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Trump's Surprise Press Conference; Source: North Korea Rejects Diplomacy With U.S. For Now; Wildfires Kill At Least 39 People In Portugal & Spain; At Least Three Dead As Storm Ophelia Hits Ireland; Iraq Seizes Disputed City From Kurdish Control; U.S. Backs Kurdish And Iraqi Troops Against ISIS; Desperate Search For Survivors In Somalia; A Month On Puerto Rico Is Still Struggling; Approval Of Trump's Storm Response Falls; Eiffel Tower Turns Off Lights To Honor Attack Victims; Price For U.K. To Leave E.U. Is Still Unresolved. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired October 17, 2017 - 02:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour:

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Despite several squeaky wheels, President Trump holds a bizarre press conference to tout his administration's well-oiled machine.

VAUSE: Ophelia's wrath: it's the strongest storm to hit Ireland in decades before that the winds are fanning deadly wildfires in Portugal.

SESAY: Plus searching for answers in Somalia after the single deadliest attack in modern history.

Hello and welcome to our viewers from all around the world. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. Great to have you with us. This is NEWSROOM L.A.


VAUSE: With the Republican agenda stalled in the U.S. Congress and the party on the brink of a civil war, president Donald Trump and the Senate majority leader attempted a show of unity on Monday.

They feuded for months over the failure to repeal ObamaCare but Senator Mitch McConnell stood by as the president said they'd never, ever been closer. Some commentator said it was more like an unhappy couple in arranged marriage.

As the president took questions on a wide range of issues for almost an hour. SESAY: Mr. Trump said he hopes Hillary Clinton will run again. He'd like the Russia investigation to end and he falsely claimed previous presidents didn't write or call the families of slain U.S. troops. He also did not rule out a visit to Korea's demilitarized zone during next month's trip to Asia.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you afraid of provoking North Korea by going to the DMZ?

TRUMP: We'll take a look at that. I didn't hear in terms of provoking. But we will certainly --



VAUSE: There's a lot to get to in this hour. We have Alexandra Field, standing by in Seoul, South Korea. Also our political commentators Dave Jacobson, John Thomas here in Los Angeles.

But, Alexandra, first to you. The president dodged that question essentially about whether or not he would go to the DMZ. It was originally on the schedule. Now there's some speculation it may not be on as part of the trip.

If he did follow through or even just simply talking about going there, what is likely to be the reactions from the North Koreans, given the tension between these two countries right now?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, John, I think we can safely presume there will be a strong reaction. But there will be a strong reaction from North Korea to President Trump as he makes his trip through Asia based on the messages that he will be here to deliver.

We can surmise that, based on the pattern we've seen for months now, this volleying back and forth between President Trump and state news in North Korea, where you're seeing this lobbing back and forth of threats. The tone from President Trump lately has been alternating between fiery and cryptic when it comes to how his administration will deal with the unfolding crisis on the peninsula.

It's not entirely uncommon that a president wouldn't confirm specific details of an overseas trip. There are certain security precautions that need to be taken. So I don't think we should read entirely into that.

And we should also point out that certainly previous presidents have visited the DMZ. Both Presidents Bush, President Clinton, President Obama and even Vice President Mike Pence was there during the early months of the Trump administration.

The focus during that trip was in fact on the message that Vice President Pence delivered. That was when he announced as he did several times that this administration would put an end to the policy of strategic patience. He said that the new means of dealing with North Korea would be about redoubling economic and diplomatic efforts to rein in that rogue regime.

Certainly those aren't the kinds of words we have heard President Trump use recently. He has taken a tone that's much more suggestive of the United States' ability to unleash a military option if called to do so, if that was deemed to be necessary by the administration.

That of course has been tempered in a very a big way by his sort of, who has continued to say very publicly that the primary goal of the administration is to pursue a diplomatic resolution here -- John.

VAUSE: OK, Alexandra Field in Seoul with the update there. We appreciate it. Thank you, Alexandra.

SESAY: Let's bring it back to the studio here to Dave and John.

John, to start with you, you have been a supporter, a fan, if you will, of the president's muscular, more strident approach when it comes to North Korea. Is this a trip he should make to the DMZ unconfirmed; he dodged the question but should he make this trip, given, as John himself, my colleague here, said, the tensions?

JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would be worried just from a security standpoint. This is not a place you want to go. North Korea is not a stable country. They have tons of weapons right next -- on the border of the DMZ pointed at South Korea. I wouldn't advise it at this stage, especially as how tense the tensions are currently. But it looks like Trump is leaving all operations open. l just don't see --


THOMAS: -- how you would do a secure trip at this point, given what has been exchanged between the two leaders.

VAUSE: Dave, how does he not go now that it's out there?

If he does not go maybe it's backing down, he seems scared.

DAVE JACOBSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Donald Trump is a weak president. We've seen this all the time. He was going to repeal and replace ObamaCare. He said all these big and bold things that he was going to do as president. He never delivered.

I guess the question for me is like, why poke the bear?

He's coming off like a warmonger, like he wants war to happen. And perhaps he doesn't understand what the consequences mean. But it's the president who's intensifying and accelerating the heated rhetoric between us and North Korea.

Doesn't make any sense to me.

VAUSE: With that in mind, a North Korean official has told CNN, before we can engage in diplomacy with the Trump administration, we must send a clear message that the DPRK -- the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- has a reliable, defensive and offensive capability to counter any aggression from the United States.

In other words, they want an ICBM that can reach the East Coast with a nuclear bomb on it or a nuclear warhead before they'll start talking about --


THOMAS: Which is exactly the problem.

VAUSE: Exactly. But John, considering the U.S. president has repeatedly said that military options are the only solution to this problem, that kind of statement doesn't come as a surprise?

THOMAS: No. And a lot of things don't come as a surprise. North Korea originally claimed they didn't want a nuclear weapon. They wanted nuclear power. In fact, they just wanted the weapon.

You can't trust anything coming of the North Korean administration. Look, it's not a pretty place we're in. Tillerson said today or yesterday that he's going to try his best as a diplomatic solution. But I just don't see although you got to give Trump credit where he's got more action from economic sanctions out of China than any president before.

JACOBSON: Can I just say like this rhetoric is pulled directly out of the Trump playbook. They're mimicking what he's doing. Obviously --


THOMAS: -- the bottom line is much of the last eight years was much of appeasement with North Korea. It didn't work and now we're trying a different tack.

SESAY: Dave, you heard what John just said. Tillerson -- he referenced Tillerson's comment that he's going to give it his best shot. But given President Trump's statements and words on Twitter, I mean, how weakened is Tillerson, even if he was to give it his best shot?

Because it's quite clear, he doesn't necessarily always speak for the President of the United States when it comes to dealing with Pyongyang.

JACOBSON: Nobody speaks for Donald Trump besides Donald Trump. Rex Tillerson has been humiliated and totally undercut repeatedly by the president. He doesn't speak for the White House. He doesn't speak for the United States as far as I'm concerned.

If the President of the United States is undercutting you, if you're saying you're having negotiations and that diplomacy is going to continue until the first bomb is dropped, then the president is saying something totally different, you're not speaking on behalf of the country.

And so I think that poses a real challenge for the Trump administration.

VAUSE: From one flashpoint to another one. U.S. allies are facing off against each other in Kirkuk. The Iraqi military has moved in, retaking the city back from Kurdish forces. The U.S. president is trying to avoid taking sides; another issue he talked about during that news conference in the Rose Garden.


TRUMP: We don't like the fact that they're clashing. We're not taking sides. But we don't like the fact that they're clashing. We -- let me tell you, we've had for many years, a very good relationship with the Kurds. As you know and we've also been on the side of Iraq. Even we should have never been in there in the first place. We should never have been there. But we're not taking sides in that battle.


VAUSE: Let's go to Michael Krause. He's a former U.S. Marine captain (INAUDIBLE) in Iraq. He provided security services for the U.S. consul general in Irbil, spent some time in Kirkuk.

So, Michael, you know the region well, this action taken by the Iraqi government seems to be well organized, well disciplined, relatively peaceful. They said they were coming. The Kurdish forces did a deal, mostly left.

What is the problem you see moving forward after this point, though?

And what will be the consequences of the president not taking a side in this?

He says he's trying to stay above it, keeping his hands clean.

MICHAEL KRAUSE, FORMER U.S. MARINE CAPTAIN: The thing about it is it's the Middle East. You have a take a side at some point. When it comes to Kirkuk, it was inevitable that the federal force, the Baghdad controlled forces were going to come back in.

The -- we have to understand that Kirkuk was saved by the Kurdish forces from same fate as Mosul back in 2014. The Iraqi army fled before the ISIS offensive. If it hadn't been for the Kurdish forces coming back in to Kirkuk, then we would have the same type of battle that took place in Mosul.

In terms of picking sides, there's two ways to look at it. First, from a humanitarian standpoint, the Kurds are the largest minority group in the world without their own nation. So if you look at it from that standpoint, we should take the Kurdish position.

However, we're still trying to fight ISIS. Granted, they been pushed out of Iraq into Syrian territory mostly. And our largest ally in defeating ISIS early on was the Kurds.

[02:10:00] KRAUSE: And you can go back and you watch the tapes from Obama back in 2015, and David Cameron when they were talking about we're going to have no boots on the ground because we had the Kurds fighting for us.

So moving forward, we have to get someone there, whether it's the State Department and we just had this conversation about Tillerson maybe being diminished in terms of his power, but we have to get someone down on the ground in Baghdad to broker some type of negotiated settlement with the Kurds and the federal government of Baghdad.

VAUSE: OK, Michael, we appreciate your insight there. Thank you very much for being with us.

SESAY: Michael, thank you.

John, to bring it back to you. You heard Michael say it is the Middle East; you have to pick a side. The president clearly not wanting to do that.

Is it because he wants to exhibit shrewd political dealings or does he just not have any Iraq policy?

What is your sense here?

THOMAS: I think it's the best I can read into it is what he campaigned on, which is staying out of unnecessary conflicts and wars, that America shouldn't be in Iraq in the first place. He said he's against it and he's trying to keep America out of those conflicts.

I think this is one of those times when he is saying we don't need to be getting into another conflict. America's stretched too thin. We're dealing with things we have to deal with, like Iran and North Korea. But beyond that we don't want to go any further.


JACOBSON: I think he looks like a spineless politician who's refusing to pick a side.

THOMAS: But if he got involved, you'd say he was a warmonger. So it's this --


SESAY: -- so just very quickly, to what Michael said, he's talking about Tillerson and brokering, not --


THOMAS: -- I wouldn't be surprised to see the State Department get involved.

VAUSE: Well, the U.S. president also (INAUDIBLE) in that news conference when he was asked why he had not spoken publicly about the four U.S. service men who were killed almost two weeks ago in Niger. Then he had this off-the-cuff remark about calling the families of the service men and what President Obama did or did not do.


TRUMP: If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls. I like to call when it's appropriate, when I think I'm able to do it. They have made the ultimate sacrifice. So generally I would say that I like to call.


VAUSE: Well, that set off some fierce criticism from those who used to work for President Obama. Former Obama aide, Alyssa Mastromonaco (ph), tweeted this, "That's a (INAUDIBLE) lie to say President Obama or past presidents didn't call the family members of soldiers killed in action. He's a deranged animal."

Later during the news conference, John, he did try to -- the president tried to walk it back a little bit. But this seems to be the problem with the Trump presidency; he doesn't know history and he makes stuff up as he goes along. And then it comes back to bite him.

THOMAS: This is no doubt, when I saw it this morning, I thought, this is a classic case of foot in mouth. President Obama, President Bush, I remember as it happened. They called the grieving families. This is what presidents do.

Maybe President Trump wants to do it better, maybe bigger and more robust than it's done before. But to say that presidents haven't done it in the past, that's not true.

SESAY: Let me read the White House statement, Dave, and let me get you to weigh in. This is what was said.

"The president wasn't criticizing predecessors but stating a fact."

This is coming from Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary.

She said, "When American heroes made the ultimate sacrifice, presidents pay their respects. Sometimes they call, sometimes they send a letter. Other times they have the opportunity to meet family members in person.

"This president, like his predecessors, has done each of these. Individuals claiming former presidents such as their bosses called each family of the fallen are mistaken."

Dave, your response to that and, really, what was the president's intention in actually saying that statement in the very first place?

JACOBSON: I think that any time President Trump could attack President Obama, he's going to exploit that opportunity. The fact is Donald Trump is a pathological liar. We know that. We see him tweet out lies every single day, like this isn't different. I think what is really significant here is the fact that Donald Trump

campaigned as the military guy. He's in it for the troops. And he came off extraordinarily disingenuous with that message, where he waited 10 days to say anything about these fallen soldiers. It's abhorrent.

VAUSE: One of the criticism also of the president is that there's this blatant shifting of responsibility which happens all the time. That was also on display today.


TRUMP: Well, what the press writes, I have great relationships with actually many senators but in particular with most Republican senators. But we're not getting the job done. And I'm not going to blame myself. I'll be honest, they are not getting the job done.


VAUSE: John, (INAUDIBLE) the agenda was failing but then he caught himself and then he blamed the party.

THOMAS: I think that was actually a fair criticism. You have got a president in this White House that would literally sign anything that the Republicans put on his desk related to health care. He would sign anything.

SESAY: Dave, again, bearing in mind tax reform is on the table in Congress --


SESAY: -- how does it behoove you to in public lay the blame as he did and not take any share of the responsibility, lay it on Congress?

JACOBSON: That's something only Donald Trump can do. But look, it's put up or shut up time. Let's show the American people results, like get stuff done. You're the leader. You got a problem with Congress? Go walk up to Capitol Hill and jam something through.

THOMAS: It's not unusual for presidents to blame the Congress. President Obama did that all the time. Usually --


THOMAS: The difference is they usually blame the other party. Trump blames nun.

VAUSE: Well, the president also -- I know we're moving to (INAUDIBLE) but there was so much news to get to so we're moving on.

The president also promised action next week about the opioid epidemic in the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: We're going to have a major announcement probably next week on the drug crisis and on the opioid massive problem. And I want to get that absolutely right. This country -- and frankly the world has a drug problem. The world has a drug problem but we have it and we're going to do something about it.


VAUSE: Let's bring Reef Karim in here because (INAUDIBLE) specialist, founder of The Control Center of Beverly Hills. He's now promising to do something next week, which is initially what his own commission recommended this government do.

So if he does follow through, what will the impact be?

REEF KARIM, FOUNDER, THE CONTROL CENTER OF BEVERLY HILLS: Well, first off, thank God he said it's national emergency. But we've gone in reverse because there's a bill that came out in 2016 that essentially made it harder for the DEA to track distribution of pills that go onto our streets by going to pharmacies and going to doctors' offices. And between the number of pills that we see and the number of prescribers and the lack of information that's being put out there, what is he doing?

Yes, you can say we're going to do this, we're going to do that we're going to throw lots of money. Tell me what you're doing.

Are you going to throw it at research?

Are you going to throw it at creating a national registry, which we absolutely need, that tracks these abusable medications so we know who's getting what?

And are you going to track the way that the pharmaceutical companies are manufacturing these drugs?

Are you going to change the scheduling of these drugs?

What are you going to do, President Trump?

VAUSE: OK, Reef, thanks for being with us.

SESAY: John, to you quickly because we're almost out of time, how does the president declare a national emergency when it comes to opioids and keep his nominee for drug czar --


THOMAS: He can't. And I think he even hinted at it today that he was reevaluating whether or not --


THOMAS: -- I'm hearing the guy's gone.

VAUSE: Dave, look, national emergencies are usually for hurricanes, disasters. This is an ongoing, long-term health problem in this country. And a national emergency, it may help but it's not going to fix it.

JACOBSON: It is an epidemic. I think there's something like 142 people are dying per day --


JACOBSON: I think this is a rare opportunity for bipartisanship in Congress. This is something that we should have commonsense coalescing with Republicans and Democrats to come together. It could be a big win for both sides.

But we've got to tackle this issue. Big Pharma has this stranglehold over Washington and we need to address this head on.

VAUSE: Good note to end on. Thank you, guys.

SESAY: -- appreciate it, thank you.

VAUSE: OK. Wildfires have been sweeping across Spain and Portugal, leaving dozens dead. And they've been driven by hurricane force winds from Ophelia, one of the worst storm to hit the region in decades.

SESAY: And Ophelia also slammed Ireland, dumping heavy rain on coastal towns and leaving hundreds of thousands without power. The forecast is next.





SESAY: Hello, everyone.

Wildfires are ripping through Portugal and Spain, killing at least 39 people. Thousands of firefighters are now on the front lines. It has been unusually warm and dry for the area but authorities say some fires may have been started deliberately.

VAUSE: Portugal has declared a state of emergency and is asking for international assistance. Over the weekend the fire was driven by strong winds from the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia.

SESAY: Ophelia then moved north, weakening to a storm but dumping heavy rain in Ireland and parts of the U.K. At least three people died. Ophelia brought hurricane force winds and left hundreds of thousands without power.

VAUSE: It's the strongest storm the region has seen in decades. Earlier we spoke by phone with meteorologist Simon Partridge (ph) with the U.K.'s National Weather Service. We asked him what he is worried about, considering the storm's expected path.


SIMON PARTRIDGE (PH), METEOROLOGIST: We're expecting it to cross Southern Scotland at the most populated area of Scotland through this morning. So in time for rush hour. So with strong winds there, we've already got bridge restrictions and closures.

We're concerned about trees coming down and destruction on the roads, possible with turning of vehicles as well.

SESAY: How satisfied are you with the measures put in place, the advice that been given to the public to prepare for this?

PARTRIDGE (PH): We're pretty good. We managed to get a warning last Thursday, so way in advance. We were pretty confident on the track for the storm. And the proportion taking in Ireland certainly helped to keep the majority of people within their homes and limit the amount of lost life.

Anyway, although unfortunately, three people did lose their lives yesterday in Southern Ireland.


VAUSE: Incredible images so far.


PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Just speaking to a friend who lives across this region and they're telling us the showers are beginning to be observed in that area right now with the storm beginning to come through.

In California, no such luck. There are 12 active fires across the Western United States but at least improvement in that we're seeing the humidity forecast increase over the next 24 or so hours.

San Francisco, the atmosphere almost fully saturated by tomorrow night. In Santa Rosa, one of the very areas, very hard hit, gets up to about 90 percent humidity. That is all a good sign. The temperatures will also want to cool off. We're seeing a little bit more of an impact here with a northwesterly winds. So we're getting some of the influence there from the coastal regions, cooling off the temperatures and increasing the moisture as well.

And earlier I had the chance to speak to California's fire director, Kent Penlot (ph), about these changing weather patterns, how this is going to impact these firefighting efforts across his state. Take a look.


KENT PENLOT (PH), CALIFORNIA FIRE DIRECTOR: Absolutely the weather is going to make a difference. We're looking at the potential for a storm system to come through on Thursday and Friday, bringing up the humidity. The main thing is the winds have subsided for now.


PENLOT: We had those dry north winds that, when these fires began late Sunday evening last weekend, so as you indicated, we're making great sides toward containment on all the fires. There's still some areas where we have some active burning and almost about 1,000 firefighters continue to be on the fire lines.

And our goal is to continue to get fire lines around all of these while we work with our local communities and begin the repopulation effort.

JAVAHERI: I always say Mother Nature has the upper hand when it comes to wildfires like this and really for just about any wildfire. If it's going to be windy enough or if it's going to be hot enough or dry enough, it just makes it extremely difficult if not impossible to gain the upper hand on these fires.

What are some of the challenges you guys are facing right now, as we're seeing the weather improve, of course, but what are the challenges moving forward into finally containing most, if not all, of these fires over the next several weeks?

PENLOT (PH): It's one, just the size. As you know just the Tubbs fire alone is over 36,000 acres and several others are larger than that. At one point we had 22 large fires burning. So it's just a matter of getting resources on the ground and around all of these fires.

Again it's trying to get that contained before weather changes again because we've indicated with our models here that after this weather front passes, we are potentially back in the north wind conditions again. And we're looking at Santa Ana winds for Southern California as early as this coming weekend. So there are challenges to get ahead of this weather and make as much progress as possible before adverse whether comes back.


JAVAHERI: That was Kent Penlot (ph), the director for California's fire department.

When you think about what has transpired here in the last couple of months, we had a historic drought; we transitioned into this impressive rainy season as we've had in years across California. And it's really counterintuitive.

You think you have the cooler temperatures come in. You have the wet weather in the beginning of the year. That's going to improve the fire conditions. What that actually did is really have an explosion there of the vegetation across parts of California and that was followed by a drought, which was essentially the last 4-5 months and that has left tremendous fuel to be consumed. What we're seeing now take place across that region. Again the good news is we're seeing places like the Tubbs fire there 75 percent containment. It was 65 percent yesterday, down to about 50 percent containment a couple of days ago. So we're heading in the right direction but, again, very slow movement across that region, guys.

SESAY: We're just grateful that we're moving in that direction. Pedram, thank you.

VAUSE: Thank you. OK. Time for a quick break here. "STATE OF AMERICA" with Kate Bolduan is up next for our Asia viewers. For everyone else, two U.S. allies are feuding in Iraq. How tensions over Kirkuk might impact the fight against ISIS. That's just ahead.

SESAY: Plus the role Iran is playing between the standoff between Kurdish and Iraqi troops. We'll have a live report from Tehran coming up.



VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM Live from Los Angeles, I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. The headlines this hour, North Korea is not interested in diplomacy with the U.S., until, Pyongyang develops an intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting the Eastern United States. A North Korean Official tells CNN, Pyongyang wants to send the message it has reliable defensive and offensive abilities to counter any U.S. aggression.

VAUSE: Wildfires in Portugal and Spain had killed at least 39 people and injured and dozens of others. Thousands of firefighters are on the lines battling dozens of fires. Authorities believe some of them may have been started deliberately and it's also been unusually dry and hot in the area.

SESAY: The most powerful storm Ireland had seen in decades has killed at least three people. Ophelia have brought hurricane force winds and heavy rain, leaving hundreds of thousands without power.

VAUSE: To Iraq now, violence has broken out between two U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS. Iraqi troops have seized the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, and he gears of Kurdish control. They've also taken over a nearby oil fields and a major military base.

SESAY: Flashes have been reported and the Kurds say Iraqi troops killed more than a dozen of their fighters. Tension has been building in the region since the Kurdish independence vote last month. The Kurds have been key in defending the city against ISIS ever since the Iraqi's withdrew in 2014.

VAUSE: For more, Jomana Karadsheh joins us now live from Amman in Jordan. So, Jomana, this all happened relatively peacefully, Baghdad apparently struck a deal with the Kurdish faction in control of most of Kirkuk. The Iraqi's continue on with this operation but does it appear that both sides can negotiate a resolution here without escalating the confrontation? JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the ball right now is in the court of the Iraqi government and the troops allied with the government in Baghdad, John. What happens next? The situation remains very volatile, extremely dangerous right now. Is it just Kirkuk or they going to move on to try and seize more of these disputed territories in Northern Iraq and North Eastern Iraq? So, we have to wait and see.

The Kurds are really warning that this could drive the country into a new Civil War. And they want to see the International Community especially the U.S. These are the calls that are coming from Kurdish officials. Do more, to quote, prevent war. So, the danger is there and we have to wait and see what happens next at this point, John.

VAUSE: OK, Jomana. Thank you for the update there from the very latest of what actually happening in the area around Kirkuk. Well, alongside the Iraqi forces in the Kirkuk operation, where Iranian- trained Shiite militia, they also have ties to Iran's Islamic Revolution Guard. Fred Pleitgen joins us now live from Tehran with more on that. Fred, it seems for IRAN, this crisis over Kirkuk has been an opportunity to increase its influence in Iraq.

PLEITGEN: Well, I would say anyway, John, that the Iranians are probably the most influential country inside Iraq to begin with, probably even much more influential than the United States themselves.

And one of the things that we've been seeing is that they don't only have influence over those Shiite militias that you were just talking about, which of course, heavily involved in those operation around Kirkuk. But they actually have influence among the Kurds as well. Of course, we know that the Kurds are heavily divided in amongst each other.

And one of the things that the Kurdistan Regional Government had said is they believe that the Iranians are behind a lot of what's happening in Kirkuk. And they said that some Kurdish fighters had left their positions yesterday, allowing pro-Iranian militias to move into some of those places.

I want to read to you a statement from the Kurdistan Regional Government. They say, this official, the Kurdish officials have left some sensitive places for the hash forces which is those pro-Iranian militias and Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards? Well, all of this comes only a few days after a Senior Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, who's the head of the Revolutionary Guards Kurds force, which is the foreign operation's wing of the Revolutionary Guard. He visited the areas in Iraqi Kurdistan where those Kurdish forces that have deep ties to Iran, where those are at home.

So, it seems as the Iranians may have played a role in some of those Kurdish fighters leading before Iraqi forces moved in. The Iranians have a very clear strategy, though, that in Iraq, they obviously want to take influence on the government in Tehran. There's some very close ties both of course, very much Shiite-dominated governments. At the same time, they obviously want to have a government that in Baghdad that is very much in favor of Iran, that has good ties with Iran. And certainly seems, though, that something that they're trying to enforce out there. They also, of course, wants to maintain Iraq's territorial integrity, and they've warned the Kurds in the Kurdistan Regional Government area not to do with the independence referendum, which of course, has led to a lot of what we're seeing right now. Or at least kicked off some of the turmoil that we're seeing in and around Kirkuk, John.

[02:35:05] VAUSE: Fred, you mentioned Qasem Soleimani, the head of the -- the head of the Kurds force. How significant are these reports that he is -- have been seen in Kirkuk entering into talks with Kurdish officials, almost a represent -- a representative of the Iraqi government?

PLEITGEN: Yes. I think it's very significant and it's something that the Kurdistan Regional Government has confirms to us, as well. They said that Qasem Soleimani, only a few days ago was in the area around Solemania, which is where the patriotic union of Kurdistan is, which is that Kurdish group that has very close ties to Iran. And then, was apparently seen in and around the Kirkuk area as well. So, that certainly seems as though, he's trying to negotiate something perhaps trying to talk to both sides to try and diffuse the situation but at the same time, of course, push through Tehran's agenda, which is very much saying, look, the Kurds, they can have a position inside Iraq but the Iranians want the Kurds to remain as part of Iraq.

They were always against this independence referendum. They told the Kurds this from the very beginning, they shut the borders with Iraqi Kurdistan after all of this happened. So, certainly, Iranians have a very clear position and it does seem as though the Revolutionary Guard which wields a great deal of power inside Iraq is very much on the ground and is very much trying to take control of that situation there, John.

VAUSE: OK, Fred, thank you. Fred Pleitgen reporting live from Tehran. We appreciate it, thank you.

SESAY: Well, this is into us here at CNN. The Philippine's President says he's military has regained control of the City of Marawi from militants linked to ISIS. The city had been under sieged since May, and President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law across the island of Mindanao, where Marawi is located. About 350,000 residents fled the city in nearby areas during the fighting.

Also, to come here on CNN NEWSROOM, search teams are hunting for survivors after two truck bombs exploded in Somalia. We'll find out if authorities know who carried out the attack.

VAUSE: Also ahead, President Trump offended a lot of people, tossing those paper towels to the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. So, we went there to find out if anyone on that town had received anything more than paper towels.


SESAY: A song that tribute in the French Capital for the victims of the worst attack in Somalia's modern history. The Eiffel Tower in Paris turning off its light to honor the 300 people who died Saturday.

VAUSE: They were killed when two truck bombs exploded within minutes of each other in Somalia's Capital, Mogadishu. The White House also condemning the attack, some Americans were among the victims. Teams have been searching the debris looking for any survivors. So far, no claim of responsibility but the Al-Qaeda-linked terror group, Al- Shabaab, has carried out similar recent bombings in the city but nothing like this.

SESAY: No, nothing like this. Farai Sevenzo joins us now from Nairobi, Kenya with the latest on this attack. Farai, thank you for being with us. So, right now we're putting the death toll at least 300. But I know that officials then Somali had warned that we may never learn the true number of those killed in these blasts because some people were essentially incinerated. What is the latest you're hearing about? What is happening there at the blast site right now? What is the latest?

[02:40:20] FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The latest, Isha, is that recovery efforts are ongoing. This has been the worst bomb attack in Mogadishu, the Capital of Somalia. In a decade of this Islamic Insurgency led, as you said in your introduction, by al- Shabaab. We know that we have a figure from our man on the ground, confirmed by ambulance in hospital sources of 302. But as you say, that figure is expected to rise. And we've been hearing, of course, horrendous stories of a -- of a -- of survival.

The African Union Brigadier General Mohangga Cayanza, the African Union forces that -- said yesterday that they could still hear people's phones in the rubbles. And unfortunately, as the day go on, their batteries died. Incredible heartbreaking detail like that is beginning to come out. And of course, people are asking, how did two trucks, not one, two, manage to pass through so many checkpoints and detonate in the K-5 junction area of Mogadishu without being detected? And the lot of (INAUDIBLE) going on at the moment, Isha.

SESAY: Yes. Absolutely, you know, I would love to ask about the survivors. Well, over 200 people injured. I mean, talk to me about how hospitals are coping with so many wounded people. What are you hearing about the situation in those hospitals right now?

SEVENZO: The situation in the hospitals, I spoke to Minister of Information yesterday, Miss Abdurahman Osman in Somalia. It is quite desperate but I -- fortunately, for the Mogadishu citizens, there has been a massive response they are few for help. We understand that the Turkish government sending an air ambulance yesterday and airlifted around about 30 people of the most seriously injured. Now, remember, this bomb blast contained not only explosives but cooking gas which made it so incendiary and made it sort of prone to fire.

So, that's why, as you mentioned, people were burned beyond recognition, and those kind of people, those kind of injuries are what are being airlifted. We also understand the Djibouti people are sending a plane, Qatar is sending an air ambulance later today, Tuesday. And the efforts are ongoing. But of course, the questions are being asked, what's next for Somalia? Because the government there of Mohamed -- Abdurahman Mohamed Farmajo as he is known, has been trying to take this fight to al-Shabaab.

But of course, they're saying that they have an arms embargo against since 1993. And they need arm their own forces. But remember Isha, Somalia is a delicate place. That embargo has been in place since 1993, the year of Black Hawk Down. And they cannot give arms to people who may then turn against them. So, we are at this state of asking all these questions as well as looking for blood for the victims. As well as trying to understand, who and when the responsible people will claim responsibility.

SESAY: Yes, and certainly the question of whether they'll ever be brought to justice. Farai Sevenzo joining us there from Nairobi, Kenya. Always appreciate it, my friend, thank you. Let me to announce a former U.S. Marine Captain Michael Krause who's with me now. Michael, thank you for being with us because this is a story that deserves as much attention as we can give it.

You made the point, you know, as we tell the story to our viewers that, you know, it was a twin truck bombing. You made a very important point to people at home, this isn't just like a truck bombing in Oklahoma. This is something of a whole different scale. Give us some perspectives.

KRAUSE: Well, there's used military grade as your Correspondent said. Think of -- and for most of your American viewers, think of a thousand pound bomb or 2,000-pound bomb that we use in airstrikes. Put that in a van, drive it to downtown Mogadishu and blow it up. What's this heartening not only the fact that this is basely Somalia's 9/11, with 300 killed and 200 to 300 injured, is it got through multiple layers, two truck bombs got through multiple layers of security checkpoints, which means, al-Shabaab most likely has infiltrated the security apparatus of the Somali government. So, now you have al-Shabaab operatives inside the government, inside the security forces.

SESAY: Al-Shabaab hasn't claimed responsibility which is surprising or is it not to you?

KRAUSE: It may be a point where they've conducted operations like this in the past on a smaller scale, whether 20, 30, maybe 40 killed. It may be a point where they actually killed more people than they thought they were going to kill. And so now, you actually have galvanized the country against you.

So, what people understand, Somali is a little bit smaller in the size of Texas. African Union troops, there's about 20,000 troops there. That's a large area to cover with only 20,000 troops. Plus you have the fact that al-Shabaab reaches on the other countries, especially Eastern Kenya. We know that Kenyans have been fighting al-Shabaab, they had the mall attack there a couple of years ago. So, there's a large area of ground to cover with 20,000 troops, not that much.

[02:45:05] SESAY: But let me ask you this, was the sense that al- Shabaab had largely being confined to rural areas of Somalia. I mean, had there been an underestimation of their capabilities? Or, I mean, help me understand how we got to this point? Had they taken the eye off the bull or is this -- this is a surprise pivot on the part of al- Shabaab?

KRAUSE: I -- well, the fact that they've infiltrated the security apparatus is a surprise hit, but it's easy for them to maintain control of their forces in the rural area. Like I said, it's a little bit small and the size of Texas. So, they're going to be able to operate from that -- from that area. And now, the United States is also U.S. Africa command that's put forth a hundred U.S. troops. Now, granted we're in a training and advising mission right now, but the Trump administration has stepped up strikes. I think we've had about 17 drone strikes. But the problem here is we're not going to be able to drone this away.


KRAUSE: And from what we saw that took place in Niger this week with four Green Berets being killed. As you guys reported earlier in the Philippines, you have an ISIS-linked terrorist going on there. These type of militant groups are a plague against all civilized people. And it doesn't matter if it's Europe, it doesn't matter if it's Africa, it doesn't matter if it's Asia.

SESAY: I've got to ask you this before I let you go. I want to put up a tweet that is a representative of a lot of the conversation online among many, and then this is what the Pakistani actor Hamza Ali Abbasi said, "More than 200 people killed in a blast in Somalia, no twister trends or headlines, proof the world is governed only power politics not by humanity."

And what is your sense as you made the point this being Somalia's 9/11 of the kind of global response to this, or the silence, really, the lack of outrage, a widespread outrage?

KRAUSE: And I think it goes back versus from a western perspective of we've been -- Somalia has been in conflict since the last quarter century. Now, granted, this is not the same Somalia as Gothic Serpent, Blackhawk Down and things like that. We just had a new presidential election. The African Union troops are actually, you know, making strides in terms of bringing security to the urban areas, mainly. And obviously, this truck bomb got through, but they are making strides. So, I don't know if it's just a western mindset where there's always been conflict there and we just forget about it.

SESAY: Sure.

KRAUSE: But we have to look at it as it isn't us versus them. And when I say it's us versus them, it's civilized people versus these militant groups.

SESAY: There are no boundaries and the fight against terrorism. Michael, really appreciate it.

KRAUSE: Thank you.

SESAY: Thank you. Thank you.

VAUSE: OK. He's talked it up and repeatedly tweeted it out, the U.S. President, he says he's proud of the response by his administration after Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico devastated more than three weeks ago. In one tweet, he promised the Puerto Rican people that he will always be with them.

SESAY: But a new poll suggests Americans, they aren't having it with just 44 percent approving of his response post Maria, that is now down 20 points from Mid-September when Americans were happy with how much have Trump dealt with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which hit the U.S. mainland in late August and September.

VAUSEL: Among the biggest of the biggest problems facing Puerto Rico is electricity. 85 percent of the island is still without power. The governor says the plan is for most of the island, 95 percent to have electricity by December, about seven weeks from now.

SESAY: CNN has visited the same neighborhood where President Trump tossed those paper towels at storm victims. We've been asking whether people are getting the aid they actually need. Our Bill Weir takes a look.


BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aside from one cluster of power line contractors working gamely in the rain, it's hard to see any signs of improvement in the highlands just outside of San Juan. The roads still littered with Maria's debris are all the more obstructions and steady tropical downpour as weeks' worth of cleanup work can be undone in minutes.

This literally just happened within the last hour. A wall of fallen trees and pipes and cars came rushing down the hillside. And that mudslide made life all the more difficult for the people here because it took out this bridge. This bridge has been certified as safe recently. They had cleared this road, but now the families that live on that side are completely cut off. They either have to hike over the mountain in this kind of water for food or supplies or forward this raging river.

What was it like watching it happened? Were you afraid?

EFRAIN DIAZ, RESIDENT (through translator): Everything I've been struggling for all my life all of sudden is gone (INAUDIBLE) salesman.

WEIR: He restores Corvettes for a living but now his parts trailer is tossed. A few of his cars totaled by that wall of muddy water.

He and his wife Luz have been surviving in a house without power, burning their savings on generator fuel to keep her insulin from spoiling. Life was stressful enough but then their trickle of a creek brought the highest water they'd ever seen.

[02:50:06] "My son was picking up the most important things as the water was coming up, just in case we needed to leave," he says.

Really? Really? Oh, that must have been terrifying. This is the blue-collar section of upscale Guaynabo. The same municipality where President Trump tossed those paper towels. As Mayor Angel Perez stood by.

How would you describe the response of FEMA?

MAYOR ANGEL PEREZ, GUAYNABO, PUERTO RICO: Oh, it had been slowly but it's there. You know, they have given us water, food, the tarps. So now, they have changed a little. They're going to assign couple of persons directly to each municipality. I think that's the right direction.

WEIR: Yes.

PEREZ: So, the help is coming.

WEIR: With over a thousand homes in his town damaged, he says the biggest needs are tarps for shelter and drinking water. Those plumes of fuel pouring into the creek, a reminder of the health hazards of drinking of the land. And he expresses hopes the Army Corps of Engineers can somehow replace his bridges.

Now, you are brand new in this job.

PEREZ: 40 days.

WEIR: 40 days. What a baptism by fire. I know you were appointed by the governor after a scandal with the previous mayor. Tell me about the politics. Do you -- do you wish you could scream and beg for more help from the federal government or do you have to be careful about how -- and how you ask?

PEREZ: No, we want more help, and I know -- or my experience is FEMA has given us a lot of help. We want more, we need more help. And as I have meetings with other mayors, I see the desperation.

WEIR: Off camera, Luz tells the mayor, "I voted for your party and you forgot about us. We need water." Have you seen FEMA? Have you seen any aid from the federal government? They haven't brought food or water here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, agua, no comida.

WEIR: Bill Weir, CNN, Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.


SESAY: Nothing.

VAUSE: Amazing, huh?

SESAY: Quick break. Stalled Brexit talks have British Prime Minister fly into Brussels for a private dinner with the head of the European commission. We'll tell you if breaking bread help get the Brexit talks moving again.


SESAY: Well, Brexit negotiations have reached a critical moment and no one is certain how they will turn out. British Prime Minister Theresa May flew to Brussels ahead of the European Council meeting later this week. Monday night, she had dinner with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, hoping to find a way to jumpstart the stalled negotiations. After their dinner, Juncker and Mrs. May released an optimistic statement that Brexit talks should speed up soon.

VAUSE: Prime Minister May will return to Brussels for a (INAUDIBLE) where she will be pushing for a two-year transition period to give the U.K. economy time to adjust. Those talks have stalled over a number of issues, chief among them, the cost to the U.K. for divorcing the E.U.

SESAY: All right. Well, CNN's Bianca Nobilo joins us from Brussels. Bianca, good to see you. So, Theresa May was able to make some progress it would seem during this dinner. But those key sticking points, which today have been citizens' rights, the Irish border, and of course, the big issue of cash, the E.U. had said that those issues had to be dealt with before progress could be made. Are we to take it that this dinner has resulted in a reversal in the E.U.'s position?

[02:55:20] BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, there were certainly no breaking of that deadlock. Theresa May might be able to chip away at it a little, because at the moment, this is all high-stakes diplomacy, and we're not getting huge amounts of progress. So, we have to look for the little indicators. And if we compare what happened last night to the dinner that Juncker may had earlier this year in April which turned soar and really set them back. And things are moving in the right direction, but as you say, Isha, those three roadblocks haven't really budged. So, the best case scenario for the Prime Minister, is that at the end of this week, when the E.U. Council meet, that the leaders decide that they're willing to give a little bit of ground and start talking about trade deals and a possible transition with the U.K.

SESAY: Bianca, it's one thing for Theresa May to be doing these rounds, trying to get European leaders on the same page, this goes to Macron, Merkel, and the rest of it in recent days, it's another thing to get her cabinet on the same side. I mean, where do we stand with that? I mean, what does the road look like that?

NOBILO: The road looks incredibly bumpy. As you say, I think this whole process would be hard enough if the entire parliament or government and certainly cabinet, were on the same page, but they're not. There's definitely still splits, and quite publicly this week with the Chancellor because a lot of people in Theresa May's party and government want more preparations for that no-deal scenario. They want the U.K. to be able to show the E.U. that we're willing to walk away from this negotiation process. But the Chancellor Philip Hammond is not willing to put money by that yet.

So, these splits, they're still very much a part of what's going on in British politics. And the process of getting these Brexit bills through the U.K. Parliament has only just begun. Amendments are being tabled, and there's now cross-party support to try and change these bills. So, it's not just her own party that Theresa May have to worry about, but of course, the opposition, so this is going to be an arduous process, and very, very difficult for her in the coming months.

SESAY: Arduous is the key world. Bianca Nobilo joining us there from Brussels, very much appreciate it. Thank you.

VAUSE: David Cameron looking like a very wise man at this point.


SESAY: He's probably on a beach somewhere.

VAUSE: With Barack Obama.

SESAY: Exactly. You've been watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. Stay with us. Rosemary Church will be with you after a short break. You're watching CNN.