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Tillerson Meets Sergey Lavrov; Trump Faces The Press; Pentagon Considering Sending Troops In Syria; Dozen Killed In An Airstrike in Yemen; Yemen's Forgotten War; Millions of People In Need of Humanitarian Aid in Yemen; U.S. Wrestling Team Participates in the World Cup. Aired 5-5:30p ET

Aired February 16, 2017 - 17:00   ET


[00:00:03] PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Trump faces the press and speaks extensively about Russia. As his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

meets his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Germany. Tensions over Ukraine and Syria loom large. So, what came out of their first face-to-

face? And where do they see eye to eye?

From, Berlin Washington's Former Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford joins me live. Also ahead, Yemen's forgotten war. Report from the Capital Sana'a

where airstrikes have left a dozen women and children dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nights without sleep. I imagine having children who cry all night because of the warplanes that's are roaming in the sky they

can hit at any different time.

NEWTON: Good evening everyone and welcome to the program. I'm Paula Newton sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

Face-to-face for the very first time. The new top U.S. diplomat came meeting his Russian counterpart amid intense scrutiny of relations between

their two countries. Now U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sitting down with Russia's Sergey Lavrov. It happened on the sidelines of a G20

foreign ministers meeting in Germany with the Trump administration facing very tough questions over its ties to Russia.

Lavrov was asked if that would have an impact on relations.


SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: They should know that we do not interfere in domestic matters of other countries.


NEWTON: Meanwhile, Rex Tillerson had this to say about the future of those U.S.-Russian relations.


REX TILLERSON, (R) U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The United States will consider working with Russia when we can find areas of practical

cooperation that will benefit the American people. Where we do not see eye to eye, the United States will stand up for the interest and values of

America and her allies.


NEWTON: And all of this as word out of Washington comes at the Pentagon is considering sending troops to fight ISIS on the ground in Syria. The new

U.S. defense secretary has already rules out military cooperation though with Russia after tumultuous week in the White House which has seen the

resignation of his national security adviser and amounting concerns over his administration's links to Russia. President Trump addressed the media

in a far ranging news conference. He says one way or the other, he is determined to defeat ISIS.


DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: I have directed our defense community headed by our great general now Secretary Mattis. He's over

there now working very hard to submit a plan for the defeat of ISIS. A group that celebrates the murder and torture of innocent people in large

sections of the world. It used to be a small group now it's enlarge sections of that world. They've spread like cancer.


NEWTON: Now first taken all this, we're going to bring in Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford. He's also a senior fellow at the Middle

East Institute in Washington. He joins us now live from Berlin.

You can't talk about troops on the ground in Syria without talking about whether that would be cooperation or confrontation with Russia. We are

hearing several different things from several different people in the administration including the president who says, look, if I can work with

Russia, I will. Robert Ford, what do you say?

ROBERT FORD, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA: Well, first, I think it's important not to get too excited about these news reports. The Pentagon is

floating an idea. There's no policy decision that has been made yet. There are a lot of political and military questions that have to be

answered before the United States government is going to be comfortable sending ground forces into Syria. That was a step the Obama administration

was never willing to take.

NEWTON: You are quite critical of Obama administration in terms of the fact that nothing change on the ground in Syria. What do you think, do you

think they should continue to look at the prospect of troops on the ground there in Syria? And again, that means having some kind of an alliance with

Russia one way or the other even it means just not confronting them on the ground there.

[00:05:08] FORD: Yeah. Well, first of all, sending those forces in -- the military mission itself needs to be clearly defined. We should have

learned from our time in Iraq say 10, 11 years ago. It's easy to send American troops in to try to fix a problem but what happens when they throw

the Islamic state forces out of Raqqa in Syria then who's going to govern it? That was always a big challenge for us in Iraq. Trying to figure out

the government's piece.

That hasn't been worked out at all. As you mentioned -- then there's the question of what to do about coordination with Russia. There's a lot of

reticence among people in Washington, political reasons and foreign policy reasons forgetting too close to Russia on this Syria (inaudible). And we'd

have to coordinate with Iran which also has troops in Syria not to mention the Syrian government itself which is accused of really awful war crimes.

So there are a lot of political and military issues here. I think it's going to be much better to focus on building up Syrian forces not sending

in American forces. Building up Syrian forces --

NEWTON: OK, but that -- you just opened up a huge -- I want you to go back to that. You just opened up a huge point of controversy and I'll say I'm a

little confused what -- when you criticized the Obama administration you were saying they weren't tough enough. A few quick strikes in there would

have solved a lot of problems perhaps about the Syrian officials to the table.

Now, when you talk about -- which Syrian, which Syrian forces are you talking about?

FORD: So, first of all, quick strikes was back in 2013 when we're trying to get to a peace negotiation. Nobody is suggesting that sending American

forces now to fight the Islamic state is going to help a peace negotiation in Syria. That's clearly not the objective. That's not what the Pentagon

was talking about doing.

Second, there are plenty of Syrian forces that are fighting the Islamic state right now, today. And they are fighting them up around Aleppo, they

are fighting them down around Raqqa, they're fighting them on the Lebanese- Syrian border. There are plenty of Syrian local forces that are in the battle right now that we would help. And I think they're going to be able

to do the job a lot better than American forces if you want a sustainable solution. It's easy to send the forces in, it's harder to get them back

out after they are in.

NEWTON: If you do go in, would you suggest that they do come to an agreement with Russia. You suggested before that look, Israel is active

one way or the other in Syria and that was ground troops but they are active and maybe not confronted Russia on the ground then.

FORD: Yeah, that's right. I -- the last thing we would want to do if we were to send in American forces into Syria targeting this Islamic State

stronghold in Raqqa. The last thing we'd want to do is start a ground battle against Russian forces at the same time. So of course there's to

have to be coordination. There's going to be a lot of discussion with the Russians ahead of time to set up all kinds of different plan scenarios --

NEWTON: And just -- right.

FORD: -- and how they communicate with each other.

NEWTON: OK. But now -- OK, but now we have, you know, Defense Secretary Mattis on the ground in Europe right now close to where you are saying,

look, cooperation with Russia, not happening on the military level. We're not ready yet. What does that mean?

FORD: Right. Yeah -- well, what I take from that is that the report about sending in American forces is an idea. It is very far from actually being

adapted as a final policy decision. There are planners in the Pentagon, they're floating ideas, they're trying to figure out how to defeat the

Islamic state as quickly as possible because President Trump wants that.

So sending in troops is one possibility. There are other possibilities as well. And I sense my General Mattis a great (inaudible) about sending in

forces, what do we then with the Russians who are going to be very close at hand. That's going to be a challenge.

NEWTON: It will be a challenge. You know, trying to get to a solution, you've been very outspoken about the fact that the Obama policy hasn't work

so far. I'm going to rely on your years in Iraq and remember that there was a big (inaudible) there, we went in with the surge, General Petraeus

who may in fact be again in the Trump administration was the architect to that. What do you suggest? I think what many people got frustrated with

is we can sit there and play out the scenarios, the battle plan as much as we want. Syrians are still suffering through quite a bit there right now

with no end in sight.

FORD: Yeah. Well, there is no quick fix to the Syria tragedy. I want to say that again. Viewers need to understand that. There is no quick fix to

the Syrian tragedy.

[00:10:10] There in no quick to the political problems that created the Islamic state in places like Syria and Iraq. The best thing and what we

learned from Iraq the successful experience in 2007, 2008, 2009 with David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. We learned about the best thing is

to give the lead on the fighting to local forces. It was local Iraqis who lead the effort to defeat the Islamic state, to defeat Al-Qaeda --

NEWTON: OK. Right.

FORD: -- in Iraq. And we need to focus on local forces.

NEWTON: I hear you and that was very complicated in Iraq as it will be in Syria. Ambassador Robert Ford, I can't thank you enough for this


Now, in the shadow of the Syrian Civil War, Yemen sharing many of those same horrors. Ten thousand have died and millions are in risk of

starvation and urgent need of aid. Up next, the forgotten war in focus.


NEWTON: The G20 meeting in Germany this week, the Syrian Civil War once again denominated the agenda for many foreign ministers. But with eyes

fixed so firmly on that conflict, the millions caught up in a brutal civil war in Yemen have suffered in a relative silence. Now, Wednesday brought a

struck reminder of their plight. Twelve people, nine women, three children killed at a funeral. This was the aftermath, the house mourners had

gathered flatten by airstrikes. I spoke to the editor-in-chief of the Yemen Post newspaper about how these deaths still shocked the country.


NEWTON: Hakim Almasmari, thank you and welcome to the program. We've seen unfortunately these kinds of airstrikes before. They have hit women and

children. People who were at a funeral procession.

HAKIM ALMASMARI, YEMEN POST EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Exactly and that's what, you know, had tear the country apart right now and devastating for the entire

nation. Over the last 24 hours, the entire country is mourning the death of these innocent women and children who are attending a funeral at a

family home when suddenly that home became their graveyard. They were all buried under rubble, all of them children and women. Those families are

devastated and this is only a small sample of the thousands of civilians who have been killed.

At least 2,000 children have been killed Saudi (inaudible) strikes. At least 2,500 women have been killed as well. In total, over 11,000

civilians been killed and what hurt the country is that these war crimes against civilians are being ignored and for that reason they continue to

happen on a daily basis. It's not a secret that this war in Yemen is hugely or mainly backed by Western power including the U.S. and U.K. And

without them, Saudi would not be able to (inaudible) logistically and intelligently.

So, it's very sad to see that these civilians are dying on a daily basis without any internation pressure on Saudi to end this deadly 22 months war

on Yemen.

NEWTON: You know, does it make any sense for people on the ground whether you're in the capital or you're in a village in terms of what they're

targeting during these airstrikes because, you know, we get into the squabble where the Houthi rebels backed by Iran continue to blame the

Saudis and vice versa.

[00:15:06] ALMASMARI: Most of the civilian casualties have been in areas where very little Houthi presence is happening. It's not a battleground.

These attacks are not happening anywhere near battlegrounds. These are happening in the hearts of villages or the hearts of main cities. That's

what causes more concern is that if these airstrikes were taking place near battlegrounds people will understand the reasons. But when it's tens of

miles away from these battlegrounds it doesn't have any explanation why these civilian homes have been targeted.

NEWTOWN: Hakim, in terms of the fact that that any moment in time, Yemenis are literally looking to the skies and thinking what's coming next. How

much pressure is that putting on already a very dire humanitarian situation?

ALMASMARI: It's nightless -- nights without sleep. I imagine having children who cry all night because of the warplanes that's are roaming in

the sky they can hit at any different time, or anytime during the day or night. I remember a crucial incidence where my children woke up at night

because the airstrikes were just 200 meters from the home. Majority they are not targeting areas where battlegrounds or near battlegrounds. They're

targeting main cities where there are no clashes or no fighting taking place.

So that's what worrying and that's what causing a lot of chaos and that's the reason why the entire country is mourning today the death of these

innocent women and children who were just killed and are the latest victims of this ongoing war in Yemen.

NEWTON: Yeah, absolutely no safe haven right now in that country. Hakim Almasmari, thank you so much, appreciate it.

ALMASMARI: Thank you.


NEWTON: Now on Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said there's an urgent need as we all just saw to restore the flow of humanitarian

assistance into Yemen. Now, a military blockade has cut a vital supplies to the poverty-stricken nation pushing it to the very brink of famine.

More than two thirds of Yemen's population, now that's 17 million people are need of emergency food supplies. And amid the spiraling humanitarian

crisis, UNICEF is warning of a sharp rise in the number of children being dragged into the conflict.

I'm joined now by Geert Cappelaere, he is UNICEF's regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. Thank you for joining us. I mean, we

just heard Hakim's account there. We saw the horrific pictures. I mean, I have to ask you, why do you think conflict is not getting the attention

that the Syrian conflict is?


everyday. Yemen is facing a human tragedy, is facing a children's tragedy. More than 10 million children in Yemen are directly and on a daily basis in

contact with a brutal conflict.

Every 10 minutes, a child in Yemen is dying from a disease that could be easily prevented, that could be easily cured. The child is dying simply

because the health system is at a verge of a complete collapse. The child is dying because there are not any longer medicines available to simply

cure or prevent. The child is drying because doctors are not any longer getting paid. And it is a human -- it is a children's tragedy.

NEWTON: But Geert, the question to you remains the same. Do you hope that now that Rex Tillerson is paying some attention to it? I mean, he's saying

that, look, he wants this blockade to end. Does it really mean anything? What tactically on the ground can you do to get the humanitarian aid in?

CAPPELAERE: Well, for us in UNICEF, this is not a forgotten crisis. The children of Yemen are at the floor of our attention but also on our action

on our daily basis. However, the size of the needs that we need to address, they are met with an incredible complexity of an environment where

we have to operate a country that is being split between different authorities. Supplies that are not getting into the country and as I said

human, humanitarian workers, teachers, doctors who are not any longer being played -- being paid as to the situation where we have to operate and is a

very, very complex and it's also a very dangerous one. Or UNICEF workers who are on the ground on a daily basis are facing every day security and

safety risks.

NEWTON: But that has been the situation for months there right now. I mean, you mentioned complexity. Many people suggest though that it's the

complicity of countries like the Saudi Arabia and the United States and Britain that is making things difficult for you on the ground.

[00:19:59] CAPPELAERE: I think it is everybody's responsibility. It is indeed the first responsibility of those parties on the ground who are

fighting. It is the responsibilities of those who are supporting and condoning the fighting and indeed for way too long. What people also tend

to forget is that this brutal conflict comes on top of decades of chronic underdevelopment that Yemen has been facing.

Let me just use the problem of malnutrition today. Half a million of children are facing life threatening malnutrition in Yemen. It is a

problem that was there in the past but a conflict has been exacerbating the problem dramatically. It is now threefold the size as it was two years


NEWTON: Yes. Yeah, and in fact (inaudible) eight workers who come out traumatized by all the children that they see in dire need there and unable

to help them. About that issue though of children, you are reporting in fact that more children are being drag into this conflict, how?

CAPPELAERE: No, absolutely. Well, maybe two examples and very important one. One is of course the use of children by forces which we have seen as

a practice and continues as a practice. But an equally important point to make is the observation of the increase of children, girls particularly

getting married before age 15. (Inaudible) and UNICEF together we were partners finished the study and have observed that in several governorates

in Yemen, up to 70 percent of the girls are getting married before age 18. More than 40 percent are getting married before age 15.

And now it is important that it is as has been for many years a practice -- a cultural practice in Yemen but we see it rapidly increasing as a coping

mechanism. Families do not know anymore how to cope so they sell their girls to be married as a way of surviving.

NEWTON: Geert Cappelaere, thank you for helping us put a spotlight once again for moment in time on Yemen.

CAPPELAERE: Unless we never give up hope.

NEWTON: Thank you. Live from the United Nations.

Now, the Yemen was is of course a proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Coming up, wrestling political differences to the ground.


NEWTON: Imagine a world where Iran, Russia, and the United States come together in agreement. Now, the three world powers did join forces back in

2013 to ensure that the ancient sport of wrestling was reinstated into the Olympic Games after it briefly lost its spot.

Now, those days and those tensions may be high but the physical takedowns remain as a political as ever. Fred Pleitgen has the story from Kermanshah

in Iran.


[00:25:02] FRED PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A top sporting mission with a twist of diplomacy. America's National Wrestling Team is in Kermanshah,

Iran for the World Cup. A trip that almost fell through because of tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs saying the team is just happy to be here.

JORDAN BURROUGHS, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: It was difficult being pawns in the game of, you know, political powers that really essentially were

deciding our fate. And so, it's little difficult for a period of time but we stayed at the course, we continued to train, we continued to prepare and

luckily we were able to come.

PLEITGEN: Iran originally refused to grant Team USA visas in retaliation for the Trump administration's travel ban that also targeted Iran. But

after U.S. courts blocked the ban, the visas came through. Of course there was a lot of uncertainly for the Team USA wrestlers not knowing for a very

long time whether they'd be able to come here to Iran at all. But now that they've made it, they say their main focus is to compete hard and win big.

Iran and American are wrestling power houses. Many U.S. wrestlers stars in Iran like Olympic Gold Medalist Kyle Snyder.

KYLE SNYDER, WRESTLING GOLD MEDALIST: Every Iranian that I ever come in contact with had always been extremely respectful, extremely polite so --

no, like you said there's a little bit of turmoil politically but definitely you don't see that within the sport. You know, we respect each

other as competitors and as people.


PLEITGEN: Team USA received a raging welcome when they arrived here, both from Iranian officials and fans of the sport, Team USA's coach says.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my fourth time to Iran. We've been treated extremely well as we have in the past and as we tried to reciprocate when

they come to the United States.

PLEITGEN: While political tensions between the U.S. and Iran have been escalating since President Trump assumed office, the head of Iran's

wrestling federation tells that politics have no place in a sporting rivalry.

We are two very powerful international wresting teams he says. And along with others we're trying to help the sport internationally to promote

wrestling throughout the world.

Iran and the U.S. are clashing once again on the wresting mat and now that the diplomatic hurdles have been cleared, the athletes say their only focus

is trying to win it all.


NEWTON: And that is our Frederick Pleitgen always on the best assignments. And very heartwarming to see the welcome that those Iranians give the

American wrestlers.

That is it for our program tonight. And remember, you can listen to our podcast. See us online at and follow me on Twitter at

paulanewton@cnn. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.