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THE SITUATION ROOM

Obama Speaks to Nation about Syria Tonight; U.S. Cancels Emergency Syria Meeting; Obama Takes Syria Crisis to Capitol Hill; Obama takes Syria Crisis To Capitol Hill; Interview With Kentucky Senator Rand Paul; Toxic Payload Much Bigger than Estimated?; Husband Forgets Wife After Surgery

Aired September 10, 2013 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Jake, thanks very much. Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM special report, Crisis in Syria.

President Obama takes his case for military action directly to the American people tonight, even as he asks Congress to delay a vote.

A stunning turnaround -- Syria now reportedly saying it's willing to come clean on its chemical weapons.

And amid a flurry of huge developments, has the Obama administration stumbled on an accidental solution to the Syria crisis or is it all on the verge of unraveling?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're just hours away from President Obama's address to the nation about Syria and no doubt, his speech is undergoing multiple revisions. Fast-changing developments unfolding right now.

As the president was asking lawmakers on Capitol Hill to delay a vote authorizing a U.S. military strike on Syria, the Damascus regime is reportedly ready to come clean and disclose the location of its chemical weapons and stop production and join the international community in banning chemical weapons.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, begins our coverage this hour.

What is the very latest at the White House at this delicate moment -- Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, HOST: Wolf, administration officials say President Obama will be delivering a very different speech than he might have given just 48 hours ago, all because of that Russian proposal prompted by Secretary of State John Kerry's comments, that just might avoid a military strike against Syria, at least for the time being.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (voice-over): After a fast-paced 24 hours on Syria, administration officials say President Obama's big speech to the nation tonight will put diplomacy back on the table. So today, he was up on Capitol Hill, telling lawmakers what administration officials told CNN, that there is now less pressure for Congress to authorize military force against Syria.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: It's important we do this well, not quickly.

ACOSTA: That's because the world has changed since Secretary of State John Kerry's seemingly impromptu comments calling on Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to give up his chemical weapons -- a remark Russia found too tempting to pass up.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Turn it over, all of it, without delay.

ACOSTA: According to a senior administration official, after Kerry opened the door to a diplomatic solution, he hopped on the phone with Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, who came back with a proposal for Syria to allow its chemical weapons to be destroyed. The Russian plan was then batted back and forth between the White House and State Department before the president decided to give it a chance.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is a potentially positive development.

ACOSTA: That official said the U.S. and Russia had been quietly discussing Syria's stockpiles for nearly a year, adding that it even came up between Presidents Obama and Putin at the G-20 Summit last week.

KERRY: We challenged the regime to turn them over to the secure control of the international community so that they could be destroyed.

ACOSTA: After Kerry's comments were initially described yesterday as off-the-cuff, he is now owning his remarks and warning members of Congress the plan to disarm Syria only works if the threat of military action is real.

KERRY: A lot of people say that nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of a hanging.

ACOSTA: According to the Russian news agency, Interfax, Syria is now willing to discuss the location of its stockpiles and join international agreements barring chemical weapon use.

But at a hearing, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel cautioned what could happen if Assad blows this opportunity.

CHUCK HAGEL, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We will be back here revisiting this issue at some point. And the next time we revisit this, it may well be about direct American casualties and the potential security of this country. (END VIDEO TAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, President Obama did talk about this Russian plan to take the Syria issue to the United Nations with the leaders of France and Britain today. And administration officials cautioned, Wolf, that their plan -- their goal all along was to rid Bashar Al-Assad of his chemical weapons. They still believe this Russian plan could do that. But they also add this caveat, Wolf. And that is if Assad strikes again, they believe the U.S. could hit Syria in retaliation and nobody here in Washington will bat an eye -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, if he were to strike again. But for all practical purposes, assuming that the Bashar Al-Assad regime does not use chemical weapons any time soon, the prospect of U.S. military action, military strikes, that's on hold, at least for the time being.

ACOSTA: That's right. Administration officials I talked to earlier today, Wolf, say that the pressure is now off of Congress to authorize military action. When the president was up on Capitol Hill, according to people who were in the room, the president was talking about diplomacy, about giving this Russian proposal a chance. And that is what we're going to be hearing from the president later on tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We certainly will.

All right, Jim Acosta, thank you.

A senior State Department official has just told CNN the secretary of State, John Kerry, will travel to Geneva, Switzerland on Thursday -- Thursday of this week -- to discuss the Syria crisis with Russia's foreign minister.

The United Nations Security Council was supposed to hold an emergency meeting on Syria, at Russia's request, this afternoon. But a U.N. diplomat tells CNN the Russians later dropped their request.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh.

He's over at the United Nations right now.

I suspect we're going to see a lot of activity at the Security Council in the coming days and probably weeks.

But what's the latest -- Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's been a phenomenally confusing day of back door diplomacy here. The French starting it off with their bid for a resolution that bundled in a whole load of things the Russians clearly weren't going to like. At the heart of it, though, that Syria hand over its weapons to international inspectors, but also saying that the resolution would condemn the regime for the attacks on the 21st of August, the perpetrators would be taken to international courts, and, of course, threatening serious consequences if they didn't go along with it fast enough. That obviously got a bad reception from the Russians, who, as you say, called an emergency consultation with the Security Council. And then, according to one U.N. diplomat, withdrew that request, as well.

So the question is, where are we heading now?

Clearly, this Geneva meeting, which I understand from a senior State Department official, will be about a plan for chemical weapons and probably just have Kerry and Lavrov at it at this stage, that that may be where this is now heading. But you've got to bear in mind, too, the possibility that Russia is simply seeing what the Security Council might have on offer in terms of resolutions, not like the idea of implicit threats if Syria doesn't move fast enough, and just decided to let the Syrians go ahead and unilaterally join this convention and allow inspectors in.

If it's possible, that can effectively happen during a war.

Let me just read to you something breaking, the exact words now we're getting from pool reports in Moscow, from the Syrian foreign minister. "We're ready to disclose the facilities storing chemical weapons and to discontinue production of chemical weapons to grant access to experts from Russia and other countries like the U.N. We're aimed at the complete surrender of all chemical weapons." Implicit within that, I think, really, the first open time we've heard from Syria that they do have chemical weapons -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, Walid Muallem, the foreign minister of Syria, former Syrian ambassador to the United States, well-known to a lot of officials here in Washington.

My assumption is -- and, Nick, you've been in the region, you know a lot about what's going on. If, let's say, on Thursday, when John Kerry meets with Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia, in Geneva, Switzerland, let's say the two of them basically reach a compromise, an agreement. I assume the Russians will be able to bring the Syrians along. I assume the U.S. will be able to bring Britain and France and all the other allies along. And that would set the stage for a serious U.N. Security Council resolution that potentially could get unanimous support.

WALSH: That's a possibility. But if you look at what's happening today, those talks about attacks seem to have basically been scuppered, in many ways, according to one diplomat I spoke to earlier on. The ground between the French and Russian positions pretty vast in many ways. The French those kind of barbed potentials for sanctions if it doesn't move fast enough and the Russians seemingly much less keen on that.

So this could simply be about getting the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons into Syria to dismantle those stockpiles.

But, Wolf, here is the big problem. This is not a normal country. This is about moving hundreds, if not thousands, of liter of toxic nerve agents through a war zone while these brutal battles are raging, storing them somewhere and then dismantling them. So huge problems there.

And then, of course, there's the trust issue.

Is the U.S. and U.K., France, going to really believe the regime surrendered everything -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, trust but verify, as Ronald Reagan obviously used to say.

Nick Paton Walsh at the U.N., thanks very much.

Let's talk a little bit more about these major developments with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

My sense is that the French came up with their opening bargaining position.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

BLITZER: The Russians have their opening bargaining position.

BORGER: (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Now let the bargaining begin.

But to make the U.S. stance a little bit -- look more credible, that threat of military action presumably has to keep hovering over all of this.

BORGER: Right. And I think that's what you're going to hear from the president this evening, Wolf. I mean he is going to say, look, we have to try and go down this path of diplomacy, because we have to give it a chance to work. But we have to be skeptical about it and we have to keep the threat of force real. It can't be imaginary, it's got to be real.

Now, what he's got is a very skeptical American public. And he has a Congress that has paused. And that's in everyone's interests, Wolf, because, as you know, they don't have the votes for this authorization of the use of force.

But he's got to convince the public that while this is a moving story and it's very muddled by both politics and diplomacy, that he has a clear vision for how this will play out. People like to know their commander-in-chief has thought about the consequences of actions.

BLITZER: Listen to the secretary of State, John Kerry, as he testified today before the House Foreign -- the House Armed Services Committee.

I don't -- I don't think we have this sound bite, but I'll read it to you.

He said, "A lot of people say that nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of a hanging. Well, it's the credible threat of force that has been on the table for these past weeks that, for the first time, brought this regime to even acknowledge that they have a chemical weapons arsenal."

He's got a good point there.

BORGER: He does. And he has said if it weren't for this threat, that they wouldn't be at the bargaining table.

And this is something, again, Wolf, that the president, it's a case he's got to make to the American people. And I will tell you this. He has a problem right now. Let's take a look at this poll. The question is, how did the president handle foreign affairs?

And you'll see, Wolf, that in January, it was 54 percent. Now 40 percent. That has gone down 14 points for this president. So a tough case to make.

And don't forget, the American public doesn't follow every daily minute development of this. He's got to make the moral case against chemical weapons. And then he has to tell the American public why this matters to our national security interests. And that's the tougher sell.

BLITZER: Gloria is going to be with us throughout our coverage over the next several hours.

Gloria, thanks very much.

And our special coverage of President Obama's address to the nation begins tonight, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, with "ERIN BURNETT OUT FRONT." And "A.C. 360" continues at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. I'll be back at 9:00 Eastern around the president's speech.

Up next, President Obama tells lawmakers he needs authorization to strike Syria, but not today or tomorrow. We have details of his lobbying trip today to Capitol Hill.

And we'll talk about the fast-changing developments with Republican Senator Rand Paul.

Have any of them changed his mind about backing the president?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: That's really what we've asked for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: There is Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. They're debating, on the Senate floor right now, the pros and cons of U.S. authorization of military strikes into Syria. Manchin strongly opposed -- opposes these strikes. He is in favor of some sort of diplomatic solution, very encouraged by this latest Russian proposal.

We'll monitor what's happening on the Senate floor. Despite all the new potential for a diplomatic solution to the Syria crisis, President Obama still wants the authority to launch a U.S. strike. And he was lobbying senators from both parties up on Capitol Hill earlier in the day, even as he asked for an actual delay in the vote.

Our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is up on Capitol Hill right now -- what are you hearing, Dana about what happened inside those meetings?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it really is illustrative of how quickly things have changed. The whole reason the president came up here, the reason the White House asked for him to attend both of these meetings with Democratic senators and Republican senators was initially to lobby them to vote for the use of military force against Syria.

And what he ended up doing because of the change in the situation is coming up here and making clear in both meetings that he doesn't want a vote in the near future, because he wants to let things move on the diplomatic front.

I was told that he was much more explicit with asking for the delay in the Democratic meeting than he was in the Republican meeting, and there, I'm told it was much more sort of implied and kind of the big picture reason that he was saying at least in the Republican lunch, without saying it explicitly, Wolf, is he understands especially as we saw the movement this morning with senator after senator after senator coming out against military authorization that if there were a vote, it would not pass.

And so what his message was, I need the threat of military action to go along with and push forward the diplomatic progress, and if something was voted on and it failed, that would pull the rug out from under him. So, listen to what the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, said when asked about the prospect for any vote. He was really noncommittal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID, (D) MAJORITY LEADER: I'm not guaranteeing anything. I do know this. Our schedule is being driven by developments that are taking place, not by some artificial timeline.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: So, now, here's what is happening behind the scenes at this point. There is a group, a pretty broad group of bipartisan senators, John McCain, Chuck Schumer and others, who are working on a potential fallback authorization that includes and incorporates the diplomatic movement. The general gist of it would be, we are told, that it would make clear that Syria would have to give up its chemical weapons.

It would be done through a U.N. process, and it would hold out the threat of military force if that didn't happen. But I'm told that that is very much on the slow track, not on the fast track at all, as you just heard Harry Reid say, they watch and see what if anything does pan out, particularly at the U.N.

BLITZER: Dana will be up on Capitol Hill getting reaction to what we hear from the president in a few hours. Dana, thanks very much.

Coming up here in the SITUATION ROOM on our special report, he's one of President Obama's biggest opponents in the push for military action against Syria, but could this possible new diplomatic alternative change republican senator, Rand Paul's, mind? I'll ask him. He's standing by live.

Plus, new signs the weapons used in that horrifying chemical attack may have been much larger than anyone first thought.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Back to our special report, crisis in Syria, in just a moment. But first, let's take a quick look at some of the other stories we're monitoring in the SITUATION ROOM right now.

Two Ohio correctional officers have been placed on leave amid an investigation into the suicide of the Cleveland kidnapper, Ariel Castro. Castro, who apparently hanged himself with a bed sheet last week, was serving a life sentence plus 1,000 years on a number of charges after holding three women captive for a decade.

The FDA now says as of Monday, it's received at least 89 reports of people getting sick after eating Chobani Greek yogurt manufactured in Twin Falls, Idaho, although those reports have not been confirmed. The company voluntarily recalled some yogurts last week after customer complaints about swollen or bloated packages.

The office of the director of national intelligence has released approximately 1,800 pages of documents which indicate the National Security Agency violated some of its own phone record rules and it presented false information to the foreign intelligence surveillance board about the violation. The papers were released to comply with an ACLU request.

And if you've been waiting the arrival of a brand new iPhone, you'll soon have two to choose from. Apple unveiled its iPhone 5S today along with the 5C, a lower cost plastic alternative. The 5S is expected to be faster and will come in three different colors, silver, gray, and gold. It also has special features including a fingerprint sensor to replace passwords.

The 5C comes in a range of colors and starts at about $99. Both devices will be available September 20th. Preorders begin on Friday.

Coming up in our special report, Russia's connection to Syria's chemical weapons. How Moscow may have Damascus build its deadly stockpile?

And Sen. Rand Paul will join us live to talk about the latest Syria developments and whether President Obama deserves any credit for the diplomacy now unfolding.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM special report, crisis in Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER (voice-over): He's one of President Obama's biggest opponents in the push for military action, but is there anything the president can say tonight to change Republican senator Rand Paul's mind? I'll ask him. He's standing by live.

Plus, new signs the weapons used in that horrifying chemical attack may have been even larger than anyone first thought. We have the chilling new information coming in.

And how much credit does the president deserve for the possibility of a new diplomatic solution? The CROSSFIRE hosts are here to debate.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Russia now says it will offer what it calls a clear and specific plan to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control. It says it will give details in the near future and refine them with the United Nations Security Council and the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons.

Let's talk about what's going on with Republican senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is strongly opposed to any U.S. military action against targets in Syria.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Sure. Glad to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the context of this Russian proposal. From your perspective, would it now be appropriate to vote yes for some sort of Senate resolution authorizing the use of force, if that could be a credible threat to use over the Syrians to come up with that kind of diplomatic solution the Russians are now proposing?

PAUL: I'm happy that we are headed hopefully towards a diplomatic solution. I hope this will come to fruition. I've said all along that my concern about attacking Assad is that we could so destabilize him that the chemical weapons could fall into the hands of al Qaeda.

I still worry about that, but if we are able to get the weapons out of Syria and into international control, I think that would be a huge step forward. And I think part of the reason we're here -- maybe the threat of force -- but part of the reason we're here is also because people like me prevented force from being used about three weeks ago when they wanted to bomb.

BLITZER: So you acknowledge part of the reason the Syrians are now acknowledging really almost for the first time that they do have these chemical weapon stockpiles, their foreign minister said today that he's ready to see them even destroyed under certain circumstances.

Listen to Secretary Kerry as he testified today before the House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Lot of people say that nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of a hanging. Well, it's the credible threat of force that has been on the table for these last weeks that has, for the first time, brought this regime to even acknowledge that they have a chemical weapons arsenal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So I'll repeat the question. Are you ready, since you now acknowledge that maybe the threat of force played a significant role in moving this situation towards some sort of peaceful resolution, would you be ready to vote for some sort of resolution authorizing at least the threat of force to hover over these negotiations?

PAUL: No, and I'm not convinced that we wouldn't have gotten to these negotiations otherwise. I also think that part of the reason we are here and we are getting to negotiate is because of an off-hand comment that Secretary Kerry frankly, I don't believe, ever thought that the Russians would respond to.

So I think the Russians have played an excellent gambit or a game of geopolitical chess with us. But it may be to our benefit to see if we can get a negotiated settlement. I think that does have to include Russia.

BLITZER: The president in the interview he granted me yesterday, he suggested this was by no means some sort of offhand comment. He said they had been talking about it for awhile, including last week when he was at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. Listen to the president, what he told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fact that the U.S. administration and I have said we are serious about this, I think has prompted some interesting conversations, and these are conversations that I've had directly with Mr. Putin. When I was at the G-20, we had some time to discuss this, and I believe that Mr. Putin does not see the use of chemical weapons as a good thing inside of Syria or anyplace else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, so does the president deserve at least some credit for moving the situation potentially towards this diplomatic breakthrough?

PAUL: Yes, I don't see this in partisan way where I've got to say oh, the president doesn't get credit. Give credit where credit is due, and if we get a diplomatic solution, absolutely. I still don't think it's a good idea to bomb Assad or destabilize the Middle East or to embolden al Qaeda or the Islamic rebels. However, I have no problem with saying yes, the president would get credit if we got a diplomatic solution.

I will say, though, that many people have been advocating a bombing for weeks and weeks now, and those of us who have tried to slow this down, including the American public, may have inadvertently gotten to this diplomatic solution if it comes to fruition by slowing down the process.

BLITZER: Do you believe that they are trustworthy -- let's put it this way, the Syrians, even though their foreign minister now says they're ready to do what the Russians are suggesting: identify all their chemical weapon stockpiles, let international inspectors go in and control them, and eventually dismantle and destroy them? Do you think they're trustworthy, the Syrian regime, of President Bashar al Assad, to do what they are indicating now they might do under certain circumstances?

PAUL: You know, I think any diplomatic solution with people who have used chemical weapons has to be taken with a certain amount of dubiousness. But I would say that any time you have diplomacy with other nations, there is trust, there is distrust, there's watchfulness, and there's what Ronald Reagan said, trust but verify.

So really, a lot of details have to be worked out here, and I'm not convinced that it will happen. I think it may be 50/50, but I think there is a potential that this would actually do some good, whereas the bombing campaign doesn't get rid of any chemical weapons and may well allow the chemical weapons to get into the hands of terrorists, which could actually even be worse than Assad.

BLITZER: Your Republican colleague, Senator John McCain, he says he's now ready to go for some sort of Senate resolution that would give the United Nations Security Council a date certain to come up with a plan during which the Syrians would have to begin this process of destroying their chemical weapons. He wants a date certain in that authorizing legislation in the Senate. Would you be ready to go along with Senator McCain on that?

PAUL: It may not surprise people, but I am sometimes on the opposite side of things from Senator McCain. I think he is a big believer that the use of force in Syria will have a positive outcome. I'm a big believer that the use of force has no compelling American interest in Syria and could lead to an adverse outcome such as an attack on Israel, more refugees flowing into Jordan, more instability and possibly, worst case scenario, that the chemical weapons, control of them, could be lost by Assad and gained by terrorists.

So I don't see a good outcome to -- I still don't see a good outcome to us becoming involved in a war -- in the Syrian civil war.

BLITZER: Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Senator, thanks for coming in.

PAUL: Thank you. BLITZER: Just ahead, can the United Nations get Syria under control? Look at this. The CROSSFIRE hosts, Van Jones and S.E. Cupp, they are walking into THE SITUATION ROOM. Welcome.

VAN JONES, CNN CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: Hey.

BLITZER: You guys are getting ready to debate.

S.E. CUPP, CNN CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: Yep!

JONES: Yes we are.

BLITZER: Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama set to make his case for potential U.S. military action against Syria to the American people just a little bit more than three hours from now. Here to debate what he needs to do, whether he can change any minds, the hosts of CNN's new CROSSFIRE, Van Jones and S.E. Cupp.

Guys, thanks very much. Does the president deserve some credit, S.E. -- seemingly there could potentially there could be a breakthrough. He used that word in the interview with me yesterday - a breakthrough in avoiding military action.

CUPP: The president stumbled very, very conspicuously into some accidental diplomacy here. And so the president, I think, in my opinion, not surprising, deserves no credit. He has not been a leader on this issue. John Kerry said something sort of off-the-cuff -- also by the way said it's not something Assad would ever consider or that we could do. And now suddenly not only is it the brilliant strategy and escape hatch we had in mind all along, it is the thing that is going to end this conflict peacefully.

JONES: Well, first of all, I would rather for him to stumble into peace than blunder into war.

CUPP: I didn't say peace. I said diplomacy.

JONES: Even the peace process than to blunder into war.

But let's give credit where credit's due. Both aspects of President Obama brought this about: the morally outraged President Obama that moved in the warships, but also the cautious Obama who said I need more time, let me talk to Congress. It created a space where there was pressure but not war. I think you got to give credit where credit's due.

CUPP: Van just articulated exactly why the American people are confused. Because he on the one hand, was cautious and on the other was morally outraged. That is impossible. At Charlie Rangel said, you cannot be part pregnant. That is a stance that no one understands.

JONES: But here's the thing. It worked. The weird thing -- I have been criticizing him. I have been saying he's half --

CUPP: This is working?

JONES: Listen, we are not at war and the Syrians are saying they will give up all their gas. Listen, you got poison gas --

CUPP: Oh, so you believe them?

JONES: Listen, I believe we now have a situation where a regime that before said that they had what poison gas? Poison gas? Now they say not only do we have it --

CUPP: We're going to give it, but we're only going to give it our friends, the Russians. That makes a lot of sense.

JONES: It's a start. It's a start. Tell you what --

CUPP: It's a false start.

JONES: Let me just say a couple things. Number one, this poison gas, the more you look at this stuff, this is horrible. And it turned out they got tons and tons of it aimed at - really it's not for their own people. It's really for Israel. So, if we can get the poison gas away from being pointed at Israel, that's a good thing. And if we can do it --

CUPP: That's a great thing.

JONES: -- that's a good thing. You should be happy -- for two reasons. We're taking Syria seriously. You wanted us to take it seriously. And we may avoid a war, which you're happy about. And no poison gas. Why are you so upset?

CUPP: No poison gas. I mean, in this (INAUDIBLE) other world you live in, no poison gas. Poof, no poison gas. I don't trust Russia. The world does not trust Russia on this issue. And the default actors that we're going to have to trust on this is the U.N. And I really don't trust the U.N.

JONES: Hold on a second. You say you don't trust Russia. This is geopolitics. Russia exists. Reagan worked with Russia. We have a treaty right now --

CUPP: Reagan worked with a different Russia.

JONES: We have a treaty right now with Russia. They are going to disarm themselves on nuclear weapons. We can't work with them on Syria?

CUPP: Russia just canceled the U.N. meeting that they called for. Russia is not a good actor on this conflict.

JONES: Russia is not a good actor on any conflict. This is geopolitics. And here on planet earth, we can't just bomb our way out when there is now a peace process. We should take advantage of it.

CUPP: There is not a peace process. And it's a process that will take months, months to craft.

JONES: During which time we can build a global coalition --

CUPP: How long do we allow Assad to continue using bombs and bullets while we try to take away his chemical weapons?

JONES: You think air strikes were going to stop him from using the bombs and bullets?

CUPP: Well, sure, if we destroy his arsenals and his striking capability. Sure.

JONES: And then we're going to be pulled into a war.

Here's the good thing I have to say. This president is one of the luckiest human beings on earth. He's been incredibly fortunate in terms of his career, the people he went up against early on were people he was able to get past and beat. He fought his way through Hillary Clinton, and once again, that Obama good luck charm -- I think we should be happy. I don't know why we should be upset.

CUPP: So, even you're admitting he's lucked into it. That's leadership.

JONES: Listen, I would say I would rather stumble into peace than stumble into war.

BLITZER: Is there anything he could say, S.E., tonight -- and he'll be speaking at 9:00 p.m. Eastern -- anything he can say tonight that will reassure you he's on top of this situation, he knows what's going on, and he's all over it?

CUPP: And I want him to. I want him to do well tonight, because I don't think there is a more important geopolitical conflict right now than Syria for all of the implications that we've discussed. Chemical weapons, al Qaeda in the area, Hezbollah and Iran watching, North Korea watching.

The president needs to be clear. His moral outrage needs to be unqualified, and that means he can't disown his red line. Say you're damn right I've got a red line against a dictator gassing his people. That is mine, that is mine, and I'll go it alone. And that's why there's a lot at stake.

JONES: S.E., this is one of these right-wing talking points that drives me crazy. He did not disown the red line. He invited the world to own his red line. He's put his credibility, his whole career --

CUPP: He's ducking the red line was so absurd that the White House had to come out immediately and explain the contradiction.

JONES: Only because right-wing pundits jumped in, said he was ducking. He said the world owns this red line. And in fact, he's right on that. Look, the president has been right on two things, wrong on one, from my point of view. BLITZER: He hasn't just been getting grief, as you know, from right- wing pundits. He's been getting grief from left-wing pundits as well.

JONES: Guilty as charged, guilty as charged!

BLITZER: This is a bipartisan amount of grief he's getting.

JONES: Fair enough. Fair enough. But look, the president has done two things right, one thing wrong. What he did right was he was outraged, and did say we are going to do something about it. What he did wrong was he tried to rush into this war without Congress, without the U.N., without building the case. What he did right, went to Congress and bought more time. And it's paying off for him. You got to give credit where credit's due!

CUPP: It's not paying off. And believe me, let me just end there. I really want the president to sell this to the American people tonight, because it's important. I'm rooting for him.

BLITZER: He will be speaking to all of us from the East Room of the White House. We'll, of course, have live coverage. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

CUPP: Thank you.

BLITZER: In the CROSSFIRE tonight, 6:30 p.m. Eastern, Van and S.E. will square off, and guess who their guests will be? Rick Santorum and Joe Lieberman. You too, by the way, can jump into the debate, respond on Twitter with the hashtag #crossfirereturns or in the live blog at CNN.com/crossfire. I think you will enjoy right after the SITUATION ROOM.

Coming up, that chemical weapons attack was bigger than anyone knew. We're learning new information about just how deadly that sarin gas was.

Plus dramatic dashcam video of George Zimmerman's latest encounter with police.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're learning chilling new details of that chemical weapons attack that sparked the current crisis in Syria. There's some evidence revealing a Russian connection to Syria's chemical stockpile. What expert now believes there's much more sarin gas used in the August 21st attack than originally thought.

CNN's Brian Todd has been investigating this part of the story for us.

Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a one liter bottle. Now it was originally reported in Syria that each warhead in that attack might have carried about this much sarin, maybe a little more. Now one expert at MIT believes the warheads, each may have carried up to 50 times this amount. We have this warning, some images in this story may be disturbing to some viewers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Part of what's so shocking about this chemical attack? The casualties. More than 1400 killed including over 400 children, according to U.S. officials. Two analysts now believe those numbers could be the result of a toxic payload on those rockets, much larger than what was first estimated.

THEODORE POSTOL, MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: Some reports reported as little as one liter of sarin. The container that was actually used carried 50 liters of sarin.

TODD: MIT professor Theodore Postol and another weapons expert draw that conclusion based on photos on the Internet. Postol says it was first believed the thin tubes in some pictures were the payload canisters.

POSTOL: The munition that people were seeing had this rocket motor attached to it, and then this front end, the central core extension, bent up on the ground. And what people were not seeing was this larger canister that had broken into many pieces when the munition hit the ground.

TODD: Postol says the rockets with the large payload chamber at the top looked something like this. CNN cannot independently verify the veracity of Postol's information. Postol says he can't rule out that the rockets could have come from the rebel side but --

POSTOL: My best guess, though, was that it was the Assad government because the amounts of sarin you need, the design of the munition, the cleverness with which it was -- was put together, sort of implies a state actor.

TODD: The Syrian government has repeatedly denied launching the August 21st attack. Now Russia's proposal to put Syria's alleged chemical weapons stockpile under international control is being viewed with some skepticism.

AMY SMITHSON, CENTER FOR NONPROLIFERATION STUDIES: Their hands with regard to Syria's chemical weapons capability may not, in fact, be clean.

TODD: Chemical weapons expert Amy Smithson says decades ago the Russians in the Soviet era and afterward provided Syria with some of the foundation for its chemical weapons program. A declassified CIA document from 1983 says both Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union provided the chemical agents, delivery systems and training that flowed to Syria.

SMITHSON: That would help the Syrians establish the capacity they now have. Syria has had for quite some time the ability to do this on its own.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Contacted by CNN, an official at the Russian embassy here in Washington flatly denied that, saying this, he said that -- that some chemical precursors, he actually denied that, saying that neither the USSR nor Russia ever supplied equipment and chemical precursors to Syria. All the facilities were built with the help of Western European countries. That from a Russian official here in Washington.

We have to say it is not just the Russians who have been accused of helping Syria. Some Western nations have as well, including at least one American company whose executives pleaded guilty to that several years ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The August 21st attack that killed, according to the U.S., 1400 people. Apparently the weather, there were other factors that resulted in these heavy casualties?

TODD: That's right. And the experts that we talked to say the fact that it happened at night was crucial. It made it more lethal. Theodore Postol and others say that it was colder at night. Once the canisters hit the ground, the gas would not rise up with the heat that it would in the daytime. So the gas actually stayed near to the ground, flattened out like a pancake, and that made it much more lethal. The fact that it was fired at night the gas stayed closer to the ground.

BLITZER: Brutal stuff. All right. Brian, thanks very much for that report.

When our special report continues, we're going inside the preparations for one of the most important speeches of the Obama presidency.

Plus we have some dramatic new dashcam video from George Zimmerman's latest encounter with police.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right. This just in to the SITUATION ROOM. Police dashcam video, their confrontation with George Zimmerman yesterday in Lake Mary, Florida. You can see him being ordered to the ground then an officer walks up and handcuffs him.

Zimmerman's estranged wife had called 911 and says Zimmerman threatened her father and her with a gun. Police say no weapon was found. Zimmerman has not been charged. He was acquitted in the July death -- acquitted in July in the death of Trayvon Martin.

We'll get back to our special report "Crisis in Syria" in just a moment. But first, a pretty shocking realization for a man just waking up from surgery. He's married.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He seemed to be waking up after a hernia operation, eating a cracker when his eyes focused on the woman beside his bed.

JASON MORTENSEN, HUSBAND FORGOT HIS WIFE: Did the doctor send you? Man, you are eye candy.

MOOS: The prettiest woman he's ever seen, he said.

CANDICE MORTENSEN, JASON'S WIFE: My name's Candice. I'm your wife.

J. MORTENSEN: You're my wife?

C. MORTENSEN: Yes.

J. MORTENSEN: Holy (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

MOOS: The YouTube video "Entitled Seeing Her for the First Time Again" has women gushing. "That time when you laugh and cry in your cub at the same watching a video at lunch."

J. MORTENSEN: Do we have children yet?

(LAUGHTER)

C. MORTENSEN: Not yet.

J. MORTENSEN: Man, have we kissed yet?

MOOS: Even female co-hosts were smitten over how smitten Jason Mortensen was.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whatever he's on (INAUDIBLE), ask me on.

MOOS (on camera): Some skeptics cried fake. When we got hold of the love struck husband on the phone, and he assured us it was all true. He gave us the name and number of his doctor to verify the surgery.

(Voice-over): American Fork Hospital in Utah confirmed that Dr. Paul Robinson performed surgery on Jason back on August 21st.

Jason says his wife Candace has been by his side through five surgeries in the six years they've been married, but who's counting?

J. MORTENSEN: How long have we been married?

C. MORTENSEN: A long time.

J. MORTENSEN: My god. I hit the jackpot.

MOOS: Not since the YouTube video "David After the Dentist."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this real life?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, this is real life.

MOOS: Has a sedated person awakened such interest on the Web.

J. MORTENSEN: Whoa, your teeth are perfect. MOOS (on camera): Jason told me on the phone that he was a little reluctant to post the video, because for one thing he didn't like that he swore.

J. MORTENSEN: Holy (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

MOOS: Something he doesn't usually do. Blame it on the anesthesia.

(Voice-over): Might as well blame this on it, too.

J. MORTENSEN: Turn around.

C. MORTENSEN: No.

MOOS: Responded one poster, "Turn around. Men are all the same even when they're all doped up, LOL." But not many guys get to experience love at first sight. Twice.

Jeanne Moos, CNN.

J. MORTENSEN: You're my wife?

MOOS: New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)