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Syria Meets First Deadline; President Obama Blasts House Republicans

Aired September 20, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But with unreliable players in a combustible region, it's way too soon to celebrate.

Our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, is standing by.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is here.

Let's begin our coverage with Jim.

What's the latest?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It appears Syria has met its first deadline. As part of this Geneva deal, it's submitting an initial counting of its chemical weapon stockpiles. I have spoken with administration officials today, and they say they have not reviewed this initial counting.

It's in the hands of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, but they do consider it a positive sign. One of many positive signs from America's two most difficult adversaries in the region, Syria and Iran.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Just two weeks ago, the Obama administration had only stern words for both Syria and Iran.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: If you want to send Iran and Hezbollah and Assad a congratulatory message, you guys can do what you want.

SCIUTTO: Now it's an entirely different conversation. The new president of Iran calling for prudent engagement in an op-ed in "The Washington Post" and a meeting with President Obama. The White House reiterating its openness to engage.

Meanwhile, Syria's submitting an initial accounting to the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, appearing to meet the first deadline of an agreement to surrender its stockpiles.

MARIE HARF, SPOKESWOMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: We have a document now that we didn't have yesterday at the OPBW and we will be looking at it and making an assessment. SCIUTTO: Without warning and some critic says without active planning, diplomacy is alive again in the Middle East. But reality checks will come very quickly. With Iran, the question is will it commit to strict limits on the production of nuclear fuel? And with Syria, will the Security Council produce a resolution backing the chemical weapons deal, including punishing Syria if it fails to comply?

KERRY: I had a fairly long conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov and we talked about the cooperation which we both agreed to continue to provide.

SCIUTTO: Throughout, failure could come much more quickly than success.

VALI NASR, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: The fruits of this may very well be realized under a successor administration.

SCIUTTO (on camera): So we're looking at months, even years you're saying?

NASR: Potentially. I mean, even the Syria case may go on for a number of years. And the Iranian nuclear program is even more complicated and difficult.


SCIUTTO: Even the positive gestures come with qualifiers. Iran's president may be tweeting, but the Iranian people are still blocked from Twitter, Facebook and all social media since the 2009 election protest. And, Wolf, that's one thing that's not looking like it's changing in Iran.

BLITZER: There was this report in Israeli newspaper the Iranians might be on the verge of having a nuclear bomb, what, within six months or so? What are you hearing?

SCIUTTO: This from a senior Israeli official and it's part of a broader campaign by the Israeli government, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, to try to discredit this Iranian outreach as just media spin.

But I spoke to an administration official who said that the administration official position is that they still have time and space with the Iranian nuclear program and that Iran is not at the breakout point.

BLITZER: We will see what the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, says at the U.N. next week. You remember what he said last year. Jim, thanks very much.

Despite some apparent cooperation by Syria, there's new concern about its chemical weapons. A U.S. official with access to the latest intelligence on Syria tells CNN the regime, I'm quoting now, "is actively moving its stockpiles in the last 24 hours."

Our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, is joining us from Beirut right now.

Arwa, if the Syrians are in fact moving their chemical weapons stockpiles around, what's the bottom line as far as trusting them to deliver the goods when all is said and done? What are you hearing over there?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there's a lot of skepticism when it comes to whether or not the Assad regime will actually be fully forthcoming in declaring all of its chemical weapons stockpiles.

The nature of the movement, the motivation behind it, we are not entirely clear on that. It could very well be that the Assad regime is trying to move around its stockpiles ahead of any potential investigative team arriving in country, or it very well could be that they are consolidating them for that very purpose, easier access if and when inspectors do arrive.

This is going to be a very short timeline, though, one that the organization that deals with accountability when it comes to a country's chemical weaponry has never dealt with before. Normally, countries have 60 days to declare their chemical weapon stockpiles. These Syrians had a week. The big challenge, of course, is going to be getting into the country and the logistics of actually trying to see if the Assad regime did declare all of its stockpiles, and, of course, the even bigger task of trying to eventually destroy them, Wolf.

BLITZER: What about, Arwa, the fighting that's going on apparently between various factions, different factions among the rebels themselves, not fighting against the Syrian army, but fighting amongst themselves? What are you hearing on that front?

DAMON: You know, there have been growing battles between the rebel fighters themselves, namely between the mainstream Free Syrian Army and the more extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. That is al Qaeda's branch in Syria itself.

They were clashing earlier in the week in the town of Azaz up against the Turkish border. They have clashed there in the past. There is a tentative cease-fire that was brokered after the intervention of another battalion from within the Free Syrian Army. But we are really seeing the radicalization of this revolution that so many activists had been warning about well over a year ago beginning to take hold.

And that is why a lot of the mainstream moderate opposition activists that we have been talking to will tell you that they actually have two enemies right now, the Assad regime and these extremist jihadist groups.

BLITZER: What a situation unfolding there. All right, Arwa, thanks very much. Arwa Damon reporting for us.

Up next, House Republicans here in Washington voting to kill Obamacare, but once again this time the stakes are much higher. Important new developments in the battle over a looming government shutdown maybe in 10 days.

Plus, shock and anger after 13 people are shot in a park including a 3-year-old little boy. We're going live to Chicago.


BLITZER: Economic uncertainty helped push stocks lower today just days after hitting some record highs. The Dow closed down more than 185 points today. The S&P and Nasdaq also losing ground.

Up next, we have an untold story, an untold story of a hero from the Navy Yard shooting.


BLITZER: For the 42nd time, the Republican-led House of Representatives has voted to try to kill all or at least part of Obamacare.

This time, the measure is attached to a bill funding the federal government. With the Senate and President Obama certain to reject it, the stage is now set for a government shutdown in only 10 days.

Following the vote, both the president and House speaker, John Boehner, made their respective cases to the American public.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The American people don't want the government shut down. And they don't want Obamacare.


BOEHNER: The House has listened to the American people. Now it's time for the United States Senate to listen to them as well.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right now, the debate that's going on in Congress is not meeting the test of helping middle-class families. It's just they're not focused on you. They're focused on politics. They're focused on trying to mess with me.



BLITZER: Let's get some more now with our chief political correspondent, the host of "STATE OF THE UNION," Candy Crowley, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

I know you sat down, Candy, with Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader in the House. Let me play a little clip from your interview.







CROWLEY: How far away are they from what you could deal with?

PELOSI: What we could deal with is what we agreed to in the Budget Control Act, which is a bipartisan agreement. So I think it's really important to note that there are lots of excuses that they use. But for many of them, I call them legislative arsonists, they're there to burn down what we should be building up.


BLITZER: So, in other words, as far as Nancy Pelosi's concerned, there are other problems beyond the defunding of Obamacare...

CROWLEY: Well beyond.

BLITZER: ... that she hates in this legislation.

CROWLEY: Yes, absolutely. She said, look at the SCHIP program, the children's health insurance program, she says is basically gutted. It's not just about Obamacare, which they believe obviously the Senate will take out, but it's about the spending levels, which many Democrats say those were set a long time ago. That's not how Republicans view it.

BLITZER: That means they're going to have a busy weekend next weekend before the deadline to try come up with something to keep the government funded.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And then don't forget we have raising the debt limit coming up.

And I think -- I was talking to one House Republican this week, Wolf, who predicted to me, sad to say, that this could go on up until Christmas, that we could have a series of short-term, short-term solutions and then go right up to the brink of the new year.

BLITZER: That would be awful, don't you think?

CROWLEY: It would. But it would not be unheard of. I believe we have passed this way before over spending issues, maybe not the exact same circumstances, but certainly we have been up to Christmas Eve while they wrestled with it.

We saw the fiscal cliff. It's always the same issues. I think the debt ceiling, which I also asked Nancy Pelosi about, will be really interesting, because as far as they're concerned they're sticking with the president's position, which is, by the way, we're not going to negotiate. But when you say, but lots of presidents have negotiated around a debt ceiling as one of the vehicles...

BLITZER: What did she say?

CROWLEY: And she says, well, the cupboard is bare. There's nothing left there anymore to deal with. No more spending cuts.

BLITZER: We will see. There may be some flexibility.

CROWLEY: I think so.


BORGER: That's sort of also an opening move, obviously, because you don't want to put all your cards out on the table.

BLITZER: You have been speaking with Republicans. There's obviously friction among Republicans. And Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas, you hear his name coming up a lot.


BORGER: I think some Republicans dislike Ted Cruz more than they dislike Nancy Pelosi, OK, at this point, because what's going on, the backstory behind all of this, Wolf, is that they were home in their districts this summer and this grassroots movement started by Ted Cruz, and he's in some of these ads, is complaining that the party has not fought Obamacare enough.

So these Republicans feel up against the wall. They went out, they did this, attached Obamacare to this question of funding the government. And then earlier this week, Ted Cruz said, oh, well, that's not going to go anywhere in the Senate. Now, he backed off of that. He may well lead a filibuster, but I had one Republican say to me -- this is a senior House Republican -- that Ted Cruz is a demagogue-and-a-half. He said they have been shooting at us from behind, putting us in a bad position. The first punch is thrown and where are they? They're out the door.

So Cruz had to do a little bit of a correction there and say he's going to lead the fight in the Senate.

CROWLEY: Right. But we should say the House would have been to this point regardless of what Ted Cruz said.

So he did make them look bad by making it look even more useless than other people already thought. It's like, yes, well, what you're doing, we can't do it over here anyway.

BORGER: But they're worried they're going to get primaried. A lot of these guys are worried that they're going to get primaried from the right. And they think Ted Cruz is leading that.

BLITZER: Candy will have much more Sunday on "STATE OF THE UNION," including your exclusive with Nancy Pelosi.

Guys, thanks very much. Also, by the way, much more on the Obamacare battle, the looming government shutdown coming up right at the bottom of the hour, right after THE SITUATION ROOM. Look for a heated debate, you know where, on "CROSSFIRE."

It was one of the first images captured in the chaos after Monday's horrific Navy Yard massacre here in Washington, a woman on the ground desperately trying to save her colleague's life. But no one was entirely sure if it was related directly to the shooting until now.

Brian Todd has had a chance to speak with this woman.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bertillia Lavern vividly recalls her friend's face, remembers how moments after he got hit in the temple by a gunshot inside their office at the Navy Yard she thought she could save him.

BERTILLIA LAVERN, WITNESS: I felt him breathe.

TODD: Lavern says she was just a few feet away from her friend and co-worker Vishnu Pandit when gunshots slammed all around their office. She never saw the shooter.

(on camera): You almost got hit yourself, right?

LAVERN: Yes. The bullet missed me, because we were already -- I was already moving. And so the bullet missed me and it shattered the glass right next to where my head was.

TODD (voice-over): Pandit was down, but Lavern says when she checked his pulse, it was strong. She and her co-workers ignored their own safety. And what happened next while the shooter is still on his rampage is right out of a movie.

LAVERN: The security guard showed up, and they helped me get him to a chair to wheel him to the stairs. We put him in the emergency evacuation chair. And I was talking to him and praying the whole entire time.

TODD (on camera): What were you saying to him?

LAVERN: That I prayed that God would protect him and that we need him here and that his friends loved him.

TODD (voice-over): Lavern, a former Navy medical specialist, says at that point Pandit's pulse was still strong, but there was another problem trying to get her friend who had the nickname Kisan out of the building.

(on camera): Did you know where the shooter was at this time?

LAVERN: No. And I really didn't care. We had to get Kisan out. That was the important thing. TODD (voice-over): As they were descending the stairs, they heard over a guard's radio that the shooter was right in the direction they were heading.

(on camera): Bertillia Lavern says they managed to sneak out a side door, got Pandit to a law enforcement vehicle, which then sped outside the base to this corner.

(voice-over): That's where these images were captured, Bertillia Lavern, the woman in pink, administering CPR, desperately trying to save her friend.

LAVERN: And then the ambulance showed up. They strapped him in. All of this happened within a few minutes of time. But it felt like a lifetime.

TODD: Vishnu Pandit died on the way to the hospital. A doctor later said his injuries were not survivable. Lavern now describes her feelings for the man she used to joke with every morning.

LAVERN: That I miss him, and that I won't be able to say good morning to him, that I will not be able to say good morning to him, but I know that he's in my heart. And I know that his family loves him so much.


TODD: Bertillia Lavern says Vishnu Pandit had recently welcomed a grandchild who she described as the light of his life. He was buried yesterday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a sad story that is. All right, Brian, thanks very much. Deepest condolences to the family.

Up next, new details about a horrific shooting in Chicago, including a 3-year-old boy.

And hackers are fighting to be the first person to break into the fingerprint security system of the brand-new iPhone. Stick around.


BLITZER: Baseball's winningest pitcher in postseason history will retire after this season. The New York Yankees' Andy Pettitte says the time is right, adding that he has left everything on the field that he had.

And up next, hackers put on a bounty, guess where, on the new iPhone. We have new details.



BLITZER: Apple fans were lining up to get their hands on the new iPhone 5S, which went on sale today. But hackers also have their sights on this new iPhone, specifically the new fingerprint scanner used to unlock the phone.

Already, there's a $13,000 reward being offered to the first person who breaks into a phone by lifting someone's fingerprints.

And joining us now, Christina Warren. She's a senior tech analyst at Mashable. She's joining us from outside the Apple store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Christina, why are these hackers doing this?

CHRISTINA WARREN, MASHABLE.COM: So they want to see -- any time anyone says anything is unhackable, they want to say, actually, you know what, it's not. We want to break into it.

So they're trying to prove it's not unfathomable. So, what they want to do is they want to see if it's possible to lift a print off of the iPhone 5S, recapture it, reproduce it, and then use that reproduced print to get into the iPhone 5S.

BLITZER: So, is it just the challenge of doing this? Is that the goal? It's just a good challenge for these hackers to do it?

WARREN: It's in part just a good challenge. It's also partially a way to beef up and improve security, believe if all kinds of eyes are on this project and if they're able to unearth a security vulnerability, then it can be solved, and all of our devices will be more safe.

BLITZER: We have seen in the movies stealing fingerprints, if you will. I don't know if we have ever seen it in the real world. Tell us if this is a possibility, unlikely. What are you hearing from the experts?

WARREN: You know, I think that, is it technically possible? Probably. I would say that, somehow, some way, there's probably a way to bypass this security scanner or to trick the touch I.D.

But how likely is it? I mean, come on. You have got to consider that you would have to have someone who has the capability to capture the print, the ability to have a 3-D printer and print it out, and the proper type of device or real finger to affix the fingerprint on to unlock.

What are the chances of that happening for the average person? I would say pretty much slim to none. And, honestly, the people that would be most alarmed are people like diplomats. And, hey, the NSA is spying on them anyway, so I don't really think that they should be too concerned either.

BLITZER: Christina Warren, the senior tech analyst at Mashable, Christina, thanks very much.

WARREN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Remember, you can always follow us and see what's going on behind the scenes here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Go ahead. Tweet me @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Get ready. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.