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Ukraine Denies Russian Claim Soledar Is Liberated; Biden Welcomes Japan's Prime Minister To White House; Iranian Regime Promoting Hardliners To Top Of Government. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired January 13, 2023 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Authorities are getting a clearer picture of the extent of the damage, what they're going to need to pick up and clean up

and they're also still searching for more survivors. Let's go to Selma, Alabama right now. Ryan Young is standing by for us, Ryan, look at that.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's just devastating behind us. And I can tell you in that close County Autauga, they say they are finding more

bodies, but they haven't been able to update us they are still doing surveys all across the state. But we wanted to show you just how powerful

the storm is. And close to six feet tall.

Look at this, look how tall this tree is. And look at this metal that's just wrapped in all over this tree like it's an ornament. This is what

we're seeing, signs of destruction, all over this city. We are on Broad Street, which is the main street here in downtown Selma. And as you look

this direction, you can just see how the storm plowed through this area.

We're going to walk this way to show you that building in the background, as we were looking around and even doing our own assessment, there are

houses that they still haven't been able to reach, because there are trees down throughout this area. Power companies have been surging in to try to

restore some of the power and phone service is very spotty throughout this area.

The terrifying part about this, we were talking to people who did not know this storm was going to be that powerful, had to run for a closet because

they were terrified by what they were hearing. Take a listen.

VOICE OF DEBORAH A. BROWN, TORNADO SURVIVOR: We had to run for cover, we had to go run and jump in the closet. Oh my God. Oh my God. Yes, look, oh

my God just (inaudible) beside us. Oh, my God.

YOUNG: And Kate, just to tell you how dangerous some of this area is, look, there are pieces of wood all throughout this area just like this one but

you can tell the nails are still sticking out. This was a projectiles that was going through people's windows. And as you look across the way here,

you can just see the damage that's been left behind, cars have been destroyed, houses have been torn to pieces. And we still don't know what

the total assessment is just yet.

A helicopter was just flying over from the state as they were trying to figure out exactly when to send their emergency crews, you can tell they're

going to be doing this for quite some time, the cleanup is going to be massive. And this stretched all the way to Georgia. So as you understand as

first light comes up, people are still shaking their heads trying to wonder how the storm was so powerful, and how it hits so quick leaving a lot of

people just sort of caught off guard. And now today they're trying to figure out who's left? And how many more bodies will they find today.

B: And Ryan, where you started and what you showed really is a terrifying depiction of just how powerful the storm must have been. And how powerful

the tornado was to see that metal wrapped around that huge tree like I don't know, like tin foil or tissue paper. I mean, it's we've seen

destruction from tornadoes, unfortunately many times in the past. That is quite an image to be seeing and to be waking up to.

YOUNG: Absolutely and this has been a very active year already. I mean, this area's used to having tornadoes but to have this one come on top of

everyone so quickly, and then to have everyone sort of trying to scramble to get cover. It had to be very terrifying yesterday.

B: Absolutely. Ryan, thank you for being there. We're going to continue, Ryan's going to continue to do credit reporting on the ground for us. I

appreciate it. Ryan mentioned -

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Mixed messages emerging on the status of Soledar. Fighting overnight was reportedly hot, according to

Ukraine's Deputy Defense Minister. Then, hours later, Russia's Defense Ministry claimed victory for liberating the town. Declarations Ukrainians

refute as not true. This hour we'll get you reporting and analysis from CNN's teams around the world to bring you the facts first.

I'm Becky Anderson. Hello, and welcome back to Connect the World.


Whether or not the battle for Soledar is over depends on who you ask. Ukrainian Military official is denying Russia's claim that Soledar has

fallen. After days of muted updates on its status, Russia's Defense Ministry finally declared the town liberated and explained why it views the

town as strategically important.


IGOR KONASHENKOV, SPOKESPERSON, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY (through translator): On the evening of January 12, the liberation of the city of

Soledar, which is important for the continuation of successful offensive operations in the Donetsk region was completed. Establishing full control

over Soledar makes it possible to cut off the supply routes for Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut and then block and take into (inaudible) the units of the

armed forces of Ukrainian remaining in it.


ANDERSON: Well, my colleague, sorry - Ukraine's president has been downplaying the importance of Soledar but capturing it would give Russia a

much needed victory on the battlefield after months of setbacks. My colleague Ben Wedeman and his team have been following developments from

just outside Soledar. Here is what they have been seeing there today.


BEN WEDMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're in a trench just about two and a half miles or four kilometers from the front, from Soledar.

Now, the situation in Soledar, at this point is not altogether clear. Ukrainian officials say they still hold part of it. Speaking to the

soldiers, it's a mixed story. Some of them say it's either fallen, or it's about to fall.

Others say they still are making minor advances inside. Now what's interesting in these forward positions, we speak - spoken to many of the

soldiers, they're fairly confident, and morale seems surprisingly high, given the situation. They're confident that they can hold these positions,

a rear position, but what appears to be going on is an organized pullout from the town of Soledar.

We've been watching as they've been firing mortars in the direction of Russian positions and rockets, as well. You can hear in fact, some of the

thuds of some of that fire. Some of it of course, going towards Soledar, some in the direction of Bakhmut. And of course, there is fire coming the

other direction. I'm Ben Wedeman CNN, outside Soledar.


ANDERSON: Well, Scott McLean is back with us this hour from Kyiv. Clearly, it is not clear exactly what is happening on the ground. You've spoken to

one Ukrainian soldier who has provided you some insight from his perspective, what has he told you?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so this is a Special Forces soldier who was in the area of Bakhmut and also Soledar, as recently as yesterday,

and what he described was fighting that was intense. Not only do you have the artillery, the airstrikes, the scariest part is that most of the

fighting there was house to house, street fighting with small arms.

We're talking about 10-30 meters away from the enemy and fighting in very small groups, maybe four to 15 people is what he said. He also said that

the Wagner mercenaries well, they were extremely bold and not in the smartest way. He said that some of them didn't have any small arms at all.

He said they came armed only with grenades trying to get as close to Ukrainian positions as they could, and then firing grenades before they

would inevitably be killed.

He described that as a kind of suicide mission. As for where the town actually stands at the moment, he says, first off, the strategic importance

of it is not all that high. Second off, he says that there are still Ukrainians inside of the town, but they have just a very small toehold on

the western edge, a very minor slice of the town as for a full withdrawal, he expects that will happen in the coming days. Listen.

CAPTAIN TARAS BEREZOVETS, 1ST SPECIAL FORCES BRIGADE, UKRAINIAN ARMED FORCES: I believe this decision, this decision to withdraw will be made

within the coming days. So everybody understands that keeping just for city doesn't, well doesn't make any sense. And to put it bluntly, Soledar

doesn't have that much strategic importance as Bakhmut has.

MCLEAN: Can you describe the mood amongst the guys on the front line?

BEREZOVETS: So I will say my impression is that they understand that their mission was to hold as long as possible and to kill as many Russian

mercenaries from Wagner and Russian paratroopers.

MCLEAN: And again, he says that he doesn't think that this is going to have a huge impact on morale because the plan was never to try to hold Soledar,

it was just to hold out as long as possible. I also asked him about this dispute between Russian regular troops and the Wagner group, the mercenary

group because Wagner continues to claim that it took Soledar with no help from the Russian regular forces.


And he says that the troops that he understands that he encountered were by and large, Wagner mercenaries at least in the middle of the town and that

Russian regular troops were around the outside but even the head of the Wagner group today seeming to fan the flames of that internal dispute,

saying that the biggest threat right now to the Wagner group isn't the United States. It is actually the Russian Defense Ministry, quote,

corruption - corruption, bureaucracy and officials who want to stay in their places. That is the most serious threat to Wagner. So, Becky, this

internal drama continues even today.

ANDERSON: Yes, that is fascinating, isn't it? Thank you. Well, if Russia has indeed taken Soledar, it would be as we've been discussing a much

needed psychological boost, in 11 long months of war, advances have been hard fought and they come at a very high price. And that is set off a bit

of a political fight in Moscow. Who's to blame for Russia's slow progress as they perceive it in what they describe as this special operation and who

should take credit for any wins that they get on the battlefield. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen has more for you.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: While the situation on the battlefields in eastern Ukraine remains red hot, the mood in Moscow

surprisingly frosty, when CNN asked people if they were optimistic about what the Kremlin calls its special Military operation in Ukraine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I simply do not get it. Well, we haven't won yet. I just don't get on former Military. I just don't get it

at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I think this points to a complete chaos of our authority that allowed for this terrible mess to happen. A war

with a brother nation.

PLEITGEN: All of this after Vladimir Putin is standing amid Russian soldiers attempted to rally the nation in his New Year's address.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): There's nothing stronger than love for our near and dear he said. Loyalty to our friends

and comrades in arms and devotion to our fatherland.

PLEITGEN: Now Putin has demoted the man in charge of the war General Sergei Surovikin and replacing him with Russia's top general Valery Gerasimov who

was close to Putin and Russia's defense minister Sergei Shoigu often accompanying them to Military exercises and briefing Putin on the war in


The move comes as analysts say Russia seems to be gearing up for a massive Spring Offensive after mobilizing more than 300,000 people late last year.

But also with its top brass under fire as the only gains Russia is making around the town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine are coming thanks to the

private Military group Wagner.

Wagner's boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has ripped into the Army's leadership essentially calling the generals running the war incompetent. And now in an

audio message making clear, he is the only one who can give Putin some wins.

"I want to emphasize that in the storm of Soledar no other units participated than Wagner." Wagner is known for extreme brutality. This

video purports to show the mercenaries advancing around Soledar, passing the bodies of dead Ukrainian troops. Insiders are convicts recruited from

Russian jails with the promise of freedom if they survive.

It's not clear whether the army's change of command is a move to counter Prigozhin's pressure and many folks on Moscow streets certainly weren't

keen to comment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We have a president. Let him think for us. We have full faith in him and we trust our Military.

PLEITGEN: Some voices from Moscow there and Yevgeny Prigozhin taking another swipe at the Russian Defense Ministry after the Russian army said

that its forces had also fought in the Battle for Soledar. A social media channel affiliated with Wagner later put out a video allegedly showing two

Russian soldiers saying that they had not fought there and that it was only Wagner forces on the ground. Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Berlin.


ANDERSON: Well, it is a very clear example of the frustration that appears to be building in Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin got testy with

his trade minister earlier about finishing up orders for new aircraft. Have a listen to this.

PUTIN (through translator): Mr. Mansorof, you say everything is ready to go. But there are no contracts. This is what I am telling you. Let's

discuss this after the meeting. There's no point in our splitting hairs at this point. I know no contracts have been signed with the enterprises, the

directors have told me so. Why are you fooling around?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will be ready during this quarter based on the funds available under the budget.

PUTIN: I want all of this to be done within a month. What quarter are you talking about? Do you not understand the circumstances we are in? Please

complete this work within a month.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Agreed, we will try to do our best.

PUTIN: No, do not try to do your best. Please get it done in a month, no later.


ANDERSON: Well, Putin appearing there to lose patience. There could be some theater going on here. I want to talk about the political dynamics. So we

are seeing CNN's Sam Kiley has reported from Ukraine and throughout this war has been in and out of the country for years, and in and out of Russia.

He is joining us now, from Abu Dhabi.

And Sam, you just been in Ukraine very recently, you've seen the evidence of what is going on, on the ground, from both a Ukrainian and Russian

Military perspective. And you're well aware of what the Wagner group for example, is, is up to there. What do you make of this infighting that we

have been seeing? It's obviously you know, spilling over outside of the Military at this point, given what we've just seen there, between Putin and

his trade minister.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, wasn't that an extraordinary scene, I mean, echoes - and I don't say this lightly of

Stalin there, a minister, a cabinet minister being publicly upbraided for falling behind on the quarters.

Now, if the pattern of the old Soviet Union is to be repeated, and this has been a criticism leveled at the Putin's regime, but above all at his

generals by none other than Prigozhin of the Wagner group. If they are pursuing a Soviet style effort here, then what will have gone on is that

the generals and others will have stolen a lot of the money, briefed back up through the system that everything is absolutely fine, that the plans

for the invasion of Kyiv were absolutely rock solid.

And then they're confronted with the reality on the ground, which is that they've been lying about their military capability. Now, this is a major

frustration for the Russians on top of their very poor doctrinal approach. They are being completely outmaneuvered literally and out-thought, by the

Ukrainians with much smaller forces, much, much fewer weapons. But because they've had NATO training that has completely changed the form of warfare

that they're pursuing on the ground.

Now, the reason the Wagner group is able to boast about its successes, perhaps even have a few successes is it's a very linear structure. It has a

CEO, if you like, and then it has subordinates, and very few people in the system to steal and to bend the rules. But what we're really also seeing

here, again, is perhaps echoes of the late Soviet era, is the fraying of the system around Vladimir Putin.

He's losing his temper with his cabinet ministers. He's losing his temper with his generals, we've had two or three replacements of the battlefield

commander in the east of Ukraine. Now we've got Gerasimov, the author of the main doctrine, the International doctrine of Russia in terms of

Military operations, which is permanent destabilization chaos in the ranks of the enemy is victory. That will be very worrying for the international

community because it could mean they'll try and freeze the battlefield where it is, Becky.

ANDERSON: And we've seen a new the general to run the special Military operation, the Pentagon says it's a sign of major problems for Russia's

Military. I wonder whether we are seeing any major problems for Putin at this point. Let's have a look at and listen to what we heard from the



BRIG. GEN PAT RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: It likely does reflect some of the systemic challenges that the Russian Military has faced since the

beginning of this invasion. I would say frankly, I think that the world would rather see Russia focus on withdrawing from Ukraine and saving

innocent lives versus spending time on numerous management reshuffles and Russian soldiers and their families would probably like to see that too.


ANDERSON: The U.S. response earlier on Thursday. Sam, I need to get you to stand by because Japan's Prime Minister is in the U.S. and as we understand

it, and we are expecting to see, there you go. That is so Joe Biden and the Japanese Prime Minister, the two nations revealing historic military

reforms and we will explain why after this short break, taking a short break at this point. Back after this.



ANDERSON: Well, a mixed bag of economic news out of China to kick off 2023. While Chinese exports plunged going into the New Year, trade with Russia is

taken off. CNN's Marc Stewart reports from Hong Kong for you.


MARC STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are two big headlines concerning China's economy. First let's talk about exports, the items that China

shipped to other nations. The end of the year revealed some challenges. According to government data, exports plunged by nearly 10 percent in

December compared to the same month the previous year.

To give you some context, it's the worst drop since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak in February 2020. So what's behind the contraction?

Some analysts from Capitol economics are pointing to weakening global demand and disruptions due to labor shortages that occurred because of

illness as things started to reopen.

And then another significant headline. China's trade with Russia hits a record high. This is according to a spokesman from China's trade authority,

accounting for 3 percent of China's total trade. It comes at a time when China and Russia have strengthened a closer economic relationship after

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Beijing early last year. Back to you.


ANDERSON: All Right Marc Stewart reporting there. Well, in Japan prosecutors say they've indicted the suspects involved in the Prime

Minister Shinzo Abe's murder. Local media reporting Tetsuya Yamagami has been under evaluation since July to see if he is mentally fit to stand


Meanwhile, the U.S. and Japan have announced the expansion of the defense treaty between the two countries to include attacks to or from space. China

ramping up its space program and developing hypersonic weapons. This of course as Japan's Prime Minister visits the White House this hour. Let's

bring in White House correspondent Arlette Saenz and just describe for me if you will the current relationship as it stands with Japan and what and

what the strategy here is?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this meeting that President Biden will be having with Prime Minister Kishida in just a few moments, really

highlights the alliance that the U.S. is trying to strengthen with the country. Just earlier this week, the U.S. and Japan announced that they

were strengthening their Strategic Defence partnership, including announcing the revamping of a marine unit In Okinawa which will have

advanced intelligence and surveillance capabilities.


Now, this all comes as the U.S. and Japan and other countries are very closely watching what China is doing as they're trying to find ways to

counter China, especially as it, when it comes to some of their Military provocations that they've seen in the region. That is expected to be a

topic of conversation for President Biden as he meets with the Prime Minister here today.

It's also worth noting that Japan, Japan has recently boosted their commitment when it comes to defense spending, saying that they're hoping to

double that in the coming years. Now, there are also a number of other issues that will be highlighted during this meeting. Japan has been an ally

of the United States when it comes to Russia's aggression and war in Ukraine.

There's also expected to be discussions about climate and technology as there's so much concern about semiconductors around the world. But that

issue of countering China is really central to so many of the discussions at this moment between the U.S. and Japan. Now this is not the first time

that President Biden will be meeting with Prime Minister Kishida.

Biden traveled to Tokyo last year and met with him, they also met on the sidelines of the G20. Summit in the fall of it. This will be the first time

he is hosting him here at the White House and certainly highlights the importance that the U.S. is placing on this relationship, especially when

it comes to efforts to try to counter China in the region.

ANDERSON: I was going to say to you, to a certain extent it answers the question but let's just be a bit more specific and provide a little bit

more detail, you know, how much of a priority to your mind is Japan at this point at this stage to this White House administration.

SAENZ: I mean, it's incredibly important but important that's highlighted by this business, that is highlighted by the fact that the US and Japan

announced that security agreement earlier in the week, they view Japan as a very vital partner in the region especially when it comes as I noted to

countering China but there's also the concerns about North Korea and their activity as well.

ANDERSON: Arlette Saenz is that the White House. Thank you. We're going to take a short break at this point. Coming up, as protests persist in Iran,

the government there is promoting hardliners to crack down on dissent, a look at the latest notorious figures who are rising to the top. More on

that after this.



ANDERSON: For nearly four months now protesters have taken to the streets of Iran on a near daily basis demanding serious reform, even the overthrow

of their government. The popular uprising is one of the greatest threats to the authority of the Islamic Republic since its inception back in 1979. And

that is fueling a crackdown not just on the streets, but within the ruling elite with the clerical establishment promoting hardliners among their

ranks and sidelining any government official seen as reformists.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz is in London, Salma.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, we often talk about the Iranian government, the Islamic Republic, the ruling class as a monolith

when we're discussing the protest movement, this uprising that has taken hold in Iran over the course of the last four months.

But that's absolutely not true. There is a diversity of voices and opinions in views within that ruling establishment. And they've been disagreeing

over how to handle this uprising. Remember, over the course of these last four months, it seems like authorities have used almost every single tool

that they have, whether that be repression on the streets, the arrest, rights groups, say of 1000s, the killing of hundreds, again, rights groups

say on the streets still doing very little to quell those demonstrations.

That's led to infighting within those halls of power. activist groups and observers tell us it's important to note before we roll this report, Becky

that we have reached out to Iranian authorities for comment they have yet to respond, take a look.


ABDELAZIZ: Iran's government is sending a message to its own fall in line or else. A former Deputy Defense Minister Ali Reza Akbari was sentenced to

death by the country's Supreme Court. His execution could be eminent. The dual British Iranian citizen stands accused of spying for the UK, according

to a government affiliated news site. But in a tweet, the British Foreign Office condemned the sentence.

This is a politically motivated act by a barbaric regime that has total disregard for human life. The execution order comes at a time of mass

demonstrations. Akbari, analysts say is seen as a pragmatic proreform figure.

SANAM VAKIL, DEPUTY DIR, MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA PROGRAMME, CHATHAN HOUSE: The willingness of the Islamic Republic to sentence one of their own

officials to death is a very clear message that they will do whatever it takes to stay in power.

ABDELAZIZ: And there are other signs that Iran's government is hardening. The country's Supreme Leader recently promoted Brigadier General Ahmed-Reza

Radan to Chief of Police. Radan is notorious for leading the crackdown on the 2009 protest movement. He was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2010 for human

rights abuses.

Another hardline official rising to greater prominence and also sanctioned by DC is Abul Qasim Salavati, a senior judge in the Islamic Republic's

revolutionary court, the U.S. calls him the judge of death for handing down the sentence of death by hanging to countless political prisoners. Now

Salavati is presiding over the trials of hundreds of protesters. Four have been executed so far, with dozens more potentially facing the same grim

fate. What does this tell us about how we Ron's government is handling this protest movement?

VAKIL: It tells us very directly that the Islamic Republic has no intention of reform or meeting protesters' demands. It tells us that the purge of the

political establishment is well underway and there is a hardline conservative monopoly of power.

ABDELAZIZ: But even as the Islamic Republic toughens its stance, brave protesters keep taking to the streets.


ABDELAZIZ: Now, Becky, throughout this protest movement, Iran's authorities have not called them protesters at all. In fact, they've called them

rioters. They've claimed that this is a foreign conspiracy, a plot to overthrow the government by the West and others who want to do Iran harm.

And by using that language, you can only imagine that it's created divisions with the West.

You have in that report there of course, Akbari, a former official and also a British and Iranian dual national. The UK right now calling for his

immediate release, saying the death sentence against him is politically motivated. And as these protests continue, Becky and as Iran scrambles to

silence these protests, that division, that gulf between the West and Iran only grows. Remember the JCPOA Of course, that all important nuclear


Right now those talks are suspended. The EU right now looking potentially at more sanctions against individuals in Iran in the ruling elite. The UK

now ramping up its language trying to get Akbari's release and again anyone in Iran seen as having connections with the west right now, they're

absolutely treated with suspicion because of this growing protest movement, Becky.


ANDERSON: Salma's in London. Salma, thank you. My next guest is Editor of Amwaj Media, a media outlet based in London, focusing on Iran, Iraq and the

Arabian Peninsula. Mohammad Ali Shabani joins me now. What does the Akbari case say about the current state of politics inside the Islamic Republic to

your mind?

MOHAMMAD ALI SHABANI, EDITOR, AMWAJ MEDIANDERSON: Well, as your correspondent explained, Iran is not a monolith. And what we've seen in

past couple of weeks and past couple of months amid the protests is that it's not just about pro-reform figures going out and trying to find a

solution to end the unrest.

But we've also seen conservative figures going up and try to find a middle way, a way to reengage state and society. And one of these key figures who

has been doing so we've been meeting with pro-reform figures is Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of the Iran Supreme National Security Council.

This top assembly brings together the country's civilian and Military leadership.

And the person who has been arrested, Alireza Akbari at the expiry and sentenced to execution is a longtime associate of Shamkhani. So there are

strong speculations that his, the decision possibly to proceed with execution and bear in mind that the actual sentence was coming from months

ago, was actually confirmed three to four months ago, the decision to do so at this point in time could indicate that there are forces within Iran,

hardliners who have no interest whatsoever in having kind of accommodation with the protesters, to have this dialogue going.

And again, bear in mind that this - these efforts are conducted not just by reformers, not just by pro-reform forces, they're actually conservative

within the establishment, members of the Security Establishment, who understand that the way to go about things is not just through brute force.

ANDERSON: So Ali Shamkhani, the head of Iran's National Security Council, close to Akbari, does this spell trouble for Shamkhani Do you think and if

so, how important is that?

SHABANI: Well, I mean, he's been playing a key role in the nuclear negotiations over the past year behind the scenes, he is not a negotiator,

but he oversees the nucleophile. So I think the message that he may be sidelined from his position, mindful that his term was supposed to come to

an end months ago, however, they decided to extend it, just give him give him enough time to complete the nuclear negotiations, which have been

stalled for months now.

If he is sidelined from this position, the question arises, what's next with the nuclear deal? What kind of signaling is going on here if Biden

does not intend to revive it, to take any additional measures, especially given the political climate harding because of the protests because of he

wants Military cooperation with Russia, all of those things complicating the picture.

And this suggests to me that we're going to see potentially a heightening of an escalation of the nuclear crisis in the coming weeks and months.

ANDERSON: The UK Foreign Minister has confirmed that Akbari is a dual citizen and he's called for his release. What happens next? Do you believe

that Iran will try to use Akbari as a bargaining chip and negotiate his release with the British? It is not unfamiliar for us to be reporting on

the use of a hostage as a diplomatic pawn.

SHABANI: Well, some figures have been mentioning the prospect that Iran or the IRGC, specifically, maybe using the case to try to influence the UK's

reported decision to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization.

However, personally, I don't see this case having great bilateral UK-Iran ramifications or dimensions. I think it's mostly about internal politics.

It's about how key segments of the IRGC want to position themselves, particularly amid leadership transition. That's what this is all about in

my view.

Iran is undergoing leadership transition. The current Supreme Leader is in his - in his 80s. He's not, he hasn't been well, all of this is going on.

It's about setting all the chips in place for the day when he passes away or when he steps down. Which faction will be strongest that day, and right

now what we're seeing is that the hardliners are empowered by these protests, are empowered by their ability to crack down and now they're

going after even the conservatives having sidelined reformists. So I hope that makes sense.

ANDERSON: Briefly, finally, what does all of this mean for the future of the protests and protesters?

SHABANI: I think from the get go, what we have, what Amwaj Media have been covering this in detail is that unfortunately there does not seem to be a

cogent series of demands, there is no unified leadership and as a result we haven't seen these protests as an existential crisis for the Islamic



We've rather seen some political factions using these protests to kind of beat down each other. And this is part of the game surrounding (inaudible).

So what we've seen in past week, particularly is that these protests have reduced in scale in intensity, this does not mean that they're going to die

down completely. This doesn't mean that the grievances are gone. It's spark and erupt any minutes. But again, the way we're seeing it is that these

protests are not an existential challenge for the Islamic Republic and we don't see a trajectory where they're going to explode anytime soon.

ANDERSON: It's good to have you, sir. Your insight is very important. Thank you. For more news out of this region, and when I say this region, of

course, this is a show broadcast from Abu Dhabi in the UAE, we're in the Gulf. CNN's meanwhile, in the Middle East Newsletter, which is published

right here in Abu Dhabi three times a week is available to you today, it takes a look at the reasons behind the UAE's plan to begin teaching about

the Holocaust in schools and it's newsletter.

It's a really good read, I suggest that you log on and sign up. Well, coming up on the defensive and pressed for answers about classified

documents that President Biden failed to return on his time as Vice President and new details on the controversy after this.


ANDERSON: Donald Trump's company the Trump Organization has been fined $1.6 million by a New York judge for tax fraud. Now that is the maximum penalty

possible in that state two entities from the Real Estate Group. The Trump Corp and Trump Payroll Corp were convicted last month of 17 felonies

including tax fraud and falsifying business records. No individual will go to jail based on the jury's verdict. Former President Donald Trump himself

was not charged in the case.

Current US President Joe Biden now facing his own controversy over classified documents that weren't returned to the proper authorities when

his tenure as Vice President ended in 2017.

The U.S. Attorney General has just appointed a special counsel to investigate the matter. This of course follows last year's special counsel

appointment over the trove of classified documents found at former President Trump's resort in Florida.

Regarding the Biden controversy, a White House lawyer issued a statement saying quote, "We are confident that a thorough review will show that these

documents were inadvertently misplaced and the President and his lawyers acted promptly upon discovery of this mistake."


CNN's Kevin Liptak, following the story from Washington, he has been digging into the final chaotic days before Biden left office as Vice

President. And just remind us what has been found so far. And what you have learned about the time crunch as it were, Biden aides were under during the

transition period. Certainly, that's how it's been sold by them.

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes. And they have found these documents in three separate locations, one at President Biden's private

office in Washington, DC, and two locations at his home in Wilmington, Delaware. One in the garage and one in an adjacent room and the White House

and his, President Biden's lawyers haven't specifically said what those documents are.

But people familiar with them say that they do include classified material about foreign governments, including about Ukraine, including about Iran.

And we have just learned today that some of the documents included a memo that President Biden wrote to then President Barack Obama, as well as

briefing materials about phone calls that he placed to the British Prime Minister, and to Donald Tusk, who is then the President of the European


And so these are documents that were found, that should have been turned over to the National Archives. And what we're learning from people who were

involved in the process of packing the President's materials at the end of the Obama administration is that this was a very chaotic process.

Because President Biden was very intent on continuing his job, he continued meeting with world leaders. In fact, just in the three days before he left

office, he took an international trip to go to Ukraine. He also spoke at Davos, he met with the Chinese President Xi Jinping at Davos, he met with

leaders in Ukraine. And so there was all of these activities that were ongoing at the time that made packing up his office very difficult.

So Junior level aides had to work basically overnight to get all of this classified material into his boxes. And these are the circumstances that

these classified materials ended up with President Biden's personal effects. Now these are all questions that the special counsel will now want

to answer. And we still don't know specifically, who packed those boxes, who brought them to President Biden's office and who brought them to his


But it does sort of fill out some of the picture of how this all may have happened back in 2017, Becky.

ANDERSON: Kevin, I may have to interrupt you as you answer the next question because we are waiting to see the U.S. President and the Japanese

Prime Minister who are meeting right now and I want to get our viewers to that as soon as it happens. So briefly, how do you read the impact on the

Biden Administration at present and the parties, his party, the Democrats, don't answer that question. Let's get you to the Oval Office. Stand by.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They like you. Mr. Prime Minister, it's great to see you again. Welcome. We welcome a close friend

to the Oval Office again and you know we meet at a remarkable moment of our lives. I can honestly say more as a student than a participant that it's

been, I don't think there's ever been a time when we were closer to Japan, honestly. I'll stop so you can translate.


BIDEN: Last year in Japan, you said to me and I quote, We are two nations that share fundamental values. I couldn't agree with you more. We share

democratic values that are the source of our strength, source of our alliance and the source of our being able to deliver for all our people.



BIDEN: We're modernizing our Military alliances, building on Japan's historic increase in defense spending and new national security strategy.


BIDEN: Let me be crystal clear. United States is fully thoroughly, completely committed to the alliance.


BIDEN: And more importantly to Japan's defense, the Defense of Japan.


BIDEN: Working closely on tech and economic issues, including the Indo- Pacific economic framework. We're stepping up to hold Putin accountable for his unprovoked war in Ukraine. And I want to thank you, thank you for your

strong leadership on this from the very first, the very first conversation we had on this.


BIDEN: Today, I'm looking forward to how we can continue advancing our shared goals and values, including at the G7 summit in Japan and the APEC

in San Francisco, later this year.


Biden: Rather than figuring out how we can work more closely together, a more difficult job would be trying to figure out how and where we disagree.


BIDEN: You're a real leader and you're a real friend.


FUMIO KISHIDA, PRIME MINISTER, JAPAN (through translator): Joe, thank you so much for those warm words of welcome.

As we enter the new year of 2023, I am pleased to make our first visit to Washington DC as the Prime Minister and to have this meeting with you Joe,

my dear friend.

Unless you're starting with your visit to Japan in May that we were able to accomplish so much for a peace and security in the region and prosperity in

the region and the international community through numerous meetings, our bilateral meetings, but also the quad meetings, the Japan-U.S. ROK

trilateral among others, and I'm sincerely grateful for your cooperation job.

And Japan and the United States are currently facing the most challenging and complex security environment in recent history and in order to ensure

our peace and a prosperity in the region and to contribute to that and also a safeguard peace and security of a Japan in late last year, Japan

formulated a new national security strategy.


And instead of doing it, Japan decided to partner and fundamentally reinforcing our defense capabilities including and possessing the counter

strike capabilities, and in order to ensure that that increase our defense budget and - and this new policy was set forth by Japan and I believe that

this will enhance the beneficial for the deterrence capabilities and response capabilities of the alliance as well.

And Joe, as you rightly pointed out, I too feel that the role to be played by Japan and the United States which share the fundamental values such as

democracy and the rule of law, the role that we are to play is becoming even greater.

And today, I very much look forward to having a candid exchange of views with you, Joe, on the various important topics including a free and open

Indo Pacific, the G7, APEC as well as climate change.

BIDEN: I look forward to that. Thank You.

ELENI GIOKOS, CNN ANCHOR: Right, those are images from the Oval Office just moments ago, Joe Biden, U.S. president and Japan Prime Minister Fumio

Kishida talking about cooperation specifically when it comes to security in the region. We have Kevin Liptak, following the story for us from


Kevin, security, of course big on the agenda. And we just heard Prime Minister Kishida saying that they are going to increase the defense

budgets, that is going to be beneficial for deterrence and so much more on the agenda. But this by far, was one of the most vital points.

LIPTAK: Right, and I think President Biden's aides certainly saw this meeting as coming at a very critical juncture. Japan has recently changed

its national security strategy. They're upping their Military budget as they move away from this post World War II pacifism that had been sort of

regimented by the United States.

And because of China's growing influence in the region, the U.S. really sees Japan as a linchpin of its counterbalance strategy in the region,

along with other allies, including South Korea. And so the President really did view this as a critical moment to sit down with the Japanese Prime

Minister and discuss sort of a way forward as Japan enters what really does appear to be a new phase in its approach to its Military.

Of course, you saw at the end there, those rancorous shouting of questions to the President about this classified documents issue. That is sort of

illustrative of the predicament that the White House now finds itself in as they try and focus on these very critical domestic and international


This is going to be an issue that looms over the White House for the foreseeable future as the Special Counsel investigates President Biden's

handling of this. Now, the other critical, important thing that Japan and the United States wanted to talk about, with the Prime Minister was Japan's

Presidency of the G7.