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THE SITUATION ROOM
ISIS Gunmen Take Over Palestinian Refugee Camp; Israel Stepping Up Fight Against Iran Nuclear Deal; American Killed During Struggle Between Terror Groups; Air War Raining Bombs on Yemeni Capital; American Killed as Thousands Flee Deadly War; New Delay in Offensive to Retake ISIS-Held City; Women's March Across the DMZ? Aired 5-6p ET
Aired April 6, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:04] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Rene Marsh, thank you so much.
That's it for "THE LEAD" today. I'm Jake Tapper. I am now turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, streets of blood. An al Qaeda group is vowing new attacks, warning that quote, "cities will run red with blood." Will new strikes be able to stop them?
Terror offensive. A major U.S. ally melting down. One American is dead in the fighting. Why is the U.S. not evacuating its citizens, and can the meltdown be stopped? I'll ask the Saudi ambassador to the United States. His country is now leading the fight.
Talking points. Israel goes on the offensive, demanding changes to the nuclear deal with Iran. Can the Israelis get what they want?
And North Korea women's march. New details of plans for a controversial march just as Kim Jong-un is bringing back the so-called pleasure squads of young women. Why is America's most famous feminist planning to take part in the demonstration?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Breaking now: terrorist forces on the rampage and threatening new attacks. The al Qaeda affiliate in Kenya responsible for that university massacre is now vowing that the country's streets, quote, "will run red with blood."
And now both al Qaeda and ISIS forces have seized control of a refugee camp in Syria, and 18,000 people are trapped inside. Their lives profoundly threatened. Right now according to United Nations officials, amid growing reports of atrocities.
We're also following the deadly deteriorating (ph) crisis in Yemen, where an American citizen has been killed in the escalating fighting. CNN was at the airport in the capital today as hundreds of people scrambled to get on one of the few flights out of the collapsing country. The death toll is climbing as Saudi warplanes lead an air offensive against rebel forces. We're covering all angles this hour with our guests, including the
Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, and our correspondents, who are working their sources. We begin with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
Barbara, what's the latest you're hearing about the ISIS forces and that Syrian refugee camp?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.
ISIS now holding an entire Palestinian refugee camp at danger, at risk. The United Nations says never has the hour been more desperate.
STARR (voice-over): ISIS gunmen have moved in and tonight, thousands of Palestinians trapped and in danger here at the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, Syria.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Houses are ruined and destroyed. We are afraid to sleep in the upper floors. We are hungry and thirsty. We do not have food or medicine here.
PIERRE KRAHENBUHL, PALESTINIAN UNITED NATIONS RELIEF AND WORKS AGENCY: It's never been as grave and desperate as it is now in Yarmouk camp. It is a place that has been besieged for two years, where 18,000 people have been surviving on very minimal assistance for a long time. And now, with the fighting intensifying, their lives are in immediate danger.
STARR: More than 3,000 children are here.
U.S. officials tell CNN they are monitoring unconfirmed reports of mass killings in the camp. The PLO says there are reports of kidnappings and beheadings.
Increasingly, it is civilians bearing the brunt of terrorist onslaughts.
In Kenya, the horror at Garissa University still visible. CNN was given access to the grounds where al Shabaab gunmen killed more than 147 people. Kenyan authorities say this man, Mohamed Mohamud, masterminded it all. He is a regional commander in al Shabaab, al Qaeda's East Africa affiliate, and commands a militia along the border with Somalia. His network extends into the teeming refugee camps in the region.
Now a $215,000 reward on his head. Al Shabaab saying Kenyan cities will run red with blood.
Kenya has launched airstrikes against al Shabaab strongholds. The U.S. has killed several al Shabaab leaders in recent months. But the group still able to carry out this major attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It remains a persistent threat to U.S. and regional interests. Al Shabaab has broadened its operations to conduct or attempt to conduct asymmetric attacks.
STARR: Now, Kenya, Somalia and Syria pose a similar problem for the U.S. Very limited ability to gather intelligence on the ground to find out what is going on, to find out where these terrorists are dug in. So these attacks likely to continue to happen. Very difficult to see a major change in U.S. strategy -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very disturbing information, Barbara. Thank you very much.
[17:05:01] The war of words now heating up once again between President Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, over that nuclear deal with Iran, with the Israeli offensive against the agreement escalating and the White House firing right back.
Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is joining us now from Jerusalem. What's the latest over there? What are you hearing, Elise?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, his speech to Congress didn't seem to have much effect on the negotiations, but now that the deal is done, Prime Minister Netanyahu says it raises a lot of questions, and he is demanding answers.
LABOTT (voice-over): Tonight, America's closest Middle East ally has become the biggest thorn in its side, launching a media blitz against President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, calling it a, quote, "free path to the bomb."
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Not a single centrifuge is destroyed. Not a single nuclear facility is shut down, including the underground facilities that they built illicitly. Thousands of centrifuges will keep spinning, enriching uranium. That's a very bad deal.
LABOTT: Today, the White House fired back, pushing the U.S. energy secretary, an MIT-trained nuclear physicist and top negotiator of the deal, to argue Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was wrong.
ERNEST MONIZ, U.S. ENERGY SECRETARY: This is not built upon trust. This is built upon hard-nosed requirements in terms of limitations on what they do.
LABOTT: The Israeli government is now on an all-out offensive, distributing to reporters for a set of detailed questions about the deal and suggesting areas where it could be strengthened, including stopping Iran's research and development program on advanced nuclear technology, closing Iran's underground nuclear facility, and eliminating its stockpile of enriched uranium.
In a wide-ranging interview with the "New York Times" Sunday, President Obama defended the proposed framework, calling it, quote, "Israel's best bet to stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb." BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no formula,
there is no option, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon that will be more effective than the diplomatic initiative and framework that we've put forward.
LABOTT: Attempting to convince skeptics, President Obama also said it concerned him that he was being portrayed as anti-Israel, reiterating America's commitment to defending its ally.
OBAMA: What we will be doing, even as we enter into this deal, is sending a very clear message to the Iranians and the entire region that, if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there.
LABOTT: And Israeli officials say it's not about trusting the U.S. It's Iran they don't trust. And that's why they will lobby the U.S. government and all other countries party to this deal to make it tougher. But they feel their best bet may be in the U.S. Congress, where pending legislation giving lawmakers a say on this deal already has strong support -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Elise Labott reporting from Jerusalem for us. Thank you very much. More on this story coming up.
We're also following the stunning events unfolding in Yemen right now. An American man has been killed in the fighting. Thousands of people are trying to flee the country as it collapses. And while many nations are evacuating their citizens, the United States is not offering aid to hundreds of Yemeni-Americans believed to be trapped by the conflict.
Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is with us right now. What's the latest on U.S. citizens still inside Yemen?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's interesting. The State Department won't say how many Americans in Yemen have registered with the embassy there, in part because they don't know what percentage of Americans -- and many of these are dual citizenships, Yemeni Americans, what percentage of Americans there actually have registered so they don't have a hard number.
And in effect, the bottom line for the Americans who are there, there are no immediate plans to evacuate them, although other countries, including Russia, China and India, have done so. What the State Department says is they've been warning Americans for some time, this is not a place that they should be. They should have taken those warnings, in effect.
And that there are limitations now on America's ability to evacuate them. One of them being that the airport is closed. So really, the only advice the State Department is giving the Americans that are there is to shelter in place, and in light of the scenes that we're seeing there, the fighting, et cetera, you can see why that makes sense. BLITZER: What are you hearing about the alleged cooperation
apparently going on right now between al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, and al Shabaab? That's the terror group based in Somalia that killed nearly 150 people, mostly Christians at that Kenyan university?
SCIUTTO: Well, this would be a worrisome collaboration. I spoke to a U.S. counterterror official today. They said that, like these al Qaeda affiliates do, these groups are communicating. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, and al Shabaab in Somalia, they may be sharing know-how, as well. There is no evidence yet that they've collaborated on a joint operation, but I'm told that that is a credible next step. It's something that they're watching for, but they haven't seen it yet.
BLITZER: Is the Saudi air campaign making a big difference, a positive difference, or is it too early?
SCIUTTO: This is what U.S. officials say. They say clearly it's having an impact. It is hitting targets. It is hitting targets associated with the Houthi rebels, these Iran-backed rebels. It has not, in the U.S.'s estimate, stopped their advance or deterred them, but it is having some effect on the ground.
[17:10:14] The big key question going forward is do the Saudis move ground forces into Yemen, and on the other side, do the Houthis attempt to make an incursion into Saudi territory? From the U.S. perspective, that has not happened yet, but of course, it's a very clear sign of just how quickly what is today a Yemen problem can very easily spread beyond the borders there. And that's why so many countries, including the U.S., are watching this very closely.
BLITZER: They certainly are. All right, Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.
Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir. Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us.
Your air campaign, is it making much of a difference so far? Is it too early?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Absolutely it's making a huge difference. We have degraded their aircraft capabilities, their ballistic missiles, their heavy weapons, their air defenses, their command-and-control centers. It's moving according to plan and being very, very effective. And we have ten coalition countries operating with us, and we have support from the United States, which we very much appreciate.
This campaign is having a huge impact in Yemen, and it is not over yet. For us, failure is not an option. We will destroy the Houthis if they don't come to reason and go to the negotiating table and work this out.
BLITZER: You've seen all the reports, though, Mr. Ambassador, that these prisoners, they busted open a prison. Nearly 300 al Qaeda and other prisoners, terrorists, are now free. Nima Elbagir, our reporter, was there in Sanaa. She flew in with an Indian aircraft. Just an hour or two that they've been in. They've got people scrambling to get out. She says it's a disaster over there.
AL-JUBEIR: Well, wars are never -- never orderly, but we have taken every precaution to make sure that civilians are not damaged. We have taken every precaution to make sure that the targets we hit are the targets that we intend to hit, and we have done so. We have inflicted tremendous damage on the Houthis and on other Yemeni groups during this air campaign. We expect to continue with this effort until we have destroyed their capabilities and, by extension, destroyed the risk that they pose not only to us but to the rest of the world.
BLITZER: We know the Houthi rebels are Shiites. The Saudis obviously Sunnis. What is the role of Iran in Yemen right now? I'm getting conflicting information about how significant that role might be. Your analysis?
AL-JUBEIR: Well, we don't look at this as Sunni versus Shia. We look at this as the armed militia groups which are radical that operate outside legitimate government that is now in possession of ballistic missiles that represent a threat to Yemen, to Yemen's people, to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and to the region. This is something we cannot tolerate.
As far as their support from Iran is concerned, we know that Iran has offered to work with the Houthis, provided them with financial assistance. They've provided them with weapons. Sometime not too long ago a ship was intercepted that was carrying weapons from the Iranians to the Houthis, including shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles.
BLITZER: Do you see this as a proxy war, in effect, between Saudi Arabia and Iran?
AL-JUBEIR: We see this as a war of necessity where we're trying to protect the Yemeni people and their legitimate government. We see a negative involvement by Iran trying to promote disunity and division in Yemen.
BLITZER: So far, just Saudi air power. Is there any ground forces that you've sent in to Yemen?
AL-JUBEIR: No. We have that, as always, an option. We are ready to do whatever it takes to protect the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and we will do so. At this stage we're dealing with the air campaign.
BLITZER: But have you amassed troops along the border with Yemen -- tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers -- to move in if necessary?
AL-JUBEIR: We have amassed troops along the southern border in order to protect our borders from any incursion into our territory by the Houthis from the border of Yemen. We are focused on the air campaign, according to plan, and we will look at what the next steps are when we get to that point.
BLITZER: What are these other coalition partners that you're talking about? What are they doing?
AL-JUBEIR: They're flying -- some of them are flying air combat missions with us like the United Arab Emirates and some other Gulf countries. Others have provided logistical support. Others are willing to provide boots on the ground. And all of the medical support. We have -- we continue to receive increased from other countries who want to offer assistance to us and to see what kind of assistance we would require.
BLITZER: What is the U.S. role?
AL-JUBEIR: The U.S. plays a tremendously important role for which we are very grateful. The U.S. has provided -- is providing us with intelligence information, logistical information, political support. We are coordinating with the U.S. on a minute by minute basis, practically.
BLITZER: The State Department issued a travel warning a few days ago, saying Americans shouldn't -- shouldn't plan on being evacuated by the United States from Yemen.
Let me read a couple of sentences from it. "The level of instability and ongoing threats in Yemen remains severe. There are no plans for a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of U.S. citizens at this time. We encourage all U.S. citizens to shelter in a secure location until they are able to depart safely. Additionally, some foreign governments may arrange transportation for their nationals and may be willing to offer assistance to others. There is no guarantee that foreign governments will assist U.S. citizens in leaving Yemen."
[17:15:15] Is Saudi Arabia offering to help get U.S. citizens -- and many of them are joint Yemeni-U.S. citizens -- out of the country? Are you doing anything to help them?
AL-JUBEIR: We are offering to help any non-Yemeni citizen be evacuated from Yemen. We are working closely with a number of other countries that have sent ships in or aircraft in in order to evacuate citizens of other countries.
I don't know what the exact number of nationalities that have been evacuated, but I know that it's an ongoing process and we're working with them, as we are working with international humanitarian organizations in order to facilitate and expedite the distribution of humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people.
BLITZER: We know there are hundreds if not more U.S. citizens who are stranded in Yemen right now. I assume most of them would like to get out. We're going to be following.
Do you have any idea how many U.S. citizens are in Yemen?
AL-JUBEIR: Not really, no. I assume there are a lot, because you have a lot of American -- American citizens of Yemeni descent in this country.
BLITZER: I had heard earlier there were thousands. But the U.S. embassy, they evacuated the U.S. embassy, all U.S. diplomats, civilian personnel, military personnel, they got out of there within the last several weeks, as you well know.
Mr. Ambassador, I want to talk to you about what's going on as far as this -- the U.S. and other world powers nuclear deal with Iran. We'll take a quick break. Much more with the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, right after this.
[17:21:05] BLITZER: Breaking now, the deadly and deteriorating crisis in Yemen where an American citizen has been killed in the escalating fighting. It's getting worse right now.
We're back with the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel al- Jubeir.
We've talked about Yemen. Let's talk about the Iran nuclear deal right now. If you read the "Wall Street Journal" today, which I assume you did, you saw Richard Hass, current president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a man you know, former State Department official, saying the great fear that many U.S. officials have is that Iran might be -- that Israel might use its own military power to try to destroy Iran's nuclear capability and that Saudi Arabia, your country, will start buying bombs, nuclear bombs, from Pakistan. Is that realistic?
AL-JUBEIR: I don't know that I would want to comment on something like this. What we understand is that the deal that is being worked on -- there is no deal as we speak. And the president has said this very clearly, and there may not be a deal. That the deal would prohibit Iran from acquiring an atomic bomb, close off all pathways to Iran acquiring an atomic bomb, puts severe limits on Iran's ability to conduct research towards an atomic bomb and place severe intrusive and permanent inspections or long term inspections on -- continuous inspections on Iran. So all of this is very positive.
What we are waiting now to learn more about is the details and what we're waiting for also is to see whether those principles would be translated in actual agreements.
BLITZER: If they are, based on what the U.S., the administration, the Obama administration, has already put out, that four-page memorandum which I'm sure you read, if that is fully implemented, put into writing by the end of June, will Saudi Arabia support that?
AL-JUBEIR: Well, we also don't -- even what was put out in writing is not conclusive. There are areas that are still subject to more clarification related to inspections and related to the timing and the sequencing of the removal of sanctions. The other part that we have also been reassured on is that, for us, just as dangerous as Iran's nuclear program is Iran's interference in the affairs of other countries in the region. They are interfering negatively in Lebanon, in Syria, Iraq, in Yemen. And this has got to stop.
BLITZER: That's not part of this deal. The administration, the other members of the security, they never included any of that as part of this deal.
AL-JUBEIR: That's correct. But among the reassurances that we have received from the United States is not only what they talked about with regards to limitations on their ability or preventing them from acquiring an atomic bomb but also recognition of Iran's negative role in the region. And we need to counter that.
BLITZER: The administration says this was strictly involving its nuclear capability. So based on what I'm hearing, Mr. Ambassador -- correct me if I'm wrong -- you're not yet ready to say you support this deal?
AL-JUBEIR: Because I don't know that the deal is done. I think the principles that have been given to us and the assurances that have been given to us are something that we welcome. But we have also been informed that the negotiations are ongoing with regards to the details and that once they are concluded we will then know what the deal looks like.
But as explained to us, and the assurances that came with the explanation, are something that we welcome.
BLITZER: A lot of people are concerned that, if you don't like the deal, Saudi Arabia, you will get -- you will try to get your own nuclear bomb to balance what the Iranians presumably might have down the road. Are you in discussions -- Pakistan is a friend of Saudi Arabia. Pakistan has a nuclear bomb capability. They have nuclear weapons. Are you in discussions with Pakistan about perhaps getting a nuclear bomb from Pakistan?
AL-JUBEIR: Wolf, we have known each other for 25 years. You don't really expect me to answer this question. We will do whatever it takes to protect our people and our country. We are determined to ensure the safety of Saudi Arabia. And with regards to the deal, we want to wait until we see what the details are that are finally agreed to.
BLITZER: How concerned are you that the U.S. says one thing in interpreting what has been achieved and the Iranians on several key sensitive issues say that's spin, that's not really what's going on?
[17:25:04] AL-JUBEIR: What this confirms and what the administration has been saying is that the details have yet to be worked out. That this is a framework agreement where an agreement on principles and an agreement on objectives; and then you work on the details.
The U.S. and the P5+1 countries have been saying that they are -- they have a certain objective they want to achieve. The Iranians in their statements are saying something contradictory.
I don't see -- what I see here is areas where -- that have not been agreed to yet, and we hope that they will be agreed to on the basis of the assurances we were provided by the U.S.
BLITZER: But you don't -- you don't trust the Iranians, do you?
AL-JUBEIR: It's not about trust. It's about trust and verify.
BLITZER: So what does that mean?
AL-JUBEIR: Meaning the agreements that have to be made have to be solid agreements. There can be no wiggle room. The areas that remain -- have not yet been agreed to must be agreed to. We must know exactly what Iran's responsibilities and obligations are. And Iran must also know what the consequences are for trying to get out of any agreements that it makes.
BLITZER: As you know, the president, President Obama, has invited Saudi Arabia, the UAE, other Gulf states, to send their leaders for a summit meeting at Camp David, Maryland. When is that going to take place?
AL-JUBEIR: Well, the objective is that it takes place during the spring.
BLITZER: What does that mean, the spring? April? May? June?
AL-JUBEIR: We are now in consultations, I think, with regard to the dates that would work best. But the thinking was in the spring. So I will leave it at that.
BLITZER: Would the new king of Saudi Arabia, King Salman, would he come to Camp David for this summit meeting?
AL-JUBEIR: We welcomed the invitation by the president in the phone call they had recently, and he expressed his acceptance of it, subject of course, to finding a date that works for all parties.
BLITZER: It's not easy to find a date for all these leaders of all these Gulf states, is that what you're saying?
AL-JUBEIR: I'm sure it will happen. It's just a question of aligning everybody's schedule.
BLITZER: But he would come? The king would come?
AL-JUBEIR: This is what he informed the president.
BLITZER: He already told him. And bottom line on this Iran deal is you need more information. You're not ready on this day -- a lot of people are watching you right now -- to say you support the deal?
AL-JUBEIR: Because we don't know what the details are. And we're dealing with a country that for 35 years has been flaunting international law that have been violating laws, that has been supporting terrorism, that has been involved in the affairs of other countries in the region, that has had a program that was secret, that was surreptitious, that was unaccounted for and that has discovered after the fact. And so we have to see the final agreements. I hope that they will be
able to make a solid and serious agreement. Because the Iranians have not been very good at keeping their word in the past. I hope that they will change now.
BLITZER: And you hate what they're doing in Yemen right now, where Saudi air power is involved.
AL-JUBEIR: We are determined to prevail in Yemen. We have no doubt that we will prevail in Yemen. We are determined to restore Yemen back on its feet and to move the country towards a political transition where everybody lives in peace and security, and we're determined to prevent any outside power from dominating Yemen.
BLITZER: Adel al-Jubeir is the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us.
AL-JUBEIR: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Up next, U.S. citizens caught in a war zone. Now we're getting word of the first American death. Why isn't the U.S. able to do more to get American citizens out?
Later, we're also getting new information on why America's best-known feminist may be planning a trip to Kim Jong-un's North Korea.
BLITZER: Also breaking now, complaints the U.S. government isn't doing enough to help American citizens trapped in a country engulfed by war. A California gas station owner who went to get his family out of Yemen has now been killed by shrapnel.
[17:30:14] With us in THE SITUATION ROOM to discuss that and more, the former CIA operative and CNN intelligence and security analyst, Bob Baer; retired U.S. Army general and CNN military analyst, Mark Hertling; the former FBI assistant director, CNN law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes; and CNN chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
Bob Baer, your quick reaction, though, first to what we just heard from the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir. I didn't hear him say -- absolutely deny these reports that Saudi Arabia may in the end decide they hate this deal that the U.S. and others worked out with Iran and may go ahead and buy, if you will, some sort of nuclear bomb from a friendly country like Pakistan, which as you know, is a nuclear power. What's your reaction to that?
BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, that was an amazing interview. No. 2 is he said they may send troops into Yemen if they can't solve it otherwise. I mean, we're looking at a full-out war in the Arabian Peninsula.
And then he as much said that, "If it gets bad enough and if we don't trust the administration's deal with Iran, we're going to get a nuke. We're going to defend ourselves." I really worry about Saudi Arabia. They're not going into Yemen just
for the practice. This is a serious, serious war that affects their stability and their survival. And frankly, we're not doing anything to help them right now.
BLITZER: Your reaction, General Hertling?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I disagree with Bob a little bit. I did not hear him say they were about to send troops in. In fact, I thought he hedged as much on that question...
BLITZER: He didn't rule it out. He said they will do whatever is necessary to achieve the objective, which is to basically liberate Yemen from these Houthi rebels.
HERTLING: But he kept coming back to the air campaign, repeatedly coming back to the air campaign and saying, "Hey, we have forces defensively on the border." And truthfully, I'm not sure the Saudi Arabian army is capable of invading -- or conducting an operation into Yemen.
BLITZER: Why do you say that? The U.S. has supplied it with the most sophisticated ground capabilities, tanks, armored personnel carriers. They've got a lot of weapons.
HERTLING: Wolf, they have the weaponry. They have the equipment. But I'm not sure they have the capability. It takes a whole lot to go offensive. When you're synchronizing operations across a land mass, that's a whole lot tougher than digging in on the border and preventing someone coming in.
BLITZER: Your quick reaction to this possibility that Saudi Arabia may in the end, if they decide this deal with Iran is no good, they may become a nuclear power themselves? Through Pakistan, for example?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think that message was intended for Iran. I think he wanted them to get the...
BLITZER: That's Adel al-Jubeir, the ambassador, what he wanted to do?
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, you've covered this story for a long time. You remember vividly how Pakistan was able to develop its own nuclear capability.
SCIUTTO: With an enormous amount of Saudi funding. And listen, you're not the only one to ask that question. I've spoken to many Gulf diplomats who, in fact, they don't just ask the question. They make the assumption that Saudi Arabia has a relationship where they could take that nuclear technology from the Pakistanis and go down that path themselves.
BLITZER: Why isn't the U.S. able to help hundreds, if not a few thousand, American citizens who are stranded in Yemen right now get out? Because other countries, they're sending in emergency planes. There's four-hour windows. The Indian government, for example. Why isn't the U.S.?
SCIUTTO: India, Russia, China. First thing is the number. The State Department won't say how many Americans in Yemen have registered with the embassy there, because they don't know what percentage that is. Is it 10 percent? Is it nearly 100 percent? So they don't have a hard figure on the numbers.
The airport is closed. And the State Department will say that we have been telling Americans there for some time now this is not a safe place to go. We have limited ability to get you out. The best advice they're offering now is to shelter in place. But for the Americans there, we saw with the man killed yesterday, it's got to be frustrating advice.
BLITZER: Is there anything, Bob Baer, the U.S. can do to help U.S. citizens get out of Yemen right now? Because that's an awful situation.
BAER: Well, you just heard Adel al-Jubeir say that these Houthis have surface-to-air missiles. I wouldn't want to be sending in a C-17 or any other plane into Aden, and definitely not Sanaa. It's too dangerous. It's a full-on war, as I just said. And we simply cannot risk American troops for these people who should have left weeks ago.
BLITZER: And General Hertling?
HERTLING: Even if you have the airplanes and you can put them on the ground, you can put overhead cover, how do you get the Yemeni Americans to the airport? And you make an announcement over the airways, say, "The plane's showing up tomorrow at 2 p.m., be there"? It just doesn't happen that way, Wolf. They've known to get out for months now.
BLITZER: And this prison break, they went into this prison -- nearly 300 al Qaeda, other terrorists. They're now roaming around, AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. These are master bomb makers, if you will.
FUENTES: That's right. You have al Qaeda enhancing their forces on the ground. You've had these other groups enhancing it. And I think the clue was when the U.S. closes an embassy and you're an American, time to leave.
BLITZER: All right, guys, I want all of you to stand by. We have much more to discuss, including a new military offensive supposedly going to take place in Iraq. Much more with our panel right after this.
[17:42:31] BLITZER: Breaking now, we're getting word of another delay in plans for the Iraqi army to start an offensive to try to retake a major city held by ISIS.
Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM, together with our panel of experts. What are you learning about this effort to liberate Mosul?
SCIUTTO: Well, you remember all the talk about a spring offensive even with the Pentagon coming out with some of the details of that plan just a few weeks ago. But I'm told now it is more likely to begin in the fall, and that's at the earliest.
And there are a number of things going on. One, you have Ramadan starting in June. That's 30 days. Then you have the intense heat of the summertime. Mark and I were speaking about this earlier, having been to Mosul in the summer. You're talking about 130 degrees. That makes it very difficult.
In addition to that, when I was in Iraq in December, meeting with American commanders there, they were talking about the preparation of Iraqi forces, raising a lot of questions, saying not just months but it could be a year before they are ready to carry out an operation of this intensity, and difficulty.
So now, listen, all this can change, their operations. But at the earliest in the fall is the best assessment I'm getting right now from the Pentagon.
BLITZER: And what we're seeing now, these mass graves that have been unearthed in Tikrit. Yes, Tikrit has been liberated from ISIS. It was a joint operation, the Iraqi military backed by Shiite militias backed by Iran with some U.S. air power in the process. Tikrit is -- but there are literally hundreds if not thousands of Iraqi soldiers and other Shiites who have been massacred there. These graves are awful. Arwa Damon was there on the scene. It's a brutal picture.
HERTLING: Some of the film that Arwa showed, old stomping ground of mine and truthfully, Wolf, the mass graves are just a part of the problem. When ISIS killed a lot of the security forces in that city, they would either put them in mass graves or in many cases just shot them and tossed them into the river. And that's unfortunate. I mean, there are thousands of this -- of people who have been buried or tossed aside.
BLITZER: So what's the lesson here, Bob Baer? The battle for Tikrit, as far as a much bigger battle that would be necessary to liberate Mosul, a city of nearly two million people, the second largest city in Iraq.
BAER: Well, Wolf, it didn't go all that well, the taking of Tikrit. It was mainly militia, Shia militias that went in. They wreaked havoc on the remaining population. They were shooting prisoners. They were dragging them around in cars. The Sunnis in al Anbar and Nineveh provinces have taken this very badly. They -- you know, ISIS saying, "Look, if you don't help, this is what's going to happen to you."
So what we're seeing here is truly a civil war where there's no -- there's no good guys from either side. I think ISIS is much worse, of course, but the Shia militias and even the Iraqi army is not up to snuff at this point. So taking Mosul, whether it happens in the fall or not, we'll wait, have to see, but it's going to be a very, very messy battle. BLITZER: And speaking of bad guys, al-Shabaab, Tom Fuentes, we know
what happened at that university in Kenya, nearly 150 students who had been separated, Muslims, Christians, they took the Christians, slaughtered the Christians, and they now say, they're saying this is just the beginning. Kenyan cities, they say, will run red with blood.
Are they really capable of doing this inside Kenya?
FUENTES: Absolutely. Only takes a couple of guys. They just did this with four people and killed 150 students at that university. I mean, here in our country, Virginia Tech, one guy with two pistols kills 32 people. So doesn't take much to go in and create a slaughter.
BLITZER: What are you hearing about what's going on in Kenya right now? Because it sounds awful.
SCIUTTO: No question. I mean, the irony here is that al-Shabaab has actually been losing ground and territory and power in its power base of Somalia, but it's maintained this ability to strike out outside the country and that's become more public.
This was an internally focused group until a couple of years ago. Attacks in Uganda, of course, the Westgate Mall and now this. This is their new aspiration.
BLITZER: All right. Guys, stand by because we have much more coming up on this story.
Also another important story we're following, feminism, North Korean style. Kim Jong-Un apparently will allow a visit by some international feminists including America's perhaps best known feminist. He's bringing back his country's at the same time demeaning so-called pleasure squads. Stay with us.
[17:51:08] BLITZER: Plans are under way for a women's march in North Korea. That's a country notorious for its dismal record on women's rights and even more shocking America's most famous feminist says she will be taking part.
CNN's Brian Todd is working this story for us.
Brian, what is going on?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Gloria Steinem of all people is involved in this planned event. This is just plain strange. Tonight, Kim Jong-Un's regime apparently OK'ing this walk by a prominent women's group just as Kim is bringing back a practice of having young women at the beck and call of him and his inner circle, and not long after the regime was accused of other oppressive treatment of women.
TODD (voice-over): A bold ambitious plan apparently sanctioned by Kim Jong-Un. Is he in league with a women's group to promote peace between North and South Korea? A prominent women's activist group joined by feminist journalist and publisher Gloria Steinem is planning a symbolic and controversial walk across the Demilitarized Zone, the heavily fortified border between North and South Korea.
We spoke with Christine Ahn, the organizer.
CHRISTINE AHN, ORGANIZER, WOMEN CROSS DMZ: We wanted to end the state of the war on the Korean Peninsula.
TODD: Ahn says North Korean government officials have given the green light for the walk in late May. One analyst and a human rights advocate say there's a good reason why.
GREG SCARLATOU, COMMITTEE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH KOREA: What I know about some of those participating in this group is that they have views that are fairly pro-Kim regime, pro-North Korean.
PROF. SUE MI TERRY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Miss Ahn has written articles that are more sympathetic to North Korean issues and North Korean causes.
TODD: Ahn says the notion that she's a North Korean sympathizer is flat-out inaccurate.
AHN: Basically that is a Cold War-McCarthyist mentality. And that kind of framework is what has enabled Korea to remain divided. I am pro-peace. I am pro-engagement. I am pro-dialogue. I am pro-human rights.
TODD: But analysts say a women's group being sanctioned for this walk by the North Koreans is at least odd. The U.N., the State Department and human rights groups say Kim's regime routinely represses women, throwing them in prison camps, subjecting them to rape, torture. One prison camp survivor testified before a U.N. commission, she knew of a starving woman who gave birth in a camp. A prison official heard the baby's cries, beat the woman and forced her to drown the child.
JEE HEON-A, NORTH KOREAN PRISON CAMP SURVIVOR (Through Translator): With her shaking hands, she picked up the baby and she put the baby face down in the water.
TODD: The North Koreans denied it. According to South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper, Kim just brought back a practice his father and grandfather were known for, using so-called joy brigades of attractive young women.
TERRY: The joy brigade is there to please men, please the ruling elite. They dance, they sing. They -- you know, they give pleasure.
TODD: What does Gloria Steinem think of all of this? When we asked about North Korea's record with women and the comments that the group she's aligned herself with is pro-North Korean, a representative for Steinem e-mailed us saying on behalf of Miss Steinem, quote, "I am proceeding on the advice of women I trust and who know the region, including Christine." A reference to Christine Ahn.
For now this women's group says it plans to press ahead with the walk and is just waiting for permission from the South Korean government. We reached out to officials in Seoul and at South Korea's embassy here in Washington to see if they would grant that permission. So far officials have only said the request is under review -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So we got this statement from Gloria Steinem. But what about the women's organization, this organization that is organizing the whole thing? What are they saying about the women's rights issues in North Korea?
TODD: They say they are not ignoring those issues. They are aware of those issues, Wolf. But they only want peace on the peninsula and the way to achieve adequate human rights is to secure peace on the peninsula. But critics say that they are misguided in all this, that they are naive. And the critics who say they're pro-North Korean say they're doing this to embarrass the South Koreans. This group denies doing that.
[17:55:02] BLITZER: No permission yet from South Korea.
TODD: No. Not yet.
BLITZER: We'll see what they say.
BLITZER: Thank very much, Brian.
Coming up, an al Qaeda group warns some city streets running red with blood. Details of a chilling new terror threat.
And a dire warning as a country collapses. Are terrorist forces there regrouping and possibly getting stronger?
[17:59:46] BLITZER: Happening now, total collapse. Rising fears that Americans are being abandoned in an escalating war that's tearing apart a U.S. ally and emboldening al Qaeda.
Nuclear meltdown. President Obama and the Israeli prime minister reengage in a war of words over a tentative agreement with Iran. Will the nuclear deal be sealed or scuttle?
ISIS in America.