Return to Transcripts main page


Russia Launching Syria Airstrikes from Iran; Trump Gets First National Security Briefing; Aid Worker Calls for No Fly Zone in Syria; Face-to-Face with Rio's Graffiti

Aired August 17, 2016 - 14:00   ET


CLARISSA WARD, CNN HOST: Tonight, Russia expands its presence in the Middle East airing out a second day of airstrikes on Syrian targets from a

base in Iran.

What are the regional repercussions?

I asked U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby and Washington's former man in Damascus Ambassador Robert Ford.

Plus, from the bustling streets of London to the bombed out buildings of Aleppo. We meet the British activist risking his life everyday to help

serious suffering.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nowadays, if we stand by and watch this massacre take place, we are complicit to the crime. So that's why I came.


WARD: And the walls of Rio brought to life with the faces of Olympic refugees.

Good evening everyone and welcome to the program.

I'm Clarissa Ward in for Christiane Amanpour.

A major escalation in the Syrian war. For the second straight day, Russia launched long-range bombers from an Iranian air base to strike targets in

Syria. It's the first time Iran has allowed a foreign military to operate out of its territory since at least the Iranian revolution in 1979.

Russia's foreign minister struck back today at American's suggestions that by working with Iran, his country maybe violating a U.N. Security Council

resolution. This as Aleppo remains in a desperate state under partial siege, cut off from supplies and the target of ongoing air strikes.

John Kirby is the U.S. State Department spokesperson. He joins me now from Washington.

Well, of course, it's no secret to you. Now Russia flying these bombing routes out of Iran.

What does the U.S. government respond to this? What is the game plan for Russia here?

JOHN KIRBY, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Well, I think you would have to ask the Russians in terms of what their game plan is from a

tactical perspective. From our perspective, we want to continue to see Russia contribute to what we think is the right solution, which is a

diplomatic solution.

We've long said there's no military solution to this conflict. And strikes, whether they are out of Syria or whether they are out of Iran

aren't doing anything to contribute to what we believe should be a diplomatic solution here. We've made that very clear.

Look, we have -- we're in discussions right now with the Russians on some proposals to try to get the cessation of hostilities to apply nationwide

and to be actually more enforceable than it is right now. And that's what we think the focus ought to be.

WARD: But there is a sense here that the U.S. was blindsided by this. That they didn't see it coming. That they were only given warning about it

at the very last minute.

Does this make America, when you're coming and talking about a coalition with Russia and Syria, does this make the U.S. look naive?

KIRBY: I don't think it makes us look naive, Clarissa. What I think it does is it shows that we need to continue to be very careful in how we deal

with Russia on this issue going forward.

We have long said this isn't about trust. This has got to be about actions. This has got to be about Russia actually doing what it says it

wants to do in Syria. And what they said they want to do is find a political solution, a transitional government so that the Syrian people can

have a government in Damascus that represents their needs.

Now, it's difficult to say you want to do that when you continue to conduct strikes in the manner in which they have conducted them, which as you have

seen yourself on the ground is not necessarily all that discriminate, not necessarily all that precise.

WARD: But at what point does the U.S. start to discredit Russia as a serious partner in terms of giving Syria any chance at peace.

How is Russia contributing to a real shot at peace here?

KIRBY: Well, look, in the question you just asked, our goal is not to discredit Russia. What we want to do is see Russia actually contribute to

the political solution in the way that they have described to, the way they've actually said they want to.

And now again, that's been difficult at times. There have been times when they have proven that they are willing and able to use their influence on

Assad to get the violence down. We saw that in the early spring with a significant reduction in violence right after the cessation of hostilities

was called for.

And we've seen it periodically for short periods of time since then. But we've also seen times when they haven't been either willing or able to

influence the Assad regime to do the right thing. And when they've actually help bolster and propped up Assad regime violence against their

own people.

So that's why we're sitting down with them right now, as you and I talk, there are teams trying to work out proposals with the Russians to try to

get a real cessation of hostilities that can be better enforced.

And as the secretary said himself, we're going to have to see. We're not going to take anything on blind faith. If these proposals can be agreed

upon and if they can be implemented in good faith, tangibly, then maybe we can move forward with the Russians on some longer term goals there in


But so far, look -- I mean, look, this is a conversation that's still ongoing, and it's not about wanting to discredit them. It's actually

wanting to try to find a way to work with them. And, by the way, Clarissa, the other 20 plus members of the International Syria Support Group to try

to find a political solution.

WARD: Is there a sense of frustration, though, to some among the diplomatic core and the U.S. that America does not have more leverage when

it comes to trying to take Russia, or Iran, or the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to task for some of these violations?

KIRBY: Well, I think it's not really so much about leverage, it's about international consensus. And, again, the International Syria Support Group

is more than 20 nations and multilateral organizations strong.

The U.N. Security Council has come out with a very strong U.S. Security Council resolution that governs and embodies this process moving forward.

The Russians have been at the table since the early beginnings of this. In fact, it was the United States and Russia that co-founded the International

Syria Support Group.

So when you say there's no leverage, actually, there is leverage. And Russia is and has been part of that leverage in the past. What we want to

see is that they continue to live up to the same obligations that they have made in so many multilateral forms.

WARD: I want to ask you about another topic now just for a moment. I want to shift course as a little bit to Yemen.

And I want to play you a sound bite that we heard from Democratic Senator Chris Murphy. He was speaking with our own Jake Tapper yesterday talking

about the role of U.S. weapons sold to Saudi Arabia, being used on the ground in Yemen.

Take a listen, please.


SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: There's an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Yemen.


Well, it's because though the Saudis are actually dropping the bombs from their planes, they couldn't do it without the United States. It's our

ammunitions sold to the Saudis. It's our planes that are refuelling the Saudi jets and it's our intelligence that are helping the Saudis provide

their targeting.


WARD: That's a pretty damming indictment, is it not?

I mean, what's your message to the Saudis here? How do you respond to that?

KIRBY: Well, look, let me make a couple of points right off the bat. First of all, the right number of civilian casualties has got to be zero in

any conflict. And no military works harder than the United States military to that end. And we have certainly made our concerns known to the Saudis

on repeated occasions about civilians' casualties in Yemen.

And I would note that they have investigated some of those civilian casualty incidents and they are working their way through that. But we

take it very, very seriously. And we routinely discuss our concerns with respect to precision and the discriminate use of weapons, whoever they fly

from and wherever they come from. And certainly yes, there is a strong defense relationship that we have with Saudi Arabia. We recognize that.

This is something that we routinely talk to them about and are not afraid to raise our concerns.

And, again, I would note that the Saudis are taking that seriously. That they have investigated some of these allegations and they are working their

way through that.

But, look, this is a -- you know, we have seen some strikes just recently in the last day or so. We have seen reports that their strikes have caused

significant civilian casualties and that's just unacceptable. And we've got to work our way through this.

WARD: John Kirby, thank you so much for being on the program.

Well, listening to that is Robert Ford. He was the last U.S. ambassador to serve in Damascus, but he resigned two years ago saying he could no longer

defend America's handling of the Syrian conflict.

He said Obama's strategy is failing and he is calling for a rethink.

Ambassador Ford, thank you so much for being with us on the program. We're very grateful to have you here.

I just want to ask...


WARD: ...for your response to what we just heard from the State Department's spokesman John Kirby there.

What do you make of what you just heard?

FORD: Well, I think there is not a consensus on what has to be done in Syria. And I think with all due respect to John, the mere fact that there

is a paper, United Nation Security Council resolution, many of them, in fact, have been repeatedly violated over issues like access for

humanitarian aide providers.

Such as stern admonitions in the paper, U.S. Security Council resolutions to -- for forces to stop bombing civilian communities and civilian targets.

And yet, hospitals are being bombed almost daily. There is another hospital bomb today.

So there is not a consensus and the United States does not have leverage to forge a consensus.

And, frankly, the Obama administration is doing very little, if anything, to generate leverage to forge that consensus.

WARD: Why is that? What is the resistance? What's the hold up?

FORD: Well, I think there's two things.

Number one, the Obama administration is solely focused and I do emphasize the word "solely," focusing its action against the Islamic State. And the

Islamic State is a problem, but the Islamic State came out of the broader problem of the Syrian civil war.

And it really isn't going to be solved outside the context, outside a larger solution to the Syrian civil war.

The Obama administration's myopic focus on the Islamic State while leaving the larger Syrian civil war unanswered in a sense is trying to fix with a

military hammer a deeper political problem.

The second reason is, Clarissa, the Obama administration is just very nervous about any kind of military action in Syria. That seems reasonable

to many of us. But there are other things that the Americans could be doing to generate leverage in this conflict. The broader conflict of the

Syrian civil war.

WARD: I just want to mention a tweet from an Aleppo doctor to President Obama. He said, "We do not need your tears or your sympathy or even your

prayers. We need your action."

And in reply you said, "The doctor's pleas won't move the U.S. administration a bit."

I mean, you seem, obviously, you resigned, so there is that. But have you completely written off the possibility that the Obama administration might

try to do more to alleviate the desperate humanitarian situation?

FORD: Well, as I put in that message on Twitter, the administration is not going change its policy.

What we just heard from John is that we need to respect Security Council resolutions, but Security Council resolutions are not being respected. And

so it's not enough to call for United Nations Security Council to be respected. You have to do things to make it respected.

And we have had people like former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, former Acting CIA Director Mike Morell, former general -- successful general in

Iraq and later CIA Director David Petraeus, 51 American diplomats, all urging the administration to do more, whether it would be military or other

steps that they could take to do something to generate leverage. But I didn't hear anything from John just now that suggested they're looking for

ways to generate leverage.

He will not adjust the problem. No, I'm not hopeful about the Obama administration and I they it's important for Syrians such as the doctors to

not be waiting for the Obama administration to come to their rescue because frankly I don't think that it's going happen.

WARD: And what about this idea of a coalition with the Russians reportedly would be to target extremists though I think the Russians and the Americans

have a very different idea of what constitutes extremism.

Can the Russians possibly be a trusted partner on the ground in military operations in Syria?

Is that realistic?

FORD: Well, I see now, I see two problems with what the administration is trying to do with the Russians. First, it's not at all clear that you can

trust the Russians. Their goals in Syria do not appear to be the same as the goals of the United States and its allies in the region. So there's a

whole question about Russian intent and whether or not we can work with them.

But even if we could work with them, Clarissa, suppose the United States and Russia tomorrow began bombing the Islamic State together, suppose

tomorrow the Americans and the Russians began bombing the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria together, how does that get you to a political

negotiation and the civil war? It doesn't.

It's irrelevant to the larger political problem which is there is a Syrian opposition and a Syrian government, and they're fighting each other tooth

and nail and the Americans are not addressing that problem. And even working with the Russians against al Qaeda and the Islamic State doesn't

address that broader civil war problem.

I fear, in fact, Clarissa, we will have an unending American military commitment, small in scale, but unending as long as that Syrian civil war


We will be stuck fighting ISIS in insurgency move. We will be stuck fighting al Qaeda in insurgency move for years and years.

WARD: Indeed. Indeed. Thank you so much as always, Ambassador Robert Ford.

Of course, the future of America's involvement in Syria will depend on who moves into the White House next year.

Today, the Republican nominee Donald Trump gets his first classified national security briefing as he made a very public reshuffle of his top


Affectively demoting campaign Chairman Paul Manafort by bringing in Stephen Bannon from Breitbart News, a conservative media platform, as campaign CEO.

When we come back, we return to Syria to follow a man who moved from London to Aleppo in a bid to help those who need it most. That's next.


WARD: Welcome back to the program.

There seems to be no end in sight to the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Aleppo. After nearly a month under siege, heavy fighting is still

preventing aid from getting to those who need it most.

British activist and aide worker Tauqir Sharif known as Tox left Britain for Syria nearly four years ago.

Well, a few days ago, he managed to make his way into Aleppo in a convoy of old ambulances. Posting his efforts on his social media channel, live

updates from Syria, like this footage showing the aftermath of an air strike.

I met Tauqir in Syria earlier this year and caught up with him today about the situation on the ground.

(Via telephone)

Thank you so much for joining us on the program.

Start out give me a sense on what the situation is like on the ground where you are.

TAUQIR "TOX" SHARIF, BRITISH AID WORKER AND ACTIVIST: The situation right now is dire to say the least. I couldn't probably think of enough

superlatives to describe the situation to be honest. I mean, we are seeing massacres taking place daily if we're talking about first of all primary

aide and whether it's entering or not.

This is one of the main difficulties that we're facing. It's actually bringing aid in. Two of our vehicles were actually hit trying to bring

aide in. We can only bring in small vehicles carrying the maximum of about two and a half tons. And Russian media had showed that they're targeting

this road.

So we also have the fact that everything is very expensive. And on top of that, the place is getting absolutely decimated. You know, I have been

here for coming up to close to four years.

I saw one of the worst attacks on children that I have seen on my life. And we filmed it all. The children coming in, six or seven children, all

of them injured, with shrapnel injuries and you know devastating.

It was a cluster bomb that hit their neighborhood. And, today, when we went back to the neighborhood, you know, the devastation that these cluster

bombs cause, I can understand why they are illegal because they don't hit a specific target.

I mean, there's a whole heap of international war crimes that are taking place to a population that is -- I don't even know. I am amazed at how

this population of people is coping.

WARD: How are they coping?

SHARIF: I mean, to be honest, it's mixed feelings. On one side, of course, they are being oppressed and you know they are calling out for help

from the international committee. But at the same time, there is this extreme sense of hope.

WARD: What is the most pressing need? If you had to say what the most important thing is that is not getting in, what is it?

SHARIF: The most important need is not actually on the ground. The most important need is actually in the sky. We need a no fly zone in Syria, OK.

It's not a war going on. You know, this is a very one-sided affair. And, unfortunately, if we were to make some kind of comparison and say that the

rebels, you know, they're doing whatever they're doing and committing war crimes or whatever they're doing, and the resistance that they're trying to

uphold, the problem is that the brunt of the Syrian regimes are forcing woman and children and civilians that are facing the wrath.

You know what, day in and day out, we see 60 percent to 70 percent of the injuries that are coming to our hospitals are actually woman and children.

And this is what is so devastating about it.

I mean, after that, we can speak about aide. You know, when you speak up, we film a powerful piece with one of the doctors here. All he is saying

is, he is saying we don't want your medial aide from the international community, we don't want your money, we don't want even aide from the

United Nations, just give us a no fly zone, just stop these airplanes and allow us to have the right to self determination. We want to decide our

own future. All we want is a stop to these planes and its bombing.

WARD: Where does the majority of the aide that you are distributing come from?

SHARIF: The majority of our aide comes from smaller charities, which are independent charities. It's basically donations from everyday ordinary

people that feel for the Syrian courts. That is basically where our money comes from. It doesn't come from any of the bigger relief organizations,

for example, the United Nations.

I've heard that they've been saying that they're trying to get aide into Aleppo, but they can't find a safe passage. I mean, this is in a sense

what sets us apart is that we're willing to go to the risk, or stay and risk to make sure we deliver this aide to the people.

WARD: A lot of people watching this will be wanting to know why did you leave your home in the UK to go to Syria? And what kind of a Syria do you

want to see in the future?

SHARIF: The reason why I left the U.K. is because it was just something that I believe that in this day and age of social media, where all of these

images are coming out, you know, the West was very quick to say, look, never again when it came to Srebrenica and the massacres that took place in


But I feel that we can not be saying the same again about what's going on here in Syria, especially in a day and age where all of these pictures are

coming out. It was different before.

Nowadays, if we stand by and watch this massacre take place, we are complicit to the crime. So that's why I came. I'm here to support the

Syrian people. Whatever they see fit as their future, I believe that, look, we have been taught in the West of the right to self-determination.

If the Syrian people want a solution, they should be the ones who decide, you know, what their future should be.

WARD: Tauqir Sharif, thank you very much for being on the program.

SHARIF: Thank you very much for having me.


WARD: As refugees fleeing Syria and have headed to the four corners of the earth, some nations have been less than welcoming.

Australia's notorious Manus Island Asylum Center was accused by its own staff of destroying children's lives. Now it's being close after the

Supreme Court in Papua New Guinea, where the center is located found it unconstitutional.

When we come back, we imagine a world honoring its refugees. If Brazil's walls could talk, they would tell a different story of the world's most

vulnerable. We pay them a visit after a break.


WARD: And finally tonight, beyond the grand spectacle of Rio's Olympic stadium, imagine a world coming face-to-face with a very different display.

The city's walls are coming to life as graffiti artist create murals for each of the ten members of the refugee team. Unveiled this week, the

portraits paid tribute to each of the athletes who have overcome enormous adversity to play in this year's Summer Games.

Covering 100 meters of Rio's walls, they're standing tall to represent the 65 million displaced people across the world. And refugees are not the

only faces looking out for Rio's once vacant buildings.

Famed Brazilian street artists Eduardo Cobra spent months trying to make the biggest graffiti mural in the world created by one artist entitled


It's devoted to five indigenous tribes from five different continents, spreading across 3,000 square meters of the cityscape. He and his team of

assistance were literally climbing the walls to paint them: red, yellow, green, purple, blue and a kaleidoscope of other colors reflecting Brazil's

vibrant culture.

Well, that's it for our program tonight. And remember, you can listen to our podcast, see us online and follow me on Facebook and

Twitter @ClarissaWard.

Thank you for watching and good-bye from London.