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United Nations Releases Death Toll Downward To At Least 3,958; City Mourning After Thousands Perished In Flood; Ukraine Reports Progress In Counteroffensive; World Leaders Meeting In New York. Aired 10:10-10:40a ET
Aired September 18, 2023 - 10:10 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LYNDA KINKADE, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, and welcome. I'm Lynda Kinkade, coming to you live from Atlanta.
We are breaking away from our colleagues at CNN, USA. We will have much more coverage on the release of these American prisoners throughout the day
And next hour, I'll be speaking to Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe about just what these families might be
But for now, these are some of the other international stories were following this hour.
Libya is in the middle of a full-blown humanitarian disaster after deadly flooding decimated the city of Derna just over a week ago. It's still
unknown exactly how many people died when flood water swept entire neighborhoods out to sea.
The United Nations has revised a previous death toll of more than 11,000 down to nearly 4,000 lives lost.
That's the figure the World Health Organization is reporting. More than 9,000 people are still missing.
Our Jomana Karadsheh is in Libya, and joins us now live from Derna.
Jomana, good to have you there for us. So, there is certainly has been some confusion of the death toll from the numbers we're getting from the United
Nations. If you can give us some clarity as to what you're seeing and hearing on the ground, Jomana.
JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, when it comes to the confusion about the number of victims, Lynda, we have to keep
in mind that there's no central authority here. You don't actually have a functioning state. So, you have different officials giving different
figures. And unfortunately, what we've seen is some international organizations have actually gone public with these numbers adding to the
chaos and confusion.
You know, it's been more than a week since this catastrophe struck. And it hasn't been any easier for people here, for the rescuers to try and find
the missing. Because there is one thing here for certain 1000s of people who have lost their lives. How many we don't really know and 1000s more
remain missing. And they are presumed dead at this point. They are believed to be in the sea where so many people, men, women and children ended up
when they were swept with their homes and their cars with everything into the Mediterranean.
And -- here in just this one spot alone. You've got everything. You've got cars, you've got clothes, you've got furniture, you've got toys, concrete.
And this is a scene that stretches as far as the eye can see across the shores of Derna.
And what you have right now is Libyan and international teams that have been working nonstop to try and recover the bodies of the victims from the
sea. But it has been such a tough task.
I mean, a short time ago, we thought Tunisian divers trying to get into the waters here after they thought they had spotted the remains of one of the
victims. But what we are hearing from some of these international teams is this is a really difficult operation. They didn't have enough international
teams here. They didn't have the right equipment to deal with this. So, the few teams that you've had here on the ground working out at sea, they have
been trying to do what they can.
One of those teams, they told us they spotted 300 bodies, Lynda, just a few days ago, but they just couldn't reach them. They were in really hard to
reach areas in coves on rocks, and they just didn't have the capabilities to reach them.
And a few days later right now, they say those bodies have turned into remains that have decomposed to a level that makes it a health hazard for
them to try and retrieve.
It is such a difficult situation here for the rescuers and, of course, real heartbreaking situation for those who survive, and now have to search for
their loved ones.
KARADSHEH (voice over): It's all gone, they say. Derna is now a city of the dead. There was no time for final goodbyes here. Mom, rest in peace, spray
painted where that mother once lived. In 90 minutes, a city and its people were left shattered.
Here, grief lingers in the air and faces tell of the horror they survived and lost they have yet to comprehend.
Akram lost his brother's entire family. He now sits where their house once stood. It's all he has left of them.
I lost my brother and his children. I lost my neighbors. I lost my whole world, he says. He searched for their bodies everywhere and hospitals and
by the sea.
Akram breaks down as he tries to remember his last call with his brother just two days before the catastrophe struck. He says this is God's will.
It's a harsh one they've had to accept.
Everyone here has lost family. One after the other, they share their gut- wrenching stories.
Stoneface and numb, Abdallah recalls how he held his 10-year-old son and jumped from one rooftop to another to escape the ferocious flood. He helps
a families, but couldn't save his own.
Abdallah lost his mother, his wife, and his two other boys. 25 family members in total, but he's only buried four.
Everyone here is on a mission to find the dead. There aren't enough search and rescue teams. It's mostly volunteers digging through the muddied rubble
of these homes. They call passersby to join.
KARADSHEH: They believe there is one or more dead bodies underneath the rubble. They say they can smell it.
But most of the bodies are not here, officials say. 1,000s were swept away with their homes and in their cars into the Mediterranean.
Derna's idyllic seafront is now a staging area where they deliver the dead, (INAUDIBLE) not had time to process what she survived. She is been here
since last Monday preparing the dead for burial. This is the hardest thing she's ever had to do, she says. She's recognized the lifeless faces of
family, friends, and neighbors.
Is this Derna? It will forever be heartbroken, she says. We lost our finest. People used to come and look at our flowers, our jasmine. Now, they
come to a broken Derna.
At a cemetery outside the city where more than 1,000 victims have been buried in mass graves, they prepare for more.
And a family here, just strangers who prayed for the dead. But there's no time to stop. The bodies just keep coming.
KARADSHEH (voice over): Lynda, there is so much heartache, grief, shock, in the city. And the people we spoke to the survivors in our piece told us
they need psychological support.
They can't get through this on their own and they're worried that their state will not be able to provide them with that. They are really worried
that the world's attention is going to turn -- their worried that people the world is going to forget about them.
They are grateful for the support that they have gotten so far, but everyone here agrees that it has been -- it's not enough they say. Nowhere
near enough. When you take into account the magnitude of this disaster. Lynda.
KINKADE: Yes, they are certainly going to need so much support going forward in the weeks and months ahead.
Jomana Karadsheh, we appreciate having you there on the ground for us. Thanks so much.
We have much more news still to come, including Ukraine, pressing ahead with its counter offensive. We're going to go live to the region is where
they are seeing some of the heaviest fighting.
Plus, dozens of world leaders, a high stakes summit, and a huge list of global challenges. We'll get the latest as the United Nations General
Assembly kicks off in New York.
KINKADE: Welcome back. Ukraine says it is rebooting its defense ministry. The country's state secretary of defense ministry and almost all the deputy
defense ministers have been dismissed.
While on the frontlines, the fighting continues near Bakhmut, near a village that Ukraine claims to have retaken last week.
Ukrainian defense official says 300 square kilometers were "liberated" over the summer.
There are also reports of blasts near local government headquarters in the Russian-held parts of Ukraine's Donetsk region.
I want to go live to CNN senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen for the latest on all of this.
Fred, Ukraine is saying, obviously, it's retaking more territory both in the east and in the south as part of this counter offensive. What are the
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I would say right now, more so in the east than in the south. The Ukrainians are
saying that they are putting a lot of pressure on the Russians in the south. But they say that the most important gains that have come over the
weekend and it really continuing on into today really are coming in the east of the country near the town of Bakhmut.
Of course, that's been one that's really been a focal point of some very heavy fighting really in the past months and for a very long time. Now,
there's two villages that the Ukrainian say that they have now taken back; one is called Andriivka, which is very, very small, and one is called
Klishchiivka, where the Ukrainians also said they've been managing that -- what they have managed now to raise their flag in that village, which is a
bit more substantial.
Some of the video that's come out of that area over the weekend has been really remarkable. You can see how much devastation has been brought on by
those months of fighting. The Ukrainian say that those gains while fairly small, around Bakhmut are important to them, because it helps them to
interdict, to hit some of those logistics routes that the Russians have into Bakhmut. Of course, Bakhmut really has been an epicenter of the
And then, also from political standpoint and sort of a global standpoint, the Ukrainian say it is also very important for them to show that they have
momentum as the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is about to arrive in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, and then, also, of course, to
meet with President Biden, to meet with Congress to try and get more arms for Ukraine.
It was quite interesting because I was able to speak to a presidential advisor here in Ukraine, and he said, look, they understand that the
counter offensive so far has been a lot slower than they would like, and that certainly a lot of the countries that are giving them weapons would
But they also say that they believe that it has been successful to a degree so far, because what you have right now, both on the southern front here in
the area close to where I am, and then also on the eastern front as well, is the Ukrainians pushing forward and the Russians on the defensive.
So, by and large, the Ukrainians do believe they're in a -- in a good position, they obviously would like progress to be a lot faster than that.
But they also said, and I think this is something that's going to be very important in the next couple of days as the Ukrainian president will be in
the U.S. They say that, aside from longer range weapons, like those attack -- tactical missiles that they've been talking about for such a long time,
further down the road, also those F-16 jets, they also say they need a lot of ammunition, Lynda.
They say it's a huge problem for that -- for them that the Russians have so much more ammunition than they do. There's one Ukrainian official who told
us that in some areas, for every shot that Ukrainians are able to fire, the Russians are able to fire 10.
And even if the Ukrainian artillery which, of course, right now is mostly Western is more accurate and can fire at longer distances, that is a ratio
that they can hardly make up for, especially as they are currently trying to advance.
So, the message that Volodymyr Zelenskyy will send as he goes to the U.S., Ukrainian officials say, is that the Ukrainians will continue to need
support, and they certainly will continue to need a lot more ammunition than they've received for-- so far, for them to not only be able to stay in
the fight, but of course, to take back territory as well.
And one of the things that Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been saying every time that he's been asked is that the Ukrainians want to take back all of their
territory, including Crimea. Lynda.
KINKADE: All right. We will be following the UNGA closely as well. Frederik Pleitgen for us. Good to have you on the ground there in Ukraine.
As Fred was saying, dozens of world leaders, of course, are gathering this hour at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. They are facing a
huge list of global challenges, including the devastating floods in Libya and Russia's war in Ukraine.
And it is a job made harder by the fact that key players are skipping this year's summit, including China, Russia, the U.K. and France.
U.S. President Joe Biden will be attending, as well, Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is appearing in person for the first time.
Well, CNN's Richard Roth is in New York and is covering it for us. Richard, good to have you.
So, let's just start with Zelenskyy. What are we expected to hear from him?
RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Well, as Fred just pointed out, I'm sure we're going to hear and see large pitch by Zelenskyy
for ammunition and other needed supplies. I think the personal bilaterals, the one-on-one meetings that take place during the building during UNGA, as
it's known, will be more effective, perhaps.
And also, the Washington visits speaking to Congress and to President Joe Biden.
I mean, Biden may run into him here, something plan a few pleasantries, but the bigger meeting is Thursday. It's rare that we've had a big war
involving one of the permanent five members of the Security Council, and yet, things roll on with the U.N. General Assembly taking place. A lot of
other issues, as you pointed out.
The fact that the four leaders of those countries: China, Russia, France, the U.K. are not here doesn't mean that the U.K. or France efforts are
minimal. I mean, they have their high-level people here during the week.
KINKADE: We will be speaking to you throughout the week. Richard Roth, we'll leave it there for now.
Richard Roth in New York. Thank you.
Well, while world leaders gather at the U.N., China's top diplomat, Wang Yi, is in Moscow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The
two are expected to discuss the war in Ukraine. And this is happening just as Kim Jong-un wrapped up his visit to Russia.
Body armor and a set of drones are some of the things the North Korean leader is taking home as gifts.
According to Russian state media, the drones include five so called Kamikaze drones and a reconnaissance drone. He also received a set of
special clothing, invisible to thermal imaging.
Well, much more to come on our top story, we are expecting newly released pictures as we see the Americans touchdown in Doha at any moment. We will
bring those to you live when they happen.
Stay with us. You're watching CNN.
KINKADE: Welcome back. I'm Lynda Kinkade in Atlanta. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Good to have you with us.
I want to go back to our top story now. The long-awaited freedom for five U.S. citizens who were detained for years in Iran. They are scheduled to
arrive in Qatar any minute now in a complex deal that includes the release of five Iranian nationals detained in the U.S.
Video from Iranian state media is set to show them boarding their plane in Tehran bound for Doha. The deal includes the transfer to Qatar of $6
billion in Iranian funds that had been frozen in bank accounts in South Korea.
White House National Security Council coordinator John Kirby spoke to CNN's Kate Bolduan last hour about what the prisoner release means going forward.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: As this mark this disagreement, do you see this, or should anyone see this? Does it -- is it marking as an unfreezing of relations with Iran
in any way? Does this mark any change in the relationship? (INAUDIBLE).
JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Sadly, no. I mean, no. Well, look, we are still going to deal with
Iran's destabilizing behaviors, we've added to the military presence in the Gulf region, we have continued to sanction Iran for other destabilizing
activities, are still providing drones to Russia, for instance.
They are still providing -- posing a threat to maritime shipping in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, we're going to hold them accountable for all
I don't think we should look at this as some sort of confidence building measure to a better relationship with Iran.
Now look, if Iran takes steps to destabilize -- to stop their destabilizing behavior and to behave as a better actor in the region, all that's to the
good. But we secured this deal simply to secure this deal, to get these five Americans home. It was not orchestrated as some way of reproach -- a
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KINKADE: Well, joining me now is CNN International diplomatic editor Nic Robertson. Nic, good to have you with us joining us live from London.
So, certainly, a lot to unpack. We first heard about this deal in August. But this has taken more than 18 months of negotiations to get to this
What more can you tell us about the deal?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, one of the key things and obviously in any deal, both sides want to be able to walk away
and say that they got a good deal, and the White House feels that they got a good deal, because although Iran is getting access to these $6 billion,
it's Iranian money that's been frozen. It has been transferred through a complex mechanism into two banks in Qatar that are putting the money in the
accounts of six Iranian banks that have been opened in Qatar for this purpose. But there will be controls and oversight on how that money is
spent and it's to be spent on humanitarian goods for the country.
The U.S. position has been that they don't put sanctions on things like medicines, things like food for people, humanitarian issues. How that
actually evolves. and practice has yet to be seen?
But the U.S. Department of Justice will have oversight on that process.
Now, for the Iranians, we've heard from their president recently and from their foreign minister today, both saying that this is -- that the money
will be for use by the Iranian government for purposes that they see it's fit to use it for.
So, both sides have a narrative of success here. But, you know, the real success is obviously for these, you know, for these five people who've been
wrongfully detained for so many years, you had to get home, to see their families and try to deal with the -- with all these awful traumas that
they've been through all this time.
But the process of managing this deal, it's been very complex taken a lot of time. And let's face it, it is not going to be without controversy,
particularly in the United States, because these very divided political times.
KINKADE: Yes, exactly. Certainly, a lot of criticism about those frozen funds being released. But I want to ask you more about the details of this
swap, because we know that the U.S. has had a history of prisoner swaps with Iran dating back to 1979. But in right now, the U.S. doesn't have any
diplomatic channels with Iran. Talk to us about the international players that have worked on this deal to make it happen.
ROBERTSON: Now, well, Qatar has been the intermediary here, big principal intermediary, used to be something that was more done by the Oman is by
captures has really stepped up with the passing of the sultan of Oman to fill this role.
You know, five prisoners being released from U.S. jails, Iranians. Two of them want to stay in the United States, one will be relocated to a third
country with his family, only two of those five have opted to go back to Iran, the five that are being released. Now, we only know the names of
three of them, two of them, their families don't want them to be identified.
But the expectation is that they will move very quickly from Doha back to the United States. But for Doha, it's played a huge role. Eight rounds of
negotiations and talks to get to this point being the middleman the intermediary between Iran and the United States.
And as we heard from John Kirby there, the mission for the United States was to get these five people home. The mission for Iran is to try to lead
alleviate some of their very pressing economic -- the very pressing economic needs that they have at home. And that's witnessed in the amount
of, you know, the amount of anger that's being expressed on Iran's streets by protesters protesting Mahsa Amini's killing and the killing of so many
other people over the past year.
So, there is real need in Iran to have access to these funds. And that's been part of the leverage, if you will, what the Qataris have been able to
sort of dangle as the carrot for the Iranians in this whole deal. And they do seem to be very much motivated by money as they have.
But as they have done in the past, the releasing of Nazanin Zaghari- Ratcliffe got the Iranians access to 450 million pounds of, of money that had been spent by the Shah of Iran on British tanks. That was a quid pro
quo there, if you will. And then, and Jason, who was released with four others that were $400 million of armaments funding restored to the Iranian.
So, there is always been a work around with the money on the Qataris here. And you see their plane landing on the ground there. That has come from to
come from Tehran. The Qataris have been using their diplomatic skills, have been able to work out the nuance and the detail to make sure that both
sides got something.
KINKADE: Yes, we are just seeing that plane land with the Americans that are expect to be freed from the Iranian prisoners. I want to join my
colleagues at CNN-USA as we continue to cover this momentous event with our correspondents in Washington and Doha.