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Crisis in Syria; Israel Launches Test Missile In Mediterranean; Obama Has Work in Congress; Syrian Refugee Crisis Mounts; Honore on Military Aspects; Delaying Strike Risks Complications; Assad Says Show Me Proof

Aired September 3, 2013 - 12:30   ET



SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: As the world waits to see what is going to happen in Syria, Israel confirms it carried out a missile test today in the Mediterranean.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah. Caught a few people by surprise.

Israel's defense ministry called it a joint U.S.-Israeli operation, but a U.S. military official made it clear that American forces weren't involved directly anyway.

MALVEAUX: Our Jim Clancy is in Jerusalem.

So, Jim, first of all, tell us about this test because we have heard from U.S. officials who deny categorically that the United States was involved.

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's partially correct, Suzanne.

Here's what happened. Israel fired one of its new Silver Sparrow target missiles along about a 1,500-kilometer track in its Mediterranean test range. It all happened this morning shortly after 9:00 a.m.

That rang alarm bells at the Russian monitoring station near the Black Sea. This whole region, of course, anticipating a possible U.S. missile strike on Syria, got everybody's attention.

We talked with the former head of Israel's missile defense program, Aria Hertzog (ph). He told CNN it was a single missile and launched from an Israeli aircraft. He went on to say the timing has nothing to do with the current tensions in the region.

He said the U.S. missile defense representatives were present at the control center and watched the launch. But he said there were no U.S. military assets actually involved in any of this.

Syria and its allies have directly threatened Israel, of course. Hertzog (ph) insists Tuesday's test wasn't designed to shake up the neighborhood, and he added and I've confirmed this, that Israel rarely if ever notifies the region in advance. Then again, it was a reminder of what Israeli officials have been saying about those threats.

Back to you two.

HOLMES: Israel really acts without thinking these sorts of things through, so the timing indeed is interesting.

Jim, good to see you, Jim Clancy there in Jerusalem.

MALVEAUX: Ahead on AROUND THE WORLD, it's a startling statistic. Every 15 seconds a Syrian becomes a refugee.

We're going to have more on this alarming trend.


HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone. President Obama has his work cut out for him to get Congress on board when it comes to action in Syria.

In the Senate, he needs 51 votes. Head count shows he has only 20 so far, 72 senators undecided or their positions unknown. They haven't come out with a decision yesterday.

If there's a tie, Vice President Joe Biden would be the one to cast the tie-breaking vote. That would be in favor of authorizing military action in Syria.

Let's have a look at the House, 218 votes needed there for a win. Right now only 16 members have come out in favor of a strike. Forty- seven are against. Almost 200 undecided and dozens and dozens more whom we don't know where they stand.

A long road ahead for the White House, so many undecided and so many unknowns.

MALVEAUX: While the debate goes on about a possible military strike on Syria, inside the country, the refugee strike is growing. A Syrian becomes a refugee every 15 seconds.

These numbers add up very quickly. There are now more than two million Syrian refugees. That's ten times more this time last year. More than four many others have been displaced from their homes inside the country.

If you want to put that in some context, here's what it would look like. It would mean some 30 million Americans would be refugees. That's almost the entire population of California.

Ben Wedeman is at a refugee camp in northern Jordan.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The figure being quoted is really just part of the problem. They say there's two million registered Syrian refugees.

But here in Jordan, where there's about 520,000, officials are quoted in one newspaper saying there could be as many as 1.2 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, that in addition to the fact that also, according to the U.N. HCR, within Syria itself, there are 4.2 million displaced people.

In other words, one in every four Syrians is either a refugee outside the country or displaced within it.

We're outside these Zaatari refugee camp, home to about 120,000 refugees. Here it's 75 percent are women and children. Half of the inhabitants here are under the age of 18.

It's very difficult in the summer. It's hot and dusty. In the winter it's rainy and cold.

Many of the inhabitants are still living in tents. We saw some of the conditions they're living in, very difficult, many of them utterly dependent on hand outs from the international community.

One woman I spoke to saying it was probably better to stay in Syria under the rocket fire of Bashar al-Assad than to come here.

Suzanne, Michael?

HOLMES: It's just staggering. I'm trying to put a human face on that, those numbers of millions and things.

When you look at a country like Lebanon, a tiny country, it's got a population of over four million. They've got a million refugees. That's like one in four of the population.

It'd be like having 60 million people pour into the U.S. as refugees.

MALVEAUX: That's the state of California, the population of the state of California.

HOLMES: The damage done to society and families and everything else, it's really just staggering, a very disturbing report there.

MALVEAUX: Ahead on AROUND THE WORLD, as the U.S. delays possible military action in Syria, what does this mean for the Assad regime?

We're going to ask our next guest.


HOLMES: The time keeps on moving, doesn't it? Delaying that strike that the U.S. wants to carry out in Syria, and that gives Bashar al- Assad's regime in Damascus time to prepare, doesn't it?

MALVEAUX: Yeah, it certainly does.

So what is going to happen with a possible U.S. or international mission? Joining us retired General Russel Honore, who, of course, as we all know, commanded the military response to Hurricane Katrina. He's been in the military for some 30 years. General, good to see you as always. I imagine that you're looking at the map as we are, too, and wondering about these reports of President Assad moving things around, things that would likely be targeted.

How does this complicate things now that there's a delay?

GENERAL RUSSEL HONORE, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): Well, it does because he disrupt his battle with the rebels and the freedom fighters and he goes to hiding his delivery systems as well as possibly hiding his aircraft and trying to mask and protecting those chemical weapons he's stashed away for future use.

It provides an opportunity on the other side for the freedom fighters so they can get re resupply and take care of the wounded.

It gives the United States and allies to resupply them and get everybody on board with what's going to happen as far as huh do we help them sustain themselves and take care of all those refugees that you were talking about in the last segment.

HOLMES: Yeah, a huge issue. You know, when it comes to -- and we've seen this before in past wars. Saddam Hussein did it, move stuff into civilian areas.

The targets are obviously things like munitions, supplies and artillery pieces, airfields and the like. Would you agree with that sort of targeting, and how easy is it to move those pieces into a neighborhood?

HONORE: We've seen them do it very effectively. The difference now, Michael, than when we did this with Saddam when I was directly involved, with two men who leading this fight, the CENTCOM General Austin and General Dempsey, the chairman joint chiefs of staffs, 1999.

They have a lot of experience, as well as the United States Navy, along with the Air Force and our reconnaissance ability to sort of see what's going on, not with 100 percent accuracy, but with enough assurance they can figure out what are the high value targets, what are the ones they want to avoid because we've been -- the experience show they will put those inside of (inaudible) area, inside a mosque, inside churches, inside of school buildings.

So we've been through all those tricks, and the United State Navy targeting team sitting off the coast there, they know what they're doing. I've got faith in the Navy and our targeters down there at CENTCOM that they'll do the right thing.

MALVEAUX: So one thing I don't understand, General -- maybe you can help us understand this -- as the president says, it's not time sensitive, that it could happen in a day or a week or a month.

So what would be the trigger point where the U.S. would act? Would they find something or see something and then they would go in right away?

HONORE: Yes, Suzanne. That's a good point. I think what people need to get a grip with, we're trying to hold the standard of a strike against Assad because he is used chemical weapons to a declaration of war where we've got the 82nd Airborne's going to be dropped in. The 18th Airborne Corps is following. The special ops troops going in, every carrier we've got.

This is not that type of operation, which I think the White House is trying to put in context for the American people. This is a strike because this man used chemical weapons against his people. What that will give us an opportunity to do, and time is on our side, not on his side, time for the rebels to resupply, time for us to get them some of these special munitions, time for what's happening on the sideline. We don't know everything and who the president's talking to. There are other people who may come to this and bring capacity to the rebels that they don't have now. And this will give them time to better defend themselves. So I think time is on our side, not on Assad's side.

MALVEAUX: All right. General Russel Honore, good to see you, as always. We appreciate your perspective as well.

HOLMES: Interesting hearing the president earlier today talk about degrading Assad's military capabilities. But if he's moved it around, how hard is that going to be as time goes on.

MALVEAUX: And also, around the world, Dennis Rodman making a return visit to North Korea. That story up ahead.

HOLMES: Now there's a diplomat.


HOLMES: Yes, it's happening again, the retired basketball star and unlikely diplomat, Dennis Rodman, back in North Korea for his second basketball diplomacy tour.

MALVEAUX: Not exactly sure or clear what "the worm" will be up to this time in the communist state, but he does plan on seeing his, quote, "friend," the reclusive dictator Kim Jong-un.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): CNN tonight, at 7:00, an "Outfront" investigation. Is the IRS politically biased? Are certain political groups specifically targeted? We get to the truth about the IRS. And at 9:00 on "Piers Morgan Live," what happens while the world waits for Washington to vote on Syria? Wolf Blitzer fills in for Piers with the very latest on the war of words and plans of attack. It's all CNN tonight starting with "Erin Burnett Outfront" at 7:00, "Anderson Cooper 360" at 8:00, and "Piers Morgan Live" at 9:00 tonight on CNN.


MALVEAUX: All right, this was an amazing piece of history that happened right here on the show yesterday.

HOLMES: Oh, yes. You were - you were anchoring. Have a look.

MALVEAUX: It was awesome.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, Diana. Come on, Diana.


HOLMES: Oh, boy, look at (INAUDIBLE). What was it like? You were here --

MALVEAUX: Wow. It was just - I mean it was so exciting.


MALVEAUX: Five tries, right? Over 35 years. We are watching Diana Nyad land there. She swam from Cuba to Florida without the shark cage, without the wet suit, without the flippers, 103 miles.

HOLMES: Unbelievable. Fifty-three hours in the water. And this was her message when she spoke to CNN's "New Day" this morning.


DIANA NYAD, LONG DISTANCE SWIMMER: And I think I'm a person who represents, A, you never give up. You find a way. If something really is important to your heart, you look and see what's inside yourself and you find a way. I'm also 64 and a lot of this country are baby boomers. And I think people are looking to me so say, hell no, I'm not old. When I'm 90, I'll get in a rocking chair and look at the sunset.


MALVEAUX: I love her message.

HOLMES: It makes the rest of us feel terrible. That's the problem.

MALVEAUX: Slackers.

HOLMES: Yes. She says she's finished, by the way, with swimming in the ocean, but not done with long distance swims.

MALVEAUX: Yes, she's going to do a fund raiser in New York. That's where she's going to be swimming in this specially built pool for 48 hours.

HOLMES: Really?

MALVEAUX: She's just not going to stop.

HOLMES: Haven't done enough? Oh, good heavens.

All right, ahead on AROUND THE WORLD, we're not done yet. It was a rare opportunity. One French journalist who talked to the Syrian president, Bashar al Assad. MALVEAUX: We're going to ask Georges Malbrunot from Le Figaro, next.


MALVEAUX: Haven't heard much from the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, since President Obama threatened his military strike against his regime. At least not outside of state controlled Syrian media.

HOLMES: Exactly. But he did speak to one western journalist, Georges Malbrunot, a correspondent for the French paper Le Figaro. And he's on the phone with us from Damascus.

And, first of all, what was your impression? How hard was it to get to him and what was your take on him?

GEORGES MALBRUNOT, CORRESPONDENT, LE FIGARO (via telephone): Could you speak loudly, please, I don't hear you very well.

HOLMES: Yes. What - what did you make of President Assad, his personality, his demeanor?

MALBRUNOT: Yes, President Assad looked to me calm, but concerned about the seriousness of the situation. He didn't want to show that he is worried, but I could feel in his - in his eyes (ph) that he was extremely concerned and worried by the (INAUDIBLE) by the strike that could happen in his country.

He was very open during the interview. I could ask - I asked him 32 questions. The interview lasted 45 minutes. And I could interrupt him and he answered quite easily.

On the - on the - on this issue it was OK that the -- his speech was very tough, as you - as you noticed perhaps and he was threatening France and the U.K. - and the U.S., sorry.

MALVEAUX: And, Georges, what was the one thing that you got out of this interview that struck you, whether it was surprising or there was something that was different?

MALBRUNOT: What surprised me, at the beginning (INAUDIBLE) we had the meeting at 10:00. The interview took place exactly at 10:00. I passed through the presidential palace and after we went in a car. And I thought we would go to city center of Damascus, where probably Bashar al-Assad is living now among the population for security reason. And, contrary, we went through - went through a road which drove us in -- on the (INAUDIBLE) hill of Damascus in the tree. There was a small house. And there was just one security checkpoint there. I didn't - I was not checked. They just took my mobile (ph) and my recorder. And I went out from - I got out from the car and Bashar al-Assad went out from the house and we shook hands and we talk about my previous visit there and we started immediately. So the security was very minimal. I think it was, of course, on purpose. President Assad wants to show to the world that he's not living like Saddam Hussein under threat in a bunker.


MALBRUNOT: That he's living with his people.

HOLMES: Yes, Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro, thanks so much. Exclusive interview there and -

MALVEAUX: We're going to have to get him back so he can explain a little bit more about that interview.

HOLMES: Yes. Exactly.

MALVEAUX: That's a fascinating story.

HOLMES: It really is.

That will do it for us. Thanks for watching AROUND THE WORLD.

MALVEAUX: CNN "NEWSROOM" starts right after this quick break.