Sunday, November 30, 2008

Taj Mahal hotel owner: We had warning

The Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, India, temporarily increased security after being warned of a possible terrorist attack, the chairman of the company that owns the hotel said Saturday.

But Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata said those measures, which were eased shortly before this week's terror attacks, could not have prevented gunmen from entering the hotel.

"If I look at what we had ... it could not have stopped what took place," Tata said in an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria that will air Sunday.

"It's ironic that we did have such a warning, and we did have some measures," Tata said, without elaborating on the warning or when security measures were enacted. "People couldn't park their cars in the portico, where you had to go through a metal detector."

However, Tata said the attackers did not enter through the entrance that has a metal detector. Instead, they came in a back entrance, he said. Video Watch Tata discuss the threats »

"They knew what they were doing, and they did not go through the front. All of our arrangements are in the front," he said.

"They planned everything," he said of the attackers. "I believe the first thing they did, they shot a sniffer dog and his handler. They went through the kitchen."

The 105-year-old hotel was one of nine sites attacked by gunmen in a 60-hour wave of terror that killed at least 183 people and injured hundreds more before it ended in a standoff at the hotel Saturday morning. Learn more about the historic hotel's past and future »

Authorities carried out a room-by-room sweep in the 565-room Victorian building late Saturday to make sure that all guests had been evacuated and no gunmen remained inside.

A. Vaidyanathan, an economist who was a guest in the Taj when the attacks occurred, told The Hindu newspaper on Friday that he had noticed tight security at the hotel when he stayed there last month.

"First, when you enter the open parking, where the cars are parked, you had a very heavy metal frame; your baggage was searched," he said. "At the entrance of the foyer, there was another metal detector, and you were personally searched and so on."

However, for this latest trip, he said, he could walk right into the hotel without encountering the same measures.

Bullet holes and scars of grenade blasts marred the restaurant walls in the Taj Mahal hotel, Tata said. Photo See images from the battlegrounds »

Tata said the attacks revealed deficiencies in law enforcement, especially in the areas of crisis response and management.

"We were getting the cooperation that they could give us, but the infrastructure was woefully poor," he said,

As an example, Tata said it took three hours for firefighters to get water to the Taj after a blaze broke out in the oldest part of the building.

"We had people who died being shot through bulletproof vests," he added.

Tata said that not even the army or commandoes who ultimately took over the offensive were prepared for the level of organization and execution that the attackers seemed to have put into their plan.

"They seemed to know [the hotel] in the night or in the daytime," he said of the attackers. "They seemed to have planned their moves quite well, and there seem to have been a lot of pre-planning."

Tata said the attacks underscored the need for law enforcement to develop infrastructure for crisis management, even if it meant seeking outside expertise for training, equipment and strategic operations.

"We've been very complacent, because we've really not had this kind of terrorism inflicted upon us," he said. "We should not stand on ceremony to hold back. We should go to the best place possible to get expertise."

Tata was hopeful that the attacks would unite Indians behind a common goal of preventing a similar tragedy.

"Rather than have us succumb to this kind of terror, what it has done is given us a resolve that nobody can do this to us," he said.

"We're indignant, but we're not scared. If there's a view that this has pulled us down, I think it will unite the country that much more."

Tata said he derived those sentiments from members of his staff, who have pledged to stand behind him and restore the Taj to its former grandeur.


"The general manager lost his whole family in one of the fires in the building," Tata said. "I went up to him today and I told him how sorry I was, and he said, 'Sir, we are going to beat this. We are going to build this Taj back into what it was. We're standing with you. We will not let this event take us down.'"

Tata added, "And that is the feeling that they have, and I have a feeling that that's pretty much echoed throughout the country."

Friday, April 11, 2008

U.S., North Korea near nuke deal, officials say

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is close to finalizing a deal with North Korea over its nuclear program, senior State Department officials tell CNN.

In the deal being discussed, North Korea would finish disabling its nuclear reactor and provide a full accounting of its plutonium stockpile, the officials said.

In an addendum to the main agreement, North Korea also would "acknowledge" concerns about its proliferation and uranium enrichment activities and agree to continue cooperation with a verification process to ensure no further activities, the officials said.

Meanwhile, U.S. military intelligence is closely watching a North Korean missile launch site after seeing signs of activity in recent days, according to two U.S. military officials.

The activity has prompted concerns Pyongyang is planning a new round of ballistic missile tests of either medium or longer range missiles, they said.

In recent weeks, U.S. satellite imagery of the site at Sinori, North Korea, northwest of Pyongyang, has shown movement of military personnel, vehicles and some equipment to the site that had not been seen there on a regular basis, the officials said.

North Korean military personnel also have engaged in training on the site, they said, adding the activity is in its early stages and it's not yet possible to determine what the North Koreans are doing.

Negotiations over the nuclear agreement stalled for months when North Korea balked at publicly admitting to a highly enriched uranium program and to providing Syria with nuclear technology.

In softening its demand for a full declaration from North Korea, the United States concluded it is more important to get North Korea to surrender its weapons-grade plutonium than risk the deal fall apart all together, officials said.

The officials said it is less important to have North Korea "confess" to its past activities than it is to find a formula under which the parties have an understanding of North Korea's nuclear program.

In exchange, they said, North Korea would be removed from the United States' list of state sponsors of terrorism and would have sanctions removed under the Trading with the Enemy Act.

"We have found a formulation which is probably good enough" to address North Korea's past behavior, one official said.

On Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested that verifying North Korea's claims is more important than the actual document.

"You can't verify overnight some of these complicated programs that the North Koreans have been engaged in," she told reporters. "But we have to be absolutely certain that we've got means to do it.

"We are not yet at a point where we can make a judgment as to whether or not the North Koreans have met their obligations, and we are therefore not at a point at which the United States can make a judgment as to whether or not it is time to exercise our obligations," she said following a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

One State Department official said, "We have found a formulation which is probably good enough" to address North Korea's past behavior.

North Korea has allowed U.S. officials, including Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, to visit a missile factory believed to have been used for uranium enrichment in an effort to prove there were no "ongoing" enrichment activities.

Hill told CNN it is still important to resolve North Korea's uranium and proliferation activities, but North Korea's plutonium is the more immediate threat because it can be used to make nuclear weapons.

"North Korea still has difficulty admitting things publicly," Hill said. "We still have to deal with the proliferation issue and the HEU [highly enriched uranium] program, but it is very important to get a plutonium declaration that is not only accurate but is completely verifiable."

The United States also wants the deal to address Japan's questions about North Korea's alleged abductions of more than a dozen Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, officials said.

Officials said Rice has signed off on the elements of a deal. But they made clear nothing is final unless the whole package is agreed to by the other parties that have been involved in the six-party talks: Russia, South Korea, China and Japan.

They added that while progress has been made, more negotiations are needed and the deal could change slightly. The United States hopes to wrap up negotiations in the next few weeks, they said.

If the deal goes through, it would pave the way to move to the third part of the Six Party Agreement, which requires North Korea to permanently dismantle its nuclear reactor and destroy its plutonium stockpile