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Isa Soares Tonight

Afghans Celebrate One Year Of U.S. Troop Withdrawal From Country; Militia Group Wagner Hit Inside Ukraine; Rushdie On Road To Recovery After Stabbing Attack; China Resumes Drills As U.S. Delegation Visits Taiwan; U.S. Warns Of Threats After Mar-A-Lago Search; U.S. Charges Iranian For Alleged Assassination Plot. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired August 15, 2022 - 14:00   ET



ISA SOARES, HOST: A very warm welcome to the show, everyone, I'm Isa Soares. Tonight, Afghanistan, one year on after America's disastrous

withdrawal. CNN is live in Kabul, witnessing the street celebrations and the crippling poverty. Then, shadowy private militia group Wagner hit

inside Ukraine, what we know about that strike.

And Salman Rushdie is on the road to recovery, but what does his attempted assassination say about the state of free speech? That conversation just

ahead. But first, we must not forget the women and girls of Afghanistan. That warning today from the United Nations, as the Taliban marks exactly

one year since their triumphant return to power. Have a look.




SOARES: They are celebrating today on the streets of Kabul as you can see there. But so many other Afghans, well, they're not. The U.N. says 95

percent of the population doesn't have enough to eat amid a worsening economic as well as humanitarian crisis. Women and girls, of course, are

suffering the most, their basic rights really crushed by Taliban rule.

While our Clarissa Ward was reporting in Kabul, if you remember, when the U.S. military withdrew a year ago, ending America's longest war. And she's

there again now, she joins us now live. Clarissa, as we saw there, Taliban clearly believe they have plenty to celebrate today, but you have seen a

very different image of Afghanistan one year on. Just paint a picture of what you witnessed.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there were very few people I would say, ordinary citizens of Kabul, who were

celebrating today across the country and in different areas, it maybe a different picture, and certainly, as you said, those Taliban fighters were

out in full effects, basically celebrating what they're calling a day of victory, to commemorate the liberation of Afghanistan.

The victory of the Afghan Jihad in the face of America's occupiers. But for so many people here, there are huge challenges facing them, both in terms

of human rights and also in terms of a worsening humanitarian situation.


WARD (voice-over): It's a three-hour journey from Shakila's(ph) home to the center of Kabul. But each morning, she and other women make this walk,

driven by hunger and the need to feed their children. Their destination is this bakery, one of many across the capital where crowds of women now sit

patiently every day, quietly hoping for handouts.

(on camera): So all the women have been pressing pieces of paper with their phone numbers into our hands. They're desperately hoping that maybe

we can help them.

(voice-over): Shakila(ph) tells us on a good day, they might get two or three pieces of bread. Every morsel counts.

(on camera): Were you doing this a year ago, or has the situation become worse in the last year?

(voice-over): "There's no work this year", she says. "My husband has a cart, but now he only earns 30 to 40 cents a day." One year after the

Taliban took power, Afghanistan is isolated and increasingly impoverished, largely cut off from the global banking system, and the foreign aid that

once funded almost 80 percent of this country's budget.

It is also unmistakably safer, one thing the Taliban has been able to improve is security. Outside Kabul's airport, shops are open and the

streets are calm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He says first --

WARD (on camera): Cover my face?


WARD (voice-over): A far cry from the chaotic scenes we witnessed last Summer.

(on camera): He told me to cover my face, but he doesn't want to comment on that truncheon he's carrying.

(voice-over): Tens of thousands risk life and limb to try to flee the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay behind him. Stay behind him.

WARD: Many feared for their lives, others, that the Taliban would take the country back to the middle ages.


For these girls, that fear has come true. They were just a year out from graduating, and the Taliban announced a de facto ban on girls secondary

education after sixth grade. Now, they have improvised ways to defy the ban, setting up unofficial schools where they continue their studies.

Naheet Sadat's(ph) dream of a diploma may have vanished, but her drive has not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I always say to myself that I am so powerful, I am strong, and this is countering my angst and my dreams, and what I want to


WARD (on camera): Do you ever feel scared?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It's so risky for us that we don't cover our face, and we study our lessons.

WARD: You're very brave.



WARD (voice-over): Girls education is one of the main reasons no country in the world has yet recognized the Taliban government. A point we put to

Foreign Ministry spokesman, Abdul Qahar Balkhi.

(on camera): When will the Taliban allow teenage girls to go back to school?

ABDUL QAHAR BALKHI, SPOKESPERSON, MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, AFGHANISTAN: From the perspective of the government, there is a range of mixed of issues

that has led to the temporary suspension of secondary schools. The most important and significant part of this is that, the policy of the

government of Afghanistan is education for all citizens of Afghanistan.

WARD: And yet, all citizens of Afghanistan are not currently able to get an education. What is the hold-up?

BALKHI: It seems that international actors are unfortunately weaponizing the issue of education instead of coming forward and interacting

positively, they are trying to find moral justifications for some of the inhumane policies of sanctions, which is leading to the collective

punishment of the entire people of Afghanistan.

WARD: Do you want to see girls going to school again?

BALKHI: The policy of the government of Afghanistan is very clear, and that is education for all citizens of Afghanistan.

WARD (voice-over): The Taliban says it wants to see peaceful and positive relations with all countries, including the U.S. But those prospects were

dramatically diminished when the head of al Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed by a U.S. drone strike in a villa in downtown Kabul just over two

weeks ago.

BALKHI: We've made it very clear that the government of Afghanistan was unaware of the arrival or presence of Mr. Zawahiri in Kabul. So far, we

have been unable to establish as effect, as a matter of fact, that Mr. Zawahiri was indeed present in Kabul.

WARD (on camera): Isn't that almost more frightening, though, the idea that you're claiming, potentially, the leader of al Qaeda was here, in the

center of the city, and you didn't even know about it?

BALKHI: Again, we contend that notion that he was even present here. But even if he was, these types of incidents happen everywhere in the world.

And we are --

WARD: But they really don't. I mean, how can the U.S. possibly trust the Taliban leadership though, to stay true to its promise, that it will not

allow sanctuary to be granted to terrorist groups?

BALKHI: If we look at the Doha Agreement, the articles that are -- that define the commitments of the government of Afghanistan, all of them have

been fulfilled. And If we look at the commitments that the United States of America has made, sadly, they have not fulfilled a single article. But we

are hopeful and we continue to urge the United States to adhere to that agreement.

WARD (voice-over): It's a brazen position that complicates efforts to unfreeze funding, to help the Afghan people, millions of whom remain hungry

and reliant on the kindness of strangers.


WARD: Now, CNN has actually spoken to the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Tom West, who confirmed essentially that, the killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri here

in central Kabul by that U.S. drone has really complicated the relationship and efforts to normalize the relationship between the U.S. and the Taliban


He said that there are now no short term prospects for the re- capitalization of Afghanistan's central bank. And you can imagine, Isa, what an effect that is having, and will continue to have on so many people

here. Aid workers and economists warning those funds need to be unfrozen, because looking ahead to next Winter, they fear it will be even worse than

the last one a near famine was averted.


This year, with the war in Ukraine, with soaring inflation, food prices, fuel prices, they're very concerned that it could be much worse even. Isa?

SOARES: Our chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward live for us in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thanks, Clarissa, appreciate it. Well, at the height of

the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, only 36 State Department officials were on the ground at the Kabul airport to process civilians trying to


That is supporting to report by Republican lawmakers that's due to be released soon. CNN's Kylie Atwood has been studying the report, she joins

us now live from the State Department. And Kylie, just talk us through what you've seen in terms of the key points of this report. Just how scathing is


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, the big picture here is that they are saying there was a complete lack of proper

planning by the Biden administration leading up to this withdrawal. They say that there were plans that were put into place in early 2021.

Some of those not updated, even after President Biden made that announcement in the Spring of 2021, that the Biden administration would be

withdrawing by September of 2021. As you said, they talk about the fact that there were only at its height of the evacuation, 36 State Department

officials on the ground processing those Afghan documents that allowed them to get into the airport and on those evacuation flights.

They talk about the fact that according to data that they have gotten their hands on, only 25 percent of the folks on those evacuation flights were

Afghan women and children. They also talk about there being about 3,000 Afghan commandos who crossed over from Afghanistan into Iran.

Those are folks who had received training from the U.S. military. So, essentially, what they do here is paint a picture of the things that didn't

go quite so well because of that lack of proper planning. And we of course, are hearing push-back from the Biden administration, they're calling this

partisan. They're calling it cheery-picking. But of course, this is a report of what went wrong.

So, it is inherently cherry-picking the bits that went wrong. And we should note that the Biden administration themselves have said that they are going

to do after-action review of this withdrawal, and apply the lessons that were learned, but we have yet to hear anything about those reports and

their finding that the Biden administration has done on their own.

SOARES: Yes, there's a lot of course in play with the -- following from that State Department and Pentagon also conducting their own reviews on the

withdrawal. Kylie, appreciate it, thank you very much. Well, the shadowy private militia known as Wagner may have just suffered a big hit in


Telegram videos appear to show its base in the Russian-occupied eastern town Popasna was attacked during the weekend. And sites linked to Wagner

say there were casualties. A local Ukrainian official is calling it a well- aimed hit. To the south, bombs smashed into a key bridge this weekend near the city of Kherson.

Ukrainian officials say they're focused on destroying bridges and other key supply lines is loosening Russia's grip on the region. And to put all this

into perspective for us, CNN's David McKenzie has reported on the Wagner's group suspected activities in Ukraine, is in Kyiv, this hour for us. And

David, so what else do we know at this hour about that strike on the Wagner HQ?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you see the result of those strikes, which is obviously very devastating for that

building that Ukrainian officials say -- and geo-located video suggests were a base for the Wagner mercenary group. Now, that group, while in terms

of numbers, isn't hugely significant for the Russian fight.

It is significant several thousand according to Ukrainian officials who have talked to CNN, briefed them about Wagner. They've been in this theater

as it were, since 2014 in Crimea. And it appears like potentially, a very devastating strike against at least some of those Wagner mercenaries.

Unclear how many were killed or injured in that. But it is a significant strike and potential lapse of Intelligence that allowed Ukrainians to hit

that location. Isa?

SOARES: And David, just before you go, in the last hour, we have heard from the U.N. regarding Russian claims. It blocked plans for IAEA's visit

to Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. What did the U.N. had to say on this?

MCKENZIE: Well, it's not highly unusual, but it certainly is unusual for the Secretary-General's office to directly criticize a sitting permanent

member of the Security Council, in this case, Russia, of course. The spokesman saying that they deny that there's been any blockage by them or

canceling of a trip of inspectors.

And I have to say just a short time ago, the Secretary-General's office saying that they had discussions with the Russian Defense Minister about

the level of safety at that Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.


As we've been reporting for some days, this has been an area of extreme concern in this conflict of a potential fallout or leak, because of the

ongoing artillery strikes both in and around that massive complex. Now, it appears that the U.N. and the Secretary-General's office is getting more

involved in this dispute.

They were obviously able to broker some kind of a resolution on grain getting out of this country. I think this particular issue is a lot more

tricky than that, because it's right on the front lines between Russian and Ukrainian forces. But just a short time ago, the Secretary-General did

discuss those issues with the Defense Minister, trying to ensure safety, not just for Ukraine, but for the entire region. Isa?

SOARES: David McKenzie there for us in Kyiv, Ukraine. Thanks very much, David. And still to come tonight, the brutal attack of a famous author

sparking urgent conversation about the erosion of free speech, and why calls for censorship also harmful. We'll take part in that conversation

ourselves just ahead.

Plus, Kenya has a new president-elect, chaos broke out at the election center a short time ago, and now violence is spilling out into the streets.

We have the very latest for you.


SOARES: Welcome back everyone now. Award-winning author Salman Rushdie is recovering from serious stabbed wounds after he was attacked on Friday. His

family says he's facing his life-changing injuries with a feisty, as well as defiant sense of humor, while police have charged a 24-year-old man with

attempted murder, and they're trying to determine the motive.

Rushdie has lived for years under threat to his life. His novel, "The Satanic Verses" has faced condemnation from some Muslim groups for being

quote, "sacrilegious". In 1989, the Iranian supreme leader issued a fatwa calling for his death because of that very book.

Iran has issued its first formal response to the attack, blaming Rushdie supporters and Rushdie himself. Graeme Wood is a staff writer at "The

Atlantic", joins me now from Victoria, British Columbia. Thanks very much, Graeme, taking the time to speak to us. I really want to get, first of all,

your initial reaction to this attack, and the fact that, of course, it's occurred on American soil, in a town renowned for the free exchange of



GRAEME WOOD, WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Yes, exactly. I mean, it's a shame for Iran, of course, who originally sponsored his assassination and apparently

inspired this particular attack, and a shame for the U.S. You know, the U.S. gave Rushdie sanctuary, and couldn't protect him from even one of

America's own fanatical citizens.

So, I think there's a double shame, and then of course, a reminder for everybody who treasures the ability to speak freely and think freely, that

there are many people who disagree with that freedom and will try to take it away from you.

SOARES: Yes, and look, today on Iran, we have heard from Iran. Have a listen, I want you to have a listen here, Graeme, to what the Foreign

Ministry had to say.


NASSER KANAANI, SPOKESPERSON, FOREIGN MINISTRY, IRAN (through translator): Slogans like freedom of speech do not justify offending Islamic principles

and religious sanctities.


SOARES: But Graeme, in your article in "The Atlantic", you say that Iran's reaction is eerily similar to a 1989 Jimmy Carter statement. And I just

want to read that to our viewers if you don't mind. "While Rushdie's First Amendment freedoms are important, we have tended to promote him and his

book, with little acknowledgment that is a direct insult to those millions of Muslims whose sacred beliefs have been violated."

So, my question to you is this, why is there a parallel between what former President Carter said in 1988, and Graeme, and what Iranian officials are

saying today?

WOOD: Former President Carter in 1989 condemned the fatwa that came out. He said very clearly, that this was an evil thing. But then he said, you

know, we should try to balance this in the sense that Salmon Rushdie caused offense. On the one hand, we have murder, on the other hand we have


And that's a trade-off that you see people giving even today, not just in the Rushdie case, but in "Charlie Hebdo" and in others, where they say,

look, on the one hand, there is murder, on the one hand, there is cartoonists shot in the face for having made cartoons.

And on the other hand, there is the fact that some people took offense at what they did. So, I think what you get from the government of Iran right

now, is a similar kind of balancing, where they say, look, it matters so much that people have their feelings hurt, that there might be some reason

why this happens, and wants some reasons to celebrate it.

And I think any time you find that kind of balance been suggested, whether it's by a former American president or by a current Iranian official, you

need to fight back. As a writer, I feel like I need to fight back, and as a citizen of a free country, I feel like I need to fight back.

So, when I see Rushdie cut to ribbons on stage in New York City, it seems like a moment to remember what we stand for in the West, what we stand for

in free countries, and what millions of Muslims stand for when they reject the idea that they should feel insulted by what is, in the end, a novel.

So, I want to be fair to former President Carter because he did not call for anyone's death. But there is a strange kind of balancing act that,

really, we should not be getting into it all.

SOARES: In your article, you quoted a novelist, and this is -- that really struck me, that said that nobody would have the balls to write the "Satanic

Verses" today. Do you agree with that, Graeme, and if so, I mean, what does this say about the landscape of free speech and culture right now?

WOOD: I think that a lot of people have internalized the threats that have come from the Ayatollahs of Iran. And that novelist, Hanif Kureishi is

quite right, that Rushdie gave an example to many people that there is a cost that you pay for offending the wrong people. I think there's also

something to be said about the publishing industry, which has tried to avoid offending people at all cost.

They know what it means, whether Twitter mobs or actual gang mob tried to murder a writer, come after publishers. I mean, there have been translators

who have been killed, there have been publishers who have been killed of the "Satanic Verses". And I think way too many of us have internalized that

threat, and begun to listen to it without even thinking.

SOARES: Look, I read this -- an article by the "Atonement" author, Ian McEwan, of course, you know very well, who said this, I've got it from my

notes, said that "democracy is under attack. The space for free thought has been shrinking around the world." And he added, "an illiberal spirit is

gathering." What do you make of that?

WOOD: I feel it myself. I mean --

SOARES: How so?

WOOD: The fact that Rushdie was nearly assassinated, and that you don't hear very many people saying what they said in 1989, which maybe he was

that -- maybe he had it coming. He -- there's a type of overt endorsements of assassination that you don't hear as much.

But you do hear, and you feel this sense that, although he shouldn't be killed, we should be thinking about offense in a way that is balanced

against murder. Offense and murder do not balance out. They are not counter-posing values.


Offense is nothing compared to the execution and calling of execution, for an execution of a novelist. So when Ian McEwan suggests that there is a

gathering of illiberal storms, it's something that we should all feel and see on the horizon, because there is exactly that. There's a sense that the

freedom of expression matters much less than the offense that's given to large numbers of people. And I'm entirely on the same page with him, as he,

you know, expresses concern about that possibility.

SOARES: Graeme, always great to have you on the show, really appreciate it. Graeme Wood there.

WOOD: Thanks.

SOARES: Now, Iran is promising to give its response to the EU's proposal to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement soon by midnight Iran time. That's

coming up in about two hours from now. Iran's foreign minister says the country is exchanging messages with the United States through mediation.

Iran wants the U.S. to include guarantees that no U.S. president would abandon the deal, as former President, if you remember, Donald Trump did

back in 2018. But the deal is not legally-binding treaty, so that might not be possible. Of course, we'll stay on top of that story.

The results of Kenya's presidential election are finally in, deputy President William Ruto has been declared the winner.




SOARES: It was a tight race and in the run-up to the announcement, fighting as you can see there, broke out of the election center. Those

supporting opposition leader Raila Odinga rejected the results and so did four election officials. This means a court challenge could soon be on the

way. Our Larry Madowo takes a closer look for us.


LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Angry scenes inside Kenya's vote-tallying center. Soldiers forced to use batons to bring fighting under


WAFULA CHEBUKATI, CHAIRMAN, ELECTORAL COMMISSION, KENYA: Thereby, declares that Ruto William Samoei has been duly elected as the president.


MADOWO: Moments later, deputy President William Ruto was declared the country's next leader, succeeding term-limited Uhuru Kenyatta. A nervous

six-day wait for Kenya's election winner finally over, but a narrow lead contested by candidate Raila Odinga's coalition before it was even


SAITABAO OLE KANCHORY, RAILA ODINGA'S CHIEF AGENT: Once we see them, we would want to verify them. Once we verify them, we will be able to know and

tell the Kenyan people, because a result that is not verifiable is not a result.

MADOWO: For election commissioners also disowned the anticipated results moment before the chaos descended at the National Tallying Center.

(on camera): Kenyans went to the polls at a critical time for East Africa's largest economy, soaring food and fuel prices, high unemployment

and post-pandemic stagnation, it was a bitter battle between the friends and foes, and friends and foes again, ending in this. Odinga's supporters

violently rejecting Ruto's win. Both campaigns accuse the other of corruption, but Ruto now promising to work with his rival.

WILLIAM RUTO, PRESIDENT-ELECT, KENYA: I will run a transparent, open, democratic government.


And I will work with the opposition to the extent that they provide oversight over my administration.


MADOWO: Cheers of jubilation in his hometown, but the fierce contest of the results could come next. Larry Madowo, CNN, Kisumu, Kenya.


SOARES: And still to come tonight, U.S. lawmakers on a surprise visit to Taiwan, as China tries to intimidate the island democracy. And American law

enforcement is warning about unprecedented online threats of violence, following the FBI search of Donald Trump's Florida home. We'll go live to

Washington to find out what authorities are so worried about.



SOARES: Welcome back to the show, everyone. China says it's carrying out more military drills near Taiwan the second U.S. delegation visits the

island. Five U.S. lawmakers, led by Senator Ed Markey, arrived in Taipei late on Sunday. Their two-day visit was unannounced beforehand and follows

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit in early August. Her arrival, as you remember, set off several days of war games. Let's go to our Washington

correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. And Sunlen, given the reaction that we saw from Beijing to Nancy Pelosi's visit, I suppose the question is, did the

delegation feel now was the time to go when tension's already so high?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I do think, Isa, that it did contribute to their decision-making here to go on with the

visit given that it is in the context of that very controversial visit by Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, which notably was only two weeks ago.

So clearly, this delegation of five notably bipartisan Republicans and Democrats on this trip, feeling that now was exactly the time that they

needed to go when certainly there had been a lot of worldwide focus on the region.

Now they met today with the Taiwanese president and notably after she praised the group saying that she was so happy that they visited at this

key moment in time and that's certainly an important comment, that this was a key moment, a time that the congressional delegation felt like they

needed to visit.

Now over the course of their two-day visit, all them met with other Taiwanese Officials also, public -- private sector leaders and they say the

goal of the meetings are really to discuss trade, economic cooperation, and certainly to reduce the tensions in the region. This, of course, just two

weeks after Pelosi's visit when we saw China make similar moves then upping the military drills in the region and China wasting no time since the

delegation touchdown on Sunday already conducting new military drills in the waters and airspace around Taiwan. So, important moves there by China

in the context of amping up and escalating tensions between the U.S. and China at this important time, Isa.

SOARES: Sunlen Serfaty for us there. Thanks very much, Sunlen. Good to see you.

SERFATY: Thanks.

SOARES: Well, American law enforcement is guarding against potential violence following the FBI's search of former President Donald Trump's

Florida home. Officials say threats against the FBI and other government agencies and people, including the judge who issued the search warrant, are

showing up on social media. They include a threat to place a dirty bomb outside FBI headquarters and calls for civil war and armed rebellion. U.S.

Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider joins us now from Washington. And Jessica, just put this into context for all our viewers. Has the FBI ever

seen this level of threat?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, U.S. JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: No, Isa. They're saying that the level of threats is unprecedented. And, really, the threats against FBI

employees, FBI buildings, they've only intensified in the last week ever since that search warrant was executed at Trump's Mar-a-Lago home in

Florida. So we've seen the threats here. We've even seen armed protesters outside the FBI office, outside of Phoenix, Arizona.


We saw an armed standoff with the gunmen last week in Cincinnati. So, again, this unprecedented number of threats against FBI employees and, you

know, that actually includes threats against two of the special agents who were listed on court records. And this is something that is very routine,

the agents sign off on these court records. But when it was released on Friday as them being involved in that Mar-a-Lago search, the agents' names,

they were blacked out in the official copy released from the court, but their names were listed in some of the leaked copies that were put out by

conservative media outlets earlier in the day. So these agents, these two agents that were on this court filing, they are on high alert as well.

Plus, Isa, you know, we've learned that the FBI has noticed an uptick in what's called doxxing. This is where people online, they publicly post the

personal information of FBI employees, and then those people, now with their public information out there, they could be targeted by people across

the country. You know, we've even seen threats against the judge in Florida who approved this warrant. His contact information had to be taken offline

by the court so his personal information was no longer out there. So, Isa, we're in a very heightened threat environment, so much so that the FBI

headquarters here in Washington is now surrounded by a fence.

We've seen that at other government institutions, over the past few years, the Supreme Court, the U.S. Capitol Building, now the FBI is really coming

under siege from all of these threats online and otherwise. The FBI Director's speaking out saying that his safety and -- the safety and

security of these employees, it's his biggest concern, but this, really, is unprecedented, Isa.

SOARES: Very worrying, indeed. Jessica Schneider there with that report. Appreciate it, Jessica. Well, following on from that, if you live in the

United States, well, I think it's fair to say from what you've just heard, things feel pretty weird. It's an accumulation of events, all adding up to

a unique state of disarray. Politically, the country feels divided like never before. And we just saw that unprecedented FBI raid on the home of a

former U.S. President. Socially, well, we've told you about 10 minutes ago, Salman Rushdie, author and free speech icon, were just attacked on U.S.

soil, all while the White House is trying to revive a nuclear deal with Iran.

And then on the global stage, the U.S. is marking one year since its disastrous pull out from -- off Afghanistan. That was of course our top

story. And a top U.S. lawmaker visits Taiwan creating a new fevered pitch of tensions with China. So what on earth, is the question, is going on in

the United States? Robin Wright is a Distinguished Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a columnist for The New Yorker. She joins me now live

from Washington. Great to have you on the show, Robin. Let me start, if I may, with that vicious attack on Salman Rushdie. How surprised were you

that this was happening on U.S. soil?

ROBIN WRIGHT, DISTINGUISHED FELLOW, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: I think everyone was astonished because since for more than 20 years, there was a sense

among U.S. intelligence agencies that the threat had diminished. Iran had negotiated a deal with Britain to renew diplomatic relations and to clear

up the status of Salman Rushdie. He'd appeared in public even, had done a cameo on Bridget Jones's diary. And so the attack was astonishing. But this

was a political act by Iran. The original fatwa was because Iran was in such trouble domestically. What no one understood at the time was the kind

of historic range this fatwa would have impacting people who had never been in Iran, who were born in the United States, but believed in the kind of

virulent ideology that Iran propagates.

SOARES: And, of course, for our viewers to understand, you know, the attack on Rushdie kind of coincided with the announcement, if you remember, from

the Justice Department that a member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard had been indicted in a murder for hire plot against John Bolton, the former National

Security Adviser. Where does this leave, Robin, the already tense relations between U.S. and Iran here?

WRIGHT: There's an extraordinary intersection of diverse tensions with -- between Washington and Iran. One is the Rushdie attack, which was

reprehensible in which the President has personally condemned. There was the Justice Department attack, the plot, that announcement of the plot

against John Bolton, as well as former Secretary of State and former Secretary of Defense. And now you have the imminent decision by Iran about

whether to return to the nuclear deal. There -- this is a moment, a very decisive moment. And so it -- which has rippling impact politically for

President Biden, because it's going to be very hard for him to justify returning to the nuclear deal at a time that Iran and its followers are

acting in such outrageous ways.

SOARES: And we'll talk about Iran in just a moment. I really just want to ask you something direct today from the conservative leadership contender

here in U.K., Rishi Sunak, said that the stabbing of Salman Rushdie should be what he said was a wake-up call for the West about the threat which Iran

still poses.


Do you agree with us?

WRIGHT: It's clear that 40 -- 42 years after the Iranian Revolution, that its militant tactics, its willingness to plot the deaths of foreign

officials, foreign personalities continue just as much as in the early days of the revolution, not much has changed. So in some ways, it is a wake-up

call. And I think it will be a defining moment in tensions between Iran and the outside world generally.

SOARES: I mean, where does -- you hinted at this, Robin, but where does this leave President Biden when it comes to that Iran nuclear deal?

Because, of course, it's, you know, we're waiting for word on this. Can the U.S. negotiate with Iran after this, especially with the midterms coming


WRIGHT: Because -- yes, that's right. The -- there was a lot at stake here politically as well. But the nuclear deal, brokered by President Obama and

abandoned by President Trump, was the most historic Non-Proliferation agreement in more than a quarter century. The alternative, if there isn't

an agreement on limiting Iran's program, would be some kind of military action and potentially a war, a war that could dwarf the kind of military

operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. So diplomacy is obviously the preferred way out. The question is, will Iran comply? Will it comply fully? Will it

have things it's still demanding? It promised a -- in -- an answer today, and this, again, is something that it will be pivotal in defining Iran's

place in the world going forward at a time its own revolution is at stake, because the early revolutionaries are beginning to die out.

SOARES: And we're waiting for that answer at midnight, Tehran time, less than two hours or so from now. Robin, so, of course, as soon as we have

that, we'll, of course, bring it to our viewers. But I want to leave Iran, if I can for a moment, and get your thoughts from you, Robin, on the China-

Taiwan relations that we were just mentioning to our viewers early in the show. We are seeing, again, China carrying out more military drills near

Taiwan. How worried should the West be by this escalation from China, continued escalation that we have seen now since Nancy Pelosi's visit?

WRIGHT: Yes, there's clearly a standoff between Beijing and Washington. And this is really about trying to establish who is the alpha personality when

it comes to the South China Seas, to the future of Taiwan, and more broadly, China-U.S. relations. The United States has tried to say we are

continuing our longstanding policy of acknowledging Taiwan is self- governing. And at the same time, it says there's a One China Policy. It's a very hard policy to navigate. But China -- China's Xi Jinping is clearly

determined to say that this is China's territory and that it insists, going forward, that Taiwan is part of China. So this is not as -- a crisis that's

-- or confrontation is going to be easily or soon resolved.

SOARES: Do you think that delegation, U.S. delegation, needed to go there right now given what -- the picture you've just painted, Robin?

WRIGHT: Well, that's a political argument. But you did see a bipartisan delegation going there. I think there are those in Washington who feel it's

time to say to China, don't keep meddling in the South China Seas, don't threaten Taiwan. And this, again, is trying to exert some muscle by both

sides. And it worries me a lot.

SOARES: Look, back home, really, in the United States, as we have reported on, the FBI has raided Trump's home. We've heard the FBI warning of threats

against authorities, government personnel, in response, of course, to Trump Mar-a-Lago search warrant. Give us a sense what the mood is in the U.S.

right now.

WRIGHT: Well, I think there's a deep polarization. I mean, with -- the Biden administration is facing multiple foreign crises at a time of

unprecedented polarization divisions at home, the kind of kind of unbelievable and outrageous attacks against law enforcement agencies,

against the Department of Justice, for carrying out search warrants for trying to pursue what might have been compromising the American electoral

system. In the run up to midterms, this is a very tense moment in the United States.

And living in Washington DC, you feel it in every conversation you have with people on both sides of the line. And it's hard to see again where we

find the kind of compromise that will prevent deeper tensions in the United States. The FBI has even warned over the weekend, in a bulletin, that the

kind of threats of civil war are real and that's a terrifying thought.


SOARES: It is absolutely terrifying hearing that. Robin Wright, really appreciate you taking the time to speak to us. I know we covered a lot of

ground, but no one could do it but you. Thank you. Appreciate it, Robin.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

SOARES: And still ahead, both India and Pakistan celebrates 75 years of independence from British Empire. We'll take a look at where both countries

stand today. That is next.


SOARES: Well, the leaders of both India and Pakistan are setting out their visions for each country's future as they celebrate 75 years of

independence from the British Empire. This is what the region looked like 75 years ago under British rule before the violent process of partition

drew up the border between India and Pakistan. Well, CNN's Vedika Sud and Sophia Saifi look at where the two countries stand today.

VEDIKA SUD, CNN REPORTER: I'm Vedika Sud in New Delhi. India is celebrating its 75th year of independence with great pomp and fervor. Addressing the

nation from the iconic Red Fort in Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to turn India into a developed country in the next 25 years.

Modi said India's diversity and democracy are its biggest strengths. Over the years, India's economic and geopolitical stature has grown

significantly. India is the world's fifth largest economy. At a time when its neighbors Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan had been struggling and

reaching out to financial institutions for aid, India remains one of the world's fastest growing economies.

For Washington, India is a key strategic partner. According to analysts, India's viewed as the biggest counterbalance to China in the region. India

has also made a mark for itself in the pharmaceutical sector, in information technology, and space programs. But for all India's successes,

challenges remain. Despite the country's growing GDP, hundreds of millions live below the poverty line. Poor sanitation and increasing extreme weather

events due to global climate change are some of the country's environmental challenges.

The world's biggest democracy has also seen a rise in religious polarization. And this year, India ranked 150 on the Press Freedom Index.

Also the eastern and western borders remain tense with no big breakthrough in talks with China or Pakistan.

SOPHIA SAIFI, CNN REPORTER: This is Sophia Saifi in Islamabad, and Pakistan, after 75 years, still has an issue on its eastern borders and

that is India.


Experts might say the fact that there haven't been war -- there isn't a war on going between India and Pakistan at the moment. Three wars have been

fought over the disputed territory of Kashmir. Relations between India and Pakistan, since at least 2014, have been at quite a low ebb, and that is

because there is almost an iron wall on this heavily militarized border between the two countries. Students can't connect with students. Activists

can't speak to each other.

They do so on social media, but along with that there is an external threat that is facing the region of South Asia, there have been heavy flooding,

extreme weather, all of this summer. In the past month in Pakistan alone, 500 people died in flooding, along with deaths in India and Bangladesh. And

scientists have said that this is linked to climate change. And it is a problem that is not going away anytime soon.

Pakistan's Prime Minister, in an op-ed in The Economist said this morning that Pakistan and India might have to sit together, get rid of the

adversarial stance that they have against each other and sit down on the table and kind of put their heads together to deal with this crisis that is

looming over the young populations.

SOARES: Perspective there from our correspondents in Pakistan and India. We'll take a look at the scene at one Shanghai Ikea saw. You can see

panicked shoppers pushing past staff and each other in an effort to escape the building as health authorities ordered the store to close after close

COVID-19 contact was traced to the location. Anyone remaining in site would have been put in quarantine. And still to come tonight, a look at the

aftermath of the wildfires in France. We'll bring the very latest next.


SOARES: Well, Europe is on track to see its worst year of wildfire destruction in more than 15 years. So far, fires have destroyed nearly

660,000 hectares of land across the European Union. One area that has been battling flames is the Gironde region in France. Our Melissa Bell was



MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're here to the south of Bordeaux in the latest wildfire to have struck this region, the third major one this summer

to hit Gironde. It began last Tuesday. And what you can see here is just how fast these flames spread. Much of the vegetation's still green at the

top. These are the pine forests of southwestern France that run all the way to Spain.


And that have proven so vulnerable to this particularly parched and hot summer. And as you can see, even now, although this wildfire's been

contained, it is far from extinguished. And that is because, again, the ferocity of the fire, the speed with which the flames cross this area

taking out last Tuesday in a single night, 6,000 hectares in one night alone. Even now, you can see how hot the soil remains.

And so these are Romanian firefighters who've come, as have others from all over Europe, to work alongside the French firefighters. So many of them

saying that July and August have proven so hot and dangerous and difficult given these wildfires, that they are exhausted, their equipment is tired,

and they're all in need of a rest. These reinforcements have come from all over Europe.

This European crisis mechanism that has, this year, been called upon by nine different European countries. That gives you an idea of how hot, and

dangerous, and full of wildfires this summer has been for so many countries in Europe that simply we're not used to this. And what one of the

firefighters the French ones here was just telling us is that very sadly, they believe that this is the way things are likely to stay for some time.


SOARES: That's Melissa Bell there in Gironde. Well, don't forget, you can catch up with interviews as well as analysis from the show online or my

Instagram @IsaSoaresCNN, on my Twitter feed, too. The detail's there on your screen. Thanks very much for your company. Do stay right here with

CNN. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" with Richard Quest is next. I shall see you tomorrow. Have a wonderful day. Bye-bye.