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Message Received; Fast and Furious Reactions; Tone Changed. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired April 7, 2017 - 03:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[03:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE United States: Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the air field in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.

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CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST: Breaking news, a series of missile strikes by the U.S. on Syria after this week's chemical attack reaction around the world is strong, it is swift. What is the next move for President Trump?

Welcome to Early Start. I'm Christine Romans bright in early 3 a.m. here in the east.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN HOST: I'm Dave Briggs. It is Friday, April 7th, 3 a.m., a dramatic breaking news and what appears to be a massive evolution, a turn from President Trump as we launch 59 Tomahawk missiles from a pair of navy warships in the Mediterranean aimed at the base that launched the chemical weapons attack in Syria.

ROMANS: The president explaining his reasons for green lighting this airstrike in a brief statement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: This is the first direct military action the U.S. has taken against the Assad regime in the country's six-year long civil war.

There are so many questions at this point. What is the reaction from Syria, from Moscow, and what will be the next move by President Trump who not long ago said the U.S. should stay out of Syria?

Our coverage this morning begins at the Pentagon, the latest details of the strike from national security reporter Ryan Browne. Good morning or late evening, Ryan. It's been a fast-moving development since about 8.40 Eastern Time last night.

RYAN BROWNE, NATIONAL SECURITY PRODUCER, CNN: That's right, Christine. We're learning more details about the strike. As you mention, it was 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched against this airfield. Now the Pentagon briefed reporters showing some of the evidence that links this air field to the strikes that involved chemical weapons.

That included some of the actual tracking data for the aircraft that took off from that air field and conducted that airstrike.

Now, we're also learning that this strike was targeted not at personnel, but it was intended to make the air field nonoperational. So, it hit radar sites, anti-air (AUDIO GAP) fueling stations and aircraft belonging to the Syrian regime.

Now, one thing we've learned is that there were Russian personnel at that facility, but the Pentagon communicated with the Russian personnel via pre-established military to military channel and warned them of the strike the day before. And those strikes were intended -- were deliberately targeted away from where the Russian personnel were believed to be.

So, we're learning more about the strikes. As you said, the first ones against the Assad regime, but tailored to destroy elements of that air field and not targeting regime or Russian troops.

ROMANS: All right.

BRIGGS: What do we know about the effectiveness of the strike at this point? Though, it's early.

BROWNE: It is early. You know, they have a process; they call battle damage assessment which they conduct in the wake of a strike. Now, because the strikes were conducted overnight, intended because they thought there would be fewer personnel around, that makes it a little more difficult to initially assess.

Although given the large number of missiles targeting this one air field, I think they're pretty confident that they hit and destroyed quite a few aircraft and quite a few -- quite large element of that facility.

Now, this facility was believed to house chemical weapons before 2013 when the Russian-U.S. deal forced the regime to give up some of those. But they also said that they made sure General McMaster, the National Security Advisor told reporters, that they wanted to avoid targeting any chemical weapons storage areas to prevent that from spreading, from leaking out in the wake of a strike.

ROMANS: Chemical weapons storage of chemical weapons they're not supposed and not supposed to use.

BRIGGS: Right. ROMANS: Ryan Browne, thank you so much for that at the Pentagon. We'll get back to you shortly as you keep working your sources.

For world reaction let's turn to CNN's chief international correspondent Christine Amanpour live in London. And Christiane, it's remarkable 24 hours ago you were sitting in that chair telling us what are the options of the president if he really followed through on his language that things had changed for him as he would change of Bashar al-Assad was taking out air fields. So, how prescient. What's your reaction this morning?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think 24 hours ago you understand President Trump had changed his rhetoric on Syria and that now reaction from around the world is coming in fast and furious supporting this strike from the U.S. allies, from Britain.

[03:05:04] There's been a comment also from France saying now you can see that the future of Syria is not with Assad. And you had reaction from Australia, from Israel which strongly supports what just happened.

But, of course, on the other hand you've had condemnation from what I would call the usual suspects, the usual corners. Russia, Iran, and Syria obviously itself.

But this obviously has been a very important turning of the United States policy on these issues. It's a limited targeted strike. It is proportional to what happened and that was the use of chemical weapons, weapons of mass destruction, and the violation of international law. And we do not believe at this moment that there will be any further, you know, strikes like that unless there is further action by Syria.

BRIGGS: To that point, Christiane, Rex Tillerson said after the strike said it did not represent a change in our policy or our posture in Syria. What's your reaction to that statement?

AMANPOUR: Well, I think that that is what we sort of expect because the big picture in Syria is to go after ISIS. And as you know, the United States has increased its forces there. It's increased its support for local forces on the ground. It is in the process of surrounding Raqqa. It is still pursuing its fight against ISIS in Mosul. And that is basically the main picture for the United States.

However, for many, many years, people have said that which is the chicken and which is the egg. Assad is the chicken. Assad is the man who has started this war, who has used chemical weapons, who has created so many deaths and so many refugees.

And ISIS grew from the actions and the vacuum in Syria. So, it is a very complicated process and really the United States, its allies and potentially if they can manage to get Russia on board, are going to have to think of how they're going to continue because even if there are not more military action, even the political situation is not working. There are no peace talks to speak of. The Syrian regime does not partake in them, has never been

constructive, and there's nothing going on there except for the prosecution of this war by military means.

ROMANS: So we're now talking about the future of Assad. What this means for the future of Assad, maybe a week ago, a week ago it looked as if this administration said it was up to the Syrian people to decide the future of Assad and now here the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Florida before the strike, this is what he says about Assad.

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REX TILLERSON, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: Assad's role in the future is uncertain, clearly, and with the acts that he has taken it would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people.

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ROMANS: Hard to predict what Assad's response will be to all of this.

AMANPOUR: Well, Christine, it's very important that the Secretary of State of the United States is now saying that because as you remember, it comes a couple of days, in other words, just before the chemical attack. The U.S. have said publicly that our role is not to focus on getting Assad out. Do we think he's a hindrance, do we think he's done bad things, yes. But our focus is on ISIS.

So, their focus is going to stay on ISIS but they also now realize that this is a bankrupt set of options in Syria to have Assad staying in power. And what the U.S. is doing is saying what France is saying now, what Britain is saying, what the allies are saying, that this chemical attack shows that there is no future for Assad in Syria.

Now, what exactly that means practically remains to be seen because he's still supported by Russia and by Iran. And Assad himself gave an interview which we talked about yesterday in which he said there is no option but to pursue this war.

He fully intends to continue pursuing this war. Now, we don't know whether his calculations changed after this missile attack, but he is not at any, by any stretch of the imagination talking about peace talks or coming around the table or a transitional anything.

He thinks that he can win and he's got powerful backers in Iran and Russia. So, the really interesting step forward now is to see whether anybody's political calculations will be shifted by the chemical attack and by the U.S. response. And it's massively important that this is happening as President Trump is hosting President Xi in Florida right now.

BRIGGS: How do you expect that will change their dialogue today?

AMANPOUR: Well, I think it will certainly focus the dialogue in areas where maybe they hadn't thought it would be focused. Clearly President Xi and President Trump want to talk about the ongoing disputes between them, which is over trade, which is, you know, overall sorts of things that are bilateral and affect the world in that regard. But also on the security issue.

[03:09:55] And because they have a very, very thorny issue to deal with, which they don't agree on, China and the United States have a sort of disagreement on how to deal with North Korea which, unlike Syria, actually has nuclear weapons.

So, or nuclear devices which is busy turning into deliverable nuclear weapons. So, this is a -- this is a very important point for, a, this meeting and, b, to have this response from the United States frame the context and the atmosphere for this meeting. It's going to be so crucial what comes out of this, what the two talk about, how they decide to handle each other going forward.

BRIGGS: And these two most important world leaders were having dinner the moment these strikes were taking place. Christiane, we will check in with you in about 30 minutes. Thank you.

President Trump's strike on Syria coming a day after huddling with close military advisors. We'll talk with our own military expert. What this means, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT REPORTER: Hi, there. I'm Patrick Snell with your world sports headlines.

The world's top rank golfer Dustin Johnson forced to withdraw from the Masters due to his overnight back injury. The U.S. Open champ slipped on some stairs at his rental home in Augusta on Wednesday. D.J. arrived for the Augusta National on Wednesday with the intent of playing, but after warming up on the range and even making it onto the first tee, he decided he just couldn't go on. Johnson joining Tiger Woods as the only world number ones to withdraw from the Masters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DUSTIN JOHNSON, GOLFER: I was making some swings on the range, I go max about 80 percent. It's still just, you know, it's just so tight, it wouldn't let me -- you know, I couldn't get through it. Back swing was fine, I could make a good back swing. But every time down right at impact it would just catch. So, I just don't feel like there's any chance of me even competing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SNELL: I want to stay right here in the states where on Wednesday night the Cleveland Cavaliers is traveling to Boston to take on the Celtics looking to regain the number one spot in the east.

LeBron James and the Cavs doing more than just reclaiming the first seed. They sent a real message to all doubters, LeBron leading the way with a game high 36. The Aussie-born Kyrie Irving contributing with an additional 19 points. The Cavs would go on to overcome the Celtics 114 to 91. They now sit atop the east and hold a tie breaker over the Celtics.

That's a look at your world sports headlines. I'm Patrick Snell.

BRIGGS: Welcome back to our breaking news coverage of the U.S. missile strike against Syria.

Before green lighting the attack, President Trump was briefed by Defense Secretary James Mattis on every military option available.

So, let's go live to Washington. Welcome in our expert retired colonel Cedric Leighton, a CNN senior military analyst, a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Good morning to you, sir. Let's start with some breaking news.

[03:14:55] Six people were killed in the U.S. airstrikes in Syria. This is according to a televised statement by the Syrian armed forces general command. We are still learning about the effectiveness of the strike. Is this above all meant to send a message to the Assad regime?

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, good morning, Dave. I think it is. And the reason it's a message is because of the type of air base that was selected as the target. This air base was used obviously as the base from which the SU-23 Mig 21 aircraft -- excuse me, Mig 23 aircraft were used to go after the Idlib province targets that they went after.

And, so, when they did this, what the U.S. Was doing was they were telling the Syrian regime that we know that you used this as the base from which you launched your aircraft. We also know that you have chemical weapons stored on this base. The fact that you have those chemical weapons on this base means that you are violating agreements that we have made with you and with Russia and, quite frankly, with international law.

And that becomes a real problem for the U.S., and that's the way the Trump administration has decided to deal with it, is basically send that message to them at that base.

ROMANS: What kinds of options could General Mattis have presented to the president? I mean, it looked like he was huddled with his advisors yesterday; he went to dinner at Mar-a-Lago with the Chinese president after having already made this decision at dinner is when the airstrikes happened. What were the suite of options do you think that were presented to him?

LEIGHTON: Christine, it could be a variety of things. One of them would have been instead of using Tomahawk cruise missiles like they did use they could have used manned aircraft. That of course presents with a much greater risk and that means that the pilots that fly those aircraft would have been at risk of being shot down.

So, the president didn't want to do that. There would have also been the option of doing nothing, which clearly the president rejected. And a possible other option might have been to attack a whole series of different targets. That would have been a much more aggravated response, much more accelerated response than what we saw. So, this was, for President Trump, I think a fairly measured response.

It was designed to send a message. And of the options that were laid before him, this was the one that he chose to be kinetic, in other words, to have bombs actually go off in Syria to send that message and to also tell them that if you do this again, there may be other consequences that we can't quite foresee at this point.

BRIGGS: Well, certainly message received, but, colonel, how does it hamper the Assad regime's ability to launch further strikes?

LEIGHTON: Well, that depends on where else they've got these chemical weapons stored. So, right now we know that they have them at this particular air base. There are other bases in Syria that do have the -- that probably do have chemical weapons and they, of course, could use those bases to launch similar attacks like they did the other day in the Idlib province.

If that happens, of course, there really is no hindrance to what the regime can do. They have a lot of ways in which they can deliver their munitions, and they really seek to terrorize the populations that they go after, and they do that using helicopters, using the so-called barrel bombs.

So, they have a variety of different places that they can do that from. It would be really hard to shut them down completely. But this is a warning that, you know, if you do this, there are other consequence. The Syrians don't know what those consequences are.

ROMANS: Right.

LEIGHTON: And they probably haven't been thought through in Washington either, to be frank.

ROMANS: Colonel, what does this mean for U.S. troops who are in -- there are troops in Syria who are working, trying to help fight back ISIS, advising our coalition partners on fighting ISIS. What does this mean for that coalition fight against ISIS and for American troops?

LEIGHTON: It could be -- several different things. One of the things that will probably happen, Christine, is that they are going to have much more difficult interactions with the Russians. They are not supposed to have direct interaction with the Syrian armed forces under Assad, but they have to have some degree of coordination with them as they fight against ISIS in the area around Raqqa.

So, with that, the coordination is going to be more difficult with both those forces and the fact that that is going to happen could create a lot of problems in the fight against Raqqa and the fight against ISIS to capture that city.

So, that is going to, I think, be the most significant issue. There, of course, are also force protection issues where they could be the subject of terrorist attacks. Maybe not directly from the Syrian government, but from Hezbollah, for example, or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards which are very active in Syria as well.

[03:20:03] BRIGGS: Of global importance this morning, what does this mean for U.S.-Russian relations, colonel?

LEIGHTON: Well, I think these relations are between Russia and the United States are basically put in the ice box at least for a bit. So, we are going to see some very frosty exchanges. We've already seen President Putin's statement which was a pretty cold statement.

We are expecting I guess a statement from the Russian foreign minister fairly shortly. So, those kinds of things will come out. There will probably be much more difficult work that diplomats at the United Nations will have with the Russians, that NATO will have. We could potentially also see something else happening in Ukraine.

So, there are a lot of different things that could happen. But it's going to be a, I think a very difficult period for U.S.-Russian relations because the Russians really wanted to warm those relations with Trump. They thought they had somebody that they could, in essence, use to their ends and that may not be the case.

BRIGGS: Before these strikes, one military official there said relations are maybe worse than the Cold War.

ROMANS: That's right.

BRIGGS: Hard to imagine, but they just got worse. Colonel, thank you.

ROMANS: Colonel Cedric Leighton. And you know, the head of the Russian parliament one of the committees said the strikes on Syria should not affect the upcoming visit of Rex Tillerson. Think of that...

(CROSSTALK)

BRIGGS: Which is...

ROMANS: Coming up in...

BRIGGS: I believe the next week or so.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: We don't have an exact date for that.

ROMANS: Secretary of state is going to Russia and you know, for tension between us and Russia has been bubbling here. We are going to unpack the Kremlin's reaction. We're live in Moscow next.

[03:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: All right. We are following breaking news. The U.S. launching Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian military air base in response to the chemical attack this week that killed scores of civilians including children. Now, this airstrike prompting a fierce response from Russia which, of course, is a backer of the Assad regime.

CNN international correspondent, Matthew Chance live in Moscow with Kremlin reaction. What are they saying? MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we've

been sort of waiting a long time for this reaction because what the Kremlin does, what Russia does over these airstrikes is absolutely crucial. It's a nuclear power. These strikes bring U.S. forces into potential conflict, into potential direct contact with Russian forces on the ground so it is an immensely dangerous moment.

And the Kremlin doesn't appear to be reacting too hysterically, although it's clearly not happy with what's taken place. This is what the Kremlin says. "President Putin regards the American attacks on Syria as aggression against the sovereign state, in violation of the norms of international law and under a farfetched pretext."

That is a reference to the fact that Russia, Russia's version of events doesn't agree with the idea that the Syrians, Syrian government carried out chemical weapons strikes on these rebels in southern Idlib province.

They are saying that the Syrian air force have struck a storage depot in which chemical munitions that were run and owned by the rebels was attacked and that's what caused the escape of chemicals and the incredibly terrible loss of life.

And, so, that's what that refers to. In terms of the relationship between Russia and the United States, obviously it was already rocky but there were hopes that it could be turned around with the Trump administration.

This is obviously a nail in the coffin of that idea that there can be a reset between Russia and the United States and the Kremlin referred to that saying this action is causing significant damage to Russian- American relations particularly in the formation, they say, of any anti-terrorism international coalition which is now obviously not going to happen in the foreseeable future between these two countries, Christine.

ROMANS: Matthew, I have to ask you, there were Russian personnel we're told at that air base. They were warned through regular military channels or informed through military channels that this was going to happen.

It's just a reminder here that you have the Russians and the Americans and the anti-ISIS coalition working together on one front, but seeing very -- at opposite sides of the extreme on Assad at the moment.

CHANCE: It's a terribly complex, a horrifically complex civil war that the United States has now kind of placed itself or thrown some cruise missiles into the middle of with potentially far reaching consequence.

You're right, the Russians use that air base that was attacked along with the Syrians. They use it as a forward operating base for their attack helicopters, they invested a lot of money in updating it, in upgrading it. It's just been severely downgraded by the U.S. military.

But it's, I think it's fortunate that no Russians were caught up in this or we'd be having a different conversation. But it seems that the Russians were warned in advance. They also interestingly didn't use their surface to air missiles which are very capable of taking out those cruise missiles to defend their Syrian ally. I think that is important.

ROMANS: That is a very, very good point. All right, Matthew Chance, keep monitoring the response from Moscow for us. Thank you.

BRIGGS: So, with the U.S. no longer on the sidelines in Syria, how do those missile strikes affect one of the world's most unstable regions as we move forward?

Let's bring in CNN's Muhammad Lila live from Istanbul. Good morning to you. Before we get to that, what is the reaction in the region to these airstrikes?

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Dave. Let me break a little bit of news here for you. We have reaction right now from the Syrian army itself, referring to these airstrikes as, quote, "continuation of a faulty American strategy."

The statement goes on to say that this effectively makes the United States a partner with groups like ISIS and Al-Nusra, which is Al Qaeda and other militant groups because those groups are all fighting the Syrian army as well.

And Matthew touched on this, you know, the idea of throwing a bunch of missiles into the middle of this very complicated conflict. Any time you talk about developments in Syria you have to think about the ripple effect because this has become a regional proxy war between competing powers in the Middle East already we're seeing Saudi Arabia this morning coming out calling Trump's decision a courageous decision and applauding the fact that there is a military operation against military targets in Syria.

[03:30:08] Turkey as well coming out very forcefully in saying that they hope the pressure on Assad will continue and continue to the point where Assad will be forced out of power.

Now, there is even an editorial cartoon in the Arab news which is a major publication here in the Middle East. The cartoon quite accurately depicts I think the reaction from the Sunni Gulf states here that shows an American eagle broken free of chains. Those chains represent the Obama doctrine and that eagle is now sweeping down -- swooping down, if you will, on Syria, Iran and ISIS.

That's the mood amongst a lot of the backers of the opposition here. Of course, the reaction in Iran is very different. They have come out and condemned this very vocally. Of course, they haven't said what their response would be, and that's the big question now. Now that the strikes have taken place, how will Russia and Iran respond?

BRIGGS: And that statement from the Syrian army demonstrates just how complicated regime change, the concept of that would be in Syria. Muhammad Lila, thanks so much. We'll check back with you in about 30 minutes. Early Start continues right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIGGS: In the wake of a campaign where he promised not to intervene, President Trump launched strikes against the Syrian regime. How does this response to a chemical attack affect the conflict in the long term?

We are all over the breaking news around the world. Welcome back to Early Start, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine romans. We welcome all of our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world.

Our breaking news, President Trump launching missile strikes in Syria in response to the chemical weapons attacks by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. U.S. warships launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian military air field. This is the same air field where the planes that carried out those chemical attacks were based.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: This is the first direct military action the U.S. has taken against the Assad regime in the country's six-year long civil war. So many questions this morning.

At this point what's the reaction from Syria, from Moscow, and what will the next move be by President Trump who long ago said the U.S. should stay out of Syria? Just days ago, was comfortable with the Assad regime staying in power.

Our coverage begins at the Pentagon with the latest details on the strike from national security reporter Ryan Browne. Ryan, good morning to you. Have we learned anything new about the effectiveness of these strikes?

BROWNE: Hello, Dave. We're still waiting to hear information about what the military calls its battle damage assessment. Now, these strikes were conducted overnight, very early in the morning in Syria. So, that does allow for fewer personnel to necessarily be caught up in the strikes. That was one of the military's objectives, was to minimize the casualties.

But it also makes an assessment of how good the strike, you know, how effective the strike was. Take a little bit more time because they need some light to be able to kind of conduct the surveillance to assess the damage.

But the military is fairly confident given the number of missiles fired and given that they were going to these specific targets on this air base, they are fairly confident that they had the intended effect, targeting aircraft, radar, the taxi way, basically all the things that make the air field operational.

The military shared with us some information that they said linked this air field to the chemical weapons strikes earlier this week, including tracking data for some of the aircraft that they believe dropped the chemical munitions in question.

So, they said this is evidence that really drove them to tip this air field with the intention of basically disabling it.

ROMANS: We know yesterday, Ryan, that the president was at Mar-a-Lago having dinner with the Chinese President Xi. Earlier in the day he huddled with his advisers, military advisors to try to figure out what to do, what kind of suite of options he had.

He made that decision before dinner, had dinner with the Chinese president and this happened about 8.40 Eastern Time. Right? Tell us a little bit about the evolution of the decision to do airstrikes.

BROWNE: Well, that's right. So the president early on said that his thinking had changed following the strike -- following the chemical weapons use by -- you know, alleged by the regime.

So, they received a series of briefings on options, we're told. Secretary Mattis of course was down there briefing him, but we also understand that, you know, these options had been developed before that trip.

[03:35:02] So, they had been presented kind of with a menu for options for some time. Of course, Tomahawk cruise missiles make a lot of sense. It minimize the risk to U.S. personnel that would, if it was a manned aircraft, for instance, there was a chance that they could be fired upon.

So this is what we called a standoff weapon. It kind of allows it to be fired from some distance. So it kind of allows it to get intended effect without putting U.S. forces in danger.

Now that being said, there are hundreds of U.S. troops already in Syria participating in the fight against ISIS. So, one thing they're constantly aware, we're told, I was speaking to someone in Baghdad earlier. They say they are aware of what's going on. They are monitoring it closely in case, you know, there is any retaliatory action by the Syrian regime against U.S. troops. They're not taking any steps as of now, but there is definitely something they are keeping an eye on.

BRIGGS: CNN's Ryan Browne, we'll check with you at about 4 a.m. Thank you. All right. For world reaction let's turn to CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, live in London. Good morning to you, Christiane. The Syrian army in effect saying the U.S. is now a partner with ISIS. What's your reaction to their statement?

AMANPOUR: Well, I mean, look. It's nonsense, isn't it? But it's what you expect to come out of Syria. More interestingly is the governor of Homs has basically been quoted on Syrian television or Syrian media saying that very soon they're going to get that air field up and running again.

So, they're being defiant. And this is, again, to be expected and typical from them throughout this regime. They've always try to say we are fighting terrorists and anybody who is against us is with the terrorists. That's been the narrative from the beginning of this war. It's a false narrative because actually the Syrians are not fighting terrorists.

As you know, they are fighting mostly civilians and the moderate opposition which has been arrayed against them for the last six years now going into its seventh year.

But I think the important for the United States is that the President of the United States took that commander in chief decision in response to violation of international law and the use of weapons of mass destruction. The chemical weapons.

It's not the first time Syria has done it, but it is the first time Assad has been punished for it throughout this six years of war. So, it was a deterrent. It was as far as Ryan has been reporting and others from the Pentagon, a one-off retaliating directly for this strike.

And response from U.S. allies has been very, very supportive. Israel, the United Kingdom, France, many, many others. NATO says that it was alerted before this happened, and the British foreign -- defense secretary said this was entirely an American operation. We were not asked to get involved. It wasn't a NATO operation. But we support it. So, that's the reaction coming from the allies.

ROMANS: What about the reaction from Russia? We just spoke with Matthew Chance a minute ago. You know, we know that they were warned. There are Russians on that base. They use that as a forward operating base so that is a facility they have actually invested in and have used.

You know, that could be incredibly, incredibly dangerous to have any kind of Russian loss of life or any kind of, you know, Russian blowback if something were to have gone wrong.

AMANPOUR: Well, I think you're right. Had Russia been targeted it would have been incredibly dangerous. Had Russian personnel been did deliberately killed or even accidentally it would have raised the stakes dramatically had any Russian hardware been evolved, it would have accelerated and raised the stakes considerably. It would have been very, very dangerous.

But from what we gather from the Pentagon, that they were told, Ryan said, I thought I heard Ryan say at least a day before through the deconfliction channel. That is a lot of notice. And actually I'm interested to know whether Russia was able to tip off the Syrians.

Because you know, the Syrians have been beating their chest again saying that actually we managed to get our planes out of the way, et cetera. So we don't really know. But the fact of the matter is apparently the correct channels were used and they were warned.

But the important thing is here, you know, Assad apparently struck this deal to remove his chemical weapons back in 2013 after the red line of President Obama which was then not followed up, except diplomatically to try to get these chemical weapons out.

Russia was party to this. It was Russia's suggestion. So, if Assad is using, which people, you know, have confirmed that he is, then they are not -- you know, their promise from Assad has been broken as well.

So, it's a really important moment and I think the deterrent aspect of it is what is the most important because nobody really believes that this is going to lead to a much, much bigger anti-Assad change in U.S. military strategy.

BRIGGS: And to that point, are we closer to a removal of Assad? And just how complicated would the regime change be in Syria?

AMANPOUR: I can't see any indication that that is going to happen or that's on the cards at least from the U.S. perspective or NATO perspective.

[03:40:02] I do see, though, that rhetorically since the chemical attack all the western leaders have pretty much said that this shows that there can be no future in Syria with Assad at the helm.

Again today, the French defense minister, French foreign minister, rather, doubled down on that and said that. And in the last few days in the aftermath of the chemical attack, the U.K. prime minister said the same thing, the British foreign minister said the same thing.

So, the rhetoric that we were hearing a lot of several years ago, Assad must go, has now sort of come back and it's really important because again, there are some political meetings going on. But nobody expects a lot to come out of them.

And the Assad regime has occasionally gone to these meetings, but according to the U.N. who runs them, has never, ever, ever played anything remotely like a constructive role, has never showed any willingness for a transition, has never showed any willingness to have representative government including those, you know, the most important forces arrayed against him in the moderate opposition.

So, the politics and the political so-called peace negotiations which have been going on almost since day one have achieved absolutely nothing as we all know. And furthermore, just to finalize, just a couple of days ago when we were reporting this with you yesterday, Assad actually told a reporter Croatian reporter that he sees no option other than to continue waging this war.

ROMANS: Right.

AMANPOUR: So, he thinks he can go on forever. Now we'll see if his calculation changes since this cruise missile retaliation for his chemical weapons attack.

ROMANS: I'll tell you, Christiane, someone whose calculation did change was President Trump. President Trump has gone America first to now this intervention in Syria and his statements more recently about North Korea. You wonder if the North Koreans see something ominous in this or get kind of a message from the administration from this event in Syria.

AMANPOUR: Well, I don't see any conflict between America first and taking this action. This is obviously a threat to the international community and the rise of ISIS which Assad enabled is a threat obviously to the international community and the wider world, and the use of chemical weapons, the violation of international law is a threat to the international order.

So, that is not at all in conflict with America first. But you're right that the president did say both on the campaign when he actually pooh-poohed back in 2013, any notion that President Obama might actually follow through on his red line.

He urged President Obama not to follow through back in 2013. And on the campaign trail and actually in office in the last week alone said, and so did other members of his administration, that we are not focusing on Assad.

Now, some people believe that that could have been taken by Assad as some kind of a green light that he was free to do whatever he wants and he was secure and the United States was not after him nor were the rest of the allies.

So, some people are thinking that. But yes, of course, the commander in chief went into action in response to this violation of international law and he's taken the commander in chief response to this violation in conjunction with his incredibly experienced Secretary of Defense General Mattis, his National Security Advisor General McMaster, and they have given him the options and he has chosen the most limited targeted option. And that is the one most people believe is the correct option at this moment.

BRIGGS: Message received. Christiane Amanpour, thank you. Live in London We'll check back with you in the 4 o'clock hour. Ahead, how did President Trump decide what action to take in Syria? Our military experts explain how the president weighs his options next.

[03:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIGGS: Welcome back to our breaking news coverage of the U.S. missile strike against Syria. Before green lighting the attack, President Trump was briefed by Defense Secretary James Mattis on every military option available.

ROMANS: OK. Let's go live to Washington right now and get perspective from retired colonel Cedric Leighton, a CNN military analyst and former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Just, first of all, your reaction. I mean, people are probably waking up right now and aren't aware that this happened. Fifty nine Tomahawk missiles at this air base in Syria. Your initial response.

LEIGHTON: Well, Christine, I think it was a clear move by the Trump administration to in essence lay down a marker to say to the Assad regime that they cannot use chemical weapons that they cannot do the kinds of things they've gotten away with during the last really seven years of the Syrian civil war.

And that very fact, for six years, I should say. That very fact creates a interesting and different dynamic in the relationship not only between the United States and Syria, but also the very complex Syrian civil war. It could change some of the outcomes on the battlefield and certainly will change the relationship with Russia, at least in the near term.

BRIGGS: Yes, is it possible, colonel, to view this as a one-off military action? Or is it a change of policy? How does it change the already complicated battlefield there in Syria?

LEIGHTON: Well, I think it could potentially be a one-off action. But if it is, then a huge opportunity has been lost. So, if the administration decides that they are just going to do this and then not follow it up with anything else, then we'll basically be back to the status quo before this attack took place.

Now, as far as the actual civil war in Syria is concerned, it could change things in several different ways. But most importantly, it could affect in a negative way the fight against ISIS because the way the Syrian regime looks at it, if you are fighting against ISIS, you're basically on our side. But if you're fighting against us, you're on the side of is.

So, they now see us as being on the side of ISIS. They've said those kinds of things in their press releases. But, of course, we all know as Christiane Amanpour mentioned previously that is not correct. It is in fact nonsense.

[03:50:06] ROMANS: It is actually they're flying this morning.

BRIGGS: That's the expected reaction. But you said again if we don't follow this with further military action, it's back to the status quo. What should that further military action be?

LEIGHTON: Well, that action could not only be military, Dave, but also diplomatic. But that action could include such things as making sure that if the Syrians conduct another chemical attack against their own people that a similar attack or an escalated attack takes place against the air base that where those aircraft took off from. That will be one way to do that.

The other thing that could happen is for them on a diplomatic front for the U.S. administration to go forward and in front of the U.N., in front of the International Court of Justice, basically tell the world what the Syrians have been up to and in essence serve as an advocate for the victims of the Syrian civil war.

So, those are the kinds of things that could happen. In terms of other military action, of course, there are lots of other things that could happen. The question is, how far do we want to go and how far do we want to get involved. And that, of course, is something that I don't even think the administration is prepared to answer at this particular moment.

ROMANS: You know, let's talk about Russia really quickly. Because, you know, the foreign minister coming out right now and saying that this is to distract away from the U.S. killing civilians in Mosul.

You are already starting to get sharp language from the Russians. The Russians are there on the ground, very close proximity to American troops and American action. They're fighting together against ISIS. How difficult is this going to be?

LEIGHTON: It's going to be very difficult because the Russians are going to look at it through their lens and, of course, no matter what happens they are going to try to take advantage of it from their perspective.

The fact that they bring up the tragic death of civilians in Mosul is another way of, in essence, deflecting what the Russians themselves have done in many places in Syria.

So, they have been implicated in bombings of hospitals, in bombings of schools and the results of their activities have been far worse than anything that the United States has done. But the very fact that they are saying the things that they are saying indicates where this is going to go.

It basically tells me that what the Russians are going to do is they are going to paint the United States in as negative a light as possible. They're going to say the United States is, in essence, guilty of war crimes, the kinds of things that we are accusing the Assad regime of and it's going to really put a chill in the relationship between the United States and Russia. Not that it needed much of a chill, mind you, but that's exactly what they're going to do. They're going to make it really hard for us to get along with them.

ROMANS: Colonel, Christiane Amanpour is still with us listening to this conversation. She has something she'd like to ad. Christiane?

AMANPOUR: Well, I just think to reinforce what the colonel is saying, it's really important at this particular moment not to get swayed by propaganda and all the other things. For the Russians to suddenly focus on Mosul and civilian deaths as the colonel was saying is completely inappropriate.

Because all you have to do is look at the difference between the way the Russians have backed the Syrians and what they did in Aleppo for all those weeks and months, and destroyed that place just like they did in Grozny and Chechnya back in the '90s, compared with the incredible care that the United States takes under its rules of engagement when it's involved, for instance, trying to get rid of ISIS in Mosul. And the fact of the matter is the Russians as yet have not shown any

actual real attempt to go after ISIS. It's all been against opponents of Assad and very sadly deliberate attacks against civilians.

And, so, it's really important to keep that in focus as these trading of insults and trying to score one ups is going to continue from now until, until this is resolved if it is.

BRIGGS: And when you step back, one could argue Russia is complicit in those chemical weapons attacks if, in fact, their troops were on that very base where these attacks were launched. Christiane Amanpour, Colonel Cedric Leighton, we'll check back with you next hour. Thank you.

ROMANS: A lot to talk about a lot to unpack here the already fraught relationship between the U.S. and Russia. This obviously hitting a rough spot with these strikes. We'll go live to Moscow next.

[03:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: All right. We're following breaking news. The U.S. launching Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian military air base in response to the chemical weapon attack. This week the chemical attack that killed scores of civilians including children.

The airstrike prompting a fierce response from Russia, which has backed the Assad regime.

CNN senior correspondent, Matthew Chance live in Moscow with Kremlin reaction. And it's coming in fast and furious here.

CHANCE: It is. A couple of strands of reaction I want to bring to you. First of all, the Kremlin has made its first response saying these American attacks on Syria are an aggression against the sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law and under a farfetched pretext it says.

It referenced to the fact that Russia does not acknowledge that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons strike on the area of the southern Idlib. They say this was a normal airstrike, but it was on a storage depot where the rebels were storing chemical munitions and that's what resulted in the large scale loss of life.

The foreign ministry has also made a statement within the past few minutes. Again, saying that this situation, this action destroys Russia-U.S. relations, well, contributes to their destruction at least.

But interesting, they've also announced what is potentially a very important measure. They are saying Russia is now suspending the air safety agreement between Russia and the United States in Syria.

This is a de-confliction agreement in order prevent U.S. planes and Russian planes coming into contact with each other in the skies over Syria. So it's a potentially a dangerous step that the Russian have now taken in retribution for these U.S. strikes on Syria. ROMANS: Is it the conduit that the Americans used to alert the

Russians that these airstrikes were coming?

[04:00:02] CHANCE: I think it probably is and that is in fact one of the silver linings of this whole instant from the Russian-U.S. relationship point of view.