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CNN International: U.S. Secretary Of State Blinken Heading To Middle East; U.S. Officials: Airstrikes In Iraq, Syria Damaged 84 of 85 Targets On Friday; U.S.-Led Coalition Launched Strikes Against Houthi Targets In Yemen, A Day After Strikes In Iraq & Syria. Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired February 05, 2024 - 08:00   ET



MAX FOSTER, HOST, "CNN NEWSROOM": Hello, and welcome to CNN Newsroom. I'm Max Foster in London. Just ahead, the U.S. starts another diplomatic push in the Middle East after days of airstrikes across the region. We're live at the Pentagon and in Jordan this hour.

Also, millions of people face a serious flood risk in California as record rainfall hits the state. We'll have the latest details. And Grammy gold, superstar Taylor Swift takes home the hardware, but the ceremony features some big name surprises as well.

Any moment now, the U.S. Secretary of State lands in Saudi Arabia for another Middle East crisis tour to try to secure peace in the Israel- Hamas war. It is Antony Blinken's fifth trip to the region since the October 7 Hamas attacks in Israel. He'll also visit Egypt, Qatar, Israel, and the West Bank.

This diplomatic push has become more urgent after the surge in attacks by Iran-backed groups in the region, which has triggered counter attacks by the U.S. The U.S. struck Iran-backed militants in Iraq and Syria in the past days, past few days, and that was in response to attacks that killed three U.S. service members earlier. The U.S. also once again targeted Houthi rebels in Yemen, disrupting merchant vessels in the Red Sea.

Listen to the U.S. President's response to a reporter question.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are the air strikes working?



FOSTER: CNN's Natasha Bertrand is live from the Pentagon. Let's talk, Natasha, about what more we know about the strikes over the weekend, and really where they're going to have that defining effect that they're looking for.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, Max, there were two rounds of strikes over the weekend, and officials say they were actually unrelated.

So, on Friday night, there was the strikes by the U.S. on Iraq and Syria, which targeted 85 different targets in the countries. And we are told that, according to a preliminary battlefield damage assessment, 84 of those targets were "destroyed or functionally damaged". And that is a preliminary assessment. They're going to continue to try to assess just how much of the facilities that they targeted were degraded in these strikes because they targeted weapons storage facilities, command and control centers used by groups like Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as well as Iran-backed militants that have been using them to attack U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria. So, they broadly believed that those strikes were successful.

And then on Saturday night, you have the separate round of strikes by the U.S. and the UK on Iran-backed Houthis inside Yemen, targeting weaponry and supplies and weapon depots used by the Houthis as well as helicopters and radar systems that they have been using to attack commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

Now, the U.S. says at this point that the attacks on the Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria are going to continue because the militias launched a drone attack at a U.S. outpost in Jordan last month that killed three U.S. service members. And the U.S. says that it has not done retaliating for that attack. And so, it remains to be seen just what that response is going to look like.

But, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said last week that we should expect additional action in the coming days. The big question now, of course, is whether the U.S. has been able to destroy a significant amount of the weaponry and supplies and facilities that the Iranians and their militias are using to conduct these attacks? That really remains to be seen, as they continue this analysis of what they destroyed.

But, as of right now, we are told that for the U.S. to strike inside Iran directly that remains extremely unlikely because the U.S. has repeated many times that they do not want to go to war with Iran, Max.

FOSTER: OK. Natasha, thank you so much for that.

Meanwhile, inside Gaza, Israel Defense Forces say it's warmed civilians to immediately leave parts of Gaza City and Khan Younis and move to the humanitarian areas, but it's unclear how many people are actually aware of the orders. The Palestine Red Crescent Society says that hundreds of people who've been taking shelter inside its headquarters in Khan Younis and in the nearby Al Amal Hospital have begun to leave following days of Israeli strikes.

Ben Wedeman joins us live from Amman, Jordan. Obviously, a lot of confusion in that area, not knowing where to go. We don't even sure of that they're getting the right communications.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, because of course, several months ago the Israelis basically divided on a map, Gaza, into more than 600 little blocks. And for people to know where they should go? Where it is safe? They're supposed to use this map with a QR code that will tell them where they should leave from and where they should go. But, of course, the internet and cellphone service are very spotty at best in Gaza at the moment.


But, what we do know is that the Israeli's military is stepping up its actions in and around Khan Younis, which has really been the scene of intense fighting now for several weeks. But, they're also focusing on northern Gaza, particularly Gaza City and central Gaza. And it's worth mentioning that some time ago, the Israelis said that they had taken control or they had control of northern Gaza and Gaza City. But clearly, the Hamas and other resistance groups have been able to essentially make -- take maximum advantage of the tunnel systems and their knowledge of the local geography to really sort of run circles, so to speak, around the Israelis.

Now, in areas west of Gaza City, people have been ordered, I think that's "ordered" is probably the best way to put it, to go south to Deir al-Balah. Deir al-Balah has been repeatedly struck by Israeli forces. Now, those who were in the areas of Khan Younis, where the Israelis have ordered them to leave, they're supposed to go to the west, to the Muwasi area, and the Muwasi area is where hundreds of thousands of people have taken refuge because the Israelis insisted that area is safe. The only problem is that area has no facilities in terms of running water, electricity, health facilities, sources of food, or anything along those lines.

At the same time, we're hearing Yoav Gallant, the Israeli Defense Minister, saying that troops -- Israeli troops will soon move on the Rafah area, which is along the border with Egypt where we know at least half of the population of Gaza has fled to. They're also living in crowded, cramped camps with very little in terms of protection against the elements. And it has been very rainy and very cold by Middle Eastern standards of late. Now, according to the Hamas-run health authorities in Gaza, the death toll now is now in excess of 27,300. And the fear is that if the Israelis really focus their firepower on the Rafah area, that death toll could skyrocket.

FOSTER: OK. Ben Wedeman, thank you for the update.

Hundreds of thousands of people are without power after heavy rainfall and extreme winds pounded much of the state on Sunday, California, that is. More than 14 million people are under a rare high risk of excessive rainfall, including Downtown Los Angeles. Flash flood warnings are also in place in the surrounding area where the weather service has warned of landslides in Malibu, Beverly Hills as well.

CNN's Chad Myers joins us live from Ventura, California. They are used to tough conditions there, in extreme weather, let's say, but this is particularly notable. Isn't it?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It truly is. We talk about this high risk. The U.S. has a four category flood warning system, one, two, three, four. We are at four, the highest level that you can get. And we know that already about 300 millimeters of rainfall has fallen on top of the mountains just to the north of Los Angeles proper. Now, Los Angeles had three to five inches, so somewhere 150 millimeters of rainfall. And yes, there was some street flooding. The danger right now is that water that's on top of the mountain in the rivers, creeks and streams getting collected and rushing down through Los Angeles County, all the water from up there, and we were talking about 3,000 meters up there, all has to get down into the Pacific Ocean eventually, and waters are still rising.

We talked to a police officer earlier today, and as somebody went right through the barrier on a closed road and it was like, nope, you're not doing that. And the policeman right after said, you cannot go there. Do not put yourself in danger. Don't put us in danger having to rescue you. And that's the real issue right now. By the time this is done and it's still raining in many spots north of LA, there will be 400 millimeters of rainfall that has fallen in just about 24 hours. There is not any area with mountains that can handle that type of rain and have it soak in. It has to and it is running off, and those mountains with the dirt, sliding mudslides, it is a dangerous situation going on right now just to the north of Los Angeles proper.

In the Hollywood Hills, in the Pacific Palisades, where people put very big homes on very big cliffs, and those cliffs are dirt. They're not rock. So, sometimes that dirt turns into mud and the mud begins to slide. Max.

FOSTER: OK. Chad, stay safe. Thanks for joining us from Ventura, California there.

Now, a nightmarish scene is unfolding for people in Chile as massive forest fires are raging through the country.


A state of emergency has been declared that at least 112 people have died and hundreds of still missing. Tens of thousands of hectares have been burned, scorching entire neighborhoods. The fire spread so quickly that those who were able to evacuate did so through the flames and they are now looking for their loved ones.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (TRANSLATED): This advanced very quickly. The issue of the fire advanced very quickly. I came here with my brother at 1:30 a.m. and I discovered two bodies. One was my mother and the other was her partner. A third body is missing. I'm making a public call, if anyone has any information on Anastasia Elizabeth Ordiano Diaz (ph). She is 14-years-old. At 1:30 a.m., as I mentioned, I tried arriving as soon as possible because my mother wasn't answering. So, I came here and found those two bodies and one is missing. My sister is missing.


FOSTER: Now, police and protesters clashing in Senegal on Sunday, a day after the country's president announced he would postpone a vote for his replacement.


Pro-democracy demonstrators set up barricades in the capital city Dakar, and police responded with tear gas. Elections were scheduled to take place on February 25. But, President Macky Sall put that on hold, saying a conflict over the candidate lists must be cleared up first. Opposition groups calling that "institutional coup". Protesters say they think democracy is at stake.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (TRANSLATED): We are only defending ourselves. He meddles with the Constitution. He meddles with the newspapers. Je meddles with the population. He does everything he can to put us in a difficult position. I say it and I repeat it once again, we are not fighting for a simple cause. We are fighting for freedom.


FOSTER: In the coming hours, lawmakers will debate whether to hold the election in August and whether to keep Mr. Sall in power until then.

In Namibia, former vice president Nangolo Mbumba has been sworn in as the country's new leader just hours after President Hage Geingob died whilst receiving treatment for cancer. Mbumba appealed to the nation to remain calm and collected as some paid tribute to the late president.


KOTOKENI SHIMBINDJA, LOCAL RESIDENT: He believed in equality. He believed in peace. He believed in all these qualities that human beings should actually live. I just think that -- I remember him for all these great things that he has done and also serving our country, liberating it, and he played a very major role to liberate Namibia in the whole Africa, in general.


FOSTER: Still to come, the U.S. Senate has released bipartisan border security bill that could dramatically change immigration law. So, why does the Republican Speaker say it has absolutely no chance of passing in the House?




FOSTER: The U.S. Senate has unveiled a long-awaited bipartisan border security deal that lawmakers have been working on for months now. The $118 billion package would raise the threshold for asylum seekers. It would expedite asylum processing and it will require the border to be shut down if crossings average 5,000 in a day for a week. The Senate's Democratic Majority Leader is urging his colleagues not to let politics get in the way of what he is calling a monumental step forward.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): We cannot let politics get in the way of passing this legislation. The senators have to drown out the noise of politics and politicians who tell them not to vote for this bill for political purposes. I am proud. Leader McConnell and I, who disagree on many issues, have never worked so closely together on legislation as we did on this, because we both realize the gravity of the situation.


FOSTER: Well, the bill also includes billions of dollars of aid for Ukraine and Israel. But, Speaker Mike Johnson says it has no chance of passing in the House, calling the bill "dead on arrival".

CNN's Rosa Flores joins me live from Eagle Pass, a border town in southern Texas. I mean, you never know what's going to happen in U.S. politics, obviously at the moment, but it does look as though this is doomed to fail here. What impact would that have there? Is it good or bad for migrants trying to get in?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's really fascinating here is that the border communities, like the one that I'm in here in Eagle Pass, really see the impact, Max, because while U.S. Congress fails to act, the state of Texas is the one that is taking matters into its own hands. And what does that look like on the ground?

Let me show you, because here in Eagle Pass, there is razor wire along the Rio Grande, and in a public park. And just to give you an idea of what this looks like and means for people here, imagine if you have - you are at Central Park, wherever it is that you live around the world, and all of a sudden the state wraps razor wire around it. They put up gates, and there are soldiers with long guns patrolling, and you don't have access to those green spaces anymore because your governor says that he is stopping illegal immigration, which is really not true.

And I can tell you because I've witnessed this. Yes, this razor wire goes along the Rio Grande for several miles, but then it ends. And what we've learned from law enforcement sources is that smugglers simply go to the end of the razor wire and that's where they're still smuggling people into the United States. So, it doesn't stop the problem, even though the governor here claims that it does. And Max, so long as Congress doesn't act, we're going to see more and more of this.

As a matter of fact, this weekend, about a dozen governors from across the United States visited with Governor -- Texas Governor Greg Abbott here in Eagle Pass, at Shelby Park, this park, this was taken over by the state, not only to support the governor for doing all of this, but saying that states should do more to enforce border security. Now, here in the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld that immigration is a federal function, meaning that it's federal law enforcement who should be enforcing the laws. And here is what's curious about all of this, Max, is that Texas is

not allowing federal law enforcement officers inside this area which is -- leads to the Rio Grande, which is where migrants usually come in and a lot of the times turn themselves into immigration authorities. The state doesn't allow the federal government, the federal law enforcement agencies to go into this area. And so even though the state of Texas is saying that the federal government is not enforcing federal laws, well, the question is, if you don't allow the federal government on the river, how can they enforce federal laws? So, we're going to have to see what happens in Washington, Max, regarding this bill. As you mentioned, the House Speaker Mike Johnson has already said that it's dead on arrival in the House. So, we'll have to see. Max, back to you.

FOSTER: You speak to these migrants. We've seen many desperate stories. They're so focused on their mission. Aren't they? How much notice of a taking of this very complicated politics, which actually most people struggle to understand?

FLORES: Yeah. It's going to be very difficult for them to really grasp what's going on right now, because even people in the United States who speak the language are still trying to understand the language of this very long bill. But, what I can tell you from experience is that smugglers on the Mexican side use misinformation to drive migration. So, whatever is in this bill, they're going to try to use it in their favor.


The smugglers, the transnational criminal organizations are a business, and that is what they've done historically, Max. Whatever the policy in the United States is, they twist it around. They figure out a way to convince migrants that this is the time to come into the United States, because this is the time that you are going to be able to come in. So, I can already imagine that it's not only politicians here in the United States who are going through this document, trying to figure out what it means. The smugglers on the Mexican side are doing the same. But, to figure out how they can convince people that this is the time that they need to make sure that they cross into the United States, again, using misinformation to drive migration. Max.

FOSTER: Absolutely. OK. Rosa, really appreciate you joining us from there today.

Coming up, a full recap of the biggest night of the music industry, the Grammy Awards, including Taylor Swift making history yet again, and Celine Dion's deal even and her pretty emotional comeback.


FOSTER: The rain in Southern California didn't stop the biggest night of the music industry. That is of course the Grammys. The ceremony saw some history-making moments, emotional comebacks, and first-time winners.

CNN's Elizabeth Wagmeister wraps it all up for us. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)


ELIZABETH WAGMEISTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (VOICE-OVER): From anti-hero to history maker, Taylor Swift becoming the first artist to win "Album of the Year" four times. Stunned and overjoyed, Swift accepted the award for her 2022 album "Midnights."

TAYLOR SWIFT, AMERICAN SINGER-SONGWRITER: I would love to tell you that this is the best moment of my life. But, the award is the work. All I want to do is keep being able to do this. I love it so much.

WAGMEISTER (voice-over): An award presented by the legend Celine Dion, who shocked the crowd with her unannounced appearance. The Canadian singer has been open about her health issues.

DION: When I say that I'm happy to be here, I really mean it from my heart.

WAGMEISTER (voice-over): Swift, now a 14-time Grammy winner, her first one of the night for Best Pop Vocal Album, then making a surprise announcement.

SWIFT: My brand new album is -- it's called 'The Tortured Poets Department.'

WAGMEISTER (voice-over): Music's biggest superstars that made the biggest headlines in a night filled with historic performances. As 80- year-old legend Joni Mitchell perform for the first time on the Grammy stage.



Billy Joel rocking the crowd with his first Grammy performance in 30 years.


Earlier in the night, the crowd sang along with Tracy Chapman joining country star Luke Combs.


SZA had the most nominations and took home three Grammys, including Best R&B song.

SZA, AMERICAN SINGER AND SONGWRITER: I came really, really hard, and I can't believe this is happening.

WAGMEISTER (voice-over): Miley Cyrus celebrated her first win with the powerful performance of "Flowers", complete with a tribute to Tina Turner, which wasn't the only tribute to the legend, Fantasia Barrino part of a star-studded memorial to those music lost. (VIDEO PLAYING)

As Stevie Wonder sang with archival video of his fallen friend, Tony Bennett, and Annie Lennox brought back tears remembering Sinead O'Connor. Jay-Z awarded for his lifetime of work, with wife Beyonce looking on, accepting the award with his daughter Blue Ivy, and taking aim at the Recording Academy for never awarding Beyonce "Album of the Year".

JAY-Z, LIFETIME AWARD WINNER, DR. DRE GLOBAL IMPACT: Think about that, the most Grammys. Never won Album of the Year. That doesn't work.

WAGMEISTER (voice-over): But, ending with the powerful message.

JAY-Z: You got to keep showing up until they give you all those accolades you think you deserve, until they call you chairman, until they call you a genius, until they call you the greatest of all time. You feel me? Thank you.


FOSTER: Elizabeth Wagmeister reporting from Los Angeles there.

Thanks for joining me here on CNN Newsroom. I'm Max Foster in London. World Sport with Amanda is next.