Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

9/11 Museum Still under Construction; Obama Appeals to American on Syria; Syria Spotlight Shift to U.N.; Putin Speaks Out against U.S.; Obama Presses Pause on Congress Vote; Pentagon Memorial for 9/11 Victims

Aired September 11, 2013 - 09:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: In the search for clarity moments of contradiction.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I have resisted calls for military action.

COSTELLO: Followed by --

OBAMA: I'm determined to respond to a targeted military strike.

COSTELLO: A winding some say confusing response, Obama zigzag, his Syria struggle, the morning after and a message challenged. Ahead what's changed and what hasn't.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

And good morning. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Carol Costello. On this anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and yes, it's been 12 years, a day of remembrance begins with a word of a new explosion.

This explosion in Benghazi, Libya, a powerful blast on the main street tears through a Foreign Ministry building and a branch of Libya's Central Bank. No one was killed but that same area would have been packed with people just an hour later. This attack comes one year to the day when armed men stormed the American consulate in Benghazi. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed. Last month the first criminal charges were filed against the suspects.

Here at home the focus is on the September 11th attacks. We're about to mark the moment when the second hijacked plane flew into the World Trade Center's South Tower 12 years ago. This comes as the United States looks at the possibility of striking Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons on its own people.

But in the president's address last night Mr. Obama reminded everyone we are not in charge of world security.


OBAMA: America is not the world's policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe and it is beyond our means to right every wrong, but when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby making our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That's what makes America different. That's what makes us exceptional.


COSTELLO: All right, we'll have more on the president's speech in just a minute but we're going to take you live to New York City.

A moment of silence is about to begin to mark the second plane, United Airlines Flight 175. It hit the World Trade Center's South Tower. In just a moment people across the country will observe a moment of silence. Right now, New York City is reading the names of those who died, 2,977 in all four attacks that day. Let's listen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anil Tahilram Bharvaney.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shimmy D. Biegeleisen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Peter Alexander Biefeld.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brian Eugene Bilcher.


COSTELLO: All right. Let's head to ground zero now and check in with Deborah Feyerick.

As you know, the 9/11 museum is still under construction but the Freedom Tower has been built. It's up, 1776 feet tall.

Good morning, Deborah.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning there, Carol. And you know, you talk about the moment of silence that we just observed. It's always amazed me that the second tower, the South Tower was the second one to be hit and yet it was the first to fall. And you think about the people who got out when the first plane struck, those who survived and those who did not.

And that's the feeling you get when you're here down at ground zero but as time has passed, there's a sense of rebirth, a renewal, of healing as people flocked to the memorial and as they anticipate the museum.


FEYERICK (voice-over): Images of those who perished and stories of the lives they led will grace the entry, as seen in this artist's rendering.

JOE DANIELS, PRESIDENT, 9/11 MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM: It's a story of people who were sitting at their desks, having a cup of coffee, talking to a colleague, boarding a plane for a vacation, and then the absolute unthinkable happened.

FEYERICK: Families have donated personal mementos, each of them precious in their own way.

(On camera): When you look at all the artifacts, how did you decide which ones to include and which ones just couldn't make it in?

DANIELS: It was a difficult process. We very carefully looked at the ones that could best tell the stories.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Like the steel that bore the brunt of a plane's impact. More than 10 million people from 188 countries have visited the 9/11 memorial since it opened in 2011. A new transportation hub will open in 2015 and serve a quarter of a million people a day.


FEYERICK: And Carol, there are a number of politicians, dignitaries in the audience but this is now what this day is about. It's all about the families. It's all about them being here at the place where their loved ones were last alive. A lot of first responders have also come. Remember 343 firefighters perished today. And they remember and they -- it's always moving to hear the names read and then hear the emotion in the voices of people saying, "I love you. I love you. I miss you" -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Deborah Feyerick, live from ground zero this morning.

We're still feeling the repercussions of 9/11 today. President Obama appealing to the nation on Syria, trying to convince skeptical Americans that his strategy will be effective and will not pull the United States Military into another long conflict like in Iraq, like in Afghanistan.


OBAMA: I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo.


COSTELLO: This morning, there is mixed reaction to the president's speech, some say it contained more than a few contradictions. At one point the president called for military action and later offset that by calling for a more diplomatic approach.

Senior White House correspondent Brianna Keilar is at the White House this morning with more.

Good morning, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Carol. It was on Friday in Russia at the G-20 when President Obama said he would address the nation last night. At that point, we were expecting and he was expecting that this would be a speech arguing for a military strike, but being pulled between a war-weary American public and his credibility and the U.S.' credibility, it instead became a speech to buy time.


KEILAR (voice-over): From the East Room Tuesday night President Obama told Americans why his administration is certain Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime is responsible for a sarin gas attack the U.S. government says killed more than 1400 civilians.

OBAMA: In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad's chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighborhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces.

KEILAR: He made the case for a military response.

OBAMA: This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective. Some members of Congress have said there's no point in simply doing a pinprick strike in Syria.

Let me make something clear. The United States military doesn't do pinpricks. Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver.

KEILAR: But facing a likely defeat in Congress to authorize military strike --

OBAMA: However --

KEILAR: -- the president then argued against taking action, pointing to a new Russian-brokered proposal for Syria to give up its chemical weapons.

OBAMA: I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path.

KEILAR: It's an extraordinary turn of events. The policy of U.S. involvement in Syria's civil war began with one reportedly off-the- cuff remark President Obama made more than a year ago.

OBAMA: A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.

KEILAR: And it has unexpectedly turned on what appears to be another.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is there anything at this point that his government could do or offer that would stop an attack?

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week, but he isn't about to do it, and it can't be done obviously. KEILAR: What one U.S. official initially called an off-message comment by Kerry it bore the proposal from Russia that the president has yet to endorse.

OBAMA: It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed. And any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments, but this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad's strongest allies.


KEILAR: But still many Syria observers doubt that Syria will actually give up its extensive chemical weapons stockpile, and there are many in the administration who are skeptical, who worry that this may just be a stall by the Assad regime.

We heard from Secretary of State Kerry yesterday. He said any action taken by Syria must be swift, real and verifiable. He said this cannot be a delaying tactic, Carol. He is headed today to Geneva, Switzerland, where he will meet tomorrow with his Russian counterpart in Geneva, Sergei Lavrov.

COSTELLO: All right. Brianna Keilar reporting live from the White House this morning, thanks.

Also today diplomatic efforts are in focus at the United Nations where talks continue regarding a French resolution on Syria. Now that would reportedly force Syria to declare all chemical weapons within 15 days and open all related sites to U.N. inspectors. If Syria refuses it could face punitive consequences.

Our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is at the United Nations to tell us more.

Good morning, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Carol, well, started yesterday with the French trying to push through a much stronger version of the resolution you just outlined there. That was leaked to Reuters late last night, that in fact -- seemed to run aground because it contained so many elements that the Russians have a veto power here at the U.N. certainly weren't going to buy.

The Russians themselves asked if they could have consultation with the Security Council at 4:00 yesterday afternoon but then strangely out of nowhere seem to have withdrawn that request. But now they're even denying they did that.

But really I think the diplomatic ball went into Moscow's hands when it emerged, they were going to have a meeting with Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry in Geneva tomorrow. Eyes on that certainly. The Americans want to see a Security Council resolution, perhaps coming out of that and at the same time they're bringing with them the Americans a bunch of chemical weapons experts to try and talk about the feasible practicalities of how on earth would you take thousands of liters of toxic nerve agent and try and dispose of them safely -- Carol.

COSTELLO: That's a tough -- that's a tough task.

Let me ask you this question. France's prime minister said chemical weaponry makes Assad a war criminal and last year then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made this declaration before a Senate committee, I'm going to quote Hillary Clinton here, she said, "based on definitions of war criminal and crimes against humanity there would be an argument to be made that Assad would fit into that category."

Now this was long before any talk of chemical weapons and -- so why hasn't Assad been deemed a war criminal? Why isn't he being charged with that and taken to the Hague?

WALSH: It's incredibly complex procedure. I have to point out that the United States itself doesn't actually sign on to the International Criminal Court. They do support some of its activities around the world. So it's a very complex measure, international law, in the first place anyway. And of course, you'd have to then have, I would imagine, a Security Council resolution which would agree that Bashar al-Assad should be arrested.

Remember the Russians have a veto power there as well, so it all comes back to the same point. But those points made by Hillary Clinton were 18 months ago now and since then we've seen 5,000 people being killed every month, many of them civilians, many blame the Assad regime for those deaths.

The case for this mounting but the French's suggestion that international justice should, in fact, come towards the Assad regime. It's the first time we've seen that really as a table as part of a solution here being put down by a member of the Security Council, a permanent member, and I think that may be about trying to focus people's minds and discussion about what happens eventually to Bashar al-Assad.

Remember the U.S. Congress in their resolution there one of the points they make out is the strategy of the U.S. military could be about trying to push a negotiated settlement in many ways, trying to get Assad to agree to leave power -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh at the United Nations this morning, thanks.

With Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with his Russian counterpart tomorrow, the U.S. is hoping for a clearer plan but Russia's president Putin says the United States may be shooting itself in the foot by keeping the threat of military action on the table.


PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (Through Translator): Of course all this will only mean anything if the United States and other nations supporting tell us that they're giving up their plan to use force against Syria. You can't really ask Syria or any other country to disarm unilaterally while military action against it is being contemplated.


COSTELLO: CNN's Jill Dougherty is in Moscow this morning.

So, Jill, what exactly does Russia want?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: They want to stop military action, and that's really the overriding concern of President Putin, and just a few minutes ago, Carol, the parliament here, the lower house of parliament, which would be kind of like the House of Representatives, passed a statement. It's not a resolution but it's a statement, and they are urging the American Congress and parliaments around the world to, as they put it, not to allow the plan for aggression to go forward, but to press for a peaceful solution while there is still time.

So that's certainly the mood here and there's this kind of another mood which I guess you could describe as a type of triumphalism. Some here, in fact one lawmaker in the lower house saying that essentially the Russian move had boxed President Obama in, stopping him from moving forward on any type of military action, but you'd have to say now, step two, which is the challenge for Russia at that meeting with Secretary Kerry on Thursday will be to come up with some type of workable plan, and that won't be easy, but that's the next mission.

They really have to get something that works in order to make this proposal actually bear fruit -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Jill Dougherty reporting live from Moscow, thank you.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, relying on diplomacy. Will it really work? I'll talk to a former defense secretary under President Clinton.

We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: President Obama's pressing the pause button asking Congress to postpone a vote on military action against Syria while the Russians try to work out a diplomatic plan. But there's no telling how long it will take for Syria to give up its chemical weapons if it does it at all.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed. In any agreement, it must verify that at sad regime keeps its commitments. But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad's strongest allies.

I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path. I'm sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin.


COSTELLO: Two other actions the president noted, the United States and France will work on a resolution for the U.N. Security Council and they'll wait for U.N. inspectors to report findings from the site of the attack in Syria.

Joining me now is William Cohen, former U.S. defense secretary under President Clinton.

Welcome, Mr. Secretary.


COSTELLO: OK. So, this all seems such a mess right. I mean, what do you suspect will eventually happen?

COHEN: I don't know. There have been a series of broken plays, if I can use the football metaphor at this point, of one move to the right. That right side of the line is blocked back to the center, that's blocked, then they move to the left, blocked there, so they throw the all out of bounds.

That's about where we are right now because the president has said let's try diplomacy which everyone would agree about but it has to be backed by force. Well, the threat of force is something that is something that is very evanescent here, it may not even exist.

And so, you've got time which I don't think will work in favor of the president because as long as this time continues to expire, I think more and more opposition will grow to the president's plan to use force.

So, I think the Russians at this point are going to make more conditions necessary before they can persuade Assad. They've already called upon the United States to drop any potential threat to attack Syria. So, the conditions are going to increase, I think the momentum, if there was any momentum, for the president to take military action as little as possible. As Secretary Kerry said, I think that's a false threat at this particular point, unless the president has the vote to back it up.

COSTELLO: So would it have been, I mean, smarter, for lack of a term, for the president to perhaps go ahead and let Congress vote and however it votes, he would then make the decision to strike Syria militarily and keep that threat alive, would that have been a better strategy?

COHEN: Well, I think once you start drawing lines and I think you should not draw red lines unless you're prepared to enforce them, if they're crossed, or have the ability to enforce them which the president may not have that ability as far as going to Congress.

I feel the president should have consulted Congress but not forced a vote because it becomes every member of Congress insisting upon new qualifications or additions to the resolution and you find yourself negotiating with yourself over a period of time. Nonetheless, the president is where he is right now and if he is forced to take action because the Russians are stalling and Assad is not complying, then he should use the Desert Fox operation that President Clinton initiated against Saddam Hussein with a four-day campaign that did real damage to Saddam's capabilities. And I think that's what the president has in mind.

Next question is, would he take action without the consent of Congress having gone to Congress asking for a vote? That raises all sorts of political questions about his presidency going forward.

COSTELLO: It certainly does. Secretary Cohen, thanks for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

COHEN: Glad to be with you.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM: Diana Nyad shutting down skeptics and defending her record swim. We'll tell you what the 64- year-old is saying, she's saying, "I'm no cheater."

We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: All right. Let's head to Washington now. You see the president has just laid the wreath and the remembrance of those who died on September 11th. That was at 9:37 in the morning 12 years ago today that American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon.

Let's listen.



COSTELLO: All right. And in just a few minutes the president will make some remarks. You saw Defense Secretary Hagel standing next to him and also the joint chiefs chair, General Martin Dempsey. We'll get back to that speech in a moment.

Barbara Starr is also live at the Pentagon this morning to tell us more about how Washington is remembering the fallen today.

Good morning, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. You know, I think it's one of those days just like in New York and in Shanksville when it's that fabric of remembrance, never forgetting, and so many years later knowing that so many people have moved on. You know, here at the Pentagon, constantly people always talk about remembering the troops.

But I think one marker of how many years have passed, I was looking, there was a notice recently that a young soldier had been killed in Afghanistan, and he was 24 years old, and of course if you think about it, this young man was 12 years old on the morning of 9/11, perhaps just one marker of how many years since that day, Carol.

COSTELLO: It's just unbelievable. It's been 12 years already and we're still dealing with the repercussions, right?

Barbara Starr live at Pentagon.

At the same time, President Obama was laying the wreath at the Pentagon.

The New York Stock Exchange was honoring the victims so let's take you back to New York and look at that moment of silence.


COSTELLO: All right, let's head back to Washington now because Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is about to speak to those remembering the fallen at the Pentagon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From the depths we have called to you, we call to you again for courage, for strength and wisdom on this anniversary of our nation's tragedy. We know that there is no prayer with the power to change the past, and so we pray that our pain would not cloud our hopes or crush our spirits. As we remember help us to return not only to our hurt but also to divine providence and inspiration.

You are our source of strength, of healing and comfort, even as our wounds still ache. You are our source of hope and guidance, and renew in us the desire to live well and to serve faithfully.