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Three Americans Released from North Korean Prison; Interview with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister on Iran; Trump Threatens to Pull Media Credentials. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 9, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: While it's great we're talking, Kim Jong-Un has not made any kind of irreversible concessions to the United States. It's great that he's releasing these three hostages. But remember, he took the hostages to release them later on to get rewarded for it so this is not a huge breakthrough.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Do you think something substantive, dramatic, important will emerge from this summit meeting between the president and Kim Jong-Un?

BOOT: I certainly think they will announce something important and that Donald Trump will claim it's the greatest deal ever and it will have the word "denuclearization" in it. The issue is, once you dig down, are they going to verifiably give up their nuclear arsenal? I have a lot of questions about that. And Trump just exited from the Iran nuclear deal, so he's setting himself a high benchmark for the kind of deal he will accept from North Korea. It has to be stronger than the Iranian nuclear deal.

BLITZER: He does seem, though, the president, whether you agree or disagree with his policies, to be dominating the world stage right now. If you look at not just North Korea or Iran, but in Syria, Paris Climate Accords, all sorts of international issues. He's really dominating what's going on.

BOOT: Yes. I think he's achieving what he wants, which he wants to be the center of attention and he is. The question is, is it a wise idea to be juggling so many crises at the same time? Remember, he's renegotiating NAFTA, negotiating with China, he's negotiating with North Korea, and now with Iran and our European partners about the Iranian nuclear program. That is a lot of stuff for even a well- functioning White House, with a veteran chief executive to handle. And I just don't know if this White House with Donald Trump and the fact that they still don't have a lot of appointees in place, can they handle these multiple crises at the same time?

BLITZER: And there are multiple crises, indeed.

Max Boot, thank you very much for joining us.

BOOT: Thank you. BLITZER: Coming up, the global fallout. Saudi Arabia's foreign minister issues a sobering warning to Iran. We're going to ask him if Iran restarts their nuclear program, what will the Saudis do? My exclusive interview with Adel al-Jubeir, that's next.

Plus, the president threatens to pull credentials of what he calls the corrupt media, raising serious questions over whether this mirrors the behavior, not of a president of the United States, but of a dictator. We'll have a serious analysis of that when we come back.


[13:36:43] BLITZER: President Trump's decision to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal was not unexpected, but has still been met with deep concern around the globe from those who made the deal. Former President Obama called the decision misguided, while former Vice President Joe Biden called it a profound mistake. Key allies that urged President Trump to stay in the deal, France's Emmanuel Macron, the U.K.'s Theresa May and Germany's Angela Merkel, Adel al-Jubeir all said they felt regret and concern over the decision in washington.

Joining us now from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister.

Foreign Minister, thanks so much for joining us.

Why do you, the Saudi government, support President Trump's decision?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI ARABIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We believe that the nuclear deal was flawed. We believe that the sunset clause should be eliminated and the inspections should be tightened. It does not deal with Iran's ballistic missile program or Iran's support of terrorism and interference with countries in the region.

BLITZER: If Iran now restarts its nuclear weapons program, will Saudi Arabia build a bomb itself?

AL-JUBEIR: I believe if Iran restarts its enrichment program beyond what it has right now, that should trigger the provisions and cause all the other countries to abandon the deal and reimpose sanctions on Iran.

BLITZER: What will Saudi Arabia do?

AL-JUBEIR: Whatever it takes to protect our people. If Iran acquires nuclear capability, we will do everything we can to do the same.

BLITZER: You will acquire nuclear capability yourself?

AL-JUBEIR: That's what we mean.

BLITZER: What is your message to the Iranian leadership right now, Foreign Minister?

AL-JUBEIR: Our message to the Iran leadership is the policies of the past have to end. You cannot seek to dominate the region and seek to acquire nuclear programs. You must abide by international law, cease supporting terrorism. Cease providing ballistic missiles to terrorist organizations.

BLITZER: Do you believe, as the international atomic energy agency does, and others, the Europeans, for example, the Russians, the Chinese, that Iran has been fully complying with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal?

AL-JUBEIR: The agreement is flawed, because by 2025, it allows Iran the ability to have unlimited enrichment capability, where they could have enough uranium for a nuclear weapon within a week. That's not acceptable. That's one. Two, the inspections need to be broadened. It's limited to the declared sites. It has to be 24/7, anywhere, any time.

BLITZER: Did the Trump administration speak with the Saudi leadership before announcing the decision by the president yesterday?

AL-JUBEIR: The Trump administration talked to allies and gave them heads up in terms of the timing, but not the content of the announcement.

BLITZER: Not the specific announcement. Were you surprised?

AL-JUBEIR: No. Because I believe it was the right thing to do. I believe that no agreement is better than a flawed agreement. Any future agreement has to include Iran's violations oh of the U.N. resolutions with regard to ballistic missiles and Iran's support for terrorism and interference in the affairs of other countries. Otherwise, that's the only way to stop Iran.

[13:40:11] BLITZER: Why not stay in the deal, Foreign Minister, and work a separate supplemental agreement on Iran's, for example, ballistic missile program, its actions destabilizing in the region? Why not try to expand the deal?

AL-JUBEIR: The deal was flawed. I believe the president tried to work with the other P5 countries to improve the deal and fix it and to deal with the issue of ballistic missiles and with the issue of Iran's support of terrorism and terrorist activities in the region. But they weren't able to reach an agreement that was satisfactory that would force Iran to change its behavior.

BLITZER: As you know, as a result of President Trump's decision, Iran is now, when it comes to this nuclear deal, on the same page as the Europeans, China and Russia. Are you comfortable with that situation?

AL-JUBEIR: As the European countries, France and Germany and the U.K., have made it clear that the issue of Iran's ballistic missiles and the issue of Iran's support for terrorism and interference in the affairs of the countries of the region must be dealt with. So they agree Iran has to be held accountable for this, and looking for ways to fix this agreement. So, yes, we're comfortable that the sanctions will be reimposed. We support the U.S. position. Our allies in the United Arab Emirates in Jordan and Egypt support this. The Arab League supports it. The secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Countries supports it.

BLITZER: The Israelis clearly support it, as well. The Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

The Turkish President Erdogan says a crisis could be coming to the region because of this decision by President Trump. Do you have some fears that there could be an escalation of fighting, for example, in various parts of the Middle East as a result of this decision?

AL-JUBEIR: I hope not. But keep in mind, Wolf, that the crisis in the region began with the revolution in Iran in 1979. Iran has been on a rampage ever since. Iran has been supporting terrorism. Iran has been creating groups like Hezbollah and the Houthis. Iran has been interfering in the affairs of other countries. So Iran has been a source of conflict in this region. The fact that Iran is now going to be held accountable for any actions it takes, and the fact that sanction also be reimposed should be a strong and powerful message to the Iranian regime it must change its behavior.

BLITZER: I know there was another missile attack in Riyadh today. What can you tell us?

AL-JUBEIR: There were two missiles intercepted with Iraq, which brings the total of 130 missiles launched. These missiles are Iranian manufactured, and delivered to the Houthis. Such behavior is unacceptable. It violates U.N. resolutions with regards to ballistic missiles. And the Iranians must be held accountable for this.

BLITZER: So what does that mean, held accountable?

AL-JUBEIR: We will find the right way and at the right time to respond to this.

BLITZER: Including military action?

AL-JUBEIR: We will make -- we are trying to avoid at all costs direct military action with Iran, but Iran's behavior such as this cannot continue. This amounts to a declaration of war. When somebody provides missiles to a terrorist group that lobs missiles at your city and civilians indiscriminately, what do you call it, a friendly act? Of course not.

BLITZER: Foreign Minister, thanks so much for joining us.

AL-JUBEIR: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, fresh threats to the First Amendment. President Trump suggests removing press credentials until he gets the news coverage he likes.


[13:48:29] BLITZER: The president of the United States is floating the idea of taking away media credentials until he gets news coverage he likes. In his latest attack against the First Amendment, the president writes, quote, "The fake news is working overtime. Just reported that despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy and all things else, 91 percent of the network news about me is negative, fake. Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?" that's a question mark, take away credentials? I should say, closed quotes.

I want to bring in our senior media correspondent, the host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter, with us. Also with us, the president of the White House Correspondents' Association, Margaret Talev, the White House correspondent for "Bloomberg News," also a CNN contributor.

Margaret, you released a statement, as the head of the White House Correspondents' Association. Let me read it to our viewers: "Some may excuse the president's inflammatory rhetoric about the media, but just because the president does not like the news coverage does not make it fake. A free press must be able to report on the good, the bad, the momentous, and the mundane without fear or favor. And the president preventing a free and independent press from covering the workings of our republic would be an unconscionable assault on the First Amendment."

Walk us through what's going on right now, Margaret. Walk us through the statement you just released.

[13:49:53] MARGARET TALEV, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Wolf. What the president conveyed today in his tweet really goes beyond what's appropriate. It's a longstanding tradition for politicians who either don't like critical coverage or are trying to distract from a complicated situation to blame the press. Everyone acknowledges that. We all want to focus on doing our jobs, but there are certain sort of lines, boundaries, that need to be respected.

And actually threatening to restrict coverage and prevent people from getting information is one of those lines. So we thought it was really important to put out a firm statement and call that out. I want to tell you also over the course of the last several hours, I've been in touch on a regular basis with the White House and White House officials about coordinating coverage for a really important event, which is the return of these Americans held in North Korea later tonight.

And so the president has used this rhetoric for a long time and often the association doesn't get involved in responding to rhetoric because it's just important that we focus on doing our jobs but we felt that it was important to call this out as something that was not acceptable.

BLITZER: Certainly outrageous to think that they're going to take away press credentials for working White House reporters, for example, simply because the coverage is negative.

You know, Brian, this isn't the first time the president has mentioned taking away press credentials. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The "New York Times" is totally dishonest. Totally dishonest. "The Washington Post" gotten a little bit better lately. I took away their press credentials. I should do it with the times."

It's frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write. And people should look into it.

The press has become so dishonest that if we don't talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people.

See, I know when I should get good and when I should get bad. And sometimes I'll say, wow, that's going to be a great story and I'll get killed.


BLITZER: How serious should we take this threat from the president to yank the press credentials of reporters?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": The way he's talking, it's undemocratic. This is the way dictators operate, not how democratic leaders operate. But it is just talk. It is just the president venting, bloviating, complaining about the coverage he doesn't like. We do see that frequently from him. It's important to recognize there's no actual plan in place to do this. He's musing about this, he's done that privately, and now publicly. If you're even from an obscure -- outlet or partisan blog, they'll still give you credentials for the day. He sends signals by his media attacks and they use the president's rhetoric to condemn and hurt the press all around the world. It's still troubling.

BLITZER: Margaret, the difference between fake news and negative news is very different. The president doesn't like negative news and he brands all of that, even if it's honest and fair, as fake.


TALEV: And it's a rhetorical tool that he's used. News is news. Facts are facts, and it's our job to report those facts without fear or favor when the news reflects positively on the president's initiatives, that's information the American public should have, when the news is critical and points out nuances, that's also important information for the American public to have. We're here to do our job and we'll continue to do so.

Again, I and most of our colleagues are trying to cover what's happening with North Korea, with Iran, what's happening with Gina Haspel's hearings. There are certain boundaries of what's important. On the ground, and just here at the White House, the correspondent and the White House are actually working on getting good, fulsome coverage tonight so the American public can understand what's happening with the Americans coming home.

STELTER: If I can just mention, he does have a history of this. That's why it's notable. During the campaign, the president did take away credentials from eight news outlets. That's why it is concerning he's talking about it again. When I interviewed him during the campaign, he promised he would not kick people out of the White House about reporting. If he were to actually act on this, it would be a promise broken.

BLITZER: The problem is it gives ammunition to despots in other countries to do this. That's a worrisome development as well.


BLITZER: We'll continue to monitor this. Very important.

Margaret, Brian, guys, thanks very much.

STELTER: Thank you.

TALEV: Thank you.

[13:55:09] BLITZER: And this just coming in. We're seeing our first pictures of Secretary of State Pompeo's trip to North Korea. Here he is being greeted by North Korean officials. The new secretary of state was there working on details for the upcoming summit between President Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong un. The Secretary Pompeo is now flying back to the United States, and with him aboard the aircraft are the three American detainees just released by North Korea earlier in the day.

Other news we're following, new questions emerging over the president's personal attorney, long-time fixer, Michael Cohen, and why he received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a U.S. company tied to a Vladimir Putin ally. It's a CNN exclusive. Stay with us.