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CONNECT THE WORLD
Push for UN Action on Syria; "Not Regime Change" in Draft UN Resolution; Horrors Facing Syrian Civilians; Florida Republican Presidential Primary; Romney and Gingrich Locked in Heated Battle; John McCain Calls for End to "Mud Wrestling"; Londoners Try to Identify Republican Candidates; Freedom Project: Hershey's Promises to Invest in West Africa
Aired January 31, 2012 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(UN SECURITY COUNCIL PROCEEDINGS IN PROGRESS)
BASHAR JA'AFARI, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N. (through translator): -- on Syrians of different stripes and associations to choose the road of wisdom and to be guided by their conscious patriotic feelings, so that the homeland, all of the homeland and not part thereof, for that to be the choice.
The Syrian people who presented the world with the first alphabet knows the scent of jasmine in Damascus rather than the scent of the blood.
The Syrian people were always capable of solving its crises and internal problems alone. It has never accepted any form of foreign intervention in its internal affairs and the affairs of its homeland Syria. It stood proud, refusing undermining its culture and national assets.
The Syrian people will do that once again by the participation of all Syrians to lead them away from the crisis and to contribute to the national construction. Putting as their primary objective the interest of the homeland, and nothing else, in an atmosphere of reconciliation among all, the homeland is the property of all. And in Syria, we don't have a majority and a minority.
There are Syrians only in Syria. I say the homeland is owned by all and it is the property of all and it is a trust, a trust even if somewhere misled and even if some defied what is right. Syrian patriotism rejects external intervention and stresses that Syria's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity is a red line.
Syrian patriotism stresses that Syrians will stand one rank against dissent, rejecting violence, rejecting resorting to arms while calling for reform. Homelands are built by their citizens.
We, as Syrians, have an opportunity to undertake a sincere national dialogue and expedite the pace of reform so that we can establish a genuine national partnership that preserves the security of the homeland and that of the citizen as the only way out of the crisis, one that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people without necessarily undermining the homeland. Future generations will hold everyone who lost this opportunity accountable.
Mr. President, the Arab people would have very much hoped that the presence of the secretary-general of the League of Arab States and the current chairman of the minister of councils in the Security Council we would have hoped that this presence would have been for requesting the council to shoulder its responsibilities in ending Israeli occupation of occupied Arab territories, in putting an end to the Israeli settler activities and killing.
How strange it is for us to see some members of the League of Arab States having decided to resort to the Security Council, seeking support against Syria, Syria, that's never thought twice in providing the ultimate sacrifice in defense of Arab causes.
Those who believe that the states that I'm referring to, and who have always stood in the face of Arab just causes in the council and outside, those who look like being enthusiastic for the Arab League out of respect for the decisions, those who believe that these states are with us are really falling into illusions.
The fact is that this enthusiasm comes exactly in the same context that is contrary to the interest of Arab causes. What is new today, though, is that the Arab League decided to take its decisions to the Security Council. That took hundreds of vetoes against Arab causes. The new, I would say, that the Arab League decided to take its decisions to the Security Council that took hundreds of vetoes against Arab causes.
The new -- I would say, that the Arab League transferred the decisions, the unjust decisions that it took against Syria, transferred these to Syria in Syria's absence and without consulting with its leadership in a way that transcountered to the charter of the League of Arab States, and paves the way for a continued scenario of interfering aggressively in the internal affairs of Syria.
These plans have crossed other plans and interests of non-Arab states aiming at destroying Syria and destabilizing it.
This has happened for no other reason other than the fact that Syria does not want to depend on anyone, nor would it -- would Syria accept that its sovereignty will be compromised, and because it insists on the independence of its decision and on the preservation of its sovereignty and the interests and security of its people.
Mr. President, after some powerful circles imposed on this international organizations a policy of double standards and made this part and parcel of its work, even if it were undeclared or unwritten, we are here -- we are witness to another stage that is based on creating illusory terms of reference based on the policy of imposing false facts.
Some try to convince the public opinion that those who try to defend the independence of their countries, following on the road of Simon Bolivar, Gandhi, Dmitri Donskov (ph) and Mandela and George Washington, and Musadab (ph) and de Gaulle and Nasser and Emir Abdul Qadir, and Sultan Pasha al-Atrash and Ho Chi Minh and Jung Sung-san (ph), those, I say, are classified as terrorists and pariahs working outside international legitimacy.
Those who are trying to preserve their countries, safe from creative chaos and terror, have become violators of human rights and killers of their own people. Those who win the support of the majority of their people have lost legitimacy and have to step down.
It is really strange these days, Mr. President, that some oligarchic states cosponsor draft resolutions promoting the alternation of power, the freedom of assembly, promotion of democracy and the protection and promotion of human rights and that those very states, who don't even have a constitution, let alone a genuine electoral system, and who have only exercised democracy through satellite stations and fancy conference halls, those same countries, I say, unfortunately, resort to the Security Council to ask for reform and for democracy.
Syria, Mr. President, had a parliament, in 1919, by that time, in one year after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, while Lawrence of Arabia was wreaking havoc with the destinies and the resources of these states and was trying to turn the clock back to obscurantism.
Mr. President, Syria signed the protocol of Arab observers because we were keen on keeping this issue under the Arab roof. Syria proved its full and accurate commitment to the Arab plan and the protocol signed between Syria and the secretary for the League of Arab States, the reporter of the observer mission already confirmed as fact in paragraphs 37, 38, 39 and 73 of the report.
It confirmed clearly what we said in the past. It confirmed that there is a media political misleading, deliberate and systematic campaign to distort and fabricate fact, and here I refer to paragraphs 29, 68 and 69 of the report.
The report also spoke about the presence of terrorist groups that used the legitimate demands by the Syrian people for reform, to destabilize Syria and undermine its security, and to undertake terrorist attacks against the institutions of the state, and against civilians and military personnel alike -- paragraphs 26, 27, 71 and 75.
Furthermore, paragraph 44 of the report clearly indicates that Gilles Jacquier, the French journalist was killed as a result of mortar attacks fired by the opposition.
Syria finds it strange that the this tragic event did move the French diplomacy to indignation, particularly that Syria established a committee of inquiry to investigate the details of this event chaired by a judge and through the participation of a representative of the French channel in which the journalist used to work.
The secretary-general of the League of Arab States read some paragraphs in his statement. I regret that he selected items from the report and left others.
I would only like to read paragraph 26. Paragraph 26 says in certain instances, government forces use force as a reaction to attacks against its personnel, the observers, Arab observers that notice that there are armed groups using thermal bumps and anti-armor bombs. End of quotation.
The secretary-general of the League of Arab States is a dear colleague, objected to requests by members of this council to invite General Dabi (ph) to participate in today's meeting. The report of Arab observers was not sent to you as part of the documents that were dispatched from the headquarters of the League of Arab States.
Mr. President, the decision by the League of Arab States to go to the council is only an attempt to bypass the success of the task of Arab observers and attempt to ignore its report.
The report, unfortunately, came against the plans by some Arab and non-Arab parties, who falsely claim attachment to the Arab role in settling the Syrian crisis at a time when they worked by different means to abort the mission of the observers, and they waged a political and media war against it.
Some Arab officials and some Europeans have doubted the meaning of the -- and the meaningfulness of the mission, including the prime minister of Qatar, who visited New York (ph) and in other capitals, only two weeks after the beginning of the work of the mission, making statements that the continuation of the mission of observers is useless and asked that the Syrian issue be transferred to the Security Council.
This happened while Syria was fully committed to the provisions of the protocol, despite the twofold increase in the number of those killed among forces of the government and despite acts of aggression on public and private property. That is all due to instructions to armed groups from the outside, to use the presence of the mission as a time for escalation.
Syria rejects any decision outside the Arab plan that it agreed to and the protocol that it signed with the League of Arab States.
It considers the resolution adopted by the meeting of the Council of Arab States a violation of its national sovereignty, a flagrant interference in its internal affairs and a blatant violation of the purposes for which the League of Arab States was established. It was also a violation of Article VIII of the charter of the League of Arab States.
Strangely enough, Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, the League of Arab States requested the Syrian government to extend the mandate of the -- to extend the mission of the observers for one month. Damascus agreed; however, the League of Arab States soon contradicted itself when it ignored the results of the report of the mission, and tried to transfer a crisis from an -- of an Arab country to the Security Council and halted the work of the mission of observers later on.
Mr. President, this unbridled tendency by some foreign states to interfere in our internal and external affairs, through various means, is neither sudden nor novel. It has systematically occurred since the Sykes- Picot accords (ph) of 1916 and the Balfour Declaration in 1917, let alone, the infinite support provided to Israel and its aggressive hostile policies and occupation of Arab lands.
Mr. President, we all know that the international legal framework in whose parameters states' work is based on respect for sovereignty and non- interference in internal affairs, these two principles were consecrated in the charter of the United Nations and not Article LII of the charter to which Dr. Alarab (ph) referred.
Also, in Article VIII of the charter of League of Arab States, in this context, we stress the exclusive responsibility of the Syrian government in the preservation of civic peace and security in protecting its citizens from acts of destruction and sabotage undertaken by armed forces, armed by -- by armed elements -- sorry --and not peaceful demonstrators.
In accordance with Syrian law, as well as international agreements to which Syria is a party, including the international covenant on civil and political rights, regrettably, and instead of respecting these firm (ph) principles of international law, and in the context of feverish attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of Syria by cosponsors of the Syrian -- of the French resolution against Syria, some of whose officials, who have suddenly fallen in love with the Syrian people, after an emotional hibernation towards our people for centuries, those, I say, foolishly dream of the return of colonialism and hegemony through these resolutions and through concocting new terms to justify the interference in Syrian internal affairs, through misleading the world public opinion exactly -- mimicking exactly what they did when they misled the world public opinion when 130,000 Libyan civilians were killed, and a million Iraqis were killed, using the pretext of looking for weapons of armed destruction ,and under the pretext of promoting democracy, searching for weapons of mass destruction which were not there to begin with; the destruction of Afghanistan, under the pretext of fighting terrorism and establishing clandestine prisons and detention centers in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, under the pretext of promoting freedom.
We stress that Syria is -- draws its strength from the strength of its people and that it will stand firm in confronting its enemies. We call all those who are fomenting the crisis and bent on exacerbating it to reconsider these policies and to end massacring the Syrian people.
One cannot be an arsonist and a firefighter at the same time. We call on them to support national dialogue and the Syrian political reform process, implemented by Syrian leadership and response to the legitimate demands by the people.
By way of example, I say, that, in February, we will hold a referendum on a new constitution for the country that guarantees party and political pluralism as well as alternation of power. Parliamentary elections will also be held in the first half of the year, leaving the final say to the ballot box.
In conclusion, we expect the Security Council to be a platform, encouraging dialogue as a way to settle crises. We don't expect it to provoke or to aggravate crises. We believe that an exacerbation of the crisis leads to undermining international peace and security instead preserving them.
We welcome, in this regard, the recent initiative of the Russian federation to sponsor an all-Syrian dialogue in Moscow to find a solution to this crisis. Thank you, Mr. President.
ZHANG YESUI (?), PRESIDENT U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL: I thank the representative of the Syrian Arab republic for his statement and I'll give the floor to members of the Security Council. I give the floor to excellency, the Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton, secretary of state of the United States of America.
HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you very much, Mr. President, and let me begin by thanking prime minister Hamad bin Jassim and Secretary-General al-Arabi for their thorough briefing.
The Arab League has demonstrated important leadership in this crisis. And for many months, the people of the region and the world have watched in horror as the Assad regime executed a campaign of violence against its own citizens, civilians gunned down in the streets, women and children tortured and killed. No one is safe, not even officials of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
According to U.S. estimates, more than 5,400 civilians have already died and that number is rising fast. The regime also continues to arbitrarily detain Syrian citizens, such as the activists Yehia al-Sharagi (ph) and Annas al-Shagry (ph), simply for demanding dignity and universal rights. To date, the evidence is clear that Assad's forces are initiating nearly all of the attacks that kill civilians.
But as more citizens take up arms to resist the regime's brutality, violence is increasingly likely to spiral out of control. Already, the challenges ahead for the Syrian people are daunting: a crumbling economy, rising sectarian tensions, a cauldron of instability in the heart of the Middle East.
Now, fears about what follows Assad, especially among Syria's minority communities are understandable. Indeed, it appears as though Assad and his cronies are working hard to pit Syria's ethnic and religious groups against each other, risking greater sectarian violence and even descent into civil war.
So in response to this violent crackdown on peaceful dissent and protest, the Arab League launched an unprecedented diplomatic intervention, sending monitors into Syria's beleaguered cities and towns, and offering President Assad many chances to change course.
These observers were greeted by thousands of protesters, eager to share their aspirations for their universal rights and, also, the stories of what had befallen them and their families. But as the Arab League report makes clear, if you read the entire report, the regime did not respect its pledges or the presence of the monitors and, instead, responded with excessive and escalating violence.
Now, in the past few days the regime's security forces have intensified their assault, shelling civilian areas and homes in other cities. And this weekend, the Arab League suspended its monitoring mission, pointing to the regime's intransigence and the mounting civilian casualties.
So why is the Arab League here before this Security Council? Because they are seeking the support of the international community for a negotiated peaceful political solution to this crisis and a responsible democratic transition in Syria.
And we all have a choice. Stand with the people of Syria and the region, or become complicit in the continuing violence there. The United States urges the Security Council to back the Arab League's demand that the Syrian government immediate stop all attacks against civilians and guarantee the freedom of peaceful demonstrations.
In accordance with the Arab League's plan, Syria must also release all arbitrarily detained citizens, return its military and security forces to their barracks, allow full and unhindered access for monitors, humanitarian workers and journalists.
And we urge the Security Council to back the Arab League's call for an inclusive Syrian-led political process to effectively address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of Syria's people, conducted in an environment free from violence, fear, intimidation and extremism.
Now, I know that some members here may be concerned that the Security Council could be headed toward another Libya. That is a false analogy. Syria is a unique situation that requires its own approach, tailored to the specific circumstances occurring there. And that is exactly what the Arab League has proposed, a path for a political transition that would preserve Syria's unity and institutions.
Now, this may not be exactly the plan that any of us ourselves would have designed. I know that many nations feel that way. But it represents the best effects and efforts of Syria's neighbors to chart a way forward and it deserves a chance to work.
I think it would be a mistake to minimize or understate the magnitude of the challenge that Syrians face in trying to build the rule of law and civil society on the ruins of a brutal and failed dictatorship. This will be hard. The results are far from certain, success is far from guaranteed. But the alternative, more of Assad's brutal rule, is no alternative at all.
We all know that change is coming to Syria. Despite its ruthless tactics, the Assad regime's rein of terror will end and the people of Syria will have the chance to chart their own destiny. The question for us is : how many more innocent civilians will die before this country is able to move forward toward the kind of future it deserves?
Unfortunately, it appears as though the longer this continues, the harder it will be to rebuild, once President Assad and his regime is transitioned and something new and better takes its place.
Citizens inside and outside Syria have begun planning for a democratic transition, and the Syrian National Council to the courageous grassroots local councils across the country, who are organizing under the most dangerous and difficult circumstances. But every day that goes by, their task grows more difficult.
The future of Syria as a strong and unified nation depends on thwarting a cynical divide-and-conquer strategy.
It will take all Syrians working together, Allawis and Christians hand in hand with Sunni and Druze, side-by-side, Arabs and Kurds, to ensure that the new Syria is governed by the rule of law, respects and protects the universal rights of every citizen, regardless of ethnicity or sect, and takes on the widespread corruption that has marked the Assad regime.
For this to work, Syria's minorities will have to join in shaping Syria's future, and their rights and their voices will have to be heard, protected and respected. And let me say directly to them today, we do hear your fears and we do honor your aspirations. Do not let the current regime exploit them to extend this crisis.
And leaders of Syria's business community, military and other institutions will have to recognize that their futures lie with the state and not the regime. Syria belongs to its 23 million citizens, not to one man or his family. And change can still be accomplished without dismantling the state or producing new tyranny.
It is time for the international community to put aside our own differences and send a clear message of support to the people of Syria. The alternative, spurning the Arab League, abandoning the Syrian people, emboldening the dictator, would compound this tragedy and would mark a failure of our shared responsibility and shake the credibility of the United Nations Security Council.
The United States stands ready to work with every member in this chamber to pass a resolution that supports the Arab League's efforts, because those are the efforts that are well thought-out and focused on ending this crisis, upholds the rights of the Syrian people, and restores peace to Syria.
That is the goal of the Arab League. That should be the goal of this Council, to help the Syrian people realize the goal of the future that they seek. Thank you.
FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, there, bringing to a close her remarks. Before her, we heard from the Secretary-General of the Arab League. They Syrian ambassador, of course, and also the Qatari prime minister.
Let me bring in Richard Roth. Richard, everybody around the table talking paramount of the interests of the Syrian people, even if they're on different sides of the fence. What's your interpretation of what you heard today?
RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Well, despite the gravity of the situation and the violence on the ground, this was not exactly high drama inside the Security Council chamber, despite some predictions, perhaps including mine. Everyone seemed to be speaking softly, treading very carefully.
The real screaming has been going on behind closed doors in the previous weeks between countries which disagree on this proposed resolution and how to approach solving this Syria crisis.
Now, the Arab League representatives, the Qatari prime minister said Syria is not cooperating at all, that it's a machine of war, a killing machine still at work, said the Qatari prime minister. The Arab League representative saying how Syria either obstructed or how it didn't help the observers, that's why the observer mission has been canceled.
And yes, you noted, Fionnuala, the appeals from the Arab League representative to get a Security Council resolution to back the Arab League report. Key wording and perhaps key differences in the negotiating ahead is, is it regime change when you say in a resolution Assad would step aside and transition power?
Al-Arabi of the Arab League trying to say we're not trying to change the government there, but clearly, the wording under this resolution, submitted by Morocco, the lone Arab country on the panel, there, has said, according to the resolution, Assad must step aside, in effect. And current resolution wording debates the question of whether Syria has 15 days whether to comply.
Russia is still several speakers away. The Syrian ambassador, a staunch defense in a meandering way, as he is known for here at the Council, saying that his country, in effect, is really being targeted by outside forces and that the violence has taken place against the government by people -- insurgents that were not really charged or accused enough in the Arab League report.
There'll be no vote today. After the smoke clears from today, they'll go to the back rooms and see if Russia will agree to this resolution. Will it hear the fervent appeals of the people from the region who came here to New York. Fionnuala, back to you.
SWEENEY: All right, Richard Roth in New York, thank you very much, indeed. And of course, we leave it there with Alain Juppe, now, the French foreign minister, making his remarks. That is it for this more-than- extended edition of "World One," but CONNECT THE WORLD with Becky Anderson starts right now.
BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: Yes, we do. Fionnuala, thank you very much, indeed, for that. We've been following what's been going on at UN headquarters, of course. I'm joined by our Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson, who's recently back from Syria.
It's been fascinating, Nic, to listen to what has now been a good hour and a half, and we've still got a number of speakers to go. We haven't yet heard from the Russians, the Russian ambassador, but it is certainly clear that the Russians have had a significant influence on the negotiations behind closed doors on this draft resolution.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, and on the wording that we're hearing today. I mean, one Russian official said that a regime change was tantamount to a road to civil war, a path to civil war.
We've heard the Qatari prime minister say this is not regime change. We've heard the Arab League chief say that this is not -- we're not asking Assad to renounce his powers.
Interestingly, Hillary Clinton did talk about a responsible, democratic transition, and as Richard has just said, that's in the -- that is in the language. So, you can dress it up any way you want, which is what they're trying to do.
ANDERSON: Because I was going to ask you, what is it that we're getting out of what we've been listening to, tonight? We know what we're not going to get in the draft resolution, probably, although the wording's still being worked out. What are we going to get at this point?
ROBERTSON: What they're hoping to do is to find some language that is not going to allow Russia to veto this UN Resolution. The Arab League wants strong support. Hillary Clinton says she wants the Arab League to get strong support.
This is about a regional solution, it's not about Western intervention, it's not about everyone around the table at the United Nations getting what they want. She said maybe we wouldn't have written it this way, but it's what the -- essentially Syria's neighbors are calling for. So, the effort is something that -- something that the Russians won't veto.
ANDERSON: Yes, Clinton saying that we are seeking the support of the international community, urging the Security Council, the US, this being, to back the Arab League's plan. She says it represents the best intents of Syria's neighbors to chart a course forward.
Nic, she also asked this question, and it's an important one: how many more civilians will die before this country gets a chance to move forward? As we listen to and consider what is being said in New York at the UN tonight, we should also remember that that is just a talking shop, and that what you've seen and what you've reported on in the last few weeks is tantamount to a horror show.
ROBERTSON: It is, and the pictures that are emerging, families dead by the most horrible means. Children, whole families, dead. These pictures are coming out.
When we were in Syria, the government was showing us videos, some of the most horrific video I've ever seen -- I mean, you would never put this on television -- they say that was committed by the opposition, by the anti-government faction.
ROBERTSON: Whether or not that's true, their supporters are believing it. The opposition knows what happened to them. They're seeing the pictures, too.
There's a passion developing. Whatever is said at the United Nations, is it going to be enough to calm the passions on the ground? Can the opposition support their leadership saying, "Oh, yes, we will get around the table. It won't be real, immediate transition, there'll be some wooly words and, yes, we'll sign up to that."
The passion and anger on the ground, everyone knows what's happening, it's hard to put the two together.
ANDERSON: And I can only imagine that passion and anger will be enhanced by what our viewers will see next. Stay with me for one sec.
We've reported the uprising. We've been very careful about what video we've been showing you and how we show it. You're now about to see what is some extremely disturbing footage that's more graphic than anything that we've aired here on CNN previously. But we think it helps demonstrate the horrors facing Syrian civilians.
We strongly warn you, the following images are very, very hard to watch, and we've left most of them unaltered. This video is said to show six members of a family, including four young children, brutally tortured and killed by government forces. Their relatives say that they were murdered in their own homes.
CNN cannot independently verify the amateur video or say for certain when it was filmed, as our access to Syria, of course, is limited. It does, though, corroborate the account of a resident in Homs.
I did apologize. I hope those of you who didn't want to see that video turned away. It's extremely difficult to watch. Nic, I'm not sure that any of this surprises you, though.
ROBERTSON: No. The brutality that's being meted out speaks to so many conflicts we've seen before, which really speaks to the importance of what is underway in New York at the United Nations, the importance to find the diplomatic solution, to find a way out of the chaos and carnage.
But it's very hard. The genie is coming out of the bottle -- it is out of the bottle, here, let's be frank about it. It's very hard to put that kind of anger and frustration.
And we've heard Hillary Clinton talk about the sort of ethnic and religious tensions that the Assad regime is trying to use to exploit and keep its position, and she told the minorities there not to allow the Assad regime to -- essentially to hoodwink you, there.
These are very, very real and tangible, and we're seeing it in this video.
ANDERSON: The discussions at the Security Council continue at the UN. We'll be back to New York as and when we see our programming befits. Of course, you won't miss anything. We're certainly back as and when the Russian ambassador speaks to members there at UN headquarters.
For the time being, our Senior International Correspondent, Nic Robertson. We thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.
Still to come on CONNECT THE WORLD, Republicans in Florida are having their say at the ballot box as attacks between the presidential candidates get personal. Just ahead, Senator John McCain tells CONNECT THE WORLD, you the viewers, the harsh rhetoric needs to stop.
ANDERSON: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN, I'm Becky Anderson in London for you.
Now, three contests so far, three different winners. The big question, can Florida finally add some clarity to the race for the Republican presidential nomination?
Well, with Rick Santorum narrowly winning the state of Iowa, Romney taking New Hampshire, and Gingrich triumphing in South Carolina, there is no real front runner, not yet, anyway.
Republicans in Florida, now, have just a couple of hours left to cast their votes. Opinion numbers in the run-up to today's voting showing Mitt Romney with a significant lead over his rival, Newt Gingrich.
The so-called Sunshine State, then, is a key battleground. Compared to the three previous contests, Florida is a much bigger political center. More than 4 million Republican voters, and Florida is much more diverse, with a large Latino voting block than other states.
Now, the prize is the biggest one-offer so far. The winner will take 50 delegates out of 1,144 needed to win the presidential nomination at the Republican convention in August of this year.
So, let's get you to the ground. CNN's Hala Gorani is in Tampa as Republican voters cast their ballots. The atmosphere there today?
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, today and yesterday, as well, there is an anticipation. This, as you mentioned, is a big prize, 50 delegates that will go all the way to the convention in August right here in Tampa, in fact.
And behind me, Becky, is Mitt Romney's headquarters. This is where he's going to be tonight as the votes and the results come in. Now, unless there is an absolutely huge surprise, Mitt Romney is expected to take Florida and its 50 Republican delegates.
Now, you'll remember after South Carolina, Newt Gingrich won that state. Mitt Romney became a lot more aggressive in debates as well as in on-air ads, and as result, many analysts say, he's been able to turn his fortunes around, and in the polling, he is enjoying a double-digit lead.
You also mentioned Santorum, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul. Now, they're sitting out Florida, they're not even campaigning here. They've moved on to the next several states and the big date, of course, is Super Tuesday, which is the first week of March.
And beyond that, if it's Mitt Romney, Mitt Romney is the Republican candidate for the GOP party, then that will be the person who confronts Barack Obama in the general election. But of course, there can always be surprises. Becky?
ANDERSON: All right. Let's hear from some of these candidates, today. What have we heard from them in the run-up to this -- well, it's a crucial vote, isn't it, this one?
GORANI: It is, indeed. But you know, every vote in the first few election contests is crucial because it determines, really, who is going to have the momentum to go ahead, who's going to be able to raise the most money.
I believe we have Mitt Romney, is that correct? And Newt Gingrich today in the sort of last few campaign pushes that they've made ahead of the vote. Let's listen to what they had to say.
No? All right.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I pick Romney.
GORANI: And you think, why? In a general election, he's better for this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he will -- he will -- he'll be the only one that can beat Obama.
GORANI: What do you want to hear from a candidate?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I want to hear? Not transferring the US companies out of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Apologies. Those were some of the voters. And in the end, who's more important in all of this than the voters and who they plan to cast their ballots for?
Now, you heard from one man who said that what's most important to him is electability. Many Republicans say, "I may agree a little bit more with one of the other candidates, but in the end, I want to pick the man who is most likely to beat Barack Obama."
So, people take many things into consideration, but I'll say the economy is probably issue number one, Becky.
ANDERSON: Good job, thank you for that. And of course, it's the voters who matter. Hala in Florida for you.
With so much at stake in Florida, the two front-runners are locked in a heated and increasingly personal battle to try to win crucial momentum moving forward. Jim Acosta reports.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Florida primary has gotten primal. On the day before the votes are counted, Mitt Romney branded Newt Gingrich a loser after the former speaker vowed to fight all the way to the convention.
MITT ROMNEY (R), US PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's usually an indication that they think they're going to lose, when you say "I'm going to go on no matter what happens," that's usually not a good sign.
ACOSTA: Not to be outdone, Gingrich now routinely portrays Romney as a liar.
NETW GINGRICH (R), US PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to run a big truth campaign that beats the big lie campaign.
ACOSTA: Even the surrogates are getting into the act. First it was Romney supporter Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz going to Gingrich events, getting into confrontations with the former speaker's press secretary.
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: You were following him instead of Romney.
RC HAMMOND, NEWT GINGRICH'S PRESS SECRETARY: No, absolutely not.
HAMMOND: I was just going to offer a little perspective.
ACOSTA: Then, Rick Tyler with the pro-Gingrich Super PAC Winning Our Future said, "Two can play at that game."
RICK TYLER, WINNING OUR FUTURE: I was trying to tweet out the event. I couldn't keep up with the lies. I mean, Mitt Romney seems to have a congenital defect. He can't distinguish the truth from a lie.
TOM BROKAW, FORMER ANCHOR, NBC NEWS: Newt Gingrich, who came to power, after all, preaching a higher standard in American politics --
ACOSTA: Both sides are hitting each other with YouTube. Romney's new ad features NBC's Tom Brokaw reporting on the former speaker's ethics charges in the 90s.
Gingrich is pointing to a Reuters interview with liberal billionaire George Soros and his take on Romney. "If it's between Obama and Romney," Soros told Reuters, "there isn't all that much difference."
GINGRICH: Here you have the leading left-wing billionaire in the world saying to the Europeans, look, Romney and Obama are the same people.
ACOSTA: The latest polls, like this one from Quinnipiac show Romney out to a commanding lead in this winner-take-all primary, which may explain why Gingrich is back to one of his best tricks, bashing the media.
GINGRICH: As your nominee, I will not accept debates in the fall in which the reporters are the moderators, because you don't need to have a second Obama person in the debate.
ACOSTA: The more disciplined Romney campaign was feeling looser.
ACOSTA: Allowing their candidate to toss bags of chips to the reporters he normally keeps at more than arm's length.
ROMNEY: Time will tell. And now, onto the Cheetos.
ACOSTA (on camera): No matter what happens in Florida, a Romney adviser says the campaign will not be going into cruise control, adding, "There's no predicting what will happen next."
Jim Acosta, CNN, Dunedin, Florida.
ANDERSON: Well, John McCain knows a thing or two about these bruising races. He was the Republican presidential candidate, of course in 2008. This time around, he's called for an end to what he describes as the "mud wrestling" between the candidates.
I spoke with the senator ahead of the Florida vote, and I asked him why.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Becky, if you look at the disapproval ratings of all of those who are in these debates, they're on a -- they're on an incline because all the American people now are seeing these people attacking each other and -- really to the point of calling them liars and not telling the truth.
And so, it's really harmful, I believe, to our candidates in the long run. The unfavorables go up. Meanwhile, nobody's happier about all of this than President Obama's campaign managers.
ANDERSON: You are backing Mitt Romney, even though four years ago, when he was running against you for the Republican nomination, you called him, and I'll quote you, "a flip-flopper."
ANDERSON: Why the change of heart?
MCCAIN: Well, it's not so much a change of heart. We agree on the principles and ideals and goals we share. Politics isn't bean bag, and it was a tough campaign, but afterwards, he -- nobody worked harder for my campaign than he did. We became very good friends, and that's -- you now, you unite after that. Reagan and Bush had a bitter campaign, and they came together after that.
So -- and look, I believe he's got the experience and the talent and the background and the leadership to do the job, and electability is a factor, Becky.
ANDERSON: How important is this Florida vote? Do you think that tomorrow's winner will go on to get this Republican nomination?
MCCAIN: Well, since according to the polls Romney is well ahead, I -- yes, I believe so. It's the first big state, first very diverse state. They split, as you know, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
So, yes. I think it gives them momentum. But it doesn't mean that some of these guys are going to get out. They haven't got anything else to do.
ANDERSON: How do you sell Romney?
MCCAIN: Well, I say that one of the things that might appeal to some of our viewers is that the Olympics that were scheduled for Salt Lake City were in terrible problems, they were about to be almost canceled, all kinds of scandals.
Mitt Romney was called in. He showed his leadership, he got it squared away. It was one of the most successful Olympics Games ever held in history. He understands the free enterprise system, he was governor of one of the most liberal states in America and was able to work across the aisle with the Democrats, and he's a very decent guy with a --
ANDERSON: John --
MCCAIN: -- wonderful wife, 5 sons, and 16 grandchildren.
ANDERSON: John, the Olympics is one thing, and you know, absolutely, I agree with you there, but the Olympics is one thing. Running a country surely is another thing. You're talking to CNN International's viewers tonight. We don't know who he is nor what he stands for foreign policy- wise.
MCCAIN: Well, foreign policy-wise he stands with a strong America, not leading from behind. He's very concerned about Iran. He doesn't believe that we should be making the draconian cuts that we are making in our defense forces. In fact, he thinks it puts us at great risk, as I do. And he has a great appreciation for the men and women who are serving.
But he is Reagan-esque in his belief that America should lead, and he absolutely rejects this leading from behind which has been going on with this administration.
ANDERSON: A former Republican nominee, of course, back in 2008, speaking to me late yesterday.
Well, one of these men could be the next president of the United States. So, you might think you might notice if you pass one of them in the street.
We hit London armed with three pictures, the two Republican front- runners or wannabe Republican presidents, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, and one imaginary wannabe president, Bartlett, played by Martin Sheen in the TV series "The West Wing."
We wanted to know who's who and who's real. Well, here's what happened.
ANDERSON: Three photos I want to show you, and you're going to tell me, if you can, at least, who they are.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is he an MP?
ANDERSON: An MP, Member of Parliament? What, in Britain?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like a man in the USA that talk and jokes. Como se dice?
ANDERSON: Jon Stewart?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. It's like --
ANDERSON: Jay Leno?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no, no.
ANDERSON: David Letterman?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no.
ANDERSON: What's his name?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No idea.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No idea.
ANDERSON: Who's this?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know. I'm sorry.
ANDERSON: That's all right, don't apologize. No, that's fine.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's quite hot, isn't he?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The other one? No idea.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never heard of him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another Republican candidate?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Martin Sheen.
ANDERSON: Last one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Martin Sheen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's Martin Sheen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president in "The West Wing." Sorry.
ANDERSON: Well, I tell you what, after the polls close in Florida, and that is two hours from now, we have live coverage and analysis of the results. Stick with us. By tomorrow, you will know who those two candidates are. Starting midnight London, about three hours from now, all part of CNN's America's Choice coverage of the 2012 US presidential elections.
We're going to update you on CNN's Freedom Project. That is coming up after this short break. Stay with us.
ANDERSON: CNN's Freedom Project, as I'm sure you are aware, is a project that we've got here at the network where we endeavor to help those who are trying to end modern-day slavery, get rid of the curse or the scourge that is human trafficking.
Well, a new development in a story that we've been covering as part of that Freedom Project. You may remember a documentary that we ran about a week or so ago, it was called "Chocolate's Child Slaves."
It was a documentary that featured young children who'd been human trafficked into Ivory Coast at a young age. We were endeavoring to flush that story out for you and to give you a sense of what was really going on.
We also asked all the main chocolate companies for a response to the documentary, and at that time, we read out a number of statements, all of which you will see on our website, cnn.com.
But just tonight, or in the past 24 hours, we've had an additional update from Hershey. They have said that they are investing $10 million over the next five years in improving the lives of West African cocoa farmers. Now, the investment could help more than 2 million people over -- by 2017.
The company's also partnering with the Rainforest Alliance to certify all of its Hershey Bliss products. Now, Rainforest Alliance ensures that cocoa is produced sustainably and that workers and farmers are protected. Get involved with the project. It does work.
I'm Becky Anderson, and that was CONNECT THE WORLD, thank you for watching. The world news headlines and "BackStory" are up after this short break. Don't go away.