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CONNECT THE WORLD

U.S. Blames Syrian Government For Chemical Attacks Near Damascus; Israeli Security Forces Clash At Qalandia Refugee Camp In West Bank, Three Dead; Fire Crews Fighting Wildfires At Yosemite National Park

Aired August 26, 2013 - 16:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Make no mistake, President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people. Nothing today is more serious and nothing is receiving more serious scrutiny.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HALA GORANI, HOST: The United States warns of action against Bashar al-Assad as UN inspectors begin their investigation near Damascus. But what are Washington's options? And what impact will they have? We ask former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen and former State Department adviser Vali Nasser.

Also ahead, anger in the West Bank after clashes with Israeli soldiers leaves three Palestinians dead this day.

And how a massive wildfire is threatening San Francisco's key water and power sources. We are live on the scene and I am live from CNN Center. This is Connect the World.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is Connect the World.

GORANI: Welcome. I'm Hala Gorani. A sniper attack didn't stop UN weapons inspectors from pressing ahead with the critical investigation in Syria. The United Nations says the team gathered, quote, valuable evidence in Moadamyet al-Sham, one of the sites where an alleged chemical weapons attack killed hundreds of people last week.

This, by the way, is amateur video that is said to show inspectors visiting a hospital and speaking with some of the survivors of that horrific attack that really almost the entire world at this point has seen, just bodies and children and women and civilians lined up shoulder against shoulder.

The UN says the team also met with doctors and collected samples.

The inspectors are now back in their hotel in Damascus. Earlier their convoy was hit by sniper fire when first heading out today, forcing them to turn around and replace one of the vehicles before heading back out.

Syria's regime and rebels are accusing each other of last week's alleged chemical weapons attack.

Now a short time ago, the U.S. responded to all of this. The secretary of state made clear who Washington believes is responsible. Listen to John Kerry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: There is a reason why President Obama has made clear to the Assad regime that this international norm cannot be violated without consequences. And there is a reason why no matter what you believe about Syria, all peoples and all nations who believe in the cause of our common humanity must stand up to assure that there is accountability for the use of chemical weapons so that it never happens again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: Let's get the very latest now from Syria. Our Fred Pleitgen is live in Damascus.

First on these weapons inspectors. We saw amateur video of them visiting a hospital. What do we know they were able to achieve today?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONENT: Well, they got off to a very rocky start, as you've already said, Hala. They not only had that sniper attack, but they also had a mortar attack on the hotel that they're staying at, one mortar falling just a few blocks from the hotel that they're staying at.

But when they finally did get down there, they said that they got some valuable information. They said that they were able to take some samples. It's unclear what exactly they got there. Some of that amateur video that the opposition has posted online shows them -- some of the inspectors in front of some plastic bags where it's not clear what exactly the content is, but we do of course know that some of the doctors in the hospitals also in Moadamyet said that they took samples early on, on Wednesday, last Wednesday when all of this happened. So presumably maybe they got some of that, or maybe they also took some samples from the soil in the ground in that area, which is something that they would normally do.

The other thing that they said they did is they talked to some of the victims of that alleged chemical weapons attack to ascertain from them what exactly happened, but of course also what these chemicals did to them, what the effects were on their bodies. Again, that video that was posted online by the opposition showing some weapons inspectors asking questions of some of these victims. And so the UN says it gathered some very valuable information. It hasn't said what exactly that is, but it has said that it is being evaluated and that the team is going to be heading out again tomorrow.

It's unclear whether it's going to be heading to the same area again, or whether they'll go somewhere else. There are, of course, various sites around the Damascus area, around the Houta (ph) area, the suburbs of Damascus, that the inspectors still want to visit, Hala.

GORANI: And just to be clear, the objective for these UN inspectors is not to determine who is responsible, but whether or not a chemical attack took place and what chemicals might have been used, yeah?

PLEITGEN: Exactly. That's one of the most operative words, really, is what chemical? If a chemical weapon was used and what chemical was potentially used? That is important for the investigators to try and find out.

Also, another thing that's of course of importance is how that chemical weapon, if indeed one was used, it was delivered. Was it used by some military means, like an artillery shell? Something like that of course would point to possibly the Syrian army using it, or was it released in some other way that might point to someone else releasing it?

Those are things that the chemical weapons inspectors can try and find out. But you're absolutely right, one of the things, or the main thing that they're not going to do is they're not going to place blame for this attack, they're not going to say the regime did it or that the rebels did it, they are simply going to put the facts on the table saying we believe it was this and this nerve agent and we believe this is the way that it was delivered, Hala.

GORANI: And briefly we heard from John Kerry. He called the use of chemical weapons a moral obscenity. He basically said he believed the regime was behind it, as we've heard from other western countries. And we don't have regime reaction yet, but I understand the Foreign Minister Walid Muallem is addressing the media tomorrow.

PLEITGEN: Yeah. Apparently at 1:00 p.m. local time, the foreign minister is going to be addressing the media. And the line that the government has been taken is that Bashar al-Assad also took in an interview with a Russian newspaper has been that the regime is not responsible, that these claims are fabricated. I had an interview with a deputy foreign minister yesterday where he said that he believes that the videos that came out were all fakes. That's the line they've been using.

One of the things that Assad said in that interview with the "Izvestia" newspaper is that it would be ludicrous for his forces to use chemical weapons in areas where his forces were stationed.

However, one of the things that we've heard from people who were on the ground in one of these areas called Zamalka (ph) is that they said that the area that was hit in Zamalka (ph) was not the front line area, but that it was behind the front line in an area where civilians were.

So the Assad regime says that its forces wouldn't use it because its forces are around there. There is some testimony from the ground that seems to indicate differently.

However, of course, you do still have the regime side and the rebel side trading the blame. But the U.S., clearly with that emotional speech with John Kerry has made absolutely clear what it's position is, Hala.

GORANI: Thank you very much. Fred Pleitgen one of the few western reporters currently working inside Syria.

As western countries consider a possible military response to the alleged chemical attack, Russia, for its part, says there is, quote, no evidence of any attack at all. President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with the British Prime Minister David Cameron just a few hours ago. Russia is almost certain to block any draft UN resolution calling for force against the Assad regime.

Today, Russia's foreign minister warned the west not to go it alone. Listen to Sergei Lavrov.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Using force without the sanction of the UN security council is the severe violation of the international law. This is a huge mistake which will not lead to any peace and calm situation. This will lead only to more bloodshed in the civil war in Syria.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: The United States for its part says it is undeniable a chemical attack took place and insists that there must be consequences.

Let's bring in Jill Dougherty at the U.S. State Department.

What options does President Obama have with regards to Syria, Jill?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now he has to make that determination based on what they believe to be correct, which is number one that chemical weapons were used. And as we just heard at the briefing with Marie Hart (ph), they believe totally that there is no doubt that there were chemical weapons and there is very little doubt that they were used by the regime.

Then he has to determine what that response will be. If it's military? He is now, you know, talking with his counterparts in other countries determining what they believe, what they think should be done, thinking -- looking at the intelligence reports that are coming in from his own people here in Washington and then determining what kind of response.

If it's a military response, you have the problem of do you hit hard enough to really hurt the regime or do you hold back and just send them a message, punish them, et cetera. All of these steps have grave implications, serious implications.

And I think, Hala, it was very interesting. You know, Fred mentioned it was a personal statement by Secretary Kerry, but he was really lawyerly, too. He went through that argument. They've got the evidence, as much as they can. This is real. Those substances are banned. We believe the regime used them. He gives three reasons why. And then leading up to this that anyone -- and this probably a glancing reference at Russia, any country that doesn't believe that has to look to their conscience.

So they've made the case as far as they can. Now it really is up to the president to decide exactly what that reasoned response will be.

GORANI: Well, and there's one theory that's been going around that perhaps in order not to force a greater military involvement by the United States in the future, that doing something militarily now that is perhaps more targeted would be a choice the Barack Obama might make. For instance, a cruise missile from a warship or something like that.

DOUGHERTY: Right. I mean, that's the first thing. If you use cruise missiles from a warship you don't have to involve American planes, it minimizes the number of casualties, perhaps eliminates -- although that's never a definite -- and that would certainly be part of what the administration might want to do.

But, others are saying if you temporize, if you don't use as much force as really could be used, then you're just kind of back at the same situation. You haven't really damaged Assad's ability to carry out another attack.

So it has to be calibrated very well.

And the other factor is, do you -- if you over play your hand and you really damage the regime, then are the opposition forces really ready to take over? And that's another big debate.

GORANI: It certainly is. Thanks very much. Jill Dougherty at the State Department as always.

Still to come tonight, more on Syria. We'll look deeper at what options the U.S. could be considering.

Also, the trial of disgraced Bo Xilai concluding today. We'll bring you the details on the case that has captivated (inaudible).

Plus, one of the fiercest wildfires in California's history is threatened Yosemite National Park. We'll bring you a live report. All that and more when Connect the World continues. Stay with CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: You're watching CNN. This is Connect the World. I'm Hala Gorani. Welcome back.

Israel and the Palestinians are pointing the figure at one another yet again after a violent incident at a refugee camp on the West Bank. Both sides agree that Israeli security forces opened fire on Palestinians. But Israel says it was self-defense, while the Palestinians say it was an act of aggression against them.

It is the first major incident since peace talks resumed. Jim Clancy is in the West Bank.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thousands of Palestinians jammed the streets of the Qalandiya refugee camp near Jerusalem and hoisted the bodies of three Palestinians killed by Israeli troops firing live ammunition earlier in the day. Armed militants came to that funeral carrying M-16s and other weapons and firing them in the air.

Another 15 Palestinians were wounded after that pre-dawn raid inside the camp that was met with angry crowds as Israeli forces arrested a Palestinian wanted for questioning.

Official Israeli sources say the team making the arrest was confronted by a mob hurling rocks and building materials from rooftops, and fearing for their lives, called in army troops who resorted to live ammunition in, quote, "self-defense."

Palestinians contend the soldiers arrived firing live ammunition and shooting some of the victims inside their homes.

The funerals were cause for mourning by some, and militancy by others living in the refugee camp that is home to some 20,000 Palestinians, many were left or forced out of their homes in 1948.

Dozens of young people then erected barricades, hurling stones and Molotov cocktails and rolling burning tires toward an Israeli checkpoint that leads to Jerusalem. They were met with Israeli troops firing tear gas, stun grenades and so-called rubber bullets that are plastic wrapped metal rounds. At least one Palestinian demonstrator was taken away by ambulance after being hit.

Israel has security control of the area, but is usually met with resistance whenever venturing into the Qalandiya camp. Monday's clashes were the sharpest since resumption of peace talks between the two sides. The burning odor of tear gas and choking black smoke from burning rubber tires only underscore the deep resentments and differences that remain.

Jim Clancy, CNN, Qalandiya refugee camp on the West Bank.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: President of Afghanistan has asked Pakistan to help arrange peace talks between his government and the Taliban. Hamid Karzai is in Islamabad for his first talks with the prime minister there Nawaz Sharif. It is the first time that the two leaders are meeting as heads of state and neighbors.

Mr. Karzai spoke about the need for a united front.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: For the two countries, the primary concern is lack of security for its citizens and the continued menace of terrorism attacking both our populations, our government, our soldiers, and our security forces.

It is this area that needs to have primary and focused attention by both governments.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: Hamid Karzai there.

Now to China, the trial of disgraced Chinese Communist Party boss Bo Xilai concluded today. Throughout the five days of court hearings, Bo Xilai vigorously denied the allegations leveled against him. CNN's David McKenzie reports on the trial from the courthouse, a trial that has captivated China.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Five days of dramatic testimony here in eastern China have wrapped up in the trial of Bo Xilai, the former Community Party kingpin. He's been facing charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. And bucking the trend in trials in China, he has pushed hard against the prosecution, denying any of the charges against him and saying that some of the things he had done wrong were just mistakes.

The trial has been followed closely by the Chinese population. And they've been putting it out through social media, in the official Weibo, or Twitterlike feed, from the court behind me.

But there have been holes poked into the official transcripts today. CNN has learned from two sources that several moments of the trial were not included in the official transcript, particularly moments which made Bo look good in the eyes of the public.

So certainly the government has been calling it an open trial, but that could be called into question now.

Bo Xilai is unlikely to escape conviction, because of the nature of his crimes and because the Communist Party runs the court system here.

You'll hear his sentencing in about 10 days. And he could face the death penalty.

David McKenzie, CNN, Jinan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: Now to the United States where 3,600 firefighters in northern California are working to stop a sprawling wildfire from spreading through a treasure here in this country: the Yosemite National Park. Authorities say the fire has devoured more than 149,000 acres. Just to give you a sense of sort of perspective and a bit of comparison, that's an area the size of the entire city of Chicago.

Nick Valencia joins us now live from Groveland, California which is just outside Yosemite National Park. Nick, first of all, how much of this fire has been contained so far?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just 15 percent. But that's the good news. It's up from 7 percent containment.

But fire officials are very concerned at this hour, Hala, because they just can't get ahold on this fire. It continues to grow. Since we've been here, since Saturday, the fire has grown more than 30,000 acres.

I mentioned the good news. Here's the bad news, a very critical loss for firefighters. Berkley camp has been lost. And why is that important? Because it's just two to three miles from the northern entrance of Yosemite National Park. And that's a critical area.

As you mentioned, Hala, it's a national treasure here. More than 4 million people visited last year. And it's a critical area for tourism. A lot of fame and a lot of attention touristically goes into this area. So one of the top priorities for firefighters this hour is to make sure that that blaze does not continue its eastern march towards that outside boundary of Yosemite National Park.

GORANI: And also the issue is the water supply for the city of San Francisco, the power supply as well. How much are they under threat?

VALENCIA: That's right. There's a thing called Hetch Hetchy reservoir out here and it's very important to San Francisco, which is about 200 miles away. San Francisco gets the majority of its municipal power, things that run the airport, things that run street lights, cable cars, it also gets the majority of its very famously pure water from out in this area. So officials her are concerned even the slightest bit of ash could contaminate that pure water.

It just gives you a scope and some perspective. San Francisco, more than 200 miles away feeling the impact from this fire which continues to grow -- Hala.

GORANI: All right, Nick Valencia, thanks very much, in Groveland, California.

Live from the CNN Center you are with Connect the World. Coming up, the U.S. is adamant this was a chemical weapons attack in Syria and that the government is to blame. We ask experts in Washington what happens now.

And simple designs that could benefit all of humanity. After the break, sustainable solutions that could change our world. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: You're watching Connect the World live from CNN Center. Welcome back. I'm Hala Gorani.

Imagine if the roads you drive on could actually fuel your car, or if discarded plastic bottles could provide light to billions of people living without electricity. All this week CNN will highlight some of the most serious challenges the world faces coupled with some ingenious solutions. Kigge Hvid, CEO of Index shares her vision for solving global problems from a design perspective.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KIGGE HVID, CEO, INDEX: What if poverty didn't exist, if nobody had died from AIDS, if terrorism wasn't a real threat, we all had clean water, our elderly were cared for, transportation was sustainable, and people and cities were able to prosper? These are the kind of global challenges that Index tackles.

Our slogan is Design to Improve Life.

My name is Kigge Hvid. I've been the CEO of Index: Design to Improve Life since 2002.

I'm Danish. I'm a visual artist. And I'm hopeful.

I'm very hands on. This is our exhibition where the finalists will be on display. It will then travel the world.

Humanity, innovation, making the world a better place, these are the things I'm passionate about.

Index aims to inspire, to educate and to engage people. To design sustainable solutions to large-scale problems, to challenge stereotypes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take any plastic bottle, fill it up with water and liquid bleach and stick it onto the roof of a house. And what you get is a 65 watt bulb when sunlight falls on it.

HVID: It could be a plastic bottle filled with water that lights the slums of Mumbai.

A syringe that turns red when used, a bike that processes electronic waste safely, or a piece of paper that makes food last longer. Design, by its very nature, is open to interpretation.

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HVID: Design is the human capacity to make and shape our environment in ways that satisfy our needs and give meaning to our lives.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: Well, for more on the Index awards and to vote for your favorite design, go to the Index Awards website on CNN.com/

After the break, the world news headlines just ahead.

Plus, you think the world is overcrowded now? Well, it's going to get much busier. We find out how the planet will sustain a predicted 11 billion people by the end of the century.

And the U.S. president demands accountability for the alleged chemical attack in Syria. We find out what that could mean next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: Welcome back everyone, a look at your top stories this hour. The United Nations says that its inspectors have collected, quote, "valuable evidence" in a town near Damascus in the suburb areas, one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack last week. We're seeing amateur video of that. The UN says their convoy was hit by sniper fire en route, but that they pressed ahead after replacing a damaged vehicle.

The United States says Syria's government is behind the chemical attack, insisting that there will be consequences.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What we are evaluating now is a response to the clear use on a mass scale with repugnant results of chemical weapons, and there is very little doubt that the Syrian regime, the Assad regime, used those weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: Israel and the Palestinians are pointing the finger at one another after a violent incident at a refugee camp in the West Bank. Both sides agree that Israeli security forces did open fire on Palestinians. Israel is saying it was self-defense, Palestinians say it was another act of aggression.

In northern California, 3600 firefighters are working to stop a wildfire from spreading though Yosemite National Park. Authorities say the fire has devoured more than 149,000 acres. As of Monday morning, the fire was only 15 percent contained and threatening to grow amid extremely dry conditions.

The trial of former Chinese Communist Party leader Bo Xilai is now over. Prosecutors are calling for a tough sentence for the disgraced politician, who is charged with bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power. Bo has denied any wrongdoing throughout. It's not clear when the court will hand down a verdict.

A UN team has reached the site -- one of the sites of last week's alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria. While any evidence they do gather may not show who is behind the attack, the US and its allies are already pointing the finger directly at the Syrian government and are threatening to intervene.

Let's bring in senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh, who is live for us in New York. So, what are the options open to the United States? I know from speaking to State Department officials that boots on the ground are out of the question.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it is highly unlikely you will see boots on the ground. That has been openly ruled out. And then, of course, the price tag for a no-fly zone, perhaps a lesser grade of intervention, would be a billion dollars a month, according to the Pentagon, so I think it may end up being something on the lines of cruise missile strikes or strikes originating from outside of Syrian air space.

But then, we have to accept with that what the consequences are going to be in the region, Hala, for the US intervention, something which they've kept away from for nearly two and a half years now simply because the surrounding countries in Syria in many ways are already reeling from this war.

Turkey, dealing with bombings in its south, Iraq dealing with a wave of violence now that mirrors the sectarian conflicts inside Syria that kill thousands every month. And then, Jordan, trying to embrace tens, hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, almost closing its border, many told me, to try and insulate itself from that particular conflict.

And then, finally, Lebanon to the west, which has absorbed, now, it seems, a million Syrian refugees in a tiny country of 4 million, and we have be bear one important thing in mind, a regional accent of Hezbollah, the substantial Lebanese militant and political faction, openly involved fighting for Bashar al-Assad, open in its total resolve to remove Israel from that particular region.

People of course asking what is their next move going to be if the United States, whose presence has not been felt at all in this region so far, throws its hand into the conflict. Hala?

GORANI: All right, thanks very much, Nick Paton Walsh is in New York. We heard from US Secretary of State John Kerry a short time ago.

He said evidence, quote, "strongly indicates that chemical weapons were used in Syria," adding that, quote, "we know the Syrian regime maintains custody of such weapons," therefore accusing the government. He also said that President Obama, quote, "believes there must be accountability for those who use them."

To talk about this crisis in a little more depth, I'm joined by two guests out of Washington, DC, former US secretary of defense William Cohen and former foreign policy advisor Vali Nasr, who is the dean of the School of Advance International Studies at Johns Hopkins University who will, hopefully, join us in a little bit. For now, William Cohen.

Thanks for joining us. We were discussing with our reporter there what options are open to President Obama at this stage. What do you think?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER US SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, President Obama having set up some red lines now is faced with the responsibility of acting up on the lines that he drew. So, I think they're looking at military options. Those military options include fixed targets, I would assume, as opposed to mobile targets.

But first of all, defining what the mission is. What is the mission of taking military action? Now, is it clearly definable? Is it executable? At what costs, et cetera, and then how do we stop? And this notion that we can just fire a few cruise missiles into Syria and then we've -- what? -- punished Assad?

I think we have to say after step one, what is step two and three as we lay out what this war plan would be, because it would be an act of war on our part as well to intervene militarily into Syria, a country that has not attacked the United States. So, a lot of issues for the president to deal with.

GORANI: Now, certainly the question what is the mission has been asked at the White House, has been asked at the Pentagon. What do you think the answer to that question was over the last couple of days in Washington?

COHEN: It's very hard to determine what the mission would be. Again, if it's to punish Assad by targeting his air force, his air fields, the fixed targets, I would stay away from chemical weapons sites.

As such, we had to consider that on a number of occasions, and you have to run -- you don't want to run the risk of targeting a chemical weapons factory a munitions factor that could release toxic fumes in the air.

So, plume studies have been done. No doubt, wind conditions, all of that, have been taken into account. So, I would assume they're looking at fixed targets, such as air force airports and other types of military targets that could be targeted and struck, taking into account there will be what we call collateral damage.

That means killing innocent civilians, and that's not an insignificant factor for the president to consider. Other people are going to die in these attacks that are not involved in Assad's military. And that's something that every commander in chief takes very seriously, and I'm sure President Obama is looking at that.

So, if it's a military action, how limited is it? Is it designed to change the dynamic of warfare on the ground? If it's not, why are you taking the action? What do you hope to achieve, and what happens if the Russians step in with more support? Iran steps in with more support, Lebanon, et cetera. What are we prepared to do, if anything, then?

So these are the issues the president is grappling with, and I think ultimately he will have to take some action because his credibility is very much on the line, not only in Syria, but also in Iran, North Korea, and elsewhere.

GORANI: Yes.

COHEN: So, I think he's boxed himself in.

GORANI: He's boxed himself in, perhaps, with that red line comment. I want to bring in Vali Nasr. I understand he's with us now. Yes, there he is.

VALI NASR, SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: This town is terrible.

GORANI: Vali, thanks for being with us. What do you think the calculus is right now in Washington with regards to Syria? Do you think, as William Cohen just mentioned, President Barack Obama has boxed himself in?

NASR: I think he has boxed himself in, because now America's reputation is on the line. But I think he has room to maneuver in so far as he can take some punitive actions against Syria --

GORANI: Yes.

NASR: -- that would send a very powerful signal, get him out of the box, but he doesn't have to necessarily go down the path of intervention, which he has been resisting.

GORANI: But what would the end result or the goal, even, of that be? To do -- to achieve what, exactly?

NASR: Well, the president has all along said he doesn't want to intervene to decide the outcome of the war. He only wants to intervene to punish Syria for using chemical weapons.

So, the outcome would be that he basically will get himself off the hook by having reacted, he will restore America's credibility, he will underscore the international community's objection to use of chemical weapons. But the United States is still not getting involved to decide the outcome of this war.

GORANI: So, William Cohen, do you agree with that? Is this now the credibility of the United States, of this presidency, on the line, acting in some way with regards to Syria?

COHEN: Well, I think it is. Again, President Obama initially said Assad must go. But the United States did very little to try to ensure that Assad must go. So, that was sort of a red line, or a pink line, at least. And then, the second one in terms of the use of chemical weapons. So, I think he has very little choice.

I would simply like to caution, however, that you can't just take action and say we're punishing you if you don't take into account what the consequences of that punishing act are going to be and have some kind of a contingent plan drawn up, much as we did in Kosovo. The comparison is always made to Kosovo --

GORANI: Yes.

COHEN: -- but we had, remember, a 78-day bombing campaign.

GORANI: Yes. If you were secretary of defense now, what would you advise the president to do with Syria? This is a -- a humanitarian disaster, a situation spiraling out of control week after week.

COHEN: A number of things. Number one, he has to get as many countries as possible involved. It will be the Gulf states to be sure, but Turkey, a NATO ally, and most if not all of NATO countries need to be onboard with this.

Number two, he has to go to Congress. He cannot take action, which I believe is an act of war, even though it's done to justify taking the action because of the humanitarian mission involved in preventing the use of chemical, of sarin gas weapons. So, he needs to get Congress involved right away.

And I would hope that he's -- as he's calling NATO leaders in other countries that Secretary Hagel is also contacting members on the Hill and talking to the leadership to see and take a pulse of what their members are saying to make sure that Congress is going to be onboard with whatever action he proposes to take. Absent that, I think he could find himself in some serious difficulty.

And finally, even though they are staying -- they're taking ground options off the table, we learned a lesson, I think, in Kosovo, don't take anything off the table. We may not have an intent to use forces or intervene, but don't declare openly in the beginning what your plan is going to be in terms of limiting it.

GORANI: Well, the thing -- I was going to say, and you know this certainly better than me, but limited military engagement -- the risk with that is that it doesn't stay limited.

COHEN: That's true.

GORANI: Vali Nasr, you were at the State Department in an advisory role. If you were there advising the president on a situation like Syria, what would you be telling him?

NASR: Well, I would tell him that we have to be, first of all, very clear about the intention of our retaliation. We have to engage our allies internationally, we have to have a plan for putting this before the United Nations very quickly with the backing of the UN inspection team's report. And then, make a decision as to what course we're likely to take.

I agree, we do have to have a contingency, but I think at this point in time, we've gone down the path of saying that we think this is use of chemical weapons, it is used by the government, and that it's imperative that we make a reaction. We want to have that reaction have international backing. That would be the job of the State Department.

GORANI: But if you weaken the Assad regime in Syria or punish it or depending on the action you take end up with an Assad regime that is sort of more likely to fall, and I realize that's a long ways away, but what is the alternative in Syria, as far as the United States is concerned, Vali Nasr? They don't seem to be in any way eager to get the current opposition in power. Is that fair to say?

NASR: Well, I don't think, actually, punishing Syria for use of chemical weapons will actually weaken Assad. That would require a much greater engagement by the United States of arming the rebels, putting a no- fly zone on Syria, and using air power to significantly degrade the Assad regime.

That's not, I think, what currently is on the table. So, you could have a scenario of actually punishing Assad for this particular heinous act, but not really changing the tide of the war.

That, I think, is a very different conversation that the president has to have with Congress and with his ally and may not getting the backing of the Security Council of the United Nations, which may be very happy to support punitive acts for use of chemical weapons, but not support the United States' attempt to change the tide of the war.

GORANI: William Cohen --

COHEN: The only --

GORANI: What -- go ahead. I was -- what does the US --

COHEN: The only post --

GORANI: What does the US want?

COHEN: The post-script I would add to that is that the United States, by taking military action to punish Assad, may very well end up changing the dynamic on the ground to the extent that the Russians may increase their level of support, the Iranians may increase their level of support, as well as Hezbollah.

So, suddenly you may find yourself that you have, in fact, changed the dynamic on the ground, and that's why I say don't take step one unless you know what step two and three are going to be, and plan for those accordingly and not take it ad hoc day by day and see -- and have a -- call an audible at the line each day.

You need to have a plan in place with at least some foreseeable parameters before you take that first step. That's the post-script I would add.

GORANI: And one last question to you, William Cohen, do you think the Obama administration has planned out step two and three?

COHEN: I would hope they have. I assume that Secretary Hagel, in conjunction with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, have looked at this very carefully. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs has spoken out about the inadvisability of taking military action, saying it couldn't change things on the ground.

That was pretty bold on his part, because the civilian leadership usually talk about that, but nonetheless, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs would have a major say, saying Secretary Hagel, Mr. President, tell me what the mission is, we will carry it out, and here are the circumstances under which we can likely foresee the consequences and this is what we have to plan for. I think absent that, it would be a mistake to take that first step.

GORANI: Thank you very much, and as always in these cases, the civilians continue to suffer on a daily basis, as we saw in this latest horrific attack. William Cohen, thank you very much. Thank you as well to Vali Nasr, both joining us from Washington.

And what do you think about all this? The team here at CONNECT THE WORLD wants to hear from you, facebook.com/CNNconnect, and you can tweet me @HalaGorani your thoughts and suggestions on the stories we cover.

Live from the CNN Center, we will be right back. Up next, why some say the world could be a better place when the population reaches a staggering 11 billion people. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: The year 2100 may seem a long way off, but the UN has repeatedly warned we need to think that far ahead. And that's because it's predicting an explosion in the world's population. CNN's Max Foster takes a look at the trends and asks one leading geographer how the planet can possibly sustain an expected 11 billion people.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Stories of food shortages and rising prices as demand outweighs supply, reports on dwindling resources of water and Earth's other treasures. Headlines roar about pollution, climate change, and sustainability, warning that as a population of 7 billion, we're living beyond our means.

And we are going to get bigger. Our global population numbers have soared since 1820, when we reached one billion. It took us another century to reach two billion, but since the 1960s, an average of nearly one billion has been added every decade.

The latest prediction from the United Nations suggest that that rate will slow, but still, by 2100, it says the number of people on Earth could reach nearly 11 billion. As frightening as that may sound, geographer and author Danny Dorling envisions a future brighter than doomsdayers would have us think.

DANNY DORLING, AUTHOR, "POPULATION 10 BILLION": I think we can sustain 10 or 11. I personally --

FOSTER (on camera): So, that's the limit?

DORLING: No. No, you could sustain more, you just have to be better organized. But to sustain at that kind of numbers, people can't carry on behaving as they are. In the rich world, they can't carry on driving cars around like they are with those numbers.

FOSTER: So, in the coming decade, how is the world going to cope with this explosion in population?

DORLING: The way it copes with it is that people are moving into cities. So, the predictions from the UN are that the countryside worldwide is going to depopulate and all the growth with be in cities. And we're going to become an urban animal.

The cities will get higher, the cities will get larger, it will be a world of mega cities. And we could even see more wilderness in the future. We already see parts of Europe being abandoned, parts of Northern Japan being abandoned.

So, it's possible to imagine a future where we're much more an urban animal and we go out to the countryside and so on our vacations, rather than spreading ourselves out as much as we do now.

FOSTER: That idea of big cities and huge populations obviously raises this concern about crime, for example, but this is one of the myths that you're exploding, actually. You don't think that that is the case. Things won't happen as people expect.

DORLING: Some things get worse, but many things get better. If that wasn't the case, we'd be living in an absolutely awful world now. Crime rates around the world have actually been dropping down. People have been becoming less violent on average around the world. Nobody's quite sure why, but we're sure that it's happening.

We're getting better at living in cities and working out how to live this close to each other and interact in a way. And it's -- it's a very new thing.

FOSTER: One clear challenge must be the environment, climate change, the impact on fish stocks and animals.

DORLING: We do need to eat less meat overall. However, eating less meat is good for you. Eating no meat's very good for you. And that's a good news story. If eating meat was really good for you, this would be a problem. Meat consumes an enormous amount of vegetation.

Fish stocks, we've only just started domesticating fish. Fish farming is very new. We still hunter-gather in the oceans. But there are scope for getting more protein from the seas.

But there are lots of problems with all of these things, and we can't carry on living -- we are going to have to become a little bit organized and a bit -- a bit less greedy in the greedy parts of the world.

FOSTER: And when you talk about the limit being 10, 11 billion, around that --

DORLING: Around that, yes.

FOSTER: How does the lid actually get on that? What's -- how does it stop growing?

DORLING: Oh, it stops -- it's already stopped growing in a sense that over half the world, fertility is below children per couple.

FOSTER: So, it'll happen naturally? It won't be the fact that people just can't survive anymore?

DORLING: No, no, it's happening naturally. It's almost the opposite. When people can survive, when their lives get better, they have fewer children. So, if life expectancy is going up around the world, people are having fewer babies.

One of the major reasons why we're going to be a planet of 10 or 11 billion is not more babies, it's more of us are living longer, so more of us are going to be hanging around. So, we're going to have to deal with a world with many more older people.

But older people tend -- they have the responsibilities of older people. They tend to have a bit of wisdom about them. It's necessarily a bad world in a world where many of us are older.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: There you have it. Coming up after this short break on CONNECT THE WORLD, Premier League football is back, and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is screwing things up against Manchester United once again. The latest on that match and more in your sports update.

Plus, they do get a lot cuter than this, as you know. Several zoos around the globe are welcoming their new panda cubs. More on the baby panda frenzy after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: The first Premier League mega clash of the season has just wrapped up at Old Trafford. Manchester United faced off against Chelsea. Was it an exciting match-up? Amanda Davies joins me now from CNN London. What was the score?

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Hala, it was goalless --

GORANI: Oh, no!

DAVIES: -- and I have to say, it didn't really live up to the hype at all, as is often the way with these big clashes. Two of the favorites to lift a Premier League title this season, it was the Special One against the Chosen One. Jose Mourinho up against David Moyes, of course, the man who has replaced Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford.

It was David Moyes' first home game as manager in the Premier League. So much of the build-up had been about Wayne Rooney, whether or not he was going to play, because he's been the subject of two bids from Chelsea.

He did play, but as soon as we saw Jose Mourinho's starting lineup with not a single proper striker on the field, you knew how the match was going to play out. It was very much United on the offensive, Chelsea on the defensive, hoping for the counter-attack.

It was, frankly, two sides with a whole lot of respect for each other, but that great phrase, with all due respect, it was a rubbish first half. The second half was a little bit better. Wayne Rooney did play pretty well, but in the end, it's a point a piece, both sides still unbeaten so far this season. A very, very long way to go, though, Hala.

GORANI: All right. Well, the first match-up, perhaps not the most exciting of the season, let's hope not. Jose Mourinho making waves, though, again at Chelsea.

DAVIES: Yes, don't we love him so? As I said, Wayne Rooney was very much the focus of this match. It was a very odd situation because you had both sets of supporters inside Old Trafford cheering every time he got the ball and that is because it's very widely known about Chelsea's pursuit of the striker. They've had two bids turned down so far.

Jose Mourinho politely -- ahem -- decided and said very publicly they were going to put off their third bid until after this match, but so much of the build-up was about Wayne Rooney and how fantastic a player Jose Mourinho believes he is.

To Rooney's credit, he pulled on his Manchester United shirt, he is still a Manchester United player, and did play very well. He did himself no harm at all, but he's got to do that whether or not he wants to leave Old Trafford. His value, basically, goes up with his performances on the pitch. So, whether or not he wants to leave, he's still got to try and be seen to be trying for Manchester United.

United themselves have said they don't want him to go to one of their closest rivals, and you would very much understand why that's the case. They've said they would allow him to go abroad.

And the other thing that you need to take into account with this, United have their new manager, David Moyes. They've also got a new chief executive, both relatively young and inexperienced, people looking for them to make mistakes, so they want to be seen to be showing a firm hand.

And we -- I would say, if my money was going somewhere, it would be Wayne Rooney staying at Old Trafford for the remainder of this season.

GORANI: All right. We'll see if that pans out. Amanda Davies, thanks very much. I hope you're a panda fan. In tonight's Parting Shots we bring you --

DAVIES: My nickname -- my nickname, Hala, was Amanda Panda growing up.

(LAUGHTER)

GORANI: Well, then, it's perfect because you're aware, I'm sure, therefore --

DAVIES: Yes.

GORANI: -- we're on this camera -- of the panda frenzy hitting zoos around the world. This one's for Amanda Davies courtesy of Fionnuala Sweeney.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There are fewer than 1600 left in the wild, but this weekend has brought a welcome increase to the world's giant panda population.

On Friday, the Washington Smithsonian Zoo's resident female Giant Panda, Mei Xiang, gave birth to this cub. Washington isn't the only zoo celebrating a new panda arrival. In recent weeks, giant pandas have been born in Schonbrun Zoo in Vienna and Taipei Zoo in Taiwan.

The Washington cub who will not be named for another 100 days, according to Chinese tradition, was a twin. The second was stillborn 26 hours after the first.

SUZAN MURRAY, WASHINGTON NATIONAL ZOO VETERINARIAN: Mei Xiang seems to be doing very well, as does her cub. The cub's making a lot of noises, is squealing a lot, and Mei Xiang is, again, being a poster child for a great panda mom. She's holding the cub and cradling it. So, at this point, everything looks great, and we're just -- we're very pleased.

SWEENEY: And Edinburgh Zoo in the UK looks set to be next in line as mother-to-be Tian Tian is expected to give birth to the UK's first giant panda cub in the next two weeks.

Fionnuala Sweeney, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: I'm Hala Gorani, that was CONNECT THE WORLD, thanks for watching.

END