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American Hikers Imprisoned in Iran to Be Released Today; Former Afghan President Rabbani Assassinated; Palestinians Protest for Statehood; Securing Sabha, Libya

Aired September 21, 2011 - 08:00:00   ET

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


KRISTIE LU STOUT, HOST: Welcome to NEWS STREAM, where news and technology meet.

I'm Kristie Lu Stout, in Hong Kong.

And we begin with breaking news.

Now, two Americans convicted of spying in Iran, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, have now been released.

And Zain Verjee, live in London, joins us now with more on this announcement.

And Zain, do we know any more details on how their release was secured?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: We're getting details little by little, Kristie.

What we do know is that the two Americans were held in the Iranian prison for more than two years, and that they have been released. That's according to one U.S. official.

What we understand is that about 45 minutes ago, the lawyer for the two Americans actually went to the prison where they were being held, and went into the main building, accompanied by both Swiss Embassy officials, as well as Omani Embassy officials. The Swiss are important here because they protect U.S. interests in Iran, because the U.S. and Iran do not have official diplomatic relations.

What else happened today that is important is that there was a second judge, Kristie, that signed bail paperwork. They were waiting for the second judge to do that. That hadn't happened. There kept being delays, then there were suggestions that he was on vacation. And that didn't happen.

Documentation was signed, according to the lawyer, that the bail was posted. And this release is now happening, we understand.

Swiss Embassy vehicles were in the prison compound a short while ago. It's unclear exactly where they will go. There are reports that Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal will go to Oman. If that were the case, they would undergo medical checkups, possibly be reunited with their families, and then go on to the United States -- Kristie.

STOUT: Yes. Oman was where Sarah Shourd was sent before her ultimate touchdown, her homecoming back in the United States, after she was released last year.

Zain, could you tell us more about what has been happening behind the scenes, the campaign to get these two American men released, the diplomacy, the social media outreach?

VERJEE: There has been a huge social media outreach. So much pressure on Twitter, on Facebook, online, so much international condemnation, political pressure. Just a few days ago, there was various faith initiatives where a group of people from different faiths in the United States traveled to Iran to try and put pressure and have them released.

It was thought unlikely they would be released, as the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was in New York. There was also a sense that there was a big internal fight in Tehran between the judiciary, between Ahmadinejad, the ayatollah. And it wasn't clear which camp was going to win out.

So this internal fight was significant in the outcome of what we are seeing today, and it appears as though they have been released. And we will bring you more information when we get it. But the pressure seems to have paid off.

STOUT: All right. Zain Verjee, many thanks indeed for that.

Let's go straight to our Elise Labott. She usually reports from the U.S. State Department. She's been following U.N. activities in New York.

But Elise, you broke the story, thanks to your contacts at the State Department. What did you hear?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN STATE DEPT. PRODUCER: Well, we heard from several U.S. officials, Kristie, that they have been released, being processed right now, and basically not sure whether they're going to fly to Oman, but certainly very big coup for President Ahmadinejad as he comes here for the U.N. General Assembly. As Zain knows, as Zain mentioned, a lot of to-and- froing within the Iranian regime.

STOUT: Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, the two American hikers, are now free. Do we know if there were any conditions to their release? There was a lot of talk of $500,000 in bail money for each hiker.

LABOTT: Well, this is the $13,000 question. We really don't know who is paying that money. Perhaps Oman is involved in some way, as we reported that they did pay the money for Sarah Shourd when she was released, basically because of U.S. sanctions.

The U.S. can't pay the money to Iran. Iran doesn't really want to have Americans have on it. So they've been trying to get this money together, and an Omani envoy flew to Iran last week to try and negotiate these final last-minute details.

And so we understand -- I mean, I think it's going to be very hazy for the coming days about the money, but it looks like Oman is involved in some way. And it's important to note, Kristie, that the Swiss were really involved, too. They've been negotiating on behalf of the U.S. because the U.S. doesn't have any relations with Iran. So they are what they call the protecting power of U.S. interests there.

The Swiss ambassador to Iran, as with all these other cases, very involved in the negotiations. And the U.S. is really talking through many parties here. As Zain mentioned, that delegation from CAIR, an Islamic organization, went to Iran. They were invited under the guise of trying to talk about better relations with the West, better relations with the U.S. But those hikers were certainly number one on the agenda.

STOUT: Sarah Shourd had also paid up $500,000 to secure her release last year. In the end, what do you think was the breakthrough moment that led to their release? Was it the money or was it diplomacy?

LABOTT: I definitely don't think it was the money, Kristie. I mean, certainly, Iran is facing U.S. sanctions, but, I mean, I don't really think that $500,000 for each person is really going to have them make such a momentous political decision.

I mean, these hikers were really a political chip that they had with the West. They kind of figured out that, look, we're not really getting that much bang for our buck with these, better to release them. President Ahmadinejad coming to the United Nations, and Iran does have -- you know, there's been a lot of back and forth about whether Iran is going to start talking to the international community about its nuclear program, looks at the Arab Spring, sees everything going on, really wants to improve its relations with the West. And I think that they just felt that these hikers were getting in the way.

STOUT: And they have lost their political currency, so they were giving up. They have now been released.

Elise Labott, thank you very much indeed for breaking this story for us.

Now, let's get more on this breaking news for you. Again, the two American hikers have been released.

Mohammed Jamjoom joins us now. He's been following developments for us from Muscat in Oman.

And Mohammed, what is the latest you're hearing from the hikers' lawyer?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kristie, the hikers' lawyer told us earlier in the day that both judges that needed to sign the bail release documents had done so, and that he expected his clients would be released today. As Elise had said, a U.S. State Department official has said they have been released.

Our producer in Tehran tells us that he saw Swiss Embassy officials and Omani government officials entering Tehran's Evin prison just a short while ago. He has not yet seen anybody emerge. So we are awaiting details on if in fact they have been released from the prison and where they might be going next.

That being said, there's a lot of speculation, and there has been in the past several days, that when and if they are released, when Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer do finally leave Iran, that they will come here to Muscat, Oman, first. Why is that? Because last year, when Sarah Shourd was released, the hiker who was detained along with them, her first stop was Muscat, Oman, and that was because the Omanis had played an integral part in negotiating for her release.

The actually posted the $500,000 in bail money. That's according to Obama administration officials.

So now we've heard from Western diplomats the past few days that Omani government officials have been involved in the negotiation, that there had been Omani diplomats in Tehran trying to secure the release of Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer. And the speculation, again, mounting that Omani government officials are there. We know that there are government officials inside the prison, but we do think that they will be coming to Oman once they are released from Oman, although we just don't know yet at what point that will be -- Kristie.

STOUT: And also, is their release a done deal? And I only ask because it was just last week when the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said in an interview that the two men would be released within days. That did not happen. They are still inside Iran, even though this announcement is out there that they have been released.

Is there any risk that something could get in the way of their release?

JAMJOOM: Kristie, I'm sorry, could you repeat the question?

STOUT: I just wanted to hear if -- perhaps you raised the issue with the hikers' lawyer -- if it is a done deal, if the hikers' release has been secured, because we have seen wavering in the past.

JAMJOOM: Kristie, I believe -- I'm sorry, I'm having some audio issues. I believe you asked that if we know for sure it's a done deal.

The lawyer believes that it is a done deal. The lawyer in Tehran for the two hikers believes it is a done deal. He says that every piece of paperwork that needs to be signed has been signed, and he believes they will released today. State Department officials saying that they have been released, although our producer in Tehran has not seen them emerge from the prison yet.

This has been expected. There's been a lot of speculation.

You know, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made remarks to NBC News indicating that the hikers would be released, that it would be a humanitarian gesture. And then there was a complication.

There's been tension in Iran between the hard-line judiciary and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And the judiciary, one day after Ahmadinejad said that they would be released within a matter of days, the judiciary asserted its power and said, well, they will be released when we say they will be released. We'll be the final arbiters in this decision, the case is being reviewed.

Well, it seems that whatever back-channel negotiations were going on, those have been completed. There was a lot of diplomatic pressure being applied on Iran, and now it seems that everybody is in compliance, that they will be released, because right now, every indication from who we're speaking with, diplomats and people in Tehran, is that they will be released today and that they possibly have been freed from Evin prison as we speak -- Kristie.

STOUT: OK.

Mohammed Jamjoom, joining us live from Oman.

Many thanks indeed for that.

And again, a breaking news story. Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, the two American hikers who have been in prison in Iran, have now been released. They are still inside the country, have not been seen by a CNN producer there leaving the prison, but according to reports, according to the U.S. State Department, they have been released.

Now let's turn now to the United Nations, where protests and a delicate diplomatic dance is taking place as Palestinians call for full U.N. recognition.

Now, U.S. President Barack Obama will address the U.N. General Assembly in just two hours. He is expected to talk about the seismic changes sweeping the Middle East.

Well, behind the closed doors and the handshakes, frantic efforts are under way to prevent a showdown. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas plans to request full membership from the U.N. Security Council on Friday. The U.S. and Israel both want to restart stalled peace talks instead.

And amid all the diplomatic talk, there are big protests going on in Ramallah, in the West Bank. And CNN's Fionnuala Sweeney is in Ramallah. She joins us now.

And Fionnuala, what are you seeing there?

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'd say actually they are more demonstrations and rallies rather than protests, because they were in support of Mahmoud Abbas and what he's trying to achieve at the United Nations. And really a very festive atmosphere.

We're coming to you now from outside the Mukataa, which is the Palestinian headquarters, where Yasser Arafat used to reside. And if you can see behind me at all, brand new buildings, certainly not the decrepit buildings that would have been here a few years ago.

Now, essentially, there is overwhelming support for Mahmoud Abbas among the Palestinian people and what he's trying to achieve at the United Nations, although many Palestinians don't quite believe that they're going to see for a second any recognition of a Palestinian state this month at the United Nations. It should also be said that when it comes to how the response might be on the ground, that 50 percent of Palestinians believe there won't be an armed intifada. But that, of course, that 50 percent mean that there would be.

To that end, we've seen some clashes near Kalandia checkpoint there on the road to Jerusalem in the West Bank within the last couple of hours, minor clashes, really, but not very often are they taking place. We've seen settlers demonstrate yesterday, a small demonstration in the West Bank. But generally speaking, it is incumbent, it seems, on both sides to try and keep any kind of trouble on the ground to a minimum. It won't serve anyone's purpose, seems to be the general feeling.

And even, Kristie, between Hamas and Fatah. They have agreed in their marriage of convenience to keep things quiet in Gaza, where there is support for Mahmoud Abbas and what he's trying to do at the U.N. by not allowing demonstrations at all.

So, for the moment, two days before the big showdown, as it's being labeled at the United Nations, things fairly quiet here.

STOUT: Now, Fionnuala, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has never approached the U.N. before. So why now? What led to this push to seek full U.N. membership?

SWEENEY: Well, a number of reasons, really. For decades, the Palestinians have been the focus of the Arab world. They've been watching events in Palestinian-related areas, on the folds. And really, the dime changed this time around this year, where the Palestinians now find themselves obliged to watch their Arab brethren and what's been taking place on the road to self-determination in many parts of the Arab world this year.

So, really, it's a question, to a degree, of self-empowerment. And while no one expects that there will be recognition of a Palestinian state at the U.N. on Friday, or in the weeks afterwards, it really is all about tactics. It's about ending the occupation, and this is a strategy that's being worked out amongst senior Palestinian figures, and that really is one of the main reasons why Mahmoud Abbas is at the U.N. Also, because he says there is no real prospect of any success in any direct talks with Israel, particularly while settlement building continues.

STOUT: All right.

Fionnuala Sweeney, joining us live from Ramallah.

Thank you very much indeed.

And still to come here on NEWS STREAM, we'll be live in Libya --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're coming to Libya. We're coming. Libya is free now. Don't worry!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STOUT: -- as their revolution fighters have taken the biggest city in the Sahara. But the fight for Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte is proving more dangerous.

And a deadly typhoon hits Japan. We will have more on the heavy rains and winds of more than 160 kilometers an hour that have already killed at least four people.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STOUT: Welcome back.

Now let's remind you of our breaking news this hour. A U.S. official tells us that two Americans held in an Iranian prison since 2009 have just been freed.

Now, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were arrested in July, 2009. They said they were hiking in Iraq, but accidentally strayed across the border into Iran.

Last month they were convicted of spying and sentenced to eight years in prison. But just minutes ago, their freedom was confirmed.

And we will get back to that breaking news story in just a couple of minutes right here on NEWS STREAM. But now I want to take you to Libya.

Libya's new leaders, they have won some important support. The African Union and South Africa now say they recognize the National Transitional Council as Libya's government. But that diplomatic success comes as fighters loyal to the NTC suffer losses near Sirte.

Now, the assault on Moammar Gadhafi's hometown has been met with fierce resistance. Four NTC fighters were killed on Tuesday. But with the fall of Sabha, Sirte, and other Gadhafi holdouts, are not cut off.

We brought you exclusive live pictures as NTC fighters entered the largest Libyan city in the Sahara. They met little resistance in what had been a Gadhafi stronghold.

Revolutionary forces are now securing the city.

Ben Wedeman joins us live from Sabha.

And Ben, as you've been making your way through the city, what have you seen?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've been seeing really that it may be wrong to call this city a pro-Gadhafi or a Gadhafi loyalist town. We're in the neighborhood of al-Gorda (ph), which was the first part of the city basically to rise up against Moammar Gadhafi about a month ago.

Now, what you're seeing behind me is these men are lighting on fire the green book of Moammar Gadhafi. They're also burning a white scarf they say they took from one of Gadhafi's residences.

So what we're seeing is that despite this impression even among other Libyans that many people in Sabha were loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, it seems that what we're seeing here on the ground, it was actually quite the opposite. There seems to be a lot of anger and hatred for Moammar Gadhafi. And that may explain, Kristie, why this town, this city of Sabha, fell so quickly to the revolutionaries.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Libya is free now. Libya is free now. Don't worry!

I love you! I love you!

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Fighters giddy with joy over an unexpected triumph. The battle for the southern Libyan city of Sabha was supposed to be the bloodiest showdown yet, but it fell with surprising ease. After overnight skirmishes and scattered gun battles Tuesday, the main body of rebel fighters drove largely unopposed into town.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the best moment in my life.

WEDEMAN: According to residents, most of the loyalists slipped away in recent weeks. The regime that had ruled Libya for 42 years barely put up a fight here. It simply evaporated.

Sabha, Libya's fourth largest city, is firmly behind the uprising, insists resident Mohamed Hasnawi.

MOHAMED HASNAWI, SABHA RESIDENT: All the people is united with the revolution.

WEDEMAN (on camera): But many people say that Sabha was always with Gadhafi.

HASNAWI: No, no, no.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Pockets of stubborn resistance soon sullied the joy of victory. At the city's main hospital, doctors struggle to save a critically injured fighter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay. Stay with your patient. Stay with your patient. OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.

WEDEMAN: Most of these doctors arrived in Sabha with the fighters just minutes before. Suddenly, frantically working in a hospital none had ever set foot in, as casualties were rushed one after another into the emergency ward.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE), please!

WEDEMAN: Over 30 rebels were injured, more than a dozen killed. And with the arrival of every body from the battle, anger.

"Where will you go, Moammar?" shouts this rebel. "We'll be behind you."

But others' grief was silent. With the death of a friend, all the bravado slips away.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WEDEMAN: And Kristie, now what the fighters are doing is they're securing this town. There are some neighborhoods that are not completely under their control. But after that, really their main goal is to find people, major figures from the old regime.

Of course, Moammar Gadhafi. They're looking for his sons. It was said that Moatassem-Billah, one of his sons, was in this city. And also, they're looking for Abdullah Senussi, who was the notorious intelligence chief of the old regime -- Kristie.

STOUT: So the hunt for Gadhafi's inner circle goes on there in Sabha.

Ben Wedeman, joining us live.

Thank you, Ben.

And still to come, a deadly typhoon strikes Japan as winds of more than 160 kilometers an hour batter the country. Mari Ramos tracks this dangerous storm in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STOUT: Coming to you live from Hong Kong, you're back watching NEWS STREAM.

Now, this right here is a quick look at all the stories we're covering on the show today.

Now let's go to Japan, where a deadly typhoon, Roke, hit this Wednesday, killing four people. The storm is yet another challenge for a nation still trying to recover from the tsunami disaster.

Paula Hancocks battled the powerful wind and rain on Tokyo Bay to bring us this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Heavy rains and very strong winds are affecting much of Japan this Wednesdays, as Typhoon Roke has made landfall. Now, it made landfall in the Takai (ph) region, just south of Tokyo, at about 2:30 p.m. local time. There is great concern that it could cause more flooding and more mudslides.

Remember that this is only a few weeks after Typhoon Talas, which was the deadliest typhoon for Japan for about three decades. That caused a lot of mudslides, and it's a great concern that this amount of rain could do the same this time around.

Now, I'm standing in the Tokyo Bay. Let me show you what I can see at this point.

And the waters are very choppy. They're getting choppier by the minute. The wind is definitely picking up and the rain is driving.

Now, this has caused transport chaos here in Tokyo. Hundreds of flights have been canceled, which of course has affected thousands of people.

Some of the schools here in Tokyo have also been closed down, and the schoolchildren sent home. And the train line that connects Tokyo with Osaka, in the south, parts of that have been closed down as well.

So there is a lot of concern of flooding and of mudslides. And people are concerned as this typhoon moves northwards, towards Fukushima, is what will happen with the nuclear power plant.

Of course, there is still vast pools of radioactive water that have to be treated within these reactors. Remember, for months, cool water had to be poured on to the reactors to try and cool them down. And, of course, heavy rain could cause that water to overflow and maybe go into the sea or go into the groundwater. So that is a big concern at this point.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Tokyo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STOUT: Boy, you could really get a sense of the power of the storm just then looking at the currents behind Paula Hancocks, and of course all the lashings of water there on the reporter there.

(WEATHER REPORT)

STOUT: And up next here on NEWS STREAM, paying the ultimate price for peacemaking. A major Afghan leader is assassinated for trying to talk peace with the Taliban. We'll take a hard look at whether this could derail reconciliation efforts and the U.S. drawdown.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STOUT: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong. You're watching News Stream and these are your world headlines.

In the last hour, a U.S. officials reported that two Americans in an Iranian prison since 2009 have been freed. Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were sentenced to eight years in prison on espionage charges. But a little while ago bail papers were signed and the men were released.

Now U.S. president Barack Obama will hold private talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York today. Mr. Obama is trying to avert a crisis over the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN. Now the bid is due to be submitted on Friday, but Israel says it is provocative and will set back the Middle East peace process.

A deadly typhoon has made landfall in Japan bringing winds of more than 160 kilometers per hour. Now Typhoon Roke has killed at least four people and there are fears it could further damage the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Now let's return to our top story, the release of the American hikers in Iran. Now Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer had been held for more than two years after being convicted of espionage. Hala Gorani looks back at how and why the men and the third American Sarah Shourd were first detained.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The story begins on July 31, 2009. Three Americans, Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer, and Joshua Fattal are arrested while hiking near the Ahmed Awa waterfall near the mountains near the Iran-Iraq border.

Iranian officials claim the three crossed into Iran. The Americans say they didn't knowingly cross the border.

All three are held at Evin Prison. But Shourd is held separately from the two men.

In November of that year, Iran's government charged the three with espionage, accusing them of being CIA operatives attempting to spy on the country.

In May of 2010, an emotional meeting in Tehran. The mothers of the three Americans are finally allowed to see their children.

LAURA FATTAL, MOTHER OF JOSH FATTAL: We are hoping that the Iranian authorities will show compassion and release our children as soon as possible.

GORANI: September 14 of last year, Iran freed Sarah Shourd on humanitarian grounds. She's released on a half million dollar bail.

SARAH SHOURD, AMERICAN HIKER: All of my efforts, starting today, are going to go into helping procure the same freedom for my fiance Shane Bauer and my friend Josh Fattal, because I can't enjoy my freedom without them.

GORANI: Fattal and Bauer were tried before Iran's revolutionary court in July. They were both convicted to five years in prison for spying and three years for illegal entry into the country. Both Americans appealed their conviction.

Hala Gorani, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STOUT: Now let's return to that breaking story. In Iran, two U.S. hikers freed after more than two years in the notorious Evin Prison.

Journalist Shirza Zogmar (ph) is -- rather, excuse me I'm hearing that we have Elise Labott joining us live once again from New York. And Elise, are you getting any more information from your contacts at the U.S. State Department.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kristie, I think it's really a matter of nuance at this point. And we want to be very careful. Technically, the hikers have been released from their prison terms. We understand from U.S. officials, and this is being reported on the semi- official news agency of Iran FARS (ph) that the sentences of Josh and Shane have been commuted. The bail has been accepted. And they're just finishing up that remaining paperwork, crossing the Is, dotting the Ts to get them -- to get them to be able to actually walk out of the jail.

So they have been official released from their prison terms. And we understand that they'll be headed to Oman where their families are waiting. They'll have a medical check-up overnight. And then be headed back to the U.S. and reporting there from CNN's Zain Verjee.

So obviously a lot of tooing and froing (ph) over the last week about how to navigate the choreography here very important. As we know, President Ahmedinejad headed to the United Nations to address the general assembly and certainly now he comes in a much more favorable position not just for himself, but for Iran -- Kristie.

STOUT: And can you describe all the activity behind the scenes that led to this moment, the diplomacy behind the scenes, efforts by the families, the social media outreach to bring these two men back to the U.S.?

LABOTT: Lots of -- lots of pieces, lots of moving parts. Obviously a very strong campaign by the families of Josh and Shane and Sarah Shroud who was released last year as we saw in that piece by Hala. And also, the Omanis working behind the scenes. Very quiet country, you don't know a lot, but they were very involved in Sarah's release and here they sent an envoy last week to Iran to negotiate those final details.

The Swiss as we know, the protection power of the United States, because the U.S. and Switzer -- the U.S. and Iran don't have relations and so the Swiss kind of looked out and passed its messages to Iran. So they've been talking to the Iranian government.

And then there was this delegation by CAIR, which is an Islamic organization in the United States. Senior officials from that organization have traveled to Iran for talks with the Iranian government. Everyone trying to negotiate this very carefully.

The United States really just sitting back, biting their nails, and waiting to see, because they don't have relations with Iran. But there was a very public campaign by not just the United States and countries, but Muhammed Ali, private citizens, Muslims around the world to get these released. And it looks like the families will be able to see them later today, Kristie.

STOUT: As you mentioned, Tehran and Washington have had no diplomatic ties since 1979. So will this release have any impact on the dynamic between Iran and the U.S.?

LABOTT: Well, the United States has always been very careful to treat the hikers has a humanitarian issue. And they didn't want this wrapped up in the political relationship, because they didn't want Iran using this as a political pawn in the relationship.

But certainly, this is an effort by the Iranian regime as a whole, because we've been talking about these debates within the regime to make this goodwill gesture and now coming to the United Nations.

Still a lot going on between the U.S. and Iran, and Iran and the international community over their nuclear program, over suspected support for terrorism, their support for some of these countries, these regimes in the Arab Spring like Syria, like Bahrain, some of those crackdowns. So a lot to discuss with Iran.

But this president, President Obama, came to power promising to negotiate with Iran, promising to engage with the Iranian government. And certainly this is another step in being able to do that. But the U.S. has a lot of problems still with Iran on terrorism, on the nuclear issue, on human rights.

Certainly, though, this week a little bit better in those tensions.

STOUT: Elise Labott joining us live from New York. Many thanks for that.

Now we have been monitoring the site run by the hikers' families for an official statement. And we tried to bring their web site to you freethehikers.org. But the site, right now it appears to be unavailable. Now whether that's because there's too much web traffic visiting the site right now, that is unknown. But the Facebook page freethehikers is full of celebration messages right now. People are writing things like so glad Shane and Josh will be home with their families. A few people have said that they are crying with joy.

And one woman on this Facebook page wrote, welcome back Shane and Josh. I'm so beside myself right now, cannot imagine what your families are feeling.

Now let's move to Kabul where this crowd is mourning the death of former Afghan president Rabbani. Now he was assassinated at his home on Tuesday while hosting a meeting with Taliban representatives. And Rabbani, he headed up the peace council, which was leading reconciliation efforts in the country.

Now earlier I talked to CNN security analyst Peter Bergen about how his murder affects the peace process.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER BERGEN, SECURITY ANALYST: I don't think the peace process was going anywhere anyway. But I think the main problem is how damaging is it to Afghanistan writ large, and is it the beginning, will historians record this as the beginning of the amplification of the low levels of the war, because it's not just Rabbani who has been killed there are other senior members of the northern alliance opposed to the Taliban -- General Darud Jarud (ph) who was the police chief in the north was assassinated by the Taliban. And the Taliban have moved to a program of assassination. They can't really hold significant amounts of territory, and so they are killing their rivals preparing for what they see as deposed American Afghanistan and the civil war that they hope to win afterwards.

STOUT: The High Peace Council was established last year to basically initiate talks with the Taliban. Here's Harmid Karzai. Here's Rabbani right here. He was set up to head the council. And up to his death, was any progress made?

BERGEN: You know, people that I've talked to on the U.S. side say that -- you know, the problem is there's the Afghan government, there's the U.S. government, there's the high peace council -- the Pakistan, a lot of different actors. But I think that the feeling is that not much real advances had been made overall.

I mean, U.S. officials say these discussions they were having with the Taliban were more like detective work. I mean, for instance you know was somebody really speaking for Mullah Omar?

And we've had a lot of -- Mullah Omar hasn't really said anything indicating a great desire for peace.

You know, so I don't think it was going -- I don't think they were making a huge amount of headway. It was very exploratory.

But you know these things take decades. I mean, think about the Irish and the British in Northern Ireland it took 20 years from the beginning of secret talks to actually an agreement. So, you know, the fact that it's very, very incremental is not surprising. But the fact that -- you know, that he's been killed I think, you know, it speaks for itself.

STOUT: Rabbani, more on him the man, the former president of Afghanistan. He was a very divisive figure.

BERGEN: Yeah, I met him in '93 when he was president. He -- he presided over a government that was very weak. I mean, Afghanistan was in the middle of a civil war, which by the way makes the present war look like a picnic. I mean, hundreds of thousands of people died in the Afghan civil war that followed the Soviet withdraw.

He was a sort of (inaudible) president. He wasn't very effective. I mean, he was -- I think his background was sort of as more like a theologian than anything else. He was -- seemed like a very nice man, but he wasn't an effective leader. And he presided over an Afghanistan that, you know, was really a civil war. Kabul was just destroyed during the civil war.

You know, so I don't think that history will record him as a very effective president.

STOUT: Let's show the map here. This is the site of his home in Central Kabul. It's where he was killed. And it's just a few hundred meters away from the U.S. embassy. The site of that, what, 20 hour siege that took place last week. Which begs the question about the Taliban who has claimed responsibility for that attack.

Just how powerful is the militant group now?

BERGEN: Well, clearly they can mount significant operations in Kabul. Does that mean that they control large chunks of the south and the southwest which they used to a year ago? No.

I mean, this -- by the way, this was predicted by U.S. and NATO officials that the Taliban, once they started losing territory would move to a program of assassination, trying to show the flag in Kabul, essentially an intimidation campaign. And so the fact that they're able to mount these campaigns doesn't necessarily mean -- it's not necessarily a sign of enormous strength.

But I think that Afghans are very concerned about the American withdrawal, the NATO withdrawal. They know that the Afghan national army isn't particularly strong. And they see these attacks and they speak for themselves. And the fact that there was an attack that was -- I mean, attacks on Kabul have been fairly constant. I mean, it's not -- they're not new, but when you're eliminating major politicians like Rabbani, when you're attacking near the U.S. embassy I think, you know, from a psychological operations perspective it has an effect.

STOUT: Do you anticipate more targeted assassinations ahead?

BERGEN: Totally. I mean, that's -- clearly this is -- Rabbani is not the first one and will not be the last one.

STOUT: OK. Now more leaders have been weighing in, including U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen about the death of Rabbani saying that someone is going to have to step in very quickly, because as a critical part of the peace process, he's talking about the high peace council.

Who is going to replace him? What's next for the high peace council? And can there even be a political solution to end the war in Afghanistan?

BERGEN: Well, there has to be a political solution.

I think one of the problems that we've -- that in general has been the idea that it's just the Karzai government and just the Taliban. It also involves other actors. The point of the high peace council is that it involved former members of the Northern Alliance and there was a way of trying to get them on board with some kind of negotiation with the Taliban. But it's going to have to be a comprehensive peace plan. It's more than just the Taliban.

You know, there are people in the northern alliance, the Tajis, Uzbeks, Biazaras (ph) are very concerned about the Taliban coming back. They're very opposed. And so this assassination -- we're still not exactly clear who did it, probably the Taliban it seems, but is indicative of the fact that there is a kind of low grade civil war going on in Afghanistan. People are worried about the post-American Afghanistan. They're worried about a resumption of the civil war. And, you know, the death of Rabbani is part of this problem.

Now will there be volunteers to replace him? I wouldn't be taking this job if it was offered. There are 70 other members of the peace council, so it's not just one man, but clearly, you know, if you step into this job it's going to -- there's an expectation it may not be a job for life.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STOUT: Peter Bergen there.

Now Afghan president Hamid Karzai called Rabbani's death a very tragic loss and said he sacrificed his life for peace.

Now coming up on News Stream in the U.S. the clock is ticking for this man, Troy Davis. He faces execution later today, but his supporters are holding out hope for a last minute reprieve.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STOUT: Welcome back.

Now U.S. death penalty case is making headlines around the world. And the death row inmate's last hope may be the internet where he has turned into something of a sensation.

Now Troy Davis is set to be executed in the U.S. state of Georgia in just a few hours. His last ditch appeal for clemency was denied.

Back in 1991 Davis was convicted of killing an off duty police officer, but key witnesses have since recanted or changed their testimony. Now the U.S. civil rights group the NAACP has launched the I Am Troy Davis campaign online. And it's urging Facebook users to make Davis's image their own profile picture.

And Facebook pages like this one We are Troy Davis stop the execution are multiplying.

Now supporters are also being urged to tweet with the hashtag #toomuchdoubt.

And Amnesty International is urging people to sign petitions to spare Davis' life.

Now Troy Davis' supporters plan to push for a judge to cancel Davis' death warrant, but the former prosecutor in the case and the slain police officer's family say Davis' supporters have it all wrong.

David Mattingly has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Their last means of legal recourse seemingly exhausted there may be little more for Troy Davis' legion of supporters to do, but shout their frustrations and pray.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor who sent Davis to death row for the murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail broke years of silence, calling the campaign to save Davis unfair and unjust.

SPENCER LAWTON, FORMER DAVIS PROSECUTOR: We have felt that we were adequately bound to maintain our silence and express our opinions and judgments on the facts in court, which is where we have. And every place where we have we've won.

MATTINGLY: Now retired, former DA Spencer Lawton believes his witnesses who testified against Davis 20 years ago and later changed their stories or recanted did so under pressure from Davis' supporters and failed to appear credible, he says, in the eyes of the court.

LAWTON: It has been a game of delay throughout. The longer the delay, the more time they have to create not doubt, not honest doubt, not real doubt, but the appearance of doubt.

MATTINGLY: The Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole again refused to stop Davis' execution saying its decision was based on the totality of the information presented in this case.

Davis supporters say race was a factor.

REV. RAPHAEL GAMALIEL WARNOCK, EBENEEZER BAPTIST CHURCH: This is Jim Crow in a new era. There's just too much doubt for this execution to continue.

MATTINGLY: This is Davis' fourth appointment with execution, another last minute delay seems far less likely this time.

Families of Davis and officer MacPhail both prepare for the end.

MARTINA DAVIS-CORREIA, TROY DAVIS' SISTER: It's like reliving a nightmare over and over, but the thing about is we have to stay strong in our faith.

JOAN MACPHAIL, MARK MACPHAIL'S WIFE: We have lived this for 22 years. We know what the truth is. And for someone to ludicrously say that he is a victim -- we are victims. Look at us. We have put up with this stuff for 22 years. And it's time for justice today.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STOUT: Now Troy Davis is scheduled to die by lethal injection Wednesday night.

You're watching News Stream. We'll have more after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STOUT: Welcome back.

Well, it is a coaching carousel at football club Inter Milan as another manager bites the dust at the Italian giants. Don Riddell has that in sport -- Don.

DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, thanks very much, Kristie.

Dramatic news from Inter Milan who have today fired their manager Gian Piero Gasperini after just five games in charge. Club officials decided that Tuesday defeat to a newly promoted team in Serie A, Novara was the last straw in what had been a disastrous start to the new season.

In five games so far, Inter have lost four and drawn one.

Now losing at home to Trabzonspor in the Champions League was a low point, especially as Inter remember were European champions just 16 months ago.

But a 3-1 defeat against a team that most people outside Italy had never heard of last night was just too much. Gasperini was Inter's third manager since Jose Mourinho left in 2010. Mourinho is proving to be an almost impossible act to follow.

Earlier I spoke with the Italian football journalist Tancredi Palmeri to find out just what's going on at Inter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TANCREDI PALMERI, SPORTS JOURNALIST: The best way to understand the situation would be to quote one (inaudible) on the support of (inaudible) one week ago last Saturday before Inter-Roma game at (inaudible).

The support of (inaudible), after Mourinho, where is the strong man at Inter club? And this is actually the reality, because Mourinho, in spite of being simply the manager of Inter was the guy, was the man that was standing for (inaudible) that were happening in Inter. The same problems that (inaudible) Inter to achieve big results in Europe before.

After Mourinho, there is not only the figure of a winning manager that is missing in Inter, there is also a figure of a general manager, or a strong director, of a technical director that is taking that decision and that is keeping under control everything at Inter club. This is the main problem, keeping under control everything in Inter's changing room and making clear to the players that they have to give everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RIDDELL: And we'll have more on that story for you in World Sport in two-and-a-half hours time.

Now Tonga and Japan have served up a very entertaining game of Rugby at the world cup today. The result may prove academic with neither side likely to go beyond the pool stage, but for the teams themselves it was a very important game.

Tonga had something of a point to prove, having lost five consecutive games against Japan. And they got their noses in front with an early try from (inaudible).

But Japan got themselves back into the game. And the two teams were fairly well matched. Both sides scored three tries in this one from Kenseke Hakateyama (ph) is how Japan got themselves back into the game.

The difference between the sides turned out to be kicking. And it was Kurt Morass (ph) that did the damage for Tonga here in the second half. The fly half set up his team's third try releasing Sialu Piato (ph) who then passed it for Vine Kolo (ph) and a 26-13 lead.

Morass (ph) then slotted over two more kicks to be sure of the win. He missed just one of his seven kicks in all. Japan only made one of their four. That was the difference, 31-18 the final score.

And finally I want to tell you about a terrific occasion in Istanbul last night. The Turkish football authorities have come up with a pretty innovative way to punish teams with unruly fans. Instead of banning the fans altogether, which is the usual punishment, they just ban the men. And last night some 41,000 women and children under the age of 12 turned out to support Fanavache (ph) in their game against Mali Sasport (ph).

Fanavache (ph) officials think it was the first such occasion in world football. And the players said it was a wonderful experience that they will never forget.

That, Kristie, is my favorite story of the day. Great stuff.

STOUT: That's fantastic. Peaceful, no hooliganism, and everyone enjoyed themselves, except the men. Great story there.

Don Riddell, live from London, thank you.

Now that is News Stream. And next on CNN, we will have a special hour of coverage from the United Nations as world leaders prepare to begin addressing the general assembly. You're looking at video from just minutes ago of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas arriving there at the UN. And of course, the issue of Palestinian statehood will be one of the major talking points at the United Nations this week. And that is next right here on CNN.

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