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Fighting in Syria; Interview With Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley; Putin Meets With Trump. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 7, 2017 - 15:00   ET



KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And it's all gilded, and he moves out the furniture.

So, anyway, they did not get a room there, but they're -- they're settled now in Hamburg.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. All right.

Kate Bennett on the FLOTUS beat,thank you, Kate.

BENNETT: Thanks.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: We continue on. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We begin with President Trump and President Putin's face-to-face meeting that just wrapped a little while ago. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in the meeting. And he says the president actually began this face-to-face by calling out President Putin for Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

There were a lot of questions ahead of this all-important meeting as to whether or not President Trump would, in fact, go there. But here is what Secretary Tillerson told reporters in this off-camera briefing just minutes ago.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The president opened the meeting with President Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election.

They had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject. The president pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement. President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past.

The two leaders agreed, though, that this is a substantial hindrance in the ability of us to move the Russian-U.S. relationship forward and agreed to exchange further work regarding commitments of noninterference in the affairs of the United States and our democratic process, as well as those of other countries.


BALDWIN: The meeting lasted a lot longer than expected. We clocked it at two hours, 16 minutes. Secretary Tillerson says the bulk of that was actually on Syria, the two sides reaching an agreement on a cease-fire in Syria's southwest.

President Trump and President Putin talked to reporters just before their formal sit-down.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

President Putin and I have been discussing various things, and I think it's going very well. We have had some very, very good talks. We're going to have a talk now, and obviously that will continue. But we look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, for the United States, and for everybody concerned.

And it's an honor to be with you.


BALDWIN: Let's first go to our senior White House correspondent who's traveling and covering President Trump.

Jeff Zeleny is live for us in Hamburg.

Jeff Zeleny, so the headline, obviously, what Secretary Tillerson says President Trump addressed off the top. Tell me what else.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, so interesting that President Trump did address this right off the top.

And you get this sense that the White House had been downplaying this, because they refused to confirm the last several days if he was going to be doing it. But we do not yet know how long they talked about election interference. It was not the majority of it.

In fact, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, I'm just coming back from a briefing with him, and he said the majority of the time was spent on Syria. But, Brooke, the question here is the Russian account of this meeting is slightly different.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, is telling reporters that Vladimir Putin asked for proof and evidence that there was tampering, and Secretary Tillerson said the president did not offer any. He said he will leave that to the intelligence community. But they agreed to work together and move forward on this.

So, the reality here, Brooke, once the sort of cloud of the fact that they talked about this lifts, it's very unlikely that anything would be done, and I think there will be some criticism, potentially, of the president not offering proof and not sort of hammering this home more.

So, by moving on, as Secretary Tillerson said, by design, the president did not want this to dominate the conversation. They were trying to reset the relationship, which, of course, is a very rocky and, you know, pretty poor relationship between both superpowers now, but by not sort of confronting this head on more directly, abruptly and harshly, will anything sort of change from this and will the sanctions be enough, et cetera?

But certainly interesting that they talked, Syria headline. And we will find out in the coming days how -- if this changes the relationship. But, Brooke, one more thing.


ZELENY: A tiny little detail here that Secretary Tillerson told us. The meeting was two hours, 15 minutes. It was going on so long, the White House wasn't sure why it was taking so long. They sent in Melania Trump, the first lady, to say, hey, Mr. President, you're behind schedule here.

Secretary Tillerson said they kept going one more hour. Who knows if that was sort of by design, to send in the first lady to meet the Russian president, Kabuki theater here, but that's a pretty interesting moment in terms of high-stakes diplomacy.


BALDWIN: Yes. Yes, the fact that they sent her in essentially to say, fellows, wrap it up, to no avail.

Let me go back, though, to Syria. You mentioned the cease-fire. There was also headlines on the future of Bashar Assad. This is what Secretary Tillerson said on Syria.


TILLERSON: They discussed important progress that was made in Syria, and I think all of you have seen some of the news that just broke regarding a de-escalation agreement, the memorandum which was agreed between the United States, Russia, and Jordan for an important area in southwest Syria that affects Jordan's security, but also on a very complicated part of the Syrian battlefield.

This de-escalation area was agreed. It's well-defined agreements on who will secure this area. A cease-fire has been entered into, and I think this is our first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria. And, as a result of that, we had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on to de-escalate the areas and the violence once we defeat ISIS.


BALDWIN: So, significant there, the other headline and also saying, the quote on Assad, there will be a transition away from the Assad family, Jeff.

ZELENY: Right. And that is a very significant headline. I mean, the idea of the outlines of a cease-fire, you know, certainly a big development, and that is one of the reasons that Secretary Tillerson said the president wanted to move beyond Russia, to focus more on areas of common agreement here.

So, there have been proposed cease-fires before, Brooke. There have been other moments like this, but this is the beginning of a new relationship here, so we will see if Russia and the U.S. will be able to hold together in Jordan, you know, more outlines of a cease-fire here. We will just have to, you know, watch that with a skeptical, but hopeful eye.

BALDWIN: Jeff Zeleny, thank you. With all those choppers flying high above your head, I hear those rotors. Thank you very much in Hamburg.

A lot happening there. The protests, of course, not far from you. But let's talk more about the substance of this meeting.

Ben Judah is back with us. He's my favorite Putin expert and author of "Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin."

Ben Judah, welcome back.


BALDWIN: We pregamed. Now we will postgame what we know.

You know, channeling Vladimir Putin. You have spent some time with the man. How do you think he would have felt, given the fact that going into this meeting, the White House totally downplayed any sort of bringing up of the Russian meddling in the election and, boom, this is what President Trump, according to the secretary of state, does, out of the gate? What was Vladimir Putin thinking?

JUDAH: I mean, the first thing you have got to remember is that Vladimir Putin is, without doubt, the most geopolitically experienced world leader around.

And we're comparing this to Trump, somebody who is, if we're going to be charitable, a novice at this game. Vladimir Putin has met the last three generations of Western leaders. He met Ronald Reagan in his retirement in his role as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg in the 1990s. He met Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl, Jacques Chirac in that role.

He's obviously met both Clintons. He's met Barack Obama, so intense experience here. So, this is a situation that Putin will be incredibly comfortable in, whereas Trump will be perhaps somewhat out of his depth.

Now let's compare Mr. Tillerson to Sergei Lavrov. Mr. Tillerson has very narrow experience, whereas Mr. Lavrov has been Russian foreign minister since 2004, dealing and jousting diplomatically with pretty much all of the bright young things and the most experienced diplomats the West could throw at him in that period.

So we have got the Americans here hopelessly outmatched. And that's something that Putin is going to be very cognizant of.

BALDWIN: But perhaps the U.S. knew that going in. And maybe they wanted to try to take President Putin by surprise in mentioning the Russian meddling out of the gate. Again, how do you think President Putin interpreted that reference?

JUDAH: This would only be speculation, but from what we are hearing from the meeting, it sounds like a perfunctory mention of it was made for domestic political purposes in the United States to get it out of the way and to get the kind of media coverage that is being generated now that makes it look as if the United States is being tough towards Putin, without actually taking any serious geopolitical or financial rebuttal towards him.


So, I think Putin would have been, again, very aware of that. What's very interesting is that Putin certainly hasn't been behaving as if he had come under intense criticism.

Putin tends to react very badly to that. Instead, what we're seeing from Putin is a man in perhaps one of his two modes when meeting world leaders, and certainly U.S. presidents, which is the seduction mode. We have seen Putin go very hard towards charming Trump, and we have seen him trying to channel his antipathy towards journalists and the media.

BALDWIN: And, you know, what we won't know is how seduced, if at all, President Trump was.

The fact that, I mean, we know Vladimir Putin is often late to meetings, maybe this is part of his calculating ways. I mean, the man was even late to the pope. So, we're hearing he was early to this meeting. The meeting went on for an unexpected two hours, 16 minutes. What's your read on that, Ben?

JUDAH: Again, this is not the first time a Western leader has gone into a meeting with Vladimir Putin hoping to set aside differences, to turn the page on the past, and to create a collaborative, soft alliance against Islamic terrorism.

The first Western leader to do this was Tony Blair back in 2001. And what all of these leaders, including Obama, including George W. Bush, have found is that, at the end of the day, the United States and Russia's strategic interests are too contradictory because of Russia's alliances, partnerships, and strategic claims on the territory around it that it calls its near abroad.

And what I see looming right up ahead in this theater of operations that Trump is trying to secure partnership with Putin on in Syria is the fact that Russia has a soft alliance and a nuclear partnership with Iran. BALDWIN: But let's throw the pictures up just quickly and here's my

final question. We have been talking so much about substance. Just body language of these two, respect, leaning in, back to your notion of Putin's charm, do you think it's possible that President Trump, given how long this meeting went, was charmed by this former KGB man?

JUDAH: It looks like that Trump -- and, again, it's very hard to -- we're only speculating here. It looks like that Trump has been somewhat charmed by Putin, but I think, looking at the body language, less so than George W. Bush was in his first few meetings with Putin.

BALDWIN: Interesting. Interesting.

Ben Judah, thank you, as always.

JUDAH: Thank you.

BALDWIN: We have more on the breaking news here. President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have made this deal on a cease-fire in the southwestern part of Syria. We will take you live to Syria, to this war-torn country, where CNN's Nick Paton Walsh became the first journalist to go inside the Old City of Raqqa today since U.S.-backed forces made critical moves against ISIS. His exclusive reporting is next.

Please don't miss this.



BALDWIN: Back with the breaking news here, President Trump and Russia's President Putin meeting face-to-face for the very first time today.

That meeting just wrapped up, all two hours and 16 minutes of it, just a little bit ago. We now know what was discussed behind closed doors. Again, this is all according to a man who was in the room, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, saying that, number one, Russia's meddling in the U.S. presidential election was brought up out of the gate, and, two, that these two men had extensive conversations on Syria.

So, with that, let me bring in a member of the House Intelligence Committee. He is Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley on the phone.

Congressman, thank you so much for calling in.

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: Glad to be here. Thank you.

BALDWIN: All right. So the news, again, according to Secretary Tillerson, that President Trump brought up Russia's meddling in our election at the very beginning of this conversation, your reaction to that?

QUIGLEY: Well, that's good news, I mean, and the length of the meeting tells me that the administration understands the length and breadth of this complicated relationship and what we have to begin to address.

We don't know exactly what was said in the meeting. I'm appreciative of the fact that he brought up Russian involvement. I prefer to call it a Russian attack on our democratic process, instead of meddling. And I'm hopeful that he was very clear.

I mean, if I'm in his shoes, I say, you attacked our democratic process. We're not going to tolerate this. If he in any way equivocates, Putin sees that in a much different way than the president imagines. He sees that as a green light to continue.

BALDWIN: Let me just throw this in, Congressman Quigley, because we're now hearing the other side of the story. This is coming from Tillerson's counterpart who was also in the room, Sergei Lavrov.

Lavrov says President Trump accepted President Putin's denial. The quote is: "President Trump said he's heard Putin's very clear statements that this is not true and that the Russian government didn't interfere in the elections and that he accepts these statements. That's all."

Accepts these statement, Mr. Congressman, your response to that?

QUIGLEY: My reaction is, I'm not sure what I can believe about what the president or Mr. Tillerson said about the discussion.


But I'm pretty sure I can't trust, at all, what the Russians have said. So, I would like to think that that wasn't the case. What concerns me is what our president has said publicly, which he equivocated and said, no one can know whether or not it was the Russians, when, obviously, the unanimous voice of the intelligence community says it clearly was the Russians who attacked our process.

And until the president says that publicly, we're not going to get where we need to be to protect ourselves against further attacks.

BALDWIN: Congressman, how hopeful are you that these two countries can move forward? And, again, you know, the fact that they did sit for as long as they did, what do you hope is the positive next step out of this meeting?

QUIGLEY: I think continued discussions about what took place in the election last year, expanded relationships, attacking ISIS, working together, understanding that the Assad regime has to leave in Syria, and what we're going to have to do working together, and a clear recognition that it does not help and we really need the Russians to stop trading with North Korea.

You know, if Beijing hesitates at all in economic involvement with North Korea, it's clear that Moscow is picking that up. The first two months of this year, Russia's trade with North Korea increased 73 percent.

We're not going to be able to deter the leader of North Korea if they can continue unabated that somebody will do business with them. And, finally, I think it is extraordinarily important for our leaders to let Putin know that sanctions will stay involving their occupation in Ukraine, and they might be enhanced, because, again, Mr. Putin is someone who recognizes force and strength.

Anything else, he sees as an opportunity to move forward unabated.

BALDWIN: All right, so those are all items to look for move ahead.

But before I let you go, Congressman Quigley, I don't know if you have heard this. If you turn up the volume here during the pool spray of when these two are meeting, before they go behind closed doors, you hear President Trump say to President Putin, "It's an honor to meet you, an honor."

You know, you, being a Democrat, being a member of the House Intel Committee, and Trump's own intel chiefs, and really the majority of the country believe it was, indeed, Russia, to use your phrase, attacked our democratic process, when you hear the president say, honored to meet you, what do you think?

QUIGLEY: Yes, I sort of get the notion of diplomatic pleasantries, but in a brief exchange that these two leaders have, it's very important that we communicate with words that send messages. Telling Mr. Putin it's an honor to meet him until we have come to some sort of agreement to change what's been going on is probably a misstep.

BALDWIN: Congressman Mike Quigley, thank you.

QUIGLEY: Thank you. Take care.

BALDWIN: Thank you. You too, sir.

Again, one of the headlines out of the meeting between these two was Syria. And so, again, we are live in Syria as the news has broken on this cease-fire agreement in just the southwestern part of the country, apparently worked out by both Presidents Trump and Putin. We will take you to Raqqa when we come back.



BALDWIN: Back to our breaking news here out of Hamburg, Germany, the site of the G20.

President Trump and President Putin have agreed to a cease-fire in southwest Syria. According to the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who was in the room and then briefed the media after the fact, you know, made this announcement after the two-hour, 16 minute meeting between these two world leaders there at the G20.

For now, the fighting continues in Syria, but U.S.-backed forces have punched a hole in ISIS defenses.

CNN's senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is the first journalist to go inside the breached wall around Raqqa. Here is his exclusive reporting.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We are now inside the Old City walls of Raqqa, the capital of ISIS' self-declared caliphate and the territory in which they will make their final stand in Syria and really the Middle East.

That wall a key milestone for coalition forces and the Syrian Kurds and Arabs who now control fully about 200 or 300 meters inside of the Old City here.

Down that way, 200 meters, are ISIS' positions. The forces here don't move around much in the daylight because of the risk of ISIS snipers, less so in these streets. But it's at night where the majority of the movement forward is, in fact, made.

We have seen U.S. forces here, not far from these positions, anxious not to be filmed or even noticed, frankly, but we understand it's them calling in the airstrikes and often the artillery that's allowing these forces to move forward, frankly, so quickly.

I have been surprised how little of the city ISIS apparently are in right now, an area possibly 1.5 to three miles in terms of size, so, increasingly small in the terrain that they hold, but as we saw in Mosul in Iraq, civilians apparently held in their midst unable to flee because of the is snipers, a real impediment for these Syrian, Kurdish and Arab fighters, but still progress here marking potentially the last time that ISIS can say they hold a city in Syria.


BALDWIN: Nick is now in northern Syria, 10:30 your time, Nick.

So, thank you so much for just that exclusive look inside the walls of Raqqa.

But let me ask you about the news made in this Putin-Trump meeting, specifically that -- the cease-fire in southwest Syria. What's the significance of that?