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Breaking News

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright Holds News Conference on USS Cole Attack, Escalation in Middle East Tensions

Aired October 12, 2000 - 10:51 a.m. ET

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

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Continue to monitor reaction from different parts of the globe in Washington at the Department of State, the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, speaking to reporters there. She's holding a briefing right now. Just a short time ago, she did talk about not only the latest on what we're seeing in the Middle East, but also the situation in Yemen, with the USS Cole. That destroyer was struck about five hours ago, in which at least four Navy sailors with the U.S. Navy have been killed, and paid for that attack with their lives.

Let's go to Madeleine Albright a short time ago, on videotape now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: But, first, I want to express my deep sorrow at the explosion involving the U.S. naval vessel Cole in Yemen. My prayers are with the families of those killed and injured and with all the brave men and women in uniform who serve our country every day around the world.

Rest assured that the United States will seek with all our resources to determine the facts surrounding this tragedy. We will continue taking every step we can to protect our troops, our diplomats, but we will not retreat from our responsibilities.

If it turns out, as it appears, to have been a terrorist act, we will hold those who committed it accountable and take appropriate steps.

I also wanted to say how deeply distressed the United States is at the murder this morning of Israeli soldiers in Ramallah. I express my condolences to their families and to the loved ones of all, both Palestinian and Israeli, who have been victimized by the terrible violence that has occurred in recent days, and especially the children whose hopes for peace so recently so raised have been dashed.

I call upon the entire international community to join the United States in urging Chairman Arafat to take the steps necessary to bring this senseless and destructive cycle of fighting to an end.

No matter how justified they feel at the mob violence against their soldiers, we are calling on the Israelis to bring an immediate end to the current operations by the IDF.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HEMMER: Few moments ago on videotape. Now live at the Department of State, Madeleine Albright still taking questions from reporters there.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, let me say that we are in the process of investigating the facts on what happened to the Cole. I had a conversation about an hour ago with the president of Yemen, and they are being very cooperative in the investigative process. The president of Yemen told me that he had been to the hospital to visit the casualties. And, obviously, he offered his condolences.

And we will continue to investigate this. And as far as I know, Barry, nobody has claimed anything.

And there is -- as I said, if it appears to be an act of terrorism, we will pursue it and hold those accountable. But we have not heard anything more beyond the investigative aspect of this. And we are going to be sending some teams in and doing everything we can.

On the second part of the question, I think that clearly we have been concerned for some time about what is happening and threats of terrorism. We've talked about that for a long time. It's one of the priority issues of this administration, to deal with that problem.

We have taken a variety of steps to ensure that our diplomats are secure. The ambassadors on the ground are the ones that are going to making that decision, I think, as to how to deal with their own diplomats and the Americans that are in each respective country.

I think we're in a very sad and difficult period. We have all spent a great deal of time on the peace process and have believed that it's an important endeavor, and we will continue to do everything we can. The president and I are deeply involved and will continue to pursue the peace process.

But what has to happen is, we have to get the violence to stop. There has to be a cease-fire and there has to be a road back to the negotiating table.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, I was reading the description of Yemen in our terrorist -- latest terrorist report. And I'm wondering why this country was ever taken off the terrorist list when there are groups like these Islamic Jihad, Hamas has an office there, Palestinian Islamic Jihad. All of these apparently still have a presence there. Osama bin Laden has a presence there. Why was this country removed or not put back on the list of terrorist-sponsoring states when a country like North Korea, which has no terrorists, as far as I know, is still on the list? ALBRIGHT: Well, as you know, we're very careful in determining how that list is put together, and there are a variety of considerations in it and we obviously felt that there was a reason to.

But I think that we, first, have to be very careful here to make an assessment of the facts. And I think it's very important that we know what happened and where it was caused, and we obviously will keep looking at the situation.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, I'd like to pick up on Barry's question. Could you please share with us whether or not you have a heightened concern, greater concern, after this latest attack in Yemen, not just about anti-Israeli sentiment within the Arab world, but anti-American sentiment, and whether or not you think it's appropriate to renew that embassy closing that you had initiated last week?

Well, first of all, I really caution you all not to jump to conclusions here. We have, ourselves, been talking about it all morning and the investigation is going on. And I just think it's important -- you know, it's a great tragedy that four Americans died and that 30 are injured. I think there are two Yemeni nationals among those. And it is a great tragedy, and we are obviously doing everything that we can. And, as I said, if it does appear that it is a terrorist attack, we obviously will take appropriate steps. But I just urge a little bit of caution.

On the second point: I think, you know, the answer is, yes. Obviously there are demonstrations going on in a variety of places. We are watching everything very carefully. And we are, I believe, taking the responsible action, as far as our embassies are concerned. We're all in contact and people are very watchful.

But let me just say this: The United States is not going to stop doing what we have to do. We have responsibilities; we have national interests. We are operating in a world that is filled with a variety of threats, but that doesn't mean that we can crawl into an ostrich- like mode. We are eagles. And I think that it is very important that the United States stay involved, that we understand the threats, and we will continue to do what we have to do.

QUESTION: I just want to clarify with you, Madam Secretary, you said the president's visit -- about the president's visit to Pyongyang -- you said this was President Clinton, but this statement said possible visit by the president of the United States. So does this mean...

HEMMER: All right, Madeleine Albright speaking with the reporters there at the Department of State. We anticipate, we should more questions and answers throughout the day. And again the USS Cole, a number of outstanding questions at this point.

For more, let's head back up to Washington.

Daryn has that more. DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And yes, our Jamie Mcintyre, our military affairs correspondent, has been working on this at the Pentagon.

Jamie, what do you have new on this attack on the USS Cole?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you heard Secretary Albright urge reporters caution, not to jump to conclusions, saying "if it turns outs to be a terrorist attack." Well, there is an axiom at the Pentagon that initial reports are always wrong. and it appears, as we get more information now, that there were some inaccurate aspects of those initial reports, and there is some reason to suspect that this might not been a terrorist attack.

As you may recall, we were told earlier that the USS Cole was rammed by a rubber boat that was carrying high explosives. Now we're told, as the reports are coming back, that in fact the explosion that damaged the USS Cole killed four sailors, injured more than 30 others and has 10 sailors missing, resulting from an explosion on a small boat that was apparently, performing a function.

Now, it's still possible that terrorists might have planted some sort of bomb on that boat, knowing it would be near the Cole, but it's also a possibility that this was simply an accident aboard this ship; an explosion on the small boat that then damaged the Cole.

The real answer at this point is the United States doesn't know. That's why you're hearing Secretary of State Madeleine Albright urging reporters to be cautious and not jump to conclusions despite the fact that the initial reports certainly seemed to indicate this might be a terrorist attack and it may yet turn out to be one.

Right now, they just don't know. Again, the latest figures that we have from the Navy is that 35 sailors were injured, 10 are still missing, four are known to be dead -- Daryn.

KAGAN: And, Jamie, as you said, this, of course, would be two very different scenarios -- a terrorist attack versus something that could have been just a tragic accident.

For our viewers who are just joining us now, remind us, again, what the Cole was doing, where it was, how it was refueling, how it was just on a standard, routine mission.

MCINTYRE: Well, the USS Cole is an aegis-class destroyer, one of the most sophisticated surface ships in the U.S. Navy. It was part of a force -- the U.S. fifth fleet -- that was patrolling the Persian Gulf enforcing the oil embargo against Iraq.

It had stopped for a very brief refueling stock in the port of Aden in Yemen. It was only supposed to be there four to six hours, just long enough to get fuel. Not a port visit where sailors would have gotten off the ship. Its visit to the port was not announced ahead of time, so if it was an attack, it would have been something that somebody would have had to know or been able to react to very quickly. The ship was there about Midday when the explosion took place on the small boat next to it. It blew a hole about 20 to 40 feet -- about 20-by-40 feet in the side of the hull, right at the water-line. That resulted in extensive flooding of the USS Cole, which is pier- side. The ship is listing, it's taken on water, it's got limited power; and, as we said, four sailors lost their lives, 10 others are unaccounted for and more than 35 have been injured -- Daryn.

KAGAN: And, of course, for those who have family and loved ones on board that ship the cause for them, at this point, is not as important as the condition of those loved ones.

Let's, once again, put up that 1-800 number that folks can call if they do believe they have loved ones on board the USS Cole if we have that.

MCINTYRE: The Cole was based in Norfolk, Virginia. So the families, probably, from Norfolk would be the ones interested in calling this number.

The Navy stresses that his number is for families only and they will try to give the most up-to-date information about the status of loved ones if the family members call in.

KAGAN: And, once again, the exact cause not clear. Whether it was a tragic accident with an explosion or if it was, indeed, a terrorist attack. I'm sure more information will be coming on that throughout the day.

Jamie, we'll check back with you. Thank you -- Bill.

HEMMER: Daryn, back to the Middle East quickly, here. Getting reports, now, that Palestinian radio has been knocked off the air. This, in addition to reports that we were getting about Palestinian television as well.

Also getting word out of Jerusalem that an emergency meeting of the Israeli cabinet has been called and will start momentarily.

Back to Ramallah; Sausan Ghosheh, we left her a short time ago, a CNN producer on the ground. We have her back, now talking with CNN International, let's join.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ... this latest attack?

SAUSAN GHOSHEH, CNN PRODUCER: No, I can't. The police are keeping us away from going inside the building. Only the ambulances are allowed to go inside and the police.

But I see helicopters still hovering. People are still worried that there might be more bombing going on around here and they are trying to evacuate the area from civilians -- Mike.

HANNA: Sausan, tell us the mood of the people there. Is there fear in the streets? Is there anger? Is there a mixture?

What are you hearing in the streets of Ramallah?

GHOSHEH: Exactly, Mike -- there is a mixture of fear and anger. Fear that the helicopters haven't gone away and they keep bombing every time they think that might be the last bomb, another one comes; and they come in groups of threes or fours. So there's that kind of fear.

And there's also anger that they don't deserve this. They see that the Israeli soldiers that came in today were trespassing onto Palestinian areas, that they were doing undercover operations, trying to arrest Palestinians or harming Palestinians, and they don't think they deserve to be hit like this. They feel it's a humiliation of the Palestinian people and of Arafat personally -- Mike.

HANNA: Sausan Ghosheh, CNN producer in Ramallah, thank you very much for joining us.

HEMMER: All right, Mike Hanna there, stationed in Jerusalem during this crisis there in the Middle East. Speaking, there, with our sister network CNN International.

Also getting reports, now -- more reports out of Gaza. Apparently, Yasser Arafat has been quoted by reporters in Gaza that quote, "This is a declaration of war." All this happening as the situation continues to unfold in Ramallah, and also from the White House.

More perspective, now, from Kelly Wallace who picks things up for us.

Kelly, what's the latest?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, as our viewers just heard, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright talking to reporters, describing the current situation as a quote, "sad and difficult period." Calling on both sides to do everything they possibly can to bring an end to the violence and agree to a cease- fire.

She also had specific messages for both sides. She called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to do everything, take every step he possibly can to end the violence. She also said that the Israelis, although they may feel justified by taking some action after the death of two Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, she also called on the Israelis, though, to exercise restraint.

President Clinton is intimately engaged in the situation. He has been monitoring it from his home in Chappaqua, New York, where he was this morning. He is, though, expected to return to the White House not to long from now.

Mr. Clinton has been working the phones. He spoke with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat; he apparently talked with the Palestinian leader, asked him, specifically, what happened and how it happened, called on him to take steps to reduce the violence, to restore calm and also to coordinate -- Palestinian security forces to coordinate with Israeli security forces. We understand from a U.S. official that the Palestinian leader agreed with the president, deploring the loss of life and telling the president that the Palestinians tried to do everything they possibly could to protect those Israeli soldiers.

Mr. Clinton is also expected to make a telephone call to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. He has not yet spoken with him. He has spoken with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who called more to offer condolences about the loss of life aboard the USS Cole, but also talked about the Middle East. And the president has talked with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

One other development as we've been reporting all morning, CIA Director George Tenet is in the region, President Clinton dispatched him there to try and improve coordination between both side's security forces; we understand he is still in the region at this time.

HEMMER: Kelly -- getting word Rula Amin with CNN, also in Gaza City, saying right now that a state of emergency has been declared there. Hang with us a second here, Kelly. We're going to continue our conversation.

This, a live picture now from Ramallah. Again, as the sun sets on another day of violence and, quite possibly, it can be argued at this point, the most serious violence we have seen in several days now as this conflict now goes on for 15 days and counting.

Kelly, quickly, here; Saeb Erakat was speaking with Daryn Kagan just a short time ago. He's the Palestinian negotiator, he was live with us. he is saying that Ehud Barak is not taking President Clinton's phone calls.

Is there truth to that statement?

WALLACE: Well that question was asked of P.J. Crowley, the national security spokesman here; he said that his understanding is that the prime minister has been in a cabinet meeting and that is why there has not been a phone conversation between the two leaders -- that he fully expects Mr. Clinton to talk with the prime minister.

HEMMER: OK, clarification well noted.

Kelly, thanks, we'll cut you loose and talk again shortly, all right.

WALLACE: You got it.

HEMMER: Here's Daryn.

KAGAN: And, as Kelly mentioned, CIA Director George Tenet is in the area. He did have a meeting earlier today with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Let's bring in our David Ensor, who is in our Washington bureau right now; and, David, as we talk to you we're going to be bringing in some new pictures that we're getting from region.

First to George Tenet and his visit. Is this just a coincident that he happened to be in the region at this time?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well it's not a coincidence, Daryn, no. I mean, he's there because the situation is very, very worrisome and because the CIA director -- and the CIA, has a long- standing relationship with the security forces both of Israel and of the Palestinian entity; and he's there to try and get those two forces working together again.

Now, obviously, that's particularly difficult at a time when one security outfit has failed to prevent the murders, apparently, of two Israeli soldiers -- members of the security on the other side. So a very, very difficult mission. Officials are calling it an uphill battle for Mr. Tenet.

You mentioned earlier that he may have met with Mr. Arafat. We can't confirm that the meeting actually went ahead, by the way. It was scheduled to go ahead, but we're not sure that that meeting has yet occurred. There's a...

KAGAN: OK David, hold on one second. We need to go back -- sorry, we'll get back to you.

We need to go back live to Ramallah and our CNN producer Sausan Ghosheh who is on the ground right now.

Sausan, what's the situation where you are?

GHOSHEH: Just 10 seconds ago a bomb just went off right in front of our face here, standing outside Palestinian radio. Another bomb went right in the building itself.

People here are panicking. They're running around. The Palestine radio has stopped broadcasting. The police are keeping us away, but there are only ambulances going in -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Sausan, as we've been talking to you all day long, our first concern is that you and our crews are in -- that you're in a safe position, that you're in an OK place that you can talk to us -- is that right?

GHOSHEH: I'm standing behind a building now. I just saw the rocket come straight out of the helicopter, hitting, exactly, Palestine radio in front of my eyes less than 50 meters away from me.

KAGAN: Do you need to go to another place to take cover?

GHOSHEH: I think I'm fine now. There's another bomb now. As we are speaking -- just right now it took place. This one I didn't see, I don't know where it hit because I'm standing behind this building, so I can only see in front of me the Palestine radio station.

KAGAN: And so, now, the Palestine radio and also the television have been knocked off the air, is that right? GHOSHEH: I don't know, yet, about the TV. TV in a different place. But Palestine radio has definitely been knocked off the air. And smoke coming now , as we're speaking, from the building from the Palestine Radio.

KAGAN: Are these building that have a lot of people inside of them?

GHOSHEH: Usually yes. Palestine Radio has been broadcasting 24 hours. They're been Putting on national TV and they've been putting on up-to-date information every 10 minutes, calling for every city in the West Bank. And this is headquarters of the radio in Ramallah. So by knocking it out, they knock off any information that the Palestinians have been receiving regarding the clashes and they also knock off any kind of national signs that the Palestinian -- that Israeli thought that they were using for inciting the Palestinian people -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Ghosheh, give us an idea of how concentrated or spread out these attacks have been throughout the day.

GHOSHEH: They started around 3:30 our time, local time, and they've been happening every 15 minutes, and they happen in groups of three or fours -- Daryn.

KAGAN: What about geographically? How close are they to each other?

GHOSHEH: Ramallah is actually inside the Palestinian. It's a area very small area. It's not all of Ramallah. It's part of Ramallah that's under Palestinian control, and it's very small area. They're within five minutes for each other.

KAGAN: For instance, how far are you -- now that you are Palestinian Radio, how far from the police station that was hit earlier?

GHOSHEH: I'm less than seven minutes by car.

KAGAN: And you're saying that the attacks coming every 15 minutes and come in sets of three or four. Does that give you the feeling that you're in clear for right now?

GHOSHEH: Yes, clear for right now. But let me tell you, the last time they attacked, it was less than 10 minutes ago. So let me tell you, increasing their limits or not. As I'm talking to you, I'm running to hide, because we're hearing helicopters coming over us again, so I'm going to -- trying to go into another building.

KAGAN: OK, once again, Sausan, any time you need to go, you just go, and don't worry about us on this end.

HEMMER: Daryn, I just want to ask her one quick thing before she got off the line there. She's been talking about bombs, and I just want to be clear about this. These are not bombs that have exploded on the ground. These have actually been fired artillery from the helicopters overhead.

Sausan, is that correct.

GHOSHEH: I saw with my own eyes a bomb coming -- not a helicopter, it was a -- in a pinkish color and it hit the Palestine radio station.

HEMMER: Correct. OK, appreciate the clarification. Just want to make sure out semantics are in order here. But these are attacks that have been launched by the helicopters. In addition to that, it's almost nightfall there. What has been the pattern for violence after the sun goes down?

GHOSHEH: Here in the West Bank, actually violence has been increasing at night rather that during the day. You see more clashes between the settlers, the Palestinians, settlers going to Palestinian villages, Palestinians coming out, throwing stones at settlers, saying that they were attacked, that there homes were broken. that their glass windows were broken, and that they've been harassed. So they end up throwing stones at the settlers, which brings them, the Israeli army, a clash between the Palestinian and the Israeli army.

KAGAN: Sausan, we've been following your journey through the day as you go from site to site and as you try to take cover and be safe. What do you notice as you go from place to place? Are people staying in their homes? Are their people in the streets?

GHOSHEH: Older people are at homes, worried, watching the news, following minute to minute. The younger people, the more the bombs come, the more they are angry. They're fearful as well. Once they hear the planes, people running fanatically to get cover in a stampede sometimes, trying to hide so that they don't get attacked.

KAGAN: And have you found a new place to take cover.

GHOSHEH: Yes, I'm inside the staircase of a building. The service might not be very good. I don't know if you can hear me clearly.

KAGAN: Yes, we can hear you just fine. Stay with us.

GHOSHEH: OK. I'm in the staircase of a building. I Can't see much now. But the helicopters are still hovering in the air and people are running.

KAGAN: OK, Sausan Ghosheh, we allow to get safe, to get your bearings. We will check back in with you. Once again, that's our CNN producer, Sausan Ghosheh. She's on the ground in Ramallah reporting as the attacks take place by the Israeli military still.

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