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White House Briefing on Syria; British Lawmakers Debate Syria; Case Against Military Action in Syria; Victoria Duval Wowing Fans On, Off the Court

Aired August 29, 2013 - 13:30   ET


JOSH EARNEST, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And they have weighed in, in a way, generally speaking, of condemning the use of chemical weapons, of condemning the Assad regime for using chemical weapons against civilians, and articulating a requirement that the Assad regime be held accountable for its actions. Those viewpoints are relevant to this discussion.

Now, there's one other part of my answer that's important for you and your viewers to understand. The president of the United States is elected with the duty to protect the nation security interests of the United States of America, and the decisions he makes about our foreign policy is with our national security interests front and center.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Just to follow up on that quickly, last night, in the PBS interview, he said that "there is a chance that chemical weapons might be turned against the United States." And I was just curious, he said that was part of his national security deliberations. Does he really think that Syria is capable of launching chemical weapons at the United States? What does he mean by that?

EARNEST: I think what we're very concerned about is the willingness the Assad regime has demonstrated to use chemical weapons. It is apparent that they did so on the night of August 21st on a large scale that had horrific results. It is also been assessed by our intelligence community, something that we talked about a lot this summer, that there have been a number of other occasions, admittedly on a smaller scale but important nonetheless, where the Assad regime used chemical weapons. We know they're sitting on a large stock pile of chemical weapons. They have demonstrated a willingness to use it. They -- in violation of clear international norms. The president believes firmly -- and he said this in the interview he did with Chris Cuomo and he did this in the interview that he conducted last night, that these international norms are important, and it is not appropriate for totalitarian dictators to flout them with impunity. So protecting the international norms is something the president cares deeply about but it's also a norm that other world leaders are very concerned about having been violated.

But there are a couple of other ways in which our national interests intersect here. We're talking about a very volatile region of the world and we're talking about maybe the most volatile country in one of the more volatile regions of the world. So that instability is a cause of significant concern to the president. He also mentioned in the interview that this country borders a NATO ally in Turkey. It borders one of our most important partners in the region, Jordan, and is in close proximity to nation of Israel, a country whose security we have vowed to protect. So there is a wide range of interests. And that doesn't even get into military bases and other interests that we have in the region.

So there are a number of ways in which the national security interests of the United States are at stake in a pretty big way here.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: I want to bring in Wolf Blitzer, out of Washington, and Jill Dougherty, who is outside the White House, to give us analysis on what we have been listening to.

And, Wolf, I want to start with you here because there was something that I noticed. It was a beautiful dodge by Josh Earnest there to our own Jim Acosta's question, talking about the compressed timetable here. If the president goes off to the G-20 summit, comes back from St. Petersburg, Russia, that that window of opportunity to attack might close and that might give Assad an opportunity to move things around, if you will, those targets that they had planned to hit. What is the position that the Obama administration is in now, the pressure, if you will, to act quickly if they're going to act at all?

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: There have been these reports, you're right, that already elements of the Syrian military, they're moving forces around and moving people out of various command- and-control centers, warehouses with stock piles of weapons, potential targets, in other words, for the U.S. of tomahawk cruise missiles or air strikes were to begin against those targets, and that's a serious concern as far as the U.S. military is concerned. In fact, I have heard over the past 24 hours some military analysts saying, why is the administration talking about all of this so much because it does give the Syrians an opportunity to re-adjust their capabilities, if you will, in anticipation of this strike.

I don't believe the U.S. is going to strike in advance of -- without the British at least, the number-one ally of the United States, the government of Britain on board. And the British prime minister is making it clear he has a number of steps he wants to go through before he were to be on board, including another meeting of the U.N. Security Council following the report from the U.N. weapons inspectors and another meeting with the British parliament. This could be a few days at least, if not longer. If the president decides to wait until after he comes back from the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, we're talking a week or 10 days before the U.S. were to launch strikes. They could do it in that time but it does give the military an opportunity to re-adjust.

MALVEAUX: Jill, I want to ask about this. He talked about national security interests here, that the PBS interview yesterday, suggesting that perhaps Syria would have the intention or even the capability of using chemical weapons, launching chemical weapons, directing them against the United States. I didn't hear a clear answer that there was evidence that was even possible. Could the concern be more about our U.S. ally, Israel, being in the line of fire here? JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I definitely think, Suzanne, that's more the case. I mean, U.S. national interests can be affected by what happens to the allies of the United States. And it is very dubious that Syria could ever launch some type of chemical weapons directly against the United States. As you mentioned, they could launch them against Israel and Jordan and any other place that is close by, or take other action, or there could be, let's say, Iranian involvement, not with chemical weapons, but in some other ways. So that I think is how they're defining that.

MALVEAUX: All right. Jill Dougherty, at the White House, Wolf Blitzer in Washington, thank you so much. Appreciate it. We're going to be following the story closely in the hours and the days to come.

Ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, as the U.S. and the U.K. build their cases for military action in Syria, our next guest gives us distinctive reasons why the U.S. should stay out of the conflict. His case, up ahead.


MALVEAUX: The crisis in Syria has triggered intense debates in major capitals around the world, as you can imagine. British lawmakers took a stand against striking out just yet.

I want you to listen to some of this debate. This is beginning with comments from the British prime minister himself, David Cameron.


DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The question before the House today is how to respond to one of the most abhorrent uses of chemical weapons in a century, slaughtering innocent men, women and children in Syria. It is not about taking sides in the Syrian conflict. It is not about invading. It is not about regime change or even working more closely with the opposition. It is about the large-scale use of chemical weapons and our response to a war crime, nothing else.

ED MILIBAND, BRITISH LABOUR PARTY LEADER: We have to assess, over the coming period in a calm and measured way not in a knee-jerk way and not on a political timetable, of whether the advantages of potential action, whether it can be done on the basis of legitimacy in international law and what the consequences would be.

UNIDENTIFIED BRITISH PARLIAMENT MEMBER: Listening to this speech, any reasonable human being would assume that the gentleman is looking to divide the House for political advantage. What has happened --


UNIDENTIFIED BRITISH PARLIAMENT MEMBER: What has happened to the national interests?


MILIBAND: I have to say that intervention is not worthy of the honorable gentleman. (SHOUTING)


MALVEAUX: The move in the U.K. was driven by the public because lawmakers were flooded with e-mails and phone calls urging for some space to find out more events -- more about the events that are actually taking place inside of Syria.

Right now, this is still a war of words but the U.S. seems to be inching closer to some kind of military action against the Syrian regime.

In the capital, Damascus, things may look normal enough. Today, President Assad meeting with a delegation from Yemen, giving the impression that it is business as usual. This is the first time that we have seen the Syrian president since allegations of the chemical attacks against the rebels that surfaced last week.

Also today, in an open letter from the speaker of Syria's parliament to Britain, he is warning against joining any kind of attack against the regime. He said it would, quote, "automatically strengthen our common enemy, al Qaeda, and its affiliates."

President Obama says he has not yet made a final decision on using military action against Syria. But he is convinced that the Assad regime gassed its own people and should pay.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If, in fact, we can take limited, tailored approaches, not getting drawn into a long conflict, not a repetition of Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about, but if we are saying, in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow, saying "stop doing this," that can have a positive impact on our national security over the long-term and may have a positive impact in the sense that chemical weapons are not used again on innocent civilians.


MALVEAUX: So we have looked at why the U.S. might hit Syria but what would be the down sides of any type of military action?

"Reason" magazine senior editor, Peter Suderman, has written a provocative piece called "Eight Reasons Not to Go to War in Syria." He joins us from Washington.

Peter, good to see you, as always.

Map this out for us, the case you're making for us not to get involved.

PETER SUDERMAN, SENIOR EDITOR, REASON MAGAZINE: There are several reasons why we should be weary of any kind of strikes in Syria. One is there is really no end game. The White House just has not articulated a clear plan for what happens after the limited strikes that we've heard about. Another is that it is not clear what the actual effect of limited strikes that we've heard about would really be. You know, even President Obama admitted in the interview yesterday that it wouldn't stop the Assad regime from killing civilians in his own country. And the final reason is that it is really not clear that the United States has any interest in either side winning. The rebels here have close links to al Qaeda. The Assad regime is closely linked to anti-American forces in Iran and would increase Iran's influence in the region if they were to win. So the United States just doesn't have an interest in getting involved.

MALVEAUX: So, Peter, explain to us here because the president says that there is this international norm, if you will, that it is unacceptable to gas its own people, to use chemical weapons in the case of Syria, and that there is a point to be made in that. Do you think that is legitimate here, that even sending a signal or a message is important?

SUDERMAN: I notice he is talking about international norms, not international law. There are serious legal questions about strikes here as well.

But remember, that this red line talked about of chemical weapons on civilians is really more of a gray area. As we saw at the White House press briefing recently, just a few minutes ago, the White House actually thinks that Assad has used chemical weapons before, so it is not clear why this instance would not deciding factor. It is very, very murky line to draw.

MALVEAUX: The White House would argue -- I think Jay Carney and the president would argue it is on a much grander scale, a much larger, massive scale than previously seen.

But I want to ask you this: What would be the alternative here? Do you think there is a plan where you would have, instead of sticks, carrots to the Assad regime that would bring him back to the negotiating table in some way with the Syrian rebels?

SUDERMAN: It is really hard to say, you know, what the United States could do to help there, but the thing that we could do is not intervene in a way that would hurt, in a way that is not likely to stop the killing of civilians in the country, and it is not likely to further any clear American interests either. The thing that we can do is we can condemn the horrible actions we have seen, the killing of civilians, and we can look for alternatives rather than striking, which is likely to make the situation worse.

MALVEAUX: Peter, do you think that the U.S. has any credibility, any kind of cache with either Russia or China to work more closely with them, to push them in some way to get involved because, of course, they are the strongest allies that the U.S. at least has relationship with to Syria?

SUDERMAN: They may prove to be routes where we can at least get communication through, but the U.S. relationships with Russia is, of course, quite fraught right now, and any attempts to negotiate with Russia or to negotiate with Syria through Russia are obviously going to be pretty complicated.

MALVEAUX: All right. Peter, appreciate your perspective.

Still ahead, we all know texting while driving, not good, but now you can actually be charged even if you are not behind the wheel. We're going to explain up next.

And here is a look at what you're going to see on Saturday in "The Next List."


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This week on "The Next List," we talk to two remarkable innovators.

Ben Kaufman, the founder and CEO of Kaufman is passionate about giving would-be inventors a way to get product ideas to market.

BEN KAUFMAN, FOUNDER & CEO, QUIRKY.COM: It is human nature to invent. What stops people is to actually do that and execute on all of those ideas. It is really freaking hard.

GUPTA: He is using the talent of a half million online vendors to do it.

KAUFMAN: You are now a Quirky inventor.


GUPTA: And Saul Griffith, an inventor, scientist and winner of the coveted MacArthur Genius Award.

SAUL GRIFFITH, INVENTOR, SCIENTIST & WINNER, MACARTHUR GENIUS AWARD: Sometimes you just have an idea and you're like, oh, no, I've had the idea and now I have to do it.

GUPTA: Griffith and his team are revolutionizing robotics and creating a whole new field of soft machines.

GRIFFITH: When fully pressurized, an arm could lift a human an arm's length.

GUPTA: This Saturday, 2:00 p.m. eastern on "The Next List."



MALVEAUX: Right now in Texas, an oil rig fire continues to burn. Fire commanders tell our affiliate there they will just let the flames burn out. No one knows what caused last night night's explosion and fire. This happened as crews were drilling. Firefighters from Houston, two hours away, were called in to help. The fire was too intense to do much more than just try to contain it.

Here's an eyewitness. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED EYEWITNESS: My husband was asking, what's wrong? What are y'all doing? What are y'all running from? Nobody would say anything. They didn't tell him to run or anything. He grabbed my son and took off running because he knew something was wrong. Then it started -- the rig blew up.


MALVEAUX: Thankfully, no one was hurt in the fire and explosion.

A court ruling in New Jersey just raised the stakes on texting and driving. Now, for the first time, the person who texts the driver who then has an accident also can be held liable. In 2009, a teenager texted her friend as he drove his pickup. He crashed into a couple on a motorcycle. The man and woman each lost part of a leg. They sued the driver and the young woman with whom he was texting, and they won. This is not a popular decision with everyone.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just because they know you're driving doesn't mean -- you know, it really doesn't mean they know you're looking at it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Even talking to the driver could distract them. Are they going to arrest us if we talk to somebody who's driving? I don't think it's right.


MALVEAUX: The judge says he hopes the ruling will make people realize that there is a price to pay for texting a driver.

George Zimmerman's wife has pleaded guilty now to a misdemeanor charge of perjury. When she did yesterday, Zimmerman was not in the courtroom. We are talking about Shellie Zimmerman and her troubles that stem from the Trayvon Martin trial. She lied during a hearing that set her husband's bond. Shellie Zimmerman told the judge the family was broke. But, in fact, they had collected at least $135,000 in donations for the website.

Here she is on ABC.


SHELLIE ZIMMERMAN, WIFE OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: I can rationalize a lot of reasons for -- for why I was misleading. But the truth is that I -- I knew that I was lying.


MALVEAUX: Shellie Zimmerman was given a year's probation. She also has to perform 100 hours of community service.

Ahead on NEWSROOM, she could be the future of tennis. Victoria Duval, wowing fans on and off the court. Only 17 years old. She is pretty awesome. We caught up with her to hear her story.


MALVEAUX: Strong performance at the U.S. Open by tennis great Venus Williams falls short. The two-time U.S. Open championship lost in three sets to Zheng Jie of China. Their match lasted three hours and two minutes. This is the longest so far for the win. The 33-year-old Williams has been struggling with an energy-draining auto immune disorder as well as a back injury.

Haitian-American teenager, Victoria Duval, back on the court tonight, two days after staging an upset win over 2011 U.S. champion, Sam Stosur.

Our Michaela Pereira caught up with Duval and her family in New York.


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CO-HOST, NEW DAY (voice-over): She is the surprise sweetheart of the U.S. Open. But unlike so many of the pros, tennis was not always the dream for Victoria Duval.

VICTORIA DUVAL, PRO TENNIS PLAYER: I wanted to be a ballerina.


PEREIRA (on camera): You're the tennis players in the family. What happened?


PEREIRA: She was going to be a ballerina, right?

CEDRIC DUVAL: Yeah. She started off wanting to be a ballerina. I guess she just wanted to be like us. She wanted to follow in our footsteps.

PEREIRA (voice-over): At just 17, and ranked 296th in the world, she pulled out a stunning upset, overcoming 11th seat Samantha Stosur, a former U.S. Open champ.

ANNOUNCER: She's done it!


PEREIRA: She won the crowd over with her jubilant celebration and charm.

DUVAL: I'm really excited right now.


JEAN-MAURICE DUVAL, VICTORIA DUVAL'S FATHER: It's a good feeling. Like, for 10 years you are watching and waiting for that moment.

NADINE DUVAL, VICTORIA DUVAL'S MOTHER: This is a dream. This is something that, you know, this is a passion. I'm happy for her.

PEREIRA (on camera): Do you remember hearing your family in the stands?

DUVAL: No because the whole crowd was going nuts. The crowd just blurred them out.


PEREIRA (voice-over): Victoria has overcome the odds before. As a young child, she and several family members were held hostage at gunpoint during a robbery in Haiti. Then, in 2010, her father, Jean- Maurice, a physician, was in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck. Badly injured, he dug himself out of the rubble.

DUVAL: Honestly, we've experienced quite a lot. And just having the hard work pay off on such a big stage, I was just glad that God gave me that opportunity.

PEREIRA: On the surface, you would never know what this family has been through. They are close knit, joyfully celebrating Vicky's win.

Her brother wearing a T-shirt with the letters D-O-N.

CEDRIC DUVAL: Dreams over nightmares.

PEREIRA (on camera): Tell me what that means to you.

DUVAL: I just look at the dreams part.


PEREIRA: And what are your dreams?

DUVAL: To win all four grand slams and be an accomplished tennis player.

PEREIRA: No doubt, this teen is one step closer to making her dream come true.


MALVEAUX: I love her. Duval, ranked 296th in the world.

That's it for me. Have a wonderful afternoon.

Brooke Baldwin takes it from here.