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Iran to Join Syrian Talks for the First Time; Northern Syria Province Free of ISIS but Vulnerable; Austria to Build Fence along Border with Slovenia; Refugees Choose "Arctic Route" to Norway; Gloves Could Come Off in Republican Debate; Astronauts Take First Steps into Space. Aired 10- 11a ET

Aired October 28, 2015 - 10:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN HOST: Hello, there, and welcome to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow at the CNN Center.

We begin with a major shift in the push to end Syria's four-year civil war.


CURNOW (voice-over): For the first time, Iran will join the international discussion over Syria's future. Iranian media report Foreign Minister

Mohammad Javad Zarif will be at this week's meeting in Vienna, which will include the U.S., Russia, as well as leaders from the Middle East and


Now the talks come amid an increasingly costly Russian air campaign in Syria and as Washington considers direct action on the ground against ISIS.


CURNOW: Our Nic Robertson joins us from Moscow.

Hi, there, Nic.

How important is it that Russia and Syria's ally, Iran, is at the table?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And it is not just Iran as well, of course, there's Iraq, Egypt, which has been sort of

getting closer, if you will, certainly making welcoming statements about gestures from Russia and Lebanon as well being included.

It is significant because this really is the first time that Iran has been involved in the talks. Military spokeswoman said earlier today you just

have to have -- the Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman who said you have to have everyone around the table to get a talking face to face, otherwise

there is whispering behind people's backs.

But Iran believes it has a huge stake in the outcome of any peace talks in Syria. A senior military commander there two days ago said that Iran's

national security is intertwined with that of Syria.

Russia has upped its military campaign in Syria in the recent weeks, it has followed that up with a diplomatic push and that's what these talks in

Vienna are really a response to.

That's why so many players are now around the table. And I think we shouldn't underestimate the fact, despite it's the United States that has

invited all these parties, including Iran to the talks, Russia has been pushing very strongly in the past week that Iran should be included in

those talks.

So this is a very significant step. What can be achieved, that's still far, far from clear. But what you now have is a collection of all of the

parties with a stake in Syria, apart from the Syrian parties, around that table in Vienna.

CURNOW: And as you mentioned, it clearly tells us about growing Russian influence in this conflict.

ROBERTSON: It does. Again, we can't underestimate it but Russia's analysis of the situation at the moment is quite simple from its view, is

that the opposition -- is that the United States, Europe and its allies and its partners inside Syria don't really know who the terrorists are among

them, that they are divided, some countries, Russia believes, think some groups are terrorists, others not so, vice versa, they say it is a

confusing situation.

What Russia is trying to do is to divide the view on Syria into those that are terrorists and those that are not. Those that are not, they say,

should join the broad coalition that Russia is hoping to push with President Bashar al-Assad and therefore the United States and Europe should

join this fight against the terrorists. That's the simple part of their narrative here.

But, again, not to understate the importance of Iran here, it has hundreds, if not thousands of fighters inside Syria. It has called upon Hezbollah

and Lebanon as well to contribute fighters. Hezbollah elements from Iraq as well have come into Syria because Iran believes that what happens in

Syria is vital to its national interests -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Nic Robertson, thank you so much for that perspective from Moscow. Thanks a lot.

As the plans come together for those talks on Syria, Kurdish fighters on the ground are desperately trying to hold on to gains they have made

against ISIS. U.S. airdrops of weapons and ammunition are helping them out but it is still a huge struggle for the Kurds. Senior international

correspondent Clarissa Ward recently visited Northern Syria. She joins me now from Erbil, the regional capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Hi, there, Clarissa. No matter what happens in Vienna, the challenges on the ground continue.

CLARISSA WARD, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Robyn. We visited areas that have recently been liberated from ISIS' control but you

won't see people on the ground celebrating. And that's because the devastation that has been left behind is enormous.


WARD: And the future is still so unclear.


WARD (voice-over): Weeks ago these dusty plains were held by ISIS. This is what is left of its presence now, the charred remains of a training camp

hidden in a pine forest. It is where ISIS trained an elite unit of suicide bombers that attacked Kurdish positions with devastating effect.

Kurdish fighters known as the YPG took this entire area from ISIS in August. But holding it along a front line more than 400 miles long is a

huge challenge.

In the shadow of Mount Abdulaziz, Commander Zinar (ph) told us that he had lost 30 of his fighters in a recent battle when ISIS came down from the


COMMANDER ZINAR (PH) (through translator): The enemy attacked us with a large number of fighters using heavy weapons. They took control of three

villages and after that the clashes lasted for hours until we were in control again.

WARD (voice-over): Zinar (ph) is a battalion commander but this is the size of his battalion, a handful of poorly equipped men. The nearest

friendly forces are miles away.

The cost of pushing ISIS out has been enormous. Streets here are draped with the flags of fighters killed in battle. Along desolate roads through

abandoned villages we saw scene upon scene of devastation, the wreckage of months of fierce fighting and relentless coalition airstrikes.

Dozens of villages like this one that were liberated from ISIS months ago are now still completely deserted. That's partly because the ISIS

militants, before they retreated, planted land mines and booby traps all across this area. But it is also because many people here aren't convinced

that ISIS won't be coming back.

In the tiny village of Mehusza (ph), we met Wata (ph), who has lived here all her life. She told us she was too afraid to leave home when ISIS was

in control, that they beat and killed people and brought misery upon the community.

"There were no airstrikes before they arrived and then the strikes started. There was one next to me. We were scared of everything, not just ISIS."

"Are you still afraid?" I ask.

She says not but glances warily at the Kurdish YPG fighters with us.

The Kurds question the loyalty of many of these villages, claiming they harbor ISIS sympathizers. The killing may have stopped but there is no

peace here.


WARD: The problem you have now in Syria is that these ethnic and sectarian divisions have been so deepened by years and years of fighting; we drove

through one village with our YPG Kurdish minders and a boy was shouting to us, "God bless ISIS."

And then when you talk to the Kurdish fighters they will tell you, hey, we are Syrians but we're Kurdish first.

CURNOW: Just underscoring how complicated this all is, also we're hearing in the past few days the U.S. is thinking of expanding or deepening their

military response in Iraq and Syria.

Would that be welcomed by the government where you are?

WARD: I think the governments across this region and certainly here in Iraq have said the same thing. We welcome U.S. support, we welcome U.S.

military hardware, we welcome U.S. airstrikes but we do not need or want boots on the ground.

Partly, of course, it is a question of pride but partly there is a real sense here of understanding that a visible U.S. military presence in Iraq

and in Syria would be extremely polarizing and people feel very much burned by the not-too-distant memories of the U.S. occupation here in Iraq.

So perhaps not entirely unsurprising that, while they welcome U.S. support, they're not looking to have U.S. troops on the ground.

CURNOW: OK, Clarissa Ward, thank you so much for that, coming to us there from Erbil in Iraq.

Two Iranian poets face 99 lashes each for shaking hands with people of the opposite sex. Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Mousavi were also sentenced to

around a decade in prison for what is described as "insulting the sacred" in their writings.

A rights group says they confessed to the writing offenses under duress and that their books had received legal approval in Iran. It calls their

sentences "a travesty of justice."

Coming up, refugees bike across a snowy border. Our reporter explains why some Syrians are opting to take the arctic route in search of a new home.

That's just ahead.





CURNOW: Nigeria's army says it's rescued hundreds of Boko Haram hostages in a major operation.


CURNOW (voice-over): Troops raided militant camps in the northeast and freed more than 300 people, almost all of them women and children. We

don't know yet if any of the missing Chibok girls who were kidnapped in April of last year are among those rescued. The army also says troops

killed 30 Boko Haram militants.


CURNOW: Turning now to the migrant crisis in Europe. Austria is following Hungary's lead to slow down the large influx of refugees moving north from

the Balkans. The country has become a key transit point for tens of thousands of people. This video shows hundreds of refugees waiting outside

in the freezing cold to cross from Austria into Germany.

Now the Austrian interior ministry says the country will build a fence along its border with Slovenia to restore order to the chaotic process.

Those trying to get into Europe are constantly trying to find new ways, new routes into the E.U. Norway is about 5,000 kilometers away from Syria but

the distance and the frigid cold just aren't deterring refugees. Some find the so-called arctic route the safest way to find a new life far away from

their war-torn homelands. Arwa Damon reports from Kirkenes, Norway.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Struggling to pedal on the fresh snow, the first asylum seekers who arrive

on this day brave the bitter cold, cycling the last few hundred meters, though some don't even bother to try.

Russia only allows vehicles, which includes bicycles, to cross at this border into Norway. We can easily see the Russian border crossing from

here but we have been asked not to film it because of sensitivities on the Russian side. The group of asylum --


DAMON: -- seekers we just saw crossing are being processed but Norwegian authorities do not allow the media to interview them at this stage in the


The first to attempt this arctic route were Syrians back in February, then only a handful at a time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The number has increased a lot since August this year. We went from 420 to all of August until now we are about 500 a week in


DAMON (voice-over): The discarded bicycles still partially covered in plastic will be recycled; sold in Russia to the asylum seekers at about

$200, they are of such poor quality, they don't live up to Norway safety standards.

Most of those coming through here are Syrians and Afghans. They come to Russia on a visa or have residency, eventually make their way to this

remote crossing and into Northern Norway.

Temporarily housed in a recreation center dug into the side of a mountain, the skies darken by midafternoon, just one of the many novelties.

Hiba's (ph) husband is already in Germany. He risked the sea journey from Turkey to Greece. But that was not an option for their children. With a

three-year visa to Russia, when word spread about this route, Hiba (ph) knew it was their best and, most importantly, safest option.

The image of Aylan Kurdi, who washed up on Turkey's shore over the summer, is etched into every parent's mind.

It gave Ahmed (ph) nightmares. His son is roughly the same age. But he, a civil engineer, was lucky enough to have the arctic option.

AHMED (PH): It is not available to all people. That makes you feel bad. I have a kid.

DAMON (voice-over): It is a deeply emotional time for the majority of those here. Many don't want to talk about the past, don't want to be

defined in that way, choosing instead to hope for a better future -- Arwa Damon, CNN, Kirkenes, Norway.


CURNOW: If you would like to help refugees and migrants get through the difficult winter months, go to this special section of our website, There you'll find a list of organizations supporting families fleeing their homelands for Europe.

You're at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. Still ahead, the tone could be different in Wednesday night's U.S. Republican presidential debate. Find out why

some of the candidates might come out swinging.





CURNOW: Welcome back.

The gloves could come off in Wednesday night's U.S. Republican presidential debate. The dynamics in the campaign have been shifting slightly. With

Ben Carson surging ahead of Donald Trump and in some state and national polls, so Trump could throw some verbal punches at Carson during the

debate, just as he did at voters in the key state of Iowa when his numbers slipped there.


DONALD TRUMP, ENTREPRENEUR: Iowa, what the hell are you people doing to me?

I don't like being second. Second is terrible.

Iowa, will you get the numbers up, please?

Will you get these numbers up?

I promise you, I will do such a good job.

Oh, by the way, before I forget, will you get the numbers up, Iowa, please?

This is ridiculous.

And please do me a favor, let me win Iowa. I refuse to say get your asses in gear. I will not say that. Now if I lose Iowa, I will never speak to

you people again. That I can tell you.


CURNOW: That's just beautiful, isn't it?

CNN politics executive editor, Mark Preston, joins us now from Washington.

Despite the sort of comedy aspect of it, it is pretty serious stuff for Donald Trump. He really doesn't like coming in second.

There is an urgency, a desperation here, isn't there?


Can you get the numbers up?

Could he say that one more time during the rally last night in Iowa?

But there is a sense of urgency. We've seen Ben Carson not only in a national poll put out by "The New York Times" yesterday, showing that he is

now leading. This is the first time since July that Donald Trump has not been in the top spot.

But we have seen it in the state of Iowa, we've seen several polls as well, Robyn, that shows that Ben Carson is leading it as well. Now Donald Trump

hasn't been putting out a whole lot of specific policy proposals, his campaign has been fueled by the anger at Washington.

And you have to wonder at this point is Donald Trump going to do some sort of course correction perhaps tonight in this debate, where he does try to

convince voters that he knows what he's doing. But to your point, I do think the gloves are going to come off.

CURNOW: OK. So the gloves are going to come off.

The trick is, you know, where is the fight going to be?

Is it going to be a Trump-Carson sort of attack in a way?

Is it going to become quite aggressive between these two?

And of course that might be good for the other candidate.

Certainly. And I think that you'll see Donald Trump go on the attack and be aggressive, certainly at Ben Carson over the issue of Medicare, which is

a huge entitlement program here in the United States that takes care of health care for folks who are retired, over the age of 65.

Now Ben Carson has said he wants to revamp it, he has then since stepped back from those comments because it is the third rail of politics, so to

speak. But we'll expect to hear Donald Trump talk to him about that and also say that Ben Carson doesn't have any leadership skills to be

negotiating with foreign powers. So I think you'll see that tonight.

On the flip side, I don't think you'll see Ben Carson go after Donald Trump in a very negative way. It is just not in his persona to do so.

CURNOW: It is not. Let's talk about Jeb Bush.

If you were a Jeb Bush strategist, what would you do tonight or do you suggest?

PRESTON: For all the bluster of Donald Trump on the campaign trail and a lot of the inaccuracy, one thing he's inaccurate about is Jeb Bush has

shown zero energy, very low energy on the campaign trail.

And I think tonight what he has to show voters, donors, supporters and the rest of the field is that he wants this, that he isn't just in this for it

to be handed to him because his father and brother were president but, in fact, he wants to be president.

That's something he's failed to do so and at one point being a front-runner for the nomination, now he's struggling to stay in the middle of the pack.

Jeb Bush needs to go on the offensive, he needs to take on --


PRESTON: -- Donald Trump but he needs to show that he's a leader as well.

CURNOW: OK. It's going to be interesting as usual.

Mark Preston, thank you so much for briefing us on what might be some good TV. Thank you.

She may be the world's oldest and most glamorous jewel thief but she's been arrested again, this time here in Atlanta, Georgia; 85-year-old Doris Payne

is wanted in several U.S. states but Atlanta authorities say she was caught in the act, trying to steal a pricy pair of earrings at an upscale mall.

She's out on bond and her attorney says and denies allegations.

Payne was actually the subject of a documentary, called "The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne." She boasts about her prowess as a thief over five

decades and even describes her technique.

Eighty-five years old -- well, we're not making this story up, I promise.

Russian police pulled over a speeding hearse -- yes, a hearse -- and found something quite unusual inside, about 500 kilograms of caviar packed inside

a coffin. The men in the hearse said they didn't know what they were carrying but had been offered nearly $400 to make the delivery. Clearly

something fishy was going on.

Coming up, two astronauts take their very first steps into space and they have got a lot to accomplish during today's mission. We'll check in with a

former commander of the International Space Station. Stay with us for that one.





CURNOW: Hi, there; welcome, everyone, to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow. Here is a check of the headlines.


CURNOW (voice-over): The Iranian government confirms Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will attend talks on the Syrian civil war. Russia

says the U.S. invited Iran to join Friday's meeting in Vienna. It marks the first time Iran will be part of international discussions on Syria.

Nigeria's army says its troops staged a major rescue operation in Northeastern Nigeria. It says troops rescued more than 300 people held

captive by Boko Haram, most of them women and children. No word yet though if any of the Chibok girls kidnapped last year are among those freed.

The third U.S. Republican presidential debate takes place in Boulder, Colorado, Wednesday night. CNBC moderators say it will focus on jobs and

the economy and it could take a different tone since polls have showed a shifting landscape where Donald Trump no longer seems invincible.


CURNOW: Last week a daring raid freed dozens of hostages from an ISIS controlled prison in Iraq. As Michael Holmes now tells us, former captors

are talking about the horrors of their time in ISIS captivity.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN HOST: When Kurdish commandos backed by U.S. special forces swooped in on an ISIS prison, several of the men inside believed

they had just hours to live.

One of them was Iraqi policeman, Saad Farah (ph).

SAAD FARAH (PH), IRANIAN POLICEMAN: (Speaking foreign language).

HOLMES (voice-over): Farah (ph) still cannot believe the miracle of his rescue.

FARAH (PH): (Speaking foreign language).

HOLMES (voice-over): The hostages also provided rare firsthand accounts of the horror of being held by ISIS.

FARAH (PH): (Speaking foreign language).

HOLMES (voice-over): On Tuesday, all 70 hostages met the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani, whose troops helped rescue them. Among

them, Muhammad Hassan Abdullah (ph), who said that being detained by ISIS meant certain execution. He also paid tribute to America's involvement in

the rescue mission.

But for the Kurds, the success of the nighttime raid in Hawija is bittersweet. They rescued these men but there was no trace of their own

Peshmerga fighters, including these men, captured earlier this year and paraded through Hawija in cages.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language)

HOLMES (voice-over): What has happened to the Peshmerga is unknown. But these Iraqis are just happy to be alive and coming to terms with their

terrible ordeal -- Michael Holmes, CNN.


CURNOW: Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is calling on the United Nations to set up special international protections for Palestinians. He

was speaking at a special meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which was called to discuss the extraordinary level of violence between Israelis

and Palestinians.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, surveillance video of Israeli soldiers beating a Palestinian store employee has prompted an investigation. Oren

Liebermann brings us the footage and a personal account from the shop worker involved.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ansar Aasi is cautious, loading boxes in a storeroom in Ramallah. There are clashes just down the road between

Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters. He is used to being cautious.

Surveillance video shows him raise his hands as a soldier approaches.

ANSAR AASI, STORE EMPLOYEE: (Speaking foreign language)

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): He shows me where he was standing when the soldier rushed in. He says the soldier pushed him to the ground and began

beating him, kicking him. He tells me he tried to speak Hebrew but he says they didn't care what he said.

For nearly five minutes, the beating continues, four soldiers inside, two outside. They kick him repeatedly while he's on the ground near the bottom

of the picture, then jab him with the barrel of their weapons. Aasi shows me the marks he still bears from the beating.

LIEBERMANN: Two weeks later here, you can still see the mark.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): This video comes during weeks of violence between Palestinians and Israelis with tensions high across Jerusalem and the West

Bank; each side accuses the other of incitement. This video from October 6th was recently released by B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- the military showed this video on YouTube, they told us that they are already opening an investigation in the case. And they

want information about the victim.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): The owner moved the camera you see above me to get a better view of what is happening inside this storeroom. The IDF,

after seeing the video, says the incident is under investigation. They say it appears the soldiers in the video acted inappropriately.

But B'Tselem says Aasi, who was arrested at the scene, faces no charges. After we spoke with Aasi and B'Tselem, they met that same afternoon with


Videos have played a large part in incitement and reinforcing the narrative of each side but Aasi says that's not what this is about. For Aasi, this

is about a video holding soldiers responsible -- Oren Liebermann, CNN, Ramallah.


CURNOW: You're watching CNN. There will be much more news after this break.




CURNOW: Two astronauts are taking their first career spacewalks from the International Space Station. And they have got a lot of tasks to

accomplish during their mission today.


CURNOW (voice-over): There they are, live pictures coming there from space. Astronaut Chris Hadfield joins me now via Skype from Toronto,

Canada, he served as commander of the International Space Station.


CURNOW: This is pretty cool to watch. But what is clear is that these are two rookies on their first spacewalk.

CHRIS HADFIELD, ASTRONAUT: Yes. Scott is a very experienced astronaut but he's never has done a spacewalk before. It is a whole other world to be

alone out in the universe. Your spacesuit is a one-person spaceship and it has been popular in the movies recently with "Gravity" and then with "The

Martian," but this is real.

And it is a spectacular place for a human being to be, especially since both of them are rookies. Neither of them have been outside. So it is a

high demand day but it is an exciting day really just as a person.

CURNOW: Obviously invigorating, also terrifying.

What is it like?

HADFIELD: You have so many things to do. They're rewiring the spaceship and putting a sunshade on a big experiment out there and actually

lubricating the big robot arm, the cant arm.

But meanwhile, the whole world is just pouring by --


HADFIELD: -- next to them at five miles a second, eight kilometers a second, pouring by. And it is fabulously distracting.

And you're not on the world, you're in the universe with the world going around the sun. It is -- and you're holding onto a spaceship with one

hand. It is an incredibly distracting place to be as you're trying to pay so close attention to get everything done exactly right.

CURNOW: Because effectively what they are doing is some sort of weightless DIY.

They're being handyman, aren't they?

HADFIELD: It is like -- sort of like a combination of rock climbing and scuba diving and small engine repair, all at the same time, where the

stakes are the highest.

But it is a Nobel laureate that runs the experiment that they're putting the sunshades on. And we're really counting on the wiring to be just right

for the future spaceships that are coming up.

But it is a magnificent place to be. It's like our first inkling of what it will be like to turn tail to Earth and go further out into the solar

system. You get a real sense of that when you're out on a spacewalk, the aloneness of it but also the adventure of it.

CURNOW: That it's just a pit stop to somewhere else.

With that in mind, Commander Kelly is up in space for a year, specifically for that reason, to kind of test how humans survive up there for so long.

HADFIELD: Yes. If you watch the movie, "The Martian," they sort of dramatize how long it takes just to cross the little gap between here and

the next closest planet of interest. And you end up with space flights, as you say, of six months or a year.

And so there is Scott Kelly and a cosmonaut, Misha Kornienko, who are up there for a year right now, to see psychologically and physiologically how

do we support someone, how do we keep them healthy. So it is kind of nice that -- it trivializes it, but that Scott gets to go play outside today

because, for the rest of the time, he's locked inside the cabin with nothing to connect him to the world except the views out the window.

CURNOW: He gets to play outside today. Thanks so much for your perspective on this, extraordinary perspective, really appreciate it,

astronaut Chris Hadfield there, thank you.

HADFIELD: Thanks, Robyn.

CURNOW: That does it for us here at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow. "WORLD SPORT" with Rhiannon Jones is up next.