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Iran Fires Missiles at U.S. Forces in Iraq; Iran Announces Missile Strike; Trump to Address Nation After Iran Strike. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired January 8, 2020 - 07:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All the new developments in the crisis with Iran.

NEW DAY continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CAMEROTA: OK, we want to welcome our viewers now in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. And we do begin with the breaking news.

New overnight, after Iran launched missiles towards U.S. troops. in just hours, President Trump will address the nation for the very first time since Iran launched those ballistic missiles on U.S. forces at two air bases in Iraq. We've just gotten in this new video. This is from Iranian media. It reportedly shows the missiles being fired from western Iran into those Iraqi bases where U.S. troops are.

At this hour, it approves no U.S. or foreign troops were killed or injured in this attack. This comes in response to a U.S. drone strike that killed Iran's top military general. Countries throughout the Middle East are now on high alert for any potential escalation.

We've also just learned that the U.S. forces at those bases were given a prior warning by the Iraqi government after Iraq was tipped off about this missile strike from Iran.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Also breaking overnight, a passenger plane crashed minutes after takeoff from Tehran. The Boeing 737 was flying from Tehran to Kiev when it went down, killing all 176 people on board.

Now, why is this of such great interest? Obviously this plane went down just hours after the Iranians fired those missiles into Iraq. Ukraine's prime minister says at this point it's too early to know what caused the crash. Several international airlines are now avoiding Iranian air space as a result of this. And, obviously, so many questions about the timing of this incident. We have yet to get any real answers this morning. We are digging.

In the meantime, CNN covering every angle of all these breaking stories.

We begin with CNN's senior international correspondent Arwa Damon, live in Baghdad for the latest.

It is daybreak in Iraq right now. They've had a chance to assess the damage at these two air bases. What are you learning, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this stage they are saying that there are also no casualties on the Iraqi side. What we heard from the prime minister's office, and this is really the first sort of senior government response to this that we're getting, is that they received official verbal warning shortly past midnight and then communicated that to their commanders on the ground, keeping in mind that these bases are joint bases. There are joint command centers that are shared among the Iraqi, U.S., and other coalition forces.

The attack happening just over an hour and a half after that initial message was delivered. The message not specifying where the attack would be taking place, but saying that it would be specifically against U.S. military targets.

The ministry of defense is saying that 22 strikes took place, 17 of those against the Al-Assad air base, five of those against the Erbil location where you have the U.S. military and other forces as well.

What we are now hearing, however, from one for the more prominent Shia paramilitary groups here, one of the groups that is quite notorious for its ability to carry out attacks against U.S. forces, is that that was Iran's response. What we saw happening overnight, that is how Tehran was responding to this. They are saying that there is going to be an Iraqi response as well and that it will be in kind to the Iranian one.

After this attack there were Apache helicopters overhead, there were drones that the U.S. launched as well in all of its locations. It's still a region that is on high alert, that is still very much a country that is on high alert. Because, let's not forget, you still have this demand coming from Iraqi Shia parliamentarians following that vote that took place to expel foreign forces. This demand that is also coming from Iran, from its proxies on the ground that American and foreign forces are no longer welcome here, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Arwa, that is such an important remind that this is not over, that there are all sorts of interests and people are calculating what to do next.

Arwa, thank you very much for your reporting from the region.

Iran's supreme leader, in a televised address to that nation this morning, says they gave the U.S. a, quote, slap in the face, calling the missile attacks a crushing response to the killing of their top military general.


CNN's Fred Pleitgen is live in Tehran with more.

What have you learned, Fred?


Yes, we're also collecting a lot of information. Also collecting new video elements as well. We do have that video of the missiles being fired allegedly by the Iranians in the very early morning hours of today. And that's something that's really significant because the Iranians are making a major issue out of the fact that they used ballistic missiles to hit those targets in Iraq.

Essentially what the Iranians are saying is that, first of all, it was the Revolutionary Guard Corps and its missile troops that did this. That's the same force that Qasem Soleimani, that general that was killed by the U.S., was a part of. The Iranians also clearly messaging, first of all, they can't just use proxy forces to hit the U.S. in the Middle East, but they can also use their own conventional forces. They've long been making an issue out of the fact that they spent a lot of effort, money, in making their ballistic missile program more sophisticated and launching these attacks from Iranian territory.

Also, guys, we're getting new information from you (ph) as well. Just got some information from Hassan Rouhani, the president of this country. He tweeted and said that the answer to Qasem Soleimani's death will be expelling the United States from the region. The supreme leader, by the way, who said that the Iranians gave the U.S. a slap in the face, saying something very similar, saying that Iran cannot accept America's presence here in the Middle East either.

Now, the Iranian foreign minister, he's also coming out and essentially what he's saying right now, I think this is very important, is that the Iranians have done their retaliation and all of this, at least this escalation, can end right here. He's saying the U.S. needs to come to its senses and essentially saying that the ball now is in President Trump's court.

Let's listen in to what he had to say.


JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We did not start this process of escalation, the United States waged an economic war against Iran. The United States has to come to its senses.

European can play a useful role by informing the United States of the serious error in their analysis. That they should stop listening to clowns. That they should base their policy based on realities and not some illusions of some clowns who have ambitions elsewhere.


PLEITGEN: So there you have Javad Zarif, Alisyn, the foreign minister of Iran, with some pretty strong words for the Trump administration, for President Trump, and possibly also Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as well. There's been sort of a war of words between Zarif and Mike Pompeo.

The Iranians, however, are saying that if the U.S. does retaliate, that there is then going to be a massive retaliation from their side as well. As they just said, they said, the ball right now in the Trump administration's court.

We also heard this morning from Iranian military heads saying that if the U.S. retaliates, that there would be, as they put it, an even more crushing blow coming from their side. So still a very dangerous situation that we're witnessing right now in the Middle East, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: And, Fred, at the same time that all of that's happening, what about this deadly passenger plane crash in Tehran? I know you know that airport well.

PLEITGEN: Yes. Yes, I do know that airport very well. In fact, that's the airport that we always fly in and out of when we go to Iran and come from Iran. That was really one of the things that early this morning seemed almost out of this world. As we were reporting on these big hostilities going on between the U.S. and Iran. And then, all of a sudden, we got the message that there had been a major aviation incident, a major aviation disaster just a couple of miles down the road.

Now, we know that this is a Ukrainian airliner from Ukrainian International Airlines. The plane itself, a Boeing 737-800 next generation jet is only about three and a half years old. We know that the plane took off from Imam Khomeini Airport in the early morning hours of today. It only flew for about two minutes and then crashed into an area of fields. The area down there is not like what you see behind me, those mountains. It really gets into flat land when you move into that area. It's a lot of farmland, a lot of small farm houses. And so, therefore, the crash site already quite accessible. At this point in time, not clear how this plane came down. The Ukrainians tweeted earlier that they think it wasn't a terror attack. However, they now say it's absolutely unclear what caused all of this, John.

BERMAN: We know many people are dead, including many Iranians, many Canadians as well.

Frederik Pleitgen for us in Tehran this morning with terrific reporting. Fred, please keep us posted.

Meanwhile, we're waiting to hear from President Trump this morning. He will address the nation. This following the Iranian missile attack on those bases housing U.S. troops.

Overnight what he wrote is, all is well.

CNN's Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon.

Barbara, you've been tracking this for hours. And, again, we should tell people that, as of now, no known casualties on the U.S. or Iraqi side. One would think that would factor into how the president addresses this. BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It may well do that because

there were no casualties that we know of at this point, and that may give President Trump a little bit of room for not immediately engaging in any escalation.


But we don't know that yet as we await what he has to say about it.

If this was Iran's slap in the face strategy, there is some thinking out there that they deliberately targeted portions of these bases where they knew there would not precisely be U.S. forces. But not clear that -- really about that because these missiles are not highly accurate and, nonetheless, they targeted U.S. locations.

The president's tweet late last night was pretty interesting. Let me read part of it to everyone. He says, all is well. Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualty and damages taking place now. So far, so good. We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world by far. I will be making a statement tomorrow morning, of course meaning this morning.

Warning Iran the U.S. has a very well equipped military, but if the president's looking for further escalation, that may put this on a road that may be very difficult to get out of. The Pentagon, so far, waiting to see what the president decides to do.

John. Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Barbara, thank you very much for all of your reporting.

Joining us now we have CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto, CNN political analyst David Greggory, and CNN military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby. He is a former press secretary at the Pentagon.

So, Admiral Kirby, I want to start with you.

Tell us what's happening at this hour in the Pentagon. What are the conversations being had?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, I'm certain that by now they've got a pretty good sense of the damage that was done to the base, the extent of it, and the, you know -- and what they -- what they can try to put together forensically of the strike by Iran. I'm sure that that information is now being analyzed inside the Pentagon and it's probably being used to help refine whatever military options that the Pentagon is and has been developing for the president.

So, right now, I'm guessing they're very much in the education mode, getting smart on what happened and making sure that, a, they're prepared for going -- anything going forward should the president decide to act kinetically, and then, b, also to make sure they've got their force protection posture still in place and properly situated for whatever tensions could come because it's likely -- not likely but it's possible that this isn't the end of it, even though Iran says it's the end of it, there could be Shia militias that act out. So I'm sure that force protection is very, very much on their mind right now.

BERMAN: Jim, let's look at what we do know this morning. Number one, it appears we know there are no known casualties, either on the American or the Iraqi side. We know that the Iranians tipped off the Iraqis that this attack was coming before it hit. I have to believe they would think that the Iraqis would then warn the United States. And we have some reporting that there was that warning to the United States. We're also getting the language suggesting from Iran a willingness to pause.

What does all this tell you taken collectively?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Listen, step back from the hyperbole on tweets and statements in both directions, frankly, and realize that Iran has the ability and has a history at times of calibrating responses like this. I'm not -- that's not to diminish their aggressiveness, their capabilities, et cetera. But look at past attacks, for instance, when they attacked tankers in the Gulf. Those were above the water line, not below the water line. If they wanted to sink them, they could have. They were demonstrating their ability to strike.

Here, again, you have something along those lines, it seems, demonstrating their ability to strike, to threaten U.S. and Iraqi forces there. But it seems, and the Pentagon has some indication of this, although there's not proof at this point, that there was a deliberate attempt not to hit U.S. forces there. Again, calibrating that response to provide the opportunity for both sides to walk this down.

And I'll tell you, last night speaking to people inside the Pentagon, the Pentagon position last night was to look to see, is this the extent of Iranian retaliation? And if it is, that gives the U.S., gives the president more options to say, well, I don't have to. I mean he may very well decide that -- he could have an announcement later this morning saying he's going to hit back. But it gives him the option of saying, this is as far as they went. We've established our strength and deterrence. They've delivered their response. And we could leave it at that for now. Doesn't mean it doesn't change, but that was at least the posture in the Pentagon last night.

CAMEROTA: And that is what would happen, David Gregory, if President Trump were predictable or readable. But as we know, he sometimes doesn't do what the traditional route would be.

What do you see politically?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, no president would be entirely predictable in this moment. I think this president even more so, right, even more unpredictable. But I think that John and Jim are right, that, first of all, there may be more attacks coming. But if for now there is some breathing room, that's good on all sides. If the president -- I suspect the president is going to come out, he's

not going to be soft on this. I think he'll have a strong warning at the very least if he's not going to announce any additional action. But I think this question of whether there has been some deterrence restored is what I'm really looking at.

You know, David Petraeus, General Petraeus, said at the outset after the Soleimani killing, that perhaps the best scenario would be that it would restore some deterrence.


Don't forget, Iran has been provocative over a long period of time and the United States has not responded. And now you could argue this was bold, brazen, over the top, you could use a lot of adjectives in targeting Soleimani, but it may have an effect of evening the playing field a little bit.

And, again, I don't know that this is the end of it. The question is what -- two things. What message does the president want to send now? Does he feel he has breathing room? And, two, what is the strategy? What are Americans being asked to understand about the Iranian threat, perhaps sacrifice. Let's not forget, we have a lot of U.S. soldiers now moving back into the region.

BERMAN: Admiral Kirby, I do want to tell you, we just got word that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mark Milley, has arrived at the White House. One would expect that to happen given the president's about to address the nation shortly about what his response might be to this Iranian missile attack.

Look, the Iranians said this is their proportionate response to the killing of General Soleimani.

CAMEROTA: And concluded.

BERMAN: And concluded.

KIRBY: Right.

BERMAN: That may cover the overt missile strikes from the regime itself. I think one would be naive to expect that it covers the next weeks, months, perhaps even years from the Iranian proxies all over the world.

KIRBY: Yes, that's right, John. I mean the -- look, Iran proper is not monolithic in governance the way we sort of think about, you know, our government. I mean the supreme leader and the Revolutionary Guard sort of work on their own timetable and to their own ends often times at odds with the elected government, the Rouhani government.

It seems to me that this has -- the Soleimani strike has unified Iran's governors to some degree, certainly large segments of the people. And so I think, at this moment, they seem to be unified.

But going forward in the days and weeks to come, it's entirely possible that the Revolutionary Guard or the Quds force could take action that is not fully coordinated inside the government in Tehran. Plus you have the Shia militias, not just in Iraq, but you have their proxy forces all over the Middle East. And they, of course, had the -- Iran has a very sophisticated cyber capability.

So, I mean, I don't want to be doomsday here, but I think -- and I -- and I suspect that General Milley is very aware of all of this. And part of his message to the president I'm sure last night and this morning is, we still have to stay alert, we still have to stay vigilant because even though Tehran says this is the end, it doesn't mean it necessarily is.

CAMEROTA: I'm struck, Jim, by what David -- the question David Gregory raised, which is, what is the end game? So -- so if President Trump doesn't want Iran to have nuclear weapons, got it, but that doesn't -- we don't seem to be closer to that goal today.

BERMAN: Further away.


SCIUTTO: The president hasn't articulated what the end game is. And that is a -- that is a hard fact. That under the Iranian nuclear deal, Iran was -- it was estimated a year away from breakout, in other words, having enough uranium to make a nuclear bomb. Today, as they've now broken the agreement after the U.S. withdrew from the agreement, they're closer, OK. So on -- as a bottom line question here, is America safer today than it was a couple of years ago, from an Iranian nuclear program? You can argue it's less safe today.

So -- so where does the president want to go with this? Now, the president, in recent months, says -- sent some signals out that he'd be willing to talk to Iran. Let's negotiate a new deal. Iran has rejected those claims. So is Iran more or less likely today to sit down at the table with the Trump administration after the killing of Soleimani. Your guess is as good as mine.

But what the president has not -- and this would be a fair question to him, and in his comments today, if he were to go there, Mr. President, if you're listening, what is -- what is the end game? And how do you -- and crucially, how do you plan to get from where we are today to there?

GREGORY: Well, look --

BERMAN: And U.S. strategy, vis-a-vis Iran, is confusing because it's confused at this point, David.


BERMAN: We've been getting mixed signals. The president says he wants to withdraw troops from Iraq. We're actually sending more troops to Iraq.

GREGORY: Right. So let's go back to our more recent history, right? Let's go back to the end of the Bush administration. The Bush administration actually worked with Russia to try to contain

Iran, to contain a nuclear program. There were hard-liners, including Vice President Cheney, including John Bolton, who was then ambassador to the U.N., who actually wanted to bomb Iran, who wanted to strike at potential nuclear sites in Iran. The president didn't want anything to do with it.

You move forward. You have an Obama administration that negotiates a deal. The president pulls out of that deal. He's offered unconditional talks with Iran. And now we hear Pompeo saying, the secretary of state, saying, confront and contain. So we know the president is going to take offensive action, as he did against Soleimani, to try to contain Iran's influence in the region, its proxy force influence, it's provocations against U.S. interests in the region, and advancement toward a nuclear weapon. That's a question. More offensive action to get to the negotiating table, it all goes to the question, what is the strategy?


BERMAN: All right, as we know, we're going to hear from the president very shortly on this.

Christiane was saying to you, we're going to listen to every word he says very carefully, as will the entire world to know where this is headed.


BERMAN: CNN's coverage of the breaking news continues right after this.


BERMAN: All right, we're waiting to hear from President Trump. He will address the nation this morning after the Iranian missile attack on bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq.

Joining me now is Michele Flournoy. She served as undersecretary of defense for policy during the Obama administration and was a principle adviser to Defense Secretaries Gates and Panetta.

So you've been there assessing situations like this. You watched what happened overnight. You told us yesterday the Iranians are pretty overt in the signals that they send to the world with their words and actions. So how do you read what happened last night? No known U.S. casualties and the Iranians did warn Iraq that this attack was coming.

MICHELE FLOURNOY, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR POLICY: I think that this was a calibrated move by Iran.


I think they had to save face by retaliating in some way for the strike against Soleimani. But I think they were also very careful. And I don't think -- I think if they wanted to kill Americans and Iraqis last night, there were additional actions they could have taken and they didn't take.

So I think the fact that there were no casualties gives President Trump the opportunity to throw the circuit breaker on this particular cycle of escalation and to engineer -- you know, to push -- push the pause button and to create some breathing space for -- before he -- you know, and stop -- stop the sort of risk of immediate margin to direct conflict with Iran.

BERMAN: Throw the circuit breaker. Again, we're waiting to hear from President Trump himself. What does that look like throwing the circuit breaker here?

FLOURNOY: I think he needs to tone down the rhetoric, reiterate, you know, the basis for deterrence. But he also needs to lay out a strategy, what are our objectives, what are we trying to achieve?

We've been using sanctions. We've used military measures. But, you know, where is the diplomacy? Where is the engagement with Iraq, with our alleys in the region, even with Iran, to achieve our fundamental objectives. What is the strategy as several of your commentators have shown?

I also think it's an important time for this administration to up its game in the national security decision making process. Do a better job of vetting the options that are presented to the president. Making sure he understands potential second and third order consequences and risks so that any future tactical action he takes, he's fully aware of the strategic implications, because it's certainly not clear that that was done in this recent move.

BERMAN: No, we don't know that it was done. But another way of looking at that, though, is this it -- this is the ultimate Iranian response to the U.S. action. It's not that big of a cost. A missile attack on bases with no U.S. casualties, is that that big of a cost for taking out the second most powerful person in Iran?

FLOURNOY: It isn't. And that's why I think we'd be wise to take advantage of this and throw that circuit breaker. But we should, as others have said, this is not over yet. Iran has historically, you know, always been prepared to use covert deniable options, cyberattacks, proxies. And you can be sure that they are continuing with their attack planning, looking at every U.S. embassy in the region, every U.S. base in the region, every U.S. ship in the region, saying, if we need to, how do we -- how do we take action against those?

So it's not over. But, again, the ball is in President Trump's court. He has an opportunity to create a moment of pause where we can get our ducks in the row. And, again, I think he owes the American people a clear statement of our objectives and our strategy. And how does this end?

BERMAN: What do you think the objective should be with Iran?

FLOURNOY: Look, I think we need to try to reduce Iran's malign activities in the region, their ballistic missile threat and ultimately contain their nuclear program. Those objectives have been quite clear.

But we have to engage with them. We have to be able to put something on the table. They have to have an off ramp from the crippling sanctions they've been experiencing in order to give up something, to accept some of the constraints that we're seeking. What is the negotiation strategy? So far there's been no plan, no diplomacy, no effort in that regard. And we have to bring our allies with us because this won't work if we try to do it on our own.

BERMAN: Michele Flournoy, it's been great having you on the show helping us understand this moment developing before our very eyes. Thanks so very much for being with us.

FLOURNOY: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Well, Donald Trump campaigned for office, you'll remember, promising to run the U.S. government like a business. Has he done that? Is this how a successful business would deal with Iran?