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Kushner Tries to Revive Mideast Peace Talks; White House Putting Final Touches on Military Transgender Ban; Documentary on Elian Gonzalez Airs Tonight. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired August 24, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:30:00] JARED KUSHNER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADIVSOR: The relationship between Israel and America is stronger than ever. And we really thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for his leadership and his partnership.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN ANCHOR: Let's bring in CNN's Oren Liebermann. He is live for us in Jerusalem.

Oren, how did the meeting go? What came of it?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: From the reading we got, a short readout of the introduction of the meeting, there wasn't anything concrete. These two have a long history together, decades together, Kushner and Netanyahu. We didn't get much in terms of a vision or a definitive statement about what's coming next, next steps, time line for any kind of start for negotiations. Frankly, nor did we expect any. Both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, tempering their expectations of what comes next.

Kushner did something very smart before coming here to meet with Israeli's and Palestinians. He toured the gulf, meeting with regional Arab leaders who would be critical if Trump wants to start some sort of regional initiative. But it doesn't change the fact of the reality that Kushner faces hear in trying to get Israelis and Palestinians to make concessions.

Netanyahu is under criminal investigation. In doing so, and being under investigation, he's shifted sharply to the right to appeal to his own voters in a show of support with his voter base. That's left him little flexibility on a peace process, flexibility to make negotiations, to make concessions.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who will meet with Kushner shortly, is waiting for the Trump administration to commit openly and definitively to a two-state solution, something the administration hasn't yet done. That makes it difficult for Abbas to engage on a peace process or negotiations under a Trump administration's leadership.

Additionally, Abbas faces his own in-fighting between Fatah, his own party, and Hamas, which runs Gaza, for influence and political power within the Palestinian political sphere. That makes it difficult for both leaders to make concessions towards each other and towards a peace process.

Yet, Clarissa, the fact that Kushner is here for the third time since Trump took office indicates how interested Trump is on making progress here. Because of that, you can never write it off, at least not yet.

WARD: I want to get a feel as well, Oren -- we know that Kushner has a relationship that goes back many years with Netanyahu, close family ties there. What sort of relationship has he been able to strike with the Palestinian leadership, with Mahmoud Abbas?

LIEBERMANN: Because Kushner hasn't been here many times, it doesn't seem there's a strong relationship built there yet between Kushner and Abbas. It's because of the ties between Kushner and Netanyahu that some Palestinian leaders view this skeptically, as Kushner being the one leading a peace push here under Trump. And yet, it has to be pointed out that Jason Greenblatt, Trump's special envoy for international negotiations, who comes from a religious Jewish background in the U.S., has been here multiple times and is viewed quite seriously by both sides, Israelis and Palestinians. He's had far more meetings than Kushner. He's met with regional Arab leaders, all to try to advance the regional peace initiative. He's viewed quite seriously.

The problem is, there's no vision yet from the Trump administration. As Kushner tries to build his own relationship, there is a time limit that is definitely ticking in the background of all this, of Trump's attempt to push for an initiative or peace process.

WARD: Oren, I have to ask you, because a lot of people in the U.S. and the Jewish community were very disappointed with the lack of any public statement from Jared Kushner regarding the Neo-Nazi protest in Charlottesville. I'm wondering, has there been any pushback in Israel on this matter? Is it a topic of conversation, even?

LIEBERMANN: Trump, Kushner, Netanyahu all face criticism for a lack of response or delayed response. It's worth remembering that Netanyahu's response came three days after the Neo-Nazi, white supremacist rally, and only on social media, and only after Trump, himself, responded. Kushner was a target of some of that criticism. Yet, I would say it doesn't affect in any significant way Trump's ability or attempt to make progress here. Why? Because Trump, himself, remains very popular with Netanyahu and Netanyahu's voters. All that criticism hasn't affected Trump's ability to affect change or influence change here. We'll see how it plays out. It didn't come up in the public statements between Kushner and Netanyahu. Netanyahu very much wants to stay away from that topic with Kushner in town.

[11:35:23] WARD: One can imagine.

Oren Liebermann, thank you so much.

Coming up next, the White House is putting the final touches on the president's transgender military ban. According to a new report, the guidelines may reach the Pentagon as early as today. Details coming up.


WARD: Weeks after the president surprise military leaders with a tweet announcing a ban on transgender individuals, the White House says it a ready to roll out guidance in the coming days. The "Wall Street Journal" obtained a memo outlining the new directive. It says the military is to stop admitting transgender people. And the current transgender troops, the Pentagon should consider their ability to deploy when determining whether or not to expel them. Also payments for medical treatment regimen would be stopped. And we should mention, it's not clear if the memo is finalized.

With me to discuss is CNN national security analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Thank you so much for joining us.

What are your thoughts on what we are seeing as this policy begins to emerge more clearly?

[13:39:58] REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think what you are seeing is a policy memo that was heavily influenced by the Pentagon in its crafting. Remember, you said, Clarissa, the president launched a series of tweets and made a blanket ban with no context or anything provided to military leaders. I think what's happened here, in the intervening weeks, the military staff has gotten involved in helping craft this policy memo in such a way that it can be implemented according to dictates they think they can meet. There's going to be, I think, I haven't seen it, but I think some flexibility and discretion that Secretary Mattis is going to be able to show how he implements going forward. It looks like, at least appears that sessions of recruiting's going to be immediately cut off. That's a simple thing to do when they identify themselves as transgender, which they don't always. The medical stuff was largely in place already. There was some allowances for medical treatment in the past. This is going to give him flexibility.

The last issue is deployability. What do you do with the transgender troops that are already in the service, who are serving honorably and well and doing critical skills? I think the way it is going to be crafted will give Secretary Mattis and military leaders a chance to keep faith with those servicemembers and not have to kick them out, but make sort of discreet decisions about where they serve, how they serve, and when they serve.

WARD: Let me ask you this because ostensibly the reason for introducing this or changing this policy was that President Trump wanted to kind of help out the military, relieve them of the headache of having to deal with transgender troops. Of course, when you are making a major policy shift like this, it creates headaches of its own. How welcome an initiative do you think this is within the military?

KIRBY: I don't think it's going to be that welcome, to be honest with you, Clarissa. Look, there are hundreds, if not thousands of transgender troops already serving. They are doing it honorably and well. At a time when the Army wants to increase the number of soldiers they have in the ranks, why cut off talent? These are people with talents and skills. It makes no sense. I think the military moved well beyond issues of concern over this. Look at how easily "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was repealed. We have been having transgender service troops serving openly now for eight or nine months. Not a single moral issue. No unit cohesion problems. No readiness concerns. I think the rank-and-file in the military, they probably have no problem with transgenders serving openly. But they have this presidential tweet now, which changes policy, so they have to obey it. What you are going to see is they are going to try to find a way to thread the needle, to meet the intent of the president's policy change, but do it in a way that's humane and respectful, and does not break faith with those who are so honorably serving.

Personally, I think this ban is a horrible idea. I was fully in support of President Obama's decision to let them serve openly. It's a terrible mistake to impact that policy, whatsoever.

WARD: What was the response in the Pentagon when that tweet first came out, essentially announcing a policy shift, the announcement not made in conjunction with the Pentagon? Was there anger and frustration? Were people surprised?

KIRBY: I think it was a little of all of that, Clarissa. Certainly, they were surprised. What the Pentagon said is that Secretary Mattis had been informed of the president's intent and desires the day before, but even he did not know it was going to be articulated in a series of tweets. We are told military leaders and civilian leaders at the Pentagon were frustrated and befuddled, and surprised by the fact it came out so quickly and came out in tweets. Not to mention, look, even if he did it in a statement, not a tweet, a presidential statement, that would have been bad enough so quickly. There was no context behind it or justification. It was simply put out there into the ether, absent of anything else, any other kind of information that could clarify it. The Pentagon is a planning organization. They need that context to try to meet the commander-in-chief's content. They were all caught flatfooted by it.

WARD: What do you think -- I know you said the ban doesn't have a lot of support. I'm trying to get a sense of, within the military, before this presidential tweet, you know, instigated this major policy change, how much of a hot-button issue was it? Would you find a bunch of soldiers sitting around, being like, I can't believe there's transgender troops in the military and we have to do something about it? Was this on the minds of servicemen and women?

KIRBY: Honestly, I don't think so, Clarissa. Now, I say that, and let me caveat, I'm sure troops, both men and women, who may have problems with transgenders in the military, I can't speak for all of them. It also differs in the different services. Not all services have the same view about this from a moral perspective, as others. But, they also were implementing the lift of the ban very well. In fact, all they asked for was an extra six months to get to the recruiting issue. But I think, by and large, in the rank-and-file across the services,

the young men and women that serve in our military, they are beyond this. What they care about is, can you do the mission? Can you accomplish it? Are you trained? Are you ready? Are you capable? That's what they want. They don't care where you came from, what your sexual orientation is, who you worship, who you vote for. They just want you to do the job. That's what makes our military so great. It's the power of this volunteer force that really does cut across all the stripes of American society. I would say, by and large, the rank- and-file don't think this is a significant issue worth a lot of handwringing over.

[11:46:02] WARD: All right, John Kirby, thank you so much.

KIRBY: My pleasure.

WARD: Just in, the Navy has suspended search-and-rescue efforts for several sailors who were missing after a warship crashed with an oil tanker. Divers recovered and identified 22-year-old Kenneth Aaron Smith as a victim. The Navy also identified the nine other missing sailors. The warship and the merchant vessel collided on Monday in the waters off Singapore. It is the fourth time a U.S. warship has been involved in an accident in that area just this year.

Well, after almost two decades -- well, it was almost two decades ago, this story gripped the nation and ignited a huge debate over immigration. I think everybody remembers, Elian Gonzalez. He is speaking out. Find out how he was doing and what he wants to tell us.

We'll be right back.


[11:51:09] WARD: Do you remember this picture from the year 2000? It's Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy who found himself at the center of a major international crisis, just as armed federal agents took him from a relative's home in Florida and returned him to his Cuban father. Elian was found in the Florida Straits, hanging onto an inner tube after the boat he and his mother were traveling on to seek refuge in the U.S. sank. What followed was a bitter public custody battle between his father and his relatives in Miami, against a backdrop of a volatile Cuba/U.S. relationship at the time.

Now, 17 years later, a new CNN documentary called "Elian" looks at his story.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann talked to Elian and his father.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN INTERNATOINAL CORRESPONDENT: What do you think your life had been like if you had stayed in the United States?


ELIAN GONZALEZ, EMBROILED IN IMMIGRATON BATTLE WHEN YOUNG (through translation): I think I would have become the poster boy for that group of Cubans in Miami that tries to destroy the revolution, that try to make Cuba look bad. I would have been used in that way.

Maybe I would have become an actor on TV or maybe I would have more money than I have here with more comforts, but I wouldn't have my family. I wouldn't have the tranquility I have in Cuba.


WARD: Joining me now, CNN's Rosa Flores.

Rosa, remind us how this incredible story, and tell us what Elian is up to now.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, he's 23 years old. He lives in Cuba. But who can forget the picture of Elian Gonzalez, only 6 years old, as armed Miami federal agents are taking him away from his Miami family?

Well, that photograph was taken by Associated Press photographer, Alan Diaz, who won the Pulitzer Prize for that photograph. And we talked to him. He tells us that the night of the raid, he couldn't sleep, and then heard a commotion about the federal raid happening. He says he jumped a fence, rushed towards the house. He says he could hear people screaming. It was very chaotic. But right at the door was his contact with the family, and that contact let him right in. Then this happened. Take a look.


ALAN DIAZ, ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTOGRAPHER: And as I walk in, I'm turning on the camera, setting the camera, setting the stroke, putting everything on. I just asked, where's the boy? A very good friend of the family, he says, he's in the room. Of course, I take off to the wrong room. I go to Elian's room. Why? Because I think Elian's in bed. And I see Elian's not in the room. And I realize, oh, my god, he's not here. There were only three rooms. I take off, bang on the door. The door opens, in slow motion, goes like this, and I look, and there's Donato with Elian in his arms, in the closet. Elian is crying like his -- you know, he is so -- scared, I guess. So I just walk between the bed and the closet to the end, to the night table. I turn around. Now I have Elian on my right. The door in front of me. Elian said to me in Spanish, (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) -- I know it's -- they're coming. I know it. I just know it. That's all I can say. "Everything is going to be all right, baby. It's going to be all right." And all of a sudden, that door just blew open. They came in. And I'm shooting this, of course. He's focused on Elian. It's a flash going into his face. And he -- he turned to me, said, back off, I mean really, "Back off." I'm behind the camera. And behind the camera, I felt like I can't do anything. I say is my God. My God, my angel, they were there with me.


[11:55:20] FLORES: Alan Diaz also says federal agents made the same mistake he did. They went to Elian's room first. How does he know this? He says he could hear the sound of their boots, Clarissa, on that floor, as they were going from Elian's room to the room where he was. And he knew that they were seconds, seconds away from busting through that door -- Clarissa?

WARD: Wow. An incredible story.

Rosa Flores, thank you so much.

Be sure to tune in to CNN tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern for "Elian."

President Trump says his border wall goes up, or the government shuts down. Is washington headed for another showdown? That's coming up.