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Trump Hails China's Move to Drop Term Limits; Parliamentary Election Underway in Italy; South Korean Delegation to Visit North Korea. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired March 4, 2018 - 02:00   ET




LYNDA KINKADE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone. Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Lynda Kinkade live in Atlanta. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


KINKADE: Well, after a week of policy surprises and another resignation at the White House, U.S. president Donald Trump is out among the people this weekend. He spent his Saturday wooing donors at a fundraiser in Florida and cracking jokes among Washington's elite Saturday night.

But make no mistake, he's facing some very serious issues as Ryan Nobles reports.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The president spent Saturday night at the swanky Gridiron Club Dinner in Washington, surrounded by the nation's capital's elite.

But it's comments that he made before getting to Washington that are drawing quite a bit of attention, the president speaking at a fundraiser at his club in Florida and talking about the recent power grab by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, the president suggesting that he was impressed by President Xi's move and that perhaps it might be something that he wants to try. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't forget China is great and Xi is a great gentleman. He is now president for life. President for life. And, look, he was able to do that. I think it's great.

Maybe we will give that a shot someday. He is the most powerful president in 100 years, you know, person in 100 years. You know, he treated us tremendously well when I went over there.

(END VIDEO CLIP) NOBLES: The president went on to say he values his relationship with President Xi and said that Xi treats him tremendously well. But it wasn't just China that was on the president's mind during this speech. He also talked about his former opponent, Hillary Clinton, wondering with the crowd whether or not she comes home happy every night.

Also suggested that the election between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary was rigged. And he also talked about a former Republican president, George W. Bush, suggesting that George W. Bush was a, quote, "real genius," in a sarcastic tone, because of his actions getting the United States into a war with Iraq.

Of course this is a busy upcoming week for the President of the United States. Chief among the things that he'll have to do is defend his decision to launch a major steel tariff on imports coming into the United States. It's something that's been criticized not only by Democrats but many of the president's fellow Republicans.

He's going to have to make the case to not only in his administration but in the Congress that this is a smart idea for the United States going forward -- Ryan Nobles, CNN, Washington.


KINKADE: Well, "The New York Times" reports that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators are now looking into whether the United Arab Emirates tried to buy political influence by supporting Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

According to "The Times," Mueller's team has questioned a number of witnesses including this man, George Nader, and who's been an adviser to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. Nader repeatedly was a frequent visitor to the White House last year, meeting with U.S. President Trump's senior adviser, Jared Kushner, as well as former strategist, Steve Bannon.

Voting is underway in Italy in the country's first parliamentary election since 2013. Anti-migrant sentiments are overshadowing this event and the outcome is anything but certain.

These are the major players: 81-year-old former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. He's barred from taking office until next year but he's put together a coalition of center right and far right parties, including Matteo Salvini's Northern League while Luigi Di Maio leads the populist Five Star Movement, which anti-European.

Former prime minister Matteo Renzi is heading a center left coalition. These three political factions are dominating the election; about 40 of voters say they are still undecided. With more than 600,000 undocumented migrants in the country, immigration is a top issue for many voters.


KINKADE: CNN European affairs commentator Dominic Thomas for more on all of this. Good to have you with us, Dominic.


KINKADE: I wanted to start off by looking at the issues at stake this election, immigration followed closely by the economy. Just talk to us about what people will be thinking as they go into the polling booths in the next hour.

THOMAS: There's a lot of frustration with the economic climate, unemployment, a struggling --


THOMAS: -- economy and so on. And as we've seen in the past year or so, in all European elections, the question of national identity and immigration have really shaped the debate.

So we're hear candidates talking about putting Italy first. And they've been skillful at manipulating the question of immigration and national identity to in some ways sort of scapegoat these folks as a way to move these agendas forward.

And the big questions are being taken over by all parties now and in so many ways, mainstreamed. The discussion is about migration and this is really the key question, shaping this. And of course it has turned a lot of voters away and off.

KINKADE: European leaders are watching this election very closely.

It is after all European Union's third biggest economy and we're seeing parties that are dominated, that are eurosceptics, right?

THOMAS: Yes, so they are but they've been careful. Of course, this interesting Five Star Movement that is polling at the highest as a individual party, and in fact, it's not a party, it's a movement.

And so for them going into this, these are some of the key issues and of course around Europe, really what we see is resistance to the kind of Macron-Merkel model, which is for greater European integration.

So they fall short of calling for a Brexit Italian style but there has been some critique of it. Now the European Union, I think, is concerned with this election because it's yet again a frustrating moment, where you have to deal with the question of the far right or the radical right and anti-migration rather than getting on with the business of ruling and doing something in Europe.

And I think it's also frustrating to deal with some of these far right or radical right parties that are so against the liberal democratic values of the European Union. So to that extent, they would like for a slightly smoother outcome.

KINKADE: You mentioned the Five Star Movement. This is a party that is set, from the polls we've seen, said to get the most vote. It's led by a 31-year-old former waiter, very little political experience. And we've heard him whip out Trumplike lines, talking about fake news when it comes to newspapers in the country.

What do you make of this party and this leader?

THOMAS: Yes. This is interesting. He's the vice president of the deputies right now and so this is a deputy and senatorial election. But I think really what's interesting about this, as I said, it's a movement. The problem with this movement, it's basically right now a 25 percent party.

The question is can it gets more votes than that?

Secondly, it's been fighting along the line and there are a lot of divisions within the party as to whether the party should consider going into coalitions, which are a core part of the DNA of the Italian electoral system.

It's very hard to come into power, unless you get into these talks. And so this I think is really what will be interesting here is how well they do and whether or not they're willing to move to coalition talks.

And right now, as you already mentioned, the center right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi has the greatest chance of getting close to that magic number of 40 percent, which allows them to form a government, because I think we're going to see Matteo Renzi's, the former prime minister's Democratic Party, much like other center left parties in the Dutch elections and the French elections, are going to be punished for their failure to address some of the economic problems and left-leaning parties not doing well these days in European elections.

KINKADE: And the Five Star Movement a pushback against forming a coalition, even the idea of forming a coalition. But they might have to go down that path. We'll see how it plays out in the coming hours. Always good to have you on. Thanks so much for your time, Dominic.

THOMAS: Lovely, thank you.


KINKADE: We have some breaking news out of South Korea, a delegation of high-level South Korean officials will travel to North Korea on Monday for a two-day visit. The purpose is to prepare the way for direct talks between North Korea and the United States and to build on the dialogue that developed between the two Koreas during the Olympic Games. Andrew Stevens joins us now from Seoul with more on this developing story.

Andrew, good to have you with us. South Korea, of course, trying to capitalize on those games made during the Winter Olympics.

With this trip that's planning, that is expected to happen Monday, what can you tell us about it?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN ASIA PACIFIC EDITOR: It's a 10-prson delegation that's going, as you say, on Monday to Pyongyang. And it's led by two heavy hitters as far as inter-Korean relations are concerned and also Korean-U.S. relations --


STEVENS: -- are concerned, Lynda.

So the South Koreans are really putting a lot of effort into this. One of the leaders is Suh Hoon. He's led not one but two former attempts at reunification. He's been to Pyongyang in 2000 and 2007 to talk reunification. No one knows more about inter-Korean operations than he does.

And he's also now the head of the National Intelligence Service. So he is the spy chief of South Korea. He's going to be partnered by Chung Eui-Yong, who is the national security officer. He heads the national security office here, which is basically he's the adviser to the president in South Korea.

But his key strength is that he's very, very close to the U.S. It's said he's got H.R McMaster, the National Security Agency adviser on speed dial. So the two of them are going for just two days to Pyongyang.

That team will then fly to Washington to update the U.S. on what those talks are about. Now we know inter-Korean relations are obviously going to be on the menu but they're also going to be talking about the conditions for a dialogue between North Korea and the United States as well.

This is the key. They will be talking about is needed to be done to get North Korea and the U.S. to the table.

KINKADE: And, of course, Andrew, this comes at a time where the Trump administration has still not appointed an ambassador to South Korea. And its special representative on North Korean policy has just retired on Friday.

There seem to be gaping holes for such a key policy issue for the U.S.

STEVENS: Very much so; it's a source of continued frustration here in Seoul, obviously, that there is no ambassador that has been appointed. And, you know, they don't have the direct conduit usual at the ambassadorial level which most countries enjoy with these. Certainly South Korea not that only one that doesn't have an ambassador. Many other capitals around the world don't, either.

But it's interesting, Lynda. If you look at how Donald Trump sort of treats foreign policy, take a look at what he said at the Gridiron Club just in the past few hours or so. He was with Washington's elite and he did speak about North Korea actually calling up the administration in the U.S.

He said that they called in the last couple of days and basically asked if they could get talks. And he said, Donald Trump was quoted as saying, we would like to talk as well. I said we would, too. But you have to denuke, you have to denuke. So let's see what happens from there. So this was coming to us from a

dinner in Washington. So this would be news in many ways for the South Koreans as well. So that sort of underlies the level of frustration the South Koreans have, that there isn't these direct lines of communications which is usually established at ambassadorial levels.

KINKADE: Andrew Stevens, staying across this developing story for us, great to have you with us. We will talk to you again very soon. Thank you.

And thanks so much for everyone for joining us for this edition of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Lynda Kinkade. "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is next.