tv CNN Newsroom With Brooke Baldwin CNN April 11, 2017 12:00pm-1:01pm PDT
you're watching cnn. i'm brooke baldwin. thank you for being here. we have breaking news this afternoon on multiple fronts. first of all, in a couple of minutes, the pentagon will hold a news conference. this is the first time general james mattis will go on camera as secretary of defense since the u.s. struck on syria five days ago. also, the other moment making headlines from the white house press briefing, you had press secretary sean spicer triggering this firestorm of criticism when he compared the syrian regime
and bashar al assad so adolph hitler. >> the alliance between russia and syria is a strong one. it goes back decades. president putin has supplied personnel, military equipment to the assad government. what makes you think that at this point he's going to pull back on his support for president assad and for the syrian government right now? >> i think a couple things. you look -- we didn't use chemical weapons in world war ii. you know, you had -- you know, someone as despicable of hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons. so you have to, if you're russia ask yourself if this is kurnt that you want to align yourself with. you have signed on to international agreements. rightfully acknowledging that chemical weapons are out of bounds to every country. this should be troubling. russia put their name on the
line. so it's not a question of how long that alliance has lasted but at what point do they recognize that they are now getting on the wrong side of history in a really bad way. >> quote, hitler didn't even sink to the level of using chemical weapons, what did you mean by that? >> i think when you come to sarin gas, there was no -- he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that assad is doing -- there was clearly -- i understand your point. thank you. i appreciate that. there was not -- he brought them into the holocaust center. i understand that. i'm saying that in a way that assad used them, went into down, dropped them down into the middle of town. it was drougbrought -- the use . thank you for the clarification. that was not the intent. >> you saw sean spicer being given an opportunity to clean up his original statement. i understand he is trying to clean it up again.
>> reporter: he has indeed, brooke. sean spicer has issued a statement a couple moments ago again trying to clarify what he was talking about earlier. let's take a look at that. it says this. "in no way was i trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the holocaust. i was trying to draw a comparison of the tactic of dropping chemical weapons on innocent people." brooke, i'm still not sure if that reaches the historical gravity here of what we're talking about. holocaust centers, presumably he means concentration camps. again, though, we were talking about the chemical attack last week, why sean spicer drew that to a parallel to the holocaust in the first place is a question that he will have to answer, of course. but he is trying to say, look, he was not meaning any disrespect here but coming during passover, it certainly
rang hallow and was very off-tone, to say the very least. >> we'll have more on that. let me follow up with you on your great reporting so far as whether or not they believe that the syrian strike, that russia was involved or there was a coverup. what do you know? >> the administration believes that russia knew about the existence. they are stopping short of saying that they had knowledge of that attack a week ago today. but this is what secretary of state rex tillerson said last thursday night in the wee hours of the evening after the military strikes. he was asked if russia is complicit in this. the administration said indeed the russians had to foe that the chemical weapons were in existence in syria. so as close of a line as we've
gotten into the u.s. saying that russia, you know, had to know about this. but again, stopping just short -- they said there's not consensus in the intelligence community here in the u.s. that russia did in fact know about the chemical attack in advance. but they did know that there were chemical weapons. the nerve agent is still on the ground being on the ground, brooke. >> jeff zeleny at the white house, thank you. now we'll move on and talk about what is happening at the pentagon. rex tillerson is in moscow. and in that white house briefing sean spicer also spoke about secretary tillerson's planned meeting with the russians, which is coming at, quote, the most difficult point between the two nations since the cold war. that's not talking heads saying that but vladimir putin's spokesman today. here is more from sean spicer. >> russia is on an island when it comes to its support of syria
or its lack of acknowledgement. the acts of syria are reprehensible. russia has been party to several international agreements that syria is not holding up to. in fact, that russia needs to hold themselves up to. i think the president has been very clear with his stance on russia and in this particular case we'll be very forceful and i think as will secretary tillerson during his visit to make sure that we -- make sure that we let russia know that they need to live up to the obligations that its made. >> let's turn now to cnn's michelle kosinski in moscow and pentagon correondent barbara starr. let's begin with you as we're moments away from this news conference with the secretary of defense. what are you expecting -- what should we all expect to hear presumably on syria from general mattis? >> brooke, as the pentagon briefing room begins to fill up,
in 25 minutes, we expect secretary mattis to walk in accompanied by the four-star said of central command, the man who oversaw the strike on the syrian air base. there's going to be questions about how that strike happened and what kind of damage it actually inflicted on the syrians. we know that the u.s. missiles either dabmaged or destroyed 23 aircraft, about 20%, according to the pent goagon, of syria's operating air force. also, russian complicity. the u.s. military and u.s. intelligence committee are investigating this very question. what they do know is there was a russian drone in the area and unidentified aircraft dropped a bomb after the chemical attack. russians were at the air base. there's russian chemical weapons
expertise inside syria. a lot of dots out there but very cautious about connecting the dots and coming up with a firm conclusion. they don't want to be wrong. looking ahead, the next question, you know, the white house said they are prepared to conduct more military action if the president orders it. when you see both of these men here at the podium in a little while, these are the two that will be working on any future target lists. general potel not a guy that wo waits around. they will be ready to go if and when the president orders any additional action. >> we'll be listening in. barbara, stand by for us. michelle, focusing on secretary tillerson's trip, do you know if the russians are aware of this accusation that russia is a
cov cover-up? >> reporter: not yet. this question of whether russia was complicit, what they knew ahead of time has been circulating for days and for the most part russia's repeated denials. they've been blaming the attacks on rebel groups. they said it was a stockpile of rebel-held chemicals hit by an air strike and that's how the attack happened. they've been denying that consistently throughout. today we heard rex tillerson made remarks before he left here. he was in italy saying that the assad regime is in its end stages, talking about a need for change and he hopes that russia
will change course. vladimir putin himself did respond to those remarks but what he said was that he believes that not only the assad regime but russia are being framed for this attack and others like it. he predicted that there would be more attacks. he called them provocations, presumably by rebel groups. he compared it to a similar instance to the iraq war in 2003 when there were allegations of weapons of mass destruction. some of the things he said today were absolutely stunning and that shows you the russian line. and you have to wonder where there's room for cooperation going forward. i mean, this big meeting happens tomorrow between secretary of state tillerson and the russian foreign minister and at this point, president putin has not scheduled a meeting with tillerson and that in itself is
remarkable based on precedent. >> right. thus far nothing. michelle, thank you very much in moscow. let me bring in former pentagon spokesperson general kirby. and welcome to cnn. 59 out of 60 tomahawk missiles hit their intended targets, secretary of defense mattis said that the strike hit fuel capabilities and 20% of syria's operational aircraft. but when you listen to russia, only 23 missiles hit the air base which, you know, leaves one with mixed messages. what's your expectation from secretary mattis? >> i think what you'll hear today is that he and general votel will provide more context
about the mission itself and the reasons why they believe in what we call btda, the bat detle dam assessment. i think he really wants to lay to rest some of the speculation out there. i think that's what you're going to see. any claim by the russians, whether it was 23 or whatever, that's false. there's no way that they could know that. the military can know and track the success of the launch of tomahawk missiles. >> quickly again, going back to the number, when you have secretary mattis saying that we hit 20% of syria's operational aircraft, how big of a hit is that, in your opinion? >> that's significant. this isn't a huge air force. it's not a very sophisticated air force. they are flying a lot of old russian airplanes and for us to take out a percentage like that,
20%, that is not insignificant at all. does it completely eliminate assad's ability to commit violence against his own people from the air? absolutely not. we've seen their willingness to do that the day after the strike. it is significant. but i think what you'll see from general votel and secretary mattis is explaining the targeted, precise nature in which it was conducted and why it was conducted that way. >> that's the bda that we'll be looking for in a couple of minutes. >> yeah. >> got you. let me move on and ask now that the trump administration has put this red line on barrel bomb weapons, which the assad regime freque frequently uses, it seems like it's a growing maleable red line
that is moving frequently. >> i agree that it's been confusing, both in terms of what will target more strikes or not as well as on a political level. it's unclear, you know, how much regime change really is in the cards here. so they've got some message alignment that i think they need to work on. i think what you're going to hear from general votel and from the defense secretary is the purpose for this strike was to act in a vital national security interest of the united states against the spread and use of chemical weapons and that that is still valid, that that would be sort of the litmus test for any potential military action. that's what i think. i don't think they are going to expand the purposes for that strike to also apply to barrel bombs or other conventional strikes. but it does raise a question, the larger issue is, is that line really possible? is it possible to have that line redrawn?
because if it has the der ter re -- deterrent ee affect that they think it will, it doesn't stop him from killing his people through other means. that's the issue here, it should be the issue, the civil war itself and the continued killings of hundreds of thousands of people. >> and what to do with assad. >> yeah. >> general kirby, thank you very much. we'll take this briefing and talk on the other side. the white house, by the way, slamming russia's support of syrian dictator bashar al assad and defending the u.s. missile strikes last week. russia is firing back comparing the strike to the u.s. invasion of iraq in 2003. this back and forth war of words is quite a departure from the tone that we saw during the presidential campaign. >> if putin likes donald trump, guess what, folks, that's called an asset, not a liability. i hope we have a fantastic relationship.
that's possible. it's also possible that we won't. >> he's the leader of his country. i say it's better to get along with russia than not. >> if we got along with russia and russia went out with us and knocked the hell out of isis, that's okay with me, folks. >> he said nice things about me. he called me a genius. he said we're going to win. that's good. >> if he says great things about me, i'm going to say great things about him. i've already said he's very much of a leader. you can say, isn't that a terrible thing? he has strong control over a country. >> there's nothing that i can think of that i'd rather do than have russia friendly. i don't know that i'm going to get along with vladimir putin. i hope i do. >> joining me now, fareed zakaria, host of "gps." good to see you. that was then, this is now. i want to use your words. you said the strike against president trump's strange flirtation with putin on the middle east. tell me why it's changed.
>> because it seemed as though it was entirely based on some kind of personality match that trump seems to have found on match.com or something like that. it was based on the idea that he liked putin and we know he had never met putin so he liked what he saw on tv, i guess. >> never spoke a word? >> never spoke a word. claimed falsely that he met him once but then backed off on that. this is not about personality types. this is not about match.com. this is the fact that russians have interests in the united states opposed to the united states' and the united states has long pursued them, russia has long pursued them. what is fascinating to me, to watch reality set in and while trump has not reneged or reversed himself, every other members of the administration has from sean spicer to mcmaster.
you have the long-term interests of the united states asserting themselves and it reveals a big divide between the united states and russia. >> last week when standing next to abdullah, he didn't mention that but he did mention assad. what do you make of the president's reticence on syria? >> i think that maybe he's trying to absorb it. it's always struck me that there are two elements to the trump administration. there's the freak show of donald trump and the tweets and crazy talk and the lies but then there are very smart professionals, tillerson, mcmaster, mattis. and clearly they must have been tissuing h pushing himself in a direction that he's not comfortable.
he's the president. he has allowed a lot of things to happen. think about what the white house has put out. today the white house put out a four-page document accusing russia not just of aligning with the assad regime. >> but of covering it up. >> covering it up. they said that they are confusing the issue with a false narrative. now, this is what the obama administration would have called fake news. the russians are spewing fake news. they don't want to call it fake news because -- >> because it is fake muse. >> exactly. and it would be aligning themselves too much with the critics of russia. the second part is, tillerson gave it -- the thing you mentioned, what tillerson said about russia and assad was very tough. they said they are he on the wrong side of history, dying with the regime and do they really want to be applied with assad or come over and work with
the west. this is language straights out of the obama administration. this is a frustrated, conservative speaking. he said we thought if we had elected hillary clinton, we'd get the third obama term in foreign policy. we elected trump and we're getting the third obama term in foreign policy. his policy is indistinguishable with barack obama's. >> so they do the deal and the assad regime says we won't use chemical weapons again and here are all of our chemical weapons and the implicit threat the obama administration had, if you do, there will be consequences. so guess what, they did and the trump administration implemented the consequence of that deal. in a sense, the trump
administration honored the obama administration's threat that if do you this one more time, there will be a consequence. >> and we're coming to get you. >> and they also have shifted on russia and on assad, now calling for him to go. it's an across-the-board shift. >> fareed zakaria, thank you very much for all of that. and we're waiting to get this briefing from the defense secretary james mattis momentarily from the pentagon. live pictures there. the room is filling in. we'll take it live. this is the first on-camera briefing since the strikes in syria some five days ago. we'll be right back. the things they love to do most on these balloons. travel with my daughter. roller derby. ♪ now give up half of 'em. do i have to? this is a tough financial choice we could face when we retire. but, if we start saving even just 1% more of our annual income... we could keep doing all the things we love.
he just wants to go home. the ceo statement in part reads, "a truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us, outrage, anger, disappointment. i share all of these sentiments and one above all, my deepest apoa apologies for what happened. i deeply apologize to the customer for forcibly removed and for all of the customers aboard. no one should be treated this way. we took full responsibility and we will work to make it right. so there you have it, finally an apology. a defiant warning today from north korea as the u.s. directs warships to head toward that region. north korean state media saying a nuclear strike is possible if provoked by what it calls u.s. aggression. president trump issuing a warning of his own vis-a-vis 140
characters or less tweeting, "north korea is looking for trouble. if china decides to help, that would be great. if not, we will solve the problem without them. usa." will relationship plipley is st. will, north korea has issued provocative warnings before. what's the difference with this warning? >> this is the trump administration we're dealing with and we're seeing firsthand on the ground here the power of that 140-character tweet in shaping a country's policy. that air strike in syria really started things off for this latest round of provocations and it's only been escalating even further with the word that "carl vinson" is approaching and also xi jinping telling china to solve the north korea problem or
they will take unspecified action to do it themselves. north korea pledges they will only step up their development of nuclear weapons and missiles that could potentially carry them to the mainland of the u.s. brooke? >> will ripley in pyongyang, thank you. let me bring in elliott abrams, a conservative who has served under ronald reagan and george bush and recently had a job at president trump's state department. first, you have the president of the united states taking to twitter, calling out north korea. it's almost like i've heard some people say it's like this real-life experiment and yet we're in this national security crisis. how do you see it? >> i think rex tillerson said it rightly, 20, 30 years of policy on north korea has failed.
that's clear that they are developing the nuclear program. the president is being more aggressive at least in tone and this comes right after the strike on syria. it's meant to push pressure on china, maybe to develop some more and that's been the missing ingredient. >> don't you think president xi walked a i way from mar a lag go from a very different trump? >> absolutely. the timing was quite amazing. the timing was great. >> on syria, president trump thus far has been silent other than this tweet about why he wouldn't want to bomb a runway. how do you see this trump doctrine? do you agree that there isn't one, first of all? >> first, i have to say, my friend fareed is trying
desperately to save president obama here kbu this but this is same policy. it's a policy of using american policy. that's what we did. it changes everything on the ground. it's the president of the united states saying we're going to force this international norm. it means, i think, there will never be another use of chemical weapons by assad and syria and what remains to be seen, what if he doesn't use chemical weapons and uses these bombs, these barrel bombs that kill more people, bomb a hospital, bomb an apartment house. had are we going to sit back or react? i hope somebody asks mattis that. you mentioned in the trump doctrine, the president has not been clear on syria. the secretary of state has been pretty tough on syria. so has nikki haley.
what does mattis have to say? are we going to go after isis first? good. but how does that translate into peace in syria? >> they are all good questions. i'm channelling and hearing sean spicer say that the president doesn't telegraph what he wants to do in the future. how do you thread the needle? if you're secretary mattis, you do have a plan moving forward but don't want to telegraph it to the world. >> you cannot win at the negotiating table which you didn't win on the battlefield in syria. we're going to need to be tougher and the strikes start that. maybe we need more men on the ground our side needs to be stronger. i think that's what they are heading for. >> the white house talks about they want it to be an improved
political climate so the power is with the syrian people for assad to go away but if you're gassing your own people, who are we kidding? how would it ever create a climate like that to empower the people of syria? >> the end of this has to be, he goes. you can't have this war criminal leading the country which is, by the way, a majority sunni country and those are the people he's been slaughtering. so the end result has to be his departure. the trick is how we get there. i think we should be very clear and i hope secretary mattis is clear, in the end, he's got to go. >> i read something, elliott, where you said that president trump didn't become a neocon overnight. can you explain to me what you meant? >> what i meant is he obviously wants to avoid interventions.
the united states has certain global responsibilities that no other country is going to take on, not russia, not china, not anybody. frequent, in forcing the international agreements against the use of chemical weapons. so he is coming to see now as president that we have -- we are the indispensable nation as m madeleine albright once called it. the president has talked about a lot of making america great again and american greatness. this is part of american greatness. >> elliott abrams, as always, thank you so much for coming on. i really appreciate your voice. as we're waiting to hear from secretary mattis, admiral john kirby, let me bring you back on here briefly. elliott had some celebrity
questions that hopefully will be tossed to the secretary of defense. but you've been in this position of briefing the media oodles and oodles of times. you see the chairs for secretary mattis and general votel. >> all that stuff is pretty well gamed out before they get out there. they go through the likely questions and answers and game out how they are going to respond. it looks like they are starting. >> let's listen. >> joseph votel, commander of u.s. central command in florida. we'll start with a free opening remarks and proceed directly to your questions. we're planning to go for around 30 minutes w that, mr. secretary? >> well, thank you steve. we're on right now? >> yes, we are. >> good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. i recently released a statement
to the response to the chemical weapons in syria. i thought this was an appropriate time for general votel and i to update you. last tuesday, the syrian regime attacked its own people using chemical weapons. i have personally reviewed the intelligence and there's no doubt the syrian regime is responsible for the decision to attack and for the attack itself. in response to the attack, our government began a deliberate process led by the national security council to recommend diplomatic and military options to the president. we met over several days and i spoke with some of our allies. the national security council considered the near century old international prohibition against the use of chemical weapons. the syrian regime's repeated violation of the international
law and the ruthless murders the regime had committed. we determined that a measured military response could best deter the regime from doing this again. our actions were successful. based on these considerations, on 6 april, the president directed military action consistent with our vital national interests to deter the use of chemical weapons. this military action demonstrates the united states will not passively stand by while assad ignores international law and employs chemical weapons he had declared destroyed. we were aware of the presence of russians at the airfield and took appropriate actions to ensure no russians were injured in the attack. our military policy in syria has
not changed. our priority is defeat of isis. isis presents a clear and present danger and a threat to the united states homeland. in closing, the syrian regime should think long and hard before it again acts so recklessly in violation of international law against the use of chemical weapons. general votel will now provide further information on the strike. >> thank you, mr. secretary. secretary mattis stated, the united states central command was directed to develop military options and response to the syrian regime's use of chemical weapons. we did that with a goal being to eliminate those capabilities, including air frames, equipment and fuel supplies that provided offensive military capacity for the regime from shayrat airfield. we did not deliberately target personnel in these strikes. we targeted 59 locations on the airfield and struck 57 of those.
we assessed that we achieved our stated objective and the regime's ability to generate offensive military capability from shayrat airfield, attempted says was the launching point for this chemical attack and has been severely degraded. we are obviously paying close attention to the environment in the wake of these strikes and remain postured to respond as necessary. meanwhile, we are focused on the defeat isis campaign which remains our primary mission. in closing, i want to commend the exceptional skill of our military forces involved in this strike operation. they performed extraordinarily well and we are very, very proud of them. >> well, thank you, general votel. we can take your questions now. bob, let's start with yours. >> secretary mattis, thank you. you mentioned that defeating isis in syria is your main priority. but in light of the chemical attack, is it your view that the u.s. should take some additional steps, such as creating safe
zones or no fly sdplozones or e removing bashar al assad from power and i'd ask general votel to comment on bringing additional troops to syria to accelerate the campaign. >> the goal in syria and the military campaign is focused on accomplishing that is breaking isis, destroying isis in syria. this was a separate issue that arose in the midst of that campaign. the use by the assad regime of chemical weapons and we addressed that militarily. but the rest of the campaign stays on track exactly as it was before assad's violation. >> you don't see a point of doing safe zones or no fly zones? >> those other issues that you bring up are always under consideration among allies and certainly the president has
options but right now the purpose of this attack was singular against the chemical weapons use. >> for the question you directed to me, i would just say, i'm not going to particularly comment on anything we might do in the future here. we remain engaged with the department here and we'll let the leadership make the decisions here and then we'll act accordingly. >> barbara? >> for both of you, mr. secretary, you said that assad should think long and hard about doing this again. it seems like you were sending him a very direct military message. what message are you sending to assad about this? do -- do you feel -- why do you feel -- what message are you sending and why do you feel he chose to do this not until the trump administration took office? did he read the signals from administration officials that isis was no longer the top
priority? well, isis might be the priority, regime change was not. do you feel that that's the signal he got and are you sending him a new signal? and for you general votel, although you don't talk about future military operations, how prepared are you and central command to take on additional military targeting? do you feel you know even if you can't say where these chemical weapons are at this point? >> barbara, we believe that assad has used chemical weapons several times over the last several years, violated the international law that ploos ha prohibited their use since 1925. syria is a signatory to that international convention. for them to have done this several times recently over the last several years is what i mean by recently. you've got to ask him why he chose now to try it again. i trust he regrets it now considering the damage done to his air force.
but when i say he should think long and hard about it, i'll just let the mission speak for itself on that score. >> barbara, i would say that as a u.s. central command commander, i'm very confident that we can respond to any directions and orders that the secretary and the president gives us in the region. >> do you know where the chemical weapons are? >> again, i'm not going to speculate on what we know or don't know but i'm very confident about our forces when we're asked to do things. >> first to general votel, could you bring us up to date about what measures you are taking in this new more intense environment to protect the forces on the ground in syria and secretary mattis could you please let us know, how does what you're doing militarily in syria fit into a broader strategy being developed by this administration? how does the strike and the
positioning of u.s. forces -- u.s.-backed forces on the ground help in broader strategic sites? >> well, phil, the broader strategy, as you know, is embedded inside a global strategy and overall right now the americans are making very clear that isis is in our cross-hairs and that's what our conduct of the campaign in syria is designed to take on, is take on isis and defeat them. this other effort that came up in the midst of that had to be addressed because it address as vital national interest of ours that chemical weapons not be used, that the bar not keep getting lowered by the assad regime so this becomes common places. we had to make a very, very clear statement on this. >> phil, i would just add that force protection is something we always pay attention to and as
the environment always changes, we have to change with that. we continue to pay a lot of attention to that. as we executed this operation, i think we took very prudent measures to make sure that our forces, all of our coalition forces operating with us were well protected and well aware of what was going on and we had prudent measures in place and we've entrusted our commanders on the ground to, you know, with the authority and decision-making capability to go on as they make the assessment. i'm very confident in their ability to do that. >> can you describe anything additional that you can specify that you would have done differently? >> i don't think we would have done anything differently. >> there has been mixed messages from the administration about whether you're calling for regime change in syria. are you prepared if there -- are you calling for assad to step aside and are you prepared
militarily if he were to step aside tomorrow? general votel, have you seen any evidence that the iranians were involved in this chemical attack and any evidence that assad is moving his chemical stockpiles around within syria? >> jennifer, the strike that we're talking about here today was directed at the people who planned it, who held onto the weapons contrary to what they had promised the international community and united nations when they said they had gotten rid of all of those weapons and the reason for the strike was that alone. it was not a harbinger of some change in our military campaign. >> jennifer, i'm unaware of any information on regarding iran's participation in this and i think we've seen some information that the regime has moved aircraft around so i would
imagine there's some movement of his equipment that has taken place. whether it's chemicals or not, i don't think i can comment on that. >> david? >> i'd like to ask both of you if you believe russia had advanced knowledge of this strike and if russia should be considered as complicit in this strike? >> david, i can speak for both of us on that one. it's very clear that the assad regime planned it, orchestrated it and executed it. beyond that, we can't say right now. we know what i just told you. we don't know anything beyond that. >> in this room on friday, it was said at the time of the attack that a drone with sighted over that building and they weren't sure whether it was a russian or senior drone. has it been determined yet whether that drone was russian or syrian? >>. >> i don't know.
i will tell you that we have gone back through and looked at all of the evidence we can and it is very clear who planned this attack, who authorized this attack and who conducted this attack itself. that we do know with no doubt whatsoever. >> mr. secretary, why -- can you help us understand why the death of innocent men, women and children from chemical weapon warrants a u.s. military response but the deaths of far more men, women and children in syria from conventional weapons, barrel bombs, has not warranted a military response? >> i think what we have to look at here, jamie, is a policy decision by the united states. there is a limit, i think, to what we can do and when you look
at what happened with this chemical attack, we knew that we could not stand passive on this. but it was not a statement that we could enter full fledged, full bore in the most complex civil war probably raging on the planet at this time. so the intent was to stop the cycle of violence into an area that even in world war ii, chemical weapons were not used in battlefields. even in the korean war, they were not used on battlefields. since world war i, there's been an international convention on this. and to stand idly by when that convention is violated, that's what we had to take action on urgently in our own vital interests. yeah, go ahead. >> general and mr. secretary, for both of you, you were
expecting a new counter-isil plan this spring. did us this delay that in any way and what are your thoughts on finding a way for an end point for both the isis war and what should happen in syria with regard to the military campaign and a general campaign that you've been asking for. >> well, the counter-isil plan has been put in skeletal form. it's being fleshed out now. it's got to be done in a methodical way where we look at each element of it. a couple weeks ago, secretary tillerson had 60, 68 nations in town with his counterparts, the fellow foreign ministers. and they are working on the stabilization efforts in syria. this is not the united states working alone. very, very complex security situation. and it's one that we're going to have to address in a methodical matter and it's not something that you can simply add water to
a dehydrated plant and it's a full-fledged plant. this is hard work and it's going to take time. >> i would just add on the part of the question directed to me here, i think the campaign plan remains where we thought it would be at this particular point. we're engaged in a very difficult fighting in both mosul and around the iraq area which is where we expected to be at this time and we anticipated the fighting would be difficult at this particular part and i think that's what we're seeing. again, we certainly won't put a timeline on this. it will ultimately prove us to be wrong. but i think this is proceeding about the way we expected it would at this point. >> go azed mmr. secretary, the striker has been directed to the sea of japan. has tension ratcheted up just recently in the past few days and can you explain why what has changed in the last several days
or weeks? and general votel, secretary mattis mentioned that assad has used chemical weapons over the last several years. what chemicals have you seen? are >> well, i can answer the question. i asked him about my answer, if you wish, right? of course, we've seen chlorine. it's been documented by independent medical authorities. they have been using chemical weapons, so you're correct. that's what we're looking at. >> anything more specific than that? >> no other nuclear -- no other nerve agents that you've seen since other than the chlorine in the last several years besides this one attack last week. >> >> i believe you're correct, but this time it was not chlorine quite clearly and we know that for certain. there's no doubt. this is a medical fact. as for as the movement of the "vinson," she's station there had in the western pacific for a reason. she operates freely up and down
the pacific, and she's just on her way up there because that's where we thought it was most prudent to have her at this time. there's not a specific demand signal or specific reason why we're sending her up there. >> it's just unusual for us to know about a ship movement in advance. that is sort of what got everyone's attention. so why was that? why was it put out in advance? was it just to signal to north korea that there would be a show of presence there? >> i believe it's because she was originally headed in one direction for an exercise, and we cancelled our role in that exercise, and that's what became public, so we had to explain why she wasn't in that exercise. >> thank you, secretary mattis. i wanted to ask you about the status of the deconfliction line. when was the last time you talked to the russians on it, and what has the absence meant for u.s. pilots and coalition pilots? are they in a more defensive posture at present? >> so, yeah. let me address that. i'm not going to discuss the
deconfliction line in any particular detail, but would i emphasize, too, i remain very confident that we are continuing to operate in a very safe and effective manner. deconfliction line has been very useful for us in the past as a venue for professional airmen-to-air men exchange, and it was useful for us on the night of the strike, both in our prenotifications to the russians and the immediate communication that we had afterwards. >> are we not talking about the deconfliction line because it's not being used at present? >> no. that's not what i'm saying. >> no. the operation goes on. it's well deconflicted. the operations are going quite safely. >> secretary mattis, you're a student of history and strategy. you've talked about red lines and the president has talked about red lines. the russians have talked about red lines. at what point is there a danger therefore spiraling out of control and the conflict between two nuclear-powered countries? >> i don't believe i've talked
about red lines. i generally shy away from it myself. i recommend assad be rather caution about violating international law with chemical weapons. i suppose that could be considered a red line so i won't argue the point. it will not spiral out of control r.as you know, secretary of state tillerson is in moscow. we maintain communications with the russian military and with the diplomatic channels. it will not spiral out of control. >> what gives you that assurance? i mean, the russians have been very clear in their rhetoric? i'll take your point that you've not said the word red line. the russians have. they have said in another response like the one you launched on april 6thth would be a red line for them. how are you so confident that this isn't going to spiral out of control? >> well, i'm confident the russians will act in their own best interest and there's nothing in their best interest say they want this operation to go out of control. >> yes, ma'am. >> as you consider the u.s.
force posture after isis is defeated in mosul and raqqa, are you contemplating maintaining u.s. bases or a u.s. base in iraqi kurdistan so as to be able to check any further resurgence of an isis-like group? >> the short answer is we are in consultations with the iraqi government about what -- what the stabilization phase looks like. there have been no decisions. there have been no offers made. either way we near consultation and we're talking about what the tactical situation will probably look like. as can you tell, some that have would be assumptions right now since we have an active enemy still in the euphrates river valley, in talafar and the ongoing fight in wes mosul so it would be premature to come to conclusions about that or even enter into the specifics about it now until we actually have this enemy on the run out of
there, but we would be willing to engage with -- with the iraq government on how this should look in the future. yes, go ahead. >> has the white house given the military authority to preemptively strike at syria if in fact you had knowledge of a looming chemical attack and then i had a north korea question. >> no. >> but you've not been given authority to preemptively strike if you know in vans of a syrian strike. >> no, we have not. yes. >> thank you, mr. secretary. >> does the u.s. view chlorine -- barrel bombs filled with chlorine now as a chemical weapon, and a second question, if i may. going back to north korea, are there any feasible or straightforward military actions that the u.s. could take that wouldn't immediately spiral into a broader regional conflict? >> yeah. i don't want to speculate about north korea military actions.
we owe some confidentiality as we discussioned with our allies, this situation that we face up there, but as far as barrel bombs with chlorine. i mean, chemical weapons are chemical weapons, so that is the issue if you're talking about the strike we took. it's not about whether it's delivered with an artillery shell or it's delivered by a helicopter with a barrel bomb or a fighter aircraft with a bomb. it's about chemical weapons, and we've made clear where we stand on that. president trump has made it exceedingly clear where the united states stands on that sort of malfeasance. >> you guys got a lot of questions here today. my gosh, young laid, you've been very patient the whole time. >> thank you, mr. secretary. i was hoping you can clarify something in your statement yesterday. you said the cruise missile strikes took out 20% of syria's operational aircraft. there was some confusion over that statement. can you clarify and explain how
much of a blow it was to syria's overall capability, and general, we're in the process of isolating raqqa right now. does the coalition and our partnered forces there have what they need to begin the offenses on raqqa, and what more resources do they need? >> yeah. the syrian air force is not in good shape. it's been worn down by years of combat plus significant maintenance problems. we thought it was -- i thought it was about 20%. i think it's around 20 aircraft were taken out which probably equates to about that, although i probably shouldn't have used the 20%. we're trying to provide information as it comes in, and this is one of the challenges of trying to get it accurate but get it out as quickly as we can actually give you some fidelity. but it's around 20 aircraft, and that damage to the syrian air force is pretty severe, as can you tell. >> you know, with respect to what's going on in raqqa, i think we have the capabilities
we need to do what we're doing right now which is the isolation of raqqa, and i think we're seeing that play out every day right now as our partners on the ground very effectively isolate this particular area as we move forward. obviously the secretary and i and others are in consultation on what the additional resources we'll need, and i'll just leave it at that. we're talking about what needs. >> the. >> mr. secretary, i just want to clarify something you said earlier because it's an important point. is it your contention it's a chemical weapons if it's a barrel bomb holing chlorine, only that filled with a chemical weapon, that it's the use of a nerve agent that you're making. i want to make sure i understand the point you were making earlier. >> right. i just want to say very clearly that the use of chemical weapons
contrary to the geneva convention that syria signed up for, using chemical weapons that syria agreed under u.n. pressure to remove from their arsenal, the chemical weapons that the russians certified were gone, that if they use chemical weapons, they are going to pay a very, very stiff price. okay. hey, thanks very much, ladies and gentlemen. appreciate your time here, and i guess waiting this afternoon to talk. thank you very much. >> thank you, mr. secretary. >> welcome to "the lead." i'm jake tapper. there is, quote, no doubt that syrian dictator bashar al assad gassed his own people, according to u.s. defense secretary james mattis just moments ago as you heard in that press briefing. secretary mattis also said that despite the military strike president trump ordered in syria last week, the u.s. priorities for the region, for syria, has not changed. the president is still focused on, quote, breaking isis as
opposed to trying to force out assad. with us today right now to discuss all of this, senior white house correspondent jeff zeleny and others. let me start with jeff. jeff, the white house this afternoon trying to link russia to last week's chemical attack in syria. how strong is that link? what are they saying? >> well, jake, the white house is saying that they believe that russia was at least complicit in covering up chemical weapons that existed in syria. they stopped just short that russia knew about this advance, that they knew about this attack that was going happen a week ago today, but they do say that russia is complicit in covering up for the regime of bashar al assad, so, you know, those are very harsh words there, but we also heard from the defense secretary, jake, right there, in his first on-camera briefing since the strikes last week that syria planned, it orchestrated it and expected it, but he said we do not know beyond that if russia