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Trump Releases Personal Letter from Putin; Europe's Urgent Manhunt is Over; Israel Expects the U.N. Security Council Could Vote on a Resolution. Aired 12-12:30p ET.

Aired December 23, 2016 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is Breaking News.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, top of the hour now, John Berman here. Kate Bolduan off today. We do begin with breaking news. President-elect Donald Trump just released a personal letter he received from the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, offering his warmest Christmas and New Year's greetings.

Also talking about a much-improved relationship that he hoped takes place. This comes just hours after the president-elect said let there be an arms race. Both President-elect Trump and President Putin, they have vowed to strengthen and expand their countries' nuclear capabilities. Boris Sanchez now joins me from Palm Beach, Florida near Trump's Mar-a-Lago Resort. Boris, a lot going on this morning.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, certainly a rapid fire series of responses from both Trump, his team and Russian leader, Vladimir Putin. So, we got a look at that letter that Vladimir Putin sent to Donald Trump today in which he expressed a deep desire for bilateral work to be done between the United States and Russia.

When it came to a series of diplomatic issues around the world, Trump then put out his response and he writes in part, a very nice letter from Vladimir Putin. His thoughts are so correct. I hope both sides are able to live up to these thoughts and we do not have to travel an alternate path.

The language at the end there, fascinating. Especially when you consider the rhetoric from Trump just about 24 hours ago and that Tweet that you mentioned that he put out, specifically talking about expanding American nuclear capabilities.

Initially the Trump camp came out and said that he was talking about nonproliferation and keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorist organizations and rogue actors.

And then this morning you heard that comment from him saying, let there be an arms race. And then shortly after that we actually had Sean Spicer -- the current spokesperson for the RNC, soon to be Donald Trump's press secretary on new day -- and he talked about what Donald Trump meant by those comments. Listen to that exchange now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEAN SPICER, PRESS SECRETARY: He is going to do what it takes to protect this country and if another country, or countries, want to threaten our safety or sovereignty he's going to do what it takes.

BERMAN: Sure, but he's not waiting until another country threatens us. He's making these proclamations before.

SPICER: Right, he's making it very clear that other countries and other companies -- you've seen with carrier and others -- he's going to make it clear he will be an active president that will get things done.

BERMAN: Meaning, he will use nuclear weapons if need be?

SPICER: No, no, he will not take anything off the table. What it means is that he's not going to sit back and let another country act. He needs to send a clear and concise message, which has he's done that he is going to be a president that defends America's interests and defends the American people.


SANCHEZ: John, very important to point out that Trump's Tweet came out on the heels of Vladimir Putin saying that Russians wanted to enhance their own nuclear capabilities. Overnight, Putin hosted journalists for his annual State of the Union press conference and he was asked about Trump's Tweet and the relationship with the United States. He said Trump's comments on nukes was nothing new and added that relations between the United States and Russia could not be worse. John?

BERMAN: All right, Boris Sanchez, outside Mar-a-Lago in Florida. Thanks a lot, Boris. I want to go now to Moscow, bring in our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, there covering the events.

And Matthew, we just got a look at this letter that the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, sent to Donald Trump last week, where Vladimir Putin says he wants to restore the framework of bilateral cooperation -- the key word there being restore -- and he wants to bring our collaboration on the international scene to a qualitatively new level.

That means more, different, better. It was interesting to read that.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was. And -- and I -- I think this -- this is totally in line with how the Kremlin has been viewing Donald Trump since early on in his campaign. He was always sort of perceived as being the Kremlin candidate. He was always somebody that spoke sympathetically about the Russian world view.

And he was always somebody that the Russian media, you know, supported -- and the Russian media here are controlled by the Kremlin, and they're a conduit for what the Kremlin really thinks.

And it all contrasts very starkly, this letter, and tone of it -- reaching out to Donald Trump -- with the way in which Vladimir Putin -- who gave an epic press conference today. It lasted nearly four hours. It's one of his annual set peas(ph) events -- it contrasts with the way he speaks about the current U.S. administration, the Obama presidency.

He said about them, that the current administration always tries to find a scapegoat for its failings, referring to the allegation that Russia had its thumb on the scale in the presidential election.

[12:05:00] The democrats, he said, lost the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Am I to blame for that? He asked the audience of 1,400 journalists that gathered there. Is Russia responsible for everything? If you lose, you should lose with dignity.

And those kinds of vicious remarks really underlined how much animosity there is at the moment between the Kremlin and the White House, and that letter, which was sent on December 15th, but was only just within the past few minutes, really, been made public, underlines, you know, the new relationship that the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin wants to have with the incoming president Donald Trump.

BERMAN: Indeed, in the nature of this letter, the more congenial tones, perhaps the new relationship we were expecting, the new relationship we might not have

been expecting, Matthew, is this back and forth over nuclear arms with both the president-elect and the Russian leader talking in their own way about expanding capabilities?

CHANCE: Yes, well, they're both -- they're both nuclear superpowers and obviously they've both been concerned with modernizing their arsenals for various reasons -- for different reasons, as a matter of fact. It's not clear to me -- and, of course, I wasn't party to this conversation -- but it's not clear to me that Donald Trump when he made these remarks was specifically referring to an arms race -- a new arms race -- with Russia.

It was my impression -- I could be wrong about this -- he was talking about in general other countries that want to develop nuclear weapons or build up nuclear arsenals. They're will be an arms race with them and the United States could win. Certainly from the Russian point of view, Russia has -- you know, Putin has put to one side and downplayed the significance of those remarks. Take a listen what he had to say at that epic press conference earlier on today.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA: The technical nuclear arms of the United States are updated, are modernized there. So if someone accelerates the arms race, it's not us.


CHANCE: You know, President Trump went on to say that, you know, he -- he doesn't regard - I'm paraphrasing here -- but he doesn't regard the United Sates as an aggressor. BERMAN: No, it is interesting, Matthew. You bring up a great point. Sometimes we don't know how to infer what Donald Trump means, particularly on Twitter; there's just 140 characters and left open to interpretation, and interpretation can be potentially dangerous when you're talking about nuclear capabilities.

Hence the 24-hour discussion back and forth about this. Matthew Chance, in Moscow. Great to have you with us. All right, joined by international security analyst Jim Walsh, along with CNN pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. Guys, let me ask you, not about the back and forth on nuclear weapons exactly.

Not about the Vladimir Putin letter we were just talking about, but, Jim, if I can, let me ask you about the Donald Trump response to this letter, which I will now read out loud.

A very nice letter from Vladimir Putin. His thoughts are so correct. I hope both sides are able to live up to these thoughts, and we do not have to travel an ultimate -- an alternate path.

To me, not having to travel an alternate path was new language from Donald Trump in regards to Vladimir Putin. It was an implicit threat albeit thanking him for the gracious letter albeit amidst this new, warmer relationship. But an implicit threat that if things don't go well, there's an or else?

JIM WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, there's an element to that. In -- in -- in some ways that makes sense. When you're dealing with an adversary, or in the case of Russia, a frenemy. Sometimes you offer the carrot but you leave that stick in the background. But I must say the more recent comments about nuclear weapons, there wasn't any subtlety in those.

My first reaction was, you know, this is from the guy who stopped taking intelligence briefings. No president, in U.S. history -- Democratic or Republican -- has invited a nuclear arms race, whether with Russia, China, whoever it might be, no one has ever done that. And when you do that, it upsets your allies, it undermines the nonproliferation regime and if implemented, it could actually increase the risk of nuclear war.

BERMAN: Just to -- Donald Trump has taken the classified security brief twice this week that we know of. He took it yesterday and he took it the day before, but you're correct, up until that point he'd been averaging about one a week. Barbara Starr, to you, this issue of strengthening and expanding the country's nuclear capabilities.

We do know that modernizing the nuclear force has been something many presidents agreed on, but if talking about growing in numbers, that would be a change in policy that would probably run counter to many treaties and there are military analysts that say it's actually not what the country needs?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, that's the question you have to ask yourself. Do more nuclear weapons really add to the deterrent capability, to the nonproliferation capability and influence of the United States? Because, look, for the last 48 hours, 24 or so, it is not just Russia and the U.S. who are engaging in this dialogue.

[12:10:00] This is being watched very closely by other nuclear powers; by China, by North Korea, by Iran, Pakistan, India, all of the countries. They may have very small nuclear arsenals, but they do have them, watched perhaps by terrorists groups who are very savvy on these matters.

Who want to know exactly where the seams may be that they could exploit in their effort to potentially get dirty bombs, potentially get radiological weapons. Will -- will there be more movement of this kind of material because of the uncertainty? Really, up until now, nuclear weapons arsenals have pretty much been locked down by treaty.

Everybody's modernizing, people are talking about getting more, but really between the U.S. and Russia, it's pretty much locked down by treaty limits, and now it does appear that Mr. Trump is at least willing -- even if it's a negotiating ploy -- willing to open it back up again.

BERMAN: You know, Jim, it was interesting because Sean Spicer in trying to help us understand what Donald Trump was saying, suggested that the president-elect is saying we just won't back down to anyone else who tries to make threats, or any other country that tries to grow or expand its nuclear force.

Well, you know, which countries are trying to do that? We know North Korea is. Beyond North Korea, are there any countries that seem to be a growing imminent threat when it comes to their nuclear arsenal?

WALSH: Well in terms of the growth of nuclear arsenals, Pakistan is the one growing at the fastest rate. Now, it still a relatively small number of nuclear weapons but its pace is increasing and you have to say, well, what will India do in response to that? And there are conversations in China.

China for years had a no first use policy and what was called a minimum deterrent. They would only build minimum necessary. To echo Barbara's point, in the nuclear world, more doesn't always mean better. You know, at a certain point, the rubble just bounces and building more doesn't get you anywhere.

But the Chinese are starting to rethink that policy, reconsidering it. So, statements like this that say we're going to expand, bust through our limits and start building more; they -- those are comments that will very -- will be watched very closely in Beijing and Islamabad.

BERMAN: So, Barbara, beyond nuclear weapons, when Vladimir Putin invites Donald Trump to enter into a relationship that will take things to a qualitatively new level, where in the world will we see the effects of that new relationship the most quickly?

STARR: It's fair to say Mr. Putin is looking for is an economic relationship. The Russians want the economic sanctions lifted. The oil prices have fallen. Their economy is suffering under sanctions by all accounts. They want to get cash. And so what they're looking for is an economic relationship with the U.S. and with the world stage. The problem for the United States is -- I think military commanders will tell you -- they don't feel they can trust Putin. He's not pulling out of Crimea, he's not pulling out of Eastern Ukraine, he's definitely not pulling out of the Middle East, of Syria. This is where he wants Russia to have influence.

This is where Vladimir Putin wants Russia to be back as a world power on the global stage, and he is succeeding at those goals in those places. So can you trust what Vladimir Putin says in terms of security, global security? A lot of people, I would think it's fair to say, are still very skeptical of that. And the question is, are you going to put all of that aside and give him what he wants on economic policy, on sanctions?

BERMAN: Jim, I want to give you the last word here and talk about the history of precision when it comes to language dealing with nuclear arms. This is something that generations of diplomats -- generations of U.S. officials, Russian officials, world leaders - they've been very careful with the type of language they used, and it may very well be that Donald Trump was being very careful when he Tweeted that yesterday.

And if he was, talk to me about the message that was being received within the world of nuclear discussions?

WALSH: Well, I don't think you should carry on nuclear doctrine development or diplomacy on Twitter. There aren't enough characters to be able to communicate nuance. And it makes our allies nervous because they don't know how to interpret those comments and it gets our enemies thinking.

My advice to the president-elect is just wait 20 days, wait until you have a Secretary of State, a national security team in place. You know, the people that will do the policy review to figure out what you want to do going forward, and then to carefully articulate it, so both our friends and our enemies know exactly what we mean.

Nuclear weapons are important, and they are fundamental to our security. There is no reason to be sort of doing it off the top of your head.

BERMAN: Jim Walsh, Barbara Starr, great to have you with us. Have a great holiday, guys.

WALSH: Happy holidays.

BERMAN: Up next, a quick and deadly ending for the manhunt in Europe for the terrorist wanted in the Berlin Christmas market attack.


[12:18:30] BERMAN: All right, more breaking news now. Europe's urgent manhunt is over. The man who German officials believe plowed a speeding truck into a crowded Christmas market is now dead. He turned up before dawn at a police checkpoint near Milan in Italy. There was gunfire and 24-year-old Anis Amri from Tunisia, he was shot dead. Our senior correspondent Ben Wedeman is in Rome. Ben, how did this all go down?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's quite simple. At 3:00 in the morning outside the Sesco San Giovanni train station in a working- class neighborhood of Milan, this police patrol stopped a man they said was acting suspiciously. They asked for some form of identification.

He shouted polizia bastardi, police bastards, and pulled out a .22 caliber revolver -- or pistol and shot them, hitting one of the police officers in the shoulder and then took cover behind a car. Fortunately, one of the other police officers managed to get behind him and shoot him fatally in the chest.

They found on his body afterwards train ticket stubs that indicated that he got from Germany somehow to France, and from France he took a train first in Italy, stopping in Turan, and then going to the main train station in Milan before going

to this suburban train station.

He had -- on his body he had several hundred euro and a small knife. The police say he did not have anybody with him at the time. Now, the question is what was he doing in that particular neighborhood of Milan? He'd spent around four years in Southern Italy.

[12:20:00] Three and a half of them in six separate prisons, because he set a refugee center on fire back in 2011. So clearly, he has contacts in this country. The question is what was he going to do now that he was in Italy? Fortunately, the police put an end to that. John?

BERMAN: Fascinating. About 500 miles from where the attack took place in Berlin, Ben Wedeman, thank you so much. We just learned this morning, Anis Amri was on a list in Germany one of the most dangerous people on the Islamist terror spectrum. So, what does that mean? I'm joined now by terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank. Paul, what can you tell us?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that he was put on this list in March, so nine months before the attack. This list is known as the danger list in Germany, the most dangerous Islamist radicals and suspected Islamist terrorists that the country's security services are facing.

So they were well-aware he was a significant threat, and they were well-aware of that for a long time. And, of course, as we've been finding out from investigative files, one of the reasons they knew that was from a police informant who penetrated and was part of the network that he belonged to, and was feeding a lot of information back to German investigators, including the fact that he wanted to launch an attack.

BERMAN: How many people, Paul, are on this most dangerous list? And is it so many they can't all be monitored? It seems that if you're dangerous enough to be on the most dangerous list you're exactly the kind of person authorities would want to be on top of at all times?

CRUICKSHANK: Right now, John, I'm told there are 549 individuals on this list in Germany, which is not a massive number. And -- and - and -- you would

think that it's not impossible to put at least quite a fair degree of scrutiny on to most of these individuals, especially because my understanding is that -- that some of those individuals are suspected to be with -- with -- with ISIS in Syria and -- and -- and Iraq.

So the numbers were out there on the streets in Germany is a somewhat smaller number, but clearly, they didn't put the total weight of investigatory powers, manpower and so forth on to this guy during the period that he was out there operating in Germany. I think one of the reasons for that was likely they were focusing on the ringleaders of this recruitment network and they made these five key arrests in November

BERMAN: Paul, one other development today. A video released by, sort of, ISIS-friendly media of honest Anis Amri pledging allegiance to al Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Explain the significance of this?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, he knew someone in ISIS or close to ISIS because how would he be able to upload it to them otherwise? It shows there is some deeper connection than just inspiration in this attack and that's not surprising because the network he was part of had all sorts of ties back to ISIS in Syria and Iraq including communication.

Likely he would have uploaded this before the attack to ISIS because he may not have thought he had an opportunity to do it afterwards. He might have expected to die in that operation, in Berlin, which would mean that ISIS had advance knowledge of this and waited until he, sort of, was killed to put it out.

And -- and that sort of fits with the timing here. Unfortunately, this is going to be a propaganda win for ISIS. And that's why they've been putting up these instructions for the recruits and sympathizers in the west to do exactly this. To put out videos or some kind of pledge to Baghdadi on social media before and we've seen that happen in a string of cases.

BERMAN: Paul, what's the latest on the investigation? Because it seems now we have even more questions, right? I mean, who helped him get that video posted? Where was he headed in Italy? Did anyone help him get from Berlin to France, to Italy? You know, and are there other people who may have been involved in a cell who are still operative inside Germany?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, three scenarios for why he -- he was in Italy. One, that he wanted to get shelter there from some contacts. Two, he wanted to launch an attack against a country he has an animosity towards because he was imprisoned by them. And three, he was going there so he could get out of Europe to the Middle East or North Africa perhaps through the Balkan route, which isn't far from Milan.

It's a hub for that. In terms of -- of this -- the threat from this network moving forward, they're really concerned about that still that there are others close to him, around him, that may want to strike, inspired by what he has done. And we saw an arrest overnight in Leesburg(ph) in the northwest part of Germany.

[12:25:00] And the authorities there are looking into whether two Kosovon(ph) nationals were going to attack a major shopping mall in that region, and also a Christmas market. That area of Leesburg(ph) was one of the areas where they were holding seminars, this proselytization network linked to the Berlin attacker.

So, there may well be a link between this network and that plot as well. Although, the Germans have yet to confirm that.

BERMAN: Just part of the investigation going on right now even after the death of this terrorist. Paul Cruickshank in London. Have a great holiday, Paul.


BERMAN: I got to tell you the breaking news, not stopping today at all here at CNN. In just a matter of hours, a critical vote takes place at the United Nations over Israeli settlements. We're going to have a live report after a short break.


BERMAN: Israel expects the United Nations Security Council could vote on a resolution demanding an end to its settlements and that vote could come this afternoon. This comes after President-elect Trump weighed in saying, the U.S. should veto the resolution. Joining us now, CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott. Elise, you know, what do we know about this vote? Is it going to happen and how will the United States vote, if at all?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we understand that it is going to happen at 2:00, the U.N. Security Council is going to convene. Egypt, who introduced the resolution in the first place, withdrew it. Now, we understand New Zealand, who's also been very involved in this, Malaysia, Venezuela, Senegal, other countries that supported this resolution have reintroduced it.

I took a look at the text just a short time ago and it seems to be exactly the same.