Return to Transcripts main page


Obama Could Meet Iranian President; CIA Backed 1953 Revolution; Kenyan Mall Terror Attack; Two, Three Americans Among Terrorists; Obama Addresses U.N.

Aired September 24, 2013 - 12:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Feeling of, this is it. You're going to die.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: The terrifying moments and hours the survivors went through inside that mall. You're going to hear about the attack in their own words.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everyone, to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, in for Suzanne Malveaux.

HOLMES: And I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company today. Also like to welcome our viewers, not just here in the United States, but all around the world.

WHITFIELD: President Obama says the U.S. and Iran could have a new relationship, but he warns that the U.S. will not back down from its effort to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon.

HOLMES: Yes, he spoke for 43 minutes in all at the U.N. General Assembly and said he is going to direct the secretary of state, John Kerry, to pursue a nuclear agreement with Iran. Here's part of what the president said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the near term, America's diplomatic efforts will focus on two particular issues, Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons and the Arab/Israeli conflict. While these issues are not the cause of all the region's problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long. And resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.

The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. This mistrust has deep roots. Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs and of America's role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War. On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy and directly, or through proxies, taken American hostages, killed U.S. troops and civilians and threatened our ally, Israel, with destruction.

I don't believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight. The suspicions run too deep. But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear program that can serve as a major step down a long road toward a different relationship. One based on mutual interests and mutual respect. Since I took office, I've made it clear in letters to the supreme leader in Iran, and most recently to President Rouhani, that America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran's nuclear program peacefully, although we are determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

We are not seeking regime change and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy. Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and U.N. Security Council resolutions.


HOLMES: Now, one thing that everyone is waiting to see, really, is whether or not history could be made between the U.S. and Iran. Will President Obama and Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, sit down and talk?

WHITFIELD: Our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour joining us now from New York.

So it has been, Christiane, 35 years since a president met with a leader of Iran, and that was a meeting between Jimmy Carter and the shah (ph). But the White House said it's not ruling out a meeting with President Rouhani, nor is it scheduled. What can we read between the lines and what kind of symbolism are we talking about, handshake versus sitting down and talking?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the symbolism would be enormous, not just in symbolism and tone, but in actual getting the ball rolling to the end that President Obama just laid out in that snippet from his speech to the U.N.G.A. this morning.

Look, it is arguably one of the most important, geopolitical, strategic relationships for the United States. And as you know, it is in a state of deep dysfunction because of what the president said, these plus 30 years of a massive wall of mistrust that's been built up between the two nations.

It affects everything, Fredricka. It affects the Middle East. It affects America's relations and its ability to operate in that whole region. So it is vital, not to mention sorting out the whole nuclear program.

So, you know, there has been a willingness expressed by both the Iranian side now and the U.S. side to at least have some kind of encounter. No one knows whether it will be a handshake, whether it will be more than that, exchanging words, sitting down. We just don't know, nor do we know whether it's going to happen. And for all I know, the Iranians haven't yet decided whether it's going to happen.

So I'm going to be interviewing President Rouhani later this afternoon. Of course, I'll ask about that, but about all those issues that the president mentioned. HOLMES: Can't wait to hear that, Christiane.

You know, when you look at the U.N.G.A. and the images of it, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his bellicose speech is a tradition, but also Benjamin Netanyahu last year holding up the picture of the bomb and drawing red lines. You know, when it comes to sitting down and talking, even if it's John Kerry talking to his opposite number about a nuclear deal, what's the U.S. got to lose?

AMANPOUR: Well, look, it's obviously, you know, this sort of atmospherics around it. There are also, you know, hard liners in this country who don't want to see the United States have anything to do in a diplomatic way or in that kind of way with the Iranians who say, listen, we can't reward bad behavior. So it's -- you know, the president faces a lot of pressure from ultra conservatives on his wing as well, not to mention from Israel and related interests here in the United States. So it's a very, very tricky situation.

But one thing I can tell you, from having reported this now for the last 20 years, the one thing is absolutely factual and needs to be understood, that I do believe this is an important moment because of what Rouhani has said and because of what the supreme leader has said -- he is the one who holds all the cards, obviously. He has given Rouhani the authority to negotiate and we'll find out in our interview how much negotiation. Is it just about the nuclear issue or is it about bilateral relations with the United States? But he's given Rouhani this permission, this window of opportunity.

And not only that, he's said that there is a consensus now in Iran. And I know to the outside it looks like only a dictatorship, but it is an authoritarian regime which nonetheless demands a consensus. Consensus from the revolutionary guard, consensus from the right wing in Iran, consensus obviously from the hard liners, from parliament, from the very right wing media in Iran, all of that. And they say that this is an opportunity.

Not only that, the people of Iran, when polled, overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly want Iran to make friends with the United States and vice versa. And the last reform president who I interviewed exclusively more - you know back in 1998 said exactly the same things, wanted to do exactly the same. There was a maybe meeting with President Clinton and President Khatami. It didn't happen. And the fact of the matter is, it didn't work then because the supreme leader was not behind Khatami and didn't give him the authority.

So this could be a very interesting opening. It's going to be very, very interesting to see whether both sides can walk through that opening in a meaningful way. And, of course, Iran has to show the world that it can restore or build confidence. It's the confidence that it needs to build in the world that it is not seeking a nuclear weapon.

HOLMES: And it is all about the supreme leader, isn't it? He's given a leash (ph) to other presidents in the past and then pulled it back when he hasn't gotten the results he needs. So I can't wait to see your interview. That's going to be required viewing. Christiane, thanks so much.

WHITFIELD: A lot to watch. A lot at stake. So if Mr. Obama meets with Iran's president, it will, indeed, be quite the shift, no matter which way you want to look at it.

HOLMES: Absolutely. That's an understatement. No formal relations between the two countries. There haven't been for some time. Might be time to have a look back and see what triggered this deep freeze between Tehran and Washington. Here's Becky Anderson.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Iran, 1953. A revolution backed by the CIA unfolds on the streets of Tehran. Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was ousted in the coup after nationalizing the country's oil production, restricting flow to the west.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The Eisenhower administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons, but the coup was clearly a setback for Iran's political development. And it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs.

ANDERSON: That resentment only grew during the quarter century rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (ph). The shah was criticized for his lavish lifestyle and for spurning Islamic traditions in favor of stronger ties to the west. By 1979, riots led by supporters of Islamic leader Ayatollah Khomeini was sweeping Iran. The shah fled into exile and Khomeini was appointed religious and political ruler of the country. U.S. ties with Iran were shattered after Islamic militants took 66 Americans hostage in the U.S. embassy, holding them for 444 days. Washington later struck back at Iran by supporting its invading neighbor, Iraq, in a war that lasted throughout most of the '80s. The hostility was cemented in 2002 when U.S. President George Bush named Iran in a so-called "axis of evil."

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: North Korea has a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction while starving its citizens. Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror.

ANDERSON: The debate over Iran's nuclear ambitions has only intensified. And under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the United States has resorted to sanctions to try to crush Iran's capacity to build weapons of mass destruction.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're showing the Iranian government that its actions have consequences. And if it persists, the pressure will continue to mount and its isolation will continue to deepen. There should be no doubt, the United States and the international community are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

ANDERSON: Now there are signs of a thawing in the relationship. New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called for constructive dialogue to end what he described as unhealthy rivalries.

Becky Anderson, CNN, London.


HOLMES: And live pictures there now. Protesters also making their voices head outside the U.N. That's a bit of a tradition as well. Dozens of people showed up today.

WHITFIELD: In fact, most are being, you know, kept at some distance from the U.N. building across the street. That, too, is fairly procedural. But these pictures of a protest against Iranian President Hassan Rouhani taking place at the plaza across the street from the U.N.

HOLMES: And here is more of what we are working on this hour for AROUND THE WORLD.

Surviving that horrific attack in Kenya. We're hearing stories of parents doing everything they could to protect their children.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I got shot here. I had so much blood everywhere, I thought she was dead and I was holding a dead baby.


WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness.

Also more on the possible meeting between the U.S. and Iranian leader. What do people in Iran think of President Obama's speech? We'll go live to Tehran.


WHITFIELD: On to Nairobi, Kenya, now. Police are saying everything is under control at that mall taken over by terrorists.

HOLMES: Yes, they've been saying that for yesterday and for hours before that as well. There are still gunmen inside today, though, and possibly hostages. Nobody knows for sure. Our reporters there, they're still hearing gunfire and small explosions from the mall.

WHITFIELD: Kenya Red Cross says 62 people are dead, 65 others still unaccounted for. The military says more than 200 people have been rescued.

HOLMES: Kenyan forces say they have killed at least three of the attackers. Ten suspects are also under arrest and being questioned. Kenyan's foreign minister told PBS Network, two or three of the mall attackers actually came from the United States and others from other countries. Have a listen.


AMINA MOHAMED, KENYAN FOREIGN MINISTER: From the information that we have, two or three Americans, and I think so far I've heard of one Brit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the Brit was a British foreign woman.

MOHAMED: Woman. She has, I think, done this many times before.


MOHAMED: The Americans, from the information we have, are young men about -- between maybe 18 and 19.


MOHAMED: Of Somali or Arab origin.


WHITFIELD: U.S. intelligence sources say they don't have any confirmation of information concerning who those suspects may be.

Two law enforcement sources tell CNN that analysts are trying to verify the terror group's claims.

HOLMES: Yeah, meanwhile, Kenya's president has been expected -- we've been waiting for this all morning, actually, expecting him to talk to his nation today about this deadly mall attack.

WHITFIELD: And while security forces say they are doing their final sweep of the site, troops are also dealing with a partial roof collapse there.

HOLMES: Yeah. Let's find out what's happening right now. Our Zain Verjee is in Nairobi, a place she used to call home. Her family still lives there.

Zain, you know, we've been hearing it all wrap up for a couple of days now. What signs are there really that this could be coming to an end?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it ain't over till it's over, right?

The forces here have been saying for a while now that they are in full control of Westgate Mall. And then they said, well, we've got to do some sweeps still. We've got to clear it.

So what we saw today, they said that they were defusing explosives. The bomb squad went in. We heard multiple periods of sporadic gunfire, explosions. I'm still hearing a little bit of on and off gunfire.

But one of the indications that's kind of giving us a sense that this may actually really be over is the fact that the president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, is expected to make a statement.

But now the thing is, he was expected to make it once and then twice. It got delayed and delayed again. So we're standing by to see what he says because, guys, there's a lot of unanswered questions here. There's no real clarity on what's happened to the hostages. Are they dead? Are they alive? Were the hostages actually released, like the government says?

Did they fight the militants to get the hostages out, or did they find people hiding out and just rescue them and release them and they're saying those are the hostages?

So it's really not clear. Sixty-five people are missing. A lot of families here in Nairobi are still really scared and anxiously waiting for the president's speech.

WHITFIELD: All right, Zain Verjee, thanks so much from Nairobi on that update.

And, of course, when you get more information about the president's speech or any other kind of material to advance this, of course, we'll go back to you.

HOLMES: Ominous, 65 missing, unaccounted for, and that --

WHITFIELD: A very nerve-racking number.

HOLMES: Yeah, well, they're going through that mall. Hopefully, they're not going to find more horrors there.

Here's more on what we're working on this hour for AROUND THE WORLD.

WHITFIELD: Brazil's president has harsh words at the United Nations directed right at the U.S. The issue? Spying.


WHITFIELD: World leaders at the United Nations General Assembly are focusing on pressing problems, including Syria's chemical weapons and, of course, Iran's nuclear ambitions.

HOLMES: Yeah, we heard strong speeches from President Barack Obama, also from the presidents of Brazil and Turkey within the last hour.

Let's get some reaction from AROUND THE WORLD. We have Reza Sayah in Tehran, Ivan Watson is in Istanbul, and Shasta Darlington in Sao Paulo.

Reza, let's start with you. We heard the president of the United States says that he wants the U.S. to resolve the Iran nuclear issue peacefully, doesn't want to seek regime change.

The election of Mr. Rouhani really showed that the people of Iran liked his moderate message. Any reaction to Mr. Obama's speech, and their hopes for their president's visit?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Michael, so far, the reaction has been what we expected, hopeful and optimism.

We should point out state media did not air President Obama's speech live. It's very rare for state media to air live speeches from other foreign leaders, but analysts have been reporting and commenting on it on state TV.

We've talked to people who, again, are hopeful that U.S./Iran relationships can improve, in his speech, President Obama essentially reaching out to the leadership of Iran, saying, let's work out our problems diplomatically.

The big issue remains Iran's nuclear program, the leadership signaling that they're ready to make concessions, but they want something substantial in return.

Can these two sides get together and hammer things out, work out some sort of agreement? If they can, it would have huge implications in this region.

Michael, Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right, Reza Sayah, thank you so much.

Ivan Watson, live for us now in Istanbul, so, Ivan, Turkey's president, Abdullah Gul, told the assembly that, despite efforts to get rid of Syria's chemical weapons, the international community needs to do more to find a political solution to the war.

So what more is he asking for?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He came out and said that an agreement to eliminate these chemical weapons just isn't enough, that the core issue of this war that's been killing more than a hundred thousand people, that that has to be addressed and it would be immoral and totally unacceptable to only focus on the chemical weapons.

And this is part of the reason why the Turks are so worried. They've hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria. And just earlier this month, Turkish F-16s actually shot down a Syrian government helicopter after it crossed into Turkish air space.

So the Turkish president here calling on the international community to stop, as he put it, turning a blind eye to the killing in Syria, saying that, you know, a couple of years ago, people were talking about hundreds dead. Now there's more than 100,000 dead.

And if things continue this way, by this time next year, there could be twice that killed.

He wants permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and the international community to come together and come up with a political strategy to end this conflict, once and for all.

Fredricka and Michael?

HOLMES: You're right in the middle of it. Ivan, thanks so much to you.

Let's go Shasta Darlington who's in Sao Paolo in Brazil. And, Shasta, we were listening a couple of hours ago, Brazil's Dilma Rousseff criticizing the U.S. and pretty sharply so for reports that the NSA spied on her directly and other world leaders.

Tell us what she said and how it will play at home and what it means for the relationship.

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Michael, she launched a veritable tirade against the United States and the NSA spy program.

She accused them of meddling and basically violating the national sovereignty of a friendly nation.

She reiterated allegations that the NSA was spying not only on her personal communication, but also those of Brazilian citizens, top companies and strategic industries.

She said, therefore, this argument that the United States was protecting itself and the world against terrorism just didn't hold water. She said that it was unacceptable. They were violating human rights and civil liberties.

She said Brazil is now taking steps to protect its own communications within its own borders, but she also urged the United Nations to step in and take a lead role in doing something similar on the global stage, really creating a framework to protect communications from this kind of unilateral activities.

Not surprisingly, President Obama didn't say a single word on this issue. Michael?

HOLMES: Shasta Darlington in Sao Paolo, thanks so much, and also, Ivan Watson in Istanbul, and Reza Sayah in Tehran.

WHITFIELD: That's right.

Let's go back to East Africa soon where we saw strangers were helping strangers and parents were shielding their children and other people's children.

HOLMES: Yeah, we're getting a better sense now of the people who became heroes inside that Kenya mall where terrorists caused so much bloodshed.

Coming up, we're going to hear from victims who made it out alive.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just held her close, and I cradled her in case I got shot, if there was a chance that she could make it. And I held his hand and told him I loved him.