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North Korea Fires Missiles Ahead of Trump-China Meeting; Trump Faces Major Tests with North Korea and Syria. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 5, 2017 - 07:00   ET

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


CAMEROTA: -- "we are not terrorists. We are children."

[07:00:04] CUOMO: All right. That story is going to continue on the heels of this latest attack on the citizens in Syria.

We want to thank our international viewers for watching our portion of the coverage this morning. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" is next. For our U.S. viewers, we have big questions about what the American president is going to do about these international crises. Let's get after it.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. We do begin with breaking news for you.

President Trump facing several international crises. First, North Korea firing another ballistic missile just a day before Mr. Trump is set to meet with China's president. The White House reaction has been mixed. A dire warning that, quote, "The clock has run out," as well as the statement that all options are on the table. Then a terse, 23- word statement from the secretary of state, saying nothing.

CUOMO: The Trump White House also facing tough questions about the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. All signs point to his regime as being responsible for carrying out the worst chemical attack in years.

Dozens of people have been killed, including children, according to observers on the ground. So why is President Trump blaming his predecessor instead of trying to oust Assad?

A very busy day, 76 of the Trump presidency. We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson, live in Seoul with breaking details on that missile launch. What do we know?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris.

The missile was launched shortly after dawn local time here on the Korean Peninsula. It was tracked by the U.S. military and the South Korean military, which it followed an unusual arc, flying an altitude of about 117 miles in the air. But only a distance of about 37 miles into the East Sea or the Sea of Japan. Now, it's been identified as a medium-range ballistic missile fired

from land and identified as a KN-15 missile. That's not the first time it's been fired.

Another model of this missile was fired in February during the summit between President Trump and the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, down in Florida.

Now, this is a step forward for North Korea's missile technology, because this KN-15 missile uses solid fuel. That means they can set it up more quicker. It takes much less time to fire it, which makes it much harder to intercept.

Key allies here in the region, South Korea and Japan, they're basically wringing their hands condemning this. China just put out a statement saying it's calling on all sides to maintain. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman -- get this -- insists that there is no link between today's missile launch and tomorrow's meeting, the first ever, between President Trump and the Chinese leader in Florida -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Ivan, thank you very much for that.

So President Trump is now assessing his options after North Korea's ballistic missile launch and the horrific chemical attack in Syria that we first told you about yesterday.

CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House with more. What's the latest, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. The spotlight on the crisis messaging coming out of Washington this morning. A pair of curious responses from the Trump administration to troubling developments on the world stage.

A warning. Our report this morning contains some graphic and disturbing images.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): North Korea raising the stakes ahead of President Trump's summit with the Chinese president. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson responding to the provocation with a foreboding 23-word statement: "North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment."

This after President Trump threatened to go it alone if China doesn't help confront the North Korean threat. On the campaign trail, Trump insisted North Korea was China's problem.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I would do very simply is say, "China, this is your baby. This is your problem. You solve the problem."

JOHNS: Meantime, a senior White House official issuing a dire warning that the clock has now run out. All options are on the table. This as the world reacts in horror to one of the worst chemical attacks in Syria in years. Experts say it's likely another saran gas attack that killed dozens of civilians, including children, and injured hundreds.

As world leaders quickly condemn the attack, it took the White House nine hours to issue a statement. The president and his top diplomat declining to comment on Syria during multiple public appearances on Tuesday. The White House statement calling the attack "reprehensible" and laying responsibility squarely at the feet of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but also blaming President Obama, deeming the attack a consequence of his weakness and irresolution.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a, quote unquote, "red line" against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.

JOHNS: This criticism contradicting President Trump's tweets after the last chemical attack in 2013, in which he urged then-President Obama not to retaliate with military action.

Just last week, two of Trump's top administration officials signaling a sharp change in U.S. policy toward Syria.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The longer-term, longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.

JOHNS: U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley telling reporters "Our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out." These remarks drawing a sharp rebuke from fellow Republicans.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The bottom line is that it is a huge mistake.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This is another disgraceful chapter in American history, and it was predictable.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: President Trump has been having a high-level week of interaction with foreign leaders here at the White House. It continues today with the visit from the king of Jordan -- Chris and Alisyn.

CUOMO: All right, Joe, appreciate it.

Let's discuss with our political panel. We've got David Gregory, CNN political analyst and the author of "How Is Your Faith." Bill Richardson, the former Democratic governor of New Mexico and former ambassador to the U.N.; and Michael Smerconish, host of CNN's "Smerconish" and CNN political commentator.

David Gregory, you have two issues here that are showing a really big example of the impact of words. You have Donald Trump talking to "The Financial Times," saber rattling when it comes to North Korea. And then, on the eve of the big meeting, a missile launch. Syria, he has his people go out: Tillerson, Nikki Haley saying Syria will figure it out themselves. Boom, a chemical attack, allegedly from Assad right afterwards.

Do you think that disconnect is setting the White House on its heels?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't know that there is a coherent view of how they want to go after the two problems. Problems that have been around for a long time and are very, very difficult to solve.

You know, in the case of North Korea, as you've been talking with your guests this morning, the United States has limited military options. I think they want to show strength and the possibility of a military response. But the North Koreans have very little to lose.

Governor Richardson has got a lot of experience with this regime. And he can talk more about that. Now Tillerson saying very little strikes me as prudent. They don't want to keep saber rattling against North Korea. The whole mad man theory of international relations when you're dealing with a mad man only goes so far. I think they want to get China to apply the pressure. They've got the meeting. I think the president wants to work this privately.

And then, I think as other have pointed out, with regard to Syria, like the Obama administration, there's not a good option that goes to taking out Assad. The president has been inconsistent in his view on this. Blaming Obama is easy. It's now his responsibility. He has a new round of chemical attacks. This is where pressure on Russia becomes important. This is where -- where a regional approach becomes important if you're the Trump administration.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Governor, you do have vast experience with North Korea. Do you agree that, by Rex Tillerson saying, "The U.S. has spoken enough about North Korea. We will have no further comment," that that gets their attention more than saying something else?

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Well, I think that was an unfortunate comment, because you have, on the one hand, a White House and State Department officials talking differently; all options are on the table. And then the secretary of state stays silent.

The problem here is twofold. One, you've got the president saying things, tweeting, and then you've got his top foreign policy team -- the U.N. ambassador, the secretary of state -- on both issues, on North Korea and Syria, the two imminent issues, talking differently. Different nuances.

I think the key is also going to be another unfortunate situation, which is China. China is the only entity, I believe right now, because they provide food, they provide energy assistance and enormous support to North Korea that can be helpful to restraining North Korea.

But if we're going out and challenging China, as the president has done openly, saying, "We're going to have a trade war through trade. It's up to China. They're going to have to resolve it." I mean, we're the main player in East Asia in that region. And we have to bring South Korea, Japan and China. But China is the big player and, you know, publicly even insulting the Chinese leader before he comes, kind of saying, "OK, you've got to show your stuff." I don't know if that's the right approach to diplomacy.

[07:10:12] CUOMO: Hey, Michael, when you look at Syria specifically, do you think we're seeing our first international example of how the White House has to learn that its words have impact? It sounds good politically in the U.S. to say, "Oh, let them figure it out. We're tired of wasting our blood and treasure. You know, we're not going after Assad anymore." And then this very curious, at the least, timing of him launching not just an attack, if it's true that it's coming from his regime, but a chemical attack on his own, killing kids.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, HOST, "SMERCONISH": I think that statement is accurate, but I think you only go halfway, Chris. I think you can now combine all the headlines that we've been discussing recently, and I'm making specific reference to the cozy relationship between the president and Vladimir Putin.

Because if, in fact, you've cozied up to Putin and, at the same time, Nikki Haley has made it clear that no longer will our objective be to oust Bashar al-Assad, I think you're green-lighting the sort of behavior that we perhaps we just saw in Syria. Why would Assad feel that he's going to be held in check by the United States, given our relationship with Putin and the the comments by Nikki Haley? I think that's the consequence you're seeing.

CAMEROTA: David, it took President Trump nine hours to make a statement about the hideous attacks that we're seeing in Syria. What's that about? What's going -- what are the conversations in the White House where they're saying, "Slow down. Hold off on a statement"?

GREGORY: We don't know what the foreign policy and national security thinking is within the White House. I mean, he sent his son-in-law to Iraq on a major, you know, envoy mission in terms of the strategy on ISIS and not his secretary of state.

I can't tell you who's got the power, who's got the president's ear on foreign policy, who is helping him to devise a coherent strategy on issues that are intractable. These are hard for anybody, let alone people without very much experience. So I think that may explain some of that.

The only thing that we know, based on what the president has asserted and those around him have asserted, is that they want to bomb the hell out of ISIS. But they don't really have a strategy for connecting that for how you deal with the future of Assad in Syria. And those things have to be linked.

So if you just want to, you know, back off and say, "Well, you know, the future of Syria is up to the Syrians," which is ridiculous, because of course, they're being victimized by a brutal dictator there who is helped by Russia and who's kept in place by Russia. That's not a real strategy.

These things have to all be linked together, and they haven't found a way to do that or expressed how they're going to do that yet.

CUOMO: I mean, the proof of David's point is in the obvious contradiction going on right now with the Syrian disposition of this White House. You had Donald Trump go after President Obama's red line deal, saying, "Don't go into Syria. There's nothing there." He couldn't have been more clear about it. You can just check his Twitter thread. The tweet is everywhere about what he said back there in 2013 after that chemical attack.

And now you have the White House trying to blame Obama for being weak, as if we got there. It all seems to be a none-too-clever cover for an intractable situation that takes negotiation, that takes nuance. And maybe there's still not a good answer, Mr. Richardson.

RICHARDSON: Well, I -- I agree. The problem here is if you're President Assad and you see that President Trump and the secretary of state, they minimize human rights issues in Bahrain, in Egypt with El- Sisi, that recent visit where we welcomed him with open arms without even mentioning human rights. And Assad perpetrates this war crime, this chemical attack on children, on women, without any serious consequence from the United States. Plus, you have the fact that Russia and Iran, they're also the culprits. Because it's their military assistance and cooperation with Assad.

And then the United States, I mean, we are still the big player in the Middle East. Kind of saying, "All right, Syria. The Syrian people need to decide the future of Assad," without leaning enormously on Syria. We have that leverage.

And the biggest leverage is with China. If there's any good measure here is perhaps the relationship with Putin and Trump together put the real pressure on Syria to stop this.

These are international war crimes. And this is not being done by terrorists. This is the Syrian military. This is warplanes cooperating with Russia and Iran. And this is a fundamental human rights stand that America should take the lead instead of sitting back.

CAMEROTA: Michael, I mean, to David's point, who are the big-brained policy experts? Who does have the geo-political experience in this White House where we can feel as though we're in good hands in these situations?

[07:15:06] SMERCONISH: Well, I fear we're about to find out exactly who holds sway. That statement by Secretary Tillerson, where he said, "We've done enough talking," I think was intended to invoke fear and trepidation on our enemies. Maybe it evidences that the White House just doesn't have a coherent strategy. And Alisyn, I can't give you a direct answer as to who really holds sway other than the president himself.

CUOMO: But to be clear, these things are complicated, David. I mean, you had a lot of big brains around President Obama. They were in the exact same mess in both situations.

CAMEROTA: President Bush.

GREGORY: And I think this is worth pointing out. First of all, the Obama administration certainly deserves criticism for its handling of Syria. And that part, just because it, you know, may have been inconsistently stated by President Trump, it doesn't take away from the fact that there's real criticism to be levied on the Obama administration.

You go back, too, to the end of the Clinton administration where the governor served, on foreign policy sensitive missions, and then into the Bush administration on North Korea, on the issue of Iran. Same situation. Horrible problems. Very difficult to deal with. A new administration says, "We're going to figure this out." And then they have a very difficult time figuring it out.

And with regard to North Korea, it's a constant cycle of negotiation trying to get China to put pressure on it, because the United States can't be in position of trying to force these issues militarily. There aren't good options.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Governor, David, Michael, thank you very much for all of your perspectives on this.

So as we've been talking about, President Trump is facing several critical foreign policy challenges: Syria, North Korea, Russia. How do the Democrats think the president should move forward? We will ask former vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:20:43] CAMEROTA: More on our breaking news. North Korea firing a ballistic missile. This comes just hours after Syria's Assad regime is believed to have launched a chemical attack on his own people, killing dozens, including children.

Let's discuss with former Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia.

Senator, thanks for being with us this morning.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: Glad to, Alisyn. Glad to be here.

CAMEROTA: So in the wake of these hideous images that we're seeing out of Syria, this apparent chemical attack on innocent civilians, including children, what should the Trump administration and the U.S. be doing?

KAINE: First, we need to call out this as a war crime. That's what these atrocities by Bashar al-Assad are. We should be prosecuting them, trying to prosecute them in The Hague for war crimes.

Second, the U.S. and other nations need to work together to finally implement a U.N. Security Council resolution. From February 2014, more than three years ago, that called for cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid into Syria. And I think we should be establishing some kind of a safe zone in Syria where this humanitarian aid can be delivered to Syrian people and with military protection for the safe zones so that, if anybody tries to mess with it, they will -- they will regret it.

And finally, what we have got to see from the Trump administration is the willingness just to call out these atrocities. I worry that they're trying to be cozy with Russia, so cozy with Russia that they're unwilling to call out Russia's henchman, Bashar al-Assad, who is only able to carry out these atrocities because of the support of the Russians and the Iranians.

CAMEROTA: Is that why you think it took the White House nine hours to make a statement on what's going on in Syria?

KAINE: Absolutely. Whether it's been in confirmation hearings of key officials, like Secretary Tillerson, or just watching for statements coming out of the White House, they are very reluctant ever to doing anything that gets crossways with Russia.

Bashar al-Assad is their -- is their puppet, basically. And so they are not willing to call out these atrocities in the way that we should to exercise leadership in the world. Using chemical weapons against civilians is a violation of every international norm there is.

CAMEROTA: Look, what do you think about Secretary Tillerson and Ambassador Nikki Haley basically saying this week that the Syrian people need to go it alone, that the U.S. is no longer going to make a priority of trying to get rid of Bashar al-Assad?

KAINE: Well, you know, we supported a Security Council resolution. Does that not mean anything?

In February 2014, the U.S. and other nations -- and this was one that Russia wouldn't veto -- we said we're going to do cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid to Syrians, who want to stay in Syria if they can, if they can be safe.

And yet the international community, including the U.S. -- and I was very critical of the Obama administration on this. So this is equal with the Trump administration. We've done virtually nothing for three-plus years to enforce that.

We're a humanitarian nation. We should be providing humanitarian assistance. And if that needs military protection to happen, then the nations of the world, including the U.S., should protect that mission.

CAMEROTA: You know, President Trump has basically suggested that this is President Obama's fault for, you know, saying that there was going to be a red line and then not following that up with action.

Do you draw a direct correlation between that missed opportunity, that red line, and things spiraling even more out of control in Syria?

KAINE: Well, look, that statement of President Trump's is rich. He's president now. He's commander in chief. And when something happens and he tries to blame President Obama, give me a break. And remember, when President Trump was just Donald J. Trump back then, he was urging President Obama not to do anything in Syria.

I mean, he was urging President Obama not to do anything in Syria. He's the president now. He's got to put on his, you know, big boy pants and own up to the job.

CAMEROTA: So what can Congress do? What can do you so that you're not just -- that Americans don't feel as though they're sort of idly sitting by and watching this catastrophe?

KAINE: Well, the first thing we shouldn't do is slash the State Department and humanitarian aid budget, which President Trump is proposing to do in his budget submission to Congress. We need to be robust in the provision of aid. We need to talk with the administration officials about getting together with other nations and...

Why haven't we prosecuted Bashar al-Assad for war crimes against his own people? This has been going on for years. We just celebrated the sixth anniversary of this civil war and the atrocities of Bashar al- Assad. But so far, nobody's been willing to hold him accountable.

[07:25:14] And I was as critical of the Obama administration on this as I am critical of the Trump administration.

CAMEROTA: Ivanka Trump just tweeted about this moments ago. Let me read this to you. She says, "Heartbroken and outraged by the images coming out of Syria following the atrocious chemical attack yesterday."

Do you -- no tweet. No tweet; conspicuously absent from President Trump.

Do you have a sense, Senator, of who is in charge of foreign policy in the White House?

KAINE: Well, right now, it's the president. And so there's competing factions who have different points of view, but it starts at the top. And this is a president who never will get crossways with Russia.

And so because Russia is the great benefactor to Bashar al-Assad, that's why you're not seeing this president condemn these atrocities. Instead of going after the atrocities, he's trying to blame President Obama.

Again, he's the president now. The world is waiting for him to lead.

CAMEROTA: Secretary Tillerson said something interesting about North Korea, another obviously hot spot on international relations.

He put out this statement, saying, "The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment."

That's in relation to their ballistic missile launch.

What does that mean to you?

KAINE: I have no idea what that means. And I sure hope we have more comment. There is an opportunity coming up that is very powerful with the visit of Chinese leader Xi to the United States.

There is an opportunity that's going to be very powerful for President Trump and the Chinese leader to together stand and publicly address the North Korean threat. I think that would send a message that could be very much a calming message around the world, if the U.S. and China are together on the proposition that North Korea's nuclear provocation has to stop. That will reassure allies and suggest that there's a strategy.

I hope the president doesn't miss that opportunity.

CAMEROTA: Well, look, that would be reassuring. But that's up to the Chinese. I mean, President Trump can only do so much. And it sounds as if the Trump White House feels as though diplomacy has not worked before with North Korea.

KAINE: Well, but the -- but the president has said rightly, and so has Secretary Tillerson that, in terms of leverage over the North Koreans, let's be honest, China has more than we do. We have no diplomatic or economic or commercial relationships with North Korea. That means we don't very many levers to play.

China has a lot of levers to play. China should be worried about an unstable North Korea, because the more unstable it is, the more the U.S. and other allies in the region have to arm up to confront North Korea. China doesn't want that.

And an unstable North Korea could push refugees over the border into China from North Korea. They have an interest in improving stability. And if President Trump is the negotiator he says he is, he will sit down with the Chinese leader, and they will say, "We're going to come out together and condemn what North Korea is doing and tell the world what we're going to do about it."

CAMEROTA: I want to ask you about the latest with the Russian meddling into the election...

KAINE: Yes.

CAMEROTA: ... as well as the allegations of ties to Mr. Trump's campaign.

You know, the Trump White House says that the real story here is about leaking. It's about the unmasking of American names. It is about whatever national security adviser Susan Rice did.

Do think that Susan Rice did something wrong?

KAINE: Look, we ought to investigate it. There's an allegation that she was talking about names of people connected with the Trump transition. I don't know whether that is true or not. But, sure, get to the bottom of it. But, Alisyn, that does not obscure that the Trump administration is trying to divert attention from one of the most important investigations ever in the history of the United States Congress.

Did the Russian government cyber-attack an American presidential election? The answer to that question is already a definitive yes.

Did they do so with the collusion or cooperation with the Trump campaign, the Trump transition or now the Trump administration? We're going to get to the bottom of that. And that investigation makes this administration incredibly nervous, as it should. But we're going to get to the bottom of it.

CAMEROTA: And, Senator, as someone who was personally affected by the meddling of Russia into the election, as you were, are you satisfied with how the investigations are going in Congress?

KAINE: Well, not on the House side, Alisyn. On the House side, sadly, the activities of Devin Nunes to decide "I want to be a lap dog rather than a watch dog," that's blown up the House investigation. And I don't think that's going to be recoverable, even though Adam Schiff and many of the members there have the right instincts, and they're good at what they do.

Here on the Senate side, I give high praise to my Virginia colleague, Mark Warner, and North Carolinian Richard Burr. Together in a bipartisan way, they are marching down this path, interviewing witnesses.

And I am confident that the combination of the Senate investigation, as well as the ongoing FBI investigation, which was finally revealed, the combination of those two investigations, we'll get to the bottom of it.