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Trump & Macron Hold Joint Press Conference; Trump Tells V.A. Nominee: "What Do You Need It For"; Macron to Trump: Wish to Work on New Deal with Iran; Interview with Sen. Tom Udall. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired April 24, 2018 - 13:30   ET

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


[13:30:00] EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT: And to be sure there is n hegemony in the region. That's diplomatic work that we have already started that we have to finish. It's something different. So, if you'll allow me, I would separate these two issues. We are involved on the ground against ISIS. We will finish this work. And it's not to open a new war or to start a new war. But at the same time, we have to open a new work together. That's what we decided to do in order to build in the region a new framework, and especially in Syria. We will assess during the coming weeks and months what we have to do. Because when you are at the end of a war, you have to adapt to the enemy on the ground. So we are not here to say this day we will leave the floor. That's impossible because it will depend on the reality of the ground. But for sure, what we want to do now is to finish this war with our troops, and we want to fix on the long runs of the situation to have peace in this region. That's our duty. And it's not just with our troops. It's with our diplomats, our teams, our common work. With all the alliances and the region and people involved.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've pretty much finished with ISIS and we're going to be making some big decisions in a very short time. But we're working very closely together with France and with the president.

Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER (through translation): Mr. President, BFM (ph) Television. President Macron, you've enjoyed a very friendly relationship with President Trump. It's quite unusual compared with other presidents. At the same time, we can see you do not agree on a number of topics. There are more and more of them. We saw that openly in the Oval Office earlier on Iran. It seems like the initial deal with Iran will not be able to be saved. So what about this relationship? Can it have great impact on France? Can it be beneficial to France and to Europe? You talked about reciprocal interest. Is that really the case today?

MACRON (through translation): Yes. Definitely. I believe the reason we enjoy this relationship is because of the relationship between our two countries. Indeed, we have a different background, but it maybe could be because we're both not politicians or typical politicians. And we know that one can easily change one's mind. I think if you listen to this press conference and watched us, you have the answer to your question. Regarding Iran, we have a disagreement regarding the JCPOA, but I

believe we are overcoming it by deciding to work towards a deal that really enables us to deal with the nuclear issue but also treated together with another three issues, which are not being dealt with so far. So should the decision -- we've spent more than just the two of us, and having the conclusions being that the U.S., the United States of America would walk away from the JCPOA and Trump would not move, then our friendship would be wasted. But it is about making sure that we're each taking into account the position and the interests of a reciprocal country. It is unprecedented. We've never before taken a joint position, a joint stance on Syria the way we did, and on Iran in favor of a deal that would enable us to cover the full gamut. There is a lot of work between ourselves and for our teams, otherwise, we would not in a position to do as much. In the past, sometimes France argued that it was time to take action against chemical weapons. And France was not followed by its allies in the United States at the time. It is not what happened at this time. We decided together what was possible and what was not. In the international framework, there are two members of the Security Council and we have an unprecedented military intervention at an unprecedented level of cooperation. Please allow me to pay tribute to our troops, to our armies and to that of the United Kingdom, because we have led a unique operation, a proportional one. And we were able to do so thanks to the relations that we have. So in Syria, Iran, the international community against the use of chemical weapons, you've seen it, you have the evidence that showed the relationship between our two countries. And our friendship enabled us to achieve some concrete results. And this is an improvement compared to where we stood a couple weeks ago.

[13:35:26] TRUMP: I think we have very much in common, I must say. Many things that we -- certainly most things we agreed with, we can change, and we can be flexible. You know, in life, you have to be flexible. And as leaders of countries, you have to show flexibility. And I think we actually get along on many of the subjects we discussed today. And I will say France is a great country. And I believe France will be taken to new heights under this president. He's going to be an outstanding president, one of your great presidents.

And it's an honor to call you my friend.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

MACRON: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right. They're walking out of the East Room, the president of the United States and president of France. Clearly, they have a strong personal relationship, although, they clearly also have some significant differences when it comes to Syria, when it comes to the Iran nuclear deal, when it comes to trade issues.

Lots to discuss right now. We want to welcome our viewers once again here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington.

Let's get to all those national security issues, Gloria Borger. But the president did make some news about his nominee to become secretary of Veterans Affairs, Dr. Ronny Jackson, the personal physician of the president in the White House. He's been the physician there through the Obama administration, now the Trump administration. The president said, "If I were him, I wouldn't do it." He basically said, it's your decision but maybe you want to drop out of this nomination process.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. It's clear he has great personal affection for him, but he gave him the out. Without saying goodbye, he said, I told him I wouldn't do it, and why do you want this for? You have a great family, you have a great life, you're a great doctor. Why do you want to deal with these Democrats? He said, it's his choice, but if I were him, I wouldn't be abused by a bunch of politicians. Clearly, they've had a conversation and the president said to him, your decision, but if I were you, don't do it, which, you know, reading between the lines means the president understands there are real problems there.

BLITZER: Yes. The president saying he never heard of any of these allegations against Dr. Ronny Jackson.

BORGER: He would be vetted, OK?

BLITZER: Yes.

Now, since the nomination, he's been vetted.

Jeff Zeleny, you're over there in the East Room watching this news conference. What do you think?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's no question that President Trump opened the door for his personal doctor, Dr. Ronny Jackson, to make a decision and potentially step down from his nomination at the Veterans Affairs Department. These are the strongest words we have heard from the White House and the president. Just a few hours ago, the White House released a statement giving his full credentials, saying they were not going to withdraw his nomination. But the president, certainly, while saying it was his decision, essentially, offered him a permission slip, if you will, to step away. As Gloria was just saying, what is the need to go through this ugly process? So the president was giving him a soft landing. I would be surprised, Wolf, if it would be, at the end of the day, perhaps even the end of the afternoon if Dr. Jackson would still be in the running for the V.A. secretary.

Important to point out, Republican Senators asking questions as well as Democratic Senators. Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia, the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, also sending a letter to the president with his Democratic counterpart, asking for more information. The hearing was scheduled to be tomorrow. So that, of course, is the domestic headline out of this, Wolf.

But also important to point out a new potential Iran nuclear deal. Not to replace the existing one, perhaps, but perhaps a supplemental one that could also give the U.S. some wiggle room here for the president when he has to make a decision by May 12 to essentially withdraw or not. Clearly, it seemed to me there was a much softer language. The president earlier today called it insane. We did not hear that language from him here in the East Room, Wolf. So clearly, trying to broker a deal that could perhaps be a win-win that would allow the president to declare victory by getting a stronger deal. In his words, "a more solid deal." Keep in mind, this was negotiated under the Obama administration. President Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated this. The president has not liked it from the very beginning, so clearly, a new deal could be more of a Trump deal. We'll see if that happens.

[13:40:08] Also, Wolf, one final thought, Syria. The president also saying, I want to come home, wants to bring the troops home. Did not say exactly a time frame on that.

As well as talking about North Korea, still going forward with the idea of a summit in June. But again, the president making the point he made last week in Mar-a-Lago meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that he would walk away from a summit, walk away from a deal if they could not broker something. He said in the most explicit terms yet, Wolf, asked about what his definition of what denuclearization was, he says this, "It means they get rid of the nukes." So quite blunt there. It means they get rid of the nukes. We'll see if that happens after the meeting.

Quite a bit of news in this meeting, in this press conference here, Wolf, in the East Room. Now the president is going on to meet with his defense secretary, and of course that big state dinner tonight here at the White House -- Wolf?

BLITZER: And tomorrow, President Macron will address a joint meeting of the United States Congress.

Jim Sciutto, the deal that President Macron put forward is to keep the Iran nuclear deal in place, prevent Iran, at least until 2025, from getting nuclear weapons. But then to expand it. He wants a new deal with Iran. No nuclear weapons for Iran ever, long range, end their ballistic missile program, which threatens the region, and end their involvement in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. That's the proposal that President Macron put forward. Why would the Iranians accept a new deal?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's a fair question because this may be more about managing the president's expectations and addressing the president's concerns than -- and Robert made this point as well -- creating a new agreement. His key criticisms and other criticisms of this deal have been it's got a sunset clause. It ends after a certain amount of time. It does not address their missile ballistics program and it does not address their other stabilizing activities in the region, Syria and elsewhere. Macron laying that out as part of the four pillars, as he called it, trying to find a structure that satisfies the president's concerns there. Now, the question is, if China, Russia, Iran, if they're not actually at the table, and this is an agreement between the U.S. and its European partners there, what is the actual accountability of that deal? And is it more about giving the president, the ability to say, I improved a deal I have always criticized, as opposed to renegotiating the deal. It's a fair question. We don't now.

I will say -- I think we should note this, and Jeff made a similar point. This morning, the president sat next to the French president, who supports staying in the Iran nuclear deal, called it insane, ridiculous. And the language here, the president, saying we have a great shot at a new agreement. Saying, at the end, remarkably as well, in life you need to show flexibility. Leaders of countries need to show flexibility. Interesting words to hear from President Trump's mouth on this issue. And for Macron to have climbed that mountain, if he has indeed brought the president back in the fold on this deal, it would be a pretty remarkable diplomatic move.

BLITZER: Robin Wright is with us as well. She's done a lot of reporting on Iran.

You recently met with the foreign minister of Iran as well. The president says, no one knows what I will do on May 12 -- that's the date he has to decide whether to keep the Iran deal. If the Iranians do go forward and reestablish their nuclear program, he says, "They will pay a price like few countries have ever paid." Suggesting, quite bluntly, that the U.S. would attack.

ROBIN WRIGHT, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: I think that's quite clear. I think his language this morning was incredibly tough. But I think also, he's in the middle of a week of intense diplomacy by the Europeans. You had President Macron today, you had Angela Merkel, from Germany, on Friday, and the British prime minister will also be having a telephone conversation of this supplemental deal. It's not a new deal. It's an interpretation by the three European powers, and the United States about these key issues. About how long does this nuclear deal last. They're basically saying it will indefinite, permanent. They deal with the issue of Iran's meddling in the region with intercontinental ballistic missiles. But they are not looking to change the deal. They're not looking to get buy in from Russia and China, which are also signatories to the deal. And there's no enforcement mechanism. It's basically a document setting out what their goals are, what their interpretations are and what their command agenda is in dealing with Iran in the region. So the question is, will the Iranians buy it. When I talked to the Iranian foreign minister, he said, in fact, the United States is the one in violation because it's impeding business, which is the one thing that Iran got out of the deal. The Iranians, as the United Nation's nuclear weapons agency has verified, have complied completely with the deal. So they said they're not going to sign onto any new deal that requires more of them and doesn't get the United States to actually do what it's supposed to do. So this is a very interesting and innovative diplomatic approach to the Iran deal. The question is, is it going to work or make a difference and are the Iranians going to buy in.

[13:45:13] BLITZER: What do you think? Are the Iranians going to buy what President Macron is proposing?

WRIGHT: I think it's going to be a real tough sell. The Iranians will say, why should we do anything when you're not complying with the basics?

BLITZER: They did get a lot of money. They got $150 million. As the president keeps saying, almost $2 billion in cash.

WRIGHT: Well, remember, this was all from a deal that had to do with military equipment that the Iranian government bought during the shah's era. We actually owed them money. This was not a gift.

BLITZER: What do you think? Do you think the Iranians, A.B., are going to buy this? Do you think -- President Macron clearly supports it but do you think President Trump will support what President Macron is putting forward to avoid, in effect, a collapse of the Iran nuclear deal?

A.B STODDARD, ASSSOCIATE EDITOR & COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Robin's reporting actually really puts this in context. This is a make-Trump-feel-great-again ploy, essentially. It's semantics. We're going to layer onto an amendment that's nonbinding to make him feel good about recertification on May 12, which he dreads doing. So he had some comments in the Oval Office this morning where he roared like a lion about it. He retreated at the press conference. It's always a roller coaster ride. TPP was a rape of our country. And two weeks ago, he was considering getting back in it. So Macron can't be guaranteed that this is something Trump would even stick to through the next round of conference calls. I can't see the regime agreeing to something that -- where they believe they've been in compliance, as Robin reports. That money that was given to him in the original deal was money that belonged to the regime. So it's a master stroke if they bring the regime to the table and, all of a sudden, they get P5- Plus-1, all the signatories back. But it's just hard to imagine that happening.

BORGER: Just listening to Macron and listening to Robin talk about the president's schedule this week, you know Angela Merkel, a phone call with the U.K., it sounds like an intervention that they had planned, a literal intervention with Donald Trump --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: -- that they are -- have organized and planned so that Macron starts -- because he's got the best relationship. Merkel not so much. Not a great relationship, but she continues. She lays the groundwork. Then you have the phone calls. It's just very clear to me that they have tried to figure out a way to circle the wagons around Donald Trump, to get him back to a certain degree so they can go to Iran and say, this is the best we can get because of Donald Trump. But I think they're trying to make him feel good about leading the process when, in fact, they're leading him to the process. And they're all doing it --

(CROSSTALK) SCIUTTO: And in doing so, echoing some of his words. Macron even -- as he described the four pillars, he said these are things the president addressed and even addressed them in the same language to give the impression that they're on the same page --

BLITZER: His ability to work President Trump clearly --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: -- when he suggested that the previous administration, the Obama administration, didn't do what they were supposed to do when there were Syrian chemical weapons used and the U.S. did not cross that so-called red line. That's something that President Trump clearly was happy to hear.

Look, I want to get to North Korea in a moment, but on Syria, the president, a few weeks ago, said the U.S. has got to get out very soon. We have to get the troops out of Syria. He always makes the point that the $7 trillion that the U.S. has spent in Iraq, Afghanistan, in Syria over these past years since 9/11 a total waste of money, it's awful. The U.S. needs us to use that money for infrastructure, bridges, highways, schools.

But then he said that are immensely wealth countries, Jim, in the region. I think he's referring to Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain, other countries in the region, Qatar. They have to come up with the cash and they have to come up with a truce to deal with Syria and other countries --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: -- what he regards as Iranian aggression.

SCIUTTO: And describing them, U.S. allies, in terms that I can't imagine they welcome. Saying -- I forget his exact phraseology, but something like they would be nothing without us, right?

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Because we backed them, perhaps there's some truth in that. Is that language you address your allies with? And not dissimilar from the way the president went after European allies regarding NATO funding. That they're not putting up. He claims credit now for having gotten NATO countries to pony up, so he might be looking at the Middle East and saying, listen, it worked there. They'll have to pony up and put boots on the ground. And the truth is the president on this is on pretty solid ground here. For years, there have been a lot of countries in the region that have preferred to have U.S. boots on the ground rather than their own in some of these dangerous situations. Now, the question is, is he going to get what he wants. And also knowing, you know, not just the Sunni/Shia riff but many riffs in that country, is there participation militarily going to help the situation or make it worse.

[13:50:19] WRIGHT: The problem is he wants to get out of Syria. At the same time, he doesn't want to give the Iranians access. And if the United States and the West withdraws, you know, there's --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He says these immensely wealthy countries, they must continue -- they must pay for it. It says the U.S. will not continue to pay for it. They must pay for it and they must put their soldiers on the ground.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Robin, you know the region well. Are the Saudis, the Emirates, the Qataris, the Bahrainis going to send troops to Syria?

WRIGHT: No. The Egyptians might. There might be other countries that recruit, the four countries that are dependent and they get the Saudis to foot the bill for deploying them there. I mean, it would involve a very complex mix. The problem is the Arab world has not been very good in the past about policing itself. When they've had Arab peacekeeping forces in Lebanon and elsewhere, the situation has crumbled, often rather quickly. And the danger is, what is it that you actually are trying to achieve in Syria? With the president, that's not clear. As it now appears, he looks like he's willing to let president Assad stay in power until the next presidential election in Syria, which is 2021. The idea that you can get some kind of compromise worked out with the Arabs leading it, I think is -- the Arabs were supporting different factions, different rebel groups. To get them to speak with one voice on Syria is very difficult.

BORGER: This is a major shift, though, I think from mission accomplished to, I want to have the troops home having accomplished what we should have accomplished. I think you even see -- you see a softening there. And this is a president who is changeable. Maybe he was doing it because he was standing next to Macron. We don't know. But it's a very different tone than what we've been hearing.

SCIUTTO: Right. And Macron, in some of his comments there, maybe privately as well, seemed to be echoing what the president heard from his own military advisors --

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: after his promised withdrawal --

BORGER: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: -- saying it's too soon that we pull out. We're repeating the mistake of Obama withdrawing troops --

BLITZER: Clearly, A.B. a significant difference as far as Syria, keeping U.S. troops in Syria, significant different between President Macron and President Trump.

STODDARD: Right, but I think that President Trump has retreated upon the advice of his advisers in the days following his comments about withdrawal on this issue, particularly then enforced by the attack on chemical facilities in Syria and his sort of affirmation about how important that is, and how the Russians and Iranians are propping up the Assad regime. And he even names the Russians in a tweet. Pretty emphatic and unique for Donald Trump. So he's been talked into staying in Syria. I think during this visit, he doesn't -- he knew he had to answer those questions today, but he doesn't want to talk about Syria. He's sending mixed messages. And I think he's retreated.

BLITZER: The U.S. --

STODDARD: He wants to make it all about the Iran deal, keep the focus on that, because I think people have talked him out of retreat in Syria.

BLITZER: The U.S. has 2,200 troops in Syria right now. We'll see how long they stay.

North Korea, Jim, the president said, we're doing very well, he's looking forward to his meeting with Kim Jong-Un. The goal has to be the denuclearization of North Korea. We have made, he said -- his words - "We have made no concessions so far."

SCIUTTO: It appears he's heard some of the criticism following his public comments in the last week, one of which was, does the U.S. mean the same when it says denuclearize that Kim means? It doesn't appear that they do. The president saying, hey, to be clear, when I say denuclearized, I mean getting weapons off the peninsula. We'll see if that's possible knowing the way North Korea views those weapons. They view them as a matter of survival. Also on the concessions, there's been public comment that the president -- even a president meeting with the North Korean leader gives him stature, which is a win for the North Korean leader. The president saying, listen, I haven't conceded anything, I'll walk out, repeating that threat again to walk out if he doesn't get anywhere. But also painting -- raising hopes and expectations, saying a lot is happening, I hope it going to be prosperous for us and North Korea, so still holding out this prospect that when he goes to wherever they go to sit down together, that there could be a positive result.

BLITZER: I want to quickly get to a statement that Dr. Ronny Jackson, the president's nominee to become the secretary of Veterans Affairs, he's been up on Capitol Hill. We heard what the president said earlier: "If it were me," the president said, "I would drop out." Why do you need these aggravation amidst all these allegations against Dr. Jackson?

Listen to what Dr. Jackson just said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CROSSTALK)

DR. RONNY JACKSON, WHITE HOUSE PHYSICIAN & VETARANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY NOMINEE: I'm looking forward to rescheduling the hearing and getting the process moving.

Thanks, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Any response to the allegations?

JACKSON: Thanks, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What makes you qualified for this job?

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[13:55:12] BLITZER: He said he's looking forward to getting the hearing, the confirmation hearing, started in the U.S. Senate and moving on. I don't know if he said that before or after the president of the United States said, if it were me, I would drop out, why do you need this aggravation.

Let's get some reaction from Democratic Senator Tom Udall, of New Mexico. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, what do you think?

SEN. TOM UDALL, (D), NEW MEXICO: I think this was a masterful effort on the part of President Macron to bring the president over on the Iran agreement. I think there's a huge chasm between what President Trump has outlined as a policy on the Iran agreement and what the Europeans want to see happen. Maybe there can be some changes. But I think it's going to be very difficult to convince the Iranians to do much more unless you're going to do something for them.

And let's not forget, this is an agreement about no nuclear weapons by Iran. And we've got verification in a big-time way from some of the best scientists. It's a big thing to have Iran not pursuing nuclear weapons. There's still an eight-year period here and so there's room for negotiations.

BLITZER: We'll see what the president decides. He keeps saying nobody knows what I'm going to do on May 12th when the U.S. either has to continue the Iran nuclear deal or drop out of the Iran nuclear deal. Although, he said President Macron probably has a good idea of what I am planning I am doing.

I want to also get your reaction to Dr. Ronny Jackson, who is the nominee to be the secretary of Veterans Affairs. You heard the president say, you know what, drop out, you don't need this aggravation. You just heard him say he is looking forward to the confirmation hearings being rescheduled. What do you think?

UDALL: I think the allegations, which I won't repeat here, but they're very serious, and if they're true, I don't think he has a chance of getting through a nomination process.

BLITZER: Is your mind closed right now? You've already decided he's not the best person?

UDALL: Oh, no, no. I'm just -- my mind isn't closed. I think we should do the vetting. The really unfortunate thing here is the Trump administration never does the vetting, then it's up to the Congress. We should do the vetting. The things that I've heard, whether it's the being drunk or mis-prescribing drugs or all those kind of things, they're allegations now. But if there is truth to them, I think he's got serious problems in terms of taking over this agency. The president should have kept Shulkin in there. He was a good bipartisan choice. He was doing good work. The reason he quit is because they're trying to privatize the Veterans Administration, which the veterans are not going to stand for. The other real problem is that now that agency is leaderless, and the veterans are going to hurt because of this.

BLITZER: CNN has reported that Dr. Jackson actually alerted the White House about the possible allegations. You heard the president say he didn't know anything about these allegations. Do you think the president was in the dark?

UDALL: It sounds like he's completely in the dark. But I don't know how that could be. From what I'm hearing, a very large number of people working in and around him have these kinds of reports, and it's very disturbing. If it pans out, and they all come forward and think about, it I don't know how we can put him in charge of the Veterans Administration. Once again, I'm just very worried. We've got to have a leader over there. This is a big agency, huge number of employees helping our veterans. Let's great leader over there, Mr. President, do your vetting a lot better.

BLITZER: One final question. Do you think it's a good idea for the president to meet with Kim Jong-Un?

UDALL: Yes, I do. I think we always should be meeting, but it should be prepared in a very disciplined way. It's good that they had the initial meeting with Pompeo. But this -- they need to get the very best diplomats to participate in this, to prepare the president. My biggest fear is that he'll get over there, he doesn't get what he wants, he has a temper tantrum, and it makes the situation even worse.

BLITZER: That's going to be a sensitive, sensitive moment.

Senator Udall, thank you so much for joining us.

UDALL: Thank you. Real pleasure. Take care.

BLITZER: Lots of news at this news conference at the White House, this joint news conference between the president of the United States and the visiting president of France. They will continue their meetings. They have a state dinner in honor of President and Mrs. Macron later tonight. And tomorrow, President Macron addresses a joint meeting of the United States Congress.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington.

Our breaking news coverage continues right now.

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