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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript: Syria


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CROWLEY: So let me -- I want to bring in your fellow committee member, Congressman Adam Schiff, your colleague on the intelligence committee and ask you what you think of this deal. I know that you have been certainly open to trusting the Russians to bring something usable to the table.

SCHIFF: Well, I don't know that I trust the Russians, but I think this agreement is a very positive step. And, if we step back six or nine months ago and said we'd be in a position today where Syria would sign the chemical weapons treaty where U.S. and Russia be on the same page in disarming under U.N. supervision Syria of all these chemical weapons, without a single shot being fired, we would have said this is a phenomenal breakthrough.

Now, it's been ugly getting here and trying to disarm the dictator has always been to be an ugly process. But look, if your goal is to use military force to decide the outcome on the battlefield and you don't mind risking and tangling us in the civil war, it's a bad deal. But if your goal is to make sure these chemical weapons are never use again, if your goal is to make sure that when the regime falls that in that chaos, these weapons don't get in the hands of Hezbollah or al Qaeda. This is about as good a deal you can get. Now, it's going to be tough. The timetable is aggressive. We can certainly expect the regime to delay and obfuscate. So, it's going to be hard. But this is, I think, the best pathway we've seen in the last couple of years.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you a two-part question. First to you, Mr. Chairman, and that is we have constant reports of Assad since this all began and since the Russians and U.S. got together for some sort of agreement. Assad's been moving his chemical weapons around from post to post. Is that true? And what does it tell you about their intentions?

ROGERS: Well, one of the things that the Russians wanted was breathing space. And this has never been about anybody. I don't believe the president wanted to get entangled into a military mess in Syria. But by having a credible military threat, it gives you leverage in negotiations. I think that's a very important distinction.

And again, if chemical weapons are it, then this is a great day and everyone should high five. Even though there's no agreement. It's a framework very different, has to go to the U.N. That's not what we have here. So, clearly, they're going to take advantage, not only Russia is going to take advantage of this and we believe that they are, so is Hezbollah and so is Iran which is part of the whole problem that we have in Syria.

We have to have a broader approach. The chemical weapons is a good thing and I believe it was in our national security interests to secure them. That's great. We also have very sophisticated conventional weapons. So, if we wanted a transition with Assad, we just fired our last round and we have taken our ability to negotiate a settlement from the White House and we've sent it with Russia to the United Nations. That's a dangerous place for us to be if you want an overall settlement to the problems --

CROWLEY: If you agree with the congressman and you said that you thought that the threat of the use of force certainly brought everyone to the table. And you believe that this agreement without the threat of the use of force, you know, leaves open the chances it might not be followed. So, why not have the president come back to Congress and say I need you to vote so I can continue to have the threat of the use of force?

SCHIFF: Well, that would make sense if you were confident of the vote. And as the president said the other day, I don't think he can be confident of the vote. Right now, the Russians take that threat credibly and serious. So, I think we should leave them with that idea and I don't think we should undermine the negotiators who are sitting at our side (ph) of the table.

But look, you know, people have been saying that Putin is this master chess player and describing all kinds of missions to our adversaries. I think Putin is more like a lawyer who's lost control of his client. That should have told Assad some time ago, look, you have the military edge on the battlefield now. Don't screw it up by doing something stupid. And what happened here was I think Russia lost control of its client. As much interest now in working with the United States to try to make this framework work, to try to, you know, save the client from itself. So, I don't think that we have this master strategist thinking five moves ahead. If they fought five moves ahead, they never would have gotten to the point where Syria was dragging us into this conflict.

CROWLEY: Congressman Schiff, I want you to hold on a minute. Congressman Rogers, I'm going to give you a chance to respond of that because I know you will. So, stay with us, because when we return, we'll be joined by two of your House colleagues, one is a strong ally of the president who is skittish about Syrian intervention, the other, a pierce opponent of President Obama. Stay with us.


CROWLEY: Washington faces two of its own, averting a government shutdown before October 1st and increasing the debt limit a few weeks later. Jump ball (ph) when we return.


BOEHNER: We have a spending problem. It must be addressed, period.



CROWLEY: I'm back with Congressman Mike Rogers and Adam Schiff. Joining our conversation, Congressman Jason Chaffetz. He is a Republican from Utah and Congressman Elijah Cummings, Democrat from Maryland. Chaffetz, sorry.

I want to bring you two in, but I promised Congressman Rogers a reply here.

ROGERS: I do think Putin's playing chess and we're playing tic- tac-toe. Think about where he is and what he wanted out of Syria. He got everything he wanted, including taking away the president's advantage of a guaranteed or at least a credible military strike. That happened. It happened this week. It happened with a framework of which we don't really know the conclusion of it.

And think about who Putin is. He has more intelligence officers in the United States today than at the height of the cold war. This is a guy that did a crippling cyberattack on the country of Estonia, invaded South Ossetia, the country of Georgia, preempted by a cyberattack, is not living up to its nuclear treaty obligations. Many believe, according to public report, he's not living up to his chemical convention obligations.

And this is the guy that we put in charge in helping us get out of a sticky wicket here at home politically to manage the fight in Syria. He wanted Assad there. He gets to keep his warm water port. He gets to keep his military contracts. And, he gives breathing space to both Hezbollah, which is fighting up half of Assad and Assad and he creates a problem for us with al Qaeda operating in the east. This was a big win for him.

CROWLEY: I'm going to ask you all to respond to that in this way. When you look at this deal, it is true, Congressman Cummings, that we are now sort of relying on a man that President Obama said two years ago, you know, ought to be out and not running Syria. And then the Russian president who last month he wouldn't have a one-on-one with because he's keeping Edward Snowden, the NSA spy.

So, we weren't talking too much, you know, a month ago and a guy we want out of office seems like pretty tenuous place to put your hopes that chemical weapons will be --

CUMMINGS: Yes. I'm cautiously optimistic about this deal, Candy. But let's not be distracted. Just a week ago, we were in a situation where we had Russia and Syria saying, not even admitting to date, they had the weapons. And now, we are sitting down at the table very aggressive agenda, sitting down at that table trying to resolve this issue without a bullet being fired.

That's very significant. So, I want us to -- keep in mind when they came into this deal, folks were talking about a month, a month to give the inventory of chemical weapons. That tells me something. Something is happening over there. Now, everything that my -- that the chairman said I understand.

But at this point right now, I think that we're in a situation where we can again, get these chemical weapons out of his hands. We'll know what they are. Get them destroyed, and then, perhaps, we can begin to deal with some other things like this civil war.

But I think -- and by the way, a lot of people don't give the president credit. He made two decisions that were major. One, he decided to go with force.


CUMMINGS: And, two, he decided that enter into this diplomatic negotiations.

CROWLEY: On the other hand, there are those that made him look like he didn't have a foreign policy.

CHAFFETZ: Well, I think history will show that Syria didn't just sneak up on us three weeks ago. This goes back two years and the failing of the president and then Secretary Clinton failed to deal with this. We knew they had the large caches of chemical weapons. And where we are today, look, I want to make that they're never, ever used again, but we have over 100,000 people that are dead, over a million people in camps.

CROWLEY: This is not going to solve the Syrian civil war. That will go on.

CHAFFETZ: It doesn't solve the problem.

CROWLEY: Which wasn't the point, actually of -- and I want to sort this up (ph) and get you all to sort of jump in when you want. When -- how long is everyone willing to wait to see if Damascus is serious? Does he get until -- does Assad get until mid-next year, though?

SCHIFF: I think we're going to get a really good indication even within a week or two when the Assad regime has to declare what kind of stockpiles they have. And as early as November, those inspectors are supposed to be on the ground. So, I don't think it will take too long. If I can make one other point though, I think it's dangerous to overestimate both the incompetence, and sometimes, the competence of our adversaries if we were drawn in to this conflict. If we start with military strikes and we're arming the rebels and we're drawn into the civil war, the same folks that are calling Putin such a genius now will call Putin a genius for drawing us into Russia and drawing us into another conflict we don't want to be a part of, weakening us. So, I think that's a mistake.

CROWLEY: What happens as far as you're concerned, three weeks -- you know, Assad is not serious. He's not going to do it. Then what? Are you going to let it sit in the seat at the U.N.?

CUMMINGS: If president goes to the U.N., but he's already said that even if he can't get a force resolution out of the U.N. that is a strike, that he still holds that option open. And, you know, I just believe that it is what the president has done so far I think has been right on course.

And keep in mind, keep in mind, our constituents didn't want a strike. Members of Congress oh, they were so happy when they found out this deal was on the table. They didn't have to vote. But then, when the president does something, he is the one person that made a decision.

CROWLEY: In the end though, does this -- let's say we find out Syria is not serious. Is the president's hand then strengthened to come back to Congress and say I got to strike now or does he even have to come back to Congress?

ROGERS: I think the war powers act gives him the ability to act. I will tell you, however, I think his hand would have been strengthened significantly if Congress would have given him the authority to -- for a surgical strike to degrade their chemical weapons use and he look like a commander in chief.

All of that confusion allowed Putin to step in and fill the void. I think that's a problem. And here's the problem here --


ROGERS: But here's the problem here.

CROWLEY: -- were Democrats, right?

ROGERS: This was a bipartisan failing. But it was also a lack of credibility that the president couldn't present the national security case.


SCHIFF: I have to say one thing, Candy, and that is that, this agreement, as tough as it is, holds the promise of taking these weapons off the market. And now, if we went with a military strike, that might have deterred and degraded his ability to use them again, but wouldn't prevent those weapons from falling into the hands of al Qaeda, al Nusra, and others when that regime falls.

This agreement may do it. Now, it may not. It may fall flat on its face. But, this is the only thing we've seen thus far that has the potential of being our core national security interests and that is taking those weapons off the battlefield.


ROGERS: Chemical weapons are important to remove from the battlefield, absolutely agreed. They fire well over 100 scud missiles at civilians. So, we needed it to step up. We needed, I think, that credible threat authorized by Congress not so he could take a strike, but so, he can lead the negotiation.

Right now, we are being led by the nose by Putin through this horrible (INAUDIBLE) we call the United Nations. That stops us from the higher national security interest, which is chemical weapons, yes, also, conventional weapon sophistication that is dangerous if it falls into the hands of al Qaeda and Hezbollah.

CROWLEY: Congressman Chaffetz, you were trying to get in here.

CHAFFETZ: I do buy into the idea that if President Putin's credibility is largely on the line, there has to be a ceasefire sooner rather than later in order to get those inspectors in. So, we're going to know fairly quickly. I don't know how many days or weeks that is, but it can't go on. It has to happen immediately.

CUMMINGS: I think we'll have a pretty good idea of where we're going this week. And Candy, this is going to be a step-by-step situation. I think they have deadlines to meet. Strict deadlines.

CROWLEY: Next week.

CUMMINGS: And then -- next week. So, I think we'll begin --

CROWLEY: But then someone comes in-- sorry -- it wasn't enough. We'll be ready (ph) in three days.


SCHIFF: I think we have to expect what's going to happen. There are going to be delays. But when you look at how these inspections have worked in the past, even with Saddam Hussein was obscuring, delaying, obstructing, nonetheless, those inspections were largely successful. This is going to be a long, hard road, but it's the most promising road we found yet. And I think for one other reason, and that is, this does hold the potential of leading us to a broader talk, to bring this to a negotiated end. And that, I think, is a window of opportunity we may to see --

CROWLEY: I have to stop it here, but i need a yes or no off of what Congressman Cummings just said, which is no delays, not one day, not two days, not three days, no delay. Everybody agree with Syria?

SCHIFF: I think we've already had one too many red line. I'm not going to draw one here. (LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Congressman.

ROGERS: I think you have to have an enforcement mechanism, somebody standing behind a diplomat, maybe the fifth fleet would work, to enforce their ability to get to a settlement.

CROWLEY: Congressman Mike Rogers, Adam Schiff, Jason Chaffetz, and Elijah Cummings, thank you all so much for being here.


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