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QUEST MEANS BUSINESS
Mark Esper: It was Time to Take Soleimani Off Battlefield; A 6.4 Magnitude Earthquake Hits Puerto Rico; California Sends Crews to Help Fight Australia Fires. Aired 3:10-4p ET
Aired January 7, 2020 - 15:10 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I think he's going to do a great job. But appreciated his statement and he's made it many
times. No pressure whatsoever. Thank you all very much.
RICHARD QUEST, CNN HOST: President Trump in the White House, talking there about, obviously, the range of issues that he's been dealing with, not
least which, of course, is that of Iran, justifying the decision to use the missile attack against general -- of Iran. And now saying it was a good
thing and that most of the people seem to think that it was a good thing.
Well, good evening. I'm Richard Quest in Beirut tonight, where we continue our coverage of the aftermath of the American attack. With me is Boris
Sanchez at the White House and Fred Pleitgen, who is in Tehran.
Let's start with you, Boris.
Listening to what the president had to say, what jumped out at you?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Really, what stands out to me is the lack of clarity coming from Trump on a number of points in this ongoing
conflict and the escalation of tensions with Iran.
The president here was asked about this imminent attack, the reason for this U.S. strike on General Soleimani, the president saying that he was
Not really giving any insight as to what the targets of the Iranians were or a timetable for that potential attack. The president simply saying that
the world is safer now that he did a lot of countries a big favor, that Soleimani was planning a big attack.
But again, not really giving any specifics to a populace that's grown weary of war in the Middle East and mistrustful of the U.S. government when it
comes to giving information about reasons for going to war in the Middle East.
The president also not very specific, not very clear on this letter that was sent by the U.S. government to the Iraqi leadership, suggesting a
potential withdrawal of U.S. troops. The president simply saying that he doesn't know anything about the letter except he knows that it was
As you heard there from President Trump, he suggested that he wants U.S. troops to eventually leave Iraq but not at this moment. We did get a
little bit more of a subdued tone from President Trump also when it comes to his statements about attacking Iranian cultural sites.
Just over the weekend, the president talking to reporters aboard Air Force One, saying that he views these cultural sites as legitimate targets.
Today we heard him make a bit of a sarcastic remark, saying he likes to obey the law but Iran kills our people and we have to be gentle. The
president saying it's OK with me.
It's important to point out, he contradicted not only his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, in acknowledging that these sites could be a target but
also his Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, who today said that the United States would obey the law when it comes to where it focuses any attacks on
Iran -- Richard.
QUEST: Right. Boris, stay with me. Fred Pleitgen is in Tehran.
Fred, today we've had two dueling statements, if you like. You had the U.S. Defense Secretary saying they're not looking to start a war but
they'll finish one. They'll bring one to an end.
And we've had the Iranian foreign minister also making similar comments, that they're not looking for a war but they'll engage if there is one.
If you take both sentences, both statements, where do you think we are tonight?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's still an extremely dangerous place. Listening to President Trump,
listening to the Secretary of Defense Mark Esper as well, it certainly doesn't seem as though this conflict is anywhere near -- I wouldn't even
say being resolved.
The two sides are not anywhere near bringing this to an end or coming into a better place. It's interesting because you're right. Both sides are
essentially saying they don't want this to escalate. They don't want this to descend into a full-on war.
But both sides are saying the other side needs to take the first step. We heard President Trump there, saying that it's the Iranians who need to de-
escalate. It's the Iranians who shouldn't retaliate or it would get hit if they do retaliate for the killing of general Qasem Soleimani, the head of
the Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force, the most elite general the Iranians had.
Whereas the Iranians are saying they are going to respond, Richard, but they want it to end after that. They keep talking about a proportional
response and, after that, they want all of this to end and to not further escalate. But it really doesn't seem as though either side is willing to
take the first step -- Richard.
QUEST: Fred Pleitgen, who is in Tehran, Boris Sanchez is in the White House. Thank you, gentlemen. We'll leave it there. Come back to us when
there's more to report from your area.
To the business world and how it's been taking all this in its stride.
QUEST: Well, today stocks are decidedly uncertain and mixed. It's all about wondering where and how Iran will retaliate.
And there you see that the Dow is lower. It's down 80 points. It had been off a bit more. It had been up a bit higher as well. So it's a very much
wait and see. And that's the same with oil prices.
Now oil prices had risen sharply after the U.S. strike. Those oil prices are now on the way down again, not hugely but 68.25. They were heading up
towards 69 to 70.
Over the course of this program and elsewhere, you keep hearing the same countries -- Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, even, of course,
Lebanon here where I am. The countries involved are in turmoil, whether it be regional, sectarian violence or full outright war. And that crisis is
having an effect on the entire region and their economies.
QUEST (voice-over): From Riyadh to Wall Street, the U.S. strike on Iran's top general stuns the world. And with it, scrambled the investment picture
for 2020. Oil prices have spiked. Safe havens have rallied. Risk, it seems, is back.
JASON DRAHO, UBS GLOBAL WEALTH MANAGEMENT: If things do escalate, what impact would it have on the economic fundamentals?
Would it slow growth?
Would it hit earnings?
QUEST (voice-over): This all comes at a pivotal moment in the Middle East. Only months ago, the streets of major cities were full of protesters. Here
in Beirut, in Baghdad and Tehran, demonstrators demanding an end to government corruption, struggling economies, widespread inequality.
VALI NASR, AUTHOR AND DEAN OF JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think the young population and the population as
a whole are frustrated. They still want dignity. They want jobs. They want better government. They don't want corruption.
QUEST (voice-over): Now the streets are filling for different reasons. Iraq and Iran have expressed their anger at the United States, vowing to
respond. Donald Trump has warned of military strikes on Iran or new sanctions on Iraq.
Either threat on its own could upset the region's economy. Now put them altogether and investors face the most volatile situation in decades.
ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES: Geopolitical tensions are at their highest level this century and this turbulence is
QUEST: CNN's John Defterios joins me from Abu Dhabi.
John, the situation is grim and getting worse. That much we can see.
But if you look at the region, who stands to lose most unless there's a serious de-escalation?
JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Let's take the big picture first, Richard. This is a region probably that can least afford a conflict
The Middle East and North Africa has had the highest youth unemployment for the last quarter century. And the latest reading at the end of 2017 was
some 30 percent. Those who can least afford it are the two at the eye of the storm right now. That would be Iran and Iraq.
Iran, of course, because of the burden of the economic sanctions under the Trump administration, extremely painful, war would not help that, if it
spirals into it.
Iraq, even though it produces 5 million barrels a day, this has not filtered down to the men, women and youth on the street. And let's be
honest here, Iraq has suffered for four decades. Every decade has had a conflict.
But you touched upon it in your report. There's Algeria, Sudan, a little bit Egypt. But in the country you're standing right now, Lebanon, that
intense protest because people are tired of corruption and business as usual.
And you follow the tourism sector. We cannot overlook this. All this chaos and nervousness, Richard, could hit countries that depend on 10
percent to 15 percent of their tourism on GDP as well.
QUEST: John, the oil price has remained steady. I heard you earlier talking about how it sort of, in the absence of a reason to rise, it's
going to stay where it is. But the risk, surely, must be to the upside at the moment.
DEFTERIOS: Yes, I'm on the same page with you. I'm a little bit befuddled by the market reaction over the last 24 hours. We saw a spike of nearly $3
a barrel between Friday and Monday on the risk you're talking about right now.
But I think we have to put this in context. On a day when Iran said it has some 13 scenarios that it's mapping out for retaliation, it didn't move the
So what's taking place in this market?
We're at a pretty high base. We finished last year at $68 a barrel.
DEFTERIOS: That's pretty darn good for the OPEC producers here in the Middle East of course.
But before the Aramco strike in September, we were $10 below and that's why that attack on Aramco shocked the markets. So 2019 was a year of radical
energy uncertainty in the region because of what happened in Aramco, pipelines, the tankers off the UAE.
I think 2020 will be the same. I think Western investors in particular are far too complacent at this stage because the mood here is far different
than you are hearing on Wall Street.
QUEST: John Defterios in Abu Dhabi, thank you.
When we come back, the Carlos Ghosn saga just continues. It keeps giving. Now Carlos Ghosn's wife, Carol Ghosn, has legal problems of her own.
There's a warrant for her arrest in Japan. We're in Beirut, of course, because this is where Carlos Ghosn is expected to speak tomorrow.
QUEST: Welcome back to Beirut, Lebanon. It's January and it's a very wet, windy and stormy night. You can see the mosque there, resplendent with the
lights on. The actual weather tonight is truly shocking.
There haven't been many demonstrators on the streets over the last few days. Perhaps not surprisingly. But welcome back to Beirut. Our special
coverage here tonight.
We are here because, of course, tomorrow on Wednesday, Carlos Ghosn is expected to give his first statement, his first press conference since he
escaped from Japan.
And that also gave us a perfect opportunity as being here to delve into the issues facing Lebanon, a country that you'll be well aware with political
and economic protests just in the last part -- the last quarter of last year.
They brought this country to a standstill. They toppled the government. And Lebanon's president says he hopes that a new government can be created
and announced in a matter of weeks.
QUEST (voice-over): Tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets all fired in the streets of Lebanon for weeks as thousands of protesters clashed with
QUEST (voice-over): These were the biggest demonstrations in 14 years. They began in October, triggered by proposed taxes on WhatsApp telephone
The backlash was swift but not isolated, all part of a bigger unrest over resource shortages, the power of the political elite and rising debt,
poverty and unemployment.
Speaking to CNN, Lebanon's central bank governor said the protests were crippling the country's economy even more.
RIAD SALAME, LEBANON CENTRAL BANK GOVERNOR: The more the solution is delayed, the more the cost on the country. Today there is no economic
activity in the country.
QUEST (voice-over): Two weeks after the start of the crisis and the prime minister Saad Hariri issued his resignation and said he'd reached a dead
SAAD HARIRI, FORMER LEBANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I call on all Lebanese people to put Lebanese interests and security of Lebanon
and the protection of the civilians of Lebanon before anything else.
QUEST (voice-over): Since then, the former education minister, Hassan Diab, has been designated the prime minister, faced with the task of
leading the country at a crucial and divisive time in its history.
QUEST: Joining me now is Nasser Saidi. He's the former first vice governor of Lebanon's central bank. He's also former minister of economy
and trade. He joins me from Dubai tonight.
Minister, the seriousness of the situation facing the region -- we'll come to Lebanon in just a moment. But as I look at all the economies that are
affected by sanctions, by oil prices, by turmoil, there's no easy or obvious way out here.
NASSER SAIDI, FORMER FIRST VICE GOVERNOR, LEBANESE CENTRAL BANK: No, there isn't. You said it earlier on. This is a region where it's best described
by turbulence, turmoil but also some countries in transition. And the last thing that we need is really more violence and war and I hope we'll be able
to avoid that.
QUEST: So take that and turn it to Lebanon.
Can you say that there is a functioning economy?
On the one hand, everybody is going around, buying in shops and credit cards are being accepted. But the other hand, you get the feeling that the
economy isn't largely an informal economy and one that is teetering on the brink, if not already having collapsed.
SAIDI: Well, that's just about right. Lebanon is living a perfect storm. You've got the combination of a political crisis and economic crisis, a
financial crisis and I might add an environmental crisis.
Those are coming together at a time at which Lebanon is also suffering from spillover from the rest of the region because of sanctions, not only on
Iran but on our neighbor, Syria in particular, and directly spilling over into Lebanon.
So that combination is really deadly for Lebanon. It's killed our tourism. It's killed our trade. So the protests really are not the origin of the
problem. The origin of the problem is the large build-up of debt. It's the corruption, the waste, the nepotism, all of that that led to this large
build-up of debt.
And if you look at that, we're talking about debt which is more than 155 percent of GDP; debt services 10 percent of GDP, which represents 50
percent of government revenue. Those are the issues.
QUEST: The solution: OK, so Hariri is gone. There needs to be a new government but some people say that the nature of the constitution makes it
impossible to get the most talented people into jobs, which may or may not be the case.
But the answer is, how do you, practically, how do you have a clean sweep of the existing elites and still manage to run the country?
SAIDI: Well, Lebanon has all the competence that is required. One thing you want to avoid is, you want to avoid getting people with a political
history and that means most members of parliament. So it has to be nonpartisan and independent. It has to be professional people with some
public policy experience. We have that.
Remember, Lebanese have been involved in economic development across the Arab world and into Africa, into the whole world.
SAIDI: So we have the competencies required. What is important is to stand up, really, to an inherited political class that has led Lebanon to
where it is today. I've called it a kleptocracy. We have to fight that. It's not going to be easy. Any government that comes in today is going to
have to face those. I've called it a hara-kiri type government --
RICHARD QUEST, HOST, QUEST MEANS BUSINESS: Right. Quick final question, would you be willing to serve?
SAIDI: I think you'd find many Lebanese who are willing to serve. The important thing is, is there a willingness by the political class to
reform? We haven't seen a lot of political courage --
QUEST: Right --
SAIDI: So far. We have to get rid of communitarian politics. That's not what it's about. You need to address your debt problem, your currency
problem, your --
QUEST: Right --
SAIDI: Financial problem, your banking crisis. Those are the core issues, not the petty politician politics.
QUEST: All right, sir, thank you for joining us this evening. We much appreciate it. Thank you --
SAIDI: Thank you --
QUEST: When we continue, QUEST MEANS BUSINESS tonight from Beirut in Lebanon. The reason we're here is Carlos Ghosn is expected to give a press
conference tomorrow. Not expected to say how he fled or escaped, it will be interesting to hear what he has to say. We'll talk about that in a
moment after the break.
QUEST: Hello, I'm Richard Quest, there's more QUEST MEANS BUSINESS live from Beirut in just a moment. Of course, this is CNN, and on this network,
the news always comes first.
The U.S. Defense Secretary says his country is not seeking war with Iran, it's prepared to finish one. Mark Esper told CNN, it was time to take top
Iranian General Qasem Soleimani off the battlefield, calling him a terrorist leader. And in a press conference a short time ago, Esper would
not say if the United States would withdraw from Iraq if asked to by the Iraqi government.
The latest series of earthquakes hit Puerto Rico on Tuesday morning, the strongest yet, 6.4 magnitude. At least one person is dead, several homes
and businesses are damaged, water and power outages are reported over large parts of the island.
More than 60 American firefighters have joined the fight against bushfires in Australia. More than 200 fires are burning across the eastern part of
the country. Dozens of them are out of control. So far, at least 24 people have died since the fire season began in late July.
The Carlos Ghosn saga gets ever more complicated with the announcement today by the Japanese authorities that they are seeking the arrest of Mr.
Ghosn's wife, Carole Ghosn. Now, she's wanted by warrant on arrest, accused of giving false testimony in court. Currently, of course, she's
here in Lebanon where her husband fled last week. Speaking to me on QUEST MEANS BUSINESS in June, Mrs. Ghosn echoed her husband's insistence that he
is the victim of a conspiracy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAROLE GHOSN, WIFE OF CARLOS GHOSN: They have twisted the truth because they needed an excuse to put him in detention. And it's all lies and I
think with time, the truth will come out. But he has to get a chance to a fair trial so he proves himself.
PAULA NEWTON, CNN: And yet, you don't believe there can be a fair trial, right?
GHOSN: I don't think so. Even our lawyers in Japan are Japanese are not confident because their system is rigged.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
QUEST: Anna Stewart is in London. Anna, why is Mrs. Ghosn been arrested? What is she supposed to have said or to prosecutors or in questioning in
last April that they now think is worthy of her arrest? Do we know?
ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: Well, we really don't have the detail, giving false testimony. It wasn't April so that was around the time that Carlos
Ghosn was negotiating his bail conditions. We don't know the specifics. Of course, the timing is very interesting. Why now, days after her husband
skipped bail, the day before a big press conference.
A family friend has spoken to CNN and said or accused the Japanese authorities of quote, "trying to intimidate an innocent woman." Also
points out that just a day after Carlos Ghosn did speak to media after he was released on bail the first time, he was then re-arrested. So,
suggesting that this is all to do with muddying, I guess, the Ghosn name. Richard?
QUEST: OK, so tomorrow, we are expecting to hear from Carlos Ghosn. But I believe he's highly unlikely to tell us how he escaped from Japan.
STEWART: And that is the question that everyone, including Hollywood, I'm sure, wants an answer to. How on earth did he escape Japan? Was it
illegal? It's highly unlikely we'll hear anything about that, simply because it would incriminate Carlos Ghosn and possibly other people. The
thing is, I think we will hear, first of all, more attacking of Japan's justice system.
I expect we'll hear more from Carlos Ghosn about his time in jail, and also the conditions he had on bail. He wasn't allowed to see his wife, he was
worried that the trial could get dragged on for years. We're likely to hear of course, denials about all of the allegations against him. What I
think will be very interesting, Richard, is if he wants to clear his name, does he want to go to court in Lebanon so he can face those allegations and
clear his name? That's clearly what his wife mentioned --
QUEST: Right --
STEWART: On your show last year.
QUEST: Anna Stewart who is in London, Anna, thank you. And the reason we're here in Lebanon is to be with you tomorrow at the press conference
with Carlos Ghosn. One-on-one with him, expected. That's the plan at the moment. I'll be talking to Carlos Ghosn tomorrow, and you'll hear it all
here at this time on QUEST MEANS BUSINESS.
One other point to note, if you're watching closely as I'm pretty sure you are, you would have seen some extraordinary lightning that's now going here
in Beirut. A massive storm. We were going to be on the roof tonight under a tent, but we thought better of it and, frankly, seeing the downpour
that's under way at the moment, I'm rather glad we didn't.
However, after the break, we will take you to where the protesters have set up camp as we talk more about what's going on in this country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUEST: If not now, when? The clarion call of the protesters here in Lebanon. We will continue after the break.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
QUEST: Lebanon is facing its worst financial crisis since the civil war. Protesters on the streets demanding fundamental systemic change. Today, I
went for a walk amongst the tents with Professor Mona Fawaz from the American University of Beirut to see exactly what it's about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUEST: So where are we?
MONA FAWAZ, PROFESSOR OF URBAN STUDIES, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF BEIRUT: We are in Martyr Square, that's the heart of Beirut downtown. If you had come
here before the civil war, this was really the main bus station of the country. Everyone arrived to Beirut here. It was bustling. And look at
it, when I say empty jewel, there's nothing happening here.
There's no people. There's no public transport. There's no businesses. It was an empty parking lot waiting for someone to purchase it so that they
can build another empty building. This is a statue that was built by the protesters, and it was built out of the material of the tents that were
destroyed at some point.
QUEST: What is it, phoenix rising out of the ashes --
FAWAZ: Yes, that's the idea.
QUEST: Phoenix rising out of the ashes. OK, but what is it they want? What is it you all want?
FAWAZ: I mean, we want a country that's functional. A place where we can live.
QUEST: Yes, what is it? You want to get rid of the existing government and replace it with what?
FAWAZ: Replace with people who are competent, who have some independence from the existence political elite that has run the country for the last
30, 40 years, and has really not managed to put forward any kind of national development policy. Look at what happened, the country is
bankrupt. The banks are not allowing people to get their money, the debt is --
QUEST: But --
QUEST: But you would agree that in the short term, you're going to have to continue with pretty much the same bunch because they're the ones who know
how to run things?
FAWAZ: Look, there is no abracadabra where you just change everything and it gets transformed. But what we inspire to is putting in place a process
of change, and I really believe that this process has happened.
QUEST: This is the sort of thing that was --
FAWAZ: Yes, these are the sort of divisions that have happened here --
QUEST: Yes --
FAWAZ: Where the army, particularly, actually the police force of the parliament has tried to keep protesters from getting in parliament. And so
there's been several quite violent interactions between protesters and the security of the parliament.
QUEST: Clearly in these --
FAWAZ: Yes --
QUEST: Places with --
FAWAZ: And has led to some destruction and --
QUEST: So, when the Prime Minister says he will not stand, he's going to hand it over. He's finished. He's done.
QUEST: He's off --
FAWAZ: That's the --
QUEST: Good-bye --
FAWAZ: Yes, that's great. Every one of them that leaves is great because the Prime Minister represents a model of economic development that has
failed the country.
QUEST: But is there somebody waiting in the wings?
FAWAZ: There are plenty of great people who are capable of taking power. If there's enough political support from the grassroots to actually hold
them and maintain them in power.
QUEST: You've got to get them to power first --
FAWAZ: And this is a challenge --
QUEST: You've got to get them to power first.
FAWAZ: Look, they have approached very competent people and asked them to be in government. And the conditions are usually that you have to go and
talk to the existing political class and coordinate with them. And that's the problem. If you really want a change, a radical change, you need
someone who is completely from outside the political class.
If this is not feasible, you at least need to make sure that the people that are coming here can drive you through this transition period. You've
got the IMF at your door, you've got a regional war possibly happening. You need to protect this country. It's not feasible to think we can keep
business as usual.
We're not functional. Lebanon is a patient that has cancer. And you're basically rushing that patient to the hospital, and as you're rushing the
patient to the hospital, they have a heart attack which is basically the financial crisis we're living. And you think it's terrible and you don't
know what to do. And just when you think nothing worse can happen, you suddenly see a missile coming your way and you're trying to steer the
ambulance away from it.
And that's basically the regional condition. That's really where we are. And that's really one more reason why business as usual cannot go on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
QUEST: So, that's the situation on the ground. Now, let's talk about the business and how business views it. Joining me is Antoine el Khoury, good
to see you, sir. You represent Khat Ahmar which means the red line is make --
ANTOINE EL KHOURY, REPRESENTATIVE, KHAT AHMAR: Yes --
QUEST: Or I am the red line --
EL KHOURY: Yes, enough of --
QUEST: So, what does it mean? So, what is red line?
EL KHOURY: Listen, we've been told on and on for years about red lines in Lebanon. Like this is a red line. This leader is a red line. This party
is a red line. This issue is a red line. And finally, we've had enough and are saying, I'm the red line, my family is the red line, my business is
the red line, my country is the red line.
QUEST: So what do you do? I mean, listen -- the one thing I've discovered being here more than once is there's a lot of people who say, something
must be done.
EL KHOURY: Yes --
QUEST: The question is, what and by whom?
EL KHOURY: Change and by the people. There's no other way to do it except change. And what we do is try to provide a platform of communication.
This is not helping --
QUEST: I have to say, you can probably hear it, that's the storm which has been around us for the last hour or two is now well and truly overhead as
EL KHOURY: Yes --
QUEST: Talk about change.
EL KHOURY: What we do is most of the people are young people there, and they're the future of Lebanon, and they're fantastic. And what we're
trying to do is help by providing a platform for communication. And to convey the right messages and what we need, what we want.
QUEST: How difficult is it to run a business in Lebanon? I mean, a functioning business that pays taxes?
EL KHOURY: Well, you take the risk factor of any business in the world, and you multiply it by ten because there are so many other risks involved.
Security with the surrounding countries and everything happening which makes it very challenging to proceed in business in Lebanon.
QUEST: What sort of government do you want to see come out of all of this?
EL KHOURY: Neutral government. A specialist who knows what they're doing. Who don't have a boss or a leader to take orders from. Who only have the
good for Lebanon.
QUEST: Right, but if we hear that the president has to be from one section --
EL KHOURY: It is --
QUEST: The private --
EL KHOURY: Unfortunately it is.
QUEST: But I'm told that the constitution doesn't actually say that.
EL KHOURY: No, it's not constitutional, but it's something that's been going on since the beginning. But we divided the roles.
QUEST: So, if that's the case, will it be possible to find -- et cetera, who can fill those roles that are neutral and independent --
EL KHOURY: Oh, absolutely --
QUEST: That would be acceptable to all parties, including Hezbollah?
EL KHOURY: Acceptable to all parties? That's the problem because they don't accept themselves. That's the problem because they're hanging on to
power, and the biggest shock to the Lebanese is, after all of this, after what's happened to the country, and we see what's happening, they're still
holding on to power.
QUEST: Tell me why should we be optimistic? If I was a business person thinking, well, you know, a lot of great people in Lebanon, nice
population. Why would -- why would anybody want to come and invest in here at the moment? The answer is they wouldn't.
EL KHOURY: At the moment, no one would come, no. But we have to be optimistic because the people on the streets have no leaders. In the old
days, they had leaders, they made the deals and they had to get off the streets. Today, there's no leader and they're not going to get off the
streets until they get what they want.
QUEST: But the very fact that there's no leader means that this could end up being a protest on the street, crying at the moment. Because a leader
has to take that power and do something with it.
EL KHOURY: It's not true because the demands are agreed upon. Everyone agrees on what are our demands, so, there's no need to negotiate, to have a
leader to negotiate because there's no place for negotiation.
QUEST: Good to see you, sir, thank you --
EL KHOURY: Thank you so much --
QUEST: Very much indeed --
EL KHOURY: Thank you for having me.
QUEST: With the thunder overhead --
EL KHOURY: Yes --
QUEST: More in a moment.
EL KHOURY: Thank you.
QUEST: Welcome back to Beirut. Key players in the U.S.-Iran crisis have been speaking, and it's arguably making things worse. The markets are
keeping a close eye on what they're saying. The U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and the Iranian Foreign Minister both spoke to CNN. Each is
saying they are ready for action, though they don't want war.
Maha Yahya is the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, she is with me now. So, Esper says to us, we don't want to start a war, but we'll end
one. The Iranians say, well, we'll go -- you know, we really don't want war, but we're ready. It's not very encouraging on either side.
MAHA YAHYA, DIRECTOR, CARNEGIE MIDDLE EAST CENTER: No, thank you for having me. Unfortunately, I think things are going to get much worse
before they get better. I don't think either side wants a war, Iran certainly cannot afford the war, and they don't want one. But --
QUEST: But the retaliation -- but in which case, the retaliation that Iran is promising -- and I heard our interview with the foreign minister today,
you know, it will not be against the American people, it will be proportionate. What does that mean in your view?
YAHYA: They're going to select some high-value target, but it will be enough to hurt, but not enough to start a war. I think in their calculus,
this is what they're planning, they have to respond. It's almost impossible for them not to respond. But they're going to try and respond
in some measured fashion. Lassala(ph) was interesting, and that Hassan Lassala's(ph) speech was interesting in that respect because he called on -
- he said Iran will not ask its allies to respond, but he called on an all- out response from now.
QUEST: But then this idea from Khamenei that he wants a -- any response, should have the Iranian stamp on it, not a proxy stamp.
YAHYA: There wouldn't be a response that will have the Iranian stamp on it, but I really do think that it will be a measured one, I hope, one
hopes. Because the Iranians really cannot afford the conflict right now.
QUEST: So, now let's talk about Lebanon because that's one of the reasons we're here of course. Give me a reason why we should be optimistic. I
mean, the people here are great, they're resourceful, the talent pool. But the politics and the difficulties of the economy --
YAHYA: Perfect storm. I think Nasser(ph) described it earlier. It's very hard to be optimistic, but again, I think the only ray of sunshine if you
want are the people of this country. The people who have been on the street for two and a half months, almost 3 now. They haven't given up.
They're still working for the future of this country.
QUEST: So, do you think it's likely that Hariri, he says he's going to give up. He said he'll hand it over in the next couple of weeks has found
a technocrat government that can stabilize the country before there would be some form of other elections?
YAHYA: I have a hard time seeing that this has happened, partly because of the way the political parties are behaving. They're still trying to form a
government and a business as usual, a mentality. They're still bickering over a government post as if nothing has happened. You know, this uprising
has not happened. People are not on the streets, and the country is not in an economic -- free-fall. They're taking --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUEST: It is depressing to visit downtown Beirut. In a country that has suffered so much, Lebanon. The victim of a civil war lasting decades that
was then used by others for their proxy dispute and battles. And, finally, the corruption which is endemic and systemic leads to this. A downtown
festooned in barbed wire, graffiti, destruction.
There's going to need to be a wholesale cleanout of the elites in this country. Pretty much everybody agrees that. New institutions buttressed
by strong regulation is the way forward. And in doing that, well, they should be glad of one thing. In the Lebanese revolution, I know they have
great talent. They have resources. They have opportunity. Even in the midst of this despair, there is room for optimism, just.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
QUEST: And that's QUEST MEANS BUSINESS for tonight, I'm Richard Quest in Beirut, in Lebanon. Whatever you're up to in the hours ahead, I hope it's
profitable. The Dow is just down, Jake Tapper, "THE LEAD" is next.