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Tillerson Visits Russia Amid Worsening Relations; Famine, Drought and War Threatens Millions in Africa; Hungary Law Targets Central Europe University; Why Reporters are Making Fun of their Mistakes?

Aired April 11, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:14] MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN HOST: And tonight on the program, Washington's top diplomat arrives in Moscow to try to force Russia to

abandon Assad. Renowned expert Andrew Tabler on Tillerson's toughest challenge yet.

Also, a race against time. The U.N. warns of mass starvation across Yemen and parts of Africa as war and drought ravage people's land and

livelihoods. I speak to one of UNICEF's top directors Justin Forsyth.

Also ahead, the controversial new law order that protesters say threatens liberal democracy and academic freedoms in Hungary.

And good evening, everyone. Welcome to the program. I'm Michael Holmes sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

Well, fresh off the G7 Summit, the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has arrived in Moscow with a message from the West, it is time to cut ties

with Syria.

Tillerson wants to leverage global outcry after a poison gas attack prompted President Trump to strike Syria last week.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I think it is -- it's clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.


HOLMES: Now that drew sharp words from the Russian President Vladimir Putin, who compared the accusations against Syria to how the U.S. justified

its intervention in Iraq in 2003.

Meanwhile, the bombs still rain down in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports another 250 airstrikes on Monday alone. Well, the

Kremlin says relations are at their lowest point since the cold war with the U.S. So is there anything to gain from these talks?

To discuss, I'm joined by Andrew Tabler from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Always good to have you on, Andrew. So when it comes to Rex Tillerson and Sergey Lavrov, all Vladimir Putin if they may, what are the expectations?

Does the U.S. had leverage?

ANDREW TABLER, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: Well, I think it does. The chemical weapon use in the most recent Sarin was supposed to

have been destroyed a few years ago in the famous 2013 chemical weapons deal. So given that Sari was used, the basic question, well, where did the

Assad regime get it from.

The deeper question is to ask as White House has been releasing recently, what were Russians doing on the base and what do they know and what do they

do associate with the attack.

HOLMES: And to that point, I actually want to play some sound now from Vladimir Putin basically asserting that rebels will use chemical weapons

and blame the Syrian regime. Let's have a listen to that and we'll come back on the other side.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA: We have information from various sources that this kind of provocation and I can't call it anything other

than provocation. It's being prepared for in other regions of Syria, too, including the southern suburbs of Damascus, where they are preparing to

drop similar chemicals and then accuse the Syrian government of it. But we believe that any manifestations of a kind should be carefully investigated

and we intend to apply to the relevant U.N. bodies in the Hague and towards the international community to investigate these matters very carefully.


HOLMES: Serious allegation, obviously, but then just in the last couple of hours, senior U.S. administration official has said, quote, "I think it is

clear that the Russians are trying to cover up what happened there."

You know it's a war of words, it certainly doesn't sound like the Russians are close to moving away from Mr. Assad as Mr. Tillerson would like.

TABLER: That's right. It seems as if they are taking the regime's line and that is that the opposition has used chemical weapons. But, you know,

it should be known to your viewers and everyone, the United Nations has never found that the rebels have used chemical agents against the Assad

regime. There was one instance where it was found that ISIS used one shell or so of mustard gas against other rebels.

So rebels have never used chemical weapons against the regime, but the regime has been found on three different occasions to have used chlorine

against rebels. Now these are only cases that have been investigated so far.

HOLMES: I suppose when it comes to Assad or no Assad, the real question is what is the alternative? Where is the candidate to replace him that

Russians will accept, the Iranians will accept, the international community and for that matter, the Syrian people even if elections were possible,

which they are.

[14:05:00] TABLER: It's a very good question. So the Assad regime is headed by a few families at the top which are led by the Assad family. And

in that case, you're looking at Bashar, his brother, other family members would have to go as part of that. The question is who would take over.

And there are different theories about this. Visibility inside the regime is typically poured by intelligence services, but negotiations between the

Russians and the U.S. as well as with the Iranians perhaps in the future or on the sidelines could come up with an alternative candidate.

HOLMES: What chance that Assad would even change course. One imagines not while he's winning on the battlefield and still has powerful patrons like

Russia and Iran.

TABLER: I -- I don't -- well, I don't think he's winning without going to extreme measures. The regime has only gained about 5 percent of Syrian

territory since Russia intervened with some good real estate, but they're having to use increasingly chemical weapons to defend their positions

around Hama. That's the real battlefield issue as they try to push out east and become relevant in the fight against ISIL which they haven't been

for years.

HOLMES: And then Idlib, yet to come.

I'm curious what your thoughts are of the Russia-Iran dynamic. How heavy is Iran's involvement? What do they want?

TABLER: Iran's involvement is the heaviest we've ever seen it. 50,000 plus Shiite militia men sponsored by Iran throughout Syria. More probably

on the way, particularly after the fall of Mosul or anticipated fall of Mosul. The question is are the Iranians and that Russians on the same page

and the reading of that is no.

And Russia has been pretty clear. I don't think that they have any love for Assad, but they do want a Syrian state. The Iranians see it quite

differently. They see Bashar as necessary for them to operate to degree that they do inside of Syria. The question is at what cost.

HOLMES: Yes. You touched on this earlier. I think it's worth revisiting. A lot of people see the chemical attack in Idlib, the last major opposition

stronghold really. As you said a desperation attempt to break the spirit there. In advance of a larger offensive, do you see signs of that? What

should the U.S. be doing in anticipation to prevent that from happening. Idlib could be a bloodbath.

TABLER: That's correct. So the regime could try and push back into Idlib. Now the question is with what troops. They have only about an estimated

18,000 deployable forces in the entire country that bring pressure by the Russians to go out east, to try and be relevant in the Raqqah fight which

they haven't been so it's stretching their forces and they are happy to use chemical weapons increasingly.

HOLMES: Always good to get your expertise.

Andrew Tabler there from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Appreciate it. Good to see you.

TABLER: My pleasure.

HOLMES: Well, one of the biggest consequences of war is of course famine. And right now, the U.N. is warning that the world is facing the largest

humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War with more than 20 million people in four countries facing starvation.

The risk of mass famine in Yemen and several other countries across Africa including Nigeria, Somalia or South Sudan is rising rapidly due to drought,

conflict and a severe funding shortfall. Yes, money.

Joining me now from New York to assess the situation is Justin Forsyth of UNICEF. This is staggering, unprecedented, the very real possibility of

multiple famines all at once, endangering 20 million lives.

How dire is it?

JUSTIN FORSYTH, DEPUTY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, UNICEF: It's very dire. Time is running out for children. I mean, in Somalia and South Sudan, up to

500,000 children are facing severe acute malnutrition. And what that means is that they are close to dying.

Food has run out. Not only food, but the children are drinking dirty water, which makes them very, very vulnerable to diseases like diarrhea.

Also, we've had outbreaks of cholera. Children are eating leaves. I mean, one place in South Sudan, our teams were doing a rapid response, which

means they surge into an area sometimes by helicopter to do emergency responses. And 20,000 people emerged from the swamp on their last leg.

Many children had already died.

And in those situations, we're basically just trying to save lives and it's going to get worse and worse unless we can stop some of the fighting and

get aid in quickly.

HOLMES: And you know, staggering number that the UNHCR mentioned today, 4.2 million of the 20 million at risk of famine are refugees.

What to you is the biggest threat at the moment? Who is most at risk? Is it the children?

FORSYTH: It is the children. They are the weakest. They are the ones that die quick. As we know very little children, when they become

malnourish or don't have access to clean water and healthcare can deteriorate very quickly. I mean, actually, you can save them very


I mean, I've been in these feeding centers. UNICEF has over 620 in South Sudan. And the children come in. They are very malnourish. They look

often close to death. But with an emergency intervention, with expert health and care providers, you can actually pull those children back from

the brink. And then over an eight-week period, you can get them back into a healthy state.

But what we know is if we don't have access to those children, many will die. It was 1.4 million children in these four countries who are close to


[14:10:00] HOLMES: And it's the access, isn't? The other world in general, we've seen in before. Often waits too late as famines start to

develop. Is that what what's happening here. When is too late?

FORSYTH: Well, we know from previous famine a few years ago in Somalia in 2011, that almost half the children had already died before famine was

declared. So already we know many children had died. It's not like they are going to die there. They are already dying in quite large numbers. So

we need to act as quickly as possible to not only save the existing children at threat, but also those children that are going to be a threat

unless we prevent this getting even worse.

Not just in South Sudan and Somalia, but also in Northern Nigeria and in Yemen. And we know that the conflict is a big factor here and access. But

also on top of that drought in Somalia, water has dried up. We also know that animals and humans are defecating in the same areas, which is causing

these cholera outbreaks. So the combination of disease and lack of food and lack of aid and conflict all mixed together is causing this situation.

HOLMES: Cholera, sadly so deadly but so easily treated, as well, if you're in place.

So you mentioned this. Let's talk a bit more about it. Famine (INAUDIBLE) without water and there are about more. South Sudan is a man-made

conflict. Somalia due to drought. Not just in South Sudan last year.

Tell us what you saw. What are the key drivers there?

FORSYTH: Well, I went up to a town called Bentiu, which is in the state where the famine has been declared. I mean, it was like a three-hour

helicopter ride. A very remote area. It's a size of France. And this is a very outlining area. And I went immediately when I got off the

helicopter to help the clinic. And the whole clinic had been looted. There was almost nothing there. And that's the problem. Is that the

fighting in that area has displaced hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people, and people have fled to the swamps. They fled to forested areas to

escape the fighting.

And, therefore, unless the fighting dies down, it's very difficult to get access. But even in those tough places on the ground, UNICEF and other

U.N. agencies and non-government organizations are doing their best in difficult circumstances to make aid get to the children that need it. But

it is tough.

HOLMES: And it is a complex world as we know. A myriad of issues. You got everything from climate change to conflict, crises of refugees.

They're internally displaced around the world.

In this case, how are agencies like yours dealing with this? How insurmountable are the challenges?

FORSYTH: Well, they're not insurmountable in the terms of -- if we can have the resources and we have the access, we can reach these children.

It's not difficult to stop children dying from malnutrition, from lack of access to safe water, from diseases like diarrhea. Actually very simple

intervention saves lives.

But we do need the aid and we do need the access. And I think because of these famines, combined with Syria, combined with other humanitarian

emergencies, it does feel at this moment in history that we're particularly overwhelmed.

Now we have a lot of capacity at UNICEF. We have a lot of staff on the ground making a huge difference. But we do need more resources. We only

have about 50 percent of our appeals funded and we're only one better than the United Nations.

Overall, I think only 10 percent of U.N. appeals for these four famines are funded. And I think that is a bit of a result of overstretch. I mean,

this huge needs in Syria and the neighboring countries, too.

HOLMES: You and other agencies do, you know, God's work really when it comes to this, but it is a matter of political will, as well. And things

not being funded is all too tragically common.

What can people do to help? People are watching this program say what can I do?

FORSYTH: They can give money. They can give money to UNICEF. They can give money to other organizations that are on the ground, in the front

line, making a difference. And we've got thousands of staff deployed as we speak, in all of these places, in feeding centers, providing safe water,

making a difference.

And we know these small interventions make a difference. Just a $1 or $2 packet plumping up this peanut paste can save a child's life. Clean water

can save a child's live. So don't feel disempowered. Feel you can make a difference. And organizations, very brave staff from organizations like

UNICEF are there making a difference. Sometimes putting their lives on the line. We know in Yemen and South Sudan even more recently, aid workers

have been killed.

HOLMES: Yes, exactly. You know, one thing that is just staggering I think to a lot of people, again, it comes back to conflict, the risk of famine in

a place like Nigeria. It should be -- it is a rich country.

FORSYTH: It is a rich country, but we know in the north of that country, Boko Haram, this extremist organization has laid waste to the north. They

force people from their homes into forests to hide. They've destroyed, I think, over 3,000 schools, and it's not just in Northern Nigeria, but in

Niger, in Chad, all of that late Chad region. And this has a devastating impact.

Now as we get more access, as Boko Haram has been pushed back, we're finding areas probably that have already had famine and we're managing to

reach more people. But there are many people cut off by that extremist organization, and we need to do more to get even more access into those

difficult areas.

HOLMES: All right. We'll have to leave it there. Justin Forsyth of UNICEF, thanks so much. Good luck with the work you do.

Thank you.

HOLMES: And when we come back, we go to Hungary where the country's government has pretty much gone to war with a university. We ask the

university's president why they're under attack.


[14:17:20] HOLMES: And welcome back, everyone.

Tens of thousands of Hungarians took to the streets to protest a new law that could force the Central European University, one of the few

independent academic institutions in Hungary, to shut down. This weekend's protest, one of the largest demonstrations yet against Hungary's Prime

Minister Viktor Orban.

My guest, Michael Ignatieff is president of Central European University. He joins me from Budapest. And thanks for doing so.

You say this legislation targets your university. I think you called it a piece of vandalism. What are the reasons being given for the law, and what

will it mean for the university?

MICHAEL IGNATIEFF, PRESIDENT, CENTRAL EUROPEAN UNIVERSITY IN BUDAPEST: Well, it would shut down the university. We've been here for 25 years. We

give masters and doctoral degrees accredited in the United States, and we've become a part and parcel of Budapest life, which is why you've got

70,000 people in the streets demonstrating to keep us open.

We're one of the last free institutions in the city. And I think people have responded incredibly to our fight to stay open. And we actually

believe that with more pressure on the government internationally, more support in the streets, we can win this fight. And it's a fight for

academic freedom.

HOLMES: And, you know, broadly speaking, it's about universities over there need to have a base in the U.S. It's complicated. But what are the

broader issues here as you see them within Hungary at the moment?

The prime minister, we touched on this. He's been calling for a European revolution against what he's called an unholy alliance of Brussels,

bureaucrats, the liberal world media, and insatiable capitalists.

How do you interpret that in terms of this fight?

IGNATIEFF: Well, we're an institute. We're an academic institution, a serious one with an international reputation. And we feel we've been taken

hostage. We've been taken hostage by a government that's got, you know, an ideological agenda, some kind of agenda they want to push. They want to

get Washington's attention. And we've pushed back saying it's a really dumb thing to do to take on an American institution. It's really dumb to

try and take us hostage.

And we will fight back, because we're independent, because we're free, we can stand up for our freedom and we've been able to stand up for the

freedom of all of our Hungarian friends.

You know, there's some great institutions in Budapest, and we've been proud to stand with them and they've been to stand with us. And I think that's

why we've had such big demonstrations in the streets and we think they are going to continue.

HOLMES: Now, we've got to bring up the name of George Soros, the Hungarian-born, American billionaire, the philanthropist, who is a founder

of Central European University, a major supporter of liberal causes.

Does this law target him? Is the government coming after him?

IGNATIEFF: Well, I think that's probably likely, that they're having a shot at Mr. Soros, who has been one of their enemies for a long time. You

know, it's a funny story, because Mr. Orban received a scholarship from Mr. Soros years ago. There's almost a kind of father-son dynamic here. But I

won't get into that.

The point here is that I'm not answerable to Mr. Soros. I run an independent institution and I'm answerable to a board of trustees. And I

admire Mr. Soros and I respect what he does but he's not my boss. So they come after me, they're kind of missing the target.

We're an independent institution. And that means independent of our founder, independent of government and our job is to defend a free

institution. And that's why people are chanting in the streets to defend us.

HOLMES: I was just going to say, tens of thousands of protesters marching, as you mentioned, in support of CEU this weekend.

Can people power undo what the government really seems intent on doing at the moment, and what's sort of level of international support are you


IGNATIEFF: Well, I was in Washington last week firming up administration support. The United States government has been magnificent. We've had

support on Congress.

The message that you don't push around an American institution has a lot of resonance right across the political divide. We've had support in Europe,

the European Commission is going to be doing something and I know for a fact that a lot of European politicians have been putting calls into Mr.

Orban saying basically knock it off. This is a free institution. Academic freedom is a value that's kind of universal across the political divide.

Let these guys at CEU go back to work. That's all we want to do.

We want to teach, we want to learn in freedom. And that's a cause that I think resonates with a lot of people.

HOLMES: The education secretary reportedly said, I read this, that the government supports CEU'S work, doesn't want it to leave Hungary, and it's

interested in an agreement that would keep it operating.

Is there a door open for resolution?

IGNATIEFF: I think the minister there is doing a bit of backpedalling. And, look, I welcome backpedalling, provided it's in my direction.

Look, we want to go back to work. So if there is a solution in which we can safeguard our academic freedom, we can go about our business, we would

be happy to go back to work. We're not here to challenge the government, to fight the government. We're here to defend ourselves. And if we can

find an agreement that would allow us to do our work, we would be happy with it.

HOLMES: Very, very briefly, if you will, is this all part of liberalism being under threat in Europe?

IGNATIEFF: Oh, I don't know about liberalism. That's not my cause. My cause is academic freedom.

You know, I teach, I learn. I love being in the classroom. These are the values that I care about, and those are the ones that we're fighting for.

And those are the values that are getting this incredible, touching, moving response from our Hungarian friends and partners.

HOLMES: Michael Ignatieff, president of Central European University there in Budapest, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

IGNATIEFF: Pleasure.

HOLMES: And America is celebrating its press, big and small. The Pulitzer Prizes, rewarding the tiny family owned newspaper, that storm late times.

Circulation 3,000. Yes, a Pulitzer for editorial writing.

There you go. Happy family, too.

And from the profession's highs to its lows, why reporters are making fun of their mistakes. That's next.


[14:26:20] HOLMES: And finally tonight, imagine a world without mistakes. Well, it doesn't exist, does it? And in Australia, the slip-up of reporter

Natasha Exelby is making everyone reclaimed the things they would rather forget.


NATASHA EXELBY, REPORTER: Now to sport with -


HOLMES: That look on her face, it is the stuff nightmares once you are live on air, made of, but it really happens to almost everyone. And that's

why almost everyone was shocked when "ABC News" announced that they would be taking her off the air. Not bringing her back.

Australians and colleagues around the world rose to stand with Exelby using #PutYourBloopersOut. They are sharing their own favorite snafus. And

there's plenty of them out there.

I'm going to show you some of mine, now. Oh, I'm told we're out of time. That's it for our program tonight. You can listen to our podcast, see us

online, follow me on Facebook and Twitter @HolmesCNN. Thank you for watching, everyone. Goodbye for now from the CNN Center.