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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

President Obama Makes Surprise Visit to Iraq; Threat From the Sky

Aired April 7, 2009 - 22:00   ET

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


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Christiane Amanpour, sitting in for Anderson Cooper.

Tonight, call it operation desert surprise. President Obama is taking the long way home from Turkey, by way of Iraq. Much to the delight of troops in Baghdad today, he brought himself and his thanks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: every mission that's been assigned -- from getting rid of Saddam, to reducing violence, to stabilizing the country, to facilitating elections -- you have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement, and for that you have the thanks of the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: In addition to gratitude, Mr. Obama came with a clear message for the Iraqis, a popular one, according to new CNN polling.

That message, in a phrase: back to you.

Here's Candy Crowley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Not announced, but not unexpected, Air Force One flew the commander in chief to Iraq, where he talked of winding down the war, a popular idea at home and at Camp Victory in Baghdad.

OBAMA: It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis.

CROWLEY: As a candidate, Barack Obama launched his campaign on a promise to end the war. He returned to Iraq as commander in chief to warn, it's not over yet.

OBAMA: You will be critical in terms of us being able to make sure that Iraq is stable, that it is not a safe haven for terrorists, that it is a -- a good neighbor and a good ally, and we can start bringing our folks our -- home.

CROWLEY: The majority of U.S. troops will be in Iraq through the December elections. Most will be withdrawn by August of next year, but thousands will stay. Before he left Turkey, the president was asked to explain the difference between his Iraq policy and that of former President Bush.

OBAMA: Just because I was opposed at the outset, it doesn't mean that I don't have now responsibilities to make sure that we do things in a responsible fashion.

It was wonderful seeing those troops out there.

CROWLEY: And it is clear the American people give President Obama far more leeway than President Bush had in the last years of his administration.

In a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, 69 percent of Americans favor the Obama administration's withdrawal plan even though up to 50,000 troops will stay. Critics are mostly on the left. By a 2-1 margin, those opposed to the plan want all troops removed.

Iraq was the final stop on a multi-nation trip designed to signal a less combative, more collaborative U.S. policy. As the president headed home, his number two was lauding the virtues of a new reaching- out. Vice President Joe Biden says it's one of the reasons former Vice President Dick Cheney is dead wrong to say Obama policy has made the world less safe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER")

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are more safe. We are more secure. Our interests are more secure, not just at home, but around the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: A half-dozen car bombs went off in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad a day before President Obama visited. Safer is a relative term. The world is still a dangerous place.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: And, so, "Digging Deeper" now with senior political analyst David Gergen and national security analyst Peter Bergen.

David, the president has said that, today, it's time for the Iraqis to step up and take control. How much pressure is President Obama under to hand the reins over to the Iraqis?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he's under enormous pressure because he -- and, basically, his own pressure. He promised the American people he would bring these troops home.

He's made -- that was a -- fundamental to his campaign victory. And he's put it on a glide path towards that, he hopes. But going today, I think he was in the neighborhood, Christiane, and with 140,000 Americans still in Iraq, it was important for him to go there and to -- to show support for the troops, for the effort.

But, in going there, he also brought attention to the fact that we have seen this recent -- this recent violence, these -- these number of car bombs. Secretary Gates says he thinks it may be the last gasp of al Qaeda.

But with this kind of violence spiking upward, it does raise questions, is this withdrawal going to work?

AMANPOUR: And let me turn to Peter.

That last-gasp argument, we have heard before, even during the Bush administration, Peter. It's always been the argument against pulling troops out of Iraq, that it would become a breeding ground for terrorism, again. And, as you have seen, of course, we have all seen this surge and spike of violence within Iraqis, with 40 or so who have been killed over the last day.

Do you think the concern still exists over withdrawing troops?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I think there is a -- you know, there is an argument that, obviously, a smaller presence of American soldiers in Iraq is obviously going to be conducive to the insurgents coming back.

The Iraqi army is a lot stronger than it was. It's able to operate fairly independently, but not without a fair amount of American help. So, it certainly helps the narrative of the -- of the insurgents if the United States is seen to be withdrawing, and it also helps their strategy, because, essentially, they're dealing with a less effective force.

So, I think it is a plausible argument. It's not only an argument the Bush administration made, perhaps a self-serving argument in their case, but it is an argument that has some plausibility, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: And we will continue right after this. So, stay with us. We have got a lot more tonight.

As I understand it, this is the part where Anderson says he's logging on to the blog. Well, I'm still working on it, but the live chat is under way now at AC360.com, where you can also watch Erica Hill's live Webcast during the break.

Up next: Afghanistan and the law that's prompting new concerns that the country is once again becoming a state of fear, especially for women.

Also, what we're learning about the pilot who stole a plane and led F-16 fighters on a chase, hoping they would end his life by shooting him down.

And, later, the first lady, the first grandmother, and their life together in the White House -- a new look inside tonight on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: President Obama is on his way home now. He's due back in Washington overnight.

He aimed his trip at rebuilding America's global leadership, and the latter part in Turkey and Iraq as shoring up America's image in the Muslim world. He's also trying to swing the focus on to Afghanistan, where an awful lot of progress and hope seem to be slipping away.

Most Americans can take pride in ousting the Taliban and stopping its reign of terror, especially as practiced against women. And, yet, even now, Afghans are beginning to see the terror returning, whether it's young girls blinded with acid for just wanting to go to school, or a new law under review tonight that's drawing sharp reaction from around the world.

Vice President Joe Biden denounced it today in "THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER")

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, has signed into law an edict, in effect, allowing men to rape their wives if they don't want to have sex on that day.

And -- and a lot of people are outraged that a U.S. ally, like Hamid Karzai, who now says he's looking at this law, can go forward.

Is this what U.S. troops are fighting and dying for in Afghanistan?

BIDEN: It is an outrageous, an outrageous, outrageous law, number one.

Number two, we are not in Afghanistan to make the point to see to it that we make everything right in Afghanistan. I am not prepared to send American troops to die for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Vice President Biden talking to Wolf Blitzer about a law still pending that many believe would legally enshrine marital rape.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Despite U.S. efforts to prop up President Hamid Karzai and prod Afghanistan towards democracy, shades of Taliban-style religious zealotry and persecution persist, and even flourish.

The lower house of the Afghan parliament recently passed a law that, in effect, legalizes marital rape. President Karzai apparently signed it.

OBAMA: I think this law is abhorrent.

AMANPOUR: President Obama and his fellow world leaders are condemning the new bill. Critics say that it would strip women of their right to say no.

It reads, "As long as the husband is not traveling, he has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night." And something as simple as leaving the house without a male relative would be forbidden.

Human rights activists call the measure, which is framed for the Shia minority, repulsive.

NISHA VARIA, WOMEN'S RIGHTS DIVISION SENIOR RESEARCHER, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: This is a devastating blow to women's rights in Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: But, to some, it was not surprising.

On my recent trip to Afghanistan, I visited a new school for girls, a sign of hope and progress in the battle for women's rights that remains an uphill struggle eight years after the Taliban.

VARIA: I think everybody was kind of sitting back on their heels and saying that, all right, we have six million kids back in school. Girls are back in school. But, for a long time now, the reality hasn't been that nice. This is actually a wakeup call to the international community that women's rights and women's lives are at real risk.

AMANPOUR: The big question, why would President Karzai approve it? Perhaps it's a political move, ahead of the election this summer.

VARIA: What this actually represents is trading women's rights to broker other deals.

AMANPOUR: President Obama thinks it's important to be sensitive to the Afghan culture, but he adds this:

OBAMA: But we also think that there are certain basic principles that all nations should uphold. And respect for women and respect for their freedom and integrity is an important principle.

AMANPOUR: President Karzai now appears to be caving to worldwide pressure, ordering a review of the law. And his spokesman is even saying that Karzai never signed it.

HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: If there is anything that is of concern to us, then we will definitely take action. This is something that we are also serious about, and -- and we should not allow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: so, now it is up to President Karzai himself. Will he kill the law? Will he change it? And, amazingly, despite the international outcry, many Afghans themselves are simply unaware of the issue.

And back now with David Gergen and Peter Bergen.

And we have got a new item to talk about, in addition to the Afghan story. We have had late word from CNN's Nic Robertson of arrests in Saudi Arabia. Eleven people believed to be members of an al Qaeda cell have been captured in the southern Saudi mountains.

And, according to authorities, the group was planning local attacks, but also had ties to al Qaeda outside the country.

I want to get quick reaction from Peter Bergen.

Peter, what can you tell us about that?

BERGEN: Well, when they say it has an al Qaeda cell in Saudi Arabia that has ties to outside the country, it's usually to Yemen, which is, obviously, across the border from southern -- Saudi Arabia, or sometimes to Iraq.

We're seeing a lot of people with skills learned in Iraq coming into Saudi Arabia. We have seen consistent numbers of arrests over the last several years by the Saudi authorities. And this is just one of those kinds of arrests -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Peter, let's just get to David now.

David, about Afghanistan and this controversial law, we just heard Vice President Biden say that it's abhorrent, that it's not the kind of thing that American troops are going to fight and die to get rid of.

But, really, with American troops fighting and dying there anyway, isn't President Obama -- doesn't he have to insist that President Karzai overrule this law, change it?

GERGEN: Absolutely.

And I think we need to be careful about being too self-righteous in one sense. And that is, 60 years ago, we were treating blacks horribly in many parts of this country, and Afghanistan was not an advanced nation.

Nonetheless, with our troops fighting and dying there, with our troops increasing, I do think, Christiane -- and you have been there -- you know this -- you have seen this -- I think we do need to make it a condition of helping this government.

I think there should be standards that we insist on, that, if -- if we're going to help prop you up, we expect -- we have certain expectations of that, and we're not going to sit still for something which is so clearly in violation of international norms and -- and laws.

So, I think the answer is plain flat yes. And it just -- it's not enough to say it's abhorrent. We have to insist, strike this law from your books.

AMANPOUR: And it would obviously be something Americans would support, because, apart from al Qaeda and the Taliban, America knew that women were treated so badly in Afghanistan.

Can I just turn to Peter?

As David said, I was just in Afghanistan. And, as you know, people there feel like the United States today seems to have kind of broken its promise, that it failed the people once again in terms of, you know, development and -- and, not reconstruction, but construction, particularly of a living economy, something that they can, you know, use to make a more decent life.

Do you think that that is really, seriously going to be part of the new Obama plan?

BERGEN: Well, I think, yes, the new Obama plan for Afghanistan, I think, is -- is -- is a very good one.

The -- the big question which is unanswered in the plan is what to do with Pakistan. And that's really an unanswerable question, because so many of the problems in Afghanistan derive from Pakistan.

The Pakistan government is sort of divided into a civilian component and a military component, and doesn't really have a strategy to deal with the militants on its own territory. And, so, no matter how good the Obama plan is, it's going to rise or fail -- rise or -- or succeed based on what's going on in Pakistan, which, by the way, parenthetically, Christiane, has terrible laws on its books about the treatment for women, including women who have been raped who are sometimes charged with adultery.

So, these kinds of laws relating to women are not, obviously, just in Afghanistan, but also with other countries that the United States gives significant aid to in that region.

AMANPOUR: And, again, just to comment on that, certainly, the deal that they made with the Taliban in the Swat is resulting in a lot of abhorrent things being done to women.

David, aside from sending in more troops, what do you think is the -- is the real difference between the Obama administration's new review, new policy on Afghanistan, and the Bush administration policy? Because even the Obama administration is talking about rooting out al Qaeda. But, I mean, haven't they been doing that for the last eight years?

GERGEN: Yes, but I -- I think that Peter Bergen is right. This is a new, different, and, I think, in many ways, more sophisticated policy.

And that is, first of all, we have lowered our sights in Afghanistan. We're no longer trying to create a democracy there. We're trying to create a more stable state. And, secondly, we are doing more nation-building in an open way. We are trying to put more resources into highways, into schools and hospitals. It's not going to produce a democracy, but it's going to produce a -- a more decent standard of living for people.

You know, so -- and -- and, under the Bush administration -- and I think Secretary Gates was the one who -- ones who recognized this -- we were putting too much responsibility on our soldiers to do all the work, not only to fight, but to do a lot of the civilian efforts.

Now the State Department is trying to step up to this, more resources. Hillary Clinton is trying to put her shoulder to this wheel, so that more civilians go in to do what are civilian reconstruction.

And I think that's an important part of this. I -- we're not going to leave behind a democracy, not a shining city upon a hill, but, if we can create a more decent society that's more stable -- and Peter has written about this in other forums -- that would be a major step forward in foreign policy.

AMANPOUR: And, you know, Peter, that's exactly what all the Afghans, and, indeed, the American military officials, told me, that that actually does have -- have to happen in order to win this war. But it's not going to be short-term.

How long, realistically, do you think U.S. forces and the others will have to remain in Afghanistan?

BERGEN: Well, realistically, you know, we have American soldiers in Okinawa six decades after the end of World War II. So, I mean, you're looking at a decades-long commitment, in my view.

AMANPOUR: Peter, thank you so much.

David...

GERGEN: Patience may -- patience -- patience may run out to that one, Christiane, for -- decades is a -- I'm not sure we're that patient, Peter, on this particular one.

AMANPOUR: But you know what? That's certainly what a lot of the officials and a lot of the people were saying there.

Thank you both very much, indeed.

And a programming note: Look for my documentary on Afghan women airing in August here on CNN and Afghan and Muslim youth.

And just ahead tonight: The plane is down. The pilot is in custody. But why did he lead F-16 fighters on a chase from the Great Lakes halfway to the Gulf of Mexico? And was it a breach of security a terrorist could exploit? Some early answers ahead.

Also, the rescue effort in Italy and new obstacles to it from the same earth that's already taken so many lives. We have got a live report from the scene.

And, later, another state approves same-sex marriage -- details from Vermont tonight on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: We have new details about the pilot who stole a light plane and led fighter jets on a pursuit across American skies last night.

The chase went as high as 14,000 feet and ended down on a dirt road in rural Missouri. This is a picture of the 31-year-old pilot. He's charged with illegally entering the country and transporting stolen property, the plane.

So, why did he do it? Authorities say he wanted to die.

More from Randi Kaye in tonight's "Crime & Punishment" report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three p.m. Monday, a Canadian flight school, someone steals a single-engine Cessna from Ontario's Confederation College. It' college. It's in the air and headed for U.S. airspace.

Within minutes, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol are alerted. Suspicions focus on a student, and a bomb squad robot examines his car. Officials are responding as if it's a terror attack.

(on camera): By 3:25, the pilot was over Lake Superior. At 3:46, U.S. fighter jets are notified. Minutes later, two F-16s are launched from Duluth, Minnesota, to intercept the still unidentified pilot. Wisconsin's state capitol, right here in Madison, is evacuated as a precaution. By now, U.S. and Canadian governments are on high alert.

(voice-over): The Cessna is tracked on radar. The F-16s reach the target at Michigan's Upper Peninsula border with Wisconsin. The pilot ignores radio and hand signals, both attempts to ground him.

MIKE KUCHAREK, SPOKESPERSON, NORTH AMERICAN AEROSPACE DEFENSE COMMAND: We did get some indication that the pilot did know that, you know, our aircraft were in the area.

KAYE: The jets continue to tail the plane. It flies erratically, between 3,000 and 14,000 feet. The U.S. government is prepared to shoot the plane down.

(on camera): Eight-thirty at night, the plane is 20 miles southwest of Saint Louis. About an hour later, it's 10 miles southwest of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, heading fast for the Arkansas border. Finally, 780 miles after takeoff, the pilot ditches the plane just before 10:00 p.m. under a bridge in the small town of Ellsinore, Missouri, and takes off running.

(voice-over): Police track him on foot to this convenience store, where they find him drinking Gatorade.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was in the store getting some groceries. And the guy got up and didn't really give much of a fight. It looked like he was waiting for the cops to get there.

KAYE: More than seven hours after this bizarre flight began, the suspect, now identified as Adam Dylan Leon, also known as Yavuz Berke, a Turkish-born Canadian citizen, is taken into custody.

The cost to taxpayers? Five hundred thousand dollars for those fighter jets alone. Why did he do it? The criminal complaint indicates this long, strange trip was actually a suicide attempt. He had recently seen a psychiatrist and told a state trooper he was depressed and had hoped the U.S. Air Force would shoot him down.

By contrast, his flight school describes him as a good student who successfully passed his cross-country solo flying test just last week, a skill that served him well getting to Missouri. His problem now? Getting out of jail.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: And, up next: the new fears following the pursuit. What if the plane had a dirty bomb? Are we prepared for the threat from above?

Plus, more aftershocks and more despair -- the death toll rises in the worst earthquake to strike Italy in decades -- the latest on the disaster ahead.

And also tonight, introduce the world -- this week, Michelle Obama speaks about being a working mother and perhaps the most famous first lady on earth.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: The Canadian flight student who entered U.S. airspace last night was tracked by radar, intercepted by F-16 fighter jets, and monitored by state, local, and federal agencies.

Officials said the pilot wanted to harm himself, and nobody else. But what if he had wanted to hurt others? What if the plane had carried a deadly cargo, a dirty bomb?

Some view yesterday's chase as a wakeup call, a sign that America may still be vulnerable from the sky.

Joe Johns has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A scary scenario -- 1995, an al Qaeda plot never executed to crash a small plane into the CIA. And al Qaeda's Zacarias Moussaoui considered using a crop duster to spray people with anthrax.

So, imagine several young men flying from Canada into U.S. airspace at the same time in small planes carrying dirty bombs. And, say, F-16s did intercept maneuvers. Would they shoot them down?

Former Homeland Security adviser Fran Townsend says, there's more than eyeballing the guy in the cockpit to see if he's a threat.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: At the same time, on the ground, you have individuals in law enforcement and intelligence looking at, what do we know about the individual who took the plane? What -- what did he say in terms of a flight plan? What do we know about his -- his maturity and experience as a pilot? What do we know about his mental health?

JOHNS: Also, time and place -- is the area below populated or open? Worst case, how much damage could occur?

Monday, the Wisconsin state capitol was evacuated while NORAD evaluated the threat. Remember, the U.S. Capitol was evacuated because a plane flew into restricted airspace. It was during funeral observances for former President Reagan. The plane was carrying the governor of Kentucky. But, at first, who knew?

So imagine the risk on the ground if the Air Force shot down one of these planes, fearing a dirty bomb.

FRAN TOWNSEND, FORMER BUSH HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: If you think you've got to take the decision to shoot it down, then you want to -- you want to take it to a place where there's not a large population, it's not an urban area, so that the area of contamination can be contained.

JOHNS: The bottom line is, bigger planes carry bigger risks. And that's where the security community focuses its efforts.

But are small planes a weak spot in homeland security?

(on camera) In fact, homeland security and Congress are asking questions about screening of pilots, passengers and cargo of small planes. The latest incident only expected to add some urgency to the issue.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: And have a look at this now: a composite picture of all commercial flights over the U.S. right now. It's staggering. And it doesn't even include private aircraft. So given the numbers, how can you identify and stop a potential terrorist threat?

Joining us now, Jim Tilmon, retired airline captain and aviation analyst.

So Jim, what does yesterday's event tell us about how vulnerable the U.S. still could be when it comes to small aircraft and general aviation?

JIM TILMON, RETIRED AIRLINE CAPTAIN/AVIATION ANALYST: I think the possibility is always there, Christiane, of this kind of incident occurring.

You have to realize, there are, like 18, 19, maybe 20,000 small airports all around the United States that are general aviation type airports that range from everything from a farmer with a 150 Cessna sitting out on his field on a grass or a dirt strip to something much more sophisticated that will handle business-type aircraft.

I think that the idea that you can pass a legislation to cause any of these airports to try to put in place the kind of cautionary -- precautionary things we have at a commercial airport, it's just not workable. It's not a good idea either. I mean, one of the great things about being in America is the air belongs to the people.

AMANPOUR: OK. So if it's impossible to ramp up more restrictions and more security, how easy or difficult would it have been to put something deadly on it? And how could those, you know, F- 16 fighters and the pilots, could they have seen it?

TILMON: Probably not being able to see it would not have changed anything at all. I think that it is possible to take a suitcase device of some kind that would be light enough and small enough to get on that airplane.

But you know what? I mean, realistically, it would have been a lot easier for a terrorist to rent a truck and do this on the ground. I mean, unless they're just looking for some kind of special notice, it doesn't really pay to have an airplane do this job.

And besides that, it was alluded to earlier in this broadcast, what do you do and when do you do it? If the aircraft is not a threat over vacant land, OK. It's not a threat. So why do we shoot it down?

And if it is trying to nose down into the capitol building of the state of Wisconsin, do you shoot it down there in a populated area? It's a real question. The answer to me is common sense.

AMANPOUR: You seem to be saying that it's not the kind of threat that perhaps it may have been blown out to potentially be. Is that what you're saying?

TILMON: Yes, indeed, I am. I think that it's easy to see this as an incredible event, mostly because an airplane is involved.

But, you know, there are so many better ways of carrying some kind of terrorist threat out on the ground without ever using an airplane and not causing that much attention. So that it makes me wonder why we are actually doing the kinds of things we are.

I don't know what these pilots could have done. I think they did a wonderful job. But I don't know what their role would have been for the F-16s to take some kind of aggressive action.

AMANPOUR: Jim Tilmon, thank you very much indeed.

And in Italy, time is running out, but the search for survivors goes on. Victims of Monday's major earthquake are buried beneath tons of rubble. Can they be reached in time? Coming up, we'll have the latest from the city at the center of it all.

Also ahead, the latest on the alleged plot to kill President Obama. A Syrian man was arrested. What's happened to him?

Plus, a train station erupts with the sound of music, literally. Think Julie Andrews and the Von Trapp family times ten. It stopped commuters in their tracks, and now it's rocking YouTube.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: Rescuers in central Italy have been racing the clock for nearly two days now, digging through tons of debris and rubble for earthquake survivors. Today, against worsening odds, a woman was pulled out of the rubble alive.

Monday's magnitude 6.3 quake was the deadliest Italy has seen in decades. It struck before dawn, killing more than 200 people and devastating the region. Historic buildings and houses were flattened. Thousands of people are now homeless. Today a powerful aftershock rocked the area, spreading new panic.

The medieval city of L'Aquila is about 75 miles northeast of Rome, and it's been hit the hardest. Entire blocks there are now rubble.

Paula Newton is in L'Aquila with the latest.

Paula, you experienced that incredibly powerful aftershock today. What was it like? What happened?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Christiane, it was a proper earthquake, and you could tell when it was going on. I was at the field hospital. Right now I'm at the homeless shelter, the tent city here. Just further down, there is a field hospital. The ambulances were rocking and shaking, the doctors hanging onto each other. It lasted, most likely, a good 20 seconds. And you could feel, look, this is a different kind of aftershock.

Christiane, for the people here, the people in this tent city, the people of L'Aquila, in general, to continue to have to go through this, it doesn't only hamper rescue efforts, but it reminds them again of what they've been through, and that this still may not be over -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: The prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, came over there, didn't he? And he promised to sort of rebuild, reconstruct the whole city. I mean, is that viable? How quickly can they get some shelter for these people?

NEWTON: Well, it's beginning to sink in here. You know, they have these tents, but they're wondering how long are we going to be in these tents? Christiane, even if your home wasn't damaged, you must wait for an inspector to go to your home and declare it safe.

On top of that, the aftershocks today, still a very destabilizing event throughout the region here.

People are starting to wonder how long is this going to go on? Their children are not in school, won't be for a very long time. Certainly, they are looking to the government about where to go next.

But it really is a bit demoralizing here already. People are saying, look, thank God we're alive. They're giving thanks to that. But on the other hand saying to themselves, they can see right now that this is going to go on for months and months -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Paula, thank you very much, indeed.

And next, a victory for same-sex couples. Vermont becomes the fourth state to approve gay marriage. Will more states follow?

Plus, Michelle Obama and her own mother, the first grandma, talk about their new life inside the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: Michelle Obama is earning high marks on both sides of the Atlantic. Just ahead, the first lady and first mom open up about the help she gets at the White House from her own mother.

First, Erica Hill, though, joins us with a "360 News & Business Bulletin."

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Christiane, lawmakers in Vermont's house and senate overriding the governor's veto of a bill allowing same-sex marriages. Vermont is now the fourth state to allow the unions. It joins Massachusetts, Connecticut and as of late last week, Iowa. That new law in Vermont will take effect September 1.

Turkish authorities released a Syrian man arrested on Friday in connection with an alleged plot to kill President Obama during his visit to Istanbul. That is according to U.S. officials who said that, while they take all threats seriously, they do not believe the president's life was ever in serious danger.

A federal judge today set aside the conviction of former Alaska senator Ted Stevens, as expected, and then ordered a criminal investigation of six government prosecutors who bungled the case. Last week the Justice Department moved to void the conviction, admitting prosecutorial misconduct.

And GM today unveiling an early version of its Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility prototype, or PUMA for short. The futuristic two-wheeled vehicle runs on batteries, has a top speed of 35 miles an hour and can really only go 35 miles before needing a recharge, basically as far from a Hummer as you can get, Christiane. And it's actually been developed with the Segway people.

AMANPOUR: Erica, thank you. And now all the fun for the "Beat 360" fans. These are the winners. It's our daily challenge to viewers, a chance to show off our staffers by coming up with a better caption for the picture that we post on our blog every day.

Tonight's picture, President Barack Obama speaks today during a visit to Camp Victory in Baghdad.

Our staff winner tonight is Kyra. Her caption: "'American Idol,' live from Iraq."

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HILL: A little bit of a double entendre, too, as well, I believe.

AMANPOUR: Our viewer winner is John from Bartlesville, Oklahoma. His caption: "The fact that no one has thrown a shoe at me yet is clear evidence that we have greatly improved America's image abroad."

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AMANPOUR: John, your "Beat 360" t-shirt is on the way.

And next, inside the White House, Michelle Obama and her mother, their special bond and both raising Sasha and Malia.

And we bet you've never seen so many jazz hands in a train station. What made all these people break out and dance? It's our "Shot of the Day," coming up.

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AMANPOUR: As a candidate, Barack Obama spoke about wanting to restore the U.S. reputation around the world. Now we're seeing how his wife, Michelle, may be helping him.

This CNN/Opinion Research poll was conducted as Mrs. Obama was returning from Europe. Fully 80 percent said that the first lady made people in other countries feel more positive about the United States. Just 14 percent says she made others feel more negative.

In the U.S., Mrs. Obama's poll numbers are now higher than her husband's. And she's just as popular, if not more, across Europe.

In Washington today, a wax replica of Michelle Obama was unveiled at Madame Tussaud's. Only two other U.S. first ladies have made that cut: Jacqueline Kennedy and Hillary Clinton.

Michelle Obama often says her first priority is her family, a message that cuts across borders of all kinds. In the May issue of "Essence" magazine, the first lady appears on the cover with her own mother.

Erica Hill goes up close.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HILL (voice-over): She is, above all, mom in chief. But even this champion multitasker admits she'd never be able to devote as much time to that role without her own mother by her side.

TATSHA ROBERTSON, DEPUTY EDITOR, "ESSENCE" MAGAZINE: When Mom and Dad are busy being, you know, first lady and president, it's Marian Robinson who they call the secret weapon who keeps the two kids really grounded.

HILL: For the Mother's Day issue, "Essence" magazine sat down with Michelle Obama and her mother, Marian Robinson. The two are incredibly close, something that was obvious from the moment they arrived for the interview.

ROBERTSON: Michelle, being a great daughter, you know, hugged her mom and pushed her hair out of her eyes, and they talked and they giggled. You could tell, there's this really loving bond.

HILL: Mrs. Obama has often talked of her love, admiration and appreciation for her mother. But this is one of the few times we've heard directly from the first grandmother.

"I've always looked up to Michelle because she's been able to do things that I couldn't do emotionally, psychologically or physically," Mrs. Robinson tells "Essence." "I think she is amazing."

Much of America agrees. Her latest approval rating: 72 percent.

But the first lady is quick to point out she's able to do so many things because her mom is there for her and for and for the girls, and because of the White House staff, a luxury many working families don't have.

"When you have children and a career or a job and you're trying to make it all work, it's tough," Mrs. Obama says. "We need to have truthful and honest conversations about what it requires to do all that we ask of families and women."

Carol Evans is the president of "Working Mother" magazine.

CAROL EVANS, PRESIDENT, "WORKING MOTHER" MAGAZINE: Because she has been a working mother and is a working mother, she speaks for all of us every day. She is, just by being herself, that really strong woman, a symbol for what the average working mother is like.

HILL: A woman who is driven, torn, and intensely dedicated to her family. Telling "Essence," quote, "There isn't a relationship in a family that is more important than the relationship a child has with her mother or someone in that role. And we have to value that. We cannot wait to value it. We've got to value it each and every day."

A lesson learned from her mother.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL: That lesson, again, learned from her mother, passed on to her daughters.

Now, interestingly enough I also asked if maybe there had been a little discussion with President Obama while "Essence" was at the White House to do this interview. President Obama offered this statement, saying throughout his life, "I've been blessed to be surrounded by strong compassionate women." He talks about his mother, his sisters, his grandmother, even, yes, his mother-in-law, saying how they have worked and sacrificed to help him reach his goals and that he is determined to do the same so that all children can do theirs. Weighing in a little bit there on the power of the women and the power of women in his life.

AMANPOUR: Yes. Lucky for him to have such strong women.

HILL: That's right.

AMANPOUR: So "Essence" is for African-American women, essentially. And a lot of talk about how, just by being in the White House, the Obama family, all of them can really change perceptions. Did the interview touch on that?

HILL: It did. And that's something that was really important to "Essence" readers. And that's what the magazine told us. In fact, they talked directly about this influence they could have in changing some of the negative stereotypes.

And when the question was posted to both Mrs. Robinson and Mrs. Obama, Mrs. Robinson said, "Yes, we make a nice picture, but it's not necessary to say we're going to change everything."

Mrs. Obama said, you know, "It is a nice picture, but it just reminds us of the fact that this is a reality and a reality for families across the country every day. We're a family just like everyone else. So while it should change some perceptions, perhaps even more than that, it will make people realize that we're just the same as anybody else."

AMANPOUR: And how often they both say, Barack and Michelle Obama, how much they just miss their children when they're on the road.

HILL: Absolutely. You can tell it is a very dedicated family. And this speaks to that even more.

AMANPOUR: Can relate to that.

And next on 360, "The Shot": the morning commute and "The Sound of Music" come together at a busy train station. The story and the video ahead.

And at the top of the hour, the desert detour. President Obama's surprise visit to Baghdad and what he told U.S. troops in Iraq.

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AMANPOUR: Before we get to "The Shot," a quick update on the stolen plane story.

Canadian Adam Leon is in custody in St. Louis. He was charged today with transporting stolen property. The property in question being the Cessna 172 took from a flight school in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

He's also charged with illegal entry into this country, the entry triggering a Norad alert and a swarm of F-16s to scramble. They followed him across Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and most of Missouri. Leon finally landed in rural Missouri.

He reportedly told law officers that he wanted to be shot down, essentially to commit suicide by F-16. He's now being held by immigration authorities and also faces other charges back in Canada.

HILL: All right. We also want to -- we also want to get to, now -- Christiane, I know you've seen it on the program. But you've been dying for "The Shot" all day long. You can't wait.

This evening for everyone's pleasure, "The Sound of Music" meets the morning rush. This video comes to us from Belgium at the central train station in Antwerp. Now, little by little as you watch here, you'll notice folks are dancing to a techno version of "Do, Re, Mi."

Pretty soon just about everybody is getting into the act. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC: "Do, Re, Mi")

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HILL: The Von Trapp family crowd.

In case you're wondering if it was a spontaneous burst of Rodgers and Hammerstein joy, not exactly. Shockingly, it's a Belgium reality TV show. But it's a good one, I have to say. It starts with just these two.

And then as you see them all slowly come in, at one point there's this huge rush down the stairs. It could, you know, probably do wonders for your morning, something a cup of coffee couldn't in a train station.

AMANPOUR: I don't even know what to say to that. It is really, really different than "The Sound of Music" that I saw ten times as a kid.

HILL: It is a little different, yes, but entertaining. And, of course, you can see that and the rest of our "Shots" on our Web site at AC360.com.

AMANPOUR: And coming up at the top of the hour, another surprise. President Obama's quick visit to Iraq tonight on 360.

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