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Russian Air Strikes on Syrian targets from Iranian Bases; Trump Unveils Anti-Terrorism Strategy for Syria. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 19, 2016 - 14:00:00   ET


[14:01:45] CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, the fear and confusion of war summed up in one look. A week of Russian air

strikes on Syrian targets from Iranian bases, under the bombs, how do we explain to children like Omron in Aleppo that there are no hopes in peace?

We seek answers from the people charge with attacks.

The war in Syria against ISIS remains a factor in the U.S. election. Presidential hopeful Donald Trump unveils his idea for the region,

including closer ties with Russia.

Could they work?

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to a special weekend edition of the program.

I'm Clarissa Ward in for Christiane Amanpour.




WARD: After pounding Syrian targets from Iranian bases for three days, Russia now says it's ready to support a cessation of violence to allow help

to the beleaguered City of Aleppo.

Little to no aid is getting through to Aleppo, and these images of 5-year- old Omron bewildered and uncomprehending after surviving an air strike resonated around the world just as at last top turned from war to a truce.

So is there any hope of peace for Omron and for all of Syria?

This week, I asked John Kirby in the U.S. State Department in Washington and Robert Ford, the last U.S. ambassador to Syria.


WARD: Well, of course, it's no secret to you. Now Russia flying these bombing routes out of Iran.

What does the U.S. government respond to this? What is the game plan for Russia here?

JOHN KIRBY, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Well, I think you would have to ask the Russians in terms of what their game plan is from a

tactical perspective. From our perspective, we want to continue to see Russia contribute to what we think is the right solution, which is a

diplomatic solution.

We've long said there's no military solution to this conflict. And strikes, whether they are out of Syria or whether they are out of Iran

aren't doing anything to contribute to what we believe should be a diplomatic solution here. We've made that very clear.

Look, we have -- we're in discussions right now with the Russians on some proposals to try to get the cessation of hostilities to apply nationwide

and to be actually more enforceable than it is right now. And that's what we think the focus ought to be.

WARD: But there is a sense here that the U.S. was blindsided by this. That they didn't see it coming. That they were only given warning about it

at the very last minute.

Does this make America, when you're coming and talking about a coalition with Russia and Syria, does this make the U.S. look naive?

KIRBY: I don't think it makes us look naive, Clarissa. What I think it does is it shows that we need to continue to be very careful in how we deal

with Russia on this issue going forward.

We have long said this isn't about trust. This has got to be about actions. This has got to be about Russia actually doing what it says it

wants to do in Syria. And what they said they want to do is find a political solution, a transitional government so that the Syrian people can

have a government in Damascus that represents their needs.

Now, it's difficult to say you want to do that when you continue to conduct strikes in the manner in which they have conducted them, which as you have

seen yourself on the ground is not necessarily all that discriminate, not necessarily all that precise.

[14:05:15] WARD: But at what point does the U.S. start to discredit Russia as a serious partner in terms of giving Syria any chance at peace.

How is Russia contributing to a real shot at peace here?

KIRBY: Well, look, in the question you just asked, our goal is not to discredit Russia. What we want to do is see Russia actually contribute to

the political solution in the way that they have described to, the way they've actually said they want to.

And now again, that's been difficult at times. There have been times when they have proven that they are willing and able to use their influence on

Assad to get the violence down. We saw that in the early spring with a significant reduction in violence right after the cessation of hostilities

was called for.

And we've seen it periodically for short periods of time since then. But we've also seen times when they haven't been either willing or able to

influence the Assad regime to do the right thing. And when they've actually help bolster and propped up Assad regime violence against their

own people.

So that's why we're sitting down with them right now, as you and I talk, there are teams trying to work out proposals with the Russians to try to

get a real cessation of hostilities that can be better enforced.

And as the secretary said himself, we're going to have to see. We're not going to take anything on blind faith. If these proposals can be agreed

upon and if they can be implemented in good faith, tangibly, well, then maybe we can move forward with the Russians on some longer term goals there

in Syria.

But so far, look -- I mean, look, this is a conversation that's still ongoing, and it's not about wanting to discredit them. It's actually

wanting to try to find a way to work with them.

And, by the way, Clarissa, the other 20 plus members of the International Syria Support Group to try to find a political solution.

WARD: Is there a sense of frustration, though, to some among the diplomatic core and the U.S. that America does not have more leverage when

it comes to trying to take Russia, or Iran, or the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to task for some of these violations?

KIRBY: Well, I think it's not really so much about leverage, it's about international consensus. And, again, the International Syria Support Group

is more than 20 nations and multilateral organizations strong.

The U.N. Security Council has come out with a very strong U.S. Security Council resolution that governs and embodies this process moving forward.

The Russians have been at the table since the early beginnings of this. In fact, it was the United States and Russia that co-founded the International

Syria Support Group.

So when you say there's no leverage, actually, there is leverage. And Russia is and has been part of that leverage in the past. What we want to

see is that they continue to live up to those same obligations that they have made in so many multilateral forms.

WARD: I want to ask you about another topic now just for a moment. I want to shift course as a little bit to Yemen.

And I want to play you a sound bite that we heard from Democratic Senator Chris Murphy. He was speaking with our own Jake Tapper yesterday talking

about the role of U.S. weapons sold to Saudi Arabia, being used on the ground in Yemen.

Take a listen, please.


SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: There's an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Yemen.


Well, it's because though the Saudis are actually dropping the bombs from their planes, they couldn't do it without the United States. It's our

ammunitions sold to the Saudis. It's our planes that are refuelling the Saudi jets and it's our intelligence that are helping the Saudis provide

their targeting.


WARD: That's a pretty damming indictment, is it not?

I mean, what's your message to the Saudis here? How do you respond to that?

KIRBY: Well, look, let me make a couple of points right off the bat. First of all, the right number of civilian casualties has got to be zero in

any conflict. And no military works harder than the United States military to that end. And we have certainly made our concerns known to the Saudis

on repeated occasions about civilians' casualties in Yemen.

And I would note that they have investigated some of those civilian casualty incidents and they are working their way through that. But we

take it very, very seriously. And we routinely discuss our concerns with respect to precision and the discriminate use of weapons, whoever they fly

from and wherever they come from. And certainly yes, there is a strong defense relationship that we have with Saudi Arabia. We recognize that.

This is something that we routinely talk to them about and are not afraid to raise our concerns.

And, again, I would note that the Saudis are taking that seriously. That they have investigated some of these allegations and they are working their

way through that.

But, look, this is a -- you know, we have seen some strikes just recently in the last day or so. We have seen reports that their strikes have caused

significant civilian casualties and that's just unacceptable. And we've got to work our way through this.

WARD: John Kirby, thank you so much for being on the program.



[14:10:04] WARD: Ambassador Ford, thank you so much for being with us on the program.

We're very grateful to have you here.

I just want to ask...


WARD: ...for your response to what we just heard from the State Department's spokesman John Kirby there.

What do you make of what you just heard?

FORD: Well, I think there is not a consensus on what has to be done in Syria. And I think with all due respect to John, the mere fact that there

is a paper, United Nation Security Council resolution, does not mean there is consensus because the terms of that Security Council resolution, many of

them, in fact, have been repeatedly violated over issues like access for humanitarian aid providers.

Such as stern admonitions in the paper, U.S. Security Council resolutions to -- for forces to stop bombing civilian communities and civilian targets.

And yet, hospitals are being bombed almost daily. There is another hospital bombed today.

So there is not a consensus and the United States does not have leverage to forge a consensus.

And, frankly, the Obama administration is doing very little, if anything, to generate leverage to forge that consensus.

WARD: Why is that? What is the resistance? What's the hold up?

FORD: Well, I think there's two things.

Number one, the Obama administration is solely focused and I do emphasize the word "solely," focusing its action against the Islamic State. And the

Islamic State is a problem, but the Islamic State came out of the broader problem of the Syrian civil war.

The Obama administration's myopic focus on the Islamic State while leaving the larger Syrian civil war unanswered in a sense, he's trying to fix with

a military hammer a deeper political problem.

The second reason is, Clarissa, the Obama administration is just very nervous about any kind of military action in Syria. That seems reasonable

to many of us. But there are other things that the Americans could be doing to generate leverage in this conflict. The broader conflict of the

Syrian civil war.

WARD: I just want to mention a tweet from an Aleppo doctor to President Obama. He said, "We do not need your tears or your sympathy or even your

prayers. We need your action."

And in reply you said, "The doctor's pleas won't move the U.S. administration a bit."

I mean, you seem -- obviously, you resigned, so there is that. But have you completely written off the possibility that the Obama administration

might try to do more to alleviate the desperate humanitarian situation?

FORD: Well, as I put in that message on Twitter, the administration is not going change its policy.

What we just heard from John is that we need to respect Security Council resolutions, but Security Council resolutions are not being respected. And

so it's not enough to call for United Nations Security Council to be respected. You have to do things to make it respected.

And we've had people like former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, former Acting CIA Director Mike Morell, former general -- successful general in

Iraq and later CIA Director David Petraeus, 51 American diplomats, all urging the administration to do more, whether it would be military or other

steps that they could take to do something to generate leverage. But I didn't hear anything from John just now that suggested they're looking for

ways to generate leverage.

He won't even acknowledge the problem. And so no, I'm not hopeful about the Obama administration. And I think it's important for Syrians such as

those doctors in Aleppo to not be waiting for the Obama administration to come to their rescue because frankly I don't think it's going to happen.

WARD: And what about this idea of a coalition with the Russians reportedly would be to target extremists though I think the Russians and the Americans

have a very different idea of what constitutes extremism.

Can the Russians possibly be a trusted partner on the ground in military operations in Syria?

Is that realistic?

FORD: Well, I see -- no, I see two problems with what the administration is trying to do with the Russians.

First, it's not at all clear that you can trust the Russians. Their goals in Syria do not appear to be the same as the goals of the United States and

its allies in the region. So there's a whole question about Russian intent and whether or not we can work with them.

But even if we could work with them, Clarissa, suppose the United States and Russia tomorrow began bombing the Islamic State together, suppose

tomorrow the Americans and the Russians began bombing the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria together, how does that get you to a political

negotiation and the civil war? It doesn't.

[14:15:25] It's irrelevant to the larger political problem, which is there is a Syrian opposition and a Syrian government, and they're fighting each

other tooth and nail, and the Americans are not addressing that problem. And even working with the Russians against al Qaeda and the Islamic State

doesn't address that broader civil war problem.

I fear, in fact, Clarissa, we will have an unending American military commitment, small in scale, but unending as long as that Syrian civil war


We will be stuck fighting ISIS in insurgency move. We will be stuck fighting al Qaeda in insurgency move for years and years.

WARD: Indeed. Indeed. Thank you so much as always, Ambassador Robert Ford.


WARD: After a brake, Donald Trump laid out his foreign policy plans this week. One of the Republican Party's most experienced players puts him to

the test when we come back.


WARD: Welcome back.

Donald Trump casts himself this week as the only man willing to do and say the things necessary to defeat terrorism in a speech on his plans for

American foreign policy.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We will defeat radical Islamic terrorism just as we have defeated every threat we've faced at

every age and before, but we will not -- we will not, remember this, defeat it with closed eyes or silenced voices.


WARD: His proposals included many Bush and Obama era policies, at least seeking closer ties with Russia.

What would they look like in practice?

To get into the knitty, gritty, I asked Elliot Abrams, a man at the center of foreign policy for the most revered Republican at the modern era, Ronald

Reagan and a special advisor to President George W. Bush.


WARD: Thank you so much for being with us on the program.

Obviously, a lot to talk about with this speech, but I want to start out with this idea of extreme vetting.

You heard Donald Trump talk about the idea of an ideological screening test that anyone wanting to visit America from the Middle East would have to


What would this look like? Is it feasible? Is it constitutional?

ELLIOT ABRAMS, FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: Well, the idea of excluding all Muslims, which was his old idea, seems to be gone, thank God. He's sort of

given up on that one.

Now he's got an idea for an ideological test for immigration. That one I think is more debatable. I mean, you know, suppose someone wants to

immigrate to the United States and become an American and says, look, I want you to know that I think women belong in burqas and they should not

vote and gays should be shot and Sharia should be the law, I mean, do we really think this is a good candidate for citizenship?

But I think that some kind of test for citizenship is reasonable, but Trump takes it so far.

You know, for example, he said in the speech, no one should be coming to the United States from the Middle East at all.

Well, that excludes for example persecuted Iraqi and Syrian Christians. Why is that a sensible idea?

So, I mean, I think he's got some thoughts here, but they're not thought through.

[14:20:18] WARD: But let me ask you this, if I am an ISIS operative and I'm going to blow up America, surely I'm not going to fill in on a

questionnaire, something saying I believe Sharia law should be implemented; the hand of the thief should be cut, etcetera. Surely.

ABRAMS: No, but this goes to the larger question of immigration. The kind of immigration policies we have in the United States. The kind of

immigration policies that have been in excellent in Europe for the last decade. And I think it is reasonable to say that we don't want large-scale

immigration of people who really do not share the fundamental believes that America stands for.

But you're right about terrorism. I mean, if you are an ISIS operative, then you are going to disguise everything you can about your background.

WARD: So let's talk about some of the broader themes of the speech. One of them was he's saying big shift away from Obama's policies. I'm going to

stop the era of nation building.

And I just want to play you some sound, first of all, from Donald Trump and then from President Obama.

Take a listen.

It sounds more similar than perhaps we would think.


TRUMP: It's time to put the mistakes of the past behind us and chart a new course.


When I become president, the era of nation building will be brought to a very swift and decisive end.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war at a time of rising debt and hard

economic times. America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.


WARD: Is this a new idea?

ABRAMS: No, it's not. As a friend of mine put it, what was good in the speech was not new and what was new was not good. Obama hasn't done nation


I mean, what is Trump's criticism of Obama on Iraq? You got out precipitously. You got out too soon. Well, then you cannot turn around

and say, but by the way, you've been nation building and I'm not going to do that.

If the criticism is that Obama should have stayed the course in Iraq, then you cannot also criticize him for failing to do more for nation building.

I don't think that's a fair criticism. It is, by the way, a criticism of George W. Bush, whose administration I was in.

I think if you're going to try to fight Islamic terrorist ideology, you've got to fight it with something and it's not just bullets.

Yes, there will be a military side, but there's got to be an ideological side, and that includes building security, building institutions, building,

frankly, democracies. Trump is completely against that and he's completely wrong.

WARD: Did you see anything in his speech that gave you encouragement as someone who has worked closely with Republican administrations?

Was there something there where you thought, hold on, he's got a real point here and we should take this into consideration?

ABRAMS: Well, that he wrote it down, that was encouraging. I mean, that he tried to give a serious speech, that is that he sort of understood that,

you know, you can't keep fooling around with this.

I'd say the other -- the substantive thing was NATO. He took credit he didn't deserve for a change in NATO toward combating terrorism. But at

least he backed away from this idea that NATO is now superfluous and that we should not meet our commitments to NATO so that was a step forward.

WARD: Some of the allies who he seems to be very bullish on, and I'm thinking particularly here of President Putin, and then seemingly

contradicting himself, he lambasted Iran calling it evil, calling Iran the number one world sponsor of Islamic radical terrorism, and yet today we're

hearing that Russia has just announced it is now flying bomber routes out of Iran. The military and political cooperation between those two

countries is closer than ever.

Did you find a lot of contradictions in some of his ideas that he puts forward?

ABRAMS: Yes, and you're pointing to the worst one, which is the attitude towards Russia. He is still seeing Putin as a potential ally. Putin is

not a potential ally.

What you've said about Iran is quite right. The Russians are in Syria to defend their ally, Assad, not to fight ISIS. So this idea that the

Russians are going to be our great friend and ally, first of all, is wrong.

Secondly, of course, it's terrifying to the Polls, the Czechs, the Baltic nations. This is both contradictory, and I think factually just incorrect

and it is terrifying to many of our allies in Europe.

WARD: Elliott Abrams, thank you so much for being on the program.

ABRAMS: My pleasure.


[14:25:10] WARD: Coming up, some much needed golden moments as the Olympics continue to be a bright spot in a too often dark world, we imagine

the grace, the gloating and of course the golds of Rio Summer Games, that's next.


WARD: We imagine the world where the race into Olympic history becomes a photo op for one legendary sprinter as Usain Bolt became the first runner

to win the 100 meter in three successive Summer Games.

He made sure to smile for the cameras as he pushed past the competition and got a 7th Olympic gold. Of course, he is not the only Olympian making a

meal out of their success.

Images of athletes taking a bite out of their medals is a photographer's favorite making some people wonder why.

Well, the age old tradition is said to come from the practice of biting into the precious medal to check if it was the real deal and if the

athletes were really checking, they will be disappointed. Only just over one percent of the medals are actually gold.

That's it for our program tonight.

And remember, you can listen to our podcast, see us online and follow me, Clarissa Ward, on Facebook and Twitter @ClarissaWard.

Thank you for watching and good-bye from London.