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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Stumbling?; President Obama on Nuclear Security; Obama Defends U.S. Guidelines for ISIS Strikes; Obama Asked About Trump's Nuclear Comments; Interview with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired April 1, 2016 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And there's bipartisan anger surrounding his remarks on abortion. Can the GOP front-runner regain his footing?
Firing back. Hillary Clinton is putting her foot down, accusing Bernie Sanders' campaign of lying about contributions given to her campaign. As Clinton struggles to wrap up the nomination, is the Democratic race taking a negative turn at the worst possible time?
And President Obama opens up, the president preparing to face reporters at a nuclear security summit right here in Washington. We're standing by to hear his take on a broad range of important issues from fighting terrorism to the divisive and unpredictable campaign to replace him in the White House.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're standing by for a live news conference with President Obama. He's hosting 50 world leaders at a nuclear security summit here in Washington. He's about to speak to with the news media. He will be taking questions.
We will take you there live as soon as the president begins his remarks. We're also following important developments in the race for the White House.
Donald Trump is playing defense tonight after riding out one of the most tumultuous weeks of his campaign. He's backing away from some incendiary remarks about punishing women for receiving abortions if the procedure were to become illegal in the United States. Donald Trump also facing bad news on the polling front, down double digits to his rival Ted Cruz in Wisconsin.
Losing there could put a serious damper on the front-runner's chances of reaching the delegates needed before the Republican Convention in July.
Our correspondents, analysts and guests, they will have full coverage of all the day's top stories. Let's begin with our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash. She
has an update on the Republican race.
Dana, how is Donald dealing with all the bad news surrounding his campaign?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He has been keeping a low profile except on social media. You mentioned Wisconsin. He was already lagging behind Ted Cruz by double digits before this week. It's going to be hard for him to turn his campaign around, especially in Wisconsin. But he started trying today.
BASH (voice-over): When all else fails for Donald Trump, he tries to change the subject, like he did today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ted Cruz was my roommate. I did not like him at all.
BASH: Slamming Ted Cruz in a new Instagram video after one of the billionaire front-runner's worst weeks since the campaign began, causing a bipartisan firestorm with these comments when asked if women should be punished for having an abortion if it became illegal.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.
MATTHEWS: For the woman?
TRUMP: Yes. There has to be some form.
BASH: That, Trump recanted within hours and later added this:
TRUMP: It could be that I misspoke, but this was a long, convoluted subject.
BASH: But he has not taken back what he said at CNN's town hall, advocating for more nuclear weapons in Asia.
TRUMP: At some point we have to say, you know what, we're better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea.
BASH: Now Trump is refusing to rule out using nuclear weapons in Europe.
TRUMP: Europe is a big place. The last person to use nuclear would be Donald Trump. That's the way I feel. I think it is a horrible thing. The thought of it is horrible. But I don't want to take anything off the table.
BASH: Trump's rivals continued to blast him, including John Kasich, who until this week mostly held his fire.
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The problem for him with town halls is he actually has to answer questions in a specific way.
BASH: Kasich also went after Ted Cruz for having a thin leadership record.
KASICH: His record is shutting down the government and making everybody he works with upset.
BASH: As Trump sees his unfavorable ratings rise and support among women fall, he's quick to point out that he is still the front-runner by a long shot and that even if he arrives at the GOP convention in July without winning the nomination, if he is close, it should be him.
TRUMP: I really think that whoever has that kind of an advantage should get it.
BASH: But the first-time politician is also learning that seizing the Republican nomination takes more than just winning contests. It takes winning over delegates in some states where rules vary.
Sources tell CNN that educating Trump about the complicated delegate process was the subject of Trump's meeting this week with Republican Party chair Reince Priebus as RNC headquarters in Washington.
TRUMP: Very -- actually a terrific meeting, I think. And it's really a unity meeting.
BASH: CNN is told that Priebus used the meeting to ask Trump to ease up on trashing the RNC, as Trump did this week at CNN's town hall.
TRUMP: I have been treated very unfairly. I will give you an example.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Unfairly by who?
TRUMP: I think by basically the RNC, the Republican Party.
BASH: Now, I'm told also during that meeting that the Republican chairman said to Trump that Trump's disparaging comments that you just heard there, among others, make it difficult for the chairman with donors and activists, and that long term it could help the party apparatus, when, if Trump is nominee, he will need.
So the source added to me that Donald Trump responded and replied he understood and he would work to unify the party -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dana, stand by.
I want to go to the Democratic race, where a negative and divisive tone is taking hold ahead of crucial primaries in Wisconsin this coming Tuesday and New York two weeks later.
Our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is tracking the increasingly nasty fight that is under way right now between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
Jeff, what's the latest?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you can feel the tension out there. And it's not just from the candidates. It's also from their supporters as well.
At many Sanders campaign rallies, the mere mention of Hillary Clinton's name produces loud boos. The reason? The length of this race.
After Clinton lost the New Hampshire campaign, here campaign urged supporters not to worry because the nomination wouldn't be won in February. It would be sealed up in March. But as the calendar turns to April today, this race is hotter than ever.
ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton just can't shake Bernie Sanders.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is really personal for me.
ZELENY: Their Democratic fight isn't winding down, but ramping up and expanding to new fronts.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Secretary Clinton.
ZELENY: Sanders and his supporters keeping alive their criticism of Clinton receiving contributions from the oil and gas industry. This confrontation with a climate change activist going viral.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not -- I have money from people who work for fossil fuel companies. I am so sick, I am so sick of the Sanders campaign lying about that. I'm sick of it.
ZELENY: The outburst offers a fresh window into a rising frustration with Sanders. The Clinton campaign accepts money from people who work for oil and gas companies, not the companies themselves. Sanders called it a distinction without a difference.
SANDERS: If people receive money from lobbyists of the industry, I think you're receiving money from the industry. And these are not just a little worker there. These are lobbyists who represent the oil and gas industry.
ZELENY: But today in New York, Clinton struck back, saying Sanders isn't pro-business.
CLINTON: I just go crazy when I hear Senator Sanders and the Tea Party Republicans railing against the Export-Import Bank, like it's some kind of evil presence.
ZELENY: The Democratic rivals are also tangling over abortion, Clinton accusing Sanders are not properly denouncing Donald Trump's
assertion women who have abortions should be punished.
CLINTON: Senator Sanders agreed that Donald Trump's comments were shameful, but then he said they were a distraction from -- and I quote -- "a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America."
ZELENY: Sanders cried foul.
SANDERS: What Secretary Clinton did is take things out of context. I am 100 percent pro-choice.
ZELENY: The root of the tension is the length of the race. The Clinton campaign once assumed the race would be all but over by now, as campaign manager Robby Mook noted in this memo after Clinton lost the New Hampshire primary two months ago, writing: "The nomination will very likely be won in March, not February."
Sanders has an edge in Wisconsin and is fighting hard on Clinton's turf in New York. He drew 18,000 supporters last night to a rally in the Bronx.
SANDERS: My father came to this country at the age of 17 from Poland without a nickel in his pocket.
ZELENY: Sanders is well behind in the delegate race, but money is keeping him in the game. His campaign says it raised $44 million in March, fortifying it for the final two months of the long Democratic primary.
SANDERS: Let's take this fight to the White House. Thank you all.
BLITZER: Let's go right to the president of the United States. He's making a statement, then will answer reporters' questions.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: ... every region of the world and key international organizations.
As at our previous summits, we didn't just come here to talk, but we came here to act. I know that the very technical nature of nuclear security doesn't always make for flashy headlines, but over the past six years, we have made significant, meaningful progress in securing the world's nuclear materials, so that it never falls into the hands of terrorists.
And I want to take a few moments to step back and lay out exactly what we have accomplished. Together, we have removed the world's most deadly materials from nuclear facilities around the world.
With Japan's announcement today, we have now removed or secured all the highly enriched uranium and plutonium from more than 50 facilities in 30 countries, more than 3.8 tons, which is more than enough to create 150 nuclear weapons. That's material that will never fall into the hands of terrorists.
Fourteen nations and Taiwan, countries as diverse as Argentina and Chile, to Libya and Turkey, to Serbia and Vietnam have now rid themselves entirely of highly enriched uranium and plutonium.
And, particularly, I want to point out again that successfully removing all of Ukraine's highly enriched uranium four years ago meant that the very difficult situation in Ukraine over the past two years was not made even more dangerous by the presence of these materials.
As of today, South America, an entire continent, is completely free of these dangerous materials. When Poland completes its removal this year, Central Europe will be free of them as well. When Indonesia completes its work this year, so will all of Southeast Asia.
In other words, as terrorists and criminal gangs and arms merchants look around for deadly ingredients for a nuclear device, vast regions of the world are now off-limits. And that's a remarkable achievement.
We have made important progress in the United States as well. In addition to new steps I announced this morning, we have improved nuclear security and training. We have consolidated nuclear materials at fewer facilities, eliminated some 138 tons of our surplus highly enriched uranium, which would be enough for 5,500 nuclear weapons.
Working with Russia, we're on track to eliminate enough Russian highly enriched uranium for about 20,000 nuclear weapons, which we're converting to electricity here in the United States. More specifically, as a result of these summits, every single one of the more than 50 nations represented here have taken concrete steps to enhance security at their nuclear facilities and storage sites. And that includes improved physical security, stronger regulations, abiding by international guidelines, greater transparency.
And that includes international peer reviews. Fifteen new centers have been created around the world to promote nuclear security technologies and training to share best practices.
And as part of our work today, we agreed to keep strengthening our nuclear facilities' defenses against cyber-attacks. We have bolstered international efforts to disrupt nuclear smuggling. The proliferation and security initiative has grown to more than 100 nations, including regular exercises to improve our collective ability to interdict shipments.
The United States and 36 partner countries have worked to install radiation detection equipment at more than 300 international border crossings, airports and ports, and we are developing new mobile detection systems as well.
And, finally, as I noted this morning, we have strengthened the treaties and international partnerships that are a foundation for so many of our efforts. So, again, we have made significant progress, and everyone involved in this work, especially our teams who have worked tirelessly for years, can take enormous pride in our achievements.
Nevertheless, as I said earlier, our work is by no means finished. There's still a great deal of nuclear and radioactive material around the world that needs to be secured. Global stocks of plutonium are growing. Nuclear arsenals are expanding in some countries, with more small tactical nuclear weapons, which could be at greater risk of theft.
And, as a consequence, one of the central goals of this summit was, how do we build on the work that has been done so that we have an international architecture that can continue the efforts, even though this is the last formal leader summit?
So, even as this is the last of those leader-level summits, today, we agree to maintain a strong architecture, including through the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Interpol, to carry on this work and to provide the resources and technical support that is needed to continue this mission.
And we are creating a new nuclear security contact group, senior-level experts, for more than 30 of our countries who will meet regularly to preserve the networks of cooperation we have built, to institutionalize this work and to keep driving progress for years to come.
At our session on ISIL this afternoon, there was widespread agreement that defeating terrorist groups like ISIL requires more information- sharing. Everybody understands the urgency in the wake of what's happened in Brussels and Turkey, Pakistan and so many other countries around the world.
As a consequence, our director of national intelligence, Jim Clapper, is continuing to engage with intelligence leaders from a number of our European partners on deepening our cooperation. And, today, I invited all the nations represented at this summit to join a broader discussion among our intelligence and security services on how we can improve information-sharing within and among our nations to prevent all manner of terrorist attacks, especially those that might involve weapons of mass destruction.
In closing, I just want to say that preventing nuclear terrorism is one part of the broader that I outlined seven years ago in Prague, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and seeking a world without them. In recent days, there's has been no shortage of analysis on whether we have achieved our vision, and I'm the first to acknowledge the great deal of work that remains, from negotiating further reductions with Russia to dealing with North Korea's nuclear program.
As I indicated in Prague, realizing our vision will not happen quickly, and it perhaps will not happen in my lifetime. But we have begun. The United States and Russian nuclear arsenals are on track to be the lowest that they have been in six decades.
I have released the number and role in our nuclear strategy in our nuclear strategy. In a historic deal, we have prevented nuclear weapons to Iran. An international fuel bank is being built to promote civil nuclear cooperation.
So, I'm extremely proud of our record across the board. And we're going to keep pushing forward wherever we can, as I hope future administrations do, to bring us closer to the day when these nuclear dangers no longer hang over the heads of our children and our grandchildren.
With that, let me take a few questions, and I'm going to start with Roberta Rampton of Reuters.
QUESTION: Thank you.
I want to ask about Iran. And three weeks ago, Iran's supreme leader complained that his country has not been getting actual business deals since the nuclear agreement. And non-U.S. companies are saying that it's very hard or sometimes impossible to do much business with Iran without at some point accessing the U.S. financial system to do U.S. dollar-denominated transactions.
So, my question is, are you considering allowing such transactions? And if so, is that not a betrayal of your assurances that most U.S. sanctions would stay in place?
OBAMA: That's not actually the approach that we're taking.
So, let me say broadly that, so long as Iran is carrying out its end of the bargain, we think it's important for the world community to carry out our end of the bargain. They have, in fact, based on the presentations that were made by the IAEA this morning to the P5-plus- one, have, in fact, followed the implementation steps that were laid out.
And, as a consequence, sanctions related to their nuclear program have been brought down.
Part of the challenge that they face is that companies haven't been doing business there for a long time, and they need to get comfortable with the prospects of this deal holding. One of the things that Secretary Lew and his counterparts within the P5-plus-one and elsewhere are going to be doing is providing clarity to businesses about what transactions are, in fact, allowed.
And it's going to take time over the next several months for companies and their legal departments to feel confident that, in fact, there may not be risks of liability if they do business with Iran. And so some of the concerns that Iran has expressed, we are going to work with them to address.
It is not necessary that we take the approach of them going through dollar-denominated transactions. It is possible for them to work through European financial institutions as well.
But there is going to need to be continued clarification provided to businesses in order to -- for deal flows to begin. Now, what I would say is also important is Iran's own behavior in generating confidence that Iran is a safe place to do business.
In a deal like this, my first priority, my first concern was making sure that we got their nuclear program stopped and material that they already had that would give them a very short breakout capacity, that that was shipped out. That has happened.
And I always said that I could not promise that Iran would take advantage of this opportunity and this window to reenter the international community. Iran so far has followed the letter of the agreement. But the spirit of the agreement involves Iran also sending signals to the world community and businesses that it is not going to be engaging in a range of provocative actions that might scare business off.
When they launch ballistic missiles with slogans calling for the destruction of Israel, that makes businesses nervous. There is some geopolitical risk that is heightened when they see that taking place. If Iran continues to ship missiles to Hezbollah, that gets businesses nervous.
And so part of what I hope happens is, we have a responsibility to provide clarity about the rules that govern so that Iran can, in fact, benefit, the Iranian people can benefit from an improved economic situation.
But Iran has to understand what every country in the world understands, which is businesses want to go where they feel safe, where they don't see massive controversy, where they can be confident that transactions are going to operate normally, and that's an adjustment that Iran is going to have to make as well.
And, frankly, within Iran, I suspect there are different views, in the same way that there are hard-liners here in the United States who, even after we certify that this deal is working, even after our intelligence team, Israeli intelligence teams say this has been a game-changer, are still opposed to the deal on principle.
There are hard-liners inside of Iran who don't want to see Iran open itself up to the broader world community and are doing things to potentially undermine the deal. And so those forces that seek the benefits of the deal, not just in narrow terms, but more broadly, we want to make sure that, over time, they are in a position to realize those benefits.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
As you mentioned at the beginning of your remarks, you just finished a working session with 50 world leaders about combating terrorism and groups like the Islamic State. I wanted to ask you specifically about one of the strategies, prime strategies, your administration is using in that effort. In the past several weeks, your administration has killed well over
200 people in airstrikes in Somalia, Libya and Yemen, according to the Department of Defense. How can you be certain that all of the people killed pose an imminent threat to the United States, and why is the United States now killing scores of people at a time, rather than eliminating individuals in very targeted strikes?
OBAMA: You know, we have constructed a fairly rigid and vigorous set of criteria for us evaluating the intelligence that we receive about ISIL, where it might be operating, where al Qaeda is operating. These guidelines involve a whole range of agencies, consulting extensively, and are then checked, double-checked, triple-checked before kinetic actions are taken.
And, for the most part, our actions are directed at high-value targets in the countries that you just described, outside of the theater of Iraq and Syria. In some cases, what we're seeing are camps that, after long periods of monitoring, it becomes clear are involved in and directing plots that could do the United States harm, or are supporting ISIL activities or al Qaeda activities elsewhere in the world.
So, if, after a long period of observation, we are seeing that, in fact, explosive materials are being loaded onto trucks, and individuals are engaging in training and small arms, and there are some of those individuals who are identified as couriers for ISIL or al Qaeda, then, based on those evaluations, a strike will be taken.
But what we have been very cautious about is making sure that we are not taking strikes in situations where, for example, we think there's the presence of women or children, or if it isn't a normally populated area.
And, recently, we laid out the criteria by which we're making these decisions. We declassified many elements of this. We are going to be putting forward and trying to institutionalize on a regular basis how we make these evaluations and these analyses.
I think, in terms of the broader debate that's taken place, David, I think there's been, in the past, legitimate criticism that the architecture and the legal architecture around the use of drone strikes or other kinetic strikes wasn't as precise as it should have been, and there's no doubt that civilians were killed that shouldn't have been.
I think that, over the last several years, we have worked very hard to avoid and prevent those kinds of tragedies from taking place. In situations of war, we have to take responsibility when we're not acting appropriately or where we have just made mistakes even with the best of intentions.
And that's what we're going to continue to try to do. And I -- what I can say with great confidence is that our operating procedures are as rigorous as they have ever been, and that there is a constant evaluation of precisely what we do.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
You have spent seven years now working on nonproliferation issues, and you said in your opening remarks that you hope that future administrations do the same and make it a priority.
This week, one of -- the Republican front-runner to replace you said that perhaps North -- South Korea and Japan should have nuclear weapons, and wouldn't rule out using nuclear weapons in Europe. Did that come up at this summit? And, just generally, what message does it send when a major-party candidate is articulating such a reversal in U.S. foreign policy?
And, also, who did you vote for in the Democratic primary?
OBAMA: Well, first of all, it's a secret ballot, isn't it? OK. Well, I -- no, I'm not going to tell you now.
What the statements you mentioned tell us, they tell us that the person who made the statements doesn't know much about foreign policy or nuclear policy or the Korean Peninsula or the world generally.
It came up on the sidelines. I have said before that, you know, people pay attention to American elections. What we do is really important to the rest of the world. And even in those countries that are used to a carnival atmosphere in their own politics want sobriety and clarity when it comes to U.S. elections, because they understand the president of the United States needs to know what's going on around the world, and has to put in place the kinds of policies that lead, not only to our security and prosperity, but will have an impact on everybody else's security and prosperity.
Our alliance with Japan and the Republic of Korea is one of the foundations, one of the cornerstones of our presence in the Asia- Pacific region. It has underwritten the peace and prosperity of that region. It has been an enormous boon to American commerce and American influence.
And it has prevented the possibilities of a nuclear escalation and conflict between countries that, in the past and throughout history, have been engaged in hugely destructive conflicts and controversies.
So, you don't mess with that. It's an investment that rests on the sacrifices that our men and women made back in World War II, when they were fighting throughout the Pacific. It is because of their sacrifices and the wisdom that American foreign policy-makers showed after World War II that we've been able to avoid catastrophe in those regions. And we don't want somebody in the Oval Office who doesn't recognize how important that is. [18:30:27] Andrew B.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
Yesterday you met with President Erdogan of Turkey hours after some fairly ugly scenes at the Brookings Institution. I was wondering, do you consider him an authoritarian?
OBAMA: Turkey is a NATO ally. It is an extraordinarily important partner in our fight against ISIL. It is a country with whom we have a long and strategic relationship with. And President Erdogan is someone who I have dealt with since I came into office. And in a whole range of areas, we've had a productive partnership.
What is also true -- and I have expressed this to him directly, so it's no secret -- there are some trends within Turkey that I've been troubled with. I am a strong believer in freedom of the press. I'm a strong believer in freedom of religion. I'm a strong believer in rule of law and democracy. And there is no doubt that President Erdogan has repeatedly been elected through a democratic process. But I think the approach that they've been taking towards the press is one that could lead Turkey down a path that would be very troubling.
And, you know, we are going to continue to advise them to -- and I've said to President Erdogan to remind him that he came into office with a promise of democracy, and Turkey has historically been a country in which deep Islamic faith has lived side by side with modernity and increasing openness. And that's the legacy that he should pursue rather than a strategy that involves repression of information and shutting down democratic debate.
Having said that, I want to emphasize the degree to which their cooperation has been critical on a whole range of international and regional issues and will continue to be. And so, as is true with a lot of our friends and partners, we work with them. We cooperate with them. We are appreciative of their efforts. And they are going to be some differences. And where there are differences, we will say so. And that's what I've tried to do here.
I'll take one last question. This young lady right there.
QUESTION: Thank you, President. Mr. President, what do you think...
OBAMA: Where are you from, by the way?
QUESTION: I am from Azerbaijan.
QUESTION: How can Azerbaijan support in the nuclear security, nuclear security issue?
OBAMA: Well, Azerbaijan, like many countries that participated, have already taken a number of steps. And each country has put forward a national action plan. There's some countries that had stockpiles of highly-enriched uranium
that they agreed to get rid of. There are other countries that have civilian nuclear facilities but don't necessarily have the best security practices. And so they have adopted better security practices. There are countries that could potentially be transit points for the smuggling of nuclear materials. And so they've worked with us on border controls and detection. And because of Azerbaijan's location, it's a critical partner in this process.
I should point out, by the way, that although the focus of these summits has been on securing nuclear materials and making sure they don't fall into the hands of terrorists, the relationships, the information sharing, the stitching together of domestic law enforcement, international law enforcement, intelligence, military agencies, both within countries and between countries, this set of relationships internationally will be useful, not just for nuclear material, but it is useful in preventing terrorism generally. It's useful in identifying threats of chemical weapons or biological weapons.
One of the clear messages coming out of this summit and our experiences over the last seven years is an increasing awareness that some of the most important threats that we face are transnational threats. And so we are slowly developing a web of relationships around the world that allow us to match and keep up with the transnational organizations that all too often are involved in terrorist activity, criminal activity, human trafficking, a whole range of, you know, issues that can ultimately do our citizens harm. And seeing the strengthening of these institutions, I think, will be one of the most important legacies of this entire process.
Mark Ramos (ph), since you had your hand up, I'll call on you. One last -- one last question.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. I wanted to ask a question about -- about nuclear policy. Through these past seven years when you've pushed to rid the world of nuclear materials and fissile material, the U.S. nuclear industry has actually worked to improve miniaturization of warheads. And while it's not developed new classes of cruise missiles or warheads, it's worked to improve the technology, and that's prompted some in China and Russia to say, "Well, gee, we need to keep up."
Are you concerned that the technological advances in the United States have had the effect of sort of undermining some of the progress you've made on the prevention side?
OBAMA: I think it's a legitimate question, and I am concerned. Here's the balance that we've had to strike.
We have a nuclear -- a nuclear stockpile that we have to make sure is safe and make sure is reliable. And after the START treaty, START 2 treaty that we entered into with Russia, we have brought down significantly the number of weapons that are active.
But we also have to make sure that they're up to date, that their command and control systems that might have been developed a while ago are up to snuff, given all the technology that has changed since that time. And we have to make sure that our deterrence continues to work.
And so even as we brought down the number of weapons that we have, I have wanted to make sure that what we do retain functions: that it is not subject to a cyber-intrusion; that there's sufficient confidence in the system that we don't create destabilizing activity.
My preference would be to bring down further our nuclear arsenal. And after we completed START 2, I approached the Russians -- our team approached the Russians -- in terms of looking at a next phase for arms reductions. Because Mr. Putin came into power, or returned to his office as president, and because of the vision that he's been pursuing of emphasizing military might over development inside of Russia and diversifying the economy, we have not seen the progress that I would have hoped for with Russia.
The good news is that the possibilities of progress remain. We are abiding by START 2. We're seeing implementation. And although we are not likely to see further reductions during my presidency, my hope is, is that we have built the mechanisms and systems of verification and so forth that will allow us to continue to reduce them in the future.
[18:40:22] We do have to guard against, in the interim, ramping up new and more deadly and more effective systems that end up leading to a whole new escalation of the arms race.
And in our modernization plan, I've tried to strike the proper balance, making sure that the triad and our systems work properly, that they are effective, but also to make sure that we are leaving the door open to further reductions in the future.
But one of the challenges that we're going to have here is that it is very difficult to see huge reductions in our nuclear arsenal, unless the United States and Russia, as the two largest possessors of nuclear weapons, are prepared to lead the way.
The other area where I think we need to see progress is Pakistan and India, that subcontinent, making sure that as they develop military doctrines, that they are not continually moving in the wrong direction.
And we have to take a look at the Korean Peninsula, because the DPRK, North Korea is in a whole difference category and poses the most immediate set of concerns for all of us, one that we are working internationally to focus on, and that's one of the reasons why we had the trilateral meeting with Japan and Korea; and it was a major topic of discussion with President Xi, as well.
Thank you very much, everybody. Have a good weekend.
BLITZER: All right. The president wrapping up his news conference using the occasion in response to a question to really slam the Republican presidential front-runner, Donald Trump, on his foreign policy views. Listen to what the president just said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The person who made the statements doesn't know much about foreign policy or nuclear policy or the Korean Peninsula or the world generally.
It came up on the sidelines -- I've said before -- that, you know, people pay attention to American elections. What we do is really important to the rest of the world. And even in those countries that are used to a carnival atmosphere in their own politics want sobriety and clarity when it comes to U.S. elections, because they understand the president of the United States needs to know what's going on around the world and has to put in place the kinds of policies that lead not only to our security and prosperity, but will have an impact on everybody else's security and prosperity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Strong words from the president. Gloria, he was referring to Donald Trump's comments earlier in the week at a CNN town hall, when he suggested maybe it would be smart for Japan and South Korea now to have their own nuclear arsenal in the face of the challenge from the North Korean nuclear threat.
BORGER: Yes, and he also went on to say that the current policy is kind of a cornerstone for American foreign policy, adding to the point that he makes, which is that -- and it was clear he could barely hide his disdain. I don't think he hid it at all. Is that Donald Trump doesn't know what he's talking about. That's exactly what the president was saying. I don't think we've ever heard it so clearly or in such great detail from the president.
But there's, you know, there's no doubt that he believes that, on foreign policy in particular, that Donald Trump is uninformed; and, in fact, just reading between the lines, it's almost clear that the president thinks that it would be dangerous.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And also given the forum where he is, at a nuclear summit with all of these world leaders, the question that Carol Lee asked, which was a very good one, is, was this discussed? And he basically said yes. He said along the sidelines, but you know, that they were talking about it.
Because the fact is, as he said, everybody around the world looks to America, looks to American president -- presidents, rather, for leadership. And he simply doesn't think that Donald Trump, you know, gets it when it comes to nuclear weapons.
[18:45:02] And, look, I mean, this is something that is not partisan. This is something that rankled a lot of Republicans as well, because it's not just a cornerstone of U.S. policy not to expand nuclear weapons in Asia. It's Western policy.
BLITZER: And Donald Trump also said NATO is becoming increasingly obsolete. The U.S. should reduce its expenditures as far as NATO is concern. That's a position the president and his administration strongly opposes as well.
ZELENY: I mean, they aren't alone in that. I mean, as Dana said, this is a bipartisan thing on foreign policy.
Looking in the president's eye there as he was talking about this, so struck by how Donald Trump has gone from being, sort of punch line in a joke, to this is a very serious matter.
ZELENY: You can almost imagine these conversations going on in the hallway there, very serious conversation, very grave conversations, and Donald Trump is sort of the middle of this.
But I was struck by the president there. He's been at this for so long. We're seeing in the last year of his administration, he's tying up a bunch of things. In 2005 when he was a freshman senator, he visited Azerbaijan with Dick Lugar, the former senator from Indiana. A central part of his policy was sort of cleaning up nuclear weapons.
So, this is one more part of the thing on the checklist for the president. I traveled with him on that list. It's striking, A, how much older he looks and, B, just like how serious the world still is. That's why those leader conversations were so important today.
BLITZER: Rebecca Berg is with us as well from "Real Clear Politics". What the president was saying is what John Kasich said yesterday that Donald Trump is not fit to be commander in chief.
REBECCA BERG, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Exactly. And as Dana said, this is really not a partisan divide on this issue. Donald Trump expressed an opinion, a policy stance, if we could really call it that. That no one really has expressed in Western politics.
It's very unusual, and especially heading into the key primary in Wisconsin this next week, I think this is going to crystallize for a lot of voters what many people have suspected and hinted at, but there hasn't really been a statement like this to point to that Donald Trump doesn't have the experience in foreign policy that is necessary and required of a president, and especially when we're at a nuclear summit, when we're talking about this issue in a very concrete sort of way. That becomes very clear.
BORGER: I think further than experience. He said basically, we don't want somebody in the oval office who doesn't understand the world. And, you know, you can be new to politics and still understand the world.
ZELENY: But I think the reality check is, do voters care? And that's totally different --
BLITZER: They said Donald Trump doesn't know much about foreign policy, nuclear policy, the Korean peninsula or the world generally. Tulsi Gabbard is with us. She's the congresswoman from Hawaii. She's
an Iraq war veteran, a member of the armed services committee. What was your reaction? I know you are a supporter of Bernie Sanders. What was your reaction, Congresswoman, to what the president just said?
REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: Oh, first of all, I mean, the topic that's he was discussing is something that really is one of the greatest concerns we have, not only in this country but around the world. And this is something that I hear about from folks here in Hawaii, my constituents, who react every time we hear North Korea making these threats, understanding that, you know, they have these miniaturized nuclear warheads. They have these intercontinental ballistic missiles that really place Hawaii and the West Coast of the United States directly in their sights.
So, this is something that's greatly concerning. I agreed with the concern that Russia was not there and a part of this summit given the fact that the United States and Russia are the two countries that are literally minutes away from being able to launch nuclear attacks at each other. And secondly, the point that the president made about the need for high security around these nuclear materials to make sure that they are not being sold on the black market and getting into the hands of groups like it's taking a hard look at where those vulnerable, points exist.
BLITZER: Did you --
GABBARD: Looking at some of these countries --
BLITZER: Go ahead. Finish your thought.
GABBARD: Looking at some of these countries where not only where they have vulnerable infrastructure, but also looking at countries like Pakistan, for example, or countries like Saudi Arabia, who have these kind of nuclear materials, but who also have a very high number, a very strong presence by these Islamist jihadist terrorists and, therefore, creating a greater opportunity for them to be able to get their hands on these materials to create some kind of dirty bomb, which would really be a devastating results with that kind of attack.
BLITZER: But is that realistic, Congresswoman, that ISIS or al Qaeda or al Shabaab or any of these terror groups could get their hands on this so-call radiological dirty bomb, place it in an urban setting, kill a lot of people and basically make that city, if you will, uninhabitable for many years?
GABBARD: I think, Wolf, it's a scenario that we have to consider seriously. And I think -- which is why it was such a focus of this summit because you look at the nuclear material that exists, for example, in a place like Mosul in Iraq, which is a great concern right now, where ISIS holds this city and there was some kind of nuclear materials in the university there in Mosul.
[18:50:18] We look at these vulnerabilities that exist in countries around the world. People have talked about concerns about European countries, but really in places like Mosul and Raqqah in places where these materials are accessible, and it's just a matter and a question of whether or not ISIS already has or when they will get that capability to create a dirty bomb that could have that devastating impact that you just talked about.
BLITZER: It's a frightful scenario, keeps officials here in Washington awake at night.
Congresswoman, stay with us. We have a lot more to discuss, including what we just heard from the president, his justification for launching air strikes, killing scores of people in areas right now, suspected terrorists.
Much more right after this.
[18:55:24] BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. She is an Iraqi war veteran, member of the Armed Services Committee.
Representative, what do you think of the president's justification in recent weeks killing scores of suspected terrorists at a time, whether in Somalia, in Libya, Iraq, or Syria as opposed to pinpointing going after just high value targets? Did you expect his explanation, because, as you know, there's been some concern that innocent civilians, women and children, may have been killed in those manned and unmanned airstrikes?
GABBARD: Well, Wolf, the reality is we're at a country at war. We have been at war since 9/11 when those Islamist terrorists attacked us here on our soil and they continue to wage war against us. They have taken different forms in shapes and different groups. They call themselves ISIS, al Qaeda, al Nusra, Boko Haram. But these are group of individuals who continue to threaten the American people in the United States and frankly, civilization as a whole.
So, it's important that we recognize that while the Department of Defense has launched some of these targeted attacks against these high value targets, against the leadership of some of these groups, and have been successful, those people are often replaced and we're dealing with armies and armies of these individuals in groups like ISIS and al Qaeda, and we've got to take decisive action to be able to defeat this enemy.
BLITZER: Let me get back to the bold and blunt statement the president made ridiculing Donald Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner, when he said Trump doesn't know much about foreign policy, nuclear policy, the Korean peninsula, or the world generally. I know you're a Bernie Sanders supporter, but do you agree with a condemnation of Donald Trump?
GABBARD: Yes. Wolf, first of all, I want to add asking to the last question you asked about fighting against these groups like ISIS and al Qaeda, and I think it's important as the United States takes action. It's also important also as the president commented about Turkey and Turkey's fight against ISIS, I think its' important that we recognized Turkey is actually taking actions that are undermining our fight to defeat groups like ISIS and al Qaeda through its continued bombings and attacks on the Kurds, especially in northern Syria, who are our primary fighting partners in the ground fighting force who've actually taken action and made progress against ISIS.
On this last question that you asked, in regard to some of Trump's statements, I think going pack back to this concern and it is a very real concern of nuclear proliferation around the world, in some of those conversations that Trump was having, he was also asked about this nuclear proliferation and was specifically asked about Saudi Arabia getting nuclear weapons. His response was something like, well, sure, why not.
And I think the big problem here is if you look at a country like Saudi Arabia getting nuclear weapons, this is a theocracy, a theocratic country that is the number one exporter of this Islamist Wahhabi ideology that is what is truly driving these Islamist jihadist terrorist attacks not only in the Middle East, but in many different parts of the world. So, you can see the danger of the consequences of some of these things that Trump is talking about through that specific example.
BLITZER: Yes, he sort of walked back from the Saudi Arabia getting nuclear weapons, although certainly didn't walk back from Japan and South Korea potentially getting nuclear weapons to deal with the North Korean nuclear threat. But the whole notion of -- not withdrawing, but reducing U.S. involvement in NATO, are you OK with that?
GABBARD: I think it's a big question. I mean, the question of NATO, its role, why it was put in the first place, and what this organization is actually doing and its function and purpose now in today's world -- the world is very different today than it was when NATO was formed originally to address the threat from the Soviet Union. Well, the Soviet Union is no longer in existence. So I think this is an important conversation that the United States and the rest of the world need to have in examining our role, these other countries' role and really, what is the purpose going forward for NATO?
BLITZER: All right. Tulsi Gabbard, the Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii -- thanks very much for joining us.
GABBARD: Thanks, Wolf. Aloha.
BLITZER: And that's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.