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Obama Warns Russia against Intervening in Syria; ISIS Leader's Ex- Wife among Those Released by Lebanon; AirAsia Crash Report Reveals Series of Technical Errors; Congo's Solution for Saving Africa's Oldest Park; Inside Pistorius' Prison Cell; Trump under Fire. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired December 1, 2015 - 10:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN HOST (voice-over): Hi, everyone, welcome to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow at the CNN Center.

U.S. President Barack Obama strikes an optimistic but tough note on two of the biggest problems facing the world: climate change and the threat from



CURNOW (voice-over): Speaking to reporters after two days of meetings at the U.N. climate summit, Mr. Obama warned that if the planet keeps warming

countries will pay a hefty price. He also talked about the conflict in Syria, ISIS and what he thinks Russia will ultimately do.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going to continue to be a serious threat for some time to come but I'm confident that we are on the

winning side of this and that ultimately Russia's going to recognize the threat that ISIL poses to its country, to its people, is the most

significant and that they need to align themselves with those of us who are fighting ISIL.


CURNOW: OK. President Obama is on his way back to Washington on Air Force One. Phil Black, though, is in Paris and joins us now.

We have some pretty blunt words there from Obama to Putin, Phil.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Robyn, a pretty blunt assessment of Putin and Russia's policy in Syria generally and what President Obama

thinks it can --

CURNOW: Oh, we seem to have lost Phil Black. We'll try and get him back later on in the show. In the meantime, let's move on.

Lebanon has released the ex-wife of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.


CURNOW (voice-over): Now these are new pictures of her shortly after the exchange near the Syrian border. She was among a group of Islamists freed

as part of a prisoner swap with the Al-Nusra Front Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria.

In exchange, Al-Nusra returned 16 kidnapped Lebanese soldiers and police. CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank joins me now from our Washington


Hi, there.

What does the release particularly of this woman tell us?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERROR ANALYST: Well, I think the reason that she was released -- and I understand this from Lebanese security sources -- is

that her brother is a senior figure in Jabhat al-Nusra and her new husband also believed to be involved in the group.

So the idea here is that Qatar negotiated this for the last several months and that there were going to be these Lebanese sort of swapped of Lebanese

soldiers swapped for these Islamists who were being held in Lebanese jails -- Robyn.

CURNOW: So what's the likelihood of then more negotiations and not just with al-Nusra?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, this was the result of months of negotiations led by Qatar to sort of create this prisoner release. There haven't been

corresponding negotiations yet between Lebanese authorities and ISIS, ISIS also believed to hold some hostages in this same region -- Robyn.

CURNOW: OK. So talking about that, beyond getting those other prisoners back, what did the Lebanese gain by this swap?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, they got these soldiers back who were captured in August of 2014 in Arsal by Jabhat al-Nusra. This is a region of the

northern Bekaa valley in Lebanon, which has seen quite a lot of militancy.

The presidents of several opposition groups fighting in Syria, including Jabhat al-Nusra but also including ISIS, some of these groups retain a

presence in the hills above Arsal and so there's sort of this ongoing tension within Lebanon between the jihadis on the one side and the

government on the other side.

And this comes at a time when there's growing concern about the ISIS threat inside Lebanon. We saw those twin suicide bombings last month in Beirut,

which killed over 40 people.

That was a cell, we're told, which was sent by ISIS from Syria to Lebanon to carry out those attacks in a Hezbollah neighborhood. They're trying to

provoke increasing sectarian hatred and tension in the country, which they hope to exploit.

Also ISIS is finding some success in recruiting young Lebanese Salafis. They have a presence in several parts of the country, including in the

northern town of Tripoli -- Robyn.


CURNOW: OK. Paul, always good to have your perspective. Thanks so much.

Want to take you back to our top story now, the climate change summit in Paris. And as we said President Obama is now on his way back to Washington

on Air Force One after speaking to the press for nearly an hour.

Phil Black is back with us in Paris.

Hi, there, Phil. Before we were cut off there, we were just talking about how there was pretty blunt assessment from Obama to President Putin.

BLACK: Yes. Specifically, on Putin's policies in Syria. He predicted a possible shift in calculations in Russia's thoughts and what is achievable

there in terms of backing the Syrian president and he seemed to base it on two things.

Firstly, the step-up and an increase in the intensity of the U.S.-led coalition with the U.S. action, Germany contributing more, France adding

its weight and Britain about to do so as well.

But he also talked about the last two months or so, that Russia has been launching its airstrikes against Syria and he said that a reasonable

assessment would say not much has changed on the ground but in that same time Russia has paid quite a price.

One of its bombers was shot down by Turkey. It had a Russian passenger jet was brought down by ISIS over the Sinai. But he said that if there's going

to be a change, it's not going to happen quickly. You're not talking about a 180 turnaround.

He said that Russia has a lot invested in supporting the Syrian regime and President Assad and that means that for the foreseeable future at least, it

means that Russia will continue to target Syrian moderate opposition groups, many of which are allied with the United States -- Robyn.

CURNOW: OK. So one level, conversation about terrorism. Also, though, the leaders, of course, talking climate change. The speeches are over and

the world leaders are leaving. Now comes the real hard work.

Why is this meeting different to the others?

BLACK: Well, the leaders are leaving. You're right. And they're leaving the negotiators to thrash out the details.

But it's interesting. I think the leaders are leaving those negotiators in a pretty good place in terms of delivering a deal that will meet

expectation. Coming in to this, everyone's had a pretty good idea of what they've got to work with and what everyone is prepared to do.

What sets these talks apart from previous climate talks has been the universal sense of political will. Internationally, everyone putting an

offer on the table about what they're prepared to do to fight climate change.

We know that those deals, those pledges collectively will not meet the stated goal of keeping temperature increases to within 2 degrees Celsius

but the belief is, a little optimistically, although President Obama said it's not a foolish optimism, that locking those pledges into a deal, in an

agreement, the architecture he referred to it as, something that will enable this process to go forward for pledges and efforts to reduce carbon

emissions to be continuously reviewed, to have transparency and confidence attached to that, that will, over time, increase the efficiency and the

ability of countries to reduce emissions faster than expected, he hoped. And that's how ultimately they believe that they will get to within that 2-

degree target and he said we're pretty sure we're going to get that done -- Robyn.

CURNOW: OK, Phil Black, thanks so much, Phil there in Paris for us. Appreciate it.

Let's go to the U.K. now. Britain's prime minister says he's hopeful all parties will support his move for airstrikes as ISIS. When it comes up for

a vote on wed, David Cameron says his cabinet agreed to the motion which would target ISIS in Syria as well as in Iraq. Now the House of Commons

will hold a lengthy debate before the vote.

In a break from tradition, the opposition Labour Party leader is allowing his members to freely vote on the issue so approval is expected.

Meanwhile, Germany's cabinet has approved a military support mission against ISIS. Parliament is expected to pass the measure. Germany will

not carry out airstrikes but it will deploy reconnaissance jets, refueling aircraft and a frigate to protect a French aircraft carrier. It'll also

send 1,200 troops to the region in a support role. France requested help from Germany after the Paris terror attacks.

You're at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. Still ahead, answers to an aviation mystery. Investigators think they finally know what brought down the

AirAsia plane that plunged into the Java Sea. We will have the details with Richard Quest after the break.





CURNOW: Well, we now know what went wrong on that AirAsia flight that crashed into the Java Sea almost a year ago. All 162 people on board were

killed. Investigators have released a new report that says the pilots responded incorrectly to a series of technical failures, including a faulty

rudder control system and that they couldn't handle the aircraft when it went into a stall.

Let's get more from CNN's aviation correspondent, Richard Quest, in Dubai.

Hi, there, Richard. Unpack that for us.

What does all that mean?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: What it means is that there was a technical fault on the aircraft, a fault that had been there for

sometime, more than 20 times this fault had occurred. So questions certainly about why the airline hadn't repaired that fault properly.

But this fault was serious but by no means catastrophic. It should not in any way have doomed the aircraft.

What happened here was that one of the pilots, the captain, we believe, reset the computers. In doing so, he unleashed a series of unintended,

understood consequences. That upset the aircraft and the other pilot was unable to control it because he did improper inputs.

He basically pulled the nose up when he should have been pushing it down, a variety of things.

So, Robyn, what we've -- what we can immediately see from this is, yes, there was a technical fault and the aircraft had not been maintained as it


But it was the response of both the pilot in resetting the computer and then the other pilot, in the way he was flying the plane -- so-called

unintended consequences -- they didn't understand how the plane was going to react.


So then the question is, you know, does this raise questions about pilot training, of course?

QUEST: This goes to the very heart of what is one of the most significant issues in aviation today for pilots. It is the relationship between the

pilots and the machine.

The plane is extremely sophisticated and, in fact, this report buried in around about page 160, it says pilots should not disconnect computers

unless they are --


QUEST: -- absolutely certain about what they're about to do.

And then related to that, we have the same issue that we had with Air France 447, the so-called plane went into alternate law, the alpha

protections were lost. They didn't understand what they were getting themselves into.

And because this thing is so complicated, that's where it went wrong. It's very serious. It's very worrying. And it's causing the entire aviation

industry to have to have a strong, hard think about pilot training for flying planes when there's an upset.

CURNOW: Indeed. And of course, 162 souls were on that plane. Richard Quest, thanks so much as always.



CURNOW (voice-over): Ahead, some of the world's last surviving mountain gorillas are threatened by conflict and poverty. How efforts to save them

and the park where they live include a call of clean, sustainable energy.




CURNOW: Climate change is taking center stage in Paris. An effort is underway to save Africa's oldest park, now it's a World Heritage site and

home to some of the world's last remaining mountain gorillas. Here's Arwa Damon with more on this story.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We're next to some of the last remaining mountain gorillas in the world.



DAMON (voice-over): Here in Eastern Congo, their forested sanctuary is surrounded by uncertainty.

DAMON: Even with the fighting, even when M-23 came --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even if the war come, we was just here, just protecting these gorillas.

DAMON (voice-over): Innocent Mburanumwe's father --


DAMON (voice-over): -- habituated the first troupe in 1987 and took him when he was just 11 to see gorillas for the first time. Mburanumwe says he

was struck by how human they seemed. Now he and his rangers dedicate their lives to protecting this threatened species.

And more than once they've proven their resolve.

DAMON: In 2007, there was a horrific massacre that saw seven members of one troupe killed. This troupe that we're visiting right now, only five of

them survived and none of them were silverback. So Nokima (ph) came and adopted the survivors as his own family.

DAMON (voice-over): The slaughter, a message to the rangers.

DAMON: And why did they kill them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They killed these gorilla just to discourage the rangers so that rangers can go out of the forest, then people will benefit

the rich soil.

DAMON (voice-over): Four million people live on Virunga's edge in abject poverty in a region with unrivaled natural resources they continue to

suffer through one of the world's longest running and deadliest wars.

As she prepares a meal she hopes will feed 10 family members 65-year-old Suzanne Jakupewa (ph) tells us conservation doesn't put food on the table.

For her, the park is a great source of wood and fuel.

EMANUEL DEMERODE (PH), PARK DIRECTOR: There is travel points all along. Everywhere where there's (INAUDIBLE). That's actually inside the park.

DAMON (voice-over): Park director Emmanuel de Merode has made many enemies trying to protect the park. In 2014, he was ambushed.

DE MERODE: I got hit in the chest and stomach.

DAMON (voice-over): More than 140 rangers have been killed in the last decade, clashing with rebel groups and criminal gangs, funding war by

pillaging the park -- and then there is oil.

DE MERODE" That's why the drilling was GHB.

DAMON (voice-over): The government had authorized U.K. oil giant SOCO to explore for oil. Conservationists called the move illegal and that

allegations of intimidation and violence. SOCO has denied the claims but this November it abandoned the project.

DE MERODE: And there still a lot of uncertainty there. And so we have to remain very vigilant.

DAMON (voice-over): Africa's oldest park is also its most unique, classified a UNESCO World Heritage site for its unrivaled biodiversity to

this, the world's largest lava lake, its orange-red waves crashing in a mesmerizing mosaic.

But beauty alone will never be enough to save Virunga and the traditional model of protecting park boundaries and bringing in tourism dollars hasn't

worked, either.

So how does nature win, given the odds?

Like this: a massive hydroelectric plant built just outside the park and powered by the water from Virunga's protected mountains. It will bring

sustainable energy to an entire region for the first time. This station is one of eight, all set to be online by 2025.

DE MERODE: It's definitely the cleanest form of energy creation.

DAMON (voice-over): It is a way to reverse what de Merode calls an environmental injustice.

DE MERODE: An acre of fertile agricultural land, which is what Virunga National Park could be, can generate about $600 a year in net profit for a

poor Congolese family. That represents about $1 billion of lost revenue for what are essentially some of the poorest people on Earth.

DAMON (voice-over): He readily admits the population here cannot be expected to bear the cost of conserving an asset that benefits the whole of


DE MERODE: (INAUDIBLE) for all the (INAUDIBLE) alliance.

DAMON (voice-over): Now constantly flanked by armed guards, de Merode knows the rangers cannot fight the financial lure of the park's resources

but they can transform it.

DE MERODE: It is very simple; if there are 100,000 people, whose jobs, whose livelihoods rely on a healthy ecosystem in the park, they're going to

want to protect that park.

DAMON (voice-over): And bringing power to the region will do just that. With it will come small and medium companies, jobs, all dependent on the

park (INAUDIBLE) to survive.

The risk: overpopulation on the park's fringes but one worth taking. And, says lead engineer Safari Kambale (ph), opportunities for his children he

could not have dreamed of.

"We normally live in the dark" --


DAMON (voice-over): -- he says.

"This is going to allow a generation of youth not to busy themselves with armed groups but with developing the country."

Something that will start here, lights in the shell of a classroom its windows still damaged by war, electricity at night when the children are

home. And all of the opportunities and development energy, clean energy, from the park, will bring.

DE MERODE: We are in a race with all sorts of damaging industries so we're on the front line in terms of trying to protect that last, you know,

incredible piece of forest. Of course, its role in terms of stabilizing climate, in terms of its role in terms of addressing climate change issues

are fundamental.

DAMON (voice-over): Ensuring development is dependent on nature and, with that, the preservation of its iconic mountain gorillas, giving Virunga a

chance to win the conservation race -- Arwa Damon, CNN, Virunga National Park.


CURNOW: For more on Arwa and her team's reporting from the Democratic Republic of Congo and that ambitious $200 million clean energy project, do

head to You'll find her (INAUDIBLE) online.

Still ahead at the INTERNATIONAL DESK, for the first time, we get to see inside the prison cell once occupied by Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius as

he waits to find out whether he'll be going back to it.





CURNOW: Welcome back to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow. Here's a check of the headlines.


CURNOW: To South Africa now and reports the supreme court, the appeal court is set to rule Thursday on prosecutors' appeal in the case of Olympic

sprinter Oscar Pistorius. They want him convicted of murder instead of the lesser charge of culpable homicide for the killing of his girlfriend, Reeva


Meanwhile, journalists have gotten a look at the prison cell he could be sent back to. His defense team had argued he was especially aggressed

because of his disability.

Let's get more from our David McKenzie in Johannesburg.

So David, first of all, this is the first time we have seen where Oscar Pistorius was locked up for the past year.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Robyn. You know, there's been speculation. We learned earlier this year exclusive details

of his life in prison.

But then we got the first-hand look at what it was like, going inside Kgosi Mampuru Prison on a tour, organized by correctional services. They told us

this is the first time that they can remember ever letting a journalist inside this prison.

We went to the hospital wing, where Oscar Pistorius spent just under a year.

You know, to quote a prison official, he said this is to show that it's not a five-star facility, as some have speculated. It was a very modest cell

and an adjoining bathroom which they had modified for the double amputee.

Of course in stark contrast, to the general prison population, where up to 50 prisoners share a cell, one toilet and the basin and the violence is, in

fact, rife in the prison system and overcrowding.

But they say because of the nature of his disability and because of his high-profile nature, they can't keep him in the general population and

certainly they're prepared, should he be sent back if he loses that appeal -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Well, tell us about that, David.

When are we expecting this announcement from the appeal court?

And is there any indication of which way they're going?

MCKENZIE: Well, really we'd be reading the tea leaves at this stage. A lot speculation here in South Africa. They say, well, because the lawyers,

particularly the defense team, had a very tough time at the supreme court appeal process, the oral arguments, some people speculate, well, maybe

he'll be sent back to prison.

Experts tell us you just cannot know at this point. They will give, according to a court official the judgment, they will read out a very short

judgment, then perhaps go into more detail. They're thinking behind the judgment on Thursday of this week so Oscar Pistorius will hear his fate


If he loses the appeal, it's not necessarily the end of the road or he won't necessarily be sent straight back to prison. They might send the

sentencing for a more serious murder charge back to the high court, which could come next year.

But certainly there will be a great deal of trepidation from Oscar Pistorius and his supporters this week and from the Reeva Steenkamp family,

which says nothing will bring their daughter back. But that a year in prison was, from their perspective, not nearly enough -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Thank you so much, David McKenzie there from Johannesburg.

Well, Australia's foreign minister said there are grave concerns over the fate of two Australian surfers, missing in Mexico. Human remains and a

burned-out van registered to one of the men were found in the area home to the Sinaloa drug cartel, while DNA testing is underway. The surfers were

on a trip from Canada to Mexico. They were last seen 11 days ago.


CURNOW (voice-over): Still to come, Donald Trump on the defensive. How his campaign --


CURNOW (voice-over): -- is fighting accusations that he mocked a physically disabled reporter.




CURNOW: A top adviser to Donald Trump is defending the U.S. Republican presidential front-runner over allegations that he mocked a reporter's

disability. Michael Cohen talked about that with CNN's Jake Tapper. Take a listen to some of that interview.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Trump cited this report from 2001 in "The Washington Post," from Serge Kovaleski. Kovaleski is a

reporter; he suffers from a condition that limits movement in his arms.

Now this is Trump at a rally, talking about this reporter.

DONALD TRUMP, ENTREPRENEUR: About Northern New Jersey, draws the prober's eye -- written by a nice reporter. Now the poor guy, you got to see this


"Oh, I don't know what I said. I don't remember."

He's going like, "I don't remember. I had the all -- maybe that's what I said."

TAPPER: All right. Now, let's put up -- there's a still photo of Donald Trump from that event and a picture of Mr. Kovaleski. Now Mr. Trump

insists he was not making fun of Kovaleski's disability and he doesn't remember even meeting Kovaleski, who covered him in the past.

But at that --


MICHAEL COHEN, TRUMP SPOKESPERSON: You know, Jake, how many people do you think have covered Donald Trump in the past?

Thousands upon thousands.

TAPPER: How many of people with that disability?

I would guess one.

COHEN: Do you really think that Mr. Trump remembers this specific reporter?

TAPPER: He said --

COHEN: Mr. Trump himself said he does remember --

TAPPER: You said he has a fantastic memory.


COHEN: He most certainly does. He sees thousands and thousands of reporters a year.

TAPPER: But he said --

COHEN: Now let me say one more --

TAPPER: -- Michael, he said, this is --


TAPPER: -- nice reporter. He said written by a nice reporter, you got to see this guy.

COHEN: -- he was talking about the article until he ended up pulling it back, which he did for whatever the reason that he did.

But let me say --

TAPPER: "You got to see this guy," and then he mimics his injury.

COHEN: Mr. Trump donates millions and millions of dollars each and every year in order to combat disabilities, in order to combat cancer, whether

it's children, when he donates millions of dollars a year.

Mr. Trump is not the type of individual that's going to make fun of somebody's disability. He wouldn't know this guy prior to this entire


TAPPER: But we just saw him do it. We just saw him make fun of his disability.

COHEN: He was not making fun. He was being gesticulate, which Donald Trump is and he was basically showing the exasperation --


COHEN: -- of a reporter pulling back on a story, exasperation and basically saying something like, oh, now I don't remember, now I don't

remember. Had nothing to do with --

TAPPER: And I just so happened -- first of all, he said, was a nice guy and then he said, "You got to see this guy," and then he twists his arms to

mimic the disability.

COHEN: He wasn't twisting his arm to mimic anything.


CURNOW: OK. Tough interview there.

Well, Trump is also taking aim at fellow Republican candidate, Chris Christie, after the New Jersey governor got a big boost over the weekend.

A top New Hampshire newspaper endorsed Christie's campaign. Trump accuses him of neglecting New Jersey in favor of spending time in New Hampshire, a

key state in determining the party's nomination. But Christie tells our Jamie Gangel he's ready to lead the whole country.


JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Does this make you the comeback kid?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), N.J.: We'll see. Yes, that will be determined on February 9th when we see how the votes come in.

But I think what it shows is that the work we've been putting in here in New Hampshire, the plans we have laid out, that people are taking them

seriously and taking them to heart and we're thrilled to have the endorsement.

GANGEL: Prediction to date, Chris Christie could win New Hampshire?

CHRISTIE: Sure. Of course. I can win New Hampshire. And anybody who's up here and watches any of it knows that I can.


CURNOW: Chris Christie there, speaking with CNN's Jamie Gangel and Christie is spending part of this week campaigning in New Hampshire.

And this just in: the U.S. Defense Secretary has announced the United States is deploying a special team of U.S. forces to help Iraqi and Kurdish

Peshmerga forces fighting ISIS.

Well, Ash Carter was testifying before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, said this deployment will put, quote, "even more pressure on


Carter went on to say that troops would eventually be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIS leaders.

CURNOW: Well, that does it for us here at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. Thanks so much for joining me. I'm Robyn Curnow. Don't go anywhere. "WORLD

SPORT" is next.