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Syria Debate Mutes Economic Summit; Iraq Looms over Decision on Syria; Rumsfeld Slams Obama on Syria; G-20 Summit Under Way

Aired September 5, 2013 - 09:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Kerry denied al Qaeda's role in aiding rebel fighters.


PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (Through Translator): It was somewhat unpleasant for me to even watch it. Because we worked with the U.S. on the assumption that they are decent people and he lied. He knew that he was lying and he went on lying about it. It is sad.


COSTELLO: Shortly we're going to talk to CNN's Brianna Keilar and also Jill Dougherty. They're over in St. Petersburg, Russia, for that G-20 summit. You can see these limousines pulling into this Russian palace. It's beautiful, isn't it? It used to be a Russian's czar's palace. It's now a presidential palace for Vladimir Putin.

And this is where -- whenever Russia holds this kind of events, this is where this takes place. You can see the president greeting world leaders as they enter this palace. As far as I know right now President Obama has not arrived but he's due to arrive any time.

And of course the world is watching for that hand shake between Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama.

Standing by in Russia, too, we have Phil Black because Russia has been trying to avert military strikes in Syria.

So that handshake is about to take place. I'm sure it will be fine, but the world is watching.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Carol. It's going to be, I think, a much analyzed, much talked about handshake in a few moments as President Putin welcomes Obama there to this conference. A lot of body language analysis, I think, is what we can expect.

Largely because it was President Obama who raised the issue of the Russian president's body language recently. Describing his appearance at these sorts of meeting is often that of being like the boy -- school boy at the back of the classroom. So we'll see just how bored or interested he looks here.

But as we've been talking about the last few days, this is going to be an interesting encounter. There was always going to a degree of awkwardness here because President Obama was supposed to come to Moscow first to meet with President Putin, called that meeting off, a very significant diplomatic snub there. That's all because of the big differences that exist between these two leaders and these two countries.

Syria is, obviously, one of them. And since that meeting here in Moscow was called off, the differences on Syria, as we know, have intensified greatly because of that large-scale chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus and very strong, differing opinions on just what the response there should be.

The U.S. president is expected to be making his case to other leaders at the G-20 on the sidelines of this meeting, this conference, advocating why he believes there should be a strong military response to punish the Assad regime. And as we know, Russia stands very much opposed to that.

He believes that there is not enough evidence to blame the Assad government for this chemical weapons attack. And more broadly than that, its number one policy goal throughout the Syrian process has been to block any sort of military intervention, Carol. And that is something that it has pursued, in a very delved way even since the United States made its intentions clear with its hopes, its plans to strike militarily.

Russia hasn't given up on its goal of preventing that. So all of this, all of this tension is about to be coalesced all in one handshake as we see President Obama arrive there for the G-20 in just a few moments.

COSTELLO: Well, Vladimir Putin is also, I guess, having his people work here in the United States, too. Russian delegation wants to meet with members of the U.S. Congress to lobby them against military action in Syria. Already the House Speaker John Boehner says, no, I'm not meeting with any Russian delegation.

So do you have any sense of how many U.S. Congress people are willing to meet with these Russian ambassadors, if you will?

BLACK: We don't have precise details on that yet but we got a little bit more information from Russia's Federation Council which is the upper house here. I guess the equivalent of the U.S. Senate. They said they received very positive response from U.S. lawmakers and because of that positive response they are now in the works of actually planning that visit and they say that members of Russia's parliament will be leaving Russia on Sunday to fly to the United States. Presumably, to begin meetings with members of Congress on Monday.

And we've been told in fairly general terms that there --


COSTELLO: Phil, let me interrupt. Let me interrupt because President Obama has arrived. So let's watch this without talking. Let's watch. I wish we had some sound, right? But we couldn't hear it but you could certainly read the lips of the president saying, thank you. Both men smiled.


No sweat, I portend.

Brianna Keilar is in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Brianna, you just witnessed that moment. What did you think?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know what, actually, it seemed pretty friendly, I think, considering when you think about where U.S./Russians relations are at this point. They've been rocky, obviously, for the last several months, but especially lately, it's been a deluge of issues for President Obama.

Russia really stymieing U.S. efforts with the U.N. Security Council on Syria and then President Obama in Russia right now as the NSA leaker Edward Snowden is basically free to move about the country, having been granted temporary asylum.

And when, you know, you also have President Obama, he'll be meeting, according to a senior administration official, with gay rights activists, really thumbing his nose at Putin on his own turf as the U.S. criticizes this anti-gay law that Russians just passed.

So I thought that actually seemed pretty friendly and didn't really show a lot of that. But at this point, I think that there will be many opportunities, although we're maybe not going to see them in public where Vladimir Putin and President Obama will be interacting.

COSTELLO: Jill Dougherty is also in St. Petersburg.

And, Jill, I know you've covered Russia forever. I think this -- it's pretty accurate to say you've covered Russia forever. So you know how the workings of governments go in Russia. So as Brianna said, there won't be any one-on-one meetings, face-to-face meetings between President Putin and President Obama, but they will meet on the fringes.

And what do you think those meetings will be like?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously, the Syria discussion has to be had. Now the president of the United States says, I have proof, incontrovertible truth, and anybody who thinks I don't is basically, you know, crazy.

So Putin believes that that is not proof and he wants more. I think what he does want is some type of intelligence from the United States that really makes the case and the United States may not be willing to give the Russians everything that they have. Because that shows how you got it. And sources for your information.

So, at this point, they are very, very far apart on that one issue. Even on the evidence, let alone what should be done about it. And then the Russians have been blocking any type of action against the Assad government at the United Nations and the -- and Obama has said the United Nations, at this point, makes very little difference to us because we're not going to get what we wanted. We won't get approval.

So they're very far apart. So, of course, talk about other issues that we might cooperate on. But right now Syria is just its biggest obstacle.

COSTELLO: Yes. We're watching that. They're going to -- this is from earlier today. The Japanese delegation sat down and had a short meeting earlier today. And then, of course, you saw President Putin greeting world leaders as they came into that palace in St. Petersburg.

Just one more thing, Jill, before I let you go. The Chinese president will attend the G-20 summit, as well. And he'll certainly have Russia's back. What might that mean for the United States?

DOUGHERTY: Well, it's predictable for the United States because, after all, on all of the votes at the United Nations, China and Russia usually vote the same way. So it won't be very surprising.

However, China has been mutual in a number of ways. Let's say on North Korea, for example, there might be a way with the Chinese leader that Mr. Obama could make some progress, let's say, in a meeting of the minds that I don't think that anyone is very optimistic that they will change their opinion either.

Both Russia and China, you have to remember, don't want interference in the affairs of other countries. Because they read it as interference in their own affairs. So they're both united in that idea in sovereignty and to the Russians and to the Chinese it's pretty favored.

COSTELLO: Got you. OK, so 19 world leaders expected to arrive in St. Petersburg. When they all enter that palace they'll sit down for some sort of meeting, maybe they'll break off for smaller meetings. We'll keep you posted all along the way.

Thanks to Jill Dougherty, Brianna Keilar and Phil Black.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Up next in NEWSROOM, Syria check denied. John Boehner telling Russia, thanks, but no thanks. Keep your delegation at home.

Also -- memories of Iraq.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: A lot of this is the shadow overhanging from the Iraq situation.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: This bitter memory of what happened in Iraq.

SEN. TOM UDALL (D), NEW MEXICO: We cannot afford another Iraq.

COSTELLO: Will Syria become another Iraq?

And bank rolling the invasion. John Kerry saying Arab countries have offered to pick up the Syria strike tab, but why aren't they in the fight? Alongside the military.

NEWSROOM is right back after a break.



COSTELLO: And right now President Obama is in Russia to meet with other world leaders at the G-20 Summit. Moments ago you saw the president getting out of that black limousine -- you see the American flag on the front of the car. He got out of the car -- that's a big palace. That's actually President Putin's summer palace in St. Petersburg and you'll see President Obama getting out of that car. About to shake hands with Vladimir Putin.

Of course, the two men vehemently disagreeing about what action -- if any action should be taken against Syria for its use of chemical weapons. But, as you can see, their body language was pretty good. Shaking hands and smiling and then the president said a few words to Vladimir Putin.

We couldn't hear what those words were, but we did see the initial lip flap of the president and he said thank you for inviting me. As he entered that palace. Seeing a number of personnel there to capture this very moment and so many more.

Here at home, selling any potentially military action in Syria has been an uphill battle for the Obama administration and you can sum up why with one word. Iraq.


PAUL WOLFOWITZ, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We're looking at a situation that's a lot more like what we had in Iraq.

VAN HOLLEN: A lot of this is the shadow overhanging from the Iraq situation where we both went to war on false pretenses.

DURBIN: This bitter memory of what happened in Iraq when we were misled.

UDALL: We cannot afford another Iraq.

REP. DUTCH RUPPERSBERGER (D), MARYLAND: The issue of Congress coming in and being involved is important because we need to educate members of Congress and, also, we have to educate the American people how important the issue is, how we're acting and why we're acting and what the consequences are if we do not act. We were not going to have another Iraq or Afghanistan.


COSTELLO: All right, so former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, one of the architects of the Iraq war, is now questioning President Obama's leadership over the Syrian crisis. Rumsfeld -- Rumsfeld said it's Obama and not Iraq that's causing the lack of broader support here and around the world.

Here's what he told Chris Cuomo on CNN's "NEW DAY."


CHRIS CUOMO, ANCHOR, NEW DAY: Is it fair criticism coming from you to put it all on the president when, as you well know, in the United Kingdom and Russia they talk about not that the intelligence was wrong going into Iraq, but that it had been manipulated and that there was politics and spin that now make them suspicion of the U.S. motives when they say they have proof. I mean, isn't that just the fact?

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER DEFENSE: I think not. In fact, I have not heard people say that responsibly. And if you'll recall, the congress looked at the same intelligence and came to the same conclusions and there were Democrats who supported it, including very prominent Democrats who enthusiastically supported it. President Clinton had signed a resolution supporting regime change in Iraq. And the international, the United Nations had 17 resolutions against Saddam Hussein.

So, I think that there may be people on the fringe who say the kind of thing that you're saying, but I don't think anyone responsible has said anything like that.

CUOMO: So, just to be clear. You believe it is a fringe notion that the perception of how the U.S. handled intelligence getting into the Iraq war, you think that's a fringe notion that there's suspicion about it and there's concern that we didn't have it right and we had it wrong for the wrong reasons?

RUMSFELD: You didn't listen carefully. I didn't say that. I say there are people on the fringe who say what you said.

CUOMO: Right.

RUMSFELD: I conceded the fact that that experience has affected some people's judgment and attitude and impressions during this situation.


COSTELLO: OK. So, let's talk about what Rumsfeld said with CNN military analyst, Colonel Rick Francona.

Welcome back.


COSTELLO: Good morning. So, Mr. Rumsfeld said it's not Iraq and Afghanistan that is confusing the American people, but lack of clarity from the president. You talk to Iraq war veterans all the time. What did they think the problem is?

FRANCONA: Well, they're worried about mission and they're worried about starting something that is going to end up with boots on the ground. That is everybody's fear. They said, listen, we did this once and it didn't turn out very well. We weren't allowed to complete the mission.

There's a lot of not anxiety, but there's a lot of concern that we're going to start something and it's just going to escalate and pretty soon you're going to see fixed wing aviation over Syria and then you're going to see, well, we have to go in there and make sure with Special Forces we have the chemical weapons. They just don't know where this is going to end and they just don't see an end game.

COSTELLO: So, OK, Donald Rumsfeld said intelligence doesn't equal fact. So, what do we believe? All during the hearings yesterday John Kerry insisted that he was telling the truth about the intelligence that he received and he is convinced that the Assad regime used poisonous gas against his own people.

FRANCONA: Yes. I was an intelligence officer for many years. I worked this area. You know, I was in Syria.

These are very difficult problems. These people don't want you to know what you're doing and they're very good at covering it up. When you get good information, you try and do the best you can with it and you try to sell it to the people that need to hear it. But there's always going to be that, ever since Iraq and the faulty intelligence and that was just bad intelligence, they're afraid we're doing the same thing, again.

It's an understandable concern. I think we have better sources in Syria than we did in Iraq.

COSTELLO: The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria's civil war and some say America turned its back. Chemical weapons are used and suddenly America is enraged and engaged. Is a bullet or bomb less lethal or cruel than gas?

FRANCONA: You know, this has been going on for over two years and both sides have put up numerous videos, very graphic to show what's going on. And it is horrific the human toll that has gone on, almost unchecked.

And there's so much concern. When you listen to the Syrian opposition and mostly on the free Syrian army site, they say we don't understand all the concern now and we're glad there is the concern. We want the United States to do something, but why has it taken this long? We have over 100,000 dead Syrians, yet, you kill 1,000 with a chemical weapon and everybody's listening? We don't understand.

COSTELLO: So, from a military standpoint, I mean, what is the -- I just can't imagine what the military leaders are thinking because, number one, you have the scenario that you just laid out. And, number two, you have congress sort of shaping what sort of action will take place in Syria. And does that hinder the military in any way?

FRANCONA: Yes, here's the problem with what we've set up so far. Normally, when you have one of these operations, the president will tell the military, here's what I want. Here's my objective. I want to destroy, say, Syria's chemical weapons. I want to deter them from using it again, I want it level the playing field.

Whatever your You hand that to the military and the military says, OK, here's we do it. We need these weapons, we need to move these ships, we need to move these assets.

What's happening here is kind of backwards. The president is saying, here, you've got five destroyers, you have cruise missiles and do what I need with that. No boots on the ground, no airplanes. It's very difficult for these planners to achieve an objective with only one weapon.

COSTELLO: And just a final question. John Kerry said during the hearings yesterday that the Arab World is willing to pick up the tab, if America strikes Syria, which sounds very nice because nice to have money to pay for a war that didn't come from American taxpayers, right? But wouldn't it also be great if the Arab world actually fought alongside U.S. troops?

FRANCONA: This has been a dilemma for years. This goes all the way back to Desert Storm. We'll pay for it. It was almost that rent an army, you know, attitude.

And it was very important that the Arabs participate and I think it's important that the Arabs participate, again. There's always been this taboo in the Arab world about Arabs killing Arabs and they'd rather we do it. We're better at it and the question of capability. What can they do in a standoff mode?

But it would be useful for the Arabs to stand up and say, we're not going to tolerate this and work with the Americans. But that's a really tough, political sell for many of these regimes.

COSTELLO: CNN military analyst Colonel Rick Francona. Thank you for joining us, we appreciate it.

All right. We're going to take you back to St. Petersburg because you're looking at that gorgeous room inside this Russian palace. This palace built in the 1700s and you can see the walls are gilded gold and that has to be real gold because this palace was built for a czar. It was remodeled in 2001 and it was brought back to its former glory.

You see Vladimir Putin now addressing members of the G-20 Summit.

Brianna Keilar is on the phone right now. This is what you would call a working session, right?

Brianna, are you there? (INAUDIBLE)

COSTELLO: I don't think we have a great phone connection. But this is a working session and the leaders here are talking generally about the global economy because that's really what this summit is all about. The global economy, how to improve it -- the problems that world leaders having because these are world leaders with a 20 biggest economies and that's why they meet periodically over the years.

OK, Brianna is on the phone. We have her now.

So, tell us what's going on, Brianna.

Yes, I don't think we have Brianna. Can you hear me?


COSTELLO: We are on the phone and on the air.

KEILAR: OK, Carol, I'm trying. OK, Carol, sorry about that. We have been having technical difficulties here.

I know that you watched the arrival and something that certainly struck me is that if you didn't know the back story here, you didn't know these two men, you didn't know all of the issues that they've been having that have caused really this recent rift and even before you had the issue over NSA leaker Edward Snowden and certainly now Syria, is a lot of other issues on the table and creating a lot of distance between them, even before what was supposed to be this official one-on-one meeting in Moscow was canceled.

So, what you saw on the arrival, Vladimir Putin a very gracious host saying hello to everyone in his greeting with President Obama appear today be no different. Very different from what you saw last year in Los Cabos at a similar summit and that's sort of what struck me.

But the truth is, what is behind that very gracious greeting and the warm smiles and the hello, how do you do that, obviously, went on there, is that there's a clear level of annoyance and, obviously, the relationship has gotten not just too, I think on sort of a professional level where they're very, maybe upset with the direction where the other person is going, but you've seen it get very personal lately.

We heard President Obama, I think, go pretty far yesterday. He said the relations between U.S. and Russia, he said, basically hit a wall. We've heard before senior administration officials say this doesn't mean that we're not going it be able to find common ground on some things.

But I think yesterday President Obama threw some cold water on that certainly in the face of what's going on over Syria. We heard him recently make comments comparing Vladimir Putin to the kid in the back of the classroom slouching down. So, I think that you really have seen it get personal and that was something that they hid very well as they interacted here at the beginning of the G20 Summit.

COSTELLO: I know, it looked like good buddies. Almost. I won't go that far.

OK. Brianna, thank you so much for hurrying to the podium to speak with us. We appreciate it. This is a working session taking place in St. Petersburg, Russia.

We're going to take a quick break. We'll be back with more in the NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: Good morning. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Carol Costello.

Let me take you right back to St. Petersburg, Russia, where the leaders of the 20 largest economies are now meeting. Russian President Vladimir Putin is hosting all of the leaders involved in the G20.

This is a work session in progress. We believe they're talking about the global economy. Let's listen.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This work is the focus of the attention of the global economy. We're held back by the lack of decision on the ratification of arrangements made in 2010.

I call everybody to be prepared to come to compromise in the area of distribution. Since it will predetermine the efficiency and legitimacy of the IMF and G20.

Tangible results have been achieved in the field of financial regulator reform. This issue has been on the top of our agenda, from the very beginning of the global crisis. Let me stress that in 2013, the financial stability board has turned into a full fledged international organization which will strengthen its potential in approving financial regulation.

Great results have been achieved in the development of our approaches to reforming and partially implementation of the globally agreed reforms in the following areas, which are very important and I'll take a little bit to name them all.