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Crisis in Syria

Aired September 9, 2013 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey. Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the first edition of AC360 Later.

The plan is pretty simple, an hour spent with people who don't just know how to talk, but actually know what they're talking about. When we tried it out earlier this year, you flooded us with e-mails and tweets asking for more. You demanded more intelligent conversation with knowledgeable people, people who share your passion for the issues that matter.

So, tonight and every night, it's all on table. And at the table, a great panel, chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, blogger Andrew Sullivan, founding editor of The Dish, which describes itself on the home page as biased and balanced. There is a beagle on there as well somewhere.

Also with us, conservative blogger Crystal Wright. And later in the fifth chair, just back from an exclusive interview with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, PBS and "CBS This Morning"'s Charlie Rose.

First tonight, late word out of the Capitol, Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid postponing what would have been the first trial vote on legislation authorization of force against Syria. Early support just not there. Senators also wanting time to consider this diplomatic initiative of sorts that began possibly accidentally, possibly as a trial balloon with Secretary of State Kerry's seemingly offhand invitation for Syria to turn control of its chemical arsenal over to international authorities.

And then Russia latched on to the idea. Then our allies the U.N. secretary-general, former Secretary of State Clinton, who just met with President Obama, and finally cautiously, the president himself, quite a weird day.

Chief national correspondent John King is here with the high points.

So, John, this delay on the vote, is that basically directly related to this whole Russian proposal?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's also complicated -- or part of it is also is the fact that a lot of the Democrats who might in the end feel from a loyalty standpoint they have to back the president but they don't want to they would appreciate this delay. You have this bizarre situation unfolding. As you noted, the secretary this morning floats what his own staff then says was a mistake and was a gaffe and was mess-up and was him just talking rhetorically.


COOPER: They admitted it was a mistake?

KING: His own staff on the record, some of them privately, but some by name, were saying he was just talking rhetorically. This is not going to happen and this is not a serious proposal this morning. And then as of this evening, you have the president of the United States telling our Wolf Blitzer and other TV anchors maybe this is a way to have a diplomatic breakthrough and maybe this is a way to resolve this without the use of military force.

Considering that and considering a lot of people in both parties are not happy with the way the president has communicated his strategy and many of them don't know what it is up to this point is they are more than happy to delay the vote. A lot of Democrats don't want to take it. A lot of Republicans would prefer not to take it. Harry Reid who will begin the process tonight of setting up the Senate schedule, it's a little complicated, but you file tonight so you can have a vote tomorrow, said never mind.

Now the Senate vote is off indefinitely while this Russian proposal gets an airing. But here's the challenge. The president tonight says this might be a breakthrough. But his staff is telling us tonight tomorrow he will make the case to the American people for possible military strikes. You have a bit of a contradiction or a conflict in even what the administration is saying right now.

COOPER: That is what weird, because, Christiane, as you know, he booked the TV time essentially for tomorrow night before this John Kerry slip of the tongue which became this Russian proposal which the Syrians seemed to have agreed to and now Obama himself is talking about.

Originally that speech was all about making the case of why there is a red line and why there has to be an attack. But will he still be able to make that case if this Russian thing is out there? What is he going to talk about tomorrow?


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think he is going to make that case, because he is now saying and I think Secretary Clinton said today, former Secretary Clinton, that it just shows that diplomacy backed by the threat of credible force is what might work.

And she says and he is now saying, the president, it would never have come to this point, the Syrians themselves said today that, wow, Russian proposal could be very interesting. I just want to be clear. I know a lot of people are spinning that John Kerry made a mistake or gaffe or goof or slip of the tongue, but this has been out certainly in Britain, certainly in other quarters.

Give Bashar Assad an ultimatum and give him X-number of tells and tell him he has to put his chemical weapons out there under control and destroy them and then hit him hard.


ANDREW SULLIVAN, BLOGGER: I was something Lavrov had mentioned to Kerry, according to "The New York Times," a few days ago.


COOPER: President Obama claims he spoke to President Putin about it at the G20 summit.

CRYSTAL WRIGHT, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST: This is what I was going to say.

I agree with what John and what John, was talking about how the administration is conflicted on Syria. If anybody thinks Kerry had a slip of the tongue, let's back -- let's rewind this to last week. Kerry comes out and makes the case that the president has a right to act on Syria. It's a catastrophe now, the red line is in the sand.

And then all of a sudden Obama comes out two days later on the Saturday and says, oh, wait a minute, I'm going to punt this to Congress. Guys, I think what this looks like is Obama had it -- we know he pulled Putin aside in Paris at the G8 -- I mean, the G20 -- and he sat down. They had an off-the-cuff conversation.

Snowden came up. Syria was more dominant in the conversation. I wouldn't be surprised to your point, Christiane, yes, others have floated this, give Assad a chance to turn over things. They talked about it. This was planned. And Kerry -- I just don't think this was by accident. This wasn't a slip of the tongue.


COOPER: Let's play the John Kerry sound just for those people who have not seen it so far. Let's just play that.


QUESTION: Is there anything at this point that his government could do or offer that would stop an attack?

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn't about to do it, and it can't be done, obviously.



SULLIVAN: Can I just say this is also just a fantastic end result for the president if it works out?

Because what he will have done -- sometimes people look at this president and want him to be a Reagan when he is actually a different kind of creature. Rather than being someone who enforces his will on the world, he lays out his argument and lets the other actors come in and place their cards on the table. Then if he's lucky, some creative solution comes up. The point is about this is the big problem from the very beginning was Russia. It was always Russia.


WRIGHT: It's still Russia. Russia is arming Assad. This is all a farce. Turn over your chemical weapons.


SULLIVAN: Lavrov does not seem to be saying he wants it destroyed or the chemical weapons destroyed. Now the Russians saying that -- and they would never had said that...


AMANPOUR: And the cynics would say, Andrew, for the last two- and-a-half years, President Obama and the rest of the world have actually hid behind Russian obstructionism to actually not do anything the Syria.

Remember a hundred thousand are being killed before even these chemical weapons. Now the cynics are saying maybe it's Russia that will even able to prevent some kind of attack on Syria. Here's the thing. I'm sure that John would agree and others would agree, that if this works it is genius and a game changer, if this works. And if it works it puts a whole new protocol down for getting rid of chemical weapons of mass destruction.


WRIGHT: How is it a game changer when Assad has...


AMANPOUR: So this is why the line has been set.


KING: Let me jump in here. It's tough being the guy outside of the room.

AMANPOUR: For a change.

KING: That's OK. I like the challenge.

No, but, look, everybody is right. That's part of the issue here. If they can pull this off -- capitalize and underline the if -- if they can pull this off, this country doesn't want military action. The president himself, one of the reasons he's having trouble rallying the country's support is that you see his own his ambivalence. You see his own reluctance to do this.

And how can you ask a country to follow you into something difficult when it's clear you're not so sure you want to do it yourself? That has been part of the president's problem. Some criticize that. In other ways, it is breathtakingly honest.


KING: Hang on one second.

But here's the issue going forward, to Andrew's point. This is the big question mark. The world went down this route with Saddam Hussein. Let's say to do this, here's what you need and then you can debate this.

The Syrians have said they would agree to it. And in doing so, they have actually sort of acknowledged they have chemical weapons, which they have never done before. That's a big deal. But now you have to get a United Nations Security Council resolution, right, that we will create this infrastructure to go in and look for the weapons and put them under international police force.

I'm using the term police force, international custody. To do that, you will have to get a Security Council resolution, and presumably the United States would only agree to that if Russia says if he breaks this deal we are coming back and we will seek authorization of military force.

Can you work that out? But then how do you go into Syria in the middle of a civil war? Do you broker a cease-fire? Who runs that and who agrees to that to go to all those chemical weapons sites? And then what worries a lot of people is you are creating a deal that leaves Assad in power.


COOPER: And Assad, in that interview with Charlie Rose, he keeps putting this all on terrorists inside Syria, that they're the ones with chemical weapons.


SULLIVAN: He is obviously a sociopath.


COOPER: That's the guy we will have a deal with?

SULLIVAN: Yes, because sociopaths can make a deal at some point for their own survival and that is what the genius of this is.


COOPER: You think this is an out for President Obama?

(CROSSTALK) SULLIVAN: Not an out, an actual amazing achievement.

If we get an international order in which the U.N., with Russia leading the charge at the Security Council, actually takes the stand on chemical weapons so the world community does this, it's a wonderful solution.


SULLIVAN: Amazing moment.

WRIGHT: It's not amazing. There's nothing fantastic about it. What John said...


COOPER: You still support an attack?

WRIGHT: No, that's not what I said.

John hit the nail on the head. This president is ambivalent. He has no plan for Syria. He has not had a plan for three years. He punted to Congress and Congress said, OK, look, you want our vote. Where is the plan? Where is the endgame? What do you want to do in Syria? Do you want to bomb the air force, the airfields?

What is the endgame, removing Assad from power? And maybe he will articulate that tomorrow night. But what I disagree with all of you about is you act as though Assad is an honest broker. He is a madman. I think it was clear from the Charlie Rose interview when he looked back and he said I don't know, I can't confirm or deny if chemical weapons...


WRIGHT: Wait a minute. I just want to go beyond this.

It's nothing fantastic. Let's say he turns over some of the chemical weapons. This is like Saddam Hussein. Christiane, when you covered this, Saddam would play a shell game with the U.N. He would let inspectors in after he moved all the stuff around and disabled everything.


WRIGHT: He had the capability to build them. Yes, he did.


WRIGHT: Let's not talk about Iraq. I want to talk about Syria.


AMANPOUR: But you can't keep fighting the last war, Crystal.

WRIGHT: Right. We are fighting this war. (CROSSTALK)

WRIGHT: He turns over the chemical weapons. You guys, what you forget is, he killed a hundred thousand people before we even...


WRIGHT: This is a joke. And what will happen is Israel is going to get involved and Israel will be drawn into this. Either we're going to do something -- I'm not for boots on the ground.

I think Congress is right. Unless the president can articulate a firm A, B, and/or C, we should not go into Syria.


AMANPOUR: Could we just be very frank? Nobody's going into Syria. This is not a war that is being proposed. It's not boots on the ground. Nor is it...


COOPER: You wouldn't use the word war?

AMANPOUR: No. Well, I wouldn't use it in the way that people talked about war for Iraq or war for the first Gulf War.


AMANPOUR: No, not in the same way, because that was a land invasion.


SULLIVAN: I have to tell you that I was told that Afghanistan would not be really a war. It would be over by Christmas.


SULLIVAN: That's why Obama did not -- I just want to correct this point -- did not punt to Congress.

WRIGHT: He absolutely did, because he can blame Congress.


SULLIVAN: Just a second, please. Calm down.

WRIGHT: I'm calm, Andrew.

SULLIVAN: The Congress has responsibility for the foreign policy of the United States. It is vested in the Constitution with the power to declare war or not.

The idea that this is the other great achievement of this president in this mess is to have established very clearly that he has no right as president to launch a strike in this way, no right at all unless the Congress...


COOPER: We have to take a break. We will talk about this when we come back.


AMANPOUR: This is very, very key, because, honestly and truthfully, here is the executive actually devolving authority and the power that it should have.


COOPER: We have got to take a break.

Next, as Crystal said, Charlie Rose just back with from his rare face-to-face interview with the Syrian dictator. Here's in our fifth chair tonight. He will join us.



CHARLIE ROSE, CBS: Do you think that it is an appropriate tool of war to use chemicals?


ROSE: Yes.

AL-ASSAD: We are against any WMD, any weapons of mass destruction, whether chemical or nuclear.


COOPER: Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad said there is not a shred of evidence that his regime was behind the chemical weapons attack the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people in August. In an interview with PBS' and "CBS This Morning"'s Charlie Rose, he dodged the question of whether he would turn over his chemical weapons. Listen.


ROSE: The president is prepared to strike and perhaps will get the authorization of Congress or not. The question then is, would you give up chemical weapons if it would prevent the president from authorizing a strike? That is a deal you would accept.

AL-ASSAD: Again, you always imply that we have chemical weapons.

ROSE: I have to because that's the assumption of the president. That is his assumption. And he is the one who will order the strike.

AL-ASSAD: It's his problem if he has an assumption, but for us in Syria, we have principles. We will do anything to prevent the region from another crazy war. It's not only Syria, because it will start in Syria.

ROSE: You will do anything to prevent the region from having another crazy war?

AL-ASSAD: The region, yes.

ROSE: You recognize the consequences for you if there is a strike?

AL-ASSAD: It's not about me. It's about the region.


COOPER: I'm back with Christiane Amanpour, Andrew Sullivan, Crystal Wright, and in the fifth chair tonight Charlie Rose.

Great to have you here. Congratulations. I don't know how you're still standing. You must be exhausted.


COOPER: What was it like? To you, was the key moment in that?

ROSE: That was one of the key moments.

Without knowing about the discussions that might have taken place either with the president and Putin in Saint Petersburg or with John Kerry and all of that, I basically said what would it take and would you be prepared to do so there would not be a strike?

He seemed to me to be suggesting that if in fact I could avoid a crazy war that would engulf the region, then I might be prepared to do that, which seemed to me to open the door a little bit. We will see how that plays itself out and you guys have been discussing that earlier, but that is an interesting moment.

The other moment for me was a sense of you get a feeling that he understands what the hell might be coming down on top of him if this happens. And he can talk about retaliation and a lot of other things, but I suggested to him it could tip the balance.

COOPER: I'm just curious. This is a guy who demonstrations started in Daraa two, two-and-a-half years ago. Some children were arrested for putting up some graffiti motivated by the Arab spring.

They were arrested and God knows what was done to these children and parents and other villagers in Daraa went out to the streets to protests, not to call for regime change, not to overthrow Assad, just to say, release these kids, these children. And they were met with batons and tear gas and bullets. And this is how his regime has responded time and time again. They are the ones who created this. Is there any acknowledgment on his part of this or he does just label everybody else a terrorist?

ROSE: He does label everybody a terrorist.

But I pressed him on that. I said, look, everybody believes there are no more than 15 to 20 percent as you know of the people that are either al Qaeda affiliates or some al Qaeda-related group. And he in a sense will say I understand there are a lot of people that are not part of al Qaeda. But he thinks they are the dominant force, regardless of the numbers, and he thinks that the people from Syria...

COOPER: Do you think he really believes that? Or is that just rhetoric?

ROSE: I don't really know.


COOPER: He can't really believe that -- I mean, his father crushed thousands of people.

ROSE: I think that is an important point. He saw that his father did that, against the Muslim Brotherhood, essentially eliminated the Muslim Brotherhood in a terrible...


ROSE: I asked him about that.


AMANPOUR: And he didn't answer, did he?

ROSE: He did in part, though. He said he was influenced by that.

Basically, I said to him, look, did you learn anything from your father? He said essentially if you get involved in war, you have to go all out. You have to be ruthless.

AMANPOUR: Yes. I know he talked to you about retaliation and consequences.

Nobody actually thinks that he will do it. The president tonight has said that Assad doesn't want to pick a fight with the U.S. and his main ally, Iran, doesn't want to pick a fight with the U.S. over this. The Israelis have told me they think don't he will retaliate unless he feels regime change is in the cards. And he knows because the president of the United States has basically telegraphed loud and clear that whatever action is taken is not about getting rid of Assad.

ROSE: Because they fear what might come after Assad is one of the reasons.

AMANPOUR: Right, he gets that, right? He doesn't feel that he is personally targeted?

ROSE: I think he does get that. No, I don't think that he thinks so. But he also understands that once it happens all bets are off. He made that point very clear.

COOPER: But he also -- the Alawites who support him, the Christians who short him all fear what will happen if he falls. The Christians and Alawites there are worried about being slaughtered in large numbers.


SULLIVAN: But who gets the chemical weapons if he falls?

The one argument the Russians have made all along that makes a huge amount of sense to me is if your primary concern is controlling the chemical weapons, better for Assad to win if that's your -- because he at least seems to have some kind of control over them. And that's why the Russian idea of actually sequestering these things and destroying them, that's what -- want to destroy these things.

AMANPOUR: And so do the French.

ROSE: Exactly.

SULLIVAN: That's why that is an appealing thing. And I understand...


ROSE: What's an appealing thing, the idea...

SULLIVAN: The idea of separating the chemical weapons out and dealing with that as a discrete, separate question that has to be resolved and keeping it as much as possible independent of the issue of the civil war.


AMANPOUR: We need to be really careful, because I think it would be fabulous and it would be a game changer, but so many people have said, you know, it's such a grain of salt that you have to take Assad with when he says things like that. We just don't know the logistics.


ROSE: You don't really know.

AMANPOUR: But here's I think the problem. This is what is so fascinating about Assad, because, look, as you said, there is an element of psychopath about the man.

He talks so calmly and so gently and with that lisp and, you know, butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. And everybody who I have talked to describes a man as ruthless as his brothers, as ruthless as his father. Indeed, they are about a survival of a clan. They are not about anything other than that.


COOPER: His daddy gave him the country.

ROSE: What you have here is a country that you feel like you own for 40 years with the support of the Alawites.

WRIGHT: I think he does own it.


WRIGHT: But back to...

AMANPOUR: Just a second and we will get right back to what you were going to say.

But I'm absolutely fascinated by what the administration is trying to do now. The president has given six interviews. Tomorrow, he addresses the nation. He is trying to convince Congress and his allies and the American public and everything that this is the right thing to do, after two-and-a-half years of saying exactly the opposite.

And now the military, General Dempsey, who, you know, not so long ago in public testimony said precisely we don't know who the opposition is and we don't know what they are going to do, and we don't know whether they will be in the U.S. interests. Now they are saying, you know, we should do this and that.

COOPER: But now John Kerry all of a sudden says they're actually -- we have seen the moderates are kind of in the upswing in the opposition.


SULLIVAN: John Kerry is -- nobody has really come out of this covered in glory, but John Kerry has been disastrous.

WRIGHT: I agree with Andrew on that, absolutely disastrous.


AMANPOUR: That is not the way it is being played in many other capitals. People are saying that he has delivered -- he's won plaudits for the way he's strongly...


ROSE: I think there's a time element here. They were saying that earlier. And there have been some slip-ups, verbal slip-ups.


WRIGHT: Back to what you were saying, Christiane, you said the president is giving interviews; giving interviews is not building a coalition of the willing.


WRIGHT: But you are saying he is doing a good thing. He's giving interviews.

AMANPOUR: No, I didn't actually say a good thing, Crystal. I said he has got a heavy lift...


AMANPOUR: ... after two-and-a-half years of saying exactly the opposite.

WRIGHT: I'm trying to give -- I'm trying to respond to what you said. And my impression was he is doing a good thing and he's giving interviews. But all...


AMANPOUR: There is no judgment.


WRIGHT: OK. But you framed in that way. We're having a conversation here.

So all the lobbying supposedly that he's done, right, with Congress and with the world and our allies, British is off the page. They are not on board. France, Hollande said it first, I'm going to help you and now Hollande said, you know what? I'm rethinking that.

AMANPOUR: No, he's not saying that at all.


WRIGHT: Hollande did say that.

AMANPOUR: No, no, Hollande did not say that.


WRIGHT: And then he's going to wait for the U.N. inspectors to conclude their report. But I want to go back to Charlie's interview. I have a question for Charlie. I have a question for Charlie.

Was there anything -- when I watched the interview I got a sense that Assad was so detached from any kind of reality and you said you felt like the moment of truth for you is when he said he would be willing to consider turning over the chemical weapons. But I have a question for you. Beyond that, what other...


ROSE: I'm not sure there is a moment of truth. But I think he very much fears this attack...

WRIGHT: So my question to you is... ROSE: ... very much because he believes it could tip the balance.

Someone suggested today that an intensive series of airstrikes could do more to degrade whatever, the John Kerry term, his efforts here than two-and-a-half years of rebel attacks.

COOPER: But does really the U.S. want to tip the balance? They have said all along that they don't.


ROSE: That's what they're drawing the balance. They don't want to tip the balance, because they are unsure about what...


COOPER: So in a sense isn't a U.S. intervention an attempt to basically just -- yes, to send a message on chemical weapons. But also they don't want to tip the balance and change the calculus. They want to keep this going.


ROSE: I don't think they want to keep it going. I think they want to find some way...


COOPER: Obviously, they'd like to find some sort of solution.

ROSE: And that's why they are latching on to this idea of doing something about the weapons.

SULLIVAN: But this is not...


WRIGHT: Like you said and Anderson alluded to -- you directly said. The problem is we have no relationship with the moderate rebels in Syria. The CIA is over there, right? They were supposed to arm them, but they're training them and trying to help identify who the good guys are.

SULLIVAN: There are no boots on the ground.


SULLIVAN: Just CIA boots on the ground.

WRIGHT: Right. Exactly. Right. And then there is mission creep when you don't have a plan.

But I think that is the real problem here and that is what Rand Paul has brought up. Why go in and the American people -- remember, the president can't even get Democrats on board with this thing. He can't get Democrats and he can't get Republicans.

SULLIVAN: I think we should stop trying to play partisan games.


WRIGHT: This is reality.

SULLIVAN: Please, just let me have a few seconds to talk.


WRIGHT: You had time to talk. I was making a point.

COOPER: Go ahead.


SULLIVAN: Obama from the beginning has understood that this is -- as we all understand -- an incredibly difficult situation in which no good outcome seems to be likely.

And the opposition I have to say over the last 2.5 years has a dangerous force in many ways. I think if they got power could possibly be far more destabilizing to the region than Assad. But our goal is to prevent chemical weapons from being used and to maintain that international norm and to protect Americans from any possible use of these chemical weapons against us.

That's the first responsibility of this president. The first important thing is to try and find a way to get rid of these chemical weapons and leave the civil war to one side. Now the problem is how do you both at the same time? Won't it inevitably, as you say, Charlie, tip the balance, if you were to do the military strikes?

Well, what might work is no military strike, but a U.N. consensus, the Russians buying in. Assad himself has not used these chemical agents since August 21. The world is watching. Obama has achieved what he wanted to achieve. We are already there really.


WRIGHT: He used them in June, earlier this year.


SULLIVAN: Since the 21st.

AMANPOUR: But intelligence believes he has used anywhere from 14 times to 35 times since 2012.

WRIGHT: And Obama said there was a red line in June.

ROSE: I have been traveling.

AMANPOUR: Busy. ROSE: It is one that there is some German intelligence reported tonight that they are saying that he had in fact blocked the use of chemical weapons by his military, turned down a request a number of times. But there other people who have stepped forward to say...

SULLIVAN: It could have been an accident. It could have been a miscalculation.

COOPER: We are going to talk about that. We are going to talk about that.


ROSE: That raises the question, is he in control?

COOPER: Let's talk about that next. We have got to take a quick break.

Charlie Rose's interview with Bashar al-Assad was fascinating, but also chilling. We will be right back after a quick break with more.



CHARLIE ROSE, CBS NEWS: Will there be attacks against American bases in the Middle East if there is an air strike?

BASHAR AL-ASSAD, PRESIDENT, SYRIA: You'd expect everything. You'd expect everything. Not necessarily through the government. It's not only -- the governments are not only -- not the only player in this region. You have different parties. You have different factions. You have different ideology. You have everything indecision now. You have to expect that.

ROSE: Expect -- Tell me what you mean by expect everything.

AL-ASSAD: Expect every action.

ROSE: Including chemical warfare?

AL-ASSAD: That depends if the -- if the rebels or the terrorists in this region or any other group have it, it would happen. I don't know. I'm not a fortune teller to tell you what's going to happen.


COOPER: Syria's dictator, Bashar al-Assad there, exercising his command of the passive voice. CBS's Charlie Rose sat down with Bashar al-Assad Sunday morning in Damascus. Tonight Charlie is in our fifth chair. With Christiane Amanpour and Andrew Sullivan.

When he talked about terrorists there possibly using chemical weapons is he talking...

ROSE: He said that they did it. They used chemical weapons in Aleppo. That's his argument.

COOPER: That's his argument.

AMANPOUR: There is not a shred of evidence. But it's so important because it's a huge ripple effect has happened. Because the...

SULLIVAN: If al-Nusra got the chemical weapons they would not use them?

AMANPOUR: I really don't know. Right now, we're not talking about hypotheticals; we're talking about what has happened over the last several days.

I think we need to take stock of the fact that weapons of mass destruction have been used. This is a really terrifying prospect to me that, if they're used and they are used with impunity, then what happens down the road? To me that is a very terrifying prospect.

ROSE: So if that is the fact, he's allowed to use chemical weapons and you assume that he does, then the president is by necessity forced to retaliate?

AMANPOUR: That is the president's argument. He said, "It's not my red lean; it's the world's red line."

And we -- and we argued this on this program, you know, months ago. I strongly believe, having covered some of the worst crimes under international law were genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda. Now we have the prospect of chemicals and weapons of mass destruction. I saw what happened and I covered what happened during Saddam Hussein's -- not the 2002...

COOPER: So you're saying there has to be a red line?

AMANPOUR: There has to be.

COOPER: Do you -- Andrew, do you believe there has to be a red line, whether or not there's destruction.

ANDREW SULLIVAN, "TIME MAGAZINE": It doesn't have to be -- it has to be confronted.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe that, Andrew?

SULLIVAN: Yes. But I don't think it has to be military. That's the question. If you can remove these things by nonmilitary means...

COOPER: OK. But if you can't?

SULLIVAN: You can, but I think it's incredibly difficult. Once you enter into that conflict in any way, whether it's to find the chemical weapons or otherwise, you are going to disequiliberate it.

COOPER: So even before the Russian idea -- or the John Kerry idea, you were opposed to military intervention. SULLIVAN: Yes, because I felt that it couldn't achieve what we wanted it to achieve and could possibly spawn an incredible vortex of violence like we saw in Iraq. A very similar state.

AMANPOUR: I think we have to draw a line here. We really do.

SULLIVAN: The line is Iraq.

AMANPOUR: It is Iraq, but everybody is worried about Iraq, and I fully understand that.


SULLIVAN: You should be worried about that. Why would it not be disaster in Syria.

AMANPOUR: Because you're not talking about a land invasion. We're talking about -- just listen for one second. You're talking about what the secretary of state himself said today. I was absolutely flabbergasted that he would put it this way, a really unbelievable limited, small effort.

ROSE: But at the same time they are walking back from that a bit because they think that he -- They're walking back from that, because they think...

AMANPOUR: Right, of course.

ROSE: Right.

AMANPOUR: But this is public spin. He told them...

We've seen -- we've seen this before. To be fair, President Clinton and the British went in in Operation Desert Fox in 1988 against Saddam Hussein...

SULLIVAN: All of this is before Iraq. Before...

AMANPOUR: Up until 1988. And David Kay the inspector afterwards was quoted in a very important article as saying, actually that attack prevented Saddam...


SULLIVAN: That was predicated on Saddam retaining outward control of most of the country to keep order. Once you get rid of that ability to keep order you see what happened in Iraq that is blazing today as ferociously as it could. We were there with 100,000 troops and could not stop 100,000 Iraqis from massacring each other. A hundred thousand Syrians have already massacred each other. The Alawite could be ethnically cleansed. There could be terrifying violence. You talk as if this conflict is only Assad. It is not only Assad.

COOPER: Let me bring in -- I just want to bring someone else...

AMANPOUR: You're right.

SULLIVAN: You have any time of hypothetical...

AMANPOUR: I have a plan. The plan is...

SULLIVAN: The people supporting intervention have no plan as to what they would do if these people won.

AMANPOUR: If you were Syria and the Syrian opposition actually have taken affront as the notion of them all being lumped as these terrorists. They are not all that.

COOPER: I want to bring in another guest. I want to bring in Jonathan Alpeyrie. Please, let me bring this guest in. He's a former photojournalist who was held captive in Syria for 81 days this year by opposition militants and he was released over the summer.

Jonathan, it's good to have you back on the program. You were held by rebels, by militant rebels. Do you know what group was holding you?

JONATHAN ALPEYRIE, PHOTOJOURNALIST: It was a local group. It was operating near Damascus a few hundred strong, and I was captured about 30 kilometers north of the capital of Syria.

COOPER: And was this an al-Qaeda-related group? Was this a group that was kidnapping you for money?

ALPEYRIE: Well, money was involved. That's true. They were not affiliated to al Qaeda, so that's not true. However, they are local guys who control certain portions of territories.

ROSE: So the question is what do you believe now about whether Assad ordered a chemical weapon to be used? I mean, that's the critical question. And so what is your opinion?

ALPEYRIE: Well, my opinion is the following. I personally do not believe that the government used chemical weapons on this specific occasion. I think the rebels did it. And I have a couple of arguments.

One of the main one is because on the ground for tactical purpose, there's no reason for him to be using chemical weapons, considering that he is actually winning the conflict right now on the ground, and he can win by using conventional weapons. And so -- and he knows the consequences of using such weapons. It makes no sense from a military sense.

COOPER: Jon -- Jonathan, what about those who say that, A, the rebels do not have the delivery systems capable of doing this? The U.S. has -- they have tracked where the rockets were fired from. And my understanding is this area in Damascus that was hit is actually an area that the regime has not been able to take over, has not been able to push the rebels out for the last year.

ALPEYRIE: Yes, Al-Ruccah (ph) is rebel-controlled, that's true. We also know that the rebels have over the past two and a half years, have captured numerous equipment, tanks, artillery pieces. And they can use chemical weapons in different ways, like throwing them out on the ground. Or you don't necessarily need SCUD missiles to deliver that kind of a...

COOPER: Andrew, do you believe that it's the regime? And do -- or do you believe that the administration needs to present more evidence?

SULLIVAN: I think there's a third option, which is the regime may not be fully competent; it may not be fully united. Assad may not have complete control. This may have been a miscalculation.

I agree that the logic of it doesn't make any sense. I'm persuaded that this is the Syrian government that did this. That Assad did this. But it seems an incredibly stupid thing to have done. And therefore, the question of whether this might have been an accident or a miscalculation or somebody not obeying orders or a rogue commander or something like that has to be raised. We have to be skeptical of everything in this.

AMANPOUR: You try to just rate (ph) the skepticism. The German intelligence has come out and said...

ROSE: Skepticism with him, too.

AMANPOUR: Right. And the German intelligence has come out and said that actually, while they believe the regime did it, there is no evidence, no intercepts of Assad himself ordering this.

ROSE: Not only that. I understand the German intelligence suggests that, in fact, he rejected...


ROSE: ... the desire by the military to use it. I haven't seen it, but I just read about it.

AMANPOUR: Absolutely right. That is what reports are saying, about German intelligence.

Israeli intelligence, we understood, believes that they intercepted panicked conversations between commanders after this attack...

ROSE: Saying?

AMANPOUR: ... saying, you know, "Why did you do this?" And this was -- you know. Make clear that whatever happened ...

ROSE: Here's what happened with me in the conversation. Because I basically said to him, look, if you -- if you didn't do it, who do you think did it? And then he said, the rebels or an external state is what he said.

And I said, but the point is, do you -- that's a scarier concern that other people have either access to chemical weapons or access to your chemical weapons or you not in control and rogue generals may be able to use them...

SULLIVAN: That was the really best moment of the interview. Because you said, OK, if it's not you, then do you have control over your chemical weapons?

ROSE: And he repeated yes, yes, I do. I do, I do.


SULLIVAN: But that is a possibly. Remembering Iraq. And it's not a distraction to think of Iraq. It is not an Iraq syndrome. It is not a syndrome to look both ways across the street when you've been run over by a truck in the last 10 years. OK? So let's not make -- let's make it a genuine -- He may be a victim of forces that he's unleashed. And if we can find a way to get him out of this -- and if he can let the Russians, if he can save face and the Russians can take credit for this, we should let them take credit for it.

COOPER: But to your point earlier, how do you actually do that? Nuts and bolts: in the middle of a civil war, how do you send in an international U.N. force?

AMANPOUR: You have to set up a protocol to be able to do that and if the U.N. was involved and the Syrians agreed, they presumably would be able to do it. Because it's in Syrian government territory, the chemical weapons, according to all the intelligence. And I think we just simply have to take stock again for a moment. I'm sorry. Bashar Assad is not a victim.


ASSAD: Bashar Assad is in control. We have asked all the people who are close to him who defected whether or not he gave this order. I am perfectly willing to accept whatever intelligence that is out there about it but the fact is, he knows it has taken place. There is such a thing as command responsibility, and he knows it's taken place not just on August 21 but on many occasions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he's allowing -- Wait, wait...


SULLIVAN: I just mean that you can...


COOPER: We've got to take -- we've got to take a break. Everyone is going to stick around, and we're going to talk more about the evidence and what to do about it after a quick break.

We've got a live picture from Moscow where it's almost a quarter to 7 in the morning. We'll be right back.


ROSE: At this date, you are not sure that chemical weapons, even though you have seen the videotape, even though you've seen the bodies, even though your own officials have been there.

ASSAD: I haven't changed (ph). Our soldiers in that area were attacked and went to the hospital as casualties. Because of chemical weapons. That's in the area where they say the government used chemical weapons. We only have video and we only have pictures and allegations. We're not there. Our forces, our police, our institutions don't exist.


COOPER: Bashar al-Assad talking to Charlie Rose over the weekend in Damascus. Back with Charlie and the rest of our panel.

What do you think the president should say tomorrow night? I mean, previously, before this whole Russian initiative, he was clearly going to make the case of why there is a red line on chemical weapons.

SULLIVAN: He should say that the United States has long taken this position about chemical weapons for reasons that we all talked about. Our goal is to prevent their use by any means possible. That without him taking a stand on this, the world would have looked away, and he has forced it onto the global agenda and got a consensus at G- 20 unanimously that chemical weapons were used and that chemical weapons must never be used.

And if this Russian -- if he can do this without military action he will. But he's going to ask for that ability. Because part of what might make it possible without military action is the threat of military action.

COOPER: So you think they should still bring it to a vote on Capitol Hill?

SULLIVAN: I don't know, because it depends what happens in the next two days, but in some ways...

COOPER: It's going to be voted on.

ROSE: Suppose the Congress votes it down. What should he do?

SULLIVAN: We should not go to war.

ROSE: What should you do? What should be done?

AMANPOUR: You know what? He has executive power to do it. He's drawn this red line. In any event, I'm sure he won't do it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If Congress says no...

AMANPOUR: I'm sure he won't do it. I'm sure he won't do it if Congress votes him down, but then America's roll in...

COOPER: Do you think he should do it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he should have done it before asking Congress permission -- excuse me, everybody has talked. I'd like to get a word in edgewise, OK?

I want to go back -- first of all, I think that the president should have acted before asking Congress. I want to go back to something that Christiane said. I agree with you. Chemical weapons since the late 19th century, the world has frowned upon them. The chemical weapons ban we've had countries sign onto. It's the most grotesque use of war and destruction on humanity that we know.

And going back to something we were talking about before the break, Charlie, that if America -- America has lost its greatness and influence and might under, I would say, varied circumstances. We can look at Bush. We can look at today under this president.

And if we are not able to find resolution as a country on Syria, our credibility and -- is going to go down the toilet. Right now Iran is watching, North Korea is watching, and like it or not, we are the world's conscience. We are the cop on the beat. I'm not for intervention. I'm not -- wait a minute. And back to what -- can I go back to what...


COOPER: You have made your point quite well. But isn't that what people said about the war in Iraq, that -- that Iran is watching, that this will, if we don't get involved in Iraq, that it's going to have an impact on Iran?

SULLIVAN: That's the other fascinating possibility here. Is that -- is that if this Russian thing comes about, if Syrian leader Assad really is pressured, the Iranians -- he's their client -- he's their client, too.

And Rowhani could use this as a way to engage the United States to reach some deal in the future.

The second job -- Obama's got two jobs. How to solve the problem with Syria and how to solve it with Iran. And then what we can -- and history is like this. We see that today. Accidents, gaffes, all sorts of miscommunications, these things create history. They also create wars.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Assad is not a victim.


ROSE: No one is saying Assad is the victim.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you're talking about chemical weapons, and Jonathan just said, "Oh, it's the rebels." There's no evidence that the rebels used the chemical weapons on people. And you can talk about the German report, fine. But -- and also back to something you said. You said we should give Russia this opportunity. Give Russia the gift. Andrew, why should we give Russia anything? Russia is arming Assad.

SULLIVAN: Because...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So chemical weapons go away and they're still arming Assad.

SULLIVAN: If they -- if they have agreed publicly at the U.N. and in public...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can trust Putin?

SULLIVAN: Well, we can want to. We can see if this happens. It's perfectly possible to watch if this happens.

The point is, the important thing is the achievement of the goal. It doesn't matter anymore. And this is why Obama is such an interesting president. It doesn't matter if America has the credit. This is a new world. America's credibility is, after Bush/Cheney, in tatters and after Iraq war. If we can get the rests of the world to do our job for us, why not?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The world hasn't done the job for us as we sat on the sidelines.

ROSE: Would everybody agree that if, in fact, they can find some peaceful way in which the U.N. and the United States and Russia could agree on some way to eliminate chemical weapons on the part of the Syrian government, that would be a very good thing? And that would be...


AMANPOUR: It's huge. It would be a game changer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a start. I don't think it's a game changer.

AMANPOUR: You have a possibility of a new world order. It's a precedent. It's a massive precedent.

ROSE: Because it avoids -- it also avoids your point, which General Petraeus has made in a brief statement, which Bob Gates has made and will make later, stated the idea that this does have serious consequences for the United States if it looks like that we are not prepared.

COOPER: Not just with chemical weapons but with nuclear weapons.

ROSE: And the question of North Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What does our word mean?

(CROSSTALK) ROSE: On the other hand...

SULLIVAN: We fulfilled our word with Iraq and we ended with a disaster.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm talking about Syria.

SULLIVAN: Sometimes avoiding -- let me finish this. Sometimes avoiding the disastrous consequences of something is worth losing a little face for. Taking back our word a little bit.

AMANPOUR: He would, I think really like it if the world helps us. And if Russia really can do this, if it really can do this, it is a way to reset all these relationships.

COOPER: What about the timetable?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Eighteen months ago.

AMANPOUR: One of the things the intelligence experts has said to me -- the timetable, the delay, has paradoxically made any strike that much bigger if it has to happen, because targets Assad is busy moving around personnel and weapons and this and that. That's what the intelligence says.

And I think -- and I think that the military in the United States has started to talk not just about Tomahawk cruise missiles but B-52 stealth bombers. In other words, it's a bigger issue. In more than one way, if you're going military, the more difficult it will be...

COOPER: How long would you...

SULLIVAN: The pressure from John McCain and others.

COOPER: How long should the U.S. give Russia?

AMANPOUR: Well, you know there's emotion in the U.S. Senate or at least a draft proposal by Senator Manchin and another senator to give some kind of an ultimatum. I believe they've mentioned 45 days to do something similar to what the Russians were talking about.

SULLIVAN: It's crazy to strike without an ultimatum. It's really impetuous if we cannot give him a chance to obey and also make such a strike more legitimate in consequence.

AMANPOUR: If you can get the Congress, if you can get the U.N. in some way, if you can get NATO and others, it would be better.

COOPER: We're almost out of time. Christiane Amanpour, Andrew Sullivan, thank you. And Charlie Rose, thank you very much.

We'll be right back.


COOPER: President Obama expected to address the nation tomorrow night in primetime. We'll be here afterward with perspective and analysis. That's all for now. I hope you liked our first edition of AC360 LATER.

SULLIVAN: My goodness.

COOPER: We'll be back tomorrow night with another. I'll see you then. Also, I'll see you tomorrow night at 8 Eastern with a regular edition of "AC 360."

"CRISIS IN SYRIA: DECISION POINT" with Jake Tapper starts now.