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CNN NEWSROOM

South Korean Delegation to Visit North Korea; Trump Hails China's Move to Drop Term Limits; Parliamentary Election Underway in Italy; Silvio Berlusconi Back in Italy's Political Spotlight; Brexit Anxiety Spawns "Brexodus"; Germany's SPD Votes on Whether to Join Merkel's Coalition. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired March 4, 2018 - 03:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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LYNDA KINKADE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) talks between North Korea and the U.S. could be closer to reality as South and North Korean delegations are set to meet in Pyongyang on Monday.

President Trump praises the Chinese president's consolidation of power, saying, "Maybe we'll have to give that a shot someday."

And this hour the results are expected in Germany.

Will Chancellor Angela Merkel get her coalition government or will there be another election?

Hello, everyone. Thanks so much for joining us for this edition of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Lynda Kinkade, live in Atlanta.

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KINKADE: We begin this hour with breaking news out of South Korea. A delegation of high-level officials led by the country's spy chief will travel to the North Korean capital on Monday for a two-day visit.

One purpose is to prepare the way for direct talks between North Korea and the United States as well as to build on that dialogue that developed between the two Koreas during the Winter Olympic Games.

Our Andrew Stevens joins us now from Seoul with more on all of this.

Andrew, South Korea no doubt trying to capitalize on the improvement we saw in relations between the two Koreas during Winter Games, what have you found out about this trip?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN ASIA PACIFIC EDITOR: They are sending a delegation of 10 people, Lynda, this pretty high-powered delegation that is led by two security chiefs. One, Suh Hoon, is the head of the National Intelligence Service, the NIS in South Korea. He was brought out of retirement by President Moon.

And his expertise, if you like, is inter-Korean relations. He was responsible for bringing together the presidents of North Korea and South Korea in year 2000 and 2007, two summits between the two Koreas. These are the only two summits they've had. And he went into retirement with the change in government back in 2008.

So he is going to be focusing very much on this inter-Korean dialogue.

Now the other on is Chung Eui-Yong, and he is the head of the national security office, basically an advisor on security to President Moon himself and his key expertise is his links to the United States. It's said he has got H.R. McMaster, the national security advisor of the U.S., on speed dial.

And the delegation, as you say, will be meeting, will be flying up on Monday, tomorrow, to Pyongyang. They will be meeting their North Korean counterparts. We don't know exactly who they'll be meeting. It will be a high-level meeting, we understand. We don't know whether Kim Jong-un will actually be present at all.

But the meetings will take place on Tuesday. And then on Monday and Tuesday, I should say. And then the South Korea delegation will fly straight to Washington to brief the U.S. on where we are.

What will they talk about? This of course is key. Inter-Korean dialogue is one and actually

getting the U.S. and North Korea together at the negotiating table. That is what they hope to push toward and that's what they're going to be reporting back to Washington as well as the Blue House here in Seoul on -- Lynda.

KINKADE: A huge development. We'll follow those talks closely. We'll have to leave it there for now. Andrew Stevens in Seoul, thank you very much.

Before the Gridiron Dinner that happened just a few hours ago, Mr. Trump attended, he spoke to donors there at his Mar-a-lago resort in Florida on Saturday. His remarks to them followed a pretty tough week in the White House.

Mr. Trump did have some kind words for his Chinese counterpart, especially when it comes to presidential term limits or lack thereof. Our Ryan Nobles has more.

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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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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.

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TRUMP: 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.

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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.

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KINKADE: Those tariffs Ryan mentioned are being met with harsh criticism among U.S. allies around the world, including the European Union. European officials are threatening retaliation if higher tariffs by the U.S. become a reality.

President Trump has fought back in a tweet, saying, "If the E.U. wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on U.S. companies doing business there, we will simply apply a Tax on their Cars which freely pour into the U.S."

He added that there's a big trade imbalance. Earlier I spoke to political analyst Michael Genovese and I asked him about the seriousness of Mr. Trump's comments about President Xi as well as his latest threats on tariffs.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MICHAEL GENOVESE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the president did intend to be humorous, he was being a little flippant. But presidents have to realize that they're always on camera, always being recorded and they have to always exercise a bit of caution because, even when joking, what a president says matters.

For a president, jokes are very serious and so they'll have consequences. Never being off camera means you always have to be aware of how whatever you say or do is going to be perceived by people both at home and abroad.

KINKADE: Of course I want to mention the trade deals because he is accusing his predecessors of leaving the U.S. hostage to what he calls "very stupid" trade deals. And now he's mentioned this tariff, 10-25 percent on imported aluminum and steel.

And, of course, they're expected to start next week. He's now threatening European carmakers. He claims that trade wars are good.

Are they?

GENOVESE: He claims that they're good and that they're easy to win, I think neither of which is true. The president is often engaged in very loose talk, sometimes making direct, sometimes indirect threats and there's -- he's spreading unnecessary alarm because I think his inexperience, his naivete is what's frightening people.

And he doesn't know just how important what he's saying is and how it could have a backlash, slapping a tariff on cars, European cars.

Now no one wants a trade war, no one needs a trade war and no one wins a trade war. (INAUDIBLE) president's suggested; it's kind of foolish and it's also dangerous. And so you would hope that the president might read something like Barbara Tuchman's "Guns of August" before he moves too far into this.

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KINKADE: "The New York Times" reports that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators are looking into whether the United Arab Emirates tried to gain financial influence by funneling money to support Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

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

Voting is underway in Italy in the country's first parliamentary election since 2013, immigration one of the dominant issue, the outcome is anything but certain. And these are the major players: 81-year-old former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, he is barred from office until next year but he has put together a coalition of center right and far right parties. Luigi Di Maio leads the populist Five Star Movement and former prime

minister Matteo Renzi is heading a center left coalition. These three political factions are dominating the election but about 40 percent of voters say they are undecided.

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And out of that group, Italy's former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's comeback king, has seen his political career pronounced dead several times. He's been laid low by sex scandals and allegations of corruption and a tax conviction means he can't run for office for now. But even so, as Italians go to the polls, he is back in the spotlight. Our Ben Wedeman reports.

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BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rested, tanned and ready to get back in the fray, thrice prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi is back. An octogenarian with an advancing hairline, a weakness for beautiful women and a checkered political past.

WEDEMAN: At 81, Silvio Berlusconi, you might think, would be ready to withdraw from public life but even though he's barred by law, because of a previous tax conviction, from running for office, he's very much part of this election.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): He is still the undisputed leader of his party, the center-right Forza Italia, which has formed a campaign coalition with the rabidly anti-migrant Lega or the League and the neofascist Fratelli d'Italia, the Brothers of Italy.

It now represents the largest political bloc in the general election due to take place on March 4th.

ALAN FRIEDMAN (PH), BIOGRAPHER: Berlusconi will make a deal with the devil as long as he gets to make -- stage his comeback, look on the economy out --

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Berlusconi's American biographer, Alan Friedman (ph), recalls an Italian leader pursued by scandal.

FRIEDMAN (PH): During all his years in government, Silvio Berlusconi was always distracted by 65 lawsuits and trials against him, criminal trials, accusations of corruption, accusations of money laundering, accusations of tax fraud. And so he spent more time worrying about his own future than about the future of his country.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Yet he commands a loyal base with an approval rating of almost 25 percent. In Italy's fractured political landscape, that's considered high.

"He's an entrepreneur," says Hossam (ph), an Italian citizen originally from Lebanon.

"He wants to cut taxes for businesses. I'd vote for him." One-fourth of Italians may support him; the other three-fourths

despise him.

"Berlusconi's really a thief," says Laura, studying to become an aerospace engineer.

"He says one thing and does the opposite."

The ban on Berlusconi holding public office expires next year, which means if his coalition wins in next Sunday's vote, he could be Italy's once and future prime minister -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, Rome.

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KINKADE: For more on all of this, our Barbie Nadeau joins us from Rome from outside a polling booth.

Barbie, just give us a sense what people are saying as they head to the booths this morning. I understand immigration is one of the major concerns as well as the economy.

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Lynda, I talked to people going into the polling this morning and yesterday ahead of this polling and there's a lot of uncertainty and a general resolution that this election might not lead to anything even more certain than that.

But I think we have to understand that Italians are much more comfortable with uncertainty than the rest of the world is. They have not had a lot of certainty politically, even since the last election.

There have been four prime ministers, each one of them appointed because of fractions within the ruling coalition. So while everyone's worried about migration and the economy and all of these issues, they are very much voting with their hearts but knowing in their soul that there may not be a conclusion tomorrow morning -- Lynda.

KINKADE: All right, Barbie Nadeau, with her finger on the pulse there in Rome, no doubt we will hear from you over the coming hours as more people turn out to vote. Thank you so much.

Feeling the sting of Brexit before it's even happened, coming up, why some British residents are crossing the channel to Europe in what are some calling a Brexodus.

Plus the monster bomb cyclone has pummeled parts of the U.S. (INAUDIBLE) but the ordeal is not over. The thousands who lived through the ferocious storm. We'll have those stories when we come back.

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KINKADE: Welcome back.

Scotland's first minister is taking issue with British Prime Minister Theresa May's vision for a post-Brexit trade relationship with the E.U. Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that Ms. May's speech on Friday revealed no progress in trade negotiations.

She later tweeted, "Spoke to the prime minister last night, reiterated the Scottish government's position on membership of single market customs union."

Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain a part of the E.U. and is very concerned with the progress of trade negotiations.

As Britain's prime minister lays out her vision for Brexit, she admits leaving the E.U. won't be an easy transition and that uncertainty is why some British residents are jumping ship and heading to France. Our Jim Bittermann has more.

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JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It didn't take Birgit Schyns long to decide. The day after the British voted in favor of Brexit, she began making plans to leave.

BIRGIT SCHYNS, BUSINESS PROFESSOR: I don't see anything good coming out of it, especially for universities.

BITTERMANN (voice-over): The business school professor, who was comfortable teaching management courses at the University of Durham in Northeast England followed a friend's suggestion and moved to a university in Reims, France, and now feels she has beaten others, who she believes will be heading for the exits from the U.K.

SCHYNS: In two years' time more of my colleagues will be on the labor market. It might that we don't have that same opportunity again.

BITTERMANN (voice-over): Her companion, computer programmer Shaun Wilson, a native of Durham, moved with her. Wilson didn't speak French and had a difficult time at first but has no regrets, especially when he goes back home to his favorite pub in Durham and talks to his old friends.

SHAUN WILSON COMPUTER PROGRAMMER: Everybody gives me all of their problems about the U.K. and when it turns to, we wish we'd moved, why didn't we do that?

It's absolutely ridiculous here.

BITTERMANN: According to relocation experts, it's probably not accurate to say that British residents are flooding into France but they are seeing a steadily growing stream of companies and individuals like Brigit and Shaun, who are moving here; a Brexodus, as one of them put it. BITTERMANN (voice-over): Sophie Girault, who runs an agency to help newcomers establish themselves in France, points out that a nationwide association of companies just like hers has now created a special commission just to look at Brexit questions -- for one good reason.

SOPHIE GIRAULT, RELOCATION EXPERT: More business. We know there is business to do. This is an opportunity for us.

BITTERMANN (voice-over): But not everyone will face problems relocating here. Certainly Parisian Erich Bonnet didn't. He uprooted from France and moved to London four years ago to create his asset management company because the business climate seemed better in London than here in France.

Last summer, the situation completely reversed; a new government here and uncertainty there. So he moved his nine employees to Paris.

ERICH BONNET, CEO: Uncertainty is probably the biggest problem. The day-to-day life doesn't seem to change a lot but, in fact when you will see in 10 years' time, you may see the difference.

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BITTERMANN (voice-over): Whether it's new residents who want to be ahead of the curve or returning French men who want to avoid what they see as gathering economic clouds in Great Britain, this country is happily accommodating the Brexit refugees, sure that whatever Britain will be losing will be to France's gain -- Jim Bittermann, CNN, Paris.

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KINKADE: Doctors without Borders say Syrian airstrikes in besieged Eastern Ghouta have killed 770 people and wounded more than 4,000 and that's just in 10 days in the start of February. The medical aid group warns those numbers could rise dramatically once they get a complete report from all their facilities in the area.

A U.N. official says since the Security Council voted for a 30-day cease-fire last Saturday there has only been more bombing, more fighting and more bloodshed.

CNN is partnering with young people around the world for a student-led day of action against modern-day slavery on March 14th and in advance of My Freedom Day, we're asking students what freedom means to them. Here's what Diana (ph), a 6th grader, from the American Community School in Abu Dhabi had to say.

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DIANA, AMERICAN COMMUNITY SCHOOL OF ABU DHABI: Hi, my name is Diana. I'm in 6th grade. And to me freedom is being myself and not following anyone else, like what anyone else says.

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KINKADE: Millions have shared with us what freedom means to them on social media. You can join them and share your story using the #MyFreedomDay.

It may be days before power is restored for more than 600,000 customers in the northeast of the U.S. This after a powerful winter storm pummeled the region with heavy snow and rain hurricane force winds as well as historic flooding. At least six people died, all of them from falling trees.

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KINKADE: Well, Chancellor Angela Merkel's leadership could be on the line in Germany. We should be getting a votes of the results this hour from the center left Social Democrats. They're deciding on whether to join a grand coalition with Ms. Merkel's conservative bloc.

CNN's Atika Shubert joins me live from the Social Democratic Party headquarters in Berlin.

Great to have you with us. There is, of course, a lot at stake here, Atika. Angela Merkel has been the chancellor of Germany since 2005, a long time for any world leader. She is hoping to form this grand coalition. You're standing by waiting at the vote.

How soon do you expect to have some results?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Any minute now, frankly. You're right; she's led Germany for the last 12 years, eight of them in a so-called grand coalition with the Social Democrat and now she's trying to make that coalition happen again.

But it's all depending on this postal vote, more than 450,000 Social Democrat members, the rank and file of the party, cast their ballots in a postal vote to --

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SHUBERT: -- decide whether or not to approve or reject her coalition offer.

A yes would mean that she could breathe a sigh of relief and get back to the business of running the country through her coalition government. But a no would mean that she'd have to either attempt a minority government or face more elections. We did hear a little while ago a bit of a cheer within the party headquarters here but we don't know exactly what that means. We're waiting for the official announcement to be made, as you can see. We're expecting that to happen any minute now -- Lynda.

KINKADE: And, of course, I take it Germany has gone for months without an official government, as Angela Merkel has tried to form a coalition of some sort. Talk to us about the concern that if this grand coalition goes ahead, that a far right party will be the main opposition.

SHUBERT: Absolutely and this was one of the reasons that you saw so much concern within the Social Democrats. They said if we go into a coalition government with Angela Merkel, who is going to be the largest opposition party?

Well, it will be the far right nationalist group, the Alternative for Germany Party and that is something many Social Democrats didn't want to see. So regardless of what happens, it will be very interesting to see how Merkel handles the Alternative for Germany party.

They did get a sizable portion of the vote, about 13 percent of the national vote and so they do have a big voice in parliament. So how this coalition forms, how Merkel is going to handle the kind of opposition that comes from a far right party, is a very good question -- Lynda.

KINKADE: And if there is a no vote, if this grand coalition doesn't proceed, what does this mean for the future of Angela Merkel and how likely are we to see another election take place?

SHUBERT: It's a very involved process, what would happen next, if that were the case. She could, for example, attempt a minority government, that would be unprecedented in modern Germany.

But it's something that she could do. It could also mean facing new elections, which is something that many in the country (INAUDIBLE). There's a sense here that the political instability is not what many voters want.

But it all depends on this postal vote and what the announcement will be. There's been a lot of concern, the fact that there has been no coalition government in place for nearly six months now. And it's left Merkel in a very vulnerable position. So she really does need this coalition government to go ahead, to shore up her position there.

KINKADE: Certainly a lot at stake, good to have you there for us, Atika, stand by. We will come back to you again once that vote happens. Atika Shubert, thank you very much.

And thanks everyone for joining for this edition of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Lynda Kinkade. I'll be back with headlines in just a moment.