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U.S. Probes if Russia Complicit in Syria Chemical Attack; Kremlin Vows to Respond to U.S. Missile Attack; Stockholm Truck Attack Leaves Four Dead, 12 Injured; Trump Pivots on Syria after Chemical Attack; U.S. lawmakers Split over Syria Strategy; Trump Meets with Xi as U.S. Missiles Strike Syria; U.N. Estimates 400K Killed in Syrian Civil War. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired April 8, 2017 - 03:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A very warm welcome to our viewers in the United States and right around the world. I'm Isa Soares in London.

HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): I'm Hala Gorani in Beirut. We'll get back to Isa with more on the Stockholm truck attack but first I want to bring you up to date on the latest developments following U.S. strikes on a Syrian airbase.

Now the U.S. says it wants to know if Russia was involved in the Syria chemical attack that killed dozens of people, including many children. The Kremlin is telling CNN that allegations it was complicit are, quote, "not true."

That gruesome attack spurred U.S. President Donald Trump to launch Thursday's missile strike against Syria's Assad regime. The latest now on this story from our chief U.S. security correspondent Jim Sciutto. And as always, in the case of Syrian stories, we must warn you, some of the images in his report are graphic.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The U.S. military is investigating whether Russia was complicit in the Syrian regime's gruesome chemical weapons attack on civilians earlier this week. Specifically whether a Russia warplane dropped a bomb on a hospital treating victims of the attack five hours later, perhaps to destroy evidence.

U.S. intelligence shows that a Russian drone flew over the hospital site just before the bombing.

The probe comes after President Trump ordered a barrage of missiles on a Syrian airbase in retaliation to the deadly attack, the first U.S. military strike against the Assad regime in the country's bloody six- year civil war.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley warned of possible further U.S. military action.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The United States took a very measured step last night. We are prepared to do more but we hope that will not be necessary.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): The target of the strikes was Syria's Shayrat airbase, launch point for the Syrian warplanes that carried out the chemical attacks. The Pentagon says 59 of 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles severely degraded or destroyed their targets, including aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, fuel and ammunition dumps and air defense systems.

The Pentagon estimates some 20 aircraft were destroyed, though video of the aftermath shows several shelters still standing and military aircraft undamaged. U.S. missiles left the runway intact and avoided chemical weapons storage to prevent civilian casualties.

The march to military action took little more than 48 hours. The planning began Tuesday, the day the world saw the first images of victims, many of them children, of the chemical weapons attack.

On Thursday before President Trump sat down to dinner with the Chinese president, he met with his national security team to discuss military options. Deciding then to order the strike that night.

At 1:40 pm Eastern time, the middle of the night in Syria, the attack began. Two warships launched in the Eastern Mediterranean, the U.S.S. Porter and the U.S.S. Ross, launched 60 Tomahawk missiles toward the Syrian airbase.

Trump sat through dinner alongside the Chinese president as the attack was under way. Then just 35 minutes later at approximately 9:15 pm Eastern time, the president's national security team briefed him on the mission's results.


GORANI: All right. And we are learning that there is a Russian warship on its way to a base in Syria. Let's get Paula Newton on this. She's live in Moscow.

So, Paula, let's talk a little bit about the possible implications now. We're 36 hours out just about after this U.S. airstrike on that Syrian airbase.

What is going on in terms of military maneuvers here?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The first thing that happened was the Russians suspended what they call the air safety agreement and that's that hotline, Hala, that goes between the Americans and the Russians so they can keep things under control over the skies of Syria. And then the Admiral Gregorovich (ph) was dispatched. That is a

state-of-the-art frigate with state-of-the-art missiles. It is, though, largely symbolic, the Russians saying, look, it will be there for some time: it was doing exercises in the Black Sea; it's already been to the Mediterranean; it's headed back. Russia could let this go without any response whatsoever.

But you can see from the nuanced response from Russia -- and it is nuanced, they did not launch any kind of missile defenses that they do have on the ground in Syria. They didn't try to stop this. They want to see where the United States is going to go next and that's the crucial question. They know that before him on the --


NEWTON: -- table President Trump has the options of trying to look for a humanitarian corridor, trying to look for a no-fly zone. All of these things, Russia says, all it will do is help the so-called terrorists, ISIS, gain further ground within Syria.

And for that reason they say that it's important that the United States they claim has not really had an active role in Syria, all that active in the last few months, and that they have to broker some kind of deal through them.

GORANI: Right. Well, it's been a consistent narrative from the Russian side. But Rex Tillerson, the new American secretary of state, is headed to Moscow next week. That visit is still on.

We heard also from the Russian foreign minister sort of rhetorically deescalating the situation. It seems as though there's an effort on both sides to try to not let this get out of control.

NEWTON: There is. And if the Russians are convinced that this is likely one and done and if the Americans are convinced that Russia will, through back channels, tell Syria, look, we had no idea what went on here and we want it to stop, perhaps if there aren't any more provocations like that, they will go to the table and find an agreement.

But I can tell you, Hala, the other message that wasn't going on last week, you and I both know that the United States was not at any kind of table negotiating on Syria last week; it was the Russians who were out there even trying to negotiate short-term cease-fires.

The point is now the United States is saying no, we're back into the Geneva process, we are at the table, we will dictate -- not dictate, pardon me, we will try and collaborate with you about how the political solution will go in Syria.

And that is different. It was just a few days ago that we had Rex Tillerson saying that Assad would likely be in power for some time. And now the rhetoric on that has changed.

GORANI: All right. Certainly unpredictable times we live in. Thanks very much, Paula Newton is live in Moscow.

Well, Syria, of course, the government of Bashar al-Assad, predictably condemning the strike, calling it a, quote, "erroneous American strategy." More now on how other Middle Eastern countries are responding. Ben Wedeman is in Antakya, Turkey with that.

We've had now about a day and a half to digest the surprise strike on a Syrian airbase.

Regionally what's been the reaction?

Is there support for more from countries who oppose the regime of Bashar al-Assad?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Hala, really the position of Middle Eastern states, there are three separate reactions.

You have Turkey, for instance, which said it was pleased with the attack on the base in Syria. We had Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, saying it's positive but not enough. He hopes it will be the beginning of a broader operation.

Now the Free Syrian Army, part of the more moderate opposition, told President Trump, don't stop here.

Then you have countries like Iraq and Egypt, which have close ties to the United States but also both of them have close ties to the Syrian government and are increasingly closer to Russia.

They condemned the use of chemical weapons but didn't point the finger of blame and called for restraint.

And then, of course, you have countries like Iran, which also roundly condemned the U.S. missile strike.

But it's important to keep something in perspective here, Hala. Of the more than 400,000 people who've been killed in the Syrian civil war that's now in its seventh year, the vast majority were killed by conventional weapons.

So it's interesting that the media -- and there's been so much regional reaction to just a pinprick in what is a bloodbath that's been going on for a very long time -- Hala.

GORANI: Certainly, no outrage was necessarily generated in this way when hundreds of thousands were killed with barrel bombs, as you mentioned.

I suppose the question is, is it the belief in the region that the U.S. will or even can stop at this initial strike or that this is opening the door for more?

WEDEMAN: I think that the initial reaction among many was positive in the sense that there was a lot of frustration with the administration of Barack Obama, that they dithered a lot, they talked a lot. But at the end of the day, they really didn't do much to help the opposition in Syria, compared to Libya, where you had the United States and other European countries really coming down on the side of the opposition and being the critical factor in the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi.


WEDEMAN: In Syria there's been a lot of hot air, a lot of talks, a lot of meetings, a lot of condemnation. But at the end of the day it really has changed nothing.

Now as -- now we're more than 24 hours after the strike, I think the initial enthusiasm of some is beginning to fade when they realize that the Russians seem to be de-escalating the situation.

We heard from Jim Acosta, one of our reporters in Washington, that a senior administration official there is saying that this strike was not the beginning of a broad attempt to somehow overthrow or undermine or weaken the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

So after all of this smoke, I don't think there's going to be much fire -- Hala.

GORANI: All right. Well, we'll see how things develop. We've been surprised pretty much at every turn this week. Thanks very much, Ben Wedeman is in Southern Turkey.

Lina Khatib is with Chatham House in London, where she's head of the Middle East and North Africa program.

Lina, I know it's very difficult especially these days to try to look forward and predict what might happen.

But what do you think?

This is the first direct U.S. strike on Syria since the crisis and then the war began. It was a small pinprick, as Ben Wedeman said but still it was action.

Do you believe it will be significant?

LINA KHATIB, CHATHAM HOUSE: It is only significant for President Trump if only to distinguish himself from his predecessor. I think it is more about (INAUDIBLE). President Trump wanted to say I am a president who means what I say and he had said chemical weapons are not acceptable.

And he followed that with a very specific action meant as punishment for a very specific attack which (INAUDIBLE). So we should not read too much into this as it's the beginning of a complete turnaround in U.S. foreign policy toward Syria.

GORANI: Right. But then you have the government of Bashar al-Assad. Presumably they weren't expecting this because, just a few days before high-level American officials were essentially telegraphing the message that they're fine with Assad in power and that their main priority is ISIS, I mean, they must be -- this must change their calculus.

Or not?

KHATIB: It only changes the calculus in the sense that it shows that U.S. administration is not predictable and that it is capable of acting completely on its own without waiting for a U.N. Security Council resolution or for an international alliance.

But at the same time, as I said, because this is an isolated action, this does not mean that the regime of Bashar al-Assad will suddenly recalculate all its moves in Syria. I think the regime will probably think twice about using chemical weapons but it will continue to use conventional weapons and it's already continuing to do that.

GORANI: Right. And there it isn't just Bashar al-Assad, that regime. It's also their very reliable allies, Iran, the group Hezbollah here in Lebanon as well. And then you have Russia as well.

When it comes to Iran and Hezbollah, what is likely to be their approach now to this U.S. strike?

KHATIB: I think (INAUDIBLE) nervousness (ph) on the part of Iran and Hezbollah. But this has existed for a while now and it's not to do with the U.S. It's more to do with what might happen in the future because of the Russian-Iranian differences in terms of their own end games in Syria.

Both of them want influence and, for a while, Iran was leading in terms of being the most influential external actor in Syria. But now Russia is playing that role. Russia wants Syrian positions (ph) to remain strong and to be influential through them; whereas Iran wants Syrian (INAUDIBLE) to be weak so that it can influence from the bottom up.

That's where the Russian-Iranian end game is a bit different in Syria. When you have an action like this, it can only add to the nervousness of Iran because it's another thing that means that its own interests might not quite be realized in Syria.

But, again, we shouldn't think of this as a sign that Iran is going to completely change its own actions or calculations in Syria. It's more about changing tactics in order to reach this end game than about changing certainty for Iran.


GORANI: Right. So many players, so many proxy battles and wars going on in this one country. And so many civilians suffering as a result. Lina Khatib of Chatham House, as always, thanks for joining us. We'll have a lot more from Beirut in a moment.

But for now, Isa Soares, back to you in London.

SOARES: Thanks very much, Hala. And just ahead right here on this special edition of CNN NEWSROOM, as the investigation into Stockholm's truck attack continues, we'll have the latest on what police know now.

Plus we'll talk to an eyewitness who was just a stone's throw away when the truck crashed. We'll take you live to the Swedish capital next.

Plus, of course, we'll have more on President Trump's shift in policy toward Syria, happening amid a rift inside the White House. Bring you those stories after a very short break.




GORANI: Hello. I'm Hala Gorani in Beirut. We are following the U.S. strike on a Syrian airbase. We'll have more in a moment.

SOARES: And I'm Isa Soares in London. You are watching a special edition of CNN NEWSROOM.

Right now it is morning in Stockholm where Swedish police have arrested a man in Friday's truck attack. They say he's being held -- and I'm quoting here -- "on suspicion of terrorist crimes through murder."


SOARES: At least four people were killed and 12 injured after a stolen truck barreled into pedestrians on the busiest street in the Swedish capital. The prime minister, Stefan Lofven, says everything indicates it was a terrorist attack. Take a listen.


STEFAN LOFVEN, SWEDISH PRIME MINISTER: Swedish authorities, including police and hospitals, are doing everything they can to save lives and maintain our safety. Thoughts, concerns and condolences have reached many of us from all around the world and we are grateful for the many warm expressions of sharing our grief.

We are determined never to let the values that we treasure, democracy, human rights and freedom, to be undermined by hatred.


SOARES: Let's get more on this story. CNN's Max Foster joins us now from Stockholm with the latest.

A very good morning to you, Max.

What more do we know at this stage, Max, about the man that's been arrested?

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have just heard that he is likely the driver of the vehicle because for a long time there was just this image of someone that we thought the police were looking for and then the fact someone had been arrested, just look here, some flowers being laid.

This is the process the country's going through at the moment. Also shock of yesterday, now turning into trying to understand what happened.

(INAUDIBLE) some talk there just a moment ago, a young child came along with his father (INAUDIBLE) also laying flowers.

But, Isa, what I want to do is point you down the street. This is Drottninggatan, Queen Street. And you can see how narrow it is. And it is pedestrianized. And the vehicle was coming toward us, thundering toward us at great speed.

It's a wonder, really, that there weren't more people injured, more people killed out there because it would have been full, full of shoppers, full of tourists but also full of workers who were going to the train station, the main train station, just around the corner.

If you go to the left there, you can also see where the vehicle came crashing into the department store. It's still cordoned off, of course, with all of the sort of damage there strewn across the street. All pretty much in lockdown down there. But that lockdown area is becoming a lot tighter now as they continue the investigation.

SOARES: Yes. And like you're pointing out, Max, this is pretty central Stockholm. So you can imagine how it would be bustling with residents and shoppers ready perhaps to enjoy the weekend. Talk to us a bit about whether security's been stepped up in the area.

FOSTER: Around here a lot more police, armed police than you would normally have here. That's obvious perhaps. Also the borders were strengthened last night, which suggested that this was an ongoing investigation.

But at the same time police saying they weren't expecting any new updates. So we're trying to read what we can into that. They give very little information in these situations. But certainly the investigation continues.

But when you watch the morning TV here, the question really is, where do they go from here?

A lot of tributes paid to the emergency services, how they responded so quickly, questions being asked of the government.

Should they have done more to keep the country more secure?

But against that you've got this idea that this is a typically liberal European nation, a very open European nation and it's the sort of capital, Scandinavian capital, where you can just walk up to government buildings, walk up to the palace.

And if you're going to start changing that, it fundamentally changes what this country's about. In London or New York, you build a wall around an area to increase the security. In this country, there's a big question about that and that's what they're grappling with today.

SOARES: Very much so Europe, waking up to new realities, isn't it?

Max Foster for us in Stockholm. Thanks very much, Max.

I want to bring in Christopher Ung, who was only 10 meters away from the attack. He was in the department store when the truck crashed into it. He joins us now on the line from Stockholm.

Christopher, thank you very much for joining us here on the show. Tell us a bit more where you were, what you saw when it all unfolded.

CHRISTOPHER UNG, EYEWITNESS: Yes, sure. I was just done with my shopping. So I was heading toward the exit. And I was maybe about 10 meters away from the exit when you hear this thunderous noise and the roar and glass shattering and the wall coming toward us like an avalanche or a tsunami wave moving toward us.

And people, there are screams and panic and everyone just started running as fast as they could the other way just to get away.

SOARES: Did you see the truck at all or did you just see the building crumble?

UNG: No, from inside the department store you couldn't see the actual truck but you just saw the wall coming toward you. It was only when we got out of the building that you --


UNG: -- could see the actual truck. The first -- my initial reaction was that there had been a bomb gone off or something similar to that. It was such that when we got outside that we -- you could see the actual truck sticking out of the building and there were flames coming out of the building and dark smoke.

SOARES: When you saw that truck, Christopher, did you realize, did you think perhaps it could be any terror-related at all, given that we saw just two weeks before an attack here in London and, of course, the atrocities in Nice last year?

UNG: Yes, yes. I think most of us realized straightaway that it was an act of terror because the way that -- where the truck had come from, it was no way that it could have been just an accident because the truck couldn't come from that direction otherwise. So it seemed obvious from the get-go it was an act of terror.

SOARES: And when you left, you said people were running.

Did you see much police around you straightaway?


Talk to us a bit what was about the surrounding areas as you left that department store. UNG: Yes, there was crowds gathering outside and people -- It's a busy day and it's a busy street. There was loads of crowds gathering. There's a subway station just there and there were -- security guards from the subway station were the first to come up and they were trying to get the people away and trying to tend to the victims and look at the accident and try to assess the situation.

But the police were pretty quickly there, maybe in just a few short minutes. You lose the perspective of time really when it happens. But my feeling was that the police were there straightaway. And the security guards from the subway station were there really quickly.

SOARES: I'm glad to hear you are well. Thank you very much, Christopher, for taking the time to speak to us there.

Christopher, who witnessed that attack in Stockholm.

And Hala, this is, as you and I well know, we've covered Nice attacks; it's becoming unfortunately a very common occurrence throughout Europe -- Hala.

GORANI: Yes, indeed, it is. You mentioned many other attacks. Westminster just two weeks ago; Nice last year. The Berlin Christmas market attack as well.

We'll join Isa a little bit later for more on what happened in Stockholm.

After a quick break, now that the U.S. has launched a military strike against Syria, what is President Trump's next move?

Stay with us. We'll be right back.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Isa Soares in London.

HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): I'm Hala Gorani coming to you live from Beirut, Lebanon. President Trump's missile strike on a Syrian airbase represents somewhat of a shift in policy to the war- torn country.

And from what we've heard and from what we've seen it was not a decision that he took lightly. The president met with his security council several times before authorizing the strike. The go-ahead came just before his meeting with the Chinese president. Senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEFF ZELENY, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump's biggest commander in chief moment, launching airstrikes in Syria, dramatically changing the tone for his first meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The relationship developed by President Xi and myself I think is outstanding. We look forward to be together many times in the future and I believe that potentially a lot of bad problems will be going away.

ZELENY (voice-over): Meeting at his Mar-a-lago resort, the president letting the missile strikes speak for themselves.


TRUMP: Thank you very much.

ZELENY (voice-over): The president's decision to strike Thursday evening was a dramatic turnaround in his posture towards Syria.

TRUMP: It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.

ZELENY (voice-over): White House aides say the decision unfolded like this over a three-day period this week.

At 10:30 am Tuesday the president learns of the chemical attack in Syria.

At 3:00 pm Wednesday the president is briefed on options by his national security team.

At 1:30 pm Thursday the president convening a meeting of his top advisers before Air Force One before coming back to tell reporters this:

TRUMP: I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity and he's there and I guess he's running things. (INAUDIBLE).

ZELENY (voice-over): And at 4:00 pm Thursday after arriving at Mar- a-lago, he gave the authority to strike after his fourth meeting with his national security team. The most consequential decision of the young Trump presidency unfolding against a deepening fracture inside the West Wing over Syria and the broader direction of the White House.

Chief strategist Steve Bannon demoted from his seat on the National Security Council earlier this week argued against the Syria strikes CNN has learned. He's increasingly at odds with Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, who now has a more prominent seat at the table as these behind-the-scenes photographs show.

The strikes in Syria are a departure from the president's America first agenda, crafted by Bannon. While widely praised for taking action, Republicans and Democrats today called on the White House to explain its new stand toward Syria.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY, CHAIR, SENATE BANKING COMMITTEE: I don't think they have a policy yet but they better have one because things probably are not going to get better in the Syria area there.

ZELENY: And the Trump administration is indeed crafting that policy now but also keeping a close watch on Syria. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the U.S. is watching to see what Syria does next. Of course, if they respond or do more chemical attacks, the U.S. is likely to respond in kind.

This is all testing the president's America first agenda. He once said Syria was not the problem of United States. Now it clearly is. The ball is in his court --


ZELENY: -- to see what happens next -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Palm Beach, Florida.


SOARES: Well, on Capitol Hill, Congress had bipartisan agreement on Friday, demanding that President Trump consult them on any further action in Syria. But they are split over how soon they should open that debate and whether the U.S. should launch another full-scale war in the Middle East. Take a listen.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZ.: We've got choices. If you think the last eight years were a good idea, then let's keep doing it. If you don't, then we ought to back the president but also recognize this is the beginning. This is only the first step. If we want to succeed, we're going to have to, step by step, do a lot more.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KY: Our founding fathers gave the power to declare war to Congress because they want to make it difficult to go to war. And this is war by any other name. Dropping bombs on another country is war. And we have to think about, what are the ramifications?

What may happen from this?

You know, will Assad reform?

Will Assad get worse?

If Assad is toppled, will the people that replace him be better than Assad or worse than Assad?


SOARES: Two differing views right there.

Joining me now is political reporter Silvia Borrelli. Silvia, thank you very much for joining us. Hearing two very

different sides there. This is war, this is legal, it was the right thing to do. European allies backing Trump on this move. NATO as well.

Legally, putting the political aside, legally, could he do this?

Was he right to do this?

SILVIA BORRELLI, POLITICO: Well, U.S. law actually does allow the U.S. president some leeway to respond to attacks and military actions that perhaps are isolated or that directly affect security.

So the question really is, you know, this, I think, we could say was legal. Obama with Libya in 2011 used the same leeway that the 1973 resolution allows U.S. presidents.

But how far is he going to take it?

Was it a one-off or is he going to take it any further?

Because, of course, if he takes it further and he goes on by himself without having any approval from Congress, then that might face some legal questions.

But, of course, there are two. You've seen congressmen saying, you know, this is the president who's exercising his power, he's the commander in chief, he can do this. And other people across the board, actually, both Republicans and Democrats, saying he has to discuss with Congress and he has to get the approval.

But even the U.S. Constitution isn't really very clear. Between Article 1 and 2 it's not very clear whether it's Congress that has to allow military action or the president. But, of course, then it comes back to the question, is this a war or was it a one-off attack?

SOARES: Of course. But many people are looking at this. Perhaps they don't think this is very controversial at all because, you know, here's a man who many call a dictator, who is killing his own people, civilians, many children, with chemical weapons.

So if, by law, it's about protecting human rights, doesn't that support President Trump?

BORRELLI: Well, but then there the question would also have to be how about when the Syrian regime attacks civilians without chemical weapons?

What about the attacks that are carried out on a daily basis?

I think after the chemical attack there was another attack in the early hours of this morning.

How about that?

I mean, is the world going to respond to chemical attacks just because of the images we see and the children dying and the fact that chemical weapons are supposed to be forbidden and that the Syrian regime said they had gotten rid of them?

What are they going to do in every other case when they just attack --


SOARES: When it's barrel bombs, exactly --

BORRELLI: -- any sort of bombs whether they will move on that.

SOARES: In terms of we heard different voices from the U.S. yesterday in terms of the backing, we even were hearing Nancy Pelosi saying tonight, striking Syria appears to be a proportional response to the regime's use of chemical weapons.

Everyone seems to be pretty much on the same page here. But future, I mean, the U.S. administration doesn't seem to want to go any further than this, although we heard in the U.N. there's room for that.

Does this change the fact that this is just a one-off?

Does this change anything?

BORRELLI: This could have been a way for Trump to show the world his power and to warn other countries like Russia, like North Korea, that the U.S. is still strong and although America is first, at the same time there are still military power and the world's cop.

But at the same time now you have a lot of people across the Middle East, including actually civilians in Syria and a lot of states in Europe that have been sort of galvanized by this action because it seems like it's bringing the situation forward from where it's been in the past five years.

And let's face, it the peace process and the U.N. weren't really able to do much up until now. So, of course, there needs to be a political solution of some sort because --


BORRELLI: -- you know, another war is probably not something advisable at this stage and the U.S. cannot afford another Iraq.

But at the same time what do you do?

You just leave it there?

Or are you going to use carrot and stick, depending on how Assad's regime reacts to this attack and how he behaves going forward?

And Russia as well, you have the issue of Russia there, too, because, of course, the relations with Russia have deteriorated in the past few weeks; this makes it even more complicated.

So where is the U.S. going to take those relations from here? SOARES: Well, it seems the relationship between the U.S. and Russia has deteriorated way before this. But thank you very much, Silvia Borrelli. Thank you.

And, Hala, we'll toss it back to you.

Well, I'll just continue myself.

It wasn't all about missile strikes on Thursday for President Trump. What we know about his talks with China's president. We'll bring you that story ahead, live from Beijing.




SOARES: Hello. I'm Isa Soares in London.

GORANI: I'm Hala Gorani live in Beirut. Let's get you more reaction to that U.S. missile strike in Syria.

Well, one thing it accomplished is that it overshadowed a meeting between President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping. Mr. Xi was hosted at the U.S. president's Florida estate.

And Mr. Trump reportedly told of the attack -- was told of the attack as they finished dinner, right as the missiles struck their targets.

Despite this, U.S. officials say the meeting went well. The two leaders discussed North Korea's nuclear program and trade ties as well. CNN's Matt Rivers is monitoring this story from Beijing.

So question, reaction in China to the fact that the U.S. president decided to launch a military strike against Syria during the visit of President Xi, did -- how was that received?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Generally speaking, they really didn't talk --


RIVERS: -- here in China that much about the military strike.

I was reading some state-run newspapers this morning here in China and really all they were focusing on was how well this meeting went between China and the United States, between Presidents Xi and Trump.

And you'd be forgiven if you thought that the first time that these two men meet, would meet in person, it might not go that great, given what candidate Trump was fond of saying about China, constantly accusing China of unfair trade practices in sometimes the crudest of ways.

Yet this meeting really went off without a hitch, even though the president decided to make that launch while President Xi was there. Apparently, here in China no one was really that fazed by it.

And so we're hearing from the White House that the things that were discussed in this meeting in order of this statement they put out, they talked about challenges that the United States sees in the way the Chinese government intervenes in its businesses, making an uneven playing field for Americans, as they put it.

They talked about North Koreans' weapons program and the fact that they jointly agree that it's a problem and they said they would work together to fix it.

Then they talked about the South China Sea. So they say they have differences in all that but they say they're working together.

One last thing that I thought was interesting here, way down in this statement they said -- and I can pull up this quote for you, it says he, talking about President Trump, also noted the importance of protecting human rights and other values deeply held by Americans.

Gives you an idea of how lack of a -- how much less important that was to the Trump administration. It's kind of an afterthought in this statement.

But China really one of the more egregious human rights offenders in the world. Apparently, though, not a huge issue to the Trump administration at least in terms of overall importance -- Hala.

GORANI: And Matt, of course, North Korea as you said was a main topic of discussion. And the interim president in South Korea spoke to Donald Trump.

What can you tell us about what was discussed during that phone call?

RIVERS: Yes, they spoke on Saturday morning here for about 20 minutes or so we're told, according to the South Koreans. And what President Trump expressed to his counterpart in South Korea is that he told President Xi, when they met, the United States' position on that anti- missile defense system, THAAD as it's known, that will be deployed in South Korea throughout the year, that the United States is firmly behind that.

They explained the U.S. position to the Chinese president and really kind of backing up the long-held position by the United States that they're going to stand with South Korea and they believe that that anti-missile defense system is necessary against North Korea. And they're not going to be backing away from it anytime soon.

GORANI: All right. Matt Rivers is live in Beijing. Thanks very much. We'll have more from Beirut in a moment.

But for now Isa, back to you in London.

SOARES: Thanks very much, Hala.

Still ahead right here on the show, how did graffiti lead to one of the bloodiest civil wars in the Middle East? When we return, we'll take a look back at the origins of the Syrian

uprising. Stay with us.






SOARES: Welcome back.

Now Syrian Americans have mixed reactions to President Trump's decision to launch missiles at Syria.

Members of a Syrian Christian community rallied Friday in Allentown, Pennsylvania, against the strike, as you can see there. While some told local media they don't believe the government in Damascus gassed its citizens and that President Trump only made things worse, another Syrian American said he's glad Mr. Trump ordered the strike.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a long time. It's about time, I mean, to get rid of this tyrant, this evil tyrant and stop those who are supporting him. I mean, the Syrian people have been crying, begging for such action.


SOARES: The Syrian civil war is now in its seventh year with no clear end in sight. An estimated 400,000 people have lost their lives and millions have fled the country. CNN's Randi Kaye has our report on how it all began.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They call it the cradle of the revolution. This is Daraa, Syria, a small town about 50 miles from Damascus.

Here is where graffiti containing anti-government slogans sparked the start of the Syrian uprising. It was March 2011 and more than a dozen children had been arrested for drawing that graffiti.

Protesters demanded the release of the children and democratic reform. It quickly turned violent, with protests spreading and Syrian security forces opening fire on crowds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If it is bombed every day, a thousand people die. This is our land and we will not leave.

KAYE (voice-over): Protesters targeted the government, the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

BASHAR AL-ASSAD, PRESIDENT OF SYRIA (through translator): It is our enemies are working daily and scientifically in order to undermine the stability of Syria.

KAYE (voice-over): The regime's response was swift: a brutal crackdown, massive arrests and casualties. The president made promises that never came.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: The level of anger and passion here is absolutely palpable. We're just a few miles from the central of Damascus and this here is a crowd here --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language)

ROBERTSON: -- thank you.

This is a crowd here of perhaps several thousand people. They've taken over this whole area.

KAYE (voice-over): The government militia continued to torture and murder their own people, using tanks and surprise raids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I am not the only one whose life has been destroyed or whose husband is missing. Everyone in this country has a missing person or a destroyed home or is displaced. We have been through so much. We have suffered and have come to hate life because of all these problems.

KAYE: E-mails obtained by CNN, apparently from the Assad's private e- mail accounts show, throughout it all, they continued to live a life of luxury. One day in February 2012 --


KAYE: -- the same day opposition fighters in Homs reported more than 200 killed, Mr. Assad's wife was e-mailing a friend about shoes she liked that cost about $7,000 a pair.

KAYE (voice-over): In another e-mail in which Syria's first lady used the fake name "Aliya," she contacted a London art dealer about art that cost as much as $16,500, all of this during this senseless slaughter of Syrian civilians.

The U.N. estimates about 400,000 Syrians have been killed since the war began in 2011. And as of last December, nearly 5 million Syrians have fled the country, only adding to the refugee crisis in the Middle East. Many in Syria have lost hope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not scared of these persons. I'm not scared of the chemical weapon. I mean, does it take a difference to die with a bullet or with a chemical weapon?

KAYE (voice-over): Randi Kaye, CNN, New York. (END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: All right. I'm Hala Gorani live in Beirut. We'll have a lot more from Lebanon after a break.

SOARES: Please stay right here with CNN NEWSROOM.