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Syria Accepts Russian Plan; Obama Responds to Syria Threat; Obama Says Nation Safer Since 9/11; Matthew Cordle to be Arraigned.

Aired September 10, 2013 - 11:30   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: So what does President Obama expect from Syria in order to avert a strike? Our Wolf Blitzer asked the president and the message seems to be pretty straightforward.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've been very clear about what we expect. And that is, do not use chemical weapons. Control the chemical weapons and now, because we've seen Assad's willingness to use chemical weapons, we're going to have to go further and give the international community assurances that they will not be used, potentially by getting them out of there. At minimum, making sure that international control over those chemical weapons takes place. That can be accomplished. And it does not solve the broader political situation.

I would say to Mr. Assad, we need a political settlement so that you're not slaughtering your own people and, by the way, encouraging some elements of the opposition to engage in some terrible behavior as well. What I'm thinking about is, right now, though, how do we make sure that we can verify that we do not have chemical weapons that could be used not only inside of Syria but potentially could drift outside of Syria.


BANFIELD: So what a difference a day can make. Because yesterday, President Assad wouldn't even confirm that Syria has chemical weapons. Wouldn't deny it either but was waffling a lot. Listen to exactly what he said in an interview with Charlie Rose on PBS.


CHARLIE ROSE, PBS HOST: Why do you have such a stockpile of chemical weapons?

BASHAR AL ASSAD, SYRIAN PRESIDENT: We don't discuss this issue in public because we never said that we have it. We never said that we don't have it. It's a Syrian issue. We never discuss in public with anyone.



BANFIELD: Wow. So just this morning, big change. Syria actually did announce that it was accepting Russia's proposal to place the country's chemical weapons under international control, so in essence, admitting that Syria does in fact have a stockpile of chemical weapons. Here is the exact quote from the foreign minister of Syria, Walid Moallem: "Yesterday, we held a very fruitful round of talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov" -- from Russia -- "and from his side there was a proposal for an initiative relating to chemical weapons and, by evening, we agreed to the Russian initiative."

Arwa Damon is live.

Arwa, it's definitely stronger language than we've been hearing for quite sometime. Is the Syrian foreign minister or anyone else in Assad's regime taking this forward today or this just enough that somewhere this acknowledgment?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Not necessarily at that stage. Let's also throw into the mix the fact that last year the Syrian government did in fact come out and say, if we had chemical weapons, we would never use them against our own people.

But here's the big issue that's going to be the massive challenge moving harder if, in fact, this initiative is what material ices sand expected to take place. Syria is believed to have one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world, Ashleigh. And it is a war zone. 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. They're presumably going to have to be destroyed onsite in the midst of a civil war. You'd either need to negotiate some sort of sustainable, durable cease-fire or you would need to bring in a peacekeeping force that could possibly be, according to one diplomat, as large as 200,000 people. That's what is needed. Who is going to cough that up? Let's not forget about the actual inspection team itself, it would have to number in the thousand.

And let's just briefly talk about the location of Syria's chemical stockpiles. It used to be in a fairly well-known location. Since this has begun the Syrians have moved to more dispersed smaller sites. This may not be when it comes to logistics actually realistic and executable by any stretch of the imagination.

BANFIELD: I think by any stretch, you highlight what is such a difficult question going forward. This is such a new overture, people are just beginning to wrestle with it.

Senior correspondent, Arwa Damon, live for us with that. Thank you for that.

The reason she's in Beirut because the picture she was showing. It's too difficult to actually be in Syria. It's not even allowed. Now imagine sending in a couple of thousand people to do the job that would be required.

I want to bring in our former chief weapons inspector, U.N. weapons inspector, David Kay, to speak to that issue.

The logistics, David Kay, the practicality of this plan that Russia is recommending. Arwa just said 200,000 people to start with and then maybe a couple thousand weapons inspectors. Is this possible?

DR. DAVID KAY, FORMER U.N. CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: I'm not sure that numbers are correct. Look, the consequences of a military attack on the region are so severe and unpredictable. If you're going ahead with this plan, you're going to have to break some crockery and do some things that otherwise you didn't plan on doing. We did that before in 1991 in Iraq and it worked. It's going to be much tougher than 1991 and Iraq because you do have this active civil war. The first thing is, the Syrians have to declare where are their chemical weapons stockpiles and where are they located?

If we take the Iraqi experience, Saddam's first declarations were fiction. He did not declare all. It depends on the international community and its intelligence capability to verify that as well as inspectors on the ground.

The logistics are just horrible, as you pointed out, with regard to the live broadcast. You can't fly into Damascus Airport, even if the Syrians wanted you to. No commercial airline would dare do it, for insurance coverage. You know in now mostly through Lebanon. And that's far from a trouble-free route on the ground.

BANFIELD: So, David, can I just ask you, the caution needs to be asked, what are the odds that Bashar al Assad of this dynasty, evil dynasty, would capitulate to this 100 percent and really give up the goods?

KAY: I'm not sure from his perspective this is a capitulation. Remember, in the Middle East in general, yes is not yes forever. I think what it does do for him is void the eminence of a serious U.S. strike that might well destabilize his regime. He buys time. He doesn't give up continued Russian arms support or Iranian support. So in many ways if you look at this as, what do I have to do to avoid a strike, you can promise a lot. The real test is whether you actually carry it through. And that's going require a tremendous both inspection regime but also the willingness of the international community to maintain its focus on the importance of doing this.

BANFIELD: You know, I think it's a critical question and it just -- it underscores the notion that we around there yet. We're not close to being there yet.

David Kay, always good to speak with you. Thank you for your insight.

KAY: Thank you.

BANFIELD: So can Syria fight back? How well could Syria fight back? If all of this collapses and the United States actually launches an air strike. The president very candid about that question to our Wolf Blitzer. But should he be speaking so boldly on the eve of 9/11?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BANFIELD: Syrian President Bashar al Assad threatened the United States during an interview with CBS yesterday. Assad yesterday the U.S. should, quote, "expect everything" if President Obama orders a military strike against his country. And Wolf Blitzer asked about that in his interview with the president last night.


OBAMA: Mr. Assad doesn't have a lot of capability. He has capability relative to children. He has capability relative to an opposition that is still getting itself organized and are not professionally trained fighters. He doesn't have a credible means to threaten the United States. His allies, Iran and Hezbollah, could potentially engage in asymmetrical strikes against us. But, frankly, the kind of threats that they could pose against us are typical of the kinds of threats that we're dealing with around the world and that I've spoken of recently, which is embassies that are being threatened, you know, U.S. personnel in the region. Those are threats that we deal with on an ongoing basis. They are always of concern. Obviously, we saw the situation in Yemen just a few weeks ago, where we wanted to respond by getting some of our folks out thereof. But the notion that Mr. Assad could significantly threaten the United States is just not the case.


BANFIELD: CNN's military analyst, retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, joins me live again.

Colonel, when I listened to that, I had to give my head a shake because I could have sworn it was only yesterday when we were hearing that the Syrian regime is a threat to our national security. So when I hear the president say these words, "he doesn't have a means to threaten the United States," but he continued, "The notion that Mr. Assad could significantly threaten the United States is just not the case," I'm a bit confused.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think the president's got it right that there is a threat but the threat -- you know, it's not a great threat but there is a threat. The biggest threat will be, as the president says, from groups like Hezbollah or the Iranians doing something. The Iranians have a very large international opportunity to do terrorism. They have a force called the Quds Force. They're very well trained and capable. We could see attack against U.S. interests not in the Middle East. They could be anywhere. It could be in Latin America, in Europe. This is something that we have to plan for and take precautions against. And if we do something in Syria, of course, there will be some repercussions. The Syrians --


BANFIELD: But you can understand, Colonel, you can understand that the United States -- people in the U.S. have spoken through these polls about how little they want to be involved. And isn't it exactly this question: Just how much of a threat is Bashar al Assad to us? Yes, he's done unspeakable things to his people. But how much of a threat is he to the United States? And when you hear the president saying, not much, it doesn't make his case, does it?

FRANCONA: It doesn't make his case. And people don't want to even have any blow-back from a strike on Syria. And a lot of people -- that's not the reason they don't want to get involved. They just don't want to see the U.S. involved in another war in the Middle East. Because once we start this, you don't know where it's going to end. We may start small. It may be targeted. And I don't buy it's going to be a limited strike. Because once you start this, it's almost impossible to stop this.

BANFIELD: Yeah, you know what, it's a mixed message. It's tricky. It's understandable why so many people need more information. Feel like they just don't have enough.

Colonel, thank you. Always good to have your perspective.

Colonel Francona joining us live.

The CNN special live coverage of the president's address to the nation starts at 7:00 eastern tonight with "Erin Burnett OutFront." Continues with "A.C. 360" at 8:00 p.m., and Wolf Blitzer has our special coverage of the speech starting live at 9:00 p.m.


BANFIELD: It's hard to avoid this time of year. Tomorrow is 9/11. It is impossible to forget what happened that day, a dozen years ago, especially if you live here in New York. And the president talked with Wolf Blitzer about that very topic actually, saying that Americans still, more than a decade later, have to be vigilant. But also understand that we can just never be 100 percent safe.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 9/11, the anniversary this Wednesday, should Americans expect some sort of attack?

OBAMA: I think that we are always on heightened alert on 9/11. And we will continue to be. You know, what we've seen over the last decade is because of the heroism of our troops, because of the enormous sacrifices of them and their families, America is safer than it was right before 9/11.

But we still have threats out there, particularly outside of the homeland. And we also have lone-wolf threats as we saw during the Boston Marathon bombings. So we have to remain vigilant. We're not going to be able to protect ourselves 100 percent of the time against every threat, but what we can do is make sure that we understand these threats are real. We have to be prepared but not overreact in ways that potentially compromise our values and our ideals over the long- term.


BANFIELD: Syria's President Bashar al Assad knows we are coming up on that anniversary, as well. In an interview with Charlie Rose, he made a veiled threat that any military action on America's part against Syria could result in something similar.


ASSAD: This war is against the interests of the United States. Why? Just the war is going to support al Qaeda and the same people that killed Americans on the 11th of September.


BANFIELD: So there's that.

And a reminder on the eve of 9/11, the president is going to address the nation tonight and CNN's special coverage of the president's comments to the nation begin at 7:00 p.m. eastern with "Aaron Burnett OutFront" and then "A.C. 360" at 8:00 p.m. continues our coverage. Wolf Blitzer helms the entire live event tonight beginning at 9:00 p.m. right here on CNN.

And again, it is September, but there is something unusual on the ground in Colorado. There you go. It is snow. The kids love it. Or is it really snow? And we're going to get a little mystery on the air for you, coming up next.


BANFIELD: We've got an update on a story we brought you last week about Matthew Cordle, who had the video confession that his drunken driving killed a man. He went online with it, and it went viral. It got more than a million hits on YouTube. So Cordle is going to be arraigned this afternoon on a charge, including homicide.

CNN's Pamela Brown is outside the courthouse in Columbus, Ohio.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Actually, just days after releasing that YouTube confession video that has garnered more than a million views, Matthew Cordle turned himself into authorities on Monday, accompanied by his attorneys and followed by a swarm of cameras. He has now been officially charged with aggravated vehicular homicide and driving under the influence.


MATTHEW CORDLE, MADE VIDEO CONFESSION: This video will act as my confession.

BROWN (voice-over): After surrendering to the public last week and this online confessional --

CORDLE: My name is Matthew Cordle. And on June 22nd, 2013, I hit and killed Vincent Canzani.

BROWN: -- Matthew Cordle officially turned himself into authorities Monday morning, this time staying silent.

GEORGE BREITMAYER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR MATTHEW CORDLE: We have advised him not to make any comments. BROWN: Authorities placed handcuffs on him and led him to a back room in a Columbus, Ohio, police station amid a crush of cameras.

Prosecutor Ron O'Brien says Cordle was already a suspect in the case that killed 61-year-old Vincent Canzani back in June. He says officials were waiting for more toxicology results before charging him.

RON O'BRIEN, PROSECUTOR: With or without the video, this defendant would have been charged by the indictment.

CORDLE: I ended up going the wrong way down the highway, directly into oncoming traffic.

BROWN: His attorney says he tried to convince his client not to post the video.

BREITMAYER: I think, to some degree, it brought him a little bit of peace. He's been feeling a tremendous amount of guilt.

BROWN: A video that was a shock to Canzani's family.

CHERYL OATES, VICTIM'S EX-WIFE: It's gut-wrenching coming from a mother looking at that young boy. He just doesn't understand the damage that he did.

BROWN: But Cordle says he wanted to send a powerful message.

CORDLE: I'm begging you, please don't drink and drive.

BROWN: Some speculate whether the highly produced video was intended to sway the judge.

DR. BRUCE WEINSTEIN, HUFFINGTON POST CONTRIBUTOR: Whether he's sincere in his confession, whether the video is seen by millions of people, these are beside the point. The thing to remember is that he got drunk and killed a man.

It would be a shame if this story became about the video rather than about the crime that he committed.


BROWN: Cordle will be arraigned at 1:30 p.m. eastern time. His attorney tells us that he has advised his client to plead not guilty today as part of standard operating procedure. He says during his next court appearance, Cordle will plead guilty but wants to make it clear he's not backing away from his admission. His attorney also tells us that he's had no prior felony convictions. We'll see how his video influences his case, as well -- Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: Pamela Brown, thank you.

September 10th in Colorado looks like this. Very strange. A powerful storm blew through, buried everybody under hail. It looks like snow but it's hail, blanketing the area. Apparently, so deafening, people could not believe what was happening. They said visibility actually fell to zero. September 10th, T-shirt, hail.

Thank you for watching, everyone. It's so good to have you with us. AROUND THE WORLD starts right after this short break.