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Intelligence on Iranian Drone Leads U.S. Forces in Mideast on High Alert; Mike Pompeo Faces Questions on Growing Iran Tensions. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 7, 2020 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Iran's top general, a man responsible for hundreds of deaths.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: He did say it was about diplomats.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you going to declassify the intelligence?

ROBERT O'BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I don't know if we're going to be able to do that or not because we don't want to put our sources and methods at risk but we're taking a look at that. I can tell you that the evidence was strong.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You did say that he was planning on killing American diplomats?

O'BRIEN: He was plotting to kill -- to attack American facilities and diplomats, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who were located at those facilities. Correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: That's most detail we've heard so far about what the intelligence was that led, according to the administration, to this decision to go forward with the strike.

We have Barbara Starr now at the Pentagon. So here we are in a mode where America's concerned about Iran's response here, and you have U.S. forces on alert for drone attacks in particular. Tell us to what degree and how do they defend themselves.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is something that apparently had emerged overnight. There was intelligence that led to a good deal of nervousness and concern on the part of the U.S. Military, but they ordered forces to be extra vigilant, patriot batteries and other forces across the Middle East at that highest state of readiness being very vigilant because the intelligence showed that Iran might be getting ready to use drones to attack in places where there are U.S. forces, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, very well-known and very well-understood places. The Iranians know it, that U.S. forces are there in those countries.

Now, this is a question of intelligence analysis because, of course, we didn't have these attacks, thankfully, overnight. They saw some movement, they analyzed it, it was possible that they were facing an attack and they reacted by putting forces into that state of readiness. You know, this is something that was -- is likely to go on for some time. The ebb and flow of intelligence indicating that there might be threats. What they don't know is the very question of when and if the Iranians will respond with some kind of retaliation.

So when they get these intelligence indicators, expect to see this perhaps happen again where the level of wariness and watchfulness rises significantly.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: You know, Barbara, what -- as we wait for the secretary of State, what Americans need right now and deserve is very straight answers as much as the government can share, especially given the turmoil, right? One message from the president on potentially destroying Iranian cultural sites.

The Defense Secretary Mark Esper saying essentially that's not going to happen, and then of course on top of that the mix-up with the draft letter about, you know, what is going to happen with American troops in the region, that going out and then being pulled back.

This is complicating things leading into such an important briefing from the secretary of State.

STARR: Well, I think it is. And I think yesterday you saw the unhappiness here at the Pentagon about this level of confusion because when that letter began to circulate, a draft unsigned letter that the Pentagon said was neither accurate and said it was very poorly worded, that many interpreted to mean that the U.S. forces were pulling out of Iraq, which certainly they were not announcing that.

We have an extraordinary moment here, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the top military adviser to the president, four-star General Mark Milley had to come back down the hall, into the press room, and brief reporters again, just minutes after he and Secretary Esper had left the press room. Milley comes back down the hall and explains it, and says this is a mistake, this letter is not accurate, basically. This is not what we intended.

What they were doing is notifying the Iraqis of forces moving around, of increased helicopter activity. Look, there's a lot of doubt people have, a lot of skepticism about all of this. But the bottom line is right now, at least today, U.S. forces are not leaving Iraq. Will they someday? Absolutely. But not today.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Barbara, thank you very much.

Joining us now to discuss all of this, again, as we wait for the secretary of State is our team of experts.

David Sanger, let me begin with you, if I could. So what is your key question that you're hoping to get an answer to from secretary of State in just a few minutes?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think the key question right now, Poppy, is not whether killing General Soleimani was justified. He's a longtime terrorist. In fact, he was running an organization that Pompeo himself had designated a terrorist organization. The question is, was it wise? In other words, there have been many opportunities before to kill him. Previous administrations have not done it. This administration didn't do it when they had some other opportunities in Iraq. And the reason was managing the aftermath and it's Pompeo who was saying --

SCIUTTO: Speaking of Pompeo, there he is, the secretary of State, let's listen.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Good morning, everyone. Happy New Year. Haven't been out here in the new year yet. I want to just take a moment to send out my personal condolences to former congressman Mike Fitzpatrick. He was a friend of mine who I served alongside.

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He passed away earlier this week leaving a lovely wife and family. Want to express my condolences to him. His service to America was noble as a member of Congress. We worked together on pro-life issues during my time in Congress.

I know lots of you have questions about the Middle East and Iraq. I'll certainly take some questions today. But, first, too, I want to offer my condolences to the people of Australia for the tragic loss of life and property caused by the devastating wildfires across that region. America's thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the emergency service personnel putting themselves in harm's way.

And the same goes, too, for the dozens of U.S. firefighting personnel who are standing side by side with Australian friends fighting the flames together. As I said, when I was in Sydney just this past summer, we have a truly unbreakable alliance there, great friends and we're happy to be able to help the Aussies in this time of need.

Staying in Asia, we noted the appointment of Luo Huining, the new head of the Hong Kong Chinese Central Government Liaison Office. He's expressed hopes that Hong Kong will return to the, quote, "right path," end of quote. The right path as I've said before is for the Chinese Communist Party to honor its commitments made to Hong Kong in the signage of British Joint Declaration filed at the United Nations, a commitment that guarantees the territory's independent rule of law and freedoms that the Chinese living on the mainland unfortunately do not enjoy.

That said, we'll continue to work with Hong Kong And the Chinese Communist Party officials to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong and to promote Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy.

In Afghanistan, there is an aspect of that conflict that deserves more attention. And that is the Islamic Republic of Iran's involvement there. Iran has refused to join the regional and international consensus for peace, and is, in fact, today actively working to undermine the peace process by continuing its long global efforts to support militant groups there.

Most people know about Iran's proxy networks in the Arab world, but the regime also has a relationship with the Taliban, and related groups, such as the Haqqanis, the Tora Bora and the Mullah Dadullah group. The Taliban's entanglement in Iran's dirty work will only harm the Afghanistan peace process.

A couple of items here in the hemisphere. In Venezuela, I want to thank and congratulate Juan Guaido on his re-election as the president of Venezuela National Assembly, a legitimate re-election by a quorum of 100 deputies. The Maduro regime's campaign of arrest, intimidation and bribery could not derail Venezuelan democracy nor could its use of military forces to physically bar the national assembly from accessing the parliament building.

I applaud how Venezuela's political parties came together to support Guaido's re-election. The United States will continue to support President Guaido and the Venezuelan people, and we will continue to rally all other freedom-loving nations across the globe to do that same thing. We support the Venezuelan people because we believe the western hemisphere should be a hemisphere with freedom. Everywhere.

Also want to highlight the work of the OAS, which has been an instrumental tool in moving the region in that direction. It's an example of truly outstanding effectively multilateralism. Secretary- General Luis Almagro is the leader we need for the OAS to continue proactively addressing the central challenges facing the region -- promoting democracy, upholding human rights, advancing security and fostering economic development throughout it.

I have more to say about the OAS and the multilateral reform in the coming weeks.

On the theme of basic freedoms, I want to commend members of Bahrain's Council of Representatives for their January 2nd statement in which they expressed deep concern over the inhumane and painful conditions to which Uighur Muslims in China are subjected. Bahrain is recognizing what I've been saying for months. The Chinese Communist Party's committing mass human rights violations and abuses against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other Muslims held in detention in Xinjiang.

Happy with what Bahrain did and we ask all countries, particularly those belonging to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League, to denounce the Chinese Communist Party's brutal treatment of Uighurs, which is part of the party's broader war on faith.

Moving to Europe, as many of you know, Prime Minister Mitsotakis is in town this week. I'm looking forward to welcoming him here. I'll be with him today at the White House alongside President Trump.

I also want to announce that our undersecretary for political affairs, David Hail, will be traveling to Brussels later this week. We'll have conversations with 28 European counterparts. This is a recurring meeting that happens about every six months. This particular gathering is important because it immediately precedes an E.U. foreign ministerial on Iran that has just been scheduled and it shows, too, once again our close cooperation with our European partners on issues of mutual concern.

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I'm sure while David's there the issue of Iran and Iraq will feature prominently in their conversations. And they'll have an opportunity to also to discuss priorities such as Syria, North Korea and China as well.

Finally, one more personnel matter, I want to thank Ambassador John Bass, who I've come to know in my time and service both as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and now as secretary of State. His two-year tour of service in Kabul was remarkable, as one of our most important missions. Ambassador Bass is a respected strategic thinker, a man of incredible integrity. He's helped that country move forward to a brighter, more peaceful and more secure future for all the Afghan people.

And I too want to welcome our new 11 ambassadors and two ambassadors- at-large who we've confirmed since the end of November. Including Ambassador Sullivan who will be heading off to Russia before too long. Glad they're finally getting out to the field and we hope to have more follow them out there.

With that, I'm happy to take a few questions.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you. Happy New Year, Mr. Secretary.

POMPEO: Hello, Matt.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: In honor of the new year, I have exactly 2020 questions to ask you, but I'll pair them down for the sake of brevity. One is there continue to be questions about the nature of the intelligence that led to the strike that killed General Soleimani. Can you be at all more specific about, you know, how imminent this was, what exactly it was?

Secondly, why not allow Foreign Minister Zarif to come to the U.N. to speak at the Security Council? And then lastly did the situation in Iran have anything -- contribute at all to your decision not to run for the Senate for Kansas? Thanks.

POMPEO: Thank you. Last one is easy. I said the same thing yesterday that I said for months, no real news there. I've said that I'm going to stay serving as secretary of State as long as President Trump shall have me. So no. You can accuse me of being inconsistent, but not on that one. Second, you know, we don't comment on visa matters. Those traveling here to the United States on visa, so I can't add much more to this issue of Foreign Minister Zarif's travel to the United States.

I'll say only this, we will always comply with our obligations under the U.N. requirements and the headquarters agreement and we will do so in this particular instance and more broadly every day.

And finally, there has been much made about this question of intelligence and imminence. I answered it multiple times on Sunday. I'm happy to walk through it again. Anytime a president makes a decision of this magnitude, there are multiple pieces of information that come before us. We presented that to him and all its broad detail. We gave him all the best information that came out only from the intelligence community but for those of us who have teams in the field.

We evaluated the relevant risks and the opportunity that we thought might present itself at some point. And we could see clearly that not only had Soleimani done all of the things that we have recounted, right, hundreds of thousands of massacres in Syria, enormous destruction of countries like Lebanon and Iraq, where they denied them sovereignty and the Iranians have really denied people in those two countries what it is they want, right, sovereignty, independence and freedom.

This is all Soleimani's handiwork and then we'd watch to see what is continuing the terror campaign in the region. We know what happened at the end of last year, in December, ultimately leading to the death of an American. So if you're looking for imminence, you need look no further than the days that led up to the strike that was taken against Soleimani.

And then you, in addition to that, have what we can clearly see were continuing efforts on behalf of this terrorist to build out a network of campaign activities that were going to lead potentially to the death of many more Americans.

It's the right decision. We got it right. The Department of Defense did excellent work, and the president had an entirely legal, appropriate and a basis as well as a decision that fit perfectly within our strategy and how to counter the threat of malign activity from Iran more broadly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kyra?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Secretary --

POMPEO: Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Two questions, if you don't mind. Iran's Foreign Affairs Minister Zarif granted an interview saying that Soleimani was on a diplomatic visit to Iraq. That the U.S. strike to take him out was state terrorism, that President Trump has prepared to commit war crimes, and that Iranians are enraged.

First, that's the first question, I'd like your reaction to that. Second question, President Trump has indicated that Iran's cultural sites could be targeted. Is that true? Are they on the target list? And if so, do you consider that a war crime?

POMPEO: So let's see, so Zarif's statement, his first statement that Soleimani was traveling to Baghdad on a diplomatic mission. 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?

[10:15:06]

I made you reporters laugh this morning, that's fantastic. We know that wasn't true. We not only know the history. We know in that moment that was not true. Zarif is a propagandist of the first order, and most of what you suggested in his text message or e-mail or message that you laid out there was indeed Iranian propaganda. It is not new. We've heard these same lies before. It's fundamentally false. He was not there on a diplomatic mission trying to resolve a problem.

I know there's been some story that he was there representing a Saudi peace deal. I've spoken to my Saudi counterparts at great length. I'll leave to them what the contents of their messages may be, but I can assure you that they will share my view that he was not there representing some kind of agreement that was going to reduce risk or reduce the risk to the lives of Americans when he was on that trip.

Your last piece was about cultural sites. I said on Sunday, I will reiterate it again. Every target that is being reviewed, every effort that's being made will always be conducted inside the international laws of war. I've seen it, I've worked on this project and I'm very confident of that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you.

POMPEO: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It is an election year. And you're now facing two nuclear-related crises in -- with Iran and North Korea. Are you optimistic about resolving either of those, without them blowing up, so to speak, at inopportune moments? And on the Iran front, Iran's breakout time when you came into office was considered to be about a year. Is it now longer or shorter?

POMPEO: I'll leave to the intelligence team to talk to you about the details of Iran's breakout time for the moment. But President Trump could not be more clear on our watch Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. And as we came into office, Iran was on a pathway that provided by the nuclear deal which clearly gave them the opportunity to have those nuclear weapons. We won't let that happen.

As for the first question, which was more broadly, what President Trump laid out is national security strategy with respect to both North Korea and Iran is the plan that we have executed, the strategy that we have executed for this past three years. We have put Iran in a place that it has never been before. When it had to make some very difficult choices, choices about how to pay for and underwrite their proxy militias around the region, whether and how to build out their missile program.

This is a flip from where we were eight years before. It's not political, previous administration made a different choice. They chose to underwrite and appease, we have chosen to confront and contain. Those are different strategies. We believe ours is successful. And we ultimately believe it will be successful making Iran behave like a normal nation. We'll deny them the capacity to build out their nuclear program and threaten not only Americans and our lives to keep Americans safe, which is our mission set, but also to create and enhance stability throughout the Middle East. We're confident that that's the case.

And North Korea, which you asked about, we still are hopeful that we will be able to head down a path. I was here with you all in December sometime, when there was lots of talk about what might happen at the end of the year. We have not seen that yet. We still remain engaged and hopeful that we can have a conversation about how to get the denuclearization that Chairman Kim promised to President Trump back in 2018. I'll take one more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, James.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary, two quick things here on the Soleimani strike. Since the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, what, about two years ago or so, the Trump administration has said repeatedly that it is pursuing against Iran a maximum pressure campaign.

First question, the Soleimani operation, was that part of the maximum pressure campaign?

POMPEO: Do you have a second one?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Yes, let's -- we'll come back to it.

POMPEO: If you ask them both then I'll tackle them both.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: To your knowledge was any legal counsel in the executive branch consulted for his or her input surrounding the legal aspects of the strike prior to its execution?

POMPEO: I'll leave to others to comment on that, but I can say as a pattern and practice I have never seen this administration engage in activity of this nature without a thorough and complete legal review of what the bases would be if the president were to make a serious decision.

Often the lawyers review all the options that are being presented to the president of the United States in advance of them being presented, such that every option that is presented to him has been fully vetted through the legal process. I'm confident that that was the case here, although I don't have specific knowledge of that. I'm confident that that was the case. Second, you asked about the scope of the strategy and the maximum

pressure campaign that we've had in place. It has a diplomatic component.

[10:20:01]

It has had an economic component. And it has had a military component. And what you have seen over the course of these past May 2018 when we withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, you've seen us execute that with enormous vigor and energy. You've seen it diplomatically, we've built out coalitions around the region, with the Israelis, with the Gulf states, on certain files, on the missile file and on the terror file with our European partners as well. Not just the E-3.

Go back and look from May of last year, go look at the statement that was made in Warsaw. A united statement, centering the instability in the Middle East on the Islamic Republic of Iran. Coalition now and the Straits of Hormuz, we've diplomatically isolated the Iranian regime. Second economically we've all seen the sanctions put in place now over some thousand sanctions. We've watched the regime struggle to figure out how it was they were going to make it through 2020. And they've got a budget that will fall short by a significant amount in 2020 as a direct result of the pressure that we have put on the regime.

And then you saw over not just this past week, but over the last year, you've seen our security component to this. You've seen us reinforce allies in the region by ensuring that the Emirates and the Saudis and all of the others were prepared for what might happen if Iran decided to make choices that were bad for the Iranian people. And then you saw more tactically just these last few days the president's response when the Iranians made a bad decision to kill an American. We hope they won't make another bad decision just like that one.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Just to be clear, the Soleimani strike was part of the administration's maximum pressure campaign and going forward the Iranians should understand as they developed their calculus that similar actions such as the Soleimani strike could well continue to be a feature of this maximum pressure campaign?

POMPEO: I think the president has been unambiguous in his -- both the remarks he made down in Florida as well as the tweets that he's put out about the seriousness with which we take this, the risk attendant that we are deeply aware of and the preparations we've made to prevent those risks, as well as our determination that in the event the Iranians make another bad choice, that the president will respond in a way that he did last week, which was decisive, serious, and messaged Iran about the constraints that we're going to place on that regime so that it doesn't continue to put American lives at risk.

At the end, our Iran policies about protecting and defending the homeland and securing American lives, I know that the efforts that we have taken not only last week with the strike against Soleimani, but the strategy that we've employed has saved American lives. I'm highly confident of that. (CROSSTALK)

POMPEO: I'll take one more. I'll take one more. Andrea, yes, ma'am. How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. A question about the issue of cultural sites because the president said on Air Force One coming back, after you had been on the Sunday talk shows, that they're allowed to kill our people, they're allowed to torture and maim our people, they're allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people, and we're not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn't work that way.

Defense Secretary Esper has made it clear that he would not follow an order to hit a cultural site, which would be a war crime. I'm wondering whether you would also push back in your advice or in your role --

POMPEO: You're not really wondering, Andrea.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And secondly --

POMPEO: You're not really wondering.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Well, the president is saying that --

POMPEO: I was unambiguous on Sunday. It is completely consistent with what the president has said.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: No, but the president --

POMPEO: We will take -- we will take -- every action we take will be consistent with the international rule of law and you -- the American people can rest assured that the sites --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Cultural sites ruled out, sir?

POMPEO: Let me tell you who's done damage to the Persian culture. It's not the United States of America. It's the ayatollah. If you want to look at who has denied religious freedom, if you want to know who has denied the Persian culture as rich and steeped in history and intellect and they've denied the capacity for that culture to continue, if you go back and look at the holidays around Cyrus and Nowruz, they've not permitted people to celebrate.

They've not allowed people that they have killed, that Qasem Soleimani killed, they have not allowed them to go mourn their family members. The real risk to Persian culture does not come from the United States of America. That -- there is no mistake about that.

(CROSSTALK)

POMPEO: Thank you all. Everybody, have a good day.

SCIUTTO: Well, the secretary of State there, who wanted to be the face of this strike on Soleimani by all accounts continuing to be. A couple of interesting points there, and I'm curious what stood out to you. I mean, one, in an almost Orwellian moment there saying that his stating unequivocally there will not be attacks on cultural sites because that is outside the international law is consistent with what the president said when the president said very clearly that he wants the right to attack cultural sites. Regardless, the secretary of State saying it doesn't appear that's going to happen.

I mean, the other thing that stood out to me is him saying that the -- they have intelligence that Soleimani was not in Iraq, as Iran has claimed, delivering on some potential peace offering.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: On a peace mission.

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SCIUTTO: That kind of thing. Does that mean they have additional intelligence about intercepted conversations, et cetera?

HARLOW: Right. It sounded like it. Right? Because he said we know in that moment that was not true. So how much of that intelligence will be made public and how much will the Gang of Eight learn when they're briefed today on the full Senate tomorrow?

SCIUTTO: Exactly.

HARLOW: We've got all our experts with us. And let me begin with you, Admiral John Kirby. What struck you the most from what you heard from the secretary of State and also equally as important, what did you not get an answer to?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, we didn't get an answer as to, you know, specifically why now, why hitting Soleimani now and in the manner that they did. He didn't go into any of the intelligence, not that we would have expected much detail, but he absolutely wouldn't go there.

He wouldn't answer the question about whether or not hitting cultural sites was a war crime, but it was pretty clear to me and Jim hit on this just a second ago in that last answer to Andrea Mitchell that he just wasn't going to try to defend the whole cultural site argument. He was going back to international law, which is Pompeo's way of not confronting Trump but admitting that they're not going to do that.

To me the big takeaway was when he talked about confronting and containing Iran as the strategy. It was a very clearly articulated way of putting their Iran policy into some sort of perspective. Now we can argue whether that's the right answer for a policy or not, but he said confront and contain. And I find it interesting that if that's the Iran policy, how do you square that with this president's promise on the campaign trail and determination since to pull us out of Middle Eastern wars, to bring our troops home, you know, leave it to others to handle?

There is no way you can say we're going to confront and contain Iran, that's our strategy, and then square that with a Middle East policy that apparently, at least in the president's words, has been noninterventionist at best.

SCIUTTO: Now on the other issue here, David Sanger, he was given the opportunity to put more meat on the bone of what the intelligence was about an imminent strike on U.S. persons in the region that led to this. I mean, rather than saying, the intel was clear, he said well, there were multiple pieces of information not just from the intelligence community, then he went back to quote and describe Soleimani's record as being a bad actor in the region.

Did you see that as a missed opportunity there?

SANGER: You know, Jim, the burden on the secretary today was to not to explain that Soleimani was a bad actor. We all know that, everybody is in agreement with that. Not even to say that attacking him was justified. The burden on him today was to explain why it was wise. Why it was that they could contain what would happen thereafter. Why it was that the United States believed as Pompeo has said before that Americans would be safer after this than before it. And he did not quite match up on that element.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

SANGER: I agree with John that his statement for the Obama administration was there to underwrite and appease and they were there to confront and contain Iran is a good bumper sticker for the policy. It doesn't fit the facts terribly well. I mean, it was the Obama administration --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

SANGER: Led on by the Bush administration that blew up the centrifuges at Natanz.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes.

SANGER: Early in their time, right, using a cyberattack.

HARLOW: And just quickly on the breakout timeline, what are -- what is the world looking at now in terms of time for breakout in terms of Iranian enrichment for Iran? Because he commented on that and said, again, on our watch, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.

SANGER: So breakout time is not your time to a nuclear weapon.

HARLOW: Right.

SANGER: Breakout time is your time to be able to produce enough fuel to get a nuclear weapon. And the concept of the 2015 Iran deal was get a year built in.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

SANGER: So you have enough warning time. It's hard to estimate now exactly, but the best estimates I've seen are in the four, five, six- month arena. So what has happened --

SCIUTTO: Much quicker.

SANGER: It's much quicker. And so what's happened now is a president who said he was leaving the deal because it would enable Iran to produce as much as it wanted in 2030 is now facing an Iran that could produce as much as it wanted in 2020.

SCIUTTO: Yes, they're closer as a threat in the simplest terms, by the simplest measures.

David Gregory, the politics of this here because this is a challenge. This is a major international crisis for the president in the midst of a presidential election campaign. How is Secretary Pompeo, how is the president doing in explaining why they did this and what the next steps are?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's thin. I think we got from the secretary of State as John was saying is an articulation, a kind of cryptic articulation of policy toward Iran, to confront and contain. But to what end? I think these are always moments of opportunity to lay out for the American people a case, a case to confront and contain Iran. An opportunity to educate the public about what the scope of the danger is.

I mean, most Americans are not paying attention to our policy with Iran every day, and if you are, there's a lot to it. There's what David was talking about, trying to contain a nuclear program, which is separate from its proxy wars throughout much of the --

[10:30:00]