationship, trying to end a relationship, an abusive relationship with a man, the man says no, and because of that, in this case yesterday, the allegation is that we have this ex-boyfriend shooting his former girlfriend and killing her.

Help us understand how often this kind of thing happens and give us some concrete information that will help women moving forward.

GRIGSBY: This happens because we haven't put the community will and the resources towards dealing with abusers before it escalates to homicide. Many of these homicides are preventable. I mean, that's been proven in cities across the country.

So, the answer is, how did we reduce DUI in this country, for example? The same sort of approach to making violence an unacceptable behavior. And we haven't quite done that.

We've done a good job of finding resources for victims. We haven't put the same political and financial will behind holding abusers accountable.

HARRIS: Well, Nancy, what you do mean when you say that? What would change? What is it, as we look at these pictures, what in legislation, what in action, what in resources might have had an impact on that situation?

GRIGSBY: Talking globally...


GRIGSBY: ... instead of this as an individual case, we've got pretty good statutes in this country. I don't think that's really where we need to focus. It's more on resources and on really community will, on reorganizing how we respond with the existing resources we have with law enforcement, with courts, and, frankly, with places of worship, with employers. You know, it takes more than -- this is not just a criminal justice solution.

HARRIS: Are the courts -- it's not just a criminal justice solution solely, but are the courts being as effective as they might be in this area?

GRIGSBY: No. There is great room for improvement there.

HARRIS: OK. Let me back up a bit. Let me back up a bit.

Here's what I want to know. Nancy, help us give -- give young women who might be in a situation -- let's paint the scenario -- in a relationship that is ending, the woman wants this to end. It may be an abusive relationship. For whatever the reason, we want -- the woman wants this to end.

What are the concrete steps that this woman needs to take if she's in a relationship where violence is part of that relationship's past?

GRIGSBY: A couple of things. Recognizes that this violence is not going to get better on its own. It's likely to escalate over time. Reach out to an advocacy organization, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

HARRIS: Stop there. So, if there is violence, understand that is the leading indicator. It is probably likely to continue.

GRIGSBY: And get worse over time.

HARRIS: And get worse.

GRIGSBY: Yes. So, reaching out and finding out information about resources, letting people know that this is happening, and asking for support and help are the first steps that a victim can take.

The other half of this equation is, what are the first steps the communities can take? Because if it were up to victims, they would remain safe. Many of them are -- in fact, most women who are murdered in this country are in the process of separating and seeking protection orders and shelter, and all the things we ask them to do, and yet they still end up dead. So, the other half of the equation is, what are the steps communities need to take to ensure that when victims start to separate, it's not a deadly situation for them?

HARRIS: We'll get to that in a second, but let me just go back to your first point. So, you are a woman who has been beaten, first time. First time. Leave? Call? Who do you call? What do you do?

GRIGSBY: I think that's up to individual women. Some women find that their place of worship is the place that they want to seek help. I would say, seek help where you are comfortable seeking help.

Not everybody is going to call the National...

HARRIS: The police.

GRIGSBY: The police or the National Domestic Violence Hotline or their local hotline. But call and talk to the person that you can first. Ultimately, you want to get a safety plan together with an advocate from a domestic violence program. That's ultimately going to help.

HARRIS: A safety plan.

GRIGSBY: A safety plan.

HARRIS: OK. Great. What is the safety plan? What are the elements of a really strong safety plan?

GRIGSBY: A strong safety plan anticipates where she is going to be, where her abuser is going to be, and who will help her in the situation where he shows up at her place of employment, as happened here yesterday, where she works, where the children are at childcare. The safety plan may include criminal or civil remedies like protection orders. It's really just plotting out her movements in the community and identifying the people who will help her stay safe.

HARRIS: OK. Nancy, thanks for your time this morning.


HARRIS: Just a horrible story yesterday. And thanks for helping us hopefully give women some tools to protect themselves.

Thanks, Nancy.

WHITFIELD: Also, we continue to follow a big story of the British marines and sailors who are to be released from Iran and head back to Great Britain. Well, in about 10 minutes from now, at 11:30 a.m. Eastern, the British foreign minister, Margaret Beckett, will be emerging and talking openly about this negotiation, this breakthrough, the return of these British marines and sailors.

Coming up.

Also, in this country, political poll positions, who's up, who's down. We are tracking the top candidates straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: Stocking the campaign coffers. Illinois Senator Barack Obama has just released his fund-raising numbers.

Man. The tally is $25 million raised in the first quarter of the year.

The rest of the Democrats released theirs Monday. Here's how they stack up.

Senator Hillary Clinton, she's raised $26 million. Then comes Obama, nipping at her heels. Former senator John Edwards is next with $14 million.

WHITFIELD: Big money.

Well, one presidential candidate slipping, another moving up. It's a key race that's far from the finish line.

CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley reports.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I obey the cardinal rule of any politician, and that is to ask you all for your vote.

CROWLEY (voice over): There is 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 is still ahead, but no longer the runaway.

John Edwards has pulled up five points, into a virtual tie with Barack Obama.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Enjoy your stay in Iowa now.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Oh, I'm having such a good time.

CROWLEY: More worrisome for camp Clinton than the upward movement of John Edwards is a second number from the poll showing the senator's favorable rating has dropped 10 points.

On the campaign trail, candidates were spread out across Iowa and New Hampshire, where the war is never far from the front line. Obama, who opposed the war from the start, never passes up a chance to tacitly criticize Clinton's "yes" vote on the war resolution.

OBAMA: We've got a war that I believe should never have been authorized and should have never have been waged. A war that...

CROWLEY: Locked in a no-names-mentioned battle to show who is 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 president he will get war money in four-month increments.

OBAMA: And we will then review the situation. And if you have not initiated the withdrawal at that point, then we may put you on an even 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.

CLINTON: What I think is that we need to negotiate with the president from a position of strength. We are now a Democratic majority.

CROWLEY (on camera): With Congress out of session, the campaign trail becomes the place to debate, an arena of oneupmanship on the war playing to an audience increasingly impatient to bring it to an end.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.


WHITFIELD: That's Candy Crowley, part of the best political team on television.

HARRIS: And Fred, we are still following reaction, British reaction, reaction from all parts, all corners of the globe this morning to the news announced just a couple of hours ago that Iran's president is pardoning the 15 British sailors and marines taken nearly two weeks ago in disputed waters.

We are expecting to hear from the British foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, any minute. When that happens, we will bring that to you live right here in the NEWSROOM.

But first a break.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Live pictures now of 10 Downing Street where momentarily emerging from that door right there will be the British foreign minister Margaret Beckett to comment on Iran's pardoning. I see a door opening. Might that be her to follow? That would be great timing.


WHITFIELD: Well, it's not. But anyway, momentarily we will be hearing from Margaret Beckett, the foreign minister there to talk about the pardoning of the British sailors and Marines from Iran. You've been watching it all morning how Iran's president has been calling it a gift to the British people. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announcing this morning that Iran is freeing those 15 British sailors and Marines captured almost two weeks ago now. During a lengthy news conference he said Iran was granting amnesty to the British forces accused of trespassing into Iranian territorial waters.


PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I declare that the people of Iran and the government of Iran, in full power given their legal rights to place on trial the military people, to give amnesty and pardon to these 15 people. And I announce their freedom and their return to the people of Britain.


WHITFIELD: Iranian state television showed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad chatting and shaking hands with the British crew. There were also lots of smiles and even laughter. One of the crew could be heard expressing gratitude for their impending release.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like to say we are very grateful for your forgiveness. I would like to thank yourself and the Iranian people.

TRANSLATOR: Have a good luck, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much, sir.


WHITFIELD: When do they get to leave? An Iranian official in London says the sailors and Marines will be handed over to the British diplomats in Tehran. And Iranian state television says they will then leave for Great Britain tomorrow.

HARRIS: More now on this morning's surprise announcement from Iran. I want to draw your attention to the fact that we have correspondents, CNN correspondents on the ground across the globe covering the latest developments in this story, gauging reaction from around the world to this news and what we are talking about is freedom, freedom for those 15 British troops seized in the Persian Gulf. CNN's Aneesh Raman is in Amman, Jordan, with the very latest. Aneesh, my question to you is what is the PR value?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A big sigh of relief likely felt here in the Middle East, dramatic developments that have amounted to nothing else (INAUDIBLE) by the Iranian president. Think of the images we saw today. The fact that he was greeting these British military personnel, they were thanking him. He announced in the press conference for humanitarian reasons he was granting amnesty. It really came as a surprise this news. It came about 35 minutes into the press conference. It was preceded by the Iranian president giving a medal to the Iranian military personnel who had actually seized the British military personnel now almost two weeks ago. And then it took a dramatic change.

Now keep in mind Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the same man that the international community has often decried for his controversial, often bellicose statements. He has been the face of aggression at times out of Iran. So it seems interesting he has become the face of the end of this situation, this stand-off. He hasn't been involved over the past few days, we understand, to a great extent, in the decision-making process in the back channel diplomatic dialogue. Instead his role was cut a little bit. Instead it went to the secretary of the national security committee (INAUDIBLE) and in essence, went to the supreme leader.

But in the end, Iran chose its president in the format of a press conference. It was delayed from yesterday to today, to make this surprising announcement to have him be the face that was greeting these British military personnel as they heard the news. Clearly Iran wants this to end with it seeming the bigger person. It's saying it was releasing these British military personnel for humanitarian reasons. How this will affect the nuclear dispute, the dynamics over Iran's involvement in Iraq, we'll have to wait and see. But this does seem at least from this vantage point quite deliberate in terms of the images Iran put out today, Tony.

HARRIS: CNN's Aneesh Raman for us in Amman, Jordan. Aneesh, thank you.

WHITFIELD: Of course, the initial reaction out of Great Britain that they welcomed this news. Now we are waiting for the official announcement coming from the foreign minister of Great Britain Margaret Beckett to be emerging there from 10 Downing to give us an idea and everybody else in the world exactly what it took to get to this point of the pardoning of those 15 British sailors and marines. Meantime, earlier we spoke with international security expert Jim Walsh about his point of view of how this all came to be.


JIM WALSH, INTL SECURITY EXPERT: One of the most telling aspects of this press conference is that he essentially admits that Iran did not get everything it wanted. It did not get an apology and he sort of turning it around saying, well, I hope you British don't prosecute these guys. But we need to step back here. This morning, we've talked about President Ahmadinejad because he gave the press conference. The person we haven't talked about so far is the supreme leader. The supreme leader is the only person in the Iranian political system with enough juice to have decided this issue to take the issue out of the hands of the revolutionary guard.

WHITFIELD: So this decision came from Khomeini you're saying?

WALSH: Pardon me?

WHITFIELD: This pressure, this decision came from Khomeini.

WALSH: Absolutely. Moreover, I sort of think that the press conference itself is part of the compromise. I mean, this is speculation on my part. But essentially the supreme leader gave this issue to Ali Larinjani (ph), the head of the supreme national security committee. He is the sort of guy where you knew it was going to get negotiated. It was going to get solved. As compensation perhaps, it's the president who gets to have the press conference, gets to give a medal to someone from the revolutionary guard. They are saying we took the issue away from you. We gave it to this other guy who is going to negotiate and settle it up. But in return for you having done that, you get to make the announcement. You get to give a medal. You get to do X, Y and Z.

WHITFIELD: So Iran did not get the apology that it wanted, that the president underscored having wished to have received. Do you suppose Great Britain gave Iran anything, at least in promise in exchange for the release of these Marines and sailors?

WALSH: Yes. I do. I think there must have been compromise. Well, one, you referred to it earlier Fredricka, the release of this Iranian diplomat. Number two, there was an announcement this morning - I haven't seen it confirmed - but there's an announcement that Iranian diplomats will be able to visit the five revolutionary guard members that are being held by the Iraqi government that were arrested by U.S. and Iraqi forces earlier this year. So that now the Iranians will have access to them. That's a change. So I think part of it is compromise. Part is the supreme leader, after having gotten back from the holiday may have said, this issue is a loser for us. Every day this goes on, we may hold the prisoners. We may be tactically strong, but we look terrible and we've got other fish to fry, the nuclear issue, Iraq, so on and so on. He probably decided, enough with this. Let's get this settled.


HARRIS: OK, again the 15 British sailors and Marines including the lone woman in that group, Faye Tourney (ph) to be released. We understand according to some earlier reporting that Tehran is planning to fly them out of the Tehran airport, that to happen tomorrow. We are waiting more clarification on all of this. We expect to hear from the British foreign secretary Margaret Beckett within minutes. We'll bring that to you live here in the NEWSROOM. But first a quick break.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And I'm Chad Myers here in the weather center. A lot of rain in big cities in the east and big-time airport delays, as well. We'll also look at some big frost and freeze advisories across a lot the eastern half of the country. That coming up in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: Parts of the south cleaning up today from severe storms, other areas getting ready for a blast of winter-like weather. High winds knocked down trees and power lines. As the system moved across Kentucky, thousands of people in Louisville and Lexington left in the dark. In one area in the state, reports of hail the size of softballs, some damage also across Tennessee to show you. These scenes in Nashville, parts of Memphis also reporting damage but so far there are no reports of any injuries. And in Arkansas, the overnight storms left a trail of damage and wind and lightning and hail. Little Rock and Jonesboro among the hardest hit areas. Let's get you quickly now to Chad Myers in the severe weather center and plenty of severe weather to talk about. Chad.

MYERS: Let's get right quickly now Tony to some video just coming in from WSB. This is live, uncut video here so we don't know exactly what's coming down but this is Hall County, Georgia and this is kind of on up toward Lake Lanier (ph) and Gainesville, Georgia, just north of the city of Atlanta. That house took a pretty hard hit. You can see the people there surveying the damage, can't tell whether this was anything more than just wind damage.

But I did have a report from a fellow worker here that was in a plane that did fly over Gainesville after this storm went by. He said it looked like the ground was covered in hail a couple of inches thick. He said it was completely wiped like a blanket of snow so a pretty good storm came by here. I even had some hail at my home here just north of Atlanta, Georgia, as well. This is from WSB, Hall County, Georgia, with the storms there. Here is a little bit of something on tape. I'm interested in this house that was just kind of now to the right of what they are showing now. There seems to be kind of an interesting impact in the middle of that home. Maybe that's a design or something, but it almost looks like it backed into a like a fender or something of another car.

I know it's a house, but you get the idea. It's kind of like dented in by something, maybe something flying through the air, can't quite tell. It's that one right there. See that in the middle. Is that a tree that maybe just fell in the middle of that home? Those pine trees, if there was one there, those things go snapping all down, unbelievable. Here is actually now an I-report. We love these things,

This coming in from Ackworth, Georgia. This is probably the same storm but about 50 miles farther to the west. If you hear some beeping here, that would be some deleting of expletives. Now let's see what's going on when this video is being shot, but the hail storm here from Acworth, Georgia. You can always go to and go to/ireport. Just don't make yourself the story. Stay inside. Stay away from the glass. You never know whether this thing could have had a big wind gust and broken a window near you. Don't go near those windows. Don't make yourself part of the problem that we have to clean up tomorrow afternoon. These storms are still going guys, from New York City right on down through and into Duluth Ferry (ph), also down to Cape May and into Atlantic City, very, very heavy rainfall.

That rain continues as well down to the south into Baton Rouge and almost down to Beaumont now and through the bayou. We are going to see significant airport delays. They're already on the map. They're going to be with the map all day long. La Guardia, JFK, JFK now an hour and increasing, Newark, an hour and 20 minutes. There's Chicago with wind delays of almost an hour. La Guardia, Philadelphia, as well. It goes on and on. We are talking some of the areas here, we even had some in Houston. Those now are gone. For the most part they are still increasing in other areas, Teterboro (ph) increasing at 45 minutes and even at John Wayne, this is noise abatement delays there, but about 10 minutes and decreasing. If you fly into John Wayne sometimes it is like landing on an aircraft carrier because they have to come in so fast to try to keep the sound away from all the homes now that have grown around the airport.

There is your shower and thunderstorm activity across New Jersey into New York, also into Hartford, big area of cold weather. The cold front sliding to the south. This is kind of ahead of the front, but still some showers into that humid air there today. It will be much colder. Would you believe there are blizzard warnings going on right now for Michigan? A big-time lake-effect snow event (INAUDIBLE), the UP of Michigan, the northern part of lower Michigan which everybody there calls up north going to see some big-time snow. And we will even see some lake-effect snow tomorrow. That's how cold this air is. And Tony, I have a bunch of things that I planted into the ground mistakenly that I will be re-buying. So Home Depot is going to be loving me as I go back and buy all my plants again. The morning low on Saturday morning in Atlanta will be 25.

HARRIS: Whoa. There you go. And we've got the masters in town too. I tell you what, that was comprehensive and it need to be. Chad, thank you.

MYERS: I only got to say it one time in three hours. See you tomorrow.


WHITFIELD: We are awaiting word out of Great Britain from the foreign minister Margaret Beckett to emerge from those doors right there at 10 Downing Street. We are waiting for the official announcement and reaction from the pardoning and release of the 15 British Marines and sailors out of Iran. More on that when we come back.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Susan Lisovicz at the New York Stock Exchange where we are seeing reaction, as well. We are watching oil prices drop on word from Iran's president that he'll soon free those 15 British sailors. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.


HARRIS: And "Your World Today" is coming up at the top of the hour. Wow, what a busy, busy morning for us, Jim Clancy for you as well starting at noon Eastern.

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. What we are really looking at here Fredricka and Tony is that we have defused a potentially very explosive situation that we are tracking minute by minute, hour by hour, the progress of those 15 royal British sailors and Marines. We are expecting to hear from the foreign secretary live from London. Some rather remarkable comments coming from this man Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president again today. Much more on that.

Plus, the Democrats in Syria. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says it was a frank discussion of U.S. concerns about terror and the opening of dialogue. What do the Syrians have to say? Their point of view may be just as important. We're going to take you live to Damascus for more on that.

Plus the China connection. CNN's John Vause tracing the pet food poisoning cases from America back to a Chinese company, finding some alarming facts about people and food poisoning in China, the world's most populous country. All of that and much more coming up at the top of the hour on "Your World Today," some news with an international perspective.

HARRIS: OK, Jim. Thank you. See you then.

WHITFIELD: The news out of Iran having a ripple effect here at home on Wall Street. Our Susan Lisovicz is tracking all of it.

LISOVICZ: Hi Fredricka, well, the news that Iran says, well, from Iran's president that he will free 15 British navy personnel, pushing down the price of oil, right now below $64 a barrel, down nearly $1. Concerns about the stand-off between the two nation has driven up crude prices since the day those sailors were seized. Crude rose nearly 7 percent from March 23rd through the close Monday. Yesterday crude dropped sharply as well on reports that a resolution was imminent. Why is that? Well, Iran is the world's fourth largest oil producer. Stocks, however, not moving all that much. Reports showing weakness in the services sector and so is an expected growth in factory orders reviving concerns about the economy. The Dow right now on the plus side, up 15 points. The Nasdaq is up six points or .25 percent. Fred.

WHITFIELD: And what's this I heard about some changes at Chrysler?

LISOVICZ: Well, you know, it's something that we've been talking about for a long time. We've been saying it's speculation, but now DaimlerChrysler's CEO Deiter Zeitsche (ph) is confirming the company is talking with potential buyers who have a clear interest in buying its Chrysler unit. At the company's annual shareholder meeting in Berlin, Zeitsche was tight-lipped about details, saying only that everything is going according to plan. This comes after two months of speculation about a possible sale. In February, Zeitsche said the company was exploring all strategic options for Chrysler. The company not giving any details, but it's been widely reported there are three bids on the table. Canadian auto parts supplier Magna International reportedly making an offer, as have two of the nation's largest private equity firms, Blackstone and Cerberus. Of course, we will be following this story. CNN NEWSROOM will be right back.


WHITFIELD: On the campaign trail with Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and early Republican front runner is in Florida today after a stop in Iowa. CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash caught up with him. She joins us now from Tallahassee. What was your conversation like?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was quite interesting Fredricka. We talked about a wide range of issues including his stance on social issues, which has some conservatives in his party quite wary of him, despite the fact that he is doing very well in the polls among Republicans. But I started by asking about something that's at the top of the news right now, which is President Ahmadinejad in Iran, his decision to free the 15 British sailors. Listen to what he said.


RUDY GIULIANI (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First of all, obviously, we are glad the Iranians released them. And thank God. I'm sure Tony Blair and the president feel that.


BASH: That was Rudy Giuliani on the issue of Iran. We talked quite a bit about Ahmadinejad about the kind of threat he poses to the United States. He did say that he thought it was unclear whether or not it was right to go after Iran or Iraq at the time, which was a bigger threat. But I think perhaps the most interesting thing and we'll see more of this later today Fredricka, is what the former mayor of New York said about his stance on abortion. There have been and there will continue to be questions about what exactly, how far he would go as president when it comes to his fundamental beliefs, which is that he is for abortion rights, which puts him at odds with many in his party.

He said that he stands by his statement and a position that he had when he was mayor of New York and that is to support public funding, that's tax payer dollars for abortion in the cases in this particular instance of poor women who can't afford it. He said to me today that it is because it is that woman or any woman's constitutional right, that's the law of the land for them to be able to have an abortion. If that continues to be the case, then tax payer dollars should go to pay for those abortions if they are needed. In that women's position that could be very interesting in terms of how that plays out on the campaign trail among Republican voters.

WHITFIELD: Dana, we'll watch more of your interview with Rudy Giuliani in "The Situation Room" at 4:00 Eastern and again at 7:00 Eastern. That interview in its entirety. Dana Bash, part of the best political team on television.

HARRIS: Thanks for the day, what a day here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

WHITFIELD: Lots going on.

HARRIS: CNN NEWSROOM continues one hour from now.

WHITFIELD: "YOUR WORLD TODAY" is next with news happening across the globe and here at home.


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