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U.S., France and U.K. Strike Syria's Chemical Weapons Program. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired April 14, 2018 - 03:00   ET

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


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CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: -- and its chemical weapons program.

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN ANCHOR: These images show the scene in Damascus earlier. They appear to show weapons of some kind streaking across the sky. We know aircraft, missiles and at least one warship have been used in the strikes.

VANIER: The Syrian military says more than 100 missiles were fired. They say the majority of them were intercepted but some hit targets, including a research center. This is video that Syrian military media posted online.

Here's how U.S. president Donald Trump announced the attacks.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A short time ago, I ordered the United States Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad.

A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now under way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBILO: The U.S. says the operation has targeted at least three sites. They include a research center near Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs and a nearby command post and storage facility. The strikes follow disturbing scenes like the one you're about to see from last week.

VANIER: Now this purports to show people in Douma being treated after a chemical attack. The World Health Organization says dozens of people were reportedly killed. About 500 others showed signs of chemical exposure. And the U.S. says there's proof that at least chlorine was used in that attack.

NOBILO: CNN has reporters around the world covering the story from every angle. We begin our coverage with Fred Pleitgen in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. Ryan Browne is at the Pentagon and Sam Kiley is in Moscow.

Fred, we'll go to you first. You're in Beirut and now it's the morning in Damascus. I think it's about 10:00 am. Tell us what reaction are you getting from the region and from Syria of, course.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I've actually been speaking to a lot of people on the ground in Syria, in Damascus both Syrian officials as well as civilians on the ground. Many of them were quite shell-shocked when initially this happened in the early morning hours, many of them hearing bangs in the skies, also hearing some of the impacts, especially at that place near Barzeh.

It's interesting because the entire north of Damascus is pretty much one big military area. It's called the Mount Qasioun military area. That research facility in Barzeh is sort of integrated into that complex as well. So they weren't really sure what part of that military area was being attacked.

But now that the sun is out and people are coming to terms with what actually happened, I think that they believe this attack was a lot less potent than they originally thought.

There's already demonstrations going on in the Syrian capital outside of the defense ministry against these airstrikes, obviously pro- government demonstrations. Just a couple of minutes ago, the Syrian presidency actually released a video of Bashar al-Assad, seemingly casually walking to work inside what might be the presidential palace, obviously showing that the Syrians are unfazed by these strikes that were conducted by the U.S. and its allies.

It was also interesting, as Cyril noted, that the Syrians were saying that 110 missiles were launched towards Syria, that many were intercepted. That also meshes with what the Russians are saying, the Russians almost gloating at all of this, saying the missiles were intercepted by systems developed in the USSR in the 1970s, obviously trying to taunt the fact that even old systems could intercept American missiles.

I think if you look at what's been hit, what the U.S. acknowledges has been hit and also what the Syrians say has been hit, it really does not deplete the capabilities of the Syrian military in any way. It doesn't seem as though airfields have been hit. It doesn't seem aircraft have been hit. So it seems these strikes were indeed very, very limited -- Bianca.

NOBILO: Fred, I suppose there wasn't much of an element of surprise because President Trump was telegraphing this last week. Perhaps the only aspect of this that might seem a little surprising is the fact that, aren't there professionals from the chemical watchdog, the OPCW, in Syria, investigating this alleged attack?

Can you talk to us a little bit about that?

PLEITGEN: Yes, you're absolutely right. That's a very, very good point. One of the reasons why people thought this attack might be most postponed even further than it actually was is the fact that the OPCW, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, is actually on the ground in Syria.

The interesting thing is while this diplomatic wrangling over this has been going on and one U.N. resolution after the next was being vetoed to try to come to terms with this and investigate this, the OPCW moved into Syria yesterday and issued a press release, saying their experts were going to begin work today. So it --

[03:05:00]

PLEITGEN: -- clearly shows that the U.S. and its allies were not willing to wait for that investigation. They obviously feel they have enough in the way of proof and wanted to launch this airstrike.

It sort of gives an element of surprise, but then you have the French who came out a couple minutes ago and say they actually had informed the Russians that this was going to happen. The Russians themselves are saying none of the missiles that were launched came anywhere near the Russian air defense systems in Tartus and near the commanding airbase where the Russians have all of their aircraft.

So it seems as though the coalition was very careful not to infringe on any sort of areas where the Russians are; at the same time, keep these strikes very limited.

But you are correct, it is a very important point that you do have this mission trying to clarify what exactly happened on the ground there and still these airstrikes were launched overnight.

NOBILO: We'll wait to see what assessment they make. Fred in Beirut, thank you so much.

VANIER: And President Trump says the U.S. is ready to sustain its operation until Syria stops using chemical weapons. But his Defense Secretary seems to send a slightly different message on Friday, just barely an hour after the president spoke. Here's what James Mattis says at the Pentagon.

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GEN. JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: But right now, this is a one-time shot and I believe that it sent a very strong message to dissuade him, to deter him from doing this again.

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VANIER: Let's go to CNN's Ryan Browne. He's live at the Pentagon.

Ryan, first question, I guess, do we know by now whether the raids were successful, the strikes carried out by the U.S., the U.K. and France?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: There's no information released yet about the success of the strikes. The British ministry of defense did say a statement that their missiles appeared to hit their target. However, U.S. military officials are still reviewing what's called the

battle damage assessment to try and determine exactly how successful this strike was.

Now Secretary Mattis saying two times -- over two times the number of weapons were used in this series of strikes than were used last year, when a similar retaliatory strike was carried out; 59 missiles whether used that time, so definitely a ramping up of the military assets involved.

We know that multiple different types of aircraft and naval vessels were involved in the operation as well. So a much larger operation than last year. Still reviewing the battle damage assessment. We do expect a briefing from the Pentagon in the next few hours to provide a little bit more information.

But, again, one of the key things and targets, they were wanting to target the chemical weapons systems for the Syrians. But they also wanted to avoid any Russian or civilian casualties. So that led them to these three targets and they'll be reviewing earnestly whether or not they hit the targets they were looking to hit.

VANIER: Do we know what a sustained military response or military campaign might look like?

BROWNE: What we're hearing from the White House, officials from the White House are telling CNN that the sustained campaign will have multiple elements to it. There will be economic, diplomatic elements to it. There will be a military component.

And both the president and Secretary Mattis both referenced this. This is meant to -- these strikes were meant to deter the Assad regime. Should the Assad regime continue to use chemical weapons, chlorine, sarin-like substances, they could revisit military strikes.

And, of course, they've been developing targets against the Syrian regime, going all the way back to the Obama administration of potential targets. So there's no shortage of target lists.

But, again, watching to see what the regime does with regards to chemical weapons moving forward to see if additional U.S. or allied military activity is brought about.

VANIER: Ryan, I know you'll get more information when the Pentagon gives that briefing that they said they'd be giving on Saturday morning. That's still a few hours off. Ryan, thank you.

BROWNE: You bet.

NOBILO: The Russian embassy in Washington had a strong reaction to the attacks on Syria.

VANIER: A tweeted statement from a Russian ambassador Anatoly Antonov says this, "A predesigned scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris."

NOBILO: Our Sam Kiley joins us now from Moscow with more.

Sam, Cyril just read out the strong rhetoric that we've got from the Russian ambassador to the U.S. But I'm wondering -- obviously we're expecting that from Russia because, having geopolitical leverage, military might, these are all key components of Russian foreign policy. So they have to be seen to have some strength of response here.

But do you think military retaliation of any sort is very unlikely?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's inconceivable. I think this has been a very good day for the Russians and, indeed, for the Syrians and has actually revealed the essential truth to all of this, which is that the military ambitions of the allies were not ever about regime change --

[03:10:00]

KILEY: -- or even changing the strategic or tactical, even, picture for the Syrian regime and her allies in that country.

This was all about a gesture to show disapproval, effectively, for the use of one particular kind of weapon, a chemical weapon, particularly in the context of the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the United Kingdom.

So it's seen in that context. The allies have done what they said they would do and the Syrians and the Russians have turned around and said, well, you didn't do terribly much because the killing will continue.

The killing has continued and the scale of the killing that the Russians and the Syrians have been able to do using conventional weapons has been far in excess of what they've achieved using unconventional and banned weapons, such as chemical weapons.

So I think that this will simply mean that the government, with their Russian backers, turns their sights most likely on the concentration of rebels, the last major concentration around Idlib.

We may well see substantial military efforts being focused there now that Eastern Ghouta has been captured. Remember, this chemical weapons attack happened on the day that Eastern Ghouta was being evacuated of the rebel fighters -- Bianca.

NOBILO: Thanks, Sam, in Moscow. We appreciate that.

VANIER: Let's take a look at the military equipment that's been used in these strikes. The U.S. and its allies have a range of hardware at sea and at airbases throughout the region. We know at least one U.S. Navy warship based in the Red Sea took part in this. And from the air, the U.S. used B-1 bombers, which features long-range missiles at supersonic speed. That can also hold up to 24 cruise missiles. NOBILO: We also know the U.K. used four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s. In these strikes, the jet fired Storm Shadow cruise missiles at a former missile base west of Homs. And the French launched Rafale fighter jets, which can refuel in flight and go up to 863 miles per hour or 1,389 kilometers per hour.

Let's bring in CNN military analyst, retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona to join us for this discussion.

Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

So what do you make of this response?

Do you think it's proportionate?

Do you think it's the right thing to do in these circumstances?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, I do. And I think that it's probably going to work fairly well because it's a proportional response. We said we were going to go after chemical warfare capability. We did that with a series of targets that were limited to that.

It wasn't a (INAUDIBLE). It did not go into the Russian areas. We were very careful not to engage Russian forces. That was very important. So everybody will probably be pleased and satisfied. That's not a good word to use with this.

But, you know, the Russians know that we're not trying to change the situation on the ground. We're not trying to change the regime. And the United States has sent its message. The French and the British have sent their message, their dissatisfaction with the use of chemical weapons.

NOBILO: I'll just wait for you to get your earpiece back in.

FRANCONA: I was getting feedback.

NOBILO: Thank you.

So what I'm curious to know is, in your opinion, do you think that this move is enough to enforce that red line on the alleged use of chemical weapons in this instance?

Do you think it's enough to actually change the behavior of the Assad regime or Russia?

FRANCONA: I do. And I think it will be Russian pressure that convinces the Assad regime not to do this again because, what you're seeing over the past couple of days is a real change in the attitude of the rest of the world toward what's going on and a change towards the Russians.

The Russians don't want this. The Russians don't want to upset the apple cart. The Russians are on the verge of a real victory in Syria. They're getting what they want. They propped up the Assad regime. They've kept him in power. He's going to survive. Everyone knows that.

And for Bashar al-Assad to use chemical weapons and risk all of that and risk an attack from the rest of the world is just crazy. And I think the Russians are going to be the limiting force on Bashar al- Assad, not this Western attack.

The Western attack was merely the impetus for the Russians to put pressure on Bashar. I can't imagine that the Russians would ever have approved the use of chemicals. This must have been the Syrians on their own because they don't need the chemicals. They're going to win anyway. The Russians have guaranteed that.

So in answer to the question, I think the Russians are going to put pressure on Bashar not to use chemicals.

NOBILO: I remember you made that point when I spoke to you earlier this week that the war is essentially won in that regard. Just my last question to you, sir.

Do you think it may have been slightly premature --

[03:15:00]

NOBILO: -- for the strike to take place today before the OPCW have actually said that, yes, we can verify there was a chemical weapons attack?

I know the U.S. has its own intelligence, as does France and the U.K.

What do you think?

FRANCONA: Actually, I thought we should have done this several days ago. I think we waited too long because, by the time we launched this attack, the Syrians had plenty of warning to move their aircraft around, to get things out of the way. So I suspect that a lot of buildings that we hit were empty. That's happened before.

But as I said before, I think we're going through a little bit of theater here. The West is punishing Bashar al-Assad. The Russians stayed out of it. The Syrians are not going to use chemicals again and the Russians, Turks and Iranians get what they want.

The Russians are the power brokers. Iran and Turkey get a seat at the table to determine what happens in Syria. And they're very effectively marginalizing the United States when the United States says, we're ready to leave, the other countries are. I just can't wait for that to happen.

NOBILO: Thank you so much for joining us and sharing your insights as always.

FRANCONA: Sure.

VANIER: Stay with us. Our breaking news coverage of the airstrike in Syria continues after this.

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TRUMP: America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria --

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TRUMP: -- under no circumstances. As other nations step up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home. And great warriors they are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBILO: We want to recap our breaking news for you now. The U.S., France and the U.K. say they've launched military strikes against Syria's chemical weapons program. It's in response to the suspected chemical attack in Douma last week. Recent images like these appear to show weapons in the skies over Damascus, the Syrian capital.

VANIER: We know that aircraft, missiles and at least one warship have been used in the strikes. France has released this video of their jets as they were taking off to join that operation. CNN military analyst Major General James "Spider" Marks, breaks down where these strikes took place.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: What we saw tonight was very strong targeting that has taken place in Damascus. And this is where the research and development capability is located. That essentially is target priority number one.

In addition, stockpiles of chemical weapons were struck in and around Damascus as well as Homs. If you'll notice that Homs is the location -- outside of Homs is the location of the Shayrat airbase, which is where, a year ago, the United States struck against Assad.

Additionally there are indications of attack up here in Aleppo. Now what's important about that is that, in the vicinity of Aleppo, is where we have U.S. forces. So clearly there's proximity but there was absolutely no danger and sufficient offset.

So this is what we know from tonight's initial wave of strikes. Whether there will be a re-strike, General Mattis indicated there wouldn't be but we also heard from the president there might be a sustained effort. We'll have to see what that looks like.

But the interim between now and tomorrow begins a very robust process of battle damage assessment, an effects-based determinations, assessments if you will, of what took place.

Let me also now show you where the allies are located. Obviously most of the strikes probably came from this location here, where both the French and the U.S. are located because of the proximity to targets within Syria and the closure time on those targets.

The U.S. has presence in Turkey. The Brits are in Cyprus. The U.S. always maintains presence in the Mediterranean. We also know now that the U.S. is transiting up through the Red Sea. It doesn't have to go through the Suez and join the forces here in the Med. That could get a little bit crowded but could stay in the Red Sea to go either north or could go south and get back into the Indian Ocean.

And we also have forces that are down here. This is where the strikes came from. I think what's important to realize here as well is that Russian forces in Syria are collocated in many locations where Syrian forces are.

What we see here, this indicates -- this indicates that Russian forces are here. It's also a location where Syrian forces are. So you have strike packages that might be going into locations like this or in Damascus, where you have proximity. You need to have standoff.

We do not want to go to war with Russia. That is not the intention. Escalation is not the objective. De-escalation, on the other hand, is. But to take Assad's chemical weapons capability off the table in terms of how he can go forward with that as a weapons system.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: That was General James Marks there.

Now let's get the view from Syria. Joining us from Damascus via Skype is Syrian journalist Danny Makki.

Danny, can you describe for us what it was like to be in Damascus last night?

DANNY MAKKI, SYRIAN JOURNALIST: Well, in the early hours of yesterday morning around 4:30, there was a number of U.S.-led attacks near Damascus in different segments and parts of the city.

And I essentially awoke to what was about 12 different strikes consecutively, one after the other. So it was pretty terrifying initially.

After the situation cleared initially, you had Syrian air defenses began to launch S-200 missiles and tracer fire at this time in an attempt to down some of the rockets which were coming through but to no avail.

The attack continued for about 50 continuous minutes with temporary pauses in between after different waves targeted different buildings. And what I could gauge initially, from the area I'm currently located in, which is in Western Damascus, was that three different military sites were targeted after the first wave.

One of those was the research center in East Damascus, in Barzeh, which has been used as a research laboratory and has a relation to the issue of chemical weapons. Some have been technologically developed there. The second location was Mezzeh military airport -- [03:25:00]

MAKKI: -- which is the only airport within the confines of Damascus. And the third location, which is very close to where I am now, was Jamraya, which is also a huge complex of a research facility, which was previously targeted by the Israelis in 2014, if you remember, a couple of years ago.

So there's three different military targets were almost struck, almost simultaneously. And after the first wave of rocket attacks, I could hear jets in the sky. So I can confirm to that you that it wasn't just rockets. It was jets as well. And the Syrian air defenses reportedly downed about 13 rockets.

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: And, Danny, for residents of Damascus, what was the expectation before, in the buildup to all of this?

Were people concerned that civilians might get caught up in this?

MAKKI: Well, absolutely. The first two days after -- in the aftermath, you could say, of the suspected chemical weapons attack, everyone in Damascus and in Syria was on very high alert, expecting an immediate, an imminent attack by the United States of America.

Now after, well, you could say, 48 hours of political jostling and political maneuvering, it seems as if the situation began to go in a process of de-escalation. So people in Damascus just continued their lives. They didn't expect any impending strike.

So what happened in the early hours of this morning were that people were very shocked and surprised initially by this U.S. attack, which no one really thought could happen at this time.

And after what you could say is probably around two hours of initial chaos, you know, people went back to their lives, went back to going to work, et cetera.

What you've got to know is that people here have spent seven years in war. So they've grown accustomed to these situations.

But it's very strange from my perspective, being a British citizen as well, to be basically in the eye of what is a U.S., U.K. and French- led attack. So from that perspective, it was pretty scary. And life has gradually come back to normal after the early hours.

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: Well, Danny, that's what I wanted to ask you about.

What's the reaction this morning from what you can gauge?

MAKKI: The reaction is definitely one of surprise, of shock, of -- it's a very strange and unique moment because it's unprecedented. This is the first time the U.S. has targeted Damascus or around Damascus since the beginning of the Syria crisis. You've got over half a million people who have been killed in this crisis.

And for the U.S. to take some action after seven years has really gotten to people in Damascus that the situation is very tense.

Now the presidency page in Syria uploaded a video of the president going into work as usual this morning. That's probably another ploy just to show the world that things are continuing as normal.

But I can definitely tell you that, in the hours between 4:30 and 5:30 this morning, things were not normal at all. This was not -- this was not initially a symbolic strike in an airfield in the middle of nowhere. This was a strike within and around Damascus for the first time since the start of the Syria crisis.

Now we've also heard intense reports of strikes around Hama and Homs. The Homs strike has been confirmed. So we're getting reports now of more strikes around Syria which have happened. But have taken longer to confirm, due to the fact they're quite far away from Damascus.

What I can now tell you is that there are Russian jets in the sky around Damascus and around Homs. And this is the main reason -- the main reason for this is them potentially warding off more U.S.-led strikes or acting as a deterrent for any future impending attacks today. And I've heard those for the last hour here in Damascus.

VANIER: All right. Danny Makki, a Syrian journalist, speaking to us from Damascus, thank you very much. Fascinating update. Thanks a lot for joining us on the show today.

All right. We're going to take a slight break. When we come back, more on our breaking news coverage. Stay with us.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

NOBILO: You're watching breaking news coverage on CNN. I'm Bianca Nobilo.

VANIER: Welcome back. I'm Cyril Vanier. We want to recap the breaking news this hour. If you're just joining us, here's what happened.

The U.S., France and the U.K. say they have launched military strikes against the Syrian government and its chemical weapons program. These images here appear to show weapons streaking across the skies of Damascus overnight. The joint operation is in response to last week's suspected chemical attack in Douma.

NOBILO: Some Syrians have rallied following the strikes. They waved flags and chanted support for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. U.S. President Trump has called Mr. Assad, quote, "an animal" for his suspected role in chemical attacks.

VANIER: Great Britain has been in close contact with the U.S. and with France over the past few days to coordinate this. Prime Minister Theresa May says the strikes should come as a surprise to no one.

NOBILO: She emphasized they are not about regime change but to send a clear message that using chemical weapons will not be tolerated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: This evening I have authorized British armed forces to conduct coordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian regime's chemical-weapons capability and deter their use. We are acting together with our American and French allies.

In Douma, last Saturday a chemical weapons attack killed up to 75 people, including young children, in circumstances of pure horror. The fact of this attack should surprise no one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBILO: France was quick to issue a response to the airstrikes, too.

According to French president Emmanuel Macron, "The red line set by France in May 2017 has been crossed.

"I have thus ordered the French forces to intervene tonight, as part of an international operation with the United States of America and the United Kingdom, directed against the hidden --

[03:35:00]

VANIER: -- "chemical arsenal of the Syrian regime."

Our Atika Shubert has more reaction from Paris.

NOBILO: And Nima Elbagir is gauging the response in London.

Nima, I'm curious to know whether or not you think that political exigencies are determining the British response here because, of course, there's been the case of the Skripals and America and other European countries came to the aid of the U.K.

And do you think that the prime minister's sort of speed of acting in response to this and getting on board with President Trump and her European counterparts is related to this need to set red lines in certain areas?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's definitely a sense of that here, Bianca. The reality is that Britain actually has the clearest cut case in terms of British national interest to be involved with this attack. And that's very much the delicate balancing act that lies ahead of

prime minister Theresa May, when she goes ahead of Parliament on Monday, to explain her actions because, of course, she didn't seek parliamentary approval for this.

That balancing act is going to be between retaining the moral high ground and staying in line with the messaging of the U.S. and of France that this is about Douma, this is about the use of chemical weapons and why this can't be tolerated, and also putting forth the case to the British people and in front of Britain's opposition, that this was absolutely in Britain's national interest.

Of course you mentioned the Skripals. The Brits see that as an act of Russian aggression on British soil.

The poisoning of a Russian double agent and his daughter, the attempted murder of a Russian double agent and his daughter, for Britain, is part of a continuum of Russian overreach that the Europeans have chafing against since the annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea back in 2014.

So you mentioned political exigencies and absolutely that is the sense. And that is also what the British press is going with this morning -- Bianca.

VANIER: Let's talk to Atika Shubert in Paris.

Atika, do you think Paris has the appetite, the stomach, to stay with a potentially sustained military campaign?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think France has been actually wanting to hit chemical targets in Syria for some time. Remember in 2013, France jets were in the air, when President Obama actually made a bit of a U-turn on striking Syria at that point.

So France has been very consistent on this. It wants to deter Syria from using chemical weapons. And it was made very clear in statements by the defense minister and the foreign minister today.

I do have some more details that have just come in from the presidential office on France's contribution to these strikes, specifically that both Mirage and Rafale jets were used to launch standoff cruise missiles. These are planes that have a range of about 250 kilometers, so that would put them well out of Syrian airspace.

But in addition to that, three frigates were also used to launch cruise missiles from the Mediterranean.

Now one of the interesting things here is that we -- reporters also pressed the presidential office on whether or not Russia was informed of the strikes that were being targeted.

And what we understand from a presidential source is those so-called deconfliction calls were made during the strike, not before. So that's an interesting clarification to come from the French presidential office on that.

But it's clear that France supports the United States in this. It has in the past. It will now. And it says it wants to be consistent on deterring Syria from using chemical weapons.

VANIER: All right. Atika Shubert in Paris, Nima Elbagir in London. Thank you very much to both of you.

And we'll have a lot more ahead on the developing situation in Syria when we come back. Stay with us.

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[03:40:00]

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VANIER: The U.S., France, the U.K. say that they have launched military strikes against Syria and its chemical weapons program. This is in response to a suspected chemical attack in Douma, outside the capital of Damascus just last week.

Recent images like the ones you just saw, like these, appear to show weapons in the skies over Damascus. We know that ships, aircraft and missiles were used in these attacks.

NOBILO: This video shows British warplanes returning to a base on the island of Cyprus. The U.S. says at least three sites were targeted in Syria, they include a research center near Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs and a nearby command post and storage facility.

The attack on Syria has many political agendas in place. So to discuss that, joining me now are political analysts Michael Genovese and Peter Matthews in Los Angeles.

Thanks for being with us again, both of you. I'd just like to explore why you think that President Trump chose the day he did to conduct these strikes. Many people thought that they might not come this weekend because the investigators from the OPCW haven't finished their investigation yet.

So perhaps, Michael, if we could start with you on that, why do you think this timing was the one the president chose?

MICHAEL GENOVESE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you don't want to signal too clearly what you're going to do and when you're going to do it. You also have to remember you have three different countries involved and they all have their different pressures, time pressures and political pressures.

So President Trump especially has a very, very short time fuse because there's so much bad news that's come out today, whether it's about his attorney and about paying to silence women that he and his friends have been with.

So there's a tremendous amount of bad news in America. And I'm not saying this is a wag-the-dog situation. But the president really needed something to push those bad stories off the news and this happened to come at the right time.

NOBILO: Peter, you mentioned in the last hour that many people have said the president's foreign policy has been lacking strategy. It's been --

[03:45:00]

NOBILO: -- fairly incoherent.

But has his ability to at least have these conversations with key allies like Macron and Theresa May and get them together to devise a joint strategy in executing these airstrikes, has that, do you think, won him any favors in the political -- like the domestic base in the U.S.?

PETER MATTHEWS, CYPRESS COLLEGE: Well, certainly more than him going it alone. That would have been pretty devastating in some quarters here. But the fact that he brought two major allies along with him, probably ameliorates judgment people had about him.

But I think that it wasn't enough because in the end, he did precipitously attack or launched missile attacks because he could have waited until after the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had finished their inspection. Just a few hours later they were coming in to do it.

I think perhaps he did it because he didn't want them to get in the way in a sense. I think it's very dangerous because it could have -- maybe it worked this time in a sense but it may not work another time if he does the same thing again with Syria or some other country.

I think it's much better to go ahead and start the negotiations between -- promote negotiations between Assad and the opposition. And I know the opposition is pretty much driven out right now.

The other thing is don't forget that the president had said -- President Trump -- that he was going to withdraw the American troops from Syria just a little while before and he changed his mind and decided to keep them there.

Then when he said, though, then took the -- then they said that what happened was that Mr. Assad actually launched the chemical attacks.

Now why would he launch chemical attacks right after President Trump said he would withdraw troops?

Those things, I think, were warnings we should have waited until after the inspections occurred in order to verify there was real reason to hit Syria.

NOBILO: So Michael, Peter thinks that perhaps the president may have acted slightly rationally in that respect and may have had a stronger case for a formal military strike had he waited and had that evidence.

Would you agree?

GENOVESE: Well, I think the president is strategically pulled in two different directions and this reflects his confusion. On the one hand, he believes in the America first policy. On the other hand, he has inherited America's global leadership responsibilities.

The America first policy, as Peter pointed out, reflected in his statement, we're going to pull troops out of Syria very soon.

A few days later, it was the global leadership perspective that came into play and that's what you saw today. So I think these are goals and visions that are in conflict and the president hasn't sorted that out yet. And therefore, he's not quite sure what direction to go in.

NOBILO: Peter, Michael highlights this, quite interesting, these sort of inconsistencies in the president's position. A few people pointed out that the president's remarks about this military strike in Syria today exposed a lot of those inconsistencies in his attitude towards foreign policy.

For example, he's talking about America first but then he's also indicating that America might be able to play quite a big role in assisting with the issues in the Middle East. He said it's a very troubled region and America would be a friend and they would help.

What do you make of that?

MATTHEWS: Well, I think that, because of the forces pulling him apart, he's lurching from one position to the other rather than being more consistent and saying, let's go -- we'll take a middle path. We'll don't have to pull American troops out of Syria right away.

Let's go into this step by step, negotiating with the regime and with Russia. But we don't have to attack Syria with missiles, either, until the OPCW actually had a chance to inspect those and to see what the chemical attacks were all about.

So I say he should be more measured and more consistent in his approach as opposed to lurching from one pole to the other pole. And that's what's been going on, unfortunately. And sometime in a crisis, this can be very critically dangerous.

NOBILO: Michael, Peter, thanks so much for joining us at this very early hour to share your thoughts.

VANIER: And we are waiting for U.K. prime minister Theresa May to make a statement. When that happens, we'll bring that to you live. We're back after this.

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[03:50:00] (MUSIC PLAYING)

NOBILO: Welcome back.

The United States, Great Britain and France conducting a series of airstrikes on Syria. U.K. prime minister Theresa May is about to make a statement. When it happens, CNN will bring it to you live.

VANIER: In the U.S., President Donald Trump said there were precision strikes on targets associated with Syria's chemical weapons capabilities. U.S. ships and aircraft took part, along with allied assets.

NOBILO: U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis says the strikes were a, quote, "one-time shot" to send a strong message to Syria.

But U.S. officials did stress, the strikes could continue if the Syrian regime used chemical weapons again. Among the targets, a chemical weapons research facility and a chemical weapons storage facility.

In his address, Mr. Trump also pointed to the very significant gains against ISIS. He stressed that, while the U.S. wants to see peace in the Middle East...

VANIER: There's only so much it can do. And above all, he reiterated, the U.S. does not want to remain involved in Syria for too long.

TRUMP: America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria -- under no circumstances. As other nations step up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home. And great warriors they are.

Looking around our very troubled world, Americans have no illusions. We cannot purge the world of evil, or act everywhere there is tyranny.

No amount of American blood or treasure can produce lasting peace and security in the Middle East. It's a troubled place. We will try to make it better, but it is a troubled place. The United States will be a partner and a friend, but the fate of the region lies in the hands of its own people.

In the last century, we looked straight into the darkest places of the human soul. We saw the anguish that can be unleashed --

[03:55:00]

TRUMP: -- and the evil that can take hold. By the end of World War I, more than one million people had been killed or injured by chemical weapons. We never want to see that ghastly specter return.

So today, the nations of Britain, France and the United States of America have marshaled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality.

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NOBILO: Thank you for being with us this last hour. More on the breaking news out of Syria just ahead.

VANIER: That's it from us. But you've got Natalie Allen and George Howell with you in just a moment. You're in good hands. Stay with CNN.