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President Trump Cancels Summit with North Korean's Kim Jong-un; North Korea Issued a Statement Overnight Calling the Vice President a Political Dummy. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 24, 2018 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I don't want to prejudice those conversations, et cetera. That was an interesting point there and a key one. I think really the key question for --

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

SCIUTTO: For many officials but also for many Americans following these talks.

HARLOW: Absolutely. When asked if the U.S. would demand permanent denuclearization, the response from the secretary of State that is certainly our objective, but saying that he doesn't want to interfere with any potential future negotiations with North Korea, as you point out, Jim, leaving the door open, you know, that this summit could happen down the road, though not at this point.

One other interesting and important fact when Senator Menendez asked are we safer as a country, are we stronger or weaker after walking away from this summit, Pompeo said America was ready, President Trump was ready for the summit.

Much more of our breaking news as President Trump has canceled that expected summit with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un set to take place in just a few of weeks. Much more after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

[10:35:06] HARLOW: Back with our breaking news, President Trump has just written a letter to Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, canceling the June 12th expected summit in Singapore and warning, warning North Korea with very strong language, talking about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have been used.

Also we've just learned from our Kaitlan Collins' reporting at the White 2House that the president made this final decision to cancel the summit this morning. This is after North Korea issued a statement overnight that infuriated the president calling the vice president a political dummy, and threatening nuclear confrontation with the United States.

Let's go straight to our Christiane Amanpour, our chief international correspondent.

And Christiane, you were just listening to the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testify in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, read this letter in full to them. He is the one who has had these two recent meetings with Kim Jong-un, laying the groundwork for what was going to be this historic summit.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, this all started to come unstuck when Kim Jong-un started to get angry about the joint military exercises that were going on in the Korean peninsula between South Korea and the United States. And then it kept ratcheting it up because then you had a National Security adviser Pompeo and also the vice president talking about Libya models and I guess there is nothing that enrages the North Koreans more and they've said it many, many years that we are not Libya, we are not Iraq. In other words, we don't give up our weapons in order then to be overthrown, killed, decimated, et cetera.

So that clearly was the sort of heart of what really sort of started to get Kim Jong-un in a tizzy about this. And I think that's what's interesting about President Trump's letter is that it says what it says as you have read out, but what it does is directly address Kim Jong-un. It directly potentially puts him in a corner and potentially puts his back against a wall. And it is going to be very, very interesting to see Kim Jong-un's next moves because he has in fact given the most, as the president rightly said, we gave up nothing for this meeting, they have agreed to stop nuclear tests, they have agreed to stop ballistic missile tests, they have agreed to this, that and the other.

And now you have Will Ripley saying that they witnessed the -- at least some kind of explosions around the entrance of the tunnels, we don't exactly know how far it went or what exactly it was. Some buildings on that site also were blown up. But they've done it publicly, only now to have this meeting canceled. So we're going to have to watch really, really careful what is the next move from the North Koreans because in the letter that Donald Trump sent, in the statements from Pyongyang overnight, it's almost back to that sort of military confrontational attitude.

HARLOW: Right. The fire and fury rhetoric not so long ago from the president.

Christiane -- yes.

AMANPOUR: Simply to say, I know from interviews I've done that Kim Jong-un and the North Koreans have been desperate to get to President Trump. They want these meetings. They actually want to have these negotiations. And they concluded that it would never happen if Secretary Tillerson was still in office because he obviously, clearly, patently didn't have a meeting of the minds or good relationship with President Trump. So they had concluded that there was no option as long as Secretary Tillerson was there. And so they hoped that there would be a better chance for these negotiations with the new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Of course he's the only senior U.S. official who has met with Kim Jong-un. HARLOW: Christiane, indeed, thank you, and stay with me. The

sequence of this event is important as well. You'll recall it was just, you know, less than 48 hours ago in this meeting in front of cameras with South Korean President Moon Jae-in that the president guaranteed Kim Jong-un's safety, his safety leading the regime if indeed a deal were struck. Then overnight this statement from North Korea which reads in part, "We can also make the U.S. taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined up until now."

And our Kaitlan Collins reporting rhetoric like that was the last straw for the White House. The president decided this morning to cancel the summit.

Let's go to our Ivan Watson, he is live in Seoul, South Korea. And again this is less than 48 hours after you had President Moon Jae-in of South Korea at the White House, trying to work with President Trump on all of this, making it happen.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And we're still trying to get some comment from the South Korean government, some reaction to this. I would interpret this as a bit of a devastating blow to the South Korean President Moon Jae-in who had his own summit with Kim Jong-un at the end of last month in which he described it as basically a stepping stone to the anticipated, much anticipated and now canceled President Trump-Kim Jong-un summit that had been scheduled for Singapore on June 12th.

[10:40:03] And one of his top advisers told journalists as President Moon was flying to Washington to sit down face-to-face with President Trump in the White House on Tuesday, that he was 99 percent sure that the Singapore-U.S.-North Korea summit would in fact take place. Now it has been canceled.

So a big blow to the South Koreans and just another sign of the incredible rollercoaster that the Korean peninsula, that this region has been through, in the last six months, where you've gone from North Korea firing a missile, what it says was its most powerful ballistic intercontinental ballistic missile as recently as last November, a nuclear test, its most powerful and sixth nuclear test last September to suddenly Olympic diplomacy between North and South Korea during the Winter Olympics here in South Korea, and then this succession of meetings, face-to-face between North and South Koreans, then bringing the U.S.

Then think about this, Kim Jong-un has been in power six years and he has only made two trips out of the country and that was in the last couple of months, to China. He had two visits from Mike Pompeo as CIA director and then as secretary of State. So the whiplash here of going from missile test and nuclear tests to potentially historic U.S.-North Korean leader between meeting between leaders that has now been canceled, it's extraordinary. And you've had euphoria here in South Korea with people reportedly buying up land along the demilitarized zone, anticipating peace to break out.

And companies anticipating cross-demilitarized zone trade perhaps opening up in the future. So this is going to be a big blow to hopes here on the Korean peninsula that a state of war that has been in place since 1953 could maybe come to an end and with the U.S. stepping back now, those chances have greatly diminished.

HARLOW: Ivan, the summit is canceled. The door is not closed though given what the president wrote in this letter saying if you change your mind, having to do with this important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just testifying moments ago on Capitol Hill, I'm still optimistic that we will reach that point. I know the president is, too, asked whether this summit may go forward at a later date.

Much more of this breaking news straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:46:59] HARLOW: Welcome back to our breaking news. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. As we are following what has been an incredibly significant warning, President Trump has withdrawn from the planned summit with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un.

With me for analysis, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, our military analyst, and David Sanger, CNN political and national security analyst, also with "The New York Times."

And David, let me begin with you. You and I spoke earlier this week about a huge piece that you wrote on where these talks stand, the president's mindset, how he's preparing for this summit. As you read this letter from the president, a very polite letter at the open, but then a clear threat and flexing of military might and strength in the middle of this letter to Chairman Kim, what is your takeaway?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you'll remember when we talked, Poppy, earlier we have learned over the weekend that the president was growing increasingly nervous about this summit because of what the North Koreans said last week. So this showed that as the week went on, he got more and more concerned that it would be politically embarrassing to him if they went, they had the summit, they didn't come out with very much.

But secondly, I think it revealed that the president wasn't really prepared to go deal with a country that fundamentally wasn't interested in the trade that has always worked for him in the past. Real estate wide and in previous negotiations, which was the offer, which he said, just again yesterday, the day before, that the North Koreans would get rich coming out of this.

So the North Koreans would like to get rich, but only after they're completely assured of their security. And I think that they became convinced that if they had to give up everything up front, which is what Mr. Bolton kept saying, what the president kept saying until two days ago, that their assurance of security was gone.

HARLOW: But you know -- you know, David, just on --

SANGER: Just going to have to find a way to provide that. HARLOW: Just on that point, you know, the president less than 48

hours ago guaranteed Kim's safety. I mean, he said he will be safe. If we reach a deal, he will be safe. Then it was overnight last night that North Korea came out with a statement calling the vice president a political dummy, more significantly saying that we can make sure the U.S. tastes an appalling tragedy it neither experienced nor even imagined up until now. So the president was making a lot of guarantees that would ring nicely in Kim Jong-un's ears.

SANGER: He was saying things that sounded good to the North Koreans, but the fact of the matter is the North Koreans have never trusted the United States. They haven't before, during and after the Korean War, and the mere presidential proclamation of security doesn't mean much to them. I mean, remember, Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama all said various forms of if we can come to an accord, you have to reason to worry that we'll try to overthrow your regime.

HARLOW: So, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, your perspective on this.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: This is very interesting. I think there is a lot going on behind the scenes inside North Korea that we might not have a good read on.

[10:50:02] I was struck early on, I think many people were struck with how willing the North Koreans appeared to be making concessions early on. You know, as we've talked, you know, the North Koreans proposed these meetings and they offered for the denuclearization, they offered that the Americans continue their exercise, so there was no need to withdraw American forces -- all things that were preconditions in the past for any kind of an agreement.

I think the North Koreans were willing to give that up. So I thought that was kind of strange. And then over the last few weeks, as we got closer to the summit, the North Koreans started walking that back. And I have to wonder, why did -- what is causing Kim Jong-un to walk this back? Did he go too far? Are there other power forces inside North Korea?

We always regard him as the dictator, the one guy in charge. But he's got other power constituencies he has to answer to. Among those being the military. And I could tell you these generals being told that you're no longer going to have your nuclear arsenal, you're not going to have the best weapons that we've ever developed. We're going to take those away to make the deal with the Americans.

2HARLOW: Yes.

FRANCONA: I don't think that sat well with his army.

HARLOW: So to your point, Lieutenant Colonel, Mike Pompeo testifying on the Hill right now, secretary of State, was just asked, according to Phil Mattingly in the room, just asked if the shift in tone from Kim has something to do with internal strife or problems with his leadership? The secretary of State answered by saying, quote, I don't think he's a weak leader. In fact, he has demonstrated an enormous capacity to lead his team.

David Sanger, that sounds like language very much trying to leave the door open here?

SANGER: He is trying to leave the door open but it's also clear from the people who went with Secretary Pompeo to Pyongyang on these trip, the one where they brought back the three Americas. That the North Koreans were nervous about going to do this in Singapore, an American allied state, obviously at a heart of Asian capitalism, number one. And number with, I think the North Koreans never signed on to the concept that this would not be step for step.

And you know, you heard from Kim Jong-un and others consistently that there would not be unilateral disarmament. In other words, the United States was going to have to give something up as well. And as far as we know and we don't know everything, we don't know what Secretary Pompeo said in the privacy of the room with Kim Jong-un. But we have no indication that the United States was willing to do things of a significant nature that would take away our ability to hit North Korea with nuclear weapons or other forces in the region. And I think in the end, Kim just wasn't ready to swallow that.

HARLOW: David Sanger, thank you. Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, appreciate the analysis.

Much more on this breaking news. Again tithe summit canceled between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, cancelled by the president of the United States. Much more after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:56:57] HARLOW: Back with our breaking news. President Trump has canceled the expected summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. What was expected to be a historic moment for the world, frankly.

Let's go to our Jim Sciutto, our national security correspondent.

And Jim, I know you've been speaking with your sources in the administration, what are they saying to you about sort of how finite this cancellation is, meaning is the door still open in their view?

SCIUTTO: In short, yes. I spoke to a senior administration a short time ago who said that the door is still open if conditions change. And that's key here. The president had some of that language in his letter, you'll remember the line here that it is inappropriate at this time to have this long planned meeting, qualified in that way. But again for that to change, for there to be a summit, really the conditions do have to change including some of the distance they have on the key issues.

HARLOW: Also, Jim, you know, we heard some very significant testimony from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo answering a lot of key questions from the ranking Democrat, Senator Menendez, but also saying, look, I don't want to interfere too much with these ongoing negotiations in terms of directly answering all that you're asking. But he did indicate that this was not just overnight. SCIUTTO: No.

HARLOW: They were having some really significant challenges in the last few days.

SCIUTTO: That's right. He teed it up there, he said that they were not getting answers to inquiries over the last several days. Here is secretary of State who met twice with the North Koreans in the last month or so, came out of those meetings feeling good, the president said so. President said that the North Korean side had been honorable, but apparently Secretary of State Pompeo saying that in the last few days as they get to the final stages of planning for this summit, they weren't even getting answers to the questions, let alone reaching an agreement.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: On some of these key issues. And that's concerning. And that could, you know, works with what I've been told by a senior administration official that, yes, the approximate cause of this cancellation were those words about Mike Pence, calling him -- you know, speaking about him in terms that made the president angry.

HARLOW: Political dummy.

SCIUTTO: But there were -- exactly, but there were other concerns in recent days and weeks not getting answers to those key questions, the distance the two parties have on the key issues that really laid the groundwork for this cancellation.

HARLOW: Yes. And Jim, just briefly, we will see the president next hour. He's going to be at a signing ceremony later today at a Medal of Honor ceremony. You can expect that this is something the president may have something to say about.

SCIUTTO: That's right. Absolutely. Will he say, for instance as we were just saying here, will he say, listen, I'm sorry that this is off. But I'm hopeful that it could go on again if we get assurances, et cetera. That will be a key moment.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Because remember, without that, we're back in a very dangerous place.

HARLOW: Indeed. Jim Sciutto, appreciate all the analysis from you and all of our teams at the White House, the Pentagon, Elise Labott, thank you all very, very much on this significant breaking news.

President Trump has written a letter to Kim Jong-un canceling the June 12th summit planned between the two leaders in Singapore. Thank you all for being with me today. I'm Poppy Harlow. I will hand it over to my colleague Kate Bolduan from here.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news. KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We are

going to continue to cover the breaking news this morning. A single page letter with worldwide implications.