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North Korea Freezes Nuclear and Missile Tests; Concerns Trump Personal Attorney Could Flip; Meghan and Harry's Royal Wedding. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired April 21, 2018 - 00:00   ET

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


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CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): North Korean leader Kim Jong- un stuns the world announcing a freeze on further nuclear and missile testing.

Plus growing concerns in the Trump camp that the president's long-time friend and attorney, Michael Cohen, could turn on him.

And less than a month to the next royal wedding, Windsor police preparing a massive security operation to protect the couple and their wedding guests. We'll tell you more about that.

I'm Cyril Vanier here in Atlanta. Great to have you with us.

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VANIER: A major announcement by North Korea just in the last few hours. Leader Kim Jong-un says he's going to suspend testing of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and close the country's atomic sites.

To be clear Kim Jong-un has said nothing about scrapping the missiles and warheads that he may already have. Here's his statement as carried on state media.

"Under the proven condition of complete nuclear weapons, we no longer need any nuclear tests, midrange and intercontinental ballistic rocket tests and that the nuclear test sites in the northern area has also completed its mission."

Kim's statement is significant just a few days ahead of his summit with his neighbor, the president of South Korea. And that meeting could help pave the way for possible summit then with U.S. president Donald Trump.

Also take this into consideration, just Thursday North Korea appeared to hold out another olive branch; according to South Korea, Pyongyang no longer requires the departure of U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula as a precondition to denuclearization.

Will Ripley has reported from North Korea many times. He's in Hong Kong right now.

Will, it is great to speak to you right now. You talk to North Korean officials as regularly as anyone.

Is this for real?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know they were taken by surprise, sources I spoke with after this news broke. But it was a pleasant surprise and considered to be a really shrewd move on the part of Kim Jong-un.

But we do need to think carefully about what exactly he is saying here. What he's saying is -- and this is messaging that he's delivered to his own people, which is really significant because this is, you know, these are regular North Koreans hearing this on the state media, that their leader is telling them he's completed his nuclear force and therefore he doesn't need to test any more intercontinental ballistic missiles and he can close down the nuclear test site at Punggye-ri.

These are significant developments; however, at this point, this is more symbolic than actual concrete action because it would be relatively easy to resume missile testing and nuclear testing if this upcoming summit with President Trump doesn't go well.

The key here is going to be for the United States to convince Kim Jong-un that the nuclear program that has arguably gotten him to this point given him leverage, given him recognition by world leaders -- obviously you have this big summit coming up next week in South Korea with President Moon Jae-in, how do you convince Kim Jong-un to give up that missile program that has helped him achieve all this?

And the answer, according to diplomats and analysts that I'm speaking with, Cyril, is that it is going to take significant and substantial incentives to do so, even far more than what North Korea agreed when they negotiated the agreed framework back in 1994 with the Clinton administration.

Back then it was two lightwater reactors, which were never built, by the way, and heavy fuel shipments from the United States that were often late. The price this time around, my sources say, is going to be significantly higher.

So can President Trump come the table ready to make a deal?

He does have a reputation as a dealmaker. It'll certainly be put to the test -- Cyril.

VANIER: By the way, if he says he's closing his nuclear testing site at Punggye-ri, is that that the only one that the country has?

RIPLEY: We don't know. We don't know if there are other nuclear test sites. Remember, there was a lot of speculation that the test site at Punggye-ri might have actually been destabilized after the last nuclear test that triggered a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. Perhaps that site is no longer viable. Also we know that China was

very unhappy with the potential for radiation from that site to leak across the border. And so we don't know if there's another nuclear test site. We don't know the extent of nuclear weapons that are hidden all around North Korea.

Those are the kind of things that are almost impossible, really, to fully verify, which is why a lot of people say, the ideal outcome here is going to be to try to contain North Korea's nuclear program, to get them to destroy some of these weapons, shut down major facilities, acknowledging that they may still have other stockpiles that they're going to keep close their chest as a backup plan because the North Koreans are smart.

They're not going to give up their leverage here. But keeping North Korea as a suspected but undeclared nuclear power and offering incentives to engage with the international community and not to proliferate, with North Korea also saying they're not going to sell their nuclear technology to other countries, that could be considered a real win if things go well at the summit.

And this might be the only chance really --

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RIPLEY: -- to have a meeting between the North Korean leader and a sitting U.S. president. This is an extraordinarily important meeting, there is a lot riding on it, both sides need to come to the table prepared.

VANIER: We still don't know where, we still don't know when but it does look like they are heading towards that meeting. And just a reminder, Mike Pompeo, the former CIA director under Trump meeting with the North Korean leadership, as we found out just a few days ago.

Will Ripley, we're going to be keeping you busy over the next few hours so don't go too far. Thank you very much. We appreciate your insights.

Now what's the reaction from the international community?

Well, the U.S., South Korea and Japan have reacted positively, if somewhat in a guarded way.

President Trump tweeted, "North Korea has agreed to suspend all Nuclear Tests and close up a major test site. This is very good news for North Korea and the World - big progress! Look forward to our Summit."

South Korea's presidential office released this statement, "We welcome North Korea's decision to discard its nuclear test site and to suspend the launch tests of midrange missiles. North Korea's decision is a meaningful progress for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which the world wishes for."

And here's Japan's Prime Minister. He called it a positive mood but he added this note of caution, "The only thing that is important is whether or not it will lead to the completely verified and irreversible abolition of nuclear missiles. We would like to keep a close eye on it."

Let's see whether my panel thinks this is for real. Adam Mount of the Federation of American Scientists is in Washington. He joins us now. He's former director of the North Korea Task Force at the Council on Foreign Relations.

We also have Paul Carroll with us, with the nuclear disarmament group N Square.

Adam, North Korea has tricked the international community many times before. I was looking at the timeline just before coming on. I count at least three times in the '90s and the early 2000s when they made a promise to start winding down their nuclear capability.

And then -- and then it turned out not to be genuine.

Is this another trick?

ADAM MOUNT, FEDERATION OF AMERICAN SCIENTISTS: Well, North Korea is certainly not trustworthy in international negotiations. As you say they've got a long track record of turning back on statements that they've made.

And it is important to realize that this statement is really very carefully circumscribed. It is a proposal to shape North Korea's nuclear arsenal, not to eliminate it. No references made to short- range ballistic missiles, to fissile material, to submarine launched ballistic missiles or space launched vehicles.

These are tricks that, for example, have scuttled negotiations in the past, most recently in 2012. So it is important that President Trump and other American diplomats go into this with carefully measured expectations, that they let the State Department expertise back into the room, who are going to tell them that's precisely what Kim Jong-un has in mind here.

It's not all -- it's not everything that we want to hear. In fact, we're still miles away from what Washington would demand.

VANIER: Paul, very big picture, if you break this down to its simplest elements, Washington wants to get rid of the nuclear threat in North Korea. And until now, the consensus among analysts was that North Korea wanted to keep its nuclear capability.

Can this fundamental difference be reconciled?

PAUL CARROLL, N SQUARE: In the long term, absolutely it can be reconciled. I think I completely agree with Adam. What we're seeing right now really is a little bit of a kabuki play. From my perspective, North Korea has the upper hand so far in the lead-up to both the North-South summit next Friday and the planned Trump-Kim Jong-un summit sometime later this spring, early summer. What I mean by that is they're dangling what seem like concessions

before the international community. They're talking about things that, five or six years ago, would have seemed like breakthroughs: no more nuclear tests, no more missile tests.

But that was at a point in time when their programs were nascent. And today, even though they may be rudimentary, they seem to have enough confidence that they have the type of nuclear weapons and delivery systems that are enough to give pause to Korea, Japan, the United States.

And I would say that is true. And so they've already got the hand they want to play and they're dangling sort of, you know, the 2 of Clubs before us and we are getting all excited about it.

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CARROLL: What we need to do is square the circle and keep in mind, as you said, their core interest is security and they see nuclear weapons as the guarantor of that. Until they have a path out, where they're willing to feel secure without their nuclear weapons, we're not going to get very far.

VANIER: Is it possible -- Paul, still with you -- is it possible to guarantee security?

What would that even look like?

CARROLL: Well, what that would look like is, from the North Korean and frankly the South Korean perspective, something more formal and more fleshed out than the 1953 --

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CARROLL: -- armistice agreement --

VANIER: Selective nonaggression treaty, where the U.S. promises never to invade, never bomb them, never to attack?

CARROLL: Exactly. In fact, for years they've used the phrase, the U.S. must suspend its hostile policy.

What does that mean exactly?

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VANIER: -- they would trust this?

They would trust a treaty?

They would trust a piece of paper from the U.S. at this stage?

CARROLL: I wouldn't say a piece of paper. I would say a multilateral process that is consistent and has a tempo of meetings and presence, not just tweets. VANIER: Adam, for months we have been saying that, most likely, North Korea is testing its nuclear capability and missiles because it wants to ultimately negotiate from a place of strength.

Is that what's happening right now?

MOUNT: Well, that's a leading contender at this point. North Korea's statement today does give some credence to that view. We should read this not as a small regime that's been cowed into denuclearization. Really, what it reads like is a nuclear power that is making an arms control proposal.

So that would lend legitimacy to Kim Jong-un's cause. That's really what they've been seeking this whole time. So that's plausible.

You know, I'm still skeptical that they choose to eliminate their nuclear and missile program, certainly not on the timetable that John Bolton has argued for. There's really no realistic chance that North Korea is a nuclear free nation by Christmas.

So really we're going to be in this for the longer haul. It's going to be a multistep process. And the first step should be to codify, clarify and then verify these declarations that were made today and to really plug the gaps in that declaration so that it is not a partial cap on North Korea's nuclear advancements and capabilities but rather it's a hard cap.

So Donald Trump can't go into this expecting complete surrender. He has to have a plan to codify and clarify these declarations, expand them and then to move on from there.

VANIER: Speaking of Donald Trump, Paul, is his strategy of maximum pressure working at this stage?

Do you feel that what we're seeing is perhaps the result of Kim Jong- un feeling the economic pressure on his country?

CARROLL: Well, I'm not sure I would agree that the current administration has a strategy. They've certainly gone all in with sticks and abandoned any carrots.

VANIER: What about the U.N. sanctions?

Hold on. Everybody I've spoken to on this show tells me the recent sanctions of the last few months that have been implemented against North Korea have had more bite to them than prior sanctions.

CARROLL: I would agree with that but it -- they've only been a few months old and these kinds of sanctions take time to really have the impact they were designed to have. And it's not clear to me that China, in particular, is going to have the wherewithal to enforce and really toe the line on those sanctions over the long -- over the long term.

And keep in mind, Kim Jong-un recently went to Beijing. And it's unclear to me what exactly was discussed or promised or committed to at that meeting. That to me is a big X factor in all of these negotiations.

VANIER: Adam, what kind of price would Kim Jong-un want or what kind of price would Washington have to pay for engaging on -- toward denuclearization?

Paul mentioned earlier perhaps promising nonaggression, right, that there would be no attack from the U.S. on North Korea. But we also know, from his public pronouncements, Kim Jong-un is very focused on the state of his economy.

MOUNT: Right, this is -- this is the $64,000 question. There is not going to be an easy answer here. John Bolton's idea that you can jetset into the into the summit and ask where to pull American ships into, to load the nuclear program onto them, that's a fantasy. That is never going to happen

We need to be prepared for fallback positions, to counteract various North Korean tricks and traps, to have all of that planned out and prepared for.

But we also, as you say, need to be -- come prepared with something to offer. And that has not been Donald Trump's strong suit in negotiations. That's not how John Bolton thinks about it.

Security assurances would have to be part of it. But you have to -- you have to remember that those would mean that Kim Jong-un would have to trust a leader that he's condemned to death in public statements.

So it's unlikely that simple assurances are going to matter. It is unlikely that economic payoffs are going to be enough. What I think is happening is that Kim Jong-un is stalling for time. He is going to try to let these negotiations stall and drag on through the summer and fall and, in the same way, try to get Donald Trump to either give up something for nothing, so give up something substantial in terms of deterrent posture or alliance cohesion --

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MOUNT: -- or to get China to ease up on sanctions. So if Trump walks away from the table first because he has unrealistic expectations, they come out way ahead.

VANIER: All right, Adam Mount, Paul Carroll, thank you very much. It's been very useful, tapping into your expertise, appreciate talking to you, thanks.

MOUNT: Thank you.

CARROLL: My pleasure. Thank you.

VANIER: Now he says he would take a bullet for President Trump. But new concerns in the Trump camp that Michael Cohen could flip. We'll take a look at that.

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VANIER: We want to bring you up to speed on several developments in the legal firestorms surrounding President Donald Trump.

"The Washington Post" reports that attorney general Jeff Sessions told the White House that if President Trump fired Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Sessions would consider leaving as well.

This came in a phone call last week between Sessions and White House counsel Don McGahn after Rosenstein had met with the president. Rosenstein oversees the Russia probe and there are reports that Trump also lashed out after Rosenstein approved the raids on his personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

There's late word of the former attorney for both porn actress Stormy Daniels and former "Playboy" Playmate Karen McDougal is now cooperating with federal authorities in their probe of Cohen.

Keith Davidson -- that's his name -- was at the center of agreements that kept both women quiet over their alleged affairs with Donald Trump before he became president. Davidson has turned over what his spokesman calls "certain limited electronic information."

A source familiar with the matter told CNN that earlier this month the FBI seized recordings Cohen made of his conversations with Davidson. There is growing concern in the White House given all of this that Cohen, who has worked with Donald Trump for many years and has been called Trump's fixer, could end up cooperating with federal investigators.

Peter Matthews is a political analyst and professor of political science at Cypress College.

Peter, I would like you to address that specific point first, the fact the president's allies are concerned that Cohen might turn on the president.

Doesn't that mean they assume the president did something wrong?

Otherwise there would be no reason to be concerned.

PETER MATTHEWS, CYPRESS COLLEGE: Kind of like the cow in the bag when they said that, you know, he might turn on him because that presumes that Trump did something wrong, something illegal. That's quite interesting.

I believe that there's a good chance that Cohen could turn on the president because Cohen is not ready for prison and jail and people who know that about him said that about him and when he is facing years and years possibly imprisonment, it depends how much the sentence would be able to plea bargain will be.

There is a good chance that the prosecutors could get him to turn and to save his own skin basically.

VANIER: And we're also finding out a little bit more color on their relationship between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen. According to "The New York Times" reporting, Donald Trump has treated Mr. Cohen over the years with contempt.

Here's a quote from Roger Stone, an ally of the president.

He says, "Donald goes out of his way to treat him" --

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VANIER: -- i.e. Michael Cohen -- "like garbage."

Do you think that's something that could come back to hurt the president if it's true?

MATTHEWS: That interesting, Cyril. These kind of attitudes are developed over time can really come in all of a sudden in a rash way to hurt someone like the president if you've been doing this all these years.

And it is like a -- Cohen has been building up in him. And he could explode by saying, look, I don't owe this man anything in the end. I want to save myself.

And that certainly is the fact that could play in here if he's been treating him that way.

VANIER: We also know that the reason investigators raided Michael Cohen's office, hotel room, house is because they want to find out about the hush money that he paid to Stormy Daniels.

Now they've got Stormy Daniels former attorney cooperating with them. This is the man who negotiated that the whole deal, the whole hush deal with Michael Cohen. It seems like what ever actually happened it's not going to remain secret for long.

MATTHEWS: No, it is not and it's not just Stormy Daniels' attorney, he was also the attorney for Karen McDougal, the other person that was, in a sense, paid up to -- her story was caught and carried, basically, to not expose it and she was paid $100 few thousand and it was negotiated by Cohen.

So it's even -- Keith Davidson. So he's involved with more than one person there. And really this is a very precarious situation, especially since Davidson is actually cooperating and turning over information and already has turned over information to the investigators.

VANIER: Amid all of this, this week, we found out that Mr. Trump was boosting his legal team. One high-profile name, the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani; others not so high-profile.

What do you make of this? MATTHEWS: I make of that most lawyers with any kind of reputation don't want to represent this president because they can't trust what he's going to be doing as a client. And furthermore their reputation, their own reputation's at stake and Giuliani is about the one of any kind of reputation that the president was able to get.

He's known him for a long time so he can't but help the president. But he's having a real difficult time getting top-notch lawyers to represent him. That is quite telling in itself.

VANIER: Also this, and is separate, the Democratic National Committee is suing the Trump campaign plus Russia plus WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and they're alleging a grand conspiracy to release emails that ultimately harmed the Democrats in the presidential election.

Now they acknowledge that their lawsuit brings no new evidence. They just pull everything that we already know into one big narrative.

Do you see this as real legal threat here for the president or Republicans?

Or is this a political move mostly?

MATTHEWS: I think it is more of a political move because it is -- the fact that the DNC is really resenting having lost that election, totally unpredictably, to Donald Trump and they haven't gotten over it and they want to get some kind of political support from the public on that.

I'm not sure if it's such a wise move because the public could also look at the DNC --

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VANIER: You agree with Donald Trump on that, by the way.

MATTHEWS: Pardon me?

VANIER: Because that's what -- you agree with Donald Trump on that. He says that's their main motivation. They haven't gotten over losing in 2016.

MATTHEWS: To some extent, that's got to be true. But there may be something else there. I don't think there's -- I think it is mostly political in a sense and I'm -- I certainly support them trying to do this. But I think they should really, instead of work on -- win the midterm elections that are coming up as opposed to putting all of their efforts into this thing.

And you know, frankly, it's quite a bag of different defendants there. You look at all the people that are suing together, and this thing is a big conspiracy.

Well, let's see what comes of that. It's be very interesting to watch that and follow it. But I think they should spend their energy on other things, like winning the Congress back in 2018 and going on for 2020.

VANIER: Peter Matthews, always good to talk to you. Thank you for your time.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Cyril, my pleasure.

VANIER: Let's leave politics behind us. The countdown is on. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will tie the knot in less than a month. We'll check in on the wedding preparations just after this.

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VANIER: The royal wedding countdown is on. Prince Harry and his fiancee, Meghan Markle, aren't the only ones preparing for the big day. Isa Soares has all the details on this.

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ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We're less than a month away from Harry and Meghan's wedding day and preparations are well on the way. Security is a top priority.

Police in Windsor, where the couple will wed, are beginning one of the biggest security operations in their history. They plan: to set up barriers to stop vehicle attacks, have armed patrols and airport staff security to prevent any incident. They will even have police dogs on high alert, as over 100,000 visitors are expected to descend on the city to celebrate the joyous occasion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The dogs which you saw today are the expert search dog teams, so they're all trained in accordance with police guidelines and they're regularly assessed to make sure that they are in license and they're fit for purpose.

SOARES (voice-over): Meanwhile, long time royal biographer Andrew Morton says Princess Diana would approve of the marriage.

ANDREW MORTON, ROYAL BIOGRAPHER: I think there is a kind of "Sliding Doors" element here. Diana died at 36; Meghan comes into the scene at 36. And so, in a way, she's picked up Diana's pattern, that she is both elegant, she's glamorous and also she's a humanitarian.

And so Diana would very much have approved of Meghan and seeing that kind of working of fate almost.

SOARES (voice-over): Morton is out with a biography of the new royal to be titled, "Meghan; A Hollywood Princess."

And that is not the only book. Royal watchers can also pick up a new comic book about the couple's romance, available for purchase online. Craftsmen are also busy making souvenirs for the big day. A once- around a factory in Central England, workers are handmaking and decorating thousands of commemorative mugs.

Meghan Markle will also bid farewell to her acting role in the season's seventh finale of "Suits." Markle's character, Rachel, will tie the knot on the screen. That episode airs on Wednesday.

And what is a wedding without a pint?

Royal fans can celebrate the nuptials with a specially brewed beer. It is being called Harry and Meghan's Windsor Knot, made right in the city where the wedding is being held -- Isa Soares, CNN.

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VANIER: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'll be back with the headlines in just a moment so don't go anywhere.