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U.S. Allies Attack Last ISIS Enclave In Syria; U.S. President Rips Into Russia Probe During Lengthy Speech; U.S.-South Korea Military Exercise Scaling Down; Juan Guaido Return Home From Ecuador Trip. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 3, 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] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Fareed Zakaria starts right now.

RICK FOLBAUM, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Rick Folbaum in Atlanta filling in for Becky Anderson. We're

about to take you onto the front line of a battle that has been a major global concern for years.

It's right here in eastern Syria where U.S.-led forces are working to force ISIS from its last stubbornly held piece of land. And as you can see there

has been some heavy fighting since the latest assault began Friday. This exclusive video shows the battle raging through the night. CNN's Ben

Wedeman has been reporting firsthand from the battlefield. He filed this report just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Rick, we are just about a kilometer from that encampment, that last encampment that is all that's

left of the Islamic state, the so-called Islamic state that stretched from western Syria to the outskirts of Baghdad. It's only about a half square

mile. And what we've been seeing throughout the morning and into the afternoon is constant pounding with airstrikes, mortars, and other

ammunition just pounding into that area behind me.

Now we don't know how many people, how many fighters are still left inside. We did speak to some of the soldiers with the U.S.-backed Syrian democratic

forces who told us that they are still finding, there are still attempts by ISIS fighters to counter-attack. But certainly at this point what we've

seen with the amount of fire that's rained down on that small encampment that their days are numbered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOLBAUM: Ben is back at his base for the night and he joins us live. And Ben, we watched that exclusive video in your reporting. Tell us what the

fighting has been like and how much more did the U.S. backed troops think will be needed to finally get the job done?

WEDEMAN: Well, Rick, the pounding is really around the clock. We were on a hill overlooking that encampment well after midnight and it was still

going on. And it went out throughout the night and into the morning. What was interesting from what we saw today was that something, whether it was

an airstrike, mortar, or artillery, hit several ammunition dumps which caused huge explosions. And that also underscores that ISIS has a lot of

weapons, a lot of probably men as well.

The estimates that we've been hearing from the Syrian democratic forces early on was there were maybe 200 or 300 fighters. Now they say there may

be as many as 1,000 still inside which makes sort of the battle ever more complicated. And also they do believe that even though as many civilians

were brought out or left as possible, there are still some civilians left inside being used as human shields.

So I spoke with one commander today and he -- I guess we can say he contradicted President Trump who yesterday said today or tomorrow the

battle will be over. On the ground, in reality, one commander said it's not over. It's another four or five days at least to go. Rick?

FOLBAUM: Well, not to get too far ahead of ourselves, Ben, but what's next for ISIS? Once this land is retaken, what does that mean for the terror

group and its influence, its reach?

WEDEMAN: What it means is that they no longer have any territory from which they can operate their pseudo-state that we've seen for the last few

years. But they still have supporters and we met some of them, actually many of them women and some men who had left that last enclave because of

reasons of ill health or simply because the women felt they wanted to leave with their children.

But they continued to say that they are committed to the concept of the caliphate of the Islamic state. They will be sent up to a basically what

amounts to an internment camp up north for the women and the children. The men are being sent to a separate camp where they will be further

interrogated by Syrian Democratic Forces, American, British, and French intelligence.

Beyond that, there's the problem of what Isis becomes once it loses its territory. And really most people believe that it will simply go back to

what it was before which was a terrorist insurgency and that through intimidation, terrorism hit-and-run attacks it will gradually be able to

regain some of the strength it once had.

So it's not in any sense gone, it's simply going to transform or go back to what it was before it became the so-called Islamic state. Rick?

[10:05:19] FOLBAUM: Exclusive reporting from Ben Wedeman and his team on the ground there near the front lines in eastern Syria. Ben, stay safe.

Thanks so much for that. The U.S. president turned to some friendly faces this weekend after suffering a rough week politically.

Donald Trump felt right at home at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference otherwise known as CPAC Saturday. Surrounded by supporters he

received thunderous applause when he wrapped the American flag in a big bear hug when he walked onto the stage. Mr. Trump then gave a long, long

speech that lasted more than two hours, the longest speech of his presidency.

He took aim at his familiar foes including the Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the ongoing investigation into Russian election meddling, even

mocking his own infamous call from Moscow to find Hillary Clinton's e- mails.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you tell a joke, if you're sarcastic, if you're having fun with the audience, if you're in live

television with millions of people and 25,000 people in an arena, and if you say something like Russia, please if you can get us Hillary Clinton's

e-mails, please Russia, please. Please get us e-mails. Please.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOLBAUM: The president in his element, there's the hugging of the flag. Mr. Trump also came out swinging against Democrats accusing those in

Congress of hating America and embracing socialism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Right now, we have people in Congress that hate our country, and you know that. And we can name every one of them if they want. They hate

our country. Democrat lawmakers are now embracing socialism. They want to replace individual rights with total government domination. This is the

new Democrat platform for the -- and I don't want to talk him out of it. I don't. I don't, I swear. I don't. This is a killer. I got to get off

the subject. I want them to embrace this plan. I want them to go and sell this plan. I just want to be the Republican that runs against them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOLBAUM: CNN Political Analyst Julian Zelizer says that CPAC used to be about conservative ideas, now he says it's just a circus. He joins us from

New York. Julian, nice to talk to you. We'll talk about your cnn.com piece in a minute but first I want to talk to you about the president who

coming off a lousy week. He had that failed summit with Kim Jong-un. He had his former attorney's damning testimony on Capitol Hill.

Forget about feeding his base, this speech yesterday seemed more about Trump nourishing himself. What do you think about that?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's absolutely right. I think whenever he's in these moments of trouble, he often likes to go to a

rally or he likes to deliver a speech like this or blast off some thoughts on Twitter. And it's not simply about appealing of the base or restoring

his support, it's about him.

He wants to get outside of the world of governance where success doesn't come very easily to him and this is where he feels better and more alive.

So I think that's exactly what the point of the CPAC speech was for him.

FOLBAUM: Julian, for our international viewers, this conference CPAC has a long and proud history as a platform for conservatives to promote their

ideas, to promote their vision for the United States. Ronald Reagan you know, launched his national political career at one of these events. And

you of a piece as we mentioned on cnn.com that really lays out how much this annual gathering and the conservative movement has changed. Summarize

it for us.

ZELIZER: Yes. Look, that's what it started in the 1970s. It was a way to get conservative ideas out into the public square. Since the 1990s, you've

really seen it changed. It's more the home of Fox News personalities and very far-right political figures and there's been many controversies with

people like Ann Coulter making horrific statements in public.

And so, this is a home for President Trump. It shows how the Republican Party has moved far, far to the right and it explains in part why Trump is

able to find success in the GOP. This conference reflects where the Republican Party has moved.

FOLBAUM: Well, one of the president's prime targets at CPAC, the Mueller investigation. And this is the special prosecutor looking into Russian

interference in the 2016 election and possible cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Of course, the president denies any

cooperation and he calls this a witch-hunt. But what does your gut tell you about this investigation about a report that may or may not be made

public? Where is this headed?

[10:10:21] ZELIZER: I think the report will be made somewhat public in the next you know, few months. It will probably be limited because Mueller is

constrained by the law in terms of what he can report. The real place the investigation is expanding is in Congress. The Cohen testimony opened up

more questions rather than closing them and House Democrats are now calling in more witnesses and I think in different committees you're going to see

an acceleration of questions, testimony, and investigation in the next few weeks.

So that's really the place to look in my mind more than what comes out of the Mueller report although that's obviously very significant after many

years of looking into this.

FOLBAUM: And we should remind viewers that the Democrats having won a majority in the House of Representatives now, have a lot more power to

subpoena and request documents. And word just today that one of those Democrat-led congressional committees is going to be requesting some

documents tomorrow including some from the president's own family members.

Another target for the president yesterday the Democrats who are lining up one after another to oppose him in 2020. Bernie Sanders, the latest to

officially enter the race, he did that yesterday in Brooklyn, New York. The president thinks though as we heard in a soundbite at the beginning but

he has found an effective line of attack calling the Democrats socialists and radicals. What do you think about that? Will it work?

ZELIZER: Well, it will be the source of attack. We've seen this many times in Republicans -- in Republican campaigns. This isn't new. It's not

unique. Let's remember in 2008, this as a line of attack used against Barack Obama, that he was called a socialist very often on the conservative

airwaves.

So I think it will be used. I think it's effective within many Republican circles to paint Democrats as extremists, but it doesn't necessarily bring

Republicans a victory. And Democrats need to remember that and they need to run a campaign based on their own terms rather than on what Republicans

are framing as the issues for 2020.

FOLBAUM: We see the former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden who is still mulling whether or not to jump in this race and run for the Democratic

nomination. Size up the field for us on the Democratic side. How does it look to you?

ZELIZER: I think you have very formidable candidates. He would obviously be a very prominent Democrat who could get in and quickly be very

attractive to certain parts of the electorate. But I think there's other people in the race right now who are in some ways more exciting like Kamala

Harris who's been doing very well early on and who has a kind of interesting mix of policy ideas and character background.

And I think Democrat should be feeling pretty good about the slate. They're going to have to work out who the winner is but there's going to be

a lot of options for Democrats in the coming months.

FOLBAUM: Julian, always good to talk to you. Thanks so much. And I remind everyone, check out Julian's piece on cnn.com about CPAC and the

Mueller investigation. He writes prolifically on the web site. Thanks, Julian.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

FOLBAUM: On Monday, the U.S. and South Korea will begin the first of their new scaled-down joint military exercises. And this comes just days after

the U.S.-North Korea summit came to an abrupt end in Hanoi without an agreement.

The lower-profile training is seen as a concession by the United States in support of the diplomatic process. Paula Hancocks has the latest now from

Seoul.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. and South Korean militaries will be holding military drills from Monday until March the

12th. But they will be very different to what we have seen in previous years. For decades we have seen a very large scale and long military

drills between the two countries. Key Resolve and Foal Eagle they are called but those are now going to be canceled we're hearing from the

defense minister of South Korea and the defense secretary of the United States.

Now, they've said that they have done this in order to try and support the diplomatic process between the U.S. and North Korea. So what we will see

instead of those very large-scale drills is smaller drills. We understand they could be just on a unit level. Some of them will be virtual training

which we have also seen in the past as well.

But we are hearing from officials that this will not affect the battle readiness of the two allies. Of course, skeptics disagree with that. They

believe that if these two militaries are not able to practice on a very large scale, then it will have some kind of impact on the battle readiness

of the two countries.

But they are drills that in the past have irritated North Korea on an annual basis. We had seen an increase for example of rocket and missile

launches during these drills and some pretty heavy rhetoric in years gone by.

Now we know that the U.S. Presidents Donald Trump last Thursday said that as far as he as concerned, these drills were too expensive. He said that

they cost $100 million every time they're carried out saying I gave them up quite a while ago. He's made no secret of the fact that he doesn't support

them and certainly, this is being seen as a concession from the U.S. to North Korea just days after that summit in Hanoi ended without agreement.

But certainly what we are hearing from the official site is putting a positive spin on it and saying that it is to support the diplomatic

process. Paula Hancocks, CNN Seoul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[10:15:45] FOLBAUM: And still to come --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: People desperate to get food back to their loved ones inside Venezuela, well, they found

another way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOLBAUM: Venezuela's deepening crisis growing, despair leads to illegal border crossings in a bid to find food. We are live in Caracas next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOLBAUM: Welcome back on this Sunday. I'm Rick Folbaum. Risking arrest for returning home. That is the reality facing Venezuela's self-declared

interim president Juan Guaido. He says he will return to Venezuela after a tour of Latin America designed to drum up support for his leadership.

Guaido announced his plans in Ecuador for the last leg of his travels but he has not said how or when he'll go back to Venezuela. If he does return

he can be arrested by the government of the sitting president Nicolas Maduro. Patrick Oppmann joins us now live from Caracas. Patrick, good to

see you.

So what do we know about Guaido's promised return and what might happen to him once he arrives back in Venezuela?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you can just feel the tension in the air walking around Caracas and talking to Venezuelans as

they wait to see what happens next. This is essentially a country with two presidents.

As you've said, Rick, you have self-declared interim president Juan Guaido who has been carrying out something of a foreign tour over the last week, a

meeting of the 50 presidents and heads of states around the world who have come and support his government and support essentially his declaration

that he is president, that the sitting socialist president Nicolas Maduro stole the election last year, that there was so much fraud that essentially

now that the office of the presidency would pass to Juan Guaido.

Of course, Nicolas Maduro is having none of this. He says that Juan Guaido is a usurper and that he will face arrests when he returns here. You know,

they have said that before. There was briefly a period at the beginning of the year where Juan Guaido was arrested but then he was quickly released

and that's because the government of Nicolas Maduro has to make the calculation here that if

they do arrest Juan Guaido, it will kick off protests again and there already some scheduled for Monday and will bring down the wrath of the

United States that supports Juan Guaido very, very strongly.

And it will give opponents of Nicolas Maduro an opening to further criticize them, further sanctions and to once again show that this is an

illegitimate government that is not accepting of any kind of dissent or any kind of challenges to their authorities. So people here are waiting very

anxiously to see what will happen.

They know that whatever takes place when Juan Guaido comes back, it can have major implications for the future of this country.

[10:21:10] FOLBAUM: Patrick, you mentioned the tension that you sensed as you walk the streets and spoke to Venezuelans. Where is public opinion

there now in terms of support for Maduro, support for Guiado?

OPPMANN: You know, it's so interesting, Rick, you know, this country is always you know, for many, many years, decades since Hugo Chavez became the

first socialist president in this country, it's been divided between the people who were Chavez's supporters, mostly the poor people who felt that

he cared more for them and his opponents, people who want businesses. They felt that he was ruining the economy of this country.

But within that opposition against Chavez and now Nicolas Maduro, it has always been divided as well. There's a lot of different fault lines there

and there was no one clear leader over the years. Now, Juan Guaido is unseemly the impossible, at least for the moment he's managed to unite the

opposition.

But recently is seen whether he can continue to keep the opposition United. That is one of the reasons he is coming back to take on the mantle of the

leader of the opposition and he hopes the mantle of the leader of Venezuela.

FOLBAUM: Finally, Patrick, many have said it's the military that holds the key here. And that if they continued their backing of Maduro, that he'll

be able to hold on to power. But if there are high-level defections, that could mean the end. What do we know about the military and where their

support is?

OPPMANN: So far, publicly, they have come out, again and again, time and time again for Nicolas Maduro saying that they are loyal to him. Just

driving around Caracas the last few days, you see the buildings that the government here is built for the military to live in. They certainly seem

to receive much of the resources of this country to keep them loyal. But as more as more of them are targeted by U.S. sanctions, as more and more of

them probably look at the future of this country, perhaps those loyalties are going to be changing.

FOLBAUM: Patrick Oppmann live for us in Caracas. Patrick, thanks so much. As Venezuela's power struggle continues, the Maduro government's closure of

border crossings to Colombia has made daily life for Venezuelans even more difficult. But as our Nick Paton Walsh reports some people are managing to

get by.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH: A lifeline crossing barricaded, formerly closed. But here, the Colombia-Venezuela border is still bustling. And in the distance, people

seem to be getting across. How?

Clashes a week ago close that border. It's now almost fortified but people desperate to get food back to their loved ones inside Venezuela. Well,

they found another way. Down we follow the tide as Colombian police stand calmly by. These steps of necessity, of desperation by people in need of

everything.

Endless in number down to the riverbank, but these -- those seem to be steps of just salvation helped as they are at first. Across the water,

past the tree line, we are told, as sometimes Venezuelans soldiers but mostly gangs who charge for each crossing. 50 cents per person and $2.00

equivalent if you're carrying goods.

Cars and trucks wait for me over there, he says. It's mostly just guys, not soldiers. It's pesos, they ask for, another ants, it's not soldiers.

I don't know who gets the money.

The dead go back to be buried in their homeland and the living feel the slow collapse of their homeland bury them. Traffic both ways but with one

shared Venezuelan burden.

If you leave, it's more or less empty-handed. Yet those who go back will they do so with pretty much everything they can carry.

Up on the bridge where thousands once crossed daily of a pellets fired last week to keep opposition protesters back who below still carry on their

skirmishes and defenses. People whose world is measured in varying degrees of nothing and who's suffering here finds only further exploitation. Nick

Paton Walsh, CNN Cucuta, Colombia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[10:25:24] FOLBAUM: To Algeria now, and longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika is expected to confirm his candidacy soon for a fifth term amid

the largest anti-government protests there in decades. The ailing 82-year- old has rarely been seen in public since he suffered a stroke back in 2013. And for over a week now, tens of thousands have demonstrated against his

re-election bid.

President Bouteflika is widely believed to be incapacitated in the reins of the country, left in the hands of civilian and military elite referred to

as the power.

And in tonight's parting shots, Roger Federer has hit a career milestone, a big one. The Swiss master claimed his 100th Pro Tour title at the Dubai

Championship Saturday. His victory over Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas means that he has now had a century of tournament wins. Federer now needs 10

more titles in order to claim the prize of most Pro Tour titles that's currently held by American Jimmy Connors. Congratulations.

And speaking of sporting greats, Becky Anderson got to spend some time with Italian footballing living legend Gianluigi Buffon, the Paris Saint-Germain

goalkeeper takes Becky on a one-on-one tour of some of his favorite parts of the French capital and he opened up about his career, his struggles with

depression and how art helped him to overcome his demons.

Stay tuned for CONNECT THE WORLD, A Living Legend coming up just ahead. I'm Rick Folbaum, that was CONNECT THE WORLD. Thanks so much for watching.

I'll be back after the break with your news headlines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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