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CNN "CNN Newsroom" - Transcript - Syria's Use of Sarin Gas


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DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And you just heard from John McCain. That's exactly what it's doing, and, in fact, he's saying, I told you so. Now let's get on it. Let's figure out a way to stop this.

But one thing I want to tell you that also happened in the hallway just around the time that Senator McCain was talking is former Senator John Kerry, now the Secretary of State, was going through the hallway of the Capitol and we asked him, myself and other reporters, about these reports, and he said there will be a letter coming to answer the senators that will confirm two instances.

Wolf, that's new. That is not in this letter here which is the one that John McCain received. We went through it a couple of times. It does not say anything about two instances.

So we're trying to find out if there's an additional letter coming because this is, of course, another fact, two instances. Where were they? How do they know that? We want to get to the bottom of that because that was certainly news to us.

Back on the whole issue of John McCain, Lindsey Graham and others, John McCain also made the point of saying just as you said, Wolf, that there's no need for boots on the ground. But the need, he said and this is proof, just even this intelligence, even though it's not completely confirmed, that they need to have some kind of, in his words, "operational capability" to secure these chemical weapons, not just, of course, assist those who are trying to overthrow the Assad regime and so forth, that the first and foremost goal of the United States right now needs to be to deal with these chemical weapons.

Of course, as he said, just in case -- to make sure, I should say, that they don't get in the hands of other terrorist groups.

BLITZER: Dana, stand by. Senator McCain is joining us on the phone right now.

Senator McCain, thanks very much. When you got this letter from the White House, what was your immediate reaction?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA (via telephone): Well, my immediate reaction was that I was pleased that the president corroborated evidence that the Israelis, the French and the British and others have concluded that Bashar al Assad had used chemical weapons. A little concerned that, quote, this evidence has to be quote, "corroborated." I think it's very clear that they are -- that they have used it.

And more importantly, we need to have operational capability to secure these weapons, chemical and biological weapons caches, because clearly they cannot and we should not allow them fall into the wrong hands.

BLITZER: Do you believe the regime of Bashar al Assad, Senator, has complete control over those chemical weapons stockpiles?

MCCAIN: I think they have control over them at the moment. But some of them are in heavily contested areas and could easily fall into the hands of jihadist extremists.

BLITZER: The president has said in recent weeks and months that if in fact the Syrian regime were to use chemical weapons, that would cross a red line, it would be a gamechanger. So what do you think the U.S. needs to do now?

MCCAIN: I think that we need to do what I have advocated since the beginning, since this situation over the last two years has deteriorated dramatically and threatens the stability of the entire region, and that is to provide a safe area inside Syria for the opposition to govern, to make sure that weapons supply is there, and they fall into the hands of the right people, and do what is necessary to put additional pressures on the Russians.

I don't know how much -- what good it would do with the Iranians, but certainly additional pressures on the Russians to stop their increasing supply of weapons to Bashar al Assad.

BLITZER: I don't know if you heard our Dana Bash, our chief congressional correspondent, she caught up with the former Senator now the Secretary of State John Kerry, a man you know well, who says there are apparently two incidents where he believes -- where the U.S. believes -- the Syrians did in fact use chemical weapons against the rebels. Do you have more information about these two incidents?

MCCAIN: No. We do not have -- I don't have additional information. I had heard reports from people inside Syria and the Israelis and the French and the British that they had evidence that Bashar al Assad had used those weapons.

And it should not surprise us, Wolf. This guy will do whatever is necessary in order to ensure his position of power. And by the way, it is now a stalemate and has been a stalemate, and the prospects of him being overthrown any time soon without taking out his air power and without supplying the right weapons to the right people and coordinating a government from inside Syria, it may remain in stalemate and the massacre goes on.

And finally, the King of Jordan is in town, as you know. They are about to be overwhelmed by refugees. By the end of this summer, they could have a refugee population that is half the population of Jordan. Think of what the United States would look like if we had half of our population in the form of refugees in our country.

BLITZER: I can only imagine. And I know King Abdullah is raising that issue in all of his meetings up on Capitol Hill over at the White House. The letter the White House sent you was very carefully crafted.


BLITZER: A couple nuances. They said that in the intelligence committee, they've come up with this assessment with varying degrees of confidence. I assume that means that some of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies have different assessments on how reliable this evidence is, is that right?

MCCAIN: I don't know how many of these different intelligence agencies who we have have agreed or disagreed, but I think there was that caveat in the letter, which I think is important, and I'm sorry to say may give them an out for not acting in a decisive fashion, because if they all agreed and they concluded it, then the president would have to act because he has repeatedly described it as a red line that cannot be crossed.

BLITZER: And one final question before I let you go, Senator. Do you have any specific information on the details of when they used these chemical weapons -- if in fact they did, as this letter seems to suggest -- the circumstances of the use of the sarin gas?

MCCAIN: Well, the published reports are they used it once in Aleppo and once around Damascus, but I have not had any corroboration of that, that that is indeed factual. But the Israeli intelligence, as you know, has concluded, as well as the British and the French have, that at least twice it's been used.

BLITZER: And on a totally unrelated matter, may be totally unrelated, your good friend and colleague Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, he is now suggesting that the Boston Marathon bombings, that the Obama administration has to accept a certain amount of blame for missing -- you know, missing certain signals, information for example, that the Russians presented.

I'll read to you a sentence he said, Senator. I'll get your quick reaction and then I'll let you go because I know you've to get going.

This is Senator Lindsey Graham, he said, "Boston is becoming a case study in system failure. Just look at it from a 30,000-foot point view. You have Russian intelligence services contacting two agencies without our government responsible for national security, the FBI and the CIA. They tell us, 'We believe you have a radical Islamist in your midst.'

We do interviews; we do some things that I think are pretty responsible, however, this suspected radical Islamist is able to go back to Russia and Dagestan without the FBI or the CIA being made aware of it, even though Homeland Security was."

I wonder if you want to comment on what Senator Lindsey Graham is suggesting. This is a pretty blunt indictment of the Obama administration's handling of these guys, these Tsarnaev brothers in Boston.

MCCAIN: I think Senator Graham raises very legitimate questions that require, in my view, congressional hearings. I have written a letter to Senator Carper, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, asking for hearings on this.

Why is it that he left the country, Tamerlan, and his -- and only the Homeland Security Committee knew about it? He got back in without anybody knowing about it. And why did the Russians feel it necessary to contact two different agencies of government and express their concern? And what were those concerns?

So there's a great deal that needs to be investigated. And remember, Wolf, that when we did the 9/11 Commission and restructured government, one of the major objectives was to make sure stovepiping didn't take place. In other words, agencies not sharing information with each other. In fact, it seems that stovepiping happened in this case, but we really do need to have a thorough investigation. And that's not to take away the courage and dedication of our police and FBI and all those others who did such a great job.

BLITZER: If we don't learn from our mistakes, we're bound to repeat them.

MCCAIN: Exactly.

BLITZER: All right, Senator, Senator McCain, thanks.

MCCAIN: Thanks.

BLITZER: Thank you so much, Senator John McCain joining us.


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