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CONNECT THE WORLD
U.S. President Threatens to Escalate Government Shutdown Crisis; Bolton Signals Pause in U.S. Withdrawal from Syria; U.S./China Trade Talks Underway as Truce Deadline Looms; Saudi Team Leads Tie Hotel under UNHCR Protection; U.K. Parliament Reconvenes Ahead of Key Debate Wednesday; Gabon Government Says Situation Under Control; 2018 a Year of Change for the Middle East; U.S. Policy Continues to Rattle Middle East; Is the Potential for a New Middle East War Looming in 2019? Aired 10-11a ET
Aired January 7, 2019 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I may declare a national emergency.
I am proud to shut down the government for border security.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You're not doing a wall.
TRUMP: Many of those people who won't be receiving a paycheck, many of those people agree 100 percent.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really have to figure out what I'm going to do just to be able to eat honestly.
TRUMP: Our boys, our young women, they're coming back now.
JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We're going to be discussing the President's decision to withdraw.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST: Walling himself in on multiple fronts like Syria, or the border wall/fence, or trying to look tough on trade. The
American President fighting hard to get his own way at home, and around the world. Can he pull it all off? We are connecting DC, Beijing, and
Jerusalem, for you, this hour, to find out.
Well, from one shutdown to what looks like a Brexit meltdown, but it isn't, not yet. Anyway, the traffic war games explained from Downing Street for
Then what's this year got in store for the Middle East? The last one was pretty wild. We are joined by our intellectual power houses, to gaze into
Hello and welcome, you're with CONNECT THE WORLD, I'm Becky Anderson live for you from Abu Dhabi where it is 7:00 in the evening. 10:00 a.m. in
Sixteen days and counting and there is no end in sight to the partial U.S. government shutdown. We begin with the first real test of will in the new
era of divided government in the U.S. Both President Trump and Democrats digging in their heels of his demand for billions of dollars for this
border wall. Weekend staff meetings didn't seem to get anywhere. Congress isn't in session today. As far as we know, no high-level talks are even
penciled in the calendar.
According to Mr. Trump, what happens over the next few days could be critical. He is threatening to declare a national emergency to get his way
by going around Congress, to get money for his wall. That has many lawmakers deeply concerned. Here's independent Senator Angus King,
speaking to CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: At first, I thought it was an idle threat. But then I'm reading all of the stories of White House counsel is looking
into it and they're looking at these obscure laws. I don't think it is an idle threat. I think it is a dangerous threat. If you go back to 1787,
the federalist paper, the constitution, this is what they were afraid of.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What? What were the framers afraid of that we're seeing right now?
KING: A monarchical President.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON: Well, countries around the world closely following the standoff and our reporters are covering all of the reaction. Ian Lee is in
Jerusalem tonight. Matt Rivers is in Beijing. Let's start though with Lauren Fox live on Capitol Hill in Washington. Specifically on this
government countdown, where we're well into day 16 with seemingly no end in sight, and an idle or dangerous threat. However you want to describe it on
going around Congress at this point. What's the end game here? And is there an end in sight -- Lauren?
LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICAL CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, no one is blinking at this point on Capitol Hill, and there is a stalemate. Both sides dug
in, as the President continues to make his case for the border wall.
FOX (voice-over): President Trump standing firm on his demand for $5.7 billion for a border wall. Again, insisting that he's considering funding
the wall through executive action.
TRUMP: I may declare a national emergency, dependent what is going to happen over the next few days.
FOX: Declaring a national emergency could allow the President to bypass congress and use military funding to build the wall. But Democrats insist
this move would be challenged in court.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Look, if Harry Truman couldn't nationalize the steel industry during wartime, this President doesn't have
the power to declare an emergency and build a multibillion-dollar wall on the border.
FOX: White House officials detailing the President's demand in this letter sent to congressional leaders. The letter now redefines Trump's border
wall as a steel barrier, rather than a concrete wall. Which the President has repeatedly promised. A tactic White House officials say is a sign of
MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: If he has to give up a concrete wall and replace it with a steel fence in order to do that, so
that Democrats can say, see, he's not building a wall, anymore, that should help us move ahead.
FOX: The letter also asks for an $800 million to address the urgent humanitarian needs on the border. A nod to concerns expressed by Democrats
about the treatment of migrants. And increasing money for detention beds to a total of $4.2 billion, for 52,000 more beds.
[10:05:01] It comes as a source says another weekend of negotiations failed to produce any progress toward reopening the government. Leaving both
sides openly frustrated.
PELOSI: The impression you get from the President, that he would not only like to close government, build a wall, but also abolish Congress. So the
only voice that mattered was his own.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The goal is not to open up the government. The goal is to fix a broken immigration system.
It was pretty clear to me that we're never going to have a deal unless we get a wall, as part of it.
FOX: Democrats vowing to pressure lawmakers by passing individual bills to reopen each of the closed federal agencies.
REP. STENY HOYER (D), MARYLAND: We'll do it bill by bill so we can help taxpayers. We can help people who need food assistance, and we can help
people who need housing voucher, people who need flood insurance.
FOX: Two Senate Democrats urging their colleagues to block action on any bills unrelated to opening the government, until a resolution is reached.
Meanwhile, President Trump insisting that he can relate to the financial plate of the 800,000 workers currently furloughed or working without pay.
TRUMP: I can relate. And I'm sure that the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustments. They always do.
FOX: Now, Becky, we don't know when congressional leaders will meet again with the President. Both the House and the Senate are out of session
today. And if you look back at that meeting that happened on Friday between the President and top Democratic leaders, it was very clear the
President saying this shutdown could last months, or even years -- Becky.
ANDERSON: Even years. Amazing. Lauren, thank you for that.
Ian, you are in Jerusalem. President Trump with one eye outside of Washington, stunning many Americans and U.S. allies, it has to be said,
when he announced last month that U.S. troops would be leaving Syria. Then declaring that ISIS has been defeated there. Since then, it seems that he
has changed his tune somewhat. Now, his National Security Adviser putting conditions on that U.S. troop withdrawal. John Bolton of course speaking
in Jerusalem. What's going on? And why?
IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that announcement had a lot of people shocked. Especially because the question would be, who would fill the
vacuum left by the United States once they pull out on the northern side of the border with Syria. You had Turkey as well as the FSA, they were
looking to take control of that territory, and then in the south, you had the Syrian regime, along with their Russian allies looking to take control
of that territory. There were a lot of questions. Israel also concerned about Iran being further entrenched in there. But the National Security
Adviser came here to reaffirm his commitment, not only to Israel, but also to the Kurds who fought alongside U.S. forces, against ISIS.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOLTON: To do so, from northeast Syria, in a way that makes sure that ISIS is defeated, and is not able to revive itself, and become a threat again.
And to make sure that the defense of Israel and our other friends in the region is absolutely assured. And to take care of those who have fought
with us against ISIS and other terrorist groups.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: And Becky, it's really that last bit right there where he says taking care of those who helped us in the fight against ISIS. We know that Turkey
views the YPG, who have been fighting alongside the United States, as terrorists, and they have vowed to go in there, and take care of them. And
so, that is the hint that the United States is going to have a more measured withdrawal from Syria. That it isn't going to be all at once.
That there will be conditions that will lead to that, and that has a lot of, at least leaders both politically and militarily, in Israel, breathing
a bit easier now. Because they believe that the vacuum left by the United States could be filled by Iran, which Israel says is their major threat in
ANDERSON: All right. Ian's in Jerusalem for you. So, that is the U.S. position on Syria, slightly unpicked, as it were. We've talked a
government shutdown in Washington.
And we are also following for you, here, of course, tonight, this looming trade war between the U.S. and China. Well, effectively, we're looking at
whether the U.S. and China can avert an all-out trade war, with the clock on the 90-day truce ticking loudly. Officials from both countries meeting
in Beijing, hoping to reach a comprehensive agreement. Matt, what chance at this point?
[10:10:00] MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, these two meetings, the two days of meetings, Becky, will not produce a comprehensive agreement.
And that's not necessarily a sign of a lack of progress. You need to look at who is actually attending these meetings here in Beijing, both on Monday
and then again on Tuesday.
We're talking about the vice minister level. So you've got the under- secretary, of international affairs from the Treasury Department, in the U.S., you have the deputy trade representative from the U.S., and then
their counterparts in Beijing. What they're really trying to do here is lay the ground work for more senior level talks that could happen later
this month, or potentially next month.
But if the overall question, of course, that we all really care about, is will there be a deal reached before March 1 which is the deadline when the
U.S. raises tariffs on $200 billion worth of is Chinese imports. Well, that's the question that we've wondered for a long time now. In terms of
incentives, though, President Trump thinks that China has more of an incentive than ever to reach a deal, because their economy is slowing down.
And that is true. Let's listen to what President Trump said over the weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The China talks are going very well. I spoke to President Xi recently. I really believe that they want to make a deal. The tariffs
have absolutely hurt China very badly. Their economy is not doing well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RIVERS: And he's right when he says the economy is not doing well. Now, whether that prompts China to make a deal is anyone's guess. And you could
also argue that the United States has some incentive of its own. Because as we talked about, there is a lot of volatility in that stock market and
investors would really like to see a trade deal reached between the United States and China.
So if you're an optimist about all of this, Becky, you're going to say, OK, U.S. has a little incentive, China has probably a lot more incentive
because the economy is doing worse than the United States. Maybe there could be a deal. If you're a pessimist, you're going to say, why is
anything going to change? The issues are too far apart. Both sides are not going to come to an agreement by March 1. And if those tariffs get
raised, on March 1, you've got a lot of people saying that could be the point of no return. And this trade war, really this is the best hope to be
avoided. At least for the next eight weeks or so.
ANDERSON: The position from Washington on Beijing, Donald Trump's position with regard to Syria and U.S. troops, and his position of course with
regard this government shutdown well into this 16th day. Lauren, let me close this out then with you.
Thank you, Matt, and thank you, Ian.
Let me close this out with you. What Donald Trump faces before the end of this month is a new U.S. government, a Democrat-run House, a different
makeup, so far, as those he must negotiate with. How does 2019 look as if it is shaping up to your mind, to the U.S. President, or for the U.S.
FOX: Well, it's going to be a lot tougher for President Donald Trump, in part because he now has a counter in the Democrats. Last week, they voted
to reopen the government. And they included in that package six appropriation bills the Senate had already passed. Senate Republicans had
agreed to. And I think this is a key change here. All of a sudden President Trump is going to be faced with a Democratic opposition and it
doesn't just come down to legislation. These Democrats also plan to investigate the President on everything from his connection -- his campaign
connection to Russia, to his own tax returns.
They're going to pass legislation to require the President and all future Presidents to release at least ten years of tax returns. And what I would
say is that even though those bills won't have a chance of passing in the Republican-controlled Senate, because we still have divided government. It
gives Democrats more of an opportunity to make their case to the American people before the 2020 Presidential election.
ANDERSON: Lauren is in Washington for you, to all of you, thank you.
In the past couple of hours, there has been a big development in the case of a Saudi teen who say she is running away from her abusive family. Thai
police say 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun has left the Bangkok hotel room in which she barricaded herself and is now under the protection of the
U.N.'s refugee body. Now the UNHCR says it is assessing her need for international refugee protection. Now, to remind you, Al-Qunun had tweeted
from an unverified account that Saudi embassy officials had stalked her at the airport and have confiscated her passport.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAHAF MOHAMMED, FLEEING SAUDI FAMILY: I'm not leaving my room until I see UNHCR. I want asylum.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON: Saudi Arabia denies that embassy officials held her and took her passport. We'll continue to bring you developments from what is this
complex story, as we receive them here on CNN.
Well, some of my team here in Abu Dhabi, CNN's Nada Altaher, are keeping a close eye on that story, constantly updating it online at CNN.com. So, do
be sure to check that out as it moves.
[10:15:00] We've been talking this hour from Saudi Arabia, to Syria, to Israel, and beyond. The Middle East continues to dominate world headlines
as we enter 2019. Just as it did, as we closed out 2018. From CONNECT THE WORLD, we are later this hour going to take a look ahead at the region. I
don't have a crystal ball myself but I have a stellar panel of Middle East experts to share their predictions for the top issues to watch for in the
year to come.
Well one question, no crystal ball on earth can answer at this point. Deal or no deal. That is the big question as Britain thunders into the final
stages of its Brexit Parliament in London. And the clock is now clicking down until a crucial vote in the Prime Minister Brexit plan, promised for
next year. But new year, same old problems. And the biggest thorn in the side for the Prime Minister. The former foreign secretary Boris Johnson
now arguing to leave without a deal at all. That could lead to this. Get a load of these pictures. The country running what are essentially traffic
jam war games. In case things get chaotic without a deal.
CNN's Bianca Nobilo is live from downing street. Just pick this apart for us. What is the big picture here? Less than three months out, her deal or
no deal? Tell us why we should care.
BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we should care, Becky, because this is an historic unraveling of a 40-year relationship between the U.K.
and the EU, and millions of lives and jobs and the country's economy is at stake. And in fact, that's why 200 members of the British Parliament have
signed a letter and released it today, arguing against a no deal in any scenario for fear of what that could do to the economy in the short term
and in the longer term, too. And it matters still, because there's such divergent opinions on what Brexit should look like.
You mentioned Boris Johnson. He thinks a no deal Brexit severing all ties and a clean break is the best way to deliver on the outcome of referendum.
However, there is an increasing chorus of people that are supporting the notion of a second referendum, or people's vote. Let's take a listen to
what the Prime Minister had to say about that earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We've got people who are promoting a second referendum in order to stop Brexit, and we've got people who are,
who want to see their perfect Brexit. And I would say don't let the search for the perfect become the enemy of the good. Because the danger there is
actually, we end up with no Brexit at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBILO: Now, Becky, the fact that the Prime Minister has had to keep addressing this issue of a second referendum, and even today, we've heard
from the grandee of the Prime Minister's party, Lord Patton. Who used to be the chairman of the Conservative Party. Coming out and saying this
debate has got so impolite and so divisive that a second referendum might be the only way through this.
If they can't vote on a deal, Becky, and can't approve it, then a no deal Brexit is the default outcome. So in all the order to prevent that, there
is a growing number of MP's -- and I'm speaking to the people's vote campaign earlier -- who are beginning to think that maybe a second
referendum is the only way out of this. Now, that matters, because there is a real concern about what that might do to how people regard democracy
in the U.K., and the U.K.'s an example of democracy worldwide as well. They feel like putting the question to the public again might be very
corrosive for democracy, and what it means to the people in Britain.
ANDERSON: Don't let the search for the perfect Brexit be the enemy of the good. The problem seems to be the leg work on the search for a better
Brexit just doesn't seem to have been done by those who have been elected on behalf of the British public, to do exactly that. Listen, you and I are
going to speak day in, day out, as we approach what is this absolutely crucial deadline of March the 29th. We are less than three months away
from what, as Bianca rightly said, is an absolutely historic decision about how the U.K. entangle, untangles itself from the European Union. Thank
Still to come, a flair, then a fizzle. A military coup attempt ends in failure in the African nation of Gabon. We take a detailed look at exactly
what is going on. That's next.
[10:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ANDERSON: Some of the sounds there of a sudden and apparently short-lived coup attempt you're looking at the streets of Libreville in Gabon, an
African nation known for being a major oil producer. Which is today reeling from an incredibly dramatic few hours. This is where things stand
right now, as far as we understand them.
Gabon's government says the situation is now under control after what it calls, an attempted military coup. That was after several men dressed in
military fatigues entered state radio and delivered a statement earlier in the day. One man gave a lengthy speech, commenting on the President Ali
Bongo's health and his presidential capacities. Well, since then, a government spokesman said that several people have been arrested.
David McKenzie has been monitoring the story from Johannesburg. Do we know where the President is at this point?
DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well he's in Morocco and that's part of the problem here, Becky. That after an apparent stroke in late October, he
fled the country, or left the country for medical treatment, and is still out of the country. Gave a speech on January 1, to try and allay people's
fear, saying that he'll be back soon. But of course, that didn't stop these young soldiers, some four or five of them coming into the state radio
broadcast and calling for an apparent coup.
Now it didn't seem like all of the details were ironed out, because people didn't come on to the street, the military didn't secure locations like
they asked for. We just got off the phone with the government spokesman, saying a fifth member of that team, the man you see giving that speech, a
lieutenant, was arrested in a building near the state radio broadcasting facilities, and that two of the people involved in that attempted coup have
also been killed -- Becky.
ANDERSON: There is frustration, meantime, in the Democratic Republican of Congo, where election results have been postponed again. While in Gambia,
hearings beginning in alleged human rights abuses during the two-decade rule of the former president. Now, David, could 2019 be a year of change
MCKENZIE: Well, it's hard to tell, in any political environment, that has seen some pretty dramatic elections, and changes in the African context at
least, in the last six months or so, Becky. In the DRC, we are still waiting for that long awaited and delayed presidential announcement of the
election that was already delayed from 2016. This is a crucial moment for the Central African country. In fact, bizarrely, there's a connection with
the Gabon story. There're some 80 U.S. marines that were sent to Gabon, presumably because of its stability, to be on standby to possibly evacuate
American citizens in the DRC. Now there's been an attempted coup.
In the DRC, they are hoping to have results in about a week.
[10:25:00] The frustration from the opposition and groups like the Catholic church -- which is very powerful in that country -- they say this might be
an attempt to again try and squeeze the vote in the favor of the outgoing President Joseph Kabila. They deny that. They say that's more than 70,000
polling stations to manually count. But that will be one that will be very closely watched and potentially a tinder box.
ANDERSON: David McKenzie is in Johannesburg for you, on a number of stories out on Africa today, thank you, David.
Live from Abu Dhabi, we are with CONNECT THE WORLD, or this is CONNECT THE WORLD, and I'm Becky Anderson. Coming up, a new year of familiar worries
for the world and especially for this region, the Middle East. We're going to take a look at how controversies from the year gone by could shape
events in the year to come. How likely is that? Well, that is coming up.
ANDERSON: This week, on CONNECT THE WORLD, we are taking the pulse of the Middle East, stories from this region, dominated news headlines in 2018.
Didn't they? And this year is shaping up to be, well, no less tumultuous. It has to be said. Looking ahead, we connect to you the issues that are
likely to shape the region and the world indeed during the next 12 months.
[10:30:00] ANDERSON (voice-over): 2018, a year of change in the Middle East. In particular, because of U.S. President Donald Trump, whose
controversial moves are rippling across the region and will shape the year to come.
Not least, standing by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the grisly murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in
Turkey, which was linked to the young leader's inner circle. That he denies any personal connection. The killing sparked global outcry and a
crisis still playing out to this day.
IAN BREMMER, PRESIDENT, EURASIA GROUP: A very young and untested leader is now getting tested. He is getting tested because he was involved in
something, you know, sort of incredibly unfortunate, and as a consequence, his wings are getting clipped at home.
ANDERSON: The fallout from the Khashoggi murder did draw attention to the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Last year was a turning point for the country
thrown into the spotlight for the unrelenting grim humanitarian situation. Including a number of horrific attacks on civilians, and increased scrutiny
by U.S. lawmakers following the Khashoggi killing. But there was a breakthrough of sorts. Historic peace talks finally in December.
FAWAZ GERGES, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: I see a glimmer of hope. A light at the end of the tunnel. The war itself that has almost destroyed
Yemen as a society probably will come to an end.
ANDERSON: In Syria, an almost eight-year-long war, seems to be ending with the Assad regime having won the military battle. That's according to most
analysts. But Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops in the last days of 2018 stunning allies in the region. Erased fears of a power vacuum.
TRUMP: The United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
ANDERSON: Trump delivered a bowl to one of the Syrian government's key backers ripping up the Iran nuclear agreement and re-imposing sanctions.
And while Trump says he's open to renegotiation, expectations are low.
DENNIS ROSS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: I'm not so sure that some of the people in the administration are keen on a deal. I think they're more keen
on regime change.
TRUMP: Today, we officially opened the United States Embassy in Jerusalem. Congratulations.
ANDERSON: Last year, also saw the political earthquake of the U.S. moving its embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing it as Israel's capital, a move
slammed by the Palestinians. This year, the region awaiting the rollout of Trump's long-touted peace plan.
ROSS: The best case if it works is it resumes negotiations. That's still a long ways away from a deal. And even longer way from even if you can get
a deal, can you implement it?
ANDERSON (on camera): So as we've seen, a tumultuous 2018 is already set to be a turbulent 2019. And on top of those flash points that we've
already mentioned, there are potential new ones.
GERGES: The most dangerous theater in the world today is the Israeli/Lebanese border. It could take a spark to ignite a region-wide
ANDERSON (voice-over): So a region and a world holding its breath to see what this store has in store. Knowing that whatever happens in Washington
will have a huge impact a world away.
ANDERSON: Well, you've heard some expert analysis in that report. We've also gathered some of the top minds on the Middle East this hour, to share
their forecast with you. Vali Nasr, is a Middle East scholar and former senior adviser at the U.S. State Department. Martin Indyk, one of the
U.S.'s top former Middle East diplomats. He was U.S. ambassador to Israel twice and served as special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
And Rula Jebreal is an award-winning journalist and analyst who's authored several books on the region. Let's start with the story, right at the top
of the agenda today, Syria. And the promise by Donald Trump, of a U.S. troop withdrawal and then the qualification, Martin, in the past 24 hours,
by one of his top aides, actually, that's not happening at least not any time soon. Let's start with you, Martin. What is going on?
MARTIN INDYK, DISTINGUISHED FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, I think that what we see is a predictable process in which Trump's advisers
try to walk back a disastrous strategic decision on his part. But they can't do it effectively, because he's the President. And he's made it
clear he wants the troops out. And that sends a signal to all the other players, particularly in Syria, like the Kurds, who now have to make their
peace with Assad, or the Turks, or the Russians, or the Iranians and especially the Israelis, that the new order in the Middle East is going to
[10:35:00] And the most important contextual issue will be an American withdrawal from the region. Having dominated the region for the last four
ANDERSON: Rula, one professor at Harvard University actually thinks that Trump is correct in pulling out of Syria. Writing, and I quote, calling to
an end to the U.S. involvement in Syria, Trump did the right thing. But he goes on to say, but true to form, he has done it in the worst possible way.
Was Syria the right thing to do, just the wrong way of going about it?
RULA JEBREAL, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI: I think Trump's policy on Syria has been -- I mean the objectives are not clear. He decided to
withdraw in this, after he talked to President Erdogan and he decided to tell him, OK, you take Syria, I don't care, more or less. And now, his
foreign policy advisers are saying basically, de facto, well, we are trying to convince our NATO ally, Turkey, not to slaughter or anti-ISIS ally, the
Kurds. This is not a policy. This is a disaster.
However, I think our problem in Syria was, in 2011, when the revolution at the beginning of the revolution, the beginning of what happened in Syria,
was basically a peaceful protest. Where people were not demanding regime change. They were demanding democracy, dignity, social justice. The
regime started this war on civilians and started this slaughterhouse that paved the way for intervention of external players. Whether it's Russia
and Iran and others. However, Americans and also President Obama in this case, put the red line. He failed on the red line, and now we are finding
ourselves in a situation, what do we do next? Do we have a responsibility to protect civilians or not? Clearly this President, President Trump, has
no desire to protect whoever, not even a U.S.-based journalist, who was slaughtered by another ally, the Saudi regime.
ANDERSON: Vali, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo doing the rounds this week to reassure regional allies about the U.S. sticking to their guns when it
comes to security in the Middle East. They clearly see a clear connection between Syria and Iran, and they are having none of it. Do you see any
chance that with this very hawkish attitude towards Tehran, by Donald Trump's closest circle in Washington, that anything is going to change,
with regard to Tehran in 2019?
VALI NASR, SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: Well, it might. There's an enormous amount of economic
pressure on Iran. I think the Iranians will ultimately want to have a way out of the current economic crisis. And also President Trump has put on
the table severe restrictions in order to change Iran's behaviors and he will be under pressure to also deliver.
The problem is his decision on Syria in the short run. In other words, it is very clear the United States is following two contradictory policy.
One, changing the balance of power in the region toward the Arabs away from Iran. And at the same time wanting to leave the Middle East, which has
been his long run goal. And these two goals don't mesh together. You can't change the balance of power in the Middle East if you're withdrawing.
I think the biggest problem in Syria, even with Bolton's qualification today, is that the U.S. is not getting engaged diplomatically in the end
game, in Syria. Having the 2,000 troops stay in Syria until ISIS is defeated does not give any kind of a plan about how the U.S. is going to
decide the final shape of Syria and be a player in there. And that still leaves the final end game in Syria in the hands of Russia and Iran to
ANDERSON: Vali, let me stay you with. The Iranian dimension in Yemen which the coalition blamed for their involvement in the conflict in the
country. Pro-government forces and Houthi fighters were actually meant to pull out of the key city of Hodeidah at midnight local time. That's
according to the timeline, of course that was set up following peace talks in Sweden. We are seeing pretty confident that's now not going to happen,
but there is certainly positive noises post these Swedish talks. Do you believe there can be a political solution achieved to finally end to the
war in Yemen?
NASR: There's always possible to find a political situation. It requires will on both parties to arrive at that negotiation. It is not going to be
easy. And it's not going to be achieved with many breakdowns in the cease fire and resumption of the fighting. But one thing is clear, that there's
not going to be peace in Yemen without direct engagement with Iran. Because ultimately, the Houthis need Iranian support and Iranian backing
and guarantees to cut a deal with their enemies, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and the like.
[10:40:04] And ultimately, the Iranians have an enormous amount of ability to make the talks fail. And on the other hand, they could help the talks
succeed as they once did in Afghanistan in 2001, after the U.S. toppled the Taliban. So I think the end game in Yemen ironically plays into Iran's
hands. That you cannot isolate Iran in the region and yet want an end to the war in Yemen in the short run.
ANDERSON: The Saudi government, Martin, will want to see the back end of 2018, the Jamal Khashoggi murder in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, really
damaging Riyadh's relations with many around the world. I think Vali would be the first to say that the Iranians were gifted an opportunity to almost
stay quiet on that, as Riyadh really got itself into a quagmire. How important is it that Riyadh extracts itself from Yemen with a decent result
INDYK: I think it's actually essential to the rehabilitation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's reputation. Because the Senate and now new
Democratically controlled Congress will continue to be highly critical and seek to tie American arm sales to Saudi Arabia's ending of its involvement
in Yemen. So the rehabilitation of MBS comes in part through ending the war in Yemen. But I agree with Vali, that all of these efforts end up with
Tehran. The President, Trump wants to withdraw from Syria, wants to find a way not to overthrow the regime in Iran, but to actually negotiate a deal
with them. He keeps on talking about that. And therefore, the Iranians who are the beneficiaries, both in Yemen, as you said, and in Syria, have
an option, if they would so choose, to actually engage with Trump in a way that could crown their windfalls with new achievements there.
ANDERSON: Rula, we're going to take a very short break in a minute or so. But just before we do that, and come back to you guys, on the back end of
that break, Yemen in 2019, your prognosis?
JEBREAL: It will be much worse before it gets better. I mean we have 18 million people on the brink of famine. I think the Crown Prince that was
damaged after Khashoggi will try to do something. However, whatever he is doing today is not two, not working. His ally -- I mean, the last reports
that he is deploying soldiers, children from Darfur or his agreement with Al Qaeda, to fight on the Saudi behest, it's not working. There is much
more scrutiny on Saudi Arabia. I think they are trying to save face. They are trying to open the doors for some humanitarian aid. But it's not
enough. The key as Vali said and as Martin said, I believe is engaging directly and indirectly with Iran. This needs to end. Only a diplomatic
solution, a political solution will end this catastrophe.
ANDERSON: We will take a two-minute breather. Our panel is staying with us. Back after this.
[10:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ANDERSON: Picking up once again with our Middle East panel, Vali Nasr, Martin Indyk and Rula Jebreal, we've been talking Syria. We've talked
Yemen. We've talked Iran. Across both of those theaters, there was much analysis and speculation last year, though on Russia's real politic and end
game, in the Middle East region. This warm greeting between the Russian and Saudi leaders at the G-20 after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, summed
up for many I've spoken to in this region, Moscow's moves and methods. So, starting with you Martin. Do you think Russia is carrying out a skillful
balancing act in the region? And looking ahead, what are the Kremlin's potential pitfalls in 2019?
INDYK: Well, it's actually, Putin is playing quite masterful game, taking advantage of the vacuum left by Trump's retrenchment and the way he has
made the United States unreliable in the region. By moving into Syria itself, not hugely important, but its geostrategic location gives him an
ability to play a wider game in the region.
Plus, his relationship with Bibi Netanyahu in Israel. Traditionally the Russians have been restricted in their ability to spread their influence in
the region by not having a good relationship with Israel. But he's made a point of building that relationship, as has Netanyahu. And so, Putin has
positioned himself very well to take advantage of the mistakes that Trump is making. Having said that, there's a limit to how far Russian influence
can go. They, as much as they claim to be a superpower, their ability actually to wield their influence in the Gulf, or in the Arab/Israeli
context, is somewhat constrained. They will continue to have good relations with Turkey, and Iran, and Israel, and that gives them maximum
ability to exploit their position in Syria.
ANDERSON: Vali, your thoughts?
NASR: I think Martin is correct, that Putin is taking advantage of U.S. withdrawal and lack of strategy in the region and is playing a very
masterful game. The difference between I would say Russia and the United States is that the U.S. always tries to bring some kind of a balance of
power, some kind of order to the region. Whereas the Russians are in the Middle East for themselves. So they can have good relations with Iran on
the back of Syria, with Turkey on the back of Syria, and I think also the decision about the Kurds. How the United States plays that will strengthen
those ties between Turkey and Russia.
But also, they have good relations with Saudi Arabia, over the issue of oil. Saudi Arabia and Russia need one another in order to stabilize the
price of oil, which benefits both countries. So the Russians can essentially engage every power in the region, very closely, have relations
with them and without actually having to solve the problems of the region between these countries. And pretend to be bringing order to the region.
And at this point in time, I think the advantage that Putin has, is that Russia is the only outside power that talks to absolutely everybody.
Whereas the United States does not do that.
ANDERSON: Yes, that's absolutely fascinating. Rula, I don't think anybody's suggesting here that the Russians are in a position to entirely
though fill a U.S. vacuum, if that is what we are going to increasingly see from Washington, and its policies towards the Middle East, correct?
JEBREAL: I mean the President comments, President Trump comments about the invasion of Afghanistan, while traveling last week, where he was repeating
Russian talking points about, oh, Russia went to Afghanistan in '79 to basically clean up house and defeat terrorists. I mean I don't know who is
giving him these talk points.
[10:50:00] But it seems that his -- truly what the Kremlin is saying is being repeated in the White House.
However if you travel the Middle East, and you see clearly, that there is not only a vacuum, there's no vision, and the Middle East today is led by
midgets -- with all due respect -- without any vision, and that will have destabilizing effects. One of the reasons why we talk about Putin because
suddenly you used to see Israeli leaders coming to Washington, D.C. once a month. And now actually giving Netanyahu once a month have to go to
Moscow, in order to coordinate with him, whatever he is going to do in Syria, inside Syria. So that tells who is now the man, the strong man of
the Middle East.
However, Becky, that image that you showed of Mohammed bin Salman high- fiving Putin at the G-20 summit will backlash on Russia somehow. If you will watch closely in the region, especially young people, we have 300 or
400 million people, very young, very eager to breathe freedom who are looking at the rise of the strong man. And sooner or later, whatever we
see in 2011 with Arab spring, will continue to haunt all of these players.
The real issue, if Mohammed bin Salman or these strong leaders want to stabilize the region, they want to have a long stable, even regimes, or
governments, they have to start giving in to their own people. I don't think Mohammed bin Salman will look at his image only in Yemen but also by
releasing these women activists that are being tortured and raped in his dungeons.
ANDERSON: Rula's position on that. Before we close this, I do just want to talk about the border between Israel and Lebanon. Tense at the best of
times. Many in the Middle East watchers I spoke to at the back end of 2018, said this border was the most dangerous front in the world today.
One that has the potential to involve not only Israel and Hezbollah and Lebanon but drag in Syria, Iran and Iraq, as well. To all of you, let's
briefly, if you will, Vali, let's start with you. How concerned are you that that could happen in 2019? A new region-wide war?
NASR: Well, I think it is a serious concern. Because the fate of Syria is not settled. Israel has equities that is likely to protect in Syria. And
for all effective purposes strategically speaking, the Lebanon/Syria boundary with Israel is becoming one. Because it has the same actors,
Iran, Hezbollah, involved over there. And there is certain pressure on Israel to flex its muscles and that may very well happen before the end
game in Syria is settled.
ANDERSON: We have run out of time. It's been an absolute pleasure having the three of you on. Vali, Martin and Rula, please do come back, this is
the front end of what will be a very busy year this year, as we march our way into 2019. Thank you for your expert analysis. More of course, to
come, in the days, weeks and months ahead. Thank you.
Still ahead. Football history, made right here in the UAE. The Asian games begin with a shocker. Who won, who lost and who is without a job
today? That is after this.
[10:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ANDERSON: Closing out the show with your parting shots tonight. In a dream for Indian football. I'm talking football soccer. And a nightmare
for Thailand in the Asian Cup right here in Abu Dhabi. Underdog India walloped Thailand 4-1 getting their first Asian Cup win in, get this, 55
years. It was the opening match for both teams. Thailand wasted no time in firing their head coach after a humiliating loss. India will next play
the UAE on Thursday. We will keep you bang up to date on what is going none that soccer competition.
I'm Becky Anderson. That was CONNECT THE WORLD. I hope you enjoyed the hour. A busy one. Thank you for watching. We will see you same time