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Iran Nuclear Deal; Russia Investigation; Taliban Captured Family Returns to Canada; Rohingya Crisis; Puerto Ricans without Water; California Fires. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired October 14, 2017 - 03:00   ET



ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Deal or no deal: U.S. President Donald Trump puts the future of the Iran nuclear pact in doubt. He says Washington will pull out of the agreement if Congress and U.S. allies don't take a harder line.

Also in the hot seat, former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus is interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller.

And horrifying accounts of brutality; Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar, telling chilling stories of oppression and terror.

Hello, everyone. Thanks so much for joining us. I'm Anna Coren. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


COREN: U.S. president Donald Trump has been hard at work in recent days undoing the accomplishments his predecessor, Barack Obama. He's taken aim at two issues in particular, the Affordable Care Act and the Iran nuclear deal. For more, here's CNN's Ryan Nobles.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Friday was promise-keeping day at the White House. And for the Trump administration, that meant going after some of Barack Obama's key accomplishments.

NOBLES (voice-over): President Trump is trying to make good on major campaign promises with two key policy moves that could have dramatic consequences.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am announcing a new strategy to address the full range of Iran's destructive actions.

NOBLES (voice-over): Mr. Trump unveiling a new approach to the nuclear agreement with Iran, decertifying the deal and forcing Congress to come up with a plan within 60 days.

TRUMP: We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran's nuclear breakout. NOBLES (voice-over): In addition to forcing Congress to make the deal tougher, the president promised new economic sanctions and sanctions against Iran's Revolutionary Guard. He warned that if he doesn't like the congressional plan, he is prepared to pull out of the deal completely.

TRUMP: In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.

NOBLES (voice-over): This warning matches the president's strong condemnation of the Iran deal on the campaign trail.

TRUMP: The Iran deal, forget about deals between countries. This is one of the dumbest contracts I've ever seen of any kind.

NOBLES (voice-over): But pulling out completely could potentially isolate the U.S. from key allies that support the Iran agreement. It also stands in contrast to the recommendations of the president's key advisers, like Defense Secretary James Mattis, who argued the U.S. is better off in the deal.

GEN. JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying with.

NOBLES (voice-over): And it comes despite the fact that the administration concedes Iran has lived up to their end of the bargain.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: My view of the nuclear deal is they are in technical compliance of the nuclear arrangement.

NOBLES (voice-over): While the move may make U.S. allies and diplomats nervous, it will likely be welcomed by the president's supporters, enthusiastically cheered by his speech at the Conservative Value Voters Summit.

In addition to pointing to his plan with Iran, as an example of his attempt to make good on campaign promises, the president bragged about his decision to withhold cost sharing payments for insurance companies as the first step to repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

Republicans have argued for some time that the payments to insurance companies were unlawful. Today Mr. Trump argued the payments were just making insurance companies rich.

TRUMP: As far as the subsidies are concerned, I don't want to make the insurance companies rich.

NOBLES (voice-over): But Democrats contend the White House is purposely attempting to dismantle ObamaCare in an attempt to force Congress to take action, a move that could result in many Americans paying higher insurance rates.

Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi called the move, quote, "a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage, leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America." The president argues he's just following through on his campaign pledge.

TRUMP: In the last 10 months, we have followed through on one promise after another.

NOBLES: And it's not surprising President Trump is focusing on health care and Iran. If you paid attention to his campaign, a key theme was an implied promise that he was going to do everything he can to undo the Obama legacy. He is now taking direct aim at two of Barack Obama's most significant accomplishments -- Ryan Nobles, CNN, at the White House.


COREN: Many U.S. allies reacted with dismay to Mr. Trump's decision on the Iran nuclear deal. They say they will continue to honor the international agreement. Iran's leader went on TV immediately after Mr. Trump's announcement. He suggested Mr. Trump had acted out of ignorance.



HASSAN ROUHANI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This is an international multilateral deal that has been ratified by the U.N. Security Council. It is a U.N. document.

Is it possible for a president to unilaterally decertify this important international deal?

Apparently he is not in the know.


COREN: President Rouhani there.

It not just Iranian leaders who are speaking out. For a look at how ordinary Iranians are reacting, here's CNN's Fred Pleitgen in Tehran.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: President Trump's speech has caused a lot of anger and frustration, especially among those in power here in Iran. But also it has caused some reactions in the political sphere as well.

Iran's president Hassan Rouhani came out really very shortly after President Trump spoke and gave a speech of his own absolutely blasting the U.S. president, on the one hand saying the U.S. can't unilaterally leave the deal, because of course it's not a deal between Iran and the U.S. but between Iran, the U.S. and many other countries.

And on the other hand, also saying that Iran would stay within the nuclear agreement but also if the U.S. also plays its role as well and does not violate the terms of the agreement.

One of the other things that President Rouhani also said that's very important, he said that the speech that Trump gave today shows that, quote, "the U.S. government is against the Iranian people."

That, of course, playing to the fact that President Trump in his speech kept talking about the Iranian people being, quote, "oppressed," by what he calls "the regime" here in Tehran. It was a very fiery speech that Hassan Rouhani gave and certainly one that was watched by many people in this country.

When you look at the reactions we're seeing from ordinary Iranians, we spoke to both moderates and hardliners here in this country and among the moderates, especially, you could sense the disappointment that they feel that this new stance that the United States is showing.

Many of them had high hopes after the nuclear agreement of economic benefits because of the agreement, of an opening up towards the West and possibly even better relations with the United States.

On the other hand, you have the hardliners, who, at this point who are somewhat gloating about all this. They were always very critical of the nuclear agreement and now they're saying, look, we always told you the U.S. can't be trusted. And now this has been proven once again.

One of the other very, very important things that the Iranian government has said, not just President Rouhani but other government agencies as well is they've defended the Revolutionary Guard here in this country after the U.S. has declared it a terrorist organization at least by the U.S. Treasury.

Many government agencies here in Tehran have come out and said that they believe the Revolutionary Guard is an integral part of this country and they certainly seem to be standing by it -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Tehran.


COREN: International reaction to Donald Trump's announcement on Iran has been swift. E.U. leaders are defending the current agreement and the U.K., Germany and France all say they are committed to the deal as is.


FEDERICA MOGHERINI, E.U. HIGH REPRESENTATIVE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: It is not a bilateral agreement. It does not belong to any single country and it is not up to any single country to terminate it.

We cannot afford, as international community, as Europe for sure, to dismantle a nuclear agreement that is working and delivering, especially now.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH FOREIGN MINISTER: And it is succeeding in stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And that is very important. It's a good thing for Iran and for the world. We will work very hard to persuade our friends and partners in the

U.S. Congress that we think the deal has value and there are many people in Congress who want to fix it, not nix it.



SIGMAR GABRIEL, GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Iran plays a very difficult role in the Middle East. No questions this should be addressed and negotiated with Iran.

But what should not happen under any circumstances is that the only sign of hope that we currently have in the world, it is possible to stop a country from developing nuclear weapons, that this sign be stopped.


COREN: Other signers include Russia and China, who said they support the deal as is. Russia's foreign ministry released a statement, saying, "Attempts to use such methods to solve foreign policy problems, which will affect the fundamental security interests of other countries, are doomed to failure."

But Israel and Saudi Arabia are supporting Mr. Trump's confrontational stance toward Tehran.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: President Trump has created an opportunity to fix this bad deal, to roll back Iran's impression and to confront its criminal support of terrorism.

That's why Israel embraces this opportunity and that's why every responsible government and any person concerned with the peace and security of the world should do so, as well.



COREN: Saudi Arabia's state news agency reported that Riyadh also welcomed Trump's strategy and said that lifting sanctions had allowed Iran to develop its ballistic missile program and destabilize the region.

Earlier, I spoke to Peter Matthews, political analyst and professor of political science at Cypress College for his take on the situation.


PETER MATTHEWS, CYPRESS COLLEGE: By Trump signifying that there's a good chance he could withdraw from the deal, that he's not going to certify that Iran is in compliance when actually all the other forces such as the international inspectors say that they are, and our allies, Germany, Britain, France, all of them want to keep the deal, as do Russia and China, and we're the only ones pulling out of it or seeming to go in that direction.

Very destabilizing, very uncertain and there's going to be a second problem for Trump now. He was dealing with North Korea all this time and wrapped up on that situation. Now he's going to have another thing on his hands in the Middle East. It's very dangerous. I would urge the president go ahead and certify it once again and not force Congress to do things like sanctions once more.


COREN: He did however stop short of unraveling the agreement, heeding the advice of his Defense secretary, his secretary of state and others in his cabinet.

Why did he do this, considering his fierce opposition to the deal and his election promise?

MATTHEWS: Well, because his own secretary of state, his chief of staff, his Defense secretary Mattis, they all said that Iran is in compliance and we should keep the deal and yet he went against it. And I think he is doing it for his base, his political base, that he's trying to get reelected with in 2020 or in 2018 for the Congress.

He's got this base, this right-wing base, that wants him to break the deal with Iran and they think that's a tough way to go and to show American strength. It's actually not showing American strength. It's causing a lot of instability and uncertainty around the world, even with our allies.

So I think he's playing to his base mostly. Maybe he's not well informed enough about the details of what's going on and the history of U.S. and Iran relations and what should be done to negotiate in the world with -- peacefully ,which is so important in this time and age.


COREN: That was political analyst Peter Matthews speaking to me from Los Angeles earlier.

The investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election has taken another step forward. The special counsel's office interviewed former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus on Friday. Our Jim Sciutto has the details.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We're learning that special counsel Robert Mueller's team has now interviewed Reince Priebus, the former chief of the staff to the president.

This interview took place here in Washington at the offices of Robert Mueller. Priebus' lawyer tells CNN that it was voluntary, he was happy to cooperate. But it shows this investigation is now extending to the most senior advisers to the president. Priebus is key not only because he was chief of staff until recently but he was the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

During the campaign in 2016 when Russian meddling in the election was taking place. The list does not end there. It is our understanding that the special counsel also wants to speak with the current communications director, Hope Hicks; the current White House counsel, Don McGann as well as former White House spokesman Sean Spicer.

Topics he's interested in looking into, the firing of James Comey, the FBI director; the firing of national security adviser Michael Flynn as well as a meeting on Air Force One that took place as "The New York Times" was first reporting, a meeting in June 2016 between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyers, who were promising damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

All of this showing how seriously the special counsel is taking those various lines of investigation -- Jim Sciutto, CNN, Washington.


COREN: A family held hostage for five years by a Taliban-linked group is safe in Canada and giving a shocking account of how the militants treated them. Canadian Joshua Boyle and his American wife, Caitlin Coleman, were captured while backpacking in Afghanistan.

Pakistani forces freed them Thursday and they then returned to Canada with their three children. Clearly angry, Boyle told reporters in Toronto his kidnappers authorized the murder of his baby girl and raped his wife.


JOSHUA BOYLE, KIDNAP VICTIM: The stupidity and the evil of the Haqqani Networks, kidnapping of a pilgrim and his heavily pregnant wife, engaged in helping ordinary villagers in Taliban controlled regions of Afghanistan, was eclipsed only by the stupidity and the evil of authorizing the murder of my infant daughter, Martyr Boyle, as retaliation for my repeated refusal to accept an offer that the criminal miscreants of the Haqqani Network had made to me and the subsequent and the stupidity and evil of the subsequent rape of my wife, not as a lone action by one guard but assisted by the captain of the guard and supervised by the commandant, Abu Haja (ph) of the Haqqani Network. God willing, this litany of stupidity --


BOYLE: -- will be the epitaph of the Haqqani Network.


COREN: Joshua Boyle speaking there in Toronto.

Well, coming up, Rohingya are telling stories of pure horror in Myanmar. We hear from a journalist covering that story -- ahead.

Plus deadly wildfires burn across California. The challenges firefighters face as they work to contain the flames. (MUSIC PLAYING)



COREN: Welcome back.

Turning now to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, former United Nations chief, Kofi Annan, was back at the U.N. on Friday and called for the safe return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.

This comes after more than half a million fled to Bangladesh; thousands of Rohingya still fleeing into that country. Many say they were the targets of brutal government-led violence.


COREN: Joining me now is Jeffrey Gettleman, the South Asia bureau chief for "The New York Times."

Jeffrey, thank you so much for joining us and, firstly, I want to congratulate you on an incredible piece of journalism that highlights the atrocities taking place in Myanmar. Tell us about some of the stories you heard firsthand from the Rohingya survivors.

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well I've been doing this work for 20 years as a journalist in conflict zones. And I have never heard such horrendous, upsetting , depressing stories as I just did.

The Rohingya are being massacred right now in Burma and hundreds of thousands have fled into Bangladesh. And they're packed into these really crowded, squalid, messy camps on the border. And I went there as a journalist to talk to people about what they were fleeing from.

And I met one young woman who had really the worst story I've ever heard face to face from anyone. And she told me about soldiers coming into her village, burning down the houses one by one, trying to run away and then being captured.

And she was a young mother. She had a toddler boy in her arms and she said the soldiers ripped the boy out of her arms, threw him into a fire and killed him right in front of her. And then she was raped, left in a house that was set on fire. Her mother was killed. Her brother was kill. Her sisters were killed.

And she ended up escaping barely, running away naked, covered in blood and making her way to Bangladesh. You hear a story like this and you're so shocked and troubled and angered and deeply disturbed.


GETTLEMAN: But she wasn't -- it wasn't the only story like that, it was the opposite.

We step into these camps and anybody who I spoke to had seen massacres and atrocities like this. So there were all these different stories from different parts of Burma from people that weren't even I the same camp. They were miles away telling me the same thing. It just added up to this picture that was really one of the most horrible things I had ever heard.

COREN: Jeffrey, it is unfathomable that humans can behave that way, ripping an 18-month-old toddler from her mother's arms and throwing it alive on the fire. It seems -- I just cannot comprehend.

What other stories did you hear like that?

GETTLEMAN: Basically there was a pattern of brutality and destruction that was going on -- and this is in late August. There's an insurgency in this part of Myanmar. There are rebels attacking government forces.

But instead of fighting those rebels, the government forces just went on a rampage against civilians. And there's a long history here of discrimination and dehumanization and demonization of the Rohingya.

And so year after year these people have been treated like villains inside Myanmar. And so once this rebel attack happened, it became an excuse by the government to just try to wipe out all the Rohingyas. And they burned down hundreds of villages, destroyed crops, burned down trees. They were just trying to erase these people from the landscape.


COREN: Well, that was Jeffrey Gettleman, South Asia bureau chief for "The New York Times," earlier describing the stories, the horrific stories, that he's heard from Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar.

Well, more than a million Puerto Ricans are still without clean water. Some people are so desperate they're drinking from water pumped from hazardous waste sites. U.S. officials say many water sources won't be safe until infrastructure is repaired and power restored.

But 91 percent of Puerto Ricans were without power Friday, 8 percent more than the day before. The acting U.S. Secretary of the Army visited the island to survey the damage. He leading more than 10,000 soldiers on the island. But he says it's clear that tremendous challenges still remain.

The wildfires in Northern California have wiped out thousands of buildings, leaving scorched earth and rubble in its place. Nearly 90,000 hectares have burned since the fires erupted since Sunday and at least 36 people are dead.

Officials are searching through the damage for hundreds of missing people. They're finding some bodies burnt beyond recognition.

Meanwhile, thousands of firefighters are making progress containing the inferno but officials warn that strong winds could cause flames to spread over the weekend. Well, CNN's Miguel Marquez has the latest on the crews working to put out these deadly fires. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Firefighters battling from the ground and the air. The weather, for now, cooperating. Crews finally getting the upper hand on fires that killed dozens, leveled entire neighborhoods and burned through nearly a quarter of a million acres.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today, the weather is cooperating but we are going to go back into red flag again and that's going to be an issue that we will have to keep a close eye with low humidities (sic) and potentially wind for the next couple of days.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The magnitude of the loss only grows. The Petaluma home of "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz, destroyed along with all his personal memorabilia. His widow evacuated and survived.

The fire spared nothing, even a Santa Rosa fire station gutted. Crews now doubling efforts to cut lines, burn out brush and undergrowth and prepare for hot, dry winds in the days ahead.


COREN: That was CNN's Miguel Marquez reporting.

We're now getting harrowing video from the first night the fires raged. This bodycam footage released by the Sonoma County Sheriff's office shows a deputy responding to the emergency. He runs through raining ash, drives through walls of flame as embers fly off his car. And at one point he rescues a woman from her burning home. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are you at?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on. Come on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's disabled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, all right, let me get her feet. Let me get her feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Her husband is right behind you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sheriff 1, 10-4, we're doing a carry out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold up, hold up, hold up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a house on fire. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got to get her out, you've got to get her out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Hold on. There we go. OK. Watch your leg, watch your leg, watch your leg. Watch your leg, watch your leg.

Sir! You've got to go.


COREN: Officials are investigating how the fire started.


COREN: Thanks for your company. I'm Anna Coren. I'll be back with the headlines in just a moment.