Return to Transcripts main page


Iran Fires Ballistic Missiles At U.S. Troops In Iraq; Ukraine International Airlines Plane Crashes In Tehran; Iraqis Saying They Had Prior Warning Of Strikes By Iran. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 8, 2020 - 05:30   ET




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Iran launches missile attacks on U.S. military bases in Iraq. Is this the end or just the beginning?

CNN live this morning in Baghdad, Beirut, and Washington.

Good morning. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Christine Roman, exactly 31 minutes past the hour.

We begin with our big breaking news this morning. Iran delivering the revenge it promised after President Trump ordered the killing of a top Iranian general.

Now, more than a dozen Iranian missiles fired at two targets in Iraq that house American troops -- al-Asad Air Base and at U.S. and coalition forces stationed in Erbil. Now, U.S. and Iraqi sources say the strikes caused no known casualties.

JARRETT: If you ask the president what he thinks, everything is fine. He said so in a tweet.

"All is well! So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well- equipped military anywhere in the world, by far!" He promised to make a further statement this morning.

The president visited al-Asad Air Base in December of 2018 and had to say this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While maintaining the U.S. presence in Iraq to prevent an ISIS resurgence and to protect U.S. interests. And also, to watch over Iran. We'll be watching.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: As the strikes ended, Iran's foreign minister tweeted they "took and concluded proportionate measures. We do not seek escalation of war but will defend ourselves against any aggression." He now says it's quote "up to the U.S. to come to its senses."

Speaking overnight, Iran's supreme leader said Iran gave the U.S. a quote "slap in the face." Iran's semi-official news agency shared this undated video of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.


AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER (via translator): If you hit, you get hit back. They know this. They know that if they get themselves involved in a confrontation with us, they get entangled in a military way, they will get their feet trapped. They might harm us but they will harm themselves many times more and they realize that.


ROMANS: Iran is threatening to attack within U.S. borders if America retaliates for last night's missile attacks.

Our coverage begins this morning with CNN senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen. He is live on the ground in Tehran -- Fred.


Yes, this missile strike -- ballistic missile strike by the Iranians started, really, in the middle of the night last night. We were actually on the air when we got word that the al-Asad Air Base in Iraq had been hit. And the interesting thing about it was, Christine, that immediately, Iranian state T.V. put up a banner that the IRGC, the Revolutionary Guard Corps -- the most elite force of Iran's military -- was taking responsibility for that ballistic missile attack.

Very significant because the Iranians, for a very long time, have been saying that they've been working on expanding and perfecting their ballistic missile technology. They say they have a lot more of these ballistic missiles and that those ballistic missiles are very accurate.

Also, of course, quite significant, the fact that the Iranians are saying, themselves, that it was them. One of the interesting things that we've been gleaning since the killing of Qasem Soleimani is that the Iranians were quite taken aback by the fact that the U.S. actually claimed responsibility for killing Qasem Soleimani.

In fact, Iran's foreign minister told me yesterday the Americans killed Qasem Soleimani and then admitted that they did it. That shows this is an overt aggression against Iran and therefore, Iran will retaliate.

Now, you've already mentioned the Javad Zarif, earlier today, came out and said that it's now up to the U.S., as he put it, to come to its senses and stop any sort of escalation. The Iranians are essentially saying they've hit back at America -- they want all of this to end now. They don't want this to expand into some full-on war.

They are also, by the way, clearly saying that the ball is now very much in the court of President Trump on where this goes next. The Iranians, of course, for a very long time, have been saying they don't want this to expand but they are ready if it does. In fact, Iran's military came out earlier today and said that if the U.S. now strikes back there will be quote "an even more crushing blow coming from them," Christine.


ROMANS: All right. So, Fred, while all of this was happening, this news. A passenger jet crashed in Iran -- a Boeing --


ROMANS: -- plane.

What do we know about that? I mean, authorities are saying this is unrelated to the hostilities between the U.S. and Tehran.

PLEITGEN: Yes, it's most probably unrelated to it and it's one of those cases where so many things seem to be happening at once because this is actually a major aviation disaster that took place only a couple of miles from where I'm standing right now.

The information that we're getting so far is that this plane took off in the very early morning hours. I think it was about half-past six in the morning here, local Iran time. It was a Boeing 737 800 that was only about 3 1/2 years old from Ukraine International Airlines that took off from Tehran airport.

The information that we're getting Christine is that the plane crashed about two minutes after taking off. All those on board, unfortunately, have been killed. There's been a statement put out from the Ukrainian government mourning the losses of these -- of these passengers.

A lot of passengers coming from Afghanistan. A lot of them also coming from Canada as well, who were -- who were onboard those planes. Also, from some other European countries as well.

We've gotten some video from the debris field and you can see the debris really spread out --


PLEITGEN: -- over an immense space there. I know that area quite well down there at the airport. It's flat farmland, most of it, with some houses on it. And you can just see that field of debris there.

So far, as far as the cause is concerned, of course, that's something that's very important. The Ukrainian embassy here in Tehran came out with a statement earlier saying that they were ruling out any sort of attack on the plane. They've taken that back now and are saying it's unclear what caused this plane to crash, Christine.

ROMANS: Oh, an important development there. Still, a major aviation disaster amidst major tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

OK, Fred, keep working your sources. We'll talk again soon. Thanks, Fred.

JARRETT: Again, the only communication from the President of the United States, so far, coming in a tweet. "All is well!" So, what will President Trump say this morning?

Let's bring in CNN's Jeremy Diamond, live for us in Washington -- Jeremy.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura, just hours after Iran fired more than a dozen missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops, the president, as you saw in that tweet there, striking an optimistic tone -- "All is well! So far, so good!" Those were the words of the president last night.

And that is where we find him this morning as we prepare to hear his address to the nation, potentially at some point later today. Perhaps he will continue along with that optimistic tone.

But remember, it was the president who was speaking in far more bellicose language over the last couple of days as he awaited this Iranian retaliation. The president had even threatened Iran with a disastrous military response, hitting 52 sites, he said -- in Iran -- if they struck not just Americans but any American interests. And certainly, these bases housing American troops would constitute American interests in the region, so that remains to be seen.

But a senior administration official is saying that right now, the time is for patience and restraint. That is the messaging coming from parts of the White House at this hour, Laura.

Despite the potential for these cooling tensions, though, we are seeing the FAA taking some action overnight prohibiting any U.S. civilian aircraft from flying over Iran, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf -- Laura.

JARRETT: It's interesting the president decided not to make a statement last night after the attack. We wait to see what he says later today.

Jeremy, thanks so much.

ROMANS: So, a senior Iranian official had told CNN the response to the death of Gen. Qasem Soleimani would be military. So what does all this mean for the American presence in the region?

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh live in Baghdad. And, Jomana, you have some breaking news for us. JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, some breaking news coming to us from the Iraqi prime minister's office releasing a statement a short time ago. And if you bear with me, we are still in the process of translating this. Basically, they say that they had prior warning of this, keeping in mind the Iraqi military says these missile strikes took place between 1:45 a.m. local time and 2:15 local time.

Now, the prime minister, in this statement, saying shortly after midnight, we received an official verbal message from the Iranian -- from the Iranian republic and the Iranian response to the assassination of the quote, "martyr" Qasem Soleimani had begun or would begin shortly and that the strike would be limited to locations where the U.S. military is present -- without giving exact location, they say, and at the exact same time. They say that they also had received calls from the U.S. military.

And now they say, of course, we warned -- as soon as we received the information of the attack -- the Iraqi military leaders to take the necessary precautions. There were no casualties, so far, from the Iraqi side and we have not officially received information on the losses from the coalition forces. But, of course, we had heard that there were no U.S. forces -- no casualties amongst U.S. forces.


We're also, Christine, hearing from one of the most powerful Iranian- backed proxies here on the ground, (INAUDIBLE), that the U.S. said was designating as a terror organization recently. Their leader, (INAUDIBLE), also warning, saying that this was the preliminary response from the Iranians.

But they, the Iranian-backed paramilitary groups, have not responded yet here in Iraq for the death of their leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was killed in that strike and they are promising revenge, Christine.

ROMANS: OK, very interesting, that breaking news that Iraqi authorities were alerted that retaliation would begin before it began.

Thank you so much for that and bring us up to speed if you get any more from that translation. Thank you.

JARRETT: A senior Iranian official, formerly the chief nuclear negotiator, appearing to troll President Trump. He tweeted an image of the Iranian flag. You may remember, President Trump tweeted an American flag the night the U.S. air strike killed Soleimani.

The back-and-forth show of force could be a potential off-ramp for both countries. Iran can claim it took action to defend itself, while President Trump can point to a lack of casualties.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh live for us Beirut -- Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Laura, interesting to hear what Jomana was saying there about the Iraqis saying they had prior warning from the Iranians about an hour or so before the missiles seemed to have even been launched. Now you have to imagine that somehow, U.S. forces would have learned of that warning. There are Iraqi troops on the same bases that were struck.

So look at the broader picture here. Iran is firing ballistic missiles at two key American targets shared with the Iraqi military as well, but already on high alert, in the dead of night when many troops are not running around the base as easy targets. Bases that have early-warning systems already. And then, Iran also hands on to the Iraqi authorities a warning that this attack is coming, presumably sparking various series of lockdowns and change in posture at these different bases.

This sounds increasingly like Tehran was doing what it could to minimize the possibility of American deaths. To be sure that the world woke up this morning and saw these images of missiles being fired, saw a fiery Iranian response -- a response, frankly, that wasn't without risk. Wasn't -- they did not violate a lot of American red lines, clearly. They've directly attacked a military target at a time when Donald Trump said that he would respond extremely -- vehemently towards 52 targets he'd already chosen if they chose to do so.

But these strikes done in such a way, it seems, possibly deliberately -- I am speculating here but it does appear this morning there is very little conclusion you can actually draw to make sure there weren't many American casualties. In fact, there turns out to have been none. Domestically, Iran's media seem to be saying the false claim that there have been American casualties.

But this could be the off-ramp, possibly. Everything hinges on the U.S. commander in chief -- very temperamental. He said he wants to win in Iraq and Afghanistan -- he's leaving. He didn't want anything to do with Syria. He launched strikes against Assad for chemical weapons.

He could change his mind this morning on the drop of a dime but he may also choose not to retaliate back and let this calm down.

Back to you.

JARRETT: Yes, and we wait to see what President Trump has to say on all of this later this morning. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: Yes, and again, that new information from Baghdad from Jomana Karadsheh is that the Iraqis were warned by their Iranian counterparts. They were warned that something was going to happen before it did. So that's an interesting new piece in this -- in this whole puzzle.

Iranian's missiles target U.S. bases in Iraq. What does it mean for the future of the U.S. in a volatile region?


[05:48:01] ROMANS: All right.

President Trump is hours away now from addressing the nation following a missile attack by Iran on two targets in Iraq housing U.S. troops. Now, this is Iran's most direct assault on America since the 1979 hostage crisis. No known casualties, so far.

JARRETT: Let's bring in former State Department Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller, on the phone from Washington. He's also a CNN global affairs analyst.

ROMANS: Good morning.

JARRETT: Good morning, there.

You know, I want to get your --


JARRETT: -- first, your reaction to the breaking news the Iraqis were actually warned that the strike would be limited. They received a verbal warning at some point overnight.

What do you make of that?

MILLER: I mean, I think it's another indication that the Iranians carefully calibrated and orchestrated it. And the fact that there were no casualties, that they informed the Iraqis in advance, that we had warning detection of these launches all suggest that the supreme leader was looking for a way to thread this very fine needle. On one hand, take a big risk by attacking an Iraqi air base with American co- hosts and coalition forces, but on the other, trying to buy some space in the hopes that there will be no casualties.

You launch 12 ballistic missiles 800 miles, these are not as precision-guided munitions as some of the -- some of the weaponry we had -- weaponry that we have -- this was somewhat of a risk, but they managed it quite well.

Now the question is how will the president react. Is he going to take advantage of the opportunity -- I suspect he will stand down for now -- or make good on his threat that if the Iranians attacked any American forces anywhere that he'd be forced to respond?

ROMANS: Yes, because there is -- as Josh Rogin -- our colleague Josh Rogin says, this escalation ladder that can be really hard to step off of and it looks as though maybe the Iranians have given the president the chance to step off that ladder. But the president can be unpredictable on how he responds to things. This is his biggest test as commander in chief.


MILLER: That's true. I think it's the first real-time genuine foreign policy crisis. And during -- having worked for Republicans and Democrats for half a dozen administrations you really do need someone who is prudent, wise, and tethered to reality and understands what the end game should be. And the end game here should be de- escalation.

In an ideal world, it would provide some sort of bridge to continuation of context, but I'm not sure, right now, either the Iranians or the Americans are prepared for that. More likely, we're going to go back to that sort of grim slog -- competitive slog --

ROMANS: Right.

MILLER: -- between Iran and the United States.

JARRETT: You know, Sec. Esper told our Christiane Amanpour in an interview yesterday before the attack happened that we're not looking to start a war with Iran but we are prepared to finish one.

What do you imagine the advice that President Trump is receiving about how to thread the needle here in terms of this escalation --


JARRETT: -- ladder? What do you think that his advisers are telling him this morning?

MILLER: You know, I think the president is in the anomalous position of having advisers -- certainly, Mike Pompeo there -- probably more hawk -- almost certainly more hawkish than he is. If you look at his decision to project American military power toward Iran and elsewhere over the last three years, there's a real risk aversion.

That's what was so curious about the decision to hit Soleimani. It demonstrated a risk readiness which was really uncharacteristic. And people will be speculating for a long time, assuming we get this intelligence on what the Soleimani killing was based -- about what prompted him to do this. But there's no doubt that Mike Pompeo played a critically important role.

Had this gone forward, had we preempted, should the president choose to respond, should the Iranians make good on their threats to launch against Dubai and Haifa -- and they are perfectly capable of doing that -- we could have -- we could have been -- I doubt if we are now -- I hope not -- on the cusp of a major war that would have drawn in the Emirates, the Saudis, the Israelis.

You know, I'm not sure everyone truly understood how close this could have been to a real catastrophe. So, the president will take all of that into consideration. My sense is that he's going to want to -- he'll be tough and they'll say the Iranians backed down. This was an underwhelming attack in response --


MILLER: -- to the death of Soleimani. But I think he'll rise to the occasion. ROMANS: All right, Aaron David Miller, CNN global affairs analyst and former State Department Middle East negotiator. We're so glad to have your expertise here this morning. Thank you.

JARRETT: Thanks, Aaron.

ROMANS: We'll be right back.



ROMANS: Markets around the world reacting quickly to Iran's strike on U.S. bases in Iraq. A jump in crude prices and global stocks fell.

Now, a critical focal point now, the Strait of Hormuz, a chokepoint for global oil flow. About a quarter of global energy output flows through the Strait on any given day.

CNN's John Defterios spoke with the energy minister for the United Arab Emirates.


SUHAIL AL MAZROUEI, UAE OIL MINISTER: The Strait of Hormuz is not only important for us, it's important for the world economy and it's important to the whole -- to the whole supply chain and Iran understands that. If that supply is cut, I can assure you every country in the world will be impacted. And the world economy cannot sustain another $100 oil prices and another huge spike.


ROMANS: Escalating tensions rattling stock markets around the world as well. And on Wall Street, futures are pointing lower here. Very important to point out though, everything is off of its lows. It seems to have found a footing here again, waiting to hear what the president has to say this morning.

There also this feeling that perhaps that warning from the Iranians to the Iraqis before the missile strikes -- that maybe that is the off- ramp both sides need. That's why you're seeing markets do a little bit better here.

JARRETT: Yes, a significant development.

ROMANS: All right, thanks for joining us this morning. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: And I'm Laura Jarrett. Have a great day, everyone. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, January eighth. It's 6:00 here in New York.

And we do have major breaking news this morning.

President Trump set to address the nation. We are waiting on the exact timing. This, after Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops. At this moment, U.S. and Iraqi officials are still assessing the damage.

We've been working our sources all night long and at this time, there are no known casualties. Let me repeat that. At this time, there are no known casualties. Overnight, President Trump wrote "All is well!"