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Rex Tillerson Calls for De-escalation of Qatar Blockade; Stunning Results in U.K. Election; Awaiting Joint News Conference with Trump & Romanian President. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired June 9, 2017 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, guys. Thank you.
You know what? One other note we should point out. The Attorney General Jeff Sessions, we've been pointing out, he will testify next week before the Senate. And you know they're going to ask him a whole bunch of these kind of questions. You've covered the Senate for a long time.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And he was in the Senate for a long time.
BLITZER: Hold on one second.
I think the secretary of state is making a statement on Qatar, Rex Tillerson, over at the State Department. Let's listen in.
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: -- is troubling to the United States, the region and to many people who are directly affected. The United States wishes to reaffirm our commitment to the spirit of the summit.
As we combine efforts to defeat the military, financial, and ideological support of terrorists, we expect to see progress in the Arab world toward greater political expression. An important pathway to attack Islamic extremism and to prevent political activism from escalating is to allow marginalized voices opportunities for political expression. But this process requires regional and global consensus and mutual understanding. The GCC summit creates a platform to achieve this consensus and understanding. We call for calm and thought full dialogue with clear expectations and accountability among the parties in order to strengthen relationships. We ask that there be no further escalation by the parties in the region.
We call on Qatar to be responsive to the concerns of its neighbors. Qatar has a history of supporting groups that have spanned the spectrum of political expression from activism to violence. The emir of Qatar has made progress in halting financial support and expelling terrorists from his country, but he must do more, and he must do it more quickly.
Others must also condition to eliminate factions of violent organizations within their own borders. Again, that was a commitment made by all at the summit. We call on the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates,
Bahrain and Egypt to ease the blockade against Qatar. There are humanitarian consequences to this blockade. We are seeing shortages of food. Families are being forcibly separated and children pulled out of school. We believe these are unintended consequences, especially during this holy month of Ramadan. But they can be addressed immediately.
The blockade is also impairing U.S. and other international business activities in the region and has created a hardship on the people of Qatar and the people whose livelihoods depend on commerce with Qatar.
The blockade is hindering U.S. military actions in the region and the campaign against ISIS.
We support the emir of Kuwait's efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution to this agreement and progress toward eliminating all forms of support for terrorism, military, financial, moral or ideological. We will support these efforts along with Kuwait.
In the last few days I have spoken to many leaders in the region. As I said to all of them, we know you're stronger together. It is clear to me, based on these conversations that the elements of a solution are available. The GCC must emerge united and stronger to show the world the GCC's resolve in its fight against violence and terrorism and its commitment to countering the threat from extremism.
Our expectation is that these countries will immediately take steps to deescalate the situation and put forth a good-faith effort to resolve their grievances they have with each other.
Thank you very much.
BLITZER: There he is, the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling for some de-escalation in this very, very serious crisis that has erupted. On the one hand, Qatar, on the other hand, several Arab states in the gulf, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain all of whom have severed diplomatic contacts and imposed what Rex Tillerson is calling a blockade that is causing enormous hardship on the people of Qatar.
I want to bring in Michelle Kosinski, senior diplomatic correspondent, she's over at the State Department; Global affairs analyst, former deputy secretary of state, Tony Blinken, he's here with me.
It seemed like the other day the president was almost siding with Saudi Arabia, the emirates against Qatar. Now we have the secretary of state trying to forge some middle ground.
[13:35:06] MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I think that is why he's giving this statement on camera today. We weren't even sure this would happen. It came more than an hour and a half late. I think because of what the president tweeted, saying fingers were pointing at Qatar, as if this was the right thing to do for those countries to blockade Qatar. He really wanted to get out there and say that that's not the case. He called for the blockade to be lifted. But he also didn't want to say necessarily what the president was tweeting was wrong. So he's also calling on Qatar to do more against terrorism.
He did make mention of progress that they had made to cut off terrorist financing. And to try to stop it. But he wanted to emphasize that there is a need, not just for Qatar but for others in the region to do more.
It should be noted he didn't call anyone else out. Only Qatar. Because he wanted to make reference to what the president was trying to say in those tweets and paying reference to the point that he was trying to make. But he wanted to get out there and state in no uncertain terms that this need to be resolved and be resolved quickly.
I think it really highlights the difficult position that the U.S. is in at this point. Kind of wanting to be on all sides at the same time and wanting to be the resolution. And we did hear Qatar this week say that they believe that the U.S. can really help solve this. They believe that President Trump can be crucial in reaching that resolution.
We don't really know at what point this is right now. We're still waiting for the demands for what Qatar needs to change, what concessions they'll make. But we know that there's been constant contact between the U.S. State Department and all of these parties involved -- Wolf?
BLITZER: It's a real crisis, Tony, for the U.S. because it has the largest U.S. military presence in the region is in Qatar, the air base. There are thousands of U.S. troops there. Jet fighters that launch strikes against terror operations, whether in Iraq or Syria or elsewhere. That's hovering over this. But the Saudis and Emirates say it's because Qatar is funding terrorist organizations in Egypt. That's why Egypt severed relations. At the core is Qatar's relationship with Iran.
TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYHST: Two things. Secretary Tillerson is right on the mark. That was an excellent statement. Exactly the right place to try to take this. Calm the waters. Get people to back down. Have the U.S. play a mediating role. It's exactly the right thing to do.
Second, this has been a feud a long time in the making. On the one hand, you have Qatar, which fancies itself a little bit of a bridge to Iran, to the Muslim Brotherhood. But from the perspective of Saudi Arabia, from the perspective of the UAE, Egypt, they see it as an enabler of those countries or groups, financing them, giving them political cover. So this feud's been long in the making.
It seems that when the president was in Saudi Arabia, his unconditional support for the Saudis may have emboldened them to take the step, and then his tweets supporting what they did added fuel to the fire. The president did the right thing in doing a quick about face and also trying to calm things down. The stakes are really high. The key air base in prosecuting the war against the Islamic State is in Qatar. We use it every single day.
BLITZER: When I was there, it was the regional headquarter of the U.S. military Central Command. Tillerson did say Qatar is still funding terror organizations. He says they've stopped a little bit but there's still a long way to go.
BLINKEN: They've made progress, our ambassador to Qatar. At the same time the president was tweeting, said they've been making progress, prosecuting people and putting in place new banking regulations and freezing assets. They're doing more as the secretary said. There's still more they can do. And they should do.
But we have to look at this, too. Saudi Arabia, a close partner, a vital ally. Nonetheless, it exports extreme Wahhabism that encourages jihadis around the world. That's a problem, too.
Within his statement, without calling them out directly, is the implication that all of these countries need to do more to tone this down.
What we don't want to do is this. The president was talking about the creation of an Arab NATO when he was there. We've seen how difficult that is, because you have countries that have diverging interests. We see an Arab NATO, if it were fruition, as something to be a united front against the Islamic State. The Saudis, though, see it as a front against Iran and they want to pull us into the Sunni/Shia divide and take sides. That's not a good place for us to be.
[13:39:57] BLITZER: And al Jazeera, I should point out, is headquartered in Qatar, and that's one of the problems for the Saudis and several of these other states. They don't like the reporting of al Jazeera.
Thanks very much for that, Tony Blinken.
Michelle Kosinski, thanks to you over at the State Department as well.
Coming up, Theresa May carries on after a big loss for her party. The British prime minister now trying to form a new government and work on Brexit negotiations while barely holding on to power. We have new information, new details. We'll share them with you when we come back.
[13:44:55] BLITZER: It's truly an extraordinary day in British politics. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May called for an election to strengthen her negotiating position. Instead, her party's majority in parliament evaporated overnight. Now May must form a minority government with the relatively obscure Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party. All of it comes just days ahead of the Brexit negotiations. While some party leaders called on May to resign, she explained why she is moving forward.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: As the results stated -- more results started to come through, it became clear we were the party that had won most seats and most votes. I felt it was incumbent on us at a critical time in our country to form a government in the national interest, and that is what I'm doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's go to our international correspondent, Phil Black, outside the prime minister's residence at Number 10 Downing Street.
Phil, what happens now with the government and with the Brexit negotiations?
PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Theresa May, as you heard there, she is trying to save some degree of authority, maintain some degree of dignity after an electoral rejection that is quite embarrassing for her. This wasn't necessary. She didn't need to call this election. She did it because she wanted to increase her majority in parliament. Instead, she now has no majority in parliament. She's not apologized. She's not accepted responsibility. Instead, she says, as you heard her say, this is an important critical time for the country. They're about to begin Brexit negotiations. She is trying to pull together a country as a leader of a party, although it doesn't have a majority, still has the most number of M.P.s and took the highest portion of the votes. So she is proceeding. And she believes clearly that she will not give in to the pressure, despite the fact that we've heard quite a lot of that over the course of the day -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Certainly have. And we'll be hearing a lot more.
Phil Black, in London, for us. We'll stay in close touch.
Coming up, these are live pictures coming from the White House right now. President Trump will be taking questions from reporters in the next hour. Will he respond to James Comey's testimony and his accusations? A lot to discuss right after this.
[13:51:07] BLITZER: All right. In the next hour, we'll be hearing directly from the president of the United States. He's getting ready to hold a joint news conference with the visiting president of Romania. He's expected to arrive -- you can see the West Wing of the White House -- at any moment now. You'll see the president there to greet him.
This will be the first time President Trump has formally taken questions from reporters in some three weeks. Certainly, the first time since James Comey's explosive testimony yesterday, and Comey's testimony will likely be front and center among the questions.
Let's bring in our politics reporter, editor-at-large Chris Cillizza.
Let's set the scene for this. In the next hour, there will be this joint news conference. Two American reporters will be allowed to ask questions and two Romanian reporters will be allowed to ask questions. Watching these two and twos, you know that each one of those questions, if done properly, will have multi -- will be multi questions.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes. In the fine standards.
CILLIZZA: What's interesting, occasionally, typically, the foreign press asks questions mostly related to America's view of their country. They don't get into what did you think of James Comey's testimony. But the U.S. press will. As you noted, Wolf, the last time he took questions was May the 18th, before his foreign trip. So we're 22 days from that. The foreign trip, the Comey testimony, a lot has happened in between those. It's hard to fit into two questions. My guess would be at least one, probably two of the American press questions will be focused on Comey.
BLITZER: We don't know the reporters who will be cited by the president to -
BLITZER: The president can pick anyone he wants.
CILLIZZA: Yeah. And early in his administration - obviously, we're relatively early anyway -- but even earlier, they would occasionally pick non-traditional newspapers. They would go to conservative outlets. You typically go to a big network, Reuters, Associated Press, a wire service. But of late, they've gone to be a little more traditional. If they do any sort of traditional media outlet, I would assume the first question would be something about Comey's testimony.
BLITZER: You wrote a terrific piece on CNN Politics.
CILLIZZA: So I posed nine questions. I could have probably written 50, but nine questions you could ask.
BLITZER: All of them very important.
CILLIZZA: Right. and at the top of that list is, do you have a taping system, have you recorded conversations. It seems to me that's a fundamental piece here. We now know why Jim Comey leaked a memo regarding --
BLITZER: I suspect if he's asked that, he will say, I'm not get into that.
CILLIZZA: Which he has said before. He gave an interview to FOX News right after his tweet about, maybe I'm taping Comey, and he said I'm not going to talk about it. Look, it's his prerogative to do that, but if you're Bob Mueller, the special counsel, you need to have an answer as to whether there are recorded versions of any of these meetings or phone calls with Jim Comey, because we have a very disputed interaction. Jim Comey says it went one way in terms of a loyalty pledge, in terms of saying that he believes Trump wanted him to get rid of the Mike Flynn investigation. Trump, through Marc Kasowitz, his attorney, is saying --
CILLIZZA: -- look, those things didn't happen.
And thank you for reminding me, his tweet this morning, I don't know if he meant to do that or not, essentially says that Comey lied under oath, many falsehoods.
BLITZER: Which is a crime.
CILLIZZA: Which is a crime, right.
BLITZER: You can go to jail for that. That's perjury. If the president of the United States and his lawyer is making that accusation, it puts enormous pressure on the special counsel, Robert Mueller, to investigate and maybe put the president under oath.
[13:55:00] CILLIZZA: Right. Gosh, that would be an amazing step. But at this point, I think what's important for people to remember, as it relates to Comey versus Trump, no matter what Trump says today, Comey has testified under oath with the penalty of perjury. Donald Trump has not done that. He's just tweeting and talking. There are no real consequences, legally speaking, for him right now.
BLITZER: Stand by. We have a lot more.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back at 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room."
President Trump should be coming out any moment in the next hour to greet the president of Romania soon. They will have a news conference, take questions from reporters. We'll have live coverage of that.
Coming up, Brooke Baldwin is here in Washington standing by for amazing coverage.
[14:00:09] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke Baldwin, live in Washington, D.C., for special coverage of President Trump's first news conference in --