Return to Transcripts main page


Rush to evacuate patients from rebel enclave; Russia's increasing military maneuvers; North Korea denies making biological weapons; Peru's ex-president Fujimori asks for forgiveness; Obama urges leaders not to use social media to divide; Trump launches new attack on Clinton and Russia dossier. Aired at 8-9a ET

Aired December 27, 2017 - 08:00   ET



ZAIN ASHER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Zain Asher, coming to you live from New York. Welcome to News Stream.


ASHER: Urgent medical care. Children are among those being evacuated from an area under siege in Syria and Russian military upsurge.

The U.K. warns of new Russian naval activity just outside of British waters. And social media guidelines from a former president -- Obama warns

against using the internet to divide us.


ASHER: I want to start with some news out of Syria, an urgent operation is under way right now in that country as I speak to remove critically ill

patients from besieged area. They have been trapped in Eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus.

The area has been surrounded by government forces for more than four years. I want to got straight now to CNN's Arwa Damon, who has reported

extensively over the past four years on Syria's civil war.

She joins us live now from Istanbul. So, Arwa, there are reports that people or a number of people needing evacuations is actually going down,

not because they are getting help, but because they are dying. Just set the scene for us there today.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And that really, Zain, just underscores how tragic and desperate the situation really is. Now CNN spoke to Mohamad

Katoub. He is the advocacy director for a Syrian-American Medical Society.

And he was saying that when they were putting together this list of people that needed the urgent medical attention, that needed to be medically

evacuated, they had a list of 29 names.

And then one of the younger girls on that list died because she wasn't evacuated on time. And, in fact, that's not the first instance of

something like this happening.

What you have is a situation where as a tactic of war, many rights advocates and organizations would say the regime is using the siege and

starvation to try to beat down the population and the rebel units that are still trying to hold out with an eastern hold.

In fact, this whole medical evacuation was brought about as a result of a negotiation between the regime and one of the rebel groups that operates in

Eastern Ghouta as part of a prisoner exchange.

Now neither side had any say on who the individuals on this preliminary list to be evacuated were, but as I was saying, 29 names on that list.

As far as we are aware, four of them only have been evacuated at this stage. And bear physical in mind, too, that there are around 640

individuals who are actually in need of urgent evacuation. Otherwise, they most likely will die.

And these are not necessarily deaths that are going to be caused by bombs or fighting, which is still a reality that is fairly prevalent in this

besieged neighborhood. These are deaths that are going to be brought about because of a simple lack of access to proper medical treatment.

People are suffering things like heart disease, kidney failure. Children are going through severe malnutrition. And as we watch what's happening

inside Syria, this is not just man made.

It is a byproduct of our failures -- of the global international community's failure to try to bring about an end to this war, that's been

going on for far too long.

ASHER: All right, Arwa Damon, live for us there. Thank you so much. Russia has said the main battle against ISIS in Syria is over and that it's

time for America to leave. That is just one example of Moscow's increasing boldness when it comes to the world stage.

Another example is the fact that Britain is now warning of an increase in Russian military activity after it escorted a vessel that was skirting

British waters. As our Barbara Starr reports, the new military maneuvers are causing concern at the Pentagon.


BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A British Royal Navy helicopter's infrared camera tracks a Russia warship Christmas Day, as it sailed close

to U.K. territorial waters.

The latest in what the British government is calling an upsurge in Russian warships too close to its coastline. It's all part of a message from

Moscow to Washington, the Russian military will be a force to be reckoned with in 2018.

MICHAEL ALLEN, FORMER OFFICIAL, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: The Russians are certainly pushing the envelope. A lot of their activities in

the naval and aerial arena are certainly hard-edged and they're designed to push us to the limits.

STARR: The question now, how much confrontation will President Trump risk? He has taken an unexpected step, allowing the export of anti-tank weapons

to Ukraine to fight Russian-backed rebels in a country where pro-Russia rebels frequently clash with Ukrainian armed forces.

[08:05:07] SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: It was important for the United States to tell the Russia that we will support Ukraine's ability to defend


STARR: But it's also a risky step.

ALLEN: If Putin decides that this is sort of a hostile act and a new U.S. policy to push back on Russia, Russia has everything from covert operative

across the region in Ukraine and they're able to push back and escalate very significantly.

STARR: Vladimir Putin's military has also flown aggressively against U.S. pilots in Syria. The Pentagon openly calling it a deliberate violation of

an agreement to prevent accidents. After that, Moscow appears to have backed off a bit.

Putin personally challenging the president's new national security strategy.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We also face rival powers, Russia and China, that seek to challenge American influence, values and

wealth. We will attempt to build a great partnership with those and other countries, but in a manner that always protects our national interests.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through a translator): Diplomatically speaking, if I can put it in two words, it is of an attacking nature. And

if we use military terms, it's no doubt aggressive. We need to take that into account in our practical work.

STARR: There is some U.S. leverage. Moscow may be nervous that new congressionally-backed sanctions could be strengthened even further.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


ASHER: All right. For more on this, I want to bring Fred Pleitgen. He is live for us in Moscow. So, Fred, I want to start off with what, Barbara,

was talking about in that piece.

And that is this idea that Russian warships or military ships were skirting British waters. Were there any sort of official territorial violations and

how seriously have the British actually taken this?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the Brits have taken it quite seriously. They put out a press statement saying that this is

something that seems to have happened increasingly around Christmas time.

Obviously, meaning that a lot of their worships had to stay out over Christmas time to escort these Russian ships going through there.

There hasn't been any statements from the Russian authorities and certainly doesn't seem as though this was something that was a larger incident there

at sea or that territorial waters of Britain may have been violated by the Russians.

Also the other thing that we have to keep in mind, Zain, is that of course, if the Russians transit their ships through this area, they will have had

to go through several other areas of European countries as well, especially if they come from the northwest of Russia, ports like Murmansk or

Arkhangelsk which is where they have large parts of their fleet.

So they will have had to go through, you know, Finland or they will have to go pass Norway or the North Sea. So there are some other waters that they

will have transited.

However, it is no secret that the Russians have for the past couple of years been far more assertive as far as their military is concerned.

Not just by transiting ships, which they kind of have to do at this point in time, to keep up their naval presence off of Syria. So they will have

more ship activity going on around Europe as well.

But also as far as flights, close to European airspace are concerned, close to NATO airspace. That certainly is something that we have seen an uptick

over the past couple years, especially, the last, two, three years, since the crisis in Ukraine has been going on. Zain.

ASHER: And, Fred, just pivoting slightly. We just got a word this morning that Vladimir Putin is officially launching his re-election bid.

How much support does Vladimir Putin actually have? I know that there are some officials that will talk about, you know, 80 percent to 90 percent.

But really, how much support does he genuinely have and how far are those numbers from the truth?

PLEITGEN: That -- yes, that's an exceptional question. Because you do have the official polls here in Russia which do put his approval ratings at

somewhere between 80 percent to 85 percent, so exceptionally high.

Now, folks from the opposition, especially from Alexei Navalny, who was barred from running earlier this week, he will tell you look, one of the

reasons why he's got such high approval rating is because no one who is really popular in the opposition can actually run against him.

A lot of these opposition figures are barred on technical grounds, some like Navalny because he's had a conviction in the past, where the

authorities say look, you simply can't run if you have this conviction.

It really seems as though Russia is one of those countries, like many other countries that is really divided as far as its voters are concerned. You

have a lot of the older vote.

You went through a lot of the turmoil here in Russia in the 1990s who say, look, Vladimir Putin has brought this country stability and that's worth a

lot to people who went through that turmoil in the 1990s when daily survival was something that really wasn't a given here in Russia.

But then on the other hand, you also have a lot of younger people, who want economic development, who want this country plugged in once again to the

world's economy and want chances for new development. And they're the ones who are not necessarily happy with the way that Vladimir Putin is running

this country.

[08:10:00] So you do have a bit of a divide among any of the presidential candidates though who so far have been allowed to run. Vladimir Putin most

likely will win by a landslide.

Whether or not his approval ratings really are these 80 percent that you often see in these official polls is anyone's guess, so it's really hard to


But you certainly do see, that especially the younger generation does seem to want some sort of change, whether it is under Putin, maybe some reforms

there, or whether or not it is a different leadership.

And looking forward to six more years for a lot of people, it is quite a difficult proposition, whereas again for the older generation, they really

do value that stability because it is some of the history that they went through, especially in the 1990s when this country went through some

pretty, pretty rough times. Zain.

ASHER: Interesting. So the younger generation wants change and you have people like Alexei Navalny -- Navalny who were trying to organize boycott

of the election. But he has been threatened with legal action as you mentioned yesterday.

All right, Fred Pleitgen, live for us there, thank you so much. North Korea is forcefully denying U.S. accusations that it is making biological


The U.S. says the Kim regime has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on nuclear, chemical and biological -- biological weapons research. Here's

our, Brian Todd, with more.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're learning tonight that Kim Jong-un has the capability to weaponized more than a dozen biological agents within

just a few days if he wants to wreak havoc on the Korean Peninsula.

There are reports that Kim has been methodical but unrelenting in getting his scientists to figure out how to deploy deadly agents like anthrax,

which killed several Americans right after 9/11.

There are new concerns that Kim Jong-un's deadly ambitions go beyond nuclear weapons. South Korean officials and independent weapons experts

are growing increasingly concerned that Kim's regime has the intent and capability to develop biological weapons.

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: They are a weapon of terror in a sense because we have in our own minds these thoughts about the horror of

biologicals, outbreaks of disease. This is something that frightens us.

TODD: South Korean government reports recently cited by Harvard University saying that North Korea has 13 types of biological agents which it can

weaponized within 10 days. They say anthrax and smallpox are the most likely agents they would deploy.

JOSHUA POLLACK, WMD EXPERT, MIDDLEBURY INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Anthrax is virtually the ideal biological agent for weapons purposes.

It's a bacterium that is very hard to -- it can survive all kinds of conditions. It can persist. It is very deadly. You can aerosolize it and

spread it around with sprayers.

TODD: June 2015, Kim Jong-un tours the Pyongyang Biotechnical Institute. The North Koreans said it was a factory which manufactured pesticides but

some machinery on display raised alarm.

POLLACK: It seems that they have invested a lot in imported equipment that cost them a lot and is I think unreasonable for any civilian application.

TODD: Equipment like what analysts say are industrial-scale fermenters which could produce anthrax on a large scale and other machinery used to

convert biological agents into sprayable form.

South Koreans would be in the direct line of fire, a threat taken seriously enough that South Korea holds mock drills for WMD attacks. But American

troops in South Korea could also be hit.

TONY SHAFFER, FORMER CIA INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: A small aircraft basically over flying them, individuals who are infected infecting them. There's

just no way to guarantee and protect U.S. troops from this.

TODD: Officials say there's no evidence North Korea has yet produced a biological weapon. But with the assassination of his half-brother this

year, Kim Jong-un has shown the willingness to use his chemical weapons arsenal.

And having the capability for a biological attack with the difficulties in tracing those weapons, experts say, adds another dimension to Kim's threat.

CHANG: With biological there's a slight element of deniability. There could be an outbreak of a disease in South Korea. It would take us weeks,

maybe even longer, to trace it back to North Korea. And during that time he could kill South Koreans.

TODD: Experts say another advantage this gives Kim is that for every dollar the U.S. and South Korea spend on preparing for an anthrax, smallpox, or

other biological outbreak, well that's a dollar they don't spend on preparing for a possible conventional or nuclear attack from North Korea.


ASHER: All right. Brian Todd, reporting there. India says its troops have killed the leader of a Pakistan based terror group in Indian-

controlled Kashmir.

Thousands attended the funeral for Noor Mohammad Tantray who was killed in a gun battle near Srinagar. He was the regional leader of Jaish-e-Mohammad

or the army of the Prophet Mohammad. Tantray was wanted for terror offenses.

Several Peruvian congressmen have resigned from their party and demonstrators took to the streets during the holiday, all in protests over

the pardon of former president, Alberto Fujimori.

[08:15:00] And the outrage -- the ex-leader, who was serving a 25-year prison sentence for human rights abuse is begging for his country's

forgiveness. As our, Amara Walker, reports the anger is also aimed at the current administration as well.


AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Convicted of bribery, abuse of power and authorizing the killing of civilians by death squad, the former Peruvian

leader looks frail in a hospital bed, asking for forgiveness for his crimes.

ALBERTO FUJIMORI, FORMER PRESIDENT OF PERU (through a translation): I'm aware that what resulted during my administration, on one hand, was well

received, but I recognized that on the other hand, I've also disappointed other compatriots. To them, I asked forgiveness from the bottom of my


WALKER: From his hospital bed, Alberto Fujimori also thanked the current president, who unexpectedly issued a pardon on Christmas Eve in the midst

of Fujimori's 25-year prison sentence. It was a move that led to outrage.


WALKER: Angry Peruvians packed the streets outside of Fujimori's hospital -- some chanting traitor and the pardon has to go. Protesters and

authorities clash in the country's capital, riot police throwing tear gas at the crowd. President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said it was humanitarian

pardon justified because Fujimori's health is failing.

PEDRO PABLO KUCZYNSKI, PRESIDENT OF PERU (through a translator): I am convinced that those of us who consider ourselves Democrats cannot allow

Alberto Fujimori to die in prison. Justice is not vengeance.

All pardons are by nature controversial. There's an important number of Peruvians who are opposed to the pardon. My decision is especially complex

and difficult, but it is my decision.

WALKER: His decisiveness may have thrown insult on the wounds of an already grave political crisis. News of the pardon led several members of

Kuczynski's own party to resign.

And last week, he narrowly dodged impeachment over a corruption scandal. It was the abstention votes by 10 lawmakers, including none other than

Fujimori's son, Kenji Fujimori that allowed the president to stay in power.

Angry cries from the street of Lima not only protest the pardon but the idea that a deal may have been done between the former and current leader.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The reality is that this, sadly, was a political agreement between the Fujimorists and the current government of Pedro Pablo

Kuczynski. So, we're coming out to reject all that.

WALKER: Now, there's a new twist to contend with. Fujimori's doctor says, his condition has improved. The once brutally authoritarian leader has

moved out of the Intensive Care Unit, and depending on his progress, may soon be released as a free man -- an event that could sow more discord in

the streets of an already divided Peru. Amara Walker, CNN.


ASHER: Still to come here on News Stream, former President Barack Obama gave his first major interview since leaving office to none other than

Britain's Prince Harry. The warning Mr. Obama is giving the world's leaders just ahead.

Plus, the current U.S. president is spending his holiday with two of his favorite pursuits, golfing and tweeting. We'll have the very latest in

just a couple of minutes.


ASHER: Former U.S. President Barack Obama is issuing a warning about a tool that is shaping public opinion more than even before. In his first

major interview since leaving office, Mr. Obama praised the use of social media to bring people together.

But he cautions leaders not to use it in a divisive way. He spoke to Britain's Prince Harry in September in an interview that aired today on BBC

Radio four.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They

can be just cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases.

The question I think really has to do with how do we harness this technology in a way that allows a multiplicity of voices, allows a

diversity of views but doesn't lead to a balkanization of our society but rather continues to promote ways of finding common ground.


ASHER: Anna Stewart has the full interview. She joins me live now from London. So, you know, Obama also talked about this idea of how social

media can sometimes erode civil discourse and even though he didn't technically mention Trump by name, I think we all know who he was alluding


ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, it was a thinly veiled caution really, wasn't it? I mean he did not name President Trump, but, of

course, President Trump is a prolific Twitter user.

That social media line was very interesting. And this is the first time President Obama has done an interview since he left office. So we were

also able to look back at his career.

He has nice reflection. He said the day he left the White House, he actually felt really serene. He was very grateful to have Michelle Obama

there by his side.

He said he doesn't think he could have done it without her. And he often says that he was just really proud of the achievements, particularly on

health care.

ASHER: Also and a big question I think a lot who want to know, is President Obama and Michelle, are they attending the wedding of the century

between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle?

STEWART: You know what, that is the question that everyone wants to know, Zain. As ever, you always ask me, what is the wedding dress going to be.

Well, fortunately, someone was actually able to ask Prince Harry today on Radio Four after they ran out of the President Obama interview, they

actually asked him just that, take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well enough to invite him to your wedding?

PRINCE HARRY, PRINCE OF WALES: I don't know about that. That's -- we haven't put the invites or the guest list together yet, so who knows

whether he will be invited or not. I wouldn't want to ruin that surprise.


STEWART: So diplomatic there, Zain. I mean, we didn't get an answer at all.

ASHER: All right, Anna Stewart, live for us there. Anna, I think we're wearing the same dress, I don't even know.

STEWART: I love you dress today, Zain. Nice.

ASHER: Maybe I'm not as original as I thought. Anna Stewart, live for us there, thank you so much. U.S. President Donald Trump has launched another

Twitter attack -- speaking of which, this time on the investigation of collusion between his election campaign and Russia.

The target once again is a controversial dossier funded by political opponents -- opponents. Here is his tweet. He says, Wow, @foxandfriends -

- I believe it's misspelled, "Dossier is bogus. Clinton Campaign, DNC funded Dossier.

FBI cannot (after all of this time) verify claims in dossier of Russia/Trump collusion. FBI tainted. And they used this Crooked Hillary

pile of garbage as the basis for going after the Trump Campaign!" This of course is not Mr. Trump's first foul word.


TRUMP: Didn't he spend $12.4 million on a dossier that was a total phony. I think it's very sad what they've done with this fake dossier. I think

it's a disgrace. It's just really -- it's a very sad, it's a very sad commentary on politics in this country.

When you look at that horrible dossier, which is a total phony, fake deal like so much of the news that I read, when you look at that and take a look

at what's gone on with that and the kind of money we're talking about, it is a disgrace.


ASHER: And Mr. Trump's latest jab comes as he spends his holiday break in Florida.

[08:25:00] Our, Abby Phillip, joins us live now from West Palm Beach. So, Abby, you know, we're seeing these continuous attacks against the FBI,

calling it -- Trump is calling it bias, tainted. If you are Christopher Wray, what is the best way to handle that?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Zain, the president has been launching these attacks, as you mentioned, for quite a few months now. And

it seems like those attacks are not going away any time soon.

You mentioned Christopher Wray, the FBI director, the deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, all of these official are saying, there is no systemic

problem at the FBI. They have been dealing with bad actors through the process that exists at the FBI.

But the president is not making this not about that but about the investigation -- the Special Counsel investigation that's being led by

Robert Mueller.

It's a part of a broad set of attacks being launched by the president and his allies against the Special Counsel, trying to undermine the

investigation that is currently under way.

Towards the ends of the year here, the president is still on his vacation but clearly, his mind is still focused on Russia. He is still focused on

this issue of this investigation that has dogged his presidency for the entirety of his first year in office.

ASHER: So that's on his mind, but I believe what also is on his mind is, what is on his plate for next year in terms of his agenda.

Obviously, infrastructure is going be a big part of that. How on earth -- given a sort of fractured year we've had, how on earth does he bring

Democrats on board?

PHILLIP: That's right. Well, infrastructure in going to be on the agenda, they are trying to get at one more pillar of the president's campaign --

that he promised about $1 trillion in infrastructure spending.

But we are learning from White House officials that the plan he is going to put forward is going to be some much smaller. It's going to the $200


And even though Democrats have said in the past, that they are interested in pursuing infrastructure spending, they say $200 billion is just simply

not enough money.

So we'll see whether or not they will be willing to get on board with that and also, Zain, the devil is going to be in the details here. Democrats

are interested in infrastructure spending that deals with roads and bridges, Republicans have been more interested in spurring private sector

spending for those kinds of projects. Zain.

ASHER: All right. Abby Phillip, live for us there, thank you so much. So imagine spending eight hours flying and end up where you began.

Well, that's exactly what happened to the passengers on board on All Nippon Airways Flight out of Los Angles. It was supposed to be heading to Tokyo.

But when the crew realizes that one passenger had actually boarded the plane by mistake, completely an error.

Not sure how that happens but anyway, the pilot turn the plane around and then return back to Los Angeles. In fact, singer John Legend and his wife,

model Chrissy Teigen were also on board.

And Chrissy Teigen was actually tweeting about it prolifically all throughout the process. All right, everyone. That is News Stream. I am

Zain Asher, don't go anywhere, World Sport with Rhiannon Jones is up next. You are watching CNN.


[08:30:00] [WORLD SPORT]