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Coronavirus Outbreak; Stocks Plunge in Worst Week since 2008; Pentagon Prepares for Virus Impact; America's Choice 2020; U.S.- Taliban Deal; Farewell to George Howell. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired February 29, 2020 - 05:00   ET

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


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NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): With the coronavirus spreading, the World Health Organization now calling the global threat level very high.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And the U.S. president accusing Democrats of a new hoax for criticizing his response to the crisis, as new community spread cases pop up across the United States.

ALLEN (voice-over): And we are just hours from what many hope could be the beginning of the end of America's longest war.

HOWELL (voice-over): We are live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm George Howell.

ALLEN (voice-over): I'm Natalie Allen, CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

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HOWELL: At 5:01 here on the U.S. East Coast, surging coronavirus cases are prompting a new warning from the World Health Organization, saying the global outbreak has reached the level of highest level of risk now.

ALLEN: That is meant to be a wake-up call for governments to prepare.

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DR. MARGARET HARRIS, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Do you have the capacity in your hospitals?

Have you got the ventilators?

Have you got the staff ready, have you got backup teams?

Because your staff will get exhausted. You need backup teams.

Is the training in place, are the laboratories ready, do your staff know how to take swabs?

Do you have big teams that can do surveillance?

All these are the questions that need to be asked and answered right now.

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HOWELL: Fears are spreading around the global economy. It has caused the worst week for U.S. stocks since the 2008 financial crisis.

ALLEN: Meantime, there are fresh concerns about how the virus may be spreading here in the United States. There are now believed to be three cases in the U.S. where the patient had not traveled to an infected area or had contact with a person known to be infected.

HOWELL: From Asia to the Middle East, CNN covering every angle of this outbreak with our correspondents around the world. Our Blake Essig live in Tokyo, John Defterios in Abu Dhabi and Farai Sevenzo in Nairobi.

Blake, what are the concerns there across Japan?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Minutes ago, the Japanese prime minister addressed the nation, not only to reassure the people here but also defend the government's handling of the coronavirus outbreak here in Japan.

And he laid out several measures that they will be taking, this all as a state of emergency has been declared in Japan's largest prefecture, Hokkaido. And they're asking residents there to stay indoors for the next several weeks.

Some of these measures that the prime minister announced is, by March, they're hoping to have a 15-minute rapid virus test kit available so they can test for the coronavirus and get the results back within 15 minutes.

They're also going to be increasing the amount of bed space available, from 2,000 beds to 10,000 beds, in order to try do deal with a potential outbreak.

They also -- excuse me -- the prime minister also addressed and defended his decision and recommendation to close all public schools, 34,000 of them across the country, starting this Monday, saying that the next one to two weeks are critical in order for the government to get a handle and contain the spread of the coronavirus.

And he also addressed the Olympics.

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ESSIG: He said that the government is working with local authorities and the IOC to make sure that they can produce a safe games, for not only the visitors from around the world but also the athletes that will be coming here in less than five months, to compete at the Olympics, George.

HOWELL: CNN's correspondent Blake Essig live for us in Tokyo.

ALLEN: CNN's emerging markets editor, John Defterios, is in Abu Dhabi.

The health scares, of course, is the global economy, certainly, the numbers don't reflect any kind of hopes, that's for sure.

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: That's for sure, I call it an economic black swan, something that nobody could have predicted a month ago. Let's bring up that big market board here and see the wipeout.

We're looking at seven straight days on global markets, in correction territory on Wall Street. The Dow industrials lost 4,000 points. These are indicators, we haven't seen anything like it since the global financial crisis in 2009 and 2010.

The U.S. Federal Reserve saying that the economy remains strong, not exactly because it was just 2.1 percent in the latest quarter, which is the slowest we've seen in three years but they're ready to use the tools necessary to stave off the downturn we're seeing.

China said they have the factory output at the slowest level since keeping records, industry has ground to a halt. That also raises the question what happens here between the emerging markets and the developed world that came together in 2009-10 and the G20 to provide stimulus in terms of cash and cutting interest rates.

We have to think of the ancillary downturn and the impact of it, because of what it does to travel, for example. There was a huge travel show scheduled for Berlin that was cancelled. Facebook had a big event, cancelled.

We had the Geneva motor show, cancelled. And an event in Bahrain, also postponed. So this will not help growth going forward in the future. In the Middle East, which is kind of the oil belt of the world, it sits on half of the proven reserves. With this bear market, this is not a correction but a bear market in oil, Natalie, it's going to hit all of the economies in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly here in the Gulf.

Even though they're low-cost producers, their budgets are set for $70 a barrel or higher. We're hovering around $50. I'll be in Vienna on Thursday and Friday for an emergency meeting of the OPEC plus group of producers who are looking to cut about 1 million barrels a day, potentially. That's the downfall we've seen in the first quarter alone, because of the coronavirus.

ALLEN: No one known how long it will last, either. Thank you, John.

HOWELL: Now to CNN's Farai Sevenzo, where Nigeria is on edge after becoming the first sub-Saharan country to have the coronavirus, as many African nations are concerned as well, Farai.

FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, George. An Italian man landing in Lagos was found to have the coronavirus. Here, where I'm speaking to you from Nairobi, a plane landed Wednesday morning from China. It was flown by China South Airlines. And it's caused great dismay across the country.

People are angry, that the government is still allowing flights from the epicenter in the coronavirus. Take a look at this headline, "Enemies of the People."

People have blasted the politicians for having taken this position.

Yesterday, George, Kenya went to the high court and demanded that the judges do something about this. They now have suspended all nonessential flights from China. We went around the streets and spoke to different people, here's what they had to say.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The plane which landed here, first of all, the epicenter of everything that the disease itself, when they're coming with the coronavirus thing, started from -- that plane come from China. That means, we must protect ourselves. This is something even China is not able to control.

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SEVENZO: And, George, you know, you remember, this is a touchy-feely continent. It's full of hugs and handshakes. Most areas are packed with people. And the massive public transport system, you can just imagine what would happen.

On the flip side of that, are they able to curb should a case arise in Nairobi?

We had one government minister saying they have 11 beds for quarantine; 259 passengers from that flight are still AWOL in the country and something needs to be done, everyone is saying.

HOWELL: Farai Sevenzo, live for us in Nairobi, thank you for reporting for us.

ALLEN: Here in the U.S., the first community-based transmissions of the virus are emerging.

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ALLEN: Just ahead, how the Trump administration is working to reassure Americans and investors while calling it a Democratic hoax.

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HOWELL: One of the keys to containing the coronavirus will be finding an effective vaccine. And while there are several candidates being developed, it could be quite a time before one is available to the public.

ALLEN: CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains why the process takes so much time.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are working on cures and we're getting some very good results. As you know, they're working as rapidly as they can on a vaccine for the future.

GUPTA (voice-over): But what does rapidly mean here?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, DEAN, NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE: If these were 10, 20 years ago, maybe five years ago, we'd be looking at a timeframe of years before we were actually seriously considering having a vaccine available.

GUPTA: Peter Hotez has dedicated his life to developing vaccines, including one that targets coronaviruses.

HOTEZ: Now, we're compressing that timeline to months.

GUPTA: And around the world, there's now a race to develop a working vaccine to fight what's on the verge of becoming a global pandemic.

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TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: More than 20 vaccines are in development globally and several therapeutics are in clinical trials.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Although this is the fastest we have ever gone from a sequence of a virus to a trial, it still would not be any applicable to the epidemic unless we'd really wait about a year to a year and a half.

GUPTA: You see, even if a vaccine looks promising in the lab, all that matters is how well it works in the general population and it takes multiple steps to prove that.

First, that it is safe. And then that it is effective. And ultimately, how it compares to other treatments.

HOTEZ: Clinical testing is going to take a lot of time. We have to do extensive testing, both for safety as well as efficacy to show that the vaccine is preventing the infection.

GUPTA: And there's an added challenge, attracting pharmaceutical companies to actually manufacture it.

HOTEZ: It turns out that many pandemic threats are not big moneymakers for the large pharmaceutical companies.

GUPTA: But it is much more than a matter of turning a profit.

HOTEZ: This vaccine is not only going to be needed to help public health, but it's going to be used to stabilize the economy, it's going to be used to stabilize global security. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta reporting there.

Now let's bring in Sterghios Moschos, an associate professor at Northumbria University with a specialty in virology, joining us from Newcastle, England.

Glad to have you.

STERGHIOS MOSCHOS, NORTHUMBRIA UNIVERSITY: Good morning.

HOWELL: These are questions from moms and dads on the playground, asking each other, what can be done to protect families, their kids, communities, the basics?

How can people differentiate between COVID-19 and the typical flu?

MOSCHOS: They can't. That's the first message. First of all, we need to bear in mind, we don't have sustained transmission in Britain, France, the United States between people in the community. We had one or two cases, not even a handful of cases.

And it's in the middle of winter, so the likelihood is if we see some cases, this is going to be a normal cold, let alone flu, let alone COVID-19.

HOWELL: We just heard Dr. Sanjay Gupta's report about a vaccine.

Are you optimistic how long it might take to develop a vaccine effective against this virus?

MOSCHOS: So I think we need to be very happy and thankful that the investment in science is turning years and years of research into things that potentially could be delivered in months. That does not mean it will be delivered in months. There's many hurdles to cross.

The Ebola outbreak in 2015 showed us it is possible for something quite dangerous and deadly to develop a vaccine that works fairly quickly. If we're this lucky with COVID-19, the next hurdle which wasn't covered in the report, the anti-vaccine.

HOWELL: We've been reporting on viral outbreak meets politics. Viral outbreak meets markets. Then you see mixed messages coming from officials.

How do you feel about that, when it comes to people trying to square the circle and find out what to do?

MOSCHOS: OK, so, I think I'm going to go down to basics as you proposed. What we first need to do is wash our hands more, touch our faces less. This is the easiest piece of advice anybody can follow. If you do that, irrespective of what people with agendas might or might not want you to understand, at least look after yourself.

HOWELL: There's a lot of investment into the masks, the facial masks. We're seeing officials here with masks on.

Are those effective?

Is that something that people should rush to the stores to get?

MOSCHOS: No, do not rush to the stores to get them. The standard surgical mask that you can get in the store protects people around you if you have a cold. So if you want to do, you know, a good thing for society, when you get a cold, then get a mask.

But frankly speaking, washing your hands and not touching your face is a lot better than getting a mask on. If you go out and buy more specialist masks, you're causing more problems looking after patients with COVID-19. Then they won't have the resources they need. So please do not get masks.

HOWELL: Straightforward, we appreciate it.

[05:20:00]

ALLEN: In the United States, President Trump is trying to reassure Americans that its administration has a handle on the coronavirus outbreak. He discussed a number of measures he's considering to calm jittery markets.

HOWELL: All of this as Wall Street suffered its worst streak since the financial crisis from 2008. CNN's Jim Acosta has more.

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JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With Americans growing more anxious by the day and the stock market plummeting over the coronavirus, President Trump is straining to contain an outbreak of fear.

TRUMP: I'm spending a lot of time on it, just in coordination. Mike Pence is doing a great job. Dr. Fauci is great. They're all doing really a fantastic -- Alex Azar is right on top of it. We're all watching it very closely.

ACOSTA: Leading the administration's coronavirus response, Vice President Mike Pence discussed new measures for the health emergency with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. That was after Pence attended a fund-raiser in the 2020 battleground state.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to make sure that not only does HHS, CDC, Homeland Security and other agencies have the resources they need for whatever may come. We're going to make sure that states like Florida and your local health officials have the resources to be able to be prepared for any eventuality.

ACOSTA: The vice president's office is now coordinating the administration's coronavirus message, raising up concerns among Democrats that the White House will try to muzzle government scientists who might be too candid about the outbreak. REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I do think that if it is true -- and I don't know if it is -- that they're saying, unless you have an approval of the value office, no scientist can make any statements about this, is not encouraging.

ACOSTA: The White House has jumped into damage control mode with acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney accusing the media of exaggerating the threat posed by the virus to hurt the president.

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The press was covering their hoax of the day, because they thought it would bring down the president.

I get a note today from a reporter saying, what are you going to do today to calm the markets?

I'm like, really, what I might do today to calm the markets is to tell people to turn their televisions off for 24 hours.

ACOSTA: After a week of steep losses on Wall Street, one big concern for the administration is the economy.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell released a statement saying new stimulus measures may be necessary if the virus seriously damages the economy, adding, "The coronavirus poses evolving risk to economic activity.

"The Federal Reserve is closely monitoring developments and their implications for the economic outlook. We will use our tools and act as appropriate to support the economy."

The White House economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, is urging investors to start buying stocks.

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: I would say, so far, the numbers coming in on the economy have actually been quite good, including today. You might think about buying the dip.

ACOSTA: The president had his eye on the 2020 campaign, tweeting about polls he liked and didn't like, at one point remarking, "Worst polls just like in 2016, when they were so far off the mark, are the FOX News polls. Why doesn't FOX finally get a competent polling company?"

The White House is considering measures a response to the coronavirus, a new round of tax cuts is on the table -- Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.

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ALLEN: Among those bracing for the impact of the coronavirus, the U.S. military.

HOWELL: Our Barbara Starr has more now on how the Pentagon is preparing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The White House may want to say the coronavirus is under control. But at the Pentagon, top officials are saying, not so fast.

The top personnel chief at the Pentagon has written a memo, in part, saying about the infection, that it is, quote, "an increasing force health protection threat in areas where Department of Defense personnel live and work."

And, in fact, CNN has spoken to a number of top officials in the military at various locations. They are all expressing concern. Exercises are being postponed and cancelled.

We've already seen one exercise in South Korea with the U.S. military cancelled. A number of U.S. troops returning home from Israel, when they decided that they weren't ready to go full steam ahead with an exercise they had planned.

All of this, if it keeps going like this, can lead to readiness problems. If troops can't train, they may not be as ready as they should be, as commanders want them to be, to engage in operations.

Next up, a series of massive exercises in Europe. Top commanders there are looking at the situation, talking to their European counterparts, trying to determine if that exercise can go forward. And a number of commanders around the world are asking for additional supplies.

[05:25:00]

STARR: Medical supplies, doctors and nurses may soon head to South Korea to U.S. bases there. And even in Italy, what they're asking for, the U.S. Army in northern Italy, they are asking for hundreds if not thousands of additional packaged meals.

They're worried that, if they do have a large number of U.S. troops in quarantine, they need these packaged meals to be able to feed them. That's the kind of detailed planning going on behind the scenes, the kind of detailed planning that the Pentagon is not ready yet to fully talk about -- Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Next here, election 2020. It could be a do or die day for Joe Biden's campaign. But there's a reason he's still confident the South Carolina primary will go his way. That's next.

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HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM live from the ATL. I'm George Howell.

ALLEN: I'm Natalie Allen. Here are the headlines at this hour.

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[05:30:00]

HOWELL: All right. Here stateside, it is primary Election Day, at a critical moment for Democratic presidential candidates in the state of South Carolina.

ALLEN: It could be do or die for former Vice President Joe Biden. He struggled in the first three contests; still, he's optimistic about his chances in South Carolina.

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JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been confident about South Carolina because I've worked so hard, over 30 or more years here in South Carolina, not to run for president but to have a relationship with the community.

It's been a launching pad for I and Barack and I believe it will be a launching pad for me.

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HOWELL: But Bernie Sanders has wins and momentum. A victory for Sanders could go a long way to seal the deal as the nation heads into Super Tuesday next week.

ALLEN: Bernie and Biden, let's talk about it with Natasha Lindstaedt.

Good morning.

NATASHA LINDSTAEDT, UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX: Good morning.

ALLEN: It's a big day in South Carolina for Joe Biden. This has been his stronghold of sorts.

Does he have it to win it to stay in it?

We think so and can he?

What do you think?

LINDSTAEDT: He definitely has to win is it. And he's hoping he can win decisively to change the momentum going into Super Tuesday, even though some of those votes have already been cast because he desperately needs campaign funds.

He's forecasted to win 40 percent or 33 delegates of the 54. It was projected in South Carolina and it bumped that up there. And he has also been doing a little better in some other states, looking at the polls in Texas and North Carolina. So he's trying to stay optimistic.

There's been a lot in the news lately about Bernie Sanders causing disarray in the Democratic Party and that the moderate wing of the party has to get themselves better organized.

At the moment, they're not organized at all, because -- I had mentioned the last time we had spoken that they seem to be attacking one another, where the more progressive liberal wing of the Democratic Party isn't doing that.

So we're seeing a little bit of optimism for Joe Biden but he really does have to come away with a decisive win.

ALLEN: Right, because he hasn't gotten there yet. You talk about the moderate wing. And, yes, that kind of threw them in flux with Bernie's surge. Let's talk about that.

He's got momentum behind him. But candidate Pete Buttigieg said, in South Carolina, Senator Sanders is the front-runner but the majority of Democrats are looking for something else. Clearly, many moderates concerned about Sanders as the candidate.

Where does that leave the Democratic Party right now in this process?

LINDSTAEDT: At the moment, they appear to be in complete disarray. And I think there is concern that there's going to be a convention, where there's going to be all kinds of disputes going on about the winner, who should win, if a majority of delegates -- if Sanders doesn't get a majority of delegates.

All of this disarray is, of course, really good for Trump. He wants the Democratic Party to cancel each other out. The worst case scenario for Trump is if a candidate comes away from all of the primaries that the Democrats are really excited about and united behind.

At the moment, the advantage of Bernie Sanders is he really motivates the base. And his particular support base is really, really enthusiastic about them. It's a young support base. He's been able to attract Hispanics, African Americans, people from different classes. And also he's been able to attract some moderates.

The issue is that there's a moderate part of the Democratic Party that is horrified by what is happening. In fact, we look at what is going on in the Democratic Party leadership, they are deeply concerned that, if Sanders continues this winning streak that he has, that he will not have a good chance of winning the election.

Of course, he's trying to counter that. We saw what happened in the recent debates in South Carolina.

[05:35:00]

LINDSTAEDT: He faced a lot of attack because people were eyeing the fact that he is the front-runner and that could be problematic for the Democrats in 2020.

ALLEN: Right. And part of the disunity we've seen is that Bernie Sanders likes to point that finger and talk about the establishment and that he's not the establishment. That seems to be his main most discuss operandi, if you will. Interesting; we've been talking about the Trump base, you know, for

years now. And here is a candidate who calls himself a socialist, getting a base. No one said Donald Trump could win. And now, here's Bernie Sanders with the base.

Could he pull it off?

That's the big question.

LINDSTAEDT: Well, first of all, he has to win the nomination. And if you're going to be betting on this right now, he does have the momentum. He seems like he's poised to win California, where there are 415 delegates. And he'll win many of those. And he's going to do really well on Super Tuesday because he has so much campaign funds.

His war chest is so huge, he's been able to play all of these ads over and over again, which encourage people to vote for him through early voting or on Super Tuesday. Then he's going to have to -- if he then gets the nomination, he has to deal with the fact that the Democrats are not united.

He's going to have to unite the Democrats and then also appeal to independent voters. That's been one of the major criticisms of Sanders, is that he's so true to himself or whatever his convictions are that he's not willing to pivot. That will be absolutely necessary if he does get the nomination.

And there are those who are very scared by the word socialism and by this complete revolution. These types of words scare people who feel they just want incremental changes and improvements to the health care, incremental changes to the economy. It's not clear if he's the candidate to attract voters in the middle.

ALLEN: Polls open in South Carolina in just a few hours. We'll be watching. Natasha Lindstaedt, thank you so much.

LINDSTAEDT: Thank you.

HOWELL: Both the United States and the Taliban are scheduled to sign a landmark deal. Still ahead, how that is agreement aims to end America's longest war.

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HOWELL: The United States and the Taliban are expected to sign a historic agreement in the coming hours, designed to pave the way toward a peace deal.

ALLEN: There's a lot of optimism over it this time.

HOWELL: There is.

ALLEN: A short time ago, secretary of state Mike Pompeo landed in Qatar to witness the signing. Here's a look at what the details are.

A source close to the negotiation says, under the deal, the American military presence in Afghanistan would be reduced from 12,000 troops to 8,600 over the course of 135 days. The Taliban would have to help the U.S. fight Al Qaeda cells in the country.

The same source tells CNN, Washington has reassured the Afghan government that, if the Taliban break the rules of the deal, the U.S., and here's a quote, "will have enough lethal power to destroy them."

HOWELL: OK, there's that threat. Let's get insight now from Fawaz Gerges, the author of "Making the Arab World" and an international relations professor at the London School of Economics, live this hour in our London bureau.

Good to have you.

FAWAZ GERGES, DIR. MIDDLE EAST CENTER, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Thank you.

HOWELL: First of all, Natalie mentioned, there is some optimism around this potential.

But given the details we just ticked through on this deal, what are your thoughts?

GERGES: Well, you know, George, let's focus on the Afghan people. The Afghan people basically long for peace and stability, even though they're anxious about the future.

So there is hope but anxiety. For your own viewers, Afghanistan has been at war since 1979, not 2001, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. So 40 years in a long and devastating war, deep scars, tens of thousands of casualties. The country is shattered and broken.

So this tentative deal, this tentative signing ceremony in Doha, provides an historic opportunity for the Afghan people to begin, and I stress, George, to begin the process of trying to reach a peace settlement.

HOWELL: Again, you point this out and I just want to drive further with this. There is a gulf of trust here.

Do you see these sides being able to manage the deep distrusts that exists?

GERGES: It's not just a gulf of mistrust between the Taliban and the Afghani government led by President Ghani. You have massive differences between the two sides. And that's why my take on it -- and I hope I'm wrong -- the odds are against the breakthrough.

Why? The Taliban have been winning and they know it. They control 40 percent -- more than 40 percent of the country, the countryside, which really provides basic, staple food for the rest of the urban populations.

The Taliban know that president Donald Trump wants to bring American troops home regardless of the cost. And what the Taliban are doing, they're obliging, because they know President Trump, all he cares about is to tell his base of support, I brought American troops home and I'm ending America's endless wars.

And also, you have massive differences between the two sides, the Taliban and the Afghan government, about prisoners, about refugees, about human rights, about women rights, about Islamic law. And let me give you an example, just one particular challenge.

The Taliban want 5,000 of their prisoners to be released by the government, the Ghani government. Of course, the Afghani government would be terrified to release 5,000 skilled potential combatants. So this is highly complex and risky and uncertain process. This is just the beginning.

For President Trump, and this is my final point on this, President Trump and the Trump administration do not really have the patience and the care to nurse such a long road. Peace talks and reconciliation between the Taliban, which views itself as winning, and the Afghani government, which relies on American support, overwhelming American support.

[05:45:00]

HOWELL: Going into this, Fawaz, and you point out that the Taliban really has the upper hand here, so what's in it for them here?

GERGES: I mean, ultimately, the Taliban realize they're going to take ownership of the country. They know this because what they want to do is to really level the playing field, you know, in Afghanistan, by kicking the Americans out. And that's why, I mean, Donald Trump is the best godsent gift to the Taliban. All he cares about, and I'm not being harsh, he cares about the short-term calculations, the elections in the next year. He's going to tell his base of support, look, I'm bringing the American troops home.

And the Taliban are not fools. They know this. So at the end of the day, unless the international community intervenes in terms of really trying to invest in Afghanistan, in post-war reconstruction, trying to bridge the divide between the Afghani government and the Taliban, yes, the Taliban are winning and they know it.

And that's why signing the deal -- look, if I were the Taliban -- the Taliban are not giving anything, anything at all. In fact, it's all win-win for the Taliban. And that's why many Afghanis are anxious about the future, even though they want to end this -- I mean, basically, war that has been going on since 1979.

Women in particular in Afghanistan are anxious about the future because the Taliban don't really subscribe to any kind of progressive bill of rights for women so -- and human rights as well, not to mention governors and the future of Afghanistan.

So what we are seeing today is the struggle to decide the future of Afghanistan. My take on it is the Taliban have the upper hand in this particular situation.

HOWELL: Fawaz, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you.

GERGES: Thanks.

ALLEN: CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is in Doha, where the signing is to take place.

As we just heard from Fawaz, this looks to be a win-win for the Taliban.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, the Taliban's position, they come into this, in quite a robust sense. It does seem to be broadly accepted by them that, if they were to try to continue with the war and take all of the country's cities by force, if they could, over time, something they haven't achieved so far, which is a reason perhaps to get into talks, they would still be an international pariah as they were 20 years ago when they took control.

So perhaps from the Taliban side, that's part of the motivation to get into a situation where the United States and President Trump opening the door for a legitimate government in Afghanistan.

But the Taliban have come into this feeling that President Ghani perhaps only has a couple months left in office. And the talks could begin as early in March between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

But the expectation that's been created by the U.S. negotiator is that the Afghan government, to get into the talks and for the Taliban to come to those talks, the Afghan government would have to hand over 5,000 prisoners that Fawaz was talking about.

And that, at the moment, we understand for the Afghan government, is way too far, way too fast. So this is a very rocky hurdle at the beginning. But on the Taliban side, their expectation is they will get the prisoners and that is the key to opening the further talks.

So if the president of Afghanistan doesn't make that move, then that weakens his position. So there is a lot at stake right now.

ALLEN: Right.

How do you open a prison and let 5,000 walk out?

You'll be covering what happens next in Doha. Nic Robertson, thank you.

HOWELL: We'll be right back, after this.

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[05:50:00]

(WORLD SPORTS)

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HOWELL: As the Duke of Sussex wraps up his final public engagements as a British royal, he enjoyed one perk of the job on Friday.

ALLEN: Indeed. Dropping in on a recording session with rocker Jon Bon Jovi at Abbey Road Studios. Harry joined Bon Jovi in the legendary studio to record a pro-veterans song for this year's Invictus Games.

HOWELL: They also reenacted The Beatles' famous walk across Abbey Road and posed for pictures.

Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates is calling for a united effort to combat the spreading coronavirus.

ALLEN: In recent years, he's used his charitable foundation to fund efforts to fight future pandemics. In an op-ed for "The New England Journal of Medicine," he warns the new virus is a severe threat, writing this.

"In the past week, COVID-19 has started behaving a lot like the once- in-a-century pathogen we've been worried about."

Gates is calling for a unified global response to create a new vaccine to fight the virus.

HOWELL: Finally this day, a personal note: I want you to know that this is my last day here at CNN. I also want you to know that this was my decision, leaving what has been a dream job, something that the 8- year-old version of me never could have imagined, bringing the news to you in the United States and around the world. Wow.

But I reached a point where I realize there are certain things that I still want to do, things I want to do to try to make a positive impact. And if I don't do them right now, I probably never will.

So this Leap Day, I'm taking a leap. I want to thank my team, my colleagues here in Atlanta, my co-anchors and former journalists around the world who risk it all many times to bring you the news.

[05:55:00]

HOWELL: Most importantly, thank you for inviting this Texan into your lives, for trusting me to cut through all the noise and just give it to you straight, the news. It's been my honor.

ALLEN: And it's been our honor. It's been my honor to sit next to you, my friend, in the middle of the night, to give everybody the news. We still manage to have some laughs, if you didn't notice. For all of us here in the studio, in the NEWSROOM, there in the control room, George, we wish you all the best. We know you're going to have a great endeavor ahead of you.

HOWELL: I can tell you there's no one better to work with than Natalie Allen, true professional, most sincere person you'll ever meet. It's been great.

ALLEN: You're so kind. I feel the same way. And in case in your new endeavor you have time to wake up at 4:00 in the morning and you want to watch your old program --

HOWELL: May I record it?

(LAUGHTER)

ALLEN: Yes, you may record it.

But listen, really, all the best to you, George, I know all of the viewers are thinking the same thing for you.

HOWELL: It's been a pleasure.

ALLEN: You're a great person.

HOWELL: Thank you.

ALLEN: Thank you for watching George and Natalie. See you around.

HOWELL: It's good to be with you. Have a great day.