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Eerie Waiting Moment; All Forces in Standby Mode; Ousted FBI Director Declares War with POTUS; Britain and Russia Tension Escalates; Trump Says, North Korea Meeting Will Be Terrific; U.S., France And U.K. Weigh Military Response In Syria; Trump Weighs Rejoining Trans-Pacific Partnership; Japan Recovering From Deadly Landslide; At Least 11 Commonwealth Games Delegates Missing. Aired 3- 4a ET

Aired April 13, 2018 - 03:00   ET

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


[03:00:00]

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The waiting game. After that suspected chemical attack on civilians what action will the U.S. and the west takes against Syria.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: Also James Comey long-awaited book, the former FBI director reveals surprising details about his interactions with Donald Trump.

ALLEN: Plus, the U.S. President about-face. First he slammed it. Now he is rejoining, considering rejoining the trade PAC he once called a disaster.

VANIER: Hi, everyone. Good to have you with us. Welcome to our viewers joining from all around the world. I'm Cyril Vanier.

ALLEN: I'm Natalie Allen. And this is CNN Newsroom.

VANIER: It's now 10 a.m. local time in Syria. And so far there have been no air strikes from the west. But military action does remain a possibility at this stage.

ALLEN: Here are the latest developments. The United Nations Security Council set to meet on Syria in a few hours. Russia's ambassador to the U.N. says the west should not take military action and warns of a wider war with Russia if it does.

In the U.K., Prime Minister Theresa May met with her senior ministers Thursday. Britain said it is, quote, "highly likely that Syria did indeed use chemical weapons on its own people."

VANIER: French President Macron for his part said that France has proof that Syria used chemical agents. Investigators from the OPCW, that's the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, are on their way to Syria to verify what was used.

And in the U.S., the White House says, no decision has been made on a response. President Trump again met with his senior military leaders on Thursday. But he toned down his rhetoric, saying this in a tweet. "I never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all. In any event the United States under my administration has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our thank you, America?"

ALLEN: We have reporters spread out across the region covering all angles of this story. Nick Paton Walsh is in northern Syria, Melissa Bell is in Paris.

VANIER: Sam Kiley is following developments in Moscow, and senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is in Beirut.

ALLEN: So let's go there first, and to you, Fred. What is the reaction in the region to this purported strike coming from the U.S., U.K., and France?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Hi, Natalie. Well, I think it's a great deal of concern here in the region. You can tell, for instance, by the fact that the air traffic controllers here in the region are warning airlines about flying in the eastern Mediterranean because there might be military action happening there.

Now, there's already some airlines that have canceled flights who reach from here to Beirut but also to other destinations in this region as well.

But I think the most important reaction probably right now is on the ground in Syria. And obviously there is still a great deal of concern even though you now hear a sort of mixed messages coming out of Washington. That military action could be imminent.

And I think one of tell-tale signs was the fact that Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad came out last night with a statement, obviously calling the things that happened there in Douma, that alleged chemical weapons attack a fabrication and also saying that he believed that military action against his government would destabilize not just Syria but also, the entire region as well.

So, obviously, you can tell that there is a great deal of concern among the Syrian government. And at the same time, of course, everybody is wondering if and when any sort of military action would happen. And what exactly the result of that military action would be. Would it sway the momentum that's going on in the battlefield? That seems unlikely. Would it be a limited strike that would take out some chemical or alleged chemical weapons facilities and maybe some military facilities? It really is unclear at this point.

But you guys mentioned one really important thing. And that's the -- that's the mission of the OPCW, Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. They're apparently on their way to Syria right now. And they want to start that mission on Saturday. And wait and see whether or not any sort of military action will wait until that mission is complete. But the important thing that we need to keep pointing out to the

viewers, though, is that that mission by the OPCW is there to find out if chemical weapons were used. And if so, what kind of chemical weapons are used. It would not assign blame as to who exactly used those weapons, guys.

ALLEN: That's very challenging for them to figure out of course. Well, Fred, you were reporting from Damascus when this reported chemical attack happened. You've been there several times.

PLEITGEN: Yes.

ALLEN: The question is, what might be the reaction from Assad. The effect of a strike. At this point, might anything curtail him?

PLEITGEN: Well, see, I think all of that would depend, first if there is a strike. And then second of all, how big that strike or that military action would be.

[03:04:57] Is this something larger that's targeted at weakening the Assad government. Or is this something that is sort of a pinpoint strike to deter the Syrian government of the this, use of, or alleged use of chemical weapons if in fact that is the conclusion that is reached.

I think right now, it would be difficult to sway the momentum on the battlefield. And we have to keep in mind what was happening there in eastern Ghouta and that Douma region was basically the end of the rebellion in the eastern outskirts of Damascus. And indeed shortly after that allege attack last Saturday, and you were right, we were reporting about it on the ground. That district essentially switched to government control.

And what we are hearing this morning, Natalie is that apparently the Russian military police is now taking up positions inside Douma inside that area. So the Assad government has made big gains, it's replenished some of its ranks and obviously also has Iran and Russia behind it.

So it will be very, very difficult to completely take that momentum away and sway it towards the other side or even reach some sort of stalemate in Syria. I don't see that happening unless there is full- on, big military action by the United States which would probably also mean putting boots on the ground which doesn't seem like something that the U.S. is up for at the moment.

ALLEN: Fred Pleitgen for us there in Beirut. We thank you so much. Now to Cyril.

VANIER: Melissa bell is standing by in Paris. Mellissa, French President Emmanuel Macron says he has proof that Syria used chemical weapons. And in that respect, he has gone further than the U.S. and the U.K. Do we know anything more at this stage about this proof?

MELISSA BELL, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Nothing at all, Cyril. And we reached out to both the Elysee and the French foreign ministry to try and get some kind of clarification. Even to be told whether or not at some point this proof was to be made public. But neither would comment.

But, you're right. Emmanuel Macron was absolutely clear in what he had to say on French television yesterday. He had proof there was proof that chemical weapons were used. And that they were used by Bashar al- Assad's regime, by Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Now just a couple of days before the last time he spoke publicly on this matter, Cyril, he's been talking about those bits of evidence that were in the public domain that have been relayed by the media, by NGO's. So he was talking apparently about pictures.

There seems to have been a shift between Tuesday and Thursday. Something was obtained by the French. Was it obtained by the French? Was it shared by American or British allies? Some piece of intelligence from the ground that he believes constitutes proof that there's chemical weapons were used. But for now they're not absolutely -- they're absolutely not saying what that proof is, Cyril.

VANIER: Is there any scenario in which France might strike Syria alone?

BELL: You know, that is exactly the scenario, Cyril, cross your mind back to 2013. That appeared to be presenting itself to Francois Hollande. He was in a sense the last man standing after Barack Obama and David Cameron for their own reasons had this idea to pull back from their pledge to act if that red line of chemical weapons used was crossed.

Francois Hollande was really the last willing participant in that coalition. But in the end, the idea of going it alone was simply too much. It's very difficult to imagine that Emmanuel Macron can row back at this stage. I mean, he has, Cyril, been so clear over the course of the last few weeks on the idea that chemical weapons used if proven in Syria constituted a red line. That would lead him to act.

I think that if others back down he'd really be forced in a sense by his one rhetoric, by the clarity of his words over the last few weeks to act. Now one thing that was interesting also in what he had to say yesterday was that the timetable even on the day of that tweet by Donald Trump, suggesting that perhaps things might not happen as quickly as we thought.

Emmanuel Macron also said, look, we may not act quickly. We will act when the time is right. We will act when it's useful and when it's sufficient. So, giving himself more breathing space in sense with regard to the timeline. But no rowing back on the question of there being proof and on the question of France needing to act whether or not that is alone, Cyril.

VANIER: OK. Melissa Bell reporting from Paris, thank you.

ALLEN: There are fears U.S. action in Syria could lead to open conflict with Russia. The Kremlin is standing by its Syrian ally despite the chemical weapons allegations. VANIER: But Moscow says a U.S. attack might violate international

law. And one Russian official says it will retaliate if the U.S. launches an attack.

CNN's Sam Kiley has more from Moscow.

SAM KILEY, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: The foreign ministry has responded to Donald Trump's tweet saying that smart weapons should be used to attack terrorists not to attack the regime, the government, the legitimate government as the Russians believe the Damascus regime is. That it is in the Russian word, fighting terrorism itself.

But against all of this background, really the most belligerent line has come from the Russian ambassador in the Lebanon who has reiterated the point of view from the Russian ministry of defense which is that any missiles fired into Syria will be shot down by Russian equipment.

[03:10:02] But also, he suggested that any missiles would be shot down and the source of those missiles would be attack.

VANIER: That was Sam Kiley reporting from Moscow.

And in other news now, a key piece of the puzzle maybe falling into place in the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter.

ALLEN: A chemical watch dog is confirming what the U.K. has been saying. Sergei and Yulia Skripal were attacked with a rare military grade nerve agent.

CNN's Nima Elbagir looks at why this information is important.

NIMA ELBAGIR, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: The war of words between the British government and Russia over the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia continues to escalate. And the British government is now demanding action.

The international chemical weapons watch dog, the OPCW found today that they confirmed Britain's findings. That the nerve agent Novichok was indeed, used in the poisoning of the father-daughter duo. Britain says that they believe that this now confirms their suspicions that Russia was behind the attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT HANNIGAN, DIRECTOR, GCHQ: The attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury was the first time a nerve agent has been deployed in Europe since the Second World War. That's sobering. It demonstrates how reckless Russia is prepared to be. How little the Kremlin cares for the international rules base order. How comfortable they are at putting ordinary lives at risk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ELBAGIR: Access to the father-daughter pair is now at the center of the continuing exchange of undiplomatic slanging matches. Yulia Skripal have said that she does not want to be handed over to the Russians and is happy under the edges of the protection of British authorities.

Russia says that they will not accept the OPCW's findings until they are given access to Yulia and her father.

All this will be taking in from of the OPCW's executive council when on Wednesday Britain takes its case to the state members. Key to their belief that Russia was behind this is OPCW findings that the nerve agent contained very little impurities. The belief is that that point to a serious state actor.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, London.

ALLEN: In a new book fired FBI Director James Comey describes President Trump as a congenital liar and unethical leader. That's just for starters. More revelations and the Republican plan to fight back, coming up.

VANIER: Plus, a new wave of demonstrations is expected on Israel/Gaza border. We'll go live to the region in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[03:14:58] ALLEN: And a welcome back to you.

Fired FBI Director James Comey has a lot to say. And we are getting some early revelations from his new book which comes out next week. Comey attacks President Trump's character and he does not hold back.

VANIER: In a higher loyalty, Comey writes this. "This president is unethical and untethered to truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego driven, and about personal loyalty."

Not surprisingly, Mr. Trump's allies not happy with Comey's book. And they are preparing an extensive campaign to fight back. That's being overseen by the Republican National Committee.

ALLEN: CNN's Randi Kaye has more excerpts from the book that assures to raise eyebrows and the ire of the U.S. president.

RANDI KAYE, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, CNN: According to Washington Post, in his new book, James Comey says Donald Trump brought up the intelligence dossier compiled a while back by a former British intelligence officer. That dossier alleged that Russians had a so- called pee tape of prostitutes that Trump have paid to urinate on each other and his bed in a Russian hotel suite.

Comey reportedly writes in the book Trump wanted Comey to investigate the allegations. Comey reportedly writes he brought up what he called the golden showers thing. Adding that it bothered him if there was even 1 percent chance his wife Melania thought it was true.

The paper says Comey goes on to write, "In an apparent play for my sympathy, Trump said that he has a beautiful wife and the whole thing has been very painful for her. He asked what we could do to lift the cloud." The former FBI director reportedly writes that Trump offered varying explanations in a phone call as to why there was no such tape. "I'm a germaphobe. There's no way I would let people pee on each other around me. No way."

So, meanwhile, Comey does not mince words in the book. Writing that when he met Trump at a pre-inauguration intelligence briefing the 6 foot 3 president-elect looked shorter than he did on television. "His face appeared slightly orange," Comey reportedly writes, "with bright white half moons under his eyes where I assume he play small tanning goggles. And impressively coiffed bright blond hair, which upon close inspection looked to be all his."

The Post says Comey observed the president's hands. Writing, "As he extended his hand I made a mental note to check its size. It was smaller than mine but did not seem unusually so."

The Washington Post says Comey describes how Trump runs the White House like this. Writing the president built, "a cocoon of alternative reality that he was busily wrapping around all of us." The Post says Comey describes Trump as a congenital liar and unethical leader devoid of human emotion and driven by personal ego."

According to the paper, Comey likens his interactions with the president to flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the mob. "The silent circle of assent, the boss in complete control, the loyalty oaths, the us versus them world view. The lying about all things, large and small."

The result the Post says, Comey writes is the "forest fire, that is the Trump presidency."

And back to that dossier here is how that went down. Comey and James Clapper reportedly briefed President Obama about it first. And according to the book, Obama asked who planned to tell Donald Trump. Well, Clapper reportedly said Comey would.

According to the paper, Comey writes in the book that Obama turned his head to his left and look directly at me. He raised and lowered both of his eyebrows with emphasis and then looked away. Comey reportedly wrote that he thought, Obama's Groucho Marx eyebrow raise was both subtle humor and an expression of concern, it was almost as if he were saying, good luck with that."

This is a 304-page tell-all, so this is really just scratching the surface. Back to you.

VANIER: Karoun Demirjian is a reporter at the Washington Post and a CNN political analyst. She is with me to break this down. Karoun, there's been a lot of build-up and anticipation ahead of James Comey's book. Now we have an idea. Just a glimpse for the moment of what's inside. What stands out the most to you?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Look, it's difficult to take your eyes away from the scene that he is, that Trump seems to be quite fixated on, which is this hotel room scene from Moscow, the alleged hotel scene from Moscow, in which the women for hire, basically are hired to engage in some fairly activities that he -- it's just quite interesting to see how fixated the president is on this episode when he speaks to Comey.

And that he wants Comey to do something about it, to look into it, to basically to disprove it because he is saying it couldn't have been me. It couldn't have been me and that has been something that I would have done because I'm too much of a germaphobe because this isn't me at all.

We have, basically as a country, been looking at all of the allegations from this dossier. And that was clearly one that a lot of people's eyeballs fell on. We've been having this discussion in the country about, OK, that is a very salacious episode but maybe not as serious as some of these other allegations, having this financial ties and personal ties that could have led to some of the more, you know, potentially problematic engagement if they are true.

[03:14:54] But the fact that the president is also fixated on, you know, the dime store novel type page turning, you know, you can't take your eyes off of it shield your children's eyes aspect of this dossier is just -- you know, you shrug your shoulders and like, OK, yes, of course.

VANIER: This is really happening.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes, this is really happening and Comey--

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: This is really what's happening in this discussion.

DEMIRJIAN: And Comey is not, you know, keeping -- he's not keeping his white gloves on for this.

VANIER: No.

DEMIRJIAN: He is just kind of like going for the jugular and talking about the size of the president's hand, too. I mean, there is not one scene--

VANIER: About that, Karoun.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes.

VANIER: Some of it. And especially the parts about the president's hand, you know, and the images that it brings back to life about the campaign when the president was boasting about the size of his hand and what that might mean. Some of it, on the part of James Comey seems petty.

DEMIRJIAN: Well, those are certainly -- I mean, look, he is not pulling any punches here. And certainly I'm sure he is going to be accused very shortly by many of the president's allies, if not the president himself for being quite petty.

There is not an episode of, you know, this sort of, I don't want to call it jeering, but you know, the fixation and physical attributes and physical activities, alleged physical attributes brought from the president, it doesn't seem like Comey is letting any of those passing by without kind of just weighing in and being like, well, here is my two cents on the situation, which is something that he is entitled to do now that he is longer a government employee and he's writing a book.

And it's certainly definitely going to help him sell copies of that book. But, yes, I think a lot of people are going to say this may beneath the, you know, it's FBI director who still that fight--

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: Well, that was going to be my point. This is the former FBI director and he had announced that he was going to give his version, his account, his side of the story.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes.

VANIER: And you know, if he's going to -- if he's going to stoop to the level of petty observations you kind of think well, if this is just score settling then what's new?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, yes. I mean, look, I have not read the book myself yet. VANIER: Sure.

DEMIRJIAN: And so I am going off to the reports--

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: Yes, we all are.

DEMIRJIAN: -- the elements that my colleagues have read. We all are at this point. But, I mean, there is -- it's a long book. There's probably some sentiment that is quite substantive that actually does go toward what his take was on the situation of these question about. Look, there's many members of his team that have been called into question their activities. The research that his team did, the investigation that his team did that had gone to inform some of the Mueller probe.

There's the whole Clinton e-mail investigation. There is the revamped and revived investigation on Capitol Hill looking into that. There is substantive stuff there. I would assume that there will be substantive stuff in that book on that point.

But he's kind of approaching this in the same way that, you know, this entertainment value to this as well. It seems.

VANIER: Yes.

DEMIRJIAN: But you know, he's definitely trying to appeal to an audience. This is now potentially his livelihood. There is book sales to be involved in it. And you know, how do you get people to turn the pages of any sort -- of any sort of, you know, written novel or anything like that?

VANIER: Yes.

DEMIRJIAN: And I think this is a novel. It's a position paper that he has written out here. But really, I mean, you do kind of grab people on details that sometimes it's the harder (Ph) details that pulls them in and then makes them sit, and watch, and listen and read the more substantive things. It seems like this is definitely from the pieces that we've seen. This is a book that is going to have elements of all kinds. And that means he's appealing to a wider audience or trying to.

VANIER: What is the anti-Comey plan. Because the White House hasn't responded directly to this, but they do appear to have an anti-Comey plan. We can pull up this web site. Lying Comey. That gives a sense of what it is. What's the strategy, what's the play here, Karoun, and can it work?

DEMIRJIAN: A lot of people have been speculating that this is going to be settled in the court of public opinion and this will be settled in the halls of Congress and it depends on who the leadership is.

And all of public perception of what happened. And Comey's -- Comey's account is a big part of that perception plays into what the public thinks about it. So it matters to the president and his team to try to, if they can't control this message, because the message is in Comey's book to try to counter the message, mitigate the message wherever they can to preserve the president's face in all of this.

VANIER: All right. Karoun, good to talk to you. Karoun Demirjian, thank you very much for joining us.

DEMIRJIAN: Good to talk to you, too.

ALLEN: All of this, and the book is not officially out yet.

VANIER: Tuesday.

ALLEN: More to come.

President Trump was busy Thursday night ordering a sweeping overhaul service of the U.S. Postal Service. He wants a task force to review operations including the expansion and pricing of the package delivery market and the USPS' role in competitive markets.

VANIER: The move comes after Mr. Trump recently claimed postal service costs were hurt by deliveries from Amazon.

Earlier this month he tweeted, "Only fools or worse are saying that our money losing post office makes money with Amazon. They lose a fortune and this will be changed. Also our fully taxpaying retailers are closing stores all over the country. Not a level playing field."

We should note that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post which has been critical of Mr. Trump.

ALLEN: Israel is braced for another round of large demonstrations along the Gaza/Israel border. That's where we find our Ian Lee, he is live for us there. And, Ian, hello to you. Certainly these are very tense times especially since protesters have been killed there.

[03:25:02] IAN LEE, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: That's right, Natalie. And we have seen some videos emerge which show Israeli soldiers shooting what appear to be unarmed protester. One video in particular, came out recently, although it was shot in December. It shows soldiers are celebrating after shooting one of the Palestinians across the border.

Now the defense minister came out and praised that sniper. But there has been a lot of criticism from international, as well as Israeli rights groups about this saying that these sorts of shootings are illegal because these people are armed.

At least 34 people have been killed in the last two weeks of violence. Today, we are expecting more of these protests to take place to. And today, right behind me is going to be one of them.

Still early in the day. We're expecting these numbers to increase as the day progresses. But if it's anything like the last two weeks we're expecting it to be deadly.

This is the march of return. This has been going on -- it's going to go on until May 15th. These are protests on a weekly basis that have been called for. Israel says that they are not going to let anyone threaten their security, or that border just a few hundred meters behind me. They say that for them is a red line.

But when you speak with Palestinian protestors they say that's their goal. Their goal is to cross that. And that's why, Natalie, we've seen these protests turn so violent.

ALLEN: We can only hope they don't today. But we know you'd be there reporting for us. Ian Lee, thank you so much.

VANIER: Now the U.S., France and the U.K. are mulling a possible military response to the suspected chemical attacks in Syria. We'll be walking you through possible targets in Syria when we come back.

ALLEN: Also, China's show of force with 10,000 personnel, 48 naval vessels, and 76 fighter jets. But it isn't just the size of these drills that is so important. We'll have that coming up for you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALLEN: And welcome back to you. You are in the CNN Newsroom.

I'm Natalie Allen.

VANIER: And I'm Cyril Vanier.

Let's go through the top stories this hour for you. A chemical weapons watch dog confirms the U.K. government claim that the nerve agent Novichok was indeed used against a former Russian double agent and his daughter. Russia says it will not accept the report from the Organization for

the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons until its experts get access to the victims and the evidence.

ALLEN: U.S. President Trump is using some very upbeat language about upcoming talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Donald Trump says the meetings are being set up now. That he thinks they will be terrific, and the two sides will go in with a lot of respect.

[03:30:05] Last week, Mr. Trump said the meetings will happen in May or early June.

VANIER: Power is gradually returning to Puerto Rico after electricity was cut to 870,000 customers. Areas affected include parts of the capital of San Juan, the power authority says it happened when a tree fell on a transmission line.

A grim waiting game, is still playing out in the skies over Syria. The U.S. is considering how and if it will respond to an alleged chemical attack. And it is not alone.

ALLEN: France and the U.K. are also weighing military options this as the U.S. President says an attack on Syria could come very soon or not so soon at all. CNN's Nick Payton Walsh is in Northern Syria

(BEGIN VIDEO)

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Frankly a messaging where, Donald Trump's tweet suggesting strike may not happen soon at all has been something of an outlier. French President, Emmanuel Macron being quite blunt that he has proof that chemical weapons or at least chlorine was used. The secretary, Jim Mattis, of defense of the U.S. saying the he is still looking for evidence, but hoping any action that come out of this does not escalate matters on the ground but the U.K. cabinet too, and say they believe there needs to be a response for what they say is a chemical attack by the Assad regime.

A reals sense of the drum beat gathering here. And another, element to -- potentially placing a time table on all of this. We are hearing that the U.N. chemical weapon inspectors, the OPCW, are due to start work on Saturday and potentially arrive in Syria either now or at some point during Friday.

It's going to be hard to frankly for the U.S. or its allies to launch strikes while this investigators are at work inside Syria. That is not good optics. So they have a small window potentially until they risk doing that. It's hard to know exactly what the Syrian regime has done in the days warning they had since Donald Trump made his intentions potentially clear. That certainly moved assets away from the obvious targets. Perhaps closer to Russian air bases.

But, where into a potentially troubling world here. The U.S. said openly it feels like, the last time it did this, in April. Even though it claimed it took out 17 percent of Syria's air force, but it didn't really inflict enough of a lesson upon Damascus. That they may need to do more they are clear they can't do so much that they risk aggravate in this already nasty six year war.

It is complicated hours ahead here and a sense early that a messaging from the U.S. and its allies is picking up pace here. And the window for action before the OPCW gets into their investigations on the ground is tight. Nick Paton Walsh. CNN, in Northern Syria.

(END VIDEO)

ALLEN: But mirroring what Nick just said in part. If the U.S. and his allies commit to striking Syria, they will have to be careful. They want to avoid hitting civilians. And attacks on Russian troops might spark a larger conflict.

VANIER: So, with all that in mind, which areas could end up being targets. CNN's Michael Holmes, walks us through the potential battlefield.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Well it is unclear, just when and how the strikes again Syria will unfold. But the U.S. and its allies, they have a range of hardware at sea and air bases throughout the region. Have a look at the map. The U.S. has two destroyers in the area. And submarines probably as well. Almost certainly. French warships there in this Mediterranean. And a British official told CNN the U.K. is preparing for possible action against Syria.

British media reports say submarines have been deployed to the region already. The U.K. has military jets at its base in Cypress. French Rafale jets are based in Jordan and in the United Arab Emirates. And of course, the U.S. has a vast air base over here in Qatar.

Now as for possible targets, we can only guess at what the allies might be aiming for. But we have got a map here that will give you an idea. It shows Syrian air bases, marked by these, black planes. But also, the Russian and Iranian positions in Syria. Iranian in yellow. Russian in green. Now all of the allies of course are going to be anxious to avoid Russian casualties. And the fallout, that that would bring is the U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Thursday, there are plenty of Syrian bases, military and also airfields. Right across the country.

Western analysts think that perhaps the mere base and -- you can see that down here. May have been the one from where the most recent, gas attack was launched. But the Syrian military, they have almost certainly take measures to protect their planes perhaps by moving some down to the Damascus International Airport or to the Russia base at (inaudible).

Now it is more difficult of course to know that chemical weapons facilities, but analyst say, the center for scientific study and research, near Damascus is the main research establishment. Now one big unknown is will Russians activate their powerful S-400 anti- aircraft missile system which is deployed to protect those Syrian bases. [03:35:10] You can see here, the range, some 400 kilometers. Now of

course we are working with open source information. The governments involved, will have classified intelligence of course. On where Syria has moved its planes. And hidden its chemical weapons program. Back to you.

(END VIDEO)

ALLEN: Let's talk more about what an air strike might look like with retired Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, who had serve in the region. Rick, thanks for talking with us. The U.S, the U.K., France, all likely to be involved in this potential strike, how powerful might it be, what might be the target?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, the targets are probably going to be facility that have something to do with chemical weapons program or the delivery of the chemical weapon. And of course, the obvious target is the airfields from which these aircraft operate. That is, an easy target. They're big. And they don't move. So, it's a good target and you can send a message by closing down one of this air bases.

With the time that we have taken to plan this. I assume it is going to be multiple targets. Otherwise, we would have struck along ago. And everybody is wondering, why are we waiting so long? I think, it's to absolutely semantic coalition and that is you said, I believe it is going to be the British, the French and the Americans involved.

But it takes time to get the assets in place. And to set up the, you know, procedure on how are going to do this. And of course we also have to remember, that there is a de-confliction line with the Russians and I believe that we are going to at least let them know that something is about to happen, because the last thing we want is a super power confrontation in the region.

ALLEN: Well, that was my next question about the danger of this, considering Russia is there and very brazenly, and boldly, on the side of Mr. Assad. Also, you have got Iran in the mix. Hezbollah, that support Syria. So I wanted to ask you, the consideration to this getting bigger, not just being a targeted strike perhaps on airfields.

FRANCONA: Yes, and you know, the Russians have more than just their aircraft there at the air base, they have got a very sophisticated state of the art, air defense system that also works against cruise missiles. So, it will be interesting to see, what weapons are used and if they choose to defend Syrian airspace. In the past they did not.

So we'll see if this is going to be a proxy battle. Is it going to be weapon on weapon? But I think, the United States, the British, and the French are going to choose their targets carefully. To minimize the possibility that they're, going to be Russians involved. And I think that is why the Russians are going to get a heads up. If you, remember a year ago, we did give the Russians a little bit of warning so that they could keep their people out of harm's way. Because as I said, we don't want to, to, you know drag the Russians into this. So, it is going to be a very well planned and a hopefully well executed, and limited in scope and duration.

ALLEN: The U.S. attack you reference, 57 missiles launched just over a year, ago. What was the impact of that on Syria?

FRANCONA: Well, it was primarily send a message. It was never meant to close that air base. You know, closing the airbase requires creating the run ways is very difficult to do with cruise missiles. They just don't have the war path -- the war head impact to really create a runways effectively.

So the went after the hangars, they destroyed quite a few of its aircraft. And of course the Syrian air force is in horrible shape. So just the loss of a few aircraft. Has a big impact, so I think that was the major impact that hurt their aircraft inventory, but that airbase was up a few days later. It's hard to close an air base.

ALLEN: So we don't know when this will take place. But the President, at first, implied, via Twitter, that it would be soon. Then he said maybe later. And he is taunting words towards Russia. As a former military man, is that necessary? Does inflammatory language make a dangerous situation, potentially worst?

FRANCONA: Well, there are several ways to look at this, yes, of course that happen. But, you know, he may be toying with the Russians a little bit here by saying what is going to happen very soon. And, that, this has caused them to go on alert. We know the Syrian armed forces are on alert. They moved things around, the Russians are moving some of their, stuff around as well.

They have sorted the boats, the ships. That were, in the harbor. They are now in the Mediterranean. So what you have done is you basically taken all of these weapons that are being used in the fight out of the fight, because they're being dispersed.

And of course, forces on alert, for a long period of time. And the take a real toll on their capabilities. So, we maybe just playing them for some time. I suspect, that it is just taking a long time to get all the pieces in order.

ALLEN: All right, Lt. Col. Rick Francona as always we thank you for your input.

FRANCONA: Good to be with you Natalie.

VANIER: It was one of the key elements of Donald Trump's Presidential campaign. Getting the U.S. out of the disaster that was the Trans- Pacific partnership, those were the words of Donald Trump at the time, so why is he now considering getting in? That's coming up.

[03:40:11] ALLEN: Also, China, flexing its military muscle in one of the world's most hotly contested bodies of water, we will have that story ahead here as we push on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VANIER: On the campaign trial, Donald Trump called the Trans Pacific partnership a disaster. Now, Mr. Trump says that the U.S. might re- enter this multinational trade deal. He just told his advisers to take a fresh look at the TPP, as it's known. CNN's Anna Stewart joins me now from Tokyo to try to find out why. So, why -- why is Mr. Trump reassessing this which was one of his priorities?

ANNA STEWART, CNN PRODUCER: Absolutely, he railed against this Cyril, throughout the entire Presidential campaign, he said that TPP was continually a rape on the country. He hated it. His first week in office. He took the U.S. out. And now, he is thinking let's have another look at that. But he does not want a better deal, he says. Now why are we looking at this now? Well the China-U.S. tariff spat is definitely a factor at play. We have had market turmoil for two weeks now.

And politically, Trump is under a lot of pressure from farm state Republicans who worried about how Chinese tariffs could really hit the agricultural sector. TPP, would hopefully appease some of those agricultural farmers and also, it would help maybe, fight back with China. One trade expert I spoke to earlier today said to me, perhaps this is the administration waking up to the idea that a bilateral pressure approach on China won't work. It needs to be multiple countries, working together.

Now in terms of the timing, I would look to bring up a tweet that President Trump tweeted out just a few hours ago, because it gives them a little bit of a clue as to the timing. In this he says, he would only join TPP if the deal was substantially better than the one that is offered to President Obama. He said, we already have lateral deals with six of the 11 nations in TPP. And we are working hard to make a deal with the biggest of the nations, Japan, who has hit the U.S. very hard on trade for years.

Now, the timing here is interesting, because, Donald Trump is due to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, next week in the U.S. and trade was certainly going to big topic on the agenda. Now, trade has been an issue, because Trump wants bilateral deals, as you said there in that tweet with multiple countries. Japan doesn't.

Japan has long said it does not want a bilateral deal with the U.S. Multilateral deal, like TPP fine. So perhaps this is showing us that Trump is willing to bring this up in the conversation with Japan next week. Cyril?

VANIER: But tell me about this idea of getting a better deal. Mr. Trump says he will only join rejoin the TPP if he gets much better deal than the original one.

[03:45:00] That the other countries since then have move on without the U.S. so, is it still possible to renegotiate?

STEWART: I think it is. I mean, it is quite rare to ask to join a club and at the same time, say, oh can I change the rule. Which is essentially what he is doing here. This is 11th hour. The deal is signed, it is in the process of being ratified. That said, Japan came out today and said they would welcome the U.S. back to the table. And you know what, you can see why, because without America, the TPP as a block represents 14 percent of global GDP. With America it represents 40 percent. A much more powerful trade clout that could really challenge China. The question is what is it that Trump will want this new, or different in the existing deal?

And, you know that really remains to be seen. There is a lot of discussion about what he wanted in NAFTA, whether it could be similar with NAFTA he really targeted cars. He wants to make sure that American cars are protected that cars with no tariffs, leaving, kind a heading into America, has a certain percentage of North American component.

We could see some protectionist measures like that being discussed. But you know, currently this is all very theoretical. He is only asking to look into the possibility of a renegotiation.

VANIER: Yes, absolutely. Anna Stewart, thank you, and thank you for mentioning also that the upcoming visit between Mr. Trump and Mr. Abe. We'll keep an eye on that.

ALLEN: All right. Now we turn to tensions between Washington and Beijing. They continue to rise over trade. China is highlighting its military might. In the meantime in the South China Sea.

VANIER: Few numbers for you. 48 naval vessels. 76 fighter jets. 10,000 personnel. And President Xi Jinping over saw all of this. Matt Rivers has more.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, China has just concluded some of its largest military drills that we have seen in recent years, and these drills are particularly interesting given where they happen. In some of the most contested waters in the world. That of course, being the South China Sea. These drills culminated in a naval parade on Thursday. That was overseen by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was on hand.

At least 10,000 personnel according to the country's defense ministry that took part in this drills, it involves 48 naval vessels, 76 fighter jets. And basically, what Xi Jinping was saying while he was down there, was that, he wants China's navy to evolve into what he called a world class force to modernize. One of the ways that they're trying to do that, of course, is by increasing the number, of aircraft carriers that the country has.

The country only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning did take part in these military drill, it took part in that military parade. And there was a display, a J-15 fighter jets as well. Some of China's most advanced technology in terms of aircraft in the military as it stand right now.

But why is all of this happening? This is a way according to analysts that we have spoken to for China to show off its military might. For China to say that, that our navy is strong and we are here to stay. And one of the most territorially disputed waterways in the world. China of course, claims most of the South China Sea as its own territory. Other countries have territorial disputes with that. They claim sovereign territory in the South China Sea for themselves. And all of this has put China at odds with the United States who claimed that there should be freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. They don't recognize China's territorial claims.

You see in the United States, show off its own military hardware. Several U.S. aircraft carriers have been in the South China Sea over the past several months. We went aboard on one of them, just about a month ago. One U.S. aircraft carrier made a port call off the coast of Vietnam near Danang.

That was clearly a message to China and so by China holding there drills, the size of the drills, were they, where they took place. That is clearly China trying to send a message to other countries that its military is strong. And that for now it is not going anywhere. Matt Rivers, CNN, in Southern China.

(END VIDEO)

ALLEN: Ahead her they went to Australia's gold coast in search of sporting glory, but they didn't play sports. In the past few days they vanish. We will have more on the Commonwealth Games -- athletes who disappear. We'll go live to Australia about it. Next.

[03:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALLEN: Not believe I'm going to say this, but here it is. Here in the U.S a blizzard. We have some blizzard is making its way through the North Central States right now.

VANIER: And Japan is about to get hit with another storm system. As it tries to recover from a deadly landslide from earlier this week. So --

ALLEN: So.

VANIER: Who do you bring in when that s?

Derek Van Dam from the CNN's Weather Center.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Situation in Japan. Very serious actually, there was a fatality and unfortunately, there are still five people unaccounted for. This happened on Wednesday, but the threat still looms for more landslide and mudslides. You got to see this video. Let me take you over to the Nano wall and try to explain exactly what happened. That is a 600-foot-wide landslide. That is a 180 meters and there unfortunately were, a bundle of homes at the base of this mountain. And that is why you can see the search-and-rescue efforts.

When I go to my graphics. I want to talk about the next potential hazard for that region. But what causes a landslide? First and foremost, we have to have some sort of trigger. They weren't exactly sure that being -- authorities, at exactly what caused this particular landslide in Kyushu Island in southern mainland Japan. It wasn't an earthquake, there was no heavy rainfall reported at the time when they finally determined that there was actually some of the bedrock was completely weathered away. And that takes several, several millennia for that to take place.

But we need some sort of a trigger mechanism. Like, volcanic activity, earthquakes or heavy rain fall to usually get these landslides to occur. Well, look what is about to take place. A major storm system is going to move across the Korean Peninsula, right into mainland Japan. And according to authorities there in southern Japan, there are still two to three meter wide boulders that are lodged into the side of this eroded mountainside.

So they are very, very -- they have the potential to be loosened once again and create more landslides and more mudslides. So, heavy rainfall are trigger there. We got to talk what is happening in the U.S. We got a, kind of a tug-of-war between the seasons, we have the winter over the West and spring over the East, but this combination of air masses has created the rest that it needed for severe weather.

We got large hail, tornados, damaging winds from Iowa all the way to Texas. On top of that, over 10 million Americans under the threat of winter weather. Some of which will be blizzard condition. That's winds over 45 miles an hour, lasting for over three hours, and heavy snow on top of that.

And in addition to this, we have got a triple threat. With, well, high fire risk, stretching from Oklahoma right through Texas. Arizona and New Mexico. The satellite loop here that I am about to show you is a visible satellite imagery from earlier today. That is being Thursday evening, Local Time in the U.S. and some of the fires were actually picked up on satellite, little bit difficult to see. You can see the smoke starting to build an arc, but let me take you to the ground. You can actually see those fires in action.

This is the western portions of Oklahoma. And that you can see just how strong the winds are in the Panhandle region there. That is going to spread fires very quickly. The relative humidity there is extremely dry. So, really we have a triple threat, the trifecta. Heavy snow that will cause travel delays. We have got severe weather chances. And now this with, with, more fire threats across the Panhandle region.

ALLEN: Goodness. Derek, thank you,

VANIER: Very busy.

ALLEN: All right. Officials in Australia are searching for at least 11 athletes who disappeared from the Commonwealth Games. Several are from African Delegations, 8 from Cameroon. The migration agency tells CNN that dozens have asked, how they can stay in Australia. Let us go to Sky News Australia reporter, Jackson Williams who is at the games at Gold Coast Queensland and joins us now. Jackson what do we know about the athletes who had gone missing.

[03:55:00] JACKSON WILLIAMS, REPORTER, SKY NEWS AUSTRALIA: Natalie, good evening to you here from the Gold Coast, the host city of the Commonwealth Games. The number of athletes missing has actually fluctuated a little bit at one point in time, about 24 hours ago it was understood around 13 also athletes were missing. But two athletes from (inaudible), who actually considered missing, they failed to show up for their squash match. They had since been accounted for. Two athletes from (inaudible) remain missing, but the majority of the athletes that are missing, they are from Cameroon. Five of those athletes are understood to be weight lifters, the other three, are boxers.

It is unclear at this stage, what the motivation is for these people to essentially disappear without making contact from officials from their respective countries, their respective teams here. The Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, that one official from Cameroon has suggested that perhaps this athletes are looking for a greener pastures.

ALLEN: Right. And if they do surface and ask for protection is the Australian government saying how it will respond?

WILLIAMS: Well, at this point in time, these athletes haven't actually done anything wrong, they're entitled to be in a country doing whatever they like at the moment. But what has raised alarm bells is the fact that some these athletes failed to show up for their event. So the eight Cameroonian athlete, six had already been hated when they went missing, but two of them, simply failed to show up for their event. That is of course why they are here in Australia.

We heard some extremely strong language from Australia's Home Affairs minister, Federal Government Minister, Peter Dutton, he has primary responsibility from immigration in the lead up to the games, he was warning all visitors here to the Gold Coast -- spectators, as well as officials, and athletes alike. There would be no sympathy for anyone in breaches (ph) these are conditions, and in the past couple of days, he has really issued a stern warning for the athletes that are currently missing, he says, they will be placed in a local watch house. If they're still here in Australia in roughly one month's time on the 5th day of May, when their visa is to expire, he says, they will then be deported at that point in time. It is worth noting back, the last time Australia hosted the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne 2006, there were thousands of athletes and officials who then, who overstayed their visa's. Many of them sought asylum and in fact, some of them were, some of them were successful and received, refugee status. But certainly this time around, it is extremely strong language from immigration officials here in Australia, Natalie.

ALLEN: Interesting developments. We will wait and see what happens. Jackson Williams with Sky News. Thank you so much.

VANIER: All right. That is it from us. Thank you for watching. Thank you for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier.

ALLEN: I'm Natalie Allen. The news continues next with Max Foster in London. See you around.