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Trump Administration To Explain Decision To Kill Iran's Top Military General; Pentagon Holds Briefing Amid Escalating Tensions With Iran. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 7, 2020 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:10]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right, here we go on this Tuesday. I'm Brooke Baldwin, you're watching CNN. Thank you for being here. Any minute now, we will hear from President Trump as pressure increases on the Trump administration to explain -- to explain -- the decision to kill Iran's top military general in a drone strike last week.

And while officials maintained that there was this imminent threat, they have still yet to provide definitive proof. And today, there was no different for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who answered the question this way earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There's been much made about this question of Intelligence and imminence. Anytime a President makes a decision of this magnitude, there are multiple pieces of information that come before us.

Not only had Soleimani done all of the things that we have recounted, right, hundreds of thousands -- a massacre in Syria. Enormous destruction of countries like Lebanon and Iraq where they've denied them sovereignty and the Iranians have really denied people in those two countries what it is they want.

And then we'd watch this as he was 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 to look no further than the days that led up to the strike that was taken against Soleimani.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: And Secretary Pompeo further defended the move, saying eliminating Soleimani was part of a broader U.S. plan of action regarding Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POMPEO: It was 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 maligned activity from Iran more broadly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: All of that, as "The New York Times" reports that Iran Supreme Leader wants any response to the United States to be handled by Iranian Forces themselves, not their regional proxies.

The Ayatollah was a close friend of the General and led mourners in prayer during his funeral.

And just moments ago, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told CNN that the nation's military will be ready for any retaliation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK ESPER, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Did she have something? Okay. And while we do not know how Iran will retaliate, CNN has learned that right now, thousands of U.S. troops throughout the Middle East are on high alert, amid fears that Iran might use drones to attack American targets in the region.

Asha Castleberry is a national security and foreign policy expert who worked with the State Department's U.S. mission to the United Nations in the Obama administration. She's also an Army combat veteran, and is a New York congressional candidate.

So Asha, thank you so much for being with me.

ASHA CASTLEBERRY, NATIONAL SECURITY AND FOREIGN POLICY EXPERT: Thank you.

BALDWIN: We've got the map in front of you and we'll get to it in just a second, but I wanted to quote. I was reading one of these articles in "The Times" this morning and they quoted this Iranian scholar. And he said that obviously, well, no one knows what retaliation will look like even Iranians don't know.

He thinks that, quote, "There is a bloodlust right now in the Revolutionary Guards," you know, U.S. troops are obviously on high alert. What sort of targets could be in Iran sites and where might they be?

CASTLEBERRY: Well, of course, when we look at their retaliation, it will be more of a site that's definitely looking at targets within Iraq, where we have been positioned in, you know, for the U.S. ISIS mission.

BALDWIN: So within Iraq.

CASTLEBERRY: Yes, within Iraq, right. And then we also have some vulnerabilities, too, where if you look at the Gulf region where we have a lot of troops stationed at, especially in Bahrain, where we've seen there's an Iranian militia support or proxy support there, so there's some vulnerabilities there too, as well.

So throughout the Gulf region, specifically Bahrain and also looking in the Iraq area as well.

BALDWIN: And looking at the map, I believe all the numbers in red, those are the U.S. troops, right? So roughly it adds up to 50,000 U.S. troops in the Middle East region at this moment. Walk us through just their various locations.

CASTLEBERRY: Right. Well, based on, you know, this is CENCOM's AOR -- area of responsibility -- so with regards to troop presence, there's always been some significant presence especially in places like in Kuwait, Saudi, especially -- and we saw that increase after the maximum pressure campaign where they've been able to increase or augment their presence there in response to Iranian aggression when Iran, you know, shot down the U.S. drone at that time.

So yes, there's a lot of presence in terms of Kuwait, Saudi, Qatar as well as UAE.

BALDWIN: And what about the news that we're getting from sources the U.S. Intelligence say that they've observed military equipment.

CASTLEBERRY: Right.

BALDWIN: Moving around in recent days, Iran, moving this military equipment -- actually hang on one second. Let's go straight to the Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

ESPER: -- we moved up the timeline, but I was cognizant of the snow and so I'm told you are the brave few who decided to stay around and weather D.C.'s roads as they become a little bit snowier.

[14:05:09]

ESPER: Anyway, good afternoon, everyone. I'd like to begin by offering my deepest condolences to the families of the three Americans who lost their lives on Sunday in Manda Bay, Kenya, an attacked by al- Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab resulted in the death of a U.S. service member and two Department of Defense contractors, while wounding two other American personnel.

On behalf of the entire department, our thoughts are with the family and friends of Army Specialist Henry Mayfield, Jr. He was in Kenya in support of Operation Octave Shield, working to protect American interests in the region and improve security and stability alongside our Kenyan partners.

We honor him and his colleagues who lost their lives and assure you that the perpetrators of this attack will be brought to justice.

The United States conducted over 60 airstrikes against Al-Shabaab safe havens and assets last year, and our forces continue to provide training and counterterrorism support to our East African partners at the Manda Bay Airfield to help them in the fight.

Moving to Iran. At this time, our top priorities remain first, the safety and security of American personnel and our partners; and second, our readiness to conduct operations to respond to Iranian aggression.

Since the strike, I've spoken with the commanders on the ground to ensure they have the resources they need to protect their people and prepare for any contingencies.

As a result, we've increased our force protection postures across the region, and will continue to reposition and bolster our forces as necessary to protect our people, our interests and our facilities.

As I mentioned to you yesterday, we have received widespread support for our actions from our allies and partners in the region, and we will continue to work with them to protect our gains against ISIS.

I've been in constant communication with my counterparts and have called on them to stand with us in the defense of coalition forces in Iraq.

Working through NATO, the Defeat ISIS Coalition, and with our partners on the ground, we continue to bolster Iraqi institutions to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS.

As we defend our people and interests, let me reiterate that the United States is not seeking a war with Iran, but we are prepared to finish one.

We are seeking a diplomatic solution. But first, this will require Iran to de-escalate. It will require the regime to come to the table with a goal of preventing further bloodshed. And it will require them to cease their maligned activities throughout the region.

As I've said, we're open to having this discussion with them. But we are just as prepared to deliver a forceful response to defend our interests.

Finally, the American people should know that their safety is in the hands of the strongest, most capable military in the world. The men and women of our Armed Forces should know that we are standing with them and will continue to support them as they meet and overcome today's threats from maligned actors including Iran and its proxy militias.

Our partners should know that we remain committed to our strategic priorities in the Middle East, deterring Iranian bad behavior, sustaining the enduring defeat of ISIS and supporting Iraq, as it becomes a strong and independent nation.

And the architects of terror should know that we will not tolerate attacks against America's people and interests and will exercise our right to self-defense, should that become necessary, once again.

With that, I'll open this up for some questions. Thank you. QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary. I just wanted to clarify one

thing you said earlier, that the U.S. continues to engage ISIS in Syria. Has the anti-ISIS campaign in Syria but affected at all by this?

And then secondly, there seems to be continued confusion among Iraqi officials about this draft letter. There was a televised appearance by Mahdi earlier today in which he sort of laid out what he said was a signed letter that the Iraqis got -- those are his words.

And he suggested that another letter should be sent. What have you done and are you continuing to do to clear up what you said yesterday was a mistake?

ESPER: Our policy has not changed. We are not leaving Iraq and a draft unsigned letter does not constitute a policy change and there is no signed letter to the best of my knowledge. I've asked the question.

So there may be people trying to create confusion, but we should focus on this much.

What I said a few times now, our policy has not changed. We are in Iraq and we are there to support Iraqi forces and Iraqi government become a strong, independent and prosperous country.

QUESTION: And in Syria, the ISIS in Syria?

ESPER: I have got no report from a commander saying that we've had a material impact on our ability to engage ISIS along with our SDF partners.

QUESTION: To follow up on Lita's questions, what if the Iraqis don't want you to stay? If the Prime Minister says you need to go, will U.S. troops pull out?

[14:10:01]

QUESTION: And also NATO allies are pulling out. Why aren't U.S. troops pulling out?

ESPER: So we'll take all those one step at a time. There's a few procedural mechanisms hurdles, if you will, that the Iraqi government would need to go through. We remain in constant contact with them on that.

I think it's fair to say that many Iraqis recognize the strategic importance of our partnership with them, whether it's training and advising their military to become more effective on the field of battle, or it's working together with them to defeat ISIS coalition.

I think the vote the other day shows the support of most Iraqis before our presence in the country. As you know, most Kurds and most Sunnis did not show and those Shias who did vote, and many of them voted at the threat of their own lives by Shia militia groups. Even in the last few days, we still see Iraqis on the streets

protesting their government due to corruption and the maligned influence of Iran. So those sentiments, those feelings have not gone away.

So I think at the end of the day, working with the Iraqi people, you'll find that our presence is important for both their country and ours.

You also asked about partners. I've talked to many of our partners in Iraq who are part of the de-ISIS coalition. And many Europeans, they are fully supportive of us, they are fully with us. I've been told by them that the some of the moments here are taken or simply forgot with regard to force protection. We're doing some of that as well.

It does not mark or signal any withdrawal from Iraq with a mission -- the mission at large.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that on the alliance?

QUESTION: Sir, could you speak to the range of options that were under consideration in the U.S.? Any sense of you know, how many other options are under consideration? Did you support any other ones, and was one option to not take this strike inside Iraq, which would have clearly mitigated --

ESPER: I'm not going to speak any options or anything we present to the President, as you know, that's kind of how I approach things.

I will tell you that options we presented were all options that we supported and believed we could deliver on and would be effective. And with anytime we deliver an option, we always list pros and cons and, and pluses and minuses. And that's how we approach it. That's my duty. And it's my obligation to the Commander-in-Chief.

QUESTION: Were there multiple options that you would have considered that you would have supported?

ESPER: I'm not sure I understand the question but --

QUESTION: Were there other options that you supported in addition to this one?

ESPER: Well, look, there are always a wide range of options. Our duty is to narrow them down into ones that are consistent with the President's guidance or expectation or can meet the political end state we're trying to achieve.

So again, we had a full panoply of options available and we present them and we portray them as we do.

QUESTION: ... about the Allies moving their troops. Does it mean that you couldn't guarantee their security especially with air protection or did you ask them to move their troops?

ESPER: No, I don't think so. I know in one case in particular, it was just a matter of us being able to move in additional U.S. forces into a confined space that was being occupied by some of the international trainers and partners on the ground. And it was just a logistical issue.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can you clarify the attack Soleimani was planning? Was that days or weeks away?

ESPER: I think it's more fair to say days for sure.

QUESTION: And is the U.S. legally obliged to withdraw from Iraq, if told by the Iraqi government to go?

ESPER: I'm not going to speculate. We're not there yet. There's been -- none of that has happened to the best of my knowledge, and as those events unfold, we'll address them and we'll have the all the right legal experts to advise us on that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said the U.S. is not seeking war with Iran. I think the question most people want an answer to is how close are we to a war with Iran?

And specifically, how would you characterize Iranian military movements over the past several days?

ESPER: Yes, it is true. We are not seeking war with Iran, I think the -- what happens next depends on them. I think we should expect that they will retaliate in some way shape or form either through their proxies as they've been doing now for how many years or by -- and/or by their own hand.

And so we take this one step at a time. We're prepared for any contingency, and then we will respond appropriately to whatever they do.

QUESTION: And how would you characterize their military movements so far?

ESPER: Oh, you know, we watch them very closely. We see their movements. I don't want to get more into that, because that starts to get into Intelligence issues. So I'll just leave it at that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you talked about being ready for potential conflict here in case Iran retaliates, but if they don't retaliate against American targets or interest in the Middle East, but instead, target our partners in the region is that enough to warrant a U.S. response?

ESPER: Look, you know, I'm not going to comment on -- I'm not going to hypothesize or comment, speculate, but we are standing there to defend not only our interest, but those of our allies and partners.

[14:15:10]

ESPER: And I want to reassure them that we're there with them as well. BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Two points to follow up on

if I may, we have talked about Iran needs to de-escalate. My first question is, does the U.S. have any obligation to de-escalate or is that solely in Iran's court?

My second question, you have said several times in the past couple of days that you will follow international law on potential war crimes. I think, let me set that aside. I think everyone would expect you would do exactly that.

My question is not hypothetical. The President is out there with his position. If you get an order, would you resign from office rather than violate the law?

ESPER: Barbara, I'm not going to get into some hypothetical that you're portraying here. I'm fully confident that the President is not going to -- the Commander-in-Chief will not give us an illegal order and as I said, the United States military will as it always has obey the laws of armed conflict.

STARR: And escalation? Does the U.S. have any responsibility or obligation to also de-escalate? Or is that in your view solely in Iran's court?

ESPER: Well, we have not -- we're not the ones that have escalated this over the past arguably 40 years, and certainly over the past several months, it's been Iran through its proxies. And it has consistently escalated this in terms of the size, scale, scope of their attacks.

So we reached the point where we had to act in self-defense. We had to take appropriate action. So at this point, as I've said a few times now, the ball is in their court. What they do next will determine what happens in the subsequent moves.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I would like to ask you before the attack against Qasem Soleimani, have you been in consultations with your partners in the region? I mean, the GCC countries or Israel? If you have informed them that this operation is going to take place today at this moment?

ESPER: Yes. I'm not going to get into the details of our consultations on any matter with other countries. Obviously, we've been talking about our force posture in Iraq for some time, our concerns about Iranian actions where the actions that they are inspiring, resourcing or directing through its militias. But I'm not going to get into any details.

QUESTION: Just follow up on your remarks about the parliamentary vote, you raise some questions about the kind of people who did vote and didn't vote yesterday and today. Do you believe that vote was legitimate? That that resolution calling on U.S. forces to lead was legitimate?

And then separately on the issue of -- you said that you expect Iran to retaliate? Are there any off ramps to this crisis? Or do you expect that we're heading towards this military confrontation?

ESPER: On the first question, I won't characterize it any differently than what many other people have characterized and many experts and that is, it is nonbonding and we know there are mechanisms by which they would have to act.

I'm not an expert on Iraqi government. So I characterize it the way I did with you all the other day as nonbinding.

With regard to the off ramps, there's a big off ramp sitting in front of Tehran right now. And that is to de-escalate, to message us that they want to sit down and talk without precondition, by the way, to the United States about a better way forward.

A way forward, which would constitute a new mode of behavior by Iran, where they behave more like a normal country and that would -- one could presume free them up from economic sanctions and allow the Iranian people to pursue the life they want to live. And that is one with freedom and prosperity and all those things that most human beings want.

QUESTION: Yes, thanks for doing this, sir. After pressure from Iran, has the Iraqi Government prevented the U.S. military from using certain capabilities within the country hampering operations in any way?

ESPER: They have taken some actions in the past and it had hampered some of our operations with regard to aerospace and things like that, but nothing that we weren't eventually able to work through with them.

QUESTION: And is that happening currently?

ESPER: There's nothing they're doing right now that is hampering our operations. To the best of my knowledge.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, if I could follow up on Phil's earlier question. So what would -- just to press you a little bit more on this? What would constitute a binding order from the Iraqi government? Because there seems to be a disconnect from what the Prime Minister is telling Ambassador Tueller, and other -- and heads of state from Europe about implementing this resolution from the Iraqi parliament and what the Pentagon says, has been communicated or hasn't been communicated.

ESPER: I think that's a great question for the Iraqi Prime Minister.

QUESTION: But are you -- does that mean that you are not taking his communication about the implementation of that parliamentary resolution on its face in terms of what he is actually saying?

ESPER: To the best of my knowledge, I haven't received any communication from him or the Iraqi government about the legislation or about an order or a request to withdraw U.S. forces.

[14:20:03] QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, can you please explain to us how

the killing of one of Iran's top generals would contribute to the case of de-escalation? You're asking the Iran to de-escalate now? Would the U.S. respond in such a manner if one of your top generals was killed in a third country?

ESPER: Well, let's take a look at history. Soleimani was a terrorist leader of a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization. He's been conducting terrorist activities against us and our coalition partners for over 20 years.

He has the blood of hundreds of American soldiers on his hands and wounded thousands more, and then we could talk about all the mayhem he's caused against the Syrian people, the people of Lebanon, even his own people in Iran.

He is responsible in the Quds Force for the killing of Iranian people. So this sense that somehow taking Somebody who, by the way, over the last few months, had planned, orchestrated and/or resourced attacks against the United States that resulted in the killing of American and the siege of our embassy in Baghdad and was in Baghdad to coordinate additional attacks to somehow suggest that he wasn't a legitimate target, I think is fanciful.

He was clearly on the battlefield. He was conducting and preparing and planning military operations. He was a legitimate target, and his time was due.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One final question, we'll go to Jack Schobo (ph). Oh, okay, Tony.

QUESTION: Can you give us a little bit of a preview of what you're going to tell Congress tomorrow about this in terms of how much detail will you be giving -- willing to give members that you're having thus far told the public in terms of the size, scope and imminence?

You are aware how skeptical people are of the imminent threat issue? You were there in 2003 when you heard all of that, so what -- to temper expectations, what are you prepared to disclose to Congress tomorrow?

ESPER: Well, look, first of all, much of my messaging to Congress will be same as what I'm delivering to you all here in terms of my views on the policy, the broader regional situation and history.

Obviously, with Members of Congress, we can go into a classified set -- we will be in a classified setting to be able to share more, but the exquisite Intelligence that we're talking about, that led to the decision to -- that was, I should say, one of the factors that led to the decision to strike at Soleimani is only shared with a handful of members, the so-called Gang of Eight.

And so they are getting that briefing this afternoon and they will have access to that, but most members will not have access to that.

QUESTION: You talked about increasing force posture in the region. What about force protection levels? Have you gone up to the C or delta highest level?

ESPER: The commanders in the region, I should say globally, are taking all appropriate force protection measures relevant to their situation, the threat that they're receiving, the readiness of their troops, et cetera. So I'm confident our commanders are going to do the right thing on the ground.

Okay, thank you all very much.

BALDWIN: Okay, there you have it. The Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. We heard him live with Christiane Amanpour and now answering some questions from some Pentagon correspondents and producers and that was really the first time we have heard this administration specify in terms of this being an imminent threat, thus, they needed to take out this Iranian leader Soleimani.

He specified that the threat would have been in days, right? So we talked to Christiane, he said that the Intel was more than razor thin that Soleimani was caught red-handed with this terrorist leader planning to kill Americans. And so that's the first time we heard that the attacks would be imminent as in days.

So with that on our minds, Fred Pleitgen, I want to go to you right there in Tehran, Iran, because you had this key interview with the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif saying that Iran would deliver this proportionate response. You know, back over here, when we hear days you know that that does seem to define imminent threat.

How will all of this sit with the regime over there and with their plans for retaliation?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly not very well. It's quite interesting. But we've been picking up from the Iranians over the past couple of days, Brooke.

You're absolutely right. I sat down with Iran's Foreign Minister today, and exactly some of the things that the U.S. Secretary of Defense was just talking about there, saying that the U.S. had eliminated Qasem Soleimani, saying that he was a terrorist leader there. Obviously, Iranians see that very differently.

The Iranians continue to say that he was there on a diplomatic mission to meet with the Prime Minister of Iraq to talk about trying to de- escalate the tensions with Saudi Arabia.

And so therefore, this is directly with the Foreign Minister of Iran said to me today, they see this as a direct attack on Iran and they say that they are going to retaliate.

Now, the Foreign Minister says they're going to retaliate in their own time, and in the way that they see fit.

One of the things, Brooke that we have to keep in mind about the Iranians is that they do believe that the conflict with the U.S., that time is essentially on their side. They believe that this is their region, their country is obviously situated there, so they believe they can do this anytime that they want to.

[14:25:11]

PLEITGEN: And in any way that they want to. They obviously fight wars very differently than the U.S. does. They have a lot of proxy forces in the region. They have their ballistic missile program, which is something that they keep talking about as well.

But the main thing that the Foreign Minister said is that there will be a response. He didn't want to say what that is going to be, but certainly they still are extremely angry.

And there's one other thing, Brooke that the Iranians have also been telling me which is extremely important, I think. There was this notion by the Secretary of Defense that the U.S. had somehow decapitated the Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, the foreign operation wing of the Revolutionary Guard.

Well, they've already named a successor to Qasem Soleimani and they say they're not going to miss a beat because all of those proxy forces, all of those connections that they have in the region, still very much in place -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: I've got one more for you when I come back to you. Fred Pleitgen in Tehran, don't go too far.

But Christiane Amanpour, let me bring you in because I was hanging on your every word. And you know, the Secretary of Defense's every word in the interview with you. And you already hit on so many of the themes that these reporters were then asking him beyond you know, what defined the imminent threat?

And you know, you asked about with this pull the U.S.'s eye off the ball of the ISIS fight? You know, and also this draft letter that was mistakenly saying, yes, the U.S. is withdrawing troops from Iraq. You just listened to him brief reporters, what was your biggest takeaway?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, he said the same to them that he did to me, but he was more insistent because he understands that this confusion is indeed quite prevalent right now. The confusion about the way Iraq is taking this letter.

You know, we can't affect the way they're doing it. Of course, the U.S. says, well, no, we're not. It wasn't signed. It was just a draft letter. They shouldn't be taking it seriously.

But sit yourself in the Prime Minister's position in Iraq and wonder what is going on. So anyway, we'll see how that plays out. And it may just be posturing at this time in these early days under pressure from Iran.

But certainly, I talked to the Vice President of Iran, and you've heard from Fred's interviews with Zarif and others, and you've heard all the Iranians say, basically in lockstep that our goal and our retaliation is to get the U.S. out of this region. I think they see this as this turning point, as much as the U.S. sees

this as a potential turning point to deter Iran, the Iranians see this is a turning point to get the U.S. out of the region, and particularly out of Iraq.

So I think it's going to be really interesting to see how this plays out.

You know, furthermore, Secretary Esper would not say to me that it was an imminent threat in the way that we understand what imminent means. Imminent is imminent.

When you target for killing somebody you believe it's a ticking time bomb, as they say in the in the Intel speak, so to speak, but he would not say that to me and nor would to Members of Congress.

BALDWIN: He said to you, I was listening he said days or weeks, Christiane and he specified just now saying days, would that not constitute imminent? Would that not be a ticking time bomb?

AMANPOUR: Well, I mean, you have to get the definition, but it's usually something's going to happen now. We've got to take action now. And how different was this to that?

But to be honest with you, that argument is over. This action has happened and the question is, what is the strategy ahead? Secretary Pompeo used the strategy of confront and contain to which representative Elissa Slotkin in Congress who represents Michigan and who was a C.I.A. analyst, served three tours in Iraq alongside the military says those are two conflicting statement, confront and contain don't happen together. It's either confront or contain.

You've heard the administration. The reason they wanted to do this interview and now want to do this briefing is to send out two messages, one that they do not want a war and they want to de-escalate and two, to assure the Americans that the United States can survive and protect them and their force is unparalleled.

But Elissa Slotkin said, look, you know, we have seen before what happens in these situations. The current language between Iran and the United States, each side calling the other terrorist, state terrorists, et cetera, both sides doing that. This is the language of escalation, I was told.

And we have to really work hard to get off and out of that language and find some kind of off ramp, even if it means taking a deep breath.

The Iranian Vice President said to me, Iran is already retaliating. Those millions of people on the street -- and they are millions -- I've covered that area before and I know how much -- how many people that long road takes, and this is unseen demonstrations of power that have rallied ...

BALDWIN: Around the flag --

AMANPOUR: ... people around a flag, but also somebody who they were protesting against just a few weeks ago.

So they have sent a message and the Iranian leaders are going to have to respond in some way. The question is whether there can be any sort of de-escalation.

[14:30:10]