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Interview With Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Crisis in Syria; Remembering 9/11; Corker Slams Obama on Syria; Interview with Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico

Aired September 11, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Today we remember the horror that led to more than a decade of war as the U.S. thinks twice about launching another strike in the Middle East.

I am Jake Tapper, and this is "THE LEAD."

The world lead, Secretary of State John Kerry boards a plane soon for Geneva to negotiate over Russia's plan to ultimately disarm the Syrian regime of chemical weapons. Can it work? We will ask someone who used to have Kerry's job, Madeleine Albright, in a CNN exclusive.

The national league, the president couldn't get some members of his own party on board with striking Syria. Now that he has spoken, are they happy now? We will ask one of them. Senator Tom Udall joins us.

And the politics lead. Anthony Weiner keeps it classy, giving the finger to the press after New York voters gave him the same, metaphorically speaking, of course.

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We will begin with the world lead. And 12 years ago today the nation stared at televisions and the New York City skyline in disbelief of the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack ever to hit American soil and we have been at war ever since. And 12 days ago, President Obama stated without any ambiguity he had decided the U.S. should join yet another Middle Eastern conflict. But that's not happening, at least not yet.

After he stated and restated all the reasons why the U.S. would be justified in attacking the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, President Obama announced he is putting those plans on hold and giving diplomacy one last chance.

This afternoon, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are meeting, the U.S., Russia, Great Britain, France, and China. President Obama is now vowing to work with those other nations to create a resolution that would require the Syrian regime it give up its chemical weapons and let them be destroyed, but the president's spokesman today would not get specific on the timing of it all.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't have the timeline to give to you. What I can say is that it will obviously 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.


TAPPER: The Russians proposed the plan after Secretary of State John Kerry suggested it hypothetically on Monday and then appeared to dismiss it. It appeared to many to be a moment of accidental diplomacy. But to hear the administration tell it now, it was a possibility they have been discussing for some time.

In a nod less to former Ambassador to Russia James Collins and perhaps to Phil Collins, they say it was in the air. Tonight , Secretary Kerry leaves for Geneva, where he will meet with his Russian counterpart through Friday to discuss the viability and specifics of Russia's Syria plan.

For insight into this high-stakes diplomatic mission, I am joined by former Secretary of State to the Clinton administration Madeleine Albright.

Madam Secretary, thanks for being here.

You know Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov from your time in your days in the U.N. Is there a realistic chance that something specific, something real in the words of the president can actually be done here after two-and-a-half years of Russia blocking even a press release about chemical weapons in Syria in the U.N. Security Council?


I do think there is a realistic chance. But I think it's going to take awhile. This is a very complicated process. From my understanding, Secretary Kerry has been talking to Foreign Minister Lavrov for some time. They obviously did that Geneva accord about having a conference, but getting a resolution is not a simple issue because there will be aspects of whether there has to be a cease-fire or what kind of a mandate the inspectors will have.

Just getting a resolution is tough. So it will take time, but I do think it is realistic. And the reason I think so is that the Russians have a reason that they want to do this.

TAPPER: What is the reason?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think there are several.

Some have to do with the fact that they're nervous themselves about terrorists and chemical weapons and what that might do in certain areas of Russia.

TAPPER: Like Chechnya, for instance.

ALBRIGHT: Chechnya.

And also that Putin has been looking for a way to kind of re-equalize himself in terms of being a major power, and frankly they do not want us to strike. They have a reason for doing this. And the question is whether the language of it can be worked out and then all the modalities of how you actually get an inspection team and how they get there and what their mandate is.

So, I think the hardest part about this, Jake, is that there is no instant solution to this.

TAPPER: Right. No, of course.

But one of the things that Vladimir Putin said yesterday was that there needs to be an immediate -- that the U.S. needs to take back the threat of force. President Obama thinks, and I think you would probably agree, that it is the threat of force that got us into this possibility,, into this area where possibly a diplomatic solution is possible. Secretary Kerry can't take that off the table. Right?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think -- I truly believe that it was the threat of force that brought this diplomatic possibility. Been there, done that. I have to tell you, this is the way that diplomacy works. You use the threat of the use of force to get some action in diplomacy and then diplomacy just to figure out what you do about the threat of the use of force.

And I think it is a real issue that -- Putin has put up something that makes it very difficult in terms of getting there, if he insists that the United States remove the force, because that is I believe -- and the president said it also and many of us have -- that it was the threat of the use of force that brought about this possibility.

TAPPER: Right. That is a nonstarter. Right? Secretary Kerry can't -- he can't give that up.

ALBRIGHT: He can't. It depends on how the language -- when would you give it up?

One of the things I know from trying to get Security Council resolutions is that they take awhile and you make a certain number of language changes and how it works. But my personal feeling here is that it is that threat of the use of force. The president made very clear that our ships would stay in the area and that the use of force would stay on the table.

TAPPER: Tell us about the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. Is he a practical man? Is somebody with whom the U.S. can do business?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I know him very well, because we were together at United Nations.

He's many different things. He is very smart. He also does know U.N. procedure very well. He can be very nice and practical. And he can be the opposite. I do think that Secretary Kerry, who has a great deal of experience with a variety of different characters, will work this from the very best aspect of being the American in this.

But I do think that what we all have to understand is that this is going to be a complicated process. The whole issue in Syria has been unbelievably difficult and hard really for us to figure out exactly where our leverage and purchase can be.

TAPPER: But, just to be clear, the best-case scenario here is the chemical weapons are taken and destroyed. That could take several years, but Assad stays in power and the bloodshed probably continues. He killed 100,000 people before he crossed the red line of chemical weapons.

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think what everybody has said is that ultimately this has to be a negotiated solution, and that Assad in some way -- first, he has to agree to this.

What I find really interesting about this, the Syrian government has now agreed to let the U.N. take control of chemical weapons that they said they didn't have, and President Putin has all of a sudden suggested that this happened over something that he said never happened.


TAPPER: Reality has -- the sun of reality has risen.

ALBRIGHT: Has risen.

And I think also there has been the sense all along that ultimately this has to move to some kind of a transitional government, some part of...

TAPPER: But Assad doesn't think that.

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that one would look at the various interviews he's done. I think he lies. And he has made up his mind, but who knows?

Part of the story here is going to be, is, does Putin make a phone call to Assad and said this is -- tell him this is what you have to do?

TAPPER: But don't they think -- don't the Russians think that Assad is the best you can get in Syria, that whatever comes to replace Assad could be a lot worse and you could look at the example of Egypt, of at least Mubarak kept things under control?

ALBRIGHT: I am not sure it is Assad himself.

I think the question is whether they are wedded to Assad the person or to the kind of a regime in terms of some of the other people that they believe maintain stability in the area. That has to be one of the questions. Is it some specific attachment to Assad? I think what has to happen is that the Russians have to stop delivering whatever -- I mean, Putin himself said they are continuing to deliver arms. And the question is how to get the U.N. part of this done and develop the modalities for getting the inspectors there, and at the same time try to figure out whether there is some way to go to a negotiated solution with a transitional government.

Is any of this easy? No.

TAPPER: Of course not.

ALBRIGHT: And I do think, and I must say that -- and I believe this from my own experience -- that the president's decision to use force has been the motivating factor to get into this diplomatic venue.

I have talked to many members of Congress and some of them would say isn't there some way to get this diplomatic route? And I said, yes, but understanding that in fact having that threat of use of force is really essential in terms of having it as the leverage in terms of your negotiations.

TAPPER: Last question, Madam Secretary. You're a diplomat. I am not going to ask you...


TAPPER: You -- was.

But you're a diplomat. The quality of being diplomatic has remained within you.

ALBRIGHT: Yes. That's right.

TAPPER: I am not going to ask you to criticize the Obama administration and their handling of this crisis. There has been plenty of criticism from the left and the right.

What is your advice for Secretary Kerry in terms of a coherent and consistent message when he meets with Lavrov and what is your advice for President Obama when it comes to a coherent and consistent message?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I believe that the message that the president delivered last night was coherent and consistent in terms of explaining that, as the United States, we can't just stand around watching as thousands, including children, have been gassed with an illegal form with the poison gas and that that international norm is very important, that we have a responsibility towards our allies, and that we are concerned generally about the security in the region, that that is important to us.

I think Secretary Kerry obviously says the same thing in terms of the importance of this issue for America, for our credibility, for our security, in the long run, because we don't want our troops exposed to chemical weapons. So, I think what the president did last night, I think in terms of taking on the questions that have been asked and responding to them, and there just needs to be an awful lot more explanation to the American people, primarily, I have to tell you, because there is a lot of overhang from the war in Iraq.

And I know that there always is a historical context to what happens and people remember what happened in Iraq and they don't want to be in another war. So, explaining why this is important, and I think both the secretary and the president are doing that.

TAPPER: All right, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

Turning to our national lead, as America keeps the threat of military action against Syria on the table, the experience from more than a decade of war is casting a long shadow over the debate, as Madam Secretary just said.

Today, of course, is the 12th anniversary of the atrocity that led to the Afghanistan war, the 9/11 attacks. A bell ringing at Ground Zero in New York City this morning at the exact moment that the first hijacked plane slammed into the World Trade Center 12 years ago in what has become a solemn tradition on this day. Relatives read off the names of those who were killed in the attacks.

President Obama marked the anniversary with a moment of silence at the White House and then it was off to the Pentagon where he offered these words to victims' families.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even more than memorials of stone and water, your lives are the greatest tribute to those that we lost, for their legacy shines on in you.


TAPPER: A massive American flag draped over the Pentagon at the spot where American Airlines Flight 77 hit on that day in 2001. In Shanksville, Pennsylvania, a ceremonial wreath was laid for the victims of United Flight 93.

Shanksville of course is where Flight 93 crashed after it was hijacked 12 years ago. Workers there have just broken ground on a brand-new memorial center near the site. An amazing sight marking this anniversary in the nation's capital, bikers converging in the streets for what is being billed as the Two Million Bikers Ride.

They did not get a permit to block off traffic. They have no use for your rules, man. So, they have just been riding around all day all throughout town, a wonderful sight.

Today is a day of remembrance, but tomorrow on THE LEAD, we will commemorate the anniversary of September 12, 2001, the day that everything started to change in terms of the measures being taken purportedly to protect us.

Coming up next on THE LEAD, frank talk from a frustrated senator, why one lawmaker is slamming the president, saying he is uncomfortable being commander in chief.

Plus, forget the chicken or the egg question. Would you eat a chickenless egg? Some major investors are hoping you will. But what's in it?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In other national news, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a short time ago that they're moving past the vote on Syria, at least for now. The reason from one of the least productive Congresses in history is to get some work done, of course. They have taken up an energy bill instead, but that does mean they have tabled complaining about how the president has handled the crisis in Syria.

Let's bring in our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash, who just spoke with one very frustrated senator -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This is Republican Senator Bob Corker, who I went to talk to him because he has been a Republican who has actually worked with the White House on issues, on the domestic front and most recently on Syria. And I wanted to know how he thought this -- the way the president handled it would affect his ability to get things done at Capitol Hill, and what I found is somebody exasperated and frustrated, who revealed to me that he e-mailed the White House chief of staff saying that he was disappointed and even said to the White House -- you make it very hard to help you.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TN), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I really do think they heard our credibility around the world just in the muddled way that they have dealt with this Syrian issue. It is just a complete muddlement, if you will. And I don't know, the president just seems to be very uncomfortable being commander-in-chief of this nation.

BASH: He is uncomfortable as commander-in-chief?


BASH: You're speaking not just as somebody that watched him on television or give speeches in person, but had dinner with him recently, had lunch with him yesterday. What makes you say that?

CORKER: I just -- it's just the results. I mean, I -- we have these conversations. He -- it appears that it has an impact. I would think that most Republicans who are at the luncheon yesterday would have believed last night he was going to make the greater case, the strategic case for us in Syria. I heard no word -- not one word of it.

So, it's not that I see something interpersonally. He is a very confident person and, candidly, he's very good. I'm talking about interpersonally. That's one of the things I shared with him is they should do more of that because he is very good in an interpersonal setting.

He just cannot follow through. He cannot speak to the nation as a commander-in-chief. He cannot speak to the world as a commander-in- chief. He just cannot do it. And I don't know what it is.

BASH: Has he hurt his credibility with you specifically as one of the few Republicans frankly who is really eager to work with him on domestic fiscal issues?

CORKER: Oh, there's no question. I probably shouldn't be saying everything I am saying right now. But I guess it was a result of last night, my temperature level is up slightly today.

He is diminished figure here on Capitol Hill. I can assure you of that.


BASH: Again, you can see sort of the struggle that Bob Corker was going through to get his words out primarily because he was so exasperated and so frustrated. He said, though, having said that, if the phone rings and it's the president, he will stop anything and pick up the phone from him or anybody at the White House. He's going to still try to work on Syria, on fiscal issues and others, but he is -- in his words -- very discouraged.

TAPPER: Our Dana Bash on Capitol Hill, thank you so much.

Let's bring in Democratic Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico. He is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And while Bob Corker who you just heard voicing his frustration voted with the president in support of an authorization, you, sir, voted against it.

Have you heard Democrats speak similarly to what we just heard from the Republican senator from Tennessee?

SEN. TOM UDALL (D), NEW MEXICO: No, I haven't. I have been visiting very widely today and last couple of days, and I think for the most part I think everybody was very supportive of what the president did last night. And I know, as far as I feel, this diplomatic path that we're on right now is a good one. I think we're stronger when we work with the rest of the world and try to work through the U.N.

So, I'm --

TAPPER: But you remain opposed to the use of force, to the authorization?

UDALL: Yes. Well, there are a couple of things on the authorization. I tried to narrow it. It ended up getting a little bit broader. There's language in there that seems to suggest kind of regime change -- when I thought all the president was asking for was to do a missile strike that had specifically to do with chemical weapons.

And so, those were some of the issues we were dealing with. And then I really thought, Jake, we hadn't exhausted our diplomatic, our political and our economic options here.

TAPPER: And having heard the president speak last night, do you have any better idea if what the president wants to achieve or do you feel you are getting a mixed messages the way that a lot of Americans and a lot of lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, have said they're not really sure, is it going to be a strike that is not a pinprick to Syria, or is it going to be an unbelievably small strike as Secretary of State John Kerry said? Are you --


TAPPER: -- are you more clear on what the president wants to do?

UDALL: I'm not because they didn't allow us to look at the military plans. I mean, that would be getting way out in front of themselves. So I don't think that any of us really know what the strike is all about.

But I think the important thing in terms of achievement is the president clearly wants to focus on the idea that no longer can chemical weapons be used in Syria, and if he gets an agreement that's a good agreement through the U.N., so that they're going to give up their chemical weapons, you've achieved one major thing there. And as your previous guest talked about, obviously at some point because you have a civil war there, you are going to have to try to put in place much more substantial, stable, moderate government. And that may be a lot further off than what we can achieve at the U.N. in terms of the chemical weapons.

TAPPER: Last question, sir. I know we're all very hopeful for a peaceful resolution to this. But do you think the United States can trust Putin and can trust Assad to really pursue this exit strategy?

UDALL: Well, I think we have to pursue it. The question is --

TAPPER: But what does your heart tell you --

UDALL: My heart tells me, trust but verify.

TAPPER: I've heard that before.

UDALL: You've heard that before, many times. And so, I think we need to work with him. We need to pin it down. We're going to work on language --

TAPPER: How much time -- how much time should we give for this to work?

UDALL: I think we should let it run its course. And I think the president's people, I think the secretary of state, Samantha Power, all going to be involved in terms of whatever the deadline should be. But the key is to not let it drag out and to us be led down the road and get nothing out of this.

But let's work through it and it is a very -- I think it's a very promising thing that's happened.

TAPPER: Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, thanks so much for being here. We really appreciate it. Hope to have you on again soon.

UDALL: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up next, was Apple's big announcement a big flop? The stock is tanking. Is the newest iPhone the reason?

And he managed to keep his cool even as the New York media ripped him to shreds. But last night, Anthony Weiner proved that even he has a limit. Our politics lead is coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back.

In the money lead -- the Apple hasn't made a global thud like this since Isaac Newton got beamed. Apple stock down another 5 percent today, more than $30 million in market value gone just this week. Analysts are blaming this, the new iPhone 5c. It's supposed to be the cool, fun, cheaper model but it's $549 dollars without a contract, only 100 bucks less than the iPhone 5s. Not cheap enough apparently to please the stock market.

Apple is hoping the 5c will be a huge hit in China. But experts say people there will balk at the price.

The deadly attack on the tack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi was exactly one year ago today, September 11th. Coming up next, one grieving mother reveals what she's discovered about the tragic night she lost her son.

And later in the show, the NRA takes aim at local lawmakers pushing tighter gun control. What does this mean for the nationwide debate? We'll hash it out for both sides when we come back.