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Trump: Time for Change in Iran; South Korea's President Welcomes North Korean Olympic Participation. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired January 2, 2018 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are witnessing Iranians who want regime change.
[05:59:26] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The government has been cracking down on these demonstrations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just don't have the kind of leverage to direct and shape what is happening on the streets of Iran.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're actually closer to a nuclear war with North Korea than we've ever been.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kim Jong-un threatening the U.S., but extending a rare olive branch to South Korea.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president being a loose cannon on Twitter. He should build upon successes to finally bring North Korea to the table.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: The president has a big domestic agenda planned for 2018.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The budget is going to have to be dealt with.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We need border security. Marry that up with the DREAM Act. There's a deal to be had.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, January 2, 6 a.m. here in New York. Chris is off. John Berman joins me.
Happy New Year.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, 2018 is exhausting.
CAMEROTA: It's off to a bang, that is for sure. Here's our starting line for news.
Deadly protests are spreading in Iran. President Trump tweeting his support for the Iranian people, while declaring that it's time for change in Tehran. The Iranian government firing back at the president, saying he has no business sympathizing with, quote, "wicked enemies."
And potentially monumental diplomacy taking shape on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea offering to meet with North Korea next week in the DMZ after Kim Jong-un expressed an interest in sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics. Could this drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea?
BERMAN: Tensions escalating between President Trump and Pakistan. Just two months ago the president claimed Pakistan was finally respecting the U.S. But now, in his first tweet of the new year, the president says Pakistan has given the U.S. nothing but lies and deceit, claiming they give safe haven to terrorists. Now the White House withholding millions in military assistance. So where does this feud go?
Also on the president's domestic plate, a daunting legislative agenda, budget and infrastructure agreement and immigration plan for DREAMers. All need to be hammered out with Congress and soon.
A lot going on. CNN has it all covered, starting with Joe Johns, live at the White House.
Good morning, Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.
The president back here at the White House after the long holiday break. His administration and the Congress now confronting all the domestic issues they had to put aside in order to hit the road in December, but it is the international issues so far that have dominated the president's Twitter feed during this new year.
JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump returning to Washington with a large legislative to-do list and a range of international issues on his plate.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody is going to love what's happening with our country, because we're taking this big, beautiful ship and we're slowly turning it around. I'd like to do it faster.
JOHNS: Mr. Trump weighing in multiple times over the holiday on the deadly anti-government protests in Iran, saying that "Iran is failing at every level" and calling for change after warning the U.S. "is watching very closely for human rights violations."
GRAHAM: It's not enough to watch. President Trump is tweeting very sympathetically to the Iranian people. But you just can't tweet here. You have to lay out a plan.
JOHNS: Iran's ambassador to the U.K. calling the tweets offensive in an Instagram posting Monday night. As for Kim Jong-un's New Year's threat that the nuclear button is always on his desk, President Trump saying only this.
TRUMP: We'll see. We'll see.
JOHNS: The former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff warning that the U.S. is closer to a nuclear war with North Korea than ever before.
MIKE MULLEN, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I don't see the opportunities to solve this diplomatically at this particular point.
JOHNS: The Trump administration's relationship with Pakistan also strained, heading into the New Year. Mr. Trump accusing Pakistan of lying and deceiving the United States in his first tweet of the year and, again, alleging that the country's leaders have given safe haven to terrorists.
TRUMP: We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars. At the same time, they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting.
JOHNS: A National Security Council spokesman later saying the U.S. will continue to withhold $255 million worth of military aid from the country.
Pakistan responding by summoning the U.S. ambassador for a meeting and promising to respond shortly to let the world know the truth.
All this, as the administration confronts a number of legislative deadlines back here in the U.S. The first, a January 19 deadline to pass a spending bill and avert a government shutdown that could cost billions.
One issue that will be front and center: protection for so-called DREAMers who were brought to the country illegally as children. The president insisting there will not be a deal on DACA without funding for a wall, a nonstarter for Democrats.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you give anything to the president on border wall funding in order to get a DACA deal done?
REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because he says...
JOHNS: Now, Democrats have shown an openness to work with the president on infrastructure issues, and infrastructure is likely to be a topic of conversation when the president meets with the vice president for lunch today, along with the labor secretary right here in this room later today.
The press secretary is expected to hold her first news conference in a couple weeks. International issues are likely to be very high on the list of questions.
John, back to you.
BERMAN: They sure are. Joe Johns at the White House.
[06:05:00] International issues, Iran first and foremost among them. And moments ago, Iran's supreme leader blamed the country's enemies for stirring unrest as the death toll keeps rising in the protests there.
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live for us with the very latest on this developing story -- Nick.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're right, John. Ayatollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of Iran, saying that, quote, "Enemies were behind," fomenting this unrest, promising to add more to that statement later. And that statement comes at a very crucial time, indeed. It is, frankly, telling that the supreme leader of Iran, who sits constitutionally above the president, so to speak, is more of a spiritual guardianship, that he would feel obliged to comment on these protests at all, the worst since the uprising of 2009.
But it comes as the death toll nearly doubled overnight. Much of the nine dead that brings to 21 since protests began on Thursday, concentrated in one particular province called Isfahan. But the broader question is how do you calm a movement, a protest movement like this that doesn't have a key set of demands or a leader you can negotiate with.
The moderate President Rouhani saying he understands some of the complaints or the protests, some are economics, too, but frankly, at this point, nobody really expected them to spread this level of ferocity and passion. The issue now with security forces saying that they will target, with some degree of resolution, those organizing or behind the protests.
Do we see further bloodshed or some bid to try and slow this down? The outside world watching but many Iranians, too, young, unemployed and angry at the lack of economic opportunities, particularly since the nuclear agreement was supposed to ease sanctions and make lives a little bit easier. That hasn't happened, and many are on the streets now -- John.
CAMEROTA: All right, Nick. Thank you very much. Please keep an eye on everything that happens there for us today.
Joining us now to discuss it is CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger.
Happy New Year, David.
DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Happy New Year, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: How do you see what's happening in Iran today?
SANGER: Well, it's pretty remarkable. First of all, none of us saw this coming, and this timing. It is reminiscent, of course, of the 2009 uprising.
And the problem that President Trump faces today is very similar to the one that President Obama faced then. You may remember that President Obama was very hesitant to say too much in favor of the protesters. Not because he didn't sympathize with them but because he was concerned that the government would quickly come to the conclusion that they were American-backed or at least make the argument in public that it was the U.S. government, the CIA that was fomenting this. He didn't want to help the Iranian government put the -- the entire uprising down.
So, President Trump's tried the other approach. He's come out very much in favor of the protesters right away. You've seen those tweets. And now we've seen the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, do exactly what President Obama was afraid of: make the case that this was entirely incited by foreign governments, when clearly, it does not appear that way.
BERMAN: No. It was inevitable that the supreme leader would ultimately point to the United States and others as being behind these protests. We saw a statement not unlike that from the Iranian ambassador to the United Kingdom, who said that "America and the west are fully aware that we are capable of resolving our own problems. But it's strange that Trump, who previously referred to Iranians as a nation of terrorists, is now seeking to show his hypocritical support to those participating in protests. In yet another offensive statement, he has now referred to Iranians as a 'hungry people in need of pity'!"
So you can see to an extent what the regime is trying to do there. But the United States has got interests here, as well. I mean, clearly, the president wants to stand behind these people taking to the streets.
SANGER: Well, he clearly does. And -- and he should. He's got to be careful in the way he does it.
You know, one thing that he could do that would truly show support, I think, for the Iranian people, versus the government -- and this has been much debated over many years -- is make it easier, not harder, for Iranian students to come into the United States, go to universities, as they did before the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and go back home with an understanding of what the institutions of democracy look like.
Of course, Iran is on the state sponsor of terrorists list for the president, and so the result is he's put the Iranian people on the immigration ban, as well. And I think that's one of the tensions you see here.
There's another tension, John, that has to do with the Iranian nuclear agreement which, of course, the president has been trying to squeeze. But the -- the pressure that President Rouhani is under right now, who negotiated that deal with the Obama administration, is that he's being criticized for not getting enough of the economic benefits of the deal out to the Iranian people. And, of course, President Trump's argument is the reverse, that Iran got too much from the deal early on.
So if you really want to bring economic benefits to the Iranian people, the question is, is there a way to support President Rouhani in doing that? And of course, Rouhani is under great pressure here. And I suspect, if anybody takes the fall for this, it will be him.
CAMEROTA: David, it's been interesting to see who is voicing support for President Trump's position on this, including people who were in the Obama administration. So Dennis Ross, who was a National Security Council official, ambassador. Here's what he said about what President Trump has tweeted. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DENNIS ROSS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL OFFICIAL: In retrospect, I think we made a mistake. I think we should have -- we should have made it clear that, in fact, the world was watching.
I think it's very important that the Trump administration not look like they're trying to foment trouble because that, I think, ultimately wouldn't be very credible. This administration, President Trump is not seen internationally as being a champion of human rights. So, again, saying the world is watching is probably the right tone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: So let me just clarify. When he says, "I think we made a mistake," he means the Obama administration, for being more hands off?
SANGER: That's right. And he was in the Obama administration at that time. And he was one of the officials who they had me sit down with, who had to defend the -- the way that President Obama was handling it. And you could tell at the time that Mr. Ross's heart wasn't in the defense.
I think he's got it exactly right. There's a fine line here between supporting the protests and, more importantly, what the protesters are standing up for, which has become more than just their economic rights. And of course, it's become political, as it was in 2009, and not appearing to be the one fomenting it.
And that's a really subtle distinction. And I think it's the one that is going to be the hardest one for the president to navigate. And Mr. Ross made one other very important point there. The U.S. has been somewhat selective in the places where it's talked about human rights.
So we have not made many human rights complaints about China, about the Philippines. So the president standing up now to do so about Iran looks a little bit like it serves his political agenda, even if he's exactly right to be making the case that he is.
BERMAN: David, if we can, I want to shift to Pakistan right now, because President Trump seems to be playing good cap [SIC] -- good cop, bad cop with Pakistan but he's both cops in this case.
Remember, back in the fall, he talked about how Pakistan all of a sudden is respecting the U.S. like it never has before. But now, in his first statements of the New Year, you know, the president has been writing about that Pakistan is not living by its obligations to fight terrorists and is threatening to withhold money promised to Pakistan.
SANGER: Well, the fundamental argument here is that the Pakistanis are being paid by the United States to go conduct counterterrorism operations. The president of Pakistan, who's somewhat interim, was in New York a few months ago, and he told me at that time, there are no terrorists in Pakistan. There's no problem here. I don't understand what the issue is.
And he was -- sort of had his head in the sand about the whole thing. So President Trump is taking, I think, a much tougher position, but a very understandable one than President Obama did, by threatening to cut off this aid, because the Pakistanis clearly are not taking this as seriously as the program money would suggest they need to.
At the same time, again, there's a fine line. And the fine line here is Pakistan is a nuclear armed country and a major non-NATO ally, as designated by President Bush.
And the question is, if you drive them away, if they become more radicalized, what do you do with a radicalized, nuclear-armed nation? And -- and that's going to be a tough line for the president.
CAMEROTA: But it does seem to have gotten Pakistan's attention. I mean, they're calling back their ambassador for talks about this.
It sure does. It's definitely woken them up. And you know, there were moments where the Obama administration withheld the aid temporarily. But they never did for very long. And I think the question is, can President Trump use this cudgel to actually force the Pakistanis into a change? That's going to be hard. The politics on this within Pakistan are extremely difficult, and really, the one he used to be dealing with is the Pakistani military, not the government, because it's the military that's both in control of these decisions and also that is receiving the funds.
CAMEROTA: All right. David, stick around, because wait, there's more. A lot more to talk to you about. There's this potential diplomatic breakthrough on the Korean Peninsula.
If North Korea accepts South Korea's invitation to negotiate, then what happens? Where does that leave the U.S.? We discuss all that, next.
[06:18:41] BERMAN: A critical turn of events on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea proposing high-level border talks with North Korea. This comes after Kim Jong-un reached out, expressing an interest in sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month. So, could this development drive a wedge between the U.S. and Seoul?
Want to bring back David Sanger, who wrote a piece on just this subject this morning in "The New York Times." Also joining us, CNN political analyst John Avlon. David Sanger, let me begin with you, because you brought up the issue of this wedge that North Korea might be trying to create between the U.S. and South Korea. Explain.
SANGER: This is a fascinating and very canny move on the part of Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader. For years, really decades, the North Koreans have not wanted to go deal directly with South Korea. They've always wanted to deal only with the United States. They've called South Korea the lackey, the puppet of the U.S.
So why now at this moment, a month before the Olympics open up in South Korea, are the North Koreans suddenly seeking to have direct talks with the South? And the answer is fairly simple.
They see an opening between President Moon, the new president of South Korea, and President Trump. It's President Moon who has argued that military operations and exercises with the United States should be suspended for a while during the Olympics. It's President Moon who has argued for direct talks with North Korea and who has not talked as much about sanctioning the north. Although, he has enforced the U.N. sanctions.
[06:20:28] So I think that what we've seen is Kim Jong-un, seeing a chance to say, "I'll deal just with the South Koreans and see if I can weaken the 70-year-old alliance between the U.S. and South Korea and strike my own deal there." You know, as President Moon has infuriated President Trump with a lot of his comments before, including the one that President Moon saying he has a veto right against any military action by the U.S. in the north. The administration tells me that's not the case.
CAMEROTA: But, John, I mean, why wouldn't the U.S. welcome this? Wouldn't we welcome a wedge over war? If South Korea can get the North to fly right or, you know, whatever, why not welcome it?
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think two things. First of all, you can make the case that Kim is reacting to the Trump administration; much tougher line on North Korea.
But I think we've got to be careful about getting too over our skis about a new -- new North Korea that's all of a sudden led by a man who's a vanguard of peace and discipline and statesman-like behavior. Let's not delude ourselves.
That said, it's a candy move by North Korea, in advance of the Olympics, to all of a sudden try to shift the narrative and say, "Look, let's meet. Let's us participate together and maybe try to de- escalate this." De-escalation of this very dangerous situation is in the world's interests, the United States' interests. But let's not get snowed by the idea that it's a born-again statesman who's running North Korea.
CAMEROTA: No, I'm not saying that this is going to be like a makeover for Kim Jong-un. I'm saying that if it -- David, is South Korea can get the job done, shouldn't the U.S. welcome that?
SANGER: Certainly, it is a temporary reprieve. I don't think there's any problem with that, Alisyn. And President Moon has one objective here. Get through the Olympics with no incidents with the North Koreans.
SANGER: And one way to go do that is to invite the North Koreans to participate, have their athletes participate in the Olympics. It sort of looks like that may be under way. That's an offer the South made a while ago. And the theory is that the North is not going to mess around with an Olympics in which their own athletes are competing. So nothing wrong with that.
I think the bigger question for the Trump administration is does this initiative undercut the long-term goal, which is to force the North Koreans to give up their nuclear arsenal? And as you said that New Year's statement had a lot in it about mass producing nuclear weapons.
BERMAN: I've got to say, one thing that -- that North Korea right now has in common with Iran is their international events that are moving forward, and the United States is not the biggest driver here. These are happening, and the United States is being forced to react, perhaps not drive them.
I also want to talk about Israel for a second right now. Because just a few hours ago, the Knesset there voted to make it sort of easier -- well, make it harder, shall we say, for Jerusalem to be part of any long-term peace deal. They've raised the bar. And they also made it easier for the Israelis to unilaterally distinguish what is Jerusalem and whatnot, essentially, perhaps, putting obstacles in the way of peace.
What do you think is going on there? And are they reacting, John, perhaps, to President Trump with a much more, you know, tilting the scales towards Israel and not the Palestinians?
AVLON: Look, I think it is fascinating to the extent that Trump -- Trump basically believes if you play offense, other people will react to you, rather than trying to bring people together in a kumbaya way on the geopolitical stage.
To the extent he's getting reactions from other nations, you know, that may be a good thing from his world view. But to the extent it creates obstacles for further peace, that's a problem. Obviously, Bibi Netanyahu is a great ally of Trump and is trying to present himself that way.
But I think you're also seeing how interconnected the chess pieces are. What's happening in Iran, as Lindsey Graham pointed out, is connected to what's happening in North Korea. If you delegitimize a nuclear deal with Iran, does that make it more difficult to strike a peaceful deal with North Korea?
So all these pieces are in place, but as we begin 2018, you're seeing a lot of countries reacting to President Trump and, at least on a self-identification level, that's the kind of thing he likes. Whether that's good for peace, whether that's good for U.S. leadership is a whole nother question.
CAMEROTA: How do you see what the Knesset did?
SANGER: Well, you have to see this in the context of the president's decision just before the holidays to go recognize Jerusalem as the true capital of Israel and say that he's going to move the embassy there.
Now, he may not now manage to move the embassy there for many years as Secretary of State Tillerson acknowledged. But by doing so, he empowered those within Prime Minister Netanyahu's coalition to go make the declaration that they did today.
[06:25:06] And that's going to make it harder, if they actually do move to any conversation with the Palestinians, and none seems immediately in the offing, to try to come up with a way in which you would actually negotiate over the future status of Jerusalem. That may be exactly what the president intended.
It just makes the process of a peace deal, what's been handed to Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, all the more difficult.
CAMEROTA: All right. John Avlon, David Sanger, thank you both very much. So President Trump promising a very special 2018. But can he convince Democrats to work with him on this very ambitious agenda that includes a budget, an infrastructure bill and immigration plan?
We're just getting started. We'll take a closer look next.
CAMEROTA: President Trump faces a daunting legislative agenda on his first full day back in the White House. Topping the list, a new federal budget, an infrastructure bill and a comprehensive immigration plan that deals with millions of DREAMers.
So three things are topping the list. I'm not sure how the math works, but we're going to get to that.
Let's bring in CNN political analysts John Avlon and Karoun Demirjian.
So yes, there's three things just at the top of the list, as far as we know it. So how is this going to work?
AVLON: Well, first, avoiding a partial government shutdown on January 19 is the non-optional top of the agenda. That you can't have that happen and have a successful legislative agenda ahead of you, especially the Republicans control government.
Then the infrastructure plan is the biggest opportunity. And what the president has been talking most about. It's in his wheelhouse. But it, like all major measures, are going to require bipartisan coalitions. And Trump is saying, do bipartisan is the new phrase. The question is, will Democrats feel incentivized to do it? Because
now with Doug Jones in the Senate from Alabama, the margin is tight. It's 51-49. And then, of...