Return to Transcripts main page


Partial Syrian Cease-Fire Set; G20 Summit; U.S. Finding Itself Isolated on Climate, Trade; Tillerson Appoints Special Ukraine Envoy; Protests in Spain against Venezuelan President; U.S. Western Heat Wave. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired July 9, 2017 - 03:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Drawing the lessons from the G20 summit as the top U.S. diplomat heads to Ukraine.

And a partial cease-fire begins in Syria in a couple of hours.

Could it be a blueprint for more cooperation in the fight against ISIS?

Plus, after more than three years in jail, one of Venezuela's main opposition figures, Leopoldo Lopez, is released to house arrest.

Thank you for joining us, everyone. I'm Cyril Vanier in Atlanta, live from the CNN NEWSROOM in Atlanta.


VANIER: So U.S. president Donald Trump is back in Washington after the G20 summit in Germany. He's been tweeting about his talks with Chinese president Xi Jinping, saying they had an excellent meeting on North Korea and on trade.

He's also sent his top diplomat, U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson, to Ukraine. Pro-Russian separatists have been fighting for control of Eastern Ukraine for more than three years.

Tillerson's arrival comes just days after Mr. Trump met with Russian president Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit. CNN's Nic Robertson has more on what we learned from the summit.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: On that contentious issue of what was it that was said between President Trump and President Putin, President Putin, in his press conference, said that he thinks that President Trump accepted his answer. But he said you would have to actually ask him.

But what was fascinating was the importance that President Putin put in the cease-fire that he said the United States gives support for in the southwest part of Syria. He seemed to think this was a big deal, that it had was overlooked.

But he also had another headline in his press conference there that he feels that the United States is taking a much more pragmatic approach in Syria to the point of being willing to pool resources -- that's what he said, "pool resources" in Syria.

That perhaps stronger language than we heard from Secretary of State Tillerson when he was describing how the meeting had gone between the two presidents on Saturday.

But for Putin's point of view, clearly feeling in the driving seat on Syria, clearly feeling that he now has buy-in, at least from the United States, from President Trump, who he said, by the way, was a different person behind closed doors than what you may see in public.

But it was left to Angela Merkel here to really sort of sum up what was achieved at the G20 in the final communique on trade. She was very clear that it was a fight against protectionism and a fight against unfair trade.

Now that is something that she has conceived in advance of this summit, as the United States really being against free trade and more for protectionism. So this leaves the United States something as an outlier on that; on globalization, too, she's been very clear.

She feels that the United States on globalization is sort of out of step, that it would rather see winners and losers, that it's OK for the bosses to profit. But she's always talked about a win-win situation.

So on globalization, she was clear, they've agreed that everyone should benefit from globalization.

On steel, a big concern going into this summit that, on steel, there could be tariffs or quotas imposed by the United States. This could lead to a trade war, a global trade war. And that seems to have been headed off.

There's going to be a commission that will look at the global steel trade. That will report in November. So that issue seems to be headed off.

But she had the biggest criticism for President Trump and the United States on the issue of climate change. She said it was deplorable that the United States appears to be pulling out of the Paris climate change accord. That was her strongest language.

So at the end of the G20, it leaves Angela Merkel very much a sort of a central figure here and the United States' President Trump, for the first time in many, many years, looking as something of an outlier, not agreeing with so many of the other nations on some of the big issues -- trade and climate change -- Nic Robertson, CNN, Hamburg, Germany.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VANIER: Despite the criticism from Angela Merkel, the Trump administration is standing firm on its stance on trade and climate change. The White House has just released President Trump's weekly address.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since taking the oath of office, our government has adopted a new philosophy, America first. And believe me, it's about time. The era of economic surrender is over and a new national pride is sweeping across our land. You see it, I see it, we all see it.

Industry confidence has soared to the highest level ever recorded.

One of my first acts was ordering all federal agencies to enforce two simple rules: Buy American and hire American. We want to build with American workers and with American iron, aluminum and steel.

We are also tearing down every possible barrier to domestic energy production to unleash the full power of our economy. The American people will finally be allowed to tap into the vast energy wealth sitting right beneath our feet or right below our shores.

We have also sent a clear message to the world that we will not allow other nations --


TRUMP: -- to take advantage of us any longer.


VANIER: Larry Sabato joins us now, he's the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Larry, let's talk about what we learned during that G20 summit, those two days, where Trump met leaders of the 19 other richest countries in the world.

First question, is the United States following that summit still the most powerful country in the world?

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: The United States may be the most powerful militarily and economically.

But it's pretty clear in terms of perceptions of world leadership, there's been a significant change for the first time since the end of World War II. Many of the other industrialized countries do not look to the United States for leadership.

VANIER: But the fundamentals haven't changed. You yourself said the elements that constitute American power is still there.

SABATO: Well, one fundamental has changed. We have a most unusual president. And because of his positions on the Paris agreement, on climate change, from which he is in the process of withdrawing, which upset all 19 other members of this group, because of that agreement, because of his stances on trade, the fact that he wants to modify or potentially withdraw from many trade agreements and lots of other policies, he is not only not popular in these countries, the leaders of the countries strongly disagree with him on a wide range of issues.

VANIER: But that's precisely my question. He's not popular with many of the world leaders who were at that the summit. And his policies differ from theirs. But that doesn't necessarily make him less influential or less able to alter the course of world affairs.

SABATO: I'm not arguing that he isn't influential. I am arguing that Germany and China, among other countries, have come to the fore. And I don't believe the United States, at least for the time that Donald Trump is president, will be nearly as dominant as it has been for decades.

VANIER: And tell me about the big meeting, of course, that came out of this G20 summit, the bilateral meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin.

What did you make of that?

SABATO: It's difficult to know what to make of it because there were no notetakers. There was no audio. The only report from the American side came from Secretary of State Tillerson. And his report was short and he didn't permit cameras.

Of course, Vladimir Putin claimed that Donald Trump accepted Putin's insistence that the Russians didn't hack the American election. There simply is no doubt that they did hack the American election in various ways. All of our intelligence agencies agree to one degree or another on that.

So I would simply say this was public relations, at least on that subject, on Russiagate, on the hacking of the election by Russia. And it doesn't change a thing. The investigation into Russiagate goes on through the special counsel and through the House of Representatives and the United States Senate.

VANIER: Listen to what Mr. Putin said about Mr. Trump after they met. This was his assessment of the American president.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): TV Trump is very different from the real president. He's absolutely specific, absolutely adequate in his perception of the dialogue partner. He analyzes things quickly, replies to the raised questions or new elements in the conversation.

So I think if our future relations will unfold the same way as our meeting yesterday, there is every reason to believe that we can restore, at least partially, the level of cooperation we need.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VANIER: So, Larry, if I summarize, according to Mr. Putin, Mr. Trump listens carefully, analyzes quickly and replies to questions. I was sort of scratching my head when I heard that.

Is that a compliment?

SABATO: I'm not sure. I think probably President Putin said that because he was quite pleased with the meeting; potentially, he got everything that he wanted. Also, I think it's pretty widely known now around the world that our president is susceptible to flattery.

VANIER: Larry Sabato, joining us from the University of Virginia, thank you very much for joining the show.

SABATO: Thank you, Cyril.

VANIER: So on that key question of what exactly was said between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin during that bilateral meeting, White House officials are not confirming or denying whether President Trump accepted President Putin's claims about U.S. election meddling.

Listen to what U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told reporters aboard Air Force One.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A president of another country making a statement about the President of the United States.

Do you not want to respond to that and correct the record, if it is wrong?

STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: I'm not going to make comments about what other people say. President Trump will be happy to make statements himself about that. But President Trump handled himself brilliantly. It was very clear --


MNUCHIN: -- he made his position felt. And after very substantive dialogue on this, they agreed to move on to other discussions.

And I think it's very clear that they've opened a dialogue, that it's important to have a dialogue; as we've said, they focused on a cease- fire on Syria, focused on making sure that we have a cyber unit to make sure that Russia and nobody else interferes in any democratic elections.

And we focus on the issue of North Korea, which is a major concern to us and all our other allies.


VANIER: Alas, we did not get to put that question to the president himself because he did not hold a formal press conference before leaving the G20 summit. And the U.S. president is sending his top diplomat to Kiev. It's Rex

Tillerson's first official visit to Ukraine. He's expected to meet with President Petro Poroshenko in the next few hours.

The State Department says Tillerson intends to reaffirm America's commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Our Ivan Watson is following the developments from Moscow.

Ivan, what do you expect from this meeting?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, probably Rex Tillerson is going to try to reassure the Ukrainians, who probably are watching with some degree of concern at the long meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin.

Ukraine, after all, has been involved in a war against Russian-backed separatists for years now, a conflict that has claimed more than 10,000 lives. It views the Russian government as an enemy, largely because Russia invaded, occupied and annexed the Ukrainian Peninsula of Crimea in 2014.

On the day that Presidents Trump and Putin were meeting, OSCE international monitors operating in Eastern Ukraine registered dozens and dozens of explosions and potential cease-fire violations. So that is a conflict that is still simmering that could still reignite.

As part of the discussions, the U.S. government, the Trump administration announced the appointment of a new special envoy to deal with the Ukrainian crisis. That's Kurt Volker. He's a former ambassador to NATO from the U.S.

He will be accompanying Secretary of State Tillerson to Kiev, who will be on the ground there only for a few hours essentially to meet with the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko.

VANIER: Ivan, the G20 summit was dominated by talk of the Trump-Putin meeting. Now that the dust is beginning to settle on that meeting, where does this leave the Russian relationship, now that the two men have actually met?

WATSON: Well, I think the Russians are still somewhat celebrating. They're very delighted, based on the statements, the tweets that have been coming out from senior Russian officials here in Moscow; based on the press coverage, which has said hey, this bilateral meeting between Presidents Putin and Trump eclipsed the entire G20.

So there's a lot of happiness there. And you could see that President Putin himself was quite pleased when he was giving his press conference and talking about meeting a very different version of President Trump than the version that you see on television.

A number of agreements have been reached. There has been the decision to set up this working group between the U.S. and Russia, to deal with cyber hacking and the questions of noninterference in the U.S. democracy and the elections. It'll be very interesting to see how that's going to play out and how

that's going to be welcomed back in Washington, where President Trump is facing a number of investigations about alleged collusion with Russia during the 2016 election.

The Russians that are writing in the media, that are speaking, they have pointed out that the sanctions that have been imposed by the U.S. since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and subsequent sanctions, they have not been lifted. That's still a big point of contention here.

Russia still is very frustrated that two diplomatic compounds, that were seized by the outgoing Obama administration in December of 2016, they have not been returned.

Russia has not yet retaliated for that move and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats, accused of being involved in intelligence gathering by the outgoing Obama administration.

So the question of the sanctions still remains. And I think that Russia and the Russian government are also very much aware that President Trump has returned to Washington, where large parts of his own political party are still very suspicious about Russia and where he still faces serious opposition internally and on the domestic political front --


WATSON: -- when it comes to trying to develop further warm relations with Moscow -- Cyril.

VANIER: Ivan Watson, reporting live from Moscow on this ongoing story, thank you so much.

A cease-fire in Southwest Syria is set to begin in a couple of hours. The truce was finalized by U.S. president Donald Trump and his counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on the sidelines of that G20 summit.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov says the two countries promise to ensure all groups comply with the cease-fire.

Jomana Karadsheh is in Amman, Jordan, monitoring this for us.

Jomana, there have been so many cease-fires in Syria and so many failures.

What are the chances of success here?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Cyril, we have to wait and see if this is any different to those previous cease-fires we've seen.

Just to understand how this came about, this is part of that agreement that was reached here in the Jordanian capital in the past few days between the Russians, the Americans and the Jordanians, who have been working on this for weeks, if not months, behind closed doors, negotiations to reach this agreement, to create a deescalation zone in Southern Syria. Now they say the first, most important step in this agreement that was

reached is to have a cease-fire go into effect. As you mentioned, that's scheduled to start at noon local time. That's in less than two hours from now.

And very important, they still have some critical parts of this deescalation agreement that they still need to iron out, they still need to work out and that is the very critical, the enforcement mechanism, the monitoring of this area.

And we've heard from U.S. officials, saying that there are initial agreements, that the Jordanians and the Russians will also have work to do in the coming weeks to finalize the details of, for example, potentially what monitoring force is going to be on the ground in Southwestern Syria.

So a big part of this is going to be the cease-fire, beginning at less than about a couple of hours. But also, Cyril, this is a part of the country where you have so many different groups operating, not all of them signing up to this deal. You have also extremist groups that operate in that area. So a lot could go wrong still.

VANIER: Jomana, I know it might be early to answer this question.

But do you think, assuming that this is successful, can this be replicated to other parts of the country?

KARADSHEH: I think, Cyril, from what we're hearing and seeing coming from the different regional and international players that are involved in some way or another in the Syrian conflict, is this belief that this deescalation zones is the way forward in Syria.

But it is such a complex battlefield that what might work in Southern Syria for example might not work in other parts of the country, say, the north, where it is far more complex. So different areas, you have different groups operating.

So that is why you're seeing multiple processes taking place at the same time. You've got the talks still going on in Kazakhstan, on and off, of course, in the capital there, Astana, where you've had the Russians, Turkey and Iran having their own process there, to try and reach agreements on different deescalation zones in the country.

Jordan and the United States were observers in that process. And I think but very important, really critical when it comes to this agreement we have seen in Southern Syria is Jordan's security, this key U.S. ally, and also Israel's security, not just from extremist groups that have gains a foothold in that part of Syria but also the threat that these countries are facing or what they perceive is a real threat, and that is the growing influence and presence of Iranian- backed forces or proxies in southern part of Syria -- Cyril.

VANIER: Jomana Karadsheh, reporting live from Amman, Jordan.

And not far from there in Iraq, authorities are saying final victory is imminent against ISIS in Mosul. Some Iraqi soldiers were already celebrating. Mosul has been under ISIS control for more than three years.

The terror group says its fighters, however, are pledging to fight to the death. ISIS is using human shields in their last holdout.

This video was shot by the Iraqi police. It shows you the aftermath of three houses having been blown up by ISIS. The soldiers rescued at least 30 civilians from under the rubble, including these children and this newborn.

Instead of chants of anger, crowds in Venezuela are cheering at the return of a political prisoner. Details on that surprise move when we come back.

Plus, hundreds of people stranded in Southwest Japan after heavy floods and landslides; 18 people have died and the heavy rains may not be over.






UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

VANIER (voice-over): Thousands of people there taking to the streets in Madrid to show their anger against the Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro. The protests come after Venezuela's best known dissident, Leopoldo Lopez, was released from prison and granted house arrest.

President Maduro says he hopes the Lopez move will provide a basis for reconciliation. Such growing international pressure is believed to be one of the reasons for the surprise release of Mr. Lopez. Leyla Santiago reports now from the Venezuelan-Colombian border.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Leopoldo Lopez is back home, celebrating freedom from prison even though he remains on house arrest.

The former mayor and presidential candidate spent 3.5 years in a military prison after he was charged with inciting violence, conspiracy and arson during the 2014 anti-government protests. He denied the accusations but Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro says Lopez must pay for his crimes.

NICOLAS MADURO, PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator): The responsible people must pay before the court of law. And they will pay before the court of law.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Nearly a year before his imprisonment, Lopez warned against collapse and economic consequences.

LEOPOLDO LOPEZ, FORMER VENEZUELAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Venezuela, over these years, has become an economy addicted to imports. What we eat, what we dress, everything that we use comes from other countries. And, of course, that has had a consequence.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): In March of this year, protests ramped up when Venezuela's pro-government supreme court announced they were taking over legislative powers from the national assembly, a decision that was short-lived.

But protests continued. Acts of defiance symbolized frustration over food and medicine shortages, a collapsed economy, a growing political divide. As violence escalates on the streets, a daring attack on the supreme court and clashes between Maduro loyalists and opposition leaders at the National Assembly on Venezuela's independence day.

This weekend, through a statement, Lopez says, "Venezuela, this is a step toward freedom. If continuing my fight for freedom means going back to Ramo Verde, I am ready to do it."

Venezuela's government says the move to home detention of Leopoldo Lopez is proof that rule of law still stands, as Lopez shows the world he is still standing, too -- from the Venezuela-Colombia border, Leyla Santiago, CNN.


VANIER: Dozens of deaths in the U.S. state of Arizona are under investigation now because of the scorching heat. Health officials say the high temperatures have led to five deaths in one county.

Now they're investigating at least 57 others that may have been caused by the heat. The hot, dry weather also poses increased risk for wildfires, like this one right here in Winters, California. Firefighters believe it may have been sparked by --


VANIER: -- a blown tire on Highway 128.

And it's winter in the Southern Hemisphere, the time of year when Southern Australia gets its seasonal rain. But this year it really hasn't played out like it should.


VANIER: Thank you so much for joining us here at the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. And I will be back with headlines in just a moment.