Return to Transcripts main page


Tillerson: U.S. Russia Relations At Low Point; Russia Vetoes U.N. Security Council Action On Syria; Police Suspect "Terrorist Involvement" In Dortmund; CNN Gets Rare Access to U.S. Battle Against ISIS; Russia Vetoes U.N. Security Council Action on Syria; Calls for Spicer to Resign Over Hitler Comments; Destination Mauritius, Capturing Its Hidden Beauty. Trump and NATO Leaser Address Media. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired April 12, 2017 - 15:00   ET





HANNAH VAUGHAN JONES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. Good evening to you. I'm Hannah Vaughan Jones standing in for Hala Gorani. We are live in London and this


Before we get to the very latest with U.S.-Russia relations, we want to bring our viewers up to speed with what is happening in Washington at the

moment. Very shortly, Jens Stoltenberg, who is the NATO secretary general will be meeting President Trump.

This of course very significant given the comments that the U.S. president has made about NATO referring to it as being obsolete in the past. So

interesting to see what these two gentlemen will agree on if anything when they have these very high level talks at the White House. We'll bring you

live pictures and all the reaction from there as soon as we get it.

But in the meantime, I want to take you to Moscow and that highly anticipated meeting between the Russian President Vladimir Putin, his

foreign minister and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Tillerson and Russia's Sergey Lavrov both admitted relations between their nations were at an especially low point and the main obstacle of bridging

the gap seems to be Syria, especially Russia's long time alliance with the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad.

The U.S. secretary of state is blaming the regime directly for a deadly chemical attack. Take a listen.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The recent chemical weapons attack carried out in Syria was planned and it was directed and executed by Syrian

regime forces and we're quite confident of that. This is just the latest in a series of the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. And

notwithstanding their use on more than 50 occasions of chlorine bombs, cluster bombs and other types of weapons that are intended to maim and kill

in the most horrific ways.


JONES: Despite the evidence, Russia's foreign minister says Moscow wants an independent investigation into the attack.


SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): We are 100 percent convinced that if our colleagues in the United Nations and in The

Hague don't do this investigation, it will mean they don't want to establish the truth and we will insist on it.


JONES: The diplomats covered a lot more ground than just Syria in that news conference. Matthew Chance joins me now from Moscow and Elise Labott

is in Washington for us. Welcome to you both.

Matthew, before we get into the ins and outs of that particular press conference, all eyes or all ears would have been on the Vladimir Putin/Rex

Tillerson meeting, which took place in advance. Any word yet on how these two got on?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not at all. That meeting was conducted behind closed doors. There was no joint statement,

no photo spread beforehand either. In fact it was questionable for the whole duration of this visit by Rex Tillerson, his first in Moscow as

secretary of state, whether the meeting would take place at all.

It had initially been penciled in as a possibility, but then it was taken off the agenda and that was interpreted widely as being a slap in the face

to Washington, an example of how furious the kremlin was with the White House for carrying out the missile strikes on its ally in Syria.

But in the end, it went ahead and it went ahead for two hours. What we got afterwards was a joint press conference between Rex Tillerson and the

Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov in which they talked about the areas that they discussed where there was cooperation and potential areas

of cooperation and areas where they still are miles apart.

And of course, first and foremost on that issue of being miles apart was the issue of Bashar al Assad. Now, Rex Tillerson came to Moscow basically

with an insistence that the kremlin should back off its alliance from the Assad regime.

[15:05:12]He said it was not in the national interests anymore of Russia to be on that side of things, other people in the Trump administration had

characterized Russia as being on the wrong side of history by backing Assad.

But I think what was notable to me when I heard Rex Tillerson speak in this news conference that he gave after those meetings is that he was no longer

insisting on it. He was saying it is our view that the reign of the Assad family has come to an end.

And he said Russia is the best means of getting Assad to recognize that reality. So he still wants Assad to go, still wants Russia to help with

that, but it wasn't a demand, it was more of a request.

And I think that is the result of the fact that behind closed doors, Rex Tillerson will have been told by both Sergey Lavrov and Vladimir Putin that

they continue to back Bashar al-Assad. They have invested billions of dollars, millions of tons of military equipment and a whole lot of personal

and national prestige in propping this Syrian dictator up.

And it will take more than a few dozen American missiles to get them to turn their back on him. There was one sort of line coming from Sergey

Lavrov saying that we're not insisting on personalities. Taken as an indication that maybe Assad is negotiable.

But I can tell you, the kremlin often say they are not married to Bashar al Assad, that they are not insisting on personalities, that they are open for

other people who would be Syrian people may choose to lead them.

But time and again, they have illustrated through financial assistance and military power that their man in Syria is Bashar al Assad. He protects

Russia's interests in that country and he's not going to do a deal with the west that any other leader might.

So I don't see any signed of them backing away from that assistance and that support at this moment.

JONES: OK. Matthew, stand by for us, if you will. I want to bring in Elise Labott now in Washington for us. Elise, Matthew there referring to

the fact that perhaps Rex Tillerson's tone had softened somewhat in difference to what he went to Moscow purporting to be demanding. What is

the reaction in D.C. to how their man is fairing over in Moscow?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean I think -- look, you've heard mixed messages from this administration. It's more

about a mixed tone. The U.S. ambassador, Nikki Haley, was talking very tough this week about Assad must go, Assad must go.

And you heard a much more muted tone from Secretary Tillerson. I think that he wants to give the Russians a door that they can walk through and

that was one of the messages he was taking with him on behalf of the international community.

He just came from the G7 where he was meeting with leaders there and some Arab leaders, as well. And what he is saying is we know that you have

interests in Syria that need to be protected, that need to be preserved.

And the best way for you to preserve those interests is to work with the international community. So I think he doesn't want to -- I thought it was

that press conference was fascinating in the sense that you have this don't matt diplomat and this wordsmith in Sergey Lavrov, who has been at this in

for decades.

And you know, Rex Tillerson, who has no real diplomatic experience certainly he's met with world leaders as chair of ExxonMobil, but you know,

a much more muted and low ketone. But it was a very honest conversation in terms of that these countries, the relationship is at an all-time low.

They have a lot of difference and I think it was much more about them bickering to one another than it was about trying to put their position

forward and make some kind of argument. You heard Sergey Lavrov a kind of tit for tat for everything that Rex Tillerson was saying.

So I mean, despite the tense relations, I think both countries want to find a way to take the relationship in a better place. As Rex Tillerson said,

these two nuclear powers, the relationship cannot continue to deteriorate.

So I mean, even though his tone was muted, I think he certainly was not the kind of forceful figure that you saw in Sergey Lavrov. I think beneath all

the tension, there a desire to try to find common ground, but they made it very hard for Rex Tillerson today.

He got a very icy reception from the beginning and in his beginning statements with Rex Tillerson, Sergey Lavrov is certainly criticizing him

and Vladimir Putin as well.

JONES: All right. Very interesting to speak to you both. Elise Labott in Washington and Matthew Chance in Moscow with all the reaction from Russia

as well. As Elise and Matthew were both referring to, the one person we haven't heard from in the aftermath of these meetings is the Russian

President Vladimir Putin.

[15:10:08]He did however sit down for an interview with Russian television before speaking to Tillerson. The Russian leader says Syria fulfilled its

obligations to eradicate all its chemical weapons. Take a listen.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Everyone knows well that on our initiative and on the initiative of the United States, we

carried out a large amount of work to liquidate chemical weapons, which were in possession of the Syrian authorities.

They have done their job. They fulfilled all their obligations. As far as we know, the special organization within the United Nations confirmed this.

So if there are some doubts, an inspection can be carried out.


JONES: We're also following major developments this evening at the United Nations in New York where the Security Council is expected to vote within

minutes possibly on a draft resolution that condemns that chemical attack in Syria, in Idlib and also demands that the government of Bashar al Assad

cooperate with an outside investigation.

Russia is as you'd imagine threatening to veto that draft resolution. If it follows through, it will be the eighth time that Moscow has blocked

Security Council actions directed at the Syrian regime. These are live pictures from the U.N. We'll bring you more live reaction just as soon as

we get a vote.

In the meantime, I want to bring in Ben Wedeman who joins us now live from the Turkey/Syria border. Ben, interesting to get your perspective on the

impact of all these diplomatic talks on the ground in Syria and indeed how the dynamic would change in Syria if the kremlin support for Assad begins

to wane.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that is definitely not in the cards at the moment. Let's keep in mind the Soviet

Union from 1970 when Assad's father came to power supported that regime. And for the last 47 years, first the Soviet Union and of course then Russia

supported both father and son.

Of course, Bashar took over into 2000 and they're not about to pull out that support after a bit of pressure from the United States. And of course

what is not in all of this conversation about removing Bashar al Assad is the day after.

We saw that the United States when it came to removing regimes in Libya, that of Moammar Gadhafi in Iraq and Saddam Hussein was very good. They

were able to remove them quite rapidly. The problem is very little thought is being given to the day after.

Remove Bashar al Assad and what do you have? Nobody is talking about a credible opposition that could run the country. In fact at the moment, you

have the biggest armed force in Syria is ISIS after the regime. And then you have about 1,000 rebel factions that are fighting with one another and

fighting with ISIS and fighting the regime.

You really don't have an alternative at the moment to the regime of Bashar al Assad as distasteful as that might be to the United States. So we're

sort of walking around blind at the moment because nobody is really thinking about the alternative. There is no alternative.

And I think the Russians are going to stand behind Bashar al Assad as they have done for the last 47 years when it comes to the Assad family, and that

they are probably not going to budge on that -- Hannah.

JONES: Yes, until a viable alternative turns up. Ben Wedeman live for us on the Turkey-Syria border, thank you.

Now from negotiations with G7 allies to tense talks with Russia's leader, this week has certainly tested the metal of new U.S. Secretary of State Rex


My next guest may be able to shed some light on how he's faired so far. Malcolm Rifkind is the former British foreign secretary and joins me now

live from London. Sir, welcome to the program.


JONES: When we think about how Rex Tillerson is fairing so far, we perhaps need to think about the hurdles that he's faced so far as well. The

backdrop of course to these meetings in Moscow is the G7 and at the G7, the U.K. attempted to force the members to impose sanctions on Russia and the

U.K. failed at that. How much of a hurdle do you think that was for Rex Tillerson then going into these Moscow negotiations?

RIFKIND: Well, I don't think it was quite like that. I think Boris Johnson and Rex Tillerson had discussed this beforehand and this was a

position that Boris Johnson put forward which Rex Tillerson was supporting at that time.

As you rightly said, it did not get the level of agreement that enabled them to go ahead. But can I make a more general point, I've been

unimpressed with the way the White House has been dealing with this over the last few days.

[15:15:06]The one thing that Putin understands is power. Not empty rhetoric. When they had the airstrikes last week, they worked. All

compliments to President Trump on the air strikes because as a result of these airstrikes, we can assume with 100 percent certainty that Assad will

not use chemical weapons again in the foreseeable future.

However, what's happened since then has not been an expression of power but of weakness because we've had constant suggestions not just by Rex

Tillerson, by others as well, that Assad must go, that he cannot part of even a transitional arrangement.

As your other commentators have said, that has been a completely untenable position and if Tillerson in meeting President Putin and Sergey Lavrov has

come away from that, I'm not surprised. He should never have been there in the first place.

The Russians would not have been impressed and therefore it's good that we might now be getting back to the real discussion which is how we can

hopefully with Russian support persuade all the Syrian factions, Assad on the one side and opposition on the other, to get round that table and bring

this ghastly conflict gradually to an end.

JONES: You've had a huge amounts of experience over the years with dealing with Russia. What would be your advice then, should the U.S. and Rex

Tillerson be looking for compromise or do you go in with a position of strength and say come on board with us or we'll go it alone?

RIFKIND: Diplomacy of this kind only works when you have leverage. Now there is leverage that has emerged thanks to the decision taken by the

White House a week ago. What Putin has been doing over the last two years, from his perspective, he is helping Assad in a military way, there was no

real cost to pay.

He couldn't care less about global condemnation. He was helping ensure that Assad gradually recovered large amounts of lost territory and Assad

today is much stronger than he was two years ago. Now, Putin does not want any more than the Americans want a military confrontation between Russia

and United States.

And up until last week, that was not a possibility. Putin now has to factor into his deliberations the fact that America now is in Syria in a

military way in a way they were not a week ago. So Putin now doesn't have that freedom of action that enables us if we were realistic about to try to

actually get some progress by working together.

JONES: One thing that the G7 did agree on last week was that they didn't want to push Putin too far. They didn't want to put him in a corner. Are

we at the point where Putin has to be pushed into a corner if there will be any movement on the ground?

RIFKIND: The debate last week in the G7 was actually really rather foolish because it was about symbolic sanctions. It wasn't about any real pushing

Putin into a corner. It was about whether some unnamed Syrian and perhaps Russian military people should be subject to personal sanctions.

The idea that the kremlin would change its whole strategy even if that had been approved by the G7 was never remotely on the cards. And therefore I

don't think that should ever have even been initiated.

JONES: Diplomatic effort elsewhere of course with the United Nations. We are expecting we believe a vote anytime now on this draft resolution for --

RIFKIND: We already know what the result of that will be.

JONES: We do. So do you think the U.N. has any bite left?

RIFKIND: Well, you can't blame the United Nations if an individual country, as we've been hearing earlier this evening, vetoes any meaningful

resolution on Syria. So the Security Council can function when there is agreement, occasionally there is agreement and that makes a huge


When there isn't agreement because of Russian details, then you have to try to pursue the objective in an alternative way. And the way to what I hope

Mr. Tillerson is saying to Lavrov and Putin and one day Trump will say to Putin is look, we're both now militarily involved in Syria. We both want

this war to come to an end. We therefore have to accept that all the current participants, including Assad --

JONES: Sir, I'm going to have to interrupt you. My apologies. Malcolm Rifkind, thank you very much for your thoughts. But I'm going to have to

go straight to the United Nations now. We are, I believe, now going to be looking at live pictures of the Security Council. They are about to vote

on a draft resolution that demands Syria corporate with an investigation into that suspected chemical attack in Idlib. Let's have a listen in.

VLADIMIR SAFRONKOV, DEPUTY RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.N. (through translator): -- ask him to immediately put together an independent international mission

in order to visit (inaudible) where allegedly chemical agents were used and also the Shayrat Air Base. Secretary of State of the United States is

considering this and we expect that Washington will have a constructive reaction to this proposal given the current situation.

[15:20:08]Given what I've just said now, also the fact that tomorrow on the 13th of April, there will be a meeting of the executive council

(inaudible) in The Hague where on the whole gamut of these issues will be discussed given all of this, putting the draft to a vote today does not

serve a useful purpose. Thank you.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: OK. Thank you to the representative of the Russian federation. The council is now ready to

proceed to the vote on the draft resolution before it.

With those in favor of the draft resolution contained in document S/2017/315, please raise their hand. Those against. Abstentions. Results

is as follows, ten votes in favor, two votes against, three abstentions.

The draft resolution has not been adopted owing to the negative vote of a permanent member of council. I now give the floor to those members of the

council who wish to make statements after the vote. I will start by giving the floor to the representative of the United Kingdom.

Thank you, Madam President. The conflict that has ravaged Syria has lasted for more than six years. For the people of Syria, that must feel

like an eternity. Here in this chamber, we only get so many moments to act. Only so many moments to show them that hope is not dead, for the

world to unite in condemnation of war crimes. Today was one of those moments. What happened in Khan Sheikhoun was the worst --

JONES: We've been bringing you live pictures from the U.N. Security Council where a draft resolution has not been adopted. Russia has followed

through on its promise and used its veto at that Security Council. The resolution was all about the suspected chemical attack on Syria and trying

to punish Syria further for it and have further investigations into the chemical weapons potentially used.

I want to get more details now from CNN senior U.N. correspondent, Richard Roth. Richard, all as expected really with the Russian veto but also three

abstentions as well. I'm wondering who they were from.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Well, China was one of them. So they were able on the western side to peel away China from Russia. The

Chinese leader had just seen President Trump. Perhaps that was of some influence. North Korea will be a bigger issue for those big powers.

But the Russian veto, let's take note of this, it's the eighth veto by Russia on a Syria resolution at the Security Council since this bloody six-

year plus war began. Tensions running high in the council, it's been a double header day for Syria.

Discussed in the morning with passions running high in speeches, pointed remarks at each other by ambassadors and now here a vote on a resolution.

The Russians were never really going to go along with this despite Secretary of State Tillerson talking privately with President Putin in


Some wondered whether that would have an impact. But here the British ambassador is saying, as you just heard, that it was a war crime and this

was a moment in history in affect and the council has failed to act.

Before the vote, the U.K. said council must act. It's a horrifying image for the council in its inability on the world stage because of divisions to

act on such a major crisis. The Russian deputy ambassador had earlier said to the British ambassador stop with your insults, listen to me, you're not

even paying attention when they were discussing Syria. It's gotten very personal.

People are exasperated and the gas chemical attacks have continued over time in Syria despite international efforts to strip Syria's leader, Assad,

from containing these supplies. Back to you, Hannah, for now.

[15:25:05]JONES: OK. Richard Roth live for us at the U.N. Russia has used its veto at the U.N. Security Council for the eighth time now. We

will have no draft resolution on Syria from the United Nations. These are live pictures and we'll bring you more reaction from the United Nations

just as soon as we get it through the course of the evening.

In the meantime, still to come tonight on THE WORLD RIGHT NOW, a day after their bus was attacked, Borussia Dortmund were back playing in the

Champions League. We will be live in Dortmund next.


JONES: Welcome back. You're watching THE WORLD RIGHT NOW here on CNN. To Germany now and new developments from the bomb attack on the Borussia

Dortmund team bus. Authorities are focusing on two suspects from what they call the, quote, "Islamist spectrum" and have temporarily detained one of


Three explosions shattered windows on the football team's bus. Letters found at the scene call for German jets to stop flying over Syria. Just 24

hours after that horrific ordeal, Borussia Dortmund took to the field and played their postponed game against Monaco.

It didn't go to plan though for the host. They lost the Champions League game, 3-2. Meanwhile, Marc Bartra, the Spanish defender injured in the

explosion yesterday has since posted on social media thanking his fans for their support.

Let's go live now to Christina Macfarlane, who is outside the stadium in Dortmund. Christina, describe for us the mood really not just amongst the

players but also the fans because, of course, many people would have been surprised that this game was played so soon after these explosions.

CHRISTINA MACFARLANE, CNN WORLD SPORT: They were indeed and I think what is encouraging to see is that while the mood was rather somber but calm

ahead of the match, this evening it has switched back to excitement about the football and you mentioned the match here tonight.

It's not just any game, Hannah. This is the quarter finals of the Champions League, the biggest league in Europe. And if you were wondering

how the players dealt with this psychologically, just 24 hours after their team bus came under attack, tonight we had our answer.

Five goals in the back of the net. The players perhaps slightly nervous at first, but then fully focused on the match. Monaco, of course, winning

out, 3-2. It's important to mention, though, the enormous police operation that has been under way in the past 24 hours here.

They have literally been hundreds of armed guards behind me outside the stadium and interestingly inside the stadium, too, which we think is

unprecedented. They are continuing to be vigilant here tonight for obvious reasons.

And we've heard that in the last half an hour, a few suspicious objects were actually removed from outside the stadium and the area was cleared.

So they are continuing to take precautions here, but the general feeling here tonight is one of defiance, that football will not be cowed by


[15:30:10] JONES: Yes. And we definitely saw fans and the world of football sort of coming together in solidarity, didn't we, when these

explosions first happened last night? There were many fans who were already in that stadium behind you. Presumably they've returned for the

follow up match.

Do you sense, though, that there is kind of a feeling of trepidation or vulnerability amongst the fans, or is security visibly tighter?

MACFARLANE: Well, if there is, then we haven't witnessed it here today, Hannah. We've been here since very early this morning. And in fact, from

as early as 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. this morning, some of the Monaco fans had actually come back to the stadium. Many of them, as you mentioned, you

know, not thinking that they were going to be back here within minutes of the match being declared, that there was going to be a reschedule of it

yesterday evening.

Many of the Dortmund fans here opening their homes to the Monaco fans, allowing them to stay the night with them. So there was a great solidarity

here between the fans. And I think that is set to continue as we play in the second leg of this tie next week.

VAUGHAN JONES: Christy, great to talk to you. Christina Macfarlane is live for us at Dortmund. Three-two was the final score there in that

replayed quarter final champions league match.

Plenty more coming up on THE WORLD RIGHT NOW. Stay tuned, always.


VAUGHAN JONES: Welcome back to the program. Let's update you on the top stories we're following for you this hour. The top diplomats for the U.S.

and Russia are admitting relations between the U.S. and Russia are at a low point, and there is not a lot of trust to go around.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met Russia's Sergey Lavrov, as well as President Vladimir Putin who has reaffirmed Moscow's support for the

Syrian regime.

President Trump is meeting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg right now. Mr. Trump will attend his first gathering of NATO leaders next month

in Brussels. The two leaders are expected to give a press conference in the next hour. Full courage of that here on CNN.

South Africa's opposition parties are uniting and calling for the President to step down. A massive rally was held in Pretoria today. Jacob Zuma is

the target of protests after he purged his cabinets. A respected Finance Minister was among those fired.

Now, we turn to a report you'll only see here on CNN. An exclusive insight into the battle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Well, that fight has been

raging on multiple fronts for months now. While Iraqi forces have made progress in the battle for Mosul in northern Iraq, the fight for Raqqa, the

northern Syrian city known as the ISIS capital, is yet to begin.

[15:35:07] CNN's Nick Paton Walsh got exclusive access to the American commanding the fight against the extremist group in both Iraq and Syria,

and he got a unique view on the mission.

Nick, over to you. What have you learned?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hannah, as you've just been hearing over the past half an hour, the world is

constantly changing its geopolitical alliances. And there are a few places that we felt more acutely than the already very complicated fight for the

de facto capital of what ISIS has declared as being their caliphate, and that is the Syrian city of Raqqa.

The fight for that closer and closer, pro coalition forces enveloping it from the north, east, and west. And potentially in the weeks ahead,

serious moves being made, we heard, from the U.S. general commanding the coalition effort here.


WALSH (voice-over): He commands the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and flies now over a battlefield that seems to go from impossibly

complicated to worse, day by day. But the next key fight for ISIS' de facto capital, Raqqa, is now very close.

LT. GEN. STEPHEN TOWNSEND, COMMANDING GENERAL, COMBINED JOINT TASK FORCE: I certainly hope that the assault on Raqqa is under way by the summer.

WALSH (on camera): Complete by when?

TOWNSEND: Don't know, it's up to them. Months? It's up to them.

WALSH (on camera): Would you be surprised if you're still fighting that fight by 2018?

TOWNSEND: In Raqqa city? Yes.

WALSH (voice-over): Another long hard fight he may well need more U.S. boots on the ground for.

TOWNSEND: Right now, I think we have the resources we need there to isolate, to do the task we're doing right now, which is complete the

isolation of Raqqa. After the isolation of Raqqa will come the assault, and we're still evaluating what resources we need. If I need more

resources, I'll go to my leadership, my chain of command, and tell them what we need to get the job done.

WALSH (voice-over): Now, he must evaluate another possible complexity or enemy after President Trump launched 59 Tomahawk missiles against the

Syrian regime backed by Russia for a chemical weapons attack in Idlib.

WALSH (on camera): As you're thinking about Russian or Syrian regime involvement and Raqqa, have they changed since the air strikes in the past

week or so against Syrian regime targets by the U.S.?

TOWNSEND: Yes, I would say that, probably, our thinking has changed a little bit, but I couldn't say specifically how.

WALSH (on camera): Are you having to take into account the possibility the Syrian regime might use sarin against U.S. facilities or assets here?

TOWNSEND: Sure, we have to take that into account. I'm not greatly concerned by that.

WALSH (on camera): Is it a risk in your mind? Do you worry about it when you wake up?

TOWNSEND: Of course, it's a possibility so it's a risk. I think it's a very small risk. Let me just say on that last question --

WALSH (on camera): Yes.

TOWNSEND: -- I don't think the Syrian regime wants to pick a fight with the United States or the global coalition against ISIS. You know, if you

take what you just said a step further, that's what they're doing. They're choosing to directly fight the United States and global coalition. I don't

think they want to do that.

WALSH (voice-over): U.S. backed rebel Syrian forces are isolating Raqqa from the north, east, and west and may very soon move from to isolate from

the south, nearer where Russian and regime forces are. Yet he said he is, as of now, not coordinating the Raqqa push with Russia or Syria at all.

WALSH (on camera): Do the regime or Russian forces have any role in your planning for the liberation of Raqqa?

TOWNSEND: Right now, we are not planning or coordinating with them. They're not even located near Raqqa, so.

WALSH (on camera): But they don't figure as part of your operations to liberate that city?

TOWNSEND: We think they have their hands full doing their tasks in Syria, and they're probably happy to let the Syrian democratic forces and the

coalition tackle Raqqa.


WALSH: But those Russian and Syrian regime forces are pretty close. They're off to the west and side further to the south, so they will become

a complex complicating factor in that fight, which is pretty much under way, we think, probably in the weeks or months ahead.

One other thing he did mention, too. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader, well, you have not heard from him very much, but he's on the

blitzer. And that man is still running the show in ISIS even though he's keeping a very low profile at this point, Hannah.

VAUGHAN JONES: Nick, fantastic reporting there. Nick Paton Walsh live for us in Iraq. Thank you.

Let's take you back now to our breaking news from the United Nations. And as promised, Russia has used its veto just moments ago blocking a Security

Council resolution on the suspected chemical attack in Syria. The measure demanded that the Assad's government cooperate with an outside

investigation into the chemical weapons potentially used. This is the eighth time that Moscow has blocked Security Council action directed at the

Syrian regime.

[15:40:12] Stephen Cohen is a professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at NYU and Princeton University, and joins me now live from New


Professor, thanks so much for being on the program.


VAUGHAN JONES: With this U.N. vote in mind, what is the rationale for even going ahead with the vote when the result is a foregone conclusion and what

is the rationale for Russia vetoing it again and again?

COHEN: The United States knew Russia would veto it. It was done for political reasons, to make Russia look inhumane about gas attacks. The

Russians won't go for it because that's not the kind of investigation they want. They made that clear in Moscow today when Tillerson was there.

They want the investigation to be done by a special unit of the United Nations. That was not in the resolution. Or done at The Hague. Putin has

already stated now this is just political, not directly involved to the investigation, if there is actually going to be one. But can I say one

thing, please?


COHEN: You can't take Syria and the current crisis out of the context of where we are with Russia. We are in a new Cold War with Russia, and it has

three fronts that are fraught with or, as Russians say, pregnant with hot war.

That is the Baltic region where NATO is undergoing an unprecedented military buildup on Russia's borders. That is Ukraine, everyone knows that

story. It's a civil and proxy war. And there is Syria.

Now, the point is, is that until recently, the Russians thought, and maybe Trump thought, that cooperation in Syria would not only be effective

against terrorism there, Russian-American, but that cooperation would ease the danger of hot war in the Baltics and Ukraine. That hasn't happened.

And it was before the so-called chemical attack -- whether or not Assad did it, it's not clear yet -- and then Trump's decision to launch the missiles.

So when Secretary of State showed up last night in Moscow to have his talks today, we are literally talking the possibility of war and peace. And the

evidence is that the second man in the Russian leadership, the Prime Minister said --

VAUGHAN JONES: I want to pick up on your point about this new cold war. Sorry for interrupting you, sir, but we heard in the press conference

earlier from Sergey Lavrov. He used language such as, we see attempts to sabotage our collaboration, we need to deal with irritants. I'm wondering

who Russians believe are the irritants making the relationship between the U.S. and Russia that much harder than it already is.

COHEN: Well, that is exactly the question that both Putin and Lavrov put to Secretary of State Tillerson, a man they know very, very well. They

worked with him on one of Russia's largest oil deals when Tillerson was head of ExxonMobil.

They knew him to be serious. They know him to be nonideological. They know him to be honest, and they know him to be reliable. They want to

know, and they have asked this question before when Obama was president, who is making Russian policy in Washington? Because the President says one

thing and something else happens.


COHEN: For Russia, this is a fundamental question.

VAUGHAN JONES: Well, it's been great to get your perspective on that. I'm afraid we have to live it there because we've run out of time. Professor

Stephen Cohen, thank you very much indeed.

To our viewers across the world, stay with us here on THE WORLD RIGHT NOW. Plenty more coming up after this break.


[15:45:46] VAUGHAN JONES: Welcome back. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's job is to communicate the President's agenda to the press, not to

become the story himself. However, in the past 24 hours, that is exactly what's happened and there are now calls for him to resign over these



SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We didn't use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who

didn't even sink to using chemical weapons. So you have to, if you're Russia, ask yourself, is this a country that you and a regime that you want

to align yourself with?


VAUGHAN JONES: You know those remarks were met with gasps in the White House briefing room. Spicer has since apologized repeatedly including

these comments he made today.


SPICER: I made a mistake. I mean, there is no other way to say it. I got into a topic that I shouldn't have and I screwed up.


VAUGHAN JONES: Well, for more, let's cross to Los Angeles. Dylan Buyers is standing by for us. He's CNN's senior reporter for media and politics.

Dylan, good to have you on the program. Inexcusable, reprehensible, I let the president down -- all of these are Sean Spicer's words. And yet he's

still the Press Secretary.

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER FOR MEDIA AND POLITICS: Well, that's absolutely right. And there are obviously a lot of advocacy groups

and a lot of critics of Spicer and of the Trump administration that would like to use this as an opportunity to see him go.

Now, he's given a full-throated apology, the apology you've just played, the apology he gave to our colleague, Wolf Blitzer, yesterday. I think he

knows what he said was ignorant. It was, frankly, idiotic.

It was offensive, but it did not come from some place of sort of anti- Semitism or Holocaust denialism. He's not defending Hitler here. He made a mistake, and it was an egregious mistake. But I think the President of

the United States, based on the sources I've spoken with, understands that it's a mistake and is continuing to stand behind Spicer.

VAUGHAN JONES: All right. We applaud him for the apology, I guess. Dylan Buyers, thanks very much indeed.

BUYERS: Thank you.

VAUGHAN JONES: Stay with us here on CNN. You're watching THE WORLD RIGHT NOW. Plenty more coming up.


VAUGHAN JONES: More than a century ago, its natural beauty inspired author Mark Twain. Today, Mauritius remains a source of inspiration for a new

generation of creative minds. In this edition of "Destination Mauritius," we meet one photographer looking to capture the island nation's hidden



JOSEPH MANGLAVITI, INTERNATIONAL WINNING MASTER PHOTOGRAPHER: Mauritius is more than just beaches. Mauritius has so much more to offer. It's got

your mountains. It's got heritage. It has multiculturalism. It has so many things in it that, I think, people are missing out if they just come

here for the beaches.

[15:50:07] We're at an old sort of Indian temple out on one of the rivers. It looks interesting here. It's one of the goddesses of destruction, which

comes and claims everything. So take five photos, come back, and show me what you've done. And then we'll take it from there.

Part of it, too, is that I enjoy doing, more so, the tours where I like to bring people to destinations, places that you would not normally go to, and

just, you know, really experience what Mauritius is. Instead of just seeing it from your car window, I want people to feel it.

Watch the sea from the back. Do you see the dome?


MANGLAVITI: It was built up here as a fort to see the oncoming boats that were coming on, boats they can see. So they have the cannons up there. It

was an armed fort. It gives you the most amazing view of Port Louis, roughly 360 degrees around.

So we've landed in Ile du Phare, which is the Lighthouse Island. From here, you can see the island of Mauritius on that side there. We're

looking at the east coast of Mauritius on that side there which, I think, is spectacular. Look at those mountains.

We're going to photograph that way. OK?


MANGLAVITI: Because the sun is behind us. If we photograph from in there, it's going to be too difficult. The light now is perfect. Crouch lower.

Go low. Go down low. There.

So shooting in Mauritius, you can't go wrong. Look how beautiful this place is. You've got clouds, you've got ocean, you've got middle islands.

You drop the camera, and it's going to look good.


MANGLAVITI: So hopefully, you learned something, you took some beautiful photos, and you can see how beautiful Mauritius is. By doing the tools

that we have, you get to experience Mauritius like a tourist. And also, you get to learn something as well that you can bring back with you. You

can take amazing photos and you've got a story behind it as well.


VAUGHAN JONES: Stay with us here on CNN. Donald Trump and the NATO Secretary General coming up next with "THE LEAD" and Jake Tapper. Stay