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Allies Target Suspected Chemical Weapons Facilities; Survivors of Suspected Chemical Attack Speak; White House in Crisis; Aired 3-4a ET

Aired April 15, 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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NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone.

What comes next after the U.S., France and the U.K. struck Syria's chemical weapons?

Thanks for joining us this hour. I'm Natalie Allen.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And I'm George Howell. Welcome back to viewers in the United States and around the world. We start with the United States claiming success after missile strikes and airstrikes in Syria.

The U.S., U.K. and France launched those strikes after an attack in Douma last week. This from Donald Trump.

"A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine military. Could not have had a better result. Mission accomplished!"

ALLEN: The strikes involved ships, warplanes and missiles. They were meant to send a message to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to dismantle his chemical weapons program.

The United States says more than 100 missiles were fired and all of them hit their targets. At the U.N. Saturday, ambassador Nikki Haley said, the U.S. is ready to do it again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: I spoke to the president this morning. And he said if the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: We know that the strikes targeted at least three sites in Syria. They include a research facility in Damascus and a storage facility near Homs. Syria and its ally, Russia, say the damage was minimal but the video that you see like this shows what's left of the research facility in Damascus. We also have satellite images from Homs. They show one of the targets

before and after the strikes. On the right, it appears a structure has been completely destroyed.

ALLEN: We have our reporters across the world covering this story.

HOWELL: Our CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen in Beirut, Lebanon, and CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson, live standing by in Moscow. We start with Fred Pleitgen in Beirut.

Fred, in the aftermath of these strikes, there in the region, how much of this is seen as political symbolism?

How much of it is seen as a long-term message from the West on the issue of chemical weapons?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think most of it is seen as political symbolism. If you look on the ground of Syria, it doesn't appear that Bashar al-Assad is any way fazed by those strikes.

Keep in mind, he had ample warning in the form of the tweets that President Trump sent out, saying that missiles would be on their way.

And if you look at the situation on the ground in Syria, late yesterday, the Syrian military has won back the entire territory east of Damascus, Eastern Ghouta. The centerpiece of that was the operation in Douma, where the alleged chemical weapons attack took place.

That's a huge victory for the Assad government and something they've been working towards for a very, very long time. If they were fazed or concerned about the U.S. strikes, it doesn't seem on the face of it they are anymore. Neither are those that support Assad in the Syrian capital of Damascus. They don't seem concerned, either.

It may have sent a message of deterrence as far as the use of chemical weapons is concerned. The blasts that happened in Damascus, they certainly shook people in the early morning hours.

But I think by and large, as far as the trajectory as Syria's civil war is concerned, it won't change very much. The military of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is still very much intact. The Russians are still very much in control of the situation.

So while it may have sent a message as far as chemical weapons are concerned, anything else, it doesn't seem to have changed, either. And the Syrian military did have or believed to have had a warning that something may have been coming.

Of course, there was big things that happened in the run-up to all of this, where you have the diplomatic wrangling and the people discussing all of this and the president tweeting, that did give them time, if there was anything in these research facilities that would have been of interest. The U.S. did acknowledge that, at the time they struck, they didn't

believe people were in there. They did believe that people would have evacuated the facilities before the strikes took place.

HOWELL: Fred Pleitgen live in Beirut. Thanks for the reporting.

ALLEN: Russia and Turkey are key players in the Syrian conflict. Their leaders on Saturday agreed to work together to find a political solution to the crisis.

HOWELL: The Russian president Vladimir Putin and his Turkish --

[03:05:00]

HOWELL: -- counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said they were committed to de-escalation zones and cooperation on regional issues. This is according to state media.

In the meantime, Russia did not get the U.N. Security Council vote, the votes that it needed for a resolution condemning the airstrike on Syria. Russia's ambassador to the U.N. called the strikes a violation to the U.N. Charter. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VASILY NEBENZYA, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N. (through translator): Russia has done everything possible to convince the United States and allies to refrain from their military plans which could lead to a new spiral of violence in Syria and destabilize the Middle East.

The United States and its allies continue to demonstrate blatant disregard for international law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: The strike in Syria set off diplomatic alarms around the world. Nic Robertson joins us from Moscow with a look at the fallout.

No surprise there that Russia is condemning the actions by the West.

How would you characterize -- looking back at the story we just read -- this dialogue between Erdogan and Russia?

Is this a sincere crack at a diplomatic solution?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You know, President Erdogan is in an interesting position because of his engagement of his forces inside Syria, because of the leverage and relationship he has with the United States, being a member of NATO and also just a few weeks ago, hosting President Putin and the Iranian leadership in a summit that was about Syria.

So Erdogan's in a key strategic position. He had a phone call with President Putin before the strikes took place. He had a phone call with President Trump before the strikes took place. It puts him in the position of potentially playing, being able to talk to both sides. His position about those strikes on the coalition strikes was a supportive tone.

So his conversation with President Putin has found areas of mutual interest. This is typical of the language we hear when world leaders speak to each other. The talk there about bilateral interests and what they might be able to do to achieve peace in Syria.

I think the general, bigger view here is, if you want to have peace in Syria, it will involve a lot more than just two parties. Clearly, it will take more than Erdogan and Putin having a strong bilateral relationship to bring about a peaceful situation in Syria.

Yet, President Erdogan is somebody that President Putin is talking to. And therefore, it's a way to deliver a message to President Putin about what the broad international community sees about moving forward with peace talks.

But you know, I think, we've had the strikes over the weekend. But nothing's really changed. That's the reality of where we're at today.

ALLEN: So where does Assad fall in this, Nic?

Is there any impetus following the strike with hints at another, if needed, that he would cooperate here?

ROBERTSON: Again, I think the reality is, nothing has changed. Certainly he'll recognize if he uses chlorine or chlorine mixed with sarin or that scenario exists again, then there could be more strikes. I think that's been made clear.

But really, strategically, the areas of de-escalation, deconfliction that have been described in some parts of the country as a Russian plan to sort of bring stability, at the moment, they just appear to be a delay and hold tactic.

You call for several areas of de-escalation-deconfliction. And when you have the resources to clear up the rebels there, you go and do it. Nothing has fundamentally changed here to address the power balance in Syria and to address the diplomatic moves to get to peace talks, so far at least.

ALLEN: Seems maybe one half-step forward and two, three steps backwards still. Nic Robertson live in Moscow. Thank you.

HOWELL: Let's look at the United Nations angle of this story. Let's bring in Sir Tony Brenton, the former British ambassador to Russia, live from Cambridge, England.

Good to have you with us this hour, sir. At the U.N. Security Council meeting, we heard from the permanent representative of Syria to the United Nations, essentially saying these strikes won't make a single difference in Syria's prosecution of this conflict. Let's listen.

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BASHAR JA'AFARI, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N. (through translator): These three states should realize that, after seven years of a terrorist war that was imposed on my country, a war carried out by these three countries and their agents in the region, their missiles, their planes, their bombs will not weaken our determination, our determination to defeat and destroy your terrorists.

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JA'AFARI (through translator): This will not prevent the Syrian people to decide on their own political future without foreign intervention.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: So at the very least, the use of conventional weapons in this war will continue.

But with regards to the red line on the use of chemical weapons, is there a sense from these strikes, that a message was sent, that will at least make a difference with the Syrian government?

Make them think twice?

We may be having trouble connecting.

Are you able to hear our question, sir?

I think we're having some signal issues.

ALLEN: Wait.

Can you hear us, Mr. Brenton?

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HOWELL: All right, having some audio issues.

ALLEN: We'll reestablish that in just a moment and we'll push on to our next story.

In a world exclusive, CNN speaks with survivors of the latest suspected chemical attack in Syria.

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ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They were hiding in a basement when the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma took place. They could barely breathe. She felt her body go limp. She clawed her way up, dragging her daughters but then the other strikes began.

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ALLEN: That's our Arwa Damon there. Next, survivors tell CNN their clothes still smell of the attack that almost killed them.

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HOWELL: You're looking at some of the damage from the airstrikes in Syria. This rubble used to be buildings reportedly part of a scientific research lab in the Barzeh distance of Damascus. Hours after the attack, you could still see the smoke rising there.

ALLEN: After the strikes, the Syrian regime is defiant, declaring victory in the last area near Damascus that was held by rebels. The Syrian --

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ALLEN: -- military says it's cleared all insurgents from Eastern Ghouta. That includes the city of Douma, which is where the suspected chemical attack took place last week.

HOWELL: The Syrian regime labels rebels as terrorists. And in a statement, a top Syrian military official says, quote, "Units of our valiant armed forces, along with its allies, completed the cleansing of Eastern Ghouta, in all of its towns and villages after the terrorists left Douma."

The Syrian military operation to retake Eastern Ghouta has been essentially an internationally condemned operation. The U.N. says that more than 130,000 civilians have fled the rebel enclave. Now many of them live in limbo in makeshift camps.

ALLEN: Now there are more in the camps. In a world exclusive, CNN is the first network to speak with survivors of the suspected chemical attack in Douma. CNN's senior international correspondent Arwa Damon spoke with them just hours after the U.S.-led airstrikes.

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DAMON: And there's definitely something that stinks...

DAMON (voice-over): These backpacks belong to Malas (ph) and Betha (ph), 7-year-old twins from Douma.

They're a little shy and hesitant.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking foreign language).

DAMON (voice-over): Their mother, Imoor (ph), tells us they remember everything vividly.

They were hiding in a basement when the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma took place. They could barely breathe. She felt her body go limp. She clawed her way up, dragging her daughters but then the other strikes began.

"We were between two deaths," she remembers, "either from chemical strikes or the others on the rooftop."

DAMON: The smell is still quite strong because I think that they weren't able to wash yet.

Look, that's the toy that her daughter hid away to try to keep her safe and she would tell the toy, you know, you might -- you might suffocate but at least you'll be safe from the bombing. That is how -- that's how the kids' minds work.

Yesterday, they were digging a tunnel for the ants so that the ants wouldn't suffocate, just in case something happened.

DAMON (voice-over): In another tent, we meet a boy with a jagged scar running across his abdomen from shrapnel. His uncle, who doesn't want to be identified, was among the worst affected in the family in the chemical strike.

He says a blood sample was taken the day before. This new camp is inhabited with those who survived the siege of Douma. Its relentless, months-long bombing that drove families underground so that something as simple as feeling the sun on their skin was a luxury.

Reeve (ph) and her family thought there was a lull in the bombing and went outside, when she says three airstrikes slammed right next to them. The next thing she remembers is being in the hospital.

DAMON: She had just gotten out of surgery in the hospital when the wounded from the chemical strike, she says, began coming in.

DAMON (voice-over): The scene was so horrific, she says she forgot her own pain. What she doesn't know, what no one has the heart to tell her is that her husband is dead. Her son, just 2 years old, is too young to remember his father.

The limited U.S.-French-U.K. strikes may have sent a message to the Syrian regime about chemical weapons but not about the rest of its arsenal. For those who have endured the unimaginable, it's little more than a move on a gruesome chess board.

Sixty-eight-year-old Fegzi (ph) arrived here four days ago from Douma. She has buried too many relatives to count, including her son and two grandchildren.

DAMON: There is nothing left for them, I mean, even if they could go home, there's nothing left.

DAMON (voice-over): She says her country has caused her too much pain. And remembering the long lost days when her family was around her, when they were all alive, when feeling safe wasn't a luxury, it's all just too much -- Arwa Damon, CNN, Elbeyli (ph) Refugee Camp, Syria.

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ALLEN: Let's talk what's next for Syria with Joshua Landis. Of course, we don't know what's next for the people in those camps for sure. He is the director of the Center of Middle East studies at the University of Oklahoma.

Thanks so much for talking with us.

JOSHUA LANDIS, UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA: Pleasure.

ALLEN: We just saw another heart-wrenching story, what happened to the people that survived from this. But let's talk about the mission we just saw.

President Trump proclaimed "mission accomplished."

In your view, was it?

Even if the missiles hit their targets, do you think Assad will be deterred at all?

LANDIS: I do. I think he will be deterred. The United States made a mistake by not including chlorine gas in the initial proscribed chemical weapons --

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LANDIS: -- in 2013, when Obama made his deal with the Russians. Then, they were added later. But America took no action when they were used. And this is, in a sense, plugging up a hole.

And I believe that Assad doesn't want to lose his important research facilities and he will stop using it. As we know, about 1,900 people so far have been killed with chemical weapons. So it's an extremely narrow bandwidth in the larger -- as your story said, this is a very teeny bit.

And it's not going to give much satisfaction to the Syrian opposition or those countries that want to see Assad removed because it does not mean that the United States, France and Britain are at war with Assad.

HOWELL: Joshua, that phrase, "mission accomplished," that harkens back to the Iraq war, harkens back to a banner that was proclaimed over a warship but a war that continued on for many years.

That phrase used by the U.S. president in the tweet, does this in any way undermine the description of success with these strikes?

LANDIS: You know, both Obama and Trump tried to define their mission in deterring chemical weapons extremely narrowly. And we heard the British prime minister for example explain at some length that this is not about regime change, not about change in the course of the war.

So they can claim "mission accomplished." The trouble is that your viewers and the rest of the world sees this massive destructions, this civil war, babies being killed. And it doesn't look like anything has really been accomplished to bring peace to Syria.

ALLEN: We're hearing peace talks at the U.N. with French president Macron, between Vladimir Putin and Erdogan.

Is this something that could be a slight turning point in getting the world to reengage in Syria in a way to try and curb the fighting? LANDIS: What we're seeing in a larger picture is that Syria is being divided. We're coming to an end game, in a sense, that there's three major powers, Turkey, America and Russia backing Assad.

Assad has about 62 percent of the country. He's cleaning up pockets of resistance just the way you've seen in Douma. The Americans have taken about 30 percent of the country, the northeast and with their Kurdish allies and democratic forces. And Turks are increasingly spreading their influence. It looks like they're going to take Idlib province (INAUDIBLE) and Jerablus.

So Syria is being divided into three major chunks. Now the big question mark for the future here is, will the United States remain for the long haul, as Secretary of State Tillerson said it would months ago?

Of course, he's fired today. And Trump says he's determined to pull the United States out of Syria. That will bring 30 percent of the real estate back onto the market, if you want to put it in these heartless terms. But it will cause a scramble for those 30 percent between different forces in Syria, should that happen.

So that's, in a sense, the big unknown today.

HOWELL: So really, two messages coming from the U.S. president. One message that if chemical weapons are used again, there could be another response like the one we've seen.

At the same time, the president, as you pointed out, saying he would like to see troops withdrawn from Syria, part of the America first message.

The question here, can you also be a global superpower to act as the global police, as the U.S. has been described before?

Or can you, at the same time, have that America first message?

The two seem contrary.

They do seem contrary. On the other hand, trying to establish a separate nation state for the Kurds in Northern Syria is a very difficult task. This is an extremely damaged part of Syria. It's the poorest part of Syria. There are about 2.5 million Kurds.

To encourage Kurdish nationalism, build them an army that can defend against the Turkish army and the Syrian army and shenanigans from Iran and so forth, is going to be extremely difficult and costly. And it will take decades to develop a nation in Northern Syria that could defend against these much larger armies that surround it and declare and claim that it is illegal for the United States to do this, to carve up Syria.

So I understand Trump's desire to get out, that this will not make America stronger to undertake this nation-building project in Northern Syria, that perhaps America should put its money elsewhere in order to make itself strong. But that's a question, of course, that is --

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LANDIS: -- in the air today. And many people believe that the United States should remain in Northern Syria and should continue the fight against Assad, to drive him from power and to roll back Iran. There's many calls in Washington for this much larger agenda, to restore American power in the Northern Middle East.

ALLEN: Joshua Landis, we appreciate it. Thank you so much for joining us.

LANDIS: It's a pleasure.

HOWELL: Anti-war protesters around the world are denouncing the strikes in Syria. Some of the demonstrators in London are concerned the strikes could escalate the Syrian civil war.

ALLEN: We also saw protests in Turkey. Many activists say only a political solution in Syria could help bring stability to the region.

And protesters in Washington marched in front of the White House, chanting "Hands off Syria." Some analysts are calling on President Trump to develop and follow a concise strategic policy on Russia.

HOWELL: Still ahead this hour, a new mission for U.S. allies, justifying airstrikes against Syria, as France proposes a new U.N. resolution. We take you live to Paris and London, ahead.

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HOWELL: Following the strike on Syria. Welcome back to viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm George Howell.

ALLEN: And I'm Natalie Allen.

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ALLEN: Back to our continuing coverage now on Syria. We want to recap the U.S., British and French military strikes for you in Syria. The operation was launched early Saturday in response to that suspected chemical attack last week.

The strikes targeted Syria's chemical weapons program. The U.S. says they were a success. On Twitter, President Trump declared "mission accomplished."

HOWELL: At least three sites were targeted with more than 100 missiles. They include a research facility in Damascus and storage facilities near Homs. The U.S. says all the missiles hit their targets. Syria and its ally, Russia, deny that. This video shows what's left of a reported research facility near

Damascus. The American, French and British leaders have spent quite a bit of time on the phone, since the airstrikes, talking to world leaders, explaining their actions.

ALLEN: Shinzo Abe said he fully supports the strikes. The Japanese prime minister added the use of chemical weapons is inhumane and should absolutely not be allowed. Also Saturday, NATO voiced support for the airstrikes.

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JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: NATO strongly condemns the repeated use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. Chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity. They cannot become normalized.

They are an immediate danger to the Syrian people and to our collective security. And those responsible must be held to account.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: At the United Nations on Saturday, the United States says it's, quote, "locked and loaded," if it needs to act again. France is proposing another Security Council resolution, calling for a new mechanism to investigate chemical weapons attacks in Syria and for a third-party review of humanitarian evacuations. The U.S. and Britain back that.

ALLEN: Phil Black is in London for us, outside 10 Downing Street and Atika Shubert live from Paris to talk more about their role in this strike.

Phil, first of all, what is the U.K. government response to the outrage expressed by Syria as well as Iran and Russia, who are on the side of Syria?

You have much of the world saying, this had to be done. Those players, no surprise that they would express their outrage.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Natalie. Right. So Britain sees the Syrian regime as a serial user of chemical weapons and Russia and Iran as enablers, protesters, defenders of that regime.

The British government position is that this military action was necessary, right and legal to reinforce the accepted international norm, that the use of chemical weapons is totally unacceptable in all circumstances, and especially against civilians.

So from the British government, no triumphal "mission accomplished" style tweets, just stressing that the mission was limited, specific, targeting only Syria's chemical weapons capability, that it's been successful and that it has wide ranging international support.

HOWELL: Now to Atika Shubert in Paris.

Atika, we've heart from Theresa May and the U.S. president, declaring "mission accomplished," "locked and loaded" in case that red line is crossed on chemical weapons. But not yet from the French president Emmanuel Macron.

What's the expectation there?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting. Yesterday, everything we had been getting from Macron was via Twitter. He put out this dramatic tweet early in the morning saying that a red line had been crossed, included a photo of him in that meeting at the defense ministry, giving the military order.

And a few followups but, again, all on Twitter. So we haven't heard directly from President Macron. However, today, we are expecting a marathon interview to be happening later this evening.

He's going to be profiled by -- be interviewed and grilled by two high-profile journalists here in a live interview that's expected to last more than two hours. It has eight cameras. More than 100 people have been mobilized to build the set for this. So it's a massive undertaking.

And this interview was actually planned for quite some time. It's actually to mark the fact that it's been a year since he was elected. But clearly, it's now also going to be a platform for him to talk about and explain to the French people why he took this military action.

HOWELL: Atika Shubert, following the story live in Paris and Phil Black, just outside Number 10, thank you both for the reporting. We'll stay in touch.

Now let's put all of this into political perspective with Steven Erlanger. Steven is the chief diplomatic correspondent of "The New York Times," live for us in Brussels, Belgium, at this hour.

Steven, a pleasure to have you.

STEVEN ERLANGER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Thanks, George.

ALLEN: First of all, Steven, the U.S. president saying "mission accomplished." Those words came back to haunt George W. Bush during the Iraq War. Even if the missiles hit their targets, facts are, Assad turned in chemical weapons in 2013 --

[03:35:00]

ALLEN: -- and he was back in business soon after.

So your thoughts about the accomplishments of this mission.

ERLANGER: Well, the accomplishments are very minor but that was what was intended. I don't think we should exaggerate all of this. I mean, a year ago, Donald Trump said, I'm going to do what Obama didn't do and he sent 59 cruise missiles and blew up a bunch of airplanes.

And for a year or so, Assad continued to use chemical weapons but in small portions. And now, a year later, there was this bigger attack and a very bad video. And now, the world has responded. But it has responded solely on the chemical weapons question.

I mean, if you think about Syria as 22 million people, half of whom are either refugees or internally displaced at this point, 500,000 Syrians have died. Only 2,000 of them have died from chemical weapons.

So let's not -- let's applaud the defense of the chemical weapons treaty when we choose to do it. But let's not exaggerate the impact of what just happened.

HOWELL: Putting it into perspective, for sure, keeping in mind, the many people that have tried to escape that country for better lives, to escape the war and violence there.

Within that proclamation from the U.S. president of "mission accomplished," there's the broader question now, the red line on the use of chemical weapons.

Is it clear, is that red line coming down to chlorine?

Does it come down to sarin?

What is it?

ERLANGER: That's a very good question, George, because frankly, until the OPCW comes with its findings and it just got in after the attack, we don't know if sarin was used. We've heard rumors. We've had some reports that it was used.

Generally, the Syrians have been using chlorine for the last year, which, in the beginning, was not considered by itself a chemical weapon, though it is now considered by many to be so.

But Assad has used chlorine regularly over the last year with nobody responding this way. Though it is possible that some sarin gas was used this time, too. But we don't absolutely know for sure. What we do know is a horrible thing happened, let's be honest. And for the world to respond with horror to what happened is only right and just.

And I have no problem with the attack on Syria's chemical weapons production facilities. All I'm simply saying is, in the context of this murderous civil war, which now involves Russia and Iran and Hezbollah and Al Qaeda and everybody else, let's not exaggerate the impact of what happened.

ALLEN: Correct, there, Steven. So in discussing the players that are in this and now we're hearing from the U.N. about renewed efforts for a diplomatic solution, Erdogan and Putin are talking about that.

Is there any chance at this point with Assad seeming to have the upper hand and to be just about winning this thing?

ERLANGER: Well, there is a new push to sit down in Geneva. And of course, the Russians have generally protected Assad. I don't think the Russians are particularly in love with Assad. They just want the regime to survive.

But Assad is not that easy a client. And I think he's refusing to go. There's a lot of people in his regime, part of his family, and so on. He's not that easy to control those. Russia and Iran have saved him and his government.

But in Geneva, usually wars end when people are exhausted, people are exhausted. Wars end when a general direction is clear, here also a general direction is clear. There's a pressure from the Europeans, from many people, now, to try to institute a more long-lasting, decent cease-fire while negotiations go on.

But it is also quite clear that that would only happen because Assad feels he's in control of the biggest part of Syria.

ALLEN: Steven Erlanger, as always, thank you for your input. We appreciate you joining us.

ERLANGER: Thank you.

HOWELL: We have more on the strikes in Syria later this hour. But a bit on U.S. politics. The feud between the former director --

[03:40:00]

HOWELL: -- of the FBI and the U.S. president heats up again, as James Comey promotes his new book. Now he's explaining his mindset in the run-up to the election.

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HOWELL: An interesting few days ahead in the world of the U.S. president, Donald Trump. On Monday, the president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, has been ordered to appear in court. That's after the FBI raided his home, office and hotel room to seize evidence.

ALLEN: Cohen is under criminal investigation for a number of matters, including his role in the hush money paid to porn actress, Stormy Daniels, who says she had an affair with the president. Daniels' attorney said she might show up in the courtroom Monday as well.

Tuesday, fired FBI director James Comey's book is officially released. Excerpts from it are already making a splash, so are clips from Comey's upcoming TV interview.

HOWELL: Some say that Comey cost Hillary Clinton the presidency by revealing just before the election that the FBI was reviewing additional emails in its investigation in her use of a private e-mail server.

In the ABC interview, Comey says he thinks his belief that Clinton would win the election was the factor in his speaking out then.

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JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I don't remember consciously about thinking about that but it must have been.

[03:45:00]

COMEY: -- because I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump. I am sure it was a factor. I don't remember spelling it out but it had to have been that she was going to be elected president. And if I hide this from the American people, she will be illegitimate the moment she is elected, the moment this comes out.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: If you knew that letter would elect Donald Trump, you'd still sent it?

COMEY: I would. I would.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Whether the president is reading Comey's book, that's unclear. But it hasn't stopped him from attacking that book.

ALLEN: And it's all on Twitter. Here's CNN's Brian Todd.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump calls James Comey a "weak and untruthful slimeball." Even before excerpts of Comey's new book came out, Trump publicly slammed the man he so famously fired, often calling him a leaker and a liar.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I fired Comey, well, I turned out to do the right thing. Because you look at all of the things that he's done and the lies and you look at what's gone on with the FBI, with the insurance policy and all of the things that happened. It turned out I did the right thing.

TODD: Trump is venting his strongest anger towards Comey, after Comey published details of how Trump asked him to investigate allegations that Russian authorities recorded Trump watching prostitutes urinate in a hotel suite.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: He said, you know, if there's even a one percent chance my wife thinks that's true, that's terrible. And I remember thinking, how could your wife think there's a one percent chance you were with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow?

TODD: Trump biographers tells CNN, that what may be at the crux of this war between Trump and Comey is the simple fact that this episode has personally embarrassed the president.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, "THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP": I think the president is deeply wounded when he is humiliated. His whole life has been about promoting how big and powerful and competent he is. The thing that he dreads the most is being shown up, to being described as less than.

TODD: Biographers say it's a lifelong pattern. Former "Vanity Fair" editor Graydon Carter, for years, publicly insulted Trump's physical traits, firing off quotes, calling Trump "a short-fingered vulgarian." During the campaign, Marco Rubio got in on it.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Have you seen his hands? They're like this. And you know what they say about men with small hands?

TODD: And Trump couldn't help himself.

TRUMP: And he referred to my hands, if they're small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there's no problem, I guarantee you.

TODD: One of Trump's most notorious public embarrassments was at the hands of President Obama at the 2011 White House correspondents' dinner.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: No one is happier, no one is prouder, to put this birth certificate matter to rest than Donald Trump. And that's because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter. Like did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?

TODD: A seething Trump never even attempted a smile.

MARC FISHER, CO-AUTHOR, "TRUMP REVEALED": And people who spoke to him afterwards said he was as angry as they've ever seen him. In fact he immediately began talking much more seriously about challenging the president, about running for president himself.

TODD: But so far, Trump hasn't publicly attacked Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. There have been only denials from the White House. But those accounts of alleged affairs would appear to have embarrassed him.

Why hasn't he attacked them?

D'ANTONIO: We have to think about whether they may know more than the revealed so far. And this is a president who's sensitive to his wife's experience of all this.

TODD (on camera): Trump biographers say it's possible that the president could personally go after Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal or others he's had relationships with if they cross certain thresholds, if they produce photographs or documents embarrassing to the president. If they corner him somehow, if they cross the all- important threshold of humiliating Donald Trump -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Again, the book hasn't even come out yet. So we'll know more this coming week. An activist who survived a gas attack in Syria more than four years ago, yes, they've been going on that long, is now thanking the U.S. for taking action. But he tells CNN, the strikes aren't enough. And we'll hear from him next.

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ALLEN: A look at the launch of the missiles that went over Syria; the U.S. says 105 were fired from naval and air platforms in the Red Sea, the Northern Arabian Gulf and the Mediterranean. The U.S. says those strikes launched with France and the U.K. were a success. They targeted Syria's chemical weapons program after the suspected chemical attack last week.

HOWELL: Syria says most of the missiles were intercepted but the U.S. says all of the missiles hit their targets. Iran and Russia are critical of the strikes. But many NATO countries have been supportive.

This comes almost four years since the world learned about one of the first chemical attacks attributed to the Syrian regime.

ALLEN: A survivor of that attack in 2013 is now praising President Trump for striking Syria. He spoke earlier with our colleague, Ana Cabrera.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KASSEM EID, 2013 SYRIAN CHEMICAL ATTACK SURVIVOR: I want to start by thanking President Trump for showing true leadership and bravery and taking action against the brutal regime against Bashar al-Assad.

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Have you been in contact with anyone in Syria?

And what are you hearing since these strikes happened?

EID: Well, of course, I talked to my friends yesterday. And we all shared the same feelings. We were all happy, jumping, singing, feeling that eventually someone is going to punish Assad, especially after his recent massacres in Douma, when he killed more than 2,500 civilians.

But again, we all got to an end, our happiness got into an end as soon as we heard General Mattis talking and as soon as we started actually knowing real information --

[03:55:00]

EID: -- about what kind of strike it was. CABRERA: So what is your message then to President Trump about how you believe the U.S. can have a part in best protecting the Syrian people from further atrocities?

EID: Yes. Well, I just want to tell Mr. Trump like directly, I'm a Syrian refugee who survived chemical weapons attacks. Who lived under two years of siege and bombardment by the government.

I would love to -- like, buy you a beer and just sit in front of you and tell you how bad it is in Syria. how you should listen to your heart, not listen to your generals. You proved once again yesterday that you have a big heart. At least a lot more bigger than Obama, because you actually try to do something.

We need real long-term commitment to bring peace to Syria. We need to hold war criminals accountable. Otherwise we will only help creating ISIS 2.0 that will come out and say they don't care about you. We're the only ones who want to fight Assad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: Many like Kassem say ISIS can't be defeated without reaching a political solution to the country's civil war. That's what we'll continue to talk about in our next hour as our coverage of the strike on Syria continues.

HOWELL: Stay with us. We'll be right back after the break.