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THE SITUATION ROOM
Deadly Clashes Rock Cairo Streets; Interview With Sen. John Kerry; President and Speaker Boehner Speak by Phone; Bracing for Chemical Weapon Attack
Aired December 5, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, a deadly escalation of violence in Egypt. Protesters killed right outside the presidential palace. We're taking you to Cairo.
Also, suffocating conditions for some terrified civilians in Syria. They're living underground to escape the fighting. One woman says it's like living in a grave. We'll talk about the war and the chilling possibility of a chemical attack as well with Senator John Kerry.
And on the eve of legalized marijuana, pot smokers in Washington State find themselves in legal limbo.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
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BLITZER: Mayhem exploded outside the presidential palace in Cairo. Two people are dead in what was once largely peaceful protests against the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi. Anti-government demonstrators charged presidential supporters with rocks and Molotov cocktails after being kicked off palace grounds.
And now, there are reports of masked men storming the headquarters of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood. CNNs Reza Sayah is in Cairo.
REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Just a remarkable scene out here outside the presidential palace where you have opponents of President Morsi and supporters of President Morsi locked in an incredibly tense stand-off. Let's set the scene for you. That's the presidential palace over there (INAUDIBLE).
This is the main road that runs in front of the palace. And these are some old train tracks that have divided this road. On this side, you have opponents of the president chanting anti-president, anti-government slogan. And on that side, you have supporters of the president. And in between, you have scores of police officers, standing by, doing their best to keep the calm.
All right. We just had to make a run for it, because the clashes started to take place between supporters of the president and opponents. All of a sudden, rocks started flying. And there was a charge from one side. There's a lot of people running away, lots of crying, and there they go again. There they go again. All right. Now, we're seeing police move in.
This is one of the streets where there was heavy clashes between supporters of the president and the opponents and police pulled up. Three truck roads of police officers, let's go down there.
They set up a barricade here. Now, you have supporters of the president on that side, opponents on this side. Now, instead of rocks going back and forth, you have insults going back and forth.
He says he's not going to do it.
So, you were staying?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were staying.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He says what he will say. We will do it like you see every day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Until they leave.
SAYAH: Until they leave?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
SAYAH: We've seen a lot of tense nights over the past week and a half. A lot of protests, but we haven't seen this much violence. As we're talking, we see a number of ambulances rolling into the area surrounding the presidential palace, probably headed toward some of the injured. These two sides seem defiant.
They're determined. They're digging in. And now, they're hurting one another. There's violence, they're brawling, they're fighting. In the meantime, the clock is ticking toward December 15th. That's the date for the National Referendum for the Constitution. Will that vote happen or will the president back down to the demands of the opposition factions.
Reza Sayah, CNN, Cairo.
BLITZER: And joining us now, Dr. Essam Al Haddad. He's the top advisor to the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi. Thanks so much for coming in.
DR. ESSAM AL HADDAD, FOREIGN AFFAIRS ADVISER TO EGYPTIAN PRES.: Thank you.
BLITZER: I know you've had a series of meetings at the White House, at the state department. Let's talk about some of the news that's going on. Three of the senior advisers to President Morsi have now resigned in protest because of what they claimed he is doing that goes against the constitution, if you will, of Egypt.
How worried are you right now that the situation is deteriorating on the streets of Cairo?
AL HADDAD: Well, I mean, thank you. I don't think it is deteriorating. It is an expression of polarization within the Egyptian society, because we are entering into a very serious phase of Democratic process. And within ten days, there will be a referendum and we will come back to consult the Egyptian people of how they want to see the way forward.
BLITZER: Because the pictures are very dramatic. It looks violent. There have now been fatalities as well.
AL HADDAD: Unfortunately, because actually, this fatality is really terrible. And our Egyptians are killed here or there. So, it is terrible to hear something like that. And we hope that everybody will express his views in a peaceful manner, because we know this a holistic (ph) society. Everyone has the right to say whatever he wants in a peaceful way. And this will build a better opposition and a better Egypt.
BLITZER: Because not only the resignations, but they're going after Muslim Brotherhood headquarters. They're going after the presidential palace. It's sort of look similar to what was going on the days that led to Mubarak's overthrow.
AL HADDAD: Actually, during Mubarak time, there was no violence protest. There was no --
BLITZER: There was violence. There were people that were killed.
AL HADDAD: There was some violence, but in Tahrir Square, there was no violence at all. And that is why I'm saying that resorting to violence is an unacceptable behavior, because everybody can say whatever he would like to say in Egypt now. And we have all the opportunity to make discussions and to make debates and to return back to the will of the people in their referendum which is free, and fair and observed by international bodies, as well.
BLITZER: Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says he's willing for a dialogue with President Morsi provided that the government, your government, cancels the amendments to the current constitution, granting President Morsi extensive powers and postpones the referendum on the proposed new constitution. That referendum is supposed to take place December 15th. Will you meet those conditions?
AL HADDAD: Well, the question is, will we accept -- the answer is yes. President Morsi has started a national dialogue before three or four weeks ago. And today, he announced for another invitation for a national dialogue. But the dialogue with conditions is not a dialogue. It's imposing the will --
BLITZER: So, these two conditions that Mohamed ElBaradei has put forward are, what, unacceptable?
AL HADDAD: everything could be discussed on the table, but not conditions.
BLITZER: Because he says -- what about, are you open at least to postponing the referendum on the constitution? Moving it from December 15th?
AL HADDAD: If we are returning back to the will of the people. Why should be a fear out of that? We can change the constitution if there is a will of the people to change it. And today, it was announced that if there is a need for amendments, we can elect a new parliament, and within the new parliament, they have the right to make changes to the prosecution.
We insist on returning to the people, the regional source of power, and the resource of power.
BLITZER: Because the argument -- the accusation that's been made, and you've heard this many times by those who are protesting is that President Morsi, he was democratically elected. He got just more than 51 percent of the vote, which is enough to get him elected president of Egypt, the first election in Egypt ever, shall we say, but, he's beginning to act like Mubarak, like a dictator.
AL HADDAD: Well, I think these are unaccepted accusations or unacceptable statements, because he is insisting in carrying on with the Democratic process. Actually, he's devolving his powers, returning to the people. So, what is undemocratic in returning to the people, to the will of the people, to express their liberal views towards how they want to see the future of Egypt?
BLITZER: The other concern and a lot of the protesters, especially the liberal ones, are saying is, you want Sharia law imposed in Egypt. Do you?
AL HADDAD: Actually, the liberals, the seculars, and all those who are in the assembly, in the (INAUDIBLE) accepted the second article of Sharia. So, there's no dispute about Sharia.
BLITZER: Will Sharia law be imposed in Egypt?
AL HADDAD: Well, Sharia law, as we understand it, is the basis values of the 25th revolution. It's dignity, it's justice, it's freedom. How to implant this within the country, this is something the parliament will decide.
BLITZER: What will that mean for Egyptian women?
AL HADDAD: Well, Egyptian woman has all the right to be in power to make their own choices. This is how we see a democratic state.
AL HADDAD: Well, yes, they do have now in Egypt equal rights as men, but we have to identify the traditions and the awareness of these rights. Our role is to empower women to have better choices and let them make their own choices.
BLITZER: Because when we think of Sharia Law, we think of Saudi Arabia. Is that what you want in Egypt?
AL HADDAD: I think Egypt is different from Saudi Arabia and different from other countries.
BLITZER: Will women have to wear the veil?
AL HADDAD: Well, have to? It's the woman choice. If they want to wear the veil, it is the right --
BLITZER: What if they don't want to?
AL HADDAD: It is their right to do.
BLITZER: So, that won't change?
AL HADDAD: Nobody will impose anything on anybody as long as it is within the framework of the law.
BLITZER: We're going to have much more on my interview with Egypt's presidential adviser on national security coming up in our next hour. We go through a whole range of other issues, including U.S.-Egyptian relations. Stand by for that.
Up next, though, he's a veteran lawmaker and a former presidential candidate, maybe, might be the next secretary of state, who knows. We're going to talk about that. Much more, Senator John Kerry, standing by live.
Also, making a bad scenario worse. Growing concern Syria's chemical weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists.
BLITZER: Ali Velshi is joining us now from New York. Ali, there are dramatic changes as far as the estate tax is concerned if we go over the fiscal cliff, if no legislation is passed between now and the end of the year. Walk us through what the folks out there can expect.
ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Basically, here's how it works, Wolf. If a family members dies and leaves their estate not to their spouse, because that happens tax-free, but to their descendants, their children or somebody other than their children, the estate tax kicks in. Here's what's happening this year, 2012.
According to the Independent Tax Policy Center, estate center worth less than $5 million are exempt, estates worth more than $5 million pay 35 percent. Now, the center estimates about 3,600 people, families, estates will fall into that category this year, 2012. But next year, barring any Congressional action, that exemption falls down to a million dollars.
The rate that you pay on that estate jumps up to between 41 percent and 55 percent. And on top of that, there's a five percent tax on the portion of very large taxable estates. Under the new rules, the Tax Policy Center estimates the number of estate tax will jump from 3,600 in 2012 to 53,000, Wolf, in 2013.
That's a huge increase from where we stand right now. And as you know, some people call this double taxation, Wolf, because people pay income tax on their earnings, they save it, and then the money gets taxed when they pass it on to their descendants -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And a lot of farmers are especially concerned about this. Let's say you leave a farm, a lot or land that's worth $3, or $4 or $5 million to your children or grandchildren, and then to pay the estate tax, you got to sell it, basically, because you don't have that kind of money.
VELSHI: So, this is a philosophical difference on the sides. If Congress does nothing and those estate taxes revert to the levels they were at before George W. Bush was in office. You know, remember, they were lowered. Those taxes were lowered to help us get through a couple of recessions. Conservatives will tell you, this is unfair.
People should be entitled to pass along their hard earned money. A lot of liberals say that concentration of wealth needs to be kept in check. So, it doesn't create dynasties. That was one of the early goals of this tax. So, that's a principle difference. But as you said, Wolf, the difficulty here is dividing up a house or a farm or a going concern to pay a portion of the tax that is owed.
And that presents a problem for families having to pay that estate tax can affect the growth of family businesses. It's been fluctuating a lot in recent years. So, family run businesses can't plan for it. But in the end, it -- that part of things, the number of people who will actually have to pay that tax on big family estates farms or businesses is estimated to be about 50 people, 50 different estates next year. So, it's mostly a principle discussion, Wolf.
BLITZER: And the opponents of the estate tax call it the death tax.
VELSHI: That's right.
BLITZER: I really haven't heard, I don't know about you, in all the discussions over the past few weeks about what might be in a deal. What is in a deal? I really haven't heard Republicans on the Hill or the president talk about the future of the estate tax.
VELSHI: Because -- look, if it affects you, it's a big deal. It makes up a fairly small part of what's going on right now. So, a number of people we've spoken to have said, it's not really on the table at the moment.
Right now, it's one of those things that's going to expire. They might get around to doing it, but at the moment, it is a big source of revenue, and you know, it's -- Wolf, it falls into that category of things that were going to expire and return to a level they were at some years ago. So, it's a little bit of cover. It doesn't feel as much like an increase as it feels like a reversion to something old.
So, at least you can get away with saying you didn't increase the taxes. But, for those who have to pay it and for those estates and those family farms and those going concerns, Wolf, it's actually a very big deal.
BLITZER: Ali Velshi, as usual, thanks very much.
VELSHI: My pleasure.
BLITZER: A chilling cry for help in the wake of the murder/suicide that rocked the NFL. We're hearing the call to 911.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kasandra stay with me. The ambulance is on the way. You hear me? You hear me? Kasandra?
BLITZER: Dramatic confrontation on Capitol Hill. The former United States senator, Bob Dole, appeared on the Senate floor in a wheelchair to urge the United States passage of an international treaty promoting rights for disabled people around the world, but Republicans blocked it yesterday.
One of the most vocal supporters is Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He's joining us now live. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: Glad to be with you. I'm happy to be here.
BLITZER: You needed 67 votes to ratify this treaty. You got 61 votes. There were some Republicans like John McCain who went ahead and voted in favor, but a lot of them didn't, and in part, this is at least what some of their staff told me, it's because the former senator, Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate, raised this issue saying that this international treaty would undermine his ability to deal with his daughter, for example, Isabella, who's disabled. Listen to what Santorum said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICK SANTORUM, (R) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't often bring Isabella out for any types of public events. But Karen and I felt very, very strongly that as a mother and father of a disabled child, that we needed to speak for those in the disabilities community who have grave concerns about this convention.
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BLITZER: He went on to say, if approved, that this international treaty, the United Nations would, in effect, be able to tell people in the United States how to deal with his daughter, Isabella and some Republicans were citing that as a reason for rejecting the treaty. What do you say?
KERRY: Well, I have great respect for both Rick and his wife, Karen, and their daughter and their family. He's a strong family man. But, he either simply hasn't read the treaty or doesn't understand it or he was just not factual in what he said, because the United Nations has absolutely zero. Zero.
I mean, zero ability to order or to tell or to even -- I mean, they can suggest, but they have no legal capacity to tell the United States to do anything under this treaty. Nothing. There is no ability to go to court. There is not one requirement of a change in American law. And there is no way to tell an American parent anything.
Now, that is according to our Supreme Court of the United States. That's according to the language in the treaty itself. And this is a treaty that was negotiated by Republican president, George Herbert Walker Bush.
It was signed by Republican president, George W. Bush at the U.N., and Republican attorney general, Richard Thornburg, has testified, the former attorney general of the United States, there's no legal requirement whatsoever for the United States to change anything.
So, Rick Santorum was just not factual. Now what he did was he gave some people here an excuse to hide behind that when they know that there are people who hate the United Nations, who don't want any United Nations treaty. And so, they gave them a reason to be able to say this is why I'm voting against it.
We're going to come back with the hearings next year, again, that will show people exactly what the facts are. We'll have all the witnesses in. I think it can be this positive. And ultimately, I would be prepared to put into the treaty language of the resolution of ratification, language that can make it even more clear than it is today if that will satisfy them.
BLITZER: The other argument that some of these Republicans were making at least to me privately over the past few days, when I was beginning to get interested in this treaty, was that they wanted to make a statement that they just don't like, as you say -- they actually hate the United Nations, and this was a way to send that message around the world. What do you say to that?
KERRY: Well, there's some who feel that way. And I think it's a tragedy because despite some of the faults of the U.N. and some of the problems that there are in terms of bureaucracy and other problems, if you didn't have a United Nations, you would have to invent one. There is no way for this complicated world of ours to possibly deal with some of the issues we have without a forum like the United Nations where you have the ability to air your views.
Now, we don't like some of those views. We will never like some of those views. We will disagree with some of them. But the fact is, the United Nations is on the ground, keeping peace in various nations around the world. It's indispensable to many different efforts in the world.
And while there are some people who hate it, because they think we're giving up something for it, I think the large weight of history is, that we have gained much more than we have ever given up, and it has never taken away American sovereignty.
There is nothing the United Nations can do that affects the United States without our consent, ultimately. And I think that has been very clear through its history.
BLITZER: What about a different issue? In Egypt right now, I know you met with the Egyptian national security adviser. I just interviewed him here in the SITUATION ROOM. The demonstrations are violent. There've been fatalities today. They're trying to burn the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters. They're going after the presidential residency there. What's going on from your perspective?
KERRY: Well, what's going on is that Egypt is a highly polarized, highly divided society today. It had a close vote. It has a majority, you know, who are very concerned about the longer term future in terms of transparency, accountability, democracy. And those people are very unsettled by what President Morsi did when he announced these emergency powers.
Now, in fairness, I think it's comprehensible to a lot of us that President Morsi was deeply concerned about the ability of Mubarak -- of Mubarak appointed and Mubarak controlled effectively judges to make decisions about the completion of their constitutional process. I don't think it was well-handled.
I think they would probably agree today that they didn't handle it well, and they have to find a way to reach out to the opposition with clarity, boldly, bring them to the table and let all parties in Egypt be part of the fashioning of Egypt's future. I think too many people felt shut out of that, and that's why you're seeing this reaction in the streets.
BLITZER: How close is Bashar al Assad's regime in Syria to using chemical weapons?
KERRY: Well, I think -- I hope not close, because the administration stood up and drew a very clear red line along with other countries. And so, whatever thoughts they may have had about it, I hope they are moving back from those, because it would be an enormous game changer in everybody's calculation.
I think the Russians are deeply concerned about what they've been hearing about it. I think even Iran and others in the region. Hezbollah, others have to be deeply concerned. So, my hope is, that they have pulled back from it
More importantly, I think it underscores the danger of the unraveling of this regime at this moment and the need for a lot of countries to step up their engagement in a way that changes President Assad's calculation about his future, so that there could be an orderly negotiated transition.
The alternative is, much more dangerous for everybody in the region and maybe far more costly in terms of lives.
BLITZER: We got to leave it there, but one very quick question. What do you think of John McCain calling you Mr. Secretary?
KERRY: Well, what did he think of me calling him Mr. President? Sometimes, we fool around up here, and nobody takes it too seriously.
BLITZER: I'm going to take it seriously, see what happens down the road. Senator, always good to speak to you. Thanks so much.
KERRY: Thank you. Good to be with you. Thanks.
BLITZER: Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's getting some new information about the fiscal cliff stand-off. What are you learning, Jessica?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. I'm learning that President Obama and House speaker, John Boehner, had a phone conversation late today. My understanding is, we do not have a fiscal deal. There has been no significant movement as a result of this, but it's meaningful, because the two men have not spoken in a week exactly.
Their last phone call was last Wednesday. And as you know, Speaker Boehner presented a plan on Monday and after that was rejected by the president. In an interview, there was no communication between the White House and Republicans until this phone call between these two men.
Wolf, this comes the same day that Secretary Geithner said publicly for the first time that the U.S., that the administration would be willing to go over the cliff if Republicans do not agree to raise tax rates on the top two percent of earners. It's my understanding that Republicans have not agreed to raise those rates, and the White House is not negotiating essentially, Wolf, until they see Republicans make that move -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica, the things obviously could be getting even more complex. As you know, President Obama wants to add the debt ceiling to the multiple issues already on the table. What are you hearing about that?
YELLIN: Well, this was something the president laid out in a speech this morning to the business roundtable. The debt limit and avoiding the debt limit fight is one piece of the deal that they are seeking.
And let me try to break it down for you and explain how the White House sees all of this come together -- Wolf.
YELLIN (voice-over): The president's latest move, he told CEOs the fiscal deal should include a permanent way to avoid future debt ceiling fights.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The only thing that the debt ceiling is good for as a weapon is to destroy your credit rating.
YELLIN: Why is he adding the debt limit into this already complicated showdown over taxes and spending cuts?
OBAMA: Let's allow higher rates to go up --
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We've got to cut spending.
YELLIN: Because the White House thinks of the fiscal cliff as a three-part problem. Part one taxes. In the new year, taxes go up on everyone unless Washington takes action. But the government needs more money. President Obama wants to get some of it from the top 2 percent of wage earners. He wants to raise their tax rate and limit how much they can deduct. The White House says this will bring in $1.6 trillion over 10 years.
OBAMA: That's what the American people have voted for.
YELLIN: Republicans say they'll agree to bring in more money, but not by raising tax rates. In fact, they want to lower tax rates for everyone. Instead they'd raise money only by limiting deductions and closing loopholes. Speaker Boehner says this will raise $800 billion over 10 years.
BOEHNER: America faces a very serious problem. And our goal is to make sure it gets solved.
YELLIN: Then, step two, avoiding the drastic spending cuts that begin on January 1st, the so-called sequester. Both sides want to find savings in Medicare but disagree about how to do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The math isn't remotely sound.
BOEHNER: We need a responsible White House. We can't sit here and negotiate with ourselves.
YELLIN: And step three? The debt limit.
OBAMA: I will not play that game. Because we've got a -- we've got to break that habit before it starts.
YELLIN: The nation is going to hit the debt limit early next year. The president wants that extended as part of this deal.
YELLIN: And, Wolf, as you know, if the debt limit is not extended as part of the deal, some Republicans are threatening to use that as leverage to try to negotiate even further with the White House come late February. That's when the nation hits the debt ceiling again. And the Republicans see that as an opportunity to open up these negotiations yet again if we can't find a resolution between -- a long term resolution for the rest of the year -- Wolf.
BLITZER: As we say, that clock is ticking and ticking and ticking.
BLITZER: Not much time left. We'll see what they do. But the breaking news that you reported, they did at least have a phone conversation, the president of the United States and the speaker of the House. Let's see -- that phone conversation leads to an actual sitdown meeting where they can try to hammer out these issues and move on it.
Thanks very much, Jessica. We appreciate it.
YELLIN: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Driven underground by a brutal civil war. A Syrian family living in an unimaginable conditions for months. One daughter says it's like living in a grave.
BLITZER: The civil war in Syria is taking on new urgency in neighboring capitals. In Washington as well. With signs the regime may be preparing for a chemical weapons attack. And that has officials making plans for a so-called worst-case scenario.
Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is working the story for us.
What are you picking up, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you're absolutely right. The concern about Bashar al-Assad and his chemical weapons inventory now a concern across the Middle East.
STARR (voice-over): Syrian civilians already terrified and on the run. But it may be about to get worse. With intelligence showing Bashar al-Assad's regime is mixing chemical weapons materials, CNN has learned the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence services are urgently consulting with Syria's neighbors, Turkey, Israel and Jordan about what to do if it looks like Assad is about to launch a chemical attack on his own people.
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: As part of the absolute unity that we all have on this issue, we have set an unmistakable message that this would cross a red line. And those responsible would be held to account.
STARR: But after tens of thousands of Syrians have been killed in months of war, why so much attention now?
CLINTON: An increasingly desperate Assad regime might turn to chemical weapons or by losing control of that to one of the many groups that are now operating within Syria.
STARR: A chemical attack could kill thousands of Syrians. But if the regime loses control, what if terrorists, rebels or insurgent groups get ahold of the chemical weapon and flee across the border.
GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Nobody knows the neighborhood better than the Israelis. I can promise you they have sources on the ground. They have great, clear intelligence on what's going on.
STARR: A senior U.S. official says all the allies are now considering how to keep Syria from putting chemical warheads on its artillery or missiles. But an airstrike to stop it could cause havoc if residual chemical at stake.
MARKS: We're going to affect everything you touch. Your clothes, your curtain, your linens, your vegetables, everything.
STARR: What if Assad is granted asylum? U.S. officials say they have long been planning for the day after Assad. Such as training Jordanian troops to provide security. But for now, they just hope Syrian troops will keep those chemical weapons under lock and key.
STARR: And, you know, if Assad is getting desperate, what about the loyalty of his military forces? Well, U.S. officials believe that those Syrian forces continue to suffer from shortages of supplies and potentially ammunition that they are getting dispirited. But of course they are continuing their killing and for now that's what concerns the U.S. most -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It certainly does. All right, thanks very much, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.
The threat of a chemical weapons attack adds yet another layer of fear to a population already terrified by almost two years of civil war. Forty thousand people have already died in Syria. And out there living on the front lines has not been easy. Life has been turned upside down. Folks are terrified throughout the country.
Our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon is on the ground in northern Syria.
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Down a steep stone stairway into the darkness. This is where the Kurdiye family has been hiding for four months.
"The strikes were all around us. We just ran out with nothing," 20-year-old Fatme recalls. "We just ran and ran down here and the shrapnel was falling all over."
Since then they've dared occasionally to go back home to collect belongings.
"There would be bombing like that and we'd come running back here," Fatme says.
Their home is just five doors away, but it's right on one of Aleppo's front lines. It's been hit by artillery fire since they fled.
"We go home every two weeks to shower, fearful and terrorized," Fatme's mother tells us. "We have a weak home, it could crumble any moment."
Their makeshift bunker was a workshop. The carpenters' intricately carved furniture still lines the walls. The last time the family ventured out was three weeks ago. Fatme and her younger sister want to leave, anywhere but here. Anywhere they can feel the sun and smell fresh air. But their father refuses.
Poor but proud, he says he doesn't want to be at the mercy of others. Here he can send his son to scrape money and buy a little food. It's humbling how amidst all they have lost and suffered they insist on offering us tea. The girls dream of wounded neighbors. Their mother has nightmares her children are dead and says she feels her heart is going to burst with each explosion.
"I just tell her it's far away. And not to be scared," Fatme says. But sometimes the bombings are so close the family says they choke on the dust.
"What can we say? We're living in a prison. Prisoners in a prison," Fatme says. "It's more like a grave," (INAUDIBLE) adds.
DAMON (on camera): To give you an idea of just how dark it really is and terrifying with all of the sounds of the gunfire outside, we're going to switch our camera light off.
(Voice-over): This tiny flame is all the family has. As they listen to the sounds of war above.
BLITZER: And Arwa is joining us now. Arwa, it must be so terrifying for these people effectively living underground. You were there with them. Give us a little bit more, a little bit of the flavor. What was it like inside personally?
DAMON: It's a very suffocating experience, Wolf. The realization that the bullets, the bombs are all falling above ground, but the space that they've managed to carve into something of a makeshift bunker really provides very little mental security from the violence happening outside during the short time that we were there. One can't help but to think what would happen if a bomb, for example, impacted the front door or caused the building above them to cave in.
And you could really feel the terror that this family has been living in. They're so frightened that at best, the girls sometimes will crawl partly up the stairway to peer under this metal shutter that acts as a door, to try to get a little bit of visual of outside daylight. I mean it is absolutely terrorizing, and then when you see the complete darkness that they're actually living in, it's really -- it's hard to comprehend how it is that they're able to maintain even any level of sanity in those conditions day in and day out.
BLITZER: Arwa Damon, one of the few Western reporters in northern Syria right now. Risking your life to bring us these exclusive reports.
Arwa, stay safe. Thank you so much.
A chilling cry for help in the wake of the murder-suicide that rocked the NFL, we're hearing the call to 911.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kasandra, stay with me. The ambulance is on the way. You hear me? You hear me? Kasandra.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: New study could mean some good news for breast cancer patients. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now.
What are you learning?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think there's high interest in this story, Wolf. The study shows breast cancer patients who took the drug Tamoxifen for 10 years instead of five who were much less likely to die. Tamoxifen is an estrogen blocking pill used by hundreds of thousands of women worldwide with estrogen sensitive tumors. One researcher calls the study, quote, "a dream come true."
And police are releasing the 911 tapes from inside that Kansas City home that Jovan Belcher fled. Authorities say the NFL linebacker killed his girlfriend before taking his own life. The heartbreaking 911 call paints a chaotic scene. Listen as Belcher's mother is in hysterics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She is still breathing, but barely. Please hurry. I don't know how many times he shot her. They were arguing --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. So she's been shot?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Right now is she awake?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kasandra, stay with me. The ambulance is on the way. You hear me? You hear me? Kassandra. Hey. Stay with me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: So sad. A police officer later gets on the phone and tries to get information about Belcher from his mother.
And 27-year-old actor Frankie Muniz says he is happy to be alive after suffering a mini-stroke last week. The former "Malcolm in the Middle" star says he was riding his motorcycle in Phoenix when he lost vision in one eye. And he felt his body go numb. But he should be OK, Wolf, but still surprising.
BLITZER: He's so young.
SYLVESTER: Yes, 27 years old, very puzzling.
BLITZER: He's lucky to be alive, he's riding a motorcycle and has a stroke.
SYLVESTER: Yes, absolutely.
BLITZER: Thank you.
One state is about to legalize marijuana smoking, just hours from now but what could it mean for federal drug laws? We're going to talk about it. Jeffrey Toobin is standing by.
BLITZER: Just hours from now, it will become legal to smoke marijuana in Washington state all because of an initiative voters passed last month legalizing recreational pot, but there are limits to how much of it you can have, and growing or selling the drugs still remains a crime.
Let's turn to our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
There seems to be a contradiction between Washington state and the federal government. How do they deal with this?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It seems there is. This is a totally bizarre situation now. There's a contradiction within Washington before we even get to the federal government because Washington says it's OK to possess a small amount. But only if, apparently, you find it on the street because you can't buy it and you can't grow it. So that whole -- that is a legal mystery right there.
But hovering over the whole issue is what happens with the federal government, because the federal government, under U.S. law, it remains a crime to traffic marijuana, even possess significant quantities, and the government, at least so far, has said those laws apply everywhere, including in Colorado and Washington where the voters have legalized recreational use of the drug.
BLITZER: So if you're living in Washington state or Colorado for that matter, what do you do?
TOOBIN: Well, as your attorney, I advise you don't smoke pot. I think that is the safest thing to do. But what has to happen here clearly is there has to be some sort of negotiation between the leadership of these states and Eric Holder and the Justice Department because they can't simply expose the citizens who are following state law to the risk of federal prosecution. That would be irresponsible on the part of both governments. So there has to be some sort of negotiation.
The problem is, and I suppose it's a little like the fiscal cliff, is that there doesn't appear to be much common ground here because the Justice Department has said look, we're not changing the laws. The laws are the same in all 50 states, and these states are trying to legalize it, and the voters have said they want to do it but they can't overrule federal law. So I think the situation is likely to remain really uncertain at least for the foreseeable future.
BLITZER: Very quickly, will the Justice Department go into Washington state and try to enforce federal law?
TOOBIN: Well, I -- they don't enforce much federal law when it comes to marijuana. Only large scale trafficking is prosecuted, but even if they only agree to limit to those sorts of prosecutions, the question remains of how do people get it to smoke it legally, and I think a lot of questions need to be answered before people can feel comfortable that they are following the law if they want to smoke pot.
BLITZER: Bottom line, a lot of confusion in Washington state and Colorado. Still they're going to need clarity on this issue.
TOOBIN: They certainly are.
BLITZER: Thank you, Jeffrey. Jeffrey Toobin reporting for us.
Fierce protests turned deadly outside Egypt's presidential palace in Cairo. We're going there live for an update. That's ahead in our next hour.
BLITZER: Happening now, the exploding crisis in Egypt, massive protests against President Mohamed Morsi. They turned deadly and strike a blow within his regime.
Plus is the Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad planning his escape?
And new encouragement for Democrats who want Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016.
I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.