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President Donald Trump To Address The Nation After The Iran Strikes Back. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired January 8, 2020 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, we're having a lot of last-minute changes here. All reporters were not expected to be invited to this address, initially, just a few in the room, the pool, as we call it, coming in. Just a few moments ago, the White House came over the speaker and announced that it was going to be open press and they invited all of these reporters here.
Now we are crammed inside the room waiting on the president to deliver his remarks at that podium behind me now where we see there are two prompters flanking it and the chairs appear to be filled with staff of the White House right now.
But of course, the big question is going to be, what is the president going to say about these attacks. We've been waiting on his response since last night. We know he's been huddling with his national security team in the Situation Room, weighing how he's going to respond.
It does appear that some of his allies on Capitol Hill are telegraphing what we could see in that response. If it's going to be a restrained response, despite the president, for the last five days, threatening that America will retaliate if Iran did strike Americans or American assets, as we saw them going after those bases where they are filled with Americans last night.
But so far, Senator Lindsey Graham and other lawmakers who have spoken with the president have been saying they believe he should act with restraint here, not respond to Iran in a proportionate manner to how they responded.
So that's the big question, exactly what it is the president is going to say there and, really, what is the overall mission for the Trump administration when it comes to Iran, because tensions are obviously considerably higher than they have been in the past.
So that is really going to be the question. Not just what's the short-term response. What is President Trump going to do in the long term -- Kate?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: That's absolutely right.
I spoke to Lindsey Graham just a short time ago and he said he doesn't know what the president is going to say. When he spoke with him last night, he did think that the president thought he had a good hand and that he was measured in his thinking. But, of course, we wait to hear what the president has to say.
Kaitlin is in the room and --
BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Kaitlan.
COLLINS: One other thing I do want to note is, last night, when we were waiting to see if we were going to hear from the president then, we are told by sources he was waiting to see if there were any American casualties in that attack. We are told that is likely going to factor into the response you see from the president today.
BOLDUAN: That could be key. Very interesting.
Kaitlin, thank you so much.
Our eyes remain there at the White House waiting for the president. He will be speaking any moment now and addressing the nation.
As we wait, Gloria Borger, let me bring you in.
Gloria, what does this moment mean?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's a huge moment for the country and for Donald Trump. He has been sabre rattling against Iran for the last weeks, while his people have been talking now about a de-escalation.
And I think it's a moment for the president to exhibit what Mitch McConnell this morning predicted he would exhibit, which are not qualities we have often seen from the president, which are patience and prudence is what mitch McConnell is talking about. That's what Lindsey Graham is obviously talking about to you, Kate.
And so we have to see a president up there who says, OK, now I want to de-escalate this and I want to sit down with the Iranians and I want to put an end to this. And we will see how he expresses that.
And then we will see what the Iranians actually do. I mean, this may be the end of this for now, of course. But the question is, what happens down the road. Is this really the end as far as the Iranians are concerned?
So it is a huge moment of leadership for the president. He should not be gloating, taking a victory lap, et cetera. But he ought to explain American policy. He ought to explain why he did what he did and clarify all of that. Because, of course, there's been confusion about the strike itself.
And then extend an olive branch and say, OK, enough is enough, we have no interest in going to war.
BOLDUAN: Barbara Starr -- let's go over to the Pentagon right now and get the military view at this moment.
Barbara, talk to me about some of what you're picking up, the early warnings that the military, the Pentagon was able to pick up that this retaliation from Iran was coming.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Kate. By all accounts, no U.S. casualties. One of the ways they may have been able to have that news of not having any U.S. casualties is the U.S. military and Intelligence Community was able to have very early warning on its own, using military satellites, intelligence assets.
They are able to see, using satellites that are obviously not aircraft flying in Iranian space. They can see the signature, the heat signal of these missiles inside Iran as they are being launched.
At that point, intelligence assets swing into action. They can begin to calculate what kind of missile it is, what its flight time, its trajectory is, and begin to calculate what some potential targets may be and where those missiles are headed.
That is what happened when this launch began to take place. That is what helped the U.S. have its own intelligence and be able to warn U.S. troops very quickly to get into safe areas. And they were able to keep them out of harm's way.
They also did get a warning from the Iraqi government that it heard from the Iranians. But still it was U.S. intelligence, the U.S. military that has these very highly classified systems that helped them know when missiles are headed in their direction.
It would be the same technology that would be used if North Korea, for example, was trying to launch a missile toward the United States. It's that critical, quick detection that a missile is in the air and is coming your way. So this is really good news.
I think we're about to see the president of the United States very shortly come into the room and the world is waiting to see what he has to say.
BOLDUAN: That's exactly right, Barbara.
John King join us on this.
Because I want to get what you're expecting. This is an important moment for any president when he's making remarks like this. For this president, it will be very interesting the tone that he takes.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It will be, Kate. And for the past three years, there's been so much chaos, so much disruption, so much drama, it is hard sometimes to separate the big moments from the really big moments. This is an especially big moment for any president. This is a moment
of war and peace. This is a moment of great consequence for this president of the United States.
It is a moment in which he is battling -- he has to decide between his words of the last few days, in which he has said, if Iran strikes back at an American base or American personnel, you will pay a price for that. That, the president is on the record saying.
And against his own instincts. As a candidate and a president, he has said, even though the map is going the other direction, he has said he wants to withdraw the American military presence in the Middle East. So he has a big choice to make.
And he has many audiences he's about to address. He has to address Iran directly. He has to address the American people. He has to address Iraq and the future presence of U.S. troops there at a time Iraq itself is in the middle of a mess here.
He has to address American allies around the world who have long been opposed to his Iran policy who are wondering, do you have a strategy or are you just in a tactical back-and-forth with the Iranians.
One thing we do not get often from this president is nuance. This is a moment where he has to lay, if he does what we're told he's going to do, say I am willing to step back if Iran starts behaving. I'm willing to watch and I'm even willing to negotiate. That is what we're told we'll hear from the president.
How does he lay that out and can he lay it out? Will he lay it out in a coherent way that not only gets us through today and tomorrow but charts some course -- this is what the administration has failed to do so far -- chart some court for where he hopes to get?
BOLDUAN: Jim Sciutto is here with me in studio.
Jim, what are you thinking in this moment? You've been talking to your sources. What are you thinking here?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The key questions today are, does the president believe Iran is now de- escalating. This is an opportunity. And is the president willing to de-escalate as well? Will he communicate that today?
We learned something in these last 24, 48 hours. We learned that the U.S., that this president is willing to strike Iran in its most- sensitive, high-level places. It killed a senior military intelligence leader and quite a political leader in Iran. That is a remarkable step for this president to take that prior presidents, Republican, Democrat, did not take because of fear of consequences.
We also learned, though, that Iran can strike back at the U.S. It does appear that they calibrated this intentionally. That's our reporting. Not to hit U.S. soldiers, but they showed a capability here and quite an accurate one. They showed some of this before. Their attacks on the Saudi oil
facility weeks ago showed enormous accuracy in advance of Iranian missiles. This attack on the U.S. bases from Iranian territory was, at a minimum, a message.
Both sides have enormous capabilities. Are they willing at this point to walk back from the brink of war? That's a question the president has to answer.
BOLDUAN: And in the calibration that you just talked about, that is all our reporting is as well, that the president is factoring that into his remarks, the fact that casualties -- American casualties were avoided could be a key factor in what we're about to hear from the president, who will be speaking any moment now, as we wait to hear from the president.
David Sanger is here with me as well.
David, the conversation of what de-escalation looks like, what does negotiation potentially look like with Iran in this moment, this is a conversation that has extend ed for a long period of time with you since the president decided to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. What are you listening for?
DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: What I'm hearing -- listening to hear is openings to negotiation that are real. What we heard last year was we're getting out of the deal, but you better stay and comply with it. That isn't a way into negotiation.
What we heard last year was there are 12 things that Iran must do to change and then we will talk to you. Also not a way usually to start conversations up.
Now, Kate, I think the key moment will come if the president lays out a pathway to a real negotiation in which he indicates that the U.S. is going to have some flexibility and some give as well.
Now, he did do this with North Korea. It's a much harder thing to do with Iran for all kinds of reasons. I think it's much harder for his administration, because Secretary Pompeo has been really the biggest single Iran hawk, and he's the one who's going to have to lead any real negotiations.
BOLDUAN: That's a really important and fascinating point, David. You're absolutely right.
Let me bring in now retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. He once served as deputy training director of the National Security Agency.
Great to see you.
Tell me what you think is important in this moment. What is important for all military officers serving here and overseas that they'll be listening to when they listen to the commander-in-chief come to the lectern and speak in a moment?
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Kate, the big thing they're listening for is what's next. What's the direction that's going to come up for a military officer, for military enlisted folks? Are they going to be deployed for years on end in an endless war that we have sworn to get out of, or is this something that with proper vigilance we can contain?
So we're basically at the nexus between an active military campaign and a containment strategy of one type or another. Those are the things we are looking at.
We are looking at what the impact will be on military families, what the impact will also be on the force itself. Because this kind of an ops tempo, an operational tempo that the force has sustained since basically 9/11, is a very, very tough thing for a force to sustain during this period.
And that's really a key question: Can we do this if we go really hot war with Iran or can we step back and contain this in a way that allows us to protect our forces but also the interests of our allies?
BOLDUAN: Let me get over to Christiane Amanpour, CNN's chief international anchor.
Christiane, what is next, do you believe, from Iran's perspective here?
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, look, I think everything you've just been talking about is absolutely correct, that Iran sent a message.
It was the first time Iran has directly launched missiles at an American target from inside its country and claiming it. Not saying this is anonymous or not just, you know, doing something and saying it wasn't us, saying it was us. The words of the supreme leader, "This is a slap in the face of the United States."
But I think the real thing to know now is whether, as Secretary Esper said to me yesterday, the U.S. wants to make sure this is a moment of deterrence and a moment, as he said, to get Iran to sit down with us and talk about a better future.
So how is that going to happen?
Because if the United States continues its policy of maximum pressure, i.e., not just pulling out of the nuclear agreement but the very harsh sanctions that strangle Iran's oil capacity and all its economic capacities, if that continues, intelligence believes that Iran will eventually continue what it's been doing and that is responding with those little attacks -- well, those attacks on shipping in the Persian Gulf, the attack on the Saudis, all those things that it's done that led to this point.
Furthermore, Iran has said, even this proportionate response is not our final aim. Our final political aim is to get the U.S. forces out of the region. I think one has to really focus on that. That is coalescing as the message out of Iran since this whole cycle began, and certainly by the words of the leader, since this retaliatory strike.
What does that mean and what does it look like, because the U.S. does not want to leave Iraq. Iraq's U.S. allies do not want to be abandoned and left in the region without the United States. And if the U.S. does have to leave Iraq, somehow or some way or some when, it will be Iran and, indeed, Russia, according to sources, who are the winners.
So Iran has a political strategy, which it's had for a long time, and now it's up to the United States to formulate a political strategy.
Secretary Pompeo said yesterday the strategy is confront and contain. Those appear to be conflicting aims. How do you confront and contain? You generally, according to experts, do one or the other.
So it's absolutely necessary to know whether the U.S. has a strategy going forward and what is it, what it is.
BOLDUAN: So the stakes for what the president is about to say are only getting greater, as you lay out there, Christiane.
Please stick with me.
Let's go to Tehran where Fred Pleitgen has been since the beginning of all this.
Fred, what are you hearing there? What is the expectation on the ground in Tehran? How important are these remarks there tonight?
FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're extremely important because the Iranians are looking to see whether or not the retaliatory strikes that they conducted, whether or not that's going to be the end of it.
Really what we've been hearing here October ground, Poppy (sic), from pretty much every Iranian military and political official we've been speaking to, they have been saying, look, after you killed our main general, Qasem Soleimani, we are going to retaliate. We're going to have to retaliate and we're going to retaliate against military targets.
After that retaliation took place, it was quite interesting to see how quickly Iranian officials then came out and are now offering, what Jim was saying, an off-ramp for all of this.
First and foremost, you had Iran's foreign minister, who's someone who is very vocal and often is the face really of Iranian public diplomacy towards the world.
I want to read just a little bit of the tweet that he sent really very shortly after these strikes took place. He said, "Iran took and concluded -- and I think "concluded" is really a key word in all this -- "proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of the U.N. charter targeting base from, which cowardly armed attack against our citizens and senior officials were launched."
So the Iranians are saying this is absolutely proportionate in their mind after the killing of Qasem Soleimani because they stroke the base from where they believe this attack on Qasem Soleimani was launched. And they also believe that now those measures are over. It seems as though from them saying that these measures have been concluded.
Now, the Iranians are saying that the ball very much squarely is in President Trump's court moving forward.
Christiane was just saying -- and I think it's one of the key things actually that's playing out on the ground here in Iran as well. If you spoke to people, speaking to folks on the ground as well, the supreme leader coming out and saying this was nothing more than a slap in the face towards the Americans.
That seems to confirm that the Iranians were not looking to kill American troops. It looks as though the Iranians were trying to demonstrate that they have these capabilities, what Jim was talking about, that they can strike pretty accurately with these ballistic missiles.
And we've been hearing a lot about Iran's ballistic missile program. They have been talking about it a lot as well. It is still quite remarkable to see that these missiles were -- seem to have been fairly accurate in the way that they were steered towards those two bases that had American troops on them.
I think that's something where the Iranians really demonstrated that their capabilities are quite menacing, if that's what they want them to be. So the Iranians have demonstrated that capability to the U.S.
They are now saying, look, how you move forward is really up to you. If you don't strike back at us now, and this is something that the Iranians have said, then it can end here. If you do, then this will descend a great deal further.
One senior Iranian general coming out and saying that if the U.S. does strike back that there would be what he calls an even more crushing response. That obviously could have devastating consequences, not just for Iran itself and for the United States but, of course, for this entire region as well.
But I do think, for the Iranians, it was extremely important for them to show that in this conflict that it has with the United States, this very long-term conflict, they don't just rely on low-tech proxy forces if they want to threaten U.S. interests. They can do it with very conventional equipment that they have, that they produce themselves, and still be extremely dangerous with it.
One final thing that I think is really important as well is one of the things that Christiane was saying, is that, for the Iranians, the big conflict with the Trump administration, the conflict that we're seeing play out right now, for them, that started with the United States leaving the nuclear agreement.
I was speaking to the foreign minister, Javad Zarif, yesterday, and he was telling me, look, it looked as though things were moving forward in the Middle Eastern region. There were good things happening. And there were good things happening in Iran as well. And he asked me, what happened.
He said, in his mind, it was the United States leaving that nuclear agreement and starting the maximum pressure campaign, which, of course, the Iranians refer to as economic terrorism in their mind. Because, of course, it has really crippled this country's economy. It's doing a lot of damage. A lot of goods not available. The medical sector suffering as well.
If you look at the escalation that we have had since then, it really is quite remarkable because then, all of a sudden, you had attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf. That seemed like a big stand-off between the U.S. and Iran where things got dangerously close to escalating.
Then you had those attacks on those oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, the shootdown of an American drone. Now you have these two sides shooting directly at one another with an Iranian general being taken out and, on the other side, now the Iranians conducting these missile strikes.
The big question is, how can that fundamental nucleus of the escalation going on, how can that be addressed and some sort of agreement be found between these two sides -- guys?
BOLDUAN: Fred, thanks so much.
Let's go to Riyadh really quickly. Nic Robertson is standing by.
Nic, what could -- of course, we wait to hear from the president. He will be speaking any moment now. What could his remarks, this statement, this moment, mean for U.S. allies in the region?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: They could be quite huge to that point of what happens next, if this is a military de-escalation off-ramp towards diplomacy, if President Trump is going to interpret it as such.
It's clear what he wants, the 12 points that David Sanger was talking about, including biggest of all, of course, a denuclearization of Iran, longer clauses on the sunsets of when they can get back to some of their greater levels of production, controls of ballistic missiles, things that Iran has refused to do under these maximum pressure sanctions.
But it's very clear what Iran's position is now, and that is U.S. troops out of the region. So is President Trump prepared to put that on the table as part of the negotiations, that U.S. troops would pull out of Iraq? And that is what U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia, like the United Arab
Emirates, are going to look at. Is the United States, is President Trump really going to roll back effectively over the longer-term U.S. interests in the region and, therefore, what might happen? Would Russia come in? Would China come in?
Allies right now are going to look very carefully at how they can interpret if there's a compromise emerging in the president's mind here that he can get into a dialogue with the Iranians. This is an appropriate moment. And that he can put on the table the thing that it appears the Iranians want the most, which is U.S. troops out of the region. Of course, they want sanctions lifted as well.
The president wasn't prepared to put those on the table to negotiate with the Iranians before. But this is what allies here in Saudi and elsewhere will be looking for.
BOLDUAN: Nic, thanks so much.
We're going to get a quick break. We're not going to miss a moment of the president's remarks to the nation and the world.
We'll be right back.
BOLDUAN: Welcome back. Thank you for joining us.
You're looking at the side of your screen, an important thing to keep your eye on. President Trump will be speaking any moment now to address the nation after the Iranian strikes on Iraqi bases where U.S. forces are housed just last night.
Jim Sciutto here with me as well.
Jim, we're waiting for the president. A lot of talk about expectation, tone, what an off-ramp looks like. Is it surprising how quickly tone has shifted from, you hit me, I hit you back, to now, let's talk about renegotiating a nuclear deal?
SCIUTTO: We should be very wary of a rapid swing from brink of war warnings to diplomatic off-ramp because the distance between those two things is quite large.
SCIUTTO: And Iran has been known, even if it's keeping its powder dry for now, and the U.S., for that matter, if both have expending as much military force as they want to for the moment, Iran, in particular, often delays that activity. It's in their history they'll delay retaliation until months later and may act in covert ways, which is through proxies or via cyber means. That is always potential.
So if two days ago seems to our viewers that America was going to war and now they think -- and we could be forgiven for this -- think that maybe we've passed this, I think we should exercise caution as we analyze that and listen very carefully to the president's words.
BOLDUAN: And everyone who is close to the president will say and warns every time, they do not know what the president is going to say until he walks out and actually says it. That is always a reminder to keep as we wait for the president to walk out.
Let me give it back over to John King on this.
John, a lot of the discussion, understandably so, is about the question of, is the president going to lay out a strategy of what happens now. I do wonder what that means for the president if he does not lay out a strategy now, which is a huge -- which is a huge question. It is a huge marker to lay out.
KING: Kate, we all know the president does things his way.
KING: And a lot of things that the foreign policy establishment, the political establishment find outside the norm, find outside the way things should be conducted, the president says that's my way and I'm going to do it.
What the White House is saying is, if Iran is ready to de-escalate, then they win. That they took a horrible terrorist off the battlefield and Iran fired missiles into the ground. They consider this a win.
The question is, what does the president want to do next. You're right about the strategy.
There's also the moment -- as we wait for the president to come through those doors. These are disconnected events in some ways but everything is connected in another way, given the calendar.
This is a president who's about to face an impeachment trial. He's standing at a moment of war and peace and 300 days away from the next presidential election in which he is seeking four more years as commander-in-chief and leading the country.
So those things, you can view those things as separate or, as the president walks into this room, he understands the calendar and understands the other things that are happening as he faces a moment here of great testing.
BOLDUAN: Let's go into the room once again. Kaitlan Collins has been standing by.
Kaitlan, the announcement from the White House was that the president would be speaking at 11:00 on the dot. As we well know, it is far past that at this point. Is there a reason for the delay?
COLLINS: Well, it appears they may be changing the remarks. About 15 minutes ago, an aide came in, removed a small, thin binder from the lectern where the president is going to come in a few moments now, and they just brought it back a few moments ago. Typically, a sign that the president is likely on his way.
Now, aides to his top national security advisers are here in the room but those national security advisers are not in here yet.
But, Kate, if you see now, the defense secretary is coming in, the vice president is coming in, other officials are coming in now, right behind us. And we are just waiting on President Trump himself to join us here in the room.
BOLDUAN: You can see, and Kaitlan can see. She is right there.
And as we are all watching, Jim Sciutto, what this says, as we wait for the president, this is a show of force --
BOLDUAN: -- that is going to be standing beside, behind, and with President Trump when he comes out.
SCIUTTO: And a show of unity, frankly. We're all on the same page. We agree. There has been -- there have been very public cases of differences between the president and his senior advisers, the intelligence agencies, the Defense Department, et cetera. Think of the Syria withdrawals. I should say plural.
But in this case, clearly looking to deliver a message that this is a unified group making this decision for the country.
BOLDUAN: Can we all just note the utter and complete silence coming from the room as they walk in?
Gloria, it is remarkable to see. This shows the weight of this moment.
BORGER: Well, it does. And it shows you that they all understand the weight of this moment. And it is a moment when a president can, to state the obvious, behave like a president and when he can show that he has a clear and concise policy.
And here he is.
BOLDUAN: And here we have president of the United States to address the nation and the world.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As long as I am president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. Good morning.
I'm pleased to inform you, the American people should be extremely grateful and happy. No Americans were harmed in last night's attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties. All of our soldiers are safe, and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases.
Our great American forces are prepared for anything.
Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.
No American or Iraqi lives were lost, because of the precautions taken, the dispersal of forces, and an early warning system that worked very well. I salute the incredible skill and courage of America's men and women in uniform.
For far too long -- all the way back to 1979, to be exact -- nations have tolerated Iran's destructive and destabilizing behavior in the Middle East and beyond. Those days are over. Iran has been the leading sponsor of terrorism, and their pursuit of nuclear weapons threatens the civilized world. We will never let that happen.
Last week, we took decisive action to stop a ruthless terrorist from threatening American lives. At my direction, the United States military eliminated the world's top terrorist, Qasem Soleimani.