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G-20 Summit Under Way; Putin: Secretary Kerry Is Lying About Syria; Codepink Disrupts Kerry's Testimony; Chobani Removes Moldy Yogurt; Selling Congress On Syria Strike

Aired September 5, 2013 - 10:00   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the NEWSROOM, together again. President Obama and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, face to face at the G-20 Summit. Can they find common ground on Syria?

Plus, popular yogurt brand Chobani pulling some of its products from store shelves after customers went on Twitter and complained.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Work out your problems, but stay out of the public eye.


COSTELLO: A campaign stop turns into a shouting match and the video goes viral. What got New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner so fired up. The second hour of NEWSROOM starts now.

Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you very much for being with me. We begin this hour in Russia. The newest backdrop to the debate over military strikes on Syria. Right now that international squabble has virtually muted the economic summit that has drawn world leaders including president Obama and Syria's most important ally, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Just last hour, as you see, the two came face to face after days of terse comments. CNN's Brianna Keilar is traveling with the president. She joins us live from St. Petersburg. Good morning, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Carol. You know, President Vladimir Putin is essentially the host of this summit. So he welcomed all of the world leaders and of course, that included President Obama and what was a rather cordial meeting. This is one of many opportunities where they may be bumping into each other. And aides to the president tell us that they think at some point the two -- two leaders will be informally talking.

That is after their official one-on-one meeting was canceled after Vladimir Putin and Russia granted temporary asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden.


KEILAR (voice-over): President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to come face-to-face at the annual meeting of G-20 leaders as big decisions loom over military action in Syria. Obama is defending his position to launch strikes.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons is abhorrent.

KEILAR: Putin remains vehemently opposed. Casting doubt over the evidence the U.S. government says it has against the Syrian regime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If we have objective, precise data of who is responsible for these crimes then we'll react.

KEILAR: Russia is not alone. Britain and Germany are also refusing to endorse military action, this is the highest tensions have been between the two world powers since the cold war.

JAMES F. COLLINS, DIRECTOR OF RUSSIAN AND EURASIA PROGRAM, CARNEGIE ENDOWNMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: We will have a very bad patch if there is a military attack on Syria and I think we can expect some pretty frosty time.

KEILAR: Russia and Syria have been strong allies for decades.

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Russia is very close to Syria. They provide and buy weapons from each other. They are kind of a client state.

KEILAR: The conflict over Syria just the tip of the iceberg in the rift between world leaders. Obama canceled his private meeting with Putin several weeks ago after the Russian leader refused to extradite NSA leaker Edward Snowden. While in St. Petersburg, Obama plans to meet with gay rights activists on Putin's turf as outrage spreads over Russia's new law banning any promotion of gay relationships to minors. Relations between Putin and Obama are increasingly rocky.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We've kind of hit a wall in terms of additional progress.


KEILAR: Now one official, one senior administration official said think of this less like a visit to Russia than a visit to the G-20 Summit that happens to be hosted by Russia, Carol, so that's pretty telling.

COSTELLO: Pretty telling. We're making a lot of this handshake. I don't know what we expected, but it seemed like the two men -- they were smiling. They look like buddies. I don't know, is that a harbinger of things to come?

KEILAR: You know, I don't know. If you didn't know the back story, you would think this is a nice cordial greeting. I will tell you, having watched a number of interactions over the years between Putin and Obama, sometimes when they get together, things are so chilly between them that you would swear it would almost freeze vodka. I mean, the body language sometimes is downright icy.

This one was, yes, friendly, but you know behind the scenes, there's so much going on. They disagree so much on so many different areas, Syria being most prominent among them. This is just sort of like an obligatory smile for the camera. I think that's really the sense that a lot of observers got.

COSTELLO: All right, Brianna Keilar live from St. Petersburg, Russia, this morning. Thank you.

Just last hour there in St. Petersburg, let's talk about that seemingly warm handshake between Presidents Obama and Putin because as Brianna said, it belies a frostiness in their relationship, and that chill dropped another couple of degrees with this -- President Putin now accusing America's Secretary of State John Kerry of lying to Congress this week when Kerry denied al Qaeda's role in aiding rebel fighters.


PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): It was somewhat unpleasant to watch it because we worked with the U.S. on the assumption that they were decent people and he lied. He knew that he was lying and went on lying about it. It is sad.


COSTELLO: Kerry had downplayed reports that more and more al Qaeda extremists were infiltrating the ranks of rebel fighters. Here's Kerry's comment that riled up Putin. Listen.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: The opposition has increasingly become more defined by its moderation, more defined by the breadth of its membership, and more defined by its adherence to a democratic process and all-inclusive, minority-protecting constitution, which will be broad based and secular with respect to the future of Syria.


COSTELLO: CNN's Phil Black is in Moscow this morning. So, when you look at it that way, it doesn't seem to be any common ground between the two presidents. But when you look at the handshake, you're thinking, maybe they'll meet in some corridor and come to some understanding.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I guess you can choose which one you think is more of an accurate representation of just where the feelings are because while the handshake was warm, that statement from Putin that you just played about Secretary of State John Kerry is really quite extraordinary. Even for two countries who disagree and have been disagreeing for as long as they have, who have been experiencing a difficult relationship for 18 months now, who disagree so strongly on Syria.

Even given President Putin's reputation for speaking very bluntly, to go out publicly like that and to describe such a senior administration official, the United States' leading diplomatic figure as a liar, well, there is absolutely nothing diplomatic about that whatsoever, obviously. I think it clearly reflects the very strong feelings that exist within the Russian government held very closely by President Putin himself about the idea of some sort of military intervention in Syria.

And more than that, specifically what Putin was referring to. That is, Secretary Kerry's comments about the existence of al Qaeda- affiliated group and to what extent they have grown or receded or otherwise. A real concern for Russia because its strong opposition to military intervention, behind its very strong defense of the Syrian government is the fear that if the Syrian government is toppled then it will create a big window, a vacuum that could be exploited by extremist Islamic groups.

Russia is of the view that that's what you've seen in Iraq. That is what you have seen in Libya and other countries as well that have had regimes toppled recently through the Arab spring and so forth. For whatever, that handshake shows in terms of some sort of resolution, I think the smart money would be more on the true feelings that lie behind that comment that Vladimir Putin made about the U.S. secretary of state.

COSTELLO: All right, Phil Black reporting live for us from Moscow.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, an antiwar activist disrupts John Kerry's testimony on Syria, but Kerry says he understands where they're coming from. That protester joins us next.


COSTELLO: Antiwar protesters have a message for John Kerry. The United States will have blood on its hands if it strikes Syria. Activists painted fake blood on the palms of their hands and protested during the secretary of state's testimony. And on Tuesday, some demonstrators were kicked out after they disrupted the hearing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary -- the committee will be in order.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The committee will be in order --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Launching cruise missiles means another war. The American people do not want this.

KERRY: Could I just say, you know, the first time I've testified before this committee when I was 27 years old, I had feelings similar to that protester. And I would say that is exactly why it is so important that we are all here having this debate.


COSTELLO: That protester is Medea Benjamin. She is the co-founder of "Code Pink." She joins us live now from Washington. Good morning.

MEDEA BENJAMIN, CO-FOUNDER, CODEPINK: Good morning, Carol. Thanks for having me on.

COSTELLO: Thanks for being on. So did Secretary of State John Kerry's comments about you in particular make you feel any better?

BENJAMIN: Well, it would make me feel a lot better if he really listened to what the American people are saying. Overwhelmingly in every poll it shows the American people are against this attack in Syria. I don't think it will help the people of Syria. I don't think we can afford this and there are other nonviolent ways that we should show our opposition to what the Assad regime is doing. So I wish he would listen.

COSTELLO: It is a little ironic that John Kerry is leading this charge since he threw out his war ribbons in protest of war. The Vietnam War in particular and he was a war protester himself.

BENJAMIN: Well, that's right. We wish we had the old John Kerry back. I thought when he came to be secretary of state we would see a lot of diplomacy, and he started out that way. Now he turns -- I think we should rename him the secretary of war because he's done more talking than the secretary of defense or Dempsy in these hearings about even military actions. So it is odd indeed, but if John Kerry really wants to help the people in Syria, there are two million refugees that need a lot of help. And the billion dollars we would spend on cruise missiles could be better spent helping those refugees.

COSTELLO: He would say that, you know, it's different when you're in the hot seat and how can you stand by and watch children being gassed by this evil dictator in Syria. Isn't it the responsibility of the United States to do something?

BENJAMIN: Well, it's the responsibility of the United States to obey the international law. The secretary general of the U.N. said a U.S. attack would be against international law. I think the secretary should use his considerable power to get the players in the region along with the Saudis and Russians to sit down and demand a ceasefire, and then work towards a negotiated settlement. That's the only thing that will really help the people of Syria. That's where John Kerry should be putting his attention.

COSTELLO: And just a final question, were these hearings open? Did you get in easily, or did you have to get an invitation, or how does that happen?

BENJAMIN: Well, you have to get there very early in the morning to get online to get in for the limited seats for the public. But there aren't a lot of places for us, Carol, in this debate to get the American voice in. We think that's very important to get the voice from the people.

COSTELLO: Medea Benjamin from CODEPINK. Thanks so much for joining me this morning.

BENJAMIN: Thanks so much for having me on.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, a surprise in some Chobani yogurts -- not fruit but mold. We'll tell you what you need to know.


COSTELLO: Chobani yogurt customers took to Twitter when they realized there was something different about the product. The company looked into their concerns and found there was something different about the product -- it was moldy. CNN's senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, joins me now. And ew --

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Different but not in a good way, right? Right, exactly. When you hear molds, you think, wow, people must be getting sick. Actually in this case, this isn't a health concern, but it certainly made for an unappetizing breakfast.


COHEN (voice-over): Fizzy, old, not the appetizing adjectives yogurt aficionados look for in their breakfast, but on Twitter this week. Several consumers were voicing their complaints, openly worrying about eating Chobani Greek-style yogurt. The strawberry tasted really old. "My vanilla yogurt tastes like wine. Is this bad?" "If the foil top of my Chobani yogurt is puffed up and the yogurt tastes fizzy, does that mean it's spoiled?"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stir it up, and raise a cup.

COHEN: So what was causing certain cups of yogurt to swell and bloat and taste so bad? After an investigation, the Chobani Company says it was mold, and it's now pulling potentially affected cups from store shelves. Chobani hasn't said exactly how it happened, but they do say that the questionable yogurt accounts for less than 5 percent of total production. The Food and Drug Administration says there have been no reports of illnesses.

SARAH KLEIN, CENTER FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: It's certainly unsavory, but it's more of a quality than a safety issue. It's unlikely that you're going to become very ill from eating this mold.

COHEN: This isn't the first time recently there have been concerns raised about what's in your yogurt. In July, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned to get the Dannon Yogurt Company to stop using a vibrant red food dye called carmine derived from insects. But Dannon says the dye is safe, approved by the FDA, and delivers superior color to its product. KLEIN: It's always unnerving when there's something in our food that's not supposed to be there.

COHEN: Chobani says consumers who may have bought the questionable yogurt can avoid eating it by looking at the cups. They'll have this code and expiration dates, and they won't say "mold."


COSTELLO: I think I'd notice if my yogurt is moldy. I love that sound bite. It won't kill you, just be disgusting.

COHEN: Just taste bad, right, exactly.

COSTELLO: So -- I mean, should we worry when he we go to buy Chobani yogurt? Do they have -- have may removed all the moldy yogurt from the shelves?

COHEN: Chobani says they have removed and replaced the potentially affected lots of yogurt. And of course, though, when they say vast majority, they've removed from place the vast majority of these yogurts. What about the slim minority, right? That could still possibly be there. So you ought to check it and check what's in your fridge, too.

COSTELLO: And you should be able to notice as soon as you open the yogurt.

COHEN: Right. I thought it was funny that when it was fizzy, the first thing people did was tweet.

COSTELLO: There's something wrong -- yes.

COHEN: Yes. Fizzy is always bad. Swollen is bad. Yes, just not good.

COSTELLO: Got you. Thank you, Elizabeth.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, you've seen people whiz through airport security in a special line for pre-screened passengers, right? Well, now it could be your turn to get in the fast lane. Guess what? You might be able it leave your shoes on.


COSTELLO: Happening now in the NEWSROOM, to attack or not to attack. That's the question. The world is undecided over military action in Syria. No more so than right here at home where President Obama's top men try to sell it to Congress.

Russia's anti-gay law spiralling out of control. Could a meeting between activists and President Obama do anything to stop the violence?

And hate waiting in line, basically getting undressed at airport security? Well, TSA announces a big change that could keep more of your clothes. NEWSROOM continues now.

Good morning. Thank you very much for joining me. I'm Carol Costello. It took more than a decade to get America out of Iraq. So you understand why many Americans are not exactly sold on the possibility of military action in Syria. It's not an easy fight on Capitol Hill.

Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence knows that. He watched the hearings yesterday. They were brutal.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: They got grilled, Carol. No two ways about it and right now, some members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are receiving a classified briefing behind doors. A few hours from now the full Senate will get a similar briefing. This is sort of the last push by Obama administration officials to try to swing some members of Congress over to their side. Again, they got that key vote in the Senate committee yesterday, 10-7, winning that.

But when you look at the full Senate, still a ways to go, about 60 votes still up for grabs as far as our colleagues on the Hill have been counting those votes, looking at how this might go down. The House not looking quite nearly as good, still a lot of mistrust out there for how this operation might go. Take a listen to just one excerpt from what became a very contentious hearing at times as representatives grilled the defense secretary and also the secretary of state about these plans to authorize the strike on Syria.


REPRESENTATIVE JEFF DUNCAN (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Section 4 of your testimony today said this is about accountability. Sure it is. The American people deserve answers about Benghazi before we move forward with military involvement in Syria's civil war.

KERRY: So let's draw the proper distinction here, Congressman. We don't deserve to drag this into yet another Benghazi discussion when the real issue here is whether or not the congress is going to stand up for international norms with respect to dictators that have only been broken twice until Assad -- Hitler and Saddam Hussein. If we give license to somebody to continue that, shame on us.


LAWRENCE: So obviously got contentious there, but several of the representatives have some real key questions for the Obama administration including not so much about the air strikes but what comes next. Who are the rebels, what's if Assad retaliates. I think also as well they were listening a lot to what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, was saying, about some of the potential risks out there.

That Assad could strike out, urging some of his subordinate groups to lash out at American interests. That Syria could fire rockets at some of its neighbors, sparking a more widespread regional war. So there are some real worries out there as the Obama administration tries to close the deal to get Congress to authorize this strike -- Carol.