Return to Transcripts main page


Presidents Trump and Putin To Meet One-On-One Today. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired July 16, 2018 - 05:30   ET


[05:30:00] CHRIS CUOMO, HOST, CNN "CUOMO PRIME TIME": -- call it. Tone on the way in, transparency of the process, and then takeaway on the way out.

So, let's talk about this as we're heading in. Tone is a major factor, especially because it's very confounding. The President of the United States seems to be making the Russian case heading into this situation.

Listen to some sound most recently about how President Trump is describing who are friends and who are foes.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think we have a lot of foes. I think the European Union is a foe -- what they do to us in trade. Now, you wouldn't think of the European Union, but they're a foe.

Russia's a foe in certain respects.

China's a foe, economically. Certainly, they're a foe but that doesn't mean they're bad.

It doesn't mean anything. It means that they're competitors. They want to do well and we want to do well.

Ultimately, he's a competitor. He's representing Russia. I'm representing the United States. So in a sense, we're competitors.

It's not a question of friend or enemy. He's not my enemy and hopefully someday, maybe he'll be a friend. It could happen but I don't -- I just don't know him very well.


CUOMO: All right, let's discuss a little bit of this upside-down talk with rear admiral John Kirby (retired) and CNN military and diplomatic analyst, of course. And, Phil Mudd, CNN counterterrorism analyst and expert.

So, this is upside-down talk that we're hearing from President Trump -- the European Union is a foe. By the way, foe always a bad thing. Never call a friend a foe -- they won't like it -- because it's a bad thing. That's what it is. REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST, FORMER SPOKESPERSON, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY, THE PENTAGON: Right.

CUOMO: And to call the European Union a foe is the opposite of what we understand the reality to be. The head of the E.U. said anyone who calls us the foe of American is spreading fake news.

KIRBY: Right.

CUOMO: Obviously, that would be the president in this regard.

And then you have his feelings about Russia as a competitor, which the Kremlin loves. Peskov, the spokesperson for the Kremlin, coming out and saying we like being called a competitor -- that's what we are -- and as long as it's fair competition, everything's good.

How do you explain the upside-down talk?

KIRBY: I don't think it can be explained. It's really stunning for me that an American president would say some things like this.

Also, they had he would say I'm representing the United States when historically Chris, as you know, the American president doesn't just represent the United States. He has historically represented our allies, our partners, and all the -- all the great things what Western democracy stand for.

So it's hard to explain it. I don't understand it.

I do know that Vladimir Putin's got to be looking forward to this meeting in a very good way because he's got -- he's got Trump basically saying all these talking points for him.

CUOMO: President Trump has said, Phil, this will be the easiest meeting. Well, nobody will help him make it easy more than Vladimir Putin because if it were a straight tough-talking meeting it would be a very difficult meeting.

You take on election interference not by asking Putin if he did it. What an odd suggestion. We know he did it.

So coming into this what do you see as the potential for success for the United States on the way out?


First is, you've got to talk about Syria. I mean, there's an -- there's an end-game going on in Syria now. ISIS is on their way out. The Syrian forces, with the support of the Iranians and Russians, are winning.

You either talk about it or you concede the battle space to the Russians. There's got to be some comment about Syria. The second thing I'd say is the president's already set up success. He keeps -- you look at the North Korea example, "Little Rocket Man." We have an engagement with the North Koreans that potentially has nuclear implications, then he steps away after five hours and says we won.

He's going to walk away from this saying -- just characterizing the relationship with Russia as the worst ever and he's going to step away saying look, I rebuilt the relationship. I met, we're friends, we're talking.

CUOMO: Does it matter that he says it's the worst ever because of the U.S.?

MUDD: I think it does because you'll remember when you came into office he said we don't telegraph our playbook. When we're talking about military operations in places like Syria we don't telegraph.

He's already telegraphed to the Russians that when he tries to push them -- I doubt he will but if he tries to push them on election interference all they have to say is what he said -- what his Twitter feed said where they're going to say well, we didn't do it and we don't really have anything more to say.

CUOMO: So when we look at what makes -- I know that the White House is underselling this now and setting a low bar of expectation, saying don't call it a summit --

KIRBY: Right.

CUOMO: -- it's a meeting.

Well then, why are we in Helsinki, by the way? Only serious presidential meetings of this level happen in this city. That's why it's such an august and historic place. Let's put it to the side.

If Syria winds up being on the table, Phil's play for the United States' perspective, strategically, is to say we win. We took it from ISIS.

But isn't there a flip there that if you leave Syria and Russia is your fair broker in the situation, you lose because you've given Syria to Iran and Russia --

KIRBY: Absolutely.

CUOMO: -- and left Assad alone --

KIRBY: Absolutely.

CUOMO: -- which you had said you wouldn't when Tillerson was talking about it, saying that there is no role for Assad there, long-term.

KIRBY: That's right. Look, our military troops are there to fight ISIS -- that was the case under Obama -- but their presence, Chris, gives us leverage and has given us some leverage in the past at the diplomatic table.

[05:35:03] And when U.S. forces hit through airstrikes, some Russian individuals -- they're not military troops -- that sent a strong message to Putin that we did have leverage at the table. Now, our president's talking about a complete withdrawal which would seed the future of Syria to Russia and Iran.

And oh, by the way, this talk about how Russia's going to ensure Iran gets out of Syria --


KIRBY: -- good luck with that because the Russians don't have that kind of leverage over Iran and Iran's already made clear that they consider it a national interest of theirs to be there so, so that's not going to happen.

The other thing that -- the other thing that makes this really troublesome is he, Trump, talks about immigration and the refugee crisis and all that. It's the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Why do you think that is? One of the reasons is because of the civil war in Syria and this administration has done darn little to try to bring that civil war to a close and stem that flow of refugees.

CUOMO: And we've learned a harsh lesson of history is that when you abandon people under the eyes of an oppressor --


CUOMO: -- they wind up fleeing to the nearest refuge and often, it is a bunch of bad guys.

KIRBY: It could, very well.

CUOMO: Gentlemen, thank you very much.

We've gotten an update as I toss it back to you in New York, John. Your curiosity about where Putin is, well-founded. He's running late. That is going to slide the schedule.

We're now getting guidance from the White House that they will meet about 20 minutes later. Still, every bit on your watch here. At about 6:00, we expect the events happening over our shoulder here, so it will be a little bit delayed.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Cuomo, you know this from being a football fan. This is called icing the kicker. This is diplomatic gamesmanship that we are seeing right here.

Vladimir Putin coming in later than expected. The president's going to have to wait now --


BERMAN: -- to head to that palace.

CAMEROTA: It's not as if he didn't know this summit was happening.

BERMAN: It's been on the schedule for a few days.

CAMEROTA: It has been.

BERMAN: And he's done this flight before. I think he knows the timing here.

CAMEROTA: So that's an interesting mindset with which to start the summit.

BERMAN: Icing the kicker.

We want to speak to a U.S. ambassador who has been in the middle of negotiations like this about what this all means. That's coming up next.


[05:41:30] BERMAN: I want to show you live pictures now from Finland. This is the Helsinki airport where we are waiting -- we are waiting for the Russian President Vladimir Putin to arrive. He is arriving late to his summit with President Trump. The whole thing now pushed back about 20 minutes.

President Trump was supposed to depart for the Presidential Palace. He's now waiting until the Russian leader is on the ground. Is this all gamesmanship we are now seeing?

Joining me is Ambassador Thomas Pickering. He's the former U.S. ambassador to Russia under President George H.W. Bush, and President Bill Clinton's ambassador to the United Nations -- a long diplomatic career.

Ambassador, give us a sense of what we're seeing this morning. Vladimir Putin arriving late to a summit that's been on the schedule for some time, forcing President Trump to delay his departure to the actual meeting place.

How do you assess this?


One, obviously, the lateness is something he could have avoided so it has some intent. That intent obviously is in some ways to level the playing field of publicity about this meeting so that it isn't all Trump, whatever he's doing or saying -- good, bad, ugly or indifferent.

And secondly it is, once again I think, an important thing to take a look at this summit not as a transactional meeting which we all have a tendency to do, but to look at this as a strategic opportunity, which I think is about to come perhaps a cropper (ph) or to fail. We will have to wait and see.

But it is important as a strategic opportunity to recognize the two great powers -- the largest nuclear powers in the world -- have important issues that can be settled. If we had a presidency that was normal, I'd have more confidence that the meeting could produce some results.

If the president were to take into account, as apparently he hasn't, the need for long and careful preparation and, indeed, much work to be done by others to set the stage, I'd feel a lot more confident.

But in a strategic sense, it's important John for us to look at the three categories of issues that will have to be dealt with.

At the top of the list is the question of U.S. elections and the question of our nuclear relationship. In each case, it appears as if the president is not going to get anywhere on this particular issue. President Putin will say what he's said before. The president seems to be satisfied with that.

On the nuclear question, it will be extremely important if they could launch talks to deal with disagreements about the INF Treaty. And as well, even more important, keep New START in place. And even more important than that, start a process of dealing with what comes after New START.

The second category of important issues is regional and Syria's at the top of the list as we've been hearing for a long period of time. In Syria, Mr. Putin has an upper hand. He has shown us how to use military force to affect diplomatic outcomes.

The president, unfortunately, is caught between one, wanting to leave for reasons that obviously are complex but not insignificant, and the other wanting to play a role somehow. He owes something to Bibi Netanyahu in this regard with respect to seeing if he can get the Iranians pushed back or away from Israel's frontier.

He certainly, at this stage, will want to see a relationship that comes out of Syria that brings about both stability and continued U.S. leadership presence in the region even if he has to accommodate Mr. Putin's effort to provide himself with military bases, continued influence, and a kind of center in the region, and I think that's important.

[05:45:10] It's a very important thing that Mr. Trump has set the stage for a lose-lose in Europe, castigating --

BERMAN: Right.

PICKERING: -- castigating the Europeans and dissing Mrs. May, castigating Mrs. Merkel -- a whole bunch of things that he should reverse. He should come out of this, whatever happens, saying the Europeans and we are one.

BERMAN: And that's --

PICKERING: We are tight -- and that's important.

And then finally, he could patch up a lot of bilateral --


PICKERING: -- problems, including closing consulates.

BERMAN: I want to tell people right now we have started to see some movement at the airport there in Helsinki where we're expecting Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, to land any minute -- late. Landing about 20 minutes late. The entire schedule for this morning has been pushed back a little bit.

Ambassador, you talked about what could be discussed and the important issues that there could be movement on. That includes nuclear proliferation, that includes Syria, and that includes the Russian role around the world in Ukraine, in the Baltics, in Georgia, and the Russian intervention in the U.S. election. That's the backdrop to this entire meeting.

And what the President of the United States chose to write about as he went to this meeting, just three hours ago, was this. He says, "Our relationship with Russia has never been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity. And now, the rigged witch hunt."

Is that why the U.S. relationship with Russia has never been worse?

PICKERING: I can't believe, in fact, that the president actually did this but yesterday he said the E.U. was our foe.

And I think that he is, in some ways, now hopefully trying one, to push failure off on his predecessors, something he does all the time. Secondly, to lowball the meeting so that, in fact, it's a nice opportunity for the two to have an opening gambit together but nothing really serious will come out of it even though in the end he will claim we won.

I think that that seems to be the strategy at this stage and I think it's really a bad strategy because the strategic importance of dealing with Russia is going to be, once again, undersold in the -- in the fascination that Trump seems to have with transactional issues that I have to win every meeting I go to.

BERMAN: Ambassador Thomas Pickering, a pleasure to have you with us this morning.

PICKERING: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: I know you're watching this over the next several hours --

PICKERING: I will be.

BERMAN: -- with keen interest, to say the least.

Again, you're looking at live pictures at the airport from Helsinki.

Let's go back to Chris Cuomo on the ground near the Presidential Palace -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. We're watching a helicopter right now.

Nobody had an easier trip for this meeting John than President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Obviously, Finland shares a border with Russia. It's about an hour flight.

So if he's late, the understanding is it's intentional. What message is being sent before this even starts?

When we come back we'll talk about the tone headed into this and what is victory for each side heading out.


[05:52:11] CAMEROTA: All right, it is a beautiful day in Helsinki, Finland. It is beautiful, it is picture-perfect -- perfect for a plane to land there on the tarmac and that's what we are waiting for with Vladimir Putin coming from Russia.

And Chris, as you've been reporting and as we've learned, he's late which is a little inexplicable since he knew this summit was happening and he's the closest person. His commute is not as long as anyone else's to get there.

But, John, you and I have been having conversations all morning, and we will continue to, from experts -- diplomats -- about what they hope -- what global issues they hope President Trump will introduce in his one-on-one with Vladimir Putin.

But the truth is Chris, we'll never know really because it's just these two men alone. There won't be witnesses. There will be -- I mean, we've heard one interpreter.

Do you have any more information on who that interpreter is or who will be keeping a record of what really happens for those 90 minutes?

CUOMO: Well, that is something that we're tracking here because translators are very important in these situations. We saw that in North Korea because somebody who is a translator, as having that language facility, can have a lot of other tools in the box as well.

As we saw in Singapore where John was, the translator for the president was a high-ranking State Department official who had a lot of political and diplomatic acumen as well. We are wondering if that's also going to be the same case here. We haven't been told.

You know, it's one of the ironies of this situation. That we don't know.

Putin showing up on time comes as a surprise. And yet, the biggest things that are usually kept hidden have been all but too out in the open from President Trump. Transparency is an issues, guys -- there's no question about it -- both by mechanism and disposition.

We will have the joint press briefing but you do have this larger issue of trust which has been a little twisted because ordinarily, we'd be relying on Trump to be the vehicle for the world's understanding on this. However, given his disposition towards Russia and what he's been saying of late, it's going to be hard to know what to believe.

BERMAN: All right. Chris Cuomo, stand by in Helsinki.

Again, we've got one eye on the airport where the Russian leader Vladimir Putin has not yet arrived. He is more 20 minutes late this point, pushing the whole summit back.

And what does he want out of that? What does he want out of this whole meeting? So much to discuss. Stay around.


[05:53:52] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CUOMO: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your NEW DAY. It's Monday, July 16th, 6:00 in New York. That's where you see Alisyn and John.

But, I'm Chris Cuomo and I am in Helsinki, Finland and this is the place to be.

In just moments, history will be made here, once again, between presidents from the United States and Russia -- Trump versus Putin or will it really be versus at all?

You see on your screen right now -- that is the Russian president's plane. He is late, probably intentionally so, for this big meeting. Why?

Is this icing the kicker as John was saying earlier? Is this just some kind of accident? We'll find out but there's a lot of gamesmanship even at the international level.

So, the start of the meeting is delayed because of what you see on your screen. Everything's been slightly pushed back but it will all happen on our watch this morning.

And to be very clear, for all the hype, these talks are a big deal. They take place just after 12 Russian military intelligence officers were indicted by the Robert Mueller probe, our special counsel in the United States, because of the 2016 U.S. election hacking.

We already have an idea of President Trump's mindset because in a series of new tweets and in statements over the last few weeks, the president has been all about saying things that will be --