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E.U. Leaders Considering U.K.'s Request for Delay; Trump Defends Syria Strategy as Putin and Erdogan Make a Deal; Bill Taylor's Testimony Stuns Congress; Trump Compares Impeachment Inquiry to Lynching ; U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is Interviewed about Syria Strategy. Aired 12-1a ET
Aired October 23, 2019 - 00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John Vause, live from Studio 7 at CNN World Headquarters.
Ahead this, hour it was a moment in history and then it wasn't. British Parliament approves a Brexit deal that votes no to passing a Brexit deal. And hands the E.U. responsibility for what happens next.
Redrawing the map: Russia and Turkey dividing up territory seized in northern Syria. In real time, it, seems Vladimir Putin filling the power vacuum left behind by America's retreat.
And the phone calls are coming from inside the House. Another senior official from within the Trump administration delivers damning testimony to Congress over Ukraine.
VAUSE: The very latest this hour on Brexit is brought to you by the word flextension, a combination of flexible and extension, which is what the E.U. is now considering after the British Parliament put the brakes on their withdrawal from the E.U.
For the first, time lawmakers actually approved terms of a withdrawal deal. But they are snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The House of Commons voted against fast tracking the process to meet the October 31st deadline.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BERCOW, SPEAKER, BRITISH HOUSE OF COMMONS: The ayes to the right, 308; the nos the left, 322. So the nos have it. The nos have it. Unlock.
VAUSE (voice-over): The prime minister is legally obliged to apply to the E.U. for an extension or, more precisely now, a flextension, which could see the Brexit deadline pushed back early next year. But the delay will be terminated if the deal is ratified before then, putting the flex into flextension.
The process is on hold with Boris Johnson warning the U.K. could still crash out of the European Union.
BORIS JOHNSON, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: The government must take the only responsible course and accelerate our preparations for a no deal out. But certainly I will speak to E.U. member states about their intentions until they have reached a decision. And until they have reached a decision I must say that we will pause this legislation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: British journalist Josh Boswell joins us now from Los Angeles.
So. Josh clearly in many ways a historic moment, finally an agreement on an exit package but the opposition voted down the fast-track process. I think they want to rewrite parts of the deal. Listen to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEREMY CORBYN, LEADER, U.K. LABOUR PARTY: The prime minister is the author of his own misfortune. So I make this offer to him tonight. Work with us -- work with us, all of us to agree a reasonable timetable. And I suspect this house will vote to debate, scrutinized and I hope immense the detail of this bill. That would be the sensible way forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: So clearly the concern for Johnson is this just opens the door to endless negotiations and renegotiations and pilgrimages to Brussels.
But riddle me this, Batman, did they actually agreed on a new deal?
Do they like what's in this or do they just agreed to this deal so they could try and change it later on?
JOSH BOSWELL, BRITISH JOURNALIST: It's pretty much the latter, yes. They -- the vote and that one majority of 30 in the House of Commons was merely putting forward this deal to the next stage of the process. And that's a stage where MPs can tack on amendments, as you say, and those amendments are ones that could sink this bill.
We're talking about adding a second referendum on the end of it so that it will be put to the British public again.
Another amendment that might bring the whole of the U.K. into the customers union, something that the hardline Brexiteers in Boris Johnson's party would not be able to stomach and that would ruin any majority for the deal and would also make it something different to what Boris had actually negotiated with the E.U. So really, the tough times of this bill are yet to come. And I think that we shouldn't take this majority that it's got for the first -- the first vote in Parliament too strongly. Really, it's the -- it's the second bill that was voted on today that actually gives us stronger sense of the majority in parliament and that is against Boris Johnson.
VAUSE: And while he -- Boris Johnson made it clear he does not want this Brexit extension.
VAUSE: Here he is in Parliament. He seems to be drawing a red line. If there is an extension -- an extension, how long it should. Be here is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNSON: I will in no way allow months -- no wait -- allow months more of this. If Parliament refuses to allow Brexit to happen and instead gets its way and decides to delay everything until January or possibly longer, in no circumstances can the government continue with this.
And I with great regret, I must direct to the point that the honorable gentlemen raises. With great regret, I must say that the bill will have to be pulled and we will have to go forward much as the honorable gentleman we may not like it, we will have to go forward to a general election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: I guess the feeling is that Brexit delayed is a Brexit denied. But on the issue of a general election, nothing is as easy as it sounds he says in Parliament because what Johnson needs to support within the house to call an early election?
BOSWELL: That's right, yes. Due to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, he does need two-thirds of Parliament to start a general election. Now Jeremy Corbyn has come out in favor of a general election.
And it's unclear whether his MPs are going to back him on that but certainly, the Leader of the opposition party is pushing for a general election too. It's something that we may seem see fairly soon now.
But the reason that a lot of Labour MPs aren't particularly happy about that, aren't looking forward to it is because they're trailing by about 15 points in the polls.
And Boris Johnson could well clear up if he manages to have this election on the grounds of I'm trying to put through Brexit, Parliament is stopping me, let me have a majority, British public, so that I can get this through and get Brexit done as his slogan is.
VAUSE: Yes. He is very high on the opinion polls at the moment, despite everything. We should remind everybody though, the final call here on any extension is with the European Union. France has been playing the role of bad cop and all this, insisting on some kind of political shake-up before granting any kind of delay or extension.
How unified is the E.U. on this?
BOSWELL: Well, I think they are very unlikely to say no to an extension or to grant anything that's significantly shorter. I think we're very likely to see a January 31 extension coming out of Brussels because the European Council President Donald Tusk has already tweeted that. That's what he's going to be pushing forward.
You've got the French president kind of agitating, but more for domestic political reasons, more to make it a show of things. It's -- I think it's very unlikely he would veto or really push to limit this. So I think we're looking at January 31st and an election beforehand.
VAUSE: OK, good times ahead. Josh, thanks for coming in. Good to see you.
BOSWELL: Thanks, John.
VAUSE: The president of Russia and the president of Turkey had made a deal to try to return calm to Northern Syria and this deal could in fact determine the future of one-time American allies, the Kurds.
The two leaders met at Putin's retreat in the seaside resort of Sochi and in Russia, this happened as the cease-fire time basically expired. The talks also came as the U.S. draws down its forces in Syria on the orders of President Trump.
Under the, deal the Kurdish YPG fighters who spearheaded the fight against ISIS, are to be moved 30 kilometers away from the Turkish border. To forestall, this Russia is to carry out separate patrols with Turkish and Syrian troops.
This is a win for Turkey, viewing the YPG as terrorists and also getting control of the land between Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad. Turkey's happy and Russia's happy but it doesn't sound like Russia's allies in Damascus are too pleased.
The Kremlin said the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad thanked Mr. Putin for the deal but Syrian media reported differently. One channel said Mr. Assad told the Russian president he rejects any occupation of Syrian land. Here is what he told his troops in Idlib province. He uses the word daish, which is the Arabic term for ISIS.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BASHAR AL-ASSAD, PRESIDENT OF SYRIA (through translator): What I want to say is that when we say that Erdogan is a thief who stole the factories, stole wheat, stole oil in collaboration with daish, now he is stealing the land.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: For his, part President Trump is calling the Russia-Turkey deal good news but he is also facing rare bipartisan criticism for pulling out U.S. forces. CNN's Fred Pleitgen has more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Our military was depleted.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): President Trump continues to justify his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria.
Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan have already carved up the area amongst themselves, a triumphant Putin announcing the agreement.
PUTIN (through translator): We have managed to reach very important if not fateful agreements to resolve this very acute situation on the Syrian-Turkish border.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): While American troops got pelted with rotten vegetables and rocks as they left Syria, Russians will now be taking their place.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Moscow's forces, instead of American troops, will now be patrolling the border, region together with the Turks and the Russians will ensure that armed Kurdish groups, America's former allies in the fight against ISIS, retreat from Turkish territory.
"Both sides will take necessary measures to prevent infiltrations of terrorist elements," Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov read from the agreement.
America's withdrawal, another major win for Vladimir Putin, courtesy of President Trump.
TRUMP: We never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): It comes as "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" reported that both Hungarian president Viktor Orban and Vladimir Putin tried to encourage President Trump to take a hostile view of Ukraine.
Officials familiar with the testimony of career diplomat George Kent, before House committees last week, told "The Washington Post" Trump's conversations with Putin and Orban reinforced his view of Ukraine as corrupt.
These conversations all happening before President Trump asked Ukraine's leader to investigate Joe Biden's son on that now-famous July 25th phone call. Top Democrats, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, confronting President Trump about Putin's influence in a heated meeting at the White House just last week.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I also pointed out to the president that I had concerns that all roads seem to lead to Putin.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): In Syria, all roads now lead to Vladimir Putin -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Sochi, Russia.
VAUSE: Jill Dougherty is a CNN contributor and global fellow for the Woodrow Wilson Center. She was also CNN's Moscow bureau chief for many years and she is with us this hour from Washington.
Jill, good to see you.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John.
VAUSE: OK. Talk about the optics here. I mean, this is the president of Russia, inviting a NATO ally to his retreat in Sochi where you know, for six hours, they redrew the map of the Middle East.
They said (INAUDIBLE) these 500 square miles of Syrian territory. You know, Putin has been trying to drive a wedge between Turkey and the West for years.
Is it almost time here for Putin to hang out the mission accomplished banner?
DOUGHERTY: There's so many ways that he could, John, because you're right, the optics are one thing. But I mean, you're going to have, if his plan works, you're going to have Turkish troops and Russian troops patrolling together and Turkey an ally, a NATO ally of the United States really astounding.
But I think, you know, you'd have to say that right now Russia is depicting Vladimir Putin and Vladimir Putin is definitely playing that role, of a person who was loyal to his friends, talks to any country, does not demand anything from anybody else, is an honest broker. And look at the way he's improved relations.
And now you have Turkey and not only Turkey, but just a week or two ago, he was in Saudi Arabia with an amazing reception. He has good relations with Iran. He has good relations with Israel. So he really now is becoming, you could say, the power broker in the Middle East as the United States pulls out.
VAUSE: With regards to the U.S. point of view on you know, the recent events with the Kurds, the U.S. Defense Secretary has defended this decision for a troop withdrawal, essentially saying it's a question of priorities. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK ESPER, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, UNITED STATES: That's one of the challenges I face as Secretary of Defense trying to implement our new national defense strategy is how do I reposition our forces to deal with the threats of the coming decades, which is China, number one and Russia number two. As I look around the globe, I see our forces tied down in multiple locations. Man, if you step back, you'd see American forces easily in 80, 90 countries around the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: OK, so if Russia is, you know, the number two challenger or threat, if you like, you know, the other context here is that for the past 50 years, American foreign policy was focused on keeping Russia out of the Middle East. It seems that you know, as Donald Trump was walking out of Syria, he held the door open for Putin to walk right in.
DOUGHERTY: Yes. And Putin is re-establishing ties that actually go back much further. You know, the Soviet Union had many ties with the Middle East that kind of dissipated after the end of the Soviet Union and he's simply going back.
I mean, Syria is a place that Russia and the Soviet Union had a relationship going way back to Assad's father. So all of these connections he is reestablishing and at the very same time the United States and President Trump says, we don't need this anymore, we don't need to be there.
But those troops that we were just talking about, it wasn't a whole lot of troops that it sounds good to say the national security strategy says that it's China and Russia.
DOUGHERTY: But actually, there are places that the United States, even with small numbers of troops has to be if the United States is to play a leadership role.
If the decision is not to be -- to play a leadership role, then pull out. But you can see already that a precipitous pullout can be very, very destabilizing.
VAUSE: You can be in favor of the policy, but you know, critical of the way it was executed. The view though, from the U.S. president and many others seems to be that the Russians and the Turks have just won custody of a quagmire. Others have argued that Syria is just a disaster. It's a broken country and no one wins out of this.
I guess there's some truth in that in part, but it seems very -- you know, not the big-picture view, if you like, instead of focusing on the immediate and the small picture.
DOUGHERTY: You know, it couldn't get any worse really, John. You know, quagmire, it's already a quagmire and they're in it. So I don't think that argument holds up. It says bigger picture. It's not just, you know, Syria, it's the Middle East.
And again, what we're just going through, all of these places of Vladimir Putin is reestablishing relationships and depicting himself in playing the role of a leader playing a bad hand very, very well, actually. So it's not to Syria.
And I think that the -- if you look long term, this is a major decision. It will have ramifications that will go on for years.
VAUSE: There have been a series of those sort of decisions coming from this White House that you know, will have ramifications for many years to come. And this, of course, is up on the top 10, I would say.
Jill, thank you. Good to see you.
DOUGHERTY: Thank you, John.
VAUSE: A top U.S. diplomat's testimony about Ukraine has left some U.S. lawmakers seriously rattled. What he said and the implications for President Trump's impeachment inquiry. That's next.
Also, President Trump is furious at Bill Taylor's testimony and he continues to slam the impeachment inquiry and is now comparing it to a lynching and that is a whole new controversy. Back in a moment.
VAUSE: For the U.S. president, Tuesday was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, mostly because the Ukraine scandal will not go away. Testimony from America's most senior diplomat to Ukraine has left many in Washington reeling.
One Democrat said it was his most disturbing day in Congress so far. Many Republicans are downplaying William Taylor's testimony, with the old line, "Nothing new here." Details from CNN's Sara Murray.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A key impeachment witness telling investigators today he was told aid to Ukraine would not be released until Ukraine publicly announced the political investigations Trump was demanding into the Biden family and 2016.
MURRAY (voice-over): The top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, offered those details in his opening statement obtained by CNN. He explained why he suspected Trump of taking part in a quid pro quo, something the president has denied.
Taylor told investigators the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, talked to him by phone, quote, "During that phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election," Taylor said.
"Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of investigations. In fact, Ambassador Sondland said everything was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance."
Ukraine's involvement in 2016 is a conspiracy that has been proven false. And Burisma is the Ukrainian energy company that hired former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): You could hear a pin drop, literally, as the ambassador laid out in his opening statement.
MURRAY: A source familiar with Sondland's testimony said Sondland was only speculating about the political investigations.
Sondland also told Taylor the aid may have been frozen because of corruption generally or because the Europeans weren't giving enough money to Ukraine.
Taylor's testimony fills in the gaps between his text messages with other diplomats over the summer in which Taylor raised alarm over the delay in money for Ukraine. As the new Ukrainian president was vying for an in-person meeting with President Trump, Taylor texted Sondland: "Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations?"
"Call me," Sondland replied. Taylor sounded the alarm again on September 9: "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."
Hours later, after speaking with Trump, Sondland replied: "Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The president has been crystal clear, no quid pro quos of any kind."
Taylor's appearance behind closed doors left some Democratic lawmakers rattled.
REP. ANDY LEVIN (D-MI): This is the -- my most disturbing day in Congress so far.
MURRAY: Meantime, Republicans said they're still waiting to hear from witnesses closer to the whistle-blower who set off the impeachment inquiry.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): These are the people with supposedly the firsthand knowledge who gave the whistle-blower the information that formed the basis of his complaint.
MURRAY: The White House decided to respond to Bill Taylor's testimony with a statement from press secretary Stephanie Gresham in which she insists that President Trump did nothing wrong. She called Taylor's testimony "a smear campaign from radical, unelected bureaucrats" -- Sara Murray, CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)
VAUSE: The White House talking points dismissed Ambassador Taylor's testimony as triple hearsay but the president went in his own direction on Twitter, calling the impeachment inquiry "a lynching."
That brought outrage from Democrats and some tepid tsk-tsk-tsking from within his own Republican Party.
Joining me now Segun Oduolowu, who's the host the syndicated TV show "The List."
And it's been a while. It's good to have you back.
SEGUN ODUOLOWU, HOST, "THE LIST": Good to be back, John, thanks for having me, unfortunately, under such circumstances.
VAUSE: Yes, here's the thing. I want to talk about this because I want you to explain to an overseas audience the history here. When it comes to lynching, which was essentially racially motivated terrorism in this country.
ODUOLOWU: Absolutely. So what people need to understand if they do not know is that lynching is more than just hanging someone. It was used back in the days of slavery to send a message to other slaves not to go for their freedom, not to seek freedom, not to seek education.
It was used as a way, as you said, to terrorize a group of people. It's one of those buzzwords, actually, I will say trigger words that incites people to a certain type of anger and feeling.
I would put it on the same status as words like Holocaust or comparing a person to Hitler. These are not things that you throw around lightly. So when the President of the United States, the de facto leader of the free world, is calling his impeachment proceedings "a lynching," it is to minimize the struggle that a race of people undertook and to maximize his dog-whistle likability.
VAUSE: There are a lot of factors in this that are unique. Driving the controversy here, you have this very wealthy, privileged white man, very powerful man, claiming lynching, as the same experience for him as being investigated by Congress for wrongdoing.
Then there Trump's history, notably in 1985, paying for full-page ads in New York papers, calling for the death penalty for the Central Park Five, those black and Latino teenagers falsely accused of raping a white woman.
This is a unique combination of hypocrisy, victimhood, a loaded word and all of this seems to come together in a unique way of offending African Americans and touching a raw nerve.
ODUOLOWU: I would say that even more than that. This is street corner pickpocketing. This is tapping someone on the shoulder while he's taking their wallet. While he's using words like lynching, he's still leaving soldiers in Syria and he's abandoning the Kurds.
So while he's dangling the keys with trigger words like lynching, people are focusing on that and getting so worked up over that and not seeing things like voter suppression and a conservative Supreme Court. They're forgetting conveniently that this is a president that has used
words before. So I as a black man do not have the bandwidth to get so worked up over this president using these types of words.
What I would say is the people that voted for him, though, I don't think you're all racist, I would say those that support him, how do you do that?
Because these words are used to incite, not to bring this nation together and that is where my disappointment lies. He's not just a rich white guy; he is the most powerful man in the world.
ODUOLOWU: --- on purpose.
VAUSE: There's been a lot of speculation and controversy to distract from the impeachment. If that's the, case it doesn't seem to be working. Your case in point, also this story did not lead any of the newscasts on the three big networks. It the second item in the headlines. It's been that way on cable news throughout the day.
They led with the testimony from the ambassador to Ukraine and this has been further down the show, so is it simply a matter of time when the impeachment inquiry began that President Trump decided that it was time to switch to the race-baiting, to motivate his base?
It's these old tricks which worked in the past.
ODUOLOWU: It's the sleight-of-hand. This a Vegas magician would be appalled at how obvious this trick is. Let's really look at this.
Is this the comment, the use of the word lynching, it this going to be more offensive than when he called a Latin contestant Miss Housekeeping?
Or he made fun of a handicapped reporter by mocking and deriding him?
Or calling women such savage names?
And we all know the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape.
So does this to the level of that?
This is an old bag of tricks that he is reaching into. And I hope people will see past the and understand, if this bothers you so much, the beauty of our country if you have the ability to change it at the polls. So rather than going on social media, go to the polls. Go to the ballots if this bothers you. VAUSE: We're out of time but I want to finish up with the what- aboutism, which has already started. Five elected Democrats being called out for using the word lynching at some point. Among them is the former vice president and current presidential candidate, Joe Biden, here he is 1998 on CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Even if the president should be impeached, history is going to question whether or not this was just a partisan lynching or whether or not it was something that, in fact, met the standard, a very high bar that was set by the founders as to what constituted an impeachable offense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: Clearly, Biden was talking about the Clinton impeachment. He has since apologized for that.
But how different is that statement to Trumps tweet?
ODUOLOWU: The difference is what the person's track record is. I am one of those people that I don't believe in second chances, that they should be given, they should be earned.
Joe Biden has, well, he, was the vice president under Obama and, again, we do not necessarily forgive people for their statements but we can understand them in the context of the retribution they try to enact.
You mention very accurately Trump's history with the Central Park Five, his housing practices to blacks and Latinos when he was building his real estate empire in New York, who he would and would not rent to.
So to bring up Democratic candidates that have spoken incorrectly or used a wrong turn of phrase to compare the two is to then to compare their statements and track records and I'll compare Biden's track record to Trump and ask the people who they believe is more racially motivated and which was the wrong choice of words.
VAUSE: We are out of time but it's good to have you back. It has been too long. Thank you for coming.
ODUOLOWU: Always a pleasure, thank you for having me.
VAUSE: In an interview with CNN, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper lays out the strategy to move troops from Syria to Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK ESPER, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We will temporarily reposition them in Iraq pursuant to bringing the troops home. And so it's just one part of a continuing phase but eventually those troops are going to come home. VAUSE (voice-over): After the break, a lot more from the Defense Secretary about the strategy and the backlash.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: After the break, a lot more from the defense secretary about the strategy and the backlash.
Also, the White House insider who wrote an op-ed that President Trump called treasonous, now to public a tell-all book.
VAUSE: Thanks for staying with us, everybody. I'm John Vause with an update of our top news this hour.
Brexit now on hold as E.U. leaders consider yet another delay. Boris Johnson had to pause the legislative process after the British prime minister's plans to fast-track it were thwarted by Parliament.
But for the first time, the House of Commons actually did approve the terms of the withdrawal agreement, though recently said they could change it later.
There's no end in sight for the protests in Chile's capital. The government is extending a curfew for a fourth day, while confirming 15 people have died in the unrest.
A proposed fare hike in public transformation sparked these protests. The Senate canceled that plan on Monday night.
Russia and Turkey have reached a deal to remove Kurdish fighters from the Syrian border with Turkey. The Kurdish YPG will have to move 30 kilometers away from the boundary with Turkey. Russia is to carry out separate patrols with Turkish and Syrian forces to ensure that this deal remains in place.
Earlier, CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour sat down for an exclusive interview with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper to discuss the Trump's administration strategy in Syria.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Can you tell us, first and foremost -- there seems to be some confusion that maybe you can clear up -- where are the U.S. forces in Syria going? The president has said perhaps a contingent could stay in Syria. You said that they were going to be redeployed to western Iraq. But the latest news is that the Iraqi command says welcome to come across the border but only en route out. He doesn't anticipate your troops staying there. So where will they be?
MARK ESPER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, as you know, we're conducting a phased withdrawal, deliberate phased withdrawal from northeast Syria. It began with the -- what we call phase one, which was an immediate zone of attack. Now we're under phase two, which is from the northeast corridor, if you will. And then eventually, we have other phases that will draw all the forces out.
We will temporarily reposition in Iraq, pursuant to bring the troops home. And so it's just one part of a continuing phase, but eventually, those troops are going to have to come home.
AMANPOUR: So they are coming home?
ESPER: They will come home.
AMANPOUR: None will stay in Syria?
ESPER: Well, right now, the president has authorized the -- that some would stay in the southern part of Syria. And we are looking at keeping some additional forces to ensure that we deny ISIS and others access to these key oil fields also in the middle part of the country, if you will. [00:35:03]
But that needs to be worked out in time. The president hasn't approved that yet. I need to take him options sometime here soon. But the bulk of the force would reposition in Iraq and then eventually go home.
AMANPOUR: So none of this is clear, first and foremost. And those who might stay might be away from that border, away from the bulk of the ISIS trouble and securing oil fields from who?
ESPER: Well, I don't talk about securing oil fields as much as I talk about denying ISIS access to the oil fields so they can't have revenue to continue their bad behavior.
And with regard to, you know, the deployment, what I try and do, what my aim is to keep my options open. Really, keep the president's options open so that as events change on the ground, whether it's up in northeast Syria or other parts, we have the flexibility to -- to respond to the president's direction.
AMANPOUR: How are you going to have the flexibility to respond to the resurgence of ISIS? As you know, that is a big concern from inside the military, from amongst your allies, many in the president's party back in the United States and -- and analysts and politicians all over the world.
All of these years that you've managed to deny them the ability to pose a serious threat they're now open for business again, and people are very, very concerned. In fact, General Petraeus has said, "This does not end an endless war. It probably prolongs it, because this gives ISIS an opportunity for a resurgence. This is not a strategic success."
ESPER: Well, let's look at the facts on the ground. Based on the intelligence we have, the reporting we have of the 11,000 or so detainees that were imprisoned in northeast Syria, we've only had reports of a little bit more than 100 that have escaped.
The SDF -- and will remain in contact with them -- are maintaining guards over top the prisons they have control of. So right now, we have not seen this big prison break that we all expected. So that's the good news piece.
And then, with regard to the other part, I'll be meeting with my allies, the United States allies, in Brussels in the coming days. We're going to have a specific session on what do we do with the defeat ISIS campaign, now that it's in a new phase, to ensure that we can contain -- maintain pressure on ISIS so that it doesn't resurge.
AMANPOUR: Golly, Secretary, in a new phase? Some would say you have -- I don't know -- wantonly or willingly ended the success on ISIS. You heard what General Petraeus just said.
ESPER: Well, the success --
AMANPOUR: It's not really a new phase. I mean, the metrics are not about territory, are they? They're about resurgence, regrouping, the ability to do so. And even before this withdrawal of U.S. forces, many in your military and elsewhere were watching a resurgence and watching themselves them come together.
ESPER: I wouldn't classify it as a resurgence. I had not. What I would say is this. Is, keep in mind, while we partnered with the SDF originally, going back to 2014, it was to defeat ISIS. And we ended up destroying the physical caliphate of ISIS as of March of this year, and the task than is to make sure we maintain the enduring defeat.
And part and parcel of that is making sure that local security, et cetera, can handle that. So yes, we are in a new phase of the defeat ISIS campaign. It's to maintain that defeat; maintain that destruction.
AMANPOUR: I'm still confused. The local forces who are making sure that that happen were the SDF, and those are the forces who, by withdrawing, you have allowed to be victims and targets of the Turkish offensive, which is precisely designed to get them out of the way of the area that you've been stabilizing.
ESPER: The SDF are still in control of the prisons that are under their control. The Turks have told us they've taken control of the prisons under which they now have a responsibility.
And our mission in that area was to train, advise and assist. We weren't guarding prisons up there in that part of the world.
AMANPOUR: I mean, as you know, it's not just about prisons. It's about fighting. And the Kurds were your real on-the-ground fighting force.
AMANPOUR: Tragically, about eight American lives were lost during the fight for ISIS, but more than 11,000 Kurdish lives were lost.
ESPER: That's right. And we were their enablers, and we were their air force. So we had mutual interests, and the mutual interest was destroying the physical caliphate of ISIS.
AMANPOUR: Correct. And make sure that ISIS doesn't come back as a fighting worse --
ESPER: That's right.
AMANPOUR: -- which people are worried that they will right now, including members of the Pentagon.
ESPER: And we're all focused on that, just to make sure we understand as we enter this new phase, how do we continue that enduring defeat of ISIS?
AMANPOUR: I'm having trouble with the word "enduring." But let me ask you first. You say you're going to NATO to talk to allies.
AMANPOUR: Allies are actually quite shocked. And I'd be interested to know what they say to you, because those were your allies, the Kurdish forces on the ground. And they right now feel utterly betrayed.
You've seen these terrible, tragic pictures. I'm sure no secretary of defense wants to see their allies throwing rocks and rotten fruit at retreating American forces, calling them liars and saying that they've betrayed them. I wonder what you're -- how do you feel when you see that?
ESPER: Well, here's what the allies have said, publicly and privately. We all condemn what President Erdogan of Turkey has done. We all opposed it. That is this irresponsible incursion into northern Syria that has upset -- upset what had been happening on the ground successfully.
And so everybody opposes that. We're going to talk specifically about that, as well, in the context of what's next with regard to defeat ISIS.
So that's, I think, where we will begin at that point, right there.
VAUSE: Please join us next hour when the defense secretary, Mark Esper, will address the challenges the U.S. is facing against China and Russia during Christiane Amanpour's exclusive interview.
We'll take a short break. Back after this.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) VAUSE: Well, a new insider's perspective on the Trump White House will be published next month. It promises to be explosive. Aren't they all?
Sources tell CNN it's written by the senior Trump administration official who wrote an anonymous "New York Times" op-ed last year about the chaos inside the White House.
The book is called "A Warning," and it will be published anonymously November 19. A draft press release describes it as a, quote, "shocking first-hand account of President Trump."
In response, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said, "Takes a lot of conviction and bravery to write a whole book anonymously." And she's right.
Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause. WORLD SPORT is next.