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CONNECT THE WORLD
U.S. President Meets with Ukrainian President; Police Identify Driver in Finsbury Park Attack; Qatar: No Detente Until Blockade Lifted. 11:00a-12:00p ET
Aired June 20, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:27] ROBYN CURNOW, HOST: Terror in London: police identify the man who drove this van into worshipers leaving a mosque. As the UK mourns, the
business of governing goes on. The latest in the political crisis. That's next.
Also, U.S. President Trump condemns the brutality of North Korea after an American student dies just days after being released and coming home.
Plus, the Russia investigation dogs the American commander-in-chief. We're live at the White House where Mr. Trump has some tough choices ahead.
Hello everyone and welcome to Connect the World. I'm Robyn Curnow at the CNN Center. And we begin in London where new details are emerging about
the Finsbury Park terror attack.
Police have identified 47-year-old Darren Osborne as the driver who plowed into worshipers leaving Ramadan prayers.
Authorities have also searched a home in the Welsh capital Cardiff. One person died on the scene, we know. Police say they're investigating what
exactly caused his death. Nine others were taken to hospital.
Crowds attended an emotional vigil last night. Many held signs saying united against all terror.
Well, between three terror attacks in just over a month, the catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower and political fallout from this month's election,
Theresa May is perhaps under more pressure than any British leader in recent memory, but a deal to reach a working government could finally be
inside. A source close to Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party says an agreement with the Conservatives could be struck by the end of the
Well, our international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson has more on all of this. He joins us from Finsbury Park in North London.
Lots to talk about.
First of all, I just want to talk about this possible deal that Theresa May is making. What more are we hearing about it, the concessions and the
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. I mean, I think perhaps our best reference is to look back to that first day after the
election results became clear. Theresa May sent her senior official over to Belfast. Have talked with the DUP. And then that evening, there was a
statement from Downing Street that said an agreement to the principles of an outline for an agreement had been made.
And then very quickly within a couple of hours, it was rolled back. So, I mean, I think at the very best we understand that this is not going as
smoothly or as quickly as Theresa May wanted. The DUP have many potential things that they could - that they could call to try to get concessions
from Theresa May so that they would give her the support of their 10 MPs, which would be critical, tipping the balance, giving her the numbers she
needs to pass legislation if there would ever to be a vote of no confidence she would need their support as well.
So, what might they want? What might the DUP want? Well, they might want concessions that could allow more contentious parades to go ahead. There
could be concessions about when flags, particular flags, the Union Jack, for example, which flying of that flag in Northern Ireland. The times and
dates are very heavily controlled. Might want concessions that allow it to be flown more. They might want concessions that give, in their minds, of
unity and union with Great Britain, that's something that's very much on their minds, particularly as the Brexit process goes ahead.
They may also want to get more money from the government in Westminster. More money for building schools, more money for building hospitals, those
sorts of things could be very sort of valuable to them as vote getters back home and perhaps have broad appeal that some of the things they might ask
for could be contentious. And already there's a sort of political toxicity to them. For Theresa May, you know, they are against same-sex marriage,
for example, Theresa May's conservative leader in Scotland is in a same-sex partnership.
So, you know, there are things there that are going to be very difficult for Theresa May to give ground on, you could say almost impossible for her
to give ground on. So, we don't know what's holding this up, but undoubtedly the DUP are arch negotiators and are very capable of trying to
maximize their gains out of it.
CURNOW: A huge amount of pressure on the prime minister, particularly after that election result, Brexit talks, you say, these negotiations, the
backlash against that tower fire. And then where you are now, the terror attack that is really making a lot of Britain's question, you know,
question this government and to question government reaction to all of this. I mean, what are you seeing there? The emotional and also
particularly the investigation, where are we?
[11:0524] ROBERTSON: Well, on the investigation really we're waiting to see what charges are actually pressed by the police. Darren Osborne, 47-
years-old, from Wales, four children, we understand, from local media had recently separated from his partner.
You know, what charges they finally press. When he was originally arrested it was for attempted murder, but then terrorism charges were brought in,
the commission preparation, instigation of an act of terrorism involving attempted murder or murder.
So, what charges do the police go with.
But in the last hour or so, I was talking to community leaders here about what they want from politicians, given that they had all the politicians,
an onslaught of them, yesterday. They were very happy for that embrace, very happy to get that support, but going forward they really want to see a
better program from the government to tackle extremism in society. In Muslim communities, the government's prevent strategy that's designed to
figure out who are the potential extremists within the community as something that doesn't have wide support, is largely discredited, and this
government has dragged its feet over finding a replacement.
So, looking forward, that would be an important thing for a lot of people in this community to see progress on.
CURNOW: OK, thanks so much, bringing us all of that there from Finsbury Park. Nic Robertson, appreciate it.
OK, we turn now to one family's nightmare that could have political consequences. The United Nations human rights official is demanding North
Korea explain the injuries suffered by Otto Warmbier a day after his death.
Now, the 22-year-old college student was returned to the U.S. by North Korea last week suffering from severe brain damage. He was detained, if
you remember, while traveling in North Korea. He was tried in a mock trial and then imprisoned. CNN's Paula Hancocks tells us what happened in
the months that followed is a mystery.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONA CORREPSONDENT: Well, Robyn, there has been sharp condemnation of Pyongyang after the death of Otto Warmbier. He
was detained back in January of last year. We understand that he was in a coma for at least 14 months while in detention, and then of course he
passed away just this Tuesday.
There are some very real fears that we and, more importantly, the family, may never know exactly what happened.
A tragic end to a North Korean holiday. Otto Warmbier's detention, his comatose release, his untimely death is hardening language in Washington.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a brutal regime we'll be able to handle it.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, spoke of the barbaric nature of the North Korean dictatorship. U.S. Senator John McCain, a former prisoner
himself, said Otto Warmbier, an American citizen, was murdered by the Kim Jong-un regime.
Even those who follow North Korea closely were blindsided by the country hiding the student's coma for at least 14 months.
JOHN DELURY, YONSEI UNIVERISTY: It's actually shocking and appalling by North Korean standards. I think that's something that some people might
not appreciate. You know, this is way beyond the pale of what North Korea experts would expect in terms of their treatment of an American prison or
HANCOCKS: But could the shock change policy? The U.S. has high level talks with China Wednesday in Washington, a scheduled diplomatic and security
dialogue that may see a harder line approach against North Korea, some observers say.
China is the main ally and trading partner of North Korea. Trump has consistently asked them to do more to contain Kim Jong-un and his nuclear
and missile program. Young Pioneer Tours, the budget tour group Otto Warmbier was traveling with when he was arrested, announced Tuesday it will
no longer accept American citizens for its tours.
Other tour groups are reviewing their options.
The State Department's guidance at this time remains a strong warning against travel to North Korea adding U.S. citizens are at serious risk of
arrest or long-term detention, but the expectation is growing, congress may push for a full ban.
At least 16 U.S. citizens have been detained over the past 10 years, according to the U.S.
State Department, three of them are still being held, which makes for a strong U.S. response to Otto Warmbier's death problematic. Just last week,
the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was asked about those degainees said it in North Korea and he simply said it's a delicate situation. We're
working on it - Robyn.
[11:10:07] CURNOW: OK. Thanks for that. Paula Hancocks there in South Korea.
Now, President Trump is under pressure at home to take a tougher line on North Korea and possibly turn up the pressure on China as well as
Pyongyang's biggest ally.
But he's also contending with a lot of other foreign policy challenges. This morning, he's meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in the
Oval Office. He's also dealing with escalating tensions in Syria today after the U.S. shot down a government war plane.
But as Joe Johns now reports, the Russia investigation still threatens to overshadow the president's priorities.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a brutal regime and we'll be able to handle it.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Trump under pressure to take a harder line toward North Korea, amid outrage over the death of American
student Otto Warmbier. The 22-year-old was released last week from North Korean custody after spending 17 months in prison for trying to steal a
propaganda poster. Warmbier arrived in the U.S. with severe brain damage and in a coma.
TRUMP: He spent a year and a half in North Korea, a lot of bad things happened, but at least we got him home to be with his parents.
JOHNS: The President offering his deepest condolences in a statement and condemning the brutality of the North Korean regime. Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson stating that the U.S. holds North Korea accountable for Warmbier's unjust imprisonment. Republican senators John McCain and Marco
Rubio taking a tougher tone, with McCain stating plainly that Warmbier was murdered by the Kim Jong-un regime.
The international challenge coming as the President continues to confront the Russia investigation back at home. Two top Democrats in the House now
demanding documents related to General Michael Flynn's foreign work (ph) in a letter to Flynn's lawyers. Alleging that President Trump's fired national
security adviser failed to disclose a 2015 Middle East trip on security clearance forms, a trip reportedly related to a major nuclear energy deal
Democrats also alleging he left key information about a 2015 Saudi Arabia trip off those forms. This after a key member of the Senate judiciary
committee made this stunning statement about Flynn on Monday.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, (D) RHODE ISLAND: All the signals are suggesting that he's already cooperating with the FBI and may have been for some time.
JOHNS: That committee now agreeing to widen the scope of its Russia probe to include possible obstruction of justice.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Political interference with an ongoing investigation, regardless of what the
President's lawyer may say could make the president a target, a subject, a person of interest.
JOHNS: With the Russia investigation expanding, the White House continues to stonewall reporters, as Sean Spicer's future as press secretary remains
JIM ACOSTA,CNN CORRESPONDENT: The White house is refusing to answer those questions on camera. My guess is because they want their evasive answers
not saved for posterity.
CURNOW: That was Jim Acosta there on our Joe Johns report. And Jeremy Diamond is standing by in the same position that Jim Acosta was standing
when he made those comments.
Jim and a lot of you there at the White House, incredibly frustrated about these lack of official on camera briefings. There's one today, but broadly
the concern remains.
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, absolutely.
You know we are told now that Sean Spicer will return to the White House briefing room today on camera to answer reporters' questions, but as you
mentioned, those concerns remain about press access at this White House.
You know, it's now - it had now been eight days since the last on camera briefing which, you know, typically in an administration, these would
happen every day if not for a few gaps here and there, but this is a White House, of course, as we know that has repeatedly refused to answer
questions about the president's feelings on the Russia inquiry, refused to say whether or not he has these tapes that he's claimed to be recording
conversations in the White House, and just largely has taken up pretty knee-jerk combative reaction toward dealing with the press here.
So, you know, many of these concerns about access and about this administration's transparency remain even as we see Spicer return to the
podium today on camera.
CURNOW: Yeah, and also broader concern, because the president himself hasn't given official interview in many weeks, and also hasn't really
answered some tough questions in press conferences either.
We do know that some of our colleagues are actually in the Oval Office now. They're recording a very sort of casual meeting between the Ukrainian
president and the U.S. president. Tell us about that, and particular format. There are also eyebrows being raised about that.
DIAMOND: Yeah, you know, it's interesting, typically when a foreign leader comes to visit the president of the United States he rolls down this
driveway right behind me, which is typically lined with a full military guard as that foreign leader's limousine strolls down, rides right in front
of the door of the West Wing where President of the United States Donald Trump greets that foreign leader. Today, we saw a very different scene,
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko arriving at the White House not greeted by the president at the West Wing doors, instead slipping in where
we expect him to have this meeting here in the Oval Office, a very brief meeting.
We should note, however, that Poroshenko was scheduled to have a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence, that was the official reason for his visit
here. And the meeting with President Trump appears to have been, at least, scheduled at the last minute.
But still, given this administration and the context regarding Russia, the investigation the president is facing, and of course his typical, you know,
unwillingness to kind of go after President Vladmir Putin in a hard line manner, the Ukrainian president who, you know, saw his territory annexed by
President Putin a couple of years ago and continues to see Russian troops, you know, on his territory supporting Ukrainian rebels in Eastern Ukraine,
all of that still very much a concern here and we'll have to see whether President Trump chooses to address any of those concerns in his really
brief meeting today with Poroshenko.
CURNOW: Yeah, and that's why the sort of context and the format of this meeting is being questioned.
We understand from some of our colleagues in that meeting that they shouted out questions to President Trump, and particularly tried to answer - he
answered a question on Otto Warmbier saying that it was a disgrace. This issue around North Korea and the response, the retaliation, perhaps, the
pressure on this president to do something, what are the options in front of him?
DIAMOND: Well, you know, this is a president who since day one in this administration has sought to take a hard line on North Korea, has made it
clear that this is a top priority for this administration. We all remember that President Obama actually told President Trump that he believed this
was one of the top national security threats facing the United States and the president so far has treated it as such.
But now the question is what exactly can he do to respond to Otto Warmbier's death. The circumstances of his death still remain unclear, but
it does seem pretty obvious that something with regards to his captivity in North Korea had to do with his eventual coma and death just yesterday.
So, you know, what the president can do, though, is a question he has tried in the past to get China to exert more pressure on North Korea, some of
that has happened, but not to the degree that you would need to see to actually get a significant concessions and changes from the North Korean
regime. So, the president here is really facing a very tough situation given also the fact that several Americans remain in North Korean custody,
so any kind of response that the president is considering will also, of course, have to keep in mind the fate of those Americans who remain in
CURNOW: Yeah, certainly that a focus, also in terms of foreign policy conundrums that he's considering, the issue of Syria certainly got more
complicated in the past few days and we also know that there has been a lot of drama in the air is above Syria. I mean, what do we know about this
latest incident in the last two days in Syria and U.S. airplanes, particularly with reference to Russia and deconfliction.
DIAMOND: Well, tensions are clearly rising, you know, we've seen the Russian government warning yesterday that it would, you know, threatening
essentially to shoot down a U.S. warplanes and clearly that's something that's concerning for this administration.
You know, Sean Spicer yesterday addressing those reports saying that the U.S. is doing what it can, of course, to reduce tensions in that region,
but just yesterday we're told also that the U.S. shot down a Syrian regime drone. So, you know, this is continuing to be again the U.S. actions that
the U.S. is taking are in line with U.S. policy in the region. The question is how are the Russians responding to that and with the threats
that they've issued in recent days there are concerns that this could escalate into a much broader conflict than what we've seen already.
Again, there, the president facing very tough choices to make. As we know, the president has in the past talked about potentially teaming up with
Russia to go after ISIS in Syria. That has not materialized in large part because of the Russian's continued support for the Syrian regime of Bashar
President Trump, you know, faced criticism from Russian when he took action against the Syrian regime after they used chemical weapons and that, of
course, has reduced the likelihood of any potential U.S.-Russia cooperation. And now, following the downing of this jet and this drone,
the Syrian drone, all of that appears increasingly unlikely and really a situation that's growing tenser by the day.
[11:20:00] CURNOW: So, with all of this, the American public watching President Trump, and also crucially watching how he's managing this Russia
investigation. And there's some indication of what they think about it all. The new poll is out and his approval ratings are lower than they've
been in awhile. Only 36 percent of American people approve of Mr. Trump's job performance. And there's a crucial caveat in here that that also
reflects how Republicans are thinking?
DIAMOND: That's right. You know, the - that's one of the key indicators here is looking at the Republican support for the president, which is
creeping down toward's 70 percent of Republicans, which is unusual when you have a president of that same party.
But, again, this all comes back to the fact that this investigation being led by the special council into not only Russian interference in the 2016
election, but also now potentially looking at questions of whether the president interfered with that investigation. All of this is casting a
very long and heavy shadow over this White House. And this president has really struggled to get up from underneath all of that.
You know, the president has tried a number of ways to try and deflect from the Russia investigation. You know, he's cast doubt on its credibility, of
course, as we know speaking out on social media. He also fired the FBI director ostensibly because of that Russia inquiry. And clearly that has
only brought him more and more problems.
This is a White House that really is trying to get away from all of this controversy. They have recently taken to directing questions about all of
this to the president's personal counsel, Marc Kasowitz. We know that the president is continuing to expand his legal team. But even as he looks at
the legal way to respond to this crisis, he does, of course, have to look at the way that he can address this politically, because as you mentioned
36 percent approval now. In large part this is going to be tied to that investigation and the way in which the president has responded to that.
So, the president is also facing this crucial test next week with regards to health care. Whether the Senate can pass heath care - and again, you
know, this investigation that he is facing is damaging his political capital. So it may very well damage his abilities to pass key reforms like
the health care reform that he is seeking in the senate next week.
CURNOW: Great to have your analysis, your perspective there from in front of the White House. Jeremy Diamond, thanks very much. We know the
president has been meeting with the president of Ukraine. Those comments, we will bring them to you in just a moment after this short break. Stay
with us. You're watching CNN.
(U.S.-UKRAINE PRESS CONFERENCE)
[11:26:31] CURNOW: Comments there from U.S. President Donald Trump on Otto Warmbier saying his death was a disgrace. Those were the only comments
coming after the diplomatic niceties of his meeting with the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Both of them saying how glad they were to meet
each other and how honored they were to meet each other.
There was some criticism that Petro Poroshenko was just dropping in to the oval office, that he wasn't being extended an official White House welcome.
In the meantime, they did say, though, that they had a lot of work to do and a lot of cooperation to work on.
Well, you're watching CNN. I'm Robyn Curnow. Much more news after the break. Stay with us.
[11:30:43] CURNOW: And a local runoff election in the U.S. is being viewed as a major test of President Donald Trump's leadership: the face between
Democrat Jon Ossoff and his Republican opponent Karen Handel is happening in Georgia's Sixth congressional district. Right now, voting is open. The
president secured a narrow victory there back in 2016. Republicans have held on to that district for almost 40 years, but now they're in serious
danger of losing control.
CNN spoke to both of the candidates about the tens of millions of dollars spent on this closely contested race.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: There has to be a reason, Mr. Ossoff, that all of this out-of- state money has poured in to your campaign. How do you explain it?
JON OSSOFF, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS: Well, out-of-state money has poured in on both sides. It's become a little bit of an arms race. I'm
proud of the fact that my campaign is powered by small dollar grassroots fund-raising, with an average contribution of less than $50, while my
opponent's campaign has been bailed out by the same old special interest super PACs, peddling deception, fear-mongering and hate here in Georgia for
KAREN HANDEL, REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS: Certainly, no one anticipated the incredible amount of money that has been spent on this
race. I think it's going to end up being $50 million, maybe a little bit more even. And candidly, that's pretty obscene.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW: Well, CNN correspondent Kaylee Hartung joins me now live from a polling place in Marietta, Georgia (ph) with more on this critical runoff
Karen Handel called it obscene, and it's been obscene because this is not just about local politics and one congressional seat, it's about a
barometer. It's about a measure of the popularity of President Trump.
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Robyn. They say all politics are local, but this race has national implications as a referendum
on President Trump and the job that he is doing.
Now, that being said, you are hard pressed to get either candidate to even mention his name. They are doing their best to remind the voters in this
district that they are at the forefront of their minds, no matter the noise that the national media may be making of this, they are trying to remind
the voters that they are their greatest concern.
You know, but with that in mind there are a lot of different ways that analysts can dice up what a result here will mean. And so much of it being
what kind of a canary in the coal mine, or a harbinger for the 2018 mid- term elections will this be, you know.
We're sitting here in a suburban area of Atlanta, a very wealthy area, a very well educated area, that has been represented in congress by a
Republican for the past 40 years, and yet Donald Trump was only able to win this district by a little more than a percentage point.
So, Democrats see an opportunity while Republicans hope to hold on to momentum they have. And all that being said, Karen Handel not showing any
signs of panic with how close this race is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HANDEL: We've always known from the very beginning that this was going to be a tight race when it came, especially after April 18 when it was one
Democrat and me as the Republican. So, it's all about voter turnout and I feel very, very good about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARTUNG: Polls close here tonight, Robyn, at 7:00 p.m. eastern. And this district will have a new representative.
CURNOW: Yeah, certainly. And it's going to be nail biter, one that gives us, as you say, a good bellwether, a good indication of perhaps what the
voters are thinking and feeling about this current administration. Thanks so much, Kaylee Hartung, appreciate it there.
OK, let's get you up to speed with some developments in the Middle East. CNN is hearing from two U.S. officials that an American fighter jet shot
down a pro-regime drone in Syria on Monday. They say the armed drone was Iranian made and within firing range of U.S. troops in eastern Syria.
Earlier, we learned Australia suspended all air operations over Syria. That came after Moscow warned it may treat coalition aircraft as targets.
The reason for that was the downing of a Syrian war plane by an American navy fighter on Sunday. And to get things even more complicated, a U.S.
officials is telling us a Russian fighter jet flew within two meters of an American air force aircraft in the Baltic Sea area just a little bit
earlier, that happened on Monday, but we're only learning about it now.
So, let's go to Moscow and our Diana Magnay. She's standing by with the perspective there from Moscow and what certainly seems like a week of
increasing and escalating tensions.
[11:35:11] DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It does especially in Syria where the weekend we had the downing of the jet, of the
Syrian jet, then Russia came out and said we will now suspend this deconfliction line, which is the main communications channel between Russia
and the U.S. to try and avoid an escalation of hostilities and any kind of in-air collision bewteen the two sides.
And then today we see a drone being shot down near coalition forces in the south of Syria near the (inaudible) military base where the U.S. is
training coalition forces to fight against ISIS.
Now, it's the second time in 10 days that they have shot down a drone, this time, they said it was armed and it was coming towards troops with hostile
This time, though, there isn't a deconfliction line. There wasn't a deconfliction line to avoid it.
Now, how serious is the fact that this channel of communication has been shot and of course that the Russians are saying, look, we're track aircraft
that come within this particular sphere of the air in Syria. It is quite serious, but there are contacts that are still being had between the two
sides. You'll remember that in April this deconfliction line was cut off after the U.S. bombed a Syrian military base, but contacts were maintained
and it reopened three weeks later.
But this is a dangerous situation, Robyn.
CURNOW: Diana Magnay there with the perspective from Moscow. Thank you very much.
OK, let's take a step back now and look at the wider picture. What is the state of the war in Syria? And it certainly appears to be entering a new
phase, or is it, with the U.S. and the coalition American-backed forces on one side, and on the other side, Russia, the Assad regime, Iran, and
Well, let's discuss this with Thomas Erdbrink. He's the New York Times Tehran bureau chief. And he's live for us in the Iranian capital. Also
joining us, CNN military and diplomatic analyst John Kirby in Washington. John to you in just a moment.
Thomas, I mean certainly also eyes on Tehran. A lot of movement this week, politically and militarily.
THOMAS ERDBRINK, NEW YORK TIMES TEHRAN BUREAU CHIEF: Absolutely, because we've seen all these skirmishes around this decommission line inside Syria,
but the Iranians, besides from sending the drones that they have equipped several militias that they've been backing with have also made another
move, and that has been to send six surface-to-surface missiles from Iran into Syria where they were targeting what they say was an ISIS base near
the city of Deir ez-Zor.
And they said that they've been doing this as a revenge for the terror attack that took place here on June 7 in Tehran when Iranian parliament
was attacked by ISIS and also the shrine of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomenei was attacked by ISIS members.
But, of course, they had a much broader message, because this conflict isn't only between ISIS and Iran, the Iranians also want to show, too,
first and foremost the original enemies - Saudi Arabia, Israel and also, of course, the United States that is present here with several bases that they
have indeed missile power and that they can send missiles from Iran into another country and hit the target.
So, that was Iran's main political move, an unprecedented move, it's been several decades since Iran has actually fired any missile to another
country. And people here actually welcomed this. They said this is the right move to make. They supported the Iranian Revolutionary Guard by
doing it. And they even put up a poster here in the center where you see what seems a member of the revolutionary guard holding up his hand and from
the hand missiles are rising up. And then it says I am the guardian of Iran.
So, that is the atmosphere here right now.
CURNOW: And I think we've got that poster. And just for our viewers there is a delay between us and Thomas. But that poster very powerful in itself.
I mean, what do you read into that and why is this just so significant? What does this tell us?
ERDBRINK: Well, this shows that the Revolutionary Guard, which usually supporters Iran's hard line factions is actually calculating on the fact
that sending those missiles in a sort of retaliation for the ISIS attacks, will also increase their popularity. And for now that seems to be working.
The guards were seen for a long time by average people here as a group somewhat distant of their lives, if you will. Again, they were supporting
the hard line politicians and they are not so popular here right now.
But now after they have shot these missiles, you can hear a lot of people - just today I met some of them just in the elevator saying we made the right
move. We showed ISIS who is boss. But of course there are much broader ramifications from sending missiles into another country. It puts Iran on
par with countries like the United States, Israel and France that in the past have sent missiles into Syria.
And of course this is a message that the regional countries are clearly understand: Iran is a growing missile power, Robyn.
[11:40:38] CURNOW: You make some excellent points there. And I just want to go to Washington to kind of get the response from John Kirby, because
this certainly is a new phase. And you hear Thomas there explaining how the Revolutionary Guard, the Iranians are flexing their muscles, they feel
like this is a good thing. But the dangers, the possibilities, the questions about what next certainly are large.
JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Let's not forget that Iran just had an election and the moderates won. And there has been an
ideological struggle inside Iran politically for the hearts and minds of the Iranian people, most of whom are young, and most of whom want to reach
out to the west, they want to live a more connected life with western powers and broadly even beyond the region.
So, there is a bit of a struggle going on inside Iran for influence and power. I'm not surprised at all that the Revolutionary Guard would try to
take advantage of these missile strikes into Syria to sell their message. You know, clearly, look, they have considered ISIS an enemy, but that has
not been their focus in Syria. Let's make no mistake. This may have been a retaliatory strike about the bombings in Tehran, but Iran's influence in
Syria has been solely in support of the Assad regime in propping up Hezbollah efforts there. They have definitely put their thumb on the scale
in the civil war, if you will, in backing the Assad regime, and that's what their motivations have been.
CURNOW: So, when you talk about that, we talk about how Iran is in many ways been a playground for proxies and the great powers have kind of in
many ways stayed back. Is there now the growing chance, the growing possibility, of direct confirmation - conflict, at least, between some of
these powers, whether it's the U.S., whether it's Iran, whether it's Russia. I mean, how dangerous of a new phase is this?
KIRBY: Well, look, I think clearly the situation in Syria is very complicated and as you see operations on Raqqa, you're beginning to see a
convergence of the civil war with the fight against ISIS, not that there hasn't always been a connection, but it's becoming a little bit more acute
now as ISIS continues to lose ground and geographic influence inside Syria.
The regime knows this. And they don't want to see Raqqa be controlled by anybody but them. The coalition knows this, because we have been leading
the military fight against ISIS. And we want to see them out of Raqqa. And we don't want to see the regime gain new ground.
So, you're starting to see this convergence here. But as to your specific question I think everybody is taking the tension, at least on the coalition
side, and here in the United States, everybody is taking this tension very seriously.
You heard the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff yesterday, talk about the importance of staying open with communications with the Russian, even
in the wake of this shootdown and letting those communications channels falter.
I don't think we're at the brink here of state on state war over Syria. The United States has been clear that their military efforts are designed
against only ISIS. And we want to see a diplomatic solution to the civil war. I think that, for now anyway, while tense, I really don't believe
this will, you know, devolve into open conflict between nation states.
That said, though, Robyn, it's very dangerous. It's very complicated. And the more the coalition now defends itself, and has to defend itself against
pro-regime forces, the higher that risk will become over time.
CURNOW: Yeah, and they certainly pushed back more than once on a number of areas.
Thomas, to you. I mean, in many ways people suggest this is less about ISIS and more about a post civil war Syria, that this is about many of the
powers positioning themselves about spheres of influence. I mean, what's the perspective there in Tehran?
ERDBRINK: Well, they won't say it openly, of course, just as Iran has been denying the scope of their role in Syria over the past years. They've
always played it down. They've always tried to put the Russians more forward, especially the last two years. But, yes, indeed this is a fight
for the Middle East.
Don't forget, the Iranians hated the fact that the Americans were present in their neighboring country Iraq. Now, they want to see in a post-ISIS
era, of course, no American troops or no troops that America supports around. They want to make sure that they gain as least ground as possible,
preferably no ground at all.
So, we will see skirmishes like the ones we've been seeing over the last week, the shooting down of the plane, the shooting down of two drones, the
shooting of these missiles, we'll see them increase, and maybe not only in Syria, Robyn, but also between Iran and Saudi Arabia, that is very much on
the other side of the coalition and very much Iran's biggest regional enemy right now - Robyn.
[11:45:18] CURNOW: Yeah, you make an excellent point there. Thomas Erdbrink in Tehran. Thank you so much for bringing us that perspective
there. And John Kirby, as always, thanks so much for joining us from Washington. Thanks guys.
Well, you're watching CNN. And still ahead, a gulf that appears to be widening. Qatar Airways gets political in its new commercial. We asked
the company's CEO why it's speaking out. Stay with us for that.
CURNOW: You're watching CNN, and this is Connect the World. I'm Robyn Curnow. Welcome back.
Qatar says there will be no breakthrough in the Gulf diplomatic crisis until the blockade on its country is lifted. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and
Bahrain have cut off air links with Doha accusing it of supporting terrorism. Qatar denies those claims, but the war of words is escalating
with the nation's flagship airline releasing a commercial complete with a not so subtle message. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sky, there should be no borders up here, only horizons. As an airline, we don't believe in boundaries. We believe in
bringing people together. The world is better that way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW: So, why such a political approach? The CEO of Qatar Airways told our John Defterios that the blockade is bringing significant challenges.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AKBAR AL BAKER, CEO, QATAR AIRWAYS: I'm very proud that we have made the highest profits in the history of the airline, but we have also grown in
passenger numbers, which was up nearly 20.1 percent, double of my competition. So, I'm very pleased. But said that, we now face a huge
challenge, because this blockade that has happened has been unprecedented in the history of aviation when neighboring countries have blockaded a
country both land, sea, and the air, which will, of course, create a big impact for Qatar Airways.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW: Let's talk about the wider impact in the conflict between Qatar and its neighbors. It's certainly showing no sign of letting up.
Our Jomana Karadsheh joins us now live form Amman, Jordan. It seems no one is backing down. How long could this last?
JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is the big question. Right now, Robyn, it doesn't look like there has been any
progress done, at least publicly we're not seeing any progress when it comes to those mediation efforts that Kuwait has been leading when it comes
to this crisis.
We've heard, as you mentioned earlier from the Qatari foreign minister yesterday saying that they are still open for negotiations, for dialogue,
but that they have a precondition that the blockade must be lifted. And the same time in recent days, we also heard from the Saudi foreign minister
saying that they have prepared what they describe as this list of grievances for Qatar, but that has not been provided to Qatar yet.
So, we heard Qatar's position in the past, Robyn. And they say that all these accusations that are being - they're being accused of by these
neighboring countries - are baseless, they say. They describe them as a pretext by countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE in an attempt to try and
settle regional scores.
So, you know, Qatar has said over and over again they are ready for dialogue, but one key thing for them is that they say they will not have
any other country like these bigger and stronger neighbors try and impose conditions on Qatar to try and make a change its foreign policy or how its
doing things, but we do need to keep in mind that this is definitely having an impact on Qatar. This is not just a diplomatic crisis, it does have
And it's also a humanitarian crisis, Robyn. The Gulf is - it has families that are spread out across different countries there. And what this crisis
is doing is that it is literally tearing families apart.
CURNOW: It certainly is. There is that issue. Also, the wider political implications, and against the fight against ISIS, what that means for that.
Jomana Karadsheh there in Amman, Jordan, thanks so much for joining us.
And the UAE's minister state also has a very direct message to Qatar: stop changing the subject and start changing your behavior. You can see his
remarkable opinion piece on CNN's website at CNN.com. Follow the links to the homepage.
OK, the latest world headlines are just ahead, plus we mark world refugee day. Stay with us.
CURNOW: You're watching CNN. And this is Connect the World. I'm Robyn Curnow. Thanks so much for joining us. Welcome back.
Now, imagine being forced to leave everything you cherished and saying goodbye to your friends and your family in search of a better life. Well,
that's the reality for millions and millions of people around the world. They're running away from war, persecution and violence and seeking refuge
anywhere they can.
Well, today is World Refugee Day, so let's take a moment and tell their story.
CURNOW: Every three seconds: that's how long it takes for one more person to become displaced because of war and conflict around the world. Over 10
million new people found themselves in that difficult situation in 2016, that's according to a brand new report from the UN refugee agency, which
reveals there are currently over 65 million forcibly displaced people globally.
The number of refugees, 22.5 million, is the highest ever in history, and this includes over 5 million Syrians.
And things look pretty bleak for the world's newest country: South Sudan. Over 700,000 people fled the country last year after failed peace efforts.
This helped produce a staggering 2.8 million new asylum seekers globally in 2016, but some of the most vulnerable people are still in their home
countries, internally displaced in Syria, Iraq, and Colombia.
It all paints a difficult picture of where the world is right now, one in every 113 people forcibly displaced, each with a difficult past and hoping
for a better tomorrow.
[11:55:19] CURNOW: Sobering numbers there. Thanks so much for joining us here at Connect the World. I'm Robyn Curnow. More news continues.