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British Allies Points Finger to Russia; Mueller's Team Puts More Pressure on Trump; Assad Holds New Title That No One Envy; Mueller Subpoenaed Trump Organization Business Records; One Step Closer To Trump, Kim Talks; Animals At Risk Because Of Climate Change; Journeying With Greenpeace To Protect The Antarctic. Aired 3-4a ET
Aired March 16, 2018 - 03:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Western allies are condemning Russia over the poisoned ex-spy in Salisbury, and now we're waiting for Moscow's next move. We'll have more on that ahead.
The Mueller investigation enters a no-go zone for the U.S. president. Subpoenas issued for the Trump organization business documents.
Six months after hurricane Maria the lights are still off for tens of thousands of people. Puerto Rican lives are still being destroyed there.
We're live at CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. We want to welcome our viewers around the world. I'm George Howell. The CNN Newsroom starts right now.
Around the world, good day to you. The Russian president is lashing out at Britain after that nation expelled 23 Russian diplomats. Through a spokesperson Vladimir Putin said that he was concerned by British destructive and provocative stance.
The U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May ordered them out in retaliation. This, after a poison attack last week on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Southern England.
Russia's foreign minister said there will be a response very soon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): I think that the story reflects firstly the despair of the current government of Great Britain especially in a situation where they cannot fulfill the promises the promises which they gave to their population with regarding exit from the European Union. But there will be an answer very soon. I guarantee it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: And in the meantime, the British defence secretary had this message for Russia. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GAVIN WILLIAMSON, BRITISH DEFENCE SECRETARY: This is absolutely atrocious and outrageous what Russia did in Salisbury. We have responded to that. Frankly, Russia should go away. It should shut up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: Let's bring CNN contributor Jill Dougherty following the story live in Moscow. The big question, Jill, what is Russia's next move? Any sense of what might come next? Any steps where actions?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, remember, the Russians so far whether it's a standoff with the Unites States taking steps on something or now with the U.K. is pretty much tit for tat. So it seems quite an easy analysis to say that they would, you know, persona non grata kick out Russian diplomats from the U.K.
The U.K. is doing that and now Russia could do the same for diplomatic staff here in Moscow from the U.K. You know, George, the other thought on the other side though, are the sanctions that the United States now the Treasury Department announced yesterday.
And so, Russia is trying to figure out what it will do in response to that. So they have decided they're saying right now that they could respond by expanding this blacklist that they have of people in the United States whom they criticized for all sorts of violations kind of like the Magnitsky Act in the United States.
So there is a lot of tit for tat. But I think what the Russians are very worried about -- and you hear it I think reflected in the president's comments about destructive and provocative -- is where this is going. Because yes, you can answer tit for tat, you can escalate, et cetera, and you can certainly escalate the war of words.
But ultimately, where does this all go? How damaging could it be let's say to Russia's internal situation to its external international relations with other countries? That's the concern here.
So, and as we've been saying this is happening at a very tensed at a sensitive political time because the president of Russia is going to participating in election. And we will, you know, we will see how all of that goes how is reflected perhaps on the selection.
But it is, it's a tense time and I don't think any that it really can say where this is going especially of the emotional tone that you are getting from both sides right now.
HOWELL: Jill, I wanted to pick up on a point you shared with us last hour. The concern about the financial piece coming from these western allies that have come together in the face of this nerve agent attack.
DOUGHERTY: Right. Well, as we were saying, you know, London is a place that a lot of Russians, well-off Russian usually are - they keep their money, they invest in real estate. And then also on a personal level where a lot of Russian young people who go to school. Kids of Russians who were in private schools and other schools in the U.K.
[03:05:03] So, it's a very, you know, if any place that you could pick for this to happen the U.K. is particularly sensitive for these people and they tend to be influential people. Again, they have a lot of money, they're going -- flying back and forth. And what happens to them is important. It's happened -- it's important to President Putin.
Do those Russians have to bring their money back to Russia? Will they feel comfortable going back and forth if there's kind of a tightening around them of regulations, laws, et cetera, financial dealings and buying real estate? This is -- this is the type of thing. It's not just, let's say bloodless sanctions. This affects everyday life of this some super-rich people who are influential here in Russia as well.
HOWELL: All right, Jill, we'll have to see where all of this goes. Live for us there in Moscow, thank you so much for the reporting today and insight.
Now to the Southern British town of Salisbury where this poison attacks happened. The British prime minister traveled there Thursday and she was bolstered by the fact that the United States, that Germany and France have all joined her in pointing the blame at Moscow.
Authorities have identified the poison as a Soviet-era nerve agent. Police are still trying to piece together exactly when and how that poison was delivered.
Our Melissa Bell following the story live in Salisbury with us. Melissa, we just heard the reporting from Jill Dougherty, clearly the United Kingdom has made its move and now has the support of western allies including the United States.
MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That was absolutely crucial, George, for Theresa May. And it seem for a while as though, that support was left steadfast than perhaps it might have been. And of course, Theresa May has engaged very forcibly in this war of words with Moscow and has stand so consistently throughout the week with several statement to the House of Commons.
But listening to what Jill was just saying there about the consequences that this war of words and indeed, the actions of the British government might have for Russians who use London as a base. It's a difficult decision for Theresa May to make as well, because of course, London has always presented itself as this very safe hub for the great fortunes not just of the Russians but of other countries as well.
And it's not something that is really losing willing to lose that particular position that it has in world as a result of further measures that might be taken to make it harder for those Russians to live here.
And this, of course, even as Theresa May has engaged in this war of words for a while, it seems without the steadfast support that she might have needed, she really did need that statement that came out yesterday from Germany, France, and the United States.
Because what this also it is as she engages forcefully in the war of words with Moscow and plows on as belligerently as she has done over the course for the last few years -- of the last few days, rather, is this is a real test of Britain's isolation or not.
This is of course the time when Britain is negotiating its exit from the E.U. And for a while, it looks as though Theresa May might simply be exposing just how isolated Britain had become. How will the E.U. follow Britain in this war with -- of words with Russia? Will further sanctions be imposed?
It looks as though there is simply is the appetite within the E.U. for more sanctions against Russia. Only last Monday, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel was saying that well, perhaps once this election has passed we can turn over and you leave with Vladimir Putin looking to a fresh, a fresh relations between the E.U. and Russia.
There's sanctions that were imposed in 2014 after the Crimea annexation have proved the subject of some discord within the E.U. with many voices coming out this last two months and saying, well, look maybe it's time for a warming up of relations with Russia.
So, this is an important test for Theresa May. She's rather gone out on a limb really, so of course, really has she has spoken. And it will be interesting to see whether she is able to take the E.U. with her substantially not just with words, not just with a statement like the one we hard yesterday but with a action against Moscow.
HOWELL: Melissa Bell, live for us in Salisbury, thank you for the reporting and we'll keep in touch with you.
As we mentioned, the United States has joined other countries condemning the nerve agent attack. Finally on Thursday, the U.S. president publicly blamed Moscow for that attack. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I spoke with the prime minister and we are in deep discussions, a very sad situation. It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it. Something that should never ever happen, and we're taking it very seriously, as I think are many others.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: All of this follows the news that the special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump organization for business documents. This according to a CNN source.
[03:10:00] We get more now from CNN's Jeff Zeleny.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT President Trump said last year special counsel Robert Mueller would cross a red if his investigation looked into Trump family finances unrelated to Russia.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders did not repeat that today.
ZELENY: Did he draw a distinction, do you know, between a red line o family finances separately from family finances or business finances relating to Russia as it pertains to this case?
SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president believed very strongly there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. We're going to continue to cooperate with the special counsel.
ZELENY: The special counsel subpoena first reported by the New York Times and confirmed by CNN came as the Trump administration took its toughest stand yet against Russia. Imposing sanctions as retaliation for interfering in the 2016 election and accusing Moscow of plotting a nerve gas attack in the U.K.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: It's a very sad situation. It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it. Something that should never ever happen, and we're taking it very seriously, as I think are many others.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: The one-two punches part of an effort to punish Russia which the president has seem reluctant to do for more than a year. The five Russian organizations and 19 people sanctioned today by the Treasury Department for malicious cyber attacks is a near mirror image of the indictments announced last month by the special counsel.
All names in this February indictment are included on today's sanction list. The administration also making a new accusation, Russia tried to hack the U.S. energy grid. Democrats were wondering what took the administration so long and why the president's words are softer than the sanctions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK WARNER, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: Why can't the president himself call out the bad actions of Russia? And it is an ongoing question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said this when asked if Vladimir Putin was a friend or foe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: I think that's something that Russia is going to have to make that determination. They're going to have to decide whether or not they want to be a good actor or a bad actor. (END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: The United States also joining the U.K., France, and Germany in condemning Russia for its apparent role in a nerve gas attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil.
The four allies saying in a joint statement, "We share the United Kingdom's assessment. There is no plausible alternative explanation and note that Russia failure to address the legitimate request by the government of the United Kingdom further underlines Russia's responsibility."
Meanwhile, the president admitted fabricating facts in a meeting with another key ally. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. At a private fundraiser Wednesday night in St. Louis the president blamed Canada for having a trade deficit with the U.S. which isn't untrue.
In a recording obtained by the Washington Post and confirmed to CNN by an attendee the president said "he's a good guy, Justin." He said, "don't know. We have no trade deficit with you. We have none. Donald, please, wrong Justin you do. I didn't even know. I had no idea. I just said you're wrong."
The president double down today on Twitter saying, "We do have a trade deficit with Canada as we do with almost all countries. Some of them massive." But here are the facts. Trump's own Commerce Department says the U.S. ran a nearly $2.8 billion surplus with Canada for 2017.
All this, as staff turnover in the Trump administration is causing turmoil. Meeting with the Irish prime minister in the Oval Office, the president downplaying the suggestion a major shakeup is imminent for change, he said, is good.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: There will always be change, and I think you want to see change and I want to also see different ideas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Jeff, CNN, the White House.
HOWELL: We'll take context now with Jessica Levinson. Jessica, a professor of law and governance at Loyola University, live for us this hour in Los Angeles. A pleasure to have you with us to talk about this.
Let's start with the news about the special counsel now issuing subpoenas into the Trump organization, an attorney for the Trump organization has responded saying this.
"Since July 2017, we have advised the public that the Trump organization is fully cooperative with all investigations, including the special counsel and is responding to their requests. This is old news." They go on to say, "And our assistance and cooperation with various investigations remains the same today." But Jessica, you'll remember, the president has in the past offered some insight into where he feels this investigation will gone too far. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VOICE CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Mueller was looking at your finances on your family's finances, unrelated to Russia, is that a red line?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?
TRUMP: I would say, yes, yes. I would say yes.
(END VOICE CLIP)
HOWELL: All right. So the argument there the investigation shouldn't go beyond a certain scope. Does the president have a point there, Jessica, or do you see the focus of the Trump organization and anything related to Russia as fair game?
[03:14:55] JESSICA LEVINSON, PROFESSOR OF LAW AND GOVERNANCE, LOYOLA UNIVERSITY: I think it's absolutely fair game. I think Robert Mueller needs to continue doing what he's doing, which is following the evidence and taking it where it leads him. And for the president who may ultimately be subject to this inquiry to be drawing lines is frankly inappropriate.
So, what we're seeing today is Robert Mueller getting one step closer to the president. It doesn't mean that the president is ultimately indicted and it means that Robert Mueller is looking at what it appears like he's continuing to look at, which is the potential of foreign influence foreign money over the Trump organization and potentially President Trump. But none of that is for President Trump to be drawing lines about what is or is not permissible. That's not his role.
HOWELL: All right. Also I want to get your thoughts on the turnover of these key members in the White House, the Secretary of State, he's out, his chief economic advisor, out. And now sources telling CNN the president's national security H -- advisor -- H.R. McMaster may also be seeing the door very soon. What does this constant changing of key members in the White House what does it say to the rest of the world?
LEVINSON: Well, it said that it looks like the Trump administration is not stable that's it's under a certain level of chaos. And I would say to the point of, you know, basically nothing to see here, let's move along, folks, is actually is the case that President Trump in his first year in office I believe has had more turnover in his administration than the last three administrations combines.
So, there's been an enormous amount of turnover. I understand that McMaster may have actually been on his way out the door, except people just felt like it wasn't good to have three national security advisers within one year. And so, what it looks like is that President Trump can't get the 18
that he was going to get and that there's an inability to find the best personnel, and, or that there is an inability of people to work with President Trump. What we've seen is that he cannot seem to withstand a certain level of criticism or people who don't agree with him or are able to work with his somewhat freewheeling style.
So I think that we're going to see more of this for as long as the Trump administration continues.
HOWELL: And that was Jessica Levinson in Los Angeles giving us context there. Jessica, thank you.
Now to the U.S. state of Florida and a major story we're following there. Recovery teams are working around the clock after a pedestrian bridge collapsed in the city of Miami. At least four people were killed. This happened on Thursday and at least 10 others injured.
You see the bridge there at this aerial of the rubble left over there, the bridge near the Florida International University. It was still under construction. The main section only set in place just a few days ago. Construction crews were working on the top of that bridge when it collapsed. You see here the moment it happened.
But Florida Senator Marco Rubio says the cables that suspended that bridge were being tightened. Witnesses couldn't believe their eyes when it happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was like, it as loud. It sounded like a bomb, like multiple bombs in one. It was like, terrible. It was super loud. It sounded like a motor landing. And when you look back all you see is the bridge on the floor. It was awful.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The cops nearly just threw me out. I run to see if they need help and I saw cops carrying people and people injured, and then when I look closely --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The cars that crushed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- it was cars are just pushed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: Goodness. At least eight cars they are crushed under the rubble. The bridge was considered an engineering feat design with to withstand a category five hurricane and built to last 100 years.
Still ahead this hour. He rules Syria with an iron fist. But Bashar al-Assad didn't grow up expecting to lead that nation. We take a look back at how he went from family man to dictator.
Plus, new signs that the U.S. President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un well, they may be one step closer to holding those very important talks.
Stay with us.
[03:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN Newsroom. I'm George Howell.
We may be seeing the biggest exits yet of the Syrian Civil War. State media report that more than 10,000 people escaped Eastern Ghouta on Thursday. They're headed toward secure areas of Damascus under the pressure of a government offensive on rebel-held areas. All of this comes as the war reaches a new grim milestone.
It's now raged on for seven straight years. Many of the children you see in this video have lived their entire lives in this conflict, never knowing a day of peace.
The U.S. national security advisor may be on his way out of a job but he's not being quiet about Syria. Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster is accusing Iran of sending foreign Shiite militia into Syria. He says it's being done on the legal flights including civilian airlines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
H.R. MCMASTER, UNITED STATES NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: If we are to fulfill our promise never again we must also to protect victims and hold all responsible parties accountable. Unfortunately, today in Syria we are confronted once more with some of the worst atrocities known to man.
The war has now wage for seven years. The Assad regime has killed indiscriminately, tortured, starved, raped, and use chemical weapons on its own people. All civilized nations must hold Iran and Russia accountable for their role in enabling atrocities and perpetuating human suffering in Syria.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: H.R. McMaster there speaking about the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that he may have unleashed his war machine against his own people.
But years ago, he was a practicing eye doctor in London. Our Nic Robertson looks at how he went from being an eye doctor, family man ruling over the rubble of his own country as a dictator.
NIC ROBERTSON, INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR, CNN: President Bashar al-Assad has all the traits of an old-school dictator. He is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, but it's not how he sees himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BASHAR AL-ASSAD, PRESIDENT OF SYRIA: My enemy is terrorism and the instability in Syria. This is our enemy. It's not about people, it's not persons. The whole is not about me staying or leaving. It's about the country against faith or nothing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTSON: To his loyal followers Assad is a bulwark against the threat of radical Islamic terror. Before the war many in west thought he was a bulwark against instability sweeping the region. He trained and practiced as an eye doctor in London, was thought to be more sophisticated than his brutal father Hafez whom he replaced 18 years ago.
But it was a sham when faced with peaceful protest. He cordoned the tanks Assad had never expected to lead Syria. His tougher older brother Bassell who had been groomed to be president, died in a car crash in 1994.
Once the Civil War got underway Assad's family, in particular his younger brother, Maher a feared military commander stiffened his resolve for a long bloody fight. Iran and their Lebanese proxies added their punch backing Assad's forces with weapons and troops.
[03:24:55] Then Russia detecting a lack of western will flew to Assad's rescue with massive air power turning a tide of battlefield losses to strategic gains.
While hospitals were crushed and civilians starved and pulverized under their brutal bombing, areas under Assad's control escaped the worst ravages of the war. Compare to the center of the capital Damascus, Assad's official home with Eastern Ghouta less than 10 miles away.
In his rare appearances, Assad occasionally accompanied by his wife appears unruffled by the mayhem they are spawning. And an even rarer interviews he sounds as callous as he is blind to the facts under is nose. This, in 2011.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL-ASSAD: The only thing that you could be afraid of as president is to lose the support of your people. That's the only thing that you can be afraid of.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTSON: And this six years, hundreds of thousands of deaths later.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL-ASSAD: The suffering of the Syrian people, the humanitarian interaction between me and every Syrian family. That is only indirectly. This is the only thing that could deprive me from sleep from time to time but not the western statements and not the threat of the support of the terrorists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTSON: Despite unanimous U.N. agreement to transition Assad out of power, peace talks in Geneva are failing to unseat him because he is winning the war. His big backers Iran and Russia have too much to lose to let him go. Assad may bridal as the Monaco dictator but no other world leader now in power has so much of his countrymen's blood on his hands.
Nic Robertson, CNN, London.
HOWELL: Nic, thank you for the reporting. Still to come this hour, top diplomats from North and South Korea are preparing for what could be an important summit between the U.S. president and the leader of North Korea. Details ahead.
Plus, CNN speaks exclusively with a former U.S. diplomat about the tensions within the Trump administration on how to handle North Korea.
Live around the world this is Newsroom.
HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers around the world. You're watching CNN Newsroom live from Atlanta, Georgia. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.
The Russian President Vladimir says he is concerned by Britain's destructive and provocative stance. This from a spokesperson, and this of course after the U.K. kicked out 23 Russian diplomats.
[03:30:01] The British government is taking actions after a poison attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in England.
In the meantime, the Special Counsel of the Russia Investigation, Robert Mueller, is focusing in part on the U.S. president's business empire. A source telling CNN that Mueller had subpoenaed the Trump organization for business documents. The New York Times says some of those documents are related to Russia.
The president's oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and his wife Vanessa, are separated. They released a joint statement Thursday saying their focus now is their five children together. Vanessa Trump has said to prefer being out of the public spotlight.
North Korea and the U.S. may be a step closer to holding talks. North Koreans state media say its country's foreign minister met with his Swedish counterpart on Thursday in Sweden and will resume talks in the coming hours.
Let's bring in our David McKenzie following the story live in our bureau in Seoul, South Korea. David, what more can you tells us about these meetings?
DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the important meeting is because it comes in the context of this monumental meeting that is supposed to be happening by May between Kim Jong-un and the President Donald Trump that would be unprecedented face-to-face, but a lot needs to be done before that point. So, that is why a lot of people who are watching this closely, this unusual trip by North Korea foreign minister out of the country, to Stockholm, to meet with his counterpart there. Of course, Sweden is in charge of diplomatic relations and dealings, including with American prisoners in North Korea.
So, the question being asked is, is this to try and hash out the terms of that meeting, is it to try and decide the venue of that meeting. We don't know the when or the what of that meeting, but we believe that this -- these high stakes meeting in Stockholm will have a lot to do about that.
The meetings is continued today and also is the backdrop of shuttled diplomacy of the Foreign Minister of South Korea who is in D.C. met with Ivanka Trump, also met with congressional leaders. She did raised a question though about the conflating, shall we say, from the viewpoint of the South Korean government of trade issue and foreign policy issues saying that the proposed tariffs by President Trump on steel and other goods would be unhelpful in this ongoing important issue of the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula.
So, the details -- and the devil will be in the details of that meeting between Trump and Kim are certainly not figured out yet and no word yet officially or through public broadcasters of media in North Korea on anything related to this meeting. So, we have to wait and see if those Stockholm meetings come up with any kind of details about when exactly this meeting with Trump and Kim will happen and what the terms of that meeting will be. So, very much up in the air at this point, but the diplomacy behind closed doors continues. George?
HOWELL: All right. A lot of moving parts here, David McKenzie, with the details. Thank you David.
A former U.S. diplomat with extensive knowledge about North Korea says that Pyongyang is probably surprise by how quickly a President Trump agreed to meet with Kim Jong. Our Elise Labott has this exclusive interview.
JOSEPH YUN, FORMER U.S. ENVOY FOR NORTH KOREA POLICY: Right now, the most important thing is to reduce tensions.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: America's former top Diplomat on North Korea, since while he didn't expect it, he doesn't think there is anything wrong with President Trump sitting down with Kim Jong-un.
YUN: I would have loved to bring -- to get forward and this is a great outcome.
LABOTT: Joe Yun said he's not surprised Trump agreed to the meeting, but says National Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster, pushed a different strategy.
So why has it taken a whole year for this invite to come. YUN: Yes. I think -- I think that's a good question. I think, one
reason is really we could never get all of the administration to get on our side and on their side. Let's not forget, Elise, they have been relentless in testing missiles, nuclear devices. So this is not easy. It is a complicated problem, but I know we're getting a great start, if we start off with the summit.
LABOTT: When you say that you can get all the administration on the same side, do you mean that some were more favoring military action?
YUN: Well, I think there was obviously voices within the administration and it is -- it is natural to have different voices who are more aggressive and those who wanted more of the diplomatic solutions.
LABOTT: Like the National Security Advisor who had advocated a bloody nose, so to speak?
YUN: Yes. Well, you know, if it's really in and administration, you're going to have different views, but I think time has now come, really, to speak with one single unified voice and that voice has to be that of the president.
[03:35:14] LABOTT: Yun, who has decade of experience working on North Korea, dismissed critics who worry by meeting with Kim Jong-un. Trump will only give Kim what he wants, legitimacy on the world stage.
YUN: I don't think there is anything wrong in acknowledging that he's a leader of North Korea who has nuclear weapons.
LABOTT: Do you think that the president is going to get played by Kim Jong-un in this meeting and agree to things that the U.S. should not?
YUN: I don't think so. Really not at all.
LABOTT: We know that the president likes to make his own decisions at the spur of the moment. Are you afraid that the North Korean leader will pull him into something that is not ready for?
YUN: I don't think so. I think the goals are obvious and homework I know -- there's a ton of homework getting done as we speak.
LABOTT: We're talking about a meeting that the North Koreans have not even acknowledged that they offered. Why have we not heard from them yet?
YUN: I think -- to be frank with you. I think they are a little bit surprised that Washington, President Trump, readily accepted. They thought it would take a little time. So they were not completely prepared. So, I think they are preparing at the moment --
YUN: -- scrambling you might say on how best to respond and so I think -- I think you will see that in coming days, something coming out. LABOTT: You've talked to the North Korean?
YUN: I talked to North Korean -- and I just said, I sent a single message to them, which was that this was an amazing opportunity for both sides, and they need to respond.
LABOTT: But he warned that if the meeting between Trump and Kim doesn't go well --
YUN: It will increase tensions and we're back to where we were in December and or even worse.
LABOTT: As Yun looks back on his time at the State Department, the retired Diplomat may not be able to resist a return to the action.
There has to be a little bit of regret. What if the president said, "Joe, I need you to come back for this," would you do it?
YUN: You know, when a president asks you to do something, you really have to give it serious thought, you know, and that's what I will do.
LABOTT: It must be tempting though to be there for this historic --
YUN: Of course, it is tempting. Yes.
LABOTT: State Department Spokesperson, Heather Nauert, said Thursday that Joe Yun wasn't the quote, "Second coming of Christ," and that the State Department had many diplomats to tackle diplomacy with North Korea. Yun said he left his post over the gap between the State Department and the White House pointing to the firing of Rex Tillerson this week. Instead, he predicts a more unified message with Mike Pompeo as a Secretary of State. Elise Labott CNN, Washington.
HOWELL: All right, Elise, thank you. The Saudi Arabia's defense chief and heir to the throne says that Iran's expansionist goals are as dangerous as Hitler's and his country plans to meet nuclear fire with fire. Crowned Prince Mohammad bin Salman spoke to CBS news on Thursday. Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does Saudi Arabia need nuclear weapons to counter Iran?
MOHAMMAD BIN SALMAN, CROWNED PRINCE, SAUDI ARABIA (TRANSLATOR): Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb. But without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit, as soon as possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman responded by calling the Crown Prince a quote, "delusional naive person who speaks without foresight." It's the latest in the decade's long conflict between the Shia Muslim majority, Iran, and the Sunni majority, Saudi Arabia.
When we come back some Puerto Rican hospitals can no longer stay open around the clock. We'll explain why that's the case. Plus, these creatures that you see here, amazing creatures, they could vanish if temperatures continue to rise, according to a new report. We'll discuss the latest with an expert ahead.
[03:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN Newsroom. You see the damage, the destruction left there after hurricane Maria. They have swept across Puerto Rico six months ago, but many people there are still dying because of the storm. CNN has identified at least five deaths, just this year, related to this massive storm. Our Leyla Santiago reports.
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It shouldn't be so difficult for Miriam Rodriguez seeing this machine.
MIRIAM RODRIGUEZ, SURVIVOR, HURRICANE MARIA: That takes me back. It makes me so angry.
SANTIAGO: When this machine for sleep apnea stopped working, her husband 77-year-old, Natalio, stopped breathing in the middle of the night in (inaudible), the southeastern part of the island.
RODRIGUEZ: So, he started to shake and shake, and I saw him like -- get on the floor and I couldn't -- that's why I say that. If we had electricity, normal electricity at that time, he could be alive, still today (ph) he could be alive.
SANTIAGO: She blames hurricane Maria for wiping out the islands power. At least 120,000 customers still don't have power nearly six months later. The night her husband died months after the storm, Miriam said their generator run out of gas, leaving her home without power for the machine her husband needed to breath.
Natalio's grave is one of many this year. CNN had identified at least five deaths from 2018, identified by families, doctors or funeral homes as related to hurricane Maria. Among them, Valio Salena Santiago, his family tells us he died of a heart attack in the parking lot of Monowas Clinic (ph) waiting for the clinic to open. The mayor said after Maria, the town can't afford to run the once 24 hour service.
Carmen Rodriguez Martinez, her family tells us, "She died because she didn't have power for the machine that she depended on for oxygen." Dr. Arturo Torres, listed hurricane Maria as a contributing factor on her death certificate.
Is Maria still killing people?
ARTURO TORRES, DOCTOR: Yes. Yes, I'm sure that my case is not an isolated case since there is no electrical power in many places that would accelerate the end of the -- of the life of that person. SANTIAGO: Cemetery workers tell us the number of deaths have doubled
since the storm, pointing to dozens of graves they believe are related, graves that cemetery workers tell us will not be getting a headstone anytime soon because families can't afford them after Maria.
Natalio's family paid $4,000 for his (inaudible), still owes $1,000. To qualify for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the death must be certified as hurricane related, but Puerto Rico's list of certified death hasn't changed since early December.
The official death toll stands at 64 even though, the government on death statistics in 2017 show an increase of at least 1,000 more deaths after hurricane Maria compared to the previous two years. The Puerto Rican government has now ordered a review of deaths since Maria.
Dr. Torres says the elderly and those with complicated health conditions are too vulnerable to resist the challenges brought on by Maria.
So just last week, -- just last week they had a death.
Do you think you'll have to write Maria again on the death certificate?
TORRES: I don't discard them. In my opinion, yes.
[03:45:00] SANTIAGO: It's hard to hear, it's a hard to say?
TORRES: It's hard to say, yes.
SANTIAGO: Even harder to accept. Its six months later --
RODRIGUEZ: It wasn't a normal death. That wasn't.
SANTIAGO: -- Maria is still destroying lives. Leyla Santiago CNN, Puerto Rico.
HOWELL: A new report warns us about half of all species in the world's most unique habitats are at risk of extinction, that is about eight -- 80,000 plants and animals in 35 wildlife rich areas, like the Amazon rain forest, the Galapagos Islands, Southwest, Australia and Madagascar and they could all vanish if the global temperature continues to rise. Animals like the African elephants you see here would likely lack sufficient water supplies if temperatures rose 4.5 degrees Celsius.
Let's bring in Niki Rust. Nikki, is a technical adviser at Wildlife for the Worldwide Wildlife Fund, joining us live. Thank you so much for your time today. Let's talk about this. It's fair to say this is pretty damning reports. Can anything really be done at this point to stop this trend?
NIKI RUST, TECHNICAL ADVISER, WILDLIFE FOR THE WORLDWIDE WILDLIFE FUND: It definitely can, absolutely. And in fact, what this report really shows is that we must act now to reduce carbon emissions globally and this isn't just down to citizens recycling more and that using energy-saving light bulbs. This is also down to our global leaders, making sure that we move away from fossil fuels, and we start using more renewable energy. Otherwise, we really will have a huge crisis losing maybe 50 percent of our wildlife in the most special areas.
HOWELL: The Paris Accord comes to mind. Clearly, the United States, with the U.S. president has back out of that agreement. But you know, the question, if the U.S. president were watching television -- we know he watches sometimes early in the morning. Perhaps he hears this report -- what you have to say to Donald Trump?
RUST: Well, I would say that you may or may not believe in climate change, but I would really recommend going to see some of these places. I've spent a lot of time in Namibia. And just going there and speaking to even the farmers that they know that the climate is changing and it's not just affecting wildlife, it's affecting the foods that we eat. So this isn't just a crisis for conservation. It is a global crisis for humanity. We absolutely need to act now to ensure the future survival of the earth.
HOWELL: Niki played this out in real time. What are the consequences for humanity, for people around the world, given these very dire predictions?
RUST: Well, it's going to be quite scary I got to admit. It's going to affect food, our fiber. Most things that we use nowadays in some way shape or form we get from the natural world, and this is threatened. However, I don't want to -- have a story of doom and gloom here. It's not game over quite yet. Like I said earlier, we absolutely need to act now to ensure that global temperatures don't rise to 4.5 degrees.
Our report shows that two-degree rise, we could maybe lose about 25 percent of species in these most important areas, but why not trying to raise the temperature only to 1.5 degrees or less than that. I think this is probably the way to go.
HOWELL: We always talk about that, Niki, what nations can do, but what can everyday people do, I mean, people are seeing these images?
HOWELL: These images of animals that they could vanish from the face of the earth, what can people do to try to stop this?
RUST: Well we know the normal things of, maybe cycling to work rather than driving. There's is also huge carbon emissions that come from the food that we eat. We know -- we've been hearing reports about how red meat, in particular, has got huge carbon emissions. And maybe exchanging you're stake meals for something that's got lentils or beans in, these make really, really big changes, as well as, that we lose a lot of heat in our homes as well as insulating our homes is very important too.
But making sure as well that you're voting for the right people, the people that are in power and really have got our best interests at heart, which is making sure that climate change doesn't cause huge devastation around the world.
HOWELL: Niki Rust live for us. Thank you so much for your insight and we will keep in touch with of course.
Still ahead, savings Antarctica's pristine environment, how it could be key in fighting climate change.
[03:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
HOWELL: Behind me, there are scenes of the Antarctic. It is one of the most remote majestic places on the world -- the earth. It offers unforgettable scenery and wildlife, but it also could be the key to fighting climate change.
CNN's Arwa Damon goes there with Greenpeace scientists as they try to save this very delicate ecosystem.
ARWA DAMON, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: It's an ethereal (ph) world that we wake up to our first morning in the Antarctic, that sort of harsh yet captivating mystical beauty, with penguins swimming and jumping in the waters right around our shift (ph) the Arctic sunrise.
It's so beautiful and quiet. You almost don't want to speak above a whisper, and there's two wells right there. This is absolutely unbelievable.
And as if the morning couldn't get more striking. We are in the first week of a month long like of a Greenpeace expedition started in January, a campaign to build the case for the creation of the world's largest ocean sanctuary in the Antarctic, which is a vital (inaudible).
And that's what we've come to learn more about, the Antarctic's potential to act as a buffer to climate change.
We started off in Punta Arenas in Chile, before hitting the Great Passage, notorious for a huge swells and rough waters.
It is day four and we're passing through the Great Passage and we're lucky because by different passages standard these are actually really calm waters.
For many of the Greenpeace team on board and us, this is a first. Before we head to shore, all equipment and clothing needs to be carefully clean. It is quite interesting if you look at it from the outside, it feels like it is very harsh and robust environment and yet it seems incredibly sensitive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really sensitive especially for the nonnative species.
DAMON: And we are off, heading towards Yankee Harbor.
Oh, it's so weird to be on land again. What does it feel?
This tiny island like the rest of the massive landmass in the Antarctic is designated for scientific exploration and protected under the Antarctic Treaty.
But that treaty does not extend to the Antarctic waters, hence, Greenpeace's mission. Even this region's most humorous of animals have their role in nature's equilibrium.
What does that mean? I don't know what that means. Marine biologist and Greenpeace campaigner, Recido Max (ph), has been looking at the intricate links between these waters, its wildlife and the fundamental role they play in Earth's carbon cycle.
If you look over there, they're trying to jump up on the ice, hilarious.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, they are really cute. That's true. Yes, its -- (inaudible) it's a combing chapter that mitigates the effects of climate change and what happens here is having an effect on the climate -- of the climate and the ocean currents are driven by the cold waters of the Antarctic.
DAMON: And the wildlife is central to driving carbon rich biomass to the depths of the intense cold ocean waters, where it is then stored for millennia, if it's left undisturbed.
[03:55:09] There are still many unknowns and the more scientists uncover, the more questions arise, but there is no doubt about the harmony here. One who's preservation is potentially linked to our very existence. Arwa Damon CNN, the Antarctic.
HOWELL: A beautiful part of the world indeed. Arwa, thank you. Well, in Siberia, known for snow falling, of course, very cold, but were not talking about snow in this particular case. We're talking about gold, more than 3 tons of gold, in fact, gold and silver bars that fell out of a Russian cargo plane during takeoff, landing on the runway there, just look at that, landing several kilometers away.
Thursday's incident occurred in the heart of Russia's diamond producing region. The investigation is now underway to find out what caused that planes hatch to open to drop the gold and silver though. According to local authorities, over 170 bars have been recovered so far.
Well that gold could come in handy for you that is if you plan a trip to Singapore. Singapore held on to its spot as the most expensive city in the world. The new report from the Economist, the survey compares the prices of items like bread, like wine and cigarettes across 133 cities. While Singapore slightly cheaper for personal care and household goods compared to other Asian cities, it is still the most expensive place to buy and run a car. Also on the list are Paris, Zurich, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Oslo, Norway.
Thank you so much for being with us for CNN Newsroom, I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. The news continues this hour, with Max Foster live in London. You are watching CNN, the worlds whose leader.