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Russia Submits Plan to U.S.; Evolution of President's Position; Obama Faces Putin and Congress; Syrian-American Confronts John McCain; Syria Mission Impossible; White House Daily Briefing

Aired September 11, 2013 - 12:30   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Right now, we're waiting for the White House briefing to begin. We do expect to hear more about the Obama administration's plans for Syria.

We will take you there live. You see there the live picture. Nobody's there yet.

Still a lot of unanswered questions about potential diplomatic resolution to this crisis involving Syria's chemical weapons and even if the suggestions made thus far are doable.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CO-ANCHOR: And sometimes that briefing time will slip as it often does, so we'll be waiting for it, though. We'll bring it to you live as soon as it happens.

Russia's official news agency is now reporting Moscow has submitted a plan to the United States for putting Syria's chemical weapons under international control. And the president just said last night he is willing to explore this plan.

HOLMES: Yeah, let's bring in our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Gloria, these developments moving pretty fast really, if we just look back to yesterday.

I want to look back at the president's statements on Syria and how they have evolved and then we'll discuss.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have been very clear to the Assad regime but also to other players on the ground that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.

I will seek authorization for use of force from the American people's representatives in Congress.

For the last several days, we've heard from members of Congress who want their voices to be heard. I absolutely agree. This initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad's strongest allies.

I have, therefore, asked the leaders of Congress to post phone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path.


HOLMES: It's quite an evolution, Gloria. I'm wondering what you make -- is there a sense that the president really lost the initiative here, that the momentum is now gone in a way?

BORGER: Yeah. Well, look, I think it's political reality here.

Once Great Britain decided that they were not going to join us in this and David Cameron was humiliated in parliament, I think the president did not want to have that occur to him.

He decided to go to Congress. It became very clear, however, that even though he was offering Congress shared responsibility, they didn't want it. And public opinion is overwhelmingly against it.

And then John Kerry threw this suggestion out in an offhanded way and, suddenly, the Russians picked up on it, and now we're at the U.N.

I think this buys everybody a little bit of time. I think members of Congress wanted time. I think the president wants time.

But what was interesting to me about his speech last night, guys, is that he didn't specify how much time he wants, what's the deadline for the United Nations, what's the deadline for Syria, what are our specific demands from Syria.

So this also has to play out, but I think it can't play out for an eternity.


BORGER: I think the commander-in-chief needs to set some parameters here.

MALVEAUX: And, Gloria, in the meantime, you bring up a really good point here because there has to be some sort of timetable or guidelines here, so the Congress -- you know, this is put on hold, but they still have to grapple with other things, other business, if you will.

You're talking about balancing the budget. You're talking about the dealing with the debt ceiling, implementing ObamaCare.

How does that all fit into what we're dealing with here? Do they put that stuff on hold while they deal with Syria?


MALVEAUX: Or how's that working?

BORGER: No. So here you are, President Obama. Who would you rather deal with Vladimir Putin or House Republicans? It's kind of a tough choice for him, but he's going to deal with both at the same time, right?

He's going to have to pursue Syria, but on the other hand, Republicans say they're going to be very, very aggressive on this question of whether you -- how you raise the debt ceiling.

There are some Republicans in the House now in the leadership talking about tying that to the implementation of ObamaCare.

So Republicans are not getting any less aggressive on the domestic agenda because the president has this foreign policy issue. In fact, I would argue it may make them more aggressive.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you, Gloria. Appreciate it.


MALVEAUXL He's got a lot of work cut out for him, as well.

We're also following other news. A man charged with running down an Italian newlywed as she walked with her husband on the boardwalk, this was in Venice Beach, California, now back in court.

HOLMES: Yeah, horrible video. You remember it. You see it there.

Nathan Louis Campbell is accused of steering his car into the crowd, killing the woman, injuring 16 other people, by the way.

He is charged with murder. Witnesses say he deliberately drove his car into the crowd. He's pleaded not guilty.

MALVEAUX: And a former security screener at Los Angeles International Airport is now in custody, accused of making threats linked to today's 12th anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The man was taken into custody, this was just outside L.A., and according to the FBI, he made the threats hours after he resigned yesterday from his TSA job. He worked at TSA.

HOLMES: Investigators say he left behind a suspicious package at the airport. No explosives were found, but they do say a search of the man's apartment turned up a note containing an unspecified threat that did cite 9/11.

MALVEAUX: Now back to the "Crisis in Syria." Here is what one Syrian American told Senator John McCain. This is at a recent town hall meeting. Watch.


JUMANA HADEED, SYRIAN-AMERICAN OPPOSED TO BOMBING: We cannot afford -- we cannot afford to shed more Syrian blood. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: So is she happy with the president's move to focus more on diplomacy?

We're going to be talking with that lady right there when we come back.


MALVEAUX: She made an impassioned plea to Senator John McCain stay out of Syria's war.

Jumana Hadeed, a Syrian-American describes herself as a longtime McCain supporter, but she lashed out at him last week as he was making his case for military intervention, urging him just to reconsider.



HADEED: For me, to listen to you saying there's no good option, I refuse to believe that.

The good option right now is to take Saudi Arabia and Iran and force them to stop supporting the two sides in Syria, and you could do it.

You can do it by diplomacy, and negotiation, not bombs, Senator McCain. We cannot afford -- we cannot afford to shed more Syrian blood.


HOLMES: And Jumana Hadeed joins us now.

Jumana, I know that you actually went to that town hall meeting not planning on speaking out. What was it that made you get to the microphone?

HADEED: Well, actually, I've been trying to contact Senator McCain's office for a while, and unfortunately, I always get a quick reply via e-mails and no response whatsoever.

When I heard he's going to be in town doing a town hall meeting that day, I just rushed out the door and I made sure that I wanted to hear what he has to say. I want to make sure he hear what the majority of the Syrian people and the American people want.

But he came to this town hall meeting with an agenda. He was trying -- his mind was already made up, and I hesitated to speak but finally I just could not take any more of this stubbornness that he was speaking to the rest of us.

MALVEAUX: So, Jumana, what do you think now? We see applause here, possibly a diplomatic solution. What do you think of what's been put on the table, for the United Nations to get involved and somehow take control over Assad's chemical weapons?

HADEED: This is great.

MALVEAUX: Do you think this is a realistic proposal?

HADEED: Absolutely, absolutely. I think President Bashar al-Assad, I think he's agreeing to this. And I think this is the only solution. This is the only good solution.

It's very promising. It's a new day in American history that we have diplomacy right now.

I see this as a really a huge accomplishment, and I really -- I want to thank President Obama for doing this because to me, see, I had a dream that he will use diplomacy over bombs. I had a dream that he would listen.

HOLMES: Of course, it's the Russians, Jumana, that have come forward with it and put forward the idea and it really has led to all of this.

I'm curious from your perspective. You're a Syrian Christian. When you see what is going on by both sides it has to be said in Syria and you see what is happening to the Christian community there, what goes through your mind?

HADEED: It's very appalling to see this, to see the massacre of so many innocent people on all sides, not just the Christian, although they've been targeted by the militant extremist Islamists who are coming from Saudi Arabia to cause havoc in Syria.

It's very appalling to sit and watch this, and also not to mention the innocent people who are victimized by this called -- positions who basically they don't have the welfare of their Syrian people at heart. They just have their own personal agenda.

And I think the majority of the Syrian people are fed up. Enough is enough. A hundred thousand people who sacrificed their -- lost their life is enough. I think right now, we need to sit and talk and negotiate.

MALVEAUX: Jumana, I'm curious if you think Assad should go. If he turns over chemical weapons, do you think part of the talking should be him stepping down, negotiating some other leadership?

HADEED: No, listen, I think in -- what we are forgetting here that in 2014, there's an election going to take place in Syria.

So I think what we need to do right now immediate ceasefire to stop both sides from fighting. If the United Nations needs to intervene, I think that will be a great step.

Also, we need to also stop countries like Saudi Arabia to fund those terrorists who are coming to Syria to cause havoc. I think as soon as we have a good ceasefire in Syria, that people could pay attention to the 2014 election, and have candidates.

And I think we need representation from all sectors of the Syrian people.

HOLMES: Jumana, thanks so much. Out of time. Jumana Hadeed with a very different viewpoint.

Of course, when Jumana was speaking with John McCain, that was before this other option was on the table, so she was sort of ahead of herself in a way.

MALVEAUX: Yeah. Very passionate.

In Syria, plans to find and destroy chemical weapons, it's picking up some momentum, but many experts are wondering if this is even possible.

Coming up, we're going to take a look at what would actually need to happen to take control of the chemical weapons inside of Syria.


HOLMES: Of course we know that President Obama says he's going to back off planning military strikes against Syria for now, letting diplomacy and perhaps weapons inspectors get to work instead.

MALVEAUX: The president says he's encouraged that Syria agreed to give up all chemical weapons, but experts that we've talked to say an agreement is one thing but actually finding and destroying weapons, something completely different and maybe cannot be done. Jim Clancy has more from Jerusalem.


JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): While officials in Damascus, Tehran and Moscow gushed about a deal that could avert a U.S. military strike on Syria, a virtual avalanche of questions left it smothered in doubt. One Israeli expert said it amounted to a mission impossible.

ELY KARMON, INTL. INSTITUTE FOR COUNTER-TERRORISM: For the moment, it seems mission impossible, in the conditions in which the Syrian conflict finds itself just now. First of all a cease-fire between the two forces. Then the two forces have to retreat a bit in order to permit the inspectors to enter and to verify where weapons and the facilities are.

CLANCY: Even if Syria accepted a cease-fire, there are serious doubts the rebels would go along.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The solution may be a good idea. But - and this is a very big but - the technicalities. As much as this offer is tempting on the surface of it, still we need -- the Russians are not being regarded as honest brokers. CLANCY: Israeli researchers have compiled a detailed list of Syria's chemical storage sites, five major facilities. But experts say there are dozens more sites and Syria's suspected 1,000 tons of chemical agents have been dispersed. Someone, most likely the U.N., would have to oversee any operation. But there's an even harsher reality, the timeline.

KARMON: It's a very long-term solution at least in my opinion taking into account the huge arsenal in Syria and the very complex situation on the field, at least three, four years.

CLANCY: Remember Iraq. U.N. inspectors spent years searching out Saddam Hussein's chemical stockpiles. Eventually gathering rockets, artillery and raw chemicals at a sprawling desert site called Mutana (ph). Iraq may have had more chemical arms, but the inspectors weren't working in the crossfire of conflict.

CLANCY (on camera): As one of our expert noted, in a world weary of wars, any deal that avoids another conflict may be welcomed, but there are still important questions to be asked. Does it help the people on the ground inside Syria or simply salve the conscience of the world outside?

Jim Clancy, CNN, Jerusalem.


HOLMES: Yes, and a gripe (ph) here for Israel too is that some of those chemical weapons, if they're not fully accounted for in Syria, could end up in the hands of Hezbollah, which could create its own set of problems for Israel. So they're very, very involved in keeping an eye on those, as well.

MALVEAUX: Yes. And the Obama administration is going to have to account and answer some questions. We're waiting for today's White House briefing. It's expected any moment now.

HOLMES: They're late again.

MALVEAUX: Well, they -- usually it slips a little. That is typical. But, of course, we expect - oh, look, there they are, Jay Carney to the podium.

HOLMES: Oh, Jay Carney.

MALVEAUX: Let's -- let's listen in.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here at the White House for your daily briefing.

Before I take your questions, I just wanted to note, as many of you know, earlier today, in honor of the 12th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, the president, first lady, vice president and Dr. Biden led White House staff in observing a moment of silence on the South Lawn. Throughout the day, the president, first lady, vice president, Dr. Biden and members of the cabinet will be participating in a number of memorial events here in D.C., also in Virginia and New York, Pennsylvania, and other states. As you know, this morning, the president joined Secretary Hagel and General Dempsey at an event at the Pentagon where he delivered remarks and participated in a wreath- laying ceremony to honor the victims of the attack there. In the afternoon, he will participate in a service project to commemorate the September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance.

The first lady will visit with military children and families at the new USO Warrior and Family Center at Ft. Belvoir. The largest center in USO history. The USO Warrior and Family Center supports wounded, ill and injured troops, their families and caregivers, as well as local active duty troops. During Mrs. Obama's visit, she will participate in an activity making patriotic crafts with military children.

This evening, the vice president and Dr. Biden will host a barbecue for wounded warriors and their families at the Naval Observatory. And as I mentioned, members of the cabinet are participating in events across the country, including at memorial events in New York City and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Julie Case (ph).


I have a question about the decision the president announced last night to delay votes in Congress while pursuing this diplomatic track on Syria. So much of the conversation about the diplomatic track has been from the administration saying that it's only feasible because of the pressure and the threat of a military strike. But if you pull back on the votes, then don't you ease up on the possibility of a military strike? Don't you make that less imminent?

CARNEY: What the president said is that he believes it was the right thing to do for Congress to postpone a vote. Congress is obviously continuing to work on this issue and a number of members have begun looking at resolutions that might take into account the diplomatic avenues that are being pursued. And that is certainly worthy of pursuit. And we're in consultations with Congress about that.

There is no question that the credible threat of U.S. military force brought us this diplomatic opening. Until two days ago, Syria did not even acknowledge that it possessed chemical weapons. We have seen more cooperation and helpful activity on this matter from the Russians in the last two days than we've seen in the last two years. And I think that is clearly because of the president's forceful comments about the need to hold Bashar al Assad accountable for the use of chemical weapons against his own civilians.

So we are doing the responsible thing here, which is testing the potential here for success of resolving this matter of Syria's possession of chemical weapons and deterring Syria from using chemical weapons again through diplomatic means rather than military means.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you -- do you have a timeline for when you need to see some kind of tangible progress on the diplomatic front before going back to The Hill?

CARNEY: I don't have a timeline to give to you. What I can say is that it obviously will take some time. There are technical aspects involved in developing a plan for securing Syria's chemical weapons and verifying their location and putting them under international control. Secretary Kerry is leaving for Geneva, as you know, at the president's request, to meet with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov, where they will discuss this matter and each side, the American and the Russian side, will bring technical experts. They'll bring a team, a delegation, to evaluate the proposal and to assess paths forward. So I expect that this will take some time.

But we also are not interested in delaying tactics, and we believe it's very important to hold Assad accountable. What is, I think, very clarifying about this is, as the president made clear all along, the potential use of limited military strikes by the United States was in response to Assad's use of chemical weapons. It was not, as he said, an effort to involve the United States military, directly in the Syrian civil war. It was not designed to precipitate regime change. It was around the question of chemical weapons. And if Assad's chemical weapons stockpiles can be secured and removed from his possession, absent military force, that would be a very good thing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I know you aren't going to give us sort of a specific date for when you want something to be - to be done by or want some (INAUDIBLE) partners (ph), but, you know, in talking to experts about this process, this is something that could take months, even years to carry out. So don't you need to give some sort of firmer timetable for when you need to see progress, otherwise this could just drag out and become a delaying tactic?

CARNEY: Well, again, let's be clear, this initiative has been presented only in recent days. we are deploying the secretary of state to meet with his Russian counterpart in Geneva and these discussions will take place. Separate from that, there are discussions in New York at the United Nations around framing a United Nations Security Council resolution on this issue and on the removal from Assad's control of his chemical weapons stockpiles.

So let's be clear. I don't want to suggest, because it's certainly not the case, that we are interested in delay or avoidance of accountability here. And, you know, there are steps in this process, if it were to succeed, and that is, obviously, demonstration of sincerity and a verifiable way to secure the weapons and remove them from Assad's control, ultimately to destroy them. And the fulfillment of that process would certainly take some time, but the implementation of it, you know, would -- could begin, obviously, before its completion. And we're going to work with the Russians and it would be irresponsible not to explore this potential diplomatic resolution of this very serious matter.

Mark (ph). UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Jay.

Could you talk about what the president expects from the diplomatic process. Has the United States seen the French draft resolution? And would the use of force in the failure of diplomacy need to be part of any U.N. resolution, the possibility of use of force there?

CARNEY: I'm not going to draft a U.N. Security Council resolution from here. That's a process that will take place up at the U.N. And we are working within the P-3, with Great Britain and France, on that and, obviously, within the broader P-5.

Separately, in Geneva, Secretary Kerry will meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov to explore the path forward when it comes to how we would go about securing Assad's chemical weapons, identifying, verifying, securing and ultimately removing from his possession those weapons with the final goal of destroying them. So, you know, this is a - this is a process that will take a certain amount of time. But it needs to be credible. It needs to be verifiable. And we will work with our allies and partners to test whether or not that can be achieved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has the president spoken with Putin since last night or since the discussions in Russia? And what does the president hope for Kerry to achieve with Lavrov?

CARNEY: I don't have any presidential calls to read out with foreign leaders.


MALVEAUX: You've been listening to Jay Carney there at the White House briefing.

We're going to continue this coverage with our Wolf Blitzer, but obviously making the case from the Obama administration about steps next and working with Russia and the change in behavior from Syria and Russia, because of the threat of a possibility military strike.

HOLMES: Indeed.

You've been watching AROUND THE WORLD. Thanks so much for your company today. Wolf Blitzer in the CNN NEWSROOM next.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening right now, a ceremony is getting underway over at the Pentagon on then the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Earlier, a moment of silence marked the exact moment of impact.

Also right now, authorities are inspecting trucks at two bridge and tunnel locations in Virginia after a threatening phone call. State police are on high alert in the Hampton Roads area.

Also right now, the Obama administration facing new questions on Syria after the president's primetime speech last night. Reporters are looking for answers at today's White House briefing.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.