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Devastation in Southern Asia; U.S. Response to Disaster; New bin Laden Tape?

Aired December 27, 2004 - 15:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: A disaster of horrific proportions. The death toll keeps climbing from the earthquake-powered tsunami that swept across southern Asia. And the shock still setting in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People running, screaming, and literally for their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's complete pandemonium.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was very frightened.

ANNOUNCER: The Bush administration and the world offer relief to tsunami victims. But how much can they deliver, and how quickly?

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is indeed an international tragedy. And we're going to do everything we can to assist the nations that have been affected in dealing with this tragedy.

ANNOUNCER: New setbacks in the battle over Iraq's future with just one month to go before election day.



KELLY WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. I am Kelly Wallace. Judy is off today. A very, very busy hour ahead, so let's get right to it.

And we are beginning with the devastation in southern Asia that is so massive it is still difficult to fully comprehend for those who lived through the earthquake and tsunami disaster and for those now struggling to provide an unprecedented amount of relief. The numbers only begin to tell the story.

More than 22,000 people have been killed, a figure that is expected to keep rising. Hundreds of thousands are homeless. Entire communities swept away by walls of water, triggered by the strongest earthquake in 40 years. Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka have been hardest hit.

The head of the emergency relief at the United Nations say it may take weeks before the full effect of the tsunamis are known. He says this disaster could have a greater impact than any in recorded history.

One witness likened the tsunamis to a "sea of death" that swept across the Indian Ocean from Thailand to Somalia. And it all began nearly two days ago with that 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Indonesia's Sumatra Island. Adrian Britton reports on the fallout and fear at a resort in Thailand.


ADRIAN BRITTON, ITV NEWS REPORTER: The waters are calm and there's a gentle breeze here in Patong Beach tonight. But all around there is evidence of that awesome attack from the sea, wreckage, rubble and human shock. And as people here try to come to terms with what happened, the death toll continues to rise.

(voice-over): A mighty force rising out of the sea and crushing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) resort. The tidal waves turned to torrents around the coastline of Phuket, lifting and toiling everything in their path. Crystal blue seas became muddy destructive rivers. At nighttime, with their hotel's now debris, they sought higher ground for safety, sleep and warmth.

The mortuaries were unable to accommodate the colossal toll of death. Body after body was laid out in halls. Those who escaped, like this tourist from Oxford, had amazing tales of survival.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all got out of the rooms, and then one of our friends we couldn't get out of the room. He woke up and was asleep on his bed lying on what -- woke up in water. Had to throw the TV out of the window to climb out, to escape.

BRITTON: When the morning seas struck, many became separated from relatives. But with immense relief were later reunited.

Brothers there with memories of the desperate efforts of 9/11, with families bearing photographs of their lost ones in hope they, too, would be found. At Phuket Airport this evening, holiday makers broad (ph) across the departure hall waiting for the next flight home. Graham Metal (ph) from Tunbridge Wells was wounded but walking with his daughter, Charlotte (ph). Their holiday cut short, he told me another incredible story of escape.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The room was full of 14 or 15 people. They were screaming as the water started coming up in through the floor. We're outside on the balcony ready to jump somewhere, and it came closer and closer. And I just said to Charlotte (ph), "Get ready," because I thought these guys were going to burst out of the room and just land on us because they were panicking so much.

BRITTON: The hospitals are inundated with more serious injuries. Others are living in relief agency tents. Their homes were swept away in furious seconds, but they are thankful they have not lost more.

Adrian Britton, ITV News, Phuket, Thailand.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WALLACE: And there are many stories, stories of survivors of the tsunamis. We're going to hear more of those right now and see more of the images that may haunt those survivors for the rest of their lives.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was driving, and then all of a sudden the tidal wave came just about 10 or 20 meters high. And hit all the shops, houses and then it just sucked everything out. And within seconds everything was back to the sea.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The strength of the water crashed the window outside to the back side of the terminal. And we got out that way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Suddenly the water came into -- into between the door. And within two minutes it was up to my breast. The bed was swimming in the room. Everything was completely destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The streets are broken; the shops and the beaches, everything is destroyed. It's terrible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it hit about 10:30, 10:45 in the morning here. We talked to another lady that was at the hotel. And actually her driver died and she had to hold on to a tree. And the water went straight, straight over there.

She stay there for quite a bit, then she went totally under water. But she was lucky to be able to hold on to the tree. She had rocks coming to her body. Her legs are damaged.

They're just devastated. They are crying.


WALLACE: Stories of survivors of the tsunamis.

The Bush administration is promising now to be a leading partner in the rescue and recovery operation in southern Asia, but at least one U.N. official suggests the initial aid coming from the United States and other countries is "stingy." More on the U.S. response now from our White House correspondent, Dana Bash, who is with the president in Crawford, Texas.

Dana, always great to see you. What are White House sources saying to some comments from U.N. officials that the administration has not been as generous as it might be?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kelly, as you can imagine, the White House begs to differ about that. A spokesman saying today that the U.S. is doing all that it can initially, certainly. And they are just beginning now that the president actually was briefed on this, this morning, at his ranch by a national security council aide, and then talked to Colin Powell, his secretary of state, by phone back in Washington about what exactly the U.S. efforts are, what the game plan is. And as you mentioned, the White House says today that the president intends to be a leading partner in what the White House is calling one of the most significant relief rescue and recovery challenges that the world has ever known. So back in Washington the secretary of state did outline what the U.S. efforts are so far, saying emergency relief teams are already on the ground assessing what is need. That the U.S. is releasing some preposition supplies in the region.

And in terms of money, the U.S. they said today will provide an initial $15 million in aid to countries hit by the earthquake and, of course, the tsunamis that followed. Four million immediately will go to the Red Cross and $100,000 to the following countries: India, Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

Now, a U.N. official, as you mentioned, did call these efforts and others -- by other countries stingy. The secretary of state was very careful today to say that this is just an initial infusion and that this is a long term effort.


POWELL: You also have to see this not just as a one-time thing. Some 20,000-plus lives have been lost in a few moments. But the lingering effects will be there for years. The damage that was caused, the rebuilding of schools and other facilities will take time.


BASH: Now, Powell did say that at this point the State Department knows of eight U.S. citizens that were killed because of these tsunamis, and that there are hundreds still unaccounted for. Though certainly they are not saying that they are presumed dead at this point. And as for the president, Kelly, he wrote to seven leaders -- seven heads of state of countries affected by what the White House is calling a tragedy, leaders who have lost thousands of citizens -- Kelly.

WALLACE: All right. Dana, we have to leave it there. White House correspondent Dana Bash reporting from Crawford, Texas, this Monday. We appreciate it very much.

The Pentagon now, which is also contributing to the tsunami relief effort. At last word, six Air Force cargo planes loaded with food and other supplies are on standby in Japan awaiting orders to fly to Thailand. And three military assessment teams will be sent to the region to help determine what additional aid is needed.

And in our "Security Watch" today, a newly broadcast audiotape purportedly from Osama bin Laden. The voice on the tape urges Iraqis to boycott elections next month and endorses the terror campaign in Iraq by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We ask god to accept this unity and bless it, and for all to know the dear Mujahed (ph) brother, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is the prince of al Qaeda in Iraq. So we ask all our organization brethren to listen to him and obey him in his good deeds.


WALLACE: The authenticity of the tape aired by the Arabic language network Al-Jazeera could not be immediately verified. But for more, let's bring in CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen.

Peter, always great to see you. Anything from your initial listening to the tape to give you a sense if it's authentic or not?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: It sounds like him. I mean, Al-Jazeera is batting 100 percent on these tapes. I mean, it's very unlikely that they would put on a tape of bin Laden that wasn't bin Laden. It would be like us airing a tape of George Bush that wasn't George Bush.

They know his voice. He has certain -- he speaks in a very familiar kind of high classical Arabic. I very much doubt that it isn't him.

WALLACE: What about the significance of him mentioning al-Zarqawi and calling him "the prince of al Qaeda in Iraq?"

BERGEN: Well, it's worrisome. As you may remember, Kelly, a few weeks back al-Zarqawi himself said he was declaring allegiance to bin Laden. He changed the name of his group to al Qaeda in Iraq to reflect that it was really now part of al Qaeda. If indeed Zarqawi could plug into the al Qaeda worldwide network of money, people, that is worrisome.

WALLACE: And also, we were talking before this interview. You were talking about the frequency of these tapes.

And we can let our viewers know, of course, there was a tape that was released on the Internet earlier this month. There was also a tape that came out right before the U.S. presidential election in early November. What's the significance of many tapes in a short amount of time?

BERGEN: Well, you know, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two in the group, are releasing tapes on average every six weeks. In fact, they seem to be releasing more -- more tapes rather than less. And I think the significance is that they feel somewhat secure.

Obviously, if you release these tapes there's some possibility you might trace the chain of custody back. By my count, there are now 30 tapes from bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri since 9/11. It's kind of an intelligence failure that the chain of custody of these tapes has not been traced back.

As you indicated, one of the most recent tapes from bin Laden went straight to the Internet, which may be an indication that they're concerned about the chain of custody being traced. It's harder to trace it back on the Internet.

WALLACE: Also, the significance of -- if, again, this is bin Laden and it's authentic -- of him calling for a boycott of the Iraqi elections. Basically saying that if anyone participates in these elections they will become "infidels." Is this the first time -- if, again, this is bin Laden -- he has mentioned the Iraqi elections, do you know?

BERGEN: Yes, I think it is the first time. I mean, he has talked about Iraq on a number of different occasions. Obviously it's a very important field of jihad for the -- for al Qaeda. But I don't recall him mentioning the elections before.

WALLACE: And the significance then?

BERGEN: Well, I mean, presumably some -- you know, bin Laden is very popular in much of the Arab world. He's scoring 65 percent in places like Pakistan, 55 percent in Jordan, 45 percent in Morocco in tames of favorability. So you've got to presume that his numbers are reasonably high in Iraq and people may well choose to boycott the elections. At least the Sunni more fundamentalist types.

WALLACE: But there is nothing, at least, again, initial, looking at this tape in terms of the timing of when -- if, again, this is bin Laden -- when this tape might have been made.?

BERGEN: Well, I think it's been made since Zarqawi has sort of given his allegiance, which is -- we're talking about something in the last several weeks.

WALLACE: OK. We have to leave it there. CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen. Great to see you.

BERGEN: Thank you, Kelly.

WALLACE: Thanks so much for your insights today.

And, of course, stay tuned for CNN, day and night, for the most reliable news about your security.

Coming up next here on INSIDE POLITICS, inside Iraq, more possible threats to those upcoming elections. We will look at a different kind of bombshell as an Iraqi political party says it is not safe enough to vote.

Also ahead, a declaration of victory in the latest election in Ukraine. Will the outcome be disputed again?

And up next, the challenge of providing relief in southern Asia. I will talk with the executive director of UNICEF about what can and should be done.

Don't go away.


WALLACE: And welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS.

We turn our attention now to relief efforts in areas devastated by yesterday's tsunamis. I'm joined from the United Nations headquarters by Carol Bellamy. She is the executive director of UNICEF.

Carol Bellamy, thanks for coming in today. We appreciate it.


WALLACE: First, describe for us if you can the scope right now of the relief effort that's under way in south Asia.

BELLAMY: Well, the devastation is so massive it's incredible. So the relief efforts have to match that. I'm not sure they do yet.

But I know the U.N. has really turned on the heat. We're trying to do everything possible at UNICEF. We are trying to respond with blankets, with medicines, with water purification.

I know many of the nongovernmental organizations are responding. We've also heard from different governments. I was just watching Secretary Powell talking about the United States responding. Europe has responded. This really requires the entire world to turn its attention to this tragedy.

WALLACE: And Ms. Bellamy, what do you think is the biggest concern right now? Is it getting food and water to people in need? What's the biggest concern?

BELLAMY: Well, food is always important. But I would say water. The biggest concern, at least I think from many of us, is that we're so worried about the outbreak of disease.

Obviously, we're concerned about people who have not been found. But this is a situation that is just made for disease breaking out, particularly because of bad water. And so getting clean water to people is crucial.

WALLACE: And what are some of those obstacles? I'm certainly reading about downed power lines, no communication, about getting that drinking water to the people in need.

BELLAMY: Well, so many of these places, as I think people now realize, are so poor. They are not only resorts, although some are resorts. They are very poor communities.

The transportation was bad in the first place, made worse now. Places like the Maldives, where you can't get to the islands even in the best of times. Sri Lanka has had such devastation.

So every possible mechanism for getting things to people is already compromised. Nevertheless, we're working.

We have planes coming in, we have helicopters, we moving on the roads. We're doing everything we possibly can do. This is something where, whatever people think of the United Nations, this is something where the United Nations really can make a difference.

WALLACE: What is your sense of the response from the international community so far, in particular at the United States? As you know, a U.N. official, the undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, basically said that the U.S. and some other countries were, "stingy" in terms of their initial assistance. What's -- what's your response to that?

BELLAMY: I think those of us in this area we get frustrated because people don't immediately respond. But I think that Europe, I think the United States, I think that Australia and Japan, I think we're going to see a good response.

It needs to be now, but it needs to be continuing. That's why I was really encouraged by Secretary Powell's comments. He understands this isn't just of the moment. It's going to go on for a while. I hope the American public will understand and support a long-term response.

WALLACE: And certainly to American viewers who are watching right now, a lot of people touched by this disaster. What could people do in the United States if they want to contribute? What's the best way for them to help?

BELLAMY: There are many ways they can contribute. They can contribute to the Red Cross, they can contribute to UNICEF. Go on to our Web site or 1-800-FOR-KIDS.

They can contribute through their churches, their communities, their synagogues. They can teach their children also to understand more of the world. This is a terrible, terrible tragedy, but I hope it will be a learning experience for Americans to understand how important and how connected we are with the rest of the world.

WALLACE: And Carol Bellamy, very quickly, is it better for people to contribute money or to contribute food and other assistance?

BELLAMY: Let me be honest with you, money is more important. I know people like to send cans of food or clothing or other things. But the fact is money can get what people need quickest. And so that's the best thing you can do. To your favorite charity, whatever it is, but money makes the difference.

WALLACE: All right. Carol Bellamy, we have to leave it there. Executive director of UNICEF. You and your colleagues, lots of tough work head. We thank you for sharing your time today.

And up next here on INSIDE POLITICS, the opposition candidate declares victory in Ukraine but his opponent refuses to concede. That is straight ahead. We will go live to the capital of Kiev, where one side is celebrating and the other is threatening to challenge the results in court.

Stay with us.


WALLACE: Welcome back.

Opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko is claiming victory in Ukraine's second presidential election since last month. And here in Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said, in contrast to the results of last month's vote, Sunday's election results appear to be legitimate.


POWELL: All we wanted to see was a full, free, fair election. And that appears now to be what happened yesterday.

And we will wait for the official results, which should be out later this week. And I don't expect this to be a blot on U.S.-Russian relations. We'll move forward. Ukrainians chose for themselves, they did not choose for the east or for the west.


WALLACE: And joining us now for more on the election in Ukraine is CNN's Jill Dougherty. She is in the capital of Kiev.

Jill, great to see you. But I understand the other, the opponent to Yushchenko, Viktor Yanukovych, is not conceding just yet.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Yes. You know, this has been a complicated story all along, and we've still got a few bumps here. But essentially, the Yushchenko people really are celebrating.

They were out here tonight on Independence Square. And they are convinced that they won. And if you look at the results that are coming from the central election commission, they have been counting the votes.

And they have counted 99.99 percent of the votes. Just a few more to go. And they show that Viktor Yushchenko has an 8-point lead. So that is quite substantial.

But as you are pointing out, his opponent, Viktor Yanukovych, the prime minister, says he doesn't believe -- he's not going to concede. He believes that the election shouldn't have taken place in the first place. And he said that the rights of his voters were infringed, and he plans on going to the courts to defend their rights.

So that is one of the problems. But meanwhile, these international observers who have been here -- and there are 12,000 of them who fanned out across Ukraine -- they have said that this was a very good step in the right direction for Ukraine.

Here's what Bruce George said.


BRUCE GEORGE, OSCE MONITOR: I am much happier to be in a position to announce that it is the collective judgment of these organizations represented here that the Ukrainian elections have moved substantially closer to meeting OSCE and other European and international standards. And this has been accomplished in a very short period.


DOUGHERTY: So now the central election commission has to officially endorse the results. And they could actually take up to 10 days from the day of the election. But essentially, it looks, Kelly, no question as if Viktor Yushchenko is the man who is going to be inaugurated as president.

WALLACE: All right, Jill. Covering a lot of ground for us. We appreciate it. Jill Dougherty reporting from Kiev tonight in Ukraine.

And turning to our "Political Bytes" segment on this Monday, incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is standing by his vow to block President Bush's move to re-nominate some of his candidates for federal judgeships. The president last week said he would resubmit 20 judicial candidates who were blocked by Senate Democrats.

At the same time, GOP leader Bill Frist has threatened to change Senate rules as a way to avoid new Democratic filibusters. Well, in today's "USA Today," Senator Reid's spokesman, Jim Manly (ph), said Reid would bring Senate business to a standstill if Republicans try to change the rules. In Manly's (ph) words, "It will be very difficult to get even the most routine work done in the U.S. Senate."

In other words -- in other news -- excuse me -- Connecticut Governor Jody Rell was scheduled to undergo surgery for breast cancer. Rell's office says the cancer was caught in its early stages. Aides say the governor was to have a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, but she's not expected to need radiation or chemotherapy treatment after the surgery. And we certainly wish her well.

That is "Political Bytes" for this Monday.

And we'll turn back to the tsunami disaster in Asia. Coming up ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, could timing be everything in determining how the U.S. and the world responds?

Plus, a panel of reporters discussing the Bush administration's role in providing relief.

Much more ahead. Don't go away.


WALLACE: As the markets get set to close on Wall Street, I am joined by Kitty Pilgrim in New York, filling in for Lou Dobbs.

Kitty, good to see you. How are the markets today?


Well, the recent rally, it really didn't hold up, and that's despite tumbling oil prices. As the final trades are being counted, the Dow industrials losing about 38 points now. The Nasdaq is about .25 percent lower. And back to crude oil prices, the big story there, crude oil prices dropped nearly $3. And that ends the day back near $41 a barrel. Now, that is tied to new forecasts calling for milder winter weather later this week. And that's after severe snowstorms over the past few days. Traders say it now appears as though there are enough supplies to meet demands this winter.

Let's take a look at the holiday sales numbers. They're starting to trickle in.

So far it's looking pretty good for U.S. retailers. Trackers from MasterCard say holiday spending rose 8 percent from last year, and gift cards, Internet sales, that did help boost the numbers.

Now, it was big spenders who helped drive sales. Luxury goods, gourmet food, high-end accessories, they were the standout sellers.

Higher gas prices, however, did cut into spending. That was feared, especially in the lower-income households.

Here's a couple of retailers we're looking at, says it enjoyed its busiest holiday season ever. It was selling 32 items per second at its peak. Sales, however,, were disappointing at the Sharper Image. Store traffic was much weaker than expected. They didn't have enough inventory of some key items and Sharper Image stock tumbled 18 percent.

The other big story over the holidays, thousands of travelers stranded at the airports. Some analysts think it could be a harbinger of things to come. More than 300 U.S. Airways flights were canceled. That's after a record number of baggage handlers and ramp workers and fight attendants called in sick.

The carrier and the union say the sick calls were not part of any organized labor action, but the Department of Transportation is investigating anyway, and either way, there is concern about the damage done to U.S. Airways' reputation. The holiday travel season is a critical time for the struggling carrier to show its customers and bankruptcy courts that it can operate properly and it may have failed that test over the weekend.

On to the movies. "Meet the Fokkers." It set the record for the best ever Christmas box office take, $19 million. Despite its success, though, the holiday weekend fell 26 percent short of last year's ticket sales. And last year, season was dominated, of course, by the debut of the third "Lord of the Rings" series. This year, looks like it will be the second straight year, however, of fewer movie-goers. Still, an industry group says the movie theaters have kept the total volume sales over the year up or even with last year by hiking the ticket prices.

Coming up on CNN at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," the Indian Ocean tsunami devastated ten countries and could that happen here, along the heavily populated East Coast? It's not out of the question. And we'll have a report on that. Also have a conversation with Simon Missiri. He's the head of the International Red Cross in charge of Asia-Pacific region. And the company you know as Harry and David, after a brief period of Japanese ownership, the company has returned to 100 percent American ownership. And we'll tell you all about that.

Kelly, that's the latest. Back to you.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: Alright, thanks, Kitty, we'll see you in two hours from now. Coming up though, here, INSIDE POLITICS continues.


ANNOUNCER: Waves of destruction from Indonesia to India.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And all we heard was this mighty bang and the next thing, the place was flooded, on -- it's up to there.

ANNOUNCER: Will politics play a role at the United States' response?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get inside, come on, guys.

ANNOUNCER: Could this happen here, and would America be ready? We'll discuss the danger and the disaster warning systems in this country.

Now, live from Washington, Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS.


WALLACE: And welcome back. Thanks again for joining us here on INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Kelly Wallace, sitting in for Judy today. As President Bush put it, Southern Asia is coping with a quote, "terrible loss of life and suffering," after being struck by a devastating earthquake and the tsunamis that followed. With more than 22,000 killed, people around the world are struggling to find the words to adequately describe what happened and to find the resources to help make it better.

Another look now at this disaster from Paul Davies in Thailand.


PAUL DAVIES, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A wall of water on a collision course with Thailand's Phuket coastline. The tourist who took these pictures was lucky to be on a high building. The screams you can hear are from people less fortunate, as a paradise beach resort is devastated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's coming again! It's coming again!


DAVIES: Here a tourist on the beach, suddenly appreciating the danger, runs for his life, with a giant wave in fast pursuit.


DAVIES: Incredible images of an appalling disaster. Along with trees, boats and wooden buildings, hundreds of people were simply washed away here, among them, at least ten British tourists. An ITV news producer on her honeymoon was lucky to escape with cuts and bruises.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I, myself, was out swimming in the sea with my husband, when all of a sudden, we heard screams from the beach, to return to the shore. We had no idea why. I started to return to the beach and as soon as I got there, I turned my back again, and to see what I can only describe as a wall of water approaching, and not only that, it was bringing debris with it. Anything that was on the beach, it was bringing with it, And basically, we had nowhere to run.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god, look, it's just coming in now right over the swimming pool.

DAVIES: This is Sri Lanka, where another British tourist is just starting to realize the power of the wave that's now swallowing the hotel swimming pool.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get inside, come on, guys!

DAVIES: Nowhere has suffered more from the tsunami than the island of Sri Lanka. Here a train tossed like a toy by nature's raw power. Buses scattered by the water. More than 12,000 people have died, including hundreds of foreign holiday makers. This was the Malaysian coast, as the same tragedy is played out. Tourists at first not realizing the deadly potential of the waves crashing on the beach, staying to watch, and take pictures, until too late, they realize the danger.

In Indonesia, there are so many dead, bodies lie in makeshift morgues in the street awaiting identification. The Indonesian government has warned the final death toll could be 10,000. In Southern India, a mother weeps for a drowned child. More than 6,000 lives were lost here and mass burials have begun already, a disaster that claimed western tourists elsewhere, here striking the poorest villages.

Paul Davies, ITV News.


WALLACE: That report filed a bit earlier today.

Now to what the U.S. government is doing. The Bush administration expects to provide an initial $15 million in aid for Tsunami victims and Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a news conference a bit earlier today, promises that the U.S. response will not be a quote, "one-time thing." Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider considers the factors that could influence how much America can give.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): In the humanitarian disaster, you're supposed to put politics aside. A year ago, the United States responded with massive aid when a devastating earthquake struck Iran, a nation on President Bush's axis of evil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a humanitarian gesture, let me stress. It was not a political gesture.

SCHNEIDER: The international response is supposed to be driven by the urgency of the need. Inevitably, however, other factors influence the response. Timing, for instance. A disaster comes as more of a shock in the middle of a holiday period, when the west is feeling festive, and when there's not much competing news.

Pictures have a huge impact. When two earthquakes hit Afghanistan in 1998, the Taliban was still in power, and no journalists could get through. No pictures, little sympathy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's coming again! It's coming again!

SCHNEIDER: It's very different now, when people are seeing shocking footage of tsunamis at the moment of impact and touching stories that humanize the tragedy.

DIGBY CARPENTER, BRITISH TOURIST: I mean, the electricity was everywhere, dead bodies around, dead dogs all over the road. My brother is in Unawatuna (ph), which is like, really badly hit.

SCHNEIDER: Why did the first President Bush send troops to Somalia in 1992? The pictures were a big reason.

PRESIDENT GEORGE H. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When we see Somalia's children starving, all of America hurts.

SCHNEIDER: In fact, it was not a natural disaster. The cause of the famine was politics, so politics does matter. When disaster strikes a strategically important country with which the world wants to engage, the response is likely to be a lot bigger.

The earthquake in Armenia in 1988 drew a big response. It came at a time when the west wanted to encourage Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of perestroika, openness. The response to last year's Iranian earthquake signaled a desire for better relations.

ADAM ERELI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: There's still serious concerns out there. Don't mistake that. At the same time it's worth noting that there have been some positive developments over the past year.

SCHNEIDER: Forgotten emergencies often happen in countries of far less strategic importance, like Mozambique and Zambia.


(on camera): Today, every country's strategic importance to the United States is measured by its role in the war on terror, and two of the most important countries in that war, Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, and India, with over 100 million Muslims and nuclear weapons -- Kelly.

WALLACE: And Bill, of course, as you know, the U.S. administration, wanting the support of the international community in the war on terror, and, of course, in the situation, the war in Iraq. So how much do you believe the international community will be watching the U.S. response here in terms of added assistance to what's happening on the ground in Iraq?

SCHNEIDER: Well, what's unusual about the war on terror is it's very different from the Cold War. In the Cold War, all the world felt a part because the communist menace threatened almost the entire world. In the war on terror, one of the criticisms is that the United States feels it more keenly than any other country, even though a number of countries have been hit by terrorist attacks.

It seems to obsess the United States but most other countries, say Latin America or Africa don't feel quite as threatened. So the idea is if America plays its role in a great humanitarian gesture that has touched so many countries and devastated them, then the rest of the world may begin to feel America's obsession with the war on terror.

WALLACE: All right. Bill Schneider, we have to leave it there. Great to see you, reporting from Los Angeles on this Monday.

Turning now to the situation in Iraq, continuing there, today's audiotape purportedly from Osama bin Laden includes a call for Iraqis to boycott next month's scheduled elections. The voice, which hasn't been authenticated, says that Iraqis who take part in the elections, quote, "become infidels, denouncing our great God," endquote.

Also today a major political party in Iraq withdrew from the planned vote in January. CNN's Bruce Morton has more on the challenge of convincing all Iraqis to head to the polls.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni party which had supported the election scheduled for next month, now says it won't participate, saying security is getting worse and it has doubts that the elections will be fair. Bad news for the United States?

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: It's very bad news to have a major Sunni Arab party saying it won't participate in these elections. The Sunni Arabs have become the core of the insurgency. They feel angry, they feel like they're not going to have a role in a future Iraq.

MORTON: U.S. officials, of course, hope all Iraqis will participate.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are encouraging all Sunnis and all Sunni leaders to join in this effort to say no to terrorism, no to murder, and yes to democracy. We are also talking to all of our friends in the region, the neighboring countries that have influence and contacts with the Sunni community to get them to encourage Sunni leaders to turn out the vote.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R-IN), FOREIGN RELATIONS CMTE. CHMN.: I think we ought to diplomatically suggest that Sunnis ought to participate, and perhaps encourage other nations to push the Sunnis to participate, but at the end of the day, accept the election and try to provide security for it.

MORTON: Iraq is a Muslim country, of course, roughly 60 percent or so Shiite, about 30 percent Sunni. Whoever wins the election may want some kind of Islamic state, but if the Shiites want a Shiite state that could be real trouble.

O'HANLON: Obviously if a Shia-led state becomes so pro-Shia, that it makes all of the Sunni Muslims feel oppressed, you'll have civil war and that won't work. But if it is a relatively strong- handed country and government, it doesn't much like us but still is stable, doesn't oppress its own people, doesn't attack its neighbors or give terrorists a home, I think we can live with an Islamic-leading state.

MORTON: The U.S. may not have much choice. The elections are just a month away.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


WALLACE: And as Bruce just noted, there are numerous hurdles to overcome in the days leading up to elections in Iraq. Still ahead here, top reporters will discuss the still turbulent situation in that country, and how it is playing politically here at home.

Up next though, what if a deadly combination of an earthquake and massive wave hit U.S. shores? INSIDE POLITICS continues right after this.


WALLACE: And welcome back. As we continue our coverage of the tsunami disaster in South Asia, I'm joined now on the phone by Charles McCreery, he is director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu which provides tsunami warnings to U.S. interests in the region as well as other countries in the Pacific Basin. He joins us from Iwa Beach, Hawaii. That's about 20 miles from Honolulu.

Mr. McCreery, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.


WALLACE: I think a lot of us reading and learning about tsunamis after this massive disaster are stunned to learn that there is no warning network in place for the Indian Ocean. Why is that, sir?

MCCREERY: Well, the real reason there's no warning system there is that tsunamis are much less frequent in the Indian Ocean than they are in the Pacific, for example. In fact, this event that happened two days ago is the only such event in the historical record of that strength. And when countries have so many other types of natural disasters to deal with that occur much more frequently, several times a year, for example, you know, cyclones in the region, then it's hard for them to devote limited resources to a hazard that may only occur once every few hundred years.

WALLACE: Of course, we know a warning network is in place for the Pacific Ocean. Describe for us how that works, if you have an earthquake, how that warning would go out to coastal communities to protect them because of fears of tsunamis?

MCCREERY: Well, at our center here, we will detect any large earthquake around the Pacific within just a few minutes, and within, oh, 10 or 15 minutes, we will have location of the earthquake and a magnitude, and based upon that information, we can issue a preliminary tsunami warning if the earthquake is large enough. And this warning will go out to designated agencies within the countries around the Pacific. These are agencies that are designated by those countries, and then those are the agencies within those countries that have the responsibility for getting this information down to the people who need it, the people along the coast who may be threatened by a tsunami.

WALLACE: Talk to us again about the situation in South Asia because in some places the tsunami didn't hit for about four or five hours after the earthquake struck. So in essence, if you had a warning system in place, potentially lives could have been saved?

MCCREERY: Absolutely, and there -- a warning system would have saved many, many lives in this event. You really don't even need four or five hours to effectively save lives. It was only about maybe an hour to the coast of Thailand and maybe an hour and a half to the coast of Sri Lanka, and even for those short amounts of time, people can get out of the way and move inland or to high ground or to substantial structures like, you know, a highrise hotel or something. These buildings will survive the tsunami, but they can get out of harm's way usually within just a few minutes.

WALLACE: And we were reading after this tragedy, many believing there will be a movement to institute and implement a new warning system in the Indian Ocean. Charles McCreery, director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, we appreciate your time on this Monday. Thanks very much.

Now turning to Washington's response to the disaster in South Asia. We are assembling our reporter roundtable to look at what the U.S. is doing to help those in need of assistance. Don't go away. INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WALLACE: And welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. Now three of the best reporters in Washington with me to talk about the tsunami disaster overseas, the U.S. reaction to that disaster and also developments inside Iraq. Joining us, Ron Brownstein of The Los Angeles Times, Karen Tumulty of TIME magazine, and Mike Allen of The Washington Post.

Thanks to you all for being here. We appreciate it. Mike, let me begin with you. You heard a U.N. official earlier today who described the initial response from the United States to the disaster in Southeast Asia as quote, "stingy." Were officials behind the scenes angry about that?

MIKE ALLEN, THE WASHINGTON POST: Kelly, you talked a little bit about -- at the top of the show about what the administration did today, 36 hours after the disaster, the Navy sent search and rescue, surveillance planes for search and rescue. Apparently we had provisions stockpiled in the Philippines that we've sent. You mentioned $15 million, $4 million in cash to the Red Cross. Secretary Powell out on the television yesterday in the initial hours after it happened. The administration was able -- also today, we saw condolence letters from the president to the seven nations.

But yesterday I was trying to do a story about the administration's response, and the White House -- I called the State Department and the State Department is like, call the White House. And the Pentagon was like, nobody asked us for anything.

WALLACE: Stylistically, Ron, you've covered this White House, you've covered other White Houses. Is the style of this president is not to get in front of the television cameras right after a disaster like this?

RON BROWNSTEIN, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: That's absolutely right. I think Mike's right, that there will be a sense that they may have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the mark. My guess is this being a part of the world, countries like Indonesia and India that we are very concerned about that over time, like the -- as the truck starts rolling, that we will be involved in a big way. But it probably will be a little bit of a misstep in terms of the first reaction.

WALLACE: What's the sense, Karen, were they watching first to see what the situation was?

KAREN TUMULTY, TIME: It's sort of -- it's hard to understand, because if there has ever been an opportunity, the administration has said that, you know, a big part of their second term foreign agenda, it's going to be to sort of rebuild relationships with the international community, with the allies overseas.

Quick action, heartfelt action and adequate action at a moment like this, it seems, would do a lot more than, you know, setting up broadcast stations in the Arab world.

WALLACE: Are you picking up any concern behind the scenes, Mike, about the handling of this initially? ALLEN: Well, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is the president's radio address on Saturday was about our duty to our fellow man. And here you have a disaster that's now more than seven times the toll from 9/11. But it's a reminder, and Bill Schneider mentioned this at the beginning, things that happen in the Bay of Bengal just don't strike us the way that things happen in Bethesda do. And we -- and the administration just -- they were in holiday mode, there was a time difference. They weren't communicating and it really showed.

WALLACE: All right. Let's turn gears to another crisis situation, of course, in Iraq. News coming out today that one Sunni party is saying it will not participate in these elections because of security concerns. This, Ron, after you saw the story over the weekend in The New York Times, administration official quoted as saying that there might be some negotiations under way to try and get Sunnis inside the government if they don't do well in the election. Secretary Powell tried to dismiss that story, saying it's not true. But what are you picking up behind the scenes about the concern?

BROWNSTEIN: There are some Iraq officials who are quoted today as being critical of it as well. Well, look, the hope is that the election was going to lead to more reconciliation in Iraq by creating a government that Iraqis from all segments of society would feel invested in.

The risk now is that you have a deepening of the divide, on the same day that the largest Sunni party announces that it is pulling out of the election, the largest Shiite party is the target of a suicide bombing with terrorists obviously hoping to inflame the religious divisions in the country. Bringing in some kind of guarantee of seats may be a way to go but it's something that's going to be resisted I think by many segments of Iraqi society as well.

WALLACE: What kind of concern are you picking up, Karen, behind the scenes from your sources about the security issue and the impact it could have on these upcoming elections?

TUMULTY: Well, these events follow other stories over the weekend about how the administration was essentially going full force to try to encourage Sunni voter turnout. This makes it very clear that the only thing that is going to really make Sunni Muslims feel like that they can turn out is feeling like they're safe, if they're doing it.

WALLACE: And you know, Mike, you heard Secretary Powell, it's a message we've been hearing about trying to encourage Sunni neighbors, neighboring countries dominated by Sunnis surrounding Iraq to step out and say Sunnis must get to the polls. Are we going to see a more -- you know, a bigger effort on the part of the president and his advisers in that regard?

ALLEN: Yes, Kelly, in a nod to the accuracy of that news story we were talking about, Secretary Powell did say that the government has to be representative in order to be effective. And so he suggested that some of those measures might take place. But this administration needs the election to be seen as legitimate at all costs, it's like the June 30th handover date. They need the election to happen now. It's so important to them that the president has asked Congress to have State of the Union on February 2nd, after it, so that he can talk about this as a sign of progress, and that date even allows them -- gives them the time to, if it turns out to be something that they would do that is -- wanted to, they could have someone from the new government in the box with Mrs. Bush.

BROWNSTEIN: Larger yet, milestones get ground up by events. The real issue isn't how we perceive it, it's how Iraqis perceive it, and whether in fact a new government is seen as a legitimate force that will reduce some of the internal violence and division in the country. If it isn't, even if the election is perceived well here in the first 48 or 72 hours, ultimately like the June 30 date, it will be overrun by events in terms of American attitudes.

WALLACE: Final word, Karen.

TUMULTY: And by the way, once again today we're hearing more calls to postpone these elections, which of course is the last thing the Bush administration wants to see happen.

WALLACE: All right. We have to leave it there, Karen Tumulty of Time magazine, Ron Brownstein, Los Angeles Times and CNN political analyst, Mike Allen of The Washington Post, thanks for being here today. We appreciate it.

ALLEN: Happy '05.

WALLACE: Happy '05 to all of you, yes.

We have a little bit of breaking news to tell you about. In Houston, Texas, word coming in of a fire, I believe it is a Ramada Inn in Houston, Texas, these pictures coming to us from KPRC TV. Don't have a lot more information right now. But you can see there is a lot of smoke there. Flames coming from what we are told is the Ramada Inn inside Houston, Texas. As soon as we get any more information we will bring that to you. This happening now. We're not sure, again, of the extent of -- if anyone is trapped inside that hotel, any injuries. Again, a Ramada Inn Hotel in Houston, Texas, clearly on fire, those pictures coming in from KPRC. Stay with CNN. We'll get you the latest information as soon as we have it.

Take a quick break right now. INSIDE POLITICS continues right after this.


WALLACE: And that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. From everyone at the program, thanks so much for joining us. I'm Kelly Wallace in Washington, "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


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