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INSIDE POLITICS

Donald Trump: American Strength Is The Best Deterrent; Donald Trump: Iran Appears To Be Standing Down; Donald Trump: For Too Long Nations Have Tolerated Iran's Behavior, Those Days Are Over; Donald Trump: United States Will Impose Powerful Economic Sanctions On Iran; Iraqi Prime Minister Condemns "Any Violation" Of Iraqi Sovereignty And "Any Attacks" On Iraq's Territory. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 8, 2020 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking News.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Thank you for sharing this incredibly important day with us.

President Trump just moments ago responding to the Iranian air strikes last night on two U.S. military installations in Iraq the President's message was mixed. The biggest headline, the President says he sees an opportunity to step back from military confrontation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No Americans were harmed in last night's attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties. All of off soldiers are safe. Iran appears to be standing down which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The Commander-in-Chief spoke for just over nine minutes. His military and National Security Leadership team were right behind him the message somewhat confusing. On the one hand, the President said there were opportunities to work with Iran and he looked forward to those and yet he also announced new economic sanctions would be put in place immediately and he called on Russia, China and European allies to walk away from the nuclear agreement negotiated with Tehran during the Obama Administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: For far too long, all the way back to 1979 to be exact, nations has 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 in their pursuit of nuclear weapons threatens the civilized world. We will never let that happen. Your campaign of terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any longer. It will not be allowed to go forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Comprehensive coverage in the hour ahead. We have CNN's Kaitlan Collins live at the White House, Fred Pleitgen live in Tehran and our Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson is live in Riyadh. Let's start at the White House. Kaitlan to you first, the president's message was tough and yet he said he wanted diplomacy it was a bit mixed. What was he trying to accomplish?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he seemed to signaling that his response to that attack last night launched by Iran is not going to be a military one. He said the United States has powerful military equipment but it doesn't always have to use it. And John, that's notable because for the last five days the President has been saying that if Iran retaliated against the United States by striking American or American assets that he wound responding.

And you've similar messages coming out of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as well in several of those interviews he did on Sunday. But for now, the President does seem to be signaling it is not going to be a military response. Instead, he said he's going to impose more sanctions on Iran and economic sanctions that is though he didn't elaborate exactly what those sanctions are going to look like.

And we're still waiting to get any kind of a notice from treasury, which we have not gotten yet. We should make that clear. He also said he's going to reaching out the NATO hoping that they will get more involved in the Middle East. Another point that the President offered but did not elaborate on further so we'll be waiting to see if there's some kind of a briefing that happens here at the White House.

Where we get further details on what exactly that's going to look like but John, of course the ultimate question walking away here, what is the long term strategy going to be? For the short term the President is saying he is not going to pursue this military response but of course the question is going to be what does Iran do next and how does the United States respond to that?

You've heard the President say in the past he believes Iran has changed its behavior since he came into office and imposed some of those crippling economic sanctions on Iran though we have only seen tensions between the two escalate sine the President withdrew from that the Iran Nuclear Deal that was crafted by the Obama Administration, something he criticized before repeatedly during those remarks.

Making clear he does not regret withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Deal. So the question going forward is if the President is going to pursue diplomacy here is he still willing to sit down with Iran's leaders as he said in the past and is the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who has not pushed response like that going to play a big role in that?

KING: Kaitlan Collins, live at the White House, I appreciate the reporting to that point. The President was not specific about any diplomatic efforts. He was not specific about U.S. troop levels in the region.

Let's go now to Frederik Pleitgen in Tehran. Fred, if you're the Iranian regime you could look at parts of this and be encouraged. You could look at other parts of this and be very discards from your long experience covering this story in Iran, what do we expect next?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think you're absolutely right, John. I think on the whole the Iranians this is exactly the response that they wanted from the Trump Administration. They didn't want this to escalate any further they believe that this was obviously on the cost of becoming very dangerous between the U.S. and Iran.

[12:05:00]

PLEITGEN: I think Iranians for their part feel that they have demonstrated they have the capability to strike back at the United States. They show that they have some pretty sophisticated military equipment that they've developed themselves with which they can launch cross border attacks on American military facilities.

They have shown at least to their own public that they believe that the U.S. can be quite vulnerable in all of this. The Iranians from the very beginning, and I spoke about this yesterday John with Iranian's Foreign Minister. He tweeted also overnight, he said look, the Iranians have struck back now is the time for the U.S. as they put it to come to their senses and not escalate this any further.

We've heard that from several Iranian officials. They feel look, the U.S. has killed one of their top generals the Iranians have struck back they wanted to leave it at that. It looks as though that's exactly what's happening and exactly what the President did.

The discouraging signs though, that you talk about they're definitely there because one of the things that the Iranians have been telling me, and specifically with the Foreign Minister of Iran told me is that look, the big issue between the U.S. and Iran is the nuclear agreement. The U.S. leaving the nuclear agreement and these crippling sanctions that Iran has been hit with.

The Iranians call this economic terrorism they call it economic warfare. And so therefore and they've said this to me very clearly they believed that they have been in a state of war with the United States ever since the U.S. left the nuclear agreement. They want the U.S. to lift all of those sanctions. They want the U.S. obviously if possible, to go back to the nuclear agreement.

One of the things that they've been saying, is that look, if you want to renegotiate this whole thing, come back to it first. Obviously it doesn't look like that is something that is in the cards. From a negative perspective in all of this, one other thing is certainly going to be that President Trump also announced those very tough new sanctions that he is going to hit Iran with.

The Iranians saying very clearly, as long as the U.S. is out of the nuclear agreement and as long as those sanctions are in place this conflict is going to keep going on and keep simmering, John.

KING: You know it will be interesting to see as Kaitlan noted a bit earlier we have yet to see the specifics of what the President has in mind in terms of sanctions. But we'll bring that to you as soon as we get it. Frederik Pleitgen, again thank you for your live reporting at Tehran at this critical time.

Let's go to Riyadh now and our International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson. Nic, you were in the Capitol of one of the many U.S. allies who was waiting to hear from the President of the United States. Waiting and they will be encouraged by what they heard about an apparent effort to step back from military confrontation but they were also waiting to see if they could get a road map of what comes next? What is the administration's longer term strategy? Did they get any of that?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I think they got about as much as we all got, John, which is not very much clarity. The question is going to be on everyone's mind here the really - the very, very simple question of where we are at now is this, does Iran recognize that the rules of the game have changed. President Trump, this is what he said here, President Trump was very clear, more sanctions are going on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime. These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: So what the President is saying there is nothing has changed from the United States side. We're essentially watching another part of this long playing out game of ping-pong. The United States puts on additional sanctions Iran attacks tankers in the Gulf. The United States puts on additional sanctions Iran attacks an oil facility in Saudi Arabia.

The United States puts on additional sanctions Iranian proxies target U.S. forces inside Iraq a U.S. contractor is killed break point. United States takes out Qasem Soleimani. The Iranians respond now the President has come back more sanctions the rules of the game in the President's mind have changed that Qasem Soleimani, the killing of him tells the Iranians you cannot come back at me with military action over the issue of sanctions.

You have to essentially give in and negotiate. That's the question that is going to be on the Iranians mind. And that is the question that has reached them here the President's played the ball back at the Iranians. His allies here are going to be looking at this. They will be happy to hear the President say he wants the British, the French, the Germans, the Chinese and the Russians to pull out of the nuclear deal.

They don't like that nuclear deal here in Saudi Arabia. So they'll be happy to hear that the reality is it's only the Brits - have seemed to waiver on that at all. The others have been pretty firm that they want to stay with the deal. John.

KING: Stay with it unless they're convinced they can get something better which we all know how difficult it was just to get what was on the table. Nic Robertson, live in Riyadh, I appreciate the live reporting there. As well, keep in touch, up next, more on the President and his message to the world today stay with us.

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[12:10:00]

KING: Welcome back more now on the day's big breaking news. President Trump announcing just moments ago, that in his view, Iran appears to be standing down from military confrontation. Republican Senators quickly rushing to shower praise on the President. These tweets from several Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina calling the President's speech a home run Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama praising the President's quote "Position of strength".

Even Senator Rand Paul a critic of U.S. military involvement overseas says he is pleased to hear the President appears to be pulling back from military conflict. Here with me in studio to share their reporting and their insights Margaret Talev with "AXIOS' Michael Shear with "The New York Times" Dan Lamothe with "The Washington Post" and Seung Min Kim also with "The Post". If the White House wanted one big take away from this, what is it? That we're stepping back?

MARGARET TALEV, POLITICS & WHITE HOUSE EDITOR, AXIOS: Both a take away? I mean, I think it's clear that the immediate top line responses, peace through sanctions, not peace through war, that the President does not want to escalate this militarily at this time. That's the most important take away and you saw the beginning of those overtures from the Iranians last night from Javad Zarif the Foreign Minister when he said that the attack had been proportionate and had concluded.

[12:15:00]

TALEV: And we all read that as an overture to the White House to say we're not looking to make this worse. We could have hit in a different way and we didn't. This was the President following suit.

What's not clear yet is whether what he was saying about sanctions and his messaging on we will never allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. Whether that was primarily domestic politics or whether that was a real signal to Iran, that the next wave of sanctions is going to be very aggressive? And that I think matters in terms of what happens next?

KING: It matters and it will matter in terms of the Iranian behavior or matter in terms of the Iranian political situation because of the protest. But you're right, it did appear that the President wanted to step back but he didn't want to just step back. He wanted to have some slap back as well with the former sanctions. The question is what he said realistic? This is a tough one for any President to have it took years to negotiate the agreement at the Obama Administration negotiated with the - around the world.

The Trump Administration has never liked that deal. Everyone who negotiated knew it was limited. But yes, it put some breaks on the nuclear program but it did not stop the ballistic missile program it did not stop a furious malign behavior in the region. That's what this administration has complained about.

The President today saying now should be the moment after the United States takes out an Iranian Military General the Iranians fire back with 15 missiles. He says now should be the moment that the countries that have refused to go his way and walk away from the deal should do so.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Is there any reasonable expectation that that will happen?

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well look, I mean, part of the problem, I spent much of the morning on Capitol Hill talking to the President's adversaries, the Democrats, and their concern is what next, right? Where is the strategy?

So and that was what was really missing from the President's speech. It was, you know, we're going to impose economic sanctions, now we're not going to respond immediately in the near term, at least militarily but to what end? What the Democrats were all asking this morning is where is the long term plan that the President could lay out, the administration could lay out that says, these are the steps we're going to take and here is what we hope to achieve?

And there was that last line at the end of the President's speech about you know sort of openness to kind of peace with anyone who is willing to do it. What does that look like? What does that look like a new negotiation for a new deal? And if so, where is the administration?

TALEV: What's the deal?

SHEAR: What's the deal? And how do they - what are the steps that they at least can sort of foreshadow that says this is how we might--

KING: Maybe the morning after they land missiles in your military bases, the President decided he did not want to be specific. That is my question. Is there something new here or are we going back to where were a week ago before they hit on Soleimani in the sense that the United States imposes sanctions. Iran is a bad actor in the region, and will accept that world and we hope other nations come with us or what?

DAN LAMOTHE, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I would argue one way to read this is it's almost a stepping back to June, when we were on the precipice of launching strikes on Iran after they shot down our drone. Some people were in favor of doing that. Other people said we really need to pump the brakes, the sanctions are crippling Iran. The worst thing we can do right now, is like push this farther, let the sanctions do what sanctions do and try to bring them to the table.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I want to go back to Michael's point about some of the big questions that remain particularly among folks on Capitol Hill, because one thing we did it another thing we didn't hear from the address and perhaps it's difficult to get into in a public situation.

Again what was the threat from Soleimani? How imminent was this attack and that is a question that a lot of lawmakers have been asking for the last several days since the strike and perhaps they can get some of those answers in those classified briefings this afternoon, just from my experience covering these briefings they often don't commit to go at it actually go into a lot of details.

John McCain used to come out all the time saying I learn more than the press than you does during these briefings. The notification that they sent over to Capitol Hill on Saturday, that was completely classified and did not give a lot of public information about why the strike was justified? And I would suspect those lawmakers will leave those briefings this afternoon still with a lot of questions about why the administration particularly took this action?

KING: And the President and his remarks did not get into any details at all, if there was such an imminent threat he did not say so he just said this is a bad guy and everyone should be happy. He is off the battle field. It was interesting again, interesting the President's tone in such moments are you trying to what will change here.

On the one hand he said appears to be stepping back, I would love to talk to Iran. The Iranian people are great, it will be nice to have a prosperous Iran but then he says no sanctions you're a menace and he very clearly here said we have a military that's much bigger and stronger than yours.

[12:20:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Our missiles are big, powerful, accurate, lethal and fast. The fact we that have this great military 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: This is where he - at times he appears to be - I don't say this cynically, he appears to be having a debate with himself. We know his instinct is as a candidate in early in the administration was my predecessors were stupid we have these endless wars in the Middle East, it's time to bring the American troops home and leave these countries to themselves. Now there are more than 70,000 American troops and more on the way in the circle of countries around Iran and the presence is actually growing in this administration.

TALEV: It was only a couple of days ago when he was saying we have got 52 targets and some they are cultural. This was today's version of that. It was a much more constrained threat. The language and rhetoric was much more careful. The NATO piece of this is very interesting to me. Perhaps NATO would be happy to hear that President wants this to be a multilateral decision.

On the other hand, if the reward for NATO involvement in the Middle East is that everyone has to go along with the U.S. position on the Iran deal, it is not going to work. So what was that piece of it about? What was the President hoping to accomplish by trying to say this should be a NATO coordinated plan or mission at this point?

KING: And again, back to - is this realistic, is there any evidence on the table, especially the morning after Iran proves it has the military capability to land missiles on U.S. military bases with pretty good precision but with most accounts been that they missed on purpose. They proved they could get close and didn't get closer because they didn't want to escalate. NATO countries going to say, sure, we are going to send more troops to Iraq?

LAMOTHE: And also I think when it comes to that whatever a compromise might be that NATO would be involved in, is the Trump Administration going to accept that sort of guidance?

KIM: Exactly.

KING: That's an excellent point for us. Up next, the tension times in the Middle East, Iraq once again finds itself caught right in the middle.

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[12:25:00]

KING: Iraq today finds itself in an all too familiar position, caught in a tug-of-war between the United States and Iran. Last night's missile strikes targeted Iraqi bases and both sides have used the country in recent days and weeks as a battleground. In the statement Iraq's Prime Minister condemning any violation of his country's sovereignty and that statement also called for all sides to prevent a war in which "Iraq in the region will be among the first victims".

CNN's Sam Kiley is on the ground for us in Baghdad. Sam, what our leaders they're saying not only about last night's strikes but is there any reaction in this short hour since it happened to the President's response today?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So far no reaction to what Donald Trump said. But I think we can safely say or predict that there will be some degree of relief, given that there was a very severe danger had the U.S. President not essentially taken a pretty conciliatory line, really, with regard to Iran following air strikes, missile strikes against the United States locations, co-locations with the Iraqi Armed Forces. It could have been a lot worse.

These were very carefully calibrated missile strikes by the Iranians deliberately positioned or targeted so that they didn't kill people or in deed damage a great deal of equipment. On top of that, they tipped off the Iraqis who tipped off the Americans so that people could get into a safe location.

So what the Iranians did John, was demonstrate capability but not bloodlust in revenge. That is in somewhat contrast though to what we're hearing from the two main Iranian-backed militia groups here, one of them Kataib Hezbollah, lost its leader in the same air strike that killed Qasem Soleimani.

They have said that they are going to continue their policy or their determination to take revenge and indeed they are going to continue to press for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq much more widely across the country, a decision it was taken by predominantly Shia MPs in the Iraqi parliament.

But there are a lot of elements in the Iraqi political system that are very resistant to that, not the least because the United States has been critical in helping to defend Iraq and eventually defeat the so- called Islamic state within its territory, ironically, a campaign that they were on the same side as Iran and it's Shia-backed militias, John.

KING: Sam Kiley, on the ground for us I appreciate the reporting from Baghdad. Stay safe there. I want to talk now to Doug Silliman. He was the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq from 2016-2019 and he is President of the Arab Gulf States Institute here in Washington. Mr. Ambassador thank you for joining us on this important day let's start with the President. Part of your service included the Trump Administration. Did you hear anything new today about a long term strategy? There was a mix of some carrots with also some sticks in new sanctions. What is your biggest take away?

DOUGLAS SILLIMAN, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: On first hearing of what the President had to say, I'm encouraged that the words were mostly conciliatory and that he is to some extent, reaching out to American allies to join in what he sees as the need for international - continued international pressure on Iran.