Return to Transcripts main page

AT THIS HOUR

Trump Addresses The Nation, Saying Iran Appears To Be Standing Down. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired January 8, 2020 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:00]

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last week, we took decisive actions to stop a ruthless terrorist from threatening American lives. At my direction, the United States military eliminated the world's top terrorist, Qasem Soleimani.

As the head of the Quds Force, Soleimani was personally responsible for some of the absolutely worst atrocities. He trained terrorist armies, including Hezbollah, launching terrorist strikes against civilian targets. He fueled bloody civil wars all across the region. He viciously wounded and murdered thousands of U.S. troops, including the planting of roadside bombs that maim and dismember their victims.

Soleimani directed the recent attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq that badly wounded four servicemembers and killed one American. And he orchestrated the violent assault on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

In recent days, he was planning new attacks on American targets, but we stopped him.

Soleimani's hands were drenched in both American and Iranian blood. He should have been terminated long ago.

By removing Soleimani, we have sent a powerful message to terrorists: If you value your own life, you will not threaten the lives of our people.

As we continue to evaluate options in response to Iranian aggression, the United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime. These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior.

In recent months alone, Iran has seized ships in international waters, fired an unprovoked strike on Saudi Arabia, and shot down two U.S. drones.

Iran's hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2013 and they were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash. Instead of saying, "Thank you," to the United States, they chanted, "Death to America." In fact, they chanted "Death to America" the day the agreement was signed. Then Iran went on a terror spree funded by the money from the deal and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq. The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration. The regime also greatly tightened the reins on their own country, even recently killing 1,500 people at the many protests that are taking place all throughout Iran.

The very defective JCPOA expires shortly anyway and gives Iran a clear and quick path to nuclear breakout. Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions and end its support for terrorism.

The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China to recognize this reality. They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal, or JCPOA, and we must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place.

We also must make a deal that allows Iran to thrive and prosper and take advantage of its enormous untapped potential. Iran can be a great country. Peace and stability cannot prevail in the Middle East as long as Iran continues to foment violence, unrest, hatred and war.

The civilized world must send a clear and unified message to the Iranian regime: Your campaign of terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any longer. It will not be allowed to go forward.

Today, I am going to ask NATO to become much more involved in the Middle East process. Over the last three years, under my leadership, our economy is stronger than ever before and America has achieved energy independence.

These historic accompliments (ph) change our strategic priorities.

[11:35:00]

These are accomplishments that nobody thought were possible -- and options in the Middle East became available. We are now the number one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world. We are independent, and we do not need Middle East oil.

The American military has been completely rebuilt under my administration, at a cost of $2.5 trillion.

TRUMP: U.S. armed forces are stronger than ever before. Our missiles are big, powerful, accurate, lethal and fast. Under construction are many hypersonic missiles.

The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it. American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent.

Three months ago, after destroying 100 percent of ISIS and its territorial caliphate, we killed the savage leader of ISIS, al- Baghdadi, who was responsible for so much death, including the mass beheadings of Christians, Muslims and all who stood in his way. He was a monster. Al-Baghdadi was trying again to rebuild the ISIS caliphate and failed. Tens of thousands of ISIS fighters have been killed or captured during my administration.

ISIS is a natural enemy of Iran. The destruction of ISIS is good for Iran and we should work together on this and other shared priorities.

Finally, to the people and leaders of Iran, we want you to have a future -- and a great future, one that you deserve, one of prosperity and home and harmony with the nations of the world. The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.

I want to thank you and God bless America. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you.

[11:30:00]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And that is the response that the world was waiting to hear from the president of the United States.

Gloria Borger, let me bring you in.

What's your reaction?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, my reaction to this is, first of all, that the president made it very clear that he intends to continue and invoke more economic sanctions against Iran.

This was not a call for negotiation. This was a president who believes he is dealing from strength and said we are going to double down here to a great degree.

I think it was interesting that you saw all the generals arrayed behind him during this kind of a speech. We do not see that when the president delivers what is considered a political speech to the nation. But they were standing there and we have not seen that in the past.

One other thing I also want to point out is the president blaming Barack Obama for all of this, saying that, as a result of the Iran nuclear agreement -- this is something he has said in the past over and over again -- that they went on a spending spree, as he called it, which was funded by money that they obtained from the United States through this deal.

As we all know, after multiple fact checks over and over and over again, this is Iraqi money. I mean, Iranian money that was unfrozen as a part of the negotiation.

So I think what you saw was a president who was resolute but not handing -- not saying, let's talk. What he was saying is we are continuing to apply maximum pressure. And he didn't -- you know, he didn't acknowledge anything that the Iranians may have done to in their proportionate response.

So I think this is a president who wants to let the American public know that he is dealing from strength, that he is completely unbowed, and that he is continuing to twist the knot here against the Iranians.

BOLDUAN: Jim, what did you hear?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Listen, I think it is true that the president feels he's dealing from a position of strength.

But with respect, I'll disagree with Gloria because I found it notable that the final words in the president's speech, "The U.S. is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it." It's not unlike President Obama's famous unclenched fist speech, which led over a number of years to negotiations with Iran and eventually the nuclear deal.

[11:40:10]

And the president advertised what a potential negotiation could yield for Iran in similar terms to the way he's advertised it for North Korea, saying this this will unleash great economic opportunity for you and your people.

It sounded to me like the president was, at least -- again, in the midst of a larger message of strength, and we got the world's worst terrorist -- he's talking about the killing of Soleimani and so on. He called the world's top terrorist. Reiterating his willingness to sit down at the table, again, on America's terms.

"But to embrace peace with all who seek it." I don't think that's an unsignificant statement from the president -- insignificant statement from him.

BOLDUAN: A little something for maybe everyone in that.

Let's go back to the room. Kaitlin Collins was in there.

Kaitlan Collins, what did you hear?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, it was really notable that the president came out here, and before he even greeted the room, he said, and I'm quoting him now, "As long as I'm president of the United States, Iran will never have a nuclear weapon."

Then he greeted the room and got into those remarks, talked about essentially what the response to that is going to be. He signaled it is not going to be a military response, though you saw him flanked by the defense secretary, the vice president, Mike Pence, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff here in the room. A show of force and military might, of course.

But the president said instead he is going to impose more sanctions, more economic sanctions on Iran, though he didn't elaborate what those sanctions are going to look like.

He also said he's going to get NATO to get more involved in the Middle East. So there are more questions about what the president exactly meant by that.

But, Kate, it was really notable the president saying we do have this military equipment but we don't always have to use it. That is not what you've heard from the president over the last five days when he was telling Iran, essentially, threatening them if they did retaliate against Americans or American assets that he would respond with that military equipment, he said, and rather quickly.

Another thing that was really notable is the president credited the fact that no lives were lost in those attacks last night, whether American or Iraqi.

But one thing he talked about that -- and it's interesting noting what administration officials were telling Jim and I earlier about whether they thought Iran purposefully missed those Americans -- the president credited an early warning system for that.

We know that, of course, the Iraqi government gave those air bases a heads up about this attack and that potentially was what the president was referring to there, saying that is what helped here save lives.

So of course, the question going forward and the question that didn't get answered is, what is the long-term strategy going to be coming out of this. Is the president still willing to meet with Iran's president as he was over the summer?

And of course, his big remark that he's made that Iran is a changed country since he took office. The question is, how is that the case since you have continued to see these tensions between the two countries escalate.

BOLDUAN: Kaitlin, to your point about what is a long-term strategy that the president did or did not lay out -- let me get back over to Christiane Amanpour for that.

Christiane, what's your take?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: To amplify what you've just been talking about, I would say his statement that he was going to be talking to NATO leadership tonight, asking them to get more involved in the Middle East, is perhaps the most significant takeaway because he then went on to say he don't need Middle Eastern oil.

So is this a tacit indication that the United States wants to hand over military care of that region to NATO? And if so, isn't that exactly what Iran wants?

This is going to be very confusing. And we really, really need to know what exactly the president meant by that. Is he signaling an acceleration of the withdrawal of the U.S. presence from that region?

The Saudi Arabians are not going to like it. The Persian Gulf states are not going to like it. And Iraq is going to be in a very, very difficult place if that happens.

It is, however, what I said today, the united voice coming out of the Iranian leadership, that this military strike, which the president described as Iran standing down, this military retaliation from Iran was a slap in the face. But their long-term goal, and that is their strategic political goal, is to get U.S. to reduce and pull out its forces from that region. So this is a story we'll have to watch very, very closely.

On the other hand, I would say the president categorically held out the possibility of a deal with Iran. He actually said it. He used those words, that he's going to ask Iran to come back and he's going to ask his European allies to pull out of the nuclear deal so that everyone can get together and negotiate a new deal.

And then he went on to say, which is quite extraordinary, that the fact, the true fact that ISIS is also a threat to Iran and that the United States and Iran should actually work together to combat ISIS. Well, that is precisely what ISIS -- Iran did at the very beginning. It stepped in before there was any U.S. presence or any coalition against ISIS, stepped in to fight ISIS on the ground in Iraq and then in Syria.

[11:45:16]

In fact, President Rouhani's tweet today was, "General Soleimani fought heroically against ISIS, al Qaeda, et cetera. If it weren't for his war on terror, European capitals would be in great danger now."

Then he added, "Our final answer to his assassination will be to kick all U.S. forces out of the region."

So those are the really interesting and important points.

And again, as I said, if maximum pressure continues -- you know, there's a lot of conflicting strategies or tactics being promoted by the president there. We'll see which way they go. But if maximum pressure continues, you're likely to see maximum response from Iran.

BOLDUAN: With new economic sanctions that he says are going to be immediately imposed, now it's maximum pressure, plus some.

Christiane, stand by if you could.

Let me get back over to the Pentagon for a military perspective on this. Barbara Starr is there.

Barbara, the president mentioned military equipment, the capability of the U.S. military quite extensively in his remarks. What are you hearing about this?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it is extraordinary that he, for the first time I can remember, in detail, recently said about all of this U.S. military equipment he likes to call big, beautiful equipment, we don't have to use it, we don't want to use it.

He is signaling that he understands perhaps now the notion of going to war, going into combat against Iran is a catastrophic possibility. He has been briefed by the Pentagon -- we know this -- about what war

with Iran would look like. It would be extremely difficult. Iran is a massive country with dispersed weaponry, air defenses. Very tough for the U.S. to get in there.

And what would they do? Would they have regime change? What would the end game be? What would the goal be of any U.S. military operation in a significant way against Iran? The Pentagon has long had the view this would be very tough.

So that is a critical military message that the president today gave to the Iranians, to the U.S. military, and to Americans, and to American military families, again, that he is not looking to go to war.

I think the other military message he had, right at the very beginning, you heard him talk about one of the successes last night was the early warning that the U.S. had. You know, yes, they were warned by the Iraqis this might be coming.

But we know now that U.S. satellites, radars, U.S. intelligence systems were very able to very quickly detect that a missile launch had happened. They were able to calculate where they thought these missiles were headed.

We know not all the missiles made it to the targets. So the Iranians clearly had some problems with what they were doing.

That may be an indication that they were actually using some of their older missiles, their less capable missiles. But the U.S. was able to detect them. This gave the U.S. enough time to get troops to safe areas.

Very quick last point, the president is addressing the Iranian regime. Those Iranian supported proxies, militias, those commanders out in the field, whether the regime is able now with a new leader, with Soleimani dead, whether they can even control those people is very much an open question. Dealing with just the regime may not be enough -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That is a key point to keep in mind as things move forward in what are still tensely uncertain times.

Barbara, thank you so much.

Let's get the view from the region right now. We have correspondents fanned out in Tehran and Baghdad.

Let's go to Tehran. Fred Pleitgen there.

Fred, how are these remarks likely to be received there?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think they're received quite well by part of the Iranian political leadership. What we had, for instance, the last time these two sides came very

close to a shooting war against one another, which was when the Iranians shot down a U.S. drone over the Persian Gulf, there, when the president, at that point in time, decided not to retaliate, the country's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, came out and said that was a wise decision.

I think the Iranians, with their strike, the retaliation that they conducted this time, I think that this is pretty much exactly the outcome that they would have wanted to see.

They are essentially -- will be saying that one of their generals was hit, one of their top generals was hit, they struck back and, in the end, that's where it was left off. This did not lead to a larger escalation.

We've heard it over the past couple of days from several top Iranian officials that they don't want this to escalate any further.

I talked to a senior commander, a senior advisor to Iran's supreme leader, who said there's going to be a proportionate response. We expect the Americans to, at that point, let it be, don't strike back any further at us.

[11:50:04]

Of course, as Christiane says, this doesn't eliminate the fundamental issue between these two side, and that's the nuclear agreement.

And I think that a lot of Iranian leaders, Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, the president of Iran, they sort of believe that the president is a little bit obsessed with the JCPOA, with the nuclear agreement, because he's so critical of the Obama administration.

The Iranians continue to point out the fact that the U.S. was probably in a much better place when it was still adhering to the nuclear agreement, because Iran was fairly transparent about its nuclear program. There were inspectors coming into Iran's nuclear facilities. There were less centrifuges at work. And the Iranians had caps on the amount of uranium they would enrich and the levels they would enrich them to.

If you look at what's been going on here over the past couple of days, the Iranians have just announced their fifth step of diminishing their compliance with the nuclear agreement, now saying there's no more limits on the amounts of centrifuges they are allowed to have and also on the amount of uranium enrichment and the level of uranium enrichment as well.

So the Iranians are saying, look, is the U.S. really better off now, is the U.S. really safer now that the nuclear agreement is essentially being hollowed out?

So that is why that fundamental issue, the sanctions, the nuclear agreement, that has not been solved. So the situation probably will continue to be dangerous here in the Middle East going forward -- Poppy (sic)?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Thank you so much, Fred.

David, I'm curious, after hearing the president's remarks, what is your big takeaway?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think this was the sound of muddled policy. There was a little bit for everybody. There was the holding open of the possibility of having a conversation, as Jim pointed out.

But, at the same time, he said we're going to double down on sanctions. Well, it was the doubling down on the sanctions that started the whole cycle to begin with.

One alternative path he could have taken would be a temporary lifting of sanctions in return for the Iranians re-imposing the constraints on the nuclear program that we were just hearing about from Fred. That would be how you get a conversation going.

Maybe it's possible that that's what he's sending Secretary Pompeo off to do or try it through the third parties or something similar to it.

I think the risk in the president's position right now is that, while he's said he's open to negotiation, he hasn't yet laid out a pathway of how you get from here to there. And that --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Here to the table.

SANGER: Here to the table. That's been the problem all along. That the rhetoric, the Iran deal was so and so forth has made the Iranians wonder if they can negotiate with him at all or stick it out until the election. And that's --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: And the president painting himself into the corner in terms of his rhetoric with regard to the Iranian deal.

SANGER: That's right. I'm not sure he picked up on the signal of today, which was, we're going to do something back, we'll conclude it, now what's your next move. Unless he's trying to do that through back channels.

BOLDUAN: Which must remain, as we know, a possibility.

I want to get more of the military review and reaction of what this means now. I want to bring in a retired major general, James "Spider" Marks, CNN military analyst.

Spider, what did you hear from here? JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Primarily, what I heard

from the president was at the very end -- and Jim Sciutto touched on it -- was at least the start of a strategy.

The discussion in advance of that was a number of tactical opportunities and steps and things that have been done that could contribute to a strategy. And the strategy really is, how do you achieve a peaceful Iran where, globally, it can interact and other nations can be engaged with Iran. That's what I heard at the very end.

So I thought from that perspective, it was -- as David said, it was a little bit muddled. But it was a bunch of tactical stuff. But at the very end, hey, let's try to have a relationship.

This gets far beyond economic sanctions exclusively, which is a part of a list of things that the United States is doing either independently and with partners to try to get Iran to change its behavior.

That's the key thing. Iran has to modify its behavior. We're not going to sit there and offer openings and offer quid pro quo -- I mean, we're not going to offer anything without a quid pro quo. Sadly, that term has all of the Ukrainian stuff hanging off of it.

But the issue is Iran's got to modify its behavior. So from my perspective, if Iran can do that, now there's a great opening for the United States to maintain a presence and influence in a region. It can change what that looks like.

But the United States is not going to walk away from the region. The big concern is Saudi Arabia and Iran without the United States and NATO.

[11:55:56]

BOLDUAN: And there is a lot to digest here.

The president of the United States, in his remarks to the country, to military serving overseas, and to the world, quite frankly, as we are seeing in the discussion after the fact, there's going to be a lot of consequence and fallout from it.

Stay with CNN for much more coverage on the escalating crisis with Iran and what the president's remarks mean for the immediate and long- term future, if there is a relationship there.

John King and "INSIDE POLITICS" picks up on this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:00:00]