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Russian Warship on Way to Naval Base in Syria; U.S. Uses Missile Strikes to Send Message, Punish; White House: U.S., China Had "Positive, Productive" Meetings. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired April 8, 2017 - 07:30   ET


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: That's the one that the U.N. Security Council resolution 2254 which said that there should be a transition from power from President Assad.

[07:30:06] They want to see the White House get behind that. But they are concerned because they feel that Trump is mercurial and don't have at the moment a high degree of certainty of where he's going next on this.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S., Nic, is saying that Russia is complicit in this chemical weapons attack. From a more global perspective how are countries including American allies now viewing Russia after this?

ROBERTSON: You know, I think there would be a certain element of satisfaction or relief, if you will, to a degree, because, again, the concerns run deep about where the White House goes moving forward. But if you remember, when President Trump came to office you had the British Prime Minister Theresa May when she was in Washington in late January saying, yes, by all means deal with Putin, but check and verify. This is a man not to be trusted and this has been the view from the European allies.

So, when they hear Nikki Haley at the U.N. essentially dismissing the anger that's been portrayed by the Russian ambassador to the United Nations and overall, you know, President Trump, Rex Tillerson, secretary of state, essentially dismissing Russia's claims of this gas attack hasn't been properly investigated, you know, Syria couldn't possibly be involved in it, just a completely negate that and wash that away with these airstrikes which says, we're not listening to you, essentially, you're wrong you're lying. That is giving a certain amount of relief to the allies in Europe who are very concerned about where Trump was going over relations with Putin and therefore the strong European resolve over Russia's actions, annexing Crimea, getting involved in Ukraine, the worries about what they see is doing inside Syria, or after all, Europe is getting overrun, wash across by refugees coming out of Syria.

So, they are relieved in part. But, again, we have to come back to that point: what happens next? Everyone is saying it and that's the view from here as well.

KEILAR: Nic Robertson in London -- thank you so much.


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Now to this Russian warship that's on the move to a Russian naval space in Syria -- a military source tells Russian state news the ship is armed with cruise missiles and it's entering the same waters where U.S. ships launched that volley of Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase. Is it a Russian show of strength or a sign of something worse?

All right. Let's talk now with Jack Barsky. He's a former KGB spy and author of a book "Deep Undercover."

Jack, good morning to you.


BLACKWELL: So, let's start here with the Admiral Grigorovich that's moving into the Mediterranean. We know that cruise ship missiles are on board. We know that Russian forces are helping to beef up the Syrian air resources.

What do you make of this? Is this just a show of force or does this suggest that something else is coming?

BARSKY: Of course, it's a show of force. Syria has been an ally since I can remember, in my late teens and early 20s has been an ally of the Soviet Union, who's one of the good guys, so to speak. And Assad's -- there was Assad's father and now Putin is strongly allied with the son.

So, the concern really is that we're not facing just Syria, and we're not dealing with just the Middle East, but we're not sitting across the table with what is currently our main adversaries which is Russia but sort of getting close to being across a firing line and that, I am deeply concerned with.

BLACKWELL: I understand you told one of our producers that through Russians eyes, this strike appears to be emotional. Talk about that, if you would.

BARSKY: Well, again, I just heard a few commentators say the same thing. It's -- because Donald Trump during the campaign pretty much gave a completely different view of the world and I'm still trying to figure out what is going to be the Trump doctrine, and he's sort of changed on a dime and he said this himself. He was emotionally impacted by what he saw.

That's not how we do policy. That's not how we -- you know, deal with the world as a whole. I'm concerned with that as well.

BLACKWELL: Yes, and as we look ahead to this meeting, we know that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is headed to Moscow next week mean toing will be, I believe on Wednesday. It's difficult for us because of some inconsistencies and contradictions determine how the U.S. will approach this meeting. But from your perspective, how do you expect the Kremlin will approach this meeting with Secretary Tillerson?

BARSKY: I hope the Kremlin will continue to probe. Is there some consistency to our policy?

[07:35:01] Is there -- is there really a line in the sand that they can't cross?

Ultimately, they are not suicidal. You know, neither would the Soviet leaders in the past. They want to survive, but they also want to win the game. So, we need to be -- have a very consistent approach that isn't just short term, but long term and I'm hoping that Mr. Tillerson is going to pursue that kind of line of thinking.

BLACKWELL: So, when you say that there is some -- they want to win the game and not suicidal, you believe there is some diplomatic option on the table, that there is some room for, for some deal making?

BARSKY: There should be. And I can only remember -- and this is pretty much still very strong in my memory -- when Ronald Reagan stepped on the scene, the Soviet leaders and that trickled down through the ranks of the KGB were scared out of their mind, and they really respected Ronald Reagan's strong approach to the relationship with the Soviet Union. But, that did not preclude sitting down and having a conversation as adversaries rather than enemies.

BLACKWELL: Very quickly before we go, I want to you listen to Senator Marco Rubio and what he said about Russia and this chemical attack. Let's watch.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: The Russians are complicit in these war crimes. They were at that facility and had personnel stationed at that airbase. They had to have known there was sarin gas being loaded on to those planes.


BLACKWELL: With your knowledge of Putin, do you think that's plausible the Russians knew that this was going to happen or was potentially possible?

BARSKY: It's possible, but the Russians, if they were complicit, it was with a wink and a nod. It was with having the ability to use plausible deniability.

What the senator there has said is speculation. And I wish we should get off of the, you know, speculation and deal with facts. I don't think the facts will ever come out on this one.

BLACKWELL: All right. Jack Barsky, thanks so much for being with us.

BARSKY: You're welcome.


KEILAR: When President Trump ordered air strikes on Syria, he join a list of presidents that had used them to send a warning or punish an enemy. Ahead, we'll look at what those major missile attacks accomplished.


KEILAR: Here's a look at your latest mortgage rates.


[07:41:42] KEILAR: The political fallout remains uncertain this morning after two U.S. warships launched a total of 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria. And we're told that those airstrikes were just one of the options that President Trump considered from his military advisers. And with that decision, he joined a long list of commanders-in-chief who used missile attacks to punish another country or send a message.

Gary Tuchman has a look.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Five years before the 2003 war against U.S.-led coalition, Saddam Hussein's Iraq was punished by bombing Tomahawk missile strikes. A punitive four-day campaign ordered by President bill Clinton, following Iraq's refusal to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Much of Iraq's military infrastructure destroyed. Iraq said hundreds of its troops and civilians were killed. It wasn't the first strike designed to punish the Iraqi regime.

In 1993, two years after the First Gulf War, 23 cruise missiles were launched into downtown Baghdad, a warning after an assassination plot was uncovered in Kuwait on former President George H.W. Bush, who was visiting the country he helped liberate during the 1991 Gulf War.

Colin Powell was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time.

COLIN POWELL, THEN-CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Should Mr. Hussein even dream of retaliating, we have more than enough force in the region to deal with it.

TUCHMAN: The missiles hit a building believed to house Iraq's intelligence service.

Punitive attacks have been used in retaliation for murders of Americans. In 1986, Libyan strong man Moammar Gadhafi was said to be behind the bombing of a disco in west Berlin. Two U.S. servicemen were killed. The U.S. military reply: 60 tons of munitions rained down on Gadhafi's compound in Tripoli.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: My fellow Americans at 7:00 this evening Eastern Time, air and naval forces of the United States launched a series of strikes against the headquarters terrorist facilities and military assets that support Moammar Gadhafi's subversive activities.

TUCHMAN: The result?

REPORTER: Back there is the building where his wife and children were staying when the bombing came on Monday night. Two of them were injured. The smallest child and adopted daughter was killed.

REAGAN: Today, we have done what we had to do. If necessary, we shall do it again.

TUCHMAN: Gadhafi survived. He wasn't at the site. Dozens of Libyans died. As did two U.S. Air Force pilots.

Another punishment for the murder of civilians came in 1988, Operation Infinite Reach led to strikes against al Qaeda targets in Sudan and Afghanistan, after the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed. More than 200 people were killed, up to 4,000 wounded. These punitive strikes have been used by a long line of U.S. presidents to punish or warn others when their actions are deemed a threat to American interests.

REAGAN: I said we would act with others if possible and alone if necessary to ensure that terrorists have no sanctuary anywhere. Tonight, we have.

TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.


BLACKWELL: President Trump says he has an outstanding relationship with the Chinese president, but you'll remember just months ago he accused chain of raping the United States.

[07:45:03] Can the two countries play nice now or are we headed for a showdown?


BLACKWELL: Well, after the two-day summit in Florida, President Trump has really nothing but good things to say about the president of China. Watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think, truly, progress has been made. We'll be making a lot of additional progress. The relationship developed by President Xi and myself I think is outstanding. We look forward to being together many times in the future. And I believe lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away.


BLACKWELL: Now, you'll remember it was not really that long ago when the president was trashing China on the campaign trail, accusing the country of robbing and abusing the United States.

[07:50:01] Well, our next guest says those comments are a preview of what's to come. He says the relationship between the U.S. and China could be heading for a disaster.

Gideon Rachman is here with me now. He's the chief foreign affairs columnist for "The Financial Times" and author of the new book, "Eaternization: Asia's Rise and America's Decline, from Obama to Trump and Beyond."

Gideon, good to have you this morning.


BLACKWELL: Now, for people who may not remember, and, you know, every day seems like a year. So, let's play a reminder here of what we heard from then candidate Trump about China.

Let's watch.


TRUMP: We are going to label China a currency manipulator. We're like the piggy bank that's being robbed.

China is taking our money, our base, our manufacturing.

The greatest abuser in the history of this country.

It's one of the greatest thefts in the history of the world, what they've taken out of our country.

We can't continue to allow China to rape our country, and that's what they're doing.

Listen you mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED), we're going to tax you 25 percent.


BLACKWELL: What do you make -- what's your theory on that transition -- and yeah, I forgot about that last one myself -- from what we heard from then private citizen Trump, candidate Trump and now President Trump.

RACHMAN: Well, the Chinese are incredibly relieved by how this meeting went, if you look at the Chinese official media, because they were expecting -- even a week ago, Trump was saying this was going to be a very difficult meeting over trade and North Korea. In fact, now he's saying this is a marvelous meeting and yet it didn't seem that China has really given very much. They said there will be a dialogue on these issues. That's the kind of thing they've had with Obama.

So, the question is, we've seen over Syria, for example, that Trump is capable of flipping in 24 hours a very long-standing position.


RACHMAN: And Syria is much more aggressive than China. We don't really know whether this is a long-standing change or whether he's going to go back to the more aggressive rhetoric. But for the moment, it went surprisingly well.

BLACKWELL: And you write that this America first strategy from President Trump is really going to, from your perspective, lead to the decline of the U.S. as it compares to and competes with Asia, namely China.

RACHMAN: Well, it depends how it goes. But I think one of the big risky things that Trump has done is pull America out of the Trans Pacific Partnership.

BLACKWELL: Which is a win for China.

RACHMAN: Yes, absolutely. The Chinese were delighted by that, because that was a new trade agreement, and one can understand given Trump's rhetoric on the campaign trail he had to do it and he did do it on day one.

But for Chinese, it leaves a big gap in the Asian markets, America kind of pulling out a bit, and they're trying to build a new free trade area China. And, in fact, one of the most interesting developments in Asia is that all of America's security allies now have their most important economic relationship with China, their biggest trading relationship. So, that's really changing the balance of power in the region.

BLACKWELL: You know, it's interesting is that these two men have a lot in common. President Trump's 2016 "Make America Great Again", while Xi a few years before, his great rejuvenation for China, a nationalist tune that they share.

RACHMAN: Absolutely. And I think that the underlying danger in the Trump-Xi years as we're going to get used to calling them, is that these are both nationalist leaders who both have very similar ideas about make their country great again and to some extent see the other country as the obstacle. So Trump on trade, we saw in those clips how he's talked about China raping America and even on security issues, Rex Tillerson said that the U.S. was going to block China's access to these artificial islands they're building in the South China Sea.


RACHMAN: From the Chinese side, there's no way they can back down because Xi's whole rhetoric is about China standing proud again, China is never going to be humiliated by the West again. So, I think there's an underlying tension that even a friendly meeting like this is not going to remove.

BLACKWELL: Before we let you go, let's talk about the news of the day. I mean, we know that while the presidents were having dinner there, the strikes there were happening on that Syrian airfield. What do you think President Xi gleaned from President Trump's decision to strike Syria in the context of the president saying that if North Korea -- if China doesn't take care of North Korea, we will? This now is not just bluster I guess. RACHMAN: Absolutely. I think the Chinese like everybody will be

concerned by the potential unpredictability of Trump and I think the Americans will be pleased that in a sense, the military option is put on the table because it's useful to have your adversaries slightly worried about that.

That said, I think both sides know that North Korea is a very different case. I mean, sending cruise missiles to an airfield in Syria is one thing. China trying to take out the North Korea nuclear program is a completely different idea because the North Koreans will launch devastating strikes, conventional strikes against South Korea. And I'm sure Xi tried to make that point to Trump that this is not an easy thing to do or wise thing to do.

BLACKWELL: All right. Gideon Rachman, good to have you.

RACHMAN: Thanks.

BLACKWELL: All right. Brianna?

KEILAR: Thanks, Victor.

At the top of the hour, with the Pentagon, looking into whether Moscow was involved in the Syrian weapons attack, why U.S. airstrikes in Syria might just be the first step.



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