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CNN NEWSROOM

U.S.-North Korean Talks; Trump Steals the Show in Pennsylvania; China's Parliament to Remove Presidential Limits; Poison in the U.K.; Syrian Refugees Seeking Refuge in the Vatican. Aired 12mn-12:30a ET

Aired March 11, 2018 - 00:00   ET

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


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DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love this place. Hello, Pittsburgh. Hello, Pittsburgh.

ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): He was there to support a Republican candidate for Congress but President Trump stole the show and touted his accomplishments, including his decision to meet the North Korean leader.

Plus still searching for clues to who poisoned a Russian double agent in the U.K.

And the story of the Syrian family that went from fleeing ISIS to be welcomed in the Vatican.

Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us. I'm Anna Coren in Hong Kong. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

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COREN: U.S. President Donald Trump went to the U.S. state to Pennsylvania Saturday to help a fellow Republican win a House race.

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TRUMP: I love this place. Hello, Pittsburgh. Hello, Pittsburgh.

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COREN: But when he hit the stage, the event quickly changed into a campaign rally for himself. Before a huge crowd, Mr. Trump talked up his achievements, including the coming talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

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We are going to have a meeting and there is no more missiles going off. And they want to denuclearize, nobody had heard that. Nobody thought -- but they said they are thinking about that. Who knows what's going to happen?

Hey, who knows?

If it happens, if it doesn't happen, I may live fast or we may sit down and make the greatest deal for the world and for all of these countries, including, frankly, North Korea. That's what I hope happens.

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COREN: The president added that he spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier on Saturday about the talks and praised him for his help mostly.

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TRUMP: President Xi of China has really helped us a lot. They have really helped us. And because 93 percent of the goods come in through China going into Korea, North Korea, 93 percent. So that's pretty powerful. And they have been very good. They could have done more, but that's OK. I say to them, you have been great.

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COREN: Andrew Stevens joins us now from Seoul with a closer look at the Trump-Kim meeting.

And Andrew, listening to Donald Trump's comments at the rally, he certainly boxed himself in to meeting with Kim Jong-un. That must be music to the ears of people on the Korean Peninsula.

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN ASIA PACIFIC EDITOR: Well, absolutely, Anna. Certainly this was what the Korean leader really wanted to happen. He wanted -- he'd sent that verbal message via the delegation from South Korea straight to Washington. And Donald Trump accepted it with no conditions.

And, as we know now, the White House is trying to sort of frame this or the administration is trying to frame this with some sort of conditions attached before this meeting takes place.

So there's still quite a bit of confusion about what the talks are going to look like and whether North Korea has to take some concrete steps, as Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary was saying, before Donald Trump sits down to meet with Kim Jong-un.

But certainly on the Korean Peninsula, it is seen as a breakthrough. It's a stunning reversal really, given that it wasn't that long ago that the saber rattling was getting to intense levels and there was talk of military strikes, Anna.

But as we said, there's still a lot of caution here and it's still very, very early days. Interesting, listening to Donald Trump on that road, he also had said that he thought a lot of things were going to happen and he sort of -- he said, I believe, a lot of good things are going to happen from that.

He's talked about North Korea also honoring the fact that they would have this freeze of the missile testing and also of the nuclear testing. The delegation from South Korea actually arrives back here in just a couple of hours. And they're going to go straight to the presidential palace here to brief the president of South Korea.

We're waiting to find out whether there's going to be a press conference after that.

COREN: Andrew, any further details on whether -- I should say on where this historic meeting will take place?

STEVENS: No, very short on details on all of this. We're sort of going on what Donald Trump says on his Twitter page basically. And the administration has given no indication of where it is, neither have the South Koreans. There's all sorts of names in the mix now. It's now -- could now be possibly in Beijing. We know Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping spoke on the phone at some length.

I think the conversation there was probably much more around the fact that Donald Trump asking China to maintain its sanctions pressure on North Korea because it has so much leverage economically on North Korea. Jeju (ph) Island, which is a tourist island off the south of South Korea, has been mentioned as a --

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STEVENS: -- possible place, plus the demilitarized zone, plus Geneva as a neutral country or neutral city in Switzerland. So all those are in the mix and we're really no further closer to where it will be.

COREN: Yes, certainly policy and decisions on the fly. Andrew Stevens, as always, good to see you. Many thanks for that.

During Saturday's rally, President Trump also praised other countries for executing drug dealers, saying the U.S. should consider that as well.

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TRUMP: The only way to solve the drug problem is toughness. When I was in China and other places, by the way, I said, Mr. President, do you have a drug problem?

No, no, no, we do not.

I said, huh, big country, 1.4 billion people, right? Not much of a drug problem.

I said what do you tribute that to?

Well, the death penalty.

I think it's a discussion we have to start thinking about, don't you agree? I don't know if you're ready.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COREN: Well, joining me now from Los Angeles is political analyst Michael Genovese. He's the president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University.

Michael, thanks for being with us. What was supposed to be a show of support for Rick Saccone was Trump doing what Trump does best, talking about himself, praising his own achievements, attacking his opponents and throwing out some interesting policy ideas, like executing drug dealers.

What was your take?

MICHAEL GENOVESE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the president in full campaign mode. And that's where he's most comfortable and he's most effective. He is, above all else, an entertainer and he is entertaining.

The problem is campaigning is different from governing and the two are not the same. And you need to be able to make the shift.

But I think this speech has four key elements to it. One was the typical self-absorption that you hear whenever Donald Trump seems to open his mouth. It's all about him, his successes, how great he is, how wonderful he is.

Secondly, it was a typically rambling campaign speech. He touched upon topics like Oprah Winfrey, the drug problem, everything but the War of 1812 seemed to be on the table for the president.

The third thing was that it was typically the truth-challenged Trump, throwing out statistics that simply weren't true, I won 52 percent of the women's vote. He didn't. Hillary won 54 percent.

And then finally and probably most disturbing is that there was the very dark element to that speech that you referenced, about praising of the death penalty in countries that are incredibly tough on people who are arrested drug problems.

He tends to stir the dark emotions of his base and not appeal to the better angels that alter what's worst in us. And that is always alarming.

COREN: Actually I want to touch on that, because he spoke about the Chinese President Xi, who, as we know, is about to become president for life, following changes to the constitution in China, something that Trump has joked about.

But is there an element of perhaps envy of these authoritarian leaders such as Xi and Russia's Putin and the ultimate control that they wield?

GENOVESE: Well, there may be a bit of dictator envy there because he praises them beyond belief and he's very critical of our allies, much more critical of our allies that of these authoritarian leaders. And while he's joking, sometimes as you all know, there can be some truth in humor. And you almost think that he keeps repeating that line because he wants to keep it in public's attention.

COREN: He said that China doesn't have a problem with drugs, which isn't actually true. He says because the state executes convicted drug dealers and as we heard, he floated that idea.

I gather that civil libertarians in the United States will be up in arms.

Were you surprised that those words came out of his mouth?

GENOVESE: No, he has a history in the past 18 months of praising people like Duterte of the Philippines, who is very vocal about going out and shooting people who violate the law and who bother him.

And so -- and he praises Putin, he praises Xi, he praises countries that have very strong authoritarian leaders who express a kind of manliness and toughness that Donald Trump seems to admire and wants to emulate.

COREN: And I just want to change issues now on women, something that you touched on earlier. We know that the porn star --

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COREN: -- Stormy Daniels, her alleged affair with Trump is certainly swirling around the president. But he made no mention of it, nor would he. But he did however mention numerous times how much women love him and their support for him. Do you think he was somehow addressing that issue by those references?

GENOVESE: No, I think he wants to run away from that as fast and as far as he can. He prides himself on being attractive to women. And his statement, incorrect statement that 52 percent of the women voted for him in the last election reflects that.

I think the president, or as he was referred to in some of the legal papers, David Dennison, has had a problem with this. There are numerous women who have accused him of violating their integrity and sexually harassing them.

So the president is really in deep hot water on this. And the Stormy Daniels situation, which is a strange and odd, bizarre one, where his lawyer, for no apparent reason, according to him, just sent a porn star $130,000, tip of my hat to the guy. What a gentleman.

It just too bizarre for words and the president is in deep hot water over this. And it seems like Stormy Daniels just won't go away quietly.

COREN: Absolutely. Watch this space. Michael Genovese, great to talk to you. Thanks for joining us.

GENOVESE: Thank you. COREN: In just a few hours, China's parliament, the National People's Congress, is expected to approve a constitutional amendment to abolish presidential term limits. That means President Xi Jinping, one of the most powerful Chinese leaders in decades, will be able to rule indefinitely.

Meanwhile, here in Hong Kong, a crucial election for pro-democracy activists. Voters will replace four pro-democracy lawmakers who were removed from office in 2016 for protesting during their swearing-in ceremonies.

Let's now turn to Dali Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago. He joins us via Skype from Chicago.

Professor Yang, good to have you with us. Now China's National People's Congress meets in a few hours, where they will vote to amend the constitution to remove presidential term limits, effectively allowing Xi to lead China for a generation. There will be no debate. This is a mere formality.

Explain to us how monumental this is.

DALI YANG, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: Well, certainly it allows him to serve more terms than two. And of course indefinitely because we don't know how many more terms he or his colleagues would think of him continuing to serve.

And that raises also some issues, number one about the -- actually the -- sort of the process of succession in the future.

Secondly it also the issue of rule by law. President Xi has emphasized the importance of law but as he is doing currently, however, it appears that he is making law suiting his preferences in many ways and that raises issues about respect for the constitution and so on.

But the advantage --

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COREN: I want to discuss some of those issues. But if I may just interrupt, Xi's supporters obviously believe this is a good thing, it will provide stability, social order, allow Xi to carry out his plans for the country.

Is this what China needs though?

YANG: Certainly from the Communist Party perspective, the current system makes it very challenging for an incoming leader to bolster, consolidate his power and then carry out his policies. Five years have passed since Xi came into power. But for the last five years he's been doing a lot, fighting corruption, reforming the military.

But my sense is there is a sense of urgency that so much more still needs to be done. So I think from the leadership perspective, there is a need for continuity, a time of significant challenges for the country and especially as they want to take China further on the road to modernization, into a modern country.

But of course the downside is also very obvious in this case.

COREN: You mention that Xi has been fighting corruption and many say that he's been doing this to eliminate his enemies.

But if history is anything to go by, complete control breeds corruption.

Why would Xi be any different?

YANG: I think the mission for him and he has actually expressed desire is to say he is the person to truly crack down on the oligarchy interests that have grown over the last 20-plus years or so. And he's -- the job is not yet finished.

And in that sense, he and he alone, as he says, has the kind of command but also the kind of concern with the party's future to truly --

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YANG: -- carry out that mission.

COREN: If I can also ask you, Xi's changes to the constitution have sparked political activist, certainly where you are in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world, especially among university students, who have launched the campaign, not my president.

But can I ask you, are they in the minority or is it impossible to gauge, considering the heavy censorship and crackdown of any dissent in China?

YANG: Most Chinese students in the United States -- there are more than 300,00 of them -- are focused on their research, on their studies. So the students who have actually made those posters and posted them on areas emphasis are definitely in the minority. And some of them are fairly professional, political advocates that are known actually for taking an independent stand.

COREN: But dissent in China, would you say that there is any simmering away at specifically at this decision?

YANG: Well, certainly the authorities are not brooking any dissent publicly. In fact, there's been no -- there is practically no public debate. They really want to push this through without any public dissent and really make it actually a done deal very quickly.

COREN: Professor Yang, great to get your insight. Thank you for that.

YANG: My pleasure.

COREN: It's not often a small cathedral city in England sees so many troops in the streets but it isn't an ordinary investigation. Up next, the latest on the nerve agent attack on the former Russian spy. (MUSIC PLAYING)

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COREN: Salisbury, England, is normally a quiet city but it's now teeming with military troops and police, all on a hunt to discover who attacked a former Russian spy and his daughter with a dangerous nerve agent last Sunday.

The British home secretary says investigators have identified hundreds of witnesses and pieces of evidence. Meanwhile, Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, remain in hospital along with a detective who was also injured. The local police force says he wishes to thank the public for their support.

Another powerful storm is targeting the Iberian Peninsula and France on Sunday.

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COREN: Coming up, from a war zone to the Vatican. What Pope Francis is doing about the Syrian refugee crisis -- that's ahead.

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COREN: Welcome back.

Global outrage hasn't stopped the bombing in Syria's Eastern Ghouta. A rescue group says airstrikes killed 20 people on Saturday, including four children. The Syrian government says it's fighting terrorists.

State media report Al Qaeda-linked rebels are using civilians as human shields and blocking their escape. It's estimated more than a thousand civilians have died in the last three weeks of a government offensive.

Syria's brutal civil war is still fueling a mammoth refugee crisis. The U.N. says more than 5 million people have fled the conflict and that's feeding anti-migrant backlash in right-wing parties in Europe who want deportations.

But the leader of one particular city state is sending a very different message. Pope Francis says Syrians are welcome at the Vatican and he's practicing what he preaches. CNN's Bill Weir has more.

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BILL WEIR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Even before day one, it was obvious that Francis would be different.

They sent him a first-class ticket to come to the papal election, but he traded it in for coach. While all the other cardinals were --

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WEIR: -- arriving in limousines, he walked to the Vatican every day. And though he could live in the finest room in the finest palace here, he chose a humble little abode inside the Vatican guest house.

From this room, the first pope to name himself after the poorest saint, planned an agenda for the neediest souls. You can see it in the form of the homeless sleeping under priceless Vatican frescoes. Or when you knock on the door of an archbishop and it is answered by a family of Syrian refugees. Days after Gandhi and Madeleine were married, she was kidnapped by ISIS. After ransom was paid why Syrian Christians, they were welcomed here by Roman Catholics.

Stella. You can't cry. You don't know, you are the luckiest baby. You are the luckiest baby in Italy.

Nearly every day, the pope mentions the suffering in Syria. And on a visit to a refugee camp, he even brought a dozen Muslims home.

So many people lose their lives trying to leave Syria. Some are taken advantage of by traffickers. You ended up on the pope's plane.

NOUR ESSA, SYRIAN REFUGEE: Is that fantastic?

WEIR: It's fantastic, Nour says. He is a real human being. An example to leaders of all religions.

As he tried to convert you?

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ESSA: No.

WEIR: But despite his example, Matteo, Trump-inspired politician who vowed to round up migrants and segregate Muslims saw a surge of support in the recent election.

THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, BREITBART ROME BUREAU CHIEF: They do listen to the pope when he says you should be Christian and welcome the stranger. But they also see a situation where you reach a critical mass and you say, we don't know how much of this we can do.

WEIR: The pope said recently, if you split up families because of immigration, you can't be pro-life.

SISTER NORMA PIMENTEL, AMERICAN NUN, RIO GRANDE VALLEY: That's right.

WEIR: You agree with that?

PIMENTEL: Definitely.

WEIR: Sister Norma works on the Texas-Mexico border and said this pope is her model for how to treat everyone who crosses it.

PIMENTEL: We feel encouraged that we are doing the right thing. That his presence, his words, his message is a sense of strength for us.

WEIR: Francis has tackled so much in his first five years, but opening hearts in a world of closing borders may be the biggest faith project of all -- Bill Weir, CNN, Vatican City.

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COREN: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Anna Coren in Hong Kong. I will be back with the headlines in just a moment.