Return to Transcripts main page


Two Bombings at Christian Churches in Egypt; Demonstrators Take to Streets in Venezuela After Popular Opposition Leader Barred from Politics; What Next for U.S. in Syria? Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired April 9, 2017 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:20] LYNDA KINKADE, HOST: Hello and welcome. I'm Lynda Kinkade coming to you live from CNN's world headquarters in Atlanta.

We begin with two terror attacks in Egypt, dozens of Christians killed as they came together to mark the holiest week of the year. Bombs targeted

two Coptic churches on what is Palm Sunday, one north of Cairo, the other in Alexandria. More than 35 people were killed, around 100 people wounded.

Now the terror group ISIS says its responsible for the carnage.

Well, let's get the latest. CNN's Ben Wedeman is following the story from Turkey and joins us live. Ben, these two churches attacked the start of

what is the holiest week in the Christian calendar in the lead-up to Easter. What can you tell us about these attacks?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you that, Lynda, that both of these churches were jam-packed with worshippers. I'll

start with the latest one, which was on the Church of St. Mark in Alexandria. There, the Coptic, pope was actually inside leading the Palm

Sunday mass when this bomb went off fortunately outside. It was a suicide bomber who was stopped by the police. Nonetheless, as a result of that

bomb, 11 people killed, more than 35 injured.

Now, the earlier attack took place in the city of Tanta which is 100 kilometers north of Cairo

there in the Margirgis (ph), or St. George Church. There were more than 2,000 worshippers packed inside when the bomb went off. By the pictures,

it appears that the bomb was in the front rows of the church. In that instance, at least 25 people killed, more than 60 wounded.

Now, we've seen pictures of the aftermath. And you see just the pews have been blown all over the place. There's blood smeared all over the floor

and the columns of the church. And in the aftermath we've seen real anger by Coptic Christians at what they see as a failure by the security services

to protect them. And of course, you'll recall back in December there was a similar suicide bombing on a church in Cairo. That one also left 25 people


Afterwards, the Egyptian government pledged to increase security and increase protection of Christian churches. But after this, there are many

Coptic Christians who are asking what on Earth the government was actually doing?

We've seen video of the head of security in the Arbiya (ph) province, that is where Tanta is located, inside the church being beaten by an angry mob.

He has subsequently been relieved of his duties and against the backdrop of all this, keep in mind that Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Egypt at the

end of this month.

KINKADE: That's right. Yeah, just in a matter of weeks.

And. Ben, the reports that I'm hearing is that a suicide bomber is responsible for at least one

of those attacks and ISIS is claiming to be behind it. What are they saying?

WEDEMAN: Well, this was a statement posted on Twitter by the Amaq News Agency (ph), which is affiliated with al Qaeda claiming responsibility for

both of these bombings.

Now, this is interesting because there have been hundreds of bombings, attacks and what not,

in Egypt until now, but this is the first one where they so quickly claim responsibility, and of course, we know ISIS has a very large presence, for

instance, in the Sinai province where they've been waging a years' long struggle and fight against the Egyptian government.

There, of course, is another area where Christians have felt the brunt of terrorism. In February more than 150 Christian families fled the Sinai

after repeated attacks andk idnappings. Amnesty International, for instance, put out a report saying the Egyptian government has failed in

their duty to protect the hristians of the Sinai, and now it appears they've also failed

when it comes to the Christians and the rest of Egypt.

KINKADE: All right, Ben Wedeman staying across it all there in Turkey. Thank you very much.

Well, there are harsh words from Russia and Iran this Sunday. A joint statement says U.S.

strikes on a Syrian air base, which killed at least nine people, have crossed a red line. Now that is according to Syrian state media. And it

comes out of activists, reportedly 16 people were killed in U.S. strikes on a town in the province of Idlib.

Syrian and Russian planes have been conducting bombing raids in that area against what they call terrorists.

Well, it is impossible for us to verify those reports from Idlib Province, which is controlled by rebels including jihadis linked to al Qaeda.

Well, for more on what's happening, senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is across the border in Istanbul, Turkey and CNN's Philip Black

joins us from Moscow.

I want to go first to Nick, it was not that long ago that President Trump repeatedly said, as a candidate to become president, that the U.S. should

not attack Syria. That's all changed. And listening to the U.S. envoy to the UN today it seems we an expect more action, particularly when it comes

to the future of the Syrian leader.

[11:05:58] NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNAITONAL CORRESPONDENT: Possibly, although in truth I think some of the messages here are mixed enough in the

short-term to suggest that maybe policy is being perhaps slowly, pragmatically put together. I'm being generous. Or made up on the fly if

I'm not.

The real issue here, I think, is how they've shifted from saying ISIS is their focuses and they've

perhaps considered some sort of broader entendre and it might allow Bashar al-Assad, Syrian president and Moscow, to try and wrap things up in terms

of the fight against the Syrian rebels. That appears to be upended by Donald Trump's very visceral emotional reaction, understandably, at seeing

children dying, from twitching from nerve agent as result of that attack on Khan Shakhoun (ph), the chemical weapon attack that resulted in the

launching of those Tomahawk missiles.

Now, there appears to be a broader focus on what for Syria. But in truth, a lot of the ideas

we're hearing are the same ideas the Obama administration were pursuing for many, many years with very little success. Here's what Nikki Haley, the

U.S. ambassador to the UN, had to say to our Jake Tapper earlier.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is regime change in Syria now the official policy of the United States?

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UN: So there are multiple priorities. It's getting Assad out is not the only priority. And so what we're trying

to do is obviously, defeat ISIS>

Secondly, we don't see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there. Thirdly, get the Iranian influence out, and then finally move towards a political

resolution, because at the end of the day this is a complicated situation. There are no easy answers. And a political solution is going to have to

happen, but we know that it is not going to be -- there's not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head

of the regime. It just -- if you look at his actions, if you look at situation it is going to be hard to see a government that's peaceful and

stable with Assad.

TAPPER: Well, of course, it's hard to, but is the position of the Trump administration that he cannot be ruler of Syria anymore? Regime change is

the policy?

HALEY: Well, regime change is something that we think is goingto happen because all of the

parties are going to see that Assad is not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria.


WALSH: Now it's a complicated situation. That's the phrase that you can take away from that happening there.

Bear in mind, too, the institutional memory of the administration, the Trump administration, is pretty limited at this point. The State

Department pared down to some degree. A lot of people there still working hangovers from the Obama administration, some the National Security Council, and it does appear that this is to some extent to the

Trump insiders a relatively new problem they're perhaps coming to terms with.

What Nikki Haley was outlining there is the Geneva process, as its called, now in its fifth stage, very unsuccessfully, based on the premise,

initially signed on to, perhaps, by Russia with vague wording that a transitional government would eventually lead to Assad stepping aside from

power. The wording was never that precise, but it's failed. Assad is in a military ascendancy full stop. He's pushed the rebels back. The real

issue now is if the U.S. gets drawn more lengthily into this war it's yet another new faction joining the fight between rebel and regime that has

been the reason why this war keeps going on.

Lynda, wars normally end because one side gets tired or runs out of people, or runs out of money, in Syria there is always a new faction joining either

side, keeping it going. It may just be if the U.S. gets drawn into this more lengthily, then in fact they've become yet another faction that

perhaps breathes, sadly, new awful life into a war which had begun to look awful as

it was to rebels and civilians living in the areas they control like it was possibly winding down or slowing to some degree - Lynda.

KINKADE: Yeah, certainly not slowing now, entering its seventh year there.

Nick, just stand by for us. I want to go to Phil. This strike by the Trump administration on the Syrian air base, was the first intentional U.S.

strike on Assad forces since 2011. The move been met with swift criticism by his allies, including Russia. What's the word there, Phil?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lynda, the same sense that Assad must go isn't a new idea for those opposed to Assad. Russia's

response to that thinking isn't new either. Russia remains steadfast in its objection to the idea of outside actors, notably the west, especially

the United States having a word on who gets to rule Syria.

The idea that changing the regime there is just simply unthinkable to Russia, especially in a country that is a longstanding Russian ally, long a

part of Russia's sphere of influence.

Russia has long been of the belief, and this is key to Russia's continuing support for Syria, long been of the belief that the United States has a

habit in recent history, of invading countries, kicking out leaders, trying to export democracy, often for trumped-up humanitarian reasons - this is

the Russian view, I stress - and then often leaving chaos in its wake.

It points to the Balkans, to Libya, to Iraq. It is determined not to let the same happen in Syria.

And so what's changed in Syria? Well, what we've seen is the use of limited, focused military

force by the American president against the Assad regime. That hasn't happened before. That gives Moscow and Damascus something to think about

going forward, but at this stage, if that's the limit of the intervention, the limit of the pressure, it would do little to influence their behavior

significantly if you think about all they've been allowed to do in Syria since the start of the civil war - Lynda.

KINKADE: And Phil, the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is going to Moscow this week. In light of all that's happened, what can we expect?

BLACK: Well, what we are hearing, I think, in the lead-up to that visit, in the lead-up to the G7 foreign ministers meeting in Italy over the next

couple of days, would seem to be a renewed diplomatic hope that somehow the events of the last week, the chemical weapons incident, the American

strike, that this somehow creates enough leverage to pressure Moscow to back away from Assad, to ease him out, to begin the transition that

everyone has been talking about for so long. But that is, I stress, a hope.

There does not seem to be any realistic reason to believe that that can be achieved in the immediate future or that Moscow is about to drastically

change its thinking. It has remained committed to Syria throughout the horrors of the war. It has used its own military to shape events on the

ground to ensure the regime, if not Assad the man, then at least the regime survives.

So I just don't think you can overstate the point that Russia remains determined not to let the United States get its way in Syria, remains

determined to see the Syrian regime survive - Lynda.

KINKADE: All right. Thanks for that, Phil.

Just back to Nick. President Trump now has to explain his action in targeting that Syrian air base. He wrote a letter to congress saying that

the strike was meant to degrade the Syrian military's ability to conduct further chemical weapons attacks and to dissuade the Syrian regime from using or proliferating chemical weapons.

While he has received criticism from the likes of Russia and Iran, there are certainly many

critics that say those strikes didn't go far enough.

BLACK: Well, yes. And the question you have to ask ourselves here is how strong a message needs to be sent to be heard by the Syrian regime? Now,

think the mere fact that the Pentagon and the White House was willing to cross that sort of red line in terms of their own psychology that Barack

Obama wasn't willing to cross and that's to use military force is a big signal enough. It says, look, we are willing to do this.

Well, we haven't been for the past five or six years or so. That's a strong message in itself. The extent of damage to that airfield, well, we

have to basically pass whether or not the Pentagon intended to render it disabled, whether it is actually disabled and we've heard reports of planes

taking off. We've seen video of planes taxiing. We've seen video of comparatively lesser

damage than you might have expected from 59 Tomahawk missiles slamming into an empty area.

That's something for discussion. I think the broader problem that Trump faces now, President Trump faces now, is he's decided to use military

force. The Syrian regime has seen this is the only military response they've had from the west for years and years of using bombs against

hospitals, starve and surrender tactics, chemical weapons, you name it. The list of horrors, frankly, goes on all day. I can stand here for hours.

That has been the only response so far. These Tomahawk cruise missile thing - attack.

Damascus may consider this to be a comparatively light response. They may feel emboldened. They maybe emboldened by Russia and Iran, strong words in

their support right now.

And Trump may actually have to find himself drawn into the question of using military force again if yet another horror is committed, if

potentially there's a response towards American assets somewhere in the region asymmetrically from many of the different proxies - Syria or Iran,

actually have. And so I think this is the beginning, potentially, of an escalation that perhaps Barack Obama saw

as likely and meant he kept away from the Syrian conflict and perhaps also, too, an increasingly lengthy period of being tested for the new commander

in chief of American forces - Lynda.

KINKADE: All right, Nick Paton Walsh in Istanbul for us and Phil Black in Moscow. Great to have you both with us. Thank you.

Well, North Korea is denouncing the U.S. missile strikes in Syria and vowing to strengthen its own defense capability.

But the U.S. is responding with a show of force. An aircraft carrier strike group heading to

the Korean peninsula. A U.S. official says the move is a direct response to North Korea's provocations.

Well, for more on the U.S. war ships headed there, our Alexandra Field reports from Seoul.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The USS Carl Vinson was in the waters off the Korean Peninsula just last month participating in joint annual military drills between the U.S. military and South Korean


So, certainly the presence of a U.S. aircraft carrier in these waters is not unusual. What is

significant here is the decision to send the USS Vinson back. It is what one U.S. official calls a response directly, provocations from Pyongyang.

This is a message from D.C., certainly a show of force. And it comes on the heels of other

messages like White House officials coming out and saying that all options are on the table when it comes to confronting the growing nuclear threats

from North Korea.

U.S. President Donald Trump also recently said that if China won't solve the North Korea problem the U.s. will.

Provocations from North Korea include four missile launches since the start of the year and

other tests of missile engines. Analysts and experts who are closely watching North Korea say that

this not only indications an acceleration in the missile testing program, but also advances in their weapons technology. The big threat here, the

big fear here is the long-stated ambition from North Korea, their intention to test test launch an intercontinental ballistic missile, which they hope

will be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead all the way to the continental United

States. This, of course, raising alarm bells around the world.

President Donald Trump taking the issue of North Korea very seriously. It was atop of the

agenda during his meeting with the Chinese Presidnet Xi Jinping at Mar-a- Lago earlier this week. President Trump has long said that it is China's responsibility to apply more pressure to North Korea to stop its missile

program and to put an end to nuclear tests.

The North Koreans have already conducted five nuclear tests. Analysts who are closely watching North Korea and analyzing satellite data say it's

possible that North Korea is preparing for a sixth test.

In Seoul, South Korea, Alexandra Field, CNN.


KINKADE; Well, on the streets of North Korea's capital, there appears to be little concern about the U.S. right now.

Our Will Ripley is the only American TV correspondent in Pyongyang. And he has a rare glimpse inside the very closed country.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The tension here in North Korea in some ways is higher than I've ever seen it during 11 trips to this country. Certainly when you're talking to government officials who

believe the provocative behavior by the United States in their words is only escalating their nuclear arms race, but when you're on the streets of

Pyongyang, you just don't feel that tension. But you do see a lot of locals who are eager and willing to interact with the outside world.

The Pyongyang marathon, one of the rare days foreigners are free to run through the streets

of North Korea without constant government supervision.

JAMIE ZHOU, CANADIAN RUNNER: This is probably the best way to check out a country that's probably one of the least understood countries in the world.

RIPLEY: They run alongside North Koreans, like this university student.

"It was great," he says. "I'm so happy so many foreigners came. We all ran together."

A friendly competition in front of curious crowds cheering for people from places they'll

likely never see.

ANDREAS ABRAHAMSSON, SWEDISH RUNNER: This is a completely shut out to the outside world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like I will leave having so many questions, you know, what's real, what's not real? It's such a surreal experience.

RIPLEY: North Koreans are told they live in a socialist oasis, safe from the turmoil of the outside world, a world they're kept far away from.

So you're here on your honeymoon.


RIPLEY: This newlywed from Chicago says she's surprised this closed society is giving visitors such a warm welcome.

WONG: It brings you down to, you know, the fact that we're all human and the people in this city are very warm and they can be just like us.

RIPLEY: Of course, there is another race happening here in North Korea that's capturing the world's attention in a very different way. It's the

race to develop nuclear weapons. And analysts say Pyongyang is moving closer to the finish line every day.

These women say they are not preoccupied with the nuclear arms race, they're more excited about North Korea's biggest holiday week of the year,

the celebrations honoring the nation's late supreme leaders.

Do you ever think or worry about the rising tension between North Korea and the U.S.?

"I'm not worried at all," says this housewife. "We have a strong leader. We have marshal Kim Jong-un."

Their government tells them the U.S. is responsible for North Korea's economic hardship and isolation.

"I hope more foreigners will come here," says this student, "so they can learn about our Ju chae (ph) philosophy."

Runners pass the Ju chae (ph) Tower, a symbol of self reliance and self- development. North Korea intends to win its nuclear arms race with or without the acceptance of the outside world.

I spoke with government officials who say they're looking at what's happening in places like Syria and what has happened in Iraq and Libya,

regimes that were toppled by the United States and they say they need an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead as soon as

possible to protect this country from invasion.

Will Ripley, CNN, Pyongyang, North Korea.


[11:20:43] KINKADE: Well, still to come here, ISIS claims responsibility for the deadly church bombings in Egypt. We'll have more on the attacks on

Coptic Christians just ahead.

And a change of heart, why the U.S. president authorized a strike on Syria and what it means for the war there.


KINKADE: You're watching CNN and this is Connect the World with me, Lynda Kinkade. Welcome back.

Well, we return now to breaking news out of Egypt. At least 36 people have been killed and scores wounded on bomb attacks on two Coptic Christian


The first blast tore through a Palm Sunday service in the northern city of Tanta. Then, a suicide bomber set off an explosive belt at the entrance to

a church in Alexandria. ISIS has claimed responsibility for both attacks.

Well, let's get more perspective on these attacks. Omar Ashour is an associate fellow with the Middle East and North African program at Chatham

House. And he joins us from London via Skype.

Good to have you with us.


KINKADE: ISIS has targeted Egypt's Christians before. They are claiming responsibility with both these attacks. Just give us a sense of how big a

problem ISIS poses in Egypt.

ASHOUR: It is a big problem. In November 2014 an insurgent group in Sinai, (inaudible) , gave an oath of loyalty to the Islamic State, and it

became Sinai province. And since then their insurgent tactics have been developing quite significantly. They became probably Egypt's stongest non-

state armed actor operating in its modern history with the capacity to launch some conventional attacks, Guerilla warfare attacks and also urban


And since -- since actually February of this year they issued a very detailed propaganda video selecting the Christian Coptic orthodox minority

to - as a legitimate target for their activities saying basically there is no oath of loyalty towards them and there's no --

basically they have no security guarantees from the organization, and before that video was launched there was a bombing of the Cairo

Cathedral in December 2016, and then after that video there was a sustained attacks on the Coptic

families who live in North Sinai, in (inaudible) specifically. And 120 families had to evacuate the cities and the areas around it to the west of

the Suez Canal in (inaudible).

So there's been, if you wish, a sustained targeting of the Christian orthodox minority. And they're framing this in a very kind of narrative

that is propagating the objectives of the group.

Of course, today they were very quick to take responsibility for the twin attacks that happened

in Tanta and in Alexandria.

[11:25:53] KINKADE: The Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population. Why are they such a target? Is it simply because

they're Christian?

ASHOUR: It's more complex than that. I think part of the problem, of course, being Christians adds to the problem because there is a problem of

sectarianism in Egypt that didn't start in the last few years, it goes back all of the way to the '50s and how sectarian policies were being fostered

by successive regimes ranging from how they dealt with the Jewish community back in the 1950s, but also how to - how they dealt with non-Christian

minorities like the Baha'i (ph) for example, or even Shiite Muslims.

The sectarianism problem is a very big problem in Egypt. It was never dealt with properly and there is no counter-sectarianization strategy that

the current rulers employ.

But to add to that, the July 2013 made a rift in the society of Egypt between the supporters of

General Abdel Fateh el-Sisi and supporters of the former president Mohamed Morsy and the Coptic church was very much involved politically and what

happened after that is this is very clear in the propaganda video that was issued by ISIS, is that since they supported el-

Sisi and since Sisi is cracking down on the Muslims of Sinai, then they became a legitimate target.

So they are framing it more into the -- they're very, very local sensitive in how they frame

their propaganda. They are adjusting it to the local developments, but in the background, of course, the long history of sectarianism and a long

history of oppressing minorities in the country.

KINKADE: OK. Omar Ashour, good to have you with us. We'll have to leave it there for

now, but thanks so much for that perspective.

ASHOUR: Thank you.

KINKADE: Well, live from CNN Center, this is onnect the World. We will have much more on that breaking story out of Egypt throughout the hour. Do

stay with us. We'll be right back.



[11:31:32] KINKADE: In Venezuela, anger against the government is growing on the streets of Caracas. Protesters were shouting down President

Nicholas Maduro as a dictator. The rallies erupted when Mr. Maduro as a dictator. Police shot tear gas canisters into the rowd, which some

protesters threw back.

The rallies erupted when Mr. Maduro banned an opposition leader.

Saturday's demonstrations are just the latest show of outrage against President Maduro's government. And the opposition is speaking out. Our

Rafael Romo has more.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Saturday's clashes were due in part to the fact

that the Venezuelan government has banned a very popular opposition leader from doing any political work. Thousands of people were marching down

Francisco de Miranda avenue, one of the main thoroughfares in Caracas toward the capital downtown where most national government buildings are

located. At one point, they were stopped by the National Guard, an opposition lawmaker described

the moment (inaudible) and tear gas bombs started raining on us.

Former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles was told Friday he an no longer do any political activity said the show of force was unnecessary.

HENRIQUE APRILES, VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION LEADER (through translator): This is repression. This is a crime. They're committing crimes and violating

human rights by stepping on the rights of people. The government has staged a self-coup, and what they are now doing to me is part of it.

ROMO: This is the fifth consecutive day of protests in Caracas and elsewhere in Venezuela. Demonstrators are also protesting the Venezuelan

Supreme Court which issued a ruling stripping the parliament of its legislative power and giving it to itself. The court reversed its decision

after widespread condemnation in Venezuela and abroad and three days of protests.

Earlier this week, Socialist President Nicolas Maduro described the protesters as terrorists and vandals.

NICOLAS MADURO, VENEZUELAN PRESIDNET (through translator): We have them all identified. They are all identified. They will fall one by one and

they will go to face justice.

ROMO: The president said 30 people had been detained, but a Venezuelan human rights group reported Saturday there had been 164 detentions since


Venezuelans facing a deep humanitarian crisis sparked by an economic meltdown. Shortages of

basic food products and medicines are common place. The Venezuelan opposition collected enough signatures to hold the referendum, but the

government's electoral council has delayed and blocked efforts to carry out elections.

Rafael Romo, CNN, Atlanta.


KINKADE: Well, back to one of our top stories now. Harsh words and tension between world powers after a U.S. strike on a Syrian air base.

Russia and Iran both digging in and re-affirming their support for the Syrian government. They say the U.S. strikes crossed a red line.

They were the fresh -- they were also fresh air strikes in rebel-held Idlib, too, this weekend. Activists report 16 people were killed on


For more on all of this, I am joined by Fawaz Gerges who joins us from London. He is the author of the book "ISIS: A History and chair of

contemporary Middle East studies at the London School of Economics. Great to have you with us.

Well, these strikes by the Trump administration were meant to send a message to the Assad regime and drive a wedge potentially between Iran,

Russia and Syria.

The problem is if you look at the statements from these countries, it looks like alliance is getting stronger, even more united in the face of this


What do you make of it?

[11:35:06] FAWAZ GERGES, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Well, the target was not Assad, the target was Moscow and Tehran, as well. And the message has

been received in Damascus and Tehran and Moscow.

You are talking about a very potent coalition. The question is not whether to attack a military base in Syria, the question is what's the endgame of

the Trump administration? What will the Trump administration do if there is escalation, military escalation, as we have

seen in the past two days? Dozens of people have been killed in the same place, in the vicinity of the place, which the chemical attack took place a

few days ago.

That is the Trump administration will face tremendous pressure to escalate or to face humiliation, because the reality is you're going to see more

escalation, more war by proxy and it seems to me with all due respect that the Trump administration has no strategic,

political vision for the morning after and it seems to me he does not have the desire and will to invest substantive, political capital inside


So, before we celebrate in Washington, the celebration has been that this is a muscular president, this is a strong president, Barack Obama was a

weak president. The challenge and the measure is not to fire 59 missiles, the challenge is what will the Trump administration do in the

face of a major escalation by this coalition Russia, Iran and Syria?

KINKADE: You raised a good question there when you asked about what is the endgame? Is there a future, do you believe, when the war ends there and

Assad remains in power?

The U.S. believes that that can't happen, but if Assad goes will there be a vacuum of power? Could that be worse?

GERGES: Well, I mean, this is the working assumption of both the United States and the European powers and the international community. They want

to make sure there is political transition.

The whole process of political transition that the international community has been talking about is to make sure that the security and institutional

and political vacuum is not filled either by ISIS or by al Qaeda, but the reality is the Assad regime does not really

believe in any political transition. I mean, we have misunderstood the logic behind Bashar al-Assad. He wants to win. He has constantly and

repeatedly reiterated that this particular war will not end, cannot end except by his victory over what he calls the terrorists.

And to come back to the United States of America to the Trump administration, just a few days ago Trump officials have made it very clear

that the overriding goal of U.S. foreign policy was not to topple Assad, the priority was ISIS. Now we are being told that the goal

is to remove Assad from power. Fine. Let's say that this is -- but what's the strategy? That is,

what are American assets in this particular, I mean, theater called Syria where Moscow and Iran have invested tremendous resources, blood and

treasure. At the end of this day, the reason why I'm skeptical about the Trump administration, he is a salesman with a short span: impulsive, he

does not really have a strategic vision for Syria. And also he is fascinated with hard power.

But the reality is at the end of the day you cannot resolve the Syrian crisis without a sustained diplomatic engagement and engaging the real

stakeholders, who are the real stakeholders, Russia, Turkey and Iran, and so far we are waiting for the Trump administrations to put his ideas, to

put forth on the ideas on the table to really help end the catastrophe, the blood bath that has been raging in Syria for six years.

KINKADE: Trump came to power on this notion of America first, this nationalistic notion that he wouldn't be a global player, that he just

wanted to look after his own backyard. Does this strike change that? And what would your advice be for a solution in Syria? It's a huge problem.

GERGES: It is a massive problem, as you've suggested. I mean, I wish and I hope that the Donald Trump appreciates the complexity of the crisis in

Syria. Multiple conflicts collapsed in one. A raging civil war, war by proxies by regional powers, a global conflict that could really have the

potential to escalate into a major crisis, it could. I'm not saying it will. The reality is this particular

president, with all due respect, full of contradictions. On the one hand, it says America first and America last. On the other hand, now it wants to

really do a regime change in Syria.

OK. How? What are the tools by which the U.S. administration is really willing to change, I mean, Assad in Syria? And that's why at the end of

the day, to come back to your really key question in this particular interview, my fear is that Donald Trump himself and his team do not know

what the endgame is. Is it the defeat of ISIS? Is it the removal of Assad from

power? Are they willing to invest political capital away from America first into a global strategy?

We have to wait. There is no clarity. There is no clarity. And that's why it seems to me, I fear, that the limited and targeted attack by the

Trump administration could be counterproductive.

We have already seen escalation by Russia and Syria. Dozens of people have been killed and thousands of Syrians are going to lose their lives in the

next few weeks and next few months. What is the endgame of the Trump administration? How will he respond to this really qualitative escalation

in Syria? Hardly any word so far.

[11:41:13] KINKADE: That's right. We will wait and see.

Fawaz Gerges, always great to have your perspective on this. Thank you very much.

GERGES: Thank you

KINKADE: Well, more now on our breaking news, Egypt's Coptic Christians are reeling from a pair of deadly attacks. At least 36 people were killed

when bombs hit churches north ofCairo and in Alexandria. ISIS has claimed responsibility for both of those attacks.

U.S. President Donald Trump has also condemned the attacks in a tweet. He said he has

confidence Egypt's president will handle the situation properly.

Well, let's take a closer look at Egypt's Coptic community. Christians make up about 10 perent of the population. Most are believed to be

Coptics. Their theology is based on the teachings of the Apostle Mark.

Persecution of the Copts has been escalating since Egypt's revolution in 2011.

Well, I want to bring in H.A. Helyec of The Atlantic Council and the royal united services institute and author of the book "A Revolution Undone:

Egypt's Road Beyond Revolt." He joins us via Skype from airo. Good to have you with us.


KINKADE: Firstly, this attack and this double terror attack we saw today just comes a few

months after the last big attack on the Coptic cathedral in airo. What's your response?

HELLYER: Well, unfortunately, there are some attacks that you can defend against and the there are some attacks you can't. With regard to the

attack in Alexandria in particular, it's very clear that this was a heavily fortified church because of the fact that the Coptic pope was actually

delivering a speech there. And the security officers that died obviously paid the ultimate price in trying to protect other people in the church.

In some of these attacks there is unfortunately, very little that any security establishment can actually do to defend against somebody who

really wants to die and take people with him.

The question is whether or not this is the case across the board with regards to security and infringements across the country, but certainly

today it seems that just like, unfortunately, what we saw in Stockholm, in Westminster and in other parts of the world, sometimes you can't actually

stop somebody who just wants to die and take people with them.

KINKADE: Yeah. It's certainly a huge challenge.

Looking at the president and the political situation there, from a western perspective, President

el-Sisi has been seen as a leader of stability, but in Egypt, authorities have been accused of overreaching and cracking down. Just give us a sense

of the political situation right now.

HELLYER: Well, at the present moment in time, Abdel Fatah el-Sisi leads what I would consider to be a conglomerate of institutions in Egypt, the

most powerful which is the Egyptian military and he maintains quite substantial popularity and authority within those institutions of the

state, and a the significant amount of popular support on the ground.

Having said that, the country is rocked by a number of different security problems for most in

the Sinai, obviously, but also attacks such as today showed that ISIS cells in different parts of the country that have nothing to do with the Sinai

are also quite threatening as well as on the border with Libya, that's obviously, a very key security threat right there.

The economic situation is quite challenging and putting all of these things together you have a

country that isn't looking like Libya or Syria or Somalia, it's not a country that's falling to pieces, but it is a country that faces tremendous


KINKADE: In your book, A Revolution Undone, you wrote about the high expectations created during the 2011 uprising. Before that hope was

dashed, what do you believe it's going to take to find that hope there in Egypt once more?

HELLYER: Well, I think that you have to be very realistic about what faces the country at present. The average age of the Egyptian is 24 years old.

Around 70 perent, 75 percent of the population is under the age of 35. And after the turmoil of the last few years I think many Egyptians are quite

tired and they face an incredibly difficult, economic situation.

Tourism is down tremendously, the cost of living has increased. The value of the Egyptian

pound has decreased. There are structural problems that face this country in a fantastic way. When you have a health -- a health industry that

doesn't actually take care of the country at large, education needs reform, there are many structural problems here that are very

difficult to address. And I think that it is going to take, quite some time and a good deal of truly significant political leadership to be able

to address all of those things.

And I'm afraid I don't see that in the short-term.

KINKADE: All right. Dr. H.A. Hellyer, we'll have to leave it there for now, but great to have you with us. Thank you.

Well, you are watching Connect the World. still to come, the attacks on Egyptian churches come on one of Christianity's most holy days. We'll take

a look at why Palm Sunday services were targeted.


KINKADE: You're watching CNN. This is Connect the World with me Lynda Kinkade. Welcome back. Well, the attacks in Egypt are overshadowing one

of the holy days of the year for Christians. Deadly blasts erupted, packed Palm Sunday services at two Coptic Christian churhes.

The attacks come weeks before the Roman Catholic pope is set to travel to Cairo. Pope Francis delivered a message of support to his Coptic

counterpart a short time ago.


POPE FRANCIS (through translator): To my dear brother, his holiness Pope Tawaros II, to the Coptic Church and to all of the dear country Egypt, I

express my deep condolences. I pray for the dead and the wounded. I am close to the families and to the entire community.

God convert the hearts of the people who spread terror, violence and death and also the heart of those two produce and traffic weapons.


KINKADE: Pope Francis speaking there.

Well, our CNN senior Vatican analyst John Allen joins us now from Denver, Colorado. Always good to have you with us.


KINKADE: Given -- we just heard the pope condemn this attack, just gives us some perspective on the timing of this. This is Palm Sunday, one of the

holiest days on the Christian calendar, just a week from Easter.

[11:50:04] ALLEN: Well, Lynda, it's a sad fact that the perpetrators of anti-Christian violence around the world often target these peak periods on

the Christian calendar. I mean, that's why Christmas and Easter in many parts of the world tend to be special dangers zones for Christians, because

quite frankly the crowds who show up are typically larger and therefore the terrorists, from their point of view, get bigger bang for their buck.

If - certainly in Egypt right now, I would imagine, that security forces are going into overdrive to try to make sure that Christian holy sites are

protected because Palm Sunday is merely the beginning of what Christians regard as holy week. Later this week there will be Holy Thursday, Good

Friday, Holy Saturday and then, of course, Easter Sunday itself.

The government of President Abdel el-Sisi in Egypt has marketed itself as a great friend to the country's Christian minority. Christians are about 10

percent of the population in Egypt, that's the largest Christian community in the Middle East, and I would imagine that they are going to do

everything they can to try to make sure that these kind of incidents aren't repeated, Lynda.

KINKADE: And we would hope not given in particular that Pope Francis is due to visit Egypt in the coming weeks in part to signal that the country

is safe for visitors. It doesn't seem safe right now, especially for Christians. Do you think that trip will go ahead?

ALLEN: Well, that's exactly right, Lynda. I mean, and there is another dimension to this, too.

I think the real reason that Pope Francis is going to Egypt, he is going to be visiting the mosque and university of al-Atar, which is the most

important center of learning in the Sunni Muslim world and Pope Francis wants to style al-Atar and the mainstream leadership of Sunni Islam as a

partner in the fight against extremism and violence.

You know, Pope Francis many times has said that Islam is a religion of peace. He's gone so far as to say that there is no such thing as Islamic

terrorism in the sense that any terrorism violates corporal principles of Islam.

The difficulty, of course, is that it becomes increasingly difficult to sustain that when you see things like these attacks on these two Coptic

Churches, including we should say...

KINKADE: All right, we seem to be having a little bit of trouble with that Skype. We might just leave that there. That was John Allen joining us


We are going to take a bit of a short break now, but we will be right back. Stay with us.


KINKADE: Welcome back.

Well, in today's Parting Shots we are off to Iran which just hosted its first-ever marathon. And

guess what, it wasn't just the locals joining in on the fun, hundreds of people from close to 50 countries around the world took part in the

historic race and CNN caught up with some of the runners on the ground in Tehran. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I live in Dubai so it was very close to come for a weekend.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've come to Iran from England.

UNIDENITIFIED MALE: It was a good occasion to visit the city and discover a new city, a new country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think Iran is a good country.

[11:55:02] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was born here, and I'm living in U.S. for 25 years, and I'm super excited.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, actually first was the plan to travel Iran and by accident we found out there is a marathon going on here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): When I thought of going to Iran, people tried to scare me, telling me it's not safe, but it's actually very

nice here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I made a point to participate in this event because of the bridge to build for peace and prosperity for my country.


KINKADE: What an amazing story out of Iran.

Well, to watch it again, if you missed some of it, it will be on our Facebook page for you to enjoy.

And for more on what's going on in the Middle East go to, and you can always keep up with the latest news by

giving us a like there.

We'll like that.

I'm Lynda Kinkade, that was Connect the World. Thanks so much for watching. See you next time.