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Tillerson Talks Action against North Korea; Trump and Merkel Meeting; NYPD Reacts to Budget Cuts; U.S. Military Confirms Syrian Bombing. Aired 9:30-10:00a ET

Aired March 17, 2017 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[09:33:37] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A major development this morning. Speaking from South Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says if provoked by North Korea the United States will consider military action in response.

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REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The policy of strategic patience has ended. We're exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures. All options are on the table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right, Tillerson's visit to South Korea comes as North Korea refuses to back down on missile tests. South Korea facing blowback from China over the use of a missile defense system that the U.S. sent over there.

We're joined now live at the Pentagon by CNN's Barbara Starr.

These statements from Rex Tillerson on the military option and the end of strategic patience, significant.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Very significant, John. You know, you always hear the phrase, all options are on the table, but now it is different because North Korea is accelerating its weapons program.

Just a short time ago, a tweet - yes, indeed a tweet - from President Donald Trump. Let me read that to you. The president tweeting, "North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been playing the United States for years. China has done little to help." That last phrase important. The U.S. has tried to get China to intervene. The U.S. feels China has not done enough and North Korea moving ahead.

What is the threat right now? Well, U.S. intelligence officials and military officials say North Korea working away at its underground nuclear test site. They could conduct a sixth underground nuclear test at any time. They are working on their missile program. Recent satellite imagery shows them moving equipment around associated with a potential intercontinental ballistic missile launch. [09:35:22] They don't have a missile yet that could reach the United States, but all of these things, the nuclear testing, the missile program, these are all by - considered by the U.S. military to be provocations. Would those be provocations that the White House would order the U.S. military to respond to? That is a question on the table.

John.

BERMAN: All right, Barbara Starr, fascinating first trip to Asia for the secretary of state. Thank you so much.

Ninety minutes from now, President Trump welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House. The two leaders, they'll be meeting for the very first time. He had a lot to say about Chancellor Merkel during the campaign and most of it wasn't nice or flattering.

With me now is David Andelman, editor emeritus of "World Policy Journal." He also writes for cnn.com Opinions, where you can find his latest piece, "Donald Trump and Angela Merkel: The Odd Couple."

So, David, the real odd couple, you know, Oscar is messy and Felix is neat, right?

DAVID ANDELMAN, EDITOR-EMERITUS, "WORLD POLICY JOURNAL": Right.

BERMAN: You list some of the differences between President Trump and Chancellor Merkel here. Russia, NATO, trade, climate change, refugees, counterterrorism. That's a big list. I want to start with Russia, which may be the most important given the context of everything that's going on. What's the big difference there?

ANDELMAN: Well, Russia, there is a big difference. There's no doubt about that. And what's interesting is, the strengths of these two people. Some say it - the conversation will be the leader of the free world meets Donald Trump, which is kind of interesting. But, really, Merkel understands Putin better than any other western leader. There's no doubt about that. And she is very concerned about Donald Trump's sort of efforts to restart the relationship, to become closer to Putin. She understands the dangers in that because she talks to Putin virtually every week. She believes it is essential for some western leader to have a real rapport with Putin that doesn't necessarily mean slavishly at his feet, because she understands his strengths and what he could pose to the western alliance.

BERMAN: And you remember President-elect Trump at the time put Chancellor Merkel and Vladimir Putin sort of on the same moral plain as he was assuming the presidency. He essentially said he would trust them equally until proven otherwise.

ANDELMAN: Right. Exactly. And that's a real problem because Merkel - you know, you have to understand Merkel's background. She was born in East Germany under the Stazi (ph), under the east European communist rule. She grew up there. That's how she was raised before the two Germanys came together. So now when she gets in front of Donald Trump, this is her chance to educate him as to what that really means potentially for democracy, for the United States' future in the world as a leader of the democratic world. And that's really very vital. If Putin - if Trump can sit there and listen to this, that's vitally important.

BERMAN: Who has the upper hand at the meeting today?

ANDELMAN: Well, no one really has an upper hand in that sense. As you suggested, Trump's going to try to play the trade card. He's going to try to suggest that Germany isn't putting in enough money into its defense and so on. All of these are interesting objects for discussion but certainly nothing that Merkel can't come back out with a discussion as well.

What I think they really need to do is they need to take a measure of each other. Merkel - Merkel is kind of the first of her lessons. She was very good at teaching Barack Obama how to deal with Putin, how to deal with the world. Hopefully he - she will be able to perform some of that same mission with Trump, if he's willing to listen. This would be the first stage in that kind of a listening session.

BERMAN: And there's baggage here in this relationship, right? You know, President Trump, when he was candidate Trump, was very critical of chancellor Merkel, particularly on Germany's refugee policy towards Syrian refugees. Here's just a little reminder of what he said during the campaign.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The German people are going to riot. The German people are going to end up overthrowing this woman. I don't know what the hell she's thinking.

You watch what happens to Angela Merkel, who I always thought of as a very good leader until she did this. I don't know what went wrong with her. I don't know. What went wrong? Angela, what happened?

Hillary Clinton wants to be America's Angela Merkel. Really.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So how do you think she'll handle that history there?

ANDELMAN: Well, I think what she's going to say is, look what's happened here. We have managed to absorb all of these refugees, some of - over a matter of really not just this current wave, but waves going back really back to the 1970s and 1980s. We have absorbed them. We have proved to be the leader of Europe in doing this sort of a thing. It is a humanitarian gesture. It's also a very important financial gesture for Germany because they are filling jobs in Germany that Germans don't want to fill and can't fill. So there is a certain risk, but she understands also the benefits that can result as well.

BERMAN: And you know what may happen today, that has nothing to do with her, is she may be standing next to the president when he has to face questions about the fact the White House had to apologize to Great Britain overnight for things that the White House has been saying on wiretapping. We'll see how she handles that as well.

[09:40:07] David Andelman, great to have you with us. Thanks so much. Interesting discussion.

ANDELMAN: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: The White House says the president's budget is focused on national security, but the New York Police commissioner says that New York City may become more vulnerable to terror attacks because of this budget.

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BERMAN: New this morning, a 25-year-old man is in custody and facing three counts of murder after running over an emergency medical technician with her own ambulance. This is an awful story. The man hijacked the ambulance and sped off dragging the EMT under the truck. The victim's a 44-year-old mother of five and was a 14-year veteran of the department. New York's mayor, Bill de Blasio, says the city lost a good woman. Awful.

[09:45:08] All right, the White House calls President Trump's budget a hard power plan, but the New York Police Department says it could leave this city vulnerable to terror attacks. Commissioner James O'Neill says under the proposal, New York City would lose $110 million from the Homeland Security grant program. He says that program is the backbone of the counter - the department's counterterrorism unit.

Joining me now, CNN correspondent Jason Carroll.

Jason, what's going on here?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, look, the mayor really blasting this budget proposal. If you want to see how the city is reacting, I want to put something up for your viewers to take a look at. It's the cover of "The Daily News." And what it shows, there you see it right there, it shows One World Trade Center as a target. It's a pretty provocative cover, but it really falls in step with how the mayor and the police commissioner feel about this budget proposal as it goes forward. They say it would make the city less safe and that it would cripple efforts to defend it from terrorists. Police Commissioner James O'Neill says Trump's budget would translate into cutting 110 million that the NYPD receives annually as part of the Homeland Security grant program. That means, they say, the city would not be able to pay for counterterrorism tools put into place following 9/11, such as the network of security cameras that monitor potential soft targets, like Times Square, radiological detectors placed throughout the city, active shooter training for officers and intelligence analysis, which is key to preventing another terrorist attack.

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JAMES O'NEILL, NYPD COMMISSIONER: Under the president's proposal, nearly all federal funding to the NYPD would be eradicated. This funding is absolutely critical. It is the backbone of our entire counterterrorism apparatus.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: New York City is directly in the crosshairs of this budget proposal. The people of our city, their lives would be hurt by it.

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CARROLL: Security experts say New York City is the nation's top terror target. One estimate shows since 2002, the city has been targeted by more than 20 terror plots just last year and attackers set off a bomb in Chelsea, a device that did not explode, was dismantled by the NYPD bomb squad, which would also now be under jeopardy under Trump's budget.

New York City's mayor, who is a Democrat, predicts other officials from other cities will join him in fighting this budget proposal. Republican Congressman Peter King from New York says he would oppose any effort to cut the city's security funding. And it's not just security funding that's under the fire here. It's also public housing and education here in the city. But they're really blasting this plan saying it's really going to undermine efforts to fight terrorism.

BERMAN: And it would get bipartisan opposition from the tristate area to be sure.

Jason Carroll, great to have you with us. Thank you so much.

CARROLL: You bet.

BERMAN: Still to come, Syrians civil rights groups are blaming the United States for killing dozens in an airstrike overnight. This morning, the U.S. military denies it.

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[09:52:22] BERMAN: New pictures this morning of a frantic rescue mission in Syria. Dozens of people buried under rubble, this after an airstrike. Now, Syrian civil rights groups say this was a mosque and that the United States is responsible for the airstrike which killed, they say, innocent civilians. But the U.S. military denies these claims, saying it targeted and killed al Qaeda militants nearby. And the U.S. military even says they have evidence to prove the mosque is still standing.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh following this story for us.

Jomana, what are you learning?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we're getting two different versions of events. Now, according to Syrian activists, a monitoring group and rescue workers in northern Syria, what they say happened was on Thursday evening there was an air strike. They say that the airstrike hit a mosque in this small town in that part of the country. And they say that 40 to 50 worshippers mostly were killed in that airstrike. Now, the U.S. military says it did carry out an airstrike in that part

of the country, but they say that the target of that airstrike was a building where there was a gathering by al Qaeda militants and that they killed several terrorists in this airstrike. Now, according to one U.S. military official, they say that there was a mosque that's about 40 to 50 feet away from the site of the strike. And they say according to satellite imagery after the airstrike, that that mosque was still standing.

Now, CENTCOM says it is looking into these allegations of civilian casualties. This at the same time, John, that we are hearing from activists on the ground who are insisting that it was a mosque that was a hit and the majority of the causalities, they say are civilian worshipers.

BERMAN: And, Jomana, what would the implications be if the United States - and, again, the U.S. military denies it - but if it was responsible in part for the civilian casualties, what would that mean?

KARADSHEH: Well, there is concern and we're hearing these warnings from experts on Syria, experts on jihadi groups who say that al Qaeda could exploit this. They could use this incident to try and gain more support, especially in that part of the country in Idlib province near where that location of the airstrike took place to try and gather more support. They have been becoming stronger in that part of the country. The feeling is, if other rebel groups that have already felt that they're not getting enough support from the international community, incidents like this would only drive them closer to al Qaeda, especially in that part of the country.

[09:55:05] But as you mentioned, John, we have to wait and see. CENTCOM says they are looking into these allegations of civilian casualties.

BERMAN: And as of now, two very different stories.

Jomana Karadsheh, thank you very, very much.

We have breaking news this morning. The White House having to apologies overnight for a report read out loud by Sean Spicer during his briefing. Two apologies to Great Britain. Really interesting goings-on.

We'll be right back.

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ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

The breaking news this morning, the special relationship, not a love story. And by that I mean the White House is having to say its sorry to the United Kingdom. This stems from the president's evidence-free claim that his predecessor had him wiretapped and his press secretary reading aloud a report from a Fox News commentator, not a reporter, that British spies were somehow involved.

[10:00:11] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: on Fox News on March 14th, Judge Andrew Napolitano made the --