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THE BRIEF WITH BIANCA NOBILO

Trump Backtracks On Threat Against Iran's Cultural Sites; Soleimani Burial Postponed After Deadly Stampede; Esper: Threat Posed By Soleimani Was Days Away; Iranian Parliament Declares U.S. Forces "Terrorists"; Zarif Says Killing Of Soleimani Amounts To "State Terrorism"; Australia Bushfires: World's Celebrities Dig Deep For Australia; Turmoil In Venezuela: Juan Guaido Sworn In As Parliament President; Puerto Rico Earthquake: 6.4 Quake Damages Buildings, Leaves 300k Without Water; Arrest Warrant Issued For Wife Of Carlos Ghosn; China Trying To Identify Pneumonia Strain, Says It Is Not SARS; Potentially Habitable Earth Size Planet Discovered. Aired 5-5:30p ET

Aired January 7, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: was not as bad as this was here in the southern part of the island.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Leyla Santiago reporting from Puerto Rico. Leyla, thank you so much. Stay safe. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

Thanks for watching.

[17:00:00]

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Tonight, on THE BRIEF, Iran vows to respond to the proportional attack on the U.S. CNN speaks with the Iranian

Foreign Minister.

Devastation in Puerto Rico. The territory struck by the strongest earthquake in years. CNN is there. And a new earth like planet has been

discovered that could support life and it's relatively close.

Live from London, I'm Bianca Nobilo. Welcome to the show. As Iran escalates threats of retaliation for the killing of its top military commander, U.S.

President Donald Trump is defending the strike on Qasem Soleimani, calling him a monster.

Mr. Trump spoke at the White House, saying, Soleimani was planning a, "big attack" and that his death has saved lives. The President appeared, though,

to backtrack on his controversial threat to target Iran's cultural sites if the country retaliates for Soleimani's killing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'd like to obey the law. But think of it, they kill our people, they blow up our people, then we have to

be very gentle with their cultural institutions. But I'm OK with it. It's OK with me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBILO: Eight top U.S. lawmakers and now being briefed on the intelligence behind the Soleimani killing. One Congresswoman has already seen some of

the evidence, says that it's not convincing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): I think that this will go down in history as an epic foreign policy blunder by the President of the United States. I can't

say that it was persuadable. It was vague.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBILO: Huge crowds turned out for Soleimani's burial in his hometown of Kerman, Iran. A funeral procession was temporarily delayed because of a

stampede that killed at least 56 people.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, today addressed reports that Soleimani was in Baghdad for diplomatic mission when he was killed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: --anybody here believe that? Is there any history that would indicate that it was remotely possible that this kind

gentleman, this diplomat of great order, Qasem Soleimani, had travelled to Baghdad for the idea of conducting a peace mission? I made you reporters

laugh this morning, that's fantastic. We know that wasn't true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBILO: The Pentagon is trying yet again to clear up confusion over a memo sent to Iraqi officials that suggested a U.S. troop withdrawal could be in

the works. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that the U.S. is not leaving Iraq. Adding, our policy has not changed.

Esper also says that the threat posed by Soleimani was just days away. He's the latest Trump administration official to defend the President's decision

to target Iran's top commander, and he spoke with our Christiane Amanpour earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: I spoke to the Defense Secretary. He wanted to really make a point. He wanted to assure the world

that the U.S. was not looking for war, but deescalation. He also wanted to say that despite news coming out of Iraq, that the United States is not

withdrawing its forces from Iraq. He was very clear about that. And he also then said that they absolutely had to take this action. Listen to what he

told me,

MARK ESPER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: To our partners and allies and directly to the Iranian regime, I'd like to say, we are not looking to start a war

with Iran. But we are prepared to finish one. As I've told my many colleagues, as I spoke to them over the last few days, now, what we'd like

to see is this situation deescalated. And for to Iran to sit down with us and begin a discussion about a better way ahead. We think that's the best

approach at this point in time.

Now, Christiane, with regard to your question about the intelligence, I can assure you that it's more than razor thin, and it's and it - it's

persuasive. The fact of the matter is Soleimani was caught red-handed on the ground in Baghdad. One terrorist leader of a terrorist organization,

meeting with another terrorist leader to synchronize and plan additional tax on American forces, diplomats or facilities. I think we took the right

action to remove these players from the battlefield.

AMANPOUR: So ticking time bomb, imminent threat, is that what you're saying?

ESPER: I think the threat was being orchestrated by Soleimani, that's what the intelligence reported. That's what he was doing on the ground in both

Baghdad, in Damascus and elsewhere, and I think it was only a matter of days, certainly no more than weeks.

AMANPOUR: So Secretary Esper would not use the word imminent threat. And more to the point, many Democrats in Congress who are very, very concerned,

believe that the words that are flying between Iran and the United States right now spill out a cycle of escalation. And that even if no one wants to

start a war deliberately, one might start accidentally. Back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBILO: U.S. officials tell CNN American troops and missile defenses are now on high alert after U.S. intelligence showed Iran moving military

equipment, including drones and ballistic missiles over the last few days. CNN's Tom Foreman reports on the weapons on the move.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bianca, Iran has really stepped up its development of drones, similar to this model, for purposes of

reconnaissance and intelligence and importantly, for air to ground attacks.

[17:05:00]

That is from a very recent Pentagon report and this is one model that we know they already have, the Shahed 129. It has an altitude of 24,000 feet.

It can range 1,200 more miles from its launch point, and it can stay up there for 24 hours at a time.

Just as importantly, look at what it can carry. Four anti-tank guided missiles. Some sources say it may be as many as eight and these are guided

by laser toward their targets. What this means is collectively, all of this gives Iran a very large sphere of influence here and ability to go after

U.S. troops, allies and interest in a broad region.

So broad that, in fact, Congress met with military leaders last month here in the U.S. and they talked about how there were reports of these drones

already seen over U.S. troops in Iraq, Syria, and Jordan. Military leaders say they have some ability to mitigate the impact of these. But to say that

we can eliminate the threat, that would be a false statement. So Iran, much smaller military, but these are real ways in which us leaders are afraid

they could strike U.S. interest.

Beyond that, there's another big way, and that is through proxies. There are several groups in this area that have ties to Iran - Shia militias,

Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthis down south. If these groups were decided to jump in with Iran to press their fight against United States, that could

mean attacks coming at embassies and troops and other economic interests from many different directions, all with logistical, intelligence and

weapons support from Iran itself to get the job done. Bianca?

NOBILO: Our Tom Foreman there.

Iran's parliament is showing its anger at the United States. Today, lawmakers unanimously designated the entire U.S. defense apparatus a

terrorist organization. After the vote, they chanted "Death to America." CNN's Frederik Pleitgen, talked with the Iranian Foreign Minister about

what his country is planning to do next.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there Bianca. Yes, the Foreign Minister of Iran Javad Zarif clearly is still extremely

angry about the targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani. He called that a direct act against the Iranian nation and said that there certainly would

be a response from the Iranian side.

Now, one of the first thing that I pressed him on is what exactly that response could be? And whether or not such a response couldn't possibly

lead to another and possibly bigger escalation between Iran and the United States? Let's listen it.

PLEITGEN: You have said that Iran will retaliate for the targeted killing of General Qasem Soleimani. President Trump has said there would be a

disproportionate response if you do that. What do you make of President Trump's threat?

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: His threats will not frighten us. But what he's showing something. He's showing to the

international community that he has no respect for international law, that he is prepared to commit war crimes, because attacking cultural sites is

war crime.

This disproportionate response is a war crime. But he doesn't care, it seems, about international law. But has he made U.S. more secure? Do

Americans feel more secure? Are Americans welcome today in this region? Do they feel welcome?

PLEITGEN: Your government and your leadership and the military here has vowed to take action against the United States--

ZARIF: Well, the United States--

PLEITGEN: What kind of retaliation is that going to be.

ZARIF: The United States violated three principles - Iraqi sovereignty, and the agreement that they had with Iraq. Take out the response from the Iraqi

parliament. they violated the emotions of the people, they will get a response from the people. They killed one of our most revered commanders

and most senior commanders, and they took responsibility for it.

This is state terrorism. This is an act of aggression against Iran and it amounts to an armed attack against Iran, and we will respond. But we will

respond proportionately, not disproportionately, because we are committed to law. We are law abiding people. We're not lawless, like President Trump.

ZARIF: So you think that you can strike at any point?

ZARIF: Well, we--

PLEITGEN: Because you, obviously--

ZARIF: We think--

PLEITGEN: It's not secret that you control militias in this region, that you have forces that are on your side in this region, in many countries.

ZARIF: No, we have people on our side in this region. That's much more important. The United States believes that this beautiful military

equipment, according to President Trump. That you spent $2 trillion on this beautiful military equipment. Beautiful military equipment, don't rule the

world, people rule the world - people.

[17:10:00]

The United States has to wake up to the reality that the people of this region are enraged. That the people of this region want the United States

out and the United States cannot stay in this region with the people of the region, not wanting it anymore.

PLEITGEN: Would it be worth speaking to them?

ZARIF: Well, he doesn't need speaking. He has to realize that he has been fed misinformation and he needs to wake up and apologize. He has to

apologize. He has to change course. He cannot add mistake upon another mistake. He is just making it worse for America.

PLEITGEN: And, Bianca, what's interesting, because some of the other things that the minister said were, for instance, that he said he believes that

this could be the beginning of the end of America's presence here in the Middle East. He said, a lot of people here were enraged by America's

behavior, as he put it. And you heard there in the interview him saying.

Look, Iran was always part of this region and will always be part of the region. So the Iranians essentially believe that time is on their side in

this matter. Again, they said they're going to retaliate against the United States. But they've also said that they are going to do this in their own

way and on their own time.

And, certainly, so far, they haven't told us exactly what that's going to be. But as we can see right now from the Middle East, American troops on

high alert there. It's certainly causing a lot of tensions here in this region. Bianca?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBILO: We'll be joined later in the show by the Iran Director from the International Crisis Group, an organization committed to preventing deadly

conflict and we're going to unpack a story for you.

U.S. lawmakers could be moving closer to beginning the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said

that he has enough votes to stop the trial without initial agreement of witnesses.

Democrats want guarantees from McConnell before the trial begins to allow witnesses and get more documents from those who've been involved. But the

majority leader is trying to stifle those efforts. McConnell says that those matters should be dealt with later after the rules are set.

Police in Australia's New South Wales say that they've arrested 24 people for intentionally setting fires. Bushfires have destroyed about 2,000

homes. The crisis fueled by record temperatures and severe drought. Australia's summer has only just really begun. This week's cooler

temperatures could be pushed out with another blast of heat.

Our Anna Coren is in New South Wales. Firefighters tell her that dozens of fires still need to be contained before they can begin to deal with their

own losses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAPT. MARK AYLIFFE, COBARGO RURAL FIRE BRIGADE: Oh, of courses, it's affecting me. I haven't had a real lot of time, I guess, to really think

about it that much. We still got to go through that grieving process. I was actually in the truck with a family member only half an hour ago. Myself,

you know, talking to him and just saying - you know, he said oh, God, you know, I'd prefer not to stop at this size, you know, and--

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is your family member who lost loved ones?

AYLIFFE: Yes. He lost his family. He lost part of his extended family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBILO: Australian actor Chris Hemsworth is asking his fans and followers to chip in. He's joining other celebrities who have made huge contributions

to bushfire relief efforts and his family will be donating $1 million. And if you're looking for ways that you can help those affected by the

wildfires, please do visit cnn.com/impact to find organizations where you can donate.

Venezuela's opposition leader is claiming victory today. Just hours ago Juan Guaido reclaimed control of the country's National Assembly and was

sworn in his second term as the Chamber's President.

(VIDEO PLAYING)

As you can see here, Guaido literally had to force his way into parliament, into the building, which was blocked by Venezuela's National Guard and

police. The National Assembly is Venezuela's only opposition controlled political institution. Guaido explains what's at stake.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUAN GUAIDO, VENEZUELAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY President (via translator): The dictatorship's oppressive forces did not want to allow us in. There are not

two oppositions or Parliaments, there's only one country. Only one country that is honest, hardworking and willing to keep fighting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBILO: It caps off days of electoral drama. On Sunday, pro-government automakers swore in another man as Parliament president, but Guaido's

supporters called it a sham, because the opposition wasn't even allowed to participate.

Puerto Rico is reeling from what appears to be the worst earthquake to hit the island in a century. The 6.4 quake has knocked out water and

electricity for 300,000 people, and damaged buildings across the island. At least one person is dead and smaller quakes have been shaking the island

for more than a week. Of course, Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria back in 2017.

[17:15:00]

Japanese police have issued an arrest warrant for the wife of fugitive Auto Executive Carlos Ghosn. Carole Ghosn has been accused of giving false

testimony during a court hearing last April.

Carlos Ghosn dramatically escaped from Japan last week after being charged with financial crimes related to his time as Chairman and CEO of Nissan

Motors. Ghosn is expected to address the media for the first time since his escape on Wednesday.

Still ahead on THE BRIEF this evening, for many Iranians he was respected in life and now revered in depth. As U.S. waits for Tehran's next move,

we'll take a closer look at the late General Qasem Soleimani.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOBILO: The killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani could have a domino effect in the region, and we still don't know what the repercussions might

be. President Donald Trump says Soleimani was quoted - was planning a quote, "big attack."

And in Iran, massive crowds filled the streets crying and carrying his picture to mourn him. So was Soleimani, the monster that President Trump

says or the hero that we've been hearing from some voices inside Iran. Our next guest says the truth, as always, is somewhere in between those two

things.

(Inaudible) is the Iran Project Director for the International Crisis Group, and he joins us now. Thanks very much for joining the program, Ali,

good to have you here.

ALI VAEZ, IRAN PROJECT DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: My pleasure.

NOBILO: I was having a look at your Twitter and you phrased it very well when you explained that U.S. hardliners are saying that Soleimani was a

monster, essentially. And then Iranian hardliners saying that he was a hero. The truth is in that grey area in between. We have seen reports from

the Iranian state media that millions have attended his funeral. So, what is the reality of how he's perceived inside Iran?

VAEZ: Of course, reality is much more nuanced than one hears in the rhetoric of officials on both sides. The reality is that General Soleimani

was seen and revered by many in Iran, because of the role he played in the Iran-Iraq war, which was the first war Iran didn't lose any territory in

the 1980s in more than two centuries.

And then, again, he was effective in fighting ISIS that came to 25 miles of Iranian borders. And that's why in Iran, this idea of it's much better to

fight the extremists outside of the country rather than to fight them inside the country, was something that the Iranian population related to.

So that was why he was popular inside Iran.

But because of the role he played in the region, and because of the fact that he had American blood on his hands, he was obviously seen by U.S. and

its allies in the region as a terrorist. But, you know, it really doesn't matter at the end of the day, because as we saw, millions of Iranians came

to the streets, not just because they revered him, but because a U.S. attack, rekindle the sense of nationalism and patriotism, in Iran that went

beyond General Soleimani.

[17:20:00]

NOBILO: When we hear chants of "Death to America," how far do Iranians - not the government, but Iranian people divorce the rhetoric and the actions

of the Trump administration from America and Americans in general? Can you help flesh out those nuances for us too?

VAEZ: Sure. Look, "Death to America" is primarily a death to U.S. policies that the Iranians don't like. And one has to remember that 1979 revolution

was primarily an uprising against U.S. interventions in Iran. U.S. had installed an autocrat in Iran in the aftermath of toppling a democratic

government of Prime Minister Mosaddegh in 1953.

And so there were a lot of anti-American sentiments in Iran. And since then, this this moto has become the symbol of resisting U.S. policies in

the region and U.S. interventions in Iran. And, of course, it's not against the American people. But it's also understandable that it is seen in that

way when Americans see their flags being fired and all of this hot rhetoric coming out of Iran against the United States.

NOBILO: The initiative is now with Iran to respond, because it has to, in order to save face. And we were hearing from our correspondent Fred

Pleitgen earlier, he spoke with the Iranian Foreign Minister, that Iran will respond in its own way and in its own time. With your knowledge of the

country, what would you say will be the timeframe and the nature of the response?

VAEZ: Look, there is now a sense of popular demand in Iran for taking some kind of action. So, I doubt that the Iranians would be able to delay this

for a long period of time. But they also have a wide range of options throughout the region, from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, to

go after U.S. interests directly or indirectly and proportionately or in a disproportionate manner.

It's very hard to say when they will do it and how they will do it. But they also have to balance this action in a way that would deter the U.S.

from any further aggression against the Iranian officials in the region or Iranian interest in the region.

But they also have to do it in a way that it doesn't invite the U.S. to then counterattack directly on Iranian soil which would be a new level of

escalation. So it's in that balance that really lies the potential consequences of this.

NOBILO: So with that in mind, when you talk about the pressure that the Iranian government is feeling from the public to respond to this, is there

a sense that the response needs to be capped? Is the public sentiment one of thinking that the response needs to be as aggressive as possible, or is

there a sense that that is mediated by the concern that America is going to retaliate if it does cross yet another red line?

VAEZ: Look, I think, the Iranians are probably going to take a direct action so that they can satisfy domestic opinion and also deter the U.S.

from further actions. The real question and the most difficult question to answer is whether it will be proportionate or not.

If I wanted to - if I were a betting man, I would say they would probably try to do a proportionate response by trying to assassinate one or two U.S.

officials in the region. The concern here is, then that would invite President Trump - potentially invite President Trump to respond with much

more massive military action against Iran. And from that point on, things can easily spiral out of control in a region that is already in deep

turmoil.

NOBILO: Indeed, Ali Vaez, it's been great to have you on the show. Thanks for sharing your insights.

VAEZ: My pleasure. Thank you.

NOBILO: When THE BRIEF returns, how this newly discovered planet is getting scientists very, very excited.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:25:00]

NOBILO: Chinese health officials are trying to identify a mystery illness that's affected dozens of people in Central China. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout

tells us that officials have ruled out the return of the deadly SARS virus and believe that it's a strain of viral pneumonia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR: According to the World Health Organization symptoms include fever, with a number of patients having difficulty

breathing. There are at least 59 cases. They've been reported in Wuhan. Seven patients reported to be in serious conditions, no deaths reported.

China has not been able to identify this mysterious strain, but it has ruled out SARS and MERS. Several countries have issued travel advisories,

including South Korea and Singapore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBILO: Several victims of the mystery illness work at a food market that has live animals and local media report that it could be an illness that

was passed from an animal to a human.

So here's a question to finish off tonight's show. One for you to think about and perhaps one for your descendants to actively contemplate. Would

you move to a planet that's similar to Earth and potentially habitable?

Well, NASA says that they've found one. This one, to be precise. They say it's nearby in space terms. It's orbiting a star around 100 light years

from Earth. It's called TOI 700 d. It's about 20% larger than Earth and it orbits its star, which is 40 percent as big as our sun and half as hot in

37 days.

Initially, it was mischaracterized with scientists thinking that it was too hot to be similar to Earth. But it was left to a group of amateur

astronomers, including a high school student to point out the error. The planet is in something called the Goldilocks zone, named after the fairy

tale where Goldilocks finds that porridge that's just right - not too hot, not too cold.

That's it for THE BRIEF this evening. I'm Bianca Nobilo and "WORLD SPORT" is up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

END