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Rare View of Russian Military Operation; Vladimir Putin Holds Annual News Conference; U.S.-Taiwan Arms Deal Angers China; Investigators Recover Encrypted Information from Paris Terror Attacks; Afghan Refugees Left Behind in Turkey; Obama to Travel to San Bernardino; MLB Wants Legal Path for Cuban Baseball Players. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired December 17, 2015 - 10:00:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Welcome to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Natalie Allen.

Our top story this hour here at the IDESK, strong words on a number of topics from the Russian president. During his annual news conference

Vladimir Putin lashed out at Turkey for downing a Russian warplane last month and he rejected international efforts to bring an end to the Assad

regime in Syria.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): We will never agree that somebody from wherever they may be can compel who must

lead. That is absolutely not -- there's absolutely no common sense to this international law. And certainly Mr. Kerry spoke about this.

Our position has not changed. It is a position of principle. We consider only the Syrian people can determine who should govern them.


ALLEN: We'll take you live to Moscow for more on Mr. Putin's remarks in just a moment.

But first, senior international correspondent Matthew Chance has been on a Russian ship in the Mediterranean. And he gave us an update on the

ongoing Russian military operation against targets in Syria.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We are getting extremely rare access to Russia's military operations both inside

Syria now off its coast as well because they've brought us a couple of miles off the coast of Syria. And we're standing now on the missile

cruiser, the Moskva, which means Moscow in Russian. And it's a key vessel in Russia's military operation because it provides its air defenses for the

very frequent airstrikes that are being carried out now by the Russian air force against various targets inside Syria.

Latest figures from the Russian defense ministry is that in the past two days, that's since we arrived with the Russian military in Syria, there

have been more than a hundred sorties carried out by the Russian air force, striking at 287 strongholds of rebels. That's what they call it, rebel

camps and training areas and things like that and rebel strongholds; 40 strikes against oil installations as well.

And the defense ministry saying that in the past couple of days more than 400 rebels, including ISIS and members of other rebel groups as well,

have been killed as a result of those Russian airstrikes. And so it gives you a sense of just how intense those airstrikes are.

And from all the evidence we've seen in the past couple of days, there's very little sign at all that that intensity is going to let up --

Matthew Chance, CNN, on board the Moskva missile cruiser in the Eastern Mediterranean.


ALLEN: Let's get more on the Russian operation in Syria and what Mr. Putin said at his news conference. Jill Dougherty joins us live from

Moscow. She's our former bureau chief there and a researcher now for the International Center for Defense and Security.

Jill, hello to you. Matthew Chance just showed us an example of the firepower Russia has. Putin says it's bombing ISIS more than coalition

airstrikes. But he does continue to bomb more than ISIS.

What do we know?

JILL DOUGHERTY, INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR DEFENSE AND SECURITY: Well, he does but you know getting to this news conference that just ended a

couple of hours ago, the question of Syria did come up in a variety of different ways. One way that it came up, I was thinking as I was watching

Matthew's report, was economically.

The focus of this news conference was very much on the economic situation, the problems in Russia right now. One of the questions from a

Russian reporter was how can we, Russia, afford Syria and the operation there, given our economic problems?

And President Putin said that actually it will not affect directly the Russian budget because the money for that is coming from exercises,

military exercises that Russia normally would carry out anyway.

In effect, he was saying this is a very good example of the exercises that we're carrying out. So that, I felt, was kind of interesting.

On other subjects, Natalie, he talked a lot about Turkey, that terrible relationship right now, very fraught relationship with Turkey,

after it shot down the Russian warplane.

He said essentially that there's no prospect of improving relations with Turkey given the leadership that they have right now.

There were also some questions, as I said, about the economy. He admitted it's a difficult situation, also admitted that oil prices will

remain low. He said $50 a barrel was very optimistic and there were actually even some questions about the United States and how they would

deal with the U.S. in a -- with a new election and a new president next year -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Right, he had some interesting comments --


ALLEN: -- to say about Donald Trump. But let's stay on Syria for now. He also said he believes that the U.S. and Russia can cooperate on

figuring out how to end this conflict in Syria.

Did he give any insight into that?

DOUGHERTY: Yes, I think that is important because he did say that the two countries can work together and that Russia, following up on that visit

by Secretary of State John Kerry just the other day here in Moscow, he said that this meeting that will be taking place tomorrow, which is Friday, in

New York at the United Nations, is something that Russia supports and there they hope to pass a resolution about moving forward on this political

transition for Syria.

So that was an important moment. And he said that both countries can work together toward that objective.

ALLEN: All right, we appreciate it.

Jill Dougherty for us, live in Moscow, thank you.

And we have breaking news for you from the world of sport. There are reports Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has been sacked. The club won the

English Premier League title last season but has been struggling this season. Let's get the details from our Alex Thomas in London.

Is this a surprise, Alex?

ALEX THOMAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a surprise or certainly will be when the news is confirmed, despite our attempts to contact Chelsea

Football Club. We've not yet had confirmation of news that's being widely reported here in the U.K.

Jose Mourinho, known as one of the leading managers of his generation, if not the most special coach of his generation, seems to have lost his job

at Chelsea after just a couple of years into his return to the club, where arguably he first made his name. This is a Portuguese coach who won the

college with a cup from his home country, Porto, went to Chelsea quite soon after they were bought out by rich Russian owner Roman Abramovich and with

the help of Abramovich's millions of dollars, helped propel Chelsea to unknown heights before then, winning lots of trophies and he's repeated

that successful formula at clubs he's gone on to after leaving Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and he's gone back to Chelsea where he took them

to the Premier League title only seven months ago.

And what's been extraordinary about their current demise is how quickly it has come. They're currently 16th in England's Premier League

table, just a point above the relegation zone, unlike, say, a franchise system like the NFL. We have the same teams every year or the NBA. You

have three teams drop out of England's Premier League. If they don't finish high enough up the table and they're replaced by three coming up

from the division below them.

Chelsea would never think it would be in that situation. They're looking to win the league every year and get other cups on top of that.

But right now, Jose Mourinho is in a situation that he's never had to face before in his career because wherever he's been appointed it's been an

almost instant formula for success. Not so this time and, as I say, we're waiting to have confirmation of the widespread reports that Jose Mourinho

has lost his job.

ALLEN: And once it's confirmed, perhaps we will hear from him. I want to ask you, though, Alex, is there anyone in line to take his place?

THOMAS: There are a few whispers and rumors about who could step in at short notice, some mentioning Juande Ramos, who's a might that knows

about England's Premier League, having been in charge of Tottenham Hotspur or even Guus Hiddink, a Dutch coach, who's got both international and club

experience. Hiddink's been at Chelsea before.

But there's a number of overwhelming candidates. Interestingly, the only man who can hold to Mourinho over the last few years in terms of his

achievements is Spanish coach Pep Guardiola, who made his name at Barcelona, first as a player, then as a manager and is currently at German

champions Bayern Munich, where he's saw them have an historic way. He's sort of helped them add to their already bulging trophy cabinet.

Guardiola has just announced only yesterday that he's going to quit the club at the end of the season, sparking a scramble for other top teams to

get him as their coach. He's certainly a man in demand. No suggestion that this news of Mourinho is connected with Guardiola's departure,

although there's bound to be plenty of people whispering about it.

ALLEN: All right. We appreciate it. Alex Thomas live from London. We'll have more on this breaking story throughout this hour while we wait

for the confirmation there from Chelsea.

Still to come here on the IDESK, the president will make another attempt to comfort Americans anxious about terrorist threats over the

holidays. He's visiting the National Counterterrorism Center for a news briefing. And we'll have that for you.





ALLEN: Welcome back to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Natalie Allen.

China is angry over a nearly $2 billion weapons deal between the U.S. and Taiwan. CNN's Matt Rivers reports Beijing is threatening sanctions on

U.S. companies involved in the arms sale if the deal goes through.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nearly $2 billion U.S., that the value of the latest arms deal between the United States and Taiwan. It was

about a year ago that the U.S. Congress authorized a potential sale and it was on Wednesday in Washington that the White House notified Congress of

its intent to move forward with this deal.

Now specifically, it calls for the U.S. to sell two decommissioned naval frigates, Stinger surface-to-air missiles amphibious assault vehicles

as well as other related technologies to Taiwan in a move that U.S. officials called "a strategic one" to help Taiwan bolster its military


Now most of the weapons involved are defensive in nature. But that did not stop Chinese officials here from condemning this latest sale.

China views Taiwan as what it calls a renegade province and therefore views any arms shipments as a threat to Chinese national security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): American companies participating in arms sales to Taiwan greatly harm China's sovereignty and

security interests. China's government and companies will not carry out cooperation and commercial dealings with these types of companies.

RIVERS: Chinese government officials said that they expressed those views during an emergency meeting with American diplomats here in Beijing.

We called the U.S. embassy but they declined to comment, saying only that they are in continuous discussions with the Chinese about such issues.

And although this issue is a contested one, it is nothing new. The U.S. has been selling arms to Taiwan for decades now and likely will

continue to do so and the Chinese will likely continue to protest such arms deals.

But both countries have said that they are not willing to let disagreements on individual issues prevent the two sides from working

together on other issues. So any escalation intentions between the sides because of this deal is --


RIVERS: -- unlikely to occur -- Matt Rivers, CNN, Beijing.


ALLEN: New clues are surfacing in the Paris terror attacks investigation. A source tells CNN investigators believe they have found

evidence that some of the terrorists used encrypted apps to plan the attacks.

And a court in Brazil has reordered the reinstatement of one of those apps. And we will talk about both of these stories. Let's bring CNN's

Evan Perez and Samuel Burke, both joining me from our New York bureau. Thank you. I want to talk to both of you about encryption and involving

these apps on both of these fronts.

First to you, Evan, as far as terrorism, how crippling are these apps for intelligence operatives and investigators?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is actually a very big deal for the FBI, for people who are investigating terrorism cases. Simply

because there are a lot of communications that they simply cannot get access to. They want to know who terrorists are speaking to. Who are they

communicating with in order to see if they can stop a future attack.

And, for example, there was one case from earlier this year, in which one of the two terrorists who tried to attack a Prophet Muhammad drawing

contest in Garland, Texas, he exchanged 109 messages with a top Syrian operative of ISIS on the day of the attack, right before he carried out the

attack. The FBI knows of these 109 messages because they can see that they occurred. They have no idea what the content of that communications is.

And so one of the things that's happening in the Paris attack is the same issue, is they've found that they can see there are trails of

communications. They don't know what they are.

We know that the attackers in this case used a couple of popular apps, including WhatsApp and Telegram, but one of the things that's stymied the

investigation is the fact that they can see that there are trails and they don't know exactly what's in those streams of communications.

It's also important to note though that some of these attackers also used unencrypted methods of communications and they certainly were making

phone calls during the attacks that the investigators now believe will tell them a lot.

ALLEN: All right, Evan, let's go to Samuel for a tech perspective on this.

These encryption methods these apps use, well, this is how they do business. This is how they're set up, correct?

SAMUEL BURKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's called end-to- end encryption. They've made these apps so secure that even if the government goes to them, they say, well, we don't have the keys. There's

nothing that we can do about it. And that may be what we saw in Brazil. WhatsApp had been banned in Brazil for 48 hours, although that's just been


But what we saw was a court case in which the judge was asking for information from WhatsApp about one of the people involved in this

investigation and experts say probably what happened, WhatsApp went and said, sorry, we do not have the information because we use end-to-end

encryption. So that's been overturned now. WhatsApp is being reinstated for a hundred million users in Brazil.

But it gets to this core issue of how much privacy do people want?

And what's fascinating here is that as WhatsApp was blocked this morning in Brazil, 1.5 million people turned to Telegram. That company,

which has a messaging service which is even more encrypted than WhatsApp, according to experts, they saw their users flying. They saw everybody

trying to register to the point they couldn't handle how many people were trying to get on.

And this is what we heard from tech companies, you can try and make us give you the keys to these applications but what will happen is the good

guys and the bad guys will probably just turn to other apps. And as Evan has been reporting, looks like these people in Paris were using WhatsApp

and Telegram.

So there are always going to be these alternatives, even if they make restrictions on some of the more mainstream apps.

ALLEN: Very interesting and it's got to be so very frustrating for investigators, Evan, because it seems like the advances they've made in

tracking would-be terrorists have been through tracking their social media and now there seems to be no way to get around end-to-end encryption.

PEREZ: Right. And that's one thing that the FBI director James Comey talked about in visit to New York yesterday, to New York police, the city

police headquarters.

He mentioned a lot of times what they see, they're monitoring Twitter. They see in the chaos of Twitter, they see ISIS posting on social media, on

Twitter. They're posting propaganda and they can see who is reading and who's watching some of these videos and some of these files.

And then what happens is that they can tell that some people then move to enter an encrypted apps. They do private messaging to try to move

people off the public sphere so that they can then do things in private.

And, as Comey describes it, he describes it as looking at a needle that then disappears in one giant haystack that they have no idea how to

get into.

And look, the conversation that Samuel was talking about is one that's going on.


PEREZ: The FBI and other intelligence agencies and law enforcement is having -- they're having conversations with tech companies. And as -- one

of the conversations is, OK, look, we're not going to force you to build back doors for us to just go in, which is what was happening before Edward

Snowden disclosed some of these surveillance programs.

Instead, what we want you to do is to build it so that if a court comes to you and says hand over this data, you are able to get into your

own encrypted applications. That is a conversation that is a long way from being resolved.

BURKE: And also, and Evan and Natalie, what I hear from a lot of tech companies is that if one government does that, let's say the United States

goes in and says we want this information, what stops another government that may not have good intentions, who may not be trying to stop a

terrorist attack from going in and saying, hey, we want this information?

But it could be about dissidents.

What happens if Bashar al-Assad says I want this information?

No, WhatsApp probably wouldn't comply with someone like Bashar al- Assad. But it could be other governments, where they get into these situations which are not so black and white and they say we don't know if

we want to be handing over user information to a government that may be going against dissidents.

PEREZ: Exactly. That's a great one. One last point on that, actually. The U.S. for a while, the State Department was encouraging

dissidents in Syria during that -- the beginning of that uprising, to use some of these encrypted apps in order to evade the security of apparatus of

Bashar al-Assad.

ALLEN: Certainly, you give us examples of the good, the bad and the ugly of the digital age.

Thank you so much, Evan Perez and Samuel Burke for us, thank you.

A group of refugees in Turkey has nowhere left to go. We'll speak with a family who fled Afghanistan but cannot make it to Europe.





ALLEN: E.U. leaders are talking about migration and border control at a two-day summit in Belgium. They'll focus on how to respond to the huge

rise in the number of migrants wanting to enter Europe.

Some in the E.U. say the longstanding policy of passport-free travel through much of Europe could be under threat.

While the world knows about the refugees fleeing Syria, there's another group of refugees trying to get to Europe. Migrants from

Afghanistan are finding themselves stranded in Turkey. CNN's Sara Sidner speaks with one family struggling to survive.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The universal sign for hunger. The desperation isn't just felt by the children, but the adults

too. Once a day, dozens are able to get something in their stomachs only because of the kindness of strangers who live nearby.

While the world focuses on Syria, these refugees seem to have been forgotten. Their war has lasted a lifetime and continues to bring death to

their doors.

SAMI REZAI, AFGHAN REFUGEE: They killed everywhere, everything. They finished everything; they killed our Afghan soldiers. They killed all our

family leaders and my father and I don't know where is my mother, where is my sister.

SIDNER (voice-over): Sami Rezai says the Taliban gave his family no choice. They escaped Afghanistan, hoping to find a new life in Europe.

But nearly 3,000 miles and several thousand dollars later, all they have found is purgatory in Turkey.

And a new struggle: finding the money to pay for the daily medication the two children must have. Their mother, Tawadi Ikari (ph), is beside

herself with worry, explaining the eldest needs nine pills a day, the youngest four. They are running out.

REZAI: If we don't give him the tablets, he's especially shouting; mind is out of control.

SIDNER (voice-over): This is just one family in the midst of dozens of other Afghans, waiting by the sea for their last hope, a boat to Greece,

the gateway to Europe.

They can't stay here because, in 2013, the United Nations Refugee Agency stopped accepting new asylum applications from Afghan refugees in

Turkey. Their new life is just a 35-minute boat ride on the Aegean Sea. They are all aware they may never make it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe we will die in the sea because the boats not sent.

SIDNER (voice-over): Mirwaz Biot (ph) knows about the boats that capsize on an almost daily basis and no one here can swim. But these

families say they cannot survive in the modern-day ruins they have found shelter in on the Turkish coast. There is no running water, no

electricity, no heat; so they wait for their chance to board the ill- prepared boats, hoping the current will be kind.

As we leave, Biot (ph) whispers, "If you were me, you would kill yourself; that is how hard life is for those of us who wait." -- Sara

Sidner, CNN, Cesme, Turkey.


ALLEN: Such a sad illustration there and certainly there are many, many other families with similar stories. But we just can't get to them

all. Thanks to Sara Sidner for that.

Up next here on the IDESK, President Barack Obama is poised to deliver his annual threat briefing about the holidays and he's delivering it from

an unusual place. We'll have that for you.






ALLEN: We continue here at the INTERNATIONAL DESK, live from Atlanta. Hello, I'm Natalie Allen. Here are our top stories.


ALLEN: The U.S. President Barack Obama is going straight to the source for a briefing about terror threats over the holidays. He's

visiting the National Counterterrorism Center outside of Washington. Joe Johns is live at the White House for us.

And Joe, it's certainly been a violent month for the world as far as terrorism goes.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It has, Natalie. And to tell you the truth, this is one in a series of attempts by the White

House to appear active and engaged on the issue of terrorism, the president taking a rare visit to the National Counterterrorism Center and he's going

to sit down and talk with some of the officials there.

And after that, he apparently is going to give some type of a statement. They don't advertise when they're talking about intelligence

but we do know the director of that center on Capitol Hill testifying as recently as October, among the many things they're concerned about is the

ability of terror organizations like ISIS, Al Qaeda and others to communicate outside the channels where intelligence can pick up their


So there's a lot to talk about there, the president trying to get out in front of this in advance of the holidays, also in advance of his long

17-day vacation trip to Hawaii -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And we know that before he gets to Hawaii he's going to be stopping in California. And that is in relation, this stop, to the

terrorism we saw there.

JOHNS: That's right. He's going to San Bernardino, California, the site of the latest terror attacks in the United States, the worst since

9/11. He's going to have a private meeting, we're told, with the families of the victims and possibly a statement from him there.

But it does not sound like it's going to be a big media event for public consumption. It sounds sufficiently private.


JOHNS: So he's going to do that.

And I also have to mention that earlier this week he went over to the Pentagon to talk with his national security team and even in New York at

the United Nations, the security counsel at the United Nations, the Security Council at the United Nations, the Treasury Secretary is talking

to ministers of Security Counsel nations about cutting off the flow of money to ISIS. So a lot going on in this front, very concerned because

Americans are concerned right now about terrorism -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Absolutely. We'll wait and see what the president has to say. We'll bring our viewers that.

Joe Johns, for us live at the White House, thank you, Joe.

Up next here on the IDESK, Cuban baseball players smuggled into the U.S. years ago are getting a celebrity welcome back home by the next

generation of Cuban athletes, who may find it easier to play in the U.S. That's ahead.




ALLEN: Traveling to Cuba from the U.S. is about to get easier. A U.S. official says the two countries have agreed to resume commercial

flights after decades of suspended air travel.

The deal was part of a decision to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba. A Cuban officials says even U.S. President Barack Obama is

welcome to visit the country as long as he does not meddle in its internal affairs.

The U.S. trade embargo is still intact, banning general tourism to Cuba.

And Major League Baseball officials say they want to make it easier for Cubans to play baseball in the U.S. legally. CNN's Patrick Oppmann

speaks with some Cuban baseball players who defected but now are being welcomed back home.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For these young Cuban players, it was an opportunity that until recently would

have been unthinkable, getting pointers not just from Major League Baseball stars but from Cuban players, who defected to the U.S. and were banned by

the island's Communist-run government from ever returning home.

That is, until now.

"I'm very happy to be back in my country," L.A. Dodgers star hitter, Yasiel Puig, says.

"After so many years where I haven't returned, it's emotional."

In Cuba, Puig scraped by on the comparably meager salary a baseball player here earns.


OPPMANN (voice-over): In 2012, after several attempts, he left the island in a smuggler's boat. A year later, he signed a seven-year deal

with the L.A. Dodgers for $42 million.

The promise of big money in the United States has emptied the Cuban league of many of their top players. A bitter lesson in market economics

for a country that once claimed that love for the revolution was all their athletes required.

OPPMANN: Cubans for generations have excelled at baseball, but a spree of defections and a lack of resources leave many people here

wondering if their beloved national pastime could ever recover.

OPPMANN (voice-over): During a three-day goodwill trip, MLB officials say they want to find a way for Cubans to play in the U.S. without turning

to smugglers and criminal gangs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, ultimately negotiate with the Cuban Baseball Federation, cooperation of the U.S. government and the Cuban

government, a safe and legal path for Cuban baseball players, who desire to play Major League Baseball, to reach the major leagues.

OPPMANN (voice-over): Officials have indicated they want to make a deal, if it could lead to badly needed revenue for their government.

And as Cuba continues to open, more fans want to see how the game is played in the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it's not only the enticement or the motivation of the money for these young players to leave, but also they don't have the

same status at home as they used to have, the guys who used to be branded as traitors and still are to some degree by the government. But, for the

fans, these guys are now the heroes.

OPPMANN (voice-over): Cuban fans might see more of their heroes up close again soon. Major League Baseball officials say they're negotiating

to bring spring training games to the island next year -- Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.


ALLEN: More sports news coming right up on "WORLD SPORT," including the stunning story that just broke this hour, the Chelsea sacking of

manager Jose Mourinho. Alex Thomas will have that. Thanks for watching the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Natalie Allen.