Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger; Interview With White House Communications Director Jen Psaki; American Sailors Held by Iran; President Obama Set to Deliver State of the Union Address; Preview of President's Last State of the Union. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 12, 2016 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, Americans held by Iran, 10 U.S. sailors taken into custody by the Revolutionary Guard in Iran after the U.S. loses contact with their vessels in the Persian Gulf. Tehran assuring the U.S. the sailors will be released soon. Will the Iranians keep their word?
President Obama's last chance. The president set to give his final State of the Union speech just three hours from now. We're learning new details of what he will say tonight, and we will also talk about what the president will say with the White House communications director, Jen Psaki.
An ISIS suicide mission. A terrorist bomber strikes in a busy square filled with tourists, killing at least 10 people, including many Westerners. Tonight, we're learning new information about the bomber who had just arrived from Syria. Did authorities there even know he was in the country?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news.
A senior U.S. defense official telling CNN 10 American sailors, they are now in Iranian custody after their two small U.S. Navy vessels apparently briefly entered Iranian national waters. Another source saying the U.S. lost contact with the two ships which were on route from Kuwait to Bahrain, home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
We're also following a suicide bombing that killed at least 10 people, many of them Westerners, in a crowded square in Istanbul. And tonight Turkish officials are blaming ISIS and a terrorist they say had just arrived from Syria.
We're also counting down to President Obama's final State of the Union address. In just under three hours, he will address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. He will also address the nation, indeed, the world. We're standing by for the first excerpts from the president's speech. We're covering all of that and a lot more this hour with our guests, including Congressman Adam Kinzinger, U.S. Air Force veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and our correspondents and expert analysts. They are also standing by.
Let's begin with the breaking news, the 10 American sailors now being held by Iran.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is working her sources.
Barbara, you have new information. Share it with our viewers.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at this hour, 10 U.S. Navy sailors, nine men, one woman, will be spending the night inside Iran on Iran's Farsi Island in the Gulf along with their two small boats, according to U.S. officials.
The Iranians promising to release them, but not in the hours of darkness, not safe for them to be put back out to sea, so the promise now appears to be, according to U.S. officials, they will be released in the daylight hours, but all of this very much remains to be seen. The 10 of them were traveling on two small riverine boats from Kuwait up north to Bahrain.
By all accounts, one or both boats may have run into some sort of mechanical or propulsion problem. The U.S. Navy is reporting they lost contact with the boats. Not clear if that happened before or after those boats were approached by the Iranians, and they were taken to Farsi Island.
This is an area in the Gulf that Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps navy controls to a large extent. This is the most aggressive part of the Iranian naval military, so there is a lot of concern tonight about the Iranian personnel that have them.
Secretary of State John Kerry had -- actually was with the defense secretary, Ash Carter, at the State Department when both men were informed at midafternoon about this. Secretary Kerry very quickly getting in touch with his counterpart and getting assurances that they were safe, that they were well and that they would be released.
But, still, the big question tonight, the Iranian naval personnel that have them, they are a very aggressive bunch, and I don't think anyone at the Pentagon tonight is resting easy until these 10 sailors are back with the U.S. Navy.
Tonight, the chief of naval operations maintaining his schedule, Admiral John Richardson on his way to Capitol Hill to attend the State of the Union, but the chief of naval operations, the defense secretary, the secretary of state watching this minute by minute -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm looking at the Navy's description of these riverine command boats, and I want to show a picture of one of these small vessels looks like, as I describe what the Navy says.
They're assigned to the commander task group that transits the Iranian or Persian Gulf during patrol operations. They say they're used in shallow water in tropic environments. The 5th Fleet, which operates in the Persian Gulf, uses these boats for open sea patrol.
It says it conducts maritime security operations to ensure freedom of movement for strategic shipping and naval vessels operating in the inshore and coastal areas of the U.S. 5th Fleet operations.
In other words, Barbara, it means these two boats, they're supposed to be operating close to the friendly side of the Persian Gulf, whether Kuwait or Bahrain, as opposed to the unfriendly side, the Iranian side.
STARR: Yes, Wolf, absolutely. But that said, these are very tight waters in these portions of the Persian Gulf. These small riverine boats, which are only equipped with .50-caliber machine guns, move very quickly up and down those waters.
They often approach fishing vessels, merchant vessels, that the large Navy warships cannot approach to query them, to ask the ship master, what do you have on board, where are you going, what are you up to? It's all done with the coordination of the allied nations along those coastal waters, except for Iran, to keep that freedom of navigation going.
Because it's such tight space, you can imagine a large Navy aircraft carrier could not approach a small fishing vessel. So, these are the boats that go out, the small boats that go out and do that kind of work. That said, they are very vulnerable. If they get into a hostile situation, such as being approached by an entity that may not be very friendly to them, they have the right to defend themselves, but they have a very minimal ability to do it. They have .50-caliber machine guns. They have their own weapons they're holding.
But if they are approached by Iranians or others with hostile intent, defending themselves and living through it, to be very candid, Wolf, becomes a very difficult proposition. So, we will be looking to see exactly how the Iranians approached them. Was this a rescue mission by Iran of disabled sailors -- sailors on a disabled boat, which is the law of the sea out there? The U.S. Navy often rescues disabled sailors on their boats.
Was this a rescue or was this something, even though the Iranians say there was no hostile intent, was it perhaps less than a friendly encounter, at least initially, Wolf?
BLITZER: Very quickly, Barbara, the family members of these 10 American sailors now being held by Iran, have they been notified?
STARR: We asked that question, Wolf, and right now, what the Pentagon is telling us is, quite frankly, they don't know if at this point the family members have been notified.
I asked that question, Wolf, because that would be standard protocol. If there are U.S. military personnel in a situation being held by a foreign government, regardless of the politics of it, regardless of what the Pentagon or Washington wants to call it, very frankly, there is a real obligation to inform those military families about where their loved ones are -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, if you find out, let us know. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.
I want to go to the White House. Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is getting more information.
What are you learning, Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's right.
President Obama, we can tell our viewers, has been briefed on this situation with Iran holding these 10 U.S. sailors. But, again, the administration trying to caution that they believe that this situation will be resolved promptly, that these sailors will go on their way as soon as possible. That may not happen overnight because it may not be safe to do it overnight, but, Wolf, as you know from covering this for a long time, having this come down, having the president needing to be briefed on something like this as he's preparing for the State of the Union, this is not the kind of interruption that they wanted over here at the White House today, especially when we know that the president will be touting that Iran nuclear deal in the State of the Union later tonight, Wolf.
BLITZER: The president was planning on saying it's an important breakthrough in stopping Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.
He's also going to tout the normalization of diplomat relations with Cuba as well. Stand by for a moment.
I want to bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
Jim, do we know if the Iranians have at least allowed these 10 American sailors to communicate with the U.S. Navy in Bahrain, the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We don't know.
What we do know is that the U.S. says they lost communications with these boats, which could send the message that, no, they were not allowed to communicate, and that was the first sign of trouble, in fact, when the U.S. Navy lost communication with these boats.
Let's describe what this encounter would have been like, because we know those U.S. fast boats, they're armed with .50-caliber machine guns. The IRGC, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, that has military responsibility for the waters of the Persian Gulf, they have many fast attack boats like that as well. They would likely be armed as well.
So, you would have an encounter of two armed boats. Hard not to call that hostile conditions. Now, what we're told by U.S., both administration officials and defense officials, that there was nothing hostile about it, and, in fact, they say that at least at the leadership level, that there was a very quick reaction at the higher levels, highest levels, including John Kerry, of course, speaking to his Iranian counterpart.
New information I have received is that these two fast boats were in the area for refueling. They were there close to this Iranian island to be refueled by a larger ship. It's not clear that they were, in fact, refueled, so it raises the possibility of another explanation as to why these boats came into trouble, that they ran out of fuel, possibly mechanical, possible that they navigated themselves into those waters by accident.
It's also possible they ran out of fuel because they were not refueled. But one more point here, just in terms of the way the Revolutionary Guard Corps is describing this. They have their own media service. Keep in mind, the Revolutionary Guards are in effect the military arm of the hard-liners of the Iranian government. They also have their own media service. This is the Fars News Agency.
They are using the term arrested. They say that these U.S. sailors who they say were nine men and one woman were arrested. But they have made one change just in the last few minutes. They first described the sailors as military personnel. They now are describing them as passengers of the seized boat. Not clear as to what the meaning of that change is, but still, the key, at least in their description of this, is an arrest.
They do not say rescue. The media wing of the Revolutionary Guards, who have now in custody these American sailors, is that they were arrested.
BLITZER: And if there was nothing hostile in all of this, why not allow those sailors to at least communicate...
SCIUTTO: No question.
BLITZER: ... with U.S. officials and say, look, don't worry, we will be fine, we're about to get out of there? But so far, no communication as far as we can tell, Jim Sciutto.
I want to bring in Representative Adam Kinzinger, who is joining us. He's a Republican congressman from Illinois. He's a U.S. Air Force veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
As you know, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, they say they have arrested these sailors. Are you getting more information on what is going on, any back-channel information you can share with us?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Not a ton. You're actually doing some of the best reporting on it.
You know, look, I think it's quite obvious this was probably hostile. I think, first and foremost, our, obviously, thoughts are with the families and with these 10 sailors and hope they get returned safely. I trust that they will.
And then we figure out what happened. I mean, if they strayed into Iranian territory, that's one thing. I have a hard time understanding how two small boats could stray into, frankly, a really small island in the Persian Gulf. And then, you know, as was mentioned earlier by Barbara Starr, we have rendered aid to sailors before and we have done what they needed to do and then let them go on their way.
So, when you hear that the Iranians say that they were arrested, when you hear they can't let them go in the dark, which is interesting to me, I think this is a serious situation, but we hope they get returned safely and shortly.
BLITZER: There's no guarantee they will be, as you know. There's no guarantee, really, of anything right now, because there is some suspicion there are the hard-liners, the moderate elements of the Iranians, and these sailors were, they were taken by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, not the regular Iranian navy. And that's a source of considerable fear.
KINZINGER: Yes, it is.
And we all know the Revolutionary Guard's not our friends. They have not been nice to us in the past. Some of these folks are responsible for the death of Americans in Iraq during that war. So, yes, it's something we're very concerned about. But like I said, at the end of the day, hopefully, these sailors are returned safely. And then we can figure out what happened.
And if, in fact, Iran acted hostilely, they ought to be punished for that.
BLITZER: If you could stand by, Congressman, I want to bring Jen Psaki. She's the White House communications director. She's obviously getting ready for the president's State of the Union address. We're all getting ready for that.
Jen, thanks very much for joining us.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: What's the latest information you're getting on the breaking news, 10 American sailors now being held by Iran?
PSAKI: Well, Wolf, obviously, we're watching this very closely. We have been in touch with the Iranians. We have been assured of their safety and that they will be able to move forward on their journey promptly.
Obviously, any situation like this, we take very seriously, and that's why we acted very quickly to get in touch and determine as much as we can what the situation is.
BLITZER: And we can confirm -- I assume you can confirm that the secretary of state, John Kerry, he called Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, to make that point. Is that right?
PSAKI: That's my understanding, Wolf. That's my old boss, but, as you know, I don't work there any longer, but he has a close relationship with Foreign Minister Zarif and certainly that would be a natural point of contact.
BLITZER: Javad Zarif and President Rouhani, for that matter, they are considered more moderate among the Iranians than the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Here's the question, Jen. Can they deliver on a situation like this, when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have, they say, arrested these 10 American sailors?
PSAKI: Well, we have seen a range of reports out there, some that you have been talking with members of Congress and other guests about in the past couple of minutes.
I don't want to jump ahead of where we are and what we know. Obviously, we have been assured of their safety and that they will be able to proceed on their journey promptly. Obviously, if they're not, that would be of concern, but we're focused on kind of seeing that move forward at this point in time.
BLITZER: Do you know if these two American vessels accidentally or for whatever reason did, in fact, violate Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf?
PSAKI: I think you're raising some really good questions, Wolf. I just don't have more details that I can get into with you at this point in time.
BLITZER: Will the president address this issue in the State of the Union, less than three hours from now?
PSAKI: There are no plans to address this issue. This is an issue, like many others, that, as president of the United States and commander in chief of the country, we address things that come up every single day, and he's certainly working today, even though the State of the Union is tonight.
So, he's tracking this closely, following this closely, but the State of the Union will not be about this issue.
BLITZER: If the Iranians refuse to release these 10 Americans, nine men, one woman, if they don't release these two vessels, will the U.S. go forward with the Iran nuclear deal?
PSAKI: Wolf, I'm not going to get ahead or predict outcomes like that. That certainly would be -- would not be aligned with what we want and what we want to see with the nuclear deal.
You have seen progress made on the nuclear deal. You know what else needs to happen, but this is a situation, again, where we have been in touch, we have been assured of their safety, that they will be able to move forward on their journey promptly, and that certainly is our hope.
BLITZER: We know the president was planning on highlighting some of the foreign policy achievements, from his perspective, in his address to the Congress tonight, including the normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba and the Iran nuclear deal.
None of the Republicans voted for that Iran nuclear deal. Do you believe he will still -- will he mention that as an achievement tonight?
PSAKI: Absolutely, Wolf.
The United States is leading around the world. We're leading coalitions that have made incredible progress around the world on issues like climate change, bringing a number of countries together to come to agreement on a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and we have opened up kind of lines with Cuba that have really changed our role and our relationships with the Western Hemisphere.
So, he will certainly talk about that, as well as the steps we all took with a number of countries over the course of the last couple years to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Those are achievements that the United States should be proud of, he's proud of, and we want to build on those moving forward.
BLITZER: Because there could be a negative reaction from at least the Republicans and some of those Democrats who voted against the Iran deal. Is there any consideration of that? Because I don't know if there will be any booing or any murmuring or anything along those lines. I'm sure members of Congress, the Senate and House, will be very respectful of the president, but I assume you're bracing, maybe, for some of that.
PSAKI: Well, Wolf, I think there are certainly issues -- the president will talk a little bit about our -- the rancor in this country. And, you know, it's certainly beyond this issue, but the fact that we need to disagree without being disagreeable, that we need to find ways to address some of the big challenges we're facing without kind of getting into the partisan rancoring that has been so troubling to this country.
The American people expect more, and the country is far less divided than Washington. So, he will certainly be talking about that in his speech. And I think there's no question that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is a significant achievement for any president, any country, and one that we should be proud of.
BLITZER: But it would seem, correct me if I'm wrong, Jen, if the president does mention Iran, does mention the Iran nuclear deal, and praise it, without even mentioning anything about these 10 American sailors, that could be awkward.
PSAKI: Well, Wolf, look, I think we have always said that there are still concerns we have with Iran. They are still a state sponsor of terror. They are still holding American citizens.
There are things we remain concerned about, but there's no question that not just for the United States, but for countries in the region, that preventing them from acquiring a nuclear weapon to take steps forward that would be hugely problematic for the world is an achievement and something that we should be -- applaud and be proud of.
As I said, the president is the commander in chief. He is the leader of the country every single day, even on days like State of the Union. And, certainly, he is tracking this issue, working this issue with his national security team, even while he prepares for the State of the Union.
BLITZER: And let's hope those 10 American sailors are released quickly, those two vessels are released quickly as well. I'm a little concerned about the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
You agree, I assume, with me, and you have studied this -- you were at the State Department -- that these are the hard-liners in Iran. They're more hard-line than Foreign Minister Zarif or even the president, Rouhani, right?
PSAKI: Well, every country has politics, including Iran. There are things we have seen that have been stated by some who are more hard- liners over the course of time, including our pursuit of the nuclear agreement, that were to appeal to a certain audience in Iran.
I don't have any particular analysis about these recent comments, but there's a long history of that, Wolf, that you have talked about and you and I have even talked about on your program.
BLITZER: Jen Psaki, if you could stay with us, there's more developments. I want to talk about the president's State of the Union address.
I also want to ask you about King Abdullah of Jordan. He's here in the United States right now. He's in Washington, D.C., has been for a couple days. I'm going to be interviewing him tomorrow, but he's not meeting with the president. I want to find out why the president is not meeting with King Abdullah.
Much more with Jen Psaki when we come back.
BLITZER: The White House communications director, Jen Psaki, she's standing by live as we follow the breaking news, 10 American sailors, nine men, one woman, being held tonight by Iran. The Iranian news service reporting they were -- quote -- "arrested."
All this comes just hours before President Obama delivers his final State of the Union address. We're going to talk to Jen Psaki about that in a moment. [18:25:02]
But I want to go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's getting new details.
Jim, the president has been briefed, first of all, on the breaking news, these 10 American sailors being held by Iran.
ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. The president planned on talking about Iran tonight, but not like this. According to a White House memo we obtained on the State of the Union address, President Obama will be forward-looking in tonight's speech, but he will also vow to keep the American people safe in the battle against ISIS and talk about what he still wants to get done.
And as one of the president's top advisers told me, he will push back against -- quote -- "embarrassing Republican campaign rhetoric."
ACOSTA (voice-over): In his final State of the Union address, aides say President Obama will focus on his unfinished business.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have gotten amazing things done over the last seven years.
ACOSTA: On the president's mind, featured in this White House video released today, his inability to deliver on an old campaign promise, to heal a bitterly divided nation.
OBAMA: A lot of what we can do is to change, you know, the political environment. It's a regret. And part of what I want to do in this last address is to remind people, you know what, we have got a lot of good things going for us.
ACOSTA: Hyping the speech for days across social media sites, including millennial darling Snapchat, White House officials tell CNN the president will make one last push for gun control, closing the terror detention center at Guantanamo, passing criminal justice reform and defeating ISIS, an enemy Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, complain Mr. Obama has taken too lightly.
(on camera): He said that the president does not have a plan for defeating ISIS. What do you think of that?
VALERIE JARRETT, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, of course, he does.
ACOSTA (voice-over): White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett says the president will offer an optimistic outlook on the country, in start contrast with what the West Wing sees as toxic Republican rhetoric.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You wonder why our country is going to hell. ACOSTA: According to this White House memo, Mr. Obama will raise
questions for the candidates running for the White House about what the big challenges are for the next president.
(on camera): Contrasting with Donald Trump's vision of America a little bit, the Republicans' vision of America?
JARRETT: Well, I think that there's a lot of rhetoric that we're hearing out on the campaign trail that tears down America, that's insulting to our country, that implies that we're not a country that's a unifying country, and it's embarrassing on the world stage.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Which is why the president will instead point to the first lady's box at the speech and note the empty seat symbolizing the victims of gun violence, as well as guests representing Syrian refugees, gay rights and women in the military.
But progressives still want the president to go after Donald Trump.
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He's going to have the last, best opportunity to push back on some of this really offensive rhetoric from Donald Trump. I hope he will explain to the country why demonizing a whole religion makes America less safe.
ACOSTA: Now, aides tell me the president will also stand firm on the Obama doctrine and his strategy for defeating ISIS, that this is no time for another ground war in the Middle East. The president will point to the Iran deal and normalizing relations with Cuba as proof that diplomacy works, no matter what his critics say, but given the events of today, Wolf, that is going a tougher sell tonight.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.
I want to bring back the White House communications director, Jen Psaki.
Together, with some other journalists this morning, Jen, I had breakfast with the House speaker, Paul Ryan. And he was asked specifically at that breakfast if he agrees with Donald Trump that the state of the union, in Trump's word, is a mess, and the speaker said, yes, he agrees, the state of the union is a mess. And then he went on to say the foreign policy of the United States is a mess now as well.
Your reaction to the speaker of the House?
PSAKI: I have to say I think there's going to -- the American people are going to hear a much different tone and a different -- a sense of optimism and hope from the president tonight in his speech.
He believes, the president believes we have an economy that is second to none, we have a military that's second to none. We're a country that leads in the world. We have led on things like climate change. We have led on things like trade and opening up markets around the world. And he is very optimistic about our potential. And it really raises
some questions about why some on the Republican side are talking about the demise of the country and a country that, frankly, we already believe is great. America is great already.
BLITZER: Because, normally, in the State of the Union address, a president, any president very often says the state of the union is strong, the state of the union is healthy, the state of the union is good, is excellent.
How will the president describe the state of the union tonight?
PSAKI: Well, I'm not going to get into specific lines of the speech. I know we will have some excerpts soon, Wolf.
But I think people will come away with a sense that there's no question the country is in a better place than it was before the president took office.
[18:30:01] Just look at economic data. Look at the number of months of private-sector job growth. Look at the fact that our -- the view of countries around the world is much more positive about the role of the United States than it was before.
So, you know, I think some Republicans let -- don't let facts get in the way of talking points, and that certainly is their prerogative, but we have quite a different view of the country, the potential we have and how we can build on that.
BLITZER: Let me read a little bit. The White House has just released some excerpts from the president's State of the Union address. One paragraph I want to read, Jen, and get your reaction.
The president will say this: "It will only happen, all of these issues we'll talk about, if we fix our politics." He says, "A better politics doesn't mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country with different regions and attitudes and interests. That's one of our strengths, too. Our founders distributed power between states and branches of government and expected us to argue, just as they did, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and imperatives of security, but democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens."
Is the president suggesting now those basic bonds of trust do not exist between Republicans and the president and Democrats?
PSAKI: Well, the president believes that the -- that Washington is far more divided along partisan lines than the country and that the country expects that we can work together. The American people expect we can work together to address problems.
But the way he'll talk about this is, is also about things that we need to do to change a broken system. Money in politics, gerrymandering of districts, the fact that not enough people vote. People really need to participate in the process. And this is something that remains a cause of his time in public life and he'll continue to talk about as president.
BLITZER: Will the president do more during this election year to reach out to Republicans to try to forge some compromise, some common ground on some of these most important issues?
PSAKI: He will, Wolf, and he'll talk about some of those tonight. Issues like criminal justice reform, like addressing the opioid epidemic in our country. Trade, where we can, and we think there is a path forward.
But he also wants to have a conversation with people in this country. He did a very -- an interesting discussion last week on CNN, Wolf, with a bunch of people who are different sides of the gun issue. He wants to do more of that and have a discussion with people who may have different points of view, and that's something you'll see him do in the months ahead.
BLITZER: He's been president for seven years. Now his final year as president of the United States. How much responsibility does he have for this -- for this problem, this lack of communications, this unwillingness to work together, the partisan divide, if you will? How much responsibility does he have?
PSAKI: Well, one of his few regrets -- and he'll talk about this tonight -- is that people still feel -- many people still feel they don't have a voice in this system and in this process. And he knows that that's not something that any president can change. It requires people from both sides of the aisle. It requires people in this country continuing to have discussions, even when they disagree.
But certainly, he'll talk about that and how there's more work that can be done and more work that he wants to do on that particular issue.
BLITZER: Will he go backwards and look back on what he could have done better in order to avoid this partisan divide?
PSAKI: This is a forward-looking speech, Wolf, not a backward-looking speech. I'm sure we'll have plenty of time to talk about that in the months ahead, but he believes we still have time to change our politics. We still have time to address some of these issues that he'll talk about tonight, like money in politics and people participating in the process and that this is one of the issues that we need to address to change the course of our country for the better in the years ahead.
BLITZER: The president, as you know, he's been getting ready for his State of the Union address. The visiting Jordanian King, King Abdullah of Jordan, one of America's best friends in the Middle East. He's been here now for a few days. He's going to be here tomorrow. I'm going to interview him tomorrow.
He's met with the vice president. He's met with the secretary of state. He's met with the defense secretary. But surprisingly, at least to me, he has not been invited to a meeting with the president of the United States. Why is that? PSAKI: Well, Wolf, we've met with him several times before. The
president's been to Jordan, as you know. I'm sure we'll meet with him in the year ahead.
As I think you can understand, there's quite a bit going on today. The vice president of the United States met with him. But Jordan remains an important partner on really important issues like fighting ISIL, and I wouldn't read too much into it, beyond the fact that today's the State of the Union.
BLITZER: Yes, but it's just, you know, you would think that one of the key players in the region, a country that has accepted hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Clearly, on the front lines working with the United States, the president would find some time to meet with King Abdullah while he's here for a few days.
[18:35:05] PSAKI: Well, Wolf, that's exactly why he met with Secretary Kerry and with Vice President Biden, and certainly, that's a reflection of the important relationship and partnership we have with Jordan.
BLITZER: Jordan and the United States have an excellent relationship, and they've had an excellent relationship for decades, going back to the father of this King, King Hussein.
All right, Jen Psaki, thanks very much for joining us.
PSAKI: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Jen Psaki is the communications director over at the White House.
My interview with King Abdullah tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stay tuned for that, 5 p.m. Eastern.
Let's take a quick break. We'll get back to the breaking news, Iran holding ten American sailors right now.
[18:40:23] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, ten U.S. Navy sailors, nine men, one woman, they're being held by Iran right now, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, after two small U.S. Navy vessels, according to the Iranians, apparently entered Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf. Iran's semi-official news service says the sailors have been, quote, "arrested."
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is getting new information. Update our viewers -- our viewers, Barbara, on what you're hearing.
STARR: Wolf, we have now been told by a senior U.S. official that the families of these ten U.S. Navy sailors, nine men, one woman, are now being informed about where their loved ones are. This notification expected to go on through the night as the U.S. military, as the Navy locates the family members. What is now expected to happen at first light is the sailors,
according to the plan, we are told -- will be put back on their boat. We don't know if one boat is still disabled. They will go back out into the Persian Gulf waters. They will be met out there in international waters by another U.S. Navy ship that will pick them up as quickly as possible.
The U.S. Navy now extremely anxious to talk to all ten sailors, of course, and find out exactly what happened.
So they will not continue their planned trip to Bahrain. They will be picked up by the U.S. Navy in international waters in the early daylight hours, according to the current plan.
Now, a U.S. official told me they are still trying to put together all the pieces, but they think at this point this notion that both ships lost communication and the U.S. couldn't find them may well be because the Iranians took the communication and did not inform the U.S. immediately that they had these U.S. military personnel. This official telling me we consider that pretty hostile, not very happy about that.
The U.S. launched aircraft and ships to look for them when they couldn't maintain -- when they had no communication with them, but it still -- apparently, it was some minutes or some time before the Iranians actually said that they did have a disabled Navy boat and ten sailors from those two vessels.
Not standard naval procedure, not something the U.S. Navy tonight is very happy about, Wolf.
BLITZER: And just to be precise, Barbara, those ten sailors, they have not been able -- they have not been allowed by the Iranians to communicate with the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain?
STARR: There is no indication tonight, Wolf, that they are communicating with any U.S. military personnel. There is a report that the U.S. Navy had some bridge-to-bridge communications at sea with the Iranians while they were searching for these ten missing sailors.
But right now, one of the reasons the Navy is so anxious to pick them up at first light and get them back, obviously, is they want them back and they want to find out everything they can about exactly what happened to them -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope they are out of there very, very quickly. Barbara, thank you very much.
You get more information, you let us know. I want to bring in our chief national correspondent, the anchor of CNN's "INSIDE POLITICS," John King; our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; and CNN senior political commentator, the former Obama senior advisor, David Axelrod.
Guys, we're getting more information. I want to dissect exactly what we're getting. Let's take a quick break. Much more right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[18:48:37] BLITZER: The breaking news we're following -- ten American sailors being held tonight by Iran. The Iranian news service reporting they were, quote, "arrested."
John King, White House communications director Jen Psaki says the president is not planning on specifically addressing the issue of the ten American sailors being held by Iran in the State of the Union Address tonight. I was a little surprised to hear that. What about you?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm sure that's an interesting piece of the conversation. The White House hope, of course, is this would be resolved and they would be released, but now if it's true and even if things go well and they are released after first light, that's after the president's speech.
We know in the speech he wants to talk about what he views, and Republicans disagree with him vehemently on this issues, but what he views as international achievements, including the Iran nuclear deal, saying, number one, they're much less of a threat, number two, we've started a a dialogue with a very important player in the Middle East and perhaps in the future we can get something from it.
I don't know how you do that if there are still 10 servicemen, nine men and one woman, being held, let's just leave it there, not put a term on it, how do you not say something about it? I mean, you've been in the White House when doing the final tweaks. I know you don't want to make too big of a deal about it, if it's going to be resolved, but --
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the other thing is, what I know from being there is there are discussions that we're not privy to, even though this is the Situation Room. They've got another one over there where there are other discussions going on, and they may have a sense of where this thing is going, they may have a sense of the magnitude of it, and they may not want to elevate it.
[18:50:03] And therefore, they want to go forward with their speech, they don't want this story intruding on their speech.
And as to the -- I'm sorry, Gloria. Go ahead.
BLITZER: No, no, finish your thought.
AXELROD: As to the nuclear argument, I think you could make the argument that this validates the urgency having gotten that enriched uranium out of Iran so they are not months away from a nuclear bomb.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think they have been down playing this from the get-go. We saw Josh Earnest immediately go on the air. Jen Psaki is out there saying we -- you know, being noncommittal about this.
I don't think they'd be talking about it this way if they were thinking that there was great peril. I don't know. But I think that they don't want to step on their message tonight on the Iranian nuclear deal or anything else. And I think they're just trying to figure out whether they insert something or whether they have to hold back.
BLITZER: They don't want to do anything to further endanger these ten American sailors.
BLITZER: A bad situation and make it even worse. So, they've got to be very cautious.
I assume, David, and you've been on the inside over there at the White House, they want to use John Kerry's relationship with Javad Sharif, the foreign minister of Iran, to get these Americans out.
AXELROD: I'm sure all the buttons are being pushed. As we know, there is great conflict within the Iranian institutions. The Iranian guards don't see eye-to-eye with the president and foreign minister. So, it's all very froth over there. But I'm sure all the calls to be made are being made.
BORGER: You know, the question is, how does the congressional audience react tonight when the president talks about the Iranian nuclear deal? Is there going to be some sort of rumble coming --
AXELROD: I'm sure the warm reaction will not be muted.
BORGER: Right, from the Republicans.
BLITZER: Guys, I want to take another quick break. We are getting more information in from the Pentagon on these 10 American sailors who are being held by Iran. We'll get that information right after a quick break.
[18:56:27] BLITZER: We are getting new information on breaking news. Ten U.S. sailors are being held by Iran after two U.S. small Navy vessels apparently entered Iranian waters.
Let's go back to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
What are you hearing, Barbara?
STARR: Wolf, a short time ago, a senior U.S. official told me there now has been voice contact with senior members of this Navy crew. That the U.S. has spoken to them and they are reporting that they are fine. There is a plan in place now. If it all works for them to be released in the daylight hours tomorrow morning, it is expected that they will go out to sea. Not clear if they will be in one or both of their boats. They will be met in international waters by a U.S. Navy vessel brought
onboard. The Navy wants to get them back as quickly as possible. We are told right tonight the government-to-government communications between the U.S. and Iran are very professional and this has helped to facilitate whatever this voice communication has been tonight with members of the crew who are reporting that they are OK.
All of this coming, Wolf, as we also know the U.S. Navy is reaching out tonight to ten military families to tell them where their loved ones are -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The -- well, let's hope those ten sailors are released quickly. What about the two vessels? Are the Iranians going to hold on to those vessels or released them as well?
STARR: We don't have an answer to that just yet, Wolf. One apparently disabled, so it may have to be towed out of there. It is not clear whether the first vessel can tow the other one out, but what we do know is it is not expected that a U.S. Navy vessel would go into Iranian waters to get it to tow out a disabled vessel.
So, that still remains to be seen on what vessel they will come out tomorrow morning into these international waters to be picked up by the U.S. Navy, Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, if all these ten sailors are released, that would be great news.
All right. Barbara, thanks very much.
David Axelrod, sure, it would be a sigh of relief for the president and his top aides.
AXELROD: Well, as we said earlier, I suspected from the tone of their comments to you and others that they knew that the situation was on route to being resolved. They have confidence of that, and that's why they said they weren't going to mention it in the speech. But, yes, I'm sure there is great relief.
BLITZER: It won't be resolved until those ten Americans are back in U.S. hands. Let's just make sure that happens.
BORGER: Right. But the fact that they established voice contact and letting journalists know about that makes it pretty clear that this is going to be resolved. Now that it might be resolved, perhaps the president will mention it and say our sailors --
AXELROD: He seems pretty locked in on his speech, I don't know.
KING: Let's pray and hope this is resolved and those sailors are safe and back in Bahrain at the U.S. naval base by this time tomorrow. And yet, it is proof of the two worlds we live in politically in the sense you have half dozen of the Republican presidential candidates already, Wolf, saying that Iran is doing things like this to test the president because he is weak, because they view him as weak, because they view the United States as weak right now. Let's hope this is resolved, the sailors are safe, but that political
debate is going to continue past tonight's speech through November.
BLITZER: And there will be a lot of looking back to see how this incident occurred. Lessons learned, very important.
All right, guys. Thanks very much.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back later tonight an hour from now, 8:00 p.m. Eastern for CNN's special live coverage of President Obama's final State of the Union Address. Thanks for watching.
A special edition of "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.