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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Iran's Presidential Showdown; The Most Important Vote In Iran's Election; Iran Tries To Avoid Disputed Outcome

Aired June 13, 2013 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: I'm Erin Burnett live from Tehran tonight. The presidential election, we're in the final countdown. What does the change here mean for the United States?

Plus the mysterious Ayatollah Khamenei. He's the supreme leader, and he's the one who said that this election is crucial to, quote, "dash the enemies' hopes." What does he mean? We have a special report.

Plus, we have breaking news on Syria from the White House. A significant development tonight. And from where I'm standing right now, obviously this is a front-and-center story. A whole new view on Syria from here in Iran. Let's go "OUTFRONT."

Good evening, everybody. I'm Erin Burnett live in Iran tonight. I'm standing right now live in the center of Tehran, of course, the capital of this country, which is in the midst of election heat. People are going to be heading to the polls in just a few hours. Tonight, we really are in the final hours before that election. It's been amazing.

We have seen lots of passion on the streets here of Tehran. The mayor of this city is among the candidates. I have seen more flyers here on the ground and people eager to go in front of the camera and put a picture of their candidate up than I've ever seen before, which is pretty fascinating.

And as you will see in our special report, the United States, the nuclear program, the west are front and center for voters here. This election is crucial for the supreme leader of this country. Let me just show the front of the "Tehran Times," high turnout for election will dash enemies' hopes.

The enemy, of course, is the United States and the west, as defined by the elite supreme leader of this country. There are people, though, very passionate, but also I want to emphasize there are people here who are disillusioned and feel that the election is rigged against them. We've been talking to people, amazing access here that we've had rare access on the street and we are going to bring you that special report.

I want to share one thing here as we get ready. This is a 50,000 real note. It's a big part of our story tonight for two reasons. One, right now, this isn't worth much more than a dollar, maybe about $1.30 off the top of my head. It has dramatically changed in value over the past few years despite recently stabilizing.

The reason for that is sanctions and we have a special report on that. Something you can't see though, faded in the background is the nuclear symbol. The nuclear program here in this country is front and center. Barack Obama has said, the White House has said that this sanctions program is the toughest and boldest in history.

They've been putting sanctions against the Iranian economy to try to get the Iranian people to force their leaders to shut down the nuclear program. Here, they believe that nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. The west, of course, alleges that it is for building a nuclear weapon.

But the nuclear symbol on one of the most common bills, it is part of the psyche here that people believe in that nuclear program. We wanted to see if the sanctions have any hope of working and we went out on the streets, we talked to people. We saw some of the fanciest cars you could possibly see. Where there's a sanction, it seems there's a way around it.

We have a special report that we believe will be available for all policy makers in the United States to see tonight. But first, what about this election? A lot of people have said the policy won't change on the nuclear program, but how passionate are people and what does it mean for the United States? Well, we spent time going to rallies, talking to people, and here's what we saw.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT (voice-over): A hot summer day in Tehran, thousands head to a rally for Said Jalili. The voters wet met are passionate about the man in charge of negotiating Iran's nuclear standoff with the west. They're chanting "death to USA," death to Israel, but their views were not that clear-cut. In the section designated for women voters, I met a doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We have no problems with the American people, but we resist the trampling on the absolute rights of Iran and its people. Having our rights ignored by the American government representative force us into this resistance.

BURNETT: Everyone we spoke with agreed that Iran wants to be respected. While all the final candidates were approved by Iran's supreme leader, not all are hard-liners.

(on camera): The candidate that seems to be I think the most buzz in the final hours is Hassan Rowhani. This is his campaign headquarters in Tehran and as you can see it's pretty busy. He was originally a fundamentalist, but he's now actually campaigning as a reformer. The cleric has gotten some key endorsements.

(voice-over): Rowhani is talked about being more open. I asked his campaign manager what exactly that means.

(on camera): Would he negotiate with the United States? MOHAMMAD NEMATZADEH, ROWHANI CAMPAIGN MANAGER: If the United States really showed interest, and being reliability actually in negotiation, I think he would do it, but it doesn't mean the first --

BURNETT (voice-over): We also saw plenty of supporters from the current mayor in Tehran. Campaign posters for the popular mayor feature him side by side with the Ayatollah. Some young men swarmed us to speak their mind. For supporters, hope rules the day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The biggest thing has been the sanctions imposed on our country. They have closed our country and mismanagement has been a big challenge for this government. In my opinion, with Galibah all these problems would be resolved.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Joining me now is the managing editor of "Time" magazine, Rick Stengel. He is also here in Tehran covering the elections. You know, Rick, I know you were at the rally for Said Jalili as well, and you know, one moment that stood out to me was when the parents of a murdered nuclear scientist were speaking, the audience erupted "death to America, death to Israel." But immediately afterwards they're happy to talk to us, it seems it was more a rallying call than a reflection of how they really felt personally?

RICK STENGEL, MANAGING EDITOR, "TIME": I think that's right. It's kind of a ritual that they don't necessarily have in their hearts. They have this hospitality for foreigners like us, people go out of their way to be hospitable, to be friendly, to find out what they are interested in so that offsets each other. I mean, Iran is kind of a schizophrenic society, people have said. Both of those qualities exist simultaneously.

BURNETT: It was interesting though everyone talks about how much passion is there for this election. At that rally, there was a lot of passion. There was a lot of passion for the mayor of Tehran, a lot of passion for the reformist candidate. Everywhere you saw pockets of people who felt it, but not palpably on the streets. I mean, did you also feel that way?

STENGEL: You know, I've surprised by how much street action you do see and that people are following the campaign. There are some people who are disenchanted and disillusioned. I think the young voters who are inspired by that 2009 race last time. They feel like there is no candidate for them this time. The reformers are really not even reformers in name. Everybody has moved to the right and the one reformer sort of stayed in the center.

BURNETT: Fair point.

STENGEL: So there's no one to inspire that point anymore.

BURNETT: It's true and you know, some of the younger people didn't want to go on camera, saying we're not going to vote, we don't believe in this process. So you can't feel a lot of people wouldn't be joining the voting. But you also had the chance to talk to essentially the religious capital of the country. What did you see there?

STENGEL: Well, we went to Comb, which is where the Ayatollah committee basically started the revolution and as you know, people talk about the revolution constantly. It's one of the most religious- centered places in the whole country. We spent a lot of time talking to people there. As you might imagine, support for Jalali was overwhelming there. We didn't have anybody really interested in the reformist candidates. You know, Jalali, who has that no surrender, never give in, never compromise, that does appeal to a lot of people. It appeals to people who are particularly religious, appeals to men, I think. And I think he will do pretty well.

BURNETT: That's pretty interesting. I have to say, appealed to a lot of women we saw at that rally, also people, when we were talking about the sanctions today, I was amazed how many people said, yes, they're tough, but no, we are resolved.

STENGEL: You know, it's funny, it sometimes seem if you compare it to American politics, sometimes just domestic issues are what concern people. In a way that's what you have here. The reason they're not talking about the most important issue, which is the nuclear negotiations, is they all agree about that.

BURNETT: Well said.

STENGEL: They're all like no surrender, no compromise. But they are -- I think voters will vote not on that, but who they think can manage the government.

BURNETT: All right, well, Rick Stengel, thank you very much. To Rick's point, by the way, the 50,000 real note, on the back of it is the nuclear symbol. That gives a real sense of how pervasive that feeling in support of the nuclear program is in this country.

What about the supreme leader, the Ayatollah, it seems to control everything. Who is he? We have a special report on that next.

Plus Christiane Amanpour is going to join me to talk about the Revolutionary Guard, the powerful military group that controls more and more of Iran.

Plus this -- Apple is by far the most popular American brand here when it comes to electronics. Just a couple weeks ago, the U.S. actually lifted sanctions when it comes to selling things like mobile phones and computers. At this Apple story though, we were told that hasn't affected prices at all because Apple still won't sell directly to them.

So they're getting their Apple products, you guessed it, from Dubai. A 16-gigabyte iPhone 5 unlocked costs about $850. That's 30 percent more than the United States and too expensive for a lot of people here. Our special report on sanctions, and whether they're actually changing what Iranians think about the nuclear program, is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: I'm Erin Burnett live in Tehran tonight. Today the country is going to be holding its presidential election. But this is one of the few countries where the central candidate, the central person, the central character, the most important character is not actually running for office. That is the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

He really has more sway over this country than any of the nominees. CNN's Reza Sayah is OUTFRONT in Abu Dhabi for us tonight. Reza, the Ayatollah, I saw one woman who had basically a necklace around her neck with the two supreme leaders since the revolution saying vote for them. The supreme leader is so central to this election. How much sway does he have over it?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He's got a lot of sway. Iranians are going to be voting for a president tomorrow, but looming very large over this entire process is the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Very few things get done without his approval and analysts say that includes the outcome of tomorrow's vote.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAYAH (voice-over): In the race for Iran's presidency, the one vote that matters more than any other, analysts say, is this man's Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's going to be very difficult for any candidate who isn't approved by the supreme leader to become elected president.

SAYAH: The supreme leader is Iran's highest political and religious authority overseeing the armed forces, the judiciary and foreign policy. He also has final say on U.S. relations in Iran's controversial nuclear program. In television debates, candidates seem to refer to the leader just as often as they refer to the Iranian people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Essentially they're not running for the job. They're almost auditioning for the supreme leader.

SAYAH: Long before Khamenei began his 24-year rule as supreme leader, he was a key figure in the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shaw of Iran. An assassination attempt in 1981 maimed his right hand. That same year, he was elected president. Eight years later, he succeeded Iran's first supreme leader, Imam Khomeini.

Analysts say Khomeini has stayed true to regime policy, holding a tight grip on power, keeping enemies at bay, at home and abroad. During his reign, he has defied Washington and the west demand for Iran to stop its controversial nuclear program.

At home, rights groups say his regime has jailed thousands of dissidents, journalists and activists, many during the 2009 opposition uprising, sparked by two reformist candidates, who are now under house arrest. It's no wonder, analysts say, this time around, not a single bonafide reformist was allowed to run for the presidency. KARIM SADJADPOUR, SENIOR ASSOCIATE, CARNEGIE ENDOWNMENT: Above all, he wants someone subservient to him.

SAYAH: And if history is any indication action what the supreme leader wants, he usually gets.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: And Reza, you know, it's amazing, just the focus on the supreme leader here from the candidates. You know, I'm going to do what the supreme leader wants, to some of the people on the street, especially the more conservatives one, you know, who invoked his name when they talk about this election, but obviously he's getting older. He is only the second supreme leader since the revolution. How is his health?

SAYAH: Well, there have been all sorts of rumors throughout the years, Erin, about his health, that he's sick. That he has cancer, but he's been motoring along and he appears healthy when he makes public appearances. He looks healthy, energetic. His aides say that he exercises, hikes often, but he is getting up in age. He is 73 years old. It's possible the next president who is elected, especially if he serves eight years, could be in power when the supreme leader passes. Many say that's going to be a critical transition, maybe the most critical in the history of the Islamic republic -- Erin.

BURNETT: Certainly it seems like that will be the most important one. Of course, as Reza says, the people running for president right now won't be able to change the nuclear program, but if they're in power when the Ayatollah changes, that could be the most important thing that has happened here. All right, well, thanks very much to Reza Sayah.

Christiane Amanpour joins me by now, of course, she is Iranian by birth and has covered every election in this country since 1995. Christiane, when you look at all the different elections that you've covered and what's at stake this time, what makes this one different for you?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the two that stick out in my mind, 1997, is when Muhammad Mahatma was elected and we covered that. It was an enormous surprise both internally in Iran and around the world. It was a reform candidate who won. And for eight years of his presidency, there was a real change in Iran and with Iran's relations with the rest of the world.

Then I covered the 2009 election, which was when Ahmadinejad was going for re-election. That, as we all know, resulted in the green movement, resulted in people saying that the results were flawed. It was a huge movement brutally repressed. Now what we're seeing is an attempt by the Iranian authorities to make sure that nothing like either one of those happens again.

They don't want a reform candidate to win, and they certainly do not want to see the kind of mess that happened after the last election, which was broadcast around the world when people were, as I say, brutally repressed. People were killed. People were imprisoned. Indeed many bloggers and journalists are in prison right now ahead of the elections, so there isn't the same kind of expression as there was last time.

BURNETT: And of course, the man ultimately in charge of all that the Ayatollah and we just heard Reza profiling him. I mean, there's only been two supreme leaders since the revolution. Obviously he's older. What would happen if there were a transition?

AMANPOUR: Well, look, he is in power until he dies. That is the way of the constitution and of the religious theocracy there. So Ayatollah Khamenei stays where he is until he dies. But what is going on right now according to many analysts is that Iran has become increasingly militarized. In other words, the Revolutionary Guard are in every aspect of the Iranian life, the economy, politics, culture, media, everywhere.

What's happening is that the Revolutionary Guard wants to make sure they have their kind of candidate there and want their kind of candidate to win. Analysts say their number one choice would be the mayor of Tehran, and then Said Jalili who is the current nuclear negotiator, and then the aide to the supreme leader, and who is somebody who is conservative, but also has dealt with the west in the past.

The only surprise might be if, as some analysts tell me, there is a last-minute surge toward Mr. Rowhani, who now has the reform movement behind him. Unlikely, but that is the only surprise that could happen -- Erin.

BURNETT: Certainly that would be incredible if that happens. Thanks so much to Christiane. We are just hours away from the first elections in this country since 2009. In 2009, the election, one probably seared in your memory, with some of the horrible images of what happened to protesters. Why is it so different now and crucial for the United States?

And then a bakery, sort of a upper middle-class neighborhood. We had a little hunger today, and we went in, and look at this, angry birds and beyond. One of the nicest bakeries I have seen even though it took a wad of notes to pay for things because crises are changing so quickly. Are sanctions working? Our special investigation is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: I'm Erin Burnett, live in Tehran tonight, where voters in Iran will be going to the polls in just a few hours. It's a very different scene from 2009 in the disputed election. There are people here who are passionate, but many who feel disillusioned. You may remember the 2009 elections around the world there is one image that may be burned in your mind.

There were protesters, of course, brutally cracked down on by the government after the election when it was disputed. This time, though, it's very different on the streets. The big question is what's changed?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT (voice-over): A defining moment in Iran, one of the most widely watched deaths in history. (Inaudible) was shot instantly a symbol of mass protests following Iran's contested 2009 presidential election. The 26-year-old aspiring tour guide, who wanted to watch the protests, was caught up in the chaos, killed by a single gunshot to the chest just eight days after Iran's incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a landslide victory. The result was quickly challenged by his opponent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This demonstration is illegal. The government denied them permission to come here today. The people defied that decision.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People are now in the street and they've been burning tires, burning bus. There's been some riot situations, lots of marches, people shouting "down with dictatorship."

BURNETT: (Inaudible) was known as a reformer. His supporters, many young university students believed he would change Iran for the better, moving their country away from the hardline policies that Ahmadinejad favored.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would like to have a lot more respect from other countries towards my country. I am not satisfied with the situation we are having here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We hope that this time real reform will happen from within.

BURNETT (on camera): This time around it's a lot different. The hero of the Green Movement is under house arrest and even the universities have been closed. Tehran University is right behind me, one of the biggest in the country. The students were told by the government to, well, end the school year early. Take an early holiday. Everyone here says that's because they don't want the students involved in protests like in 2009. Back then a lot of students were involved. Some of them were jailed or even expelled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a matter of fact there is nothing changed because there is no democracy.

BURNETT: The candidate rallies look very different from to 2009, and locals say they see a complete communication crackdown. Many internet cafes are closed. Many here social media is being closely watched.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: An amazing thing to see how different things are. You know, they don't really want to come on camera and talk about it, but they don't feel their vote matters. Their way of voting and protesting is to not vote at all. It will be a fascinating next 24 hours as the first round of the election happens. We have more live coverage in a couple moments. When we come back, we have seen not just American products easily available, but products of America's allies. I want to mention that it's America and its allies that currently together are imposing what the White House says is the toughest and broadest sanctions in history. So are these sanctions an exercise in futility or not? The report is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: And welcome back. I want to begin the second half of our program with breaking news. I'm live in Tehran, Iran, tonight.

And we have breaking news from the White House, which has said Syria has crossed the United States' red line when it comes to chemical weapons.

According to intelligence officials, this is a U.S. intelligence community report. The Assad regime has used the nerve agent sarin gas multiple times, according to the United State's intelligence community, about 150 people have been killed because of those chemical weapons. Obviously, that conflict is one that's watched incredibly closely here in Iran. In a sense, it's been characterized as a proxy war between Iran and the West in Syria.

OUTFRONT tonight, our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.

And, Chris, what's amazing is how important this use of chemical weapons is when it comes to what the United States might do in Syria. I know about two-thirds of the American public say in that's a red line, if crossed, they would support military action.

Now that this has happened, what will the United States do?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDETN: That's right. That's the big question. The White House officials today, Erin, were signaling that the U.S. could provide some military support. But we're not specifying exactly what form that support could take.

But let's look at what the rebels have requested. They brought a specific question for weapons to the U.S. and European allies just in the last week or so. They're asking for Russian-made antitank weapons. They're asking for shoulder-fired missiles. They're also asking for hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition for their Kalashnikovs, for their rifles and for their machine guns. So, that's what they want. Obviously, they would also like the allies to enforce a no-fly zone.

But I'm told by officials tonight that any sort of talk of a no- fly zone is probably off the table at this point. That right now, the question would be if the U.S. were to dive into giving them some more arms, how would they go about it, how would they facilitate it through European allies, and some of the other allies in the region?

BURNETT: Chris, it's just -- it's just the central question right now, and for Americans watching. Obviously, it's not just about Syria, but it's about broader American involvement militarily in the Middle East.

You know, here in Iran, there's campaign posters from the Iranian committee for Hezbollah, which of course also is an ally of the Assad regime. The United States gets involved, militarily, all of a sudden, you have the U.S. and Iranian proxies essentially, head to head, face to face. How is this going to play out? How would Iran's role change if the U.S. gets involved?

LAWRENCE: Well, there's no question that while the U.S. has sort of been on the fence of whether it's a good idea to get involved directly in Syria, Iran has sort of gone all in to prop up Assad's regime. Look, the Iranians are running out of friends in that region. Hezbollah remains a prime proxy for them, and they need Syria to funnel weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

By all accounts, from what we're hearing from officials, there's no way that the city of Qusayr, which was recently recaptured could have been done without those Hezbollah fighters. Many of whom were trained in street fighting in Iran. So, those fighters are already tipping the balance. We know some of those Hezbollah fighters are now taking up strategic positions around Aleppo. And the rebels are concerned without rearming, without getting more ammunition, they may not hold off some of those Hezbollah fighters who were so crucial in the last battle -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Chris Lawrence, thanks to you. And, obviously, this Syria situation and this breaking news tonight could be a real turning point in the Syrian situation, and also, of course, in the showdown going on between Iran and the United States. Now, in that showdown, the United States has placed on Iran the toughest sanctions ever.

I want to just quote the White House here. This is the most stringent and broad sanctions in the history of the world. And the goal of the sanctions, of course, is to halt and stop Iran's nuclear program, which Iran says is for peaceful purposes, and the United States and the West say is for building nuclear weapons.

But for sanctions to work, they have to hit the heart of the economy. Oil is the most important thing still here in this country, about 80 percent of the export revenues come from that, but you may be surprised. Did you know that the United States actually allows the top buyers of Iranian oil to still do business with the United States? The State Department just recently formally signs a piece of paper.

Here's an exemption, you can do business with us and you can do business with them. We may shake your head and say, how does that make sense? You may shake your head more when you hear this: Chinese imports of Iranian oil, China's the biggest single buyer, are up 66 percent in the month of May alone, according to the IAEA.

So, pretty stunning statistic, even though overall some of the imports, of course, have been dropping dramatically. We're seeing plenty of Chinese businessman here as well.

But what about regular people? Are the sanctions working? Here's what we saw.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT (voice-over): Congested, busy, Tehran is packed, tons of traffic. But the kinds of cars are mixed.

Tehran is a car town. So to find out if sanctions are hurting, we went to dealerships. Like this on in central Tehran, where I asked the manager if sanctions are hurting.

HAMID YAZDAN MEHR, CAR DEALERSHIP MANAGER (through translator): It gets more and more expensive every day. Importing is difficult so the prices go up.

BURNETT (on camera): They're willing to pay you even more for the cars or are they worried about buying because the prices keep going up?

MEHR: Everybody invests in something. Some people will invest in cars, some will invest in gold.

BURNETT (voice-over): That's right, buying this Porsche Cayenne costs $110,000. More than double the United States. But it's a good investment when prices are surging, thanks to sanction.

But whether it's a sanction, there's often a way around it.

(on camera): So, you're probably asking where do the cars come from? Because after all, Germany is not supposed to be sending Mercedes to Iran, and this is a Lexus, and Japan certainly isn't supposed to be sending here either.

Well, that's not where they're coming from. Hamid told me they're actually coming from Dubai, and the United Arab Emirates, Doha, in Qatar, Kuwait and Oman. That's where most of these luxury cars are coming from.

And he said by far the most popular brands that they have here are the Mercedes and the German brands like Porsche and the Japanese brands. And for the luxury carmakers, like the ones sold here, that's a Lexus.

(voice-over): The most popular, more accessible cars we saw are Koreans, Hyundai and Kia. Korean brands are dominant, but sanctions make them more expensive, too.

AMIN NIKNAFS, SAMSUNG STORE MANAGER (through translator): Samsung is the biggest electronics brand in Iran. It has the biggest market and the highest sales in Iran and the most costumers. The sanctions are a recent event, but before that Samsung still had the highest sales in the most number of stores.

BURNETT: The store manager told me he has a third the customers for those giant plasma TVs than he did just months ago. Sanctions, though, hurt the poor the most. (on camera): So, that cost me 20,000 rial. That price is double for these tomatoes what it was a year ago. This is a poor neighborhood. Every single one of these vegetables is grown locally here in Iran. But even the locally produced items have surged in price the labor costs have gone up. Even just the sanitization costs they say have gone up. So, just in one year, the price for a tomato has doubled.

(voice-over): These young men say they don't own unusual to afford surging food costs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Our income is much less than it used to be, but we get by.

BURNETT: These shrimp costs $22 a pound. That's double a year ago, and it's the same with all these fish. So, sanctions bite, but are they working at the goal: ending Iran as nuclear program? It seems for now, the answer is no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The scientists of Iran have figured it out already. What can you do now? If you build a car, you cannot make you dismantle it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: OUTFRONT tonight Karim Sadjadpour from the Carnegie Endowment.

Karim, it's interesting. You know, we had a chance to talk to people. You know, some of them as you can imagine, were hesitant to talk about the nuclear program. But some of them weren't, and, you know, as we've been showing you, the 50,000 rial note as the nuclear symbol.

In a sense, it feels like people are even more committed to this program, despite the fact that it's very fair to say, sanctions are taking a bite.

KARIM SADJADPOUR, SENIOR ASSOCIATE, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT: I'm not sure if that's absolutely true, Erin. I think as you illustrated, the people are stuck between a brutal regime and incredibly draconian sanctions program -- which you described as the most draconian in the history.

So, sanctions have certainly accentuated the existing maladies of the Iranian economy, incredibly high inflation, unemployment, underemployment. I think if people were probably explained the nuclear program and asked, you know, would you be willing to make certain nuclear compromises, you know, compromise on the amount of uranium in which you enrich, in exchange for economic incentives, I think many people would be willing to take that bargain.

But the problem is, is that the regime has never allowed an open discussion about the nuclear issue in Iran.

BURNETT: Right. And, of course, you know, to your point, that's not really the way it's set up here. You know, it's a peaceful program, and people support that. And they support their right to that.

SADJADPOUR: Exactly.

BURNETT: It's a patriotic thing, you know, completely.

But, Karim, what about the fact this is the toughest sakes regime in history? You know, some people are skeptical. They say, look at, Cuba, Fidel Castro stayed in power. Look at North Korea -- I mean, these countries have endured incredible pain.

But, you know, North Korea, they're still moving ahead with the nuclear program. Now, maybe they would be further without sanctions, of course. But what if the sanctions don't work? It seems like the West's eggs are in that basket.

SADJADPOUR: That's a great question, Erin. And the goal of sanctions is not to hurt Iranian people or gratuitously debilitate the Iranian economy. The goal of sanctions is pretty clear. It's to subject the leadership of Iran, particularly the supreme leader subject him to enough pressure to get him to make meaningful and binding compromises. But the problem is when you're dealing with these authoritarian regimes like Iran, like Cuba, like North Korea.

The economic welfare of their populations are never their first or even second tier priorities. So, they are willing -- they have long willing to subject to the population, to economic hardship rather than compromise on their political and ideological aims.

BURNETT: Well, Karim Sadjadpour, thank you very much. A man who knows as much about Iran as anyone out there.

Our special coverage continues.

Plus, some big domestic news. We have deadly wildfires.

We have special live report for you. Plus, a massive explosion at a chemical plant in Louisiana. A real shock today. We're going to get to those key headlines in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: And welcome back to a special edition of OUTFRONT live from Tehran, the capital of Iran, where we are just hours away from voters going to the polls for the presidential elections, so much at stake for the United States, and more of our special report in a moment. But we do have some breaking headlines from the United States.

And I want to get back to Don Lemon who has that -- Don.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Erin, lots happening here at home.

We want to get to those wildfires in Colorado right now. We have just learned that two people have died in what officials are calling one of the deadliest wildfires, one of the most destructive wildfires in the state's history there. More than 15,000 acres already burned in a mandatory evacuation order is in effect. Nearly 40,000 people have been forced from their homes.

CNN's Martin Savidge OUTFRONT tonight.

Martin, how content are these fires?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the number right now they say is 5 percent containment. A lot of that has to do with the fact that there was cloud cover today. They said that that was a good thing, of course. It brought the temperatures down, and the temperatures during the day have been significant. So, that helped, 5 percent is really nothing when you're talking about a fire of this magnitude. They've got a long way to go.

There's two fatalities, though. They came as a real shock, because so far despite the loss of homes, 360 is the number so far. One of the things that people had been at least holding hanging on to is the fact that this fire had not killed anyone. That has changed. Two people it appears, different circumstances, early this morning apparently while attempting to evacuate the flames.

Well, there's 700 firefighters are now still battling the flames. More assets continue to be brought in. They were hitting it very hard they say from the air. They say the overall spread of this fire in most places was stopped. It didn't move a lot, which is pretty significant given the strong winds they have been dealing with. They are hoping that they can continue to battle this fire overnight.

Again, a long way from doing anything like getting containment, but at least if they can stop the advances, that would be considered significant. But I will warn you, it was only yesterday they were talking about just about 96 homes. Overnight, it suddenly jumped to 360.

So, this fire still has great potential to grow. It still is a tremendous threat, despite all the assets. Sometimes, fire officials say no matter what they have, it is nature that can rule them. Right now, nature is still ruling with these high winds, Don.

LEMON: We will be watching. Thank you, Martin Savidge, in Colorado for us tonight.

Twenty-nine-year-old Zachary Green has been named as the man killed in a massive chemical plant killed in explosion in the town of Geismar, Louisiana. At least 75 others were injured in the blast. Three of them in critical condition tonight, though. All the plant workers are believed to be accounted for.

Officials say the situation is stable, and the fire has been extinguished, aside from a controlled burn of the remaining chemicals. Ed Lavandera OUTFRONT in Geismar, Louisiana for us.

So, Ed, do we know yet what may have been caused this explosion? ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We do not know the cause yet, Don. And that is something that investigators will begin the process of doing and working on. Much of today has been spent trying to make sure that all of the 600 employees that were inside the plant when the explosion happened were safe and secure.

We have one dramatic picture from inside the plant that someone passed along to us and it shows that ball of flame, the plume of smoke going into the air and workers racing from the scene to get to safety. So, frightening moments inside that plant when this explosion occurred.

But as you mentioned, Don, some almost 75 people injured in this blast. There are three people that are still in critical condition and a young man, 29 years old was killed. The explosion happened just behind the tree line you see behind me and for most of the days authorities here have asked so many people to stay indoors as they were trying to assess the air quality around this plant to make sure that there were no problems with breathing and asking people to stay indoors to make sure everyone was safe.

So, Governor -- Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal says that although today was mostly about making sure that people were safe, getting them to safety, now the work of trying to figure out what caused this explosion and who, if anyone, should be held responsible, that work begins now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: Obviously, when you've got the potential for loss of life, everybody's focus is securing lives not only on site, but the surrounding communities, as well. Absolutely, once the investigations are done, once there's a responsible party, they will absolutely be held responsible and we'll absolutely make sure, working again with our local and federal partners that something like this doesn't happen again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAVANDERA: Now, Don, that shelter in place order has been lifted. The residents are free to move along. Officials here in the state of Louisiana say that so far, no indications of any poor air quality or any chemicals up in the air that people should be worried about -- Don.

LEMON: Geismar, Louisiana -- Ed, thank you very much for that.

We want to head now to Sanford, Florida where a judge decided jurors in George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial will be sequestered. This is the fourth day of jury selection.

Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watchman is accused of fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February of last year. He claims he shot the Florida teen in self-defense and has pleaded not guilty. The trial is expected to last as long as a month. CNN legal analyst, Mark NeJame, comes OUTFRONT now. So, Mark, why would the judge wait until now to announce a sequestration?

MARK NEJAME, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think she was simply holding out, to determine whether the jury needed to be sequestered. It's a big deal. A lot of expense, a lot of resources are directed towards getting a jury and keeping them safe, keeping them protected, housing them.

So, there is a lot to it. And it's also tremendous inconvenience for the jurors sitting. So, there are all those sensitivities were in there. But I think as you heard the questions being asked and all the answers coming today, it's pretty obvious that she needed to do that. People were talking about family and friends approaching them wanting to influence them already and they are only sitting in a jury pool now, let alone being on the jury.

I think the judge just thought the risk was far too great to let them go home, go around family and friends and somebody trying to influence them. So, I think she made the right decision without question.

LEMON: And there was concern even picking a jury, that they would be able to find anyone in the country that wouldn't be tainted by media coverage.

NEJAME: Yes, and I never really bought into that. We've never had a jury in the United States history that we weren't able to find and have in a criminal case. So, it was a matter of doing a little bit more work but not everybody follows the news. There's a lot of jurors you listen to and they are intelligent people.

They choose not to stay current with what is going on, crime stories or court cases or matters like that. So, they are getting there. Actually, I've been more impressed than I expected to be. More intelligent people giving forthright answers, except one, yesterday anyway. But, by and large, it seems like they have been straight on.

LEMON: Two to four weeks, does that seem on par for this type of trial?

NEJAME: It does. And a lot of it will depend upon how tight the judge keeps it. If you've been watching here, she's been running a really tight ship here. If in fact the judge goes ahead and limits it to five minutes where this situation, where the shooting and death occurred, then the case is going to go on the shorter end.

If the door becomes open by one party or another, where they're going to be getting in all these extraneous matters that we heard so much about in the news, but were not necessarily relevant or material to court, then the case could drag on to the farther end. But, if in fact, they really keep it limited to what happened during those fateful five minutes or so, I think the case is going to be on the shorter side than the longer side. But if the state ends up opening the door and they start getting into charter issues and matters such as that, we could be in for a little bit of a longer trial.

LEMON: CNN legal analyst Mark NeJame, thank you, sir. We appreciate you.

NEJAME: Thank you.

LEMON: Still to come, more of Erin Burnett's live coverage from Tehran, including a preview of tomorrow's special edition of OUTFRONT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: All right. Welcome back.

Here in Tehran, just about 4:30 in the morning and people are going to be getting up shortly to vote. We've already heard the call to prayer and you hear some of the birds waking up. It's going to be a crucial day at polling stations around the country, and we're going to be going to them.

One thing that really interested me talking to people on the streets today, we went to a neighborhood. It's the weekend tomorrow here, but it kind of starts essentially the middle of the day Thursday and a lot of people were out, absolutely packed in the bazaars and one of them, we had a chance to talk to some people they said, we're not going to vote. We're frustrated.

I want to emphasize, some of these people were incredibly conservative, you know, women in full chador. Others were woman incredibly liberally, with two very different perspectives. One woman, though, came all the way from Canada, dual citizen, back here to stay with her parents because she wants to cast her vote for the reformist candidate Rouhani. So, we're going to be fascinated to see what happens tomorrow when we bring you that special report from the polling stations of what actually happens here.

Plus, a special report on women. Sixty percent of the higher education degrees in this country go to women, but yet, it has one of the lowest employment rates for women in the world. What do women want and what are their big frustrations here in this country? We go behind the veil with a special report here from Tehran. Our live coverage continues here OUTFRONT live from Tehran tomorrow. I look forward to seeing you then.

And until then, "A.C. 360" starts right now.