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CONNECT THE WORLD

Western European Governments Issue Travel Warning To Benghazi; World Economic Forum Participants Optimistic Despite Record Unemployment In Spain

Aired January 24, 2013 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: Urged to leave, tonight on Connect the World, UK, German and Dutch nationals are told to get out of Benghazi in Libya over an imminent terror threat.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jomana Karadsheh in Tripoli with the latest reaction from the Libyan government on this threat.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN London, this is Connect the World with Becky Anderson.

ANDERSON: Well, in the past couple of hours the UK has gone even further telling its citizens don't delay, just leave. The very latest information as we have it and analysis on a country and region increasingly proving to be a security nightmare.

Also tonight...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANK ZIRIT, IREPORTER: The situation has gotten a lot worse. And the crisis has eaten up a lot of stores and shops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Spain's unemployment rate hits another new record. How everyday people there are coping.

And...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILBUR SMITH, AUTHOR: It's a new experience, one that I never even in my wildest dreams contemplated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Well, no slippers in sight for world famous octogenarian. My interview with author Wilbur Smith who has just signed a huge new book deal.

Right, get out of Benghazi now. We begin tonight with urgent warnings from three European countries. Britain, Germany and The Netherlands say there is a specific threat against westerners in Libya's second largest city.

Jomana is standing by in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, with the very latest. Before, though, we go to her let's hear how a British foreign office minister described the threat, speaking earlier to the BBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LIDINGTON, FOREIGN OFFICE MINISTER: Although Benghazi has been a risky city for some time, we would advise British people not to go there, we now have credible, serious, and specific reports about a possible terrorist threat, that's why we're advising British citizens who are in Benghazi to leave.

Our advice to people is not to delay, but to leave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Right, the Libyan government says it is, and I quote, astonished by the tone of Britain's warning, calling it unjustified.

Well, Jomana is following all the reaction and the very latest developments from Tripoli tonight. Jomana, what is the Libyan government saying specifically?

KARADSHEH: Well, Becky, over the past week since that attack in neighboring Algeria, we have been hearing from the Libyan security agencies from the prime minister here reassuring westerns, foreign companies here that they have upped security along that porous Libyan border region and also around oil facilities.

Now regarding the specific threats, Libyan officials have been slow to react, but we are hearing the latest coming from the Libyan interior ministry really downplaying and denying any threat against western interests in Benghazi saying that the city is stable.

We also heard from Libya deputy parliament speaker Jumma Atiga. Here is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUMMA ATIGA, DEPUTY LEADER, GENERAL PEOPLE'S CONGRESS (through translator): I want to say that terrorism has no religion on country, terrorism can strike anywhere in the world. Even in countries like Britain aren't immune to terrorism. But to have this announcement that hints at something that doesn't really exist on the ground is not justified enough in our opinion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARADSHEH: Well, Becky, while Libyan officials -- some Libyan officials may seem to think that this threat, these warnings, are unjustified, many here in Tripoli, westerns and Libyans, are very concerned this evening and also confused after that strong worded and confusing warning that came out, as many have described it to me today.

And also, remember, this is a country that is awash with weapons, a country with very little security, that is struggling to control its security. So many are very concerned tonight even here in Tripoli.

ANDERSON: Those warnings very short on specifics, it's got to be said tonight. We don't know what the threat is. We don't know who the threat is from at this point. We're going to talk more this hour about what we think is going on, but nothing specific or concrete coming from any of these three governments.

How would you, Jomana, describe the current security situation in Benghazi today?

KARADSHEH: Becky, we have seen over recent months even following that brazen attack on the U.S. consulate that killed the U.S. ambassador, ambassador Stevens, and three other Americans. We have seen an uptick in recent months in attacks against the security services in the city, assassinations and kidnappings taking place. Also, earlier this month, the Italian consulate general came under attack. He says he escaped an assassination attempt when gunmen opened fire on his car in the city. The Italians closed down their consulate and pulled out their staff from Benghazi.

Now many of these attacks that have taken place in Benghazi against western interests have been blamed -- and some of them even claimed by groups, Islamist extremist groups -- with ties to al Qaeda.

Now the government here has really done very little to confront these groups. Some say that the government is not capable of going up against these groups. So there is a lot of concern about the targeting of westerners, western interests -- although it must be said that many western missions have already pulled out of Benghazi in recent months, many NGOs, and business people have pulled out from Benghazi, but the threat is there. There have been warnings, concerns that there could be some sort of retaliatory attack taking place because of the military operations in Mali.

ANDERSON; Yeah. All right. We're going to do more on that now. For the time being, Jomana we thank you for that.

Well, Libya of course part of what some are now calling an arc of instability across the entire region. Let's begin. Jomana talking Mali there, so let's begin in Mali tonight where French troops are on the ground, of course, fighting Islamic rebels who occupy the north.

Now Mali was until recently home to this man. His name is Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who has claimed responsibility for -- and let me get you to Algeria -- he's claimed responsibility for this, the attack on a gas plant where -- which left at least 37 hostages dead. The raid was said to have been carried out by -- in retaliation for the French intervention in Mali. We are told that this video shows the attackers training in the desert.

Now sources have told CNN that the existence of training camps in Libya where Mokhtar Belmokhtar was spotted back in late 2011. The following September, the country was the scene of a deadly attack on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, as Jomana reminded us, four months ago which killed four Americans which killed the U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens.

Well, I want to get us some more perspective now on today's warnings and the terror threat across the region. We're joined by Shashank Joshi who is a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.

Now, Joshi, who are the extremists likely behind these threats we're hearing about today from these missions in Libya?

SHASHANK JOSHI, ROYAL UNITED SERVICES INSTITUTE: Well, as your correspondent said, the security situation in eastern Libya is absolutely appalling. There's very little control from the central government, which is what makes the official's comments so strange. We, of course, saw the attack back in September that was probably prosecuted by one of the Islamist militias called Ansar al Sharia. But of course it could be any number of militias, that is not the only Jihadist organization active in eastern Libya, there are many, many of whom of course have long experienced in international jihads stretching right back to the 1980s in Afghanistan.

And of course one other point worth mentioning is that there are possible links between the theaters of conflict you just mentioned, Mali and Algeria, and Libya. And for example, we know there are some indications Ansar al Sharia, the group that conducted that horrific attack that killed Ambassador Stevens back last year may have been in touch with al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, or AQIM, the group that Belmokhtar is a member -- or was a member of -- and who is fighting the French in northern Mali. So there are connections between these regions.

ANDERSON: Right. So not just a common ideology, but you're saying there are actually groups who share organizational links.

Shashank, the United States issued its own warning today saying it continues to advise against all travel to Benghazi. It says, though, it doesn't know of any specific threat. But of course yesterday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before congress about the attack on the U.S. consulate at which point she warned about rising militancy across the entire region.

Let's just remind ourselves what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: In addition to the immediate action we took and the review board process we're moving on a third front, addressing the broader strategic challenge in North Africa and the wider region. Benghazi did not happen in a vacuum. The Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region. Instability in Mali has created an expanding safe haven for terrorists who look to extend their influence and plot further attacks of the kind we just saw last week in Algeria.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: What do you think the scale of this threat in the region is?

JOSHI: Well, I think it's -- we shouldn't be exaggerated. The British prime minister said this last week that the threat is global and existential. And I think that's probably over egging it. I still think the threat is mainly a regional one, that is operative in North Africa in the Sahal. I think it's an open question as to how much of a threat exists to the homeland of western Europe and the United States.

Certainly when U.S. officials were asked over the past couple of weeks how imminent, how dangerous is the threat from AQIM, the threat that David Cameron here has been playing up so much, well they answered not very much, probably not imminent. And we're still getting a sense of it.

So I think it's very important to understand although these groups are connected, although there is an arc of instability, and although there is a connection between Libya and Mali and Jihadists are on the ascendant, that doesn't necessarily mean we're seeing a threat to the homeland itself. And I think that's got to be put in perspective.

In Libya, what we have is very specific intelligence, that does not mean it's something on the streets of London or New York, this is probably a time limited threat. And they can't reveal details, of course, because it's probably been ascertained through very clandestine means.

ANDERSON: Always a pleasure, sir. We thank you for that.

You're watching Connect the World live from London. Our top story tonight, British, German, and Dutch nationals have been urged to leave Benghazi in Libya immediately because of the imminent threat to westerners.

Britain went further saying the advice is not to delay, just leave. Well, it's unclear this hour about the specifics of the threat, but retaliatory attacks against western interests have been a possibility, of course, since the military intervention against Islamic extremists in nearby Mali began a month or so ago.

You're watching Connect the World, live from London. Coming up straight after this break, a deeper look at the situation in Spain as unemployment reaches a new record high. Is it time for the government there to change tracks?

Well, then after that you could call it a ball boy brouhaha. Why some people are backing the football player who kicked this teenager.

And later in the show, he's already penned more than 30 books. And best-selling author Wilbur Smith tells me he's planning plenty more. All that and much more after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Well, new figures out today paint a bleak picture for Spain, I'm afraid, the fourth largest economy in the EuroZone of course. Unemployment there has reached a new record high of 26 percent, that means nearly 6 million Spaniards without a job. And for the nation's younger workers, those numbers are much worse.

Youth jobless climbed to 55 percent for those aged between 16 and 24 years old. More than 1 in 2 out of a job. The country is suffering its second recession in just three years. Well, behind all these numbers, of course, stories of daily struggle and increasing desperation across the country.

Earlier, two of our Spanish iReporters told me what it's like in the cities that they live in. Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZIRIT: The situation has gotten a lot worse. I think the crisis has eaten up a lot of stores and shops. Sales have dropped -- well, not dramatically, but steadily like, you know, step by step sales have gone down.

People are starting to save the money they have for spending on regular things. They prefer to save that money just in case of emergencies.

You know, an emergency comes up and they have to spend their money in hospital bills and stuff like that.

GENOVEVA SEYDOUX, IREPORTER: Here it's 115,000 people and the percentage of people that are unemployed is -- I think it's the highest in all of Catalonia.

People are really surviving. They are losing any hope of finding any job. This is becoming very critical, because if you're young, you think you can eat the world. In fact, you find out that there's no job for you and after one, two, three years of any searching for a job you don't find, you start to be really depressed. And you try to find out some jobs under -- in the black economy. You try to survive as you can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: The stories behind the statistics, I'm afraid. Unemployment is, of course, a problem for the entire EuroZone. Figures from November last year showed jobless across the bloc pushing 12 percent, that's much higher than the United Kingdom and the United States.

Let's bring in CNN's Richard Quest who is in Davos for the World Economic Forum, of course.

And Richard, the mood -- at least it seems to me in Davos this year, seems to be quite optimistic despite the sort of figures that we've just seen released out of Spain today. Why is that?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, because the EuroZone and the European Union didn't fall apart in a heap and collapse. And from that low base they can now see optimism. But as everybody here has been keen to keep pointing out, the structural reform process that's underway -- the changes in labor laws, the changes in budget deficits, all the various changes in relationships, they have to keep going. And that, to some extent, is what is worrying those like the International Labor Organization.

Earlier this week, they brought out that report showing that the number of people officially out of work in the world will go through 200 million this year.

I turned to Guy Ryder, he is the director general of the ILO. And I needed to know when we look at the level of unemployment globally and, for example, in Spain what he felt needed to be done.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GUY RYDER, ILO DIRECTOR GENERAL: The austerity measures have been applied have been overdone. The IMF realizes now that the potency of the austerity measures was more than they expected. If you're taking medicine and it's stronger than you thought you down the dose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUEST: So, that is a very popular view that the austerity has caused a great deal of damage. The other side to that coin is what one senior official of the IMF told me that European countries, Becky, need to continue with that process of reform. And that person said they need to be pushed, kicked and dragged if necessary to that end.

ANDERSON: Listen, about -- I guess it was about a year ago we were having -- you know, long and exhaustive discussions about whether it was less austerity, more growth; more austerity, less growth. There was talk that Merkel wasn't interested in any growth strategies. She was only interested in making it painful, because we'd overspent. What are people saying there? I mean, are there European leaders who are heeding and are prepared to heed going forward the warning that austerity, it seems, is so painful to so many that we have to look at alternatives.

QUEST: The argument in favor of growth has been won. The problem is that argument has to battle against the reality of European economies that are still moribund, high bound by old regulations and uncompetitive. It is that tussle, Becky, that time and again has come up in European discussions.

But even Chancellor Merkel here in Davos accepts that as things get better it will be time to promote growth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY (through translator): When you have a youth unemployment of 60 percent, perhaps particularly among young people in Portugal, in Spain, we have to see to it that we open up new perspectives and perhaps also introduce certain bridging measures that will then allow those reform processes to take place without unduly disserving domestic peace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUEST: And that's the way it is, Becky.

The Danish prime minister made it quite clear, she finds the level of unemployment in Europe to be offensive, that more needs to be done, but it can only be done once economies are competitive and ready to grow properly again. That's their view.

ANDERSON: All right. Good stuff. Thank you, sir.

Richard Quest is at the World Economic Forum through Friday of course. More from him as we move through CNN's schedule over the next 24 hours.

Now the future of Europe is taking center stage there in Davos after British Prime Minister David Cameron's pledge to hold a referendum on whether Britain should leave the bloc. Here is what he told CNN's Christiane Amanpour just a little earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you think you'll be remembered as the prime minister who led Britain out of the EU, or who managed to keep it in the EU?

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's for other people to write your histories, to write your legacies. I mean...

AMANPOUR: If you're a betting man?

CAMERON: I'll be remembered -- well, I hope I'll be remembered as someone who did everything they could to get the British economy back on track, to strengthen Britain's society and Britain's place in the world and to secure Britain's place in a reformed European Union. I think that is what I want to achieve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: And the full interview right after Connect the World in just about 30 minutes time here on CNN 10:00 in London, 11:00 in Berlin.

Live from London, this is Connect the World. I'm Becky Anderson.

Coming up, Chelsea Football Club can't stay out of the headlines. And an act of frustration by one of the club's top players has the football world all abuzz. More on that after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Well, it's being called ball boy gate as Chelsea's reputation takes another hit during a league cup defeat to a Welsh side called Swansea. Eden Hazard plays for Chelsea, of course, kicks a ball boy who may or may not have been stalling, a ball boy who was at the opposing team's stadium. Of course he was a Swansea boy.

Now Don Riddell joins us with more on this.

And there are a few players -- and we saw the incident last night. And it looked pretty bad. But there are a few players who have come out in support of Hazard. He kicks this youngster and they support him. What's going on?

DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. This is just an incredible story. And you said before the break that Chelsea just can't get a break in terms of some positive PR. I mean, from John Terry, Ashley Cole accusing a referee of being a racist, sacking Di Matteo controversial, then this happens.

It looked pretty bad at the time, and I think in terms of kicking a 17 year old boy it remains pretty bad, but I think the story really has changed since this actually happened on Wednesday evening, Becky. And there seems to be a lot more sympathy for Hazard himself now. I think a lot of players know that this happens. When you go to an away stadium and you're chasing the game and you need to get hold of the ball this often happens. The ball boys keep hold of it. They think they're doing their team a favor. In many cases perhaps even their team has urged them to do it, not give the ball back as quickly as you would like. And Hazard's frustrations certainly got the better of him.

He was sent off. He faces a three game suspension. It might even be worse for him if the FA decide to make an example of him. And of course today we've also been learning about the ball boy himself.

First of all, he's not really a boy. He's 17 years old. He's called Charlie Morgan. He just so happens to be the son of one of Swansea City's directors. And I think perhaps one of the reasons why there's been a bit less sympathy for him in England today is because it's been revealed that he is the heir to a $66 million fortune. And I'm sure his parents are absolutely horrified that this has even become a story. And that's why they are not one to take things any further.

ANDERSON: What is he doing running up and down the touchline on a wet, miserable night like that when he's heir to such a fortune?

All right, so sympathies on both sides, perhaps at this stage. I know Eden has it, though, he did apologize, didn't he?

RIDDELL: Yeah. They actually brought the young man, Charlie Morgan, to the dressing room afterwards. Apparently Frank Lampard was very nice to him. They shook hands. And they both said sorry.

And Rafa Benitez afterwards in the press conference really got quite fired up about this whole thing. And he just said, look, everybody was in the wrong. You know he was in the wrong for not being a bit more sporting and a bit more helpful. Obviously Hazard was wrong for allowing his frustrations to get the better of him.

Interesting today some of the other players and former players coming out in support of Hazard. Pat Nevin, the former Chelsea legend said I would have kicked him if I was in that position. Joey Barton who is a bit of a controversial player himself, he said Hazard's only crime was that he didn't kick him harder.

ANDERSON: Only Joey Barton. Rely on Joey Barton to come out with a comment like that.

All right, look, it's an important story and we shouldn't make light of it by any stretch of the imagination. In a certain extent, I'm pretty glad that it seems to be getting cleared up, but not the sort of behavior you expect to see at a football match of grownups.

All right. Thank you, sir.

Don, of course, will be back at half past the hour, the next hour, with World Sport. More on that and the other sporting news stories.

The latest world news headlines are up after this.

And following those, provocative behavior, that is what the U.S. defense chief calls North Korea's latest announcement. Is Pyongyang making a genuine threat or just showing off? I'll be talking live to an expert about that.

Then in just over 10 minutes, we'll be debating a hot topic: the U.S. military's new rules on women in combat.

And you'll want to stay tuned for my interview with the best selling author Wilbur -- let me tell you, you may be 60 -- sorry, 60 -- maybe 80 years old, but he is not retiring, let me tell you, just yet.

You're watching Connect the World. Back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: You're back with CONNECT THE WORLD, I'm Becky Anderson in London just after half past nine. Here are the headlines this hour.

Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands are urging their citizens to leave Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city. They're warning of a specific threat against Westerners. Libyan officials say there's no new intelligence to justify those concerns.

A Chicago man has been sentenced to 35 years in jail for his role in the deadly siege in Mumbai in 2008. David Headley admitted to scouting attack locations for a Pakistani terrorist group. They attacked the Taj Mahal and a hotel, killed more than 160 people.

Unemployment in Spain has reached a new record high of 26 percent. That means nearly 6 million people in the country without a job, and for the nation's younger workers, the numbers are much worse. Jobless youth numbers are as high as more than one in two, 55 percent for those of age between 16 and 24 years old.

US defense secretary Leon Panetta says the US is, quote, "very concerned" over what he calls North Korea's provocative behavior. Pyongyang says it plans new rocket launches and, quote, "high-level nuclear tests," and it's calling the US a sworn enemy of the Korean people.

The statement carried today on state-run TV was directed squarely at Washington and the United Nations, which agreed to fresh sanctions against Pyongyang earlier this week, and South Korea says it doesn't think the North is bluffing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WEE YONG-SUB, COLONEL, SOUTH KOREAN DEFENSE MINISTRY (through translator): We consider that North Korea is ready to conduct a nuclear test at any time that the leadership decides to go ahead. Regarding this, we're closely monitoring the North's nuclear test preparations and its military movement based on our firm and combined defense position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Well, there is a major problem when it comes to warnings from North Korea: analysts must try to determine the difference between real and empty threats from the secretive nation. Here's what the -- we at least know that the North is capable of.

Firstly, nuclear tests. As CNN has reported, these were already carried out in 2006 and 2009. Both were condemned by the United Nations. When Pyongyang says it will carry out another, there's every reason to believe it.

Rocket launches are also possible. After inviting the world to witness a humiliating failure in April last year, the North saved face with a successful launch, you'll remember, last month. But here's the catch: the two capabilities have yet to come together. Analysts say North Korea does not have the technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile or to target a missile effectively.

Well, let's bring in Stephen Bosworth, the former US special representative for North Korea policy for more on this. Stephen, how seriously should this threat be taken, do you think?

STEPHEN BOSWORTH, DEAN, THE FLETCHER SCHOOL AT TUFTS UNIVERSITY: Well, I think in the longer term, it should be taken very seriously. This is not a game. The North Koreans are quite serious, they want to build and possess a credible nuclear deterrent, and they're making progress toward that end.

ANDERSON: All right, well, let's just step back and interrogate a little bit more of what they said earlier today.

BOSWORTH: Sure.

ANDERSON: The North's National Defense Commission said the moves would feed into, and I quote, "an upcoming all-out action that would target the United States and," as they call it, "that being the sworn enemy of the Korean people."

Now, they're insulted, it seems, but should this have been expected, given the UN resolution of just two days ago?

BOSWORTH: Well, I think you have to discount a good deal of what they say. It's typical North Korean rhetoric. Their ability to threaten rhetorically is at this point so much greater than their ability to threaten in reality. But from their point of view, they have determined that they want and will have a credible nuclear deterrent.

Now, the thing to worry with this threatened nuclear test is that, as far as we are aware, and I think we're correct, they have not yet achieved the miniaturization of a nuclear weapon, which would be necessary to put it on top of a missile and deliver it anyplace. But the more they test --

ANDERSON: Right. OK.

BOSWORTH: -- the more it is likely that they will achieve that miniaturization.

ANDERSON: So, I'm sure there are viewers out there today who heard what they said and said, well, now long is it going to take for them to get a weapon that might be -- have the sort of range that means that Washington is in the firing line, for example?

BOSWORTH: Well, I think it's important to bear in mind: North Korea is not suicidal. I think it would be a very negative development were they to have a nuclear deterrent, particularly if they had one that would reach the United States.

But they already have missiles that are capable of reaching American bases and American allies throughout East Asia. So, this is not as, necessarily, a completely new development. But their development of nuclear weapons and their development of missiles are on a track which, from our point of view, is very alarming.

ANDERSON: We've got a huge amount of traffic on this on cnn.com today. Many of the comments asking how much would China have known about North Korea's intention to release this statement? Would they have condoned it? What kind of involvement can you see China having had at least in the background, here, if any?

BOSWORTH: I don't think China has had any direct role in North Korea's programs. In fact, China recently signed onto the UN action condemning North Korea's missile test of a few weeks ago.

China, however, is in a very -- from their point of view -- a very difficult position. They do not want North Korea to become a credible nuclear weapons state, but neither do they want North Korea to collapse. So, they're sort of caught betwixt and between.

I don't think that the North Koreans rely on China's help to build these programs. I think they're doing it pretty much on their own, something which, given the fundamental poverty of the North Korean economy, is difficult for the outside world to comprehend, but nonetheless seems to be true.

ANDERSON: Stephen, always a pleasure. We thank you for that. Your expert on the subject tonight on what has been a provocative day from Pyongyang.

Up next on CONNECT THE WORLD, army infantry, special ops, all open to American women for the first time, but there is a catch, and there's certainly a debate. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Right. Tonight, a new reality for the US military, opening front line units to female service members. US defense secretary, Leon Panetta, made the official announcement earlier today. He says it's time for the Pentagon to recognize the reality that American women are already fighting and dying alongside their male comrades.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, US DEFENSE SECRETARY: Everyone -- everyone -- men and women alike, everyone is committed to doing the job. They're fighting and they're dying together.

If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job -- and let me be clear, I'm not talking about reducing the qualifications for the job -- if they can meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have the right to serve, regardless of creed or color or gender or sexual orientation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: The US defense secretary speaking there. Well, this is a big talking point tonight. Opinions are flying, some already including Major Judy Webb, the first woman to lead an all-male field force in the British army, says that females on the front lines will hinder not help the military. Major Webb is with me in the studio here tonight.

From CNN New York, I'm joined live by Wing Commander Mikey Kay, retired, who says women have more than proved themselves in combat situations in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

Let me start with you, Major Webb, because I think a lot of our viewers who are females particularly tonight will be very surprised to find that you have the opinion that you do. No women on the front line? Why not?

JUDY WEBB, MAJOR, RETIRED, BRITISH MILITARY: No, I haven't said no women on the front line at all. Women do a fantastic job on the front line. Things have changed enormously, and they have proved themselves.

My argument is about women in the infantry, and I really don't feel that women should be in the infantry.

ANDERSON: Why not?

WEBB: Because we are physically different. We are -- we do not have the physical capacity to be infantry soldiers.

ANDERSON: Mikey. Your response.

MIKEY KAY, LIEUTENANT COLONEL, RETIRED, BRITISH MILITARY: Firstly, I'd like to echo what Judy said about the capability of women. I think -- I've served on ten operational tours as an assault helicopter pilot, I've been to Kosovo, Macedonia, I've been to Iraq three times and I've been to Afghanistan three times.

And I've worked with women in combat roles, and I've commanded women in combat roles, and everything that I have seen demonstrates quite clearly that women are up to the role.

When it comes to the infantry and the armor, which is what Judy's dispute is, I can see historically why that may have not been the case, but I think over the last ten years, especially with Iraq and Afghanistan, there is demonstrable evidence now that suggests that women do have the endurance and they do have the stomach to take on the roles of the infantry and the armor roles.

But let's be clear about this. It's not going to be every woman in the United States that's going to want to sign up to this.

ANDERSON: No, there --

KAY: I've spent 20 years as an assault helicopter pilot, and I personally wouldn't want to join the infantry.

ANDERSON: Yes, there -- there is a caveat here. The military will have until 2016 to argue for any specific post, I'm told, that they think should remain closed to women. What is your experience of women on the front line?

WEBB: What's my experience of women on the front line? Well only what I've seen and read about in the press, and obviously I've maintained a high profile. I've kept great interest in it because having served myself and having fought such battles myself to ensure that women did have that equality, I've always been aware of what's going on.

And I have seen -- I have changed my views. I have seen that women can be and are really effective. But not as infantry soldiers. And there's a very good case, actually -- OK, it's only one case that I know of particularly -- of an American engineering office, Captain Katie Petronio, who spent an extended period in -- physically enduring circumstances in Afghanistan and was very severely physically damaged, including infertility, for example.

And I think this is what hasn't been tested is the longevity of people -- of women in those circumstances. We are built differently.

ANDERSON: Does that ring true, Wing Commander?

KAY: I think -- the point to make here is that this isn't a shoot from the hip decision. This has been a decision that has been pondered over years and years and years. The debate has been around for years and years and years.

And finally, as women have slowly grown into positions such as submariners, such as assault helicopter pilots, such as combat medics -- I mean, the girls conducting the combat medic role in the back of assault helicopters in Afghanistan at the moment are picking up quadriplegics from IED-type situations.

So they are seeing if not more gruesome stuff that war has to offer than your average infantryman. So, this is a decision that has been made over years with good evidence to demonstrate quite clearly that women are up to this role.

So, I think really that we've now come to a point where it would be unacceptable for the Pentagon to go forward without allowing women the opportunity to at least apply for infantry and armor type roles.

ANDERSON: We're talking the States and women on the front line today. I want to give us a sense of global perspective here, if I can. A number of countries, of course, already allow women on the front line. Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, for example.

Israel, let's take Israel and its military, the Israeli Defense Forces. It's the only country with mandatory conscription for both men and women, 34 percent of all soldiers are women, 51 percent of officers are female. Despite this, only 3 percent of combat soldiers are female.

What about India? Well, you've got to be 18 or older to volunteer, but even though they let women into the army's officers, they do not let them take up front line combat positions.

Finally, let's take a look at China, for example. The People's Liberation Army, the biggest of them all. They recently decided to let women take up combat positions with around 300 million women currently of serving age and another 9 million reaching that age every year.

So, the situation is quite -- I was quite surprised to hear that. And the situation quite different elsewhere around the world.

One of the complaints that women have had, Judy, in the past, is that without combat experience, front line combat experience, they're finding it difficult to move up the ladder, so far as jobs are concerned. And that I can totally understand. What they've said in the past is, "I don't get the job that I want because I don't have the experience."

WEBB: Well, I -- not all senior officers are infantiers. Let's face it, the chief of defense staff of the last few years has been an RAF officer who doesn't necessarily have actual infantry experience as such, and I don't see any reason why.

I think that how rises have changed enormously, and women can go to so many more roles to gain the experience. And the problem up to now has been that brigadier has been our ceiling because they haven't had any sort of combat experience at all. Now, women are getting that experience and hopefully will move into those positions as senior officers and have a proper career structure.

Of course they're going to have the same opportunities. That's what I fought against for years, every time I've tried to do anything. "You'll a woman, you'll have babies."

ANDERSON: That's not what we want to hear these days going forward. Wing Commander, I'm going to give the last word to you. We see the experience elsewhere, we've looking at what we've heard from Panetta out of the States today. Do you see women in front line combat roles more often, more regularly around the world going forward?

KAY: Yes, I absolutely do, but I think it will be a -- I think it'll be a slow process, and I think moving forward from here on in, I think the military are going to have to really manage this quite carefully.

So, when women are applying for the infantry and the armor type roles, and they then get the opportunity to go through infantry basic training and progression forward into sort of the more operational side, I think the instructors -- I think that they'll have to be managed very carefully, because they'll be under pressure to make this work, because there's a political aspect to this as well.

If the Pentagon are going to make this decision, then they're going to want to be seen to be working, so there's going to be pressure on the instructors as they go through, they can't be too lenient, they can't be too harsh, there can't be reprisals in terms of unfair dismissals.

So, I think it's got the potential to be quite complex, but I think it will work. I think it will take some testing and adjusting, and I think to be honest with you, I think in five years' time, people won't be even batting an eyelid and women will be working alongside men in all combat roles and doing so really effectively.

ANDERSON: Should we have you both back in five years' time, and we'll see what the real picture is then? It's been a pleasure to speak to you both, thank you very much, indeed, for coming in --

KAY: Thank you very much.

ANDERSON: -- and a debate that will run and run, and we will run it again in five years. You've been discussing the dropping of the US ban on women in combat on our Facebook page. What do you think? Head to that page, facebook.com/CNNconnect, join the conversation. Or you can, of course, always tweet me @BeckyCNN, that's @BeckyCNN.

Coming up after this short break on CONNECT THE WORLD, 80 years old and a new six-book deal. Wilbur Smith tells me what keeps him going and what keeps him so young.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Well, his name has had an almost permanent place on the bestseller's list for the past 50 years. He is, of course, Wilbur Smith, and he celebrated two major events this month, as I found out. He not only turned 80, but he also signed a new six-book deal which, for the first time, will see him work with a co-author. Have a listen to the chat I had with him just a couple of days ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TEXT: WILBUR SMITH, "MEN OF MEN"

WILBUR SMITH, AUTHOR: "He had been attracted by the romance surrounding young Major Zouga Ballantyne. He was the traveler and the adventurer in far places of the African continent."

TEXT: "WHEN THE LION FEEDS"

SMITH: "Twins could scarcely have been less alike. Sean was already taking on the shape of a man."

TEXT: "RIVER GOD"

SMITH: "'Are you not paid as a poet,' he asked in that thin and petulant voice of his."

ANDERSON: You've just signed a new six-book deal with a publisher. That would be to any other author a lifetime achievement, but this is on top of the 30 or so that you've already written. Does it make you feel tired or excited?

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: Both.

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: It makes me stutter. "B-b-b-both." Not quite sure. It's a totally new experience.

ANDERSON: Yes.

SMITH: One that I never even in my wildest dreams contemplated because I'm an egocentric. The world revolves around Wilbur Smith. Except for that's sad to work with other people. My idea is a younger writer, either male or female, who has not yet broken in as of yet, because it becomes harder and harder to break in these days.

ANDERSON: Would that possibly be a black face?

SMITH: No reason why not. They could teach me a few things, but the mentality of the young black in emerging -- well, emerging Africa.

ANDERSON: What's the prerequisite for co-authoring with Wilbur Smith?

SMITH: To be liked by Wilbur Smith.

(LAUGHTER)

TEXT: "THOSE IN PERIL"

SMITH: "His nose was large and imperial. His eyes were a cool and stead green. His teeth were very white, like those of a predator."

ANDERSON: Your latest book, "Vicious Circle," is out this year. It's a sequel to "Those in Peril," which I believe is being made into a film. What is it about the central character, Hector Cross, which you like so much?

SMITH: He's his own man, and he has his own view of morality and of justice, and I like him because that is it. And also because he's a great lover.

ANDERSON: Who is he based on?

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: All my characters have got a big slice of me in them. A big piece of me, because it's my dialogue and this is the way I think and talk. So, I wouldn't say I'm Hector Cross, but hell, I would love to be.

(LAUGHTER)

ANDERSON: Does art imitate life, then, very much in your -- do you want to be seen as factually correct, or is there a lot of creative license here?

SMITH: I want to be seen as a good storyteller. I'm a manipulator as well. I'm like --

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: -- when it comes to the facts, when it comes to my stories, I'm as bad as any of them. I have -- I start wars, I wipe out civilizations, I kill and I don't hurt anybody in the process. I just give everyone a good time.

ANDERSON: Have you thought about getting involved or more involved in politics?

SMITH: I hate politics. I like to write about it, but to get involved in it, to try and make a lot of ignorant people do what you want them to do, waste of time. Go and write a book. It's more important and it'll last longer.

TEXT: "RIVER GOD"

SMITH: "'I am Taita the slave, your majesty,' I replied. There are times when a little humility is called for."

ANDERSON: Your six-book deal, what other characters can we expect going forward?

SMITH: Well, I think that I would like to see certainly Taita return. And perhaps I'll bring in some new ones, and then we'll have to be all characters of mine.

ANDERSON: What keeps you so young?

SMITH: I've got a young wife, and I have to keep young to keep up with her, she runs so fast.

ANDERSON: What keeps you awake at night, and don't say your wife.

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: I sometimes wake up and say, "This is going to get pear-shaped sometime. It just has to." It's been so good up to now that something's got to go wrong.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: Wilbur Smith, what a character. In tonight's Parting Shots for you just before we go, from Chill Factor to X-Factor, the chilly chimps at the Ape and Monkey Sanctuary in Wales know how to wrap up warm in style

The clever primates used their blankets to keep out the UK's recent blanket of snow. We're told the chips are -- also enjoyed a traditional cup of tea after their winter walk.

I'm Becky Anderson that was CONNECT THE WORLD. We wish you a very good evening. Thanks for watching.

END