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Manhunt on for Gunmen in Museum Massacre; Obama: 'Our Nations Have a Historic Opportunity'; Obama 'Reassessing' Relationship with Israel; FBI Investigates Hanging Death of Black Man; Did ISIS Carry Out Museum Attack?; Graco Faces Record Fine for Delayed Recall. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 20, 2015 - 07:00   ET


PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Meanwhile, behind me there are crowds in the center of Tunis today, marking this country's independence day. Always a big deal. Usually a celebration. Today, it is hoped that these crowds will be expressing a symbolic act of defiance against the people that they believe have attacked this country's economy, political stability and so, therefore, it's very existence.

Alisyn, back to you.

CAMEROTA: Yes. So important to show that symbolism today. Phil, thank you.

Also new overnight, President Obama reaching out directly to the Iranian people. This is in a new YouTube video. He urges them to pressure their leaders to accept a nuclear deal with the west. This, as negotiations hit a snag and a deadline furiously approaches.

Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is live in Switzerland with more.

What do we know, Nic?


Well, about an hour ago, Secretary Kerry went into his first meeting of the day with the Iranian foreign minister, Zarif. He offered sincere condolences to the Iranian negotiators on the death of the president or Iran, President Rouhani's mother.

The president -- the president's brother is one of the negotiating team. He has already left to go back to Iran. Obviously, that -- that puts a slight question mark over where the talks go from here.

But the talks are currently under way at the moment. President Obama's message to the Iranian people, if you will, going over the head of the politicians here, trying to hammer out this deal, telling people it's time to make a choice, and an important choice for the Iranians.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran's leaders have a choice between two paths. If they cannot agree to a reasonable deal, they will keep Iran on the path it's on today. A path that has isolated Iran and the Iranian people from so much of the world. If Iran's leaders can agree to a reasonable deal, it can lead to a better path. The path of greater opportunities for the Iranian people.


ROBERTSON: Well, I asked the foreign minister, the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, this morning if there is enough time to make a deal before the deadline. This is what he said.


ROBERTSON: Do you think a deal is possible by the 31st of March?

JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I think a deal is possible any time. It depends on the political will, whether there is a political will to reach one.


ROBERTSON: Well, that is significant, because earlier in the week, he was talking more about the need to close the gaps and make up differences on technical issues, but now putting the focus on the need for political compromise. This is something that Secretary Kerry has said all along, that Iran needs to make some tough key choices, political choices.

I also asked Zarif about what he thought about President Obama's message. He said that he'd tweeted his response to that already. And that goes along these lines here. In part, "It is high time for the United States and its allies, he said, high time for the United States and its allies to make a choice, their choice, to choose between pressure and agreement." Clearly pushing back against the Secretary Kerry's team here, essentially saying, "You're putting too much pressure on us. If you want a deal, back off" -- John.

BERMAN: Nic Robertson with incredible access to the officials at the center of these talks right now. Thanks so much, Nic.

President Obama finally did call Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his big election win and to let him know it comes with a big price. The president warned Netanyahu that the U.S. is reassessing its relationship with Israel, mainly because of the prime minister's vow to never allow statehood for the Palestinians.

Let's bring in CNN White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski. Good morning, Michelle.


Yes, not quite the warmest congratulations ever. I mean, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came here and most uncomfortably schooled the White House on how bad its negotiations with Iran are. Well, now it is the White House's turn, very publicly blasting those

two things that Netanyahu said in the lead-up to his reelection. First that there would never be a two-state solution with Palestine while he's prime minister, and that his supporters should try to counteract all the Arabs heading to the polls.

The president brought this up in that phone call yesterday. And the press secretary mentioned no fewer than 19 times in his press briefing yesterday that the U.S. is now re-evaluating its position moving forward, Evan though Netanyahu has since tried to walk back everything he said. Listen.


JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Now, the prime minister of Israel says earlier this week, days before an election, that this is a principle that he no longer subscribes to, and that his nation no longer subscribes to. That means the United States needs to rethink our approach. That this, that steps -- that this principle has been the foundation of a number of policy decisions that have been made here. And now that that foundation has been eroded, it means that our policy decisions need to be reconsidered.


[07:05:25] KOSINSKI: I mean, the White House is Evan spelled out that part of the re-evaluation includes the U.S. constantly backing up Israel and standing up for it in the U.N.

But don't worry: the drama will continue here, because in the next couple of weeks, House Speaker John Boehner is going to travel to Israel and meet with Netanyahu.

Back to you guys.

CAMEROTA: Yes, the drama does continue, it seems, every day, Michelle. Thanks so much.

For more on the Iranian nuclear talks, and the strained relations between the U.S. and Israel, let's bring in retired U.S. Army colonel, Lawrence Wilkerson. He's the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Colonel, great to see you this morning.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON (RET.), FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO SECRETARY COLIN POWELL: When we last had you on NEW DAY, which was two days ago, you were optimistic that we were going to see a deal, a nuclear deal with Iran. Where are you this morning?

WILKERSON: I'm still about 60/40 on the positive side. I think there are a couple of issues, not least of which is when sanctions will begin to be lifted, that are sticking points. So we may not get a framework agreement, the formal agreement in the timeframe that's been specified, say, end of March. We may get what is a political agreement, and then still have to work on some of the details. But I still think that's a positive sign.

CAMEROTA: Well, that's interesting that you're optimistic. Because it feels today as though things have stalled. Because that sanction sticking point is a big one. Iran wants them lifted immediately. The U.S. does not want to do that. They want them tapered out over time. So where do they go with that?

WILKERSON: I think there's still ground for compromise. I think, with the president's ability, given to him by the legislature, by the U.S. Congress, to temporarily lift sanctions in key places, and with the Iranians' ability to compromise somewhat on their side with regard to sanctions, I think there's still -- I still have optimism that we can reach an agreement. Maybe not a final one by the end of March, but certainly a political agreement that will allow a final framework to be established.

CAMEROTA: President Obama is doing something interesting. In the past 24 hours he has addressed the Iranian people directly. He put out a YouTube video, appealing to them to pressure their leaders. What do you think of that tactic?

WILKERSON: I'm not sure I would have done it. But I have to admire it, at least I think what is a subtle political move. Because it is clear that, particularly the 45 and below, and that's the majority of the 70-plus million Iranians, like America.

Unlike most other people in the Middle East, when you poll Iranians, you don't find, as in Jordan, where it's less than 20 percent have a favorable view of us. You find huge percentages of people in the Iran who have a favorable perception of us.

So it's a subtle political move, if not -- if not a finger in the eye of the Iranian government.

CAMEROTA: But do young people in Iran hold any sway with their leaders?

WILKERSON: I think they do. I think, since 2009 in the so-called Green Revolution, in particular, the conservative mullahs, Evan, and the general government, the Majles, their parliament, and so forth, do in fact have to take into consideration the views of the Iranian people.

I would say very, very candidly that Iran is probably the most democratic country in the Persian gulf region right now. My Republican colleagues will boil their eyes at that, but it is the most democratic country. It's a theocracy, no question about it. But it is possessed of the democratic tendencies that far outweigh those of, say, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia or Evan Egypt.

CAMEROTA: That is a fascinating perspective. Let's move on to Israel. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has seemed to issue some wildly conflicting statements in just this week, about how he feels about the two-state solution. Which one do you believe is sincere? He supports it or he does not support it? WILKERSON: Well, I know the pressures of campaigning probably got to

him, and he had to track back the ultra-right-wing that's so important to him. But I think he revealed his true feelings.

I think all one has to do is look at Prime Minister Netanyahu's actions over the past six, seven, eight years to know those were his true feelings.

And I'm frankly happy that the president has reacted. I hope it doesn't go on, tit for tat, tit for tat. We've got to stop somewhere and get down to business. But I'm glad that the United States has at least said rhetorically, that it's going to quit being Israel's lawyer and instead become a fair, equitable mediator in what is one of the most tenacious problems in that region, the Palestinian-Israeli and ultimately Arab-Israeli.

[07:10:13] CAMEROTA: But what -- but what did -- beyond rhetoric, what do you think President -- where does this leave President Obama? What should he do about this?

WILKERSON: I think we're looking at a time, not unlike when President Reagan sold F-15s and AWACs to the Saudis and roiled the relationship significantly, or the first Gulf War, when President George H.W. Bush tried to keep and did keep the Israelis out of that war.

We're looking at a time where the situation has to calm a bit. But we have each reminded each other of the need to be diplomatic in our dealings and the need that Israel has for us and vice-versa.

If this calms down and Mr. Netanyahu tries to govern instead of just live on rhetoric with his right wing, and President Obama tries to do the same thing with respect to Israel, this could be healthy for the relationship.

CAMEROTA: OK. Always get -- great to get your perspective. It's usually optimistic. Colonel Larry Wilkerson, thanks so much.

WILKERSON: Thanks for having me.

CAMEROTA: Let's get over to John.

BERMAN: We do have breaking news out of Yemen this morning. At least 16 people are reportedly dead after suicide bombers attacked two mosques in the capital of Sanaa. Reuters says it happened during the noontime prayers there. The mosques are used primarily by supporters of the Shiite Houthi group that forced the president from power. No claim of responsibility at this point. We're going to bring you more details as they become available.

CAMEROTA: Well, the FBI and the Justice Department's civil rights division now looking for answers to a difficult question. Was the hanging death of a African-American man in Mississippi a suicide or something much more sinister and criminal?

CNN's Evan Perez is live in Washington with the latest.

What do we know, Evan?


Otis Byrd was last seen alive on March 2. And his family reported him missing six days later.

Law enforcement officials in Mississippi believe it's his body that that was found yesterday hanging from a tree with bedsheets tied around his neck and a skull cap on his head.

Now the FBI and the Justice Department civil rights division have joined local authorities to investigate his death. The sheriff in Claiborne County says they're still working to identify the body, which investigators believe was hanging for some time.

Now, 50-year-old Byrd was last seen at a nearby casino. Authorities found the body Thursday in deeply wooded property, about 500 yards behind a home where he lived. Investigators are looking at all possibilities, including suicide or foul play.

Byrd served 25 years for a murder conviction in 1980, and he was paroled in 2006. A family member tells CNN he was a good, hard- working man, who held various jobs, including on an oil rig, since he was released from prison. They said he called often and that there was nothing unusual about his behavior before he disappeared -- Michaela.

PEREIRA: So upsetting on so many levels. All right, thank you so much for that.

Want to show you quite the phenomenon in the skies today: a solar eclipse, a super moon and the spring equinox all happening within hours of each other.


PEREIRA: The tail-end of the eclipse happening right now. It was visible in the last few hours over parts of Russia and North Africa and Europe. And it's happening in the presence of a super moon, when the moon appears especially bright during its closest approach to Earth.

And of course, at 6:45 tonight, the spring equinox, when the sun shines directly on the equator, marking the triumphant end of winter, which we're all thrilled about. Can't wait for it.

BERMAN: Somewhere Bonnie Tyler is humming.

CAMEROTA: Thank you for that reference.

All right. Well, there are new questions about whether ISIS was really behind that deadly museum massacre in Tunisia, even though they are taking credit for it. We take a closer look at who might be to blame.

PEREIRA: Sorry. President Obama finally phones Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following his re-election. Not a lot of pleasantries exchanged. Should there, or could their sour relationship impact the longstanding U.S./Israeli relationship? We put that to John King, "Inside Politics."


[07:17:34] PEREIRA: New information this morning about the gunmen that carried out the terrorist attack at Tunisia's national museum, killing 23 people, most of them western tourists. ISIS has claimed responsibility. However, they've offered no proof that they are behind it.

Authorities say the two attackers that were killed were recruited in mosques in Tunisia, and they trained in Libya. So who carried out this massacre?

Here to weigh in, senior fellow at the Foundation of Defense of Democracies and counterterrorism analyst Daveed Gartenstein-Ross. Also joining us, Tunisian political analyst Youssef Cherif, who is on the ground there in Tunis.

And I want to start with you, Youssef, since you are right there. I really want to get your sense. I see life continues behind you in Tunis. What are you hearing from people on the streets? What are they saying? What is the feeling there?

YOUSSEF CHERIF, TUNISIAN POLITICAL ANALYST: As you say, life continues. You see behind me there are the Tunisian flag, because this is Tunisia's 59th independence day. So people are a few meters away from there. There are hundreds of people demonstrating, celebrating Tunisia's independence day, calling for Tunisian unity against terrorism and, frankly, opposing any kind of terrorism that takes place in Tunisia.

So of course, there is some fear in the country, but there is resilience. There are people who are really willing to defend their country. We've seen kids in the street. We've seen men and women. Since that happened, since the same day, people were spontaneously in the streets, demonstrating and shouting against terrorism, against ISIS. Because we think most people think this is an ISIS operation. And there is a will to stop this -- this plague from invading the country.

PEREIRA: We're glad to see that show of support is coming from within the country.

To his point, Daveed, let's talk about this claim that ISIS is saying, yes, we take responsibility for it. Yesterday I know you were sort of on the fence a little bit. What are you hearing from your sources? What have you come to determine? Do you believe they're behind it?

DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: I do believe that they're likely behind it. The percentages tip heavily in favor of them having been behind the attack, because they haven't previously falsely claimed an attack. There's a few irregularities that will give rise to questions. One is

that ISIS is very well-known for putting together statements that are produced quite well. For example, the atrocious statement they released in January, where they beheaded 21 Christians. It was produced very cinematically. There were a lot of shots there that were artistic, but for the subject matter.

Here in contrast you have a very crude audio statement. It doesn't provide any real details about the attack. It only gives the kunyas (ph) for the attackers, that is their battle names, as opposed to their actual names. So it doesn't provide an indication that they have any sort of inside details. All of that created some question marks.

And it struck me as a possibility, albeit a very low one, that they could be preemptively claiming an attack that they didn't carry out, in order to gum up the works. But I think that's a very low probability.

It's one of those things where we'll have to see what the investigation reveals...


GARTENSTEIN-ROSS: ... both about why this was so crude in terms of the audio production and also what role did the broader ISIS network in Africa play in preparing these guys for this attack?

PEREIRA: And we've learned that the two men attended a mosque in Tunisia and likely were radicalized there. Travelled to Libya, trained in a jihadi camp. So I'm curious, Youssef if you're hearing any more about the investigation. We heard nine people were arrested yesterday. Any further updates that you're hearing about?

CHERIF: Yes, nine people were arrested, perhaps in relation to this -- to this operation. There are also some, I think, two Tunisians that are from Syria, that were also arrested.

You know, since the war started in Syria, many Tunisians went to Syria, and many of them joined ISIS. Some of them returned to the country. And it seems that now there is -- harsher measures will be taken against them. And so they are being arrested from now, I think two already arrested since Wednesday. But the investigation is still ongoing.


CHERIF: This is -- you know, this is the first time that the Tunisian authorities are facing something like this.

PEREIRA: But the point that was important to make here is that this museum was targeted; tourists were targeted. There was a strategic goal to strike in the heart of the economic center, if you will, of Tunisia's economy. Is there a concern that tourists will not want to come to Tunisia? Youssef? CHERIF: That's a big problem, because Tunisian economy relies a lot

on tourism and yes, this attack targeted clearly tourism. And so -- and now we're standing by the ministry of tourism here. The tourism industry are very afraid of the consequences of this attack.

And frankly, if there is shortages in tourism, the economy of the country will continue declining, and that will bring a load of political and security concerns. So yes, the main concern here is that tourism will be largely affected, and already many tour operators are canceling their trips to Tunisia. So it's a widely shared fear here in the political sphere.

PEREIRA: The president of Tunisia saying, no, tourists need to know they're still welcome. They are vowing to be in this fight against terror and vowing to do whatever they can to bring these men to justice and these people some sense of closure.

Youssef and Daveed, thank you so much. We appreciate your expertise as always.

John, we'll turn it to you.

BERMAN: Michaela, thanks so much.

One of the biggest names in child products facing a record fine for delaying a recall of millions of defective car seats. What were they thinking? Details and a live report, next.


PEREIRA: Graco facing the largest penalty of its kind for not swiftly recalling six million defective child safety seats or disclosing quickly enough to government regulators. Why did the company wait so long to recall that product?

Let's ask Rene Marsh who sat down exclusively with the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. What did you find out?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is all happening new this morning. And we know that this major car seat manufacturer, Graco, they just got hit with the largest penalty ever for a car seat maker. We're talking $10 million.

Federal regulators say that Graco, they knew about a defect that caused the buckle on certain car seats to get stuck in the latched position, trapping kids in the seat. Of course, that's problematic in the case of an emergency. Despite that, the company waited months before recalling the more than four million seats.

So here's the breakout: $3 million will have to be paid to the federal government right away. And $7 million must go towards a safety campaign, essentially educating parents. NHTSA says this is a record- breaking find and it is sending one message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARK ROSEKIND, NHTSA ADMINISTRATOR: Largest car seat recall and it's the largest penalty for that sort of particular kind of defect. So, yes, you follow the law, and if not, we're going to be there to make sure it's enforced.


MARSH: All right. So another thing that NHTSA really wants parents to hammer in on is the fact that, when these recalls come out, a lot of parents do not take the car seats in to get changed, to get repaired. They want to you log on to -- we'll have that on our website -- to make sure you are not driving around with a defective car seat -- John.

BERMAN: Right. Rene Marsh for us.

From child car seats to children at play. Of course, I'm talking about politics. Let's go "Inside Politics" on NEW DAY now with John King.

Good morning, John.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Ah, the art of the segue, Mr. Berman. Excellent on a Friday morning. Nice to see you, and let's go "Inside Politics" on a very busy day, where our politics conversation will take us overseas a bit.

With me to share their reporting and their insights, Margaret Talbot of Bloomberg and Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast."

Let's dissect the administration's reaction to the Netanyahu victory. And I was struck -- maybe I'm reading too much into this, but when the White House put out a paper statement yesterday, No. 1, they had the briefing. Then after the public briefing, they said, "Oh, yes, the president" -- by the way, would have loved to have been there -- "Mr. President, we're dialing up Prime Minister Netanyahu. Get ready for this one."

The public statement, the press paper statement, said, "President Obama spoke today by telephone with Prime Minister Netanyahu to congratulate the prime minister on his party's success in winning a plurality of Knesset seats." Now, you could just say, "congratulate him on his victory," or you can make sure and try to say, "Don't let your head swell, buddy, on your plurality."