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U.S. President and First Lady to Greet Former North Korean Prisoners; Iranians Fire Rockets at Israeli Territory; Plane With Ex- Prisoners Landing At Joint Base Andrews; Trump Greeting Prisoners Freed From North Korea. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired May 10, 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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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Isha Sesay.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): I'm John Vause. We are live in Los Angeles. Thanks for being with us.

SESAY: Our breaking news this hour, the return of three former prisoners, Americans released by North Korea just hours ago.

The U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to arrive at Joint Base Andrews in about 10 minutes from now. He'll be there to greet them. We'll have that live.

The White House believes the men's release is a gesture of goodwill by the North Koreans ahead of the planned summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. We're looking at the vice president now, that's the helicopter which he is arriving on, ahead of Donald Trump.

SESAY: Looking at pictures there for Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, just outside of Washington. The vice president soon to disembark. We expect the president, the first lady and the second lady to also be there to welcome these three Americans home.

VAUSE: Everybody from the White House will be there. This is a very unusual gesture by the White House. We know it's 2 o'clock in the morning there. But still the president was very adamant he wanted to be there. He was tweeting about the fact that he would be attending this arrival very early on Wednesday morning. And it seems, in many ways, is one of those made for television moments.

SESAY: It certainly is. It has to be said, this is a remarkable moment for the president ahead of the expected talks with Kim Jong-un, to have these three Americans released by Pyongyang, what really was quite suddenly. And to have them home supposedly from what we're hearing initially in relatively good condition.

VAUSE: And what we're also hearing is we now are hearing from the president, the stairs have come down.

We're also hearing from the U.S. President that a site has been decided for this summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump and there will be an announcement in about three days. We're told by the president on Wednesday that the site for these historic negotiations will not be the demilitarized zone as the president had sort of hinted that he'd like that idea but he changed his mind.

SESAY: What this moment, the release of these three, what it means for those talks, wherever they end up happening, is unclear. But what we can say is this is a good moment for this administration. It is a very good moment. It a very good moment for these families to be reunited with their loved ones.

VAUSE: We have three American detainees, who have spent about a year or so, maybe more, in some very difficult conditions there in North Korea, held on suspicion of hostile acts. Others who are detained on spying charges.

And so now we were told, according to Jeff Zeleny, who is there at Joint Base Andrews, we'll try and talk to Jeff in a moment, but these three men on the flight back have been sequestered. They've been kept separate from everybody else.

And their family, their relatives, their friends will not be at Joint Base Andrews, which is traditional protocol because they'll need to be debriefed and there will be psychological assessments of these three men.

Their physical health, they managed to walk onto the plane in Pyongyang and then be transferred to a medical plane in Japan. But, of course, they appear to be in good health but that's yet to be fully assessed.

SESAY: Indeed, they have been through a great deal. They themselves have put out a statement that we want to share with you. This is a statement that came during the stop in Alaska.

They said we would like -- let me interrupt and say there is the vice president there, as you see, disembarking from that aircraft at Joint Base Andrews, being welcomed by dignitaries and the second lady.

VAUSE: Keep in mind this is three minutes past 2:00 in the morning. And we have the vice president now turning up and, in a few minutes, following the vice president, will be U.S. president Donald Trump and the first lady, Melania.

And there will be a lot of ceremony here. Donald Trump promised quite a scene for the return of these three men; a giant American flag has been hoisted. The red carpet has been rolled out for what will be a very unusual homecoming, because we have seen detainees, Americans, who have been held in North Korea. We've seen them returned home before. Back in 2008, 2009, I think, was the most recent.

(CROSSTALK) VAUSE: -- Otto Warmbier who came home in very poor physical condition, later died. But the last time we had a situation similar to this, the U.S. president did not greet them.

SESAY: Yes. We can't overstate how unusual it is to have the president and the vice president and their spouses turn up at Joint Base Andrews in the middle of the night, effectively. It is very rare. But it is a big moment. And it is understandable that --

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SESAY: -- they would want to mark it, especially as this is an administration that has had a lot of bad headlines, you know, in recent months. This is good news. This is good news that they want to celebrate.

VAUSE: And everyone is saying this is an indication that Kim Jong-un is serious about negotiating an end to his nuclear program and his illicit missile program as well. So everything is tied together.

But there is another big story at this hour that we're following and that is the escalating tensions between Israel and Iran, playing out in a volatile exchange of missiles. Israel says Iran's Quds Force fired more than 20 rockets from Syria, targeting army outposts on the Golan Heights.

SESAY: It's the first time Israel has directly accused Iran of an attack and it didn't take long for the Israeli military to retaliate. A spokesman says the IDF hit dozens of Iranian targets in Syria.

VAUSE: Ian Lee is live for us this hour in Jerusalem. Fred Pleitgen is standing by in Tehran.

But, Ian, we'll start with you.

What's the latest now on these Israeli airstrikes?

Is it -- is it calm?

Is the situation calm now?

But what will come in the next few hours and the next few days?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, as day breaks here, the situation does appear to be calm. Very different from last night, when residents of the Golan were sent scrambling to bomb shelters as the night sky lit up with that exchange of fire.

Some of those targets hit up to dozens were Iranian intelligence sites, military sites, a base, an Iranian base north of Damascus. They also hit that rocket launcher that sent those over 20 missiles at Israel. And they also targeted Syrian anti-aircraft batteries that shot at the Israeli missiles that were used. This created the most tense situation on that border in years, really, this according to the military. But Israel's military says they don't want to escalate this situation.

We also heard from Russian president Vladimir Putin, calling for calm on both sides. And he does -- his voice does carry with both Iran and Israel, as both countries have good relations. Israel also saying that they coordinated their strikes with the Russians to make sure there wasn't any conflict there.

Right now, though, this is a country that is tense and waiting to see what happens, although Israeli authorities want to give an air of everything is back to normal, business as usual, schools are open and they're also telling farmers who work close to the border that they're allowed to go back to their fields.

view OK, Ian Lee, stay with us.

Fred Pleitgen, to you now. This is not the first time the Israeli military has gone after Iranian targets in Syria. This has been going on for months but this is the first time we've seen a military response like this from Iran. Many have noted it's the day after the U.S. president scrapped a nuclear deal and that timing is significant.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The timing is absolutely significant, John. It's interesting, though, when you're here in Tehran, there has been absolutely no reaction from the Iranians to this at all so far.

There is one right on the Pars news agency, simply acknowledging that there were Israeli airstrikes in Syria. It seems to indicate that they think those were just on those Syria, not saying that those were Iranian targets at all.

The Iranians not acknowledging that any of their positions were hit. The Iranians, quite frankly, have never acknowledged what sort of military capabilities they have in and around that area. We know the Iranians have been operating around the Aleppo area. They were fighting the anti-Assad rebels in those places.

But around the Damascus area, they do seem to have military capabilities south of Damascus but also north of Damascus, which is a highly militarized zone with the Syrian army there as well. But again, in this case, the Iranians have not come forward and said anything officially yet, which is not that unusual.

If we look at some of the skirmishes we've seen over the past couple of months, you're absolutely right to say that this is something that has been escalating and boiling, really, for the last couple of months. It has taken the Iranians usually a couple of hours, sometimes even a day to acknowledge first of all that something like that took place and then to come out with potential casualty numbers as well.

You remember the time that the Iranians flew a drone into Israeli airspace that led to that other major Israeli response, with several Israeli jets taking out almost half of the Syrian anti-aircraft capabilities. It took the Iranians there also several hours to come out and

acknowledge that one of their bases had been hit in retaliation and that also Iranian soldiers had been killed in those skirmishes as well.

So we're waiting to see what the response is going to be. So far there isn't any. But it is definitely highly significant that this comes just today after the United States pulled out of the nuclear agreement, which, of course, led to fierce reactions by the Iranians, first and foremost by Iran's supreme leader, ripping into U.S. President Trump but also other Iranian politicians coming forward, not just criticizing --

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PLEITGEN: -- the United States but, of course, also on the back of that, as usual criticizing Israel as well -- John.

VAUSE: Yes, it's a double act, I guess. Fred, thank you. Fred Pleitgen in Tehran and Ian Lee live for us in Jerusalem.

We're back to Joint Base Andrews, where we're still waiting for the U.S. president to arrive to greet these three detainees as they touch down -- there we have it, that gigantic American flag we were talking about is now hoisted as we await for the president to arrive.

And we're being told that on Marine One accompanying the president will be the first lady. Also the national security adviser, John Bolton. The first lady's chief of staff and press secretary, Sarah Sanders, all will be on Marine One. We also know that the vice president, Mike Pence, arrived just a few moments ago as well.

SESAY: Our own Jeff Zeleny from the White House is there at Joint Base Andrews.

Jeff, to bring you in here, give us a sense of the atmosphere. This is a moment that is one of joy for this administration. It is certainly a big victory for President Trump.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is a big moment, no question about it. The vice president, as you said, just arrived here a few moments ago, giving a thumbs-up as he was walking in, as he was arriving here on the scene. The president and first lady, as you said, are on their way here. Will be here momentarily.

Otherwise it is a crisp and cool evening here. It is a quiet evening. There are not going to be any family members of these freed Americans who will be on hand here, largely because none live in the area and they also have to be, you know, receiving some medical treatment and debriefing and other matters here.

So it's a political victory, no question. And it really is a huge milestone in this -- ongoing stages of diplomacy we're seeing the president, working with the -- setting up his historic summit next month with Kim Jong-un. So this is certainly a big piece of that. The president wants to be here on hand to see this through personally.

Very unusual for a U.S. president, of course, any president to be in the middle of the night for an arrival like this. But this president certainly has imagery in mind. And you can see that flag behind me here is certainly part of that.

VAUSE: Yes, Jeff, thank you. We'd like you to hang around for a little longer. Clearly the image of the gigantic flag is the image that the president wants. This is a historic moment. Please stay with us. We're expecting the U.S. president to arrive at any moment. We'll take a short break and we'll be back right after this.

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SESAY: We are standing by for the arrival of three former prisoners, Americans released from North Korea on Wednesday.

VAUSE: The U.S. President, Donald Trump, is set to arrive at the military base in Maryland to greet them. The vice president has already arrived.

Now just a short time ago, Donald Trump and the first lady did in fact leave the White House. They boarded Marine One for what is essentially a short flight there to Joint Base Andrews. As we say, they will join the vice president and his wife; also the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, national security adviser; John Bolton, who traveled to Joint Base Andrews ahead of the president with the vice president.

SESAY: Yes, indeed. The president giving us the first confirmation that this release was happening in a tweet on Wednesday where he expressed his joy that Mike Pompeo making his second trip to Pyongyang would be returning with these three Americans. And indeed, they are close to landing on U.S. soil and being reunited with their loved ones.

We must stress that their loved ones won't actually be at Joint Base Andrews due to protocol. And when the three Americans land, they will have to be debriefed and will spend some time with the president before heading to Walter Reed.

VAUSE: Sarah Sanders traveling with the president, not the vice president. My mistake.

Let's have Jeff Zeleny join us now. He is at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. We also have Ivan Watson standing by in Seoul.

Jeff, what has been notable throughout this entire exchange is the warming relations between the United States and North Korea, with Donald Trump personally thanking the North Korean leader for the release of these three men.

ZELENY: Extraordinary, certainly extraordinary, given the rhetoric that was only being announced some six months or so ago. John, I'll turn here. I can hear Marine One has landed in the distance here behind me at Joint Base Andrews. So the president and the first lady are aboard. They will be here in anticipation of the return of those three freed Americans.

Now this is something that the president has seen as a sign that North Korea, in his view, is willing to negotiate. They're willing to have serious conversations about their nuclear program here. This is something that the president and the administration, Secretary Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, of course, traveling, having a 90-minute meeting, extraordinary in its own right, with Kim Jong-un here.

So certainly this is a -- has all happened so fast. Again, if you think back six months ago or so, the president was calling Kim Jong-un "rocket man." He was certainly talking about sanctions, imposing sanctions.

Now this is a different moment in time. Certainly the stakes very high here. This does not predict an outcome. But it certainly suggests that there is going to be a conversation, a diplomatic conversation between these two countries unlike we have ever seen, in fact.

So the president, as I turn here, is coming up on Marine One. He lands here a lot. This, of course, is the joint air force base right outside Washington.

But John and Isha, this is a different moment for this president. He is very conscious of image. He is very conscious of the moment here. That's why he wants to be on hand in the overnight hours here to personally welcome home these three freed Americans.

SESAY: Jeff, we appreciate it. We're going to sit on these pictures for a moment. And we are being told that that is indeed Marine One there at the center of your screen. The president has touched down --

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SESAY: -- at Joint Base Andrews. We're going to stay with these pictures and wait for him to disembark along with the first lady. And as we mentioned, he is traveling with the national security adviser, John Bolton; press secretary Sarah Sanders and the first lady's chief of staff, Lindsay Reynolds.

VAUSE: It's interesting that John Bolton is the one who got to travel out with the president for this moment because obviously Pompeo, the secretary of state was in North Korea and brought them back. But it is Pompeo, the new secretary of state, and John Bolton, the new national security adviser, both men who are seen as hawks on North Korea, hawks on Iran as well. And they are the two men who will essentially playing a major role in this release of these three men. And they're there on hand as they arrive back in the United States.

SESAY: It is something of a heady start for Mike Pompeo, who was only just recently confirmed, taking over from Rex Tillerson --

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SESAY: -- and making another trip to Pyongyang and coming back with these three Americans. I mean, this is also coming the day after the U.S. pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, a move that generated no shortage of negative headlines for this administration around the world. But certainly this is a good news moment. This is a good news moment for this administration.

VAUSE: If Ivan Watson is with us, Ivan, just as we continue to watch Marine One there as the blades stop and we wait for the president and the first lady and security to leave the chopper and await for his arrival, what condition are these three men in?

What do we know about their health at this point?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All the information has come from the State Department thus far and from Mike Pompeo, the new secretary of state, who is briefing journalists on the journey back from Pyongyang.

He said they appeared to be in good health and pointed out they had been able to walk on their own upstairs.

Why is that so important, John and Isha?

That's because last year, when the North Koreans negotiated the release of another U.S. prisoner, the university student, Otto Warmbier, the American diplomat who greeted him in Pyongyang was shocked to discover that Warmbier was effectively in a coma. He had suffered some catastrophic brain injury, head injury, and was brought back home to the States and died shortly afterwards.

And it was a tragic case. So, of course, the concern of the medical circumstances of these other three U.S. prisoners, some of whom, Kim Dong-chul, he has been in North Korean custody since 2015, sentenced to 10 years of hard labor after being accused of espionage.

Certainly one of the big concerns is what kind of medical condition would they be in when they're released because the U.S. does not have diplomatic representation in Pyongyang. It is the Swedish embassy that is charged with trying to could connect with these prisoners. But the North Koreans notoriously do not offer much face-to-face time with these prisoners.

VAUSE: Thanks, Ivan. Just interrupting here because the president and the first lady are now on ground and awaiting the arrival.

SESAY: They have landed. They shall await their arrival. We know that the president will spend some time with the three men before they head off to Walter Reed for further medical checks.

You're not reading the time incorrectly. You're looking at the screens and you're saying, is that really 2:23 am on the East Coast?

Yes, it is effectively the middle of the night and that is the President of the United States.

VAUSE: This is not a president who I thought liked late nights. So this is very late night for Donald Trump.

SESAY: To that point, let's go to the White House because our own Boris Sanchez is there waiting for us.

Boris, we joke but it is almost 2:30 in the morning. The president has made the personal decision to go Joint Base Andrews to greet these three Americans. Give us a little bit of insight into the thinking on the part of the White House and the president's move to make this journey.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It just goes to show who Donald Trump is. He understands the power of the visual image, having a background not only in reality TV but also in branding. This is a significant moment in the history between these two nations.

And frankly, it is a concession by the North Koreans that this administration wants to point to as a victory. It is symbolically a victory for an administration that has historically had to be on the defensive when it comes to their approach to North Korea.

It wasn't very long ago that this administration was heavily criticized for the president's rhetoric in calling Kim Jong-un Little Rocket Man. We've come a long way since then. The administration has argued that that sort of rhetoric, that sort of tough posture is what has led North Korea to the table.

Some would argue this is play directly into Kim Jong-un's hands, that the North Koreans for a long time have wanted for a long time to sit across from the American president as a sign of --

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SANCHEZ: -- how elevated their country has become on the world stage.

Despite that, we understand that the summit is moving forward; two sources familiar with the matter telling CNN that officials have been told to prepare for a summit in Singapore in the near future. Today the president said that he would formally make the announcement within three days.

Sarah Sanders was asked about it during the press briefing today. She said that she had no formal announcements at that time but that something would be coming in the near future and that a city and date have been decided.

VAUSE: It now appears that the plane of the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, with the three men on board, has just touched down.

SESAY: Yes, indeed. So Mike Pompeo is now on the ground, as you saw that plane taxiing there.

Boris, to pick up on what you were saying -- no, let's stay with these pictures. VAUSE: What is interesting is the journey these men have taken. They

started out in Pyongyang, where they boarded Pompeo's plane out of North Korea. They then transferred in Japan to a Boeing C-40, which was outfitted with medical facilities for the trip back to the United States.

There was a refueling stop earlier in Alaska and then a 6:30:00 flight to Joint Base Andrews and there we have it right now. And on this flight, we're being told that these three men were sequestered away and they're with a psychiatrist for the trip as well.

SESAY: Yes, they sat in the middle of the plane and curtained off, is our understanding, because they have been through a great deal. There is no doubt about that. But the ordeal is at an end and they will shortly be reunited with their loved ones.

VAUSE: Jeff Zeleny, to you, it's 2:26 in the morning. The president is there. He knows this is a feel-good moment.

And there is some reporting out there that maybe Donald Trump believes that this success in the foreign policy field might be enough to distract attention away from the Robert Mueller investigation into Russia, the criminal investigation of his own personal attorney, the Stormy Daniels affair.

What sort of thinking there in the White House?

What have you heard?

ZELENY: There is no question that all of these weighty matters here are indeed giving the president something to focus on. As we were just watching the secretary of state's plane land, I can see it just going in the distance there, so extraordinary to point out that he is the brand-new secretary of state. Mike Pompeo just confirmed less than two weeks ago.

And already he is returning home from his second trip to see Kim Jong- un. That is significant in every respect. The president, of course, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal this week so significant. But the headlines here in the United States still have been about the Russia controversy, largely because the president fuels that himself, largely because of all of these developments, of course, with his long-time lawyer and fixer.

The Mueller investigation is indeed alive and well. But the White House officials and supporters of the president actually hope he can focus on something substantive like the release of these three Americans and indeed this diplomacy here.

It is something that could actually lift the president. It is something that could certainly help him here at home. But so significant it's a split-screen presidency, no question about it. But this here in the early morning hours of Washington is something very real and something he wants to be involved in.

He knows optics, as we've been saying. And that explains the flag behind me here and it explains why he is here -- John.

SESAY: Jeff Zeleny, we appreciate it again. --

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SESAY: Go ahead, Jeff.

ZELENY: And I was also just going to say I think the next three weeks are going to be a key moment in this presidency. Yes, there are developments in the Mueller investigation; every hour it seems, every day it seems.

But what happens with the historic summit could shape this president's legacy and presidency. And he has been saying that he is certainly willing to walk away from a meeting. But he is very keen on having this happen.

So some White House officials I speak to hope he is not too eager to make a deal here. So it is something that he has never been involved with, anything like this. It's extraordinary to think that, you know, for all the hot rhetoric that he was engaging in, perhaps that was strategy, perhaps not.

But this is a historic three weeks to come here before the meeting in Singapore likely in June. And as I turn here, we can still see the plane that is certainly making a long journey here. So we'll be seeing another plane here shortly -- John and Isha.

[02:30:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: And thanks to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. If you're just joining us, if you're just tuning in, we're closely watching right now is the scene playing at Joint Base Andrews. The plane you see touching down and taxiing at the moment that is the plane of the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and that is now arrived back from North Korea. There is another plane yet to touchdown. It is a medical plane, a C-40 which is now carrying these three American detainees and as you have just (INAUDIBLE) we're expecting that flight to arrive at any moment.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes. Boris Sanchez, to you there at the White House just only, you know, making the point at the next three weeks they are going to be very important for this administration as we look ahead to the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. I'm just wondering from where you are, what you are hearing in terms of just preparation on the part of the president for that eventual meeting with Kim Jong-un?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not exactly clear at this point specifically how President Trump is preparing for this summit with Kim Jong-un, Isha. We can imagine some of what the discussion will be though with the priorities are at least on the American side. There is the question of the definition of denuclearization. That is, are we going to see independent monitors be able to enter North Korea? Will Kim Jong-un essentially relinquish his ability to create nuclear weapons and ultimately how will the North Koreans respond to what they're seeing play out with what's happening in Iran? We should point out this isn't simply happening in a vacuum. Many would say that it's not a coincidence that the president is gearing up for this summit as he exits the Iran nuclear deal, you know, will we see this president try to use that as leverage to try to pressure Kim Jong-un to essentially try to make a stronger deal than he would have otherwise? There's so plenty of questions ahead. But one thing that we must state is that this is a president who firmly believes in interpersonal relationships. He is undoubtedly a salesman and he believes that if he gets in a room with Kim Jong-un, he could sort of charm him and sway him to seeing things his way, Isha and John.

VAUSE: The whole issue of other relationship, you know, that's very important to Donald Trump, you know, he judges people by how they treat him and how he interacts with them, and it seems to be his, you know, he hopes to have this rapport with Kim Jong-un. Boris, I just want -- Boris, it is also tonight nearly morning hours at Joint Base Andrews, we're seeing the presence of the National Security Advisor, John Bolton. It was John Bolton during a previous administration who essentially created a previous deal with the North Koreans over their nuclear program. This is a man who was previously said that he believes a regime change by military means if necessary is the only solution for -- in dealing with a country like North Korea. I'm just curious what his presence here and all these negotiations, you know, how that will be viewed by the North Koreans and how much of influence -- how much influence here he's having on the president?

SANCHEZ: Well, it's unclear to what degree he might be able to influence the president. Let's keep in mind Donald Trump is somebody who is single-minded and really not necessarily driven by the opinions of his advisors as we've seen on a number of issues. What is clear is that John Bolton with his hardline view lends certain credibility if you will to any deal that might be struck with North Korea in a sort of, you know, Nixon and China sense. If there's anybody that can make a deal with one's enemy would be someone who holds a strong position against them. So to some degree, you argue that he lends a certain amount of credibility and if there's anyone that is going to press the North Koreans for the sorts of things that we were just discussing whether it would be access by independent monitors or full denuclearization, that is, ending the nuclear program in a way that would inhibit Kim Jong-un from simply flicking his fingers and restarting it from one day to the next. It would be someone like John Bolton and to be fair, some of his views clearly aligned with President Trump's in ways that other figures within this administration be it H. R. McMaster or Rex Tillerson. Those no longer around, they didn't necessarily bind to the president's vision that way and John Bolton has sort of been aligned with President Trump in that way for some time.

SESAY: Boris, we appreciate it. Stand by first as we look at these pictures of the Secretary of State's plane landing there. As John, you see the doors of the aircraft being opened and a short from now, we will of course see Mike Pompeo who has really been jet setting around the world.

VAUSE: The essentially minted Secretary of State still, you know, went behind the ears you could say beyond his job a couple of weeks. But obviously, he has a lot of experience from his time as CIA Director.

SESAY: Yes. It has been quite the whirlwind and a second trip to Pyongyang and I mean the first one we didn't -- he wasn't even Secretary of State. He was with the CIA when he went and he goes on the second trip manages to get a 90-minute chat with Kim Jong-un. We understand that they hammered out more details. There you have it.

[02:35:01] VAUSE: Is that the Secretary of State? It looks like him.

SESAY: That is indeed Mike Pompeo descending those steps there at Joint Base Andrews. A lot of energy for 2:34 in the morning after all the traveling he has done. He has been halfway around the world, but it is a good moment because he has come home with victory American --

(CROSSTALK)

VAUSE: He comes back with success. He comes back with three Americans who have been separated from their families for a year or more who were facing a very bleak future there, imprisoned in North Korea on various charges, you know, of, you know, essentially conspiring against the state. It was not looking good for those three Americans.

SESAY: And we got Jeff Zeleny who's there at Joint Base Andrews. I mean, Jeff, as we look at these pictures of the Secretary of State, I mean --

VAUSE: Bounding off the plane.

SESAY: Bounding off the plane. I mean just give a few some context as to the around the world journey this man has been on.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly has been an around the world journey and he's a very new Secretary of State. He was just confirmed a couple weeks ago. Of course, he's the former Director of the CIA, so he certainly has become one of the president's closest advisors here. But he's largely new on the world diplomatic scene here, and, boy, does he have a task on his hands. He is the only American diplomat at that level to have a face-to-face meeting, a meeting of any kind with Kim -- with Kim Jong-un that happened twice that he met for about 90 minutes as you said just on Wednesday there, so this is going to pave the way. We saw still photographs of them smiling, shaking hands that something would have been unthinkable, you know, only a few weeks and even months ago here. But I'm told the Secretary of State now is going to be going inside.

He'll be meeting with the president of course giving him a full report, the vice president as well. And the other plan carrying the freed Americans is about 15 minutes or so behind the secretary's plane. It's a medical plane in some respects. As we look here over to the side, all eyes are keeping an eye on the sky here to see if a plane will be landing. But it will be coming at some point soon. But Secretary Pompeo is the key player here in this potential historic summit with Kim Jong-un and we're watching Secretary Pompeo's. I turn away from the camera here get off the -- via bus here. He looks no worse for the wear. I can tell you after being on that plane for so long, but that's what Secretaries of States do. They travel around the world. And this one certainly has a monumental journey, but still a big task ahead.

We should point out indeed or obligation to point out that the fact that they are having meeting certainly is a sign that history will be made in terms of a summit with the president and the North Korean leader, but that does not guarantee an outcome. There are still -- we are at the very beginning of this process and it's certainly striking when you take into account what happened this week, the president scrapping one nuclear plan that he inherited in favor of trying to create one on his own with North Korea, but so many challenges here. But as I look beyond the distance there, I can see Secretary Pompeo going in to meet with the president, so they'll be doing that even as all eyes are on the sky here for the arrival of the plane which appears to be coming momentarily, John.

VAUSE: OK. Jeff, we'll ask you to standby for a moment, of course, you know, for nine minutes or so until this medical plane, the C-40 -- Boeing C-40 arrives at Joint Base Andrews. We're going to take a short break. A lot more news and of course we continue to cover the arrival of these three American detainees as they come back from a North Korean prison.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:40:43] SESAY: Welcome back everyone. AS you join us, you are looking at that aircraft landing at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. That aircraft -- aboard that aircraft rather are three Americans recently freed by North Korea. A remarkable moment as they touchdown on U.S. soil.

VAUSE: They were released after the U.S. President Donald Trump officially requested that of the North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un who granted them amnesty and then Donald Trump personally thanked North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un for the released of these three Americans who been -- who've been detained there in North Korea for, you know, over a year in some cases. Let's go to Philip Yun because he was a North Korean Advisor during the Clinton administration. And so Philip as we watched this plan arrive and we know the three are there onboard. This thing has been the most tangible gesture so far that the North Koreans are serious when it comes to these upcoming negotiations.

PHILIP YUN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AND CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: Yes. I think it's a very good sign. I think one of the things that we have to do with North Korea is not get too high and not get too low. We've been through this before in many ways, but success -- if success is going to happen, this is what it's going to look like. As we've been hearing earlier, a lot of it is going to depend on the summit and where it goes, and most people have to remember that six months -- six months ago, tensions were really high and if this summit doesn't work for some reason they can't bridge this gap over denuclearization, we're going to be right back to where we were six months ago. So that's something that people have to remember. That's why there's a lot, you know, it's a high stakes here. The

other thing I just want to point out just push back a tiny bit here, you know, it's great that these hostages are back. The detainees are back. I feel grateful, great for their families. But, you know, the other thing we have to realize is that there have been 13 other U.S. detainees since 1996. One Kenneth Bae had been in captivity for almost two years as well. And so again, this is something the North Koreans have done. They have used shamelessly the hostages in many ways as bargaining chips. So again, I'm not saying that this is not a good sign, this is not a joyous moment for us to celebrate, but we just have to put a perspective.

[02:44:59] VAUSE: And we also have to remember that there are South Koreans and there are Japanese citizens also being held --

YUN: Exactly.

VAUSE: -- by the North Koreans, and there is no sign, no indication that they will be released (INAUDIBLE). Philip, we would like you to stay with us as we continue this coverage.

YUN: Sure

SESAY: Yes, indeed.

YUN: Sure.

SESAY: This is for more perspective. Phillip, we thank you. John Delury joins us now to also help us analyze what will looking at. And John, I mean, you heard Phillip say, "You don't get too high, you don't get too low when you're dealing with North Korea." That this is an important moment, but, you know, the North Koreans are known to exploit the hostages and prisoners. What's your view on the significance of Kim Jong-un releasing these three Americans right now?

JOHN DELURY, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, YONSEI UNIVERSITY GRADUATE SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Yes, I would agree with that assessment. This is very positive. You can't but see it as a positive development. Obviously, it's great for these men and for their loved ones. But we do need to separate this goodwill gesture, which is essentially what it is from a North Korean perspective, you know, from the high stakes diplomacy that's work here.

So, you know, I do think we have to celebrate this moment. But also, you know, once we can welcome these gentlemen back to the United States, the focus because right back to the really tough security and denuclearization issues that we're facing.

VAUSE: And again, John, much like through, we like you to stand by as we continue our coverage here. Jeff Zeleny, our White House correspondent is also there at Joint Base Andrews. So, Jeff, explain to us what will happen next after this plane, the taxis, and stops. What will be the places for, or what are we expected to see?

ZELENY: Well, it's certainly is going to be a choreographed moment here. We can hear the plane, and I will turn, we can see the plane slowly taxing behind me. But what is going to happen? I'm told, the president and likely the vice president, and perhaps, the secretary of state as well.

But certainly, the president first and foremost will be boarding that plane, and then, we'll be meeting at least briefly with this freed Americans. And then, we'll all be exiting the plane together. And that will be happening again, against the backdrop of this giant American flag that's rippling in the breeze here on this early morning just outside Washington.

So, again, imagery is something that's president is very aware of and certainly finds important. So, the fact that he will board the plane certainly is the detail that, that is an important one here. And then, he may speak here as well. That's not a confirmed, the White House expects him to speak but we'll see how that -- see how that plays out.

I can tell you for all the anticipation here, for all of the -- you know, the anxiety, this is a largely an event that's happening and it still of the night. There are about 200 or 250 photographers and reporters and others here. And some military officials who worked on the base. Otherwise, it is very quiet. There are no bands, there is no music. But certainly, the noise of the airplane you can hear behind me.

But it is that image, that picture, the president certainly wants that he believes is a key step in moving along diplomatic relations with North Korea. Of course, we will see how all that unfolds but if you see the plane, perhaps, can here at behind me here. We are just a short time away from the president boarding that plane. And it taking another step in what is really been a dramatic and unprecedented week in American history with this president, John.

SESAY: And Jeff, just to say with you just for a moment. This administration, this president has made a great point of stressing that it is a maximum pressure campaign that has change North Korea's calculations. That has basically, led to this opening up if you will. But then, there are others who say that if anything there's concerns at this administration a little too eager to get a deal with North Korea at all costs.

I wonder what the -- what the pushback is from President Trump and all this White House officials to that charge that, you know, they are little too eager to do a deal. And that there are those who can -- who fear that now that they've released this three Americans, that will be -- that will be even more so the case.

ZELENY: Look, I mean, they basically, say that he knows how to do a deal. They said that he know to how to build personal relationships, he's not sure it's going to work, he's not sure that this will ultimately result in the denuclearization, but they certainly, are going to try it. Now, you can see what's happening behind me here. All sort of set the scene for you, the government plane, of course. The stairs are being driven up at -- to it -- the photographers were in place. And just in a short time, ones the stairs get there, we do believe the president will be walking right -- you know, just a few feet from us here. And is going to be the first to greet them on American soil here at Joint Base Andrews, just outside Washington, D.C.

[025016] VAUSE: Yes.

ZELENY: So, certainly, a moment here, but there is a lot of criticism in some regards. Certainly, praise for the president for getting these Americans freed. But is he using this image we're about to see here -- you know, for purposes -- it's quite unusual for a president to be here, certainly. This three have been through a horrific ordeal here, and they are about to become photo opportunity here, as well. So, an unusual evening, morning here.

VAUSE: With that -- absolutely, we that about, let's get back to Philip here, who've -- you know, (INAUDIBLE) during the Clinton administration. So, Philip, you know, this is unusual for a U.S. president to turn up at -- you know, 2:30 in the morning, it's now 2:50 in the morning here at Joint Base Andrews to greet -- you know these detainees, you know, firsthand moments after they touched down back home. So, it just explains the unusual (INAUDIBLE) to all of this, and your thought on -- you know, why Donald Trump is doing this, and how this is such a break from tradition?

YUN: Well, this is, Donald Trump is a T.V. -- you know, T.V. moment for him. If nothing else, he knows how to get a lot of publicity, how to believe a lot of drama. You had -- his -- the lead up to all of this has been teasers all the way through in Twitter. So, this is very consistent with what he does.

And as we said earlier, this is pretty unusual, I mean, we've had former presidents comeback with former, you know, former detainees as well. President Clinton did we had former CIA, head of intelligence Clapper, bring back some people as well. None of this fanfare at all, it's usually much more a low key. So this is unusual but, you know, that's President Trump. He's done everything differently and -- you know, this is the way -- the way it's happening.

I might only concern that it builds up to mention which sort of expectations and certain ways as to what is possible. And that's something we have to guard against. This is not mean, where you kind to get a deal. It's going to take a little while.

VAUSE: Well, just explain the protocol, no families, no friends at this arrival. These men are being kept in isolation for the flight back. That been -- so, why is that?

YUN: Well, you know, it's not clear. Maybe this was something that happened -- you know, very quickly and they weren't able to give -- bring people here. It's hard for me to tell right now. My understanding was this was in the works for a while.

VAUSE: Yes.

YUN: And so, if they wanted to have family there, they could have been there. And so, I'm little --

VAUSE: So, they say it's political.

YUN: Yes, it's a little -- it's a little unusual. I would think the family would want to be there greeting them. I mean, you think about what happened very publicly with the POW/MI -- you know, POW's who came back home from Vietnam. It was an amazing moment when they came off the plane and they greeted their loved ones. So, I'm just not sure what to make of all these quite frankly.

SESAY: Yes. So, hope for your standby. All right, let's taken these pictures. You see the president and the first lady, and the vice president, and current Pence, the second lady there. And Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state walking a short distance behind the two couples. I understanding as they're making their way to that aircraft, the aircraft with the three Freed Americans that they just touch down at Joint Base Andrews. That they will actually board the plane as I understanding.

VAUSE: Now, here's the question now, ones they get onboard this plane, how long does he spend with these three men. You know, what do they, sort of, will talk about? How long is this meeting going to be? You know, and when do they emerge from that meeting for I guess, for the world to see.

SESAY: Yes, President Trump, with Melania Trump, the first lady there. This is the big moment and some would say, this is his biggest from far see victory so far coming just the day after they pulled out at the Iran nuclear deal but this will generate very different headlines for the president.

VAUSE: It's a whiplash. We are thinking on parts happened in the Iran nuclear deal, you know, this was the last 24, 48 hours and now there's complete opposite moment. This moment of a -- from a moment to celebrate from these three Americans arriving now.

SESAY: And let's just tell you about the three Americans that we are awaiting to see when they get off that plane. Let's give you a little bit of background. Three hostages freed from North Korea. Kim dong- chul was arrested in 2015 on spying charges. He'd begun serving a decade-long sentence of hard labor. And North Korean official tell CNN that he had confessed to espionage.

The second of the three is Kim Sang-duk, also known as Tony Kim, was taken at Pyeongyang airport last year accused of trying to overthrow the government. And third of these three men and North Korea's state- run news agency has says, Kim Hak-song, withheld on suspicion of "hostile acts". He's a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born in China, and he's ethnically, Korean. So those are the three men, two of them were arrested after Mr. Trump took office last year. And the last of the three was taken -- was taken as prisoner and die into Obama presidency.

[02:55:22] VAUSE: And again, you have -- you have to question the credibility of the charges and the validity of what this man done, and obviously, they were -- you know, targets of opportunity, it seems many would safe to the North Korean regime and done any wrong. But, because of their passport they were nabbed, they were grabbed, and then, they were used as bargaining chips, but at least now they're free.

SESAY: Just only is to witness there at Joint Base Andrews. And Jeff, as we look at the first lady and the president, and Mike Pence and his wife approach that plane, just again, just give us some context again of this moment that we're looking at. They're going to get on that plane, do we know anything more after they go up those steps as to what the conversation will look like and how long it will last?

ZELENY: You know, we do not expect it to be a long conversation, of course. I mean, talk about the ordeal and just the long flight, of course, that these three freed Americans have had, but the president and first lady ascended the stairs. As you could see, the vice president, and Mrs. Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo standing at the base of the stairs. They are to greet them, and boy, I can tell you, the crowd that is greeting them are photographers, quite frankly. Dozens are released -- a couple of dozen photographers with their cameras all trained toward the shot with the flag behind them.

This is what the president and the White House indeed want. The shot they believe is say -- you know, if not the first chapter, perhaps, the second chapter, and what they hope will be real diplomacy with North Korea.

But significant that First Lady Melania Trump, came with the president this evening. She doesn't always travel with him and do things with him, but this is a moment that certainly -- you know, her, a grace, and touches is certainly appreciated, and in necessary. So, the president, we believe will speak briefly with them on the plane. It's certainly is up to him how long he stays on there. And then, we're told they will descend the plane and then he is expected possibly to make remarks here.

And I can also tell you that there is a bus for the Walter Reed Medical Center that is like to take this three gentlemen for evaluation, of course. So, one thing I'm struck by, you probably can't see on camera here is all of the airmen who are based here also recording this moment of history on their iPhones. Every phone that I can see and a big camera is trained on to this plane here.

This really is something extraordinary we've not seen anything like it, a U.S. president greeting these freed Americans here. Again, it's one step in this -- what could be historic diplomacy but certainly, an early step.

VAUSE; Yes, Jeff, what is interesting is in the past, like when Donald Trump, went to Las Vegas after that -- you know, the mass shooting there. He met with the first responders, the medical workers. And that video has quickly turned into a campaign. So, star video which they put out on social media, we saw something similar, we went to -- you know, it takes us during the hurricanes there. How student will it be before we see this images turn around and -- you know, put out on social media by the president as some kind of -- you know, a campaign message.

ZELENY: I expect that before the sun rises, you will see something like that.

VAUSE: Right.

ZELENY: Without question, I mean, that is just a fact of life in -- you know, the social media time, certainly, this president, -- you know, certainly aware of the images. So. I expect his campaign to mention it, and he certainly will share this message.

The question I think in deeper way is -- you know, what happens when that meeting takes place with Kim Jong-un? Is he going to be able to -- you know, negotiate something lasting? You know, the Iran nuclear deal which was dismantled this week was -- you know, years in making. So, this is had the very beginning rode of this. But it clearly is something that this president wants to do.

Now, as I -- as I look behind here, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo standing almost attention, of course, he graduated at the top of his class in the West Point. As this president always says, he must be exhausted after his journey here. But he and the vice president and Mrs. Pence are indeed waiting and watching as we can see.

Everyone is wondering when they will come off and when they will walk down those steps of the plane there. But certainly, the president and first lady having a moments with these three Americans.

[02:59:59] SESAY: Well, there -- Jeff's only there for us at Joint Base Andrews just joining us with coming up to top of the hour midnight here on the West Coast. 3:00 a.m. We're approaching on the East Coast of the United States. Then, if you just joining us, you are looking at the aircraft carrying these recently freed Americans, freed from North Korean prisons. They have now touched down on U.S. soil, aboard that aircraft, the U.S. president and the First Lady Melania Trump who made the journey from Washington, from the White House to Joint Base Andrews to personally welcome them home.