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Israel Blasts Kerry's Speech on Peace Process; Trump Considers Some Privatization of V.A.; Trump Proposals for V.A. Choice. Aired 1- 1:30p ET

Aired December 29, 2016 - 13:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much. We'll all be watching and enjoying this documentary along with you.

Be sure to tune in Sunday night for "Now More Than Ever, The History of Chicago."

Thanks so much for joining me at this hour. Our coverage continues next with Jake Tapper.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Jake Tapper in for Wolf Blitzer. Wherever you are watching from around the world, thank you for joining us.

We are following several major stories this hour. Ready to retaliate. The Obama administration gets set to attempt to punish Russia for what U.S. intelligence agencies say was meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

The response to Russia's hacking could include expanded sanctions, diplomatic measures and covert actions. Russia warns that it will respond to any hostile new steps.

But President-elect Trump says it's time to, quote, "get on with our lives."

The incoming White House press secretary will join us live.

War of words. Israel fires back after pointed criticism from Secretary of State John Kerry. A spokesman for Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says the Israeli settlements being built in the west bank are not the main obstacles to the peace process. Rather, he says, it's the Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state.

And remembering a Hollywood triple threat. Dancer, singer, actress, Debbie Reynolds has died. Her death comes just one day after the death of her daughter, writer and screen icon, Carrie Fisher. While we do not know the cause of Debbie Reynolds death, of course this does raise an obvious question, can a person die of a broken heart? We'll discuss that later this hour.

But up first, payback time. The Obama administration says it is getting really to take action against the Russian government over its hacking during the 2016 election. We could learn today exactly how the Obama administration plans to respond. Correspondent Athena Jones is currently in Hawaii where President Obama is spending the holidays. And Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance is in Moscow with Russia's reaction.

Athena, let me start with you. What steps do we think the Obama administration will likely take?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jake. Well, you mentioned some of them, expanded sanctions, diplomatic measures, even covert actions, actions that they say will be taken at a time of their choosing that won't be announced.

We also expect the government will name the individuals associated with the Russian disinformation campaign. And that's really what it's all about, Jake. Russia is known for using these disinformation campaigns to meddle in and influence elections in various countries.

U.S. intelligence officials believe they hacked information mostly from the Democratic Party organizations and officials and used it to attack Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign. These moves are coming after months of internal debate over how to respond.

The White House has come under fire, including from Democrats, for not responding sooner to this Russian cyber activity.

But if you spoke -- if you speak to White House officials, they say that they wanted to make sure that intelligence and law enforcement agencies had the time to do their work, carefully and thoroughly do these investigations to determine that Russia was behind these actions.

And there was also sensitivities about protecting some of the classified sources and methods used to determine that Russia was involved.

And also, the White House not wanting to appear that it was trying to put its finger on the scale and help out its preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton.

But we are going to see those announcements as soon as today. It could even be in a matter of hours that we'll find out more of what the U.S. plans to do to respond to Russia -- Jake.

TAPPER: And Matthew Chance in Moscow. Is Russia still denying that it played any role in these hacks? What is their response?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes. Well, they've already issued a scathing response to the threat that these -- that these new sanctions could be issued. Saying that this is just misinformation put out by the Obama administration, this Russian linked with attacking, to excuse their own failures in the presidential election.

They've also warned about specifics. If there are sanctions, for instance, they say, against any Russian diplomatic missions in the United States, then U.S. diplomats here in Russia will face similar sanctions. And they said, really, if Washington does take new hostile steps, they will be answered.

And so, they have promised, at the very least, tit for tat repayments or responses to any new sanctions that come about.

But, in general, you get the impression, speaking to other Russian officials as I have, that they're not all that worried about new sanctions. Because they're holding out that for the new Trump administration to enter the White House.

Because they believe, that with Donald Trump as president and with his choice of Secretary of State being Rex Tillerson who has spoken out against sanctions. The sanctions regime against Russia by the United States is going to be degraded in the weeks and in the months and in the years ahead.

[13:05:12] TAPPER: All right, Matthew Chance and Athena Jones, thank you so much.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says that a cease-fire between the Syrian government and U.S.-backed opposition forces will begin in just a few hours. The deal was brokered with Russia and Turkey. The U.S. was not involved and has been sidelined from talks in recent weeks.

The U.S. State Department put out a statement a short time ago that said, in part, quote, "News of the cease-fire in the Syrian civil war is a positive development. We hope it will be implemented fully and respected by all parties. The international community hopes this cease-fire will hold so a Syrian-led transition toward a more representative, united and peaceful government can begin." Unquote.

Although Russia has indicated it may bring the United States back into the fold once President-elect Trump is sworn in.

For more on this, let's bring in Hala Gorani, Anchor of CNN International's "The World Right Now." And, Hala, this is, of course, not the first Syrian cease-fire that has recently been brokered. Both parties said that they will enter into peace talks. Is there anything that might make this cease-fire more effective in this six-year civil war?

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is. It is potentially more significant because these are two opposing sides in the conflict. Turkey and Russia who, for many years, were very hostile toward each other.

You might remember even that Turkey shot down a Russian warplane just a few months ago. There has been this reproshma (ph) between the two.

Their foreign ministers alongside the Iranian foreign minister, met in Moscow about 10 days ago and they were hammering out a deal that was ultimately announced by Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.

So, because they're on opposing sides and because the primary military goals by the Assad regime supported by Russia, Iran, Hezbollah fighters and others, has been met, and that is taking all of Aleppo back from the rebels, the Eastern part at least. Perhaps, now, they see an opportunity to come together, hammer out some sort of deal.

There's some sort of confusion, though, Jake, there, regarding Al Nusra front which is the Al Qaeda-linked group. It's unclear whether they're part of this agreement.

If they are, it would be significant in the sense that an Al Qaeda- linked group would be allowed to operate and control some portion of Syrian territory.

If they're not, that means that, alongside ISIS, they will continue to be targets of military action by the Syrian government, Syrian armed forces and other groups associated with Bashar Al Assad which means, ultimately, that the cease-fire wouldn't cover the entire territory but only parts of the territory not controlled by ISIS or the Nusra front.

So, you know, is this the end of hostilities? Certainly, the chapter that involved aerial bombardments of large parts of civilian areas of rebel-held Aleppo, that is over. But is it the end of all hostilities? It doesn't appear to be.

TAPPER: All right, Hala Gorani, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

To U.S. intelligence now. He's enemy number one, Abu Al Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. This video purportedly shows him, though CNN cannot independently verify that.

Al Baghdadi has been off the American intelligence radar for months but today, a U.S. official, pardon me, told CNN, quote, "In the last few weeks, we've been aware of some of Al Baghdadi's movements and that's significant because any sighting could potentially lead to his location."

This official declined to say whether intelligence believes he's in Iraq or Syria. But it is believed, long believed, that he's in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa which is in Syria, of course.

We're going to take a quick break. After the break, blowback against Secretary of State John Kerry for his message to Israel from members of his own party's leadership.

And later this hour, President-elect Donald Trump's incoming press secretary will join us live. Will President-elect Trump jump into the Syrian crisis as president?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: It's being seen as a parting shot. And reaction to Secretary of State John Kerry's speech, rebuking Israel and calling for peace has been fast and harsh, even from many of those in the Democratic Party. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer saying the following in a statement, quote, "While he may not have intended it, I fear Secretary Kerry in his speech and action at the United Nations has emboldened extremists on both sides."

Now, despite Kerry's harsh words, the Obama administration assures it will veto any forthcoming potential U.N. resolutions, calling on the recognition of Palestine as a state. Here's what deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, told me.


TAPPER: So, just to be clear here, when Secretary Kerry says, these are not the choices we will make, which is kind of vague, is he saying that the U.S. would veto any resolution in the U.N. which might dictate a peace solution or might recognize a Palestinian state?


TAPPER: He would veto that? The U.S. would veto that?



TAPPER: Pretty clear.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is in Jerusalem with the latest. Oren, what is the reaction in Israel and is this assurance that the U.S. will not permit our recognition by the U.N. Security Council of Palestine as a state do anything to assuage Netanyahu's feelings?

OREN LIEBERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not at all, I don't think. And part of that is because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hasn't changed his tone on this one. He's still furious, not only about the speech but also the Security Council resolution. And he lumps those together. He sees them as one element. And he says that is an anti- Israel biased element, the speech in the Security Council resolution.

He didn't put out a statement today but his spokespeople have come on air and reiterated his point. They were disappointed. They thought the focus shouldn't be on settlements. It should be more on the Palestinians. There, he's reiterating his position that settlements are not the problem. We know the international consensus is absolutely not with the Israelis there.

But there is still a lot of bad blood here, especially in the last few days. And that, I think, is why we keep seeing Netanyahu call for a clearer statement from Obama, saying he won't make any more moves on the peace process.

Ben Rhodes reassurance may help a little bit. But it seems that Netanyahu wants something explicit. That there won't be any further moves.

And, Jake, the concern isn't just on the American side. There are other countries that may take what it is that Kerry laid out in that speech and present that at the Security Council resolution. That is also what Netanyahu wants to hear, a veto of anything based on Kerry's speech. No more moves from Obama. Still has about three weeks to worry, for Netanyahu, until he's dealing with the man he wants to deal with, President-elect Donald Trump.

TAPPER: All right. Oren Liebermann, thank you so much.

Those closest to Prime Minister Netanyahu, as Oren just said, are speaking out. A spokesman for the prime minister talking to CNN this morning. Here is what he had to say about what the real holdup to peace was in his view.

[13:15:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Talking to CNN this morning. Here's what he had to say about what the real holdup to peace was in his view.


DAVID KEYES, SPOKESMAN FOR ISRAELI PM. NETANYAHU: What was so disappointing about Secretary Kerry's speech was that it didn't really deal with the core issue of why this conflict continues to rage. And that has precisely nothing to do with the presence of Jews in the West Bank and everything to do with the Palestine leadership's continued refusal to recognize a Jewish state. Israel's prime minister has called on President Abbas to meet literally hundreds of times for direct peace talk. He even invited him to speak in the Knesset. And, unfortunately, President Abbas has said no to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, no to direct negotiations.


TAPPER: Since the disagreement right now seems focused on the Kerry position versus the Netanyahu position, I want to bring in two men who have been on either side of the negotiating table. Michael Herzog is a retired brigadier general with the Israeli Defense Force and a fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and he took part in past Israeli peace negotiations. David Makovsky is a senior fellow and director of the Washington Institute's project on the Middle East peace process. He's also a former member of Secretary Kerry's negotiating team.

Let me start with Michael Herzog.

I want to ask you, do you agree that the main obstacle to peace is the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel and anything else is really secondary?

MICHAEL HERZOG, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: It's certainly a major issue, but I think the picture on Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a multidimensional one. And there's not only one cause why we haven't managed to break through to a - to a deal or to a solution.

I think that Secretary Kerry's concern about the future of two-state solution is being shared by many. But I think where he's wrong and where he did not resonate with the Israeli people is his contention that the main reason why we failed was lack of trust and not gaps (ph) between the parties, no major gaps.

As someone who's participated in Israeli/Palestinian negotiations for over two decades, I say there are major gaps. And that what he said ignored the history of two decades of negotiations. And that's why it did not resonate with the Israeli people because even those like myself who share his contention that settlement activities is unhelpful to the cause of peace, I do not believe there is a - there is a deal to be had around the corner. And that ignores many years of negotiations.

In fact, these very parameters that Secretary Kerry presented yesterday were presented through a personal letter, Mahmoud Abbas, on March 2014, in March 2014 at the White House, and he promised an answer in eight days and never came back.

TAPPER: So, David, let me ask you, because right now it seems as though Secretary Kerry and others in the U.S. government, in the Obama administration, are concerned that Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders are essentially abandoning a two-state solution. Do you see any evidence that the Palestinian leadership, whether the PLO or Hamas, or any other Palestinian leadership group believed that there should be a two-state solution? It seems, though, that their charters, whether it's Hamas or the PLO, call for a one-state solution, a Palestinian state.

DAVID MAKOVSKY, FORMER ADVISER TO U .S. ENVOY FOR ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATIONS: OK, I would draw a distinction, Jake, between Hamas and the PA because Hamas doesn't accept Israel the size of a telephone booth in Tel Aviv. The PA did obsessively change their charter when President Clinton came to Gaza in 1998. I do think the PA would like peace, but they would like peace on their terms. And that deal, on their terms, is not obtainable. This is - this is a problem. And when - during Kerry was involved in 2013, '14, and I was part of the effort, there were five core issues, and we were close on I think two of the five. But, you know, we didn't get - Mike is right, we didn't get a response from Abbas. And it was unclear to me that we could close the gap on the five for five.

In this Venn diagram, there's not an overlap between, you know, Abbas and Netanyahu. That's part of the problem. Each wants peace. And I think I believe them. But each wants peace on their terms and it's terms that do not overlap.

TAPPER: So, General Herzog, let me ask you, is there any possible way that the settlements that are being built not within the area that might become part of greater Israel in a peace deal, but the part - the settlements that are way beyond any sort of security barrier, deep into the West Bank, near the border with Jordan, is there any way that those can be viewed as anything other than essentially a policy against the two-state solution?

[13:20:19] HERZOG: Well, I personally support a policy of not doing settlement activities beyond the settlement blocks. I think that Israel's policies should be in line with his statement - stated policy of supporting a two-state solution so we don't built in areas where you don't have claims to. And I would certainly hope that our policy will distinguish between construction in the blocks and outside the blocks. I believe that that policy would send a clear message of Israel's adherence to a two-state solution. I would hope that this would be our policy.

If you look at the Israeli - the Israeli political scene today, you see that the far right in Israel is pressurizing the government away from a two-state solution and towards annexationist policies. And I certainly hope that the decision makers on our part will resist that temptation with an incoming U.S. administration and adhere to clear policy also on the ground that keeps the window open to a two-state solution.

TAPPER: David, let me ask you, given that your description of having tried to broker a peace negotiation between Abbas and Netanyahu, you describe them as a Venn diagram where there's no overlap, were you surprise that Secretary Kerry, yesterday, was so focused on criticizing the Israeli government, as opposed to the Israelis and the Palestinians with any sort of equity?

MAKOVSKY: I think you raise an important point. First of all, having worked for the secretary, I think he's devoted to brokering peace. He genuinely sees his role as trying to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. I think that's in terms of his motives.

I do think he could have apportioned the blame a bit differently given that, you know, there is a history here. That there were times - you know, the U.S. has tried to hit what we call the home run ball, solve this conflict three big times, Clinton in 2000, Condi Rice 2007/''08, and the secretary's effort 2013/'14. And, you know, it's clear, certainly in those first two efforts - also there was a pullout of Israel from Gaza, that we didn't have on the Palestinian side anything, you know, that was ready for a grand deal.

I was hoping the secretary would say, we've tried to hit the home run ball three times and solve this conflict. Maybe we should do a single along the lines that you are suggesting in your last question with Mike, namely, don't settle beyond the barrier. The Palestinians also could do steps like don't support families of suicide bombers, you know, that kill Israelis. Something that would convince the other side they have a partner. There's no grand deal to be had. Despite, I think, the genuineness of the secretary.

But I think what was missing, and maybe some self-reflection on the American side is, you know, we were so focused on trying to keep the two-state solution, why didn't we try the singles and doubles approach of trying to achieve less, but convince publics on both sides that we're moving incrementally? Three times we tried the grand deal and the leaders can't do it.

TAPPER: Right. OK, Michael Herzog and David Makovsky, thank you so much. Happy Hanukah and Happy New Year to both of you gentlemen.

Coming up, President-elect Trump is considering something significant, some changes to the V.A. We will get reaction from a member of the veteran community, next.


[13:27:19] TAPPER: President-elect Trump is considering at least some aspects of privatization to try to solve issues at the trouble plagued Department of Veterans Affairs. A transition team official says Trump is considering letting some veterans bypass the V.A. health care system completely to seek private care. Some well-known veterans groups oppose any move that seem to pave the way towards any sort of privatization.

Let's talk about this with Dan Caldwell. He's the vice president of policy and communication for the group Concerned Veterans for America.

Dan, thanks so much for being here. We really appreciate it. Happy New Year to you.


TAPPER: So you say this is not privatization, but an expansion of choices for veterans. Many, obviously, many prominent veterans groups, disagree and are very concerned about money going to ultimately private hospitals and private insurance as opposed to the V.A. Why are they wrong?

CALDWELL: Well, privatization is basically a wholesale selling off of a government function to a private industry. That is not what President-elect Trump is proposing. That's not what others have proposed, both Republicans and Democrats, in terms of expanding choice, and that's not what we at CVA have proposed. Unfortunately, many are mischaracterizing what we and others are proposing as privatization because it's a political attack. They see that it's unpopular. It's an unpopular term. So they're trying to mischaracterize and create these straw man arguments and say that what we and President-elect Trump are proposing is privatization as a way to undermine it and maintain the status quo at the V.A.

TAPPER: We should obviously point out that the leader of your group is being talked about, is being considered for the position of -

CALDWELL: Right, former leader.

TAPPER: Former leader for - of the director of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Are you surprised given how much President-elect Trump talked about veterans during the campaign, are you surprised that he has not met yet with the head of the American Legion or VFW, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the IAVA, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, just on and on and on, Disabled Veterans of America. He hasn't met with any of them. He has, of course, met with other people and other leaders, including Pete Hegseth, formerly of your group, but doesn't that kind of just surprise you?

CALDWELL: It doesn't. His transition team has met with the heads of these groups. And it's also important to point out that President- elect Trump has a tremendous number of veterans in his cabinet. People who have served as officers, enlisted members in the military, people in his inner circle, from Steve Bannon, to Jeff Sessions, to Rick Perry. All these people have served in the military. He is getting a lot of veteran perspectives. And he has met with people like Pete Hegseth, who's a fantastic individual, helped really grow our group, has a lot of great ideas on V.A. reform. He's met with people like Toby Cosgrow (ph), who's a veteran himself, head of the V.A. or, excuse me, head of the Cleveland Clinic. He served on the V.A. Commission on Terror. So he's really studied these issues.

[13:30:09] So President-elect Trump is really taking his time and he's getting a lot of perspectives himself from different