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Trouble in Venezuela; Pope Francis and Same-Sex Marriage Examined

Aired March 20, 2013 - 12:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Welcome to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in for Suzanne Malveaux.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good to have you back again. I'm Michael Holmes. Yes, well, we're going to begin in Israel. That's where the big story is at the moment, President Obama saying the U.S. is Israel's strongest ally and greatest friend, the president on his first visit to the Jewish state since taking office.

WHITFIELD: After meeting with President Shimon Perez, Mr. Obama is sitting down this hour with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Among the tough issues they're discussing, the war in Syria and Iran's nuclear program. We'll go live to Israel straight ahead.

HOLMES: Also a tiny European nation still scrambling to head off a major financial crisis. Banks and financial markets remain closed in Cyprus today as top officials hold an emergency meeting.

On Tuesday lawmakers there rejected a European Union bailout plan because it would have slapped a tax on people's bank deposits. The Cypriot finance minister is in Moscow to ask Russia for help.

HOLMES: And that's because almost one-third of the money in Cyprus banks is, guess what, from Russia.

All right. In Paris, French police have been raiding the home of the IMF chief, Christine Lagarde.

WHITFIELD: So far police are not saying why, but her lawyers say it has to do with a French court's investigation of Lagarde's role in intervening in a long-running dispute between a businessman and a French bank.

HOLMES: Remember Lagarde succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned as IMF chief during a sex scandal that unfolded in New York.

WHITFIELD: And back in this country, an intense manhunt is underway in Colorado for the person who gunned down the state's prison chief.

HOLMES: Yes, authorities say Tom Clements was shot at his home last night after opening the front door. Police are talking to neighbors and also searching the woods near his property.

WHITFIELD: They're also looking into the possibility that the shooting could be related to his high-profile job. Clemens became the chief of the state's prison system just two years ago.

At a news conference a short while ago Colorado's governor was clearly emotional while speaking about his friend.

GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER, COLORADO: To me, to I think all of us in many ways, he's -- he helped define what a public servant is. He did his job quietly and intently. He cared deeply about his staff, his family and community.

In his approach to corrections, he was all about best practices and using data and information to continuously improve the way -- the way we do things, how do we make our prisons safer, not just for the employees but for the inmates? How do we do a better job of preparing inmates for returning to the community?


HOLMES: Now, Clements' death comes as the governor is poised to sign landmark gun control bills (inaudible) happening today.

WHITFIELD: All right. Let's now turn to South Korea, which is on heightened alert today after several important computer systems were hacked.

HOLMES: Yes, a big story this, although the cause not yet determined. They're looking at North Korea as being the suspect. Now what we do know is the widespread assault hit some television and banking operations; no government networks were affected apparently.

WHITFIELD: North Korea was blamed for similar cyber attacks back in 2010 and 2012. Our Matthew Chance is in Seoul right now.

So, Matthew, how exactly were television stations and banks affected?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they were affected because their computer systems were basically taken offline by what the South Korean officials that we've spoken to say was a malicious code, a kind of computer virus.

They're not sure where it came from, although as you mentioned the finger of suspicion is pointing very clearly at North Korea, because they've done this kind of thing in the past. They don't know how they got into the computers. They don't know how it was transferred to the hundreds of computers that it eventually affected.

What we know what happened is that in the TV broadcast centers, these national TV networks, they weren't taken off the air; they were still broadcasting but they had no computers in their offices; they couldn't communicate in the way they normally do and receive information in the way they normally do.

Those computers are still offline, we understand, in many cases in those television networks. In the banks, their ATMs closed down, their Internet banking service shut down, caused some chaos reportedly in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, people having to pay in cash because the debit card payment systems weren't working, either.

It's not so much the impact this attack had, but it's the fact it took place at all in a country that is so connected to the Internet, so dependent on computers that it could be penetrated in this way. It's very chilling indeed in some ways for South Korea.

HOLMES: It couldn't be a bigger technological comparison to be made then between North and South Korea, but the North obviously pretty good at this in a small section of society.

And what is the South Korean government going to do about it?

CHANCE: Yes, I think you're right. I mean, South Korea is one of the most connected countries in the world, North Korea one of the least connected. Its presence is very minimal on the Internet, only the upper echelons, the elites of society in North Korea even have access to the Internet.

But they have illustrated time and again that they have put a lot of effort, a lot of training, a lot of their resources into getting the best and brightest in North Korea trained up on cyber warfare tactics. They're very prevalent on -- inside the space in attacking particularly South Korean institutions; they've done it on a number of occasions.

South Korea has been trying to address that. They've got their own training college to sort of sort of train cyber warriors. They have also got a special committee they formed just today to tackle this crisis, where they're going to identify the threat, they say, and implement the kind of countermeasures that they say they need to prevent this from ever happening again.

WHITFIELD: Matthew Chance, thank you so much from Seoul, South Korea.

HOLMES: Well, tensions rising over the civil war in Syria, just, of course, as President Obama arrives in the region.

WHITFIELD: That's right. The president is in Israel for meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Syria was already high on the agenda, but accusations by the Syrian government and the rebels of a chemical weapons attack have now raised new concerns.

HOLMES: Important to note there is no verification that either side used chemical weapons, but a U.S. lawmaker says there is, in his words, "a high probability" that the government did or is about to.


REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: We need that final verification, but given everything we know over the last year and a half, I, chairman of the intelligence committee would come to the conclusion that they are either positioned for use and ready to do that or, in fact, have been used.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HOLMES: Now, of course Israel concerned about the war in Syria just across its northeastern border. And these latest claims may increase pressure on the U.S. to perhaps get more involved in some way or other.

WHITFIELD: For the latest on this situation in Syria and President Obama's Middle East trip overall, we have live reports now from John King in Jerusalem and Ivan Watson in Amman, Jordan.

HOLMES: Yes, let's start with those dueling accusations of chemical warfare in Syria yet to be verified, as we said.

What does that mean for the U.S. involvement in this conflict?

Ivan Watson, you're following the story from nearby Amman. Tell us what you've been hearing about whether it even happened?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, conflicting reports -- and most of the information is coming from the Syrian government, which first made the accusation on Tuesday, accusing rebels of carrying out some kind of chemical weapons attack in a government-controlled town to the west of Aleppo that killed at least 25 people and wounded scores of people.

The rebels were very quick to deny that charge and in turn accuse the government of misfiring one of its own chemical weapons at that town.

So we really don't know one way or the other; some chemical weapons experts, Michael, have said, from the evidence we've seen on Syrian state TV, it's not enough to really conclusively make the case that any chemical weapons were used. Take a listen to what the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, said to CNN. He says it's also too early to tell whether these weapons were used.


ROBERT FORD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA: So far we have no evidence to substantiate the reports that chemical weapons were used yesterday, but I'm willing to underline that we are looking very carefully at these reports. We are consulting with partners in the region and in the international community.


WATSON: Here's what we do know, Michael. More than 70,000 people killed in more than two years of conflict. To this country, Jordan, more than 1,000 people, refugees crossing the border a day, sometimes up to 100 people wounded. Whether or not chemical weapons were used on Tuesday, people are dying by the scores in Syria every day, Michael.

HOLMES: Chemical weapons certainly doing the job without that. Ivan, thanks for that.

Ivan Watson there in Amman, Jordan. WHITFIELD: All right. Right now President Obama should be meeting one-on-one with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And as we've said, this is the president's first trip during his second term to Israel.


WHITFIELD (voice-over): And it's significant for several reasons. The president is trying to reassure Israel about his strategy for keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, for one.

HOLMES: Exactly. And the U.S. and Israel, of course, discussing how to deal with that civil war across Israel's border in Syria. The president wants to see also whether Israel and the Palestinians are prepared to perhaps restart peace talks. Not many people hopeful on that score.

WHITFIELD: As we mentioned, John King is covering this from the perspective of Jerusalem.

So, John, you know, let's start with Syria and these claims about chemical weapons.

Does this push Syria to the top of the agenda now for the president and for Mr. Netanyahu?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Prime Minister Netanyahu and the president first and foremost are worried about Iran. But there's no question Syria will get more of the conversation now.

And, remember, as the United States looked at this from Washington, it's about 135 miles, Fred and Michael, where I'm standing here in Jerusalem to Damascus. So the Israelis have always been concerned about the potential use of chemical weapons right in their neighborhood, if you will.

And the Israeli intelligence service has been a key source of information to the United States just throughout this two-year-plus now Syria uprising.

So there's no question that President Obama while he's here will be trying to get the latest intelligence sharing, his staff as well as the president himself. And they'll be plotting strategy on what to do.

I can tell you from the Israeli perspective, they believe Assad has months, perhaps, to survive in power and they're very worried in Israel about what comes next because they have the experience of what happened recently in Egypt.

But it is Iran that is the top focus especially for the Israeli prime minister. President Obama has said recently he wants to give more chance for diplomacy; he thinks there's at least several more months of an opening to try to have a diplomatic solution.

But the Israeli president told me yesterday he is fully convinced -- no more doubts that President Obama would use military force if necessary if diplomacy failed and Iran was at the point of having a nuclear warhead.

The question on this trip, Fred and Michael, is to see whether Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has raised doubts about the president in the past, shares President Perez's conviction that there's no room, no space between Israel and Washington on that question.

HOLMES: Yes, and John, I think there's very little chance we'll see President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu playing basketball together or something. It's always been a traditionally frosty relationship. I suppose it's a lot of fence mending going on here. Is it warming up at all there?

KING: There is some evidence already that it's warming up a bit. Look, do not expect these two very different men and their personal characteristics and their political philosophy, President Obama left of center, Prime Minister Netanyahu right of center.

It's no secret here in Israel or in the United States, Prime Minister Netanyahu favored Romney in the last presidential election. It's no secret that President Obama believes the prime minister has slighted and embarrassed his administration from time to time.

But I talked to a top U.S. official the other day who put it this way, he said, quote, "they're stuck with each other." Both of these guys just won elections. The president's starting his second term. Prime Minister Netanyahu just put together his coalition government.

Iran is a huge policy issue, Syria is a huge policy, trying to restart the peace process is a huge policy issue, if they can have a better personal relationship, they can get things done. And that's why you saw first thing this morning President Obama gets off the plane in Tel Aviv. And the prime minister tries to crack a joke. He says, "If you can ditch your security detail, I have a fake mustache for you and I'll take you out . We'll go out in Tel Aviv and have a few drinks in the bar."

So it's clear they're both trying, at least for the public consumption to show they're going to work a little bit better on the personal side.

HOLMES: And we shall see. John, good to see you, John King there, traveling with the president.

WHITFIELD: The Israeli embassy released a video for President Obama's trip. And we want everybody to take a look at this.




WHITFIELD: I know. You're just scratching your -- you know, rubbing your eyes now, saying, am I believing this? Those cutouts of President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, well, they are hamming it up there to the "Golden Girls" theme song, "Thank You for Being a Friend." It's playing up the alliance between the two countries.

HOLMES: Yes. That -- the embassy actually released that trailer via Twitter yesterday, saying "The State and people of Israel know America will always have Israel's back when it comes to Israel's security."

WHITFIELD: All right. Here's more of what we're working on this hour for AROUND THE WORLD. Every day we're learning something new about Pope Francis.

HOLMES: We are, aren't we? In fact, back when he was a cardinal, he supported civil unions for same-sex couples. Now, what this could mean for the future of the Catholic Church, we will discuss that.

WHITFIELD: Plus, British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to give money to working parents to help with child care. Sounds great, but stay-at-home moms are furious over the way his spokesperson explained it.

HOLMES: Yes. It was all in the words.

Also, if you see an large asteroid -- we're talking about these again -- heading your way, (inaudible). That's because NASA's advice -- that's NASA's advice because they go, really, there's nothing you can do. Just head to the park, have a good time.

WHITFIELD: (Inaudible).


HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone. Here are the stories making news "Around the World" right now.

WHITFIELD: A letter found in Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan reveals a sinister setting out a plan to hit soft targets in the U.S. and Europe.

HOLMES: Yeah, now, the writer of these documents taking jobs with sensitive companies such as those transporting gasoline, for example, and then wait for the right moment to strike.

The U.S. Justice Department passed those documents onto German prosecutors who are working on a terrorism case.

WHITFIELD: In Guatemala, a landmark case is taking place. It is the first time a country has tried an ex-head of state on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

HOLMES: Now, back in 1982, Efrain Rios Montt, head of the military government in Guatemala for 17 months, now, prosecutors are hoping to prove that he was aware of and consequently responsible for atrocities that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,700 indigenous people.

WHITFIELD: Until 2012, Rios Montt was a congressman and was protected by a law that grants immunity to public officials.

HOLMES: Now, here's more of an uplifting story. A Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban five months ago is back in school for the first time since then. We're talking about Malala Yousufzai, recovering in England.

WHITFIELD: What an inspiration. On Tuesday, she went to a school in Birmingham accompanied by her father. You just saw the images earlier.

The 15-year-old was targeted because she spoke up for girl's education in Pakistan.

Malala says she's excited to head back to the classroom.


MALALA YOUSUFZAI, PAKISTANI SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I think it is the happiest moment that I am going back to my school.

And, today, I have my books, my bag and I will learn. I will talk to my friends. I will talk to my teacher.


HOLMES: Imagine, she was shot in the head.

WHITFIELD: In the head.

HOLMES: Her recovery has been just extraordinary.

She did, of course, become an international symbol for women's rights because of all of this, even got nominated for the Nobel Peace prize.

WHITFIELD: Very precocious ...

HOLMES: Wonderful.

WHITFIELD: ... young lady, we wish her the best.

HOLMES: We do, indeed.

WHITFIELD: All right, at the Vatican, new insight today into Pope Francis on the issue of same-sex marriage.

HOLMES: Yeah, now, on the one hand, he is a staunch defender of Catholic doctrine, which, of course, opposes same-sex marriages, but "The New York Times" is reporting the pope has a practical side on this divisive issue.

WHITFIELD: And he may be actually open to the notion of civil unions.

Senior Vatican analyst John Allen joining us now from Rome. Good to see you again, John.

"New York times" reporting that then-Cardinal Bergoglio in 2010 quietly suggested the church come out in support of civil unions.

At the same time. he was publicly leading the charge against same-sex marriage in Argentina.

So, it's an amazing revolution. Explain exactly what he said and why he kind of changed his stance.

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Well, hello there, Michael and Fredricka.

Yes. What we know is that "The New York Times" is reporting today that there was a meeting of the bishops of Argentina ahead of a national debate on same-sex marriage in which then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio apparently floated the idea as a kind of compromise position that perhaps they could accept civil recognition, but not same-sex marriage.

Now, we've reached out to sources in Argentina. Although we can't confirm the details of that meeting, what we do know is that what's reported in this piece is consistent with the way Cardinal Bergoglio has handled this issue over the years.

That is, he has opposed the idea of making other kinds of living arrangements equivalent to marriage between a man and a woman, but he has also signaled openness to some form of civil recognition for same- sex couples that would include things like spousal benefits, health insurance, property rights and those sorts of things.

So, in general, I think we could say that he profiles on this issue as theologically orthodox but politically moderate.

HOLMES: I suppose it raises the point, too, that what you say as a bishop or cardinal is very different to the attendant pressures that apply once you become the pontiff.

Does this reveal anything about what he might do now that he's pope?

ALLEN: Well, Michael, you make a very good point. You cannot always draw a straight line between positions that cardinals take and what they do once they're elected to the papacy.

You might remember, eight years ago, when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was then elected as Pope Benedict the XVI, we spent a lot of time on air talking about the fact that, prior to his election, Cardinal Ratzinger had taken a very hard line against the idea of Turkey joining the European Union on the grounds that that would somehow water down the Christian identity of Europe.

Yet, once he became pope, he upheld the official Vatican position, which was neutrality on the idea of Turkey joining the E.U. as long as certain human rights guarantees were upheld.

So, we don't really know right now what this bit of background about Pope Francis means in terms of what he will do as pope, except to say that it does seem like on the very contentious issue of gay marriage, which, of course, is front-and-center in the culture wars in the West.

In the past, at least, he's been one inclined to try and find common ground.

WHITFIELD: Vatican analyst John Allen from Rome, thanks so much.

HOLMES: Always good stuff, that guy.

All right, coming up, Venezuela's acting president says the U.S. is planning to kill his opponent in next month's election, all to cause chaos in the country.

We're going to have more.

WHITFIELD: More on that. That's right.


WHITFIELD: The acting president of Venezuela is making some rather explosive claims against the U.S.

HOLMES: Yeah, we're used to this from Hugo Chavez, but this time it's his successor, Nicolas Maduro, saying that the Pentagon, the CIA and two former bush administration officials are plotting to assassinate his opponent, him, his opponent in next month's presidential election.

Here's Rafael Romo.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR: At a campaign stop in the southeast, Nicolas Maduro addresses farmers wearing a traditional hat.

At a cabinet meeting, it's a military style green shirt while addressing the country on TV, but it's what Venezuela's acting president's saying is that's really making waves.

He has claimed there's a conspiracy orchestrated in the United States to kill Venezuela opposition candidate, Enrique Capriles. The ultimate goal, Maduro says, is destabilizing the country.

Noriega and Reich are two fierce critics of the Venezuelan socialist government who worked for the U.S. State Department under President Bush.

Reich responded with an accusation of his own, tweeting, "These charges are so far removed from reality they may as well be a smoke screen behind which the Venezuela government is planning to eliminate Capriles."

Noriega said it was a baseless, malicious lie.

And from the State Department ...

VICTORIA NULAND, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: The United States categorically rejects allegations of any U.S. government involvement in any plot to destabilize the Venezuelan government or to harm anyone in Venezuela.

With regard to our former ambassadors, they've spoken for themselves quite clearly.

ROMO: Meanwhile, Venezuelan opposition leader and presidential candidate Enrique Capriles, the alleged intended target of the conspiracy, says Maduro is just trying to legitimize his candidacy and sway voters to his side while deflecting attention from Venezuela's real problems including rampant inflation, crumbling infrastructure, food shortages and escalating crime.

ENRIQUE CAPRILES, VENEZUELAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nicolas was elected by nobody. The people didn't elect Nicolas. His presidency is illegitimate.

ROMO: Maduro was hand-picked by Hugo Chavez as his successor and ruling party's candidate against Capriles in next month's presidential election.

He's trying to ride a wave of sympathy for Chavez who was immensely popular among Venezuela's poor.

And a recent independent poll puts Maduro 14 percentage points ahead of Capriles.

It seems he's also trying to mimic the late president's fiery and sometimes outrageous rhetoric.

Rafael Romo, CNN, Atlanta.


WHITFIELD: All right, President Obama is in Israel this hour meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

HOLMES: He is, indeed.

Still to come, the significance of this trip and of the U.S./Israeli relationship.

Stay with us.