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World Reacts to North Korea's Suspension of Nuclear Testing; Trump Slams Report His Lawyer Cohen Could Flip. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired April 22, 2018 - 02:00   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): Hello, everyone, thank you for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier in Atlanta and CNN NEWSROOM starts now.

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VANIER: It's been two weeks since the suspected chemical attack in Syria killed dozens of people and now after days of being held up in Damascus, an international monitoring group is finally able to investigate this.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the OPCW, says its fact-finding team collected samples in Douma on Saturday. They will test for banned substances, including chlorine and sarin, which the U.S. believes the Syrian government used to bomb the rebel- held town.

Activists released gruesome photos of dead children and gravely wounded civilians after the attack. Meanwhile Syria and its powerful ally, Russia, denied that there was a chemical attack at all.

Let's go to Russia. CNN senior international correspondent Sam Kiley is following all of this from Moscow.

Sam, what can you tell us?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Cyril, the spokeswoman for the foreign ministry here in Moscow, Maria Zakharova, had repeated her -- the Russian demands that the OPCW come forward with its report as soon as possible, that they demand that it would give an unbiased conclusion to its analyses, once they've been distributed, as they say they will, to the various laboratories around Europe that do the testing on these chemist -- on these chemicals.

But at the same time suggesting because, in any case, they say, Russian experts have been in on the ground and declared that there was no chemical weapons attack, already sowing seeds for doubt with regard to whatever might -- whatever the OPCW might come out with finally as part of their conclusions.

And this all goes back to a Russian rejection of the U.N. Security Council resolution sponsored by the United Kingdom and United States to set up an independent investigative committee alongside the OPCW to not only identify what chemicals were used but perhaps point the finger.

The OPCW are not going to assign blame if they make a conclusion that there was a use of chemical weapons. That will be it and then they would, in all likelihood, if they do conclude that there was, again, the finger-pointing will start as to who did it.

The Russian position is that it was a fake attack and of course the Western position is that this was an attack on its own people by the Syrian government -- Cyril.

VANIER: Sam, in the aftermath of those attacks, there's been some back-and-forth within the Trump administration about possibly imposing further sanctions on Russia.

Where do we stand on those?

KILEY: Well, it was a very interesting process, wasn't it, when Nikki Haley a week ago almost exactly said that we should all anticipate a further round of sanctions coming out from the United States Treasury to be imposed on figures within Russia.

The very next day it would appear that Donald Trump rolled back on that policy after discussions with his national security team. And there was an embarrassing level of friction over that.

Of course, there was also some suggestion, again exploited somewhat by the Russians, that there had been communication between the White House and the Russian embassy over the decision not to impose further sanctions.

Now whatever the truth there may be, this sort of level of smoke, if you like, around this was added to on Friday, when Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary met with Anton Soriano (ph), his equivalent of figure in Russia, on the fringes of the IMF spring meeting in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Mnuchin said it was to clarify certain issues of the existing sanctions that were targeting a number of individuals and specific firms in Russia. This could be seen as an entirely routine matter.

But in this feral atmosphere and amidst all these doubts about the relationship between Donald Trump and the Russians, the critics of the Trump administration have seized on this as an example of inappropriate contact.

But it could also be an entirely routine matter -- Cyril.

VANIER: Sam Kiley, reporting on this live from Moscow in Russia, thank you, Sam. We appreciate your input.

And North Korea's decision to suspend testing of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles is getting generally favorable reaction around the world. A spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general said it was a positive step forward. Germany and other countries also welcomed --

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VANIER: -- the move but they have called for clarification.

So what is Russia saying about this?

Their foreign ministry put out this statement, "We consider this decision as an important step toward further easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and consolidating positive trends toward normalizing the situation in Northeast Asia."

Paula Hancocks joins us now from Seoul with the reaction from people who perhaps have the most at stake here, South Koreans -- Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Cyril. Certainly there is an optimistic feel that this has been said by the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un himself. We had heard it indirectly, secondhand from the South Korean envoy that had spoken with Kim Jong- un earlier.

And he had said that he was willing to work to suspend the nuclear and missile tests. But the fact that we've heard it from Kim Jong-un himself is a positive step. And you can see by the reaction around the world that it is being received as such.

But just one day on now, since that announcement, there has been some time to think about it. There is a lot of caution that has been injected into it as well and many analysts talking about what comes next, if he is willing to suspend this nuclear and missile program, will he be willing to actually give up some of this missile and nuclear program?

Or is he suggesting just a freeze.

He did, back on January 1st in his New Year's Day address say that he was happy that the nuclear program has been completed, the same with the ICBMs. So that particular part isn't new.

And certainly the fact that he's saying the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the northeast of the country, which is where all six tests have taken place, the fact he said that has served its purpose and will not be used anymore, just last year there were many reports after some aftershocks in that area following that September nuclear test that the mountains themselves had collapsed.

So potentially that wasn't even going to be able to be used in the future, anyway. So there's a lot of caveats. There is a lot of cynicism. There is a lot of caution but the very fact that Kim Jong- un has said this to his people, to his parliament, has to be taken as a positive step -- Cyril.

VANIER: So there have been -- and you touched on this -- there have been several olive branches extended by North Korea since the beginning of the year. Walk us through what the next steps are going to be, starting with this historic meeting in less than a week's time between the North Korean leader and his South Korean counterpart.

HANCOCKS: That's right, Friday will be the meeting between South Korean president Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un. It'll be the first meeting between these two leaders, the first between the North and South Korean leaders in more than a decade.

And it'll be the first time you will see a North Korean leader cross the border at the DMZ, the demilitarized zone, and head into South Korea.

So that in itself is quite significant. They will be talking about denuclearization. President Moon says they have the same idea when they are talking about denuclearization. Others disagree, saying that it is unlikely that Kim Jong-un is going to agree to actually give up his nuclear and missile programs.

And all along we have heard from the North Korean leader, the North Korean elite, that they don't want to go the way of Libya and Moammar Gadhafi when he gave up his nuclear weapons program and then ended up being killed in his country, effectively collapsing after that.

So the North Koreans have said that they have had that example and so won't give up their weapons in the future. Of course, they're saying something slightly different now - - Cyril.

VANIER: And Paula Hancocks in Seoul, South Korea, thank you.

Judging by Donald Trump's Twitter account, the U.S. president was in a bad mood Saturday morning, pushing back strongly against speculation that his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, could turn on him.

Mr. Trump lashed out against "The New York Times" on Twitter, insulting one of its reporters by name because of an article suggesting that Cohen might end up cooperating with investigators who are currently looking into his business dealings.

"The New York Times" is standing by its reporting. And that report also details how, for years, Mr. Trump has treated his personal lawyer with contempt. But the president responds that he has always liked him and respected him. CNN's Boris Sanchez has more on this.

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BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president lashing out on Twitter Saturday, attacking, among others, "The New York Times" and one of its reporters, Maggie Haberman. The president taking exception to an article published Friday that indicates that he's had a troubled relationship historically with his personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

The article suggests that Cohen could potentially flip on President Trump, something that searches have told CNN that legal experts have told the president he should prepare for; that is, if Michael Cohen has any incriminating information about President Trump, that he may comply with investigators in order to get a more lenient sentence.

The president responding --

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SANCHEZ: -- to those suggestions via Twitter, saying that he does not believe that Cohen would do that, even going as far as to say that other people in similar situations have made up stories to investigators in order to get lighter sentences.

Now the reporter behind that story, Maggie Haberman, is standing by her reporting. She cites six different sources that indicates that historically President Trump has treated his personal attorney like an animal. Listen to this.

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MAGGIE HABERMAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Michael Cohen, over the years, has done all kinds of things at the president's urging because the president wanted him to, because he came to intuit what he thought the president would want. It didn't always work out. Sometimes those things were handled in a way that was rather ham-fisted or that came back to bite the president later. The Stormy Daniels case would be one of them.

But Cohen was basically trying to do right by his boss and was seeking his boss' approval. And Trump, time after time, treated him -- you know, Trump is very fond of using the phrase, "like a dog."

He treated Cohen quite poorly over a period of time.

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SANCHEZ: Also drawing the president's ire on Saturday, former FBI director James Comey, who has continued his media tour, promoting his new book, "A Higher Loyalty," a book that is disparaging of the president.

Trump on Saturday calling James Comey yet again a leaker who revealed classified information. The president also went further in his attacks on Democrats after news Friday that the DNC had filed a lawsuit that named members of Trump's campaign as well as Russians and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, suggesting that those three conspired to interfere in the 2016 election. The president mocking that lawsuit on Saturday -- Boris Sanchez, CNN, traveling with the president in West Palm Beach, Florida.

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VANIER: More than 1,000 people, including four former presidents, bid farewell to former U.S. first Lady Barbara Bush, who died at 92. She was remembered at her funeral on Saturday by family and friends, who called tough but loving, compassionate and funny.

First lady Melania Trump represented her husband. After the service eight of her grandsons carried her coffin. Her son, President George W. Bush, was right behind them, pushing her husband, his dad, President George H.W. Bush in a wheelchair. Ms. Bush was buried at her husband's presidential library, next to her daughter, Robin, who died when she was just 3.

Today we celebrate the planet that we all call home. Each year Earth Day shines a light on environmental problems and this year focuses on plastic pollution. It's a global problem and it's much, much more than just not recycling a water bottle.

Environmentalists say enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the Earth four times; 50 percent of it is used only once before being thrown away. Each year 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide and it can take anywhere from 500-1,000 years for plastic to decompose. Think about that before you throw a piece of plastic somewhere in nature.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is next. Stay with us.