Return to Transcripts main page


Mugabe Ouster Anticipated; Alabama Newspaper Endorses Roy Moore's Opponent; U.S. to Send Rescue Mission for Missing Argentinian Submarine; U.S. May Close PLO Office; Puerto Rico Facing Food Shortages after Maria. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired November 19, 2017 - 04:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): In Zimbabwe, time appears to be running out for president Robert Mugabe as his own party appears set to oust him.

Also CNN's investigation into modern day slavery in Libya sparks anger outside the country's embassy in Paris.

And in the United States, the largest newspaper in the U.S. state of Alabama urges readers not to vote for Senate candidate Roy Moore, who is denying allegations of sexual assault.

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm George Howell. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: It is 4:00 am on the U.S. East Coast and change seems imminent in Zimbabwe as the pressure builds on the nation's long-time president to step down. Robert Mugabe is barely clinging to power, his own party reportedly discussing a vote of no confidence on his leadership. All of this following Wednesday's military coup.

Mr. Mugabe has been under house arrest and people have been making their voices heard on the streets. This was the scene in the nation's capital of Harare on Saturday. At a mass demonstration, thousands of people rallying, demanding the president resign. Let's get the very latest from CNN's Farai Sevenzo following the story live in Harare this hour.

It's good to have you, Farai. We know that negotiations are still ongoing between members of Mr. Mugabe's own party and the military.

Where do things stand right now?

FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, George, just after 5 past 11:00 in the morning. We know the headlines on this Sunday after a momentous day in Harare are all saying that, yes, Zanu-PF is meeting to discuss Mr. Mugabe's final departure. But we're a very long way from that. But what is important to

remember is that, yesterday, November 18th, was an incredible day for many citizens of this nation as they gave voice to their frustrations in a solidarity march.

This is what went on.


SEVENZO (voice-over): This is not supposed to happen here. This is supposed to be Robert Mugabe's capital, Harare. But Zimbabweans woke up to a new reality.


SEVENZO (voice-over): They finally had a chance to tell the president what they really think. And we, as journalists, were freely allowed to record it, which was never allowed in Mugabe's Zimbabwe.

"Mugabe out."

"Gucci Grace, stop it."

And "Thou art fallen."

And, remember, in the past, these are thoughts a Zimbabwean would never have dared to say, let alone put it on paper.

(INAUDIBLE) is a great day (INAUDIBLE) jubilation. They all say that November the 18th is independence day. Everywhere, they're coming from all over the place. (INAUDIBLE). SEVENZO (voice-over): Insulting the president's name would normally

land you in jail. These guys don't care. It feels like the nation, as it once was, has finally emerged from the darkness, the young, the old, the black, the white, all Zimbabweans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we all came out together and decided to have a chance so we could use our voices.

SEVENZO: Are you usually this political?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to. How could we not be? It's our Zimbabwe. It is our chance. We must speak after seven years of silence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They need all their liberties back. They are freedom everything, which has been stolen by one person, one family, one dynasty. And they're saying enough is enough.

SEVENZO: What this feels like is that a massive 37-year buildup of pressure has suddenly been released and erupted like a volcano. The joyous scenes you see here are people being able to express themselves for the first time in a very, very long time.

SEVENZO (voice-over): Barbara says she's finally giving her father a voice. She tells us he was beaten up in 2008 by Mugabe's loyalists. Zimbabweans hope this is a new beginning for them and they also

quietly pray that today's savior, the army, does not become tomorrow's Mugabe. The president once said only the people could end his rule. The people now wonder if the old man heard their message.


SEVENZO: I suppose every nation has a day like that, that comes out of nowhere and brings unexpected and brilliant news. Perhaps for you, it was November 2008; for Zimbabweans, it was very much November 2017, where the day was just incredible in any angle you looked at it. The number of people who were never political coming out to voice their agreement with what the army had done here.

HOWELL: Farai, I also want to invite our readers, our viewers, rather, to read the commentary that you wrote on about how it feels to be Zimbabwean, given that that is where you were born, Farai, and so much change happening so quickly. Walk us through your impressions.

SEVENZO: You know, George, because of my profession, as a filmmaker and a journalist, Zimbabwe was always one of those stories in sub- Saharan Africa everyone was interested in.

So you're talking about, in 2000, when the land invasions began, then you're talking about the very violent events of 2008, when it seemed they -- the opposition had won and then they pulled out. And so I've always come back here, where I have family and relatives.

And what I can see from yesterday is that, very much so, a corner has been turned. It is an unbelievable thing. Of course, we're not out of the woods yet as Zimbabweans but, at the same time, this is an important stage in this country's history.

What the politicians will decide, what the generals will decide, what will happen within the next coming days and weeks will shape, of course, what the future holds. People are very concerned that, yes, all this jubilation may turn again to fear because we have a (INAUDIBLE) old man, a president who was certainly respected had used for so long.

HOWELL: Farai Sevenzo following this story live for us in Harare, Zimbabwe, thank you for the report. Farai, we'll stay in touch with you of course.

Now let's get some perspective on what is happening in Zimbabwe. Let's bring in Alex Vines, Alex is the head of the Africa program at the Chatham House think tank and joins us now live from our London bureau.

It's good to have you with us, Alex. A lot happening certainly in that nation right now. Let's talk about the nature of these negotiations, because Mr. Mugabe could simply resign on one hand or he could remain defiant, try to stay in power and then that would fall back on a process to remove him.

Help our viewers understand what that process would look like.

ALEX VINES, CHATHAM HOUSE: Well, the local chapters of Zanu-PF, the party of Mr. Mugabe, have all said that he should go. The central committee, which is the higher body of Zanu-PF, has also said he should go.

And as we speak, there is a mediation process taking place, between the generals, mediated by a Catholic priest in Harare, and a couple of other people, discussing with Mr. Mugabe his future.

Clearly the positive endgame of this is a transitional process, where Mr. Mugabe accepts his time is over and then there's a transitional process, some sort of government or national unity pending elections, probably next year.

That's the best case scenario. The military in Zimbabwe is very anxious to avoid anybody suggesting this is a military coup. Coups are frowned on; they, in fact, are very much discouraged by the regional body, the Subafrican Development Community and the African Union, hence why there have been photographs of Mr. Mugabe, including a couple of days ago on Saturday, in fact -- on Friday -- sorry, when he was at the University of Zimbabwe, presenting degrees at a degree ceremony.

So this is a careful transitional process with a lot of negotiation that is taking place right now.

HOWELL: So if Mr. Mugabe is no longer in power, then who will likely be his successor?

VINES: Well, in the short term, I think one of the consistent messages that is coming out from the local chapters and the central committee of Zanu-PF is that the former vice president, second vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, should be reinstated into that position.

So he is, I think, the key person behind the scenes at the moment. And it is likely, I think, that he will be maybe reinstated and then head some sort of transitional authority. That's what I imagine will happen.

HOWELL: Mr. Mnangagwa, Mugabe's right-hand man as described, the question here, how important will it be for people to have a complete departure from Mr. Mugabe's leadership style?

VINES: Well, there has to be departure and already the media has opened up. The amazing scenes that you've just reported show just how quickly things have been changing in Zimbabwe.

Having said that, there will be a transitional process. And Zanu wants to maintain a grip on power. The military don't want too much quick dramatic change. So we need to measure our expectations of how quickly change will come into Zimbabwe.

But the country desperately needs to be stabilized. The economy is in a dreadful state. There is an acute liquidity crisis, there's very little cash and there needs to be international confidence.

Hence a process which starts with Mr. Mugabe stepping down, opening up to a transitional process, we have a firm date for elections, multiparty elections, which are free and fair, is really important, I think, for Zimbabwe now.

But those free and fair elections can't be until next year. This is going to take time.

HOWELL: Alex Vines with the perspective and context, live for us in London. Alex, thank you for your time today.

VINES: Thank you very much.

HOWELL: On the streets of Paris now, protesters filled the streets Saturday, shouting no to slavery. The demonstration came after CNN's exclusive reporting on African migrants being sold into slavery in Libya.

The protesters demanding that the Libyan government investigate, which it has said it will do. Riot police used tear gas to stop the marchers as they approached the Champs-Elysees. Sparking the protest was that CNN investigation that uncovered recent slave auctions at multiple locations in Libya. CNN's Nima Elbagir and her team pursued that story as part of CNN's Freedom Project. Listen.



The numbers roll in. These men are sold for 1,200 Libya pounds, $400.


HOWELL: Saturday's massive demonstration in Paris was a direct response to those shocking and inhumane images. Protesters could barely contain their anger.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It feels like we're going backwards to four centuries ago. We have to mobilize. We can't let this kind of thing happen.

Do we really need to see such shocking pictures before taking a stand?

I don't think so. Now there needs to be a real struggle, a real fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There is no difference between human beings -- black people, white people, Arabs -- everybody is the same. It is the same blood in our veins. So why are we putting Africans in pages in Libya?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): How can it be that, in the 21st century, we're selling human beings like merchandise?

I cannot get my head around that.


HOWELL: The leader of the African Union condemned the barbaric process. Alpha Conde released this statement, quote, "On behalf of the African Union, I express my outrage at the despicable trade of migrants currently taking place in Libya and strongly condemn this practice of another age."

The end of an era in Northern Ireland. Gerry Adams will step down as the president of Sinn Fein next year. He says it is to make way for a new generation of Northern Irish leaders.

Adams has led the Irish Republican Party since 1983. When he leaves, he'll go out with a reputation as peacemaker. In the '90s, though, Adams helped broker a cease-fire that ended the conflict called The Troubles.

For 30 years, Catholics who wanted to unite with the Republic of Ireland clashed with Protestants who wanted to -- wanted Northern Ireland to stay under British rule.

Coming up, Alabama's largest newspaper comes out against Senate candidate Roy Moore. We'll explain why.

Also, Hillary Clinton has some choice words for the President of the United States. NEWSROOM right back after the break.





HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

In the southern part of the United States, new concerns for Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore are coming to light. The editorial board of the "Birmingham News," which is Alabama's largest newspaper, has just come out endorsing Moore's opponent, Democrat Doug Jones, in that Senate race.

Moore is facing numerous allegations of sexual misconduct from decades ago. He denies those allegations.

The paper says, quote, "This election has become a referendum on whether we will accept this kind of behavior from our leaders."

It also says, "A vote for Roy Moore sends the worst kind of message to Alabamians struggling with abuse."

Moore has long been known for his fervent Christian views and his support for evangelicals. But now some religious leaders in Alabama say he's unfit for office and he has cynically used Christianity for his own goals. But Moore, he's not backing down as CNN's Nick Valencia reports.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has been a difficult week and a half for Roy Moore and his campaign in the face of these sexual assault allegations. However, the Republican Senate candidate has remained defiant, as have his most ardent supporters. It was just yesterday that his wife, Kayla Moore, was joined by about

30 or 40 women, who say that they personally know Roy Moore and that the allegations leveled against him don't speak to the character of the man they know.

It was just days before that that faith leaders here in Alabama gathered to testify to the character of Moore, saying that his character is being assassinated and that he's being framed by the GOP establishment.

They went so far as to allege that "The Washington Post" paid the women to come forward. "The Washington Post" denies those allegations, as do the women, saying that they waited nearly 40 years to tell their stories because they felt, at the time of these alleged incidents, no one would have believed them.

It was today that faith leaders convened in Birmingham to echo the sentiments of his accusers, saying that Roy Moore is dangerous to the state of Alabama for his policies and his principles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is unlikely that any of Roy Moore's accuser can definitely prove that he sexually assaulted them 30 years ago, a point the efiant former judge knows well.

But even -- and this is critical, particularly for the media to hear and where we have to stand as Christian ministers -- even before these allegations made national headlines, it was clear that Moore's policy agenda endangered the children of Alabama.


VALENCIA: Moore's biggest supporter has been his wife, Kayla. As she spoke at the press conference yesterday, she said she and her husband are in a political fight, a battle, she said, that will not end with her husband withdrawing from the race. This special election is set to take place on December 12th -- Nick Valencia, CNN, Gadsden, Alabama.


HOWELL: Joining now us to talk more about this is John Thomas, John is a Republican consultant and founder and president of Thomas Partners Strategies, John also a CNN political commentator.

Good to have you with us, John. Let's start with this ongoing situation in the U.S. state of Alabama and that Senate race with Republican judge Roy Moore. He said the claims against him are false; he's gone as far as to blame "The Washington Post" and the national media for attacking his character.

But now we're seeing the hometown paper, as you could call it, the "Birmingham News" and its website, endorsing his opponent, John.

What is your reaction to that?

JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good for them. Those local newspapers -- I've run races in Alabama, in fact, Senate races in Alabama, I know those papers, they're not exactly liberal newspapers.

So it actually took real courage for them to step forward. And, you know, it makes sense because you're starting to see the tide turn not just in the editorial pages that are editorializing against judge Roy Moore but you're also seeing it in the polling, that Republicans are in fact abandoning judge Roy Moore.

And, look, the responses we're seeing from the judge are typical responses you would imagine. He's playing the only card he can to try to blur the lines before Election Day. Remember, the clock is running out very quickly, George. So he's just trying to blur the line, then hold on and hope that the die has already been cast. But it appears that it's too little too late.

HOWELL: John, the judge also turning to faith leaders, religious leaders, to testify to his character. But we also heard from faith leaders who oppose his candidacy.

This split, does it illustrate the question of morality here and whether voters are willing to excuse wrong versus right for Right versus Left?

THOMAS: You know, that is actually a complex question because some of the leaders that have come forward, that I've seen, are people who have known the judge for decades and decades and they haven't seen this side of the judge.

So it looks like they're buying his side of the story, that the timing of this is suspect, that, you know, in the last 30 days for these attacks to come out and they're siding with him.

Other religious leaders are coming forward, strictly on a morality basis, that may not have as long-standing relationship with the judge. It is hard to definitively say what Alabama voters are going to think, based upon the religious leaders.

But it is fair to say that we're seeing even the Republicans in the latest polling starting to abandon judge Roy Moore and break for a Democrat.

And, George, in Alabama, being just a Republican isn't like a Republican anywhere else in the country. I mean, you are -- you would vote Republican above all else. And to start seeing them leaving the judge is really quite remarkable. HOWELL: John, let's talk about the Twitter attack from President Trump on his opponent from the 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton.

The president tweeting this, quote, "Crooked Hillary Clinton is the worst and biggest loser of all time. She just can't stop, which is so good for the Republican Party.

"Hillary, get on with your life and give it another try in three years."

So John, Hillary Clinton has responded, take a listen.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: You know, I'm going to keep speaking out. Apparently, you know, my former opponent is obsessed with my speaking out. Apparently there was another, somebody told me, tweet today. Honestly, between tweeting and golfing, how does he get anything done?

I don't understand it.



CLINTON: So maybe that's -- maybe that's the whole point.


HOWELL: So John, as a Republican strategist, what would you say is the strategy here behind this president, who continues to fixate on Hillary Clinton and the Clintons?

THOMAS: Well, first of all, Hillary Clinton's probably one of the most disliked politicians of all time. I mean, even more so than Donald Trump. She's just so unlikable.

And for the Democrats, I actually feel kind of bad. She's like a bad penny, she just keeps turning up, you know, you want her to go away, they want to turn the page and come with some new fresh vision for the party. But for some reason, she keeps feeling the need to talk about this election.

And Donald Trump loves every second of it. In fact, if she dared to run again, I mean, that's four more years for Donald Trump, so I think it is just one of those things that Donald Trump, any opportunity he wants to kick her in the shins one last time.

And the thing is, she keeps going on. She wrote a book about how she blames everybody but herself and rehashing the election. So it is kind of a mutual love affair. It is a little bit bizarre. But, politically speaking, it is a smart thing for Donald Trump to keep needling Hillary Clinton.

HOWELL: All right, John. Also we're following the Russia probe into 2016 meddling in the U.S. election, Jared Kushner and conflicting statements. It's not the first time he's been on the defense here.

But the question here, could all of this affect his security clearance?

And is Kushner in legal jeopardy in any way, as you see it?

THOMAS: He very well could be in legal jeopardy. I'm not privy to Mueller's investigation and what he has or doesn't have. But certainly there have been conflicting statements.

Look, I just, as a general rule, have been against Kushner's involvement in the Trump administration simply because I don't like nepotism. You know, I don't think it was ever a good idea, I don't think Jared Kushner really shared Trump's vision on the campaign trail for what Trump wanted to get accomplished.

And Kushner is a neophyte. So whether or not these conflicting statements are mistakes or by design, I don't think it is a good thing and, quite frankly, I think he should leave the administration and just get out in front of it.

HOWELL: John Thomas, always good to have your analysis and opinion on this, thank you for your time today.

THOMAS: Thanks, George.

HOWELL: And much more news to come this hour. Help is on the way for a missing submarine. Up next, a new ray of hope for the families of the crew members.

Also, the Trump administration is warning it may close the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington and that has sparked a furious response from the Palestinian government. Details ahead.

CNN NEWSROOM is live from Atlanta, Georgia, this hour, simulcast on CNN USA here in the United States and CNN International worldwide. Stay with us.




HOWELL: A warm welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. It's always good to have you with us. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.


HOWELL: The U.S. is sending out a rescue mission capable of searching underwater. Let's talk more about that now with U.S. Navy Captain Mark Hazenberg, he is the former commanding officer of Undersea Rescue Command. Mark live by phone with us this hour. Mark, it's good to have you. This certainly a very important mission.

But for our viewers around the world, just help us understand the difficulty, how challenging is it to search for a submarine lost in the ocean?

CAPT. MARK HAZENBERG, U.S. NAVY: Well, I can't necessarily speak to the actual search aspect for Undersea Rescue Command. We don't focus on the search aspect. That's other parts of the Navy.

However, when the search is conducted and they do find the submarine, that's when Undersea Rescue Command steps in and has rescue equipment standing by so we can actually commence a rescue.

HOWELL: Speaking generically here, because we do understand this part of the world, right there off Argentina's coast, is known for very strong storms. Our meteorologist, Derek Van Dam, has talked about that a bit.

So does weather come into play in a search like this?

HAZENBURG: So weather is a factor for, I would think, the search but also definitely with the rescue equipment. We always are taking a look at the weather, factoring it in when we go into planning for a rescue.

HOWELL: All right, let's talk about what we know so far. You know, a search like this, it gained so much support, we understand obviously the United States is helping out; Pope Francis has talked about this. He is also from Argentina, of course.

With so much support coming together, support from NASA, what does this mean, would you surmise, for the families of the crew members, who, obviously, you know, want to know where their relatives are?

HAZENBURG: Well, I think it -- the best way to answer that is that we're also very committed to providing our rescue assets. So that if they are -- if that submarine is located, that we are ready to go to actually rescue them, to bring those sailors home.

HOWELL: And this question, obviously, has to be asked because, you know, it is important that this search move quickly.

But the question, you know, how long could you expect crew members on board a vessel like this to survive under these types of conditions?

HAZENBURG: It is difficult to say and there is many factors and variables that go into it that can include depth of water that they're located in, how long they have actually been submerged and how many light stores that they have on board, survival stores that they have on board. All of that is factored in.

HOWELL: Mark Hazenberg on the phone with us, we appreciate you taking time to give us some understanding of the nature of this search and certainly wish for the families of the crew members that, you know, they're able to quickly find it. Thank you.

HAZENBURG: Thank you.

HOWELL: Here in the United States, the Trump administration is threatening to close the Palestinian Liberation Organization's office in Washington, D.C. It says that it will happen if the Palestinians don't enter serious peace talks with Israel.

The U.S. State Department says Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas violated a U.S. law. Palestinian officials say they will cut off contact with the Trump administration if that office that you see there is shut down.

Let's get more now from CNN's Oren Liebermann following the story live in Jerusalem.

Oren, a sudden move like this by the U.S. State Department, it comes from a rarely invoked law. Walk us through what happened here and what comes next.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And that law is fairly new. It is only a couple of years old. A 2015 law that says if the Palestinians take any action against the Israelis at the ICC, the International Criminal Court, Washington will essentially shutter the Palestinian Liberation Organization's office, the PLO's office in Washington.

They say -- that is, the State Department says that, in President Mahmoud Abbas' speech at the U.N. where he called on the ICC to investigate and prosecute Israel, that was an action against Israel at the ICC. So they have taken this step.

But that's not the end of it. President Trump now has 90 days where he can say, look, I'm going to waive this, I'm not going to close the embassy -- or rather the offices of the PLO in Washington if there is an engagement negotiations and a peace process.

So, George, it is possible this is an attempt from the Trump administration to put pressure on the Palestinians to resume negotiations. It is possible.

HOWELL: Right. The Trump administration obviously working on their peace process for what President Trump calls the ultimate deal, as he described it. This can't be helpful.

LIEBERMANN: Certainly not. The Palestinians blasted this PLO secretary-general, Saeb Erekat, essentially saying this is pressure being exerted on the Trump administration from the Netanyahu government to try to derail some sort of peace process just as the White House and the Trump administration are working on their peace plan.

Reports that they could present that sometime in the next few months. And the timing of this is both surprising and intriguing. Just a couple of weeks ago, Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, the point men for the president on negotiations and on a peace process as well as his son-in-law, met with the PLO secretary-general Saeb Erekat, as he was recovering from surgery in Washington. The picture was all smiles. And just a couple of weeks later, this is

a surprising move and it's not just the secretary-general saying they'll essentially cut off ties and they see this as a move against peace, it is a number of other Palestinian leaders as well, who have said this isn't helpful at all if you're trying to make any sort of progress.

HOWELL: What about reaction from the Israelis, Oren?

LIEBERMANN: We got a very short statement from prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the prime minister's office, saying essentially this is an internal U.S. matter; we support the decision and we're looking forward to any move the Trump administration makes on a peace process.

There is a problem here. There is both -- it is essentially a double- edged sword for the Netanyahu government. If President Trump follows through and closes the PLO office in Washington, it essentially absolves Netanyahu of having to take part in any peace process simply because there won't be one.

But if Trump does that, Netanyahu will face domestic pressure to cancel recognition, to cancel Israel's recognition of the PLO, which is tantamount to canceling the Oslo Accords between the Israelis and Palestinians.

And even if those can be unpopular on the street, they are one of the critical factors here in security and stability, so neither side wants pressure to cancel those -- George.

HOWELL: Oren Liebermann, a lot to cover there, thank you so much for your reporting live in Jerusalem.

Still ahead, 22 Arab nations are gathering to discuss a neighbor. Why Saudi Arabia requested this emergency meeting. Live report ahead.




HOWELL: In just a few hours time, the Arab League will hold an emergency meeting in Cairo. It's at the request of Saudi Arabia, which wants to discuss Iran's intervention in regional affairs. Let's bring in CNN's Jomana Karadsheh, following this story live for us in Amman, Jordan.

Again, this meeting, Jomana, called at the request of Saudi Arabia.

Is anything major expected to come of this gathering?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the thing, George. In the past, you know, these kinds of Arab League meetings, especially when we're talking about ministerial level foreign ministers, meeting today in Cairo, there is never an expectation of action coming out of this.

Perhaps we would see some strongly worded statement. But that could also prove to be contentious; it could be an issue because, while you have many countries, especially countries with Sunni leadership or predominantly Sunni, you would see them backing Saudi Arabia in its proxy conflict with Iran.

But, at the same time, no one really wants to see an escalation of this current situation between the two countries. You have countries, for example, like Egypt, that is a Saudi ally, that has been calling for calm.

And we're a few hours, as you mentioned, George, away from that meeting and it is still not clear who will be attending and who will not be.

For example, there are some reports indicating that perhaps the foreign minister of Lebanon might not be attending; maybe it is a way of trying to avoid inflaming the crisis in that country right now when it comes to Iraq, for example; the Shia-led government in that country has very close ties with Iran.

The foreign minister of that country, Gebran Bassil, will not be attending. We're told by the foreign ministry it is because of a scheduling conflict, that he cannot be there because of prior plans. And a deputy will be attending.

And they say that Iraq's position in this current crisis is to de- escalate, calling for dialogue to try and contain this, they don't want to see a confrontation, they say. So many people in this region, George, are really concerned about the rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

And some will tell you they feel that Saudi Arabia is steering the region toward a confrontation with Iran, something people really don't want to see right now.

HOWELL: All right, Jomana, let's also talk about the comments by the Israeli defense minister, asking Arab states to join forces with Israel and create a coalition against Iran.

KARADSHEH: Well, these comments from the Israeli defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, coming through his social media on Twitter and on Facebook on Saturday, saying that now that ISIS is done, it is time to move on to confront Iran, basically, calling on these Arab states, as they meet today in Cairo, to look at creating a coalition against ISIS.

And he's reminded them of history, saying about 40 years ago, that is when the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, made history by going to Jerusalem, addressing the Knesset. And a year later, we saw that peace process between Egypt and Israel.

So he's calling for the Arab countries to join forces, to create a coalition against Iran. But as you know, George, this is a very complex region that is divided along sectarian lines. So creating a coalition against Iran might not be as straightforward as creating coalition against a terror organization.

HOWELL: A lot of moving parts here for sure. Jomana Karadsheh, live for us in Amman, Jordan, thank you for the reporting, Jomana, and we'll stay in touch with you as well.

It has been two months since hurricanes pounded the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. And Puerto Ricans are still facing food shortages. Details ahead.





HOWELL: In the history of rock 'n' roll, hard rock, AC/DC, truly one band that was one of a kind. And a very important part of that dynamic, the man you see right there, the guitarist, Malcolm Young, who started the band in 1975, with his younger brother, Angus.

The band announced on Saturday that Malcolm Young passed away after several years of declining health. Young was 64 years old.

Also in music news, the former teen heartthrob, David Cassidy, has been hospitalized in critical condition with organ failure. Cassidy, who is 67 years old, catapulted to fame in the early 1970s, in the hit TV show, "The Partridge Family."

Cassidy's struggle with alcohol for many years and recently disclosed that he has dementia. His publicist says he's taking it day by day at a Florida hospital, that he's surrounded by family and friends.

In just a few hours' time, thousands of people will protest in Washington, D.C., marching and demanding more help for the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. They want the United States Congress to help alleviate the island's economic crisis.

About half of Puerto Rico still has no electricity, two months after Hurricane Maria hit that island. Puerto Ricans are now facing food shortages. Rafael Romo has this story.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): At first sight, it looks like a well-stocked supermarket, doing brisk business. And then you notice people only buy enough food for a day or two.

ROMO: So how has the way in which you buy at the supermarket changed since the hurricane?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Basically you have to buy less ingredients, less quantity, because if the power goes out, then you don't want to lose 75 percent of what you purchased. ROMO (voice-over): It has been two months since Puerto Rico was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. About half the island remains without power. Those with no refrigeration have had to adapt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stuff like milk and meat and eggs, I buy less quantity and more stuff that is canned.

ROMO (voice-over): Supermarkets have also been forced to adapt. Just take a look at this frozen goods section in this San Juan supermarket. Shelves are empty most of the time.

ROMO: So the problem is not that the suppliers are not being able to deliver, the problem is that people are not buying these things?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People aren't buying these things.

ROMO: How does this compare to what you had before?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are only selling 2 percent.

ROMO (voice-over): But there is also a distribution problem. A shortage of canned goods means this store has to ration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Used to have 10 brands. And we only have four brands of corned beef.

ROMO: Ten brands of corned beef before and only two now?


ROMO (voice-over): They used to carry 20 different kinds of soft drinks. Now they have three.

For Anna Josefina Perez (ph), the hurricane revealed something that is hard to admit.

ANNA JOSEFINA PEREZ (PH), PUERTO RICO RESIDENT: Living in a country that actually goes through hurricanes -- not as often as we could, obviously -- it is very sad to see that we're not prepared, whether it is the government or people in general.

ROMO (voice-over): A hard lesson she hopes the island has learned, as Puerto Rico slowly tries to recover from its worst natural disaster in decades -- Rafael Romo, CNN, San Juan, Puerto Rico.


HOWELL: The same storm system that brought flooding rains near the capital of Greece is bringing more havoc to that area.


HOWELL: Thank you for being with us for CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Hour number two of NEWSROOM back after the break.