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Ceasefire with Different Interpretations from Two Parts of the World; Chief of Staff Spill Beans to POTUS' Opponents; Boris Johnson Optimistic About His Deal; Rollercoaster Ride in the Sky. Aired 3- 3:30a ET

Aired October 18, 2019 - 03:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: A ceasefire of sorts. We have update from northern Syria and from Turkey coming up this hour.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Quid pro quo, the question yes or no to that. Well, the White House chief of staff admits then tries to take it back. But we know what he said.

ALLEN: And what is next for Brexit getting Boris Johnson's new agreement through the British parliament may be an uphill battle.

HOWELL: Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, studio seven here. Welcome to viewers all around the world. I'm George Howell.

ALLEN: I'm Natalie Allen. CNN Newsroom starts right now.

HOWELL: The guns are supposed to be quiet right now in northern Syria, where Syrian Kurds face a sudden onslaught from Turkish forces crossing the border. But within the past hour, we've seen smoke rising from the Syrian town near the Turkish border. This live image in Ras al-Ayn right there. Reuters reports the sound of shelling in that area.

ALLEN: For the past weeks, intense fighting has been the norm. The Turkish military seized on the sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces in northern Syria as an opportunity to push out the Kurds.

On Thursday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced what he called a ceasefire, but what Turkey's described as a pause. The purpose? To give the Kurds who had been loyal U.S. allies against ISIS, five days to retreat.


MICHAEL PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Thanks to the strong leadership of President Donald Trump, and the strong relationship between President Erdogan in Turkey, and the United States of America. Today, the United States and Turkey have agreed to a ceasefire in Syria. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: We're going to dive into this story. CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is live for us this hour in Ankara, Turkey.

HOWELL: But let's start with our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh. Nick in Erbil in northern Iraq. And Nick, we heard the vice president's words there. He is putting a spin on it you could say.

But look, the reports of shelling, we see the smoke, the ceasefire safe zone we know is not comprehensibly defined by the U.S. so it is unclear whether Ras al-Ayn is within that or not. Given what we see, what do you make of this?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Extraordinary, George. Just to let you know what that noise behind us is two American Black Hawk helicopters flying past to remind there that U.S. forces are still in this mix somehow that they're supposed to have withdrawn.

The question whether Ras al-Ayn is within that ceasefire zone is really unclear. You'd think probably would be, because even though I'd been through the press conference and the subsequent statement by the U.S. special representative to Syria a number of times trying to work out what their definition of the safe zone actually is.

You might think Ras al-Ayn is potentially on its outer skirts maybe, or you might think that what you're hearing behind is part of the text of this agreement which says that forces are allowed to fire upon in self-defense. That's a very broad definition and one which has been plaguing ceasefire historically as well.

It's really hard to tell what you do when you feel, quote, "threatened." The major problem is that it seems the Turkish government think that the safe zone extends 30 kilometers about 18 to 20 miles in, all the way from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border.

That's more or less the entire stretch of the Syrian Turkish border that Syrian Kurds used to control.

If you listen to the Americans they talk about the area where the Turks already are. Now that more or less is between the town of Tell Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, they are outside those areas further in. In some areas we saw some of their forces ourselves near Ain Issa. And that's pretty far away from the 30-kilometer depth lines line which the Americans have talked about.

So, at its most generous, really, what we are looking at is an agreement where the Syrian Kurds have agreed to withdraw from areas but they probably not for the most degree already. And they've agreed to sort of get out of places that are currently controlled by the Turkish.

The Turkish, however, think that it's significantly broader than all of that. The ultimate confusion is really come down to two main population centers, that the Turkish could potentially interpret as being areas that meant to go in the Turks -- or the Kurds are meant to withdraw from, that's Kabani and Qamishli.

Now Qamishli is to the east, we heard celebratory gun fire in Qamishli last night after the agreement was announced, that doesn't sound like Syrian Kurds are about to pull out anytime soon.

And to the west there's Kabani, a storied city fought heavily by Syrian Kurds for to kick ISIS out. Mike Pence was specific there will be no military action against them. Right now, the regime forces with the Russian flags backing them up inside there as well.


So, we're frankly, an unprecedented mess in the next five days. Because this 120-hour withdrawal period it's now about 90 hours or so. This 120-hour withdrawal period is leading up to a key diplomatic meeting in Sochi between Turkish President Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, that many thought was where the real willpower brokers in all of this will be making the deal.

It does sadly seem what we heard in Ankara was a desperate attempt perhaps by U.S. officials to try and salvage some sense of control out of this. But the fact the ceasefire area was so poorly defined, in fact, has different definitions depending on who you are within it.

The fact that people are still announced to fight if they feel like they need to do so in self-defense. Well, we're really into a messy five days here, probably of continued land grabbing. Maybe we'll see a drop in the violence, but there is no clear situation to be upheld at this point, George.

HOWELL: All right, Nick, thank you.

ALLEN: All right. Now, you mentioned the capital so let's get in Turkey. Joman Karadsheh is there in Ankara. And just hearing Nick's report there shows the complexities of the situation. And I have to ask you, Turkey does not call this ceasefire. How is it being interpreted there?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Natalie, they are describing this as a pause in fighting. They don't want to call this a ceasefire because they say a ceasefire is between two legitimate entities. And to them they say, the other side, in this case, the Kurdish Syrian fighters, the YPG, they consider them to be a terrorist organization.

Turkey here is trying to present this as the Turkish government, the Turkish military is coming out on top in this case and they are the ones who are setting the rules right now. And they are saying what they have is a pause in fighting. They're pausing their military operation for five days to allow for the withdrawal of the Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Now, you know, we've heard from Turkish officials saying that basically they got exactly what they wanted out of this meeting and that their military offensive achieved its goals.

And that is the fact that they got the Americans to commit to this safe zone that for months the Turkish government, the military, U.S. State Department, the U.S. military have been, were negotiating, trying to set up this what the Americans described as a security mechanism, this safe zone for Turkey. But they always had their disagreements. They never got that full commitment from the Americans.

So at least the way they are putting in this out now is that they got the Americans on board. And as you heard from Nick there, the reality on the ground could be very complex as we know. And we don't really know how this is actually going to play out on the ground, on the battlefield.

What Turkey is saying that we are going to wait and see what happens at the end of those five days. I think they have come out in position here where they managed to give the Trump administration a win, allowing President Trump basically to claim credit for a ceasefire, something that could have possibly happened on the ground later on.

Because you see the Americans really losing the leverage that they once had. The real players on the ground, we haven't heard from them yet, and that is of course the Russians backing the Syrian regime.

And as Nick mentioned, it's going to be very critical. We see what happens possibly at the end of that five-day period when President Erdogan heads to Russia and meets with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Natalie?

ALLEN: Right. The Russian question a big part of what is happening here.

Jomana Karadsheh for us there in the Turkish capital. Thank you for your reporting.

HOWELL: And as we mentioned, the U.S. may call this a ceasefire, Turkey does not. In fact, the Turkish foreign minister made a point of saying publicly it is not a ceasefire. The U.S. president has his to say about it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: This is an amazing outcome. This was something that they've been trying to get for 10 years. You would have lost millions and millions of lives. They couldn't get it without a little rough love, as I called it.

The Kurds are very happy. Turkey is very happy. The United States is very happy. And you know what, civilization is very happy. It's a great thing for civilization.


HOWELL: No, not everyone is happy about this. Some Republicans in Congress have serious misgivings. Listen to U.S. Senator Mitt Romney speak about it. He is not happy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): The announcement today is being portrayed as a victory. It is far from a victory. The ceasefire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally. Are we so weak and so inept diplomatically that Turkey force to hand the United States of America? Turkey?



HOWELL: Senator Mitt Romney there speaking. One of the few Republicans in Congress willing to criticize President Trump publicly.

ALLEN: Back in Washington, President Trump's defense in the impeachment inquiry took some serious hits Thursday. First, there was testimony the president's personal attorney was directing foreign policy in Ukraine. And then a stunning admission from the acting White House chief of staff.

Alex Marquardt has that.

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A blockbuster press conference at the White House today. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney undercutting the president's repeated denials there was no quid pro quo with Ukraine.


MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We do that all the time with foreign policy.


MARQUARDT: Mulvaney admitting that money was held up until the president got assurances including looking into whether the DNC had a server in Ukraine. A conspiracy theory driven by the president which has been debunked. As for allegations that the president held back military aid for political reasons, Mulvaney didn't mince words.


MULVANEY: And I have new for everybody. Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy.


MARQUARDT: Mulvaney also made no excuses for revelations that it was the president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani who is gatekeeper on Ukraine policy which the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, testified too today on Capitol Hill, saying that he and his fellow diplomatic envoys to Ukraine didn't have a choice between pursuing a traditional policy to strengthen tries or work with Giuliani. "I did not understand until much later," Sondland told lawmakers, "that Mr. Giuliani's agenda might have also included in an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians directly or indirectly in the president's 2020 reelection campaign.


REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): It's very clear that Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani are running a shadow foreign policy, and this foreign policy was basically to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.


MARQUARDT: Sondland who was a longtime Republican donor who gave money to Trump's inauguration, became a target for the impeachment inquiry when his text messages with the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine came to light.

Ambassador Bill Taylor writing to Sondland, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." Sondland responding, "The president has been crystal clear. No quid pro quos of any kind."

But Sondland was repeating to Taylor what the president had just told him on the phone, no quid quo. Today Sondland claimed, "Withholding foreign aid in order to pressure a foreign government to take such steps would be wrong. I did not and would not ever participate in such undertakings."

And we're hearing about some backlash at the White House in response to Mick Mulvaney's comments. A source telling CNN that the president's legal team was not involved and is baffled. The source saying that it was not helpful that the acting chief of staff, essentially admitted to quid pro quo with Ukraine. And that people at the White House are stunned.

Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.

HOWELL: All right, Alex, thank you. So, the Brexit ball we continue to follow it. And it is back in Boris Johnson's court. But the British prime minister faces a fight to get his deal across the hurdle through parliament.

Plus, the Irish republic's leader tells the U.K. you're always welcome to come back to the E.U. Where we go from here? That's coming up next. Yes, talk about a bouncing ball.


ALLEN: The bouncing ball of Brexit. Plus, the royal scare in the air when the duke and duchess of Cambridge hit d bad weather during their visit in Pakistan. It was one scary flight. More about it.



ALLEN: Welcome back.

Boris Johnson is facing what could be the political fight of his life after doing what was thought to be nearly impossible.

HOWELL: This is a big deal. He sealed the new Brexit deal with the E.U. at the crucial summit that took place in Brussels. But that could be a walk in the park for what he has to do next which is to get it through the British parliament.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: And I hope very much now speaking to elected representatives, that my fellow M.P.s in Westminster do now come together to get Brexit done, to get this excellent deal over the line and to deliver Brexit without any more delay so that we can focus on the priorities of the British people.


HOWELL: And live in Brussels let's bring in our Melissa Bell following the story. Melissa, I think the British prime minister does seem a bit upbeat as he has this new milestone under his belt. But now getting into parliament, getting it over that hurdle, we'll see.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Getting this far had seem improbable yesterday. But what lies ahead of him seems harder still. Now what he did manage to do, and what everyone had said he couldn't which is strike a new deal with the E.U. that it removed that controversial backstop that essentially left to the U.K. within the E.U. for a number of different regulatory and customs issues for an indefinite period.

That was what conservatives have objected to. He has got a new deal where Northern Ireland has this slightly different regime that creates a thin border through the Irish sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. That is still looking unacceptable to the DUP, the Northern Irish party.

So, the question is how is he going to get the numbers on his side given that so far, he had so depended on the Northern Irish party with whom with which the conservatives have this loose alliance in the British parliament.

And the irony of all this is that he going to be depending on the very people he has so alienated this past few months. That is the parliamentarians. He's suspended their parliament very controversially. He's been in these pitch battles with parliament over the course of the last few weeks losing so many of the votes that he's taken on in the House of Commons.

This time, though, two things have changed. The nature of the deal itself, which does answer a number of the concerns of the Brexiteers in particular, and the urgency of the task at hand. By the time the commons get together to vote on what's being described

as this super Saturday a very unusual weekend session for the Westminster parliament, there is going to be less than two weeks, a matter of days before that 31st of October deadline. That is likely to focus the minds. And it's looking already according to conservative whips in the commons, like he has a chance to getting close to getting his deal through. Possibly even just getting over the line. But the numbers are going to be extremely tight.

So, yes, a lot achieved here from the point of view of Boris Johnson, but a lot more to come over the next few days.

HOWELL: All right. And we'll be monitoring to see if he indeed gets the votes. Melissa Bell live for us in Brussels. Melissa, thank you.

ALLEN: Well, Prince William and Kate are winding down their visit to Pakistan. The first by a British royal in more than a decade. The duke and duchess of Cambridge are highlighting education and the impact of climate change in the country.

On Thursday, they visited children at a cancer hospital in Lahore, previously voted by William's mother Diana. But then, they had a little rough ride after that back to the capital of Islamabad, to say the least when their British Royal Air Force plane had to abandon its landing twice because of storms. Two times they had abandoned it. The normally 26-minute flight turned into a two-hour ordeal.


Our Max Foster was among the 40 media members on that flight. Here's Max.

MAX FOSTER, CNN LONDON CORRESPONDENT: We knew there was a storm over Islamabad. And then we saw lightning, there was some turbulence. So, I think the pilot was trying to find his way through basically. But each time he attempted, there were some really sort of loud movements on the aircraft. A lot of people they're nervous flight, they are uncomfortable indeed.

And then he would -- the pilot would go back up, and try again to find a path through. But he was trying a few times, I don't know how many exactly and it didn't work. And eventually he said we just have to go back to Lahore.

But yes, I think there is a lot of people were very concerned as there have been a little nervous fly anyway. I think everyone in the staff felt very in control of the situation.

There were people quite ill, you know, people that felt very sick, and there were points where very much felt like they are under a rollercoaster. So, if you don't like that (Inaudible) you would have felt pretty ill afterwards. But thankfully, (Inaudible) were OK.


ALLEN: Thank goodness. Can you imagine, I shudder just to think about it. After they landed the duke, a former air ambulance pilot joke that he had been the one flying the plane.

HOWELL: That had to be a rough ride.

ALLEN: He'd be deep sleep (Ph).

HOWELL: Still ahead, a retired U.S. Marine Corps general takes aim. His target, the U.S president. Stay with us.


HOWELL: Welcome back, so online people are having a field day with the White House photo that shows the U.S. speaker -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wagging her finger at Donald Trump.

ALLEN: Yes. Jeanne Moos explains why some people are saying move over, Bruce Springsteen.

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Instead of just rolling her eyes, Nancy Pelosi is trying to turn the tables on President Trump using his own photo. He tweeted it with the caption "nervous Nancy's unhinged meltdown."

At a White House meeting, Democratic leaders walked out on. And when they walked out, she said he was the one who had --




MOOS: Well, tow the internet is melting down after the speaker decided to use President Trump's photo as the cover on her Twitter account. On what was national bosses' day, fan said Speaker Pelosi was owning Trump like a boss.

Pointing her finger, she was depicted shooting raised that ignited the president. The photo was annotated, Pelosi wearing a crown, President Trump a jester's hat. The image now joins other classic Pelosi moments, like the time she clapped at the president, and put on shades exiting another testy White House meeting. Her legend is looming large.

Pelosi had a couple of guesses when asked what was happening at the moment the photo was snapped.


PELOSI: I think I was excusing myself from the room. I was probably saying all roads lead to Putin.


MOOS: She argued what the president is saying his decision to withdraw from Syria leaves a void that Russians could fail. [03:25:00]

But people aren't just analyzing the images of Speaker Pelosi and President Trump. They were struck by the body language of the chairman of the joint chiefs, a State Department official and Republican Congressman Steve Scalise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hanging their heads in shame.

MOOS: Chagrin and bear it, read one caption. President Trump may call her nervous Nancy, but on Thursday she called him.


PELOSI: What you might call it.


MOOS: That's president what you might call it, Madam Speaker. Jeanne Moos, CNN.


PELOSI: It was a meltdown


MOOS: New York.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's right there. The president is.



ALLEN: Meltdown. You're hearing a lot about that these days in Washington. Well, it wasn't just Pelosi having words about the president, or meltdown or his meltdown.

The former U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis was also taking jabs at his former boss, Donald Trump. Mattis delivering the keynote speech at an annual philanthropic dinner where rows of prominent figures are a tradition.

HOWELL: And he had a lot to say, Natalie. Now you're remember Mattis resigned last year after President Trump announced plans to withdraw troops from Syria. Recently, President Trump called Mattis the world's most overrated general. And here's how he responded to that.


JAMES MATTIS, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: I mean, I'm not just an overrated general, I am the greatest, the world's most overrated. I'm honored to be considered that by Donald Trump because he also called Meryl Street an overrated actress.

So, I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals. And frankly that sounds pretty good to me.


MATTIS: Some of you were kind during the reception and asked me, you know, if this bothered me to have been rated this way based on what Donald Trump said. I said, of course not. I earn my spurs on the battlefield, Martin, as you pointed out, and Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from the doctor. So.


ALLEN: Mattis added the only person in the military President Trump doesn't think is overrated. This is one more joke from him is Kentucky fried chicken's colonel centers.

All right. Well, demonstrators are on streets of Barcelona this hour. We want to take you back to the story.

HOWELL: Monday, nine Catalan independents politicians were sentenced for a failed attempt to split from Spain that happened two years ago. But some believed another independents referendum could help end the turmoil even though it's not likely Spain's government will go for that.

Over the past few days, thousands of protesters set fires in the city's tourist district hitting police with eggs, water bottles, and blocking highways there.

ALLEN: Another developing story we'll continue to follow here on CNN, of course. Thank you for watching CNN Newsroom. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell. Your headlines right after this.