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Trump Visits Church of the Holy Sepulchre; Trump Visits Holy Sites in Israel; Israel's President Says America is Back Again. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired May 22, 2017 - 08:30   ET

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


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[08:33:10] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, as we've said, we've been following this all morning for you. This is the president arriving at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's old city. He's in the courtyard there of the church. This, of course, is one of the most important places in all of Christianity. He will go from one of Christianity's most holy sites, he will walk then to the western wall, and that is the holiest site in all of Judaism.

So joining us now to help us understand the significance of this visit and these sites is former Senator George Mitchell. He was the special U.S. envoy to the Middle East under President Obama. He's also the author of "A Path to Peace: A Brief History of Israeli/Palestinian Negotiations and a Way Forward in the Middle East."

Senator, I can't imagine a better guest to help us understand the significance of this. Tell us what you see as you watch these live pictures.

GEORGE MITCHELL, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY TO THE MIDDLE EAST: Well, I think it's important that an effort be made and I commend the president and the administration for doing so. Historically when there has been no movement, any effort at all toward a peace process, the possibility of violence rises. It's very volatile. The immediate prospects are not great given the high level of hostility, the deep differences between the two societies and two leaders. But the effort is important and at some point I think Israelis and Palestinians will come to recognize that their best interests lie, both societies, their best interests lies in an agreement that enables the Palestinians to get a state and the people of Israel to have security, reasonable, sustainable security.

CAMEROTA: And we do want to talk to you about your suggestions and ideas for the peace process.

There you see Jared Kushner, interestingly, in the foreground there. He is the person the president is tasking with trying to bring Middle East peace to become a reality.

[08:35:02] But first I want to bring in David Gregory, who's been watching this visit with us all morning. And, David, just tell us the significance of the location of where the president and first lady are right now.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, they're in the old city of Jerusalem. This is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Holy Sepulchre refers to the tomb of Jesus Christ. This is where the Gospels tell us, principally the Gospel of Matthew, that Jesus was crucified and his body later buried in final rest. As all things are in Jerusalem, it's a political place, too, in that the administration of the church is shared between the Greek Orthodox and the Armenians. There have been actual fist fights over administration of what is now the church that evolved over time.

You know, in the history of Christianity in the holy land, it's quite interesting that in what Christians have done over time in holy places, they build churches. So the sites of churches are usually where archaeologists, biblical archaeologists, have gone to uncover why they are holy. And so this, of course, goes back thousands of years to understand the first finding of evidence that this was the site of the crucifixion and ultimately the tomb of Jesus. And then the church was, by Constantine, was later built and enlarged around that over the years.

So I think it's quite significant, as Senator Mitchell talks about, the prospects for peace that you have an American president who is taking the time to walk the very delicate, religious line, to signal to the faithful around the world that he's going to come as a pilgrim to pay respects and to show honor for a place that visitors from around the globe, Christians, Jews and Muslims, come to this city to walk their sacred text. And so the Holy Sepulchre is a place that Christian pilgrims will come literally to walk the Gospels, and to try to better connect with the ministry and life of Jesus Christ. So it's a very powerful symbol that he's sending, and later on when he goes to -- goes to the Western Wall, another symbol that we can talk about with regard to Jews.

CAMEROTA: My gosh, it's so interesting the juxtaposition to look back at the history of the millennia here and how it's steeped. Obviously, these sites are just so laden with all of the significance and the history and then the modern day challenges.

And, Senator Mitchell, is this a moment, do you believe, where there is a window of opportunity for whatever reason for Middle East peace after obviously so many administrations, as you can attest to, have tried?

MITCHELL: There's no obvious reason to believe that the president will be able to pull the parties together, although circumstances have changed significantly in the few years since I was there on behalf of President Obama, which may operate to the advantage of the president seeking an agreement. First, the -- as evidenced by the president's visit to Saudi Arabia yesterday, many of the Gulf Arabs have increasingly awakened to the reality that their real challenge comes not from Israel but rather from Iran, and the prospects of their uniting to do something to try to reduce their differences with Israel, to join in a regional agreement in opposition to Iran's drive for hegemony in the reason, I think creates an opportunity.

On the other hand, the differences between Israelis and Palestinians are as wide and as deep as ever and there's a high level of mistrust and hostility, not just between the peoples, but between the two leaders themselves. When President Abbas met with Prime Minister Netanyahu in 2010, I was present in the room with them, along with then Secretary of State Clinton. And rather than their gaining traction toward moving toward, the meetings tended to validate their negative assessments of each other. They were very difficult meetings and didn't make any progress at all, and ended rather quickly.

So all of that still remains, but nonetheless you have to try because it is important for the region, for the interests of the United States, and in terms of reducing the possibility of violence, particularly given the tremendous level of violence all around the area. You can't isolate Israeli/Palestinian relations from the region in which they're located, and it can affect -- each can affect one another.

CAMEROTA: You brought up Iran, and I want to read to you what the president just said about Iran in his public address. He was with the president of Israel. And he said, "there is a growing realization among your Arab neighbors that they have common cause with you in the threat posed by Iran." So, obviously, Israel welcomed that statement. But this is a bit -- the same moment that Iran has just re-elected President Rouhani, who is seen as more moderate and more modern certainly than some alternatives or predecessors. So explain what the calculus is on isolating Iran.

[08:40:17] MITCHELL: Well, there's a long history of hostility between Arabs and Persians, Iranians and, of course, between Sunni and Shia. So there's a natural enmity and hostility that goes back a very long way between all of the Gulf Arabs, led by Saudi Arabia, and the Iranians. Now, the Arabs, and particularly the Saudis, are, obviously, deeply disappointed that President Trump did not carry through on his often stated promise that he's going to tear up the Iran agreement on his first day in office. He's obviously recognized that doesn't make any sense and we're going forward with the agreement. But they'll swallow that because they like the anti-Iran rhetoric that he engages in, and the lack of any interest in a rapprochement or better relations with Iran.

At the same time, it's very clear from the election in Iran that the vast majority of people there want good relations with the United States and the west. And that's where we should be pushing, I think.

CAMEROTA: Senator George Mitchell, thank you for all of your expertise and sharing it with us on NEW DAY this morning.

MITCHELL: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, as we speak, the president visiting some of the holiest sites on earth. Right now he is inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Of course, the site where Jesus was crucified. Shortly he'll visit the Western Wall. What message does this send to the world? Fareed Zakaria joins us and give us "The Bottom Line" coming up.

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[08:45:41] CAMEROTA: Time now for the "Five Things to Know for Your New Day."

Number one, President Trump is in Jerusalem right now visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre before touring the Western Wall. He becomes the first sitting U.S. president to visit that wall.

BERMAN: Here in the United States, the White House is set to present its budget plan this week. CNN has learned the blueprint calls for an $800 billion cut in Medicaid.

CAMEROTA: Fired FBI Director James Comey set to testify before the Senate Intel Committee. This as the Trump administration avoids denying, I think that's a double negative, that the president discussed firing Comey with two Russian diplomats in the White House.

BERMAN: Former "Today" show host Billy Bush breaking his silence about the Donald Trump "Access Hollywood" tape that got him fired -- Billy Bush fired seven months ago. He tells the "Hollywood Reporter" he wishes he changed the topic but didn't have the strength of character at the time.

CAMEROTA: Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus is folding its tent after a 146-year run. Protests over animal treatment, along with slumps sales, led to last night's final show in Uniondale, New York.

BERMAN: An end of an era.

For more on the "Five Things to Know," go to newdaycnn.com for the very latest.

CAMEROTA: OK, so President Trump reaffirming America's friendship with Israel and taking aim at Iran. Fareed Zakaria has "The Bottom Line" on all of this coming up.

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[08:50:52] BERMAN: All morning we've been looking at these images right now of President Trump's first visit to Israel. This is the second stop on his major foreign overseas trip. He's getting a private tour right now of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the most holy sites in all of the Christian faith. And from here he will walk to the Western Wall, the holiest site for the Jewish religion.

How is the world perceiving this trip? Let's get "The Bottom Line" with the host of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS." Fareed Zakaria joins us now.

Fareed, it's interesting, again, as we were looking at those pictures, moments ago the president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, welcomed President Trump by saying "America is back." "America is back." That's an interesting notion, and one I think the Obama administration would dispute. It's like, we never left. But the perception there is, this is a return to something that has been missing.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Well, clearly the Trump administration and Donald Trump has decided what they're going to do is try to have a much more overtly pro-Sunni/Arab foreign policy, that means supporting countries like Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and try to kind of help solidify the already emerging partnership between those Sunni Arab countries and Israel. The big foe, of course, being Iran in that circumstance. So the Sunni Arab states, the Saudi, the Emirates and the Israelis welcome this. They think it's, you know, it's a good idea.

Part of what's going on here is, you know, we have to remember, countries like to flatter the incoming president. Obama got a whole bunch of this when he was first president. The Europeans were falling over themselves. The Turks were falling over themselves. Egypt at the time, one gave him this, you know, extraordinary lions welcome when he came and gave his Cairo speech. So there's some of this -- one, I hope that the Trump administration is sophisticated enough to understand there is, you know, there is a feeling in diplomacy, if you think flattery doesn't get you anywhere, you haven't been properly flattered.

CAMEROTA: But is this the right time to marginalize Iran, given that Rouhani was just re-elected and that signals that Iranians want to be more modern. They want a more moderate voice.

ZAKARIA: That's I think the most interesting, important question about American foreign policy in the Middle East going forward. Can you really construct a stable, Middle East by completely excluding Iran, by essentially having an anti-Shia foreign policy. Remember, it's not just Iran. Iraq is a Shia majority country and the United States has an alliance with the Shia country.

If you're -- right now what you have is a Middle East out of balance between the Shias and the Sunnis. You see that playing out in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen. Almost all over you have these tensions. You probably need to find some kind of stability that does involve both sides. You can't just have, you know, a policy toward one. But as I say for now, the Sunni Arab (ph), he's talking to a very small number also. These are the Saudis, the Emirates, the Egyptian elites. They're very happy about it.

The interesting thing is that even in the speech he gave on Israel, he talked about Iran as if it was to blame for the rise of al Qaeda. The core problem we have faced, which has been radical Islamic terrorism, to say the words that Donald Trump would not say, is a Sunni problem. It's a problem created by these very Sunni autocrats.

CAMEROTA: And Saudi Arabia, and let's not forget their history.

ZAKARIA: Saudi Arabia is the -- is the birth place. It is the place where 15 of the 19 9/11 bombers came from. It's Osama bin Laden's birthplace. It is the place that has funded and fueled most of the radical Islamic terrorism the United States has faced. Actually, Iran has not. So that's the -- that's the tension here.

BERMAN: And in terms of the message he delivered to Saudi Arabia on that subject, not dissimilar to what we had heard from President Obama, you know, previously. Right now, as we speak, the president is inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where he will walk -- he will make a ten-minute walk to the Western Wall. What's the significance, Fareed, do you think, of this sort of religious pilgrimage that President Trump is making with the whole world watching?

ZAKARIA: I think that is -- Trump is doing something symbolic that is, I think, important. It's important whenever the American president goes to demonstrate a sort of respect for any country's most important sites, and particularly religious sites. I think it's just symbolic, but symbolism is powerful. And I think it's important that he does it with Christianity, with Judaism. I think to a certain extent he did it with Islam as well.

[08:55:24] As you said, the speech that he gave about Islam was, frankly, one that Barack Obama could have given. He, in fact, even used the same terminology. He said Islamist extremism, Obama tended to say Islamism or violent extremism. Neither of them chose to use radical Islamic terrorism. You might recall last year when Obama said radical Islamic terrorism -- refused to say radical Islamic terrorism, Donald Trump tweeted, Obama should resign in disgrace because he refuses to use the phrase radical Islamic terrorism. Well, he had the opportunity and President Trump also chose not to say it, probably for the same reasons. So that -- that sense of a reality check is becoming clear in this, in this -- on this trip. That Donald Trump has recognized that it's all -- it's one thing to tweet as a candidate. When you're president, you do have to show respect for countries and faiths.

CAMEROTA: Fareed Zakaria, thank you for "The Bottom Line." Great to have you here.

ZAKARIA: A pleasure.

CAMEROTA: Stay with CNN for more breaking coverage of the president's visit to Jerusalem. CNN "NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow picks up after this very quick break.

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[09:00:09] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone.