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U.S. President Begins Day Two in Saudi Arabia; Rouhani Wins Re- Election; Civilians Desperately Flee Mosul Amid Fighting. Aired 2- 2:30a ET
Aired May 21, 2017 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[02:00:09] CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: Some downtown and some business deals. That was day one of Donald Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia. On day two, the U.S. president is set to deliver a major speech on radicalism.
Iran's president Hassan Rouhani easily reelected. We'll see what it means for the region in just a moment.
And we'll also be in Mosul, Iraq, where the fight against ISIS progresses. Shell-shocked civilians trying to get out of harm's way.
Thank you very much for joining us, everyone. I am Cyril Vanier, coming to you from the CNN NEWSROOM in Atlanta.
So it's now day two of President Trump ambitious foreign trip to the Middle East and Europe. He's in Saudi Arabia. And his Sunday schedule includes bilateral talks with Middle East leaders. In fact he's scheduled to meet the king of Bahrain right now, the Emir of Qatar, in 20 minutes. He'll also meet the leaders of Egypt, Kuwait and Oman.
Then comes one of the key moments of his Saudi visit. The president will give a speech on combating radical extremism.
Also interesting on Sunday, given the president's heavy use of Twitter, he'll be taking part in a Twitter forum with Saudi youth.
Nic Robertson is our international diplomatic editor. He, of course, is in Riyadh.
Nic, one of the big questions ahead of Mr. Trump's speech centers on a few key words, radical Islamic terrorism. Is the president going to say those words and why does it matter so much?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: As far as we know at the moment those aren't the words that he'll choose to use. They are the intent that what he wants is to promote the view that the United States, President Trump is able to tell his allies in the region that they essentially need to be responsible for the view of Islam that's perceived in the region.
So the way that we'll hear -- likely here it from the president is that according to General McMaster, his National Security adviser, is that he will ask the gathered leaders here that several dozens of them, more than 50, that he'll ask them to promote a peaceful vision of Islam. What he wants to do, and this is what General McMaster said, is build relationships to provide and strengthen the security for the United States by having strong allies in the region and that means combating transnational terrorism.
These are the words that General McMaster and that means in view of President Trump speaking about a peaceful view of Islam but of course for many o those people gathered here, though, recognize some of these sort of perceived anti-Muslim statements that he made on his campaign trail, and why is this difficult in this particular place, this is the cradle of Islam, and if he strays from this finely tuned message, that would reflect very badly on the king who's hosting but it also undermine his message as well -- Cyril.
VANIER: Nic, the Middle East is defined by the rivalry between Sunnis and Shiites. Saudi Arabia and Iran. Why has Donald Trump so clearly picked the side of Saudi Arabia?
ROBERTSON: Clearly at the moment he's being told by the Saudis that he's the man that can make the historic reset between the United States, the West and the Arab Muslim world. He's being told that he can achieve something huge. That's a huge amount of positive feedback, if you will. And part of this sort of broader conversation that the Saudis want to be able to have a strong and big allies to stand up to what they see as Iran's meddling in the region. To their south of the border there, Yemen, they see the Iranians behind that civil war there. They see to the north, the Iranians' growing influence in Iraq and in Syria. So that these are major, major concerns for -- you know, for -- you know, for the Saudis.
So why has President Trump brought into -- brought into that? Well, part of his mission here in the region is to -- you know, is to develop strong economic ties as well as security ties so he does appear to be that message. And of course we know President Trump on the campaign trail was very critical of President Obama's rapprochement, if you will, with Iran on the Iranian nuclear deal. The Saudis for their part think that they can tap into that sentiment to bring on board a strong ally. And certainly that's the messaging we're hearing from General McMaster, the National Security adviser, and others around this trip.
VANIER: Nic Robertson, reporting live from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Of course we'll be speaking to you soon again. Thank you very much.
And the president's trip might not be enough to end the firestorm that he left behind in Washington. Now that began when he fired the FBI director James Comey.
The latest news on that, Russia's Foreign minister is now denying a "New York Times" report that Donald Trump bath-mouthed Comey during their meeting, calling him a nut job.
[02:05:06] On Saturday Sergey Lavrov said that Comey's name never came up during his meeting with Mr. Trump.
Let's head to Iran now. The leaders of Russia and Syria were quick to congratulate Hassan Rouhani on his reelection. President Rouhani will serve another four years after beating his hard-line rival Ibrahim Raisi. Mr. Rouhani says he will remain loyal to his country and to his promises to the Iranian people. And of course he was the driving force in Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. and other partners.
CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Tehran for that.
Fred, in Mr. Rouhani's first term, he delivered that nuclear deal with Western powers. What should we expect from him in his second term?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Cyril, I think he's going to try and build on that nuclear agreement. Look, one of the things that the nuclear agreement was supposed to bring for Iran was more economic growth and more foreign investment here into this country. And it's happening on a certain scale, for instance in the oil and gas sector and the industrial sector as well, to a certain extent, but not the way that many people would have hoped. So he's going to try and continue that course, open up Iran's economy, more towards the West, towards other countries as well, and also of course try to be more diplomatic politically also.
It's one of the things Hassan Rouhani yesterday said in his speech where he thanked his supporters, but also thanked the entire Iranian nation for the massive turnout. Some 73 percent came out and gave their ballot here at this election.
One of the things that's going to be very interesting is to see what he does on foreign policy, because of course he's doing all of this in what Nic just described, was the U.S. that's very assertive towards Iran, in some cases negative towards Iran. You heard some of the statements already during that Saudi visit. Secretary of State Tillerson saying, look, he thinks Hassan Rouhani should make Iran give up its ballistic missile program. That's not going to happen. He has absolutely no influence over Iran's missile program. That's all part of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. The president has absolutely no oversights over that whatsoever.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was also talking about what he calls Iran's maligned influence in this region. The Iranians of course see that very differently. They believe that their engagement in Syria, for instance, something that fosters the stability of that country, they believe that it's the Saudis who are destabilizing that country. They say they don't really have a major role in the conflict in Yemen. They would heavily criticized the Saudis over what they called a bombing campaign that is killing many civilians, that lead into famine in that country.
So obviously the Iranians have a very different view. They must probably are not going to change their foreign policy no matter who's in the White House. So certainly it doesn't seem as though there is much chance for a rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran on that level. But certainly as far as the economy is concerned, as far as engagement also with other Western nations and regional nations is concerned, look for Hassan Rouhani to try to be very diplomatic but at the same also trying to negotiate from a position of strength -- Cyril. VANIER: All right. Fred Pleitgen, reporting live from Tehran, thank
you for the breaking down of that. And of course, we'll be speaking to you throughout the day. Also getting Iran's point of view on Mr. Trump's trip to Saudi Arabia.
Now on the other side of the world, the 50th day of unrest in Venezuela had protesters and police facing off once again.
More clashes like these as demonstrators call for President Nicholas Maduro's resignation. Accusing him of staging a coup. The country's attorney general says 47 people have died since those rallies started. And almost 1,000 people have been hurt. Many Venezuelans blamed Mr. Maduro for crippling inflation, for food and water shortages, and an economy that is in shambles.
Iraqi forces say they are getting closer to fully retaking western Mosul from ISIS. But as they do so, thousands of civilians are having to risk their lives to get away from the fighting. For many of them, it's just traumatizing.
Our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman is in Mosul as the army advances.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hurry, don't stop, the soldier shouts. But not everyone can hurry.
They fled their homes in west Mosul 17th of July neighborhood. Traumatized by weeks of bombardment, they reached Iraqi lines under fire. It's hot, they're hungry, thirsty, and exhausted. This 80- year-old woman barely able to comprehend her surroundings.
Abu Ahmed (PH) fled with his family of 15. They've been surviving for weeks on a thin gruel of flour and water.
[02:10:07] His wife, suffering from diabetes, can go no further.
Much of western Mosul is a city in shambles, a perilous, barren moonscape of rubble and dust.
(On camera): That car bomb over there went off about a half hour ago. The Iraqi army has dropped leaflets over western Mosul, warning residents that any moving vehicle in the battle zone will be considered a potential car bomb and will be hit.
(Voice-over): Soldiers from the army's 16th Division prepare to move forward. Taking prisoners is not part of their mission.
"God willing, we'll capture them alive," Major Salah (PH) tells me. "And then execute them in front of the civilians."
These two ISIS snipers, killed just hours before, never raised a white flag. For Brigadier General Abdul (INAUDIBLE) of the Elite Counterterrorism Forces, this is a struggle to the death.
"Now they have no other option than to fight," he tells me. "Either that or surrender, but they've chosen to fight."
The few areas still in ISIS hands are under constant intense bombardment. But in there, still cower hundreds of thousands of desperate residents.
"As the civilians flee, ISIS retreats because those innocent, helpless people are their only protection," says Captain (INAUDIBLE).
Safe ground is still far, far away.
Ben Wedeman, CNN, Mosul.
VANIER: Now after three years in captivity, dozens of Nigeria's missing schoolgirls are finally home.
And that was the dancing and singing in Abuja Saturday when 82 of the kidnapped Chibok girls were reunited with their friends and families. They were released earlier this month in an exchange what was negotiated with the terror group Boko Haram. They're among the 276 schoolgirls that were kidnapped from Chibok in 2014 and remember more than 100 of those girls are still believed to be in captivity.
Before I wrap this up, let me tell you Cloud Computing pulled off an upset to win the Preakness Stakes thoroughbred horserace on Saturday. The victory ends the Triple Crown hopes of the winner of the Kentucky Derby Always Dreaming. The third and final race of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, will be held June 10th in New York.
That's it for me. That's it for CNN NEWSROOM for now. I'm Cyril Vanier. "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is next. Stay with CNN.