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Trump: U.S. To Stop "War Games" With South Korea; Trump: Kim Jong-un Vow To "Denuke" North Korea; Senator Kennedy: "Kim Jong-un Is A Butcher" Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 12, 2018 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to a special edition of AT THIS HOUR. President Trump's historic summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un and the president's first full news conference in more than a year.

I'm Kate Bolduan in New York. Lucky to have joining me this entire hour is Anderson Cooper in Singapore. Anderson, much of the drama today playing out, well, you covered it all, but playing out while many here were still asleep.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. It has been a very long day, Kim Jong-un has just -- his motorcade just got into the airport, we have been following that. President Trump left earlier in the day. They came, they saw, they shook hands. They made history just by having this meeting.

And, of course, they made promises now with the summit over, the focus on the future begins. For President Trump, part of that future includes stopping something the U.S. has done for decades and something the North has hated for decades, joint military exercises with South Korea.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should. But we'll be saving a tremendous a money, plus I think it is very provocative.


COOPER: Apparently that was a real surprise for South Korea. The president's office there issuing a statement that said in part, we need to, quote, "figure out President Trump's accurate meaning and intention about the exercises."

CNN White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, joins me now. I mean, this could be the biggest most substantive near-term result of this summit. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It does seem to be, Anderson. Clearly the president came to the agreement with Kim Jong- un today, but did not inform South Koreans or even the U.S. troops that are over there about this, that are involved in these military exercises.

So, a lot of questions still on the table and a lot of reverberations of what the president said during that press conference. I should note this was not something that was even included in the agreement that the president signed today when he sat down with Kim Jong-un in front of the cameras, they signed this agreement that was very vaguely worded about denuclearization.

And it actually left a lot to be desired. There were -- was language about inspections and timetable in here and continental ballistic missiles. None of that language was in the statement that the president signed today. Instead a lot of the language mirrored what we have seen from past agreements between the United States and North Korea.

Now, of course, there was language about security assurances being provided to the North Koreans should they commit to denuclearization. And that is how the president brought up the fact that he wants nose drills between the South Koreans and U.S. military to stop, something he called war games.

That's language from Pyongyang, not from the United States of America. That is the president calling those drills, which are conducted by the United States military provocative. They're provocative because of the North Koreans and their nuclear arsenal and the way they provoked the United States.

So, just going back, the president making stunning remarks there, but back to this statement that he signed, it does not include what his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said was the clear unchanged objective, entire reason that delegation flew from Washington, D.C. to Singapore.

And that was CVID, something that the president and Pompeo have both said for weeks now, that is complete verifiable irreversible denuclearization. That is what the United States wanted from North Korea.

And Anderson, they just frankly didn't get that in this agreement. That language is not in here. The president alluded to the fact he believes the North Koreans are going to denuclearize, but he didn't give any reasons for why they should be inclined to do so or why they should be forced to do so from this agreement. None of that language is in this agreement.

COOPER: Joining me now, CNN global affairs analyst, former deputy secretary of state under President Obama, Tony Blinken, and also CNN global affairs analyst, Ambassador Joseph Yun, also the former U.S. special representative for North Korean Policy.

Tony, first of all, we haven't talked to you. What do you think of the agreement signed today? Was it a good deal for the U.S.? What concerns you the most? What gives you the most optimism?

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, Anderson, first, to put this in perspective, you know, a few months ago it looked like we were heading toward war. Now it is diplomacy, peace, denuclearization. That's a good thing. The president should be applauded for pursuing that.

But the problem is this, those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. This is an agreement that the North Koreans have sold to us before. The president has just paid a lot more for it than anyone else has in the past, and in the past, it has been written in vanishing ink.

[11:05:05] They make commitments, they walk away from it. So, at the very best, we're at the start of a process that has to be negotiated, and then implemented. And we are not going to know for many months if not longer whether there is any there, there.

I worry that the president has given up a lot up front, the legitimacy that Kim Jong-un has now meeting with the president of the United States, the two flags flying together, backing away from pressure and of course, undermining backing away from these joint exercises with South Korea without even having the decency to tell our South Korean allies he planned to do that.

He's now basically thrown our allies in the G7 under the bus and backed the bus back over our South Korean partners. So, yes, there is a lot to be done. I'm glad he's pursuing diplomacy, but right now, there is no there, there, and we'll have to see if there ever is.

COOPER: Ambassador, this president certainly has a different idea about the importance that alliances play. We saw that with the G7, but also it seems now with South Korea, possibly even Japan.

JOSEPH YUN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: That's very true. And you have to be concerned about that. Alliance is not just having troops there. It is the strategic interests we have. Why we are in Japan, why we are in South Korea.

COOPER: The president puts it in financial terms, you're talking about security, the U.S. security interests.

YUN: Absolutely. It is about U.S. security interests. We call these troops forward deployed troops because they are there to really to guard the outreach, outposts. And remember we're competing with China. And I think today's dropping this bombshell that there would be no joint exercise, if he meant that, I assume he meant that, would be, you know, applauded in Beijing because probably these exercises worry China more than North Korea.

COOPER: Tony, I imagine also applauded in Russia. This is any kind of weakening of the U.S. military posture overseas is something both China and Russia would certainly like to see.

BLINKEN: Yes, this has been a great week for both Russia and China. It was a great week starting for Russia at the G7 when the president managed to initiate a trade war with our closest partners and in the same breath invite Russia back into the G7/G8.

And now with China, he's given China something it's long sought, which is an end to these exercises. And Joe is exactly right, it is a prime security rational for the United States, but there is also an economic one. There is another reason why we invest in the security of our partners and allies.

It also means markets, stable markets for our own products. To put it in President Trump's terms, he's now jeopardizing the security and instability of those markets and that will be bad for us economically, not just strategically.

COOPER: Were you surprised, Ambassador, to hear President Trump talk about the beautiful beaches in North Korea as potential places for condominiums? Even the video that they showed and that he showed Kim Jong-un, it seemed almost sort of an advertisement for what could be, I don't know if any other summit between world leaders where a world leader has shown a video to another world leader to sort of give them a sense of what might happen.

YUN: You know, I don't think the sale job that started about economic benefits, about personal security, security for Kim Jong-un and his family, I'm not sure they buy that in any meaningful sense.

And we have seen this, because they have stopped to their point from the beginning, you know. And what you see is the outcome that they're going to go the way they will define. And I'm not sure that they're going to be persuaded otherwise.

So, I worry about, you know, I completely agree with Tony, diplomacy grew, tensions are down. Are we accomplishing our objectives, you know? We bought the line that Kim Jong-un is serious about changing direction. There was nothing today to indicate that that is based on anything, you know.

COOPER: Tony, the White House, President Trump actually tweeted out a video that I guess the White House team put together, sort of promotional video showing images -- video images from the meeting. It almost looked like something you could see in North Korea that the regime there could have put out as well.

Do you think the legitimization of Kim is one of the most significant things that has come out of this? Particularly when you have the president of the United States praising, saying that he trusts Kim Jong-un.

[11:10:06] Not even using Reagan's line of trust but verify, just saying he does trust Kim Jong-un, and that he praised him as being tough and saying he did what many young leaders couldn't have done in taking over his country.

BLINKEN: Absolutely, Anderson. The two things, the substantive things that have come out of the summit are exactly that, the legitimization of Kim Jong-un, the two of them standing together, talking together, shaking hands, flags flying together. And the other subsequent thing that seems to have come out of it is the president giving up on our joint exercises with the South Koreans. So, those are wins for Kim Jong-un. Now, look, again, when you're engaged in diplomacy, at some point, you got to meet your adversary, sit with them, talk to them.

I don't have a problem with that. But to get nothing in return and to give up a lot right now this is not the art of the deal, it is the art of the steal. Again, this may change. It may be that as the negotiation process begins, Secretary Pompeo is taking that over, we actually get somewhere.

But there is a long process first to negotiate concrete detailed step by step what we're going to do what they're going to do, what the verification looks like and then it has to be implemented. So, we're just not going to know for many months whether there is any substance to what has been done in Singapore.

COOPER: Tony Blinken, Ambassador Yun, thank you very much. Let's go back to Kate in New York -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. Anderson, thanks so much. We're going to be back to Singapore and Anderson very shortly.

Coming up for us, it is not just military exercises in question now. President Trump also says that he's looking at -- he wants U.S. troops to get out of South Korea. So, what's the Pentagon have to say about all of this? That's next.



BOLDUAN: Among a series of more vague promises coming out of the Trump/Kim meetings, one concrete detail that emerged as well. President Trump announcing that the United States will halt joint military exercises with South Korea, or as the president calls them, war games. Why?

The president says, President Trump says, because they're provocative, which is the chief critic -- critique we get from North Korea all the time and also because they're expensive, he says. Then the president floated this.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: I want to get our soldiers out. I want to bring our soldiers back home. We have right now 32,000 soldiers in South Korea and I'd like to be able to bring them back home.


BOLDUAN: CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining me right now. So, Barbara, what are you hearing from the Pentagon about the military exercises? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Kate. The key question, if you take the president at his word, no U.S. troops in South Korea, no U.S. military equipment, no training. It all is over. Here at the Pentagon, I would say a little more of a reality check.

What they are looking for from the White House are the details. What is it exactly, precisely that the president is talking about, what does he want to have happen? All exercises, all training?

You know, these exercises began many years ago as a key method for the U.S. to provide a defense to South Korea against North Korean threat. What they demonstrated, the ability of the U.S., the South Koreans, and allies in the region to flow large amounts of personnel and equipment into South Korea very quickly in a time of crisis.

So, they're going to look now for the details, how soon does the president want this to happen, the next major exercise scheduled for August, just a few weeks from now is at all exercises, is it all training, and what are the implications for the allies in the region if you just put a cold stop to all of it -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: And also, Barbara, is the Pentagon saying anything about the potential that the president floated out there, not on the table now, but eventually he would like to pull all U.S. troops off the peninsula.

STARR: OK, so, what we do know is that the Defense Secretary Mattis has repeatedly said not now. That if that were to happen, it would be a matter of negotiation between the U.S. and South Korea.

Secretary Mattis' strong view is that North Korea gets no vote in the matter, it is up to South Korea and the United States to negotiate any withdrawal of U.S. troop presence or to continue it.

So, if the president's words in effect hand that possibility over to Kim Jong-un, because it is going to be a security guarantee in Kim's mind, that will certainly be something to consider.

Because as you pointed out at the beginning, Kate, getting U.S. troops out of South Korea and stopping the training and exercises has always been something that Kim Jong-un has wanted very strongly. It looks like President Trump is giving it to him, but we still need to hear a lot of the details.

BOLDUAN: Maybe in word, but in action, we'll see. I mean, that's the -- what remains. Also, Barbara, the president brought up recovering the remains of prisoners of war and those missing in action in North Korea from the Korean war. What do you know about that?

STARR: Well, this has been a long-standing program for many, many years. For the Pentagon, to try and recover the remains of any U.S. service members that have not been recovered off any battlefield.

They look at Europe still from World War II. Korea, the Korean war has proven exceptionally difficult about 7,000 sets of remains in a combination of still to be recovered and some recovered, still to be identified.

It has been very tough in recent years because it has not been possible to get into North Korea. Those search efforts, those missions were stopped several years ago because of concerns about security, if the North Koreans can let the U.S. back in with secure conditions, that is something that many families, many veterans would very much look forward to -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Barbara, great to see you. Thank you so much.

To get some perspective on all of this, CNN military analyst, retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton is with me now. Colonel, great to see you. Thanks for coming in.

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Good to be back, Kate. Great to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Let's start with the troops. What would it mean to pull all U.S. troops off the peninsula?

LEIGHTON: Well, that would be really tough from a strategic standpoint because that is our toe hold on to mainland Asia.

[11:20:13] And if you don't have U.S. troops Korea, then you have to have another line of defense. It could be Japan, where of course there are already a considerable number of troops there.

It could be Guam, we have military bases there, it could be something in Southeast Asia, but it is highly unlikely that we would actually put our troops into new places and it would in essence mean a strategic retreat for the United States.

BOLDUAN: And so, Donald Trump says that's not on the table at the moment, but something that clearly is concrete is the joint military exercises with South Korea are now stopped. What is the real impact of that?

LEIGHTON: So, these exercises are critical for what the military calls interoperability. Working together, having equipment work together as well as the people, the processes, the tactics, techniques and procedures as the military likes to describe it.

So, what that means in concrete terms is if you know how to work with your counterparts, in Korea, in Japan, in other countries, then you know what to expect of them in a crisis situation.

What would have been better instead of unilaterally saying that we will stop the exercises would have been to invite the North Koreans to the next series of exercises.

Something like that would have been a much bigger confidence builder and would have showcased the might of the United States, the might of South Korea, and served as a warning to North Korea if they try to (inaudible) any agreement that there would be consequences for that.

BOLDUAN: The reasoning from the president is that it is provocative, and it is expensive. In the end, when it comes to military exercises, do you see this potentially as something that is, I don't know, easy to dial down, easy to dial back up? A low impact concession that he can promise if -- if Kim goes along with it, great, if he doesn't, exercises are back on?

LEIGHTON: Well, I think that was probably the president's intent, in point of fact huge exercises like the ones that are planned for August in South Korea are actually very hard to choreograph. They take years and years to plan.

They take years and years to figure out which forces should be part of those exercises, How the command and control functions should work, all of those different things. And to take that out, and then put it back in on a moment's notice is very hard to do.

You can do that somewhat with command post exercises, which are basically exercising the headquarter staffs, that doesn't mean putting forces in the field, it is a lot harder to put forces back in the field if you told them to go somewhere else.

BOLDUAN: And South Korea, of course, I think we're all waiting to hear more from South Korea and the reaction to all of this, but their initial statement after President Trump said all this is that they need to figure out President Trump's accurate meaning and intention. Is there room for interpretation of what President Trump said on this?

LEIGHTON: Well, I think it is in the details. You know, sometimes when statements are made by political leaders, there is a very large gulf between what they say and what the real implementation is on the ground.

And so, the Koreans want to figure out what the real implementation is on the ground, how that affects the actual units that are tasked with these exercises and how it affects operation units.

There are units today in the U.S. Air Force and the Republic of Korea Air Force that are actually integrated with each other. Where one position is occupied by a Korean and the other by an American.

And to take that kind of an integration away would be very difficult for those specific units and their missions. And it would also be very difficult in order to actually orchestrate the kinds of things that we want to do in order to defend South Korea, which, by the way, we still have treaty obligations to protect.

BOLDUAN: It seems there is a lot of fallout in just one statement coming from the president. I think that sums up pretty well the stakes here. Colonel, great to see you. Thank you for coming in.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Kate, absolutely.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, he starves his people, he puts political opponents in prison, he executes his own family members, but according to President Donald Trump, today the North Korean people still, quote/unquote, "love their dictator, Kim Jong-un." That's next.



COOPER: Well, denuclearization was the topic du jour during President Trump's meeting with Kim Jong-un. It wasn't the only item discussed and how could it be given North Korea's abhorrent human rights record?

Today, as many as 100,000 political prisoners, men, women, children, are subjected to forced labor, torture, starvation and prison camps around the country. Pyongyang officially denies the camps exist. When pressed about his discussions with Kim on the subject, here is what President Trump had to say today.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: He's smart and loves his people. He loves his country. He wants a lot of good things. That's why he's doing this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But he starved them? He's been brutal to them, he still loves his people?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Look, he's doing what he's seen done. If you look at it. But I really have to go by today and by yesterday and by a couple of weeks ago, because that's really when this whole thing started.


COOPER: Certainly not everyone agrees with the president on that. They're not ready to forgive North Korea's record at this point


SENATOR JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I think it is important that we don't lose sight of the fact that Kim Jong-un is a butcher and he is a butcher of his own people. And trying to reason with someone like that is like trying to hand feed a shark. Doesn't mean you can't do it, but you got to do it very, very carefully.