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Syria Tops Agenda At G7 Meeting; Syria Strikes Leave Trump Admin Sending Mixed Signals; Renewed Scrutiny Of Russia-Syria Relations; U.N.: 400,000 Syrians Killed In Syrian Conflict; Venezuelan Opposition Leader Banned From Politics; Protests In Venezuela Over Ban Of Opposition Leader; Venezuela Gripped By Social And Economic Crisis; Policeman Killed In Westminster Attack Laid To Rest. Aired 11-11:30 p.m. ET

Aired April 10, 2017 - 23:00:00   ET


[23:00:24] MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN TODAY ANCHOR: Tonight on the program, Syria takes center stage as G7 foreign ministers made following the chemical

weapons attack that put Moscow and Washington on a diplomatic collision course. I'm going to be joined by former U.S. State Department Spokesman

John Kirby, and in Russia, pro-Kremlin analyst, Sergey Markov.

Plus, the voice of Venezuela's opposition, Henrique Capriles on standing up to President Maduro despite being banned from politics.


HENRIQUE CAPRILES, VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION LEADER (through translator): We have an unpopular government. A government which elected of his way of

dictatorship. And we are happy to bring down the dictatorship by way of votes.


HOLMES: Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the program. I'm Michael Holmes sitting in for Christiane Amanpour. Now, Syria, the top of the

agenda. The foreign ministers at a meeting of the G7 in Italy, most of all for the American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. In the wake of those

airstrikes on Syria, his administration seems in a crisis of conscience. Although, just want its America first foreign policy is. And, oh, what a

difference a week makes America's UN ambassador had said that Assad leaving office was no longer an American priority. On Sunday, she had this to say.


NIKKI HALEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Regime change is something that we think is going to happen because all of the parties

are going to see that Assad's not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria. So, what I think you're saying is, this isn't about policy or

not. This is about thoughts. And so, when you look at the thoughts, there is no political solution that any of us can see with Assad at the - at the



HOLMES: And the White House Press Secretary has just reiterated that the Trump administration believes Syria will never be stable with Assad at the

helm. It's an about face certain, of course, tension in Moscow, where the American Secretary of State is headed next. Well, what can we expect from

that visit? John Kirby is a man whom I know, retired Navy Admiral, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs from 2015 to 2017, joins me

now from Washington, and thanks for doing so. So, what will Rex Tillerson be looking for from the Russians? Everyone says they should be taught

negotiations, a ceasefire transition, and the Russians are needed for all of that. What would you advise him?

JOHN KIRBY, FORMER UNITED STATES STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: My best advice to Secretary Tillerson would be, number one, to be able to ride

through the Russian criticism that he's going to get, and to be just as pugilistic as he has been over the last couple of days when he talks about

Russia and their role, and their complicity in what's been going on in Syria. So, they're going to (INAUDIBLE) him for a few minutes. They're

going to - they're going to say this was, you know, unlawful act of aggression, and that this is making the situation worse and this is

damaging our bilateral relationship. He has a right through that. Number two, he's got to go with some big ideas. This is an opportunity whether or

not you agree with the strike, whether people think it was right thing to do or not. And certainly, I don't think it's indicative of a major policy


They have an opportunity, they may have created some leverage with the Russians to sit down and try to get to a diplomatic solution in Syria,

something that Secretary Kerry and President Obama tried very hard to do and couldn't. They might now have that leverage in light of their

willingness to use force. They should use that. So we should go with some big ideas and drive the agenda.

And number three, expectations management. Look, when we struck - we've now sent a signal to Assad, but we also sent a signal to the Syrian people

who now think maybe the American military is going to come in more on our side on the Civil War, the rebel groups, Iran, Turkey now is calling for

no-fly zones in a more aggressive way because they see now U.S. military action. So, we need to make sure we act in our interests and not just fill

the expectations of other.

HOLMES: And that is the risk that you overpromise in a way, by carrying out a strike like this, and then under deliver. What - when it comes to

Assad, I suppose the big question is, what's the alternative? If he suddenly went overnight for some reason, what is there to replace him? I

mean, these days, the "opposition" is largely a -- just a desperate group of factions dominated in many cases by jihadists and the new (INAUDIBLE) in

Iran who's going to have an opinion.

[23:04:52] KIRBY: You are so right. That is the big fear, and that is why the Russians continue pop -- prop up Assad. It's not because they love

Assad, it's because they don't want the regime to collapse in a chaotic unstructured way that puts their security interests at risk in Syria.

They've had a long relationship with Syria going back 30 years of presence there. They don't want to give that up. It's their foothold, it's their

toehold into the Middle East. That's why they're propping up Assad.

And so - and all I would say is I'd recommend that Secretary Tillerson go back and read the four Geneva communiques and one - I'm sorry. Three

Geneva and one Vienna communique that Secretary Kerry helped co-author, which lays out the framework for political transition to get to Syria that

doesn't have Assad in power but does it in an orderly fashion that gives the Syrian people a say in a vote and a process. And it also calls for a

process by which the opposition, which you're so right, is not very well- led and structured. But, it gives them a vehicle to sit down with members of the regime and try to hammer out that transition. It's there. All they

have to do is read it and go back and try to restructure.

HOLMES: And these strikes seems to have - well, it's changed their headlines but really in effect what else? I mean, you've touched on this.

What is the U.S. strategy, the policy? The risk seems to be if Assad uses chemical weapons against, well, where does that road lead?

KIRBY: Yes, that's tough. It's tough to say that. So they've indicated, and I just saw Sean Spicer say again just a few minutes ago that they're

willing to do more. But I don't know what that means. Do more if he does another chemical attack? Well, if he doesn't do that but he continues to

kill and by large the hundreds of thousands of Syrians, most of them have not been killed by chemical attacks. Are you going to step in when he does

something in a large-scale conventional way? So, where is that line? And what are you going to do if he crosses that line again? And I don't think

that they thought this thing through too carefully. I don't think they have a full appreciation for the power of diplomacy here. They did a

successful strike that was targeted for limited purposes and they achieved those purposes, but obviously Assad still has the capacity, the capability

to visit violence on his own people. Where is the line going to be?

HOLMES: And, John, and then you mentioned this, and it really is the point. And that is, the people are dying, they've been dying for years.

There were more airstrikes today. That bloodshed goes on. What lesson has Syria learned as you point out, the vast majority of death by conventional

weapons, although brutally indiscriminate, barrel bombs. No one sends a message about those.

KIRBY: Right. I think that's - I think that is the quintessential problem now that the Trump administration faces, as it looks at Syria. The only -

the only way out is a political solution, a diplomatic solution. The entire international community agrees on that. No military solution is

going to solve the Civil War, but now they've put their thumb on the scale in the Civil War in a way that the Obama administration wasn't willing to

do in terms of using military force against the regime.

So where does that go; how far are you going to employ that if it doesn't have the deterrent effect that you have now tried to have it - have it --

make it -- make it occur. So, I think this is a real dilemma, a real problem. And I don't know that they have thought this carefully through

enough from a policy perspective, as they should have.

HOLMES: Because you can back yourself into a corner here pretty quickly. I mean, if you're going to start dealing with Assad's brutality, what that

requires a level of escalation engagement. So, let's face it, there is no domestic appetite for.

KIRBY: No, that's right. Look, military action should always be a servant to the diplomacy, not the other way around. Unless you're an all-out war,

obviously that's a different matter but in any case like this where you can escalate or deescalate tensions in military solution should really be

subservient to diplomatic ones. And I'd like to see that they are going use this visit in Mosco which they absolutely should to try to build some

sort of diplomatic consensus going forward.

HOLMES: John Kirby, as always, great to get your analysis. Thanks so much.

KIRBY: My pleasure. Thank you.

HOLMES: All right. Let's get the view now on how this is playing in Russia, Sergey Markov former M.P. for Putin's United Russia Party joins us

via Skype from Sochi in Russia. And thanks for doing so. Before I ask you a question, I actually just want to play you some sound from the U.S.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaking about Russia. Let's play that and come back on the other side.


TILLERSON: Regardless of whether Russia was complicit here or whether they were simply incompetent or whether they got outwitted by the Bashar al-

Assad regime you would have to ask the Russians that question. But clearly, they have failed in their commitment to the international



HOLMES: What he's referring to there, of course, is the 2013 horrific chemical attack by Bashar al-Assad after which Russia was put in charge of

getting rid of serious chemical weapons, getting them decommissioned, and then this latest attack happens. Does Russia as some in the U.S. suggest

bear some responsibility?

[23:09:28] SERGEY MARKOV, FORMER M.P. FOR UNITED RUSSIA PARTY (via skype): I think that Russia don't have weapons (INAUDIBLE) Bashar al-Assad using

chemical weapons because we believe that there was no international investigation. And we think that chemical weapons can be used by Jabhat

an-Nusrah for provocation and not willing to have a United States and Russia (INAUDIBLE) infighting can (INAUDIBLE) jihadist in Syria. And

everybody who has some logic can ask himself (INAUDIBLE) do you let (INAUDIBLE) for Bashar al-Assad two days after Russian started to talk

about more positive attitude toward Bashar al-Assad as a leader of Syria. In two days, he decided to strengthen the branch of (INAUDIBLE) by using

chemical weapons. It's very strange, it's impossible. And (INAUDIBLE) speaking disappointed that Donald Trump who so many time criticize where he

can use now rely on such a paid news about Bashar al-Assad (INAUDIBLE) chemical weapon.


HOLMES: So, that (INAUDIBLE) so your position and the Russian position is that there were no chemical weapons used by Bashar al-Assad, and the E.U.,

the U.S., and others disagree. You know, what - do you think Vladimir Putin would pivot away from support for Bashar al-Assad if it were to lead

to some sort of negotiated settlement?

MARKOV (via Skype): We're saying that in the moment when there are real war against jihadist and (INAUDIBLE) Jabhat an-Nusrah (INAUDIBLE) but you

dismissed the head of the army who is really fighting to kill jihadist. It will be very good for the (INAUDIBLE) jihadist and very bad (INAUDIBLE)

when civil - but when civil war is over, when we're all together, we'll stop any possibility for jihad Islam - Islamic State and Jabhat an-Nusrah

to take part in Syria, then we can talk about (INAUDIBLE) Bashar al-Assad. But also, we believe that the M.P. (INAUDIBLE) make such decision. And

we're seeing (INAUDIBLE) should be free and fair elections in Syria. Where Syrian people should decide, if Bashar al-Assad or maybe somebody else.

And this should be international monitoring (INAUDIBLE) elections.

HOLMES: When it comes to the U.S.-Russia relations, I mean, it was in November that you said a Trump presidency would make it more likely that

the U.S. would agree with Russia on Syria. This month, you said Mr. Trump was weak, domestically isolated, and that he uses action to lift his

popularity. How do you see the Russia-Trump relationship right now?

MARKOV (via Skype): Now, Russia (INAUDIBLE) relations are very much (INAUDIBLE) First of all, we don't understand foreign policy. And who is

conducting foreign policy? Rex Tillerson, or maybe Mike Pence, or maybe Kushner, or maybe Ivanka Trump is doing Foreign Policy. And secondly, we

have been surprised that all Obama fonts are now a blow to Mr. Trump. And it looks like that Obama - that Trump more and more (INAUDIBLE) Barack

Obama foreign policy.

HOLMES: What do you - what do you think Mr. Putin's aim down in Syria? What do you think he wants?

MARKOV: I think Mr. Putin want a Syria that no chance for jihadist or Islamic State and Jabhat an-Nusrah to take (INAUDIBLE) in Syria and to use

that is terrible agonizing terrorist attack in Russia and in other part of the world.

HOLMES: Sergey Makarov, thanks so much.

MARKOV: My pleasure.

HOLMES: Now, from Russia to President Putin's pick for the French elections, the National Front's Marine Le Pen has provoked uproar for

claiming that France was not responsible for the World War II round up of years. Which sent tens of thousands of French (INAUDIBLE) to their deaths.

Le Pen, instead, arguing that the Vichy government which collaborated with the Nazis was not France. And that as far as she is concerned, the French

Republic was in London during the occupation. Le Pen's critics say this shows she has not forsaken the anti-Semitism rife in the National Front

during her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen's leadership.

When we come back here on the program, Venezuela in crisis. My interview with the opposition leader who has just been banned from politics. That,

when we come back.


[23:16:27] HOLMES: And welcome back to the program. Venezuela is on the brink. Once the richest country in South America and home to the world's

largest oil reserves, it is now wrestling with its worst social, economic and political crisis in living memory. And the government's decision to

ban the opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, from politics for 15 years, led to even more protests this weekend. A defiant Capriles told me earlier

he's going to keep fighting, when he join me from Caracas.


Henrique Capriles, thanks so much for being with us today on the program. As thousands of Venezuelans hit the streets, you have being disqualified.

You no longer allowed to run for public office for 15 years for so-called "irregularities". What do you say to that?

HENRIQUE CAPRILES, VENEZULEAN OPPOSITION LEADER (through translator): Look, thank you very much. The disqualification here in my country is

contrary to the constitution. And inclusively, there has been an Inter- American Court that exhort the government to modify the law regarding to particularly articles which have been used to be able to take out all

adversaries, all political adversaries. It's a measuring (INAUDIBLE) against the Constitution in terms of a package of this coup d'etat has been

given to this -- to our country with which we are trying to deal with here in our country. We couldn't fight them in the courts. And we are in a

dictatorship, and at this moment, the Venezuelans are trying to mobilize. It's the entire country, here now during holy week, which are mobilizing

against this coup d'etat, so to speak, and to fight against these things with which I have told you about in this moment.

HOLMES: Do you feel that the demonstrations and -- they have been violent, do you feel that they are having an impact on the Armed Forces support for

Mr. Maduro? Could, you know, Venezuela perhaps be on the brink of a coup by the Armed Forces?

CAPRILES (through translator): Look, we are not pressuring so that the Armed Forces give a coup. We -- I'm against that completely, to any type

of military solution. I do not believe in coup d'etat. We are -- our pressure is so that the Armed Forces has a particular institutional way of

conduct. We believe that the military also is living this crisis. It's a corrupt military that is ordering this corrupt situation. We can -- as you

can see in our country, we have a censorship by way of our national media, and all of -- there's a social of networks (INAUDIBLE) at this moment are

helping us to be able to inform. Those are -- that there is a proof of how primitive gases are being used. Prohibited bombs are being used. There's

-- it has nothing to do in terms of the public order or to control public order. We have seen people who are out on the streets trying to confront a

violent repression.

HOLMES: The president, because Maduro said on Sunday, his words were that he is anxious to have elections but he is banning people like you from

running. Elections aren't even due until the end of next year. Will the people wait that long?

CAPRILES (through translator): Maduro does not want elections. He talks about elections only if that - you'd be able to affect the country, but is

-- he does not want to submit to the vote of votes.

[23:20:01] Maduro right now is in Cuba. What does he has to do with doing in Cuba at the moment when there was a crisis as severe as what we are

living right now here, are the Venezuelan people. As it shows, the little responsibility that he has in terms of exercising his charge. We have an

impopular government. A government which elected of the way of a dictatorship. And we are -- have to bring down the dictatorship by way of

votes. This is the worst time the Venezuela has been living in (INAUDIBLE) poverty. We have over 3 -- we have over 3 million people that have to

resort to eating out of the garbage dumps. We have the worst poverty in the entire region of South America. We have the worst crisis of poverty in

all of America.

HOLMES: And Venezuela is running out of cash as well as running out of food despite having an enormous oil reserves. How dire is the situation

economically and that then means socially as well?

CAPRILES (through translator): We have the highest inflation in the world. 1000 percent at last year in food alone. We have 82 percent of the

population in a level of poverty. We have a lack of food and medicine, violence -- criminal violence of the 10 most violent cities in the world.

Three of them is in Venezuela and the number one which is Caracas.

HOLMES: Your own offices have been damaged by -- according to reports. Are you worried about your own safety as this becomes more violent?

CAPRILES (through translator): What is -- the only thing that's left for Maduro to order is for -- to have him assassinate me. This fight that

we're living, it's impossible to visualize. This part of the -- this isn't the one takes in life and I have taken is my life is to serve my country.

And I remain firm in that way to serve Venezuela, to be able to change Venezuela.

On Saturday, the offices where my office is, as the governor in the city of Caracas, they were attacked. We were bombarded by these bombs which

they're using now. There was a fire which destroyed quite the main part of the main floor. We had to leave the office in the middle of a fire. Thank

God that we didn't have any victims, but it shows up until what point, the government could come to? I'm a person who believes that God is on our

side, and we will continue moving forward because we are convinced that this fight is for the good of our people. And that good, in the end, is

what will prevail. In the end, good will defeat evil.

HOLMES: Henrique Capriles, thanks so much for being with us today.

CAPRILES (through translator): I appreciate very much this opportunity and that the world can know what is happening in my country.


HOLMES: And when we come back here on the program, we imagine the women running towards equality in Iran's first marathon. But first we look to

London where the policeman killed during last month's Westminster attack was laid to rest today. Police lining a four kilometer funeral procession

for P.C. Keith Palmer. He will be lying and rest in Westminster Palace by special permission of the queen.


[23:25:54] HOLMES: And finally, tonight, we imagine a world going the distance this weekend. The world runners traveled to some pretty unusual

spots. Pyongyang held its annual marathon, a new tradition in Tehran, stumbling off the starting blocks, though, where Iran's first ever

international marathon took place. Now, (INAUDIBLE) was a success if you are a man. The women who traverse the globe for a good run where in for a

bit of a shock, already separated by gender, they discovered that their course would be only 10 kilometers. That's 32 kilometers shorter than the


Now, for some runners, that simply wasn't an option and they did the full marathon right alongside their fellow men. Something that's been illegal

in Iran since the revolution in 1979.

And that is it for our program tonight. Thanks for watching, and remember you can listen to our podcast. See us online at And follow

me on Facebook and Twitter, @HolmesCNN. Thanks for watching, everyone. Goodbye for now from the CNN Center.