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U.S.-Iran Breakthrough Possible; Health Care Exchange Premiums Explained; U.S. Government Funding Bill; U.S. Debt Ceiling; Kenyan Mall Terror Attack

Aired September 26, 2013 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: It's the highest-level meeting between the U.S. and Iran in more than 30 years. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart meeting face to face.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Plus, President Obama tries to sell the benefits of his healthcare reform again. We're taking a closer look at what it will actually cost. And it depends on your state, your age and your income.

MALVEAUX: Also, not one but two. Two pilots asleep at the same time while flying a plane. There were 300 passengers on that flight.

Welcome to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

HOLMES: Good to have you back.

MALVEAUX: Yes, nice to be back, Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. Good to - OK, I'm Michael Holmes, and thanks to you all for being with us today.

Now, Iran's new president calling for a nuclear-free world. But he chose his words very carefully. President Hassan Rouhani sitting - just in the past couple of hours, making his second speech before the U.N. General Assembly.

MALVEAUX: So the latest speech was focused on nuclear disarmament. Now, the Iranian president, he says this is his highest priority. He's unequivocal. Here's how he put it.


PRES. HASSAN ROUHANI, IRAN (through translator): No nation should possess nuclear weapons since there are no right hands for these wrong weapons, as you, Mr. Secretary-general, have rightly put it. Now it's determined to make every effort to realize the vision of a nuclear weapon free world without further delay.


MALVEAUX: Of course, that's quite a departure from what the U.N. has heard from Iran's previous president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Add to that, that Iran's foreign minister now set to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting. That is happening in this hour.

HOLMES: That is an historic meeting.

MALVEAUX: An amazing development.

HOLMES: Yes, an historic meeting. It's the highest level talks between the two governments since the late 1970s, 34 years. Jim Sciutto joining us now from Washington.

We are hearing that John Kerry and Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, is going to be sitting down with their counterparts, there's going to be other leaders there, other foreign ministers of six major powers. How do we expect it to unfold and tell us again about the significance of the meeting. It can't be overstated, the historical nature of this.

JIM SCIUTTO, CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Sure. I think - well, first, let's talk about how it's going to set up. This is -- this is part of the P-5 plus one process. Those are the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council, of course including the U.S., plus one being Germany, and then Iran is going to be joining it. The way it starts, it will be Catherine Ashton (ph), who's in effect the E.U., the European Union foreign minister, will convene the meeting with one step below the secretaries of state, the foreign ministers, the political directors. Then those secretaries of state and foreign ministers will come in and then the Iranians kind of will be invited to join - to join into the meeting later. And that's where you'll have Kerry and Zarif in the same room.

It should be said that these are the most substantive high level talks between the U.S. and Iran. But a U.S. secretary of state has shaken the hand, at least, of an Iranian foreign minister. That happened when Secretary Rice was still in office in 2007.

But what's really important here is not only that they're going to be in the same room, but they're talking about the key issue that divide the two countries in a substantive way, with directions from the American president and the Iranian president to actually do something about this, right, to see if they can reach an agreement.

MALVEAUX: And, Jim, talk a little bit about what's on the table here because I know - I mean Iran has experienced crippling economic sanctions. All of it -- a lot of its people very much upset with the previous leadership. Give us a sense of what are the rewards, what are the trade-offs that the U.S. and Iran are looking for.

SCIUTTO: This is the real challenge is to find the sweet spot there, because Iran wants to come out from below these crippling sanctions. But the question is, what is the price? So what the U.S. and the west is going to want, they're going to want to reduce the number of centrifuges in Iran, they're going to want a full declaration of all of their sites, including some of these secret ones that have popped up every couple of years that Iran has not claimed, that it's kept shielded from international inspectors, and they're also going to want to limit the degree in which Iran can enrich uranium, so it's well below the threshold for a nuclear bomb. Those are - those are heavy targets and the president, when he was directing Kerry to engage with the Iranians in this, in his speech just a couple days ago said, listen, the obstacles may be too great, but I think this is worth trying. So, this is the first test. They're going to be talking substantively and you'll get a sense from both sides whether they can find that way to the sweet spot where Iran is giving up enough for us -- for us to relieve those sanctions.

MALVEAUX: All right, Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

I mean just incredible that they're sitting down.

HOLMES: It is.

MALVEAUX: You know, having covered Bush and, you know, the frustration with Ahmadinejad and the fact that President Obama said I'm not even going to - you know, I will now deal, I will talk with the Iranians. That this is actually happening now.

HOLMES: Came into office saying that. Yes, what five years later, after he came into office.

MALVEAUX: Pretty extraordinary.

HOLMES: But he came into office saying he would do this and here we are, is this the start? We don't know yet. It's early, I suppose.

MALVEAUX: Yes, cautious optimism.

HOLMES: This is an interesting little slice of life, too. We've got our reporter - we've got a crew in Iran and they have set up a microphone and a camera and asked average Iranians what they think of what is going on now that their new president is at the United Nations and making all of these overtures.

MALVEAUX: Generally speaking, they are putting distance between himself and, of course, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And they are talking about what do they think about all of this. How does it actually affect them? And they're sending their messages to folks here in the United States. Here's a little bit of a sample of how they feel about this moment.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): This talk that we're making a bomb is completely false.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as I'm concerned, I don't think they're making bombs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Don't you make one yourself? Why did you make a bomb?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are dangerous. We are dangerous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Iranians are most civilized people. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many -- how many wars do we have? Did we have? Can you tell me? Can you tell me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People of Iran, they are friendly, outside of the perception of the America.


MALVEAUX: There is so much passion in that group. And many of the Iranians we heard of - from actually talked about the international economic sanctions that we had talked about before -

HOLMES: Absolutely.

MALVEAUX: That it is just really, really difficult to live there, just to get the basic essentials.

HOLMES: Yes, a lot of people those sanctions have pushed Iran into being a little bit more moderate. You know, there were a lot of people there who spoke, and one of the common threads was that they hope that those sanctions would be lifted. There's a lot or more of these comments, too, and it's really fascinating to get a bit of insight into how people in Iran are thinking about the U.S. Go to and you'll see more of those personal messages from Iranians to Americans.

MALVEAUX: And on Tuesday, 48 million Americans who have no health insurance, they're actually going to get a chance to purchase insurance as part of the president's Affordable Care Act. The government's beginning to enroll those uninsured, this is through the health care exchanges. A lot of anticipation, a lot of questions about how this is all going to work.

HOLMES: Yes. And, of course, the exchanges, that's where Americans go online, they can essentially shop for insurance from private companies. The open enrollment, as it's called, lasts until March 31.

MALVEAUX: Individuals will be eligible for government subsidies to help pay for that if they make about $46,000 a year or less. Now, also starting Tuesday, insurance companies will be forbidden from rejecting people with preexisting health conditions.

HOLMES: The president went to a community college in Maryland, actually, to tout Obamacare today and remind people they've got to sign up.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the wealthiest nation on earth, no one should go broke just because they get sick. In the United States of America, health care is not a privilege for the fortunate few, it is a right. And I knew that if we didn't do something about our unfair and inefficient health care system, it would keep driving up our deficits, it would keep burdening our businesses, it would keep hurting our families and it would keep holding back economic growth. That's why we took on a broken health care system. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: All right. So Americans who plan to get this insurance through their health exchanges, they really face very different pricing depending on actually where they live. I want to bring in Christine Romans from New York to talk a little bit about the numbers.

And, Christine, explain to us, because there's still so many questions, a lot of confusion over how this is going to work, but who faces what kinds of premiums based on where you live or what your income is?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: Let me show you guys, because there's wide variation. Let's be very clear about that. What I also don't know yet, what they have not really clarified yet, is what kind of co-pays and out of pocket deductibles and stuff you're going to spend. But let me just talk about the premiums right now. This is what we know according to HHS. This is for a silver plan. So there's going to be bronze, silver and gold plans. Three different levels.

In Tennessee, for example, an individual will pay $161 or a familiar of four would pay $584. You can see Missouri, a little bit more. And Wyoming, one of the most expensive in the country, in part because Wyoming only has two insurers who are participating in the online exchange.

This is before tax credits. You pointed out quite rightly in your introduction, Suzanne, that for a family making less than I think $46,000 or $49,000 a year, there will be -- there will be some subsidies, some tax credits that will lower the out of pocket costs. So that's - that's where we stand right now.

Let me show you an overall - an overall map of the United States, though, and I can show you guys -- you heard the talking point, this messaging point, about how many people are going to be able to, you know, afford a premium that's less than $100 maybe. You can see where some of the expensive parts of the country are, they're darker, and the lighter they are, those are the cheapest premiums you'll see on the Obamacare exchanges.

HOLMES: And then, Christine, when it comes to, you know, those people having an employer who is helping them out with health care and the like, what changes for them?

ROMANS: So, the president keeps saying there will be no changes. You will keep your insurance through your employer, if that's still your arrangement, and there won't be changes. But we do know that even before Obamacare we saw, and I'm sure that you've all felt this who are listening right now, you're paying more out of pocket, you're getting maybe less coverage or maybe your employer is pushing your spouse on to their own company's plan and finding ways to try to cut costs. We will see that continue.

And now you're hearing some companies say they expect some rising costs because of health care reform and this is one of the factors that they'll be seeing, where they're going to pass more of costs on to you. That's quite possible. But also remember, that was happening way before health care reform. We'll have to very closely watch what that's going to mean.

We're watching companies and what they're saying about is, quite frankly. They've been complaining about rising health care costs for some time and now they're all trying to figure out how this is - this is the biggest change in our relationship with our government we've had in our lifetime, quite frankly, right?

HOLMES: Is anyone going to watch - very briefly, Christine, when you say that, you know, that could bump up prices here and there and say, oh, it's the cost of a new system, is anyone watching that?

ROMANS: Oh, absolutely. You've got health care economists watching it. You've got -- HHS is watching it as well. But, look, in some cases, you're going to be able -- it might be in your benefit not to be getting insurance through your company but getting it through an exchange because then you're not tied to your company. You can -- you have the portability of your health insurance, which is something that health care reform is also trying to do.

In some cases, big companies are asking their retirees or they're moving their retirees on to the exchanges because it's going to be more cost effective for them. That's something that will be really interesting to watch as well. Maybe if you're a current employee with your company, you'll keep the insurance options that you have, but once you retire, you will move on to your - move on to the state exchanges.

You know, one thing that's so interesting in this country is that our insurance coverage is tied to where we work. And Obamacare -- one of the goal of Obamacare to stop - you know, to be able to decouple that so that you don't leave your job just because you don't want to leave your insurance.


ROMANS: And the president even mentioning in his speech that maybe that will open up some entrepreneurship, perhaps, who knows.

MALVEAUX: All right.

HOLMES: A little bit of clarity there for everyone.

Christine Romans, our thanks to you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

MALVEAUX: And, of course, the president really selling it across the country very, very hard to try to get people to sign up and support this thing.


MALVEAUX: Here's more of what we're working on for AROUND THE WORLD. The debt ceiling has to be raised in about three weeks or so or the U.S. is not going to be able to pay its bills. Can Washington actually come up with an agreement on time?

HOLMES: Heard that before.

All right, check this one out. Amazing pictures. Doctors are growing a nose on a man's forehead. We'll explain how they were able to do this and why when we come back.


HOLMES: The clock is ticking, just four days until a possible partial shutdown. The Senate on track to vote by Saturday on a House bill to fund the government.

MALVEAUX: Right now the bill takes away funding from ObamaCare.

Now Senate Democrats plan to change that. Majority leader Harry Reid, he is accusing Republicans of hurting the economy with that amendment.

Watch what he says.


SENATOR HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: Yesterday I warned of the economic consequences if a few extremist Republicans force a government shutdown.

Already, the stock market has slipped, and that's an understatement.


MALVEAUX: Athena Jones joining us Capitol Hill.

So, Athena, first of all, there are a lot of different things that have to happen before the deadlines, but give us a sense of the timetable of all this.

How quickly could this move? And what are we talking about the drop- dead time in which the government cannot be funded?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The drop-dead time, Suzanne and Michael, is midnight on Monday, this coming Monday, so it's just a few days away.

Now you heard the Senate plans to vote on this spending bill that would restore funding for ObamaCare. That's something the House bill took out. They want to vote on that by Saturday.

If they can do it ahead of time, certainly, they will. They know they're up against the clock.

The issue is then the Senate would pass that bill, send it back to the House. Of course, the House wants to see ObamaCare defunded.

House Republicans have indicated they're not just going to accept the Senate bill and vote on it as is. They're going to send something back to the Senate. The question is, what are they going to send back to the Senate? Will it be acceptable to Senate Democrats? Will this whole thing start all over again?

As you know, timing is everything here. And in just a few days, they're going to run out of time.

HOLMES: Yeah, of course, the big fight is the debt limit, and the government needs to make sure it doesn't default on its loans or it could risk a credit drop again.

And we learned that the U.S. is going to hit that limit October 17th. So what is Congress doing about that?

JONES: Well, that's the next big fight. Right now there's a proposal in the House, a House bill that they're looking to pass, that would raise the debt limit, so it would allow the U.S. to continue to pay its bills, but it would attach several things that Republicans want to that.

One of them would be a one-year delay in ObamaCare. Here we go again. This issue of ObamaCare keeps coming up. So they would attach that to the bill to raise the debt limit.

They'd also attach some things like approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline. That's been controversial.

Also, entitlement reforms, tax reforms, a whole slew of things that Republicans want.

But, of course, if they attach all of that to this bill raising the debt limit, it's going back over to the Senate and we know, of course, that Senate Democrats don't want to delay ObamaCare.

So here we have another fight. We already have the White House, President Obama, saying that, the ability of the United States to pay its bills is not something that should be subject to politics.

Let's listen to what House Speaker John Boehner had to say about that this morning.


REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: The president says that I'm not going to negotiate. Well, I'm sorry, but it just doesn't work that way.

We're not going to ignore Washington's spending problem, and we're not going to accept this new normal of a weak economy, no new jobs and shrinking wages.


JONES: And, of course this issue of debt ceiling is extremely important for the economy. As you may remember, the last time there was a big fight over that ceiling back in the summer of 2011, it led to the first ever downgrade of the U.S. debt rating, which is a big problem for anyone who's borrowing money, and would be hugely damaging to the economy.

Back to you, Suzanne and Michael.

MALVEAUX: All right, Athena, thank you so much.

Just to think about it, we're at this place again, again. Four times this happened over the last two years, right on the precipice.

HOLMES: And as I was saying to you in the break, as an outsider looking in, it's an extraordinary situation where you can have completely unrelated things attached to crucial bills before they'll get passed by both sides.

It seems like you should vote on a bill, not attach something else to it.

MALVEAUX: That's why we got downgraded.

HOLMES: That's how that happened.

MALVEAUX: That's how that happened.

This, one of the most devastating attacks in Kenya since the embassy bombing in 1998, now, the group behind the Nairobi mall attack is al Shabaab, of course. And we've been talk about that over the week or so.

And coming up, we're going to talk about how the organization is now extending its reach. Plus its connection to al Qaeda.


HOLMES: Welcome back.

Travelers, this is for you. The U.S. State Department updating its global travel warning list after the terrorist attack that happened, of course, at the shopping mall in Kenya.

MALVEAUX: Specific countries mentioned in this memo titled "Worldwide Caution" says, large portions of Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia are places where terror groups like al Qaeda are active. Might actually target American symbols of interest in those places.

HOLMES: The State Department urging Americans working or traveling aboard to be aware of their area's alert level.

You can download fact sheets and know where U.S. embassies and consulates are wherever you are, and also follow U.S. government social media sites, Twitter and the like, for security information, if it needs to be sent out quickly.

A lot of those just ongoing, routine warnings, but it's worth knowing what's what around the world.

MALVEAUX: Sure, and the terror group claiming responsibility for the deadly attack on the mall in Nairobi, Kenya, well, now they are apparently bragging about it.

al Shabaab is based in Somalia, calls itself an affiliate of al Qaeda. The group's leader has now posted an audio message on a Web site saying that they killed those people in Nairobi out of pure revenge.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translator): On Saturday, September 21, 2013, ten days after the 12th anniversary of the Twin Towers, the historic Islamic attack began in Kenya when a group of Mujahideen wrote their blood into history and took revenge for the innocent brothers killed in Somalia.


HOLMES: Our Nima Elbagir is live with us in Nairobi, Kenya, been covering this from the start.

Five days ago now it all began. We're hearing that some families, of course, still don't know if their loved ones are dead or alive.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Michael, I'm so sorry. We're having a little bit of a difficulty with our comms here.

But I want to talk to you a little bit about that -- a little bit more about that message.

You spoke about the expansion of the U.S. global terror warning. Well, the al Shabaab emir, the al Shabaab leader, has been speaking about how this wasn't just about punishing the Kenyans for their role in pushing al Shabaab out of the urban centers in Somalia.

This was much about punishing the Kenyan, European and American allies.

Take a listen to this.

HOLMES: I don't know if you can hear us now. We played that audiotape already, and chilling it is to listen to.

We were going to ask you, though, throughout this, there's been -- I think the number is 63 people, still officially listed as missing.

What's going on with those people? Where are they? What are their relatives going through?

ELBAGIR: Well, what's slowing the process of actually giving some kind of final solace, you could say, to the relatives of those still missing is that it's just been extraordinarily difficult going in there to clear that rubble. We've been seeing pictures of the collapsed shopping center, and a lot of the bodies are still under there, we understand.

Throughout the day, Michael, we've been hearing explosions and detonations as whatever the terrorists left behind is going up, and that's slowed the process of identification. It's also slowed the process of getting the bodies out.

The Red Cross has said, unfortunately, that the fate of those remaining hostages that were in there when that final stage of the operation was carried out, that's still unknown.

But most of the families that we've spoken to are already waiting at the morgue, Michael. They've had to accept if they don't know yet, if they haven't heard from their relatives yet, then the unfortunate likelihood is they didn't survive this attack.


MALVEAUX: And, Nima, it's so sad. And we know that at least, investigators, there are trying to find out everyone who is responsible for this, and there is at least one development today regarding this woman, this British woman, known in terror circles as the "White Widow."

What do we know about the worldwide effort to track her down and whether or not she was actually involved in this?

ELBAGIR: The Kenyan authorities have now requested a tripwire from Interpol, which means that anyone of the national police services that Interpol cooperates with, that it's now their responsibility to try to bring her in if they have any evidence that she's moving through their territory and extradite her to Kenya.

We should say that this is to do with charges stemming from a 2011 allegation that she was involved with an attempted bombing in the coastal Kenyan city of Mombasa.

But there's no doubt that this "red notice," as it's called, has led to speculation here in Kenya because, all of the eyewitnesses that we spoke to who were talking about a white woman, they believe that it was this woman.

The appearance, they say, was very similar, but of course, we're reaching out to the Kenyan authorities and we're hoping to get more for you, Suzanne.

HOLMES: Yeah, that red notice going out to 190 countries, apparently.

Nima Elbagir in Nairobi, thanks so much.

And actually, just in the last few minutes on this issue, the U.S. attorney general released his assessment of al Shabaab's threat to the United States.

MALVEAUX: So, Eric Holder, he says that there is no specific, credible evidence that al Shabaab is planning an attack in this country.

He specifically told reporters, "I'm not sure they have the capacity to do anything in the United States."

And he also added that, U.S. officials, they're still trying to determine if any Americans were among the terrorists that took over the mall in Kenya.

HOLMES: All right, we're going to take a short break here, and we'll have more of AROUND THE WORLD when we come back.