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Iranians Release 10 U.S. Sailors; John Kerry Thanks Iran for Release of U.S. Sailors; New Poll Numbers on Republican Presidential Candidates. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 13, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.


Our breaking news, this new video just into CNN that shows the moment 10 U.S. Sailors were taken into custody by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. You can see them with their hands behind their heads. Provocative video to be sure. Again, CNN just confirmed this video is of the nine men and one woman who were held overnight after their two boats entered Iranian waters. That's what the Iranians say. The Americans were released this morning. U.S. military says there are no indications that the sailors were harmed in any way during their detention.

BOLDUAN: According to the Pentagon, the 10 Americans had been traveling from Kuwait to Bahrain. They were held then at an Iranian naval base. And just hours ago, as we've mentioned, they were released. Now, a statement from Iran says that the release came after it became clear the entry into Iran's territorial waters was, quote, "an unintentional action and a mistake, and after they extended an apology."

Let's bring in CNN chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, for more on all of this.

Jim, first to that video. As John said, it's provocative, and it's uncomfortable.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Uncomfortable, it's a generous word. You have U.S. sailors there on their knees with their hands behind their backs. I have asked, we don't know yet, the circumstances. Key question, were the Iranian Revolutionary Guard sailors' guns drawn as they took those 10 U.S. sailors, nine men and one woman, into custody? A fair question. But the images clearly enormous power for Iranian propaganda and that's why Iranian state TV is broadcasting those images right now, in addition to as you just saw there, those sailors being fed, because that's been another message, that their health is fine, they were taken care of while we detained them for their own safety, blah, blah, blah. Part of their message there.

I will say this, though. Iran is saying that there was an apology issued. I've asked the State Department, and we've gotten a very firm answer back. This is from the State Department spokesman, John Kirby. He says, and I quote, "There is no truth in reporting that Secretary Kerry apologized to the Iranians. As the secretary said in a statement this morning, he expressed gratitude to Iranian authorities for their cooperation in swiftly resolving this matter, and noted that the peaceful and efficient resolution of this issue is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure and strong."

That's been another message, if I could add that in, John and Kate, from the administration very early on. They've been saying to me, listen, if we didn't have these diplomatic channels with the Iranians as a result of the nuclear negotiations, this hotline between John Kerry and Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister -- we were talking about this very early from the moment the sailors were detained -- if we didn't have those diplomatic channels, they say, this could not have been resolved so quickly. So putting a positive spin on what is, listen, as you watch those images, certainly an uncomfortable and potentially more dangerous encounter between the U.S. and Iran.

BERMAN: You know, Jim, not to split hairs here, but that statement from the State Department said clearly that John Kerry did not apologize. Is it possible that there was an apology for someone Beneath John Kerry? Is it possible there was an apology from the sailors themselves? Is it possible that there's enough here that both sides could sort of claim victory here?

SCIUTTO: It's a good question. I mean, the administration's position is that there was no official apology. Whether the sailors said something apologetic, that's certainly possible. And listen, as you know, John, and some of this was true certainly in the Iranian nuclear negotiations, and perhaps this is part of diplomacy, allowing both sides to claim victory and put their own spin on how this. You've heard the administration's spin. It's over. This is the Benefits of diplomacy. The Iranian spin partly coming through those images. Listen, we had ten American sailors on their knees with their hands behind their heads. That's a powerful image.

BOLDUAN: Jim -- Jim, let me jump in real quick. John Kerry, secretary of state, is about to be speaking live. Let's listen in to see if he will be addressing this right now.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: -- as the general mentioned, I know as well as anybody how important our naval presence is around the world, and certainly in the gulf region. And I could not be and I know the president could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform.

I also want to thank the Iranian authorities for their cooperation and quick response. These are always situations which, as everybody here knows, have an ability, if not properly guided, to get out of control. And I'm appreciative for the quick and appropriate response of the Iranian authorities. All indications suggest or tell us that our sailors were well taken care of, provided with blankets and food, and assisted with their return to the fleet earlier today. And I think we can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago. And in fact, it is clear that today this kind of issue was able to be peacefully resolved and officially resolved. And that is a testament to the critical role that diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure and strong.

[11:05:26] And that is really at the core of what I am here to talk about today. As all of you know, yesterday, President Obama delivered his final state of the Union address. And I might add, for my part, with nearly 29 years in the United States Senate, I have been attending State of the Union messages since 1985, Ronald Reagan was my first, so it was my last, too. The president's agenda for 2016, it is clear from the speech he gave last night is bold and ambitious. And I think that is particularly true when it comes to foreign policy.

The reason for that is simple. In this extraordinarily complicated time, the demand for United States leadership, the demand for leadership everywhere, but the demand particularly for leadership from what the president appropriately called the most powerful nation in the world is as high as it has ever been. And we understand that. And we accept that responsibility willingly. That is why the United States will remain more engaged in more places around the world than at any other time in history.

The president's primary responsibility, as all of you know, is and always has been to protect the people of our country, protect the American people. He underscored that again last night. And I know that each of you here can relate to that because NDU's mission is to educate, develop and inspire national security leaders, not all of them from our country, but to inspire national security leaders. And many of you here today have already contributed significantly to our nation's security and safety, including some of you on the front lines of battle. And we are grateful, very grateful, for that.

The goal of keeping our country safe --

BERMAN: All right, you're listening to John Kerry, the secretary of state, in Washington right now. The secretary of state just thanked the Iranian authorities for what he called the quick response and appropriate response for the release of the 10 U.S. sailors, nine men and a woman, this morning. He said these sailors were well taken care of. They were provided blankets, food, and they were returned. He also said imagine how this would have played out three or four years ago before the Iranian nuclear deal. But he did not address these new pictures that we just saw, the provocative capture of these 10 sailors at, you know, with their hands behind their heads and on their knees in the Persian Gulf.

BOLDUAN: You're seeing that video right there. That's an excellent point, John. And this is the first time we're hearing from the secretary since the release of these 10 sailors.

Let's talk much more about this.

We want to bring in Barbara Starr, at the Pentagon. We also want to bring in Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, author, journalist and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Barbara, first to you.

You've been talking to your sources at the Pentagon. You heard Secretary Kerry thanking Iran for their quick response. What more are you hearing from the Pentagon? I don't know if you've gotten more reaction to this video that they've released. What are you hearing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have to tell you, offices in the Pentagon, people are really staring at their screens watching this video. Many military people certainly dismayed at what they are seeing here. These are not the optics that anyone in the U.S. military wants to see of U.S. military personnel on their knees with their hands behind their backs, disarmed.

But this is a very difficult situation, and it requires some explanation, I think. The U.S. military, the U.S. Navy, when it patrols in the Persian Gulf from anywhere and they come across disabled ships or ships, crews -- the ships they want to board, let's be clear, they go on board, they take away the weapons of those people, they put them on their knees, hands behind their back to ensure that they pose no threat. This is a procedure, as difficult as it is to watch, that is followed. We all hear say, you know, in the United States, but these are U.S. Navy personnel. They pose no threat. Were the Iranians provocative? Yes. Could the Iranians make a case that its standard maritime procedure? Yes. Very disturbing to see. But they could make a case clearly that this is how things are handled. And once they disarm these people and took them to Farsi Island, you then see the pictures, they are given food. They are given water. They are treated, according to Pentagon officials, appropriately. But the optics, the political optics of seeing U.S. Navy sailors on their knees, very, very difficult.

It should be said that they probably had no choice in the matter. This is a very small boat. All they have is machine guns. They have no real fundamental means of defending themselves. They had no anticipation they'd be taken by Iranian naval personnel. So a very difficult situation here.

At the moment, I can tell you, just a few steps away from our CNN office here in the Pentagon, Navy personnel watching these pictures, obviously very dismayed at what they are seeing.

[11:11:00] BERMAN: All right. Barbara, stand by.

Gayle, stand by.

We'll have much more on these provocative new images. The nine U.S. sailors, the men, the one woman, 10 U.S. sailors total on their knees, their hands behind their head. Provocative to say the least. What were the Iranians after here? More after the break.


[11:15:24] BERMAN: Welcome back. Our breaking news, the Iranians released this video. It shows the moment that ten U.S. soldiers were taken into custody in the Persian Gulf when the Iranians say their two vessels veered into Iranian waters. Obviously that video we're just looking at, very provocative there. U.S. sailors on their knees with their hands behind their heads. This comes, as just moments ago, Secretary of State John Kerry, thanked the Iranians for their swift and appropriate action, said the sailors were not harmed. And the secretary of state even bragged about how this level of really cooperation and response would not have been possible three or four years ago.

BOLDUAN: Let's discuss this more.

Let's bring in Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, an author, journalist and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Gayle, great to see you. Thank you so much for being here.


BOLDUAN: So you have Secretary Kerry speaking out for the first time since their release. Then we heard from Barbara Starr who said when you look at this video, a lot of folks at the Pentagon are watching their televisions, scratching their head. It looks awkward, she says, but both sides can say they were right in how this was handled. What do you think?

TZEMACH LEMMON: I think that's right. It's an incredibly powerful picture in a very sensitive time. I think it's exactly what the administration wouldn't want, released just as they're trying to talk about the power of diplomacy, to defuse very difficult moments. I think they are correct in saying that diplomacy, and the fact that those channels were open was able to have a dialogue go pretty quickly. I mean, there was an incident in 2007 with British servicemembers caught between Iran and Iraq waters, and they were held almost two weeks. So there is something to talk about. But those pictures are incredibly powerful and, as you said, John, very provocative.

BERMAN: Where do they play well? Who are these pictures for at this point? What do you expect the Iranian reaction will be? Because I can imagine the reaction across the U.S. will be like Barbara Starr was describing in the Pentagon, which is astonishment.

TZEMACH LEMMON: Yes, astonishment and real dismay. And I think there are conservatives on both sides of this discussion who would like nothing more than to see this deal scuttled. It's really important to pan back a little bit and think, around this week and the next coming weeks, there is a discussion of lifting economic sanctions, right? So the president of Iran talked about an economic revival three days ago that's going to happen when these sanctions are lifted. So for a country that's watching oil at around $30 a barrel, it's important to have assets unfrozen and those sanctions lifted. But there is no question that hard-liners and more conservative forces in both the U.S. And Iran would like nothing more than to see this deal which they think is a bad deal, go away.

BOLDUAN: When it comes to diplomacy, words always matter. When it comes to a touchy situation like this, even more so. The apology/non- apology question that is kind of lingering right now. Iran says that they were released in part after they received an apology. The State Department felt strong enough that the spokesman for Secretary Kerry said that the secretary of state did not offer any sort of an apology, didn't see a need to offer an apology. Why is this important?

TZEMACH LEMMON: I think it's important for face saving. It's important for the diplomatic conversation. But, you know, the State Department is going to stand by the fact that it will say it did not apologize. The question, as you say, though, is did anybody else, and did anyone in uniform apologize? Were there people -- other people inside the administration who might have sent a more general message? And I think we're going to see that conversation come out in coming days.

BERMAN: You said this is in some ways a Rorschach test. You look at this event, and you take from it what you will. I mean, maybe Secretary of State Kerry is right. Three or four years ago, this would not have happened. Yet when you look at this picture -- I say this would for the have happened. They would not have been released in 24 hours. But when you see that picture of them on their knees with their hands behind their head, that's not what countries on good terms do to each other. And it just shows the difficulty and the complications that still exist in this relationship.

TZEMACH LEMMON: It is a fragile relationship at a very sensitive moment. And I think it is very important to remember that because that's why these pictures, which you are talking about, are so very powerful. Right? For those who want to say this is America humbled by Iran, those pictures are going to feed into that narrative. For those who say, look, this is a sign of what warming diplomatic relations can do, get our servicemembers back when they stray into Iranian territorial waters and have it be a fairly quiet incident, that also gives them something to talk about. And it's what the secretary opened his speech at National Defense University with today. This is a testament to diplomacy and its power.

BOLDUAN: Even on a more basic level, 10 sailors held in Iran, interrogated, taken from their vessel. It will be interesting to see or hear if we ever know exactly what happened to them, exactly -- hear their stories what happened during those intervening hours.

Gayle, great to see you. Thanks so much.


[11:20:05] BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, families and children in an American city still without clean water. And Michigan's governor now calling in the National Guard to help. How much longer and how much sicker will people get before something is done to fix this problem? We're going to take you there.

BERMAN: Plus, Donald Trump closes the gap with Ted Cruz in a key new Iowa poll. How? Why? Is this about where Ted Cruz was born?

And Republican Governor Nikki Haley taking heat after she takes a shot at Donald Trump. Does this make her persona non grata in the GOP, or the new V.P. front-runner?


[11:24:56] BOLDUAN: It is a three-week sprint to Iowa. And brand- new poll numbers out show Ted Cruz is slipping. He's still on top of the Bloomberg Politics/"Des Moines Register" poll, but he's down six points since December. What was a 10-point gap is now just three, putting Donald Trump and Ted Cruz back within the margin of error.

BERMAN: It was also kind of a battle for third place right now with Marco Rubio and Ben Carson. Very, very close. Then you see Rand Paul and Jeb Bush.

CNN's Athena Jones taking a closer look at these numbers.

And these numbers, they're pretty darn close with just a few weeks to go -- Athena?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, guys. That's right. 19 days, but that's still a long time when it comes to politics. But this poll confirms what we've been talking about for the last several weeks. Polls over the past several weeks have shown this race is very tight. It's a battle for the top spot between Cruz and Trump. Some polls have shown Trump with a slight edge. This shows Cruz still in the lead. But as you said, that edge shrinking.

And Marco Rubio and Ben Carson fighting it out for third. Marco Rubio is the only so-called establishment candidate to make it into the top few there. And his campaign, I spoke with them today, they're pleased with the movement they're saying.

And if you talk about people like Chris Christie or Jeb Bush, they're at 3 percent or 4 percent. They're not even really on the screen. So that's not good news for them.

What's interesting here, though, is that a lot of -- this poll shows a lot of people in Iowa still haven't made up their mind. I believe we have a graphic we can put up on the screen. More than 50 percent -- it's 56 percent said that either they could change their mind about their first choice, or they haven't even decided on their first choice. And that means a lot can happen in these 19 days. Also remember there are still two debates to take place. I will say that of those -- that 42 percent who have their mind made up, a lot of them are Trump supporters. That's his big advantage. 64 percent of Trump backers say they're definitely, definitely backing him. And they're not going to change.

On this birther issue, which we know Trump has been hammering Cruz on, this is interesting what the poll found. It said that just 15 percent of the folks they talked to were bothered by this question of Cruz's citizenship. 83 percent said it doesn't bother them. It's a nonissue.

Now, I should mention this poll was conducted over the last few days between Thursday and Sunday. And so it's possible that those Trump attacks haven't really been fully baked in. But it's interesting to see Cruz slipping in the wake of all of this.

Guys, back to you.

BERMAN: Athena Jones, thanks.

I want to discuss this. Want to bring in Jeffrey Lord, CNN political commentator, former Reagan White House political director and a Trump supporter; and Ana Navarro, CNN political commentator, a friend of Marco Rubio but a supporter of Jeb Bush.

Jeffrey, we talked about this issue of Ted Cruz's birth. He was born in Canada. Donald Trump not letting up one bit. Moments ago, he tweeted, "Sadly, there is no way Cruz can continue running the Republican primary unless he can erase doubt on eligibility. Dems will sue!"

We just saw this poll from Iowa where only 15 percent of people there said it bothered them. I guess my question -- I guess we're wondering is 15 percent a little or a lot here? In a close race, I suppose it could matter.

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, in a close race, it really can matter. The problem here -- I personally don't think that Ted Cruz has a legal problem, but I do think it's a political problem for him because I do think -- we already know Congressman Alan Grayson, not that he think he's, you know, the brightest light in the pantry, as it were, but I do think that there are people out there like that who will, in fact, sue over this if Ted Cruz gets nominated. So I see it as a political problem more than a legal problem for him.

BOLDUAN: So, Ana, when you take this citizenship question, this poll in the context of the larger number you're looking at, you're looking at there in this new poll, Cruz is slipping. Why did this happen, do you think? Is it all about the citizenship question?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think we're going to see a lot of ebbs and flows between now and caucus day, February 1st. Certainly this citizenship question, I have to say, Donald Trump who is brilliant at managing the media and causing controversy, promoting controversies, is doing so again. We have now been speaking about this issue for, I think, over a week. And not only have we been speaking about it, but it's also been a huge distraction for Ted Cruz who's having to face questions on the issue on the trail from reporters and from voters. And it's having to address the issue. So the issue stays alive. Absolutely. You know, there's a difference between whether it is a legal issue or a political issue. A legal issue will be up to legal scholars. Might at some point be litigated? Donald Trump is probably right. If Ted Cruz is the nominee, somebody is bound to file some sort of legal action on this.

But the political issue, remember, politics is all about perception. So if Donald Trump can create this lingering question, and he has, he has done so successfully, he is chipping away at Ted Cruz and Ted Cruz's candidacy.

That being said, I think Ted Cruz is running a very complete campaign. He's checking off all the boxes, has got the money, good debate performances, on-the-ground troops, evangelical support, right-wing media support.