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U.S.-Iran Tensions; North Korea's Kim Receives "Personal Letter" from Trump; U.S. Immigration Crackdown; Istanbul Votes in Mayoral Re-Run; Chennai Water Shortage. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired June 23, 2019 - 03:00   ET

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


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GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The U.S. president promises more sanctions against Iran, saying he will be best friends with the country if it agrees to nuclear demands.

Plus back to communicating: Kim Jong-un receives a personal letter from Donald Trump amid stalled nuclear talks.

Also ahead --

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Children can't go to school. People can't go to work. We are not able to eat properly or work in peace.

HOWELL (voice-over): Hospitals, schools, businesses all struggling to stay open as one of India's largest cities tackles a dire water shortage.

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HOWELL (voice-over): Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers around the world. I'm George Howell. NEWSROOM starts now.

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HOWELL: The U.S. president is changing his tune on Iran, backing off the military rhetoric, instead ratcheting up economic threats. He says that more sanctions against Iran will be imposed Monday, aimed at keeping Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

On Saturday, Mr. Trump called Iran "an economic mess" and said that adding sanctions will drive them to the bargaining table. He also pulled out one of his favorite campaign slogans but with a twist.

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DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran wants to become a wealthy nation again, become a prosperous nation. We'll call it let's make Iran great again. Does that make sense?

Make Iran great again. It's OK with me.

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HOWELL: The president says that he is being praised for calling off the military strike against Iran. It shot down a U.S. drone on Thursday. Iran says the drone was in Iranian airspace. The U.S. says it was not, that it was in international airspace.

Excuse me.

Before leaving for Camp David, Mr. Trump said that he thanked Iran.

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TRUMP: You notice there was a plane with 38 people yesterday. Did you see that?

I think that's a big story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that accurate?

TRUMP: They had it in their sights and they didn't shoot it down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was that accurate?

TRUMP: I think they were very wise not do that and we appreciate they didn't do that. But they had a plane in their sights, 38 people on the plane. And they didn't shoot it down. And I think that was a very wise decision. And, and, I think that's something that we very much appreciate.

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HOWELL: Something we're also learning from earlier last week, the U.S. launched a cyber strike against an Iranian spy group. It was in retaliation for attacks on oil tankers earlier this month in the Gulf of Oman.

While the U.S. president may be softening his tone a bit, Iran shows no signs of backing down and says it will counter any threats or aggression and has no intention of sitting down with President Trump. Our Fred Pleitgen has this.

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FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Despite President Trump saying he'd like to go back to the negotiating table with the Iranians and even saying he would want to make Iran, as he puts it, "great again," the Iranians so far show no sign of wanting to go back to negotiations.

In fact, the head of Iran's national security council came out in an op-ed and laid out why the Iranians aren't doing it. They say that President Trump has not abided by international norms and, as they put it, has portrayed himself like an international racketeer.

And the Iranians are saying that they are not going to go back to the negotiating table under pressure.

Of course one of the things the Trump administration has done is it started the maximum pressure campaign, which the Iranians say they will definitely not go back to the table under those circumstances.

In fact, the Iranians say that the U.S. needs to go back into the nuclear agreement if the Iranians would even consider sitting down once again with the Trump administration or any American administration.

At the same time, the Iranians continue to make their case that the drone that they shot down was indeed in their airspace and not international airspace. The foreign minister, Javad Zarif, even coming out and tweeting several pictures showing the drone's flight path, showing when the Iranians allegedly warned it off and then also when and where it was shot down.

Of course the U.S. has a very different take on that. The Pentagon saying that the drone was in international airspace when it was shot down and that therefore it was an unprovoked aggression on the part of the Iranians.

However, Iran's council of experts has come out and thanked Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps for shooting the drone down, saying that it shows how sophisticated Iran's technology is. They also called it a fiasco for the United States but, at the same time, reiterated that Iran does not want a war with the United States --

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PLEITGEN: -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Tehran.

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HOWELL: Joining now to talk more about this is Hillary Mann Leverett, a Middle East analyst who served as the director for the Afghanistan, Iran and Persian Gulf affairs at the U.S. National Security Council, also co-authored the book, "Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic."

It's good to have you with us to talk about this. We certainly will appreciate your insight here.

Again, we're seeing the U.S. president double down on the very strategy that worsened relations with Iran since the United States backed out of the nuclear agreement, announcing that a new round of major sanctions are on the way.

Do you see this as an approach that will move Iran closer to negotiating or will it further escalate tensions?

HILLARY MANN LEVERETT, MIDDLE EAST ANALYST: I think it will further escalate tensions. In my decades-long experience analyzing Iran, working in the U.S. government on Iran issues, working outside the government on Iran issues, one thing I have learned clearly is that sanctions on Iran do not work to further U.S. interests and U.S. goals.

So I don't think this round of sanctions will be anything better and, in fact, I think will send precisely the wrong message. Iran at this point is looking for some concrete gesture from the United States government, from President Trump, that there is a diplomatic path forward.

Imposing more sanctions will send precisely the opposite message, that there is no diplomatic path forward for Iran.

TRUMP: The carrot in Mr. Trump's comments is that he is open to, quote, "making Iran great again," as he called it, presumably backing off some of those sanctions, possibly opening up dialogue between the U.S. and Iran.

The stick on the other hand, Mr. Trump has promised that Iran would be obliterated if it went to war with the United States.

So given these mixed messages, what do you believe the president's true goal here is with Iran?

LEVERETT: Well, from the time of the 2016 campaign President Trump has consistently talked about wanting a bigger, better deal with Iran. And in some ways his criticism of the Iran nuclear deal struck by his predecessor, President Obama, some of those criticisms are important.

That deal was not a deal that I think for some Americans would -- is something that benefits the United States directly. It benefits the United States in some ways by constraining Iran's nuclear program, by allowing other countries to trade with Iran.

But for this kind of president, who has this mantra of America first, a deal with Iran that does not open the door for American companies, for American business with Iran and doesn't really do anything to further the U.S.-Iran bilateral relationship, that deal is a difficult one for this kind of president to continue with.

Even though President Trump, though, has said that he wants a bigger, better deal from 2016, he has encircled himself with advisers who want precisely the opposite. They want to weaken Iran. They want regime change in Iran. They, in some cases, like the national security adviser, who I worked with in the Bush administration, he has long advocated a military attack on Iran.

So it's going to be difficult for Trump to achieve what his stated goal is, a bigger, better deal with Iran, while he keeps these advisers, who are pushing for war.

HOWELL: Well, let's talk just a bit more about that. The president is still backing his national security adviser, John Bolton, despite calling Bolton a hawk and admitting that the two disagree constantly. President Trump, however, saying the only decision that matters to him is his own. But clearly there is a deep divide in this White House on policy.

How do you see that divide playing into how Iran reads the, again, mixed messages?

LEVERETT: I think for Iran as long as someone like national security adviser Bolton has the position that he does, it will be impossible to do a real constructive deal, where both sides are better off in the end.

The Iranians have their own experience with national security adviser Bolton. The Iranian foreign minister, who, again, I negotiated with, talked with during the first U.S. incursion into Afghanistan right after 9/11, he then -- the Iranian foreign minister was then the U.S. -- the Iranian ambassador, sorry, to the United Nations at the same time that John Bolton was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

So he has deep experience with John Bolton and knows that he cannot do a deal with him. So as long as someone like that is in President Trump's cabinet with such influence over policy, the Iranians do not see any way forward with the United States as the team is currently constituted.

HOWELL: Hillary Mann Leverett, we appreciate your time and insight. Thank you so much.

LEVERETT: Thank you very much.

HOWELL: North Korean state media says that Kim Jong-un has received a, quote, "personal letter" from President Trump. South Korea's presidential office says the fact that the U.S. and North Korean leaders are corresponding --

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HOWELL: -- is a positive step toward restarting denuclearization talks. Our Paula Hancocks has this story for us.

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PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are back to the letter writing between the leaders of North Korea and the United States. KCNA, the state-run media in North Korea, says that Kim Jong-un has received a letter from President Trump. They've also published a photo, showing him reading that letter.

Now according to KCNA, the North Korean leader said with satisfaction that the letter is of excellent content, also flattering the U.S. president, as he is wont to do, saying he appreciates the extraordinary courage of President Trump.

Kim Jong-un said that he would seriously contemplate the interesting content. This comes just a couple of weeks after we understand that there was a letter from Kim Jong-un sent to the U.S. president. Mr. Trump did say it was a beautiful letter. He said he wouldn't reveal the contents but that he was happy with it. So certainly we're seeing that these two leaders are back to

communicating. Since the Hanoi summit in February, there really have been very little communication between the U.S. and North Korea. Those denuclearization talks had definitely stalled.

The Hanoi summit, where there was no agreement and both sides walked away with no agreement, we had heard from Kim Jong-un that he wanted the U.S. to change its attitude in order to get these talks back on track.

But it does appear as though this letter today is in response to the letter Kim Jong-un sent a couple of weeks ago. It comes at an interesting time as well. We're just days away from the U.S. president Donald Trump heading to the region.

He's going to the G20 in Japan, where he's expected to meet on the sidelines with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping. And he's also coming here to Seoul around the G20 to talk with South Korean president Moon Jae-in.

So certainly we are seeing a lot more movement when it comes to potential talks once again on the denuclearization of North Korea -- Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.

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HOWELL: China has confirmed that President Xi Jinping will attend the G20 summit next week. Mr. Xi is expected to meet with President Trump while at the summit in Osaka, Japan.

The meeting comes as economic relations are strained, thanks to the ongoing trade war and talks that fell apart in May. Mr. Trump has postponed the immigration raids that were set for this weekend. Federal officers were planning to round up 2,000 families in 10 different cities across the United States.

The leaders of those cities, though, warn that they wouldn't cooperate. The acting director of the immigration agency claims that the media is to blame for sharing the details of the raids and forcing Mr. Trump to postpone. Our Boris Sanchez is at the White House and has more details for us.

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BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On Saturday, President Trump taking what could be a brief step back from a threat that he made on Monday, in which he suggested that ICE raids would try to net millions of undocumented immigrants across the United States.

That tweet caught administration officials off guard, not only because of the size and scale of such an operation but also because it appeared that the president was telegraphing what was supposed to be a secret operation.

We later heard from a White House official that the scale was actually much less than that, that the administration was looking to apprehend some 2,000 undocumented immigrants across 10 cities in the country that had court orders to be removed from the United States.

The president, though, apparently sharing a call with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday, according to our colleague, Jake Tapper, in which the House Speaker spoke to the president for about 10 minutes and asked him to cancel these raids.

It's unclear how much of an effect that had on President Trump because, on Saturday afternoon, shortly after he departed for Camp David, he was defending the decision. Listen to this.

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TRUMP: These are people that came into the country illegally. They've been served. They've gone through a process, a process of the courts. And they have to be removed from the country. They will be removed from the country. It's having a very big effect on the border. The fact that we're taking them out. The people that came into the country illegally are going to be removed from the country.

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SANCHEZ: Shortly after the president announced this two-week delay on Twitter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted out that the delay is welcome. She said time is needed for comprehensive immigration reform.

Nancy Pelosi not the only one welcoming this delay. According to sources, the acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, was hesitant over certain aspects of this operation, of these raids, believing that they could harm ongoing negotiations on immigration between Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

So we'll wait and see if there is some kind of breakthrough in this two-week period. It would not be a surprise to see President Trump return to this hard line on immigration, considering it has been a key component of his presidency --

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SANCHEZ: -- and notably a key component of his campaign going into 2020 -- Boris Sanchez, CNN, at the White House.

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HOWELL: Boris, thank you.

Up next, we take you to Turkey, where voters in Istanbul hit the polls on Sunday for a redo of March's mayoral election. These live images from Istanbul this hour. We'll explain why it was necessary and what's at stake.

Plus, Boris Johnson faces tough questions about a personal matter as the race to become Britain's next prime minister enters a critical phase.

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HOWELL: Ethiopia's prime minister says that his army chief of staff has been attacked. He offered no specifics, so it's not clear if it's connected to a failed coup attempt, which his spokesman says happened Saturday against a regional government in the country.

It's not yet known who was behind that attempted takeover that happening in the Amhara region that's located in the northwestern part of Ethiopia just north of Addis Ababa. The prime minister says federal police have been authorized to take action on the instigators.

Now to Turkey we go. Istanbul, where the polls are open this hour. You see these images of people coming together at 10:18 in the morning there in Istanbul. Voters taking part in a redo of March's mayoral election. Turkish officials ordered the revote, citing irregularities.

Let's go live now to Istanbul. Our Jomana Karadsheh is there.

Jomana, what's the latest?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are in one of these polling centers in Istanbul. There's a lot of mobilization, you see people are really enthusiastic. They're out in large numbers already, even before 8 o'clock this morning.

In some of the polling centers that our team visited, there were already queues right before the polls opened. This is the summer, in the middle of the summer holidays but so many people have returned to Istanbul for this day to make sure they're here to vote.

This is seen as such an important day, a critical day, a test for Turkish democracy. This is a country that still really believes in the power of the ballot box. And this is after that order of the rerun of the elections back on March 31st; when those elections took place the opposition won those elections with a very slim victory with about 13,000 votes out of millions, about 11 million eligible voters in the city.

And as you mentioned, the ruling party, the president, AKP, contested those results. So you had the electoral -- supreme electoral board order a rerun of those elections. Now there's been a lot of questions about that decision. It's a controversial decision. But when it comes --

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KARADSHEH: -- to today, to this vote, it is extremely important. Everyone has accepted that this is happening again. And the results of this day will be so significant for both sides.

You've got the opposition that, on March 31st, was really reborn again, they felt they were given this power again to change things. They've been frustrated with this status quo in this country. They've been really concerned about the direction their country has been taking. They've been worried about it becoming more authoritarian.

And on March 31st they say it was proven that they could still change things at the ballot box with the three major cities in this country won by the opposition then. So this is a very important day for them and also for the president's party, for the AKP.

This is a very important day because on March 31st that was a big blow for them and they saw that this winning streak that they've had for decades is in danger. So we'll have to wait and see. Very important today, George, is whoever wins, the hope is it will be a clear victory so we don't have the issues that we had back on March 31st.

HOWELL: All right. We'll be following the results there. Jomana Karadsheh live for us in Istanbul. Thank you, Jomana.

Now to the United Kingdom. The front-runner for the prime minister's race is dodging questions about why police reportedly visited his home on Friday.

"The Guardian" newspaper says they were called to the apartment he shares with his girlfriend when neighbors heard a, quote, "loud altercation" involving screaming, shouting and banging. At an campaign event Boris Johnson said party members were not interested in the matter.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does a person's private life --

BORIS JOHNSON, FORMER BRITISH FOREIGN MINISTER: Don't boo. No, no. Don't boo the great man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When he answers this question, I will move on.

Does a person's private life have any bearing on their ability to discharge the office of prime minister?

JOHNSON: Look, I've tried to give my answer pretty exhaustively. I think what people want to know is whether I have the determination and the courage to deliver on the commitments that I'm making. And it will need a lot of grit right now. I think people are entitled to think about this. And this is a relevant consideration, actually.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to be clear, you're not going to make any comment at all on what happened last night?

JOHNSON: I think that's pretty obvious from the forgoing --

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HOWELL: Johnson and his rival, Jeremy Hunt, are on a campaign tour across the United Kingdom. They're trying to win over votes from fellow Conservative Party members, who will choose the next leader.

The acute water shortage in Chennai, India, is bringing the city to its knees. The state government there scrambling to find solutions to the crisis. And residents are finding it harder to get basic services, as hospitals, schools and businesses all struggle to stay open. Our Zain Asher shows us what's happening.

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ZAIN ASHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Carrying empty water buckets, a group of angry residents demand more action Saturday in Chennai, a city that is nearly out of water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We have to stand the whole day to get water and, at the end of the day, we might get three or four pots. It's not enough. We have to protest and ask, why are we in this situation?

ASHER (voice-over): A common sight now in India's sixth largest city, millions lining up each morning, hoping to fill containers from state water trucks. For some, it's only once a week. Others are forced to use unsanitary wells.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Because of the diseases from the dirty groundwater, children can't go to school. People can't go to work. We are not able to eat properly or work in peace.

ASHER (voice-over): Rainfall fell briefly last week, providing some relief but not nearly enough to prevent the crisis from deepening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am standing at Chennai's died up reservoir, which as you can see in your frame, is pretty much bone dry.

ASHER (voice-over): This reporter was standing on dry land where millions of liters of water should be.

Without enough water to clean medical equipment or wash hands, hospitals are turning away patients. Some schools are closing and businesses are struggling to stay open unless they can pay a hefty premium.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are paying a huge money of water to -- huge money to get the water and water what we're buying is not the quality water what we're getting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But people say there is no water scarcity at all but we don't have water here.

ASHER (voice-over): The state's chief minister says he plans to use India's railroads to deliver a steady supply of clean water, promising to allocate over $9 billion to transport 10 million liters of water each day. For a city used to receiving 820 million liters daily, it may provide

only limited relief. Some activists also caution it's a Band-aid over a much larger problem, pointing to years of poor water conservation --

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ASHER (voice-over): -- and pollution.

JAYARAMAN VENKATESAN, ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST: The responsibility of the government is to make sure these water bodies are properly desalted. You should make sure that sewage is not let into these water bodies. You should just make sure that the garbage is not dumped on these water bodies.

ASHER (voice-over): As swathes of southern India suffer a deadly heat wave, Chennai's crisis may be an indication of things to come. A government think tank report warned that 21 cities could run dry by next year. And experts say nearly half of India's population is facing an acute water shortage -- Zain Asher, CNN.

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HOWELL: We know what's happening there in India. I think people around the world should pay close attention to this.

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HOWELL: Thank you for being with us for NEWSROOM this hour. We'll be back after the break with your headlines.