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Hala Gorani Tonight
Satellite Images Show Destruction At Iraq Airbase; Trump Administration Briefs Members Of Congress On Iran; Ukrainian Airliner Crashes Near Tehran, 176 Killed; Hot, Dry Conditions Fueling Dozens Of Bushfires; Iran Displays Well-Calibrated Response as Trump De-Escalates; Interview with Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ); Ukrainian Passenger Plane Crashes After Takeoff in Iran. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired January 08, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HALA GORANI, CNN HOST, HALA GORANI TONIGHT: Hello, everyone. Live from CNN London, I'm Hala Gorani.
Tonight, Donald Trump takes the off-ramp. In a White House address, the U.S. president chooses the path of de-escalation with Iran for now.
And just as tensions reached a fever pitch, a commercial plane crashes outside Tehran. Was it an accident?
And a bombshell from Harry and Meghan. The duke and duchess say they will step back as senior members of the Royal Family.
No military retaliation, at least for now. That is the bottom line from U.S. President Donald Trump, so a sigh of relief in the region and beyond.
The president stepped back from the brink after an Iranian missile attack on bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq. Flanked by top aides and top
military brass in an unmistakable show of force, Mr. Trump addressed the American people a short time ago from the White House as the world looked
He said Iran, quote, "appears to be standing down," following those strikes that came in retaliation for the U.S. killing of the country's top military
commander. But Mr. Trump says the status quo can't stand. Listen to the U.S. president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The civilized world must send a clear and unified message to the Iranian regime: Your campaign of
terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any longer. It will not be allowed to go forward.
Today, I am going to ask NATO to become much more involved in the Middle East process.
As we continue to evaluate options in response to Iranian aggression ,the United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic
sanctions on the Iranian regime. These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Well, Mr. Trump says no lives were lost in the Iran ballistic missile strikes, and that apparently was not by accident. Iran gave Iraq a
heads-up, in fact, before the strikes. Iraq passed the message along to the United States, and you can see on this map where the strikes took
place: the al-Asad Air Base, as well as a base in Erbil.
Sources tell CNN that the Trump administration believes Iran deliberately missed populated areas on those bases. And these pictures, by the way,
that you're seeing on your screen now, show unexploded missiles that landed near al-Asad.
And there's also new satellite imagery, appearing to show some damage at the al-Asad base with the most visible impact on a strip of concrete near a
So even though the threat of military escalation has eased tonight, Iran's president is suggesting his country will still get the last word. Before
Mr. Trump spoke today, Hassan Rouhani tweeted that Iran's final answer to Qassem Soleimani's assassination will be to kick all U.S. forces out of the
TEXT: Hassan Rouhani: General Soleimani fought heroically against ISIS, Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda et al. If it weren't for his war on terror, European
capitals would be in great danger now. Our final answer to his assassination will be to kick all U.S. forces out of the region.
GORANI: Well, Fred Pleitgen is live tonight in Tehran; Boris Sanchez is in Washington. Fred, briefly to you first in Tehran. Any reaction at all to
this statement from the U.S. president? He's clearly taking that off-ramp and not choosing the path of escalating things further.
FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And I think, Hala, that the Iranians really made that off-ramp very clear to the
president. It was quite interesting because over the past couple of days, there were a lot of very senior Iranian officials who told us that they
were going to retaliate, but they didn't want all of that to escalate into a larger war. So they were saying this off-ramp was going to be there,
they were saying they were definitely going to retaliate, but they certainly didn't want all this to get out of control.
So I think that on the whole, the Iranians, they'll see what President Trump said in a light where, on the one hand, they're quite happy with some
of the things that he said, they're not that happy with some of the other things that he said.
I think, first of all, the fact that obviously President Trump is not going to react to the Iranian retaliation is certainly something that the
Iranians wanted to hear. They feel that they've done the retaliation that they wanted to do. They felt that it was proportionate.
As they said, that was something that Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, tweeted out almost exactly -- only a couple seconds, really -- after we got
first word that these Iranian ballistic missile launches had taken place.
And for the Iranians, it was also very important for them to show that they have these capabilities. It was no -- it was very important for them to
show that their ballistic missile technology works, that it's accurate and that they can strike U.S. interests from Iranian territory, so that was
certainly something that they definitely wanted to show.
On the one hand, the fact that the president announced new sanctions for them is going to be a bigger blow. Because one of the things that I've been
hearing, over the past couple of days, for instance from Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, he was telling me that the fact that the U.S. left the
nuclear deal, and the fact that there's this maximum pressure campaign, they saw that as the beginning of economic warfare.
And of course, right now, that underlying factor in that conflict between the Trump administration and the Iranians isn't out of the way and in fact
tonight has gotten even stronger than it was before -- Hala.
GORANI: All right. Fred Pleitgen in Tehran, thanks very much.
Boris, over to you. The president, appearing to back down from direct confrontation, and asking -- which was puzzling -- NATO for help. NATO,
which he has disparaged relentlessly for years. What is that about?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The president, looking to NATO for more involvement in the Mideast. We should point out that we
were able to confirm, shortly after the president made these remarks, that he shared a phone call with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
It's unclear exactly what capacity the president sees NATO playing in the region outside of Turkey, obviously. But President Trump here, sort of as
you said, taking the off-ramp, choosing a softer tone of retaliation, opting for further economic sanctions instead of an all-out military
strike, but still keeping the pressure on, saying that the U.S. military is more prepared than ever.
And even spelling out the fact that the United States is more independent, from an energy perspective, from the Mideast than in previous generations,
meaning that it has more options for striking in that region.
Further, the president, also making clear that he wants to work with Iran on defeating ISIS and, in his words, other shared priorities. To be clear,
it's not likely that these two sides are going to come to the table and have a dialogue any time soon.
As you know, Hala, Iran rebuffed opportunities to meet with the U.S. leadership even back in September, during the U.N. General Assembly. The
conditions, not exactly ripe for a meeting now.
And we have to state the obvious as well: Iran has a very long timetable when it comes to revenge. So on the surface, it may appear that this was
their response. But we've seen the Iranians, in previous years, further retaliate in covert ways. So the U.S. is also watching its proxies in the
region, waiting to see if there's any further response from the Iranians.
Of course, this conflict between the U.S. and Iran, one that President Trump will deal with until the end of his presidency, whether that's next
year, Hala, or in 2024.
GORANI: All right. Boris Sanchez, thanks very much.
Of course, there are many ways of attacking an enemy. Cyber-warfare is another one. We're hearing reports of some cyber-attacks as well.
Joining me now on the phone is Democratic U.S. Congressman Albio Sires. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and he was just
briefed on the intelligence that was used to support and justify the targeting of Qassem Soleimani.
What can you tell us, Representative Sires, that is not classified about what was shared with you in this briefing?
REP. ALBIO SIRES (D-NJ) (via telephone): All I think I could share with you were the fact of what I read in the papers, that Soleimani was planning
some sort of attacks on U.S. forces.
SIRES (via telephone): -- (INAUDIBLE) that.
GORANI: Was the evidence convincing?
SIRES (via telephone): Well, it doesn't (ph) convince me that they made a very strong case for that. I thought it was kind of weak. I don't think
they went into any specifics.
GORANI: Oh, so they didn't give you specifics today?
SIRES (via telephone): No. That I could (ph) share with you.
GORANI: So you were not satisfied that it was enough to justify a targeted killing?
SIRES (via telephone): No, I think it was an impulse decision by the president. He made this decision rash (ph), I think he made it from one
day to the next, without thinking of the consequences to our troops, Americans in the region. So I didn't walk away from this hearing thinking
GORANI: And what do you make of the president today, essentially choosing not to escalate the situation further? He appears to be basically taking
that opportunity to stop things where they are now, and not enter into any kind of direct conflict or even indirect conflict, but a more intense one
with Iran. What do you make of that?
SIRES (via telephone): Well, I think at this time, that's the right decision. But I worry very much that although Iran is supposed to leave,
this event (ph), they have a long-term strategic approach to how they're going to attack Americans. And they have a lot of proxies in the region
that they can use and they can claim that they weren't responsible but those people that are proxies are responsible, and they're under (ph) the
Iranian flag (ph).
So I just --
GORANI: So what's the solution? What should America do then, in your opinion?
SIRES (via telephone): Oh, I think we should stay in alert as much as we can, everywhere we are, whether it's an embassy --
SIRES (via telephone): -- whether it's a base, I think we have to stay alert.
GORANI: But beyond that, what strategy? What should be the U.S.' strategy vis-a-vis Iran?
SIRES (via telephone): Well, I think we should try to approach the -- come to some sort of an agreement. But I don't know if the atmosphere now is
one that you can approach Iran on some sort of an agreement, after we broke the agreement -- the previous agreement.
So, you know, although --
SIRES (via telephone): -- the president said that he's willing to talk, I don't know how much that's going to carry in Iran.
GORANI: Quick last one, Representative Sires, on Nancy Pelosi, still holding these two articles of impeachment, not sending them to the Senate.
Do you think she should go ahead and send them, because by holding them for much longer, it will appear as though this whole effort to impeach the
president was political?
SIRES (via telephone): No, I think it's too soon to send it. I think I support the speaker on this issue. I don't know what the Senate is going
to do in the next few days, but you know, we still have time to have a conversation with the Senate on the articles of impeachment.
GORANI: Representative Albio Sires, Democrat from New Jersey, thanks very much for joining us here on the phone.
He was just in an intelligence briefing. The government shared more information, though the representative said not enough, certainly not
convincing information, according to him, that led to the decision to target Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian top military commander, on Iraqi
Now, nerves were further rattled in the region when a Ukrainian passenger jet crashed just outside Tehran. All 176 people on board were killed. The
Boeing 737 was last heard from just a few minutes after taking off from Tehran's international airport. It was heading to Kiev, Ukraine.
Witnesses report seeing the plane in flames as it went down.
Experts from Ukraine have been sent to join in the investigation, and Matthew Chance is following the developments from Moscow. What more are we
learning about this crash, Matthew?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Hala, as you say, tonight, that team of Ukrainian investigators is heading to Tehran,
the Iranian capital, to try and piece together what happened to that relatively new, recently serviced Boeing 737 airline, and which the airline
says was flown by a trusted air crew.
Obviously, technical failure is one possibility that's being considered, that's perhaps the prime thing that's being -- going to be looked at by the
investigators. But at this stage, investigators say that nothing is being ruled out.
CHANCE (voice-over): An eyewitness, out of breath, captures the dramatic moments after Ukrainian International Airlines' flight 752 dropped from the
skies. You can see the burning wreckage of the airliner, smashed to pieces, strewn across a vast area outside of the Iranian capital.
Another witness seems to have recorded the exact point of impact. "God help us," he cries as a bright light streaks across the night sky, before
turning into a fireball and plunging into the ground.
Airline officials confirm there were no survivors.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There were 167 passengers and nine crewmembers on board. Of the passengers, two were Ukrainian citizens. The
rest were Canadians, Iranians, Germans, Swedes and Afghans.
CHANCE (voice-over): Already, Iranian emergency teams have recovered the black box flight recorders from the crash site, essential to explain what
went wrong. Ukrainian Airlines says the aircraft was one of their best planes, a three-year-old Boeing 737 800 with what the airline describes as
an excellent trustworthy crew.
It seems to have been a tragic coincidence that the crash happened within hours of an Iranian missile strike on U.S. bases in Iraq. But the
Ukrainian embassy in Tehran has now deleted a statement saying terrorism or a rocket attack have been ruled out as a possible cause.
Instead, Ukraine's president has now dispatched a team of investigators to Iran to establish the truth in his words and to find those responsible for
this terrible catastrophe.
CHANCE: Well, Hala, as I mentioned, they've already retrieved the black boxes from that crash site, but the Iranian authorities now say they're not
going to hand them to the Americans or to Boeing, a symptom of that broader tension between the two countries. Back to you.
GORANI: All right.
And by the way, a little bit later in the program, we will be speaking to an air accident investigator about what she makes of the footage coming out
of Iran. Thanks very much, Matthew Chance in Moscow.
I want to go back to the tensions between the U.S. and Iran now. Let's bring in Jason Rezaian, our global affairs analyst in Washington. He's
reported extensively in Iran, he was jailed for more than 500 days by Iranian authorities, detailed in his memoir, "Prisoner."
Thanks very much. "Prisoner: My 544 days in an Iranian prison," and there's the cover of your book, Jason. So I want to ask you first for your
reaction to what Trump said today in the White House.
JASON REZAIAN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, Hala, first and foremost, I think that it was, for those who want peace, the best thing that could
have happened. The tensions are temporarily de-escalated, I think. It doesn't mean that everything is over and that there won't be future
But in this really high emotional moment that we've been living through over the last couple of days, it seems as though the president has taken a
more cautious tone and even extended a couple of olive branches, if you listen closely.
So, you know, I think we've averted a terrible situation for the time being. But that being said, we've been living through such an --
REZAIAN: -- escalated tensions with Iran for months now.
GORANI: Because there really was concern, I think, that this could, even accidentally, really materialize into the worst-case scenario, of a war in
that part of the Middle East. There really was that worry just a few hours ago, up until we heard from the president directly.
REZAIAN: Right. And I think if you go back and listen to what different leaders in the region had been saying over the previous couple of years
about Iran and the threat that Iran posed to them, and asking the United States to take decisive action against them --
REZAIAN: -- especially from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. But then to say, now, asking for caution and restraint?
REZAIAN: I think everybody in the region understands well that a conflict between the U.S. and Iran would have ramifications far beyond the borders
of Iran and Iraq, and nobody would be untouched.
GORANI: Yes. I mean, even Saudi Arabia, as you mentioned rightly, was saying we need to dial this back because it could be a disaster for
everyone in the region.
What -- do you think this was Iran's strategy all along, to sort of fire a few missiles, deliberately miss, you know, dense population centers, a
couple of missiles fell right outside a runway in a patch of concrete. Do you think that that was their strategy, to offer Donald Trump this
REZAIAN: I do. I think they couldn't do nothing, their most --
REZAIAN: -- important military commander and one of the key figures of the regime that so much attention and resources into creating a public persona
around, has been eliminated. They had to do something to respond, but they also understand that they cannot mount a defense against the military might
of the United States of America.
So they -- this was the best option that they had in this very moment. But as I said, I don't think this is the end of it. I think this will continue
until we find a diplomatic solution to the whole set of problems between the U.S. and Iran.
And I hope that people are starting to think about that eventuality because you know that we'll get to that point at some point, whether it's --
GORANI: At some point, yes.
REZAIAN: -- in the coming days, weeks, or years down the road.
GORANI: Yes. In the meantime, even lower-level attacks are hurting civilians in Iraq and other --
GORANI: -- parts of the region. Thank you, Jason Rezaian. Always a pleasure.
REZAIAN: Thank you.
GORANI: Now, turning to some breaking news, something completely different from the Middle East and war and conflict. Harry and Meghan, the duke and
duchess of Sussex, are stepping back as senior members of the royal family. This is seismic in this country.
The couple made the announcement on Instagram. They say to -- they plan to divide their time between the U.K. and North America, and will work towards
becoming financially independent. The duke and duchess made their first public appearance in months this week, after spending six weeks at a
private residence in Canada.
Max Foster joins me on the phone. He's our royal correspondent. This is quite a bombshell, Max, isn't it?
MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): It is. And it comes after a lot of stories where the duke and duchess have expressed their
discomfort, really, with their public roles.
They're effectively opting out of the royal roles that we see them in now. They say they will no longer be senior royals. Effectively, what that
means is members of the royal family who step in to support the queen and represent the queen at official engagements. They'll no longer be doing
that. With that means you won't be getting public funding in order to carry out those roles.
And in the statement, they talk about wanting to work to become financially independent. I think effectively, what they're saying here is all that
criticism around private jets, about doing up their cottage in Windsor and now giving enough access to the christening, for example.
All of those things were criticized because these are public figures, publicly funded figures who aren't giving enough access to the British
media, that's been the accusation from the British media.
They are arguing, I think, effectively, that by not taking public money any more, by not having a full public royal role, they have the right to a
private life that they've always argued for. So they are opting out of the system.
But they'll be able to opt into the elements that they like, so the family elements, the elements where they're seen to be supporting the queen, who
they're both very close to, they'll still do that. But they will feel -- and you're aware, Hala, of these court case that have been taking place --
FOSTER: -- they will be able to feel that they can win these court cases on the fact -- on the basis that they do have a right to a private life.
It's always the argument with the members of the royal family, do they have a right to a private life when they're receiving public money? And they're
basically saying, OK, you win. We're out.
GORANI: And so we -- I mean, I know it's difficult to know, but what was the impetus for this? Is it more Harry, is it more Meghan? I mean, Harry
doesn't have a choice, he was born into the family. Meghan married into the family, but who was most supportive of this idea?
FOSTER: Well, they all have a choice, every member of the royal has a choice, even the queen can opt out and abdicate if she wants to. It's
obviously much harder for any one of the direct line of succession, so for William and for Charles and for George, it would be much more seismic than
Harry, who effectively is still there as just a supporting role to that direct line of succession.
He's always had a massive problem with the invasion of privacy into his private life, so this has been building since childhood and it comes from a
child who was brought up in the glare of publicity, and watching his mother suffer as a result of that.
He always talked, before he even met Meghan, how he didn't think he would be able to meet someone who could put up with this pressure. And
effectively, Meghan has talked about the pressure. She's felt she's found it unbearable, she has to talk about it. She can no longer do it anymore.
And Harry, in a way, feels as if he hasn't been able to live up to his promise to protect her. So I think they're -- it would certainly be a
joint decision. And obviously, having a son coming into it and seeing a future where he's going to have his privacy invaded as well, I think that
has really put the impetus behind this.
There was indication, actually, when their son was named. He didn't have an official title, and they chose to do that to give him a right to a
GORANI: Interesting. Max Foster, thanks very much for joining us to talk more about this breaking news.
Still to come tonight, after a daring escape from Japan, Carlos Ghosn speaks out for the first time. How did he manage to get away unnoticed?
Did he share those details? We have that story, next.
GORANI: Former car executive Carlos Ghosn is blasting Japan's justice system, saying it, quote, "violates the most basic principles of humanity."
The former Nissan CEO spoke to reporters in Lebanon, his first major appearance since the dramatic escape from Tokyo.
Ghosn is charged with financial wrongdoing, which he denies. He did not share details about how he left the country, but he explained by. Listen
to Carlos Ghosn, earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARLOS GHOSN, FORMER NISSAN CHAIRMAN AND CEO: I did not escape justice, I fled injustice and persecution, political persecution. Having endured more
than 400 days of inhuman treatment in a system designed to break me and unwilling to provide me even minimal justice, I was left with no other
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Anna Stewart is here. So he did not provide details about how he escaped?
ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: No, the details we all wanted. How did he get out of the country, that will have to --
GORANI: Many rumors about how he made it out, but we don't --
STEWART: Maybe Hollywood wants to use their --
GORANI: -- we're none the wiser.
STEWART: -- imagination there --
STEWART: -- when they write it up, right?
GORANI: So what did he reveal? What did he say?
STEWART: Well, first of all, he attacked Japan's justice system, calling it the hostage system. I think the most striking comment he said was, he
suddenly realized you're going to die in Japan -- this is a quote -- "You're going to die in Japan, or you have to get out."
That is how he felt. He felt that the trial was never going to happen, that the conditions of his bail meant that he couldn't see his wife,
couldn't speak to his wife. And he said it simply wasn't tolerable anymore and he had to get out.
GORANI: And the Japanese, though, are responding. This is what the Japanese prosecutor had to say, Anna.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MASAKO MORI, JAPANESE JUSTICE MINISTER (through translator): He has been propagating, both within Japan and internationally, false information on
Japan's legal system and its practice.
This is absolutely intolerable. Japan's criminal justice system sets out appropriate procedures, and is administered properly to clarify the truth
in cases, while guaranteeing basic individual human rights.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Apologies. This was the justice minister responding. So do the Japanese have any options here?
STEWART: Well, not really. There's no extradition treaty between Lebanon and Tokyo -- in Japan, sorry -- so there's no way of getting him back,
really, at this stage. So there's not much they can do. I'm sure they'll continue to try and get justice.
But that wasn't the only person he attacked here.
STEWART: Carlos Ghosn also launched a huge attack on Nissan, the former -- the company he was formerly a CEO of, saying there was a huge conspiracy.
The reason he was arrested -- and he denies all of the allegations, still - -
STEWART: -- but he says he was arrested due to conspiracy at Nissan that he would integrate it further with Renault. And he also pointed to the
Japanese prosecutor's office, who then said that obviously this was not the case at all. So they refuted that. So there's a constant battle, which
has been very interesting today (ph).
GORANI: All right. We'll see what happens, whether or not there will be any kind of trial or judicial process in --
STEWART: Well, I have to say --
GORANI: -- Lebanon? I mean --
STEWART: -- Carlos Ghosn does want to clear his name.
STEWART: So although he's not going to do it in Japan, he says he wants justice, he wants to go to court.
GORANI: He says he has proof that he --
STEWART: And he showed it --
GORANI: -- did nothing wrong.
STEWART: -- in this extraordinary press conference --
STEWART: -- there was an overhead projector, Hala.
GORANI: All right. Anna Stewart, thanks very much.
And Richard Quest will be speaking to Carlos Ghosn, that one-on-one interview is next hour on "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS."
Still to come, walking back from the brink: We'll have much more on U.S. President Donald Trump's response to an Iranian missile attack on bases
housing American troops in Iraq.
Also, we will look at some of those whose lives were cut short in the crash of a Ukrainian Airlines plane in Iran. We'll be right back.
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: All right. I want to take you live to Iraq. A quick update on our top story. Donald Trump says Iran appears
to be standing down after firing missiles at those bases housing American troops in Iraq, and Iraq is the proxy battlefield. It was, at least in
The site of both the U.S. strike that killed Qassem Soleimani and also the site of Iran's retaliatory missile attack. And we're getting new images
from that country tonight. Take a look at these satellite images of the damage at al-Asad air base.
Sam Kiley is in Baghdad.
What are we learning from these new satellite imagery, Sam?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think two things, Hala. Both the power and the accuracy of these what would appear
to be highly capable Iranian missiles fired over considerable range with considerable accuracy if we accept -- broadly is now accepted that they
would deliberately targeted so as to avoid any casualties following -- and they were fired following tipoffs to the Iraqi government here in Baghdad
passed on to the United States so that service personnel could get into hard cover and avoid being hit by these missiles.
Seventeen fired into the al-Asad air base, 15 detonated, no casualties and five into U.S. coalition targets in the northern Kurdish areas of Iraq,
So what this does signal though from the Iranian perspective is capability. Now, the reaction here in Baghdad has been one of official outrage from the
president and the speaker in the parliament here. And rejection in his words from the prime minister.
But more importantly, I think in many ways, Hala, the Iranian-backed Shia militias here notably, Kata'ib Hezbollah, have said that this is the first
salvo in what they say is revenge for the killing of the leader of Kata'ib Hezbollah who died alongside Qassem Soleimani in that U.S. airstrike last
They have vowed to fight on in order to force the United States to withdraw from Iraq. I think from the American and Iraqi perspective, that is going
to remain a very thorny issue in the coming days and weeks, Hala.
GORANI: Thank you, Sam Kiley in Baghdad.
Well, senior Trump administration officials are briefing Senate lawmakers about Iran right now. All about the intelligence that was used to justify
the strike against Qassem Soleimani.
A short time ago, the entire House of Representatives was briefed on the situation. Democrats in the House are also seeking to restrain the
president's military actions with the vote on war powers.
Phil Mattingly is in Washington on Capitol Hill.
I spoke to one congressperson who told me earlier in the hour, he didn't hear anything that made him change his mind. A Democrat from New Jersey
saying he didn't really hear anything convincing that we felt justified this strike, that they felt the president was reckless, but the senators
will be briefed behind closed doors. Correct?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. It will essentially be the same briefing by the same administration officials.
And a lot of the people you saw standing behind the president during his Iran remarks earlier at the White House will also be now briefing senators.
And this is something that both Democrats and Republicans have been calling for in the wake of the strike that targeted and killed Qassem Soleimani.
And I think the big question and you kind of hit on this with what you're talking act with the Democrat you spoke to earlier, is the idea of how
imminent it was, right? The thing that nobody can really grasp yet to this point, and this includes House lawmakers as you spoke to who had the
briefing already, is what is the evidence based on the intelligence particularly intelligence from the CIA director, Gina Haspel, who is
briefing, brief the House, will brief the Senate, that made clear that this was something that had to happen now.
When you put it all in context based on the Bush administration and the Obama administration deciding to pass on the opportunity to strike Qassem
Soleimani, what was different at this point in time? And you talk to Democrats who had the briefing in the House, they said they hadn't seen
anything that made them believe that this was something that had to happen now.
Now, you talk to Republicans who are in the House briefing and they say the exact opposite. They say it was laid out in detail. A series of potential
plans, potential attacks all lining up with what has occurred over course of the past couple of months that brought the Trump administration to this
Look, I think the bottom line here, particularly given what we've seen in the wake of the Soleimani strike is kind of where things go from here. I
think the briefings right now are supposed to be about the strike, are supposed to be about the intelligence that led to that strike, but there
are also significant questions particularly from Democrats about what is the next step from the administration?
Obviously, the Democrats were happy with the president's remarks to the extent this morning. They didn't show any sign of new escalation, but what
is the broader plan? What are the broader proposals, and frankly, how prepared is the United States for anything that may come next. Those are
questions that lawmakers have.
They don't necessarily know that they'll be answered during the Senate briefing that's going on as we speak. But that's why you see the
administration officials up here, and that's why you see Democrats still very wary about why this took place, when this took place, and kind of what
the rationale is going forward for the U.S./Iran strategy.
GORANI: All right. Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.
Well, as far as world leaders are concerned, they are calling and have been calling for restraint and de-escalation between the U.S. and Iran.
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, issued a joint statement saying their countries are deeply
concerned. Mr. Erdogan said that Turkey will not allow the region, quote, to be drowned in blood and tears.
The British prime minister went before parliament today and condemned the Iranian attack on U.S. military bases in Iraq. Boris Johnson defended
though the U.S. strike that killed Qassem Soleimani saying Soleimani had the blood of British troops on his hands.
William Patey joins me now, he's a former British ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia.
Sir William, thanks for being with us.
First of all, your reaction to what Donald Trump said, the world was on tenterhooks waiting to see if he would announce a further escalation or he
would dial it back. He chose to dial it back.
WILLIAM PATEY, FORMER BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO AFGHANISTAN, IRAQ, AND SAUDI ARABIA: Yes. I think the Iranians were very careful in their attack. It
was measured. It was forewarned. And I think Trump, very quickly, set the tone in his tweet that all is well. So I think both sides have been looked
at the abyss and have drawn back from it.
But the underlying problems remain. Of course, the strategic position has not changed. Indeed it's moved in Iran's favor, I think.
GORANI: Could this set the stage for some sort of negotiation?
PATEY: Well, I don't -- I don't think negotiation --
GORANI: Or talks?
PATEY: I think there should be talks. Because the only alternative to this is war.
PATEY: So there should be talks. I think before this, I was at a conference in the Middle East and some Iranians suggested there might be a
scope for reopening the nuclear deal and talking about Iranian rule in Lebanon and Syria, and Yemen. If that was on the table, you would have the
basis for talks, but I don't think they represented the hard liners in Iran. And I think they're calling the shots now.
GORANI: But so what will it take to break this impasse?
PATEY: I don't know in the end. I mean, Iran certainly doesn't want to just sit there and wait for maximum pressure to play out. The American
strategy is to create maximum pressure on the Iranians to come back to the negotiating table. So that is their aim to get them back to the
The Iranians do not want to come to the negotiating table under pressure, and they weigh well through their proxies, and they've got, you know,
Hezbollah and Lebanon and Syria and elsewhere, they've played a very destructive role in other parts of the Middle East through their proxies.
They may set to raise the temperature once again without invoking a more substantial U.S. strike.
GORANI: Right. Qassem Soleimani, his death, does it change anything operationally, do you think?
PATEY: I don't think so. I think the IRGC still has his network throughout the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon, through Hezbollah.
They have a very strong network in Syria where they've wreaked havoc. They still have all those contacts.
Soleimani himself was a bit of a -- he was a quite master tactician and he's personal responsible for quite a lot of the mayhem in the Middle East.
GORANI: I mean, he was, in fact, a battlefield commander inside of Syria. I mean, this is someone who really took charge.
PATEY: Yes. And he not only was a battlefield commander, he was also a strategist, a politician.
PATEY: So he had good contacts with Assad. He was propping up the Assad regime. He has contacts with Hezbollah. So his loss will be a temporary
setback, but they IRGC is -- has tentacles everywhere and will replace him -- well, they have already replaced him with his deputy, Esmail Ghaani.
So he may not have his --
PATEY: -- skill and charisma to begin with, but that -- Qassem Soleimani developed that over time.
GORANI: But the tragedy here is that all of this is once again destroying the lives of civilians. In this case, in Iraq, for instance, you have, of
course, the disaster that is Syria, and all these people in that part of the world. Do they have anything to be hopeful about?
PATEY: Well, the real victims are the Arab peoples of Syria and Lebanon and Iraq. And indeed, the Iranians themselves who are suffering from
sanctions. So the real victims are the ordinary people of the Middle East. And what needs to happen is -- I think ultimately some form of regional
security arrangement where Iran accepts they can't be interfering in Arab countries that it has a legitimate right to security, they must secure that
security by basically ruining Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
GORANI: Right, and using so much of that territory for its own proxy battles and proxy militant groups like Hezbollah and Iran.
And we did hear from Hassan Nasrallah who basically is threatening retaliation as well.
PATEY: And who would that be against? That would be against Israel, and we know what happens when Hezbollah clash with Israel. The people who
suffer are the Lebanese.
GORANI: Sir William Patey, thank you so much for joining us. Really appreciate it.
Still to come tonight, many questions over the plane crash outside Tehran today. I'll be speaking to an expert to find out if this looks to her like
an accident. We'll be right back.
GORANI: Let's get more now on our other top story. Also from Iran.
An official tells CNN that U.S. intelligence is looking at that passenger plane crash outside Tehran. So far, they have found no imagery that
indicates that a missile was fired. The Ukrainian airlines flight crashed just minutes into the flight to Kiev killing all 176 people on board.
Iran says it has found the flights data and voice recorders known as the black boxes but that it is not giving them to the airplane manufacturer,
So what happens now? We're joined by CNN aviation analyst, Mary Schiavo. Thanks for joining us.
I want to show our viewers some of the pictures of the aftermath of this horrific crash, and you see a very wild -- wide debris field. You had a
look at some of these images and what the wreckage looks like. What do you make of what you saw?
MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, the debris field and the condition of the wreckage is hugely important to investigators, and this
debris field is reminiscent of other crashes that I've worked on and others have worked on recently.
And the debris field is widely dispersed, means, and that too investigators, means the aircraft had a breakup in flight. When the plane
comes down in one piece and hits the ground, for example, if as some have speculated they had an engine failure, if they didn't have enough power
thrust to stay in the air and they plummeted to the air, I think it would make a crater and it would be much more compact.
Here, we also see pitting from the pictures. We see pitting on parts of the aircraft. And that is inward punctures, meaning, something hit the
plane and came inward. Could it have come off an exploding engine? Yes, but it would be isolated to certain parts of the plane. So that's going to
be a very important series of evidence, clues for the investigators.
GORANI: The U.S., so far, is saying no evidence of a missile, and Iran is saying it won't hand over the black boxes. What is that -- does that mean
if they hold on to those black boxes that we might not learn what happened to that plane?
SCHIAVO: No. And I think that's a misstatement. Whoever said that really had not started on or really was familiar with how an international air
crash investigation works.
The International Civil Aviation Organization which part of the United Nations has something called Annex 13, which prescribes for nations around
the world how you run an investigation. And that black box needs to be analyzed by a qualified safety investigation agency. They don't give it
back to the manufacturer anyway. So that's a bit of a misstatement.
GORANI: OK. Now, what other options do we have? I mean, if these black boxes are held for whatever reason, what would investors be --
investigators be looking at right now?
SCHIAVO: Well, there are many, many sources of data. First was the piece you already mentioned that the United States was on high alert and watching
for heat tracings. Had its, you know, its eyes in the sky, if you will, trained on the area. And it didn't see any tracings of a missile. That's
The pieces themselves would have explosive residue on them, and they can readily determine what is the missile or a bomb, as opposed to what is
aviation fuel. The airplane itself being fairly new sends back messages over system called ACARS and the airline itself would have data.
For example, if the engine was having problems and failing, the plane itself would have sent messages to the airline which might be why the
airline said not so fast. We're not so sure this is an engine failure or plane problem. It probably read their ACARS statement. So lots of places
GORANI: But don't most engine failures happen shortly after takeoff and this accident or this crash, I should say, happened shortly after takeoff?
Shouldn't that give us a clue?
SCHIAVO: Yes, indeed. That is one of the most frequent or prevalent times in an air flight where an engine failure happens on takeoff and climb out.
It can happen in altitude, and as it has.
But when you look at the flight radar data, we see an aircraft on takeoff doing -- climbing at the right altitudes, gaining altitudes steadily,
having good ground speed. So the plane itself on radar was performing as a fully functioning plane. Not a plane with an engine.
GORANI: Right. Mary Schiavo, thanks so much for joining us. Really appreciate your expertise on this.
Well, it always boils down to people to human beings, lives lost, cut short. The people on board the Ukrainian airlines flight were from several
countries including Iran, Canada, Ukraine, Sweden and Afghanistan. We are now learning more about some of the victims. Mehdi Eshaghian was in a PhD
program in Canada. A friend describes him as kind, humble, and caring.
He was just a week shy of his 25th birthday. And British citizen, Saeed Tahmasebi Khademasadi, was an engineer and PhD candidate at Imperial
College London. The college says he was respected by everyone and made lasting contributions to his field.
CNN's Paula Newton is in Canada which as we saw lost dozens of citizens. And I understand many of them were dual Iranian-Canadian citizens
potentially flying home via Ukraine.
PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It is just so heartbreaking. And I have to tell you, Hala, you know, the grief here goes
from one coast to the other right from Vancouver -- right over to Halifax.
But also the community of Edmonton, Alberta hit more than two dozen victims from there. And it's just so depressing to think of because, Hala, when
you go through that passenger manifest line by a line, you see the number of families onboard.
Now, as you pointed out, yes, a lot of these people dual citizens and some people might be asking, how did they end up on a Ukrainian airlines jet?
Well, Tehran is not the easiest place to get to. They were home for the holidays, seeing their families. This was a route that many have used.
They would to Tehran, stop in Kiev, go right from Kiev to Toronto.
We have heard from so many academic institutions and schools right across the country. I got off the phone with the school board just here out of
Toronto, not willing to say yet how many students were at their school but sending social workers and crisis counselors to those schools.
I think most chilling at all -- as well, Hala, was the fact that, you know, the foreign minister, basically in a statement said, at least, 63
This is a very confusing situation. Everything we just heard from Mary is highly relevant, because the Canadian government is also looking closely at
the cause here and wanting to know how this investigation will proceed.
We are still waiting for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to speak. He's expected to hold a press conference within the next couple of hours. But
suffice to say, these were such young, bright people. So many of them, Hala, students. Students at Canadian universities who had gone home to see
their families. And this country is still dealing with the shock, as I said, right from coast to coast.
GORANI: Yes. And you mentioned Justin Trudeau is going to be speaking. We're not exactly sure when. But this is a tragedy for Canada. So many of
its citizens killed in this crash.
NEWTON: Yes, absolutely. And I think many people are wondering if there needs to be a national day of mourning or something. This is really
hitting at the heart of, you know, the diversity in this country, but also the academic excellence. Like you go through some of the people in these
university departments, the PhD candidates, the professors.
But also the little ones, right? You see the manifest, Hala, and it's, you know, mother, father, and two children, and it's very clear. So, yes, it's
hitting Canada quite hard right now.
And as I said to Mary's points there. So crucial, because so many people want to know what happened here. They assumed this was safe routing. It
was a Boeing 737, what they assumed would be a safe journey home.
GORANI: Basically you have the families of 170 plus people experiencing the worst day of their lives today, and our thoughts are with them.
Thank you so much for that, Paula Newton.
Still to come tonight, devastation in Australia seen from above. We fly over the bushfires. The extent of the damage will shock you. We'll be
GORANI: This just in to CNN. Lebanon state prosecutor has summoned ex- auto executive Carlos Ghosn to testify tomorrow. The Lebanese national news agency says Ghosn will be asked about the Interpol red notice that
Japan filed for his arrest after he fled the country while facing charges. And you'll hear from Carlos Ghosn. He'll be next on "QUEST MEANS
2019 was the hottest, driest year on record in Australia, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. The scorching parched conditions added to the
severity of dozens of massive bushfires now ravaging parts of the country.
The smoke has been so bad that firefighting helicopters have been grounded. They were though able to take off on Wednesday.
And CNN's Anna Coren went along for an exclusive report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A break in the weather, visibility at 900 meters. This bill long-range helicopter was
finally given clearance to fly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zero, three for departure.
COREN: On board, Ian Jauncey, the air attack supervisor for the New South Wales rural fire service.
IAN JAUNCEY, RFS AIR ATTACK SUPERVISOR: Because (INAUDIBLE) smoking and everything, they've got very little intel on exactly what caused it.
JAUNCEY: So I've been drawing to just getting eyes on the sky.
COREN: Since the border fire that crossed from Victoria into New South Wales rolled through parts of the fast close over the weekend, decimating
Firefighters have been unable to get an aerial view of the monster they're battling until now. With a front stretching more than 60 kilometers wide,
it's burned all the way to the sea engulfing one of Eden's largest employers, the Woodchip Mill.
But as the smoke billowed and will continue to for weeks, possibly months, this enormous woodpile nearby lies untouched as does the jetty.
JAUNCEY: Protected that well.
COREN: The priority for firefighters isn't the massive blaze burning out of control, but rather the smaller fires that have jumped containment
lines, posing new threats to homes and townships.
MICK KENNEDY, PILOT: There'll be a lot of hot smoldering stuff near the edges on the fire there. As soon as that hot dry wind comes in, it'll
activate the fire again and it will start moving.
We're now airborne over the top of the Eden Township. Visibility has been better down here. But we can go ahead and place more (INAUDIBLE)
COREN (on-camera): This is the first time the rural fire service has been able to take to the skies here on the far south coast over New South Wales
to assess the full extent of the fire damage.
The fire has just been too thick grounding aircraft for days. All those water bombing aircraft have just been activated. Allowing them to hit
those fire hot spots as much as possible before conditions deteriorate on Friday.
COREN (voice-over): Two black hawks soon appear as Ian and the pilot, Mick Kennedy, directed them to nearby dams to fill up their 3,000 liter buckets
with water and extinguish identified hot spots.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's on your 2:00 o'clock and (INAUDIBLE) on the region.
COREN: But it was Georgia Peach, the Erickson Sky Crane that made the biggest impact.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The (INAUDIBLE)
COREN: Sucking up 9,800 liters of sea water at a time, she got to work dousing the flames.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, let's execute.
COREN: After two hours in the air, it was back to base to refuel before heading out again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fire from my opinion is a bit closer on what I originally thought from Eden. So we'll continue to do monitoring and
COREN: For the specialized pilots who have been part of the aerial attack in this ongoing bushfire crisis, there's nowhere else they want to be.
KENNEDY: No one likes to see Houses burn. No one likes to see property or life lost, but the guys here, they just want to help, they just want to get
COREN: Anna Coren, CNN, Merimbula, New South Wales, Australia.
GORANI: Thanks for watching tonight. I'm Hala Gorani, "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is coming up next.