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Metro Station Explosion in Russia; Trump's Week of Diplomacy; U.S. on North Korea Threat. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired April 3, 2017 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:30:30] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We are following breaking news for you right now. CNN has learned that there are fatalities after an explosion at a metro train station in St. Petersburg, Russia. Here is the first cell phone video that we have for you.

CNN's Matthew Chance is live in Moscow with the breaking details.

What have you learned, Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, a few details trickling down to us now, Alisyn, and none of it, unfortunately, is good news. We're learning that at least ten people, according to Russian state media, have been confirmed as dead as a result of this blast, this explosion that's taken place in a metro station in the center of St. Petersburg, Russia's second biggest city, its cultural capital. It took place, you know, we don't know when, but within the past hour or so this blast. Investigators are on the scene. Emergency workers are there.

There's video that's emerged and still photographs, painting an absolutely dreadful picture of the scene on the platform outside this Sennaya Square (ph) where the train doors have been blown off. There are casualties on the ground. You can see signs of blood being splattered -- having been splattered on the walls.

And the situation is still developing quickly because Russian prosecutors in the city of St. Petersburg are now saying they're investigating reports of a second blast in a neighboring metro station, the next stop along the line. There have been some confusing reports about this over the past few minutes as we've been getting developments but they're now investigating the possibility of a second blast on the next stop along. And so this is something that is still developing.

We know that at least seven metro stations at this point in St. Petersburg, which has a busy metro system, have been closed down and evacuated as a result of this incident. But we're going to get more information hopefully in the minutes and in the hours ahead. We're going to keep on trying to get some more information on that.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Matthew, thank you very much. Metros in Russia and elsewhere, areas of known vulnerability.

Let's bring in former deputy secretary of state and former deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken and CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank.

We know that here, we know it abroad, Paul, that when you get into the subways, you get places that are ripe to being targeted. Is this something that is an acute awareness in Russia?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: A lot of awareness of this in Russia that they know they're under threat. Both ISIS and al Qaeda have made clear that Russia is basically their number one enemy, even higher enemy now than the United States because of all those Russian air strikes in Syria. As Vladimir Putin himself has said up to 7,000 Russian nationals, nationals from former Soviet bloc countries, have traveled to Syria and Iraq, joined groups like ISIS and the concern is they're coming back now into Russia to launch attacks. And these fires that have come, especially from the Russian caucuses, are believed to be some of the most effective, fiercest fighters within ISIS.

There's been a string of plots in Russia over the last couple of years, notably in November 2016 a major ambitious plan to carry out a Paris style attack in St. Petersburg and Moscow, which was thwarted by Russian authorities.

But they've been on high alert. They've known this is coming and as you say impossible really to protect against bombs getting onto subway cars. That seems to be what's happened here, if you look at the images. Those subway cars you can see that terrible damage the loss of life there.

CAMEROTA: Tony, what do you see here?

TONY BLINKEN, FMR. DEP. NATL. SECURITY ADVISER: Well, look, the images are horrific and our hearts go out to the people who have been injured, their families, but -- and we also don't want to jump to conclusions. But I think Paul is right, we, of course, had a series of terrorist attacks in Russia over the last couple of decades coming out of Chechnya , Dagestan, places where there have been separatist movements. What's happening now though is Russia in Syria, as Paul said, is alive with Assad, with Iran, with Hezbollah and is responsible for horrific violence against Sunni Muslims predominantly in Syria. Russia's population, about 15 percent Muslim, is mostly Sunnis. So this may well be blowback, including from people who were veterans of the war against Assad in Syria coming back now to Russia.

CUOMO: Putin is supposedly addressing the country right now. They're investigating. We'll see what information he puts out. But to Tony's point, Paul, the idea of, what is the unique dynamic? Why St. Petersburg, the second city there in Russia? An interesting population there in the northwestern part of the country. They'll put it at about 7.5 million, but about 2.5 million according to their own estimates are transients, are noncitizens. What is the dynamic there? What could be unique in this situation?

[08:35:07] CRUICKSHANK: Well, whoever is behind this, this does seem to be a coordinated terror attack, will want to exert a cost for this Russian intervention in Syria, if that is indeed the motive here. But this --

CUOMO: But are there homegrowns? You know in terms of the list of concerns --

CRUICKSHANK: Well, that's -- yes.

CUOMO: You know, do you have political protest on the list? Do you have the caucuses as you said? You know, do you have your own internal strife that may also wind up being at the top of the threat assessment list here?

CRUICKSHANK: I think they'll be looking at jihadi terrorism given what we've seen sort of take place. Most of the plots we've seen in Russia the last couple of years have actually been ISIS inspired plots. They haven't been plots by people who have come back with skills from Syria yet, but they have known that this is a real potential problem coming down the pipeline, that all those thousands of foreign fighters that have come from Russia to Syria and Iraq may come back and ignite a new wave of terrorism in the country. A lot of concern about those fighters particularly from the caucuses. Remember, it was fighters from the Russian caucuses that were behind the Istanbul airport bombings in June of last year. Really a huge threat to Russia right now.

CAMEROTA: So, Tony, obviously I mean just looking at this video brings up all the raw memories for us here in the U.S. of attacks. Obviously London, Brussels, Paris. I mean we could go on. And it feels as though -- you know when you see these things, it feels as though it's everywhere, you know, that this threat is everywhere. But as our law enforcement has told us a million times, they only have to be right once. You know one guy in St. Petersburg has to be right once and all of our law -- international law enforcement efforts have to be right every day.

BLINKEN: Well, two things. If this is in fact the Islamic state in one fashion or another, people coming back from Syria, it puts a premium on finishing the job, and there is real momentum in that effort in Iraq, as well as in Syria. But it also puts a premium on doing something effectively about the Syrian civil war. As long as that goes on, as long as Assad is there, it will remain a magnet for extremists, including from Chechnya and Dagestan.

One other interesting element, President Putin was scheduled to be in St. Petersburg today to meet with the Belarusian president, Lukashenko. Now normally these kinds of attacks take some planning and some time, but it's possible at least that they're trying to send a message directly to President Putin who was supposed to be in St. Petersburg as we speak.

CAMEROTA: All right, gentlemen, thank you very much for all of the reporting and insight. We, of course, will stay on this breaking news of this now deadly bombing in St. Petersburg, Russia, throughout the program. CUOMO: All right, but first, President Trump taking some hits over

health care and immigration. A rocky start in these first 70 or so days. How does he overcome it? This week could be a big part of that answer. Our panel weighs in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:41:43] CUOMO: All right, we are staying on top of breaking news. At least ten people are dead in an explosion at a metro station in St. Petersburg, Russia. What we know so far is thin. You're looking at some cell phone videos. The air filled with smoke. When you see pictures of the subway cars, it seems pretty clear that something blew the doors open. There are a lot of photos we're not showing you of victims. We're going to stay on top of this story. We'll bring you the latest. There's certainly been casualties. There have been deceased as well.

CAMEROTA: All right, this makes President Trump's week all the more important. He's going to have a lot of high stakes diplomatic meetings. How will he handle this week and what about the tweet that he's already sent out this morning about some distractions?

We have a panel here. Former George W. Bush political director and chairman of the American Conservative Union Matt Schlapp is with us, CNN political commentator Ana Navarro, and CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist and senior advisor for Priorities USA Action Paul Begala.

Nice to have all of you. Obviously, we weren't expecting all this breaking news out of what's happening with St. Petersburg. We'll keep an eye on that.

But, Ana, of course, it just calls into stark attention the world is a complicated and dangerous place and this week President Trump is going to be addressing a lot of it. I'll pull up the schedule. Today he's meeting with Egyptian President El Sisi, Wednesday he has King Abdullah of Jordan and then, of course, Thursday Chinese President Xi. Thursday and Friday we should say. What do you think is going to come out of these meetings, Ana?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, it's hard to say what is going to come out of the meetings, right. But we see that the international community is flocking to the United States to meet with President Trump. I think a lot of them, frankly, to learn about him because he's a new protagonist on the stage, on the world stage. People don't know much about him or what his real base of knowledge or policies are.

But I think what we're seeing today, whether it's the national disaster happening in Colombia, or the explosions happening -- the deadly explosions happening in Russia reminds us all that countries need real leaders. Countries need leaders who at times of crisis can step up and be presidential and be unifying and be the consoler in chief for the country. And I think President Trump really needs to work on that. It's important that all of us have a president that we think we can trust and believe in a time of national crisis. CAMEROTA: Paul, obviously Democrats do not think, many of them, that

he is equipped to deal with this level of things but what he says and what the White House says is it's time to shake things up and he's going to do things in a more unpredictable manner and maybe that's good on the world stage.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's not just Democrats. If you look at the polling, independents -- his favorability among independents is in the 30s. This with an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent. Not 10 percent like Barack Obama, who, by the way, was much higher in the polls with 10 percent unemployment than Trump is with 4.7 percent.

But to pick up on Ana said first. My heart goes out to people in St. Petersburg. That's just a terrible tragedy. This president, thank God, in his 70 or so days, has not really had any massive external -- thank God there hasn't been an earthquake. There are these terrible fires in the Midwest, that are killing ranchers in Kansas and some of the neighboring states, and I do hope our government does more to help those guys.

But in the main we have, thank God, not yet in these first weeks of the Trump presidency, had a crisis and yet he seems unequipped to handle the day-to-day stress without cracking. And so -- look, I want my president to succeed, I really do, I'm not Rush Limbaugh with Obama, but he doesn't even handle the day-to-day well and I tremble when I think what's going to happen when we have a real crisis.

[08:45:16] CAMEROTA: Matt, what do you think is going to happen this week?

MATT SCHLAPP, FMR. GEORGE W. BUSH POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I think the big meetings are the meetings with the Chinese leader. I think we have massive problems obviously with North Korea on the Korean peninsula, but also we have these major economic questions and so much of the economic questions with China kind of morphed into questions of national security. But I think what you're going to see from the president is doing what he's done in all these areas. I think he's going to do what he said he was going to do. And I think he's going to hold China to a tough line. China has taken advantage of the American worker in countless ways and I think Donald Trump is going to make it very clear that that day is over.

CAMEROTA: And what does that mean, Matt? Because what leverage does he have against China?

SCHLAPP: Oh, lots of leverage against China in terms of our -- you know, I'll give you one example. You know, currency manipulation. China is a known currency manipulator as -- as are other Asian countries and I think he's going to make it very clear that, you know, he's not just going to rubber stamp these questions. I think also on the question -- I think all types of ways in which our countries deal with each other economically through trade relationships, I think as well.

CAMEROTA: Yes. SCHLAPP: I think he's going to make it very clear that he wants reciprocity. He wants fairness.

CAMEROTA: OK.

SCHLAPP: And so I think, look, I think it's a critical meeting. And I think the Chinese are realists and I think they're going to be listening.

CAMEROTA: Ana, how is that going to go?

NAVARRO: Look, I think it's going to be -- it could -- it could be, it's got the potential of being a fairly good week for Donald Trump. He's going to be standing next -- you know, shoulder to shoulder with some major world leaders. He's also probably going to get his Supreme Court justice nominee out of committee and, you know, and get a -- going to get a vote. Neil Gorsuch is going to be confirmed. The only question is how much pain will it be? Will it be a little pain or will it be extremely nuclear type pain.

Now, if Donald Trump can only resist the urge to tweet stupid things and get into fights with little people, big people, world leaders and domestic partners, you know, department stores, plays, anchors, if he can only resist that urge and maybe be disciplined for seven days, he might have a good week coming off of a terrible week where, you know, his folks are getting investigated for ties to Russia --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

NAVARRO: Where he had a horrible defeat on health care, where he's fighting with everybody, Democrats, Republicans and everything in between. So, you know, maybe if he can be disciplined and stick to message and stick to what they put in front of him, sign the executive orders instead of fleeing the room like a cat who just saw a big dog, maybe, maybe, maybe he can have a good week.

CAMEROTA: Paul, Ana, Matt, thank you. We'll leave it on that note. Thank you very much.

CUOMO: All right, we are staying on top of breaking news, at least ten dead after an explosion at a Russia metro station in St. Petersburg. Russia's president was scheduled to be there for a meeting today. Does that play into motive? We have the latest from Russia, next.

CAMEROTA: Also, President Trump says he's willing to go it alone on North Korea if China will not help. One of the men behind the interview that's grabbing all the headline this morning is going to join us for more context. That's "The Bottom Line, next."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:51:04] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CAMEROTA: We do have breaking news for you. A senior Russian official now calling the explosion at that metro station in St. Petersburg, Russia, a terror attack. Russian President Vladimir Putin talking with security services as they begin the investigation.

You can see the chaos here in the aftermath of the cell phone video of this explosion. It killed at least ten people. It happened in a subway car. Russian media is reporting at least 30 others are injured. President Putin expressing his condolences to the victims of the explosion. We, of course, are staying on top of this very fast developing story. We will bring all of them to you as soon as we get them.

CUOMO: President Trump has yet to weigh in on this attack in Russia, but he is making waves this morning. He's saying he's going to go it alone on North Korea if China does not help. That came as part of an interview with "The Financial Times." How is this going to change Trump's meeting with the Chinese president?

Let's get to "The Bottom Line" with one of the three reporters who interviewed Mr. Trump, Dimetri Sevastopulo.

It's good to have you with us, Dimitri. Let's talk about this instant case, though. You know, part of the context of your interview with our president was about how he's going to deal with international relations and now we have Russia very much in the news here, we have a terror attack. This all feeds in to how you lead and now a new challenge for our president.

DEMETRI SEVASTOPULO, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, FINANCIAL TIMES: It does. And this week is going to be a very important week. He sits down with the Egyptian president, Sisi, today. He meets the king of Jordan. And then at the end of the week he has a two-day summit at Mar-a-Lago with Chinese President Xi Jinping. And I think the meeting with the Chinese leader is the most important. The America/China relationship is arguably the most important bilateral relationship in the world. And there are many areas where they disagree and there are areas where they want to cooperate but they haven't managed to do so, so far. And one of those is North Korea, and that's what we were asking President Trump about.

CAMEROTA: We have a little -- basically the headline of what President Trump told you that's gotten a lot of attention. He said, "well, if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you." How did you interpret that?

SEVASTOPULO: Well, the U.S. essentially needs China to put pressure on North Korea because China supplies food and fuel to the regime in Pyongyang. If China is not willing to turn the screws on a little bit more, then the U.S. has to start thinking about other alternatives because U.S. intelligence believes that by the end of the first term of Donald Trump, North Korea will be able to hit America with a nuclear armed long range missile. That's a change that America has to deal with.

Now, the Chinese are reluctant to put too much pressure on North Korea because they don't want refugees pouring across their border and they're also worried that you would end up with unification of the two Koreas on the Korean peninsula and the prospect of American troops, which who -- who are right now in South Korea moving up closer to the Chinese border. So I think ultimately to be able to solve the North Korea crisis, many people say you need a kind of a grand bargain, some way you can get everyone to sign up to something and then China will be willing to put on more pressure. But without that it's hard to see how China will take very, very tough action.

CUOMO: Demetri, let me ask you something. Part of the discussion that you had with the president came down to leverage and you were trying to get his sense of what he thinks he can do with China. There's, you know, a reason why they've been somewhat intransigent when it comes to North Korea. They have 7 billion in trade. They have a very extensive physical and cultural connection with North Korea. What did you make of his responses?

SEVASTOPULO: Well, he essentially said that everything boiled down to trade and that that was the kind of stick that he would use to entice the Chinese to do more on North Korea. But the trade relationship is very complicated and I -- an interesting thing is, you know, we know that some of his officials want to equalize tariffs between the two countries. They say that the U.S. has much lower tariffs on products than the Chinese apply. So we asked him whether he was going to try and do something about that and he said that's not going to come up in the meeting this week with Xi Jinping, that that might come up in the future. So it seems that he's going to try and use some of this leverage that he has. But, you know, the Chinese have a lot of leverage, too. They own a huge amount of U.S. Treasury bonds. So it's not a one-way street here.

[08:55:20] CAMEROTA: And did you, Demetri, get the impression that he had his arms around the complexities of all of these things. You know his critics sometimes think that he is not up to the task of dealing with international diplomacy. What was your impression in the room?

SEVASTOPULO: I think it's very difficult to know whether he does. You know, he -- when you ask him for details, he says, I'm not going to telegraph what I'm going to do because that's what Obama did, that's what George W. Bush did. That's not a smart way to negotiate. So without seeing the detail and what's actually put on paper behind the scene, it's difficult to know.

What we do know is that the National Security Council accelerated a review of North Korea policy so that he would have options at his disposal before he meets Xi Jinping.

CAMEROTA: Demetri, thank you very much for sharing all of your great reporting in "The Financial Times" with us.

SEVASTOPULO: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right, please, stay with CNN. We do have breaking news for you, the latest on this deadly bombing at a metro train station in St. Petersburg, Russia. CNN "Newsroom" with Poppy Harlow and John Berman is going to bring you the latest right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news. POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. We do have breaking news this morning.