Return to Transcripts main page


Obama Administration Pushes Congress on Syria; Calls for Evidence and Facts on Chemical Attack; Fukushima Still a Disaster; Continuing Coverage of the G20 Summit;

Aired September 5, 2013 - 12:30   ET




The Obama administration pushing hard to get Congress backing for that military action in Syria.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Many senators, however, and representatives from both parties, they are not yet convinced.

And one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, had this to say earlier.


SENATOR SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I have not yet reached the conclusion on how I will vote.

These briefings have been helpful, but I still have many questions about the wisdom of the president's action.


HOLMES: Now this is a question we've been asking every day since U.S. officials claim to have evidence, irrefutable evidence, that the chemical weapons were used by the Assad regime against civilians in Syria.

That question, of course, is when do we get to see that evidence, you?

MALVEAUX: And we've heard the president talk about this. He uses words like "high confidence." We've heard Secretary of State John Kerry say he has seen proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

I want you to listen to this. This is former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on CNN this morning. He had his own problems, as we know, when it comes to intelligence versus facts before the invaded, of course, Iraq.


DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: If intelligence were a fact, it would be called a fact and not intelligence. And I think when Colin Powell went before the United Nations with George Tenet, the director of intelligence, talked about the intelligence they had, and in great detail, and then it turned out that stockpiles were not found, that people were cautious and began to recognize that intelligence is intelligence and not necessarily a fact.

But I don't think that's what's going on here.


HOLMES: Now let's get somebody in here now to help break this down.

Hillary Mann Leveret, the Middle East expert, also former staffer in both the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Rumsfeld's words reminds us that we do need to see this evidence, don't they? I imagine that a lot of it is they ought to be revealing how they got the evidence, but if you're going to have military action, isn't it something not just we but the United Nations and Russia for that matter should see?

PROFESSOR HILLARY MANN LEVERETT, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Yes. And former Secretary Rumsfeld is correct in alluding to the presentation that Secretary of State, then Secretary of State Powell made to the U.N.

Powell showed the world the satellite pictures. He showed the -- he played for the world the intercepts, the audio of the Iraqis. But it all turned out to be wrong.

And, in fact, we interrogated, the U.S. Army interrogated those Iraqis that we had caught on the intercepts after we invaded Iraq and found out that much of that so-called intelligence wasn't just mistaken, it was manufactured. It was made up.

And the Iraqis that we interrogated on those intercepts told us, they're now in documentary films, saying they can't believe how distorted their comments were, how much they were taken out of context.

It is eerily similar to what we're being shown or not shown even on Syria. It is astonishing in some ways that Secretary Kerry is showing us much less than Secretary Powell did and asking us just to take his word for it because he says it is irrefutable when, in fact, there are a lot of indicia that should make anybody question this.


MANN LEVERETT: There was an alleged attack back in March when Russians, who are on the ground, did their own analysis, an 88-page analysis from that attack in March and they gave it to the U.N. Secretary General. They found two very important things.

One was that the Sarin gas or the gas used in March was probably not military or industrial, but probably homemade. They also found that the delivery devices, the rockets for that gas used in March were also not military and industrial and probably homemade.

The consequence of that, if that is true, and if that was true in this attack, that means that maybe it wasn't the Assad government. Maybe it was either a rogue group within the Syrian military or even the rebels themselves, rebels openly aligned with al Qaeda.

I'm sorry, but this is critically important. A lot of these groups are openly aligned with al Qaeda and, if they, in fact, are responsible for gassing hundreds or thousands of people, the idea that they're going to stop in Syria is the definition of insanity.

MALVEAUX: So, Professor, if I can, when you listen to the former secretary, Rumsfeld, it is maddening to hear the parsing of the language here when it comes to intelligence, facts and evidence. Most Americans just to want get to the bottom line. What do they have? What do they know?

What do you need to know? What kind of evidence would you ask of Secretary Kerry, of this administration, if the president goes before the American people and says this is what I know?

What do you need as proof if in fact that it was Assad who was responsible, the regime itself, responsible for the chemical attacks?

MANN LEVERETT: I love my country. I love the United States. I never would have thought that the former president, George Bush, and his administration would have lied to me and to the American people, but that's what happened.

So this time around, there is a U.N. investigation. Investigators from the United Nations have gone in on the ground. They're now -- they've taken samples, they've done an analysis and they're now trying to put it all together and compile a report.

It may take two weeks, but President Obama assured us we don't need to act right away. We can wait a few weeks. We can even wait a month. Why not wait for an impartial U.N. investigation?

It is very strange that this administration has, from the beginning, been trying to dismiss and undermine the U.N. administration just like the Bush administration did for the U.N. inspectors in Iraq.

Let them do their work, let them present it, and if they come up with conclusive evidence, then we can go from there, We can have a much more rational debate with probably more allies with us than this go- it-alone approach that Obama has adopted.

HOLMES: All right. We'll have to leave it there. Interesting that point of view, too, and good to have you on, Professor Hillary Mann Leverett, the Middle East expert and former staffer on the Bush and Clinton administrations. Thanks so much.

MALVEAUX: One other important thing she says, the U.N. report is not going to actually determine who is responsible for the chemical attack. They're only going to determine whether or not that actually happened. It is going to be up to -- on the onus of the Obama administration and the intelligence they have to make that link and to make that case.

HOLMES: And often the delivery systems and the types of munitions used to deliver it might give a clue as to who did it.

And the great fear of a lot of people is, as it is being quoted, the U.S. doesn't wind up being al Qaeda's air force, going in and helping the enemies of our enemies, if you like.

So, yeah, it's a very complex situation.

MALVEAUX: And, of course, there is going to be a lot of movement on Syria over the next week as well.

There is a bill authorizing a limited military strike that heads to the full Senate after clearing the Senate foreign relations committee yesterday.

Now the president is expected to lobby for that when he returns from the G-20 summit in Russia. He is actually coming back tomorrow.

HOLMES: Yeah, now when Congress finishes its summer recess on Monday, check the calendar there, both the House and the Senate are expected to debate and vote on the measure.

Also next week that Russian delegation we reported on here on AROUND THE WORLD, they're going to be coming to Capitol Hill to lobby against a strike.

MALVEAUX: And the U.N. report on Syria's suspected chemical weapons attack, that, too, also expected to be released soon.

Now, this is a place that people say is so dangerous, people cannot stay during the night. We're talking about the 12-mile zone around Japan's crippled nuclear plant. We're actually going to take you inside.


HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone.

Almost two-and-a-half years after the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown, leaks of contaminated water have been spiking the radiation levels higher than we have seen before.

MALVEAUX: This is really turning the area around the plant into a ghost town when people don't even know when or if they are going to be able to go home for good.

Paula Hancocks traveled there, taking us inside, a 12-mile safety zone to try to show the clean up here, what is being done and why this is so incredibly dangerous.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Within the 20- kilometer or 12-mile exclusion zone in Fukushima, and this is the area that residents were moved away from in the immediate aftermath of the disaster in 2011.

Now you can see there is a fair bit of activity behind me. Cars are allowed in. Residents allowed back during the daytime because the radiation levels here have lowered.

But they're still not allowed to stay the night. The government still worries about accumulative radiation, so people aren't allowed to stay here 24 hours a day.

Now what you can see by the side of the road is the cleanup operation that's on going in different areas of Fukushima. And you can see what a painstaking operation this is.

They're basically having to take away the top layer of the soil which has radiation in it. They're also cutting back the grass. You can see they're combing through the bushes as well. It is a colossal task to try to decontaminate this area.

And just a bit further down you can see there are thousands upon thousands of bags where this soil is being collected and where it's being stored.

So not only is there a problem with where to store this highly radioactive water, but of course, in the surrounding areas, where do you store this highly radioactive soil as well?

So this is just another problem that the government is having to copy with.

And, of course, people who live here, it is very difficult and they don't know when or even if they will be able to come back to the area.

And this is symbolic of what we're seeing in and around Fukushima. This was a very busy train line. Before and you can see it is overgrown by plants. It's clearly not being used since 2011, and this is part of the area they're trying to clean up as well, but it's just symbolic of what has happened to the Fukushima area.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Fukushima, Japan.


HOLMES: Well, a hundred thousand people, more than a hundred thousand, have died in the past year in Syria, most of them, of course, innocent women and children.

MALVEAUX: But it wasn't until the chemical attack two weeks ago that the world talked actually about military intervention.

Fareed Zakaria talks with us next about why chemical weapons are considered a red line when deadly conventional weapons are not.


HOLMES: All right, next week the U.S. Congress is expected to begin debate on authorizing, or not, that military strike in response to the chemical weapons attack allegedly carried out by the Syrian regime on its own people.

MALVEAUX: But the deaths in Syria have been steadily climbing since the civil war began two years ago. More than 100,000 Syrians have died, many of them innocent civilians.

HOLMES: Now, earlier today, I spoke with our Fareed Zakaria about why the Obama administration and others considered the use of chemical weapons over the red line even though conventional weapons have been more deadly in this war. Here's what he said.


FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, CNN'S "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Chemical weapons, the conventions, the treaty, the phobia about it, are something of a throwback. Look, they are terrible weapons and to the extent we can outlaw any kind of terrible weapons, I think it's a very good thing. But they came out of a time, World War I, World War II, when conventional weapons couldn't kill lots of people and chemical weapons could. The reality is now reversed. You have bombs that can kill many more people than these chemical weapons, you know, which tend to get disbursed pretty quickly. They're still terrible. They still cause enormous pain. But the idea that there are uniquely terrible or that they are part of, you know, weapons of mass destruction but large conventional bombs are not, is somewhat old-fashioned. Yet, you know, as I say, you -- this is not in any way to say that they should be OK.

To your other point about the red line, you do get the sense that President Obama hadn't thought through exactly what the plan was because we now know that the Syrians have violated that -- crossed that red line several times and the Obama administration has had months therefore to prepare for a kind of game plan of when, you know, they got to a point where they would say well thus far no further and yet the events of last week seemed to show that they have been scrambling and improvising and, you know, even changing their mind about whether to go to Congress at the very last minute. That's why I, you know, I wrote on, this seems like a case study in how not to do foreign policy.


HOLMES: Yes. We also spoke in that interview on CNN International about what Syria -- if Syria could survive this war with the refugee situation, the sectarian divisions, the families torn apart. Fareed's actually got an article on about what a post-strike Syria would look like. But that whole debate about whether the country is saveable.


And every 15 seconds, if you can imagine this, a Syrian becomes a refugee. More than 2 million people have fled Syria since the fighting began, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. There is no end in sight, but there are way that you can make an impact for Syrian refugees if you go to for a list of organizations. They are working in this region here. And you can figure out ways you can help ease the suffering of this growing, growing humanitarian disaster. It's at


HOLMES: Been talking a lot about Syria and the sarin and waiting for the U.N. inspectors to come back with their report about whether it was sarin and how it was delivered, hopefully. Well, Britain, meanwhile, we're getting a report from our bureau in London saying that samples taken from the chemical weapons attack site in Damascus have tested positive for sarin. What type of sarin, we don't know. Delivery, we don't know. But the U.K. apparently saying that it has evidence that sarin was used in that attack.

MALVEAUX: And, of course, that's welcome news for the Obama administration and for President Obama there and part of the G-20 Summit because, you know, the prime minister was not able to deliver when it came to -

HOLMES: That vote.

MALVEAUX: That support from the parliament.


MALVEAUX: But he certainly is able to take a look and say, look, we've got our own evidence that confirms what the United States is saying -

HOLMES: About -

MALVEAUX: That sarin gas was used.

HOLMES: That it was there but not who used it.

MALVEAUX: Absolutely.

HOLMES: Which is -- which is always going to be that (INAUDIBLE) until we see that evidence.

All right, we're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.


HOLMES: Welcome back to AROUND THE WORLD. Want to bring you up to date on some other stories making news.

A car bomb went off today in Cairo. It actually went off in an area called Nasr City, which is the Muslim Brotherhood area of town.

MALVEAUX: And we're told it was not a suicide bomb, but it did explode near a motorcade carrying Egypt's interior minister. Now, Egypt's state TV - state run TV says the minister was targeted actually for assassination and the bomb being quite a big blast here. This is what the neighborhood looked like.


MALVEAUX: Incredibly, if you can imagine this, nobody died. Four people were wounded, including a policeman who had to have his leg amputated.

HOLMES: The interior minister himself walked away. His car wasn't one of the ones damaged. Nobody knows yet for sure who or what group is responsible for setting off the bomb. But as I say, a lot of eyes turning towards perhaps the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now marginalized politically in Egypt.

MALVEAUX: In Kent, England, this morning, a dense fog created this huge chain reaction accident. You can see how many cars here. As many as 100 cars and trucks were actually involved in this. And amazingly nobody was killed but at least eight people were seriously injured.

HOLMES: Yes, what a pile up that was. The worst of it happened on a bridge. It's actually a fairly new bridge, by the way, where, according to police, this is in Kent, by the way, a very thick fog cut visibility to almost nothing.

MALVEAUX: And let's have a look at what is trending right now around the world.

This is in Dalian, China. A 16-year-old, like most teens, couldn't imagine losing his PlayStation, so he dropped it down a narrow gap between two walls and naturally he tried to get it, tried to receive (ph) it. He slipped, got wedged between the walls.

HOLMES: Of course he did. If you look closely to the right of the policeman's white helmet there, you can actually see the little kid's face. It was pretty serious, actually. The team was beginning to suffocate. Firemen actually had to cut a hole in one of the walls and pull him through that way. It all took about two hours. The teen is OK. No word about the PlayStation.

MALVEAUX: Now to Sydney, Australia. Oh, OK. One of your favorites, I guess.

HOLMES: Yes. Wait until you see this video.

MALVEAUX: One of these heart-stopping close calls caught on surveillance video here. This man -- let's get to this guy, OK, standing at the counter, paying for something, when a car, you see it there, comes crashing through the front of the gas station, missing him by just inches.

HOLMES: Yes, if he had been leaning back, he would have been dead. You can see the force of the impact demolishing the front of the store. He was not hurt. Actually, at the end of the video, you can see, he's a little bit annoyed though.


CARLO SPINA, CRASH SURVIVOR: And then the next thing you know, I see this car just come through.


SPINA: In the corner of my eye. It was just a big bang. So it was like a split second and it just happened.


HOLMES: If he'd been leaning back, he was history. Did you see him at the end of the video going, what are you doing?

MALVEAUX: What happened?

HOLMES: All right.

MALVEAUX: Lucky guy.

HOLMES: That will do it for us and AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Michael Holmes. You're carrying on, aren't you?

MALVEAUX: I'm carrying on. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

This is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. It's a simple handshake in front of the cameras, but the relationship between