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Will Syria Give Up Control of Chemical Weapons?; Interview With Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy; Syria Willing to Disclose Stockpiles; Lawmakers Wrestle with Syria Solution

Aired September 10, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE LEAD": Do you get the feeling that the president's speech writers must be on like draft number 400?

I'm Jake Tapper, and this is "THE LEAD."

The world lead, it was on; now it's off, an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to debate this 11th hour proposal that could avoid a U.S. strike on Syria. But why did they cancel that meeting?

The national lead, in a matter of hours, President Obama will take the podium, stare into the camera and ask the American people for -- for something.

It was going to be a case for attacking Syria, but now the message is not so clear.

And the money lead. It's that time of year again when Apple announces that you no longer have the hottest phone on the market, not one, but two new iPhones coming soon to make whatever you have feel obsolete.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD.

I'm Jake Tapper. We will begin, of course, with the world lead. What will he say? Very soon, President Obama's face will be on TV screens all across the nation and the world, addressing the American people in prime time. About 36 hours ago, it seemed almost certain that the president would be making the case for striking the Syrian regime for allegedly killing 1,400 of its own people with chemical weapons.

But the ground appears to be shifting under the president's feet as we speak. Not only has the Syrian regime reportedly accepted a Russian proposal to hand over its chemical weapons to international control. They now say they're ready to reveal the location of those weapons and to sign the international treaty that bans those weapons?

Secretary of State John Kerry, during a Google Hangout today, did not quite sound convinced yet.


JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: To genuinely reach out, live up to what they have just said they would do with respect to the chemical convention, go further. Help us in the next days working with Russia to work out the formula by which those weapons could be transferred to international control and destroyed.


TAPPER: The Russians called an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to talk over its proposal to deal with Syria's chemical stockpile. It was supposed to start right this very moment. But it was called off at the last minute, and this just in to CNN. On Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Geneva to discuss Syria with his Russian counterpart, according to a senior State Department official.

Yesterday, as you recall, it was Kerry who threw out the idea that led to this Russian plan. It appeared to many that Kerry was just, you know, discussing a hypothetical. But he backed the White House into an alternative solution to this, and though the administration's story today is that this has been on the table for some time, Kerry testified earlier before the House Armed Services Committee, along with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey.

Even though the president is going to speak directly to the American people tonight, he asked Senate Democrats today to delay their vote on authorizing U.S. force against Syria to give him -- quote -- "some time to work things out," according to Senator Dick Durbin, possibly into next week.

As we mentioned, the United Nations Security Council was supposed to be holding an emergency meeting on Syria right now, but moments ago, the Russians reportedly pulled out.

Senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh joins us from the U.N.

Nick, what happened? We were on this march to peace. Why did the Russians pull out?


What we heard in the last hour from two U.N. diplomats here, the quite simple claim that the Russians had pulled out of the meeting they had in fact themselves called, citing -- quote -- "changing circumstances."

We are given no indication that this meeting is going to be held at a later date, and I think you mentioned the meeting between John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov on Thursday, perhaps an indication there is now a separate track going between D.C. and Moscow to try and get this going forward.

I understand from a senior State Department official, too, that that meeting will be about a chemical weapons plan and there probably won't be anyone else attending, just most likely the two men there. But this day began here at U.N. with the French putting out their resolution proposal. It contained a bunch of stuff the Russians simply weren't going to be happy with. Remember, they have a veto power here at the Security Council so they can pretty much quash any resolution they don't like. The French idea did contain an open condemnation of the Syrian regime for chemical weapons attacks and the perpetrators needing to be brought to justice and most significant thing here, the threat of "serious consequences" if Syria didn't go along with dismantling its chemical weapons program fast enough.

That seemed to run into some problems. We then heard the Russians wanted an emergency consultation with the Security Council to put forward their own text and as we were discussing earlier, they seemed to can it. We're not clear where this goes forward now. There's no planned meetings ahead and there is the possibility that the Russians simply don't like what they're seeing at the Security Council, think they can get Syria perhaps to go along with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, those conventions to get rid of their weapons and think maybe they don't need to get the Security Council involved with the threat of potential consequences if it doesn't move fast enough.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Paton Walsh at the U.N., thank you so much.

With the Senate's vote on Syria temporarily on hold, both houses are working on new drafts, a bipartisan group of senators are fleshing out a new resolution that would call for the U.N. to remove the chemical weapons stockpile by a certain date. The House version would give the president 30 days to work out a deal on securing the stockpiles before, before authorizing military force.

But given that Russia has now postponed today's National Security Council meeting, is this deal a reality?

Let's bring in Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He voted against last week's resolution authorizing military action in Syria in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks for being here. You have called this third way, this Russian proposal, this Kerry float, a positive development, but I wonder how confident you are that it can work given the history of Russia and the complexity in locating chemical weapons and how much you can trust Bashar al-Assad. Do you think this thing is real?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: I absolutely think it's real and I think it can work. I don't think the Russians would have floated it, I don't think the United States and Russia would have discussed it over the last few days if it couldn't ultimately work.

We frankly have a pretty good beat on where a lot of these chemical weapons stockpiles are. Frankly, if we didn't, we wouldn't consider striking the country because you can't make a mistake and strike one of these stockpiles or that would kill a lot more people.

So this ultimately can work. I think the fact that Kerry is going to be traveling to meet with the Russian foreign secretary is very good news. And I think it makes sense for the Senate to pull back right now, to give the president the time and the space to try to work this out.

A lot of us that opposed the resolution in the first place did so because we wanted there to be a more robust international effort, and this speaks to so many of us who were a little reluctant to commit the United States to military action without the support of some of our partners around the world.

TAPPER: But, Senator, you know President Obama and others say that the only reason the Russians and Syrians are even at the proverbial negotiating table is because of the threat of force and, in fact, Senator Corker said, and I believe President Obama has suggested, that it's because of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voting to authorize force.

In a way, were you not getting in the way of that diplomatic effort by voting against the authorization?

MURPHY: Well, the Russians have a lot of reasons to try to be part of an international solution here, separate and aside from the fact that the United States may be contemplating a bombing campaign.

The Russians want to be part of the international community and ultimately it's not in their long-term interest to side with a madman in Syria who is gassing his own people. So the Russians -- you know, listen, maybe they are slightly moved by the fact that there could be bombing coming from the United States, but, ultimately, they have very different interests that would lead them to try to be part of this solution.

I don't think you have to have the threat of military action in order to get an international solution here.

TAPPER: Let's game this out for a second, Senator. Let's assume the U.N. can approve a resolution. I'm going to give this very optimistic view of what might happen. And then the plan works according to some sort of convergence of what the Russians want and what the U.S. wants and the French and the U.K.

But, ultimately, other than taking away the chemical weapons stockpile, it doesn't seem like there would be any real punishment for Assad. Wouldn't it be just like somebody is a shooter, commits a crime with a gun and the punishment is you take his gun away? Shouldn't there be more of a stand against what he allegedly did if the U.S. is so confident that he was behind these chemical weapons?

MURPHY: Yes, listen, I think that's a very compelling argument. And I'm someone who said right off the bat that I think what he did is a moral atrocity, and if we could punish him without having reciprocal consequences in the region or a spill-off effect that ultimately compromises U.S. national security, I would be for it.

I just think in this case, you have to weigh what are the possible consequences to the United States by getting involved in a civil war that could cost us billions in terms of dollars and a lot more in terms of reputation. Ultimately, I would love to be able to go in and punish this guy for what he did. But if ultimately that ends up getting the U.S. embroiled in a regional conflict that hurts our national security and causes Assad to take reciprocal actions against his own people or against our interests in the region, it's not worth it.

And that's the calculation that so many of us have made. We don't like the fact that he's done this. We think it's an absolute atrocity. We would love to go in and punish him, but if the result of that is that it actually hurts the U.S. national security interests in the long run, we can't be for it.

TAPPER: Last question, and a quick answer, if you would, Senator. We're all happy about a potential path to peace, but do you buy the fact that this was all kind of planned by the administration and floated on purpose, or do you think we kind of just bumbled into a happy possibility?

MURPHY: Yes, I believe in serendipity to a point. But I do believe that the president has been talking to the Russians about this for a number of days at least, and ultimately, there are some pretty smart guys in this administration who I know have been thinking long and hard about every possible way around war.

And that's what the president told us today in our caucus meeting with the Democrats, is that he has no interest in going to war. He has no interest in military strikes if he can find a way out of it. I think that the Obama administration has been thinking in very creative ways for a long time about how to avoid military intervention if possible.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, thank you so much for your time.

MURPHY: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: When we come back, come on in, take a look. Syria says its buddy Russia can check out all of those chemical weapons, but can Syria be trusted, and will this new plan put an end to the threat of war?

Plus, the president's speech tonight is supposed to explain why the U.S. should use military force. That was the plan originally. But what's he going to say now? Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Continuing our world lead, Syria said it's willing to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which outlaws the development, stockpile and use of chemical weapons, and they said they would disclose their location.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says, no need.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: This is no classified information. But we know exactly where the chemical weapons are.


TAPPER: Well, good to know, but as our own Arwa Damon was one of the first to point out -- quote -- "You can't just walk in there, secure them, load them on to a bunch of trucks and ships and take them out of the country to be destroyed."

So how exactly would this work?

I want to bring in David Kay. He was the U.S. chief weapons inspector in Iraq.

David, thanks so much for being here.

Syria's about the size of Washington State. How do you do this? How do you go into a country that big and secure their chemical weapons? How many people do you need?

DAVID KAY, FORMER CHIEF U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, first of all, in terms of how you do it, you need the Syrians to declare, this is our stockpile, how many we have, this is the location.

You crosscheck that against your own intelligence information and that available from others. You go to the sites and then the fun starts. Look, these are chemical weapons. You don't walk up to them dressed like this. If it's typical chemical weapons, there will be leakers. They are dangerous to handle.

So you go up in full protection MOP gear, it's called, and go in. How many people? Look, chemical -- they have the largest stockpile of chemical weapons not only in the region, but probably now in the world.

TAPPER: Really? More than the United States or Russia?

KAY: Oh, yes. Well, Russia and the United States have been getting rid of theirs now.

TAPPER: Right.

KAY: And we haven't built any since the mid '60s. It was President Nixon that ended our chemical weapons program. So it's that long ago.

So in terms of how many people you need, I would guess just to establish inventory and positive control, using all the technical devices, seals, automatic cameras and all that you would want to, you're talking well over 1,000 people.

TAPPER: Well over 1,000 people. And I hate to bring up an inconvenient fact here but they're in the middle of a civil war. So, how do you get those thousand people into the country safely?

KAY: Well, that is a major problem today. You don't fly into Damascus airport, as your own correspondents know.

TAPPER: Right.

KAY: You take the trip from Beirut across territory that is not fully under control of any government to Damascus. And the weapons aren't in Damascus -- they're in even worse places than that. Some of the areas are actually actively contested by the rebels.

You know, inspectors don't like people shooting at them. They're pretty good about ducking but they're not very good about telling you who's doing the shooting.

TAPPER: Obviously, we won't send in U.S. troops. Who would guard and protect inspectors?

KAY: Well, most likely I think it depends on regional forces. Jordanians, Turks. Actually, you know, the Iraqis, we have spent billions of dollars to train their armed forces, would be I think acceptable to the Syrians and would be a not bad part of the force.

But ultimately, you've got to have credibility. You've got to have a set of inspectors who have integrity, which the Security Council believes, the U.S. government believes, have integrity and will say, it's not working, they're violating, they're cheating, we haven't found all of them. I don't know how you set that up easily.

TAPPER: Bottom line, is this realistic?

KAY: Look, it can be done. You are going to break a lot of crockery in doing it. If you try to do it by the book, you won't get it done in a decade. That's too long. You need to take this opportunity and test and see if the Syrians and the Russians are real and if the rest of the international community will back up the inspectors.

I think it can be done. It's certainly not easy.

TAPPER: Lot of ifs in there.

KAY: A lot.

TAPPER: David Kay, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next on THE LEAD: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 12-year reign is nearing an end, but he's not done playing politics just yet. Will his remarks referring to one campaign as racist have an impact on the outcome of today's vote?

Plus, wads of cash handed over by strangers. A new report details just how far one university allegedly went to put a winner on the field and keep its players happy.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Time for the politics lead. There's something about using the word poll in the same sentence as Anthony Weiner that makes us squirm a little. But, yes, today, New York City voters are heading to the polls to decide if Weiner or any of the other candidates will go on to win the Democratic nomination in the mayor's race. Di Blasio would need 40 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off campaign. Joe Lhota, a veteran in former Mayor Rudy Giuliani's administration is expected to clinch outright on the Republican side.

In the sports lead -- sex, drugs, money and the guarantee of a passing grade. A new five-part series from "Sports Illustrated" is exposing the seedy side of a college football program that went from bottom feeder to a BCS powerhouse, in just a decade. The article quotes several former Oklahoma state players from 1999 through 2011 who say hostesses had sex with recruits and players not only did drugs but dealt drugs while positive drug tests were ignored. The players were also allegedly paid for no-show jobs and handed bonuses by coaches and boosters for making big plays, cash that was sometimes stuffed in a new pair of socks.

"S.I." goes into the human cost of the alleged corruption after the guys with the pockets disappeared. Oklahoma State responded, saying it is deeply troubled by the claims and will investigate the accuracy of the report, and we should note that "Sports Illustrated" is owned by the parent company of CNN.

I'll be back tonight for a special on the crisis in Syria, "Decision Point". That's at 11:00 p.m. Eastern. It's part of a huge night of CNN coverage. Take a look.


ANNOUNCER: CNN tonight. At 7:00 on Erin Burnett, after meeting the president --


TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD: a no vote and a yes vote. Two members of Congress join me next to state their case. What they're hearing about a third option.

Plus, the clock's ticking and I'm guessing the red pen is still correcting. What's it like to write a major presidential address under the gun? I'll ask former President George W. Bush's speech writer, coming right up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The national lead, President Obama asking his own party to delay the vote on Syria in the Senate. What about the House? Will it even go forward with the vote? Does the White House want it to?

The politics lead. He has our attention, but what will he do with it? The president tonight will address a skeptical public on Syria while his administration struggles to nail down the message.

And the money lead. Might sound funny to talk about the woes of one of the most successful companies on the planet but Apple's sales have taken a real hit over the past year. Can a pair of shiny new iPhones change that?