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Obama Defends Iran Nuclear Deal; Kenya Bombs Al-Shabaab Camps in Somalia; Is U.S. Strategy Against Al-Shabaab Working? Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 6, 2015 - 07:00   ET


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And President Obama said he observed over the course of these negotiations, a real practical streak with the Iranian regime, because he says that they're worried about that self-preservation.

[07:00:11] That said, he does admit there is still real trust; and that's something that doesn't fade away between these two countries. And that's exactly, Alisyn, why many people in Congress say that they do not want to formally sign onto this deal. They don't want sanctions lifted because that lack of trust still persists.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely. OK, Sunlen, thanks so much for all that background.

And we are learning more this morning about the alleged mastermind behind that horrible terror attack at the university in Kenya as the manhunt to capture him intensifies.

This amid reports that Kenya is targeting Al-Shabaab terrorists connected to that massacre.

Let's get to CNN's Christian Purefoy, who's following these developments in Garissa, Kenya -- Christian.

CHRISTIAN PUREFOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kenyan authorities have named what they say is the mastermind behind the attack that killed 147 people in Garissa University. He's a man in charge of the militia along the long porous border of Somalia and cross-border attacks into Kenya. But here's what we know so far.


PUREFOY (voice-over): This morning, Kenya on heightened alert. Even Easter prayers shaken, with security checks outside churches. Kenyan forces on guard after the terrorist group Al-Shabaab threatened, quote, "another bloodbath" over the weekend.

Relatives grieving, in complete anguish as Kenyan forces remain on the lookout for the Al-Shabaab militant behind the Garissa University attack that killed nearly 150 people. The government says Mohamed Mohamud, wanted for a bounty of more than $200,000, is the mastermind. Known by other aliases, the former religious teacher is the regional Al-Shabaab commander in the Juba region of Somalia. According to a ministry document given to CNN, the al Qaeda-

linked militant is in charge of external operations against Kenya. Garissa sits on one of the longest religious fault lines in the world, a largely Christian sub-Saharan Africa in the south and a mostly Muslim population to the north.

UHURU KENYATTA, PRESIDENT OF KENYA: Our forefathers bled and died for this nation, and we will do everything to defend our way of life.

PUREFOY: Meanwhile, Kenya's interior ministry identifying another attacker. This man, an apparent home-grown terrorist, Kenyan Abdirahim Abdullahi, the 20-something son of a Kenyan government chief of Somali descent. His father says his law-graduate son has been missing since 2013, last working for a bank. The ministry says he disappeared to Somalia last year.


PUREFOY: I think it's important that when we talk about these people and use phrases such as "mastermind," they are really just using the most basic means as possible to kill as many people as possible.

Back to you.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Important point. Thank you very much for that.

So Al-Shabaab may sound like a new group, but they've been targeted by the U.S. for years. And that raises an obvious question. Is the strategy to combat the Somali-based terror group working?

Let's go to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joining us from Washington with more.

Barbara, good morning.


You talk about strategy, first you have to start by talking about the threat. What is the threat of Al-Shabaab to the United States and to Americans? I want to read you something the top U.S. military commander for Africa said about Al-Shabaab just a few days ago on Capitol Hill.

General David Rodriguez saying, and I am quoting, "Al-Shabaab remains a persistent threat to the U.S. and regional interests. Al- Shabaab has broadened its operations to conduct asymmetric attacks."

So this is a group, as Christian just said, using everything they can to kill as many people as it can. What does the U.S. do about it? The U.S. strategy has been to assist the African forces.

And U.S. troops, Navy SEAL, commandos, drone attacks, helicopter attacks over the last couple of years have gone into Somalia on several occasions to try and get to the Al-Shabaab leadership. They have had a mixed track record on this, because they're very well dug in, very difficult to find.

So is the strategy really going to change? Probably not. The U.S. doesn't have a lot of intelligence on the ground. But nobody is dismissing the Al-Shabaab as a threat. One of the biggest concerns if they flourish there, they can recruit Somali Americans here in the United States to join their cause -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Yes, That is the big fear, Barbara. Thanks so much for that report.

Let's bring in now Bobby Ghosh. He's our CNN global affairs analyst and managing editor of "Quartz"; and Mike Rogers, CNN national security commentator and former chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Gentleman, great to have you both here.

Mike, I want to start with you, because Yemen and Somalia were both touted by President Obama recently as success stories, places where the U.S. counterterrorism efforts were working.

[07:05:00] Let me read to you what President Obama said. Quote, "The strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us while supporting partners on the front lines is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years."

Mike, that was seven months ago, September of 2014. Was the president wrong then? Was he overly naive?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, he certainly wasn't reading the intelligence that was coming in on both of those regions. As my mom used to say, Alisyn, you can hang the drapes; it doesn't mean your house is clean.

Here's the problem. There were other underlying factors in both of those countries over years. And policy frameworks never quite aligned with what their new threats were. So in Yemen, it was Iran ramping up its support for Houthi rebels, who at that time were a separatist organization that had certainly extremist ties.

Well, we watched over years as that got more sophisticated: better arms, better weapons, better training. And of course, it resulted in what you see today.

Al-Shabaab has been a little bit different. We have seen -- this was a place that we had Americans actually show up in the fighting there over a period of time. There was no good way to put pressure on Al-Shabaab, in that we had fits and starts about U.S. involvement to any limited degree, even with special capability forces, to try to push them back from a place where they could train and recruit in Somalia.

The game changed, though, roughly a few years ago, in 2012, when Al-Shabaab pledged allegiance to al Qaeda. So now they're a full- blown al Qaeda affiliate, which is why I think you see these external attacks into Kenya. CAMEROTA: Bobby, that's interesting that Mike says that the

president wasn't reading the intelligence thoroughly enough. Because the writing was on the wall seven months ago?

BOBBY GHOSH, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes. Even when the president said that, a lot of people who follow terrorism and counterterrorism closely sort of arched their eyebrows to say what exactly is he talking about?

Because yes, you could say that, in a very narrow sense, these groups have been less active against U.S. interests, but as we've seen in Kenya, they've got other targets.

In what we've seen in Somalia is this is not just a U.S. effort. It's been an African effort. There are Kenyan troops, part of a peacekeeping force to drive out Al-Shabaab in Somalia that had a certain amount of success. The territory under Al-Shabaab control is much smaller now than it used to be.

But these guys don't fight fair. They don't fight a conventional military war. They can do what we've just seen over the past week. These horrific attacks, it doesn't take a lot of money. It doesn't take a great deal of planning. It takes a small number of people who are willing to die and willing to kill on a massive scale.

CAMEROTA: Mike, you know, even in the media, we've been so focused for the past six months on ISIS that Al-Shabaab has sort of been depicted as this ragtag bunch of disorganized chaotic fighters. Have we all underestimated them? Are they more akin to ISIS than we thought?

ROGERS: I would not put them on the same level of organization of ability to perform large-scale military functions, but they are an important al Qaeda affiliate in Africa. And so there's other affiliates, al Qaeda in the Maghreb, in the northern part of Africa. We've watched them more, a more sophisticated organization. And remember, that's where most of the ransoms started. They would take kidnappings in al Qaeda in the Maghreb in the north and fund al Qaeda worldwide. So this is a huge problem.

We saw when they pledged in 2012, Al-Shabaab, which is now down in Somalia, two different places, that you had this new affiliate to al Qaeda, which means they would get training and better expertise, more cooperation.

And clearly, what you're seeing is not to the same capably as ISIS or even al Qaeda, but it's getting better, and they're getting more aggressive about its use. And they're doing that at a time, I think, when there's this kind of global competition for who is the biggest, baddest jihadist of the movement today to try to attack money -- attract money and people.


GHOSH: They enjoy two advantages, which is not necessarily true for ISIS. One is they're fighting at home in a place they've been fighting for a very, very long time. They know their terrain. They know their people. They can melt very easily.

Two, they're not fighting against serious military -- militaries against them. ISIS is fighting Bashar al-Assad's army in Syria and now a rejuvenated Iraqi military with U.S. and international air support in Iraq.

Somalia, the Somalian forces are nowhere near -- don't have that kind of capability. So Al-Shabaab has that going for it. That it's fighting at home, and it's fighting against a relatively weak territory. That's what makes them more dangerous.

CAMEROTA: And Mike, let's talk about their resources for a second, because are they truly a threat here to the U.S. homeland? Obviously, anybody can be a lone wolf and say that they pledge allegiance to al-Qaeda or to Al-Shabaab and go and do something terrible. But can -- is Al-Shabaab the thinking that they really could send resources here and make some sort of catastrophic hit?

[07:10:14] ROGERS: It's probably not the highest threat to the homeland in that respect. However, there's two things that would worry me.

One is can they inspire someone back here in the states to do an attack? And we've seen that they've made those attempts in the past. They've tried to inspire followers of Al-Shabaab in the United States to do something in the United States. That's always a concern.

To mount an operation that would actually get to the United States would be pretty difficult for Al-Shabaab. But they are becoming a more -- a broader regional threat.

And again, any time you connect with other al Qaeda affiliates, you get their logistics -- their logistics hubs, training and access to the kind of movement that that would bring to an organization, which is why they joined. And so that part you have to watch very closely. How long do you want to wait before they become an organization that could reach out and strike the United States?

CAMEROTA: Bobby, we only have a few seconds left. Is this something that airstrikes could take care of?

GHOSH: The Kenyans have just launched airstrikes. They've just announced this morning that they've launched airstrikes against camps. Yes, airstrikes will be part of the plan. But that's not going to be enough.

That's what we've seen, if we've learned anything from all of our terrorist operations, it's you can't solve this problem from the air.

CAMEROTA: We do seem to be learning that lesson over and over again.

Bobby Ghosh, Mike Rogers, thanks so much. Nice to talk to both of you.

GHOSH: Thanks, Alisyn. CAMEROTA: Let's go to Michaela.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Alright, Alisyn, "Rolling Stone" magazine retracting its controversial story about a gang rape at UVA. Columbia University's graduate school of journalism examined the reporting and said the article about a woman who claimed she was gang- raped at the University of Virginia should be discredited, because "Rolling Stone" didn't follow basic journalism practices. The author has issued an apology, but "Rolling Stones" publisher has decided not to fire anyone, saying he believes the mistakes were not intentional. That decision is drawing criticism.

CUOMO: What we have could be the youngest terror-related arrest ever in the U.K. Police say a 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl were taken into custody for, quote, "suspicion of preparing for an act of terrorism." We're told the male suspect had questionable activity on a number of his electronic devices. Both are out on bail until a May 28 court hearing.

CAMEROTA: Wait until you see this. It's an extraordinary rescue in Russia. Yes, they are rocking a train. That's dozens of passengers working together to move a train. Yes, a 70-year-old woman's foot got stuck between the train and the platform. Amazingly, she walked away unhurt.

PEREIRA: Oh, my goodness.

CAMEROTA: And a similar thing happened last year in Australia, where commuters helped tilt a train to rescue a man who had become stuck in the gap.

PEREIRA: So speak for your fellow New Yorkers. They will do this for us if and when we find ourselves in a spot of trouble?

CUOMO: It only takes one. But they'll yell at you first.

PEREIRA: They'll yell at you first?

CUOMO: They'll yell at you: "Hey, how'd you get your foot stuck in there? What, are you in such a rush? You couldn't let me go, right? Now, look at you. How do you feel now?"

PEREIRA: After they rescue you.

CAMEROTA: So true. They moved a train with their bare brute strength.

PEREIRA: Beautiful to see humanity working together, right?

CUOMO: People doing the right thing. A little early dose of good stuff.

CAMEROTA: There you go. All right. Enjoy that.

Meanwhile, back to our top story, selling the nuclear agreement to skeptics. Why President Obama says the Iran deal reached last week is Israel's best option for security.

CUOMO: And Hillary Clinton launching her second presidential campaign. When? Any moment. We'll tell you why that's expected and why it's expected to be nothing like her 2008 campaign. How is it going to be different? John King knows, and he'll take you "Inside Politics."



[07:17:17] BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The nuclear deal that we've put together is not based on the idea that somehow the regime changes. It is a good deal, even if Iran doesn't change at all.


CUOMO: Even if. The president of the United States there arguing in the alternative: even if you don't like this deal the way it is, even if that's true, you're still going to like it better than any alternative. That's his interview with "The New York Times."

The president is starting to push to get skeptics on board with the Iran deal. But the biggest skeptics of all, of course, Israel. And they seem thoroughly unmoved, as personified by their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said -- Netanyahu, who has said here and there that this deal makes their situation worse.

Joining us this morning to discuss, Peter Beinart, CNN political commentator and contributing editor for Atlantic Media; and Hillary Mann-Leverett, the co-author of "Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Tehran [SIC]."

And I set the table with this, Peter and Hillary. Here is Senator Feinstein with her rebuttal to Netanyahu.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I think he's said what he's had to say; and to be candid with you, this can backfire on him. And I wish that he would contain himself, because he has put out no real alternative. In his speech to the Congress, no real alternative. Since then, no real alternative.


CUOMO: Well, the president can't say it, Hillary. But does it help the president's cause for the senator, the senior senator, to get up there and say, "He should just contain himself and be quiet. We heard what he has to say. He's got no better deal. This is as good as it gets"?

HILLARY MANN-LEVERETT, CO-AUTHOR, "GOING TO TEHRAN": It's critically important for her to make that kind of argument. We have seen for 20 years, too few people challenge Prime Minister Netanyahu. He goaded us into a false war in Iraq. They sold us a false bill

of good, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his supporters here in Washington, a false bill of goods that Iraq had nuclear weapons, and we had to invade Iraq and overthrow that government.

Similarly, he's been selling us a false set of goods about Iran for 20 years. What he's desperately afraid of is there may be a neutral monitoring mechanism set up where we don't need to turn to or we're not vulnerable to his set of false facts. That's what he's afraid of. He's afraid we may actually develop a relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran where we hear from them directly: from their foreign minister, from the head of their atomic energy program directly. We have our own eyes and ears on the ground.

CUOMO: All right.

MANN-LEVERETT: And we can make our own decisions. He's desperate to prevent that.

CUOMO: Peter, false facts, doesn't the main fact and the only fact that matters to Israel is that Iran keeps saying it wants to destroy them and that this is not an "if" but a "when" deal, so eventually they may get a nuke? And they may just get away with it anyway, because they're sneaky? And shouldn't Israel be of the most high level of concern?

[07:20:03] PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, but the interesting thing is if you actually look at the debate inside Israel since Thursday's deal, it's not that everyone is as negative as Benjamin Netanyahu. In fact, there have been pretty prominent Israeli security figures, like Emud Siablin (ph), for instance, who was the chief foreign affairs kind of adviser to the -- to Hertzog, the opponent, who basically said this deal actually isn't so bad for Israel.

And I think Dianne Feinstein's most critical point is what is the alternative? Even if you believe that this deal is not perfect from Israel and America's point of view, Netanyahu's logic is that America can increase the pressure and get a better deal.

What that misunderstands is that, even if America increases sanctions, if the U.S. walks away from this deal, the rest of the world is likely to start to unravel their sanctions.

Once China, for instance, starts importing a lot more Iranian oil, something they've been restrained in doing, that will counteract the effect of U.S. sanctions. And pressure won't go up on Iran; it will go down, which will mean our chances of getting a better deal will be virtually impossible.

CUOMO: All right. On the other side, Netanyahu says, "I just got reelected. I have this huge mandate. What do you mean people don't accept my view? This what they want."

And we don't know whether or not we've squeezed Iran enough, Hillary. And that's why I'm directing this question to you, because you love it. Because we only did, two, three years of really harsh sanctions. Let's try more of that and get all the allies to do that. And then we'll see what Iran really wants to put on the table. Fair point?

MANN-LEVERETT: Well, you know, he peddled the same case about Iraq, where we also needed to impose crippling sanctions on Iraq, which killed half a million Iraqis, half of them children. Even then it didn't work to change Saddam Hussein's calculation on his nuclear program. So that's a -- you know, that's a really dangerous trajectory for us to go on.

But I think this narrative about Israel is important. Because we're going to hear it over and over and over again. And even though it's very hard for Americans to take in, Iran has not said, has not threatened to attack Israel or to wipe Israel off the map. That has been distorted extremely out of context.

But what Iran has a problem with, with Israel, and we're going to see this now in the spotlight with Netanyahu and his policies in his new government, is they see the Israeli government as what they see it as, an apartheid government that cannot last. That it is on a trajectory eventually to be one state with one person and one vote.

Now many people here don't like that, but it's very different from a threat to attack Israel.

CUOMO: But Hillary...

MANN-LEVERETT: And what we're going to see, while Benjamin Netanyahu makes his argument, he is going to be making Iran's arguments for them. That's what we're going to see more and more in the spotlight.

CUOMO: But the president is never going to convince Congress that Iran is not a threat to Israel.


CUOMO: And when Netanyahu came here, it mattered to Democrats and Republicans.

Last word, Peter Beinart, you guys seem to think that this is pretty easy for the president to get this deal done, as you two are articulating it. What do you think happens with Congress? Because they don't seem as accepting as you two do.

BEINART: No, I don't think it's -- I don't think it's easy at all. And I think Iran's very, very aggressive, bellicose rhetoric against Israel makes it a lot harder.

But I think at the end of the day, one of the ways in which Netanyahu, who has shot himself in the foot, is he has made this so partisan that, remember, the Republicans can't defeat this deal without a significant amount of Democratic support. And I think by making this such a partisan issue, Benjamin Netanyahu has actually made it easier for Barack Obama to keep the Democrats he needs on board.

CUOMO: Peter Beinart, Hillary Mann-Leverett, thank you very much. Appreciate having you on the show, as always -- Alisyn.


CAMEROTA: OK, Chris, Rand Paul promising to be a different kind of Republican leader. He's expected to jump into the race soon. Will he shake up the GOP? Details ahead on "Inside Politics."


[07:27:41] PEREIRA: President Obama makes a sale pitch to skeptics, calling the tentative Iran deal our best bet by far to make sure Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon. In a wide-ranging interview with "The New York Times," the president said he would keep all options available if Tehran doesn't comply. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not convinced, saying the framework threatens Israel and its neighbors.

CAMEROTA: Kenyan officials ramping up the manhunt for the alleged mastermind of that university terror attack. Kenya's interior ministry publicly naming Al-Shabaab terrorist Mohamed Mohamud as responsible. And Reuters reports the Kenyan government bombed two Al- Shabaab camps overnight in Somalia. Those are believed to be the home to the four gunmen who carried out last week's attack. Authorities say one of the attackers was the son of a Kenyan government official.

CUOMO: This morning, thousands of Palestinians are trapped at a refugee camp in Syria, where ISIS and another group linked to al Qaeda are now in control. Activists say food, water and medical supplies are running out. PLO officials say they're hearing reports of kidnappings, beheadings and mass killings. Further reason ISIS is galvanizing international resistance as the U.N. is pushing to get access to at least deliver humanitarian aid.

PEREIRA: All right, something lighter here. The seventh installment of the "Fast and Furious" franchise racing to box-office records. "Furious 7" raked in nearly $144 million, the biggest opening weekend so far this year. Also the biggest opening for a movie in April and the ninth highest opening in history. Audiences are apparently flocking to see Paul Walker in one of his final roles. You'll remember that the actor died in a car crash before that film was finished.

CAMEROTA: Amazing what they've been able to do with editing.

PEREIRA: I know. I know.

CAMEROTA: To finish that movie.

PEREIRA: You're a "Furious" guy. You like them.

CUOMO: Love it.

PEREIRA: You love them. CUOMO: Love the series. I can't wait to see it. And I feel

it's going to be even more poignant, obviously.


CUOMO: Because he didn't get to live to see it.

CAMEROTA: So true.

Alright. Let's talk politics right now. We want to get to "Inside Politics" on NEW DAY with John King. Happy Monday, John.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Happy Monday, Alisyn, to you. Chris and Michaela, as well.

Any second now, Alisyn, any second now. Any second means Hillary Clinton could end the drama, if there is any drama left, and officially plunge into the 2016 presidential race. With me to go "Inside Politics" this morning, Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast"; CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, you write a piece that's on I urge everyone to take a peek at it this morning. That says aides were told essentially get back as of this morning, because this could happen any second. As we sit right here?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Any second, any day more likely. Probably not any second. But the reality is, this is all coming together. They...