Return to Transcripts main page


Christians Celebrate Christmas; Snowden Delivers Christmas Message to U.K.; Crews Race to Rescue Antarctic Ship; International News Looking Ahead 2014

Aired December 25, 2013 - 12:00   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome everyone to AROUND THE WORLD this Christmas day. I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company.

Of course, it is Wednesday, it is December 25th, the day that more than two billion Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus.




HOLMES: Here's the exact spot that the Bible says it happened. Bethlehem, in what is now the West Bank. Pilgrims, of course, gather there every year at midnight for a special mass. Sadly, there is no peace in the occupied territories. Just a day earlier, the Israeli military responded to a sniper attack with air strikes and tank fire into Gaza.


HOLMES: This is how Christians in Bangladesh welcomed the arrival of Christmas Day in churches with prayers for peace.

And if you have to endure the elements on Christmas Day, this is the proper way to do it. Take it from me, the Australian way. Bondi (ph) Beach right near the city of Sydney decorating the tree with flip- flops.

Santa came ashore on a surf board today as he does every year and passed out treats for the kids. It is the only way to spend Christmas.

And now a polar opposite scene, if you like Baghdad, Christians there cautiously celebrating Christmas Day. Militant groups have used the holiday to target Christian churches.

And indeed, happened again this year, a car bomb went off outside a church a few hours ago. At least 38 people were killed, a second bomb going off in an open air market in a Christian neighborhood, as well.

History though in the making at the Vatican this morning, that's where Pope Francis presided over his first Christmas celebration as pontiff. His message both simple and in keeping with his basic values. Erin McLaughlin was there.


ERIC MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As you can see, they're streaming into St. Peter's Square, people from all over the world, pilgrims and atheists, men, women and children of a multitude of religions, flooding the square to hear what the pope has to say to the world on Christmas Day.

POPE FRANCIS (through translator): God is peace. Let us ask him to help us to be peacemakers each day.

MCLAUGHLIN: What did you think of the pope's message?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it was wonderful. It was beautiful. Very touching. And I felt even like crying. He's a very humble person.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really don't know the if humanity will listen to him. But he's strong to say this.

MCLAUGHLIN: His message delivered in Italian, and even though not everyone here understands exactly what he is saying, they're here to see him and to experience history.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was wonderful to be in such a large crowd. People were nice. We were trying to communicate with each other but we were all from many different countries. People were happy to be here and calm about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a great moment just to see him speak to all the people. It's a lovely day here in Rome. Great experience.

MCLAUGHLIN: His message to the world one of peace. He asked for prayers for the victims of conflict in places like Syria and South Sudan. It was a message that really seemed to resonate here in the square; the excitement and energy was palpable. An illustration of the power of Pope Francis -- Erin McLaughlin, CNN, the Vatican.


HOLMES: This week a new CNN poll confirmed just how popular this new pope is: 88 percent of American Catholics approve of how the pope is handling his role. Among all Americans, the majority of whom, of course, are not Catholic, 72 percent approve of him.

"Time" magazine named Pope Francis the person of the year. Calling him the people's pope. So why is Pope Francis so popular? Our senior Vatican analyst, John Allen, has written extensively about this. He joins me now live from Rome.

Ever since, John, this Argentinean born pope took power nine months ago, he has been a crowd pleaser. We saw again today this humbleness, this humility of his and looking out for the poor and vulnerable. It really is the way he does business, isn't it? JOHN ALLEN, CNN SR. VATICAN ANALYST: It absolutely is, Michael. Let me give you another couple indices of Francis' appeal. "Time" was actually not the first publication to pull the trigger on declaring him Person of the Year. That was the Italian edition of "Vanity Fair," all the way back in June, which included, Michael, a tribute from that well-known Vatican expert, Elton John, who described Francis as a miracle of humility in an era of vanity.

Then I followed Francis when he traveled to Brazil in July. Not only did he draw more than 3 million people twice to Rio's Copacabana Beach breaking at attendance record held by the Rolling Stones but there was also a delicious moment when he was outside the cathedral downtown in Rio, where he was rushed by a gaggle of Latin American nuns, screaming like they were teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert.

There simply is something about this man that excites people. I think it's precisely what you said. This is a man who has risen to the pinnacle of spiritual power and yet somehow still seems to radiate simplicity, humility, a love for ordinary people and a genuine concern for the poor. I think those are qualities generally that play to almost universal admiration.

HOLMES: One thing that strikes me about him, too, and we saw it again today is the inclusiveness with this pope, reaching out to not just non-Catholics but non-Christians and according to some going off script today and reaching out to atheists.

ALLEN: Yes, that's right. Michael, there was a portion of his message this morning where he was talking about the desirability of having not just Catholics but followers of other religions come together to pray and to work for peace.

In the middle of that, he threw in a reference even to nonbelievers. Of course, an outreach to nonbelievers into the sort of secular world has become one of the hallmarks of his papacy. We saw him at that again today.

He has said over and over that he wants the church to get out of the sacristy and into the street. Part of that means meeting people and working with them from a broad variety of walks of life, including people who don't share the spiritual or philosophical convictions of Christianity.

HOLMES: And just before I let you go, John, it's not 100 percent approval rating. Who perhaps is not all that will happy with this pontiff so far? There are women who say he's not done enough for them.

ALLEN: Yes, that's right. There would be some liberal voices inside and outside the Catholic church that would say that the razzle-dazzle from the pope is terrific.

But he has twice now said a firm no to ordaining women as priests and he's also indicated while he wants to reach out to gays, he's not about to change church teaching on homosexuality. There might be a conservative chorus, Michael, again, inside and outside the church, but thinks some of his criticism of capitalism almost flirts with Marxism, that finds some of his doctrinal statements a little confusing.

For example, he's famously said that God is not Catholic. People sometimes wonder what that means. But let's not lose sight of the big picture. The big picture is overwhelming grassroots support.

HOLMES: There would be plenty of politicians who would like an 88 percent approval rating. John Allen, always great to have you on the program. And we will be talking again later this hour.

Why? Well, in less than 30 minutes, we're going to be taking a look at the pope's journey to the Vatican, his rise to fame, the impact he's had and perhaps if big changes might be in store for the church in 2014. Stick around for that.

The U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, came under attack today. This happened early before 7:00 am local time in Kabul. Two rounds of what the embassy calls indirect fire hit the building. That normally refers to things like mortar attacks. Nobody was hurt. The Taliban though posted on a website that they did it.

And the U.S. military is still on standby to evacuate all Americans from the troubled new nation of South Sudan. Hundreds of people have been killed in a rebel uprising and ethnic fighting put that number in the thousands now.

Right now, U.S. Marines getting into position to help get Americans out in case the situation does get worse. Our Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon.

That's very different to the U.N. forces who are going in to try to stop the fighting. Where are these Marines going and what happens when they get there?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, at the moment, you know, earlier this week, the Pentagon sent about 150 Marines from their base in the Mediterranean to the Horn of Africa to Djibouti.

And then yesterday they took about 50 of those Marines and put them closer to South Sudan, if you look at the map, those 50 Marines are now in Uganda. That will put them very close to South Sudan if they get the orders to go in.

There are two possible missions if they go in, would be to evacuate Americans as you said or provide more security even for the U.S. embassy there if it tries to stay open amid the growing violence.

They have no orders to go yet, but what you're really looking at, Michael, is the military lesson of Benghazi. That if Americans are going to get into trouble because -- run into trouble given outbreaks of violence, you need to have military force close enough to go get them and that's what we're seeing here. Getting ready just in case. HOLMES: Yes, and Barbara, of course, the attempt to go in and help out last weekend some U.S. troops were hurt when their aircraft was fired upon. Have you new information on them?

STARR: Indeed. Those three U.S. military aircraft fired upon four U.S. Navy SEALs badly hurt. A couple of days ago, three of them were able to be evacuated where they were in a hospital in Kenya to the military hospital at Landstuhl.

One young man left behind was so badly hurt he needed more surgery, more care. The good news is we've now heard today he too is on his way to Landstuhl Hospital in Germany via a U.S. military medical air evac flight. That will put him, of course, back closer to home, closer to his family.

They believe he is stable and he will fully recover, but this young SEAL's had a very rough go of it.

HOLMES: Barbara Starr, always good to see you working this Christmas Day, as well there at the -- in Washington.

Let's turn to United Nations officials now worried that all-out civil war could break out in South Sudan. Fred Pleitgen is in New York covering this for us. He says the main reason for those fears or one of the main reasons for this conflict is oil.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Michael, yes, the latest we're hearing is the fighting in South Sudan is both escalating as well as spreading. The latest that we're hearing is that there is fighting in one of the northern states of South Sudan, called the Upper Nile state which is in the oil producing region of South Sudan.

Oil of course is the main revenue source of that country by far. The fighting is apparently centering around the main town of Melaka and has pitted the rebel forces against the government forces.

Of course, all of those divide along ethnic and tribal lines. Also there's been fighting in the town of Bor, a very important town. The government says so far it has taken that town back in an offensive it launched last night.

Of course, all of this is leading to many people having to flee their homes. The U.N. estimates as many as 80,000 have been forced to flee. Some of them have gone to neighboring countries but many are going on to U.N. bases, and the U.N. is having a lot of trouble protecting those bases from attacks by militant forces that are roaming that country.

So one of the things that the U.N. did last night as you know is they passed a resolution to drastically increase the peacekeeping force on the ground. There are some 6,000 additional personnel, both troops as well as police forces to go on the ground there, and their main mission and their only mission is to protect civilians.

At the same time, both the U.N. and the United States and the international community is calling on the warring factions to get to the table to talk this out and to stop the fighting that's currently going on because there is a real fear on the ground there that this could descend into all-out civil war and this could, in effect, tear the country apart. The word genocide is being used. The human rights chief of the United Nations, Navi Pillay, has come out and said there is already evidence of one mass grave in the north of the country and also reports of other mass graves around the Juba region that have not been confirmed yet but certainly they do say that there is real concern for human rights on the ground -- Michael.

HOLMES: All right, Fred, thanks so much. Fred Pleitgen there in New York.

Still to come here on AROUND THE WORLD, on the run but on the air. We'll tell you why fugitive American Edward Snowden addressed British television viewers from Moscow today.



HOLMES: Welcome back.

Edward Snowden has a message for the people of Great Britain and a TV network gave him a couple of minutes of air time to deliver it.


EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA LEAKER: A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all.

They'll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unreported, unanalyzed thought.

And that's a problem because privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.


HOLMES: Snowden, of course, who is under Russian protection at the moment, is wanted by the U.S. government for spying. He did make those remarks from Moscow.

The U.K.'s Channel 4, they do this every year airing what they call an alternative Christmas message after they run the Queen's Christmas message.

Sometimes it's goofy. Sometimes it's more controversial. This year it is Edward Snowden.

Elise Labott is our foreign affairs reporter. Elyse, the U.S. government can't be happy about this, channel 4 giving Edward Snowden air time. Any reaction there?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Not today on this holiday, Michael, kind of staying quiet about it. Obviously, the government keeps referring to Edward Snowden as a fugitive and that he should come home.

You might note that he joins the ranks of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president of Iran, in delivering this alternative message. They would say he's in that kind of company.

Over the last year, you've noticed Edward Snowden started as just leaking this information, but now is becoming more of a provocateur, speaking out, and this Christmas message he urged people in Britain and, obviously, around the world are also paying attention to rally against this mass government surveillance that we've seen.

Let's take another listen to what he said, another part of it.


SNOWDEN: The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that the regulates it.

Together, we can find a better balance, end mass surveillance and remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.

For everyone out there listening, thank you and merry Christmas.


LABOTT: And Michael, if you remember the or well's novel "1984" and the big brother spying, he says that's nothing compared to what's going on today.

HOLMES: Making salient can points about privacy which a lot of people say is over these days. Did he say anything he hasn't said or written already though? Anything new out of this?

LABOTT: I don't think there's anything new about it, but again, he's speaking out a lot more, kind of making people think a lot more about you didn't see a real mass outrage in terms of the type of programs.

I think a lot of Americans in particular and possibly British and other Europeans weren't that surprised that this kind of spying was going on.

He's saying we really need to think about this. We need to have more of a dialogue.

And so -- and you've seen in this country in particular there's a lot of review now about the NSA and a lot of feeling they're overreaching.

And recently in an interview he said, "Mission accomplished." I think he's trying to get the word out a lot more.

HOLMES: Elise, thanks so much, Elise Labott there in Washington.

Coming up, a budding superpower provoking its neighbors a little and also are icy relations with Iran beginning to thaw? The stories you should keep an eye on in 2014.


HOLMES: Happening now just off Antarctica, rescue crews racing to a stranded ship that is stuck in ice. Seventy-four people apparently are on board this Russian-flagged vessel. Some of them are scientists and explorers.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority heading up the rescue. It covers that part of the world.

A statement from that group today says it will take at least two days for help to arrive.

Of course, 2013 was a big year for international news, from Syria's chemical weapons attack and the ongoing war there to the election of Pope Francis.

But by the looks of it, 2014 is promising to be perhaps even more interesting for good and bad.

I spoke with former U.S. Ambassador Nick Burns about his picks for the biggest stories going into the new year.


HOLMES: Ambassador, really appreciate your time.

Let's start if we're going to look at the big stories of 2013 and going into 2014, you have to start with Syria and what a mess that is.

Your thoughts on that, going into the new year?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: I think you do have to focus on Syria and, first and foremost, the incredible human toll from that civil war.

Nine million Syrians out of 22 million Syrians are now homeless, either inside the country or they're refugees outside the country.

And the United Nations fears that that refugee toll may grow as the Syrian civil war continues. That's a huge crisis in the Middle East.

Of course, Michael, the chance that that civil war might spread internationally to Lebanon or to Iraq or Jordan a widening of the war, I think that's the number one humanitarian disaster in the world today.

HOLMES: Let's move on though. I want to hit on a few stories.

Iran, a lot of people -- we see Congress talking about increasing sanctions, but a lot of people, particularly outside the U.S., are saying this is good news, isn't it?

BURNS: It is good news. The United States and Iran have not talked to each other in any meaningful way for 34 years. Now, we're not only at the negotiating table with the Europeans, but have actually had an interim agreement and negotiating hopefully in 2014 a final agreement that would leave Iran well short of a nuclear weapon and leave us in a situation of peace with Iran.

That's the vision, Michael. We're not there yet, but it has to rank as one of the positive stories of 2013.

HOLMES: Africa has been massive and forgive me if I say underreported in the U.S.

Central African Republic, South Sudan, both places with crises unfolding and implications internationally, too, across borders.

BURNS: Well, they are. The developments in Central African Republic are deeply disturbing and the widening of that war has been -- has victimized its own citizens. The French have had to go in to see if they can help stabilize things.

South Sudan is tragic. Newest country in the world, it began with all that hope several years ago. Now it's locked in what looks to be a civil war where innocent people are being killed and victimized.

There's a lot of reason to be concerned about these conflicts in Africa.

HOLMES: The U.S. has to care and has to be involved, why?

BURNS: Well, because you know, we have a responsibility as the strongest country in the world to help people in need. It makes economic sense and political sense.

But humanitarian sense it's the right thing to do. We don't want to see these countries destabilized. You certainly want to see people given a chance to live a healthy productive life.

That's not happening in Mali, not in the South Sudan or Central African Republic. We have to be engaged.

HOLMES: The economic side of things, the U.S. is seeing China taking the lead in Africa, generally.

A budding superpower not playing nice with neighbors, how do you see that going into the new year?

BURNS: There's concern that China is flexing muscles both in the South China Sea against Vietnam and the Philippines, but also right now against Japan and the East China Sea over the Senkaku Islands and the neighbors and air forces of Japan and China are literally up against each other right now. It's not a good thing.

There's got to be some effort early in 2014 to try to separate those two forces and frankly, for the Chinese government and Beijing to get control of the people's liberation army and make sure that China is acting with restraint.

HOLMES: Let's end on positive news if we can. Pope Francis is shaking things up, isn't he?

BURNS: He sure is. I think in the United States, he was voted -- he was named by "Time" magazine as the Person of the Year.

I think a lot of Americans felt that was the right choice because he has a completely new attitude about the church and the role of the church.

He's humble. He's someone who is directly speaking to the core base of the religion, which is trying to alleviate poverty, trying to help the less fortunate.

I think he's literally a breath of fresh air for a lot of people both members of the church and people just observing what's happening in the Vatican.

HOLMES: Walking the walk.

Nicholas Burns, thanks so much.


HOLMES: And Pope Francis, of course, hugely popular AROUND THE WORLD, in a minute we're going to take perhaps why not everyone in the church thinks that is a good thing.