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Battle to Retake Western Mosul Rages On; Senators to Trump Admin: Preserve Records on Russia; Kim Jong-Nam Death Strains Malaysian - N. Korea Relations; Eastern Ukraine Has Seen a Spike in Violence; Thai Beauty Company's Special Ingredients. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired February 20, 2017 - 00:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:00:12] CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: And the sun is up in Iraq, where government troops are making a new push to liberate the rest of Mosul from ISIS.

New diplomatic fall-out from the murder of Kim Jong-Un's half-brother.

Plus, what happened in Sweden or what didn't happen. Donald Trump had a lot of people wondering after his comments at a rally and now we know where he got that information.

That's all coming up on CNN NEWSROOM.

Thank you very much for joining us. We're live in Atlanta.

I'm Cyril Vanier.

ISIS is under attack in its last major stronghold in Iraq. The Iraqi government said it made progress in its offensive to retake western Mosul.

The military released this video reportedly showing air strikes on ISIS facilities. The targets include factories used for booby trapping vehicles.

Iraqi federal police say that on day one of this offensive they have killed 79 ISIS fighters, destroyed weapons facilities and regained control of 10 villages.

As the conflict drags on, humanitarian groups warn that civilians could be caught in the crossfire. The U.N. says up to 800,000 people still live in western Mosul.

For more on what anti-ISIS forces can expect in the battle here's senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman in neighboring Turkey.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The latest and perhaps decisive phase to drive ISIS out of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city began at the crack of dawn. Before Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi announced the beginning of operations on Iraqi television, Iraqi and coalition aircraft and artillery pummeled ISIS targets in the western part of the city.

And overnight Iraqi airplanes dropped millions of leaflets on Mosul calling on ISIS fighters to put down their weapons and surrender and warning civilians to stay in their homes and cooperate with Iraqi forces.

Since then, those forces have moved from the south and the southwest towards the center of the city, their first objective to take Mosul airport. Resistance is expected to be fierce. ISIS has dug a complicated network of tunnels in the city and is already using armed drones and is expected they will, as usual, use many suicide car bombers.

Perhaps the most difficult or challenging part of this operation for government forces will be to minimize civilian casualties. There are as many as 650,000 to 800,000 civilians living in the western part of the city and ISIS has never hesitated to use civilians as human shields.

The humanitarian situation in the west is dire. Food, medicine, fuel and drinking water, safe drinking water are in seriously short supply and humanitarian groups expect hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee the city as the fighting intensifies.

Ben Wedeman, CNN -- Istanbul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: For more on the battle for Mosul, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, CNN military analyst joins us now.

Lieutenant General -- the Iraqi army has launched the operation. Shiite paramilitary groups are there. Kurdish Peshmergas are there as well. Is it a foregone conclusion that western Mosul will fall?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: No, it's not -- Cyril. I think there's a lot of heavy fighting before us. I give the Iraqi security forces and the various elements that are coming together high marks so far. They have done an extremely good job on the eastern part of Mosul but it took them much longer than they anticipated with a lot of casualties.

The western part of the city is going to be much more difficult. It has the airport which is critically important to capture as rapidly as possible -- and I'll explain why in a second; but there's also large government buildings.

Western Mosul is made up of more, you know, affluent neighborhoods, let's call it, with a lot of bigger houses, which I think over the last two years ISIS has probably reinforced and made into fortresses, particularly for the defense of this side of the town.

What you also have are the roads going out of western Mosul toward Tal Afar into the western Unova Deserts and on to Raqqa, Syria. So it's a major supply line. It's critically important in terms of reaching key cities. And ISIS wants to hold on but they have been beaten pretty hard with both artillery and air power over the last several months.

VANIER: You mentioned the roads leading out of Mosul. Are they blocking those roads or is there an escape route for ISIS militants because that's something that had been considered?

HERGLING: They have been blocking the major highways, especially the ones on the Tal Afar and toward (inaudible) on the Turkish border.

[00:05:05] But again, Cyril, this is open desert. So you're talking about the potential for not using roads for individuals who'll be going through. But I think the ability to see things at night is on the side of the Iraqi security forces and the coalition forces.

But again, these are trade routes and smuggling routes that have been used for centuries. So a lot of the tribes in those areas, if they're paid the right amount of money, will get some of the people out. But there's still a massive force inside western Mosul, it's going to be very difficult to do that.

VANIER: And you served in that part of Iraq with the U.S. military in the late 2000s, of course, you know that region well. How dangerous does ISIS remain, assuming they are rooted out of western Mosul, if they can no longer keep that foothold there? Are they still a threat to Iraq?

HERTLING: They are still a threat but not as significant. You're going to see continued efforts, not only in the northern Ninawa (ph) Plains but in other key cities further to the south that weren't cleared completely.

One of the areas that I'm very concerned about is a small little town between Tikrit and Kirkuk by the name of Hawija (ph). That has always been a hotbed, the Iraqi security forces had bypassed that, and they're already seeing minor actions coming out of there toward Kirkuk that are causing disruptions with security in the area.

There are also still elements of ISIS in and around Baghdad. And you know, as we used to say when we were there, if you're judging security by the lack of car bombs, it's going to continue to happen and unfortunately we saw some of that in Baghdad within the last few days.

So they are still active in many places. It's just that the Iraqi security forces have done a very good job in attacking the majority of that force and getting the city cleared.

VANIER: All right. CNN military analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling -- thank you very much for your insights.

HERTLIN: You're quite welcome -- my honor.

VANIER: U.S. senators are trying to preserve records that could be used in a possible investigation on ties to Russia. Law enforcement officials have told CNN that Trump aides were in constant communication during the election campaign with Russians known to U.S. intelligence -- something which the Trump administration denies.

Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott has more from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: The Senate Intelligence Committee is asking members of the Trump administration to preserve all records that could be pertinent to their investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

CNN has been told that about a dozen individuals, agencies and organizations have been asked to preserve all records.

This comes on the heels of a closed door briefing between members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the FBI director, James Comey. After that closed door briefing, senators are very hush-hush but obviously, there was a lot of interesting and important information coming out of that briefing.

In fact Republican Senator Marco Rubio after that briefing tweeted that he was confident that the Senate Intelligence Committee would be conducting a bipartisan investigation of Russian meddling and influence in the 2016 elections.

Now, the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus said that the administration would cooperate with the investigation but that that did not mean anything. He said he was confident that the investigation would take place and the committee would issue a report saying that nothing happened.

Elise Labott, CNN -- Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: All right.

Let's talk about the week that was in the Trump White House and the week that will be with conservative CNN political commentator, Ben Ferguson, he's with us from Dallas, Texas. Also with us our senior political analyst Ron Brownstein, he's in Los Angeles. Ron is also the senior editor of "The Atlantic".

Let's start with what Elise Labott was talking about, the Senate Intelligence Committee essentially putting the White House on notice saying don't destroy any documents. We're going to look into this. We're going to look into you.

Ben -- do you think -- how concerned are you about this cloud hanging over the White House?

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not concerned about it at all. I'm glad that the Senate is going to do this. I think there should be transparency in government. And if they feel like this is an issue where they need to take a real hard look at it then I think they should definitely do it.

I also don't think there's anything wrong with the White House talking to foreign leaders as we're getting closer to coming into the White House. And I think all these documents should be taken a look at to make it clear and transparent to the American people that nothing here went on that was improper or wrong and/or illegal. So I'm glad they're doing it. If they feel they need to then they should do it.

VANIER: Well, Ben -- the concern I think that was raised was not that Trump aides were talking to foreign leaders. And it's quite clear to everyone that always happens in a campaign.

FERGUSON: Sure.

[00:09:56] VANIER: The concern was the amount and intensity of the contacts and that's what raised concerns and red flags for the intelligence community.

FERGUSON: Sure. But there was also an awful lot of things that were going on right at that time with America and Russia so it would make sense to speak with them more often because they were a center point, especially at that point in the campaign, especially when it came to foreign affairs, especially with the White House under Obama.

There was a lot of interaction at that moment in time. It would make sense to me you would have more conversations with them when there was that much news going on.

VANIER: Ok. Let's get on Ron on this. Ron -- do you think we're going to get clarity on this?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean you're asking me the question, right? Because the issue is not whether they were discussing foreign policy, the issue is ultimately whether the Trump campaign or people in the Trump orbit were colluding with Russia in their efforts as the intelligence community has now said to both influence the election and specifically to influence the election to improve the odds of Donald Trump winning. And that is the core question that we are examining.

And you know, the Senate Intelligence Committee is not the ideal venue for a public investigation. It is a committee that is, you know, more accustomed to keeping things quiet than kind of airing them in the bright sunlight of day.

But there is a sense -- a growing sense of seriousness and urgency on the committee that, including not only Republicans who have been sort of sympathetic to the administration, but those like Marco Rubio who have been critical and Democrats like Mark Warner. I mean this does seem to be gathering steam as a serious investigation. And as Ben said, I think we are going to learn more in the months ahead.

One thing that's clear also is that within the intelligence community and the law enforcement community, this investigation is proceeding and there is a certain amount of anxiety that it may be shut down around them if they're not providing information to the public through the leaks that the President is condemning.

So this story is far from over.

VANIER: Yes. No -- definitely. We're still waiting for the answers on this story.

Ben -- Trump had a really black and white week, very adversarial with the press on Thursday during his press conference; immense support on the other hand from the crowds in Florida over the weekend. Is that -- going forward, is that going to be the blueprint for his presidency?

FERGUSON: Look, I don't know if it's going to the blueprint for the next four years. I certainly think in the near term, he's making it very clear with the media that he's more than willing to spar with them, debate with them. This is something that some people I think had thought as if it's a negative.

I like the fact you have a very blunt and open dialogue with the President of the United States of America and those in the media. We did not see this from President Obama.

You had a nine minute back and forth with Jim Acosta. That is open dialogue which is good for the American people, it's good for this White House.

Yes, he's critical of many people in the media, but at least there's an open dialogue and no one is being shut up to these conversations. So think his supporters definitely like it -- I'm one of those. I like this back and forth. I like this and open dialogue. And I like that he's challenging the press as well.

VANIER: All right. Both of you, you need to tell me your views on the Sweden moment at the Florida rally by Mr. Trump. He was making a point about the dangers of unfettered immigration and here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You look at what's happening in Germany. You look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden -- who would believe this? Sweden -- they took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: The problem as we know now is nothing actually happened in Sweden. Here's what Mr. Trump said. "My statement was in reference to a story that was broadcast on Fox News concerning immigrants and Sweden. Just before we get to my question, the reaction from Sweden, because that's interesting as well, they say we look forward to informing the U.S. administration about Swedish immigration and integration policies, which was obviously an easy comeback for them.

Ron -- do you think that that kind of episode diminishes the President's credibility? And if so, is that a problem in terms of carrying out his policies in the future?

BROWNSTEIN: Well look, this pushes right at one of the critical and not the critical fault line about Donald Trump both at home and abroad. Ordinarily, you know, there is an exhaustive process that produces any word that comes out of the President's mouth. There are a lot of people who decide what is the appropriate thing to say especially when you get to foreign policy.

This seems to be something that he watched Fox the night before and, you know, with virtually no veil or filter is coming out of his mouth the next day at a rally.

There is no question there is a portion of Donald Trump's electorate that thrills to the idea of him kind of, you know, shattering the normal boundaries of behavior. But it is a mistake. I mean it's clearly a mistake to say that it's all his voters, all of his supporters.

If you look at the exit polls in the election last fall, a quarter of the people who voted, slightly more than a quarter of that said they did not believe he was qualified to be president but they voted for him anyway because they wanted change and they didn't trust Hillary Clinton.

[00:14:53] You can see in the polling now that many of those voters are anxious about the way he is approaching the presidency to say nothing of the reaction internationally that we saw at the Munich conference this weekend where there was open anxiety about what this kind of means for the western alliance, not only from the Europeans but from John McCain among others as a leading Republican in the Senate.

So look, yes, there are people that are very excited and want this kind of behavior. But I think it's a mistake to assume that it comes without cost and that all of his voters are on board with the way he's approaching the presidency.

VANIER: Ben.

FERGUSON: Look, I think you see what Donald Trump has said about Sweden, for example. And there have been multiple stories in that part of the world talking about the uptick in crime -- in violent crime that has happened as a lot of these refugees have come in. And so --

VANIER: Hold on. Ben -- he referenced an issue that never happened. Is there no credibility problem for him?

FERGUSON: Well, hold on, he didn't say that -- let's be clear, when he talked about what happened in Sweden and if you listen to his entire comment that he made there, he talked about the uptick and what has happened in that country at the hands of some of these refuges who obviously were not well-vetted.

And his point was, he says look at what happened last night and then he goes on to explain it. If you take it in context I don't have a problem with this. I think some people are trying to imply that he was acting as if there was a terrorist attack.

If you listen to his comment, he did not imply. He talked about how they had been too loose with allowing refugees in. Stories are now coming out about women being attacked and other people being attacked at the hands of these refugees the same way that we've seen this in Paris, the same way that we've seen this in Germany.

And so his point was, you look at this country, they made a mistake. It goes back to his vetting issue here. I don't have a problem with him saying this.

Some people I think like to try to make things bigger than they really are with him. If you listened to his entire comment it makes sense in the context whether you're specifically to a crowd that was listening to him talk in Florida.

VANIER: All right. Well, he did actually specifically say, look at what happened last night.

FERGUSON: Right. And we went on to say --

VANIER: And then, you know, the Swedish authorities -- the Swedish authorities listened to the whole speech presumably and they were aghast, you know.

FERGUSON: Let's be clear though. Sweden also has an interest in making it clear to the rest of the world especially when you're dealing with tourism that everything is absolutely a-ok. But if you look at the articles that have been written in that part of the world specifically, it's very clear that they have had an uptick in their violent crime specifically related to refuges coming into their country. And it's been documented now for the last couple of months. So this is not breaking news in that part of the world, it is breaking news here in America.

VANIER: Gentlemen -- that's all the time we have for now, unfortunately. But thank you both for coming. We're going to have to wrap this up.

BROWNSTEIN: Ok.

VANIER: Ben Ferguson, Ron Brownstein -- very much appreciate it, thanks.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

FERGUSON: Thanks.

VANIER: And we're going to take a very quick break.

When we come back, the mysterious death of Kim Jong-Nam has sparked an international row. Details ahead from Kuala Lumpur.

[00:17:46] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VANIER: The mysterious death of Kim Jong-Un's half-brother in Kuala Lumpur is straining relations between North Korea and Malaysia.

Saima Mohsin is monitoring the investigation, joins us now from Kuala Lumpur. Saima -- the victim at the center of this murder mystery being a relative of the North Korean leader, the stakes are very high and perhaps predictably, this is turning into a diplomatic fight?

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. Stakes are very high and there is a huge diplomatic back and forth going on -- Cyril.

Now, the very latest I want to share with you is a statement from Malaysia. This is in response to that surprise press conference outside the mortuary after midnight Friday by the North Korean ambassador to Malaysia.

Now, Malaysia has responded saying that the ambassador had insinuated the Malaysian government had something to conceal and colluding and playing into the gallery of the external forces in his statement Friday.

Now, Malaysia says that it has acted completely transparently. And because the death is classified a sudden death, they were within their rights and under Malaysian law they had to carry out a postmortem examination.

You remember, the North Korean ambassador to Malaysia had complained that a postmortem had been carried out without their strict permission. Now, they also say that it's the responsibility, the Malaysian authority's responsibility to identify a cause of death.

Now Malaysia and North Korea actually have very good relations -- Cyril. In fact, they have an embassy in Pyongyang, and as a result of this situation, the Malaysian ambassador to Pyongyang, and I quote, "has been recalled to Kuala Lumpur for consultations".

In the meantime, of course, the police investigation is picking up a pace with several new people police want to speak to. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MOHSIN: Seven new faces, all wanted for questioning in connection with the death of Kim Jong-Nam, as police confirm to me today this is now a murder investigation.

These four men are now suspects. They've been identified by police as being North Korean with civilian passports. Crucially, police say, they all left the country on the day of the attack. Police wouldn't say where they flew to.

And these three men are also wanted by police to quote "assist in their investigation"; none are suspects. Two are yet to be identified. The third is a North Korean man. Their whereabouts unknown.

NOOR RASHID IBRAHIM, ROYAL MALAYSIAN POLICE: A foreign male approached an officer at the Malaysian Airport Berhad customer service center informing her that two unidentified women had wiped his face with a (inaudible) and that he was feeling dizzy.

MOHSIN: Under the keen eyes of the world's media, police gave details on the murder investigation in a packed press conference.

[00:24:56] IBRAHIM: The cause of death is still unknown. We are waiting for the toxicology and pathology drug test.

MOHSIN: Malaysian police officials say they will stick to procedure and won't release the body without formal identification by a next of kin or a DNA test. That's being met by the ire of the North Koreans. The North Korean ambassador to Malaysia condemning Malaysian authorities' handling of the case saying they won't accept the results of the postmortem examination.

In the meantime, four suspects already under arrest remain in custody, one of them an Indonesian woman apparently thought she was taking part in a prank TV show and feels duped in taking part in the attack. That's according to the Indonesian national police chief -- another strange new twist to this already outlandish murder mystery.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MOHSIN: Now that five North Korean suspects have been identified, the South Korean government says it's certain that it is North Korea that's behind the assassination on Kim Jong-Nam -- Cyril.

VANIER: All right. Saima Mohsin -- you've been following this since the murder on Monday. Thank you so much for all your updates. Thanks a lot.

We're going to take a very short break on CNN NEWSROOM.

When we come back -- the guns in eastern Ukraine were supposed to go silent on Monday. Russia has announced another cease-fire deal will be live in Moscow.

And after California's long-running drought heavy rains are the danger now. Details coming up from the CNN International Weather Center -- that will be Derek Van Dam.

[00:26:51] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:30:00] CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. Let's take a look at your headlines.

The last major ISIS stronghold in Iraq is under siege. Iraq says it's made progress in its operation to recapture Western Mosul. Federal police say that on day one of the offensive, they killed 79 ISIS fighters, destroyed weapons facilities and regained control of 10 villages.

U.S. senators are asking the Trump administration to preserve documents they could use in a Russian investigation. The White House says it will cooperate, but that the records will not show anything nefarious. President Trump denies Russia intervene in the U.S. election on his behalf.

And CNN has obtained U.S. Department and Homeland Security memos that describe aggressive new policies for immigration and border control. The new guidance which could still change makes it harder to seek asylum in the U.S. and gives more authority to immigration officers. This comes as President Trump promises a new executive order on immigration this week.

Now let's get to that ceasefire which is said to take effect in Eastern Ukraine. Skeptics point out that efforts of holding on to truce have failed in the past. The region has seen a spike in violence in recent months between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian armed forces. And Ukraine's president isn't happy with the latest moves by Vladimir Putin.

Let's go right to Moscow and CNN's Clare Sebastian.

Clare, numerous ceasefires have failed before. Do you think this one will be much different?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, you know, this is kind of a cease-fire within a cease-fire. It's worth pointing out that the terms of this agreement were made two years ago this month. The Minsk agreement.

And so far, they have not been able to keep to it. We've seen cease- fire after cease-fire and the weapons have not been laid down. And don't forget this comes after a particularly serious escalation in violence over the past few weeks. OSE monitors on the ground have called it unprecedented, the level of cease-fire violations, staggering levels of violence and critical infrastructure was cut off in the shelling.

Eight agencies are warned of a humanitarian disaster. So a very volatile situation on the ground. And don't forget, there's an extra sting in this particular cease-fire, because on the very day that it was announced, President Putin also signed an executive order saying he wanted Russia to recognize the documents, possible its driver's license, that kind of thing, of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Those separatists regions in Eastern Ukraine.

And that sparks anger from the Ukrainian side. The Ukrainian president saying this is more evidence of Russian occupation, of violation of international law. Very interestingly, the U.S. embassy in Kiev also tweeting over the weekend, I'll just read to you.

The recognition by Russia of documents of the separatist republic is alarming and contradicts the goals of the Minsk agreements. Now Russia says this is just provisional until a political solution can be reached in the region. But we have a situation here where even before the cease-fire was due to come into effect, the sides are accusing each other of violating its term. So an extremely complicated and volatile situation.

VANIER: Yes, Clare. And making it even more complicated is the fact that this conflict in Eastern Ukraine is a hostage, I would say, to many factors. One of them being American foreign policy.

So how do you think the new U.S. president affects this conflict? SEBASTIAN: Well, it's difficult to know exactly how the president himself feels about it, because suddenly we've seen the stance of his administration toughening towards Russia in the past days and weeks. You saw that tweet from the U.S. embassy in Kiev about those actions by Russia recognizing the documents of the separatist regions in Eastern Ukraine.

We also had from the Vice President Mike Pence over the weekend at the Munich Security Conference saying he wants Russia to be held into account over Ukraine. And similarly from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week saying, you know, Russian should withdraw, that it needs to stick to the Minsk protocols.

And this is being met in some political circles in Russia with some defiance. One prominent politician tweeting over the weekend that the Russian actions in recognizing these documents from those regions in Eastern Ukraine was to show the pressure on it on the Ukraine issue like for example that speech from Mike Pence will not bring results.

So the U.S. administration -- I mean, there was some speculation that this latest escalation coming as it did right after the first phone call between President Trump and Putin was a test of how it would react. Russia has accused Ukraine conversely of sparking the violence in order to curry favor with the latest administration.

So I think the cease-fire will be yet another test of how this administration will handle this and how, you know, it could bring the situation under control.

VANIER: All right, Clare, thank you very much.

Clare Sebastian reporting live there from Moscow. Thanks a lot.

[00:35:00] After years of terrible drought, California is now getting more rain than it can safely handle.

Meteorologist Derek Van Dam joins us now with the latest.

Derek, what do we know?

(WEATHER REPORT)

VANIER: All right. Derek Van Dam from the CNN Weather Center. Thank you so much. We're going to take another short break. When we come back, we'll tell you about a Thai company that's hoping to become a global name and what the founder of that company says is at the heart of his expanding beauty product line.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:40:00] VANIER: A company in Thailand is building an international reputation with its premium personal care products.

As our Saima Mohsin reports, the business emphasizes Thai heritage and organic ingredients.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tradition is also at the heart of organic lifestyle brand, Panpuri.

I'm meeting up with Vorravit Siripark who started the business at the age of 28. At the beginning, he secured partnerships with hotel spas in both Asia and Europe to carry his line of luxury skincare and aroma therapy products.

(on-camera): Tradition plays a really big part in Panpuri and your story including making things with your grandmother when you were a child.

VORRAVIT SIRIPARK, PANPURI FOUNDER: Yes. She would teach me how to make jasmine scented water. We would go to her garden and we would pick jasmine, you know, floral buds. So jasmine always a special meaning to me. And for Panpuri, we use jasmine a lot.

MOHSIN (voice-over): And now you mentioned picking the flowers yourself. Organic products are very important to Panpuri, aren't they?

SIRIPARK: Yes. Organic is very important to us. And personally because I'm allergic to chemical ingredients and I always seek for natural, organic products. And I believe we are one of the first brands in Thailand to use organic ingredients in cosmetics. And that's because it's gentle for your skin. It's also good for the environment.

MOHSIN: But it's not just about organic ingredients. Vorravit says eco- friendly packaging is important to him. The brand utilizes chlorine-free paper and soy ink. And his in-house design team carefully considers the message sent by those boxes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's important now for niche brands like us as well to hit that balance between being global, but still conveying the heritage of being Thai.

One of the challenges, I think, is really playing on the strength of Thailand being a hub for wellness. How we redefine it so that it's seen in the modern way.

MOHSIN: Another evolution of the brand is in the works, including a cleaner aesthetic. Panpuri is currently sold in 20 countries. It's planning to open another flagship store in Tokyo this year.

(on-camera): And what's your vision for the future for growing a Thai brand on the international market?

SIRIPARK: I want Panpuri to be a reference brand on a global scale and that when people think of organic and natural products from the east, they will think of Panpuri as a the first brand that comes to their mind.

So, we have a lot of work to do. We've come quite a way in about 14 years. And we still have a long way to go. And I'm very excited to be on this journey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: And that was CNN's Saima Mohsin reporting there.

Tomorrow at this time, join us to see how an ancient form of combat from Thailand could be coming to the Olympics.

That wraps up this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. "World Sport" with Kate Riley is up next. Stay with us for that. Then I'll be back with another hour of news from around the world. You're watching CNN.

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