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Russia Launches Airstrikes in Syria; Palestinian Flag to Fly at the United Nations; U.S. Pulls Spies From China After Cyber Attack; Women Executed Despite Appeals in Georgia; Swedish PM on Refugee Crisis; Kim Davis Says She Met with Pope Francis. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired September 30, 2015 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:00:19] ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there. Welcome to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow live from the United Nations.

Well, start with a major, potentially game-changing development in the Syrian war. Russia today launched its first air strike in Syria just hours

after its parliament approved military involvement. Now senior U.S. officials tells CNN, the air strike happened near Homs. This video

purports to show the strike which CNN has learned involved four Russian airplanes.

Now, the site of the air strike is significant. A Russian official says it targeted ISIS positions. The area just outside Homs is held by rebels,

which you can see on this map. Most of Homs has been under government control since the U.N. brokered an end to a two-year siege last year.

Well, senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is following all of these fast-moving developments from Moscow.

Matthew, hi there. What more can you tell us?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're right. It has been extremely fast moving. It was just this morning that

the upper house of the Russian parliament, the federation council, gave its rather stamp approval to the Kremlin request for Russia to use its forces

outside of its borders. It's of course obligated to do that by law to seek the parliamentary approval.

Within a few hours, the first air strike had been carried out and Russia had formally entered this Syrian conflict that has been raging for so many

years it's been months, of course, in the building. Russia has been building up their forces in the region for at least four or five weeks now,

deploying advanced weaponry to Syria including fighter aircraft and tanks and missile systems.

And so this has all been in the offing for some time. But, again, this is the first time today that the air strikes from the Russian military have

been carried out. We can see pictures there of the aftermath of that first Russian air strike which took place, we understand, near the City of Homs.

And as you rightly mentioned, that's an area that is pretty much in the control -- the city certainly is under the control of government forces.

The outlying province is a bit more checkered. But it's got rebel pockets of control as well. But it's not an area which is particularly associated

with ISIS.

I've been speaking to some experts in this field, and they're saying this is just as we thought. Even though the Russians are saying, look, we're

going there, we're going to target ISIS, not one of these targets, according to these analysts that I've been speaking to, are really

necessarily ISIS top targets. They're targets of other rebel groups, not even necessarily Islamists.

But what Russia appears to be doing now is attacking the groups that are most threatening to the government of Bashar al-Assad. And that ran in

terms of territory isn't necessarily ISIS at this stage. It's the other rebel groups that will also be targeted it seems.

CURNOW: As we know, this has and is continuing to be a very complex, complicated, messy conflict. While Russia has its position, many will

argue, many will worry, here at the United Nations that these actions will inflame, fan, extend this conflict.

CHANCE: Well, that certainly the concern. And, certainly, many people believe who have watched the Syria situation a lot closely -- more closely

than me, that, you know, this is going to unite the Jihadist in the country against the common enemy in Russia -- with Russia.

But you're right. I mean, the big question is whether this military action by Russia, this unflinching support it seems for the government of Bashar

al Assad is going to make a difference and bring a speedy end to this devastating conflict in Syria.

It's already killed 250,000 people. I mean, you know, is this going to prolong the conflict? Or is it going to bring it to an early end? That's

the real big question hanging over this whole episode.

CURNOW: Indeed. No easy answers either.

Matthew Chance, as always, coming to us from Moscow. Thanks so much for your analysis.

CURNOW: Well, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Russian involvement in Syria could open an opportunity. He says it might force Moscow to take

another look at its vision for President Bashar al-Assad.

Well, global affairs correspondent Elise Labott spoke to Kerry in New York. She joins me now.

What did he say? And has there been any reaction today on this Russian air strike?

[10:05:03] ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Robyn, we understand that Secretary Kerry is going to meet with Foreign Minister

Lavrov in about an hour. They're going to be sitting down together for ironically a counterterrorism meeting hosted by Russia. And then they will

have a separate meeting, obviously, the two want to try and talk to tamp down the temperature today.

But it was a really remarkable interview with Secretary Kerry because, you know, even as you have Russian air strikes today, Secretary Kerry was

telling me yesterday that he actually thought the U.S. could benefit, it could be an opportunity for the U.S. to have Russia on the ground with

President Putin's military and political influence with Bashar al-Assad.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I couldn't disagree more. I don't see how it boxes us in the least. In fact, I think it opens up more options. But

I think it makes life very complicated for Putin himself, for President Putin, because if he's going to side with Assad and with Iran and

Hezbollah, he's going to have a very serious problem with the Sunni countries in the region, and that means that he could even become a target

for those Sunni Jihadist. So this is very complicated for him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LABOTT: And so, obviously, the U.S. wants to what they call de-conflict with Russia on the ground, but with Russian air strikes and Russian planes

flying in the skies and not really, you know, giving the U.S. any leeway here, telling them to stand down, that's not really deconflicting. That's

really calling to try to ground them.

So what Secretary Kerry, I think, is going to try to do is try and put this all under the umbrella of, OK, Russian air strikes are on the ground. They

want to make sure that they're going after ISIS. But can this be part and parcel of a political process where you're also try to solve the civil war,

Robyn? It's no easy task.

CURNOW: You know, Matthew Chance has mentioned it. And I mean, the timing here, the astonishing speed of how fast this is all moving, is there a

sense that the Americans and others have really been caught by surprise here? When it comes to --

(CROSSTALK)

LABOTT: Well, I mean, look, it didn't happen overnight. It has been happening over the last couple of weeks. I think they were surprise at the

speed with which the build up took place. But, you know, some cynics might say that this solves a lot of problems for the U.S.

You know, you see last year Secretary Kerry and President Obama trying to put together this coalition on ISIS. In that time, ISIS has grown, some

would say double over the past year.

U.S. train and equip program, we're reporting now, has been put on pause. That's what military officials at the Pentagon are telling Barbara Starr.

So they're having a real rough time on the ground there.

So, you know, I think Matthew makes a point. Listen, if the Russians are going to be able to be on board in this, could they help go against ISIS

and help put this quickly to an end? You know, even the Russians are talking about some kind of political transition for Assad. But you have a

couple of variables here.

First of all, you have the anti-Assad crowd -- Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar. These are countries that want Assad to go right away. Secretary Kerry has

to get them all on board for this political process. And what about the opposition on the ground? Are they going to stop fighting? That's very

unclear.

And so in the end, Russia could help if, you know, everybody was able to go on board. Russia might even be able to take the lead. But you're going to

need to get a lot of different parties, with a lot of different points of view of how this should go down on board.

And as we talk, ISIS is continuing to gain strength. So there are no easy answers and I think that's what the U.S. is recognizing here, that, you

know, having Assad in is probably preferable to a fall of the regime, where you have this total vacuum of ISIS. And that's in effect what Secretary

Kerry told me.

CURNOW: OK, Elise Labott, thanks. Great interview. Thanks so much for joining us here at the INTERNATIONAL DESK.

Well, moving on, a controversial flag raising in the rose garden here at the U.N. later. I mean, it's pouring with rain as you can see here at the

U.N. so I don't know if it's going to be rained out. Either way, the Palestinian flag will fly as what leader Mahmoud Abbas calls a beacon of

hope. But not all member states approve.

Let's get reaction now from CNN's Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem.

Hi there, Oren.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Robyn, rain or no rain, this is a very big, a very significant day for Palestinians as they see that flag raised

at the United Nations. And they're taking this very seriously and they realize that this is a very big symbolic move for them, being recognized at

the United Nations.

But for them, for Palestinians, it's only a step here as they try to push forward recognition of statehood. Now the U.N. overwhelmingly approved the

raising of the Palestinian flag. There were only eight that voted against it, including Israel and the United States, but this is moving forward for

the Palestinians.

[10:10:08] The question is, now that they have the spotlight on them, can they keep moving it forward in that quest for the recognition of statehood.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Nothing is simple in and around Jerusalem. And symbols can carry tremendous significance. Perhaps no symbol stirs up more

emotions and controversy than the Palestinian flag. You'll see the flag in Bethlehem and the West Bank and now you'll find the Palestinian flag at the

United Nations.

(on-camera) The Palestinian flag will be raised at the United Nations. What does that mean to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, it means -- that's what it means for us as a Palestinians, that maybe this is the beginning to get the freedom in

(INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the first step forward. I hope it will be followed by other steps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will be happy when we see our flag. But we don't want to see only flag.

LIEBERMANN: What does it change here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing much in theory or ideology. It means that people are beginning to recognize us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I waited a long time ago for this moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can put million flags, but if the flag doesn't support something, it's only color.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): No surprise here that we got very different answers when we asked Israelis the same question.

(on-camera) The Palestinian flag will be raised at the U.N. for the first time. What do you think about that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't agree with it.

LIEBERMANN: What do you think about that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm very happy for that. And I hope it means it's only the beginning for something more than official action.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They've had many opportunities to bring peace to their land, to flourish. Our leaders have offered them amazing deals. And

I feel that at this point in time, to give them any credence in the world is just totally insulting to humanity.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LIEBERMANN: The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has not at all been a big issue at the U.N. and you've seen that, Robyn. President Obama didn't

mention, even once, didn't mention the idea of recondition of a Palestinian State. The question now with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abba speaking

in just a couple of hours here and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking tomorrow. Can the Palestinians use that spotlight and create

anything more than just a flag raising ceremony.

Robyn?

Indeed. And Mahmoud Abbas has said that he came to announce a bombshell. It's unclear, though, what exactly he means and what that will be, if any.

So we'll keep an eye on that speech in particular.

Oren Liebermann, thank you so much.

Turning now to Afghanistan, where security forces are struggling to push the Taliban out of the city of Kunduz. Thousands of people are fleeing the

chaos. Taliban fighters captured Kunduz, Monday. The first time they've taken over a major city since 2001.

As our Nic Robertson tells us, the fighting is escalating quickly and civilians are caught in the crossfire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Taliban were pushed back yesterday out of some places they had taken. They'd taken the jail, released 600

people, 110 of them Taliban. The government took that back. But by the end of the day, the Taliban were on their front foot again, retaking that

from the government. They have surrounded the government forces, and therefore, the government can't get enough reinforcements in, because the

Taliban have cut the main highway to the south where those reinforcements would come from.

The U.N. is exceptionally worried right now. They say 6,000 people have fled the city. But the roads in and out of the city are cut, they say,

more than 100 civilians have been killed and injured. The government, Afghan government says that the Taliban right now are using people as human

shields. The Afghan government says more than 100 Taliban have been killed, including their commander, in a U.S. airstrikes.

The Taliban say that's not true. The commander is still alive. It is a very confusing picture.

But the reality on the ground here is the Afghan forces are struggling. They need the U.S. air support. Most of the Taliban casualties have come

as a result of that. The Taliban are not giving up easily. And details of the casualties that are occurring right now on the ground, those specific

details very hard to come by.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CURNOW: Nic Robertson reporting there.

Well, the U.S. yanks its spies out of China after a massive cyber attack. The director of national intelligence warns that such attacks will only

increase.

Our reporter in Beijing is on that story next. Keep on watching. We're live from the United Nations.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:18:10] CURNOW: (OFF-MIKE) increasing in frequency, scale, sophistication and severity. A breach at the office of personnel

management exposed the fingerprints of 5.6 million government employees last spring.

Now Washington is concerned its intelligence agents abroad could be identified and it's pulling its spies from China, which it blames for cyber

attacks.

Here's Saima Mohsin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on-camera): An extraordinary revelation about this massive hack attack on the office of personnel management and

not just 21.5 million government employees' data exposed, also 5.6 million fingerprints, way more, 4 million more, than first thought. But,

crucially, this could lead to the risk of exposing U.S. spies working here in China right now.

Now, these are people working for the NSA, the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency according to the U.S. official who told CNN about this

exposure for U.S. intelligence agencies.

Now, the U.S. has long been pointing the finger directly at China, believing they are the prime suspect behind these attacks. And this U.S.

official said that this is the case, too. They are concerned that Chinese intelligence officials have this information.

CNN put this to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today. This is what they had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HONG LEI, SPOKESPERSON, CHINA MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS (through translator): The Chinese government firmly opposes any forms of hacking.

China and the United States are the biggest to Internet using countries. We both face the same challenges and will gain neutral benefits in

protecting cyber security.

During President Xi's visit to the United States this time, China and the U.S. came to an agreement in terms of protecting cyber security. We hope

that the U.S. will work on the agreement with us to promote a stable and healthy China-U.S. relationship.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[10:20:4] MOHSIN: Of course, the deal between President Xi and President Obama, though, is limited to cyber attacks for commercial gain, that is,

attackers that are hacking into companies in the U.S. or vice versa, stealing their blueprints, trade secrets and intellectual property for

commercial gains.

The U.S. and U.S. companies have long blamed China for that, saying that these are state-sponsored government-backed attacks, backing state

companies as well. Now China, of course, refutes that as well. China and President Obama have made that deal, but it is limited.

Saima Mohsin, CNN, Beijing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CURNOW: Well, Iran's supreme leader is demanding Saudi Arabia speed up the repatriation of victims from last week's Hajj stampede. Ayatollah Khomeini

says the kingdom will face harsh retaliation if the bodies are not sent back to their country. Nearly 800 people were killed in Thursday's crushed

during the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Authorities in Tehran say at least 227 people were Iranian.

Well, still ahead, a woman in the U.S. State of Georgia is put to death despite pleas of mercy from loved ones, her children and even the Pope.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CURNOW: Hi, there. I'm Robyn Curnow live at the United Nations. We're keeping an ear on a meeting that's happening here at the U.N. The Russian

foreign minister is talking at a terror conference, at a terror meeting. And we are monitoring that.

Let's move on to some other news. The U.S. State of Georgia has executed a woman for the first time since 1945. Despite a written appeal on behalf of

the Pope.

Kelly Gissendaner was convicted of murder for recruiting her lover to kill her husband. Lawyers filed a series of appeals to state and federal court

in a desperate effort to save her life in the final hours, but all the appeals including several through the U.S. Supreme Court were denied.

Martin Savidge joins me now live from CNN Center with more details on this.

Hi there, Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Robyn. This was actually Kelly Gissendaner's third execution date. Two of the previous ones had been

postponed, and her supporters had hoped that that would be the case with this one. But that was not to be.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE (voice-over): 47-year-old Kelly Gissendaner, the only woman on Georgia's Death Row and the state's first female prisoner to be executed in

70 years, put to death by lethal injection. Gissendaner, who was convicted of murder for convincing her lover to kill her husband Douglas almost 20

years ago, was pronounced dead at 12:21 a.m.

MARCUS EASLEY, RETIRED OFFICER, FRIEND OF GISSENDANER: Kelly is a woman who made a drastic mistake and a tragic decision. I'm not going to call it

a mistake. She's paid her dues for it.

SAVIDGE: In the five hours leading up to her execution, her legal team desperately tried to find a court that would order a stop, including

appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court three times. Every effort was turned down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We chose to try and save her life and they still denied it.

[10:25:01] SAVIDGE: Georgia Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court, and federal appeals court denying all of her appeals. The effort to spare her

life reaching as far as the Vatican. A letter on behalf of Pope Francis, urging the parole board to exercise mercy.

POPE FRANCIS, POPE OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH: Every life is sacred.

SAVIDGE: Gissendaner's lawyers arguing she had undergone a spiritual transformation in prison. Media witnesses say she sobbed as she apologized

to the victim's family and asked her lawyer to tell her kids she went out singing "Amazing Grace."

EASLEY: I asked her if she wanted to give me any messages to give to her kids, because I was there in the place of her children. I said, "I need a

statement to give to each one of them, Kelly."

And she said, "It's easy, Mark. I love you. I love you. I love you. I am so proud of you."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE: It wasn't just the death penalty that made this case controversial. It was also the fact that she had a co-conspirator, her

boyfriend, who actually carried out the murder of her husband. And at separate trial, he was convicted, but he got life with the possibility of

parole. In fact, he will be eligible for that parole in seven years, whereas she who didn't actually carry out the murder, got death.

Robyn?

CURNOW: You're at the INTERNATIONAL DESK here at a windy and rainy and grey United Nations. But we are still keeping an eye on a very important

story event playing out in Syria as Russia carries out its first air strike in Syria two days after President Putin met with U.S. President Obama here

at the U.N. We'll get some more perspective on that so do stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:30:00]

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN HOST: Hi, there. Welcome back to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow, live from the United Nations. Here are the

headlines.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CURNOW (voice-over): Russia launched its first airstrike in Syria today after its parliament unanimously approved a request from Syria for military

help. This video purports to shows that strike, which Russia says was aimed at ISIS positions.

A U.S. official said the strike targeted an area near Homs, which is a rebel, not an ISIS stronghold.

Hundreds of Afghan security forces are trying to get to the Taliban-held city of Kunduz but the militants are blocking a highway entry point.

Taliban fighters captured Kunduz Monday.

Now the U.S.-led coalition is launching limited airstrikes against the group.

The United States is pulling its spies from China after a huge cyber attack that was revealed earlier this year. Hackers stole the personal data of

more than 20 million current and former government workers. The U.S. suspects Chinese hackers are responsible and that intelligence operatives

are at risk of being exposed.

Two top Uber executives have appeared in a Paris court on charges relating to the low-cost uberPOP service. uberPOP uses drivers without professional

licenses and is banned in France. The executives could get up to two years in prison.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CURNOW: Well, there's a lot going on here at the United Nations today, as it has been all week ahead of that specifically controversial Palestinian

flag-raising and of course with Russia conducting its first airstrike in Syria.

So I want to bring in our senior U.N. correspondent, Richard Roth, now.

And clearly you are the senior U.N. correspondent because you have a roof over your head and I have a flimsy umbrella and some black plastic bags

covering all of our equipment.

So you definitely won on that one, Richard.

(CROSSTALK)

CURNOW: How did that happen?

Either way, I do want to ask you about Russia.

Any reaction?

We know Lavrov has just been speaking in a terror meeting.

Did he said anything?

Has there been any reaction in the building where you are, where I'm outside of?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he did. Not a lot but, just a few seconds ago, Sergey Lavrov, who is currently chairing this

meeting that's going on now that we're seeing in-house here on United Nations television, the Chinese foreign minister speaking, the Russian

foreign minister is really the chair of this session.

Many people are not surprised that Russia may have taken this military action to coincide with today's meeting. You may remember, on the eve of

last year's general assembly, the U.S. started bombing ISIS targets in Syria.

What Lavrov had to say, he said the president of Russia, in a letter on the 30th, asked and received consent of the government of Syria to use the

armed forces of the Russian Federation inside Syria. No surprise there.

President Putin a few days ago solidly urging support for President Assad, much to the consternation of the U.S.

Now, what the Russian foreign minister is also saying is, we have informed the authorities in the United States and other members of the coalition

created by the Americans of this use of an operation by the Russian air force to carry out strikes against ISIL positions in Syria.

Quote, "We're ready to forge standing channels of communication to ensure maximally effective fight against the terrorist groups."

The U.S., we heard, Robyn, didn't have much warning on today's Russian action. Robyn, back to you.

CURNOW: We obviously are going to keep an eye on any diplomatic developments on that front, but also it's stopped raining briefly. But

there is rain forecast for much of the day here in New York.

Is that going to affect the Palestinian flag-raising ceremony?

Unlikely, but who is going to be there and how do you think that's all going to play out?

ROTH: It's set for about three hours from now. This, even the Palestinians will say, is a symbolic move, the raising for the first time

ever on U.N. grounds here in New York the Palestinian flag.

The Palestinians at the U.N. are a non-member observer state. They were on the equivalent level of the Vatican. You see President Abbas here,

arriving the other day. He will also speak to the general assembly.

The Palestinians will tell you how frustrated they are. They believe this gives them even more of an in with the international arena, which here at

the U.N. is solidly behind them. Only the U.S., Israel and about six other countries voted against this move.

Overwhelming support. The Vatican flag went up Friday. The Vatican didn't want any fanfare, there was no ceremony. The Palestinians will have the

U.N. secretary-general there when this flag is raised and then moved tomorrow with all the other flags in front of the --

[10:35:00]

ROTH: -- building -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Of course, we'll be covering that. Senior U.N. correspondent, Richard Roth, thank you.

Now, of course, the refugee crisis in Europe is also another big topic, a big issue here at the U.N. A bit earlier I talked with Sweden's prime

minister about how to better handle the influx of migrants. He says the E.U. and nations outside Europe must all play a role.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEFAN LOFVEN, SWEDISH PRIME MINISTER: One is that European Union need to take a shared responsibility because if we do this together we can handle -

- of course we can handle the situation. But you cannot handle the responsibility to one or two or three countries. It doesn't work that way.

The second thing is we need to be much more to the point on the root causes of the refugees coming into Europe, for example, the Syrian conflict. We

need to handle that much more active.

And I've talked to our European Union leaders that we, the European Union, should push more so that Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran and

other important actors actually do something more. We need to stop that bloodshed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CURNOW: OK. The Swedish prime minister, talking to me a little bit earlier, here at the United Nations.

She was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples but Kim Davis now says she met the pope. More on what she says the pontiff

told her after a short break.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

CURNOW: We're coming to you from New York, live at this hour. I'm Robyn Curnow. Thanks so much for watching.

Now an American court clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples says she met with Pope Francis during his visit to

the U.S.

Now the Vatican isn't denying the meeting between Kim Davis and the pope took place, but it's not confirming it, either.

A federal judge ordered the Kentucky clerk to jail earlier this month after she refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples in her county.

Well, Vatican correspondent Delia Gallagher joins me now live.

What more do we know about this?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Robyn, earlier this morgue the Vatican spokesman said he was going to neither confirm nor deny

that the meeting took place. Just a few moments ago, we have a written statement from the same Vatican spokesman, saying he doesn't deny that the

meeting took place, but he doesn't have anything further to add.

So "I don't deny" is tantamount to yes, that it did take place. But clearly the Vatican doesn't want to get further drawn into --

[10:40:00]

GALLAGHER: -- what is kind of an internal U.S. affair, in particular, since it involves a government employee, who is currently involved in

litigation over the issue.

If we consider, Robyn, that, when Pope Francis was in the United States just last week, he met with a group of nuns, who are also involved in

litigation with the Obama administration over the contraception mandate in health care because they run some health care services and nursing homes.

Now, these nuns met with Pope Francis and that was not on the official agenda, but it was added and it was a private meeting, although some

pictures were released and the Vatican spokesman after that said this is clearly a sign of support on the part of Pope Francis for this group of

nuns.

Now, in this situation with Kim Davis, they are distancing themselves a bit from the meeting. And the difference is that the nuns were, A, nuns and

their cause has already been supported by the U.S. bishops. And they are not government officials.

So the reasoning here that the Vatican perhaps is not coming straight out and saying, yes, the meeting happened and releasing pictures and so on is

probably that, that they don't want to get too involved in what is a very hot topic right now in the United States and what they consider to be a

kind of internal U.S. affair.

We do know, Robyn, when the pope was flying back from the United States he spoke to the issue of conscientious objection. Indeed, he has spoken about

it during his trip to the United States and he was specifically asked by journalists on the plane if it applied also to government officials.

And the pope, being fully aware of the situation with Kim Davis, said, yes, it is a human right. Government officials are human and therefore should

be allowed this right under law -- Robyn.

CURNOW: If the pope didn't want to wade into a poisonous domestic debate, why did he meet her in the first place?

I mean, is that usual?

GALLAGHER: Well, Pope Francis has done private meetings in the past with people. He's done private phone calls from here at the Vatican that have

never been officially confirmed by the Vatican.

We know that Pope Francis likes to reach out to a number of people and you can't always confirm that on the part of the Vatican. And we have only

what the other side has said. But the Vatican tends to let that play out by, again, neither confirming or denying.

And certainly in this instance his support in general for conscientious objection and the support of the Vatican and Catholic Church in general for

the concept of conscientious objection means that it's not too far out of character for Pope Francis to have done this.

CURNOW: Delia Gallagher, thank you so much.

Well, that does it for us here at the INTERNATIONAL DESK, technically not a desk. We're here outside the United Nations. It's raining, but there's a

lot of talk, a lot of action going on in this building behind me.

We're going to keep you updated on any developments, particularly around Russian airstrikes in Syria, if there are any comments on that.

In the meantime, though, I'm going to hand you over to WORLD SPORT.

END