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Iran Expected to Release 5 American Prisoners Today; Today: Stellantis to Meet with UAW as Strike Enters Day 4; House GOP Reaches Short-Term Funding Bill, But Hurdles Remain; Trump: Republicans 'Speak Very Inarticulately' About Abortion. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 18, 2023 - 06:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news here on CNN. Iran set to release five American prisoners at any moment. Right now, a jet is on stand-by to bring them from Tehran to Qatar.

Under this deal, the U.S. has unfrozen $6 billion in Iranian money that is supposed to only be used for humanitarian purposes.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. is also releasing five Iranians from prison. Two of them are apparently planning to stay in America.

Becky Anderson is live on the tarmac in Doha. Becky, this has been months of negotiations to lead to this point. Where do things stand right now where you sit?

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it should be the end of what has been a years-long nightmare for these five dual Iranian-American citizens who have been held in Iran, and are due for release today, expected to be delivered to the airport any time now to board that Qatari jet which is sitting on the tarmac. The Qataris have mediated this deal over months, being a friendly nation with both the U.S. and Tehran. Of course, there are no direct negotiations between Washington and Tehran.

Once those hostages are on the flight and wheels are up, it is about a two-hour flight to Doha, here in Qatar. And they will land on the tarmac behind me here, to be met by the American negotiation team.

But nothing is a done deal until it is a done deal. Of course, we've been through these negotiations, these swaps, these exchanges in the past, and any small thing can really hold things up.

But let's just consider what this deal is all about. As you rightly said, these hostages, these wrongfully-detained American citizens, will be swapped out for five Iranians in U.S. prisons, although two of them have said they want to stay in the U.S. One is going to a third country. So only two of them will be returned to Iran.

And the exchange, the unfreezing of $6 billion worth of Iranian cash, which under U.S. sanctions has been frozen in a South Korean bank account until now.

The negotiation has been that that money will be wired, effectively, sanctions-free to the Qatar Central Bank, who will act as a guarantor as the Iranians are given it to spend.

That is what the Qataris have been doing in all of what is a very complex and complicated deal.

So who are these prisoners? Well, we know three of five of them. Siamak Namazi is an American-Iranian businessman. He's 51 years old. He was originally detained back in 2015, and then charged with acting with a hostile state, that being the U.S., in 2016 and imprisoned for ten years.

Emad, who is also a businessman, Emad Shargi, was -- actually went home with his wife to Iran. He's a dual citizen. Went home with his wife in 2017, arrested and charged in 2018 on espionage charges.

And then Morad Tahbaz, who is an environmentalist and also detained and charged on espionage charges back in 2018.

Siamak -- do the math -- has been inside the notorious Evin Prison for nearly eight years, and at times, and through an unprecedented live interview on CNN just this year, appealed to the Biden administration to get him and the others out and said he had felt like he had been left behind in what had been a series of exchanges over the years for the Obama and Trump administration.

Bottom line, those prisoners, those hostages have not left Tehran as of yet. We are expecting to see them be told that they will be on that flight, the Qatari jet on the ground very soon, from which it is about a two-hour flight here to Doha.

Back to you guys.

HARLOW: Becky Anderson with all the reporting on the ground there, awaiting that plane that has not taken off. Becky, we'll get back to you very shortly.


MATTINGLY: And joining us now, CNN's chief international anchor, Christiane Amanpour, who conducted that remarkable interview with Siamak Namazi that Becky was just referring to.

Before we dig into details and probably go back to some of your interview, your initial thoughts as this is starting to come together.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, we were hoping this would already be further along. There was indications that, you know, several hours ago that the plane would have left Iran and come to Doha, as we're hearing. It hasn't yet.

So we have to ask what exactly is going on. It could just be bureaucracy. It could -- you know, this all hinges for the Iranians always around the money. So has the money got there yet? Has it not? We just have to wait and

see and not count our chickens before they actually hatch.

But overall, the deal is to give the Iranians the money they say they're owed by South Korea for selling $6 billion worth of oil many years ago.

Then there will be a prisoner swap. The Iranians told me that that involves five Iranians imprisoned here, four of those Americans imprisoned in Iran. And they said that, you know, all the charges against the Americans will be dropped.

I mean, as you know, the charges were completely specious, completely made up. They were accused of acting with a hostile power. The hostile power was their own country. They were business people. They were environmentalists. So it's a complete nonsense. And it's just because they were American citizens.

And yes, I talked to Siamak, and I've known him before, in the early 2000s. And he basically said that he had to call out of Evin because he was desperate, and that many times he had been left behind in previous U.S. prisoner swaps.

HARLOW: Let me take a look.


HARLOW: Let's everyone listen to part of that interview. Here it is.


SIAMAK NAMAZI, WRONGLY IMPRISONED IN IRAN: I think the very fact that I've chosen to take this risk and appear on CNN from Evin prison, it should just tell you how dire my situation has become by this point. I've been a hostage for seven and a half years now. That's six times the duration of the hostage crisis.

I keep getting told that I'm going to be rescued, and deals fall apart or I get left abandoned. Honestly, the other hostages and I desperately need President Biden to finally hear us out, to finally hear our cry for help and bring us home. And I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures. So this is a desperate measure.


HARLOW: Nearly eight years, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Yes, he was arrested in October of 2015, you know, during one of his business trips to Iran.

But I think very importantly also, you know, other administrations have -- many administrations have done these deals to get back wrongfully-detained Americans, and for Siamak himself, it's just -- you know, it's hard to imagine, and he will have to process this and ask questions when he gets out.

Why was he left behind under the Obama administration swap? They got Jason Rezaian out. They didn't get him out.

Why was he left behind twice by President Trump when he did prisoner swap deals? You know, was it too hard? Why? And so that's why he took this incredible risk of calling me from Evin Prison. I mean, it's never happened before.

MATTINGLY: To that point, though, what were the repercussions? That was the open question when this aired. It's so extraordinary when you realized, we don't know what's going to happen to him.

AMANPOUR: That's right. For me, that really caused me to think about whether I should do this, what was my responsibility for an imprisoned person who wasn't in control of his own environment?

But fortunately, he did not get -- he did not get, you know, badly reprimanded. He did have actual phone privileges, if you'd call them, at that time because of the length of time he had spent in prison. He was able to talk, I believe, to family and certainly his lawyer, and -- and he talked to me.

And, you know, obviously, he was begging to get out. He was talking about, you know, wanting a deal to be done. So I guess the Iranians thought, well, that's good for us, too.

HARLOW: But part of this deal is not only the release of those five Iranians, which is just fascinating that two are going to stay here in the United States, but also $6 billion of Iranian money in this transfer, Switzerland and Qatar.

It's notable that Iran's president said last week to NBC humanitarian means whatever the Iranian people need. The U.S. is saying this will only go toward humanitarian purposes in Iran. What do you say to the Iranian president's remarks?

AMANPOUR: Well, the Iranian president is in New York. And hopefully, he -- you know, people will be able to explain to him what the deal is if he doesn't quite get it yet.

It is going into an escrow account into Qatar, as far as we know, as far as the United States and others have told us, and the Qataris have told us. And they will be able to determine what exactly Iran gets to use. And it's apparently meant to be mostly medicine, food and the like.


And the United States, as far as I was told, will have sort of an eyes on by the treasury secretary, the Treasury Department. So it's very important, if the president of Iran thinks that he can use this stuff for other, he needs to be reminded of not.

But right now, it's very important that when he gets there, so these actual hostages who have been there for eight years or so can actually leave Iran.

MATTINGLY: Yes. It's a critical point. The puzzle pieces kind of have to go together to actually get them out.

AMANPOUR: And please, let's not forget that every administration has done this. This is not just a Democratic administration. Republicans and Democrats, and the Brits, and the French, and the Belgians, and that, because that is what Iran does. It takes the citizens, and then it says, We want our money back.

MATTINGLY: All right. Christiane, stay close. We're going to keep coming back to you throughout the course of the hour as we continue to follow this. This obviously is a big story, and we are still waiting for that plane to be wheels up and for us to get our first look of these five Americans who will be transferred back home to the United States today.

Now negotiations are set to also resume today, in other major news, as auto workers continue their historic strike against all of the Big Three automakers. What the union is demanding. We're going to take a look.

HARLOW: Also, House Republicans have come up -- some House Republicans -- with a deal to prevent a government shutdown. But it could be dead on arrival. Reporting from Washington ahead, as well.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In 27 years, I think I need a raise. I think I deserve a raise. I work hard. I've been working in the paint department. I'm a team leader, and I make what some bus drivers make. And I'm here helping people get from one place to another.


HARLOW: Well, this morning, negotiations will resume as the United Auto Workers union's unprecedented strike against all three big auto makers at the same time enters day four. The union and the auto makers are going to return to the bargaining table. They did over the weekend. Still no resolution achieved.

The strike currently involves less than 9 percent of the union members. But more workers could go on strike at any moment.

Our Vanessa Yurkevich, live in Wayne, Michigan, following all of this. You've been on top of this before the strike, the day of the strike. Now it's day four. What are we expecting?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, here this morning, we are seeing a group of UAW members on strike, walking the picket line in a circle. They are out here at the direction of union leadership.

But now what you have is folks on the picket line. But then you have folks trying to come to work, but not able to get into the facility. So you have some cars lined up. You have some trucks lined up. And

then you have cops, police officers who just actually moved a huge group of cars and trucks to another entrance to try to get them into the Ford facility.

We heard this may be happening in previous days, but we're seeing it play out live today.

Just to update you on negotiations, guys. We had Ford at the main bargaining table on Saturday. General Motors yesterday. And Stellantis will be at the main bargaining table today.

Negotiations are ongoing. That is certainly good news, but no deal in sight yet. The sides are still pretty far apart, especially on those key wages.

We also know that President Biden has directed acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and senior White House adviser Gene Sperling to come to town, to come to Detroit, to try to help move these negotiations forward towards a deal.

We know that UAW President Shawn Fain does not want the administration involved in these negotiations.

Also on our radar, Poppy, is across the border in Canada, the union Unifor, which represents over 5,000 Ford workers, could head on strike as soon as tonight if they do not reach a deal with Ford. That could obviously exacerbate the situation for Ford, who has three plants in Canada that is producing quite a few of their vehicles.

So we're dealing with a strike on the U.S. side of the border, and then possibly by 11:59 this evening, if they don't reach a deal with Ford, the Canadian union, another strike that Ford will be dealing with -- Poppy.

HARLOW: And Vanessa, are the demands from the union in Canada the same as what the UAW is asking Ford for? Or is it a whole different set of asks?

YURKEVICH: Certainly. We actually don't know what the demands are. We have asked both the union and Ford what the demands are in Canada. They're not really revealing what they're asking for.

But we have heard that it is along the same lines: higher wages, better benefits, sort of the same thing in the same vein as what the -- what the UAW here is asking. But no specifics just yet.

HARLOW: Understood, Vanessa Yurkevich, live for us in Wayne, Michigan, thank you so much -- Phil.

MATTINGLY: Thanks, Poppy.

It is now -- well, you can just look at it. Twelve days and 18 hours to go until a potential government shutdown. So the big question, as it always is in these moments, is Congress any closer to a deal? Well, there were rumblings of a House Republican agreement last night,

but after a call, internal call between the conference members, that deal appears to be dead on arrival.

Meanwhile, the House also tried to pass a stand-alone defense spending bill. But it was paused last week before it even made it to the floor.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is trying to stand up to those hardline Republicans, saying it's getting a vote either way.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): We'll bring it to the floor, win or lose, and show the American public who's for the Department of Defense, who's for military, who's for giving them a pay raise and making sure we can take the wokism out.

Some people say you should shut down. But think about this: I've been through shutdowns, and I've never seen somebody win a shutdown. Because when you shut down, you give all of your power to -- to the administration.


MATTINGLY: CNN's Lauren Fox joins us now.

Lauren, to that point, you've been through several shutdowns. I think Speaker McCarthy's assessment of things, analysis is pretty accurate based on historic precedent. There's a lot of talk about a potential deal this weekend for House Republicans. What happened?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that deal was very short-lived, Phil. It was a deal that was negotiated by members of the House Freedom Caucus and the Main Street Caucus.

But it was a deal that really didn't have broad bi -- broad Republican support. And you started to see that on the Republican conference call, as member after member started to raise concerns.


And then you saw on Twitter, while the call was going on, that a number of members came out just opposed to it, straight up. That shows you the challenge that Kevin McCarthy has.

They were hoping to put that spending bill -- that short-term spending bill, we should clarify, Phil -- on the floor as soon as Thursday. But it is going to be an extremely heavy lift to get the votes needed.

Right now, you have more than a dozen conservatives who say that they are either opposed or are leaning against voting for that measure. And that is just a short-term solution from one part of the Congress, one chamber, one party, Phil. That is not going to avoid a government shutdown.

Whatever the House Republicans came up with on this short-term spending bill was never going to pass muster in the United States Senate.

So there's a huge question right now of how Kevin McCarthy threads this needle but also how Republicans and Democrats in Congress are going to come together to avoid a shutdown. There really doesn't seem to be, at this moment, a path forward.

And I've covered many, many of these showdowns in the past, and one of the differences here is you have so many members in McCarthy's conference who just don't seem that afraid of a government shutdown. And if you're not afraid of a government shutdown, what is the motivation to come to the negotiating table, Phil?

MATTINGLY: All right. Yes. If you can't pass your own partisan bill inside your own conference, that would seem to be problematic. Lauren Fox, staying on it as always. Thank you -- Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. Ahead, former President Trump says Republican speak, in his words, inaccurately about abortion, as he signaled -- singled out, I should say, one of his 2024 main competitor's abortion policies. We'll tell you who.

MATTINGLY: And we're waiting for word about Iran -- out of Iran about five Americans set to be freed any moment now. We'll have the latest from the ground. Stay with us.



HARLOW: All right. Welcome back. So over the weekend, former President Trump refused to take a clear stance on abortion restrictions, all while criticizing how many of his fellow Republicans have handled the critical issue. It was part of the wide-ranging interview he did on "Meet the Press" on Sunday. It focused on everything from his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, to the Biden impeachment inquiry, to the war in Ukraine. Watch.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the Republicans speak very inarticulately about this subject. Other than certain parts of the country, you're can't -- you're not going to win on this issue.

But you will win on this issue when you come up with the right number of weeks.

We're going to agree to a number of weeks, or months, or however you want to define it, and both sides are going to come together. And both sides, both sides -- and this is a big statement -- both sides will come together. And for the first time in 52 years, you'll have an issue that we can put behind us.

KRISTEN WELKER, HOST, NBC'S "MEET THE PRESS": The most senior lawyers in your own administration and on your campaign told you that, after you lost more than 60 legal challenges, that it was over. Why did you ignore them and decide to listen to a new, outside group?

TRUMP: Because I didn't respect them as lawyers.

WELKER: You hired them.

TRUMP: Sure. But that doesn't mean -- you hire them. You never met these people. You get a recommendation, and they turn out to be RINOS, or they turn out to be not so good. In many cases, I didn't respect them. But I did respect others. I respected many others I -- that said the election was rigged.

WELKER: Were you calling the shots then, Mr. President, ultimately?

TRUMP: As to whether or not I believed it was rigged, sure.


TRUMP: It was my decision, but I listened to some people. Some people said that.

WELKER: Did you talk to Speaker McCarthy about this House inquiry?

TRUMP: No. I didn't talk to him.

WELKER: Did you tell him he should open a House inquiry?

TRUMP: No, no. I wouldn't do that. I don't think he'd do that. I mean, he wouldn't do it based on me, no.

WELKER: Did you talk to your Republican allies on Capitol Hill and say, You should support this?

TRUMP: No, I don't have to talk. They're more proactive than I am. They think it's terrible.

WELKER: Some people hear you say you're going to end the war in 24 hours. And they worry that means President Putin is going to get to keep the territory he's --?

TRUMP: No, I'd like a fair deal for everybody. No.

WELKER: It doesn't mean that?


MATTINGLY: Joining us now, CNN "EARLY START" anchor and chief national affairs analyst, Kasie Hunt; and senior congressional reporter for Punchbowl News, making a state visit like many others to New York this week, Andrew Desiderio.

I want to start with you. Because what is so striking is any other Republican candidate in any other Republican primary, those comments on abortion, and his position on abortion, would end his candidacy among primary voters. Period.

Correct me if I'm wrong. So why is Trump able to do what he does on this issue?

HUNT: Yes. No, you're not wrong, Phil. And I think, you know, you saw him walk a different line on this when he ran in 2016. He had to do a ton of work with evangelical voters. He put out that list of Supreme Court justices he would appoint, to try to reassure them.

Because you know, he has -- had expressed, honestly, pro-choice views, to use the language of that movement, in the past. And there was a lot of doubt about where he stood on abortion.

Obviously, we're in a much different world now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned. And these ballot measures, time after time, have shown that the American public has turned against Republicans on this issue.

And obviously, you're seeing the split. I mean, it's a pretty classic situation, right? What you need to say to win the primary is very different than what you're going to need to say to win the general election.

You know, if you're Donald Trump, you're sitting here, it's hard to see how at this point you're going to be to lose the primary. You've got to be a little bit more worried about the general election against Joe Biden.

HARLOW: Let's listen to what he said about Ron DeSantis and the Florida six-week ban specifically in this interview. Here it is.


TRUMP: DeSantis is willing to sign a five-week and six-week ban.

WELKER: Would you support that?

TRUMP: I think what he did is a terrible thing, and it's a terrible mistake.


HARLOW: Andrew, to the point that Phil just made, which I think is spot-on, there's also the element that Kasie brought up, which is yes, but he got three Supreme Court appointments that reversed Roe v. Wade.

So did exactly what the evangelicals and many others had wanted to see on that front. So can -- does that allow him to speak this way on abortion?

ANDREW DESIDERIO, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, PUNCHBOWL NEWS: Right. It's kind of ironic, because with the appointments of those three Supreme Court justices, he kind of paved the way for the overturning of Roe v. Wade with the Dobbs decision.

HARLOW: And he said as much. Remember that "60 Minutes" interview with Leslie Stahl? "I will appoint pro-life justices."