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Pope to Visit U.S.; U.S. Athletes Warned; Snowden Extended Asylum; Iran's Leaders Say They Will Honor Nuke Deal; Dozens Feared Dead in Nursing Home Fire in Quebec; Explosions Rock Cairo

Aired January 24, 2014 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: CNN has just learned that the pope intends to visit the United States. We've got some details from Rome.

And U.S. athletes headed to the Winter Olympics are warned not to wear Team USA clothing outside the Olympic venues.

And a series of explosions in Egypt kill six people and wounded dozens. We are live in Cairo.

Welcome to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

This just in, the pope intends to come to America. According to our sources now, the wheels are turning on plans for Pope Francis to visit the United States next year. John Allen, our senior Vatican analyst, is in Rome right now, has this exclusive.

John, this is a major announcement. The last time we actually saw a pope here in the United States was Pope Benedict back in 2008. What are the details? What do you know?

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Well, what we know, Suzanne, is this is all being phrased in the subjunctive by Vatican officials because, of course, September 2015 is 20 months away and lots of things could change in the meantime.

But what we're being told by Vatican officials on background is that Francis has expressed his desire, his intention, to come to the United States in late September of 2015 for a major Vatican event that's called the World Meeting of Families that is scheduled for Philadelphia, September 22 through 27 in 2015. And he's saying he would like to be there.

And, of course, this would be his first visit to the United States as pope. This is a pope who has astronomically high approval ratings all around the world, including in the United States. A December CNN poll found that he's got an 88 percent approval rating among American Catholics. So if indeed he does come to Philadelphia in September 2015, we can imagine, Suzanne, that this would be a major happening on the East Coast of the United States.

MALVEAUX: I can see people now making their plans, putting that on their calendar. It seems kind of far away. Is that typical, where there's a lot of planning that is required here to plan that far in advance for a typical pope trip?

ALLEN: Yes. What will happen typically, Suzanne, is that sort of tentative plans will be forged for the pope to go someplace. And people will begin doing the advance work. The Vatican will not confirm a papal trip until usually shortly before it actually happens.

I mean, for example, we know that Pope Francis is going to the holy land, that is, to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan, in May. The pope himself has announced that he intends to go. But the Vatican still has not officially -- has not officially issued a set of plans for that trip because they're well aware that things can come up.


ALLEN: So we're not going to get any official confirmation for quite some time.

But in the meantime, the people who are trying to put events like this together need some indication of what the pope's intentions are so they can begin doing the preliminary sort of work. And that's what we have now, a preliminary signal from Francis that all things being equal, he would like to be there. And that in itself, of course, for people in the United States, is big news.

MALVEAUX: Oh, yes. What a scoop there, John. That's great. I know President Obama is going to be visiting with the pope in March. He's actually going to be going over to the Vatican there. But this is really amazing for those people who are looking forward to seeing him face-to-face here in the United States. Mark your calendars. If nothing goes wrong, that's going to be in September.

All right, John, thanks. Appreciate it.

Now to a new warning. A caution for American athletes heading to the Winter Olympics. They are going to be told to avoid wearing official gear, even the team colors, outside of the Olympic venues. So here's what you're seeing. You're looking at the uniforms that Team USA is going to wear at the opening ceremony. Pretty snazzy there.

"The Wall Street Journal" says a memo now from the State Department was sent to the U.S. Olympic Committee detailing the steps that athletes have to take and should take to stay safe in the games. It comes amid growing concern about security in Russia. Our Nick Paton Walsh, he's joining us live from Sochi.

Nick, you and I talk about this every day, the games beginning just two weeks from today. Team USA essentially being told they could be walking targets. I mean, this seems pretty serious and it seems like it's something that they are taking every detail to task.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, this is important, this (INAUDIBLE) in "The Wall Street Journal." The U.S. Olympic Committee don't have any on the record comment about this, other than to say quite simply that they are always doing all they can to ensure the safety of the American team here. But some of this advice comes (INAUDIBLE) case seems to collide with what's being said by Pentagon officials (INAUDIBLE) in private where they're really warning perhaps not about the potential for threats within the Olympic arena here, within the kind of ring of steel (INAUDIBLE) by these 37,000 Russian security officers. The more concern is perhaps the softer targets. Where you, for example, (INAUDIBLE) yes to wander into Sochi nearby or to head out in the areas around here. That's potentially where security may lapse, where things may get necessarily less safe.

And we've been talking now for a few days now about how this whole region has been, for the past decade, extraordinarily volatile. A long running Islamist insurgency. So unlikely that during the weeks these games last, we won't see any violence at all across the north Caucasus in southern Russia. The question is, can this massive security operation underway keep the Americans and other athletes safe within this sort of tightly controlled zone, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Nick, real quick here, because I know we've got to go. But, you know, one of the things - I mean those - those uniforms, I mean, they're pretty conspicuous, if you see an Olympian wearing those uniforms, even outside of the Olympic venue. Are they saying that even tourists, people who are going there who just want to show some team support, wear red, white and blue, for instance, that that's a bad idea, as well? That they also could be targeted?

WALSH: Suzanne, sorry, unfortunately we have a technical issue. I can't quite hear your question. I think the broader issue for Americans here and the advice they've been getting from the State Department has been encouraging in some ways, it's been (INAUDIBLE) people off to actually attend here.

But it's been advising them to be sensible. It's warned about normal, ordinary crime, but also thrown out the issue of Daku Umarov (ph), the separatist leader here, running much of the insurgency way out in the east in Dagestan in southern Russia, that he has specifically made threats towards the games. They say, the State Department, they're not entirely clear if this is directed exactly at U.S. citizens. They don't see any specific open threat at this point.

But, still, the major problem, Suzanne, here, as you know, in the weeks ahead, we should be talking about sports, festivities.


WALSH: The focus has been on security. Simply, is it safe enough to come here? American athletes suggesting maybe their parents aren't (ph) being advised by them to come and watch them compete. That's overshadowing that amazing spectacle behind me, $50 billion worth of Kremlin money being poured in. People simply aren't talking about what Moscow would like them to (INAUDIBLE) --

MALVEAUX: All right.

WALSH: Which is turning Russia, almost that Soviet era glory here.


MALVEAUX: Yes. I mean it's a very important point, Nick. I'm sorry we're going to let you go a little early. We're having some technical problems with you. But, of course, everybody trying to make sure that they take the proper steps to stay safe.

And the families even of some of the U.S. Olympians, what they're doing, they're not even attending the games in Sochi because they're so worried. They're concerned about the security there. Others say, however, that they refuse to let terror threats keep them away. Well, here's one mom who spoke to CNN today.


LISA CERVANTES, SON IS SKATING IN SOCHI OLYMPICS: I don't think I'm apprehensive. I think aware is a better word. You know, in this day and age, we have to be aware of everything that is going on around us. Whether you're at Wal-mart, another country, I mean, really, it's just kind of the world we live in now.

I want to say I'm not going to allow terrorists to steal my joy. It's -- you know? Our tickets are booked and our hotel -- we made the deposit on yesterday. And we're going. And we're staying on the outside of the Olympic village. So I've been reassured that the police presence and the military presence is going to be at an all-time high.


MALVEAUX: It will be. The Winter Olympics starting on February 7th, ending on February 23rd. There is an estimated 15,000 Americans expected to travel to Sochi for the games.

And don't look for NSA leaker Edward Snowden to return to the United States any time soon because a Russian lawmaker says that Snowden will be given extended asylum beyond the one year that expires next summer. So Snowden himself says he wants to come back to the United States but he can't because he's afraid of being prosecuted. Want to bring in our justice reporter, Evan Perez, who's covering this story for us.

So talk about the timing here, Evan. Why is this important that they're going to decide now to extend the asylum?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, I think there's a lot of speculation as to whether or not it's possible for the Justice Department and Snowden to come to some kind of arrangement where perhaps some of the charges, these very serious charges that are -- that are - that have been filed against him here in the United States could be changed, perhaps, and allow him to come back.

As you know, the president has now said that he's going to make some changes to the NSA programs as a result of all these disclosures. And so today in Davos, Switzerland, this World Economic Forum meeting, Alexei Pushkov, who's apparently head of a foreign affairs committee at the Russian Duma, sort of basically put to rest any question that the Russians would be involved in trying to push him out of Russia, Suzanne. MALVEAUX: And, Evan, we heard from Snowden himself. Clearly he wants to come home. This is an Internet - from the Internet chat forum that happened yesterday. And he says here, "returning to the United States I think is the best resolution for the government, the public and myself, but it's unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistle-blower protection laws, which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself."

Then we also heard from the attorney general, Eric Holder, yesterday, also spelling out the conditions for Snowden to come back. So here's how he put it.


ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We've always indicated, and I indicated in the interaction that we had down in Roanoke, that the notion of clemency was not something that we were willing to consider. But as I said, were he to come back to the United States, enter a plea, we would engage with his lawyers.


MALVEAUX: So, Evan, what kind of plea deal is the Justice Department entertaining, possibly?

PEREZ: Well, I think what the attorney general was trying to do there was trying to put the onus back on Edward Snowden. There's been a lot of speculation in "The New York Times" and others, members of Congress have been pushing for the Justice Department to try to perhaps find a deal.

And I think the attorney general was basically trying to put it back on Snowden, that in order for him to even talk about a deal, Snowden has to agree to come back, plead guilty, and therefore he's willing to then -- the attorney general is willing to then talk to Snowden's lawyers about how to arrange a return. So I think what you're seeing there is perhaps the attorney general's effort to put this back on the shoulders of Snowden, rather than in the Justice Department's court.

MALVEAUX: Right. All right. Thank you very much, Evan Perez. We appreciate your reporting.

A rough day here -- you've got to watch this here -- for U.S. stocks. The Dow Jones dropping around now 195 points. The Nasdaq, S&P 500 also taking a beating as investors dumped their stocks around the world. Worries over an economic slowdown in China are actually putting pressure on Wall Street and markets everywhere. European markets closed with losses as well today.

Here's more of what we're working on for AROUND THE WORLD.

This young man says his scars prove it. Look at that. He says that Ukraine's police force - they tortured him for protesting against the government.

And CNN asked Iran's foreign minister what he plans to do with two Americans who are imprisoned there. Hear what he had to say.

And it's supposed to be a talk for peace in Syria, but the two sides refusing to even meet face-to-face. We're going to take a look at why the U.N. had to act as a go-between in Geneva.


MALVEAUX: The leaders of Iran at the highest levels are telling CNN now how they will honor their part of the nuclear deal that just took effect a couple days ago. Now, this is Tehran today. People there are insisting their country has a right to some form of a nuclear program. Well, that's while more U.N. inspectors are in Iran than ever before.

I want to get to our Jim Sciutto, who is actually in Tehran, and Jim, we're going to talk about a lot of things here, because it's pretty rare to be inside of Iran, so there are a lot of things you're dealing with there.

First of all, he had a face-to-face with the Iranian foreign minister, who told you in no uncertain terms, his government is not going to take apart the nuclear program. How is it playing with the people who you actually talk to, speak with in Iran?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me tell you, Suzanne. We went to Friday prayers today at the main mosque in central Tehran, really the showcase Friday prayers nationally, and we got a very warm welcome.

My producer here with me, Jen Rizzo, when an Iranian woman heard she was from America, came up and gave her a hug and kiss on the cheek. And when I spoke to Iranians about this new diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran, they told me they welcomed it. They see a chance that Iran and the U.S. can be friends.

But when it comes to the nuclear program, this is something in Iran that whether you're a hard-liner or a reformer, you support Iran's nuclear program. You believe it's peaceful, and you believe it's Iran's right.

And I can tell you, at these Friday prayers, politics is never far from the conversation when the president mentioned Iran's invitation to those talks in Geneva regarding Syria, and he mentioned how that invitation was rescinded, all of a sudden the crowd broke into those familiar death to America chants.

And in my experience coming to Iran more than 10 times, I find there is more theater in these death to America rants.

But what they do tell you, the emotions are still high. They're still bitter and it's going to take some time to build trust, to break this mistrust that's built up over really more than 30 years between our two countries.


And, Jim, I want you to talk about that. Take us behind the scenes, if you will, because you have been to Iran ten times, but most people really never get to see inside of that country, have no idea.

Do they separate the politics from the personal feelings about you as an American? I mean, give us a sense of flavor of what it's like to be there.

SCIUTTO: They really do. And even in the most tense times between Iran and the U.S., when I have come here, I always found that people give me a personal welcome.

That doesn't mean that you're not spared lectures about how the U.S. has wronged Iran, and even today, as we have this new diplomacy, Iranians, for instance -- Iran is suffering under economic sanctions and blame the U.S. for that.

And Iranians who support a more reformist government will say that these sanctions are punishing the people and not the government. So that's another place where politics comes into the conversation, and the emotions are still raw.

MALVEAUX: And Jim, of course, you're making news there, as well.

You talked to the foreign minister, and you asked him about two Americans who are locked up inside of Iran. Did he give you any sense of information about their fate?

SCIUTTO: He did. These are the two Americans, Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedini. Hekmati, held here, he was a former U.S. soldier. He was accused of spying here. Saeed Abedini, accused of proselytizing Christianity.

When I asked him about it, he said, listen, we have laws on our books for clemency.

Here's how he described them to me.


MOHAMMED JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, they have, unfortunately, judgments, court judgments, against them. Of course, we have various clemency measures in Iran that can be introduced, have been in the past, can be introduced again in these cases.

But I cannot predict that, because that is something for the judiciary to decide, and the executive usually doesn't have much influence over what the judiciary decides.


SCIUTTO: The foreign minister did say it's not his decision. That resides with the judiciary. But it is at least something of a sign of hope.

And when I passed those comments on to the families of Hekmati and Abedini, they were happy to hear. They were desperate for any news, and that gave them a glimmer of hope for some positive change come ago head for these cases. MALVEAUX: Jim Sciutto, excellent reporting, as always. Thank you, Jim. We appreciate it, kind of a rare glimpse inside of Iran.

Here are some of the other headlines that are making news AROUND THE WORLD.

Dozens of elderly people are feared dead. This is following a tragic nursing home fire in Quebec. At least five people lost their lives, but there are about 30 others still unaccounted for.

Firefighters face brutal cold as they battled the flames, making matters worse, even, because water from the fire hoses quickly froze into thick ice, possibly trapping victims inside.


GUY LAPOINTE, QUEBEC POLICE: Some people might have been away. Some people might have been in the hospital. People might have been visiting and sleeping over. So now we're just trying to get information to ascertain how many people were actually inside the building.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of us are hoping that it's many fewer than 30. Do you have any indication now that people were double or triple counted?

LAPOINTE: It's hard to say. There will be some. Like I said, 30 is a rough estimate. I think the final number would be in that area.


MALVEAUX: That is so sad.

About 20 people escaped when the fire broke out early yesterday. The cause has not yet been determined.

And a cease-fire starts today in South Sudan. Government and rebel leaders, they have now signed a deal agreeing to freeze all military operations, stop attacking civilians, and stop sexual abuse and torture, and open supply routes for humanitarian aid.

Thousands of people were killed, more than a half million displaced after fighting erupted last month between troops loyal to the president and those backing the vice president that he sacked.

And you have to wonder if French President Francois Hollande had any special confessions to get off his chest. He met with the pope, Pope Francis, at the Vatican.

It was a private meeting, so we don't really know what they talked about or if Hollande's alleged affair with a French actress came up in their conversation.

But the allegations have left in doubt the status of the president's long-time partner. Now, her lawyer told a French newspaper that the two are working to clarify the status of their relationship. They're supposed to make a state visit to Washington next month, but not clear if she is going to make the trip.

Deadly violence in Egypt today from a series of bombings, including one outside police headquarters in Cairo.

We've got a live report, up next.


MALVEAUX: Want to take you now to Cairo, Egypt. This is where a powerful truck bomb ripped off part of the facade of the police headquarters, killing at least four people, injuring dozens more.

The violence comes just the day before the third anniversary of the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

Our Reza Sayah is joining us, live in Cairo. So, first of all, give us the details about what happened here. I understand at least two explosions.


What happened here in Cairo today could be a game-changer when it comes to this political crisis, simply because Cairo and this country hasn't seen anything like what happened today.

At least four bomb explosions throughout the day, a fifth one reported within the past hour. We're working to confirm that.

These were not random attacks targeting random locations, all of them going after police and security buildings, without question the biggest explosion taking place early in the morning, around 6:30 a.m.

That's when a car bomb exploded in front of police headquarters, an eight-story building, the bomb powerful enough to shear off the facade and damage adjacent buildings, including the Islamic Museum of Art, at least four people killed, scores injured in that explosion.

Several hours later, a second and a third explosion. Early this evening, you had a fourth explosion, and like we mentioned before, Suzanne, a fifth explosion being reported.

No one has claimed responsibility for these attacks. However, many Egyptians that we met on the streets are quick to blame the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood for their part condemned the attacks as they have done with these previous attacks, Suzanne.

But a tumultuous time, one day before the big celebration of the three-year anniversary of the 2011 revolution.

MALVEAUX: And, Reza, real quick here, you bring up a good point. That is a very significant marker in Egyptian history.

Do we expect there's going to be more violence, more protests, leading to tomorrow? SAYAH: It's hard to say, but if today was any indication of what tomorrow is going to bring, it's going to be a rough day and it drives home the fact that Egypt is in the midst of a political crisis on the one hand, the military-backed interim government pushing forth with its transition.

On the other hand, you have the supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsy, and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

And now you have what seems like a very intense insurgency that is building up. And it's capable of targeting high-profile locations, like the police quarters in the heart of the city.


MALVEAUX: Reza, please be safe. We'll be following this as we go into the anniversary tomorrow.

We know that some of the world's richest and most influential people, they're now in Davos, Switzerland, trying to tackle big global issues.

But a select handful of American mayors is also there, too, thinking global, acting local, also, international mayors, as well.

What are they hoping to bring back to benefit their cities? We're going to talk to one mayor, coming up next.