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HALA GORANI TONIGHT

Iranian Military Movements Observed; Press Conference With Mark Esper; Soleimani Threat Was Days Away; Zarif: Anti-American Sentiment Is The Price For Arrogance; Does Trump Risk Losing Support Of His Base?; Trump Meets Greek Prime Minister At White House. Aired 2-3p 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.


[14:00:31]

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone. Live from CNN London, I'm Hala Gorani.

Tonight, more than 50 people killed in a stampede at a funeral procession for Qasem Soleimani as the fallout from the killing of the top Iranian

commander continues.

Also on the show, we hear from the U.S. defense secretary and the Iranian foreign minister, who both spoke to CNN today.

And, later, BAFTA nominations are out, but where are the women? Where are the people of color? We'll talk about why so many were snubbed this awards

season.

And we start with Iran. It is escalating threats of retaliation against the United States, calling that targeted killing of its top military

commander an act of state terrorism. But the U.S. defense secretary just told CNN Qasem Soleimani himself was a terrorist and, quote, "his time was

due."

The leader of Iran's Quds Force is being buried in his hometown of Kerman today. His funeral procession was temporarily delayed because of a very

deadly stampede. You can see the crowds there, these are aerial shots, absolutely incredibly large numbers of people.

Iran's state news agency says at least 56 were killed in the crush of massive crowds. And U.S. officials tell CNN American troops, meantime,

have been placed on high alert across the region, and air defense missile batteries are at the ready.

They say that U.S. intelligence has observed Iranian movements of drones and ballistic missiles, suggesting a possible threat.

Now, the U.S. secretary of state is defending the killing of Soleimani. He did so today at the State Department, scoffing even at reports that he was

in Baghdad on a diplomatic mission when he was hit by a drone strike. Mike Pompeo also repeated the claim without providing evidence that Soleimani

had been planning an imminent attack. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: 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. And then you, in addition to that, have what we could clearly see were continuing efforts on behalf of this terrorist to build

out a network of campaign activities that were going to lead potentially to the death of many more Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: All right. Let's go live to Tehran and Washington now. And we're joined by our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen, who sat

down today with Iran's foreign minister. Kylie Atwood as well, CNN's U.S. national security reporter who was at that news conference.

And one of the things that Mike Pompeo was asked about was Donald Trump's statement and tweet that the United States would target Iranian cultural

sites. And Mike Pompeo denied that the president ever said anything like that, that the policy of the United States is to abide by the law of armed

conflict, when clearly he had. So it's difficult to know where the truth lies here sometimes.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. It's a little bit confusing because just days ago, Secretary Pompeo came out and said that

President Trump never said that the U.S. would target Iranian cultural sites if Iran does in fact retaliate against the U.S. for targeting and

killing Soleimani.

But then just today, he kind of rolled that back and said that the U.S. will act within the international laws of the battlefield, essentially that

they are going to follow international law here. That is what Secretary of Defense Esper has also said.

But, really, what it boils down to is what kind of order could President Trump give. And what he has said, on his Twitter feed and to reporters, is

that he would be willing to target Iranian cultural sites. Now, Secretary Pompeo, not really wanting to go directly opposed to what President Trump

has said, but really trying to stick in line with international law.

Now, the other thing is that Secretary Pompeo did not give any details on how the U.S. is going to de-escalate this situation. We have heard that

from Trump administration officials time and time again over the last few days. And Secretary Pompeo, instead of talking about de-escalating, talked

about the fact that if Iran does take any actions, takes any bad action over the next few days to retaliate, that the U.S. --

(CROSSTALK)

GORANI: Sorry to jump in. We're going to go to the Pentagon, where the U.S. defense secretary, Mark Esper, is holding a news conference.

[14:05:04]

MARK ESPER, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: -- to stay around and weather D.C.'s roads as they become a little bit snowier.

Anyways, 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 attack by al-Qaida affiliate al- Shabab 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-Shabab's 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 the goal of preventing further bloodshed.

And it will require them to cease their malign activities throughout the region. As I've said, we are 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

malign 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I just wanted to clarify one thing. You said, earlier, that the U.S. continues to engage ISIS in

Syria. Have -- has the anti-ISIS campaign in Syria been 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've said a few times now. Our policy has not changed. We

are in Iraq and we are there to support Iraqi forces and the Iraqi government become a strong, independent and prosperous country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And in Syria, the ISIS in Syria?

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jennifer (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To follow up on Lita's (ph) question, 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?

[14:10:03]

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 Iragi 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 for our presence in the country. As you know, most Kurds and most Sunnis did not

show. And those Shias who did vote, 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 malign 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, ours (ph).

You also asked about partners. I've talked to many of our partners in Iraq who are part of the D-ISIS coalition. And many Europeans, they are fully

supportive of us, they are fully with us. I've been told by them that some of the movements they are taking are simply with regard to force

protection. We are doing some of that as well. It does not mark or signal any withdrawal from Iraq or the mission, writ large.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I follow up on that, on the allies?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We'll get there.

Gordon (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, could you speak to the range of options that were under consideration? Can you give us any sense of, you know, how many

other options were under consideration? Did you support any other ones, and was one option to not take this strike inside Iraq, which would have

clearly --

(CROSSTALK)

ESPER: Gordon (ph), I'm not going to speak to 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 believe we could deliver on and would be effective. And with

-- any time we deliver an option, we always list pros and cons and pluses and minuses. That's how we approach it, tha's my duty, that's my

obligation to the commander in chief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were there your -- where there multiple options that you would have considered, that you would have supported?

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

UNIDENTIFIFED MALE: 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 -- to 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, quick follow-up -- sorry -- about the allies moving their troops. Does it mean that you couldn't guarantee their

security, especially with an air protection? Or did you ask them to move their troops?

ESPER: No, I don't think so. I -- 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, partners on the ground. You know, it was just a logistical

issue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jeff Schogol?

JEFF SCHOGOL, REPORTER, TASK AND PURPOSE: 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.

SCHOGOL: 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 all the right legal experts to advise us on that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: David Martin?

DAVID MARTIN, REPORTER, CBS NEWS: 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 war with Iran? And specifically, how would you characterize Iranian military movements over the past several days?

ESPER: Yes, it is true, we're 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 with -- by their

-- by their own hand.

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

do.

MARTIN: 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 it starts getting into

intelligence issues. So I'll just leave it at that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Louis (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 interests in the Middle East, but instead target our partners in the region, is that enough to warrant a U.S.

response?

[14:15:00]

ESPER: Look, you know, Louis (ph), 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 interests, but those of our allies and partners, and I want to reassure them that we're there with them as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Two points to follow up on, if I may. You 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 -- and as I said, the United States military will, as it always had, 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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: Yeah, 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 -

- our force posture in Iraq for some time, our concerns about Iranian actions or the actions that they are inspiring, resourcing or directing

through its militias. But I'm not going to get into any details.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Phil (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- on your remarks about the parliamentary vote, you had raised some questions about the kind of people who did vote and didn't

vote --

ESPER: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- yesterday and today. Do you believe that vote was legitimate? That resolution calling on U.S. forces to leave 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 it, many experts. And that is

nonbinding. And we know there are mechanisms by which they would have to act. I'm not an expert on Iraqi government, so I characterized it the way

I did with you all the other day as nonbinding.

With regard to the off-ramps, there is 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 -- a new mode of behavior by Iran, where they behave more like a normal country.

And that would, one could presume, free up -- 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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: There -- they have taken some actions in the past that had hampered some of our operations with regard to airspace and things like that, but

nothing that we weren't eventually able to work through with them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And is that happening currently?

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Secretary Esper, I just want to follow up on Phil's (ph) 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 through (ph) Iraqi parliament, and what the Pentagon says has been communicated or hasn't been communicated.

ESPER: Yes, I think that's a great question for the Iraqi prime minister.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So -- 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's actually saying?

ESPER: To the best of my knowledge, I haven't received any communication from him or the Iraqi government about -- about the legislation or about an

order or a request to withdraw U.S. forces.

[14:20:04]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 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 Americans -- 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 -- oh, 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 Americans 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,

planning military operations. He was a legitimate target and his time was due.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One final question, we'll go to Jeff Schogol.

SCHOGOL: Already asked.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, OK. Tony (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you give a little bit of a preview of what you're going to tell Congress tomorrow? This -- in terms of how much detail will

you be giving -- willing to give members that you haven't thus far told the public in terms of size, scope and eminence?

You are aware of how skeptical people are of the imminent threat issue. You were there in 2003, when you heard all that. So what -- temper

expectations. What we -- what are you prepared to disclose to Congress tomorrow?

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

the policy, the broader regional situation, the history. Obviously, with members of Congress, we can go into a -- we will be in a classified setting

and 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 -- the commanders in the region -- and 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 that our commanders are going to do the right thing on the ground. OK? Thank you all very much.

GORANI: The U.S. Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, there, saying we don't want to start a war with Iran, but we're prepared to finish it, that Iran

should now de-escalate after the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the top Iranian commander, in Baghdad. Also said, "The architects of terror should

know that we will not tolerate attacks against U.S. interests and that we will respond."

We still have Kylie Atwood with us, she's at the State Department. And let's also bring in John Kirby, our military and diplomatic analyst in

Washington. What more did Esper say in this news conference, Kylie?

ATWOOD: Yes. Well, Secretary Esper also reiterated that the Pentagon expects that Iran is going to retaliate. But he also said that there is an

off-ramp right in front of Iran right now, if they want to de-escalate. Because he said that their next move is going to determine the next move by

the United States here.

Now, he is offering Iran -- encouraging Iran to take that off-ramp, to signal that they are willing to sit down with the U.S. to talk to them

about a way forward, to de-escalate this situation.

The thing here, however, is that we really have no details about how the U.S. is communicating to Iran that they are serious about any of those

potential conversations to de-escalate here. And we heard from Secretary Pompeo earlier today, he did not really put any meat on the bones in terms

of what the U.S. means about wanting to de-escalate, about how serious they are about de-escalating.

The other thing that Secretary of Defense Esper was asked about, are these proclamations made by President Trump that the U.S. would target Iranian

cultural sites if Iran does retaliate? And Secretary Esper was asked by our colleague Barbara Starr if he would resign if he was given an order to

do so, because that would be a war crime.

[14:25:06]

He did not give a definitive answer. He said that is a hypothetical, and he also spoke about the options that the U.S. gives to President Trump, and

really wouldn't get into the details there, if he was given such an order. But President Trump has indicated repeatedly that that is on the table in

his perspective.

GORANI: Right. Even though the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has said that the president really didn't say that, when in fact he both tweeted it

and said it as well.

And, John Kirby, I found interesting that for the first time now, the United States government -- and in this case it was Mark Esper, the

secretary of defense -- said that the attack, that hte threat that justified the killing of Soleimani, this attack, was potentially days away.

But didn't give any additional information supporting that claim.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, you're right. The other thing that was interesting, Hala, to me, was that he also made a

point of saying the imminent nature of the intel was only one factor involved in their decision to go after Soleimani.

And he said something similar to Christiane, in his interview earlier this afternoon. He's clearly -- I don't want to say walking back, but he's

certainly trying to clarify the justification for going after Soleimani in terms of not making it all about an imminent set of intelligence indicators

that there was something in the offing.

But, yes, he was more specific, he did say days. And I'm sure that when he goes up on the Hill in that classified setting, he's going to be pressed by

lawmakers to be much more specific about the exact details of the intelligence that we had on Soleimani.

GORANI: And understandably, people are, since the Iraq invasion, questioning of American claims that there is intelligence justifying either

military action or --

KIRBY: Right.

GORANI: -- a targeted killing such as the one that took out Soleimani. Will there -- these -- this evidence, can we expect any of it to be made

public, John?

KIRBY: You know, it's a good question, Hala. I don't know. I suspect that once they start briefings on the Hill, that often leads to public

dicslosure whether you like it or not. So I think in the coming days and maybe weeks, the American people will -- may get a little bit more

fidelity, a little bit more context surrounding the information that we had on Soleimani in the days right before that attack.

But I wouldn't expect that it's going to be granular in detail or that we're going to get information that would violate or perhaps put at risk

our sources and methods. I think even on the Hill, they'll be circumspect in terms of how much detail that goes out.

But I do want to keep coming back to this point about the imminent nature of the intelligence. To some degree, I think Esper makes a good point.

It's not all that relevant. And I don't know that it helped the administration to lean so heavily on that justification in the first place.

So -- just by virtue of who he was and what he had been doing as recently as just the last couple of months, Soleimani had made himself a legitimate

target and I think that's really the crux of the argument here, and something that nobody should forget.

GORANI: Well, you're right. Their argument has shifted. Thanks very much, John Kirby and Kylie Atwood.

[14:28:14]

Still to come, it is too late to worry about war breaking out, according to Iran's foreign minister. He says the U.S. started one a long time ago.

The newsmaking CNN interview is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:30:47]

GORANI: The foreign minister of Iran has spoken to CNN saying that anti- American sentiment in the Middle East was the price for arrogance.

Here's Fred Pleitgen's full interview with Javad Zarif.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FREDERICK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're obviously at a time when it's an extremely dangerous situation between Iran

and the United States and for the entire Middle Eastern region. You have said that Iran will retaliate for the targeted killing of General Qasem

Soleimani. President Trump has said there would be a disproportionate response if you do that. What do you make of president Trump's threats?

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: But I think president Trump after watching the crowds yesterday must stop threatening. This

people will be further enraged by his threats and his threats will not frighten us.

But what he's showing something -- he's showing to the international community that he has no respect for international law. That he is

prepared to commit war crimes because attacking cultural sites is a war crime.

Disproportionate response is a war crime. Proportionality is a major principle of international law. But he doesn't -- he doesn't care, it

seems, about international law, but has he made U.S. more secure? Do Americans feel more secure? Are Americans welcome today in this region?

Do they feel welcome? How do they feel about people chanting in the streets of Iraq, in the streets of Moscow, in the streets of Delhi, and

everywhere else that they should leave? How do they feel about that? That's the price for arrogance, for ignorance, for lack of respect.

PLEITGEN: But President Trump was saying and Mike Pompeo was saying as well, that they have intelligence that General Soleimani was planning

attacks, imminent attacks on U.S. targets. They say this was a deterrent attack, and they do say that America is safer today.

ZARIF: Well, they're either based on misinformation or they're lying, because General Soleimani's mission was to contain the anger in Iraq

following the United States murder of about 25 Iraqi. This is a very clear information that we had. Clear information that the Iraqi government had.

The government of Iraq has been on the record saying what he was doing.

General Soleimani was the greatest force for stability in Iraq. He was the hero of the fight against Daesh, along with his companions, particularly

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. They're revered by the people of Iraq. Did you see that funeral processions?

Now, Mike Pompeo might like a video clip that somebody sent him showing a couple of people, 20 people, celebrating, but did he close his eyes to see

the huge sea of people mourning in Iraq and Iran? Their days in our region are numbered. Not because anybody will take any action against him, but

because they are not welcome in our region.

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?

ZARIF: 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.

[14:35:05]

PLEITGEN: But how can you respond? Because the U.S. is already pulling additional troops into the Middle Eastern region and they're saying that

they're hardening the defenses of their bases that they have in this region as well.

ZARIF: Well, the United States has been in this region for many years and has not brought itself or the region any security. We leave it at that.

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

ZARIF: Well, we think --

PLEITGEN: Because you obviously -- it's not a secret that you control militias in this region, that you have forces that are on your side in this

region in many countries.

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

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

world. People rule the world. People.

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

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

PLEITGEN: 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 an American contractor who was killed, and then there was the protests at

the embassy which destroy the outside of the embassy and laid the embassy under siege.

ZARIF: Well, the Iranian consulate in Najaf 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. We were having a normal elections in Iraq, normal elections in Lebanon. Governments coming to office through the

democratic process. Negotiations started in Syria. We had the reducing of tension in Syria. Government was established in Lebanon. Government was

established in Iraq. 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. The United States destroyed stability in this region. The United States

undermined security in this region.

So one contractor, at least in the last month, 25 Iranian babies died because of EB, and because of U.S. sanctions.

PLEITGEN: And that's all terrible, of course. Things like that are happening.

But right now, isn't there a threat that all of this could descend into something much, much worse?

ZARIF: No.

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 seven millennia. We will continue to be here. The United States is a newcomer.

PLEITGEN: Do you think it's even worse speaking -- worth speaking to President Trump or would it be worth speaking to him?

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

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

He is destroying the U.S. constitution. He is destroying the U.S. political process. He is destroying the rule of law in the United States,

but that's not for me to say, that's a domestic affair of the United States.

He has enraged the people of our region. He has killed people of this region. He has spent a trillion dollars. He said that U.S. had raised $7

trillion in our region. He has added another trillion. Is the United States more secure today because of that?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[14:40:18]

GORANI: Well, as Zarif asked, is the U.S. safer or in any way better off because of its policy in the Middle East? Well, Americans are about to

decide.

Rachel Bitecofer is a lecturer and author who tracks public opinion. She's been looking at what all this could mean for Donald Trump in November and

also for the Republican Party in the shorter term. Rachel, thanks for being with us.

Where does public opinion fall on the strike overall in the United States? Are Americans, by and large, supportive of the president's actions?

RACHEL BITECOFER, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, WASON CENTER FOR PUBLIC POLICY: Yes. So polling on this is, of course, going to take some time, and there's

going to be delay. And by anticipation too ultimately is because of the polarized nature of the politics and the fact that this is going to involve

President Trump, and the way that the Republican senators are lining up.

It will ultimately see Republican voters rallying behind the president for the most part, and everybody else kind of against it, I think, because I

think it's pretty clear already, the decision was made hastily and without full consideration of repercussions.

One of the major repercussions, of course, we just saw unfold in the CNN interview in which Iran is now able to use this attack in a PR push with

the international community where they are classifying us as a lawless, you know, outside of the bounds of the international customs and norms of war

making. So it's --

GORANI: But I find --

BITECOFER: -- it's definitely already backfiring.

GORANI: Certainly, you could make that argument that it has even unified Iranians who would be perhaps on different sides of issues inside of Iran.

But Republicans, the supportive Republicans for the president can be seen as puzzling since Trump ran on a platform to extricate, to disengage the

United States from what he calls forever wars in the Arab world. This potentially is opening the door to more troop presence, U.S. troop presence

in the Middle East. So how would you explain continued support?

BITECOFER: Yes. I mean, this is definitely rife with danger for the president as he's embarking on this reelection bid.

And, you know, initially I think the expectation was that this was a decision driven by the president. But reporting suggests that he was

counseled to this decision by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence.

If that is true, and they pressured the president toward this line of thinking, it may end up be something that the president ends up regretting

to do. Because ultimately, it seemed to me that the Iranian prime minister or foreign minister there was conveying that Iran is aware that the United

States has a public relations problem, not only with the fact that were coming into this conflict or this part of the conflict having kind of

triggered it with the withdrawal of the Iran nuclear deal, putting us here today.

But also with Trump's conduct, I mean, not only with this strike being kind of, you know, done without consulting of Congress and kind of out of the

blue. In some ways, it suggests a little bit of extralegal potential and extra-legal activity. But also with the fact that he doesn't seem to have

thought through the potential ramifications. And I think we're going to start to see some of those play out over the next couple of months.

GORANI: And, Rachel, you accurately predicted the 2018 midterms, you had a model that accurately predicted the democratic gain.

What I found interesting is you have Fox News opinion host like Tucker Carlson who are breaking with the president on this particular matter, this

strike against Soleimani in Baghdad. If you lose -- if you lose Tucker Carlson, are you not also losing a portion of your support base?

BITECOFER: Yes. I mean, it's really important to note. I mean, Tucker Carlson is representing that libertarian wing of the Republican Party.

There is still some ideological factionalism within that Republican Party and the war issue is the one. And Trump had promised them, I will not get

us into stupid wars.

So I think it's quite possible that, you know, we get down a couple months from today, what we're going to see is Trump with buyer's remorse on this

decision, primarily because of the Tucker Carlsons and the Rand Pauls of the party, you know, unhappy with the results which unfortunately for the

American service members and Americans abroad is not an abstract thing. There's going to be a price to be paid and unfortunately, it's probably

going to cost American lives.

GORANI: Rachel Bitecofer, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate having you on the program, as always.

[14:45:04]

BITECOFER: Well, thank you so much for having me.

GORANI: Still to come -- all right. Thank you.

America's Middle East strategy may be confusing to some, but Russia seems pretty clear, when a surprise visit by Vladimir Putin to Syria says about

his intentions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: Well, the Golden Globes over this weekend, BAFTA nominations have been announced now, and four of the top categories have something in

common.

See if you can spot it. Here's the short list for best actor for a BAFTA. Understandable nods among the list, Leonardo DiCaprio, among others. Same

again on supporting actor. No one is surprised to see Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins, and Joe Pesci nominated for any award.

Take a look at the supporting actress list, Margot Robbie was so nice, they named her twice there for roles in both "Bombshell" and "Once Upon a Time

in Hollywood." And lead actress, along with Jessie Buckley and Charlize Theron, Scarlett Johansson made that list for "Marriage Story" and the one

before for her supporting role in "Jojo Rabbit."

As separate choices, they all make sense, obviously. But did you notice that across all four categories, not one actor of color was mentioned.

Even the chairman of the BAFTAs expressed frustration after all 18 of the people nominated for acting awards were white.

What's more, not a single woman was nominated for best director. One of the names many critics hoped to see on the short list was Greta Gerwig who

put her spin on an old classic "Little Women."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to be an artist in Rome and be the best painter in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what you want too, isn't it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She want to be a famous, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, but it sounds so crass when she says it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My girls have a way of getting into mischief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So do I.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Meg, Amy, Beth, and Joe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I intend to make my own way in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No one makes their own way. Least of all a woman, you'll need to marry wealth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are not married, aren't you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, that's because I'm rich.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: Let's talk to Holland Reid, she's a journalist, she's joining me from Atlanta. And also, some notable snub, some might say. Jennifer

Lopez, for instance, for her role in "Hustler." She got great reviews for that. Lupita Nyong'o who starred in "Us." Where are the women and where

are the people of color in this award season?

HOLLAND REID, ENTERTAINMENT JOURNALIST: I would like to know the same thing. I think a lot of people have the same question this morning once

the nominations came out. It was quite baffling to see that the BAFTAs completely left out some of the most talented actresses this year.

Like you said, Awkwafina, she just won the Golden Globe for her role in "The Farewell." And that was a historic moment as an Asian-American

actress, and we see that she didn't even get a nomination for the BAFTAs.

It's a pattern that's happened. Just like you mentioned Greta Gerwig as well, she was snubbed last year in the female director position for "Lady

Bird" and she got snubbed again this year.

[14:50:01]

So they're -- while they're trying to make things more diverse, they don't have the people in the positions to pick the nominations so that the people

who are judging can actually pull from a jury of their peers, and that seems to be an ongoing problem. It's having white male men in the

positions of power and not be able to choose the nominated actors and films that would have the opportunity to win awards.

So it starts from the bottom. It starts in production. It starts with getting these people of color opportunities.

GORANI: Yes. But I mean -- but if you look at Greta Gerwig, I mean, she's made good movies already. It's not like she needs the opportunity. She

has the studio backing. She's putting out incredible work.

And the head of BAFTA was frustrated -- was saying there was frustration, but that it's BAFTA members who vote for the nomination. So how do you fix

that?

REID: That -- you know, that's absolutely true. And I think that what they're doing, just like one of the initiatives they have is called

elevate. And that's highlighting these talented female directors and getting them more exposure and getting the backing behind them not just

with the studios and the money, but also with the people making the decisions on who's going to win these awards.

Again, I do think when you have not just the members voting and it's typically a lot of white men, you do tend to get that result. I think it's

a reflection of the committees that nominate these actors. But also just continuously giving more women the platform to make bigger films. She's

one of few, which is fantastic, but we have to continue to get more Gretas in the lineup.

GORANI: But I wonder if there's some implicit bias here at work that even among women, I mean, we're so used to seeing a certain kind of actor, a

certain kind of director, a certain kind of movie that what's outside of that framework just feels too foreign. It's not kind of the usual go-to

product.

REID: I think -- I think you're right. We -- when something is put in our face repeatedly year after year, decade after decade, I think we see the

same thing in politics that we see in the workplace that we see in people in positions of powers or CEOs.

I think it's the same exact issue and conflict that we have in television. And it's not going to change until men root for women whether it's a white

woman director or a black female actress, men have to continue to help us diversify. We can't do it alone. We have to be partners in this.

And I just do think that with the BAFTAs, it's another reflection of that, you know, they're used to what they're seeing in the U.K. It is a European

country. They do make a lot of European literacy that is mostly white when they're -- when they're pulling from stories.

So we just have to find those rich ethnic stories for people of color to be represented as well as females to be represented.

GORANI: Yes. Well, at least we have "Fleabag" and "Killing Eve." Those are obviously female-led, big female roles as well. Thanks very much --

REID: Yes.

GORANI: -- Holland Reid.

We have to go to the White House where the U.S. president is hosting the Greek prime minister.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Questions are being asked in Washington and across America about what evidence you had to Qasem Soleimani was planning attacks

against American targets. What can you tell us about what you knew prior to ordering the attack?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, number one, I knew the past. His past was horrible. He was a terrorist. He was so designated by

President Obama, as you know. And he wasn't even supposed to be outside of his own country; he was. So, right there.

But that's, in a way, the least of it. We had an attack very recently that he was in charge of, where we had people horribly wounded, one dead. In

fact, the number now, as of this morning, I believe is two dead. And that was his.

He was traveling with the head of Hezbollah. They weren't there to discuss a vacation. They weren't there to go to a nice resort some place in

Baghdad. They were there to discuss bad business. And we saved a lot of lives by terminating his life. A lot of lives have saved. They were

planning something, and you're going to be hearing about it, or at least various people in Congress are going to be hearing about it tomorrow.

Our secretary of state covered it very well a little while ago. I saw him. I saw his new conference -- Mike. And if you want to mention a couple of

things in addition to what I've just said. But we had tremendous information. We've been following him for a long time. And we followed

his path for those three days. And they were not good stops. We didn't like where he was stopping. They were not good stops. We saved a lot of

lives. Mike?

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I would only add we had deep intelligence indicating there was active plotting to put American lives at

risk. And I'm confident, I think the President is confident too, that the actions that the President took saved American lives, saved lives of Iraqi

Muslims as well. It was the right thing to do. And our Department of Defense did an excellent job executing the mission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And, Mr. President --

TRUMP: And, as you know, he killed at least 608 Americans, but the number is much higher than that. He's also very much -- roadside bombs and all of

the horrible explosives that you see, he was a big believer and sent them everywhere. He was somebody that we did ourselves and we did a lot of

countries a big favor.

[14:55:16]

And I've been -- I've been hearing from countries. They were extremely happy with what we did. And if you look inside Iran itself, there were

plenty of those leaders that were happy because they feared him and didn't like him, in many cases.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you also clear up, Mr. President, whether Iranian cultural sites would be on any future target list?

TRUMP: Well, as I said yesterday, it was very interesting, they're allowed to kill our people, they're allowed to maim our people, they're allowed to

blow up everything that we have and there's nothing that stops them, and we are, according to various laws, supposed to be very careful with their

cultural heritage. And you know what? If that's what the law is, I like to obey the law.

But think of it. They kill our people, they blow up our people, and then we have to be very gentle with their cultural institutions. But I'm OK

with it. It's OK with me.

I will say this. If Iran does anything that they shouldn't be doing, they're going to be suffering the consequences, and very strongly.

All right. Steve?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there any signs of imminent retaliation from the Iranians? Any indications of imminent --

TRUMP: Well, don't forget, in our case, it was retaliation because they were there first. They killed -- look, I don't have to talk about him.

For 18 to 20 years, he was a monster. But just in the very short period of time, two people dead, people badly injured, and then before that, there

were other attacks. And look at what he was planning.

So that'll be discussed tomorrow morning. Right now, it's classified, and that'll be discussed tomorrow with Mike Pompeo and the Joint Chiefs of

Staff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the U.S. prepared for an Iranian attack?

TRUMP: We're prepared. We're totally prepared. And likewise, we're prepared to attack if we have to, as retribution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, if Iran's leaders say that any response to the Soleimani killing would be, quote, "proportionate." What would the

United States do in the event of any Iranian --

TRUMP: So, again, John, if you look at what's going on, ours was a -- an attack based on what they did. We weren't the first one out. He killed an

American. Now two people are dead from the same attack, and some people very badly wounded. And that was one of his smaller endeavors.

You look over his past, his past -- he's been called a monster, and he was a monster. And he's no longer a monster, he's dead. And that's a good

thing for a lot of countries. And he was planning a very big attack and a very bad attack for us and other people. And we stopped him.

And I don't think anybody can complain about it. I don't hear too many people, other than politicians who are trying to win the presidency. Those

are the ones that are complaining. But I don't hear anybody else complaining.

Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, you called him a monster, but your friend, Erdogan, called him a martyr. What is your reaction?

TRUMP: Well, that's everybody -- to each his own. I mean, I disagree 100 percent, and I'm sure he does too. But he has a public to take care of,

and I guess that's for his own reason. But I'm actually surprised to hear that, but that's OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you willing to make a deal with Greece regarding F- 35s, sir?

TRUMP: Say it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you willing to make a deal with Greece regarding F- 35?

TRUMP: So Greece and I, and my people, and we have a whole group of people. And as you see, they brought a lot of great representatives from

Greece that we've been dealing with. We have a tremendous Greek population, over three million people, as I understand it. That's

fantastic. I think I know -- I really feel I know most of them. I think I know all of them, come to think of it. But it's a great population in the

United States.

We're going to be meeting, we're going to be talking, we're going to be negotiating, and we're going to be making a lot of deals.

KYRIAKOS MITSOTAKIS, PRIME MINISTER OF GREECE: Let me add something ---

TRUMP: We have a really great relationship with Greece.

MITSOTAKIS: Let me add something to that. Greece is interested, Mr. President, in participating in the F-35 program. As you know, we are

already upgrading our F-16s.

TRUMP: Yes.

MITSOTAKIS: And that program will be completed in 2023, 2024. So we're very much interested in participating in the F-35 program after that. And

I'm sure that the U.S. will take into consideration the fact that this country is coming out of an economic crisis, in terms of structuring the

program in the best possible way for my country.

TRUMP: That's true. And, you know, they just signed a very big renovation of existing aircraft. They have great aircraft, but it's gotten a little

bit tired. And they've done a renovation that's going to bring it up to brand new, and we look forward to doing that. A couple of our great

companies are doing it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, in Iraq, how do you feel about the idea of the supposed withdrawal from Iraq being a possibility? Isn't that something

Soleimani actually wanted all these years?

END