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North Korea willing to Halt Nuclear Tests if U.S. Agrees to Meet; House GOP Leadership Holds Press Conference. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 6, 2018 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: South Korean officials say that North is willing to halt nuclear tests and missile tests altogether if the United States sits down to talk. The South also announced a summit with the North. This would really be an international coming out moment for Kim Jong-un, the first summit between these two nations in more than a decade. President Trump has responded this morning saying progress is possibly being made here.

CNN's Andrew Stevens joins me now live from Seoul with breaking details. Andrew?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN ASIA PACIFIC EDITOR: I think you have to trade this -- all of this with North Korea, with a degree of skepticism, John, given that we have been down the path of denuclearization with North Korea over the decades and never has amounted to anything, but this latest incarnation, certainly a change of tune from Pyongyang, from Kim Jong-un. It was only just a couple of days ago that the North Koreans are saying it is preposterous to think that they would sit down with a condition of talking to the U.S., which had to include denuclearization.

They've dropped that now and they say they are willing to talk about denuclearization, that they are also willing, during those talks and also, I should clarify, during the talks with the South Koreans, that they would halt any -- what they described as strategic provocations, John. And they actually explicitly talked about test missile firing and also nuclear weapons tests as well, so they were very, very clear about that. The caveat is that they said that they would have -- they were prepared to have a denuclearized Korean Peninsula completely as long as their own security could be guaranteed. We don't know exactly what they mean by that, but you could think of it as an example about their security. There are tens of thousands of U.S. troops here in South Korea.

Now this all comes as the delegation from South Korea returned from Pyongyang. We know they have gone out to see high level officials in Pyongyang. It wasn't clear whether it would see Kim Jong-un. Indeed they did see Kim Jong-un. He also then hosted a dinner for them at which he brought his wife and his sister. And he described after that meeting that it was a very satisfactory result. He shook everybody warmly by the hand. He was -- he was given a handwritten letter from the South Korean president, John. We don't know what was in that, but obviously must have been quite a lot in that which we now are hearing about today with these new developments from North Koreans. So they returned -- that delegation returned today and later this week they're going to fly to D.C., because obviously the South Koreans are still keen on keeping the U.S. very close to them as it is such a key ally and these are still such early days.

BERMAN: Interesting that we're getting all of these messages from the South Koreans as North Korea speaking through South Korea, South Korean officials coming to the United States in the coming days. Andrew Stevens, thank you very, very much.

We're getting new White House reaction to this, joining me now, Kaitlan Collins at the White House. What are you hearing Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, John, the president has responded pretty quickly after that news around 9:00 a.m. this morning. He tweeted about it saying, quote, "Possible progress being made in talks with North Korea. For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned." He added that "The world is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the United States is ready to go hard in either direction!"

Now, John, that comes after that Black Tie Dinner here in Washington on Saturday night, and though the president was offering mostly jokes during his routine as he spoke at this dinner. He did grow quite serious while talking about North Korea, saying that he heard they were interested in possible talks with the United States, but warning that they had to denuclearize first.

And it also comes after the Vice President Mike Pence, recently traveled to South Korea for the Olympics and he was supposed to have a secret meeting with the North Korean delegation, but it was scuttled after the North Koreans pulled out of that. But so far, we have seen the president vacillate over the last year between threatening to totally destroy North Korea, they threatened the United States or one of its allies and seemed open to talks. And right now he seems to be welcoming what he calls "possible progress," but offering a word of caution here, John.

BERMAN: All right, Kaitlan Collins for us at the White House. Keep us posted if anything else comes out this morning.

In the meantime, I'm joined by CNN military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby. Admiral, thank you so much for being with us. Just moments ago, we did hear from the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, who is testifying on Capitol Hill, reacting to the news that broke just a few hours ago. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We saw the news this morning relative to North Korea. Hope springs eternal. But we need to learn a lot more relative to these talks and we will in the IC, will continue to do every possible collection and assessment we can relative to the situation that exists in North Korea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: "Hope springs eternal," he says, Admiral. Now the parameters of this insofar as we are told what's going on by the South Koreans are that the North will suspend nuclear and missile tests if the U.S. talks and denuclearization, which is something the United States has demanded be up for discussion is at least on the table, whatever that means.

[10:05:11] REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes. Look, this is a very positive development. There's no getting around that. And I have to commend the Trump administration, both the president and the director of National Intelligence for their very measured response to this, very balanced. We're willing to move forward. Let's see where this goes. They're not overpromising. I think that's the right approach.

And they should be given credit for helping to drive us to this point, John. We should not make the mistake of thinking that this was just something that the South Koreans did all on their own. In fact, I would be willing to bet the statement put out today in South Korea was one that the United States actually helped craft or help put input to.

So this is a good thing but it is just the beginning and it is going to be a long road to get anywhere significant. Yesterday, you and I were talking and we both agreed that there is no way, nonstarter that the North is going to denuke, you know, before talking. And so we have seen in this statement that that's in fact true, that they have no intention of denuking before, but that they're willing to put it on the table and talk about it, again, it is significant.

Now John, we have been down this road before. Several - many, many years and several different occasions, six party talks about eight, nine years ago, and before that, 1994, we'd agreed framework, the North has always busted their commitments, has always gotten back to intrangedence. So we have to be able to skeptical moving forward.

BERMAN: They have a horrible track record here. Does it mean, though that this isn't some progress for the time being? Let me read you the conditions that the North seems to be giving for the ultimate possibility of denuclearization. Again, we're hearing this through the South, so it is being translated somewhat. "There is no reason to retain nuclear if the military threat to North Korea is resolved and North Korea's security is guaranteed."

What do you think that means? Does that mean that the United States would have to withdraw all of its troops from the Korean Peninsula?

KIRBY: Well, that, to me, when I looked at the statement, that is most significant clause in this statement. Because it is likely that Kim knows what will make him feel safe is probably things that are intolerable to us, such as the potential removal of a large portion if not all of our military troops on the Peninsula, maybe scaling back or termination of the exercises that we conduct with Republic of Korea allies. We don't know. And that's the other thing about this. The devil is in the details going forward. But look, diplomacy is like a baseball game, you know. A lot of strategy, there is going to be errors, there's going to be rallies, may go into extra innings, this is where we're at the very beginning of a process and all of these details about what that exactly means to make him feel safe what is that going to take, that's all going to be flushed out in further talks if we in fact can get to further talks.

BERMAN: We talk about U.S. talks with the North here. Certain extent, obscuring what is also a very important development, which is that there has been a summit announced between the leaders of North Korea and South Korea, this has not happened in more than 10 years. For Kim Jong-un, this will really be the first time that the world gets a chance to see him under circumstances not completely controlled by the North.

KIRBY: Absolutely. First time since 2007, that we could have a head of state summit, certainly the first one under his regime, Kim's regime. Now it will be interesting to see how much transparency there is with regard to this summit, how much we're actually going to get to see and hear from both sides. Obviously, there will be readout from - at the end of it from the South Korean side which we'll be able to parse and try to gain information from. But if it moves forward, this would be a definitely important, significant first step in some sort of negotiation process. But, again, John, we got to be skeptical. We got to be mindful of the history. And we got to keep our expectations low right now.

BERMAN: Everyone is being skeptical. Everyone is watching very closely, because this is a big development. Admiral Kirby, always great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

KIRBY: Thank you.

BERMAN: We're waiting this morning to hear from the Republican House leadership. They'll be speaking in minutes. House Speaker Paul Ryan. Actually Steve Scalise is speaking right now. He is the House majority whip, which means we'll hear from Paul Ryan very shortly.

We're waiting to see what the House Speaker has to say about the tariffs that the president wants to issue. He's already come out in opposition, the question this morning is how hard will the speaker fight? Our Sunlen Serfaty, on Capitol Hill with some details, perhaps on that. Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. Certainly will be the elephant in the room when Paul Ryan speaks in just a few minutes from behind the podium. You see there the presser has already started with other members of the Republican leadership. The fact that many of them have been very vocal against the president's proposal on tariffs, the fact that these are members of their -- his own party, very concerned about the potential unintended consequences if these tariffs are allowed to go through.

Members of the Republican caucus and the House side, they huddled behind closed doors this morning where all the talk at that meeting was about this concern that they had and we have heard from speaker of the House Paul Ryan's office in the last few days, really no need to read through the lines of the statement that they issued saying that they're extremely worried about the consequences of a potential trade war.

[10:10:03] They are urging the White House to not advance this plan. And certainly many lawmakers up here on Capitol Hill are trying to change the president's mind, convince him to change course, and are potentially behind the scenes really pursuing what if any legislative action they can do to stop that plan.

For the moment though, John, the focus seems to be on lobbying the president to change his mind. Of course, we have heard from White House officials this morning who really are defending the president's stance on this saying that members, the lawmakers up here who are opposed to this shouldn't be at all surprised that these lawmakers who have been up to the White House, who have been in meetings with President Trump. They are clear where the White House stands and the White House is clear on where many of these lawmakers. Republican lawmakers stand, and, of course, looking no further than what President Trump said last night when he was asked about this, he said, no, we're not backing down. John?

BERMAN: Moments ago we did hear from the White House that we can expect countries to be exempted from the list when the tariffs are announced. That would actually be a major concession, I'm sure Paul Ryan would like to hear that this morning. We will wait and see. Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

Still to come, defiance or compliance? A former Trump campaign adviser may be singing a different tune after initially slamming subpoena by the special counsel.

Plus, President Trump said nothing to see here, no chaos in the White House, only great energy. Really?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:15:33] BERMAN: All right. Live pictures right now of House Speaker Paul Ryan, he is addressing the press. He will take questions any moment. The question he's most likely to face, deal with his opposition to the president's positions on tariffs on steel and aluminum. Speaker Paul Ryan thinks it could start a trade war. And this is a real significant policy split, maybe the most significant policy split to date between the Republican House Speaker and the Republican president. Let's talk about that.

Joining me now, Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst, senior editor at "The Atlantic." Also with us, co-chair of Women Vote Trump Amy Kremer and CNN political commentator, Patti Solis Doyle. You know, Ron, it is interesting, House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Constitution says if the speaker wants to stop the president from issuing tariffs, it's actually Congress who has the right to do it. The key question here, how hard will he fight on this?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Look, it is striking that this is where he has drawn the line on President Trump, you know, with all of the other areas of disagreement particularly around race and immigration but he's chosen a place where he's confident. He has the "Wall Street Journal" editorial page behind him, the Chamber of Commerce behind him. And it is a real split. It is a marker of one of the ways in which President Trump was a candidate - we talk about before, the first time in the history of a Republican primary we have seen the white collar business wing and the blue collar populous wing of the party divide and the blue collar wing won. And this is one of the consequences of that.

I would just add real quick it is striking how silent Democrats are in this debate, though. I mean Hillary Clinton won only one sixth of the counties in America. But her counties accounted for 60 percent of all of our exports. Democrats are now the party of the big metro areas that are all dependent on the global economy and yet they are -

BERMAN: All right, guys.

BROWNSTEIN: -- tongue tied in this argument.

BERMAN: Let's listen to the House Speaker Ryan now taking questions.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Yes. So let me just -- that's fairly broad. Let me say it this way. There is clearly abuse occurring. Clearly there is overcapacity dumping and trans-shipping of steel and aluminum by some countries, particularly China. But I think the smarter way to go is to make it more surgical and more targeted. So I think 232 is little too broad and I think it's more prone to retaliation. And so, what we're encouraging the administration to do is to focus on what is clearly a legitimate problem and to be more surgical in its approach so we can go after the true abusers without creating any kind of unintended consequences or collateral damage.

I'm sorry. We don't do the -

QUESTION: What is your position on the market that fell on the news that Trump was going - tariffs and then with the rally yesterday, when you said what your spokesman said --

RYAN: You know honestly I'm not watching the gyrations of the market. What we're trying to do is make sure we have good economic policy. And just to repeat what I said, we think the smart approach, the best approach and the president's right to point out there are abuses. There clearly is dumping in trans-shipping of steel and aluminum. That's absolutely happening. There's a big over capacity problem.

Let's go focus on that. Let's focus on the abusers of that. And that's why we think that the proper approach is a more surgical approach, so that we do not have unintended consequences. That's what we have been encouraging the administration, the person running point on us is the Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady. He's been working on some solutions with the administration. Those talks are ongoing. And I'm encouraged that hopefully we can get to a good place.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

RYAN: Well, look, we think the economy is doing very well. We want to make sure that every step we take helps the economy. We want to make sure that abusers are held to account, especially China when it comes to dumping and trans-shipping. We also want to make sure that every step we take forward does not create any unintended consequences.

QUESTION: Any sense that you're making headway with the president on this?

RYAN: Look I'm not going to go into our private conversations. We've had multiple conversations about this. He knows our view. Every now and then we're just going to have a different approach on how we should tackle these problems. But it should be acknowledged that there is a problem that needs to be addressed here. We just want to make sure that it is done in a prudent way that's more surgical so we can limit unintended consequences. Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. What you saw there was a very careful Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. You know not walking on eggshells, tiptoeing on eggshells, not wanting to directly criticize the president but clearly drawing a line, saying he does not agree with the current statements coming from the White House about the plan to issue tariffs on steel and aluminum. The House Speaker says he would like to see a more surgical approach here.

[10:20:02] Amy Cramer, to you, you know, Donald Trump did not run on a surgical approach frankly to anything, but certainly not this. You know. Where do you see this going?

AMY KREMER, CO-CHAIR, WOMEN VOTE TRUMP: Well, I think we are coming back to he's doing exactly what he said he would do. And really no one should be surprised. When he was running, campaigning, he promised he was going to get us out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and he did. And there we're talking about current manipulation and leveling the playing field. That's what he is -- his message is this, he supports free trade, but fair trade and when you have currency manipulation going on, and China is suppressing the cost of steel across the world, you know it's a big deal.

But I want to say this, John, you know, I trust the president on this. I don't think all of a sudden he's going to take a step and undo everything he's done. But if you look at the steel and aluminum that has been dumped in Mexico and come through Mexico, and we have this NAFTA agreement and he's talked about renegotiating NAFTA, I have to wonder if he is not taking two steps forward to begin the negotiations for NAFTA and then they come to the table and they give something. He's got something to give. They give something and we're back two steps ahead of them.

I think the president is putting the American people first and I think that that is what he's doing. But regardless, I will say, we will still be the largest free trade country in the world, that's not going to change. And I really believe that if people thought that these costs were going to be eaten by the consumers alone, that the -- we wouldn't have seen what happened with the market. So, you know, I think that there is a lot at play here, but I think really the thing is that this is the beginning of the renegotiation of NAFTA. BERMAN: Well, NAFTA is one thing. 232, which is the clause he wanted to use to get this through was national security, a completely separate issue. NAFTA deals -- hang on, Amy. You know NAFTA deals with Canada and Mexico. What you were just talking about was trans-shipping where the president talks about China, China not one of the top one, two, three or four of exporters of steel to the United States. I understand the argument that some of it is going through Mexico or other countries there but that's a separate issue and it is not a 232 issue. But I hear your point there.

Patti, you know, Ron just said Democrats have been quiet on this. I have heard Joe Manchin say he's in favor of it. Ohio Democrat has mentioned this. Is this something, Patti, you think the Democrats will enter into these discussions?

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think Paul Ryan was very good here in this press conference, you know, very much aware that -- how thin skinned the president is and he didn't want to get in the crosshairs with him. You know complimented him, saying you know he's absolutely right, this is an issue. But and it is because you know he's focused on the 2018 midterms and they want to talk about the tax cut. They don't want to talk about what a trade war would do to the economy. -- That was the reason for this press conference. That's the reason he has chosen trade to really sort of fight back the president, you know the racial division, Russia, none of that really sort of gave Paul Ryan a spine, it turns out trade is what he feels really strongly about. So, you know, Democrats want to see this fight between Republican leadership and they want to see -- and the president. They want to see this fight happen.

BERMAN: Hang on, Ron. Because one other thing, this speaks to sort of this disagreement with the House Speaker, Paul Ryan, and also Gary Cohn, the president's chief economic adviser in the White House, speaks to what some people see as chaos here. They see a policy split and they see the fact that inside the White House in particular that this split could happen and things could be happening behind the backs of some people, the president could be making half statements about tariffs one day and then back tracking the next as chaos. And the president this morning was weighing in. Let me read you what the president wrote today on chaos.

"The new fake news narrative is that there is chaos in the White House. Wrong! People will always come & go, and I want strong dialogue before making a final decision." We think he may actually be talking about the tariffs there. "I still have some people that I want to change (always seeking perfection)." We have no idea who he's talking about there. And then he says, "There is no chaos, only great energy!" Your reaction?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, well, look, there is a saying that fish don't recognize the ocean. It may be that it doesn't look like chaos to Donald Trump, because he's so used to chaos. I mean by any rational definition, this process particularly on tariffs, you know, came -- was a jerry-rigged process in which no one really knew what was coming. And one of the reasons I think that the markets reacted so badly was not only the substance of what was announced on the tariffs initially, but also the way in which it seemed to short circuit the policy process and underscored the endless volatility that is involved in this administration.

I would just add real quick to Patti's point, though, you know there is a division here.

[10:25:02] There is a division in the Republican coalition over this. And that creates an opportunity for Democrats who have really been paralyzed in trying to seize it. I mean if you look at the landscape, broadly speaking, what Donald Trump is doing is strengthening the Republican Party in blue collar, nonurban America where you're most likely to find manufacturing and most receptive to this. The Democratic Party is increasing the party of metro globally connected white collar America and their best opportunity is in 2018 are to beat the last remaining Republicans in that terrain and yet they are finding it impossible to do what Paul Ryan has done and say this kind of trade protectionism aimed at a declining sliver of employment is a threat to the overall economy and particularly to those portions of the economy depending on global markets.

BERMAN: Yes. I don't think you'll see it from them before the midterm election.

BROWNSTEIN: Right.

BERMAN: Not particularly where they want to mobilize union votes. Go ahead.

KREMER: Can I just add on the 232 and national security. People may not realize it, but you know in the time of -- in war time, our tanks, our armory is dependent upon steel, our infrastructure is dependent on steel, our electrical grid is dependent on steel and that is part of our national security and President Trump, number one priority, is making America safe. And so we need to be able to amp up at a moment's notice at a time of an international crisis and we're not in that position right now.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: All I would say, Amy, if the president wants it make that argument, that's fine, but that's a different argument that we're renegotiating NAFTA. NAFTA is a completely separate discussion, a completely separate series of negotiations and pairing the two, tying one to the other, you know is disingenuous for the president to do. If he's going to make one argument, he's got to make it. If he's going to make the other argument, he's got to make that.

KREMER: Well, it could be a little bit of both. I mean, he's able to multitask there. And as president, you have to do that.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: But if he's going to issue tariffs, if he's going to issue tariffs, if he's going to issue tariffs he has to choose one legal justification to do it. And Patti, I just want to ask you finally, when you hear the president say I still have some people that I want to change here, you worked in the White House, there is turnover in a White House right now. But it is unusual for the president to basically say I want to get rid of some of the people here.

DOYLE: Well, yes. I'll agree with you that there is turnover in the White House. The amount of turnover in this White House is astronomical. I mean, and I can't even enumerate the number of people who have left since the beginning. You know, when he tweets that, you know, your first thoughts go to Jeff Sessions and Gary Cohn. And I just don't think that, you know, this president will benefit from getting rid of his attorney general or getting rid of probably the only person in his -- among his economic advisers who really have the kind of experience that is needed to advise. So, it's no.

BERMAN: All right. Patti Solis Doyle -- go ahead, Ron Brownstein, very quickly.

BROWNSTEIN: If Gary Cohn leaves or feels alienated, it is exactly symbolic of the kind of voters that Trump is driving out of the Republican coalition, same thing with Jeff Flake. This is a clear and present opportunity for Democrats but -- trade they're having trouble - themselves towards ceasing it.

BERMAN: People say Gary Cohn was never a Republican to begin with so he's not driving - Ron Brownstein, Amy Kremer, Patti Solis Doyle, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

We do have breaking news on the West Virginia teachers' strike. The governor says there is a deal. We'll lay it out for you next.

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