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Interview with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir; Saudi Diplomat: "Act of War" If Attack Launched from Iran; Trump Pressed Ukraine to Investigate Biden's Son; Police, Demonstrators Clash in 16th Week of Hong Kong Protests; Albanian Earthquake; Day 3 of Rugby World Cup. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired September 22, 2019 - 03:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): One-on-one with Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, his take on the tensions with Iran and might come next.

Also, Joe Biden striking back against allegations involving him and his son and he says it is all a smear campaign.

Warren on the rise: Elizabeth Warren squeaks ahead in one of the most sought after U.S. states.

Hello, everyone, live from CNN Center, I'm Michael Holmes and this is CNN NEWSROOM.


HOLMES: Welcome, everyone.

Saudi Arabia has a new message for Iran as it continues to blame that country for strikes on its oil facilities. The kingdom says it will consider the attack an act of war if an international investigation finds that the strikes were indeed launched from Iranian soil.

Tehran denies responsibility but the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs tells CNN, Iran's behavior has become more aggressive.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: The United States is sending a few hundred troops here, missile batteries.

Is that really enough to guarantee 100 percent protection for your vulnerable sites?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER: The United States and Saudi Arabia are close allies when it comes to the defense relationship and I believe the United States sending equipment now and the details of this are really with our ministry of defense.

But I believe that this situation will be assessed on a continual basis and adjustments made when needed.

ROBERTSON: Iran seems to detect that Saudi Arabia is in a weak position. The foreign minister there, Javad Zarif, said in effect that Saudi Arabia was willing to fight Iran down to the last U.S. soldier. That implies he thinks you can't stand up to them.


AL-JUBEIR: No, it confirms that he said many outrageous and outlandish things and frankly laughable things. We and the United States have been allies for eight years and we have fought many wars together. We have spilled blood, your blood and our blood together. Saudi Arabia always carries its weight, so the United States are not reckless when it comes to wars.

With war as a last resort, it's the Iranians who are reckless in engaging in such behavior.

ROBERTSON: Javad Zarif says that Iran isn't responsible for the attack, that he is willing to talk to Saudi Arabia.

What do you say to him?

AL-JUBEIR: He and other Iranian officials have said a lot of things that are frankly not correct, if not outright lies. So to say that they're not responsible for this or didn't do it is outrageous.

ROBERTSON: But if they're saying that then potentially they could do this again.

What happens then?

AL-JUBEIR: With regards to what they're saying, either Mr. Zarif is not telling the truth or he is not aware of what his government is doing.


ROBERTSON: What do you think?

Do you think that they are split?

AL-JUBEIR: We know that there is a part of the Iranian government that projects an image of wanting to talk to the world. But they don't seem to have influence and there's another part that wants to expand the revolution and take over the region.

And they don't want to talk. So it's like two faces of the same coin.


ROBERTSON: From your assessment, who is winning at the moment in Iran?

AL-JUBEIR: I can't establish this for a fact but what we've seen is that Iran's aggressive behavior has increased not decreased. Iran said to the region and to the world energy supplies have increased, not decreased.

ROBERTSON: But the hardliners are on the --


AL-JUBEIR: It appears so.

ROBERTSON: So what do you want Iran to do now?

And if their politicians are in New York this week to represent the country, what can they do?

AL-JUBEIR: We want Iran to behave like a normal nation. We want Iran to stop being a revolution and be a nation state and we want Iran to stop interfering in the affairs of other countries and supporting terrorist groups and we want them to stop providing ballistic missiles to terrorist groups.

And we want them to make sure that they are never in a position to acquire a nuclear weapon. We want to be good neighbors. We want to have good relations with Iran. We want to trade with them.

But we can't do this if all we get from them is death and destruction. For 40 years we have tried to extend our hand in friendship to the Iranians and all we got was death and destruction.

ROBERTSON: And right now, their top politicians, President Rouhani, the foreign minister, Zarif, are going to be in New York.

What value are the conversations they have if they don't represent the country?

AL-JUBEIR: I think that the Iranians need to hear a united and a firm message from the international community that this behavior is not acceptable and this behavior must stop.

ROBERTSON: They've heard that message before, they've heard that very loudly.

AL-JUBEIR: They need to hear it more and there needs to be action --


AL-JUBEIR: -- appeasement with Iran does not work. For example, trying to set up a parallel financial payment system is appeasement.


AL-JUBEIR: Trying to give them a line of credit is appeasement. It just emboldens them. The Iranians have to know that there will be consequences to their actions.

ROBERTSON: But their message has been behavior and changes toward Iran, like the United States pulling out of the JCPOA, the joint nuclear deal, to try to get a better deal and to try to get control of the missiles, to try to push the timeline on all those horizons. HAs that blown up and backfired because what we've seen is, from your

assessment, the hardliners are on the rise and more aggressive behavior. And you're suffering for it.

AL-JUBEIR: Iran is feeling the pressure of the sanctions, no doubt.

ROBERTSON: Are you feeling the heat of that pressure?

This attack on your country, if you are right, that Iran did this, you are feeling the heat of that pressure?

AL-JUBEIR: Yes, but we do not engage in appeasement. We will do whatever it takes to protect our country and our citizens and our residents and our facilities. And we will work with our allies in order to ensure that this happens.

ROBERTSON: Are we on the threshold of a military response, do you believe?

AL-JUBEIR: We do not want war. The U.S. doesn't want war. But it's really up to the Iranians. If they continue along this path, then they risk the possibility of military action but nobody wants war. Everyone wants to resolve this peacefully. And the end result has to be an end to Iran's aggressive policies.

ROBERTSON: I don't see the difference at the moment, if you don't mind me saying, of Iran producing these weapons and then waiting for an investigation to find out where they were fired from because surely it all amounts to the same thing, that you're going to come to the same point.

Eventually, are you playing for time by saying that we're investigating right now when you perhaps have a very strong inclination?

AL-JUBEIR: We hold Iran responsible because the missiles and the drones that were fired are not only against Abqaiq and Khurais but also from Yemen were Iranian built and Iranian delivered missiles.

So we hold them responsible.


AL-JUBEIR: To launch an attack from your territory, if that is the case, puts us in a different category.

ROBERTSON: What's the different category?

AL-JUBEIR: This would be an act of war.


HOLMES: Iran pushing back against pressure from the U.S. after Washington said it would send more troops to Saudi Arabia to help defend the kingdom. The head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard warning against potential aggression and threatening to shoot down any drone that happened to violate Iranian airspace.

Meanwhile, the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani says that Tehran will not allow anyone to violate its borders. He was speaking at a ceremony in Tehran, marking the start of Iran's war with Iraq.

He said foreign forces in the Gulf can create insecurity in the region. Mr. Rouhani is set to take part in the U.N. General Assembly this week. Iran is not expected to hold talks with the U.S.

Former U.S. vice president Joe Biden is no stranger to attacking the current president Donald Trump but this time he says it is personal. The Democratic presidential candidate demanding an investigation after reports Mr. Trump asked the leader of Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden and his son, Hunter. Here he was in Iowa on Saturday.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Trump is doing this because he knows I'll beat him like a drum and he is using the abuse of power and every element of the presidency to try to do something to smear me.

He abuses power everywhere he can and if he sees any threat to his staying in power, he will do whatever he has to do. But this crosses the line.


HOLMES: The president's team suggests that Biden leveraged his position as vice president to shield his son from an investigation involving a Ukrainian energy company.

But to be very clear, there is zero evidence of that and the allegations, in fact, have been discredited.

Reports that the White House tried to pressure Ukraine on the Bidens stems from a whistleblower complaint. The inspector general for the U.S. international community deemed it credible and urgent. But Trump is trying to dismiss this as a partisan witch hunt. CNN's Jeremy Diamond has details from the White House.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Donald Trump is striking out at this whistleblower complaint that he's now facing. And the president is turning to a very familiar playbook, the, same one that he used when he was faced with the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.

That investigation, the president referred to as the Russia witch hunt. Now as the president faces this whistleblower complaint, he's calling it the Ukraine witch hunt, insisting that it is being fueled by the media, being fueled by Democrats

And he's also going after the credibility of the complainants even though the president says he doesn't know the identity of that complainant. He's insisting this is a political hack job, calling the whistleblower "a partisan," even though he has no evidence to back that claim up.


DIAMOND: That also flies in the face of the fact that the intelligence community's inspector general, who was appointed by the president, confirmed by the Senate, has given credibility to these allegations by disagreeing directly with the acting Director of National Intelligence's decision not to share that complaint with Congress.

Writing in a letter to congressional leaders that he does feel that this complaint matches that urgent notification threshold. This issue is sure not to go away this week and the acting Director of National Intelligence is set to testify on Capitol Hill later this week.

The president himself will be meeting with the Ukrainian president on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly -- at the White House, Jeremy Diamond, CNN.


HOLMES: Ukraine's foreign minister defending Mr. Trump's call with the Ukrainian president. But he isn't saying that it didn't involve the Bidens. Here he was on Saturday.


VADYM PRYSTAIKO, UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Our president has a right to talk to another president the way this conversation remains confidential. If someone believes that our president is being put under pressure they have to prove it.

I know what the conversation was about and I think that there was no pressure. There was sock (ph) conversations are different. Leaders have the right to discuss any problems that exist.

This conversation was long, friendly and it touched on a lot of questions, including those requiring serious answers.


HOLMES: The foreign minister not saying Biden's name did not come up. This scandal could morph into a diplomatic crisis for Ukraine and its new president. CNN's Matthew Chance with more from the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Ukrainian authorities are absolutely mortified that they've been dragged into this partisan political situation in the United States and are extremely worried about having to emerge from this with their crucial relationship with the United States intact. Remember in terms of military aid, economic assistance, diplomatic

support, the U.S. is Ukraine's number one strategic ally and it's a priority of national importance for this country to maintain good relations with Trump, the incumbent president.

But also the Ukrainians are mindful that there's an election in 2020 that a Democrat, possibly even Joe Biden could take over. And so they're very reluctant to come down on either side in this ongoing debate and walking a very delicate tightrope.

It is something that they are concerned about. I've been speaking to people inside the presidential administration over the course of the past several hours and they are saying they're trying to work out a strategy, try to get ahead of the story because they know they will have to act fast because next week there is a meeting going to be held between Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, and President Trump, face to face on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

The Ukrainians want that meeting to be about strategy and confronting Russia over Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, about economic and military assistance but they know very well that it could well be overshadowed by this ongoing controversy.

So it's something that they are deeply concerned about -- Matthew Chance, CNN, Kiev.


HOLMES: CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem joins me now, Homeland Security official during the Obama administration. No better person to discuss all of this.

It seems to me that Donald Trump is accusing Joe Biden of doing less than what Trump himself reportedly did with the Ukraine president.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's exactly right. The irony of all of this is that under the guise of Trump wanting to end corruption in Ukraine, that he is alleging that's why he made his phone calls.

But this is a lot of smoke and mirrors coming out of the White House because it's basically an allegation -- it's basically factually accurate and has gone unchecked, which is the president, according to "The Wall Street Journal," made eight references to his desire that the Ukrainian government investigate Joe Biden's son and some of his activities there.

Giuliani has admitted it, the president's lawyer; Trump has not denied it. So that it is the basic allegation. The White House is throwing around a lot of noise around that but still that is the basic allegation.

HOLMES: You mentioned Rudy Giuliani which, as you point out, he said, yes, I've been working on that. The president's personal lawyer is out there, working openly on behalf of his client, to have a foreign government impact his client's political rival. You can't make that up.

KAYYEM: It's literally what the Mueller report said, if they did this, that would be true collusion. The challenge with -- in 2016, you couldn't find the exact nexus between the Trump campaign and the Russians.


KAYYEM: Here it is, Trump is directing the Ukraine to do something under some quid pro quo, some belief that they would lose military funding to go after his political rivals. So I think one of the reasons why people are maybe confused by this is it's in plain sight. The come-hither foreign government impacting our elections is literally in plain sight and I think that's hard for people to grasp.

HOLMES: And the quid pro quo almost doesn't matter. It's the fact that you're asking a foreign government -- yes, it doesn't matter whether there was something about that.

I want to ask you this because I think you're the right person to ask about and that is the process here. How to deal with something like this. Because I think I've heard you talk about this. It's not designed for a situation where the president is the security threat and in some ways it protects him.

KAYYEM: Right, exactly. So the challenge we're in right now is an entire apparatus in the intelligence and law enforcement community that was built with whistleblower, with disclosures in mind in a process that is apolitical but also, never believed that the president would be the focus of a whistleblower.

You couldn't imagine that the president actually would be the one giving away intelligence or information or using intelligence or information in a way that undermined U.S. security.

So what you're seeing is this real tension between a whistleblower and the IG, inspector general,, and the international community wanting to stick to the process, wanting to go through a process and then because it's the president, this overlay of Bill Barr and the head of the ODNI, the people that are stopping this process from moving forward.

I think honestly this is why we're seeing so many leaks. I have never seen leaks of this specificity in a whistleblower case before. And I think that's because the system knows that it's being stopped. The top officials know that they have to go outside the system.

HOLMES: That goes without saying, the president keeps saying he did nothing wrong and let's see the report and let's release the transcript of the phone conversation.

When it comes to that whistleblower, I'm wondering if the damage done to the integrity of that whistleblower infrastructure, complaints made, the IG finds it credible. But this whistleblower could be exposed.

What happens there? KAYYEM: That's exactly right and I think that's the challenge right now. If you want the system to work in the future you need to protect it and have confidence in the system that the whistleblower's identity won't be disclosed or they won't be harmed or hurt in any way, not only physically but in terms of their career.

So part of what the Trump people are doing is that they don't just go after the intelligence apparatus with their words like " deep state," they also go after the processes that protect intelligence agents and that's exactly what they're doing right now.

I don't know how this ends. All I know is that you are seeing an incredible pushback by the intelligence community about what's going on right now, whether it's the inspector general or some of these leaks. That doesn't come easy to people in the intelligence community but I think they feel like the processes have been undermined by the White House.

HOLMES: Juliette, we got to leave it there unfortunately but it's good to see you and thank you.

KAYYEM: Thank you, have a good one.

HOLMES: A new CNN polls shows a tightening battle among Democrats in one early voting state; 22 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers in the key state of Iowa pick Senator Elizabeth Warren to face Donald Trump; 20 percent chose Joe Biden.

That is all within a margin of error. The former vice president had an 8-point lead in Iowa back in June.

We'll take a short break here. When we come back, tear gas, truncheons and violent clashes. Climate change marchers were asked to leave Central Paris after their peaceful rally was hijacked by other protesters.

Plus, Albania's leader won't be at the U.N. climate summit after the country was hit with another natural emergency. We'll have details of all that when we come back.





HOLMES: Crowds of protesters inside a Hong Kong shopping mall right now are boycotting shops they say are pro Beijing on this, the 16th straight week of pro democracy demonstrations. There's another rally planned outside of the Hong Kong International Airport as well.

All of this follows a night of violent clashes between police and protesters after a peaceful march devolved into what you see on your screen. Riot police shot tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators who were armed with rocks, bottles and petrol bombs.

While world leaders are gathered in New York for the U.N. summit on climate change, violent clashes broke out during a climate crisis march in Paris on Saturday. A rally by activists on the Champs- Elysees was overtaken by Yellow Vest and anti capitalist protesters.

Greenpeace France asked the climate change demonstrators to leave when the violence kicked off.

The climate crisis is at the top of the agenda when the UNGA's new session kicks off this week. It brings together leaders from across the globe to try to fix some of the world's toughest problems. Some 60 countries are expected to make new climate commitments and, this year, the week-long event starts with a high-level meeting on climate change. The U.N. has already got the ball rolling with a weekend of events for young activists, who have been driving the call to address the overheating Earth.

Albania's prime minister has canceled his trip to the U.N. gathering to stay in his country. Medical crews say at least 37 people were injured when an earthquake shook the coast about 35 kilometers west of the capital. As you can see, the 5.6 magnitude quake left its mark on the capital, damaging buildings and rubble hitting nearby towns.



HOLMES: We are into day three of the Rugby World Cup that will be held in Japan and Italy just beaten Libya 47 to 22. For a brief moment they were up early in that match and then the world number one team Ireland is taking on their rival Scotland.

The Irish have never won the World Cup but they are ranked number one. "WORLD SPORT's" Alex Thomas is in Yokohama.


ALEX THOMAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Day three of this Rugby World Cup and a lot for the six nations in action today to live up to after huge excitement in the opening two days of this tournament. The past six weeks host Japan on the opening night and a marvelous opening ceremony got it started.

And on Saturday three cracking games culminating with New Zealand, the reigning world champions beating South Africa. They're huge rivals here in the International Stadium at Yokohama behind me.

Fast forward 24 hours, we're back here again with Ireland against Scotland, two nations who have faced each other over 130 times in their history. They know each other very well.

This is only the second time that they will ever face each other at a Rugby World Cup. Ireland very much the favorites. the world number one ranked team for the first time in their history. They're not playing quite as well as perhaps they did in 2018, when they were almost unbeaten with a grand slam, beating Australia in their own backyard for the first time ever.

Ireland, under their Kiwi coach, Joe Schmidt, have come on in leaps and bounds and certainly are title contenders at this tournament. We have a fantastic amount of excitement so far and we'll see if these two teams will keep it up. That all kicks off pretty shortly. Back to you.


HOLMES: Thanks, Alex Thomas there.

Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Michael Holmes, I'll have your headlines in just a moment.