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Trump Agrees to Meet Kim Jong-un on May; Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum Upset World Leaders; Nerve Agent Positive on Former Russian Spy; Convoys Struggle To Reach Syria's Eastern Ghouta; Medical Facilities Bombed And Shelled; Litvinenko Widow Urges U.K. To Protect Russian Asylees; Trump Has Awkward Moment With Steel Worker. Aired 3- 4a ET

Aired March 9, 2018 - 03:00   ET


[03:00:00] CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: They have insulted each other. They threatened to go war. Now they might meet face to face. Donald Trump says yes to a direct meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong- un.

And the U.S. president follows through on trade tariffs. Foreign steel and aluminum will be taxed, but some countries will get a pass.

Plus, the Salisbury mystery. Who just tried to kill a former Russian spy? We'll have the latest on the investigation coming up.

It's great to have you with us. I'm Cyril Vanier at the CNN headquarters here in Atlanta.

It was just seven months ago that Donald Trump threatened to rain fire and fury on North Korea like the world had never seen. Now he's agreed to meet face to face with its leader Kim Jong-un. We don't know where yet, but South Korean officials say it will happen by May.

The offer to meet came from Kim Jong-un himself. It was passed on by a South Korean envoy who met the U.S. president during a meeting at the White House on Thursday.


CHUNG EUI-YONG, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR, REPUBLIC OF SOUTH KOREA: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he is committed to denuclearization. Kim pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests. And he expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible.


VANIER: The president's decision apparently caught many in the White House and in the Pentagon off guard. Even the State Department was somewhat surprised. Listen to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just earlier on Thursday while on a visit to Ethiopia.


talks with the United States and U.S. negotiations, we're a long ways from negotiations. I think we just need to be very clear eyed and realistic about it.


VANIER: So, we're covering all angles of this. Andrew Stevens is in Seoul, South Korea. Matt Rivers is in Beijing, a key player as well, and Kaori Enjoji is in Tokyo. Let's start with Andrew. It's all been very bizarre, Andrew, the way this has happened.

South Korea has been instrumental in all of this. Fill us in. What did the South Korean envoy say to President Trump at the White House? How did he present things?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, interestingly, Cyril, the South Korean envoy wasn't scheduled to meet with the president at all. He was meeting with H.R. McMaster, national security advisor, where he repeated the offer from Kim Jong-un. It was a verbal not a written offer to cite that he was prepared to talk, and he wanted to talk Donald Trump about denuclearization on the Korean peninsula.

H.R. McMaster then took that to the president. There was a very hasty arranged meeting, we understand, between the North Korean envoys. McMaster there also, the Secretary of Defense James Mattis at which that offer was put once again direct to the president and he very quickly, we understand, agreed to that, much as you point out, to the shock of many administrators and advisors to the president. They weren't expecting that.

I mean, in the past, a meeting, a direct meeting with the U.S. president has always been seen as a carrot. And there has to be certain preconditions fill before that actually takes place.

Donald Trump being the maverick that he is, being the businessman that he wants to be, made an executive decision, bypassing everybody and protocol and said, OK, let's go ahead with this.

So, administration officials are now scrambling. It's still clear both from the U.S. and the South Koreans and indeed, the Japanese that the sanctions, the maximum pressure which has been brought to bear economically by the U.S. stays in place until there is some sort of movement and considerable movement by the North Koreans on denuclearization.

But the big question is what's the U.S. prepared to give up. I mean, are they prepared to pull their troops back from South Korea? Are they prepared to break the alliance with South Korea as South Korea want that alliance broken with the U.S. in return for getting a nuclear- free peninsula?

We've been down this path before, Cyril, as we all know. It has end, it has gone nowhere. There has been what looked like sincere talks from the North Koreans before, which later transpired to be the instance here because the nuclear program kept going in secret. Is it any different this time around? Well, we've heard to Donald

Trump thinks that Kim Jong-un is sincere. That sincerity is going to be put to the test and fairly soon too, given that this meeting is supposed to take place by May.

VANIER: Absolutely, just under eight weeks to get this all done, assuming it does indeed happen. Let's go to China to find out how they're reacting. Matt, we've talked about this before. Beijing has called for negotiations. So, I assume this is going to be well received where you are.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, there was just a press briefing at the ministry of foreign affairs here which is the first time we've had an on the record comment from the Chinese government so far.

[03:05:03]And just to give you the clip notes, the spokesperson today welcomed the positive message conveyed in this development. They are hoping that the process is moving in the right direction and they are expressing their full approval and support for these talks, which isn't surprising.

Beijing's consistent position over the years and they have been very, very consistent on this, is that the only way to solve this problem is by direct negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.

And what they got here was a somewhat surprising fast forwarding, if you will, to the to negotiator from the North Korean side to the top negotiator from the United States side, potentially sitting down out of nowhere in a matter of months.

Beijing certainly a surprised, likely, as the rest of the world was, but Beijing is certainly welcoming this. That said, China is -- the Chinese government is aware that this is a difficult process. That there are a lot of bumps in the road, that there could be obstacles that could come up in these negotiations.

There's a lot of potential for things to go wrong. You heard Wang Yi, the foreign minister yesterday here in China at a press briefing before all of this all came out even. But what you heard the foreign minister say, and I can read part of it to you.

"It takes more than one cold day to freeze 3 feet of ice. Despite light at the end of the tumble, the journey ahead won't be smooth. History has reminded us time and time again that whenever tensions subsided on the peninsula, the situation would be clouded by various interferences."

So, you kind of have two things going on within the Chinese government. On the one hand, optimism, support. Let's hope that this works. Let's hope that this really can lead to a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula. On the other hand, there is a realization here that this is going to be a difficult process.

VANIER: Yes, of course. The enmity between the U.S. and North Korea has been building up Since the Korean War so we're talking more than half a century.

Let's go to Japan, see how they are reacting to this or will react. They're also a major stakeholder in this is crisis. And Kaori Enjoi is there for us.

The first phone call, Kaori, that President Trump made after meeting the South Korean envoy was to the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Is this meeting, this future meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, good news or bad news for Japan?

KAORI ENJOJI, JOURNALIST: Well, I think in general the Japanese government officials are saying those are potentially good news. But they are taking very, very cautious approach toward this for a number of reasons.

The rhetoric from the Japanese government, the line and the stance towards North Korea is completely the same today as it was yesterday, and that is they will continue to apply maximum pressure on North Korea.

And I think there are a number of reasons why this is the case. I mean, as you pointed out, Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister, did talk to U.S. President Donald Trump earlier on this morning, and that is because Japan has a high stake in this -- in these negotiations, potential negotiations.

Not only because they had missiles flying into its waters and sometimes over it, over the last year, but beyond that, I think it's fairly important.

I mean, take a look at the foreign minister, Taro Kono had to say. He said in parliament today, it's easy to talk about denuclearization, but to use his words, to actually do it is something completely different.

And he went on to say that North Korea has done this twice in the past. And if you take a look at some of the other comments from Japanese government officials like the defense minister, he said even if there is a will towards denuclearization, it's very, very difficult, one, to verify it, and two, to actually make sure that it doesn't happen again.

So, there is a lot of skepticism here that's wildly shared with the Japanese public, which has been alarmed many, many times, as you know, for the last few months, in particular, when North Korea launched these missiles.

So, I think those are some of the reasons why Japan is cautious. And on top of that, the South Korean envoys that went to North Korea to discuss with the North Korean leader, one of the envoys has yet to brief Japan. They are actually coming to Japan next week on Monday and Tuesday. And I think only at that time Japan will hear some of the details as to what North Korea actually does want from these negotiations.

So, until that briefing takes place, I think it's very difficult for Japan to take anything more than a very cautious stance, Cyril.

VANIER: Sure. And there could still be a lot of ups and downs between now and the meeting, which is supposed to happen by May. That's all we know, by May.

All right. Thank you, all of you. Andrew Stevens, Matt Rivers, Kaori Enjoji. All the stakeholders in the region, thank you very much.

Christopher Hill is a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea and he's had plenty of experience negotiating on behalf of the U.S. with the North Koreans.

Ambassador Hill, thank you for coming on. You are definitely the person we want to hear about right now. What was your reaction when you first heard the news of a possible summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un? Did you fall off your chair or did you somehow see this coming?

[03:10:05] CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SOUTH KOREA: Pretty close to it. You know, I spent four years negotiating with the North Koreans. We never had a day like today. You know, on the one hand, it's not the first time they've invited an American president to a summit, but it sure is the first time an American president has said yes and so readily yes.

So, I think we're into kind of uncharted territory here. We'll have to see how this plays out.

VANIER: So, there's no precedent for this if the summit actually happens?

HILL: There really isn't a precedent for this. Now, obviously, if I were staffing the president here, I would want to make sure that we really have something besides just a temporary freeze of their tests.

And I'd want to be pretty clear with the North Koreans that we are heading toward denuclearization, so that's a lot of diplomatic state work they have to do in the coming days, weeks and maybe months.

VANIER: Yes, that word obviously is key, denuclearization. That's what the U.S. is seeking on the Korean peninsula. It's also in Donald Trump's tweet of just moments ago. Let me read it to you. "Kim Jong-un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean representatives, not just a freeze."

So, that's exactly what you're saying. But here's where I'm surprised. The Kim dynasty, for all we know about them, until now for decades, have seen nuclear power as their ticket to survival. Survival of the entire country and of their regime. So, how -- in what reality or what needs to have happened for them to be considering denuclearization?

HILL: First of all, I would question the idea that they need it for survival. I think what they wanted nuclear weapons for is to create the possibility of decoupling the U.S. from South Korea.

I think it's an effort to say, U.S., if you're going to try to defend South Korea, we're going to hold your civilians at risk. Pretty in your face kind of policy.

So, the question is has that changed? Do they see some real possibilities here? Are they afraid of Donald Trump? Really hard to say at this point.

VANIER: So, I get back to this notion of how do you interpret this from North Korea's point of view. Why would they want to talk all of a sudden?

HILL: Well, good question. I mean, certainly the sanctions are more robust than they've been in the past and you have to give China a lot of credit for this. In the past China has not wanted to do anything that they feel could somehow destabilize North Korea.

So, their calculations are changing. They have a very powerful leader who seems to be, you know, planning to stay around for a long time. So, that's one issue. Of course, the North Koreans are not interested in dealing with us through China, so this was their opportunity to, in effect, reach out pretty directly, albeit through the South Koreans. So we'll have to see.

I mean, I think it's really kind of too early to tell. The big question will be will we lay out steps, will lay out steps for the North Koreans, what we referred to in the past as action for action? And we'll see if the North Koreans are comfortable with all these steps.

The last one of which should be some international team coming in and taking possession of the missile material. So we'll see if that's really going to happen.

VANIER: There is all the diplomacy. And you're going to have to lay the groundwork obviously for a summit like this. There is all the preparatory diplomacy. But then, there's also the personalities, the actual two characters who are going to meet, Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un provided the summit happens. They are both erratic, they are both, to some extent, unpredictable. Is that a source of concern for you?

HILL: It is. You recall during the Reykjavik summit there was concerns that Ronald Reagan was giving up much too much, vis-a-vis Gorbachev.

So, I think being a White House staffer sitting on the side of a meeting, I'd be very concerned what the president is going to say next as we know, he's not a devotee of reading his briefing book or going (Inaudible) through his talking points. So there will be those kinds of questions.

But we also understand from the South Koreans that Kim Jong-un was quite prepared to make very bold statements, not holding back, not looking to the side to see what his advisors thought. So, it could -- well, frankly, I'd really like to buy a ticket to this meeting. It could be quite extraordinary.

VANIER: Christopher Hill, always good having your insights. Thank you very much. HILL: Thank you.

VANIER: British officials say a rigorous criminal investigation is underway into the suspected poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter. They remain in critical condition.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd says that they were deliberately attacked on Sunday with a nerve agent in a brazen and reckless act in England. In all 21 people received some form of medical treatment in connection with the attempted assassination.

Now Russia is considered a leading suspect here based on previous incidents, but Moscow is denying any involvement.

[03:15:03] Let's bring in Erin McLaughlin, she joins us from Salisbury, England where the attack took place. Erin, where does the investigation stand right now?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, INTERNATIONAL CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Cyril, this is a fast-paced investigation according to authorities. Yesterday we saw officials search a number of sites, including Skripal's home. I was there. There was an increased police presence outside. They cordoned off the block in a quiet neighborhood of Salisbury. Set up a forensic tent.

We could see forensic officers coming in and out of the house carrying blue boxes, presumably full of evidence. They also cordoned off the grave sites of Skripal's his wife as well as his son. His wife died in 2012. His son died in March of last year. There was a police presence there as well.

Continued police presence here outside. This is the pizza restaurant where both he and Yulia had lunch before going to that park bench where they were later found unconscious.

So this is a fast-paced instigation. Other than the outward manifestations, however, of this investigation, authorities being very tight lipped.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd speaking before parliament yesterday was very clear that they are focusing at this point on assembling the facts and drawing conclusions later, although western intelligence source tells CNN that Russia is a prime suspect in this given that a nerve agent was used, given, of course, Skripal was a double agent convicted of spying for MI-6 in 2006, later part of a high profile spy swap in 2010.

Now in critical condition alongside his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia in a British hospital. We also understand that the police officer who was first to respond to the scene, he is in better condition than Skripal and his daughter, although serious condition, he is talking and responding as of yesterday. Cyril?

VANIER: But look, Erin, obviously the M.O. would point -- explains why the finger of blame is being pointed by analysts, not by the government, at Russia. But are there any actual ties to Russia in this assassination attempt?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you know, if there are, at this point again British authorities being very tight lipped with those details, Cyril. But the fact that a nerve agent was used, you know, it's interesting.

Authorities say they do know what type of nerve agent was used in this, quote, "brazen attack." They're not divulging those -- that detail this time other than the fact we know that a nerve agent was used and the fact that a nerve agent was used already tells us a lot about who could potentially be behind this.

Nerve agents are incredibly difficult to create, difficult to transport, difficult to use, rarely seen outside of a battle field usually created by state actors.

So, that's certainly evidence that points, according to security analysts as well as western intelligence sources, to Russia being a prime suspect in this case. Of course, it's something that Russia denies.

VANIER: Erin McLaughlin reporting live from Salisbury in England where the attack took place. We'll of course bring you updates as and when we get them on this investigation. Erin, thank you very much.

And next CNN will sit down with a woman who knows this type of attack all too well. The widow, a former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, you remember this face, killed by radioactive poison. Stay tuned for exclusive television interview.

Plus, why some U.S. allies are relieved by President Trump's decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum while other are dismayed. Stay with us.


VANIER: Welcome back. I want to recap our top story for you this hour.

U.S. President Donald Trump has accepted an invitation to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. A South Korean official says the two rival leaders will meet by May. We don't have a precise date yet nor do we know where that might take place.

That official says the North Korean leader is, quote, "committed to denuclearization and is eager to meet with the U.S. president as soon as possible." The White House again says the time and place still being worked out.

The breakthrough on North Korea came hours after Mr. Trump imposed the steep new tariffs on important steel and aluminum. He took the controversial step despite numerous warnings from U.S. allies and members of his own party.

The top economist at the White House even resigned in protest, but Mr. Trump was unapologetic, calling it a matter of national security.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, I'm defending America's national security by placing tariff on foreign imports of steel and aluminum. The American steel aluminum industry has been ravaged by aggressive foreign trade practices. It's really an assault on our country. It's been an assault.


VANIER: But Canada and Mexico escaped the punishing tariffs at least for now because they are currently renegotiating the NAFTA trade deal with the U.S. Both nations welcomed the reprieve, but they reject linking these two issues. Other U.S. allies are unhappy and say that they may complain to the World Trade Organization.


PAIK UN-GYU, SOUTH KOREAN MINISTER OF TRADE (through translator): I find the U.S. government decision regrettable. With the measures are enforced they would have an inevitable major impacts on the export of steel to the United States.

TARO KONO, JAPANESE MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS (through translator): We will respond to this appropriately upon examining any impact on Japanese companies and World Trade Organization rules.


VANIER: And China is also weighing in on this, calling the duties a serious attack. And then there is this very stern statement from Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Listen to this.


MALCOLM TURNBULL, PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA: Whether you look at it from a strategic point of view, from an overall economic relationship point of view, whether you look at it from a trade point of view, there is no case for imposing tariffs on Australian steel exports to the United States.


VANIER: David Rennie is the Washington bureau chief for The Economist and he joins me now. David, republican leadership is against the tariffs. The president's former economic advisor was against the tariffs. Markets clearly are against the tariffs. Does that make President Trump wrong on these tariffs?

DAVID RENNIE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE ECONOMIST: We certainly think so. And it's worth pointing out it's not that he's picked a battle which involves such gigantic quantities of steel and aluminum, but he's going to bring about an immediate trade war. It's not actually that that worries us.

Because the truth is that this is not a very large amount of trade. It's .2 percent of American GDP. What worries us is the weapon that he has chosen, this argument that American national security obliges him and allows him to do this is a really dangerous step.

Because that's basically -- when a government invokes national security, it can go outside the entire structure of global trade rules and basically do what it likes. So for him to choose that route is a really dangerous blow against the rule of kind of the international rules based order.

VANIER: So are you afraid that it triggers -- that it has a domino effect and that it triggers perhaps retaliation or similar thinking from other countries?

RENNIE: Exactly that, that other countries will say well, if America can claim a completely bogus national security argument to basically sort of bully other countries and try a bit of blackmail, then why can't we? And that blackmail is kind of what he's up to because, you know, on the face of it, his claim is that he can only safely build American war ships and American fighter jets out of American steel.

[03:25:02] But this is a national security issue. But then by saying that he's going to maybe exempt Mexico and Canada if they are good to America and offer a good deal on the NAFTA negotiations, that North American Free Trade deal, he's showing that this isn't really about national security at all.

This is about him thinking he's got some leverage to bully his trade partners and using national security as an excuse and that's a really dangerous move that is not what you expect from America which, you remember, has traditionally been the guarantor, the referee of international trade rules.

VANIER: You say this is not going to have a huge effect on the economy. Is that -- am I reading you earlier statement right?

RENNIE: So the battle that he has picked, if it's in terms of applying these tariffs to imports of steel and aluminum, that in and of itself is not a gigantic amount of money set against the size of the American economy.

It's more the way that he's done it, the precedent that he's set and this attack on the rules based order. And that could have a big effect. He could see retaliation by China. You could see markets getting very jumpy. But it's about his behavior as opposed to the actual amounts of money that these tariffs will cost trading partners.

VANIER: From an economic standpoint, the arguments going back and forth over the last week have been about whether or not it's going to hurt the American economy, whether it's going to protect jobs or destroy more jobs than it protects. What is the economic consensus on this?

RENNIE: The economics is incredibly clear. I mean, he's basically advancing an argument which was debunked by mainstream economists more than 200 years ago. He's basically advancing something that economists call mercantilism, the idea that a country that exports, that sells things is doing well. And when it buys stuff from foreign countries it's somehow losing and

doing badly and betraying its own workers, and that's just not how international commerce works.

And in terms of the jobs, you're exactly right to mention that because the world is a lot more complex now, because actually America gains by buying some things, selling some other things. There are many more workers in America who make their living using steel from all over the world to make cars, to make trucks, to make beer cans, all kinds of stuff.

Many more of those jobs at stake than actual jobs making steel in steel mills. And many of the steel mills that he talked about, you know, being closed or being shuttered has to do with things like automation, new technology. It's not to do with competition from abroad.

VANIER: David Rennie, thank you very much for joining us on the show.

And while Mr. Trump was acting arguably as a protectionist with those tariffs, a group of Asia-Pacific nations including some hit by new U.S. duties went the opposite way. Listen to this. Applause just after signing a new free trade agreement on Thursday.

It's a revised version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership which Mr. Trump rejected. The new deal involves 11 countries including Japan and Canada, and represents 14 percent of the global economy. And their agreement removes mutual trade barriers. It does not involve the United States.

And Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un agreeing to meet face to face, will it be in Pyongyang, Washington or the Korean Demilitarized Zone or even somewhere else? We'll ask an expert just ahead.

Plus, the struggle to get desperately needed aid to Syria's eastern Ghouta. A live report from the region.

Stay with us.


[03:30:55] VANIER: And good to have you back with us. I'm Cyril Vanier. Here are the top stories this hour. President Trump has agreed to meet with North Korea's Kim Jong-un by May. South Korea says Pyongyang suspended the nuclear missile testing. President Trump tweeted sanctions against North Korea will remain until an agreement on denuclearization is reached.

Meanwhile Mr. Trump invoked America's national security as he formally authorized the new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. He is exempting Mexico and Canada metals as long as three countries seal a new NAFTA trade deal. If Mexico and Canada both reject linking NAFTA talks with the tariffs.

More people that were originally thought, 21 were treated in hospital in England in connection with the suspected poisoning of former Russian double agent and his daughter. Those two remain in hospital in critical condition. The U.K. Home secretary called the nerve agent attack brazen and reckless. Russia is considered a leading suspect, but Moscow denies any involvement.

So, we've been telling you about South Korea's President, well, he called a planned meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un almost miraculous. That is his quote. For more on this, Mike Chinoy joins us from Hong Kong. He is a senior fellow at the U.S.-China institute at the University of Southern California. Mike good to have you. This is definitely a day when we need your analysis. Why would Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, give up his nukes?

MIKE CHINOY, SENIOR FELLOW, U.S.-CHINA INSTITUTE, USC: I'm not at all clear Kim Jong-un is prepare to give up his nukes. I think in fact what he has done here is to indicate that he'd be willing to talk about that possibility, and there is a long, long way to go from being willing to discuss it to actually making progress and rolling back or eliminating the North Korean nuclear program. There are kind of two different views about what's driving the North Korean leader.

One is that because of the pressure of sanction and the threats from the Trump administration that he is looking for a way out. The other, which I'm more inclined to believe is that North Korea has made major progress in its nuclear program. They have demonstrated pretty convincingly they have the capability to deter the United States by hitting the main land U.S. Kim in his new year's statement said they'd more progress completed what they needed to do on the nuclear front and so now he is ready to talk to the U.S. on the basis of two nuclear powers discussing arms control on an equal footing. So, he may see this as a major diplomatic triumph from his point of view.

VANIER: Ok. So if you accept that scenario, b, that you were laying out and that you find more likely, that he wants to negotiate from a place of strength, what is his end goal?

CHINOY: North Korea for many, many years has sought, recognition, respect and legitimacy from the United States. Kim Jong-un's father Kim Jong-il in 2000 sent his top general to Washington to invite Bill Clinton to come to Pyongyang. Clinton sent his Secretary of State madeleine Albright, but because of the results of the 2000 election in which George Bush won and the Democrat Al Gore did not, Clinton didn't make the trip himself. But the North Koreans have long wanted this sense of being granted legitimacy and respect from the United States.

What Kim Jong-un is offering is discussions about denuclearization and a freeze on missile and nuclear tests. The freeze is something he could change at a moment's notice and based on the history of all the earlier negotiations, to go from general platitudes, to generalization about the willingness to discuss denuclearization to the actual mechanics of identifying what North Korea has, getting it under international inspection, rolling it back, eliminating it, that is a very long complicated process and I'm not at all convinced that Donald Trump, who does not have a strong background in Asia, no experience in dealing with North Korea, who doesn't have any key advisors with expertise in North Korea is in any position to get into any of those kinds of details.

[03:35:05] But what this does do that I think is critical is, it does open the door to diplomacy when there's been great concern that the U.S. and North Korea were in a downward spiral towards possible military conflict. That is important.

VANIER: Mike, I'm sure the White House advisors right now are starting to think about where this could take place. Any thoughts?

CHINOY: Well, by agreeing to meet with Kim Jong-un, President Trump has already given an important gift to the North Koreans, because the North Koreans have been seeking this kind of recognition and sense of legitimacy from the U.S. If he goes to Pyongyang, if it's held in Kim Jong-un's home territory, that dynamic will be even more pronounced. My own sense is that if the U.S. is smart, it will withhold that and either not do it unless the North Korea indicate their willingness to make some serious additional concessions or steps. Otherwise perhaps we're talking about a neutral country like Switzerland.

There have been U.S./Soviet summits in the past in Switzerland. Kim Jong-un was educated in a boarding school in Switzerland as teenager and would have a comfort level there. That is neutral territory. But this is something that we're going to have to work out, and one of the things that is tricky here is that the U.S. government really has very limited expertise on North Korean issues. The administration's point man on North Korea, Ambassador Joe Yun abruptly resigned a few days ago.

There is no ambassador in South Korea. There is no confirmed assistant Secretary of State for East Asia affairs. So, there's nobody who knows anything about North Korea in a position to really brief the President. That is another important consideration.

VANIER: Yes. There is definitely a dearth of top Asia diplomats right now that can assist and advise the White House on this. Not that the President seems to feel he needs assistance and advice given that he is making those meetings apparently on a whim. Mike Chinoy speaking to us from Hong Kong today. Thank you very much. We appreciate your insights.

CHINOY: Thanks.

VANIER: Now, in Syria, doctors are under fire and struggling to save lives in eastern Ghouta. A government offensive shows no signs of letting up and supplies are running low. CNN's Jomanah Karadsheh had a closer look at the crisis and as always with these reports coming from Syria, we have to warn you, a report does contain graphic video.



JOMANAH KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Neighborhoods pounded, munitions lighting up the sky. It was east Ghouta 24 hours from hell. The few makeshift medical facilities left could barely deal with the casualties. But the wounded kept on coming. For some there were even no gurneys. For most, no anesthesia to stop the pain. Calling this a hospital would be a stretch, but this is all they've got. In the midst of the chaos, children lay alone, no hand to hold, no one to comfort them. In another clinic, young and old struggle to breathe. Doctors say they were exposed to toxic chemicals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't mind the smell of chlorine gas, boys and girls.

KARADSHEH: On Thursday, exhausted doctors still appealing for help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are suffering from lack of everything. Enough war.

KARADSHEH: With no aid and no end in sight, no one knows how many more nights from hell east Ghouta can endure. Jomanah Karadsheh CNN, Amman.


VANIER: So, aid is desperately, desperately needed in eastern Ghouta. A U.N. Aid convoy was supposed to head in there on Thursday, but that was postponed. CNN's Sam Kiley is tracking events from neighboring Lebanon. He joins me from Beirut. Sam, what do we know about this? Is aid going to get into the region in eastern Ghouta perhaps on Friday?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is a hope coming from the international committee of the red cross which is working effectively in tandem with U.N. negotiators to get 13, that is 1-3 trucks into an environment of some 400,000 people that have been besieged now and bombarded for close on three weeks, if it does get in, it will be welcome relief to the tiny number of people that it could serve. But it is actually just the remains of a convoy that was supposed to have gone in and did largely go in on Tuesday. But after a series of bombardments and dangers for the people involved in that convoy had to pull out. If it gets in, it will be a little bit of relief to a small number of people, but in no way would serve anything close to what an actual cease fire, which is what the United Nations had demanded in a U.N. Security council.

[03:40:04] The Russians didn't veto, they didn't back it, but they didn't veto it three weeks ago, two weeks ago, sorry. And as a consequence of this continuing bombardment, you saw there with Jomanah's report, the use of fire bombs are very heavy, shelling and artillery, exactly the same as we've seen in the past when eastern Aleppo was eventually ground down to such a point that the rebels there surrendered. Difference between eastern Ghouta and eastern Aleppo, though, is there were safe routes out for rebels and their families. It's not clear whether or not even if they surrendered people would be safe if they got out of eastern Ghouta.

VANIER: And, Sam, you were making a very interesting and very important point to me before the show, which is that as important as these aid convoys can be for the people of eastern Ghouta, we can't, we can't fixate on them at the expense of missing the bigger picture, which is the continuing bombardment. KILEY: Yes, the scale of the bombardment is really very, very big and

it involves both Syrian and Russian aircraft, video from the ground and allegations or accusations coming from the United States pointing the finger both at Syria and at the Russians. At the same time, of course, the Russians and the Syrians are saying that there is continued violence coming in their direction from rebels on the front line firstly. And secondly, they also say, not without a degree of justification, that there are elements like the Al-Nusra Front which have an Al Qaeda affiliation, the international community would agree part of an international terrorist movement and therefore remain legitimate targets.

And that is effectively their kind of strategic diplomatic cover for what is -- we've seen it before, a campaign using more and more dramatic forms of weaponry to try to break the back of the resistance there. So that in the end, the rebel groups who at the moment insist that they are not really losing any significant ground, finally give up and sue for peace or indeed surrender. The regime has managed to capture quite a lot of territory and what was known as eastern Ghouta in the past, that had been besiege for several years, most of that the rebels say is agricultural areas. They have yet to get right into the intensely or densely populated areas and that is where, of course, we would anticipate even more hideous scenes than those that we've just seen.

VANIER: Yes, it is clear there is very, very little appetite indeed for a cease fire at the moment, especially on the part of the regime. Sam Kiley our regional correspondent following this from Beirut at the moment. Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Up next, a warning for the British government in an exclusive CNN interview, the widow of a former Russian spy says the U.K. must do more to protect Russians living in asylum there after a shocking nerve agent attack.


[03:45:10] VANIER: Whether it's in the classroom or the workplace, in politics or in health care, women around the world are striving to bring down barriers to gender equality. CNN and the European journalism center are working together to show you the challenges that women face in some of the world's least developed countries. As part of a yearlong series, CNN talks to five inspiring women from five continents, all of them fighting to be treated as equals.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Africa school girls miss school because of menstruation. This is not a choice. That is why I decided to do something to change it. When I hear the girls stories of how (inaudible) has impacted their lives, it is very fulfilling. My dream is that one day, we'll have more women in power and government. Maybe then we will achieve better gender equality in Uganda.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VANIER: Joining us on Saturday to hear the rest of that story. Those

of other women around the world who are also leading the charge for change. That begins at 5:30 in the afternoon in London. That is 9:30 p.m. if you're in Abu Dhabi, only here on CNN.

The wife of a former Russian spy who was killed in Britain in 2006 is now speaking exclusively to CNN. Marina Litvinenko says the nerve agent attack against Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on Sunday reminds her of her husband's murder. Alexander Litvinenko died after two Russian agents spike his tee with highly radioactive polonium210. CNN's Nic Robertson spoke to her.


MARINA LITVINENKO, WIFE OF ALEXANDER LITVINENKO: I'm telling immediately expulsion from the U.K. of all Russian intelligence operatives.

NIC ROBERTSON, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the U.K. Marina Litvinenko need little introduction. Her husband, former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was murdered by Russian agents in 2006. We meet in a Berlin cafe. I ask about the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

LITVINENKO: When I saw the picture of people wearing all this protection costume --

ROBERTSON: Hazmat suits?

LITVINENKO: I was absolutely shocked.

ROBERTSON: When you see Yulia --

I showed her a picture of Sergei and Julia Skripal.

LITVINENKO: I've never met him. I saw these photos on the internet of course.

ROBERTSON: She is trying not to jump to conclusions, but the similarity to her husband's poisoning impossible to miss.

Now we know that it's nerve agent.

LITVINENKO: Now it's more and more evidence it might be only state sponsored. What state we still don't know, but if it's Russian guy and even he was served for security service before being in Russia, of course you can think it might be punish from Russia state.

ROBERTSON: Is that what you think?

LITVINENKO: It's more emotional yet, but saying yes, I'm sure.

ROBERTSON: When her husband was murdered, it took British authorities ten years to conclude an inquiry blaming Putin and Russia's intelligence services. Now everyone knows what to expect from Russia LITVINENKO: When it happened to us 11 years ago we need to prove it.

Nobody could believe Russia state behind this crime or even for 2 1/2 weeks when he was in hospital, nobody believed he was poisoned at all.

ROBERTSON: And now this time immediately make the connection.


ROBERTSON: Even so she is frustrated the British government wasn't tougher on Russia after her husband's murder, putting former spies' lives in danger.

LITVINENKO: And now when they're talking protection, about safety, it looks British government can provide.

ROBERTSON: They can't provide it?

LITVINENKO: They can't and now it's a bigger shoe. If you accept people who are asking for political asylum --

ROBERTSON: Like Sergei?

LITVINENKO: Like Sergei, like Sasha, you know they have many people in the U.K. in this same reason. And now how we need to feel after what happened to this man? Only insecure and very unsafe.

ROBERTSON: What she knows for sure, whatever is said, Russia will push back.

LITVINENKO: They say it was not court, it was not evidence.

ROBERTSON: So they deny, deny, deny it?


ROBERTSON: So if they are responsible, they will deny?


ROBERTSON: The two men responsible for your husband's murder, the British government ask the Russian government to allow them to come to Britain?

[03:50:00] LITVINENKO: Yes. Still hasn't happened.


LITVINENKO: Because they could say something.

ROBERTSON: What do you think, this is the murder of your husband. What do you think they would say?

LITVINENKO: I don't know. But they need to provide information how they received this polonium, how they could bring this London and who gave them this order. And after that, it will be more obvious who is behind of this crime. ROBERTSON: The fact they haven't come yet does imply that this is

right at the top of the Russian government to Putin?


ROBERTSON: Do you feel in you heart of hearts this is the case with Sergei?


ROBERTSON: Nic Robertson, CNN, Berlin.


VANIER: 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 are asking people what freedom means to them. Here's what students from the Atlanta international school in Atlanta, Georgia had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freedoms the ability to live without restrictions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Freedom to me is having full and equal access to all human rights.

CROWD: What does freedom mean to you?


VANIER: What does freedom mean to you? Millions of people have already shared with us what freedom means to them on social media. Join them and join us. Share your story using the #myfreedomday.

Still to come on CNN, White House signing ceremonies are usually pretty dull. Let's admit it. Shot this one, though. President Trump unnecessary condolences to a steel worker when we come back.


VANIER: Amazon's digital voice assistance, you know her by the name of Alexa, has been leaving some users unsettle, recently. They are at home minding their own business, and then this happens.


Alexa, replay.



VANIER: Kind of creepy. Amazon says it has some idea why this is happening and it is working on a fix. Samuel Burke has more.


SAMUEL BURKE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The good news for amazon echo users who been experiencing this is they are not crazy. They haven't just been hearing voices in their heads. They have actually been hearing something come from the amazon echo. But the company isn't signaling that it's a totally random out of the blue laughter. They are saying that maybe Alexa is confusing something that somebody is saying for the phrase, Alexa laugh. This is what amazon is saying they are going to do to fix the problem. Quote, we are changing that phrase to be Alexa, can you laugh, which is less likely to have false positives. And we are disabling the short utterance, Alexa, laugh. We are also changing Alexa's response from simply laughter to, sure, I can laugh, followed by laughter. So, may that will be less creepy for people than just a laugh. So, if we try it here, my device just updated. Alexa, can you laugh?

ALEXA: Sure. I can laugh.


BURKE: At the end of the day, this is a P.R. nightmare for Amazon because with these devices we have a live microphone and many rooms in our house in some cases, and if you're like me, you have the newer one that actually has a camera in it, people are putting a lot of faith by having these types of listening and looking devices. So, any time something goes awry, people start to question, was the microphone not working properly? Was it listening? What was it listening to?

[03:55:06] But I think the tweak that sums this all up the best was, if Alexa is laughing at you to your face, just imagine what it says about you, behind your back. I'm Samuel Burke in London. Back to you.


VANIER: A device that records and films everything you do and say all the time. What could go wrong? When President Trump formally signed his trade tariff on Thursday, he had steel workers on hand to back up his political messaging. All was going to plan until the President made things a matter of life and death. CNN's Jeanne Moos explains.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The President seems relaxed at the tariff signing ceremony, joking with one steel worker.


MOOS: Just moments before, another steel worker had wrestled with his emotions. Scott Sarge told a story of how his father lost his job due to imports.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never forgot that looking into his eyes in my household what that does to a family.

MOOS: What it did to the President was inspire a premature pronouncement.

TRUMP: Well, your father Herman is looking down. He is very proud of you right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is still alive.


TRUMP: Oh, he is? Then he is even more proud of you.

MOOS: You know who relates to that faux pas? Former Vice-President Joe Biden. He did the same thing to the mother of the then Prime Minister of Ireland.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: God rest her soul and mom is still -- your mom is still alive. It's your dad passed. God bless her soul.


MOOS: Speaking of premature departures, President Trump almost made one again. At least twice he started to leave bill signing ceremonies without signing the bills.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, you need to sign them.


MOOS: The first time the President was in a hurry to get out to avoid reporter's questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you trying to do that, Mr. President?

MOOS: Vice-President stopped him and got the bill so the President could sign them elsewhere. On Thursday President Trump seemed eager to give the steel workers a tour.

TRUMP: Would you like to take a picture in the oval office? Let's go and do that. Yes, I'm going to do.

JIMMY KIMMEL, JIMMY KIMMEL SHOW: He remembers to put his name on everything else. Water, vodka, stage, Trump, Trump, Trump, he has a problem with bills. He doesn't sign them or pay them.

MOOS: Some minor miss steps adds some life to the ceremony.

TRUMP: Your father Herman is looking down. He is very proud of you right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is still alive.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos CNN, New York.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VANIER: And that does it for me Cyril Vanier. The news continues

with Max Foster in London. You are in great hands. Have a great day.