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CONNECT THE WORLD

Iranian Sanctions Lifted; Iran Releases Four Americans in Prisoner Swap; CNN Looks Back at First Gulf War Coverage; Jakarta Residents Refuse to be Afraid. Aired 11:00a-12:00p ET

Aired January 17, 2016 - 11:00:00   ET

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


NICK PARKER, HOST: So an historic day that proved all of the skeptics about the nuclear deal wrong. That was the assessment from Iran's

president one day after the sanctions against his country began to be lifted.

That came, of course, after the global nuclear watchdog said Teheran had adhered to the terms of the deal. Hassan Rouhani says the world has

realized that economic punishments benefit nobody.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HASSAN ROUHANI, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (through translator): Today is the day of the victory of the people of Iran on the political arena. The

people of Iran proved that constructive interaction is true and it is the right way.

We can have interactions with the world that is in interests of our people and definitely not to the detriment of others.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[11:15:10] PARKER: Meanwhile, three of the four Americans freed in a prisoner swap have now left Iran and are on their way to Europe. A fifth

American was also released, but not as part of that particular deal.

You know, the UN secretary-general says that he is heartened by the progress on both fronts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BAN KI-MOON, UN SECRETARY-GENERAL: I hope that the parties now want to free carry out joint and comprehensive plan of action in good faith.

Now is the moment to boost the cooperation on other pressing challenges, through dialogue, which should continue to guide the way

forward to safer future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PARKER: Well, for more now on the economic impact of Iran's sanctions being lifted, CNN's Richard Quest joins us live from Davos where political

and business leaders will be meeting at the World Economic Forum this week.

Richard, good to have you with us.

So, clearly a big win for Iran. They get access to the global oil markets, they get access to the world financial system and the unfreezing

of $150 billion. What do we think that's going to have in terms of impact on Iran's economy?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERANTIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, it's going to have a huge impact on the Iranian economy per se. I mean, you've only got

to the think about it this way, forget the United States, which introduced sanctions in 1979, the UN sanctions which came in 2003, four, five, six,

the UN sanctions have effectively frozen the majority of the Iranian economy from the global economy.

Now overnight, that has been released. So not only do you get the money coming back that you heard Fareed Zakaria talking about earlier, that

will go to the Iranian government, but you have companies, too, who are now able to have access to the banking system, to insurance, whether it's

insuring oil tankers, oil shipments, to financial services.

And also, crucially spare parts, Nick. The Iranian industry has been slowly, but surely, falling into some form of decrepit obsolescence, and

that can now start to be reversed.

But one other point, do not be hoodwinked into believing this is all over. Just today, we have the U.S. Treasury imposing new sanctions on the

ballistic missile side, the procurement of ballistic missile technology, against Iranian companies.

So the United States, U.S. persons, U.S. companies, they all are still very much in the sanctioning mode when it comes to Iran.

PARKER: So but overall, clearly huge benefits for Iran. But is it a win-win for Tehran as well as the global economy? What are people saying

in Davos about the impact overall?

QUEST: Well, Davos gets under way, the actual World Economic Forum begins on Wednesday, and there is no doubt that the ramifications --

geopolitical, strategic, military, terrorist-related, and economic -- that will be huge here at Davos.

The people here at Davos, they love to debate this sort of issue ad nauseam about the ramifications of what it means and who gains and who

loses.

Substantially, you take any French oil company Total, you take any -- you take even BP, any of the big companies or the big German industrial

companies that want to set up shop there, want to start selling projects there. It might be Mercedes Benz, it might be all sorts of companies who

now see an opportunity to get into Iran and they're going to do so, Nick, before the competition gets there before them.

PARKER: Indeed, and Richard finally, you're a sophisticated gentlemen. I wanted to get your take on this. The lifting of sanctions

could mean big business for Iranian caviar. Iran was once the biggest exporter of caviar in the world, but the industry suffered since 2010,

sanctions forbade the import of Iranian caviar to the United States. And now the industry is hoping for a big rebound.

Popular with food connoisseurs, Iranian caviar has a unique taste, apparently, due to the Caspian waters brackish waters. So, what does this

mean for the average consumer? Is that finally going to drive down the price of caviar a little bit?

QUEST: Well, you know, I'm glad you mentioned the Iranian caviar because it is in that one example, a very -- it's symbolic, it's emblematic

of the change that is going to take place. We can talk about vast oil fields and 5 million barrels a

day, but you can also talk about the Iranian caviar industry that as of now, can start exporting its caviar, not to the United States, but to

Europe and to Asia.

And not only that, because of the lifting of sanctions, those exports can be insured by banks in London. Money to help expand the Iranian caviar

industry can be lent from German banks or even from Gulf banks. You get the idea of how this is been.

This is, it's nascent, but it's going to happen. It'll happen probably faster than people think because Iran has like this educated,

young, informed, tech-savvy population, and as a result, they are the ones that basically say to

Rouhani, we have had enough, whether it's caviar or oil. Or even today, just to give you one more example, at the exact opposite end of the

spectrum, Nick, you've given me an example of caviar, expensive though it is, relatively cheap compared to the 100 aircraft that Iran has now agreed

to buy today from AirBus industries.

Now there you have it, billions of dollars worth of planes, thousands of dollars worth of caviar, all a huge benefit to the Iranian and the

global economy.

PARKER: Richard Quest with the impact on the economy both in Iran and globally on the lifting of these sanctions. Richard, thank you very much.

Reporting for us live from Davos.

And we'll have more on the top stories coming out of Davos this week as world leaders descend on the town for the World Economic Forum, as

Richard was just saying.

You're going to stay up to date with the latest analysis and special coverage from Ricahrd and the rest of our team at CNN.com/Davos.

You're watching Connect the World. And we'll be back with more after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PARKER: Hello, you're watching CNN. And this is Connect the World. I'm Nick Parker. Welcome back.

Our top story this hour, words of praise from both Washington and Tehran as the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal begins. And we've

heard U.S. President Barack Obama and Iran's president Hassan Rouhani in the last couple of hours, both were full of praise for what they

respectively called a milestone and an historic day.

Mr. Obama also highlighted the fact that a prisoner swap deal means freed Americans are now on their way home.

Senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen is at the Rammstein airbase in Germany where the released U.S. citizens will be

taken.

Fred, good to have you with us.

So, we understand three of the citizens are now on their way back to Europe. Do we know what their day ahead will hold for them?

And also, what happened to the one that is not on the plane?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, he is the one who decided not to fly back with that

plane that took off from Tehran earlier today. It's unclear why he decided to stay behind, but he's definitely not on that flight.

Now the three who was on that flight is Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian who was in prison in Iran for about a year and a half, you have

Amir Hekmati, a former Marine sergeant, he was there for four years in Iranian detention. And then you have Saeed Abedini, who was in detention

for about three years. He's a pastor from Boise, Idaho.

Now, we do believe that the plane that they're on should be landing in Europe very shortly. It's unclear before they come here to Ramstein air

base, which is one of the biggest American air bases outside of the U.S., whether they might land in Switzerland, because they are indeed on board a

swiss plane and would then be brought over here to Ramstein.

Once they reach Ramstein, there's a big American military facility around here. They would be taken off the plane and they would be driven

from here from Ramstein, about a mile and a half down the road to a place called Landstuhl where the U.S. has one of it's biggest military hospitals

outside of American territory, called The Landstuhl Medical Center -- Regional Medical Center, and there they are going to receive medical

treatment, medical evaluation because, of course, they were in Evin prison, which is a very tough prison there in Theran.

And by all accounts, they will be united with their families, at least some of which apparently have come here to Germany to then be with their

loved ones once again after such a very long time.

So it certainly is going to be an emotional time for these Americans that are just now coming back, Nick.

[11:26:34] PARKER: And Fred, clearly this is something of a controversial move by the White House. It's already drawn criticism here

in the United States that it's akin to paying a ransom, that it's setting a bad precedent. Just how unprecedenteded are these kind of prisoner

exchanges?

PLEITGEN: Well, I mean, if you look internationally, it is certainly something that has happened before.

You look back a couple of years at the Israelis, for instance, did a prisoner swap for one of their soldiers who was taken in Gaza, Gilad Shalid

(ph) and released over 1,000 Palestinians in return for that. So, it certainly is something has happened in the past, prisoner swaps, but of

course it's also something that draws a lot of criticism.

You especially look at right now in a very politically-charged time in the United States when of course you have the run-up to the presidential

election, you especially have some Republicans who are essentially saying that the U.S. caved into Iran, that the U.S. is giving Iran a free pass to

perhaps take American citizens in the future.

If you look at what the president said in his address, however, which of course happened just a couple of minutes ago, he said that this was the

right thing to do. He said at this point in time, what remains is that Iran has signed on to this nuclear agreement, they are quite far away from

being able to develop a nuclear weapon, Americans are now free, and channels of diplomacy, if not real diplomatic relations, are now opened

between these countries.

And Barack Obama says that's something that'll make America and the world safer.

And if look on the other side, you look at President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, many people in the west don't realize just how much heat he was

taking on the Iranian side for also engaging with the U.S. They have quite a vicious press there as well. They have quite vicious hardliners who are

heavily criticizing both him and Javad Zarif.

So, he, too, has now said this was the right thing to do. He's tweeted just a couple of seconds ago, a really saying that the Iranians

extend a welcoming hand to the world now. They of course feel reintegrated into the world's economy. And so both of these governments after taking a

lot of criticism from conservatives in both countries, are saying that they feel they was the right thing to do.

And they think that the results prove them right, Nick.

PARKER: Your point to remember, the political risks taken on both sides there. Frederick Pleitgen, reporting live from the Ramstein Air Base

where we expect the three Americans to arrive in a few hours from now.

Live from CNN Center, this is Connect the World. We'll have the latest international headlines just ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:33:13] PARKER: Indonesian police have arrested 12 people in connection with Thursday's deadly attack in Jakarta. Police say one of the

suspects received a money transfer from this man, Bahrun Naim. Naim is believed to have coordinated the attack from inside ISIS-held territory in

Syria. Three people were killed and 25 wounded in a suicide bombing and shooting outside a Starbucks. A police outpost was also attacked. Police

say four terrorists were killed.

Just days after the attacks, the streets of Jakarta have once again become filled with people. Indonesians are determined to show terrorists

that they are not afraid. Our senior international correspondent Ivan Watson has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look at this scene in downtown Jakarta, it feels like a festival.

(MUSIC)

But this is not a special holiday, this is just your average Sunday morning in the Indonesian capital. It's part of an initiative called, car-

free day in which the city shuts down vehicular traffic on main boulevards running through this

teaming, steamy city and opens it up to joggers, to cyclers, to musicians.

What's all the more remarkable is these families are out enjoying the open streets just a few hundred yards away from where ISIS militants

carried out brazen daylight terror attacks.

How are you feeling this Sunday?

[11:35:06] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This Sunday, I'm quite happy because you look, everybody there. I don't care. We don't care about the

terrorism.

WATSON: And nobody's afraid right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I don't think so. No, no one is afraid. We are not afraid.

WATSON: It's hard to believe that just a few days ago, there were gunmen and

suicide bombers attacking people in this very intersection in broad daylight. And now, look at this show of national pride and defiance with

Indonesians determined to prove that terrorism will not strike fear into the heart of their country.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Jakarta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PARKER: Well, returning now to our top story. Not everyone is celebrating the lifting of sanctions against Iran now that the

International Atomic Energy Agency has certified Theran's nuclear compliance.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened his weekly cabinet meeting earlier by calling on the international community to enact severe

and aggressive sanctions should Iran violate the deal.

Mr. Netanyahu also said that now that tens of billions of dollars in frozen

Iranian assets have been released, Iran will have more resources to divert to terrorism.

Our Oren Liebemrann joins us now live from Jerusalem with more on that.

Oren, good to have you with us. So, clearly Mr. Netanyahu is voicing significant criticism against the lifting of these sanctions. What do we

think from his point of view, it will have in terms of an impact on date- to-day life in Israel?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he hasn't talked about that and we haven't heard too much about that from the

Israelis, from the press or the public just yet in terms of how the lifting of sanctions will affect Israelis, because for the most part right now,

still criticism of the lifting of sanctions.

But Netanyahu has, to an extent, changed his tack on this one. Instead of criticizing the deal itself and trying to prevent the deal, we

see him instead saying, now that the international community, the P5+1 and the IAEA has made this deal, it is on them, it is their obligation to

monitor Iran for violation of the conditions of this agreement.

And he says, should Iran violate the agreement here, that he expects them to enact sanctions and to monitor very closely. And he says Israel

will be watching Iran's action very closely because he insists Iran is still trying to secretly develop and get nuclear weapons.

He won't admit to defeat on this deal. Instead he says just the opposite.

He says it was his criticism of the deal that led to a better deal. Although still his words, not a good deal.

Here's part of what he had to say at the cabinet meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Were it not for our efforts to spearhead the sanctions and foil Iran's nuclear

program, Iran would have already had nuclear weapons, long ago. Israel's policy was and remained exactly the same: do not let Iran achieve nuclear

weapons.

It is clear that from now Iran will have more means to use for its terror and aggressive activity in the region and in the world. And Israel

is ready to cope with any threat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMANN: So there you see Netanyahu's different attitude. At this the point, he knows the deal is a done deal, it's a fact now, and now he's

saying it's up to the international community to hold Iran to that deal.

He says, however, that be regardless of the deal Israel will do whatever is necessary to maintain it's own security -- Nick.

PARKER: Oren Liebermann reporting live for us from Jerusalem. Oren, thank you.

Well, while the nuclear deal has it's critics, many are saying we are witnessing a change, a significant change in U.S.-Iranian relations. They

cite the unfolding prisoner swap and the quick release of U.S. sailors who drifted into Iranian waters as indicators of a major shift in policy.

All of these developments following numerous diplomatic talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad

Javad Zarif.

Let's bring in Reza Marashi. He's the research director at the National

Iranian-American Council. He joins us live now from Washington. Sir, good to have you with us. We do appreciate your time today.

REZA MARASHI, NATIONAL IRANIAN-AMERICAN COUNCIL: Thanks for having me.

PARKER: So I wanted to begin with the Iranian President Rouhani who really was able to bring about this deal and the lifting of sanctions a lot

quicker than many people had expected. He surprised people with his skill at

outmaneuvering some much these hardliners in Iran. What do you put that down to? What is his strategy?

MARASHI: I think his strategy was largely predicated on his political background. He's been a part of Iran's security apparatus, a

quintessential insider inside the Iranian system for 25 years, if not longer. And what's they allowed him to do is learn how to navigate that

system and build coalitions that are necessary to isolate unpopular or more extreme opinions in the Iranian political system, and move towards things

that are perhaps more pragmatic or more proactive and productive.

And the nuclear deal is a personification of that. He built a coalition, a very broad based, diverse socioeconomic swath of Iranian

society and the Iranian system, in order to get this done. And it remains to be seen, though, whether or not he'll be able to keep that coalition

together in order to address a lot of the other issues thgat are currently facing Iran.

PARKER: Absolutely.

I mean, but at this stage do you think it's fair to say he has the upper hand against some of Iran's hardliners like the Revolutionary Guard?

MARASHI: Well, I don't think I would say that he has the upper hand. I would say that he was able to create the necessary buy-in from the

Revolutionary Guard. Not everybody in the Revolutionary Guard supports the nuclear deal, but the Revolutionary Guard is not monolithic. Within that

institution, there's a diverse range of views.

But I think the fact remains above all else, more than the issue of the Revolutionary Guards, he got buy-in from Iran's Supreme Leader, because

without that, you really wouldn't see him take these kinds of political risks.

He's a very calculated political operator and he wouldn't make major moves without support from the top.

PARKER: Indeed.

One of the concerns that has been voiced is that once the sanctions are lifted, in particular, once the $150 billion in cash is unfrozen, it'll

be a major payday for Iran and some of the hardliners might begin to try and reassert themselves more, that Iran will begin to test the patience of

the United States again. Do you think that's a viable scenario?

MARASHI: I don't think you can rule it out. And Ithink it's largely because

the interests of the U.S. and Iran converged when it came to resolving the nuclear issue in an effort to try and avoid a war that they both

independently seek to avoid.

That doesn't mean that their disagreements on policy issues ranging from Syria to Iraq to elsewhere in the region have automatically aligned.

But now we have this diplomatic foundation, this direct channel of dialogue between the U.S. and Iran. So they can have conversations to test

the proposition of whether or not they can actually make diplomatic progress on these issues.

And that's a massive shift because that channel didn't exist until very recently.

PARKER: Absolutely.

And finally, how do you see all this playing out in the crucial parliamentary that elections that are going to take place in February in

Iran?

MARASHI: That's a great question, Nick. I'll be the first to admit that trying to predict Iranian elections is a very humbling experience. I

think what we can say for sure right now is that both sides, really the whole range of political

spectrum inside of Iran, are gearing up for these elections. Alliances and enmities have a propensity to shift all the way until the week before the

election. And that's when you start to get a more crystallized view of how things are shaking out.

But what I can say is that a voter turnover is high, that usually means that the more palatable candidates -- to not only Iranians but also

to folks in the outside world. They have a propensity to win elections in Iran. If voter turnout is low, then you start to see more extreme or Hardline

officials occupy elected positions.

PARKER: Reza Marashi, the research director at the National Iranian- American Council. Sir, thank you very much for your analysis. Much appreciated.

MARASHI: Thanks.

PARKER: Live from CNN Center, this is Connect the World. Coming up, one of the world's biggest oil producers is back in the game. We take a

special look at how Iran's reemergence on the global oil markets could affect prices and politics.

Plus, the war that changed war reporting. 25 years after the start of the

Gulf War, we look at CNN's experience as the only network reporting from inside Baghdad as the war erupted.

That's still ahead, stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:45:52] PARKER: Hello, you're watching CNN and this is Connect the World. I'm Nick Parker, welcome back.

Let's return once again to our top story, the lifting of economic international sanctions on Iran. It means that the country can now once

again sell it's oil on world markets. But the amount they'll get for it is actually one of it's lowest points this century.

The cost of crude oil fell below the $30 a barrel mark last week. Unimaginable a year ago, really, signaling tough times ahead for major

producers like Iran.

And when it comes to the Iranian economy, oil matters. The country's exports totaled nearly $50 billion in 2013, according to to the United

Nations. The vast majority of that, 68 percent, was oil.

Our emerges markets editor John Defterios, been looking at what's next for

Iran's most important export.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: From oil rich west Karun (ph) on the border of Iraq, to Tehran's bustling bazars and it's ultra-

modern malls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my brand, Aris (ph).

DEFTERIOS: Iran looks forward to more prosperous times when its oil is sold again on world markets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is their one big salable commodity, and they have a large growing and young population that they have to get some

economic growth for.

DEFTERIOS: A decade of sanctions has badly damaged the Iranian economy, which is now on the brink of recession as regional tensions heat

up.

The World Bank believes Iran's economic growth could do reach 6 percent after

sanctions end. No wonder that Iran's oil minister says maximizing output is a must.

BIJAN MANDAR ZANGENEH, IRANIAN OIL MINISTER: Can we wait and not produce after lifting the sanctions. Who can accept it in Iran? Can we

lose our share in the market? It's not fair.

DEFTERIOS: In recent days, Iranian officials have hinted that it may take a slower, more subtle approach towards ramping up production as oil

prices collapse.

But it's official goal is to get back to pre-sanction levels by adding 1.5 million barrels a day by the end of the year.

Iran says increase investment by the major oil companies could further boost production.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to invest, we have to invest under any condition.

DEFTERIOS: Arch-rival Saudi Arabia is already anticipating the added supply.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Saudis have already started to discount their sales to Europe in order to better price their product against the coming

Iranian sales.

DEFTERIOS: All this comes as Iranian and Saudi leaders battle for political influence in the Middle East. Their rivalry has stoked bloody

proxy yes wars in Syria and Yemen, and has hurt the effort to battle ISIS.

Saudi's fear the added oil revenue will further embolden Iran and allow it to act more aggressively in the region.

UNIDENITIFIED MALE: You're really seeing the struggle for power in that part of the world between Iran and Saudi Arabia shifting over to the

oil supply area.

DEFTERIOS: In other words, an already brutal price war could get even worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a pure business competition. And I think this business competition will continue regardless of any meeting that

could take place in the near future.

DEFTERIOS: Oil revenues will help Iran, but lifting sanctions could not come at a worse time for all the other producers.

John Defterios, CNN, Abu Dhabi.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PARKER: Live from CNN Center, this is Connect the World.

This weekend marks 25 years since the start of the Gulf War. We'll look back at it changed the coverage you see from conflict zones. Stay

with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PARKER: You're watching CNN. And this is Connect the World. I'm Nick Parker. Welcome back.

This weekend marks 25 years since the start of the Gulf War when the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq invaded Iraq for invading Kuwait. It was

the first major conflict that featured around the clock reporting on the frontline, and saw cable news came into its own, even if we say so

ourselves.

CNN was the only network constantly live from Baghdad as allied bombs reign down. Our journalists, past and present, look back.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFED MALE: The skies over Baghdad had been illuminated. We're seeing bright flashes going off all over the sky.

INGRID FORNANEK, CNN PRODUCER: Well, the first time that so-called reporting from so-called behind enemy lines was going to be attempted. And

many people thought it was lunacy.

But as a journalist, you want to be there. It's a defining moment. It's history happen, that's why we're journalists. We want to see things

happening. We want to report them. We want to tell the world about.

We managed to establish a pole wire (ph), which is a very simple device -- it's basically like having two open phone lines installed.

TOM JOHNSON, FORMER CNN PRESIDENT: Well, the first person to recommend it to us in Atlanta was Robert Weiner. Robert was our combat

producer.

What is ironic is that we were able to get the cooperation of the Iraqis in putting it in.

SHAW: The sky continues to be filled with tracers as the anti- aircraft weapons continue to fire.

JOHNSON: I will never forget as up on the monitors in our newsroom, first, the live feed of CNN continued. And then, within minutes, without

permission, other networks started to take our feed.

ROBERT WEINER, FORMER CNN PRODUCER: Looking back, we were almost freer to report what we saw in Baghdad than the western press corps in

Saudi Arabia and certainly the journalists in Israel. The censorship was much tighter.

It was one of the greatest moments of my life not only because of what we accomplished journalistically, but the bonding that took part between

those of us who were there and those of us who remained.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Between those, the first war in Iraq and the second, the war in Bosnia, quarter of a million

people killed, and when you look at it today, so little really on the ground changed, slightly different political dynamic.

That's the perspective that you get from covering wars close up is that you realize there's a certain amount of futility.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PARKER: Fascinating stuff. And you can always follow the stories the team is working on throughout the day by going to our Facebook page,

Facebook.com/CNNconnect. And get in touch and tweet me @nickparkercnn.

And in tonight's Parting Shots, a towering European brings a renewed sense of hope to New York basketball fans. Knicks player Kristaps

Porzingis was met with an extremely skeptical greeting when he first joined the NBA's top market teams, but the rookie is quickly

proving his worth.

Our Don Riddell sat down with the rising star.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX THOMAS, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: It's one of the most famous venues in sports. Madison Square Garden is known as the Mecca of

basketball.

But for so long its resident team, the New York Knicks, have struggled and the big-named stars have been the visiting players, like Jordan, Kobe,

LeBron.

But maybe, not any longer. The Big Apple needed a big franchise player of it's own. And he Latvia's young Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks

seemed to have found one.

It's all happened very quickly. Not that long ago, Porzingis was just another basketball fan, admiring the NBA from a long way away.

[11:55:23] KRISTAPS PORZINGIS, NEW YORK KNICKS: Me and my brother, always getting up early in the morning, 6:00 a.m. to watch the Lakers in

'09, the finals, Kobe. No doubt that was my team. I remember getting up really early to much watch the games.

THOMAS: And just six months ago, he was an up and coming prospect in Spain. Porzingis attracting a modest 4,000 followers to his Instagram

account.

But he had some very important admirers. And when the Knicks's president Phil Jackson gambled and made him the fourth pick at the draft in

June, everything changed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The New York Knicks select Kristaps Porzingis from Liapia (ph), Latvia. He last played for Savilla in Spain.

THOMAS: How did you feel about the fact that you were booed and there was a negative reaction?

PORZINGIS: I was kind of preparing myself for that. My brother Yannis (ph) told me that and Andy Miller, my agent, he told me that. And I

prepared myself for that, that there are going to be boos and if I get drafted by New York. And I did, and there were boos, but I was just

enjoying the moment with my family and didn't really think about that that much at that point.

THOMAS: The 7'3" Porzingis has made an immediate impact with his imposing style of play, answering his critics.

His Instagram popularity has soared, boasting over 320,000 followers now. Even the young Knicks fan who famously cried on TV when he was

drafted is now wearing his jersey.

And it's a measure of his rapid success that his teammates treat him better than the other rookies.

PORZINGIS: My teammates are being really nice to me. I think the rest of the rookies are suffering a little more than I am. I think they're

being easy on me. They see I think how mature I am on and off the court, and they respect that, and that, I thought translate to the court.

THOMAS: Porzingis was named the rookie of the month in the Eastern Conference for the first two months of the new season, but the Knicks are

still out of the playoff picture and the New York fans are notoriously hard to please.

But judging from his impressive highlight reel so far, he's right at home in the Mecca of basketball.

Don Riddell, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PARKER: And before we go, some mandatory panda pictures to bring you here. Five month old panda cub Bei Bei made his debut at the zoo on

Saturday at the Washington National Zoo.

The beyond adorable ball of fur looked a little shocked actually with the flashing parazzi, but he'll have to get used to, Bei Bei means precious

treasure in Mandarin.

I'm Nick Parker, and that was Connect the World. Thanks for watching.

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