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Trump Cancels Summit with North Korea Abruptly This Morning; North Korean Official Called Vice President Pence a "Political Dummy." Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired May 24, 2018 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We are going to continue to cover the breaking news this morning. A single page letter with worldwide implications. The meeting is canceled. President Trump scuttling his much anticipated summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un just this morning.
And in just a few minutes, we will hear from the president live for the first time today. Will he address this shocking announcement? We will find out together.
A potentially historic moment, though, apparently torpedoed by the regime's own inflammatory rhetoric. The last straw appears to be when North Korean official called Vice President Pence a, quote, "political dummy," and threatened a nuclear showdown.
Then Donald Trump penned the letter to Kim Jong-un saying in part, "based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate at this time to have this long-planned meeting."
CNN Global Affairs Correspondent, Elise Labott, is standing by with more details on this. Let's begin with Kaitlan Collins over at the White House. Kaitlan, what are you hearing there right now?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: We're learning a lot more about the backdrop behind this decision, Kate, to cancel what could have been a very historic summit in Singapore between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.
I am told by people inside the White House that the final decision to pull out of this summit was made by President Trump this morning after he spent the morning on the phone with the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, his National Security Adviser John Bolton, and the Vice President Mike Pence, among other several -- several other national security aides that the president has been speaking with.
And of course, this decision comes after that very fiery and aggressive statement from a North Korean senior official that called Pence a political dummy for comparing what could happen in North Korea to what happened in Libya.
But I'm told that the final straw was that sentence at the end of the North Korean statement that threatened nuclear war essentially saying, quote, "We can also make the U.S. taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined."
So, that statement there, they said that they just couldn't have a summit like this with these kinds of circumstances happening here, Kate. So certainly, quite a decision.
But also, this decision to pull out of this had almost immediate reverberations here in Washington with the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo up on Capitol Hill testifying just minutes after this letter to Kim Jong-un came out.
I'm told that this letter will be delivered to the North Korean leader from -- through the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and through the channels that he has used to communicate with North Korea, which he has just noted there has been a breakdown in that communication over recent days.
So, this isn't a total shock, that this summit has been canceled. This is something that aides anticipated over the last few days when it seemed like things were falling apart. This decision has been made and it certainly is a stunning one -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: Yes. No matter if things like they're falling apart, it is still stunning when a date, a place, a time was announced that it is now at least as of right now called off. Elise, as Kaitlan was talking about, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he already met with Kim Jong-un, they were having discussions just this morning. It almost looked like when he read the letter, almost like he read it for the first time, I have to say.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I mean, I think this letter was clearly drafted by President Trump, Kate. If you read some of the language in it, he addresses him as Chairman Kim and he talks about the wonderful dialogue building up between you and me.
And essentially, you know, thank you for the release of the hostages, that was a beautiful gesture you can almost see President Trump, you know, kind of dictating this letter himself.
But at the same time, I think this is, as Kaitlan was saying this is something the president's aides have been discussing for several days. Last night, we were getting indications from U.S. officials that the U.S. just did not feel comfortable.
The U.S. side did not have a lot of clarity on Kim's intentions, was he really ready to fully give up his nuclear program, that word denuclearize, and what did that mean for him. In recent days, aides, others as the secretary just said were trying to get more clarity on the agenda, on what it is that Kim was ready to put on the table.
And they didn't feel that kind of seriousness of effort and so obviously then the rhetoric stemmed from that. I think this is a sign that the U.S. didn't feel comfortable, that this was going to be a success. I might say, though, Kate, the president ends the letter by saying if you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please don't hesitate to call or write. This is very flowery language, but I think he's saying to the North Koreans, get your act together.
He kind of said in this letter, it's like a lover's quarrel between the two of them, but the president is saying get your act together, let's do this, if you change your mind about the summit, I hope we can meet in the future.
[11:05:05] And officials are telling Jim Sciutto and others that this isn't dead, but the U.S. just felt it needed to take a step back. You just heard Secretary Pompeo say I don't want to say too much. I want to keep some space open for negotiations.
So, I suspect summit as President Trump is saying in this letter will not take place on the 12th, but I wouldn't preclude the fact or the possibility that this could happen down the line.
BOLDUAN: Call me or write me.
LABOTT: Call me maybe.
BOLDUAN: You said it, not me. Elise, thanks so much. Kaitlan, thank you so much.
A lot to discuss here. Jim Sciutto is joining me now, CNN's Chief National Security Correspondent, Peter Brookes, a senior fellow for the National Security Affairs at the Heritage Foundation, also former CIA agent and former deputy assistant secretary of defense under President George W. Bush, and CNN National Security Analyst, Samantha Vinograd is here, a former adviser on President Obama's National Security Council.
Jim, what are you picking up from your sources? Is this -- how dead is this summit?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Not all dead is the short answer. I'm told by -- I'm told by a senior administration official that the door is still open to talks at a later date under different circumstances and that last qualifier is important.
Because yes, the approximate cause of this cancellation was that rhetoric in the last 24 hours from the North Korean side calling the vice president stupid, but there were prior concerns to that.
You heard from Secretary Pompeo a short time ago saying that the U.S. side was not getting answers to its inquiries as you reached the final couple of weeks before these talks. That's important. You're not getting answers back. That's a real problem.
In addition to that, there was concern in the administration about the remaining distance apart on the key issues here, the varying definitions of denuclearization, et cetera. Before the fiery rhetoric of the last 24 hours there were already concerns about this.
I think -- I imagine concerns from the president, would he go out to a summit that would really get him nowhere and might be an embarrassing development to show up there and walk away with nothing.
BOLDUAN: Peter, what is your reaction to this letter?
PETER BROOKES, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that the conditions weren't right. I think it was a good call on the part of the president. Jim outlined it perfectly in my view. There is a serious concern and may have been a historic summit in Singapore but maybe not productive.
I also think that just canceling this one doesn't mean we don't have opportunities in the future to meet again. If you look at major summits, U.S., Soviet, some have gone well, some have been canceled, they're rescheduled, I think at this point this was the right call, especially my deep concern about the definition of denuclearization, North Korea seemed to have a much more broader view of this.
It wasn't unilateral on the part of North Korea, more global, part of the global arms control effort and also -- that would have been a nonstarter for us. North Korea would ask us to do it. There is -- they didn't give themselves a lot of time to get to the summit. It is decent, it is a good decision to take a pause and re-evaluate.
BOLDUAN: Samantha, I want to look down really quick, the president is just tweeting, let me take a look at it first, tweeting, if we can throw it up for our viewers as well, saying, "Sadly, I was forced to cancel the summit meeting in Singapore with Kim Jong-un" and then putting up letter that he sent to Kim Jong-un.
Let me ask you, though, is it strategic or emotional what we're looking at this morning? I ask that because president and aides, the president seems so angry, that was the reporting, he was infuriated by North Korea statement about Mike Pence, calling him stupid. Then in the letter this morning, is this an emotional response, strategic response, can it be both?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It can be both. What we're seeing is the fact that this summit was a rush job. We did not take the time to do our homework and to figure out things like Kim's intentions, what we actually wanted out of the summit.
By the way, also, was Kim actually going to show up? It is entirely possible that we had intelligence that Kim may not show up on June 12th and President Trump wanted to preemptively get around that. We just don't know.
That's why we should have taken time on the front end to figure all this stuff out before we sign and date. The question is what comes next? I have written breakup letters more convincing than what I read from President Trump. It is not over yet. You have to wonder is diplomacy dead.
BOLDUAN: Do you think so? VINOGRAD: I don't think we know.
BOLDUAN: The other option is not a good one.
VINOGRAD: The other option is not a good one. The problem is we're in a gray zone right now. We tried diplomacy. We may try it again. What other options are on the table. Are we leaving space for Kim to come back to negotiation that could stretch out over several months or are we going to something else?
BOLDUAN: Jim, Samantha hits on something. One of the criticisms all along, when the talk of a summit and the date was coming, and location was coming, the criticism was set a date first and then figure out what you're going to discuss and what is on the table after.
[11:10:09] And now he's leaving because there is -- it seems he's canceling because there weren't preconditions, didn't seem clear what he would get out of the meeting. It seems he's dropping out for the thing he was criticized and setting it up as.
SCIUTTO: Well, here's the thing. You know, typically, you don't set up the principles meeting until you have the other issues laid out, right. There were so many questions there.
Remember, I covered the Iran and nuclear negotiations, they played out over more than two years before you got to a point where you're ready to sit down and sign on the big issues here and there was no discussion in those negotiations that the president is meeting face to face.
You put the cart before the horse to some degree, before you ironed up many of the issues. That was a criticism you heard from many North Korea experts of Democratic and Republican administrations prior to today's events and you can say that the cancellation is really bearing those concerns out here. That is concern.
Donald Trump has a way of negotiating that worked for him in many places in the business world, et cetera. In this environment, it doesn't appear that that strategy worked with the North Korean leader.
BOLDUAN: Peter, do you think that the North Koreans knew they were crossing a line with the statement when they put it out?
BROOKES: They're always very interesting, Kate. They're very hard to understand their intentions. We were surprised by the charm offensive going back to the Olympics and all of this talk. I've been working on North Korean issues for 20 years. I've been to North Korea.
I was always deeply skeptical but cautiously optimistic by the changes we had seen from the young leader. Now we're back to where it is standard behavior for North Korea in terms of their international rhetoric.
BOLDUAN: Samantha, the wording of the letter, if you change your mind, having to do with this, most important summit, please do not hesitate to call or write. Is that how this works? VINOGRAD: No, it is not how it works. You have your experts and your staff and in constant touch to figure out what it is going to take to actually get two principles to the table. At this point, I feel uncomfortable we're in a gray zone. We don't know if it is going to happen. Are they going to shoot missiles or leave the door open to diplomacy?
BOLDUAN: The ball is in whose court now?
VINOGRAD: I think in some respect the North Koreans to see how they respond and how their patrons China and Russia react to Donald Trump calling off the summit.
BOLDUAN: Thank you so much. A lot of gray zone, a lot of gray area here, a lot to be worked out. Thank you, Peter, Jim, Sam. Really appreciate it.
We're going to have much more ahead on the breaking news. President Trump canceling this summit abruptly this morning with North Korea. Any moment we'll hear from the president live from the White House. This will be the first time since laying out the letter, canceling the summit. Will he address this? What is his message now to the world? We'll be right back.
BOLDUAN: Just minutes from now, we'll hear from President Trump live for the first time since he canceled his planned summit, historic summit with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un. What is the president's message now? We may find out together. We'll bring it to you when it happens.
Joining me right now is Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thanks for coming in.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: You bet, yes. Thanks for having me.
BOLDUAN: What an amazing morning this has been. Your reaction to President Trump's letter?
KINZINGER: I think it was the right thing to do. What is interesting about it is it is not a letter where it comes back in like to what the messaging that has been out of North Korea no name calling just, like, look, this is bad for the country, bad for the world.
But we're also not going to negotiate under these circumstances to paraphrase. If you want to come back to the table, give us a call. We'll come back to the table with you. But we won't be threatened and won't do it -- I think it shows a position of strength.
And frankly it is to the Kim regime's advantage to meet with the president and negotiate. I'm not predicting this, but I would not be surprised if they come back and try to keep this meeting on or at least reschedule for the near term.
BOLDUAN: We will see. But what the president writes in the letter is the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, that is a statement where North Korean official called vice President Pence stupid.
KINZINGER: A stupid dummy.
BOLDUAN: Stupid political dummy, it's something like that. Is that a good enough reason to cancel the summit? We have been talking about how historic this meeting is and how important this issue is to the world?
KINZINGER: I think it is. It is not just that. It may not be enumerated in the letter, but it is also the fact that North Korea has been saying they won't denuclearize, they won't go by the preconditions we set out. So, again, I think the president didn't come in and say we hate you, we're not going to ever talk to you.
But the president basically said, look, your language is not the type of thing that we are going to go negotiate with. We're the United States of America, we do have the ability to call shots that North Korea doesn't.
That's one of the advantages of being us. We're not going to negotiate under these circumstances. If you want to and want to come in good faith, let's do that, but until then, we're not going to subject ourselves to this.
BOLDUAN: But that was one of the criticisms going into this, the Trump administration really didn't work out any preconditions ahead of the meeting. Do you think this was doomed from the start?
KINZINGER: No, I think there were preconditions worked out to an extent. We have three hostages that Mike Pompeo helped negotiate the release of without really any payment on our end. Then look at the fact that leading up to June 12th, they have been talking about, we're going to go in with this thing that North Korea will have it completely denuclearize.
North Korea said, well, we are not going to do that and then they start name calling and now we're walking away. So, I think preconditions were actually in progress by the staff level or other channels.
[11:20:07] And we said those preconditions aren't being met, one of those is you can't call the vice president a stupid dummy among other things.
BOLDUAN: Well, they have a way with words. Do you think this is the final word?
BOLDUAN: I ask that, because these are two men with big egos and on display for the world to watch this play out. On some level, I do wonder how they can reopen talks after this.
KINZINGER: North Korea came to the table initially or said they were willing to come to the table, because sanctions were hurting, because their commerce had been hurt significantly because the world was rallying against them.
That pressure hasn't alleviated. We can go back to bringing the pressure on them and eventually they will be compelled to do it. If they don't, it is a decision that the regime will make that will not benefit them or the world.
But I do think if the president would have said, we're going to keep this summit on, no matter what you're saying, we desperately want to meet with you and fix this problem, then you would be walking in from a position of weakness.
And that would be sending the message that we are desperate for a deal. We want a deal. We want the right deal, though, that is going to lead to peace for the next generations.
BOLDUAN: Is the world more dangerous today after the summit has been called off?
KINZINGER: I don't know. I think no because nothing has changed from where we were. Now if Kim Jong-un starts racing toward nuclear weapons again, it would be as dangerous as it has been. The world has got a lot of issues out there.
One of these is the North Korean nuclear thing. I think coming back to get them to a verifiable infinity never ever nuclear weapons ever again with some conditions on our end, some gives, I think that will make the world safer and this is the right way to get to that deal.
BOLDUAN: For this -- call it a step back, a hiccup, a major obstacle, do you think the National Security Adviser John Bolton is to blame for this? He's the one who first brought up the Libya model with Donald Trump trying to clean up and Vice President Pence was asked about which then led to the statement from the North Koreans.
KINZINGER: I don't think so. Look, the Kim regime knows what was meant by the Libya model. Everybody really knows, which is he gave up his nuclear weapons. They jump and say, well, he was deposed, he was deposed because he was a terrible person and oppressed his people and they stabbed him to death in the back of a pickup truck.
It is not because he denuclearized, it is because the people rose up. And so, saying the Libya model is not saying we are eventually going to overthrow Kim especially when the president has said we are going to guarantee in essence security of the regime, which is a really big step on our end.
BOLDUAN: So, now we have gone from fire and fury to Kim Jong-un is an honorable man to we're out at least for now. What is the message, Congressman, to the world on how the Trump administration does business in? KINZINGER: I think the message is walk him to the world where there is a crazy dictator in North Korea that puts out a lot of crazy stuff and the next day crosses the border to South Korea and has pony puppy time with the South Korean president. It is all inconsistent. So the way to get to an agreement, there may be what seemed to be inconsistent messages on our part, but it is us playing diplomacy, which is we can be tough, will be to reach out and we can walk away when necessary.
BOLDUAN: But is that a strategy, meet your crazy with our crazy?
KINZINGER: No, it is not our crazy. It is meeting crazy with a changing strategy to say how do we get you to the table? If you don't come to the table under our conditions, we'll have a different tone. If you're willing to come to the table, we'll have a different tone. That's just international diplomacy.
BOLDUAN: Congressman, great to have you here. Thanks so much.
KINZINGER: You bet. Thanks. Take care.
BOLDUAN: Any moment now, we'll hear from President Trump live from the White House for the first time since canceling this summit with North Korea. What will he say? We'll bring it to you.
Plus, CNN's Will Ripley is deep within North Korea as we speak, was with the North Korean officials when the news broke about President Trump canceling the meeting. We'll hear from him next.
BOLDUAN: More now on the breaking news, with the stroke of a pen, the meeting is off. President Trump canceling the highly anticipated summit with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un next month. We'll hear from the president in a few minutes for first time since the letter and see if he addresses this shocking announcement.
Here are the president's own words, though, to Kim in part in the letter he wrote. Saying, "I was very much looking forward to being there with you. Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate at this time to have this long-planned meeting."
The last straw the North Korean official calling Vice President Mike Pence a, quote, "political dummy," and threatening a nuclear showdown.
Joining me right now for more reaction, CNN Chief International Correspondent, Christiane Amanpour. Christiane, what do you make of this letter and honestly, where do you think things go right now? Is diplomacy dead? 2 CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, it is really vital that this get put back on track in a rational, prepared, real way because talk is better than war. And until this idea of this summit was raised, it was all military conflict and rhetoric being raised by both sides.
So, it is really important, but I think there are a number of issues here. First, I think it was always sort of a long shot to think that two leaders under these incredibly complicated situations could actually go to a summit and come out with a win-win situation without much of the preparatory work being done.
Basically, summits and signings of agreements and accords happen with the two major principles after the experts, the ministers, secretaries of state, et cetera, have done all the leg work and all the negotiating. That's one thing.
It looked from the beginning as the cart was being put ahead of the horse. Then you had the substance, what is denuclearization mean? It was clear that both sides started to say in public that --