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Iran Former Minister on Attack; Candidates Blame Trump for Tensions. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 7, 2020 - 07:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY.

And we do begin with breaking news this morning.

A deadly stampede at the funeral procession for Iran's top general. Iranian state media reports that dozens of people were killed this morning, hundreds hurt in the hometown of General Qasem Soleimani. A huge number, you can see these pictures, turned out, but the burial services have now been postponed because of the stampede.

This morning, CNN has a brand-new interview with Iran's foreign minister who issued new threats to the United States.


JAVAD ZARIF, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER OF IRAN: This is state terrorism. This is an act of aggression against Iraq. And it amounts to an armed attack against Iran and we will respond.


BERMAN: Now, Iran's parliament voted unanimously to declare U.S. forces terrorists. Later today, U.S. congressional leaders will be briefed on the intelligence that led to the order to kill Soleimani. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has claimed there was an imminent threat, but there are questions about those claims and, frankly, we have yet to see any evidence.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We're also following breaking news out of Puerto Rico. Two powerful earthquakes have hit the island this morning. The latest in a series of quakes that have caused widespread damage, you can see, look at the road here on your screen. It's also knocked out power to much of the island. So we're getting our very first pictures in from there and we will have a live report from Puerto Rico for you in a moment.

But we begin with CNN's Fred Pleitgen, he is live in Tehran with more from his interview with Iran's foreign minister.



Yes, I spoke to the foreign minister just a couple of hours ago here in Tehran and he basically laid into the United States, laid into President Trump specifically after the targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani. He was saying that the Iranians are definitely going to retaliate against the United States. He accused President Trump of disregarding international law. He said that he believes America's time in the Middle East is coming to an end.

And then I asked him, well, how exactly does Iran plan to retaliate against the U.S., considering it has all those proxy forces here in this region, but also considering the fact that the Trump administration has said that it will also hit back if Iran does that.

Here's what he had to say.


PLEITGEN: Your government and your leadership and the military here has vowed to take action against the United States. What kind of retaliation is that going to be?

JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, the United States -- the United States violated three principles, Iraqi sovereignty and the agreement that they had with Iraq. They got a 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 Iraq. 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.

PLEITGEN: The United States and the Trump administration are saying that before the strike on General Soleimani there were provocations by Iran and forces controlled by Iran, there were bases that were rocketed, there was obviously an American contractor who was killed and then there was the protests at the embassy, which destroyed the outside of the embassy and laid the embassy under siege.

ZARIF: Well, the Iranian consulate in Najaf (ph) was burned. Did we take action against anybody? The United States has to realize that people in Iraq are angry and they take their anger, of course, they're more angry about the United States than anybody else. But what is important is for the United States to realize, for the Trump regime to realize, that everything in this region was going -- was improving following the JCPOA. What happened? The United States started a maximum pressure campaign, terrorizing Iranian people, making it difficult for Iranians to even get food and medicine from outside.

So a war started a long time ago by the United States.

PLEITGEN: Right now isn't there a threat that all of this could descend into something much, much worse.


PLEITGEN: You're saying you'll retaliate. They'll say they'll retaliate. Isn't there the risk of an all-out war that could destroy large parts of your country and the Middle East?

ZARIF: You see we are sitting at our home. We will defend our own territory. We will defend our people. The United States can defend the United States. But the United States cannot even claim to be defending the United States 7,000 miles away from home.

We are here.


We will not move. We've been here for 7 million year. We will continue to be here. The United States is a newcomer.


PLEITGEN: So some pretty strong language there coming from Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran.

And, of course, this comes against the backdrop, guys, of the Iranians saying that there is definitely going to be a retaliation for the killing of Qasem Soleimani. Again, they've told us the Iranian leadership that it's going to be a military retaliation, it's going to be against military sites. The Iranians, of course, for their part, are saying they don't want a full on war with the United States.

But, of course, you're hearing this from both sides. You're hearing the statements from the Trump administration, the statements from the Iranians, both sides saying that if the other attacks first, that there is going to be massive retaliation from the other side. So we can see that spiral continuing and certainly an extremely dangerous situation right now here in Iran and certainly in the greater Middle East as well, guys.

CAMEROTA: Fred, can you confirm for us something that we're hearing from some sources that Foreign Minister Zarif has been denied a visa to come here to the U.S. to address the U.N. Security Council?

PLEITGEN: Well, it certainly seems so. I sort of asked him that actually in passing as our interview was coming to an end, we were just actually taking off our microphones after the interview came to an end and I said, look, what about these reports that apparently you've been denied a visa by U.S. authorities to go to a U.N. conference? What do you think of that? And he just basically said, look, what are they afraid of? And I said, so it doesn't concern you at all? And he said, no. So he didn't actually outright confirm it, but it certainly seemed more than clear that he was very much well aware that have situation and certainly seems as though he's not planning on coming to New York anytime soon. He was sort of trying to laugh it off, but, again, it does seem as though this is another move, if you will, in this diplomatic tit for tat that, of course, is going on at the same time as these tensions are so very high between the U.S. and Iran. Alisyn.

BERMAN: All right, Frederik Pleitgen for us in Tehran.

Frederik, it's great to have you there.

I want to bring in CNN's senior global affairs analyst Brianna Golodryga, CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger, he's a national security correspondent for "The New York Times," and Guy Snodgrass, former speech writer for former Defense Secretary James Mattis. And Guy is the author of "Holding the Line: Inside Trump's Pentagon with Secretary Mattis."

David Sanger, I want to start with you.

Listening to Javad Zarif, who is very interesting, for two reasons, number one, he seemed to hone in on one of the central questions for the United States now, is the U.S. safer after killing General Soleimani? Is what Mike Pompeo says is what the president says. What does the evidence say? He focused on that question.

And also you pointed out, and you've known him for years, he's calling the United States the Trump regime.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, I thought that was really fascinating, a really interesting use of his phraseology.

He has always, when I've been around him, referred to President Trump, he's been very respectful and so forth. But he is now trying to cast the U.S. as a rogue regime, or at least the Trump administration, and a terrorist regime. He has called this an act of terrorism.

Now, you could certainly say that General Soleimani performed many acts of terrorism over the course of many years, but I think where they're headed right now is trying to isolate the U.S. the way the U.S. tried to isolate Iran.

On your first point out here about whether he would come to the United States, you know, every time he has come, we have heard Secretary Pompeo complain that American reporters are meeting with him, allowing him to spread propaganda and so forth. But under the U.N. agreement with the United States, the U.S. is not supposed to block the foreign minister of any country who is a U.N. member from coming into a U.N. meeting. And so I think there's going to be a new question right now, which is, not only did the U.S. act without great evidence, but whether they're acting legally if they block him.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: And also interesting on that note in terms of retaliation, what you're hearing from the supreme leader in Iran is one that's, in his view, proportionate and one that doesn't involve proxies, as they usually have in the past, sort of offering them this plausible deniability. And we know they have proxies around the world. They're saying this is going to come from Iran directly and Iran's military. A proportionate attack against a U.S. military outpost or entity or leader somewhere. So that also ratchets up the tension in their response, not focusing on their proxies, but focusing on Iran itself retaliating.

CAMEROTA: We're just being told in our ears that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has just announced that he will address the media at 10:00 a.m. this morning. That's before Congress -- that's before the Gang of Eight, I think, is being briefed today.

So it will be very interesting, Guy, to hear what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has to say to the press.


As you know, Congress has been clamoring to get more information about the intelligence and to declassify the notification that they were given, I guess two days ago or yesterday now.

But, Guy, in your book, you sort of warn about a situation like this. You know, after the Jim Mattis' of the administration had exited, you predicted that foreign affairs would become much more ad hoc and there wouldn't be as many checks around the president.

GUY SNODGRASS, FORMER SPEECHWRITER TO SECRETARY MATTIS: Well, Alisyn, you're right, and that is a key theme of the book. When you look at what occurred during 2017-2018, the administration went to great lengths. They created a national security strategy released in December of 2017, and that was followed relatively shortly thereafter by the national defense strategy.

But if you take a look at what's just recently occurred with the killing of General Soleimani, that does not align with this administration's stated strategic goals. And so that's the major concern and that's what's highlighted in the book is, is we find ourselves in this repetitive cycle of taking a tactical action, but it doesn't align with the strategy you want to actually achieve.

BERMAN: And what is that strategy? Because one of the things that Mike Pompeo -- and, again, it will be fascinating to hear what he says at 10:00 a.m. He has said from the beginning that killing General Soleimani makes the U.S. safer.

And, David Sanger, the actions that we have seen since the death may speak otherwise. Number one, Iran seems unified in its country. Number two, they're pulling out completely the nuclear deal. Number three, the United States has paused the battle against ISIS. And, number four, Iraq has voted to have U.S. troops removed from that country. Does that --

CAMEROTA: We're sending more troops as well to the region.

BERMAN: Does that make the United States safer?

SANGER: I -- it certainly doesn't. and when you think where we were a month ago when we saw Iraqis on the streets protesting against Iran, that was strategically where we wanted to be. When we saw Iranians on the street protesting against their own government, that is where we wanted to be. So here we have a president who pulled a small number of U.S. troops

out of Syria because he was arguing we had to get out of the Middle East. That was only a couple of months ago, right? And then takes an action that seems almost certain to require us to keep pouring troops into the Middle East just to defend our current outposts. And then the president is turning around and threatening to sanction the Iraqis if they do what he says he wants to do and force us to withdraw.

So there's this -- as Guy points out, this is complete disconnect between the tactical actions, the explanations of them and what the president says are his strategic goals.

CAMEROTA: So, Guy, I mean, since you worked with Secretary Mattis so closely, what is that about? Why is there this cognitive dissonance?

SNODGRASS: Well, I think what you've seen over the course of the last three years is, if you take a look at the 1950s through '70s, when you had someone like Henry Kissinger, right, it's a very holistic approach. Kissinger was noted for pursuing a course called triangulation. And basically that's just a fancy way of saying that when you take an action anywhere in the world, it's going to have repercussions elsewhere. And so you want to make sure that you understand and you take very deliberate actions to get the desired, strategic response.

And what we've seen over the last three years is an administration where, in many cases, the president will direct a specific action and now the rest of the organization, the Defense Department, the State Department, have to catch up to try to now determine that specific action. How do we actually align our strategy to get back on course?

BERMAN: I have to say, Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, when he talks to the press at 10:00, there's some serious questions he needs to answer, Bianna. Number one, where is the evidence that there was an imminent threat that General Soleimani -- the killing of Soleimani somehow obviated that immediate threat? Where is the evidence of that? We have yet to see it. He's promised that it exists. We haven't seen it.

And, number two, what exactly is happening with U.S. troops in Iraq? Because there was this mess yesterday where a U.S. general, marine general, wrote a note to his Iraqi counterparts saying, we're basically repositioning our troops to withdraw, and then the Pentagon claims the memo was a mistake. I've never seen a mistake like that. It seems like they're trying to cover their tracks.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, and it's not very reassuring either.

One thing that's fascinating is the lead role that Pompeo seems to have over all of this. Typically you do hear from the defense secretary and the Pentagon in these sorts of instances and yet he has taken command on this and become the public face of this. We know from reporting that he's been the one who's actually been pushing the president to go after Soleimani and to ratchet up their responses to Iran. But, yes, so many questions about, what is the long-term strategy here? Nobody is denying that this was a bad guy, Soleimani. The world is a better place without him. But what is the long-term strategy? And it seems when we have these mishaps and these errors from the DOD, something that we never typically see, it's not very reassuring.

BERMAN: It's unclear that it was an error. I mean they claim it was a mistake and an error.

SANGER: They've already had it translated into Arabic.



SANGER: I mean if it's a draft letter --

GOLODRYGA: And it was sent already, so -- it was received.

SANGER: And it was -- it was -- yes. So that's quite an error.

And, you know, Secretary Pompeo has been the most vocal, single person about confronting Iran and think he's the only survivor from the original national security team. The oddity here is that John Bolton was forced out, in part because the president thought he would lead him into a war with Iran.

GOLODRYGA: Well, that's --

CAMEROTA: No wonder John Bolton's ready to talk.


GOLODRYGA: It's also -- it's also opened the door, once again, for Russia. And there was just a report this morning, as we've ratcheted up the tensions with Iraq and threatened them with sanctions, that Russia has now swooped in, offered to sell them a missile defense system, and offered their solidarity. So once the U.S., once again, we're seeing them offering confusion, not necessarily knowing whether there's stability in the region in terms of the U.S. presence, Russia coming back in and showing their might.

CAMEROTA: Bianna, Guy, David, thank you very much for all of the expertise. Obviously CNN will be covering whatever it is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wants to alert us all to at 10:00 a.m.

Meanwhile, we have other breaking news. There have been several powerful earthquakes that have rattled the island of Puerto Rico this morning. A 6.4 magnitude quake just a couple of hours ago. Then followed by another 6.0 earthquake just very recently. These are the latest in a series of quakes to hit the island in recent days.

Puerto Rico's power company reports damage to at least one power plant and we are seeing now pictures of homes damaged, cars crushed.

CNN's Leyla Santiago joins us live from San Juan with all of these breaking details.

So tell us what this morning has been like, Leyla.

Leyla, can you hear us?

It sounds a little bit like she's in transit and moving around.

BERMAN: Yes. I do think the important thing to note, as you pointed out, is they felt -- there was a quake yesterday, a quake overnight, another one this morning and it's morning now and we're just getting a sense of the damage.

These are some of the first pictures we've seen. And, clearly, there's been structural damage. There's been damage on the road and there are still power outages across the island.

CAMEROTA: There were also -- there were also newscasters who were doing their morning show, we can relate to this, while that 6.0 aftershock hit. And so we will play you some of the video of how people are responding there as it's happening.

And we'll get Leyla back as soon as possible.

This is the moment they have to take cover under their desks. It looks terrifying. You just never know if it's an aftershock. You never know how big of a quake it's going to be. But you can see everybody having to respond this morning.

OK, meanwhile, how is the international crisis with Iran impacting the presidential race here? New reaction from the leading 2020 Democrats. Less than four weeks ago, John, until those Iowa caucuses you've been promising for a year.

BERMAN: It's here. It's here. You said it would never. You said it would never happen. Now it's really going to happen.



CAMEROTA: The world is watching as tensions with Iran appear to be escalating. So how are the Democratic presidential candidates dealing with it?


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it was an assassination. I think it was in violation of international law.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is not the president to have in the White House when you're trying to deescalate things.

JOE BIDEN, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think he knows what he's talking about, quite frankly.


CAMEROTA: All right, joining us now is CNN political director David Chalian.

David, great to have you. So, national security comes to the fore now.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, there's no doubt about it. And these are the moments in campaigns, candidates and campaigns plan for so much and then there's the events that happen that are not in their control, and how they respond to them, how they seize them as potential opportunity tells us a lot.

And look at what Joe Biden's doing today. What did he add to his schedule today? He added a public statement about the situation in Iran because Joe Biden sees this as playing directly into the message he's been selling voters all year long, that his credentials on the world stage are better than anybody else in the field, he believes, and this gives him an opportunity to sell that.

I would just note, though, Bernie Sanders, you just heard there, he thinks this plays directly into his wheelhouse because it allows him to make the contrast with Biden and others, Biden's Iraq War vote in 2002 that Sanders vehemently disagreed with obviously at the time and continues to use that as a differentiating issue between him and Biden.

So you can see how the campaigns are looking at this moment and seeing how it plays into their overall message that they're selling to voters.

BERMAN: I think the most interesting thing is they might both be right.


BERMAN: That for both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, it's a compelling argument for the voters that they are trying to attract, yes?

CHALIAN: Without a doubt. I mean it is -- it does provide a clear contrast, right? This is -- this is terrain that each of them would like to fight on. So I think you are right, John, that it does play into their core messages for their core audiences.

CAMEROTA: But, David, what is the contrast? I mean what are the Democratic candidates saying about how they would have approached or would now approach Iran?

CHALIAN: Right. So I think the contrast is actually not about the specifics of the Iran situation. I think the contrast allows these candidates to draw on the broader global vision how you see U.S. military involvement around the world, what U.S. diplomacy looks like, what intervention looks like and whether that should be part of the U.S. playbook. I think it's the larger issues at play that allow them to draw contrast with each other. You are right, on this issue you hear unanimity across the field about questioning Donald Trump's strategic choice in this instance. BERMAN: So, David, I've been telling Alisyn for a long time that Iowa

is just around the corner.

CAMEROTA: And I don't believe him.

BERMAN: All right, but this time it --


BERMAN: It's really true. I mean we're less than four weeks away from Iowa.

CAMEROTA: Yes, there's a second source.

BERMAN: And I know you know this because you live and breathe this stuff, but this hadn't struck me yet, the debate, which will be on CNN next week, the Democratic debate taking place in Iowa, right now only five candidates have qualified for that, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. There could be an Iowa debate on CNN next week with just five candidates.


That is so different than we've seen before.

What's the impact of that?

CHALIAN: So -- so different, John. This is the great winnowing, right? I mean this is the process of all the year before the election into the election year. You had a very large field. Everyone was getting a shot at the debate stage and making their case. And as the DNC sort of raised the threshold of these sort of entrance fee, if you will, to get on to the debate stage, what you have is a winnowing.

And this is all before voters start weighing in and then an even bigger winnowing will happen after we see the results in Iowa and New Hampshire. But imagine we've seen such crowded debate stages and now five contenders potentially, and, again, the deadline, the qualification window doesn't close until this Friday, there may be more polls that maybe can get a Yang or a Steyer in, but we'll see. Right now, five candidates on that stage, it gives them all more time. You actually get to debate the issues a bit more rather than just the rehearsed quick answer and out on to the next topic. I think it gives voters a much better opportunity to really size up the candidates.

CAMEROTA: What will they do with all that breathing room? I mean, I hope they're preparing an interpretive dance of some kind. But --

BERMAN: There won't be podiums, there will be chaise lounges for everybody to stretch out.

CAMEROTA: They'll nap during it.

BERMAN: But, I mean, obviously, the other candidates who aren't on that stage want to remind voters they're still in the race, you know. Just because you're not on the stage doesn't mean that you're not in the race according to them.

David Chalian, thank you very much.

CHALIAN: Thanks, guys.

CAMEROTA: You can watch the CNN presidential debate live from Iowa in partnership with "The Des Moines Register" next Tuesday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

BERMAN: So there's a new wrinkle in the ongoing impeachment standoff. Former National Security Adviser John Bolton says he's willing to testify. All of a sudden. So will the Senate majority leader let that happen? We're going to ask a key member of the U.S. Senate, next.