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Did Kremlin Order Nerve Agent Attack?; South Korean Envoy's Brief China, Japan on Summit; Megan Markle Attend First Official Even with Queen Elizabeth. Aired 11a-12n ET

Aired March 12, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00] HANNAH VAUGHN JONES, CNN HOST: Hazmat suits among to hedge row, a sleepy suburb is at the heart of an assassination attempt in Britain and

potential rupture of U.K./Russian relations. The British Prime Minister has just finished a national security council meeting and is set to speak

soon. We're in Salisbury, at number 10 Downing Street and in Moscow this hour.

Also, shuttle diplomacy, Seoul's special envoys are in China and Japan rallying support for historic talks between the U.S. and North Korea.

More Meghan mania, the American actress who is set to join the British Royal family soon, attends her first official function alongside the Queen.

Hello and welcome to CONNECT THE WORLD. I am Hannah Vaughn Jones, live in London for you.

The British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to speak in the next couple hours about last week's attack on a former Russian double agent.

The national Security Council spent the morning meeting behind closed doors at number 10 Downing Street, discussing the investigation and whether

Moscow may have been involved in the poisoning.

Earlier the head of Parliament's foreign affairs committee said the attack is quote, looking awfully like it was a state sponsored attempted murder.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain in critical condition after being attacked with a nerve agent in the southern Englishtown of Salisbury.

While, Nick Payton Walsh is watching all of this from Abindon Green in Westminster London with us. Sam Kiley is also following the Kremlin's

reaction from Moscow. Nick, let's go back to you first. Theresa May so far has been loathed to pin the blame on anyone or any country in

particular. Might that change when we hear from her later?

NICK PAYTON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the Prime Minister has been more or less unheard of since this began, leaving much of

the statement to be made by her top security official Amber Rod. But yes, in the hours ahead, we're supposed to see her behind us delivering a

substantial statement to the House of Commons. That's the kind of venue you really would make addressing Parliament if there was something

immediate you had to act to conclusions made here. Frankly, the pressure is really on the British government here. It's a week since the attack, as

they said it was on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the sleepy rural city of Salisbury. They lost consciousness on a park bench.

And since then -- well, it was four days ago that the British government stepped forward and said they identified the specific nerve agent. But

only yesterday that health authorities told people they needed to wash their clothes and wipe themselves down with baby wipes had they been in pub

or the Italian restaurant where the Skripal father and daughter were said to have spent part of their Sunday afternoon. But a troubling series of

events here that are leading to great pressure behind me for some kind of a clarification. Here's what we know so far.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH (voice-over): We still know troublingly little and recall about what happened to Sergei and Yulia Skripal near this walkway. The police

confirmed one vital fact that transforms what we know about of that afternoon around the sleepy pubs. The pair were found on a bench at 4:15,

but their journey began around 1:30 when they first entered Zizzi's pizza restaurant or The Mill pub. Which means that they were contaminated

throughout their journey that began with pizza or drink on a Sunday. And ended slumped on this bench. This means the nerve agent that has left

father and daughter fighting for their lives took possibly hours to really act. Sarin is usually delivered as a gas and acts almost instantly as the

world witnessed in the agony of Syria. The VX as a gas is fast too, killing Kim Jong-un's half-brother within 20 minutes of exposure in this

Malaysian airport. It can be slower acting as a liquid say experts. Yet these two agents are well known.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE MP: This was attempted murder in the most cruel and public way.

WALSH: And Britain's top security official said last week, the agent was quite very rare.

A former British army and NATO chemical weapons expert has suggested the agent is very obviously Novichok. Translated as "newcomer," Novichok was

made by the Soviets in the 70s to get around various weapons treaties and be safer to use and harder to detect. But it also acts fast, and many will

ask why such a specific and identifiable poison was used, to frame Russia or let Moscow brag of its omnipotence.

[11:05:00] The name of the agent still doesn't explain why detective sergeant, Bailey also fell gravely ill. While others who got near the

Skripal's did not. Did he try to resuscitate either of the Skripal's at the scene or did he as some have speculated, rush back to their home

perhaps looking for medication or answers. Yet the time it took the Skripal's to succumb to the deadly poison and the trail they consequently

left appears to be narrowing the focus of who could be to blame.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH: It's been a delicate balance for the British government since this began, to give away enough information to look like you're in control, not

so much that you impede the investigation or give away intelligence means of gathering information. But frankly, I think the onus is on Theresa May

to look like she has a firm grasp of this situation. It is potentially of massive international ramifications. So, they need to provide a name for

the nerve agents, where they think it came from, and why they think it was administered and how. The pressure very much on.

JONES: Yes, we wait to hear from the British Prime Minister. Nick Payton Walsh, thanks very much indeed. Let's get out now to Sam Kiley who's

standing by for us in Moscow. Sam, the intrigue and scandal is on everyone's lips here in the U.K., but how is this story going down there in

Russia?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Demetri Peskov, the spokesman for the Kremlin, when asked by CNN on this matter, simply

said they've heard nothing official from the British government. They've seen and media speculation and weren't going to really respond to that.

And they are not in any way feeling rattled or feeling the finger of blame pointing at them. At least not yet. Things may change very drastically

when Theresa May gives her statement to the House of Commons in an hour or so. But until then the Russians are keeping stub effectively. It'll be

very interesting to see from a Russian perspective, what the British have in their armory of sanctions against Russia, should Russia be blamed for

this attack -- Hannah.

JONES: Sam, thank you very much, indeed. Sam Kiley with the Russian reaction there from the capital, Moscow.

Let's get more on this story now. We're going to speak to Tom Tugendhat. He is a member of the British Parliament and he's also chair of the foreign

affairs select committee and joins me live. So, I thank you very much for joining us. Given the evidence and the trail of evidence we've been privy

too so far, is there any doubt in your mind that this incident was a state- sponsored act of attempted murder. And that the state in question is Russia?

TOM TUGENDHAT, BRITISH CONSERVATIVE MP: Well, it's beginning to be increasingly unlikely there's an alternative to that hypothesis. Because

we're dealing with a nerve agent which would have been controlled closely by the Kremlin, and it will no doubt have chemical fingerprints. Which of

course, I haven't been privy too. But I'm sure the scientists at Porton Down will by now know which laboratory most likely made it. And therefore,

will have a very good idea as to who controlled it. And, you know, this guy who is in hospital, and his daughter are people who have been named by

the Kremlin in 2010 and threatened already.

JONES: If indeed it is found that Russia is to blame for this, what can, what should the U.K. do to punish the Kremlin?

TUGENDHAT: The first thing the U.K. has got to do is make sure we've got the right culprit, and as I say, I don't think there's much doubt any more.

But we've got to make sure we're right. And then what we've got to do is to identify the relevant people who are coming into the country, who are

linked to the Kremlin regime, and who need to be stopped.

You know, we are dealing with people who have spread corruption around the world. We know what people are referring to as fake news. But actually,

it's not fake news, it's information warfare. We've seen the Mueller inquiry in the United States. We've seen the attempt of skewing the

election in France. We've seen similar sort of attempts of skewing or using, exploiting the migrant crisis in Germany and so on. And so, we've

seen many attempts of this. And indeed, in Montenegro we've also seen an attempt to murder the Prime Minister of Montenegro in a year or so ago.

We've seen a pattern of this, and we've just got to make sure that those who are traveling to sow this pattern of terror are stopped and anyone

supporting the Kremlin has their assets frozen.

JONES: The British government, indeed the U.K. authorities more broadly, have covered themselves in glory, should we say, over the course of the

last decades, with incidents similar to this. I'm talking, of course, about the case of Alexander Litvinenko and the poisoning on U.K. soil.

How do you respond to criticism from the public, from the media that the government here in the U.K. has been slow to get to grips with this story?

Slow to act.

[11:10:04] TUGENDHAT: Well, look, I'm calling on the government to do much more now. I mean, I think we've got to be reasonable and say, it never

occurred to the government when the Litvinenko incident happened that any state would use nuclear material as a means of poison. It simply never

occurred to them, and why should it. No responsible state would do so. Only a rogue state would. Once the Kremlin was clearly identified as the

source of that terror attack a number of years ago, people thought that was enough to stop the Kremlin. Because actually, we've been reaching out for

a friendship to the Kremlin and trying to get the Kremlin to come and play the role that it should. Which is a responsible role as a peace builder in

the world.

Russia is a very, very important country to global stability and a very important country to Europe, and indeed, to the bridge between Europe and

Asia. We're very keen that Russia should play that role. The problem is the regime in the Kremlin seems much more determined to support Assad as he

gases and murders his own people. Change the borders and Ukraine by force. The first time it's been done since 1945. Of course, let's not forget with

the occupation of Crimea or indeed seizing territories in Georgia or attacking the Baltic states through cyber-attacks. So, you know --

JONES: Let me just pick up on this point you just made, sir, you talk about reaching out, this hand of friendship to Russia, I'm wondering how

U.K./Russia relations as they stood nine days ago, for example, have impacted the pace, perhaps the tone of this particular investigation, has

the U.K. perhaps, gone easy on Russia, because of the tense nature of their political dynamic?

TUGENDHAT: No, I think the U.K. government has been sensible in making sure that it's got the evidence. I mean, I am looking at the way that the

evidence lies and I'm joining the dots and possibly going a little further than the government can. The government, of course, has got to be much

more certain. And so, what they're doing is their waiting for the analysis to come back from Porton Down. And they're waiting for the intelligence

and security services to come back with their information. And no doubt they're consulting with colleagues in the United States, in France and in

other intelligence communities. But it's quite clear that now the time is coming very close to acting, and I suspect that that's the statement that

the Prime Minister is going to make in about an hour.

JONES: We appreciate your time. We will, of course, stay tuned for the British prime minister statement as to when she does indeed make it. Tom

Tugendhat, thank you.

TUGENDHAT: Thank you.

JONES: All right, let's get you up to speed now on some other stories that are on our radar right now. At least 49 people were killed in a plane

crash at an airport in Kathmandu. Police say a further 22 people are in hospital. The plane caught fire on landing. Authorities say the two

flight recorders have been found and will be analyzed for clues as to what exactly went wrong.

A passenger's bag could be responsible for a fatal helicopter crash on Sunday in New York City. The pilot told investigators the bag might have

hit an emergency fuel shut off button. Five passengers were killed when the chopper crashed into the East River. The pilot is the sole survivor.

A special U.N. Investigator says Myanmar's crackdown against the Rohingya Muslims bears the quote, hallmarks of genocide. She says the government

leadership which did nothing to stop the acts should be held accountable. She worked partly from Bangladesh where thousands of the Rohingya have, of

course, fled.

All right, still to come on the program, these two leaders could soon meet face to face. Can diplomacy solve the North Korea nuclear program? Next,

the view from the region and the view from a seasoned diplomat.

[11:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JONES: President Xi Jinping there voting to change China's constitution. Nearly 3000 delegates from around the country voted in favor of the change,

clearing the way for President Xi to stay in power for life. Only two delegates voted no to the amendments.

For the foreseeable future China's attitude then towards North Korea is likely to be decided by President Xi. Which is why South Korean diplomats

are briefing the Chinese leader on the upcoming face-to-face meeting between a U.S. president, Donald Trump, and North Korean ruler Kim Jung-

un. The South Korean national security adviser was dispatched to Beijing, and the South Korean intelligence chief is in Tokyo, where he met with

Japan's foreign minister. All of course, part of a push to rally allies trying to navigate this historic decision by Mr. Trump. CNN's Matt Rivers

is in Beijing for us now. Matt, why might China have specific reservations about a meeting between Trump and Kim?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think first and foremost, Beijing wants a seat at this negotiating table if this meeting does in fact, go

forward. I think just like all major stakeholders in this part of the world, Beijing's message to the South Koreans is going to be, look, you

couldn't get to this point without us. Without us signing on to tougher sanctions from the UN Security Council. Without us actually enforcing

those sanctions. Perhaps the Kim Jong-un regime never would have extended this offer to the Trump administration in the first place.

So, given our integral role in getting to this point, we need to have our interested represented at this negotiating table. Because what happened

here is given the speed of how quickly this meeting came about I think it surprised nearly every government in this region if not all of them. And

so, everyone now is trying to react, to figure out how they can get their interests served as this negotiation potentially goes forward. To make

sure it's not just the United States and North Korea and potentially South Korea in the room there. China, of course, has major security concerns in

this part of the world.

So, that is probably the message according to analysts we spoke to that Xi Jinping and his top officials here have probably given to the South

Koreans. But at least publicly, as is typical with the Chinese government, very little official information has been released. What we heard from

state media was just that President Xi expressed his optimism about this development and hopes that it could lead to substantive change on the

Korean Peninsula.

JONES: All right, Matt Rivers live for us there in the Chinese capital. Thank you.

So then is this a stroke of genius on President Trump's part or a diplomatic mission doomed from the very start. My next guest says the U.S.

has quote, no one who is in a senior position over seeing North Korea policy at the state department. And the U.S. policy process is largely

dominated by people whose options are shoot or don't shoot. And that is not going to help you going into negotiations with Kim Jong-un.

The words there of Brett Bruen who joins me now. He is the president of the Global Situation Room, and during the Obama administration, he was the

White House director of global engagement. Sir, thank you very much for joining us. A diplomatic gamble no doubt by Donald Trump, could it pay

off?

[11:20:03] BRETT BRUEN, GLOBAL SITUATION ROOM PRESIDENT: It could, and we're all hoping it will. The key question, however, I think is what

preparations are taking place ahead of this summit. If Trump plays this summit like he does most everything else, I think we're headed down a very

dangerous path. Because this is not the sort of negotiation that you can handle with the seat of your pants. You'll need to go in with a clear

determination of what outcome is acceptable, and what we can offer the North Koreans, and there's no signs yet that the administration has

prepared anything along those lines.

JONES: What of history then tell us, when we look at sort of, previous attempts at meetings between the two countries. And why are today's

circumstances any different. Why should Kim Jong-un be in a position now where he needs to cooperate, collaborate with the United States?

BRUEN: I think he's more likely testing Trump and trying to take advantage of Trump's impulsiveness on the international stage. Which again could

lead to a positive solution. My fear is the two of them are going to walk into a room and we've seen examples of testy exchanges between Trump and

allies, the Prime Minister of Australia. This is not the kind of circumstance in which you want to have that testy exchange, and those

untested ideas being thrown around in the negotiating room.

JONES: Yes, you sound skeptical before the meeting has taken place though. Do you accept though that President Trump should at least be given some

credit for the potential of bringing North Korea to the table? The potential of them even discussing denuclearization, which is something that

has been completely off the cards for so long now?

BRUEN: Look, talks are always going to be better than tweets or threats. The problem, however, is what are they going to talk about? And if Trump

and his team have not yet developed ideas that Kim Jong-un and our allies in the region can accept, we're going to potentially have a summit that

worsens the situation and puts us on the path closer to a nuclear war.

JONES: We were talking to our correspondent, Matt Rivers, in China just now, and there is this question, isn't there, about how Donald Trump has to

navigate unchartered waters in terms of like cozying up to China a bit, or making China feel more comfortable about this meeting going-forward. What

are your views on that, and how this may pan out, in terms of the regional dynamics?

BRUEN: Absolutely, I mean, there are a lot of factors to balance here. Not only China, but obviously, South Korea, Japan and on the broader

international community. And there is no evidence that they were consulted about these talks. There is no evidence at this stage that we have

developed a plan -- as we did with Iran with our key allies, including Russia, including China -- to go forward in unison. And if Trump comes up

with a solution that's not acceptable to China, that's not acceptable to other countries in the region, we're going to be back at square one and

perhaps even several squares back.

JONES: Ever since Donald Trump assumed the position of presidents in the United States though, there have been questions over his foreign policy,

and the United States' standing in the world as well. Do you think that this has given him some leverage in terms of a U.S. authority and

prominence on the global stage?

BRUEN: I think it's shown that he can be flattered into a position that is not necessarily one he's prepared, or his administration is prepared for.

And that is a quite dangerous recipe for the United States, not just on North Korea, but I would say on a host of other issues. Because though

world is watching. The world is watching to understand that if we want to get Donald Trump to the negotiates table on any number of issues, we can do

so simply through flattery, simply through trying to short circuit a process that in the end is going to yield better results for the United

States, better results for our allies. And so, I think we just have to be careful, and I certainly hope that the White House and my former colleagues

at the National Security Council are spending day and night preparing for this meeting, and that Trump will listen. Because we also need to bear in

mind that he hasn't got a great track record of even reading the briefing the papers, reading the negotiations that preceded his meetings.

JONES: Absolutely. Brett Bruen, we appreciate your analysis. Thank you very much.

BRUEN: Glad to be with you.

JONES: Now, right about now President Trump is scheduled to be getting that daily intelligence briefing as our guest just said he doesn't always

get. And an update on North Korea may indeed be part of it.

Plus, Mr. Trump will likely be brought up to speed on the Chinese leader's new path to stay in power for life should he choose to.

[11:25:00] To get an idea what the American commander-in-chief is briefed on, head over to CNN.com. There CNN's national security analyst, Samantha

Vinograd, lays out the hot topics of the day in a style similar to the brief prepared daily by the U.S. director of national intelligence for the

President. That's all at CNN.com.

You are watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London. Still ahead on the program, we're waiting, of course, for a statement from the British Prime

Minister Theresa May on the Russian spy attack. We'll have a live report from Salisbury, England where the attack took place.

And before we go, as we've seen in America, it's students are working to lead the way on tougher gun laws. Well, this week at CNN we're teaming up

with young people just like that for CNN's "MY FREEDOM DAY." We do it every year on March 14th. Helping fight against modern day slavery. And

as part of it, we ask, what does freedom mean to you? Here are some answers from San Diego.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DIANA SHEEDY, FOUNDER, CLIFF: I would always push people to say, if you know another person, you have a role to play in this fight. My name is

Diana Sheedy, and I am the founder of CLIFF, the Collegiate Leadership in the Fight for Freedom. CLIFF is an organization run by students and

practitioners that really wants to equip and connect experts in the field with students. Our focus is really on the students themselves. We are

hosting our regional convention here in San Diego at UCSD.

ASHLEY HALABI, UCSD SCHOOL OF GLOBAL POLICY AND STRATEGY: People who fall victim to trafficking are pushed into circumstances against their will and

they cannot escape from.

SHEEDY: I have been working a lot with the regional leader, Ashley Halabi, and a fantastic team of four other girls who have been helping her to plan

the event. Ashley and her team have really spearheaded the entire process of creating the programs, recruiting people.

HALABI: It's very empowering to see that we can have a conference and we can raise awareness ourselves.

SHEEDY: Listening to the students give their own pitches was just the pinwheel of why we do what we do. Students are in a really unique period

of their lives where they aren't connected to an organization necessarily. They're not married to a certain approach or idea. And they also are

constantly learning.

And I think seeing the ways that sparks are going off in conversations and ideas, I think is really important for everyone to feel like we're making a

difference, this is worthwhile.

HALABI: There's so many stories of students at many schools that get trafficked because they don't have enough money. So, they sign up to do a

photo shoot and the photo shoot turns into extreme trafficking. Extreme pictures turn into trafficking and that's how the cycle goes. That person

may still be going to school. So, if you can learn to identify the signs or learn to like know who to contact when you see something weird, there's

a huge impact that you can make.

SHEEDY: Modern slavery and issues of exploitation, they can be daunting to work on and sometimes you wonder MI making a difference. Does this matter?

And the answer is, yes, it does.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[11:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JONES: You're watching CNN, and this is CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Hanna Vaughan Jones live in London for you. Welcome back.

Did the Kremlin order the attack that left a former Russian spy and his daughter in a very serious condition in hospital? After a meeting of the

British national security council, Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to make a statement in around 90 minutes from now. CNN will bring that to

you live. Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a bench in the center of Salisbury in England. Investigators say traces of a

nerve agent used in the attack were found at a local restaurant and also at a local pub. The attack eight days ago, has many Salisbury residents on

edge. And our Phil Black is live for us there. Now, Phil, no doubt on edge. Because more than a week on, and now suddenly residents are being

asked to go over their steps and clean their clothes and the like.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so, one week after the incident, Hannah, residents who may have been in a couple of the same places as

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. They're being told to follow advice which does seem ridiculously simple in the context of suspected

contamination from a chemical weapon. But you're right, they're being told to wash their clothes and their personal belongings, their keys, wipe down

their phones, their wallets, that sort of thing, if they happened to be at the Italian restaurant behind me or a nearby pub, The Mill, last Sunday

afternoon. Because that's when the Skripal's were there.

And authorities have detected what they describe as trace contamination from a nerve agent in both of those locations. Health authorities in the

UK say this is really just a precaution. What they're talking about is a theoretical long term low risk. They're worried potentially about exposure

over a prolonged period of time in small doses. So, if a nerve agent is on someone's clothing, then perhaps rubbing their skin against that over a

long-prolonged period of time might, they say, have some sort of negative health consequence. This does have people worried. As you say, the fact

that it comes a week later. The authorities say that's because it's based on new information, new analysis, they stress there is very little to worry

about here. That's not satisfying everybody. CNN spoke to one person who is in The Mill pub last Sunday afternoon, within the window of concern

timewise. This is what he told us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE COOPER, SALISBURY RESIDENT: And until I've learned what the impact is of potential exposure to the nerve agent, we don't know. So, I think

again, that lack of knowledge does fuel concern. And a little bit of misinformation can come into it and empower a lot of panic can become part

of that play.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACK: Well, the knowledge that it's been found in two locations also gives us some insight into the nerve agent itself. Keeping in mind that

the authorities here say they identified it very quickly. That it is rare. That they've kept that information out of the public domain so far. What

it seems to imply is that it is a slow acting nerve agent. Because it points to a scenario where the Skripal's were at some point exposed to it,

then after that, unknowingly went for lunch, went for a drink. Trailing the nerve agent with them in small doses before eventually, sometime later,

perhaps hours later, happen to succumb to the full effects of the nerving agent in another location.

[11:35:00]] That's a park bench not far from where I'm standing as well. So, it points to a window of time, from exposure, to succumbing to the

nerve agent, being somewhere in the area of several hours. Implying, as I say, that it's a slow acting chemical, not something that kicks in very

soon after someone is exposed to it -- Hanna.

JONES: Phil, the British Prime Minister is expected to speak in the next hour or so, and perhaps give more detail on this incident. But from the

people you've been speaking to there in Salisbury, do they feel let down by the U.K. Authorities slowness to actually respond to this crisis?

BLACK: That's not something you hear a lot here, no. I think people are generally impressed that the emergency services themselves responded to the

initial call for help, when someone first made the alert call and said there were these two people seemingly in physical distress at this

location. We know they got there pretty quickly. We know that because they saved their lives. We know that because the police officer who is one

of the first to respond has also succumbed significantly to the effects of the nerve agent. Although he's doing much better in hospital.

I think people were shocked initially to learn that a former Russian intelligence officer who was turned by MI6 happened to live in Salisbury.

They were shocked again to learn that he had been targeted within nerve agent, a chemical weapon. And it's more along the lines of this just being

an unlikely place for this sort of weapon, this sort of story to unfold. But I think most people -- that's where most of the surprise comes from

here. I think some people are concerned about this advice that has come a week after the event itself. But as the authorities here say, it is just a

precaution. And they do make the point that no one else has fallen ill over the course of the week, and they're really just being very careful in

a theoretical sense. And I think for the most part, that does seem to have satisfied most of the people in this small city. Although they are

watching these events unfold with huge curiosity, and they're very keen to see where this goes next -- Hannah.

JONES: As we all are. An unlikely tail for sure, Phil Black live for us in Salisbury. Phil, thank you.

Now, U.S. President Donald Trump is denying a report that he's unhappy with the legal team currently advising him on the U.S./Russia

investigation. The "New York Times" says the president met with Emmett Flood, a lawyer who represented Bill Clinton through his impeachment

proceedings. Mr. Trump isn't denying meeting with Flood, but in a tweet, he insisted that he's very happy with his own lawyers. He said, as he has

many times before, that there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia, and again, he accused Hillary Clinton of collusion.

Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, says it doesn't bother him if Russians try to meddle in the U.S. presidential election. He's

repeatedly said his government neither has the desire nor the means to do it. But U.S. intelligence agencies say the Kremlin helped Donald Trump

win by hacking Democratic campaigners and spreading misinformation. Here's what Mr. Putin told NBC's Megyn Kelly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I don't care. I couldn't care less, because they don't represent.

MEGYN KELLY, NBC: You couldn't care less?

PUTIN: They do not represent the government. I could not care less. They do not represent the interest of the Russian state. Maybe they're not

Russians. Maybe they're Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship. Even that needs to be checked. Maybe they have dual

citizenship, or maybe a green card. Maybe it was the Americans who paid them for this work. How do you know? I don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: Meanwhile, the White House has unveiled new proposals for gun and school safety, nearly a month, of course, after the deadly shooting in

Parkland, Florida. But after multiple conversations with the NRA, the National Rifle Association, and President Trump has shifted positions on a

key proposal that he once championed. CNN's Kaitlin Collins reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLIN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump backing down from increasing the minimum age for purchasing certain

firearms, an idea strongly opposed by the NRA, that the president repeatedly pushed for.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It doesn't make sense that I have to wait until I'm 21 to get a handgun, but I can get this weapon at

18.

COLLINS: The shift coming after Mr. Trump publicly shamed Senators Toomey and Manchin for not including the measure in their gun-control bill.

TRUMP: So, I was curious as to what you did in your bill.

President.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: You know why we didn't address it, Mr. President, what I think --

TRUMP: That's because you're afraid of the NRA, right.

COLLINS: Instead, raising the age on gun purchases will be one of a range of issues studied by a new federal school safety commission chaired by

education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

LESLEY STAHL, CBS, "60 MINUTES": Do you feel a sense of urgency?

BETSY DEVOS, U.S. SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: Yes.

STAHL: Because this sounds like talking.

DEVOS: No, there is --

STAHL: There is acting.

DEVOS: No, there is a sense of urgency, indeed.

COLLINS: But on Saturday, President Trump mocked the concept of these type of commissions, to solve problems like the opioid epidemic.

TRUMP: We can't just keep setting up blue-ribbon committees.

[11:40:00] They talk, talk, talk, talk, two hours later, then they write a report.

COLLINS: The White House's proposal includes providing rigorous firearms training for specially qualified school personnel on a voluntary basis.

DEVOS: This is one solution that can and should be considered. But now one size fits all. Every state and every community is going to address

this issue in a different way.

COLLINS: The administration also supports transitioning veterans and retired law enforcement to work in schools. Adopting measures to allow law

enforcement to remove firearms from threatening individuals. Overhauling and reforming mental health programs, and Cornyn/Murphy bill improving

reporting to the federal background check system. The White House rolling out the gun proposal one day after the President's rambling and at times

vulgar speech in Pennsylvania that was supposed to focus on Republican congressional candidate, Rick Ciccone. Instead, the event felt more like a

campaign rally for the President where he attacked potential 2020 challengers.

TRUMP: Can you imagine covering Bernie or Pocahontas. Pocahontas, how about that.

Oh, I'd love Orpah to win, I would love to beat Orpah. I know her weakness. No, no, I know her weakness.

COLLINS: And debuted this new campaign slogan.

Trump: Keep America great, exclamation point.

COLLINS: The president touting the steep tariffs he imposed last week on steel and aluminum imports and his potential summit with North Korean

dictator, Kim Jong-un.

TRUMP: Who knows what's going to happen. I may leave fast or we may sit down and make the greatest deal for the world and for all of these

countries.

COLLINS: President Trump surprising aids by suggesting that drug dealers should be executed.

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

COLLINS: And raising eyebrows with what some Democrats call a racially charged attack on Congresswoman Maxine Waters who has called for his

impeachment.

TRUMP: She's a low I.Q. individual. You can't help it. She really is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: That was Kailin Collins reporting for you there.

You are watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London. Still ahead this hour, Syrian government troops are ramping up their offensive in a rebel

held area just outside of Damascus. The latest from Eastern Ghouta, after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For this this opinion in (INAUDIBLE) to march on my own (INAUDIBLE) It's natural to worry about my parents being angry. This is

what for them and me too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: All this week, CNN is focusing on the fight against modern day slavery with #MyFreedomDay project. So, what does freedom mean to you.

Well this Wednesday CNN is working with young people around the world for a student led day of action against modern day slavery. And we want you to

get involved and tell the world what freedom means to you. So, you can share your story using #MyFreedomDay.

You are, of course, watching CNN and this is CONNECT THE WORLD with me, Hannah Vaughn Jones. Welcome back to you.

A stark warning for Syria, from the U.S. Defense Secretary. James Mattis was speaking to reporters on a trip to the Middle East, when he said

Damascus would be, quote, unwise to use chemical weapons on civilians.

Syrian government forces have been accused of using chlorine gas on its own people. Here is what the U.S. Defense Secretary said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We have made it very clear that it would be very unwise to use gas against people, civilians on any

battlefield. Russia was the framework guarantor that Assad would get rid of all of it. Again, either Russia is incompetent or in cahoots with

Assad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: The warning comes as the Syrian regime reports major gains in Eastern Ghouta, the rebel held area just outside of the capital of

Damascus. Activists say the government defensive has now divided the enclave into three parts, cutting off rebel supply roots. Duma, the

largest city in Eastern Ghouta, has been hit by nonstop air strikes and artillery shelling since Saturday. The region is home to around 400,000

people.

Analysts believe it's just a matter of time before Syrian forces seize the entire enclave of Eastern Ghouta. As CNN's Jomana Karadsheh has more on

this now from Aman in Jordan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hannah, some reports indicate that the regime is in control of more than 50 percent of Eastern Ghouta. But

this is not just about territorial gains. What we're seeing now is this military strategy unfold. You have this ground offensive where regime

forces have been moving in on Eastern Ghouta and they've managed over the past week to gain some ground.

Over the weekend they captured a number of towns and villages. And what that allowed them to do is to is to split up Eastern Ghouta into three

separate parts that are under the control of different rebel groups. By doing so, they have disrupted key supply lines for the rebels and the

movement of the fighters between these different areas. So, it would seem right now, it's a matter of time before the regime is able to recapture

Eastern Ghouta. No surprise there, they've had the military superiority here, with the support they've had from their allies on the ground and in

the sky.

The big question remains, what are the rebel groups going to do? Over the past week, we heard statements, at least publicly, from these groups,

rejecting any offers of amnesty or offers to evacuate them out of Eastern Ghouta. Offers that were announced by the Russian ministry of defense.

So, with the pressure mounting on these rebel groups, we're going to have to wait and see what they will do next. The concern, of course, remains

for the civilians who are trapped in this part of Syria, that has become a hell on earth by all accounts -- Hannah.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: Jomana, thank you. Jomana reporting there from Jordan for us.

Now, live from London, you are watching CONNECT THE WORLD and we are still waiting for Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, to speak following a

national security council meeting, over the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy in a British town. She is set to comment in just over

an hour from now. Also, ahead, she's not your average future in law. How Britain's Queen Elizabeth is welcoming Megan Markle to the royal family.

[11:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Mattea, I'm from Serbia, and to me, freedom is not being scared to say what I want to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Having Kosovo refugees in my family, freedom is being able to stay with your loved ones.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Sydara, and I'm from Serbia and freedom for me is I can sing and dance whenever I want.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Jon and I'm from Serbia, and to me, freedom is everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: Just a couple voices there, we want to hear from you as well ahead of CNN's "MY FREEDOM DAY" on Wednesday. Tell the world what freedom means

to you, and you can check out our website for more details on that.

This is CONNECT THE WORLD with me, Hannah Vaughn Jones live in London for you, welcome back.

This is a big day for Megan Markle, the American actress and activists, who is set, of course, to marry Britain's Prince Harry on May 19th. Ms.

Markle is currently attending her first official event alongside Queen Elizabeth. Just minutes ago, the Royal family arrived at Westminster Abbey

in central London for a service marking Commonwealth Day. CNN's Bianca Nobilo joins live from Westminster Abbey to talk about the significance of

today's event. Significant, of course, for Meghan Markle herself, but also for the commonwealth, Bianca.

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN WESTMINSTER: Yes, it's Commonwealth Day, so, that's why this service is being held behind me and Westminster Abbey. And of course,

Commonwealth Day celebrates all 53 nations of the commonwealth, which amounts to 2.4 billion people worldwide. And this year it falls ahead of

the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in London.

But it's a big day for Meghan Markle, because as you mentioned, it's her first official outing with the Queen. They were seen around Christmas

time, but this is the first official outing. And the commonwealth is something which seems to be important to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, as

it was mentioned in their engagement interview. And they both have a soft spot for Botswana where they spent some time together and there's also a

stone from Botswana in Megan Markle's engagement ring. And Botswana is, of course, is one of the members of the Commonwealth of nations. So, it's a

great day for them all to be out celebrating that together. And they went into Westminster Abbey, just behind me, about an hour ago. And the service

lasts about another 15 or so more minutes -- Hannah.

JONES: Yes, braving the rain there in central London there at the moment. But talk to us, Bianca, about the significance of it being a church

service, given, of course, the fact that Meghan Markle has just been welcomed into the Anglican church.

NOBILO: Yes, and it's an interfaith service today. And of course, that's important because of the range of faiths across the commonwealth. But

Meghan Markle was baptized last week by the Archbishop of Canterbury. That is significant because she was originally baptized a catholic. I do

believe that she was confirmed. But the Queen as head of the Anglican church in the U.K., it was considered to be a mark of respect that Meghan

Markle chose to be baptized last week. Because she didn't have to do that.

In fact, Royal watchers have been pointing out the fact that she's been wearing a bracelet this week with a cross on it to mark that important day

in the fact that she has been baptized into the Church of England. So, it's a mark of respect to the Queen. Somebody that she said it was

incredible to meet in that engagement interview, and who she looked forward to getting to know, because she heard so much about the love Prince Harry

has for his grandmother and respect for the monarch.

JONES: And just briefly, Bianca, is this the start of a ramping up of Royal commitments for the soon to be bride of Prince Harry?

NOBILO: We have seen that. So, Prince Harry and Megan Markle have been traveling around the U.K., to Wales, to Birmingham, basically giving her a

tour of all the parts of the United Kingdom, so that she can familiarize herself with it. And of course, decide upon the causes which she will want

to champion when she's in a position to do so as a fully-fledged member of the Royal family. We heard the Duchess and Duke of Cambridge speak with

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle about the charitable causes dear to their hearts just a few weeks ago. So, there definitely has been an uptick in

all of these Royal commitments ahead of their wedding day on May the 19th - - Hannah.

[11:55:03] JONES: Bianca, thanks so much.

Bianca Nobilo, you saw right there, who is just like me right here in London for you. And as ever, there's lots to see in these parts. Except

there's one thing you won 't be able to see, and that is this. The people who run almost all of London's public transport are refusing to put up this

French advert on the underground.

It looks to entice, quote, hot entrepreneurs to Normandy as Britain gears up to leave the European Union. And among the requirements, someone with

an allergy to post Brexit tariffs. It seems it's hard to say whether the ad went down the tubes or not. A little British humor there to end the

show.

Well, steering away from pipe dreams and tube jokes now, on our Facebook page that transports you to a world of content and contentment. But so

interesting it's off the rails, that's Facebook.com/CNNConnect, you check it out. I'm Hannah Vaughn Jones and that was CONNECT THE WORLD live from

London. Thanks so much for watching.

END