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No Timetable for Promises; Vow to Denuclearize North Korea; Trump Says to Trust Him. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 12, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Not going to stop, though.

Thanks so much for joining us. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing this busy day with us.

President Trump and Kim Jong-un make history. Now, the commitments are vague at best, but the president says he trusts the North Korean leader to keep his word. One giant concession from the U.S. side, the president promises an end to joint military exercises with South Korea. That catches Seoul off guard. China calls for an end to sanctions on Pyongyang, raising fears Kim will get what he wants without giving up his nukes.

But, listen here, the president believes he made a convincing pitch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, they have great beaches. You see that whenever they're exploding their cannons into the ocean, right? I said, boy, look at that beach. Wouldn't that make a great condo behind -- and I explained this. I said, you know, instead of doing that, you could have the best hotels in the world right there. Think of it from a real estate perspective. You have South Korea. You have China. And they own the land in the middle. How bad is that, right? It's great.


KING: A packed hour ahead. Much of it about those high stakes negotiations.

President Trump, on Air Force One right now, on his way home from Singapore. That's where we start with pictures that never seemed possible and a deal that's long on promise but short on specifics.

Hours ago, President Donald Trump, look it there, shaking the hand of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un. The handshake marked the start of high stakes diplomatic talks. Hours later, the two leaders emerged and the president pitched the world on a fresh start.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Really great. We had a really fantastic meeting. A lot of progress. Really very positive. I think better than anybody could have expected. Top of the line.

We're much further along than I would have thought.


KING: Now, both leaders hailed the Singapore document as historic. But the piece of paper contains little real commitment. By signing, Kim did pledge to start North Korea down the road to denuclearization. What that road looks like and whether it includes nuclear inspectors, the destruction of testing sites or a freeze on ballistic missile launches, none of that covered in the papers signed today.

Trump said Kim promised a lot more than what he agreed to in that document. Let's hope he delivers. In the here and now, zero doubt President Trump gave up a lot -- a lot more than he got.

Just the pictures, the equal footing, a propaganda bonanza for a brutal dictatorship. And then, the president caught a vital American ally off guard by agreeing to halt joint military drills with South Korea.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I'm doing something that I've wanted to do from the beginning. We stop playing those war games that cost us a fortune. You know, we're spending a fortune every number of months we're doing war games with South Korea. And I said, what's this costing? We're flying planes in from Guam and we're bombing empty mountains for practice. And I said, I want to stop that, and I will stop that. And I think it's very provocative.


KING: CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the summit site in Singapore.

Kaitlan, has the White House said anything about when we will see deliverance, tangible deliverance on the North Korean promises?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They haven't, John. No timetable here at all. And right now the plan seems to be to just take their word for it and trust, according to the president, what Kim Jong-un promised him to do. Certainly promises that aren't in writing in this agreement that the president and Kim Jong-un signed today after they met for hours, first alone, then separately with their advisers. That agreement has no line about enforcing denuclearization to the Korean peninsula. Something the president said that the North Korean's agreed to.

Instead, this document just repeats language that we've seen from past agreements between the United States and North Korea and doesn't include anything new. There is nothing in this document about timetables, about inspections, about verifications, about ICBMs. There is none of that in this document. What there is not in this document also is an assurance that the

president seemingly made to the North Koreans, and that is that he's going to stop those joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea. That is something that caught not only the South Koreans off guard, but also the U.S. forces who were involved in those drills. So certainly that is something that is causing reverberations.

It's unclear what exactly the president got out of this, but what we do know is it's not what the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said they were coming here, flew all the way from Washington here to get. And that is what he told us, that CVID, complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization. That language is not in this document here, John.

KING: Kaitlan Collins in Singapore. An important point at the end there.

With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, our military and diplomatic analyst John Kirby, Dan Balz with "The Washington Post," and Margaret Talev with "Bloomberg."

Kim got more than he gave. Kim got and gave nothing because everything in that document North Korea has promised in previous agreements. In some of the previous agreements with a lot more specificity.

[12:05:03] But -- but, in defense of the president, he has them in a process now, and the leaders met and he says he has a face-to-face promise from Kim that, in his view, makes it better than the previous commitments that they have walked away from.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, there's an argument to be made here, John, that, like, OK, now he's got them on the record of being committed. And it is a new leader, so he's not his father, and so there is a little bit of a blank page here.

So he's got him on the record and they can judge them by their actions going forward and, you know, snap back sanctions or increase sanctions if they want to. But it is -- it's -- my expectations were low going into this. They weren't as low as what I think actually happened. There's absolutely no substance and nothing of what Pompeo sort of transmitted as possible outcomes here came to fruition. So it leaves everybody with -- with their -- with scratching their heads.

KING: And it leaves Pompeo now with the hard task, all the details.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG": No, that's absolutely right, it does, because he's always been the president's point person on this. He is going to be the nexus for the next meeting. It's not going to be Trump and Kim again next week, at least we don't think it is right now. But it will be Pompeo, who's now got to pick up the ball and run with it.

And the president sought to make a case for all of the things that the U.S. had gotten out of it, but they involve things like the release of those three hostages that North Korea had taken as leverage to try to get into these talks. And so now there really is a question about, concretely, how do you move forward?

In the short term, the president has got the optics of today. And, obviously, this is theater. He's trying to signal to Kim, this is what the relationship could be like that.


TALEV: But for the rest of the world, for South Korea, for U.S. allies in the region, there are a lot of questions right now.

BASH: Yes, look, I mean it's as delicate a dance as you can possibly do on the international stage for the president of the United States to take the leap to go meet with someone like Kim, given his history, given what he's doing currently to the people in his country, never mind his military aspirations.

But he is -- he, the president, has made a very clear decision to kill -- try to kill him with kindness and bring him along by telling reporters both in the press conference and on his plane before he departed that he very much trusts Kim and so forth. It doesn't mean that there aren't people who are apoplectic hearing language from the president of the United States that you traditionally only hear from North Koreans. For example, that these military exercises, which apparent -- the president apparently said he was going to stop, or at least postpone -- that they are seen as too aggressive, basically, in North Korea.

KIRBY: Provocative.

BASH: Provocative, thank you.

KING: Very provocative.

BASH: That is -- that is straight from the mouth of the North Korean dictator.

KING: Right.

BASH: And it is something that -- you could speak to this better than I, but that the military, they're pulling their hair out because this is something that they absolutely feel is essential for real readiness. It's not just to show -- a show of force, it's real readiness.

KING: Right.

KIRBY: It's an investment. And he talked about it as cost. And, yes, there's a cost to doing exercises, but these are investments, not just in the security of the peninsula, but in our alliance. And so one of the things we need to think about, as we watch this process unfold, is what happens to the alliance between the United States and South Korea? That's going to be a real bellwether about how healthy the process actually turns out being.

KING: And, Dana, I want to listen here. This goes on for a little bit, so indulge the patience of our viewers. I was with President Bush, George W. Bush, in Slavonia when he said he

looked into Vladimir Putin's soul, was convinced he was a good man. President Bush would tell you today, that was a mistake. He made a big mistake.

The question is, is this leader different or is President Trump right or is he making the same mistake when he says this?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, he is very talented. Anybody that takes over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and is able to run it and run it tough.

Really, he's got a great personality. He's a, you know, funny guy. He's a very smart guy. He's a great negotiator.

Well, he's smart and loves his people. He loves his country. He wants a lot of good things. And that's why he's doing this, I believe.

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

TRUMP: Look, he's doing what he's seen done. I mean, you know, if you look at it.

Over my lifetime I've done a lot of deals with a lot of people, and sometimes the people that you most distrust turn out to be the most honorable ones, and the people that you do trust, they are not the honorable ones.


KING: We know this president trusts this gut and trusts his instincts. But to say those things, he loves his people? He loves his people about Kim Jong-un? It's the most brutal dictatorship, probably on the planet? The repression is off the charts. It's a risk.

DAN BALZ, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, it's a huge risk. And the question is, is this -- are these words of a president whose incredibly naive about what he has put himself into, or is it part of the way Trump operates? We've seen him with lots of different leaders. He can be both charming and he can be offensive, as we saw over the weekend with Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada. He had a love affair with Emmanuel Macron until they got into a nasty conversation on the phone about trade.

[12:10:16] So what we don't know is how the president will treat Kim Jong-un as these negotiations continue. Will there be a lot of touches? You know, we know that he makes calls all the time to different foreign leaders. Will that now include Kim? Will he be pushing him? Will he be flattering him? Will he be warning him? We don't know.

But the things he said at Singapore are obviously, in his mind, the way to get this moving in a direction that might lead to something. As he says, we don't know whether it's going to produce.

KING: Right, listen here, I think, to smart analysis. This is Michael Hayden, General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, talking about, look, if you think back three months, six months ago, the rhetoric between the two leaders, people thought war was a distinct possibility. So General Hayden says, we're in a better place today. The question is, as the question was raised as we first went around the table, when might we see something actually tangible from the North Korean side?


MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: The North Koreans did not come with anything new. The new element is that we agreed to stop our annual exercise cycle with our South Korean allies. That's actually a pretty significant concession. If you stop the clock right now, though, John, and look at the scoreboard, the North Koreans are way ahead on points because that image yesterday of equivalence and the president's language, it's an honor to meet you, he's tough, he's talented, that's a gift that will keep on giving for the North Koreans, and frankly, achieves a lot of their objectives for this process.


KING: So it -- to continue the score analogy, which is sometimes dangerous, what does the president need? What does Secretary Pompeo need to change that? If Kim leaves with a healthy lead in deliverables, which he has -- there's no question about that -- there's nothing wrong with that if you get what you want later in the process. What is that?

BASH: In the short term it's the "v" word. It's what is not part of this initial document, and needs to be, there is no question, which is verification. That was as basic as it got going back to Ronald Reagan with -- obviously with the Soviet Union and even before that. And that is something that you can bet is going to be required if there ends up being an actual deal because I was up with -- with Senator Risch of Idaho, who's eventually going to be the Republican head of the Foreign Relations Committee, and he says that he and Dianne Feinstein have got an agreement from the White House that there will be Senate observers in any negotiation so that they get in on the front end to make sure things like verification are in there for if and when there is a deal that the Senate is going to be asked to approve. But I think that -- I mean that's a basic fundamental.

KING: Right. You served in senior jobs at both the Pentagon and the State Department. What are the conversations in the final few minutes when the president of the United States is about to sign a document that does not advance the ball.

KIRBY: Right.

KING: I get it's his signature and I get he met with Kim Jong-un and I'm not taking away from the history of that. But, substantively, in terms of the commitments from North Korea, it does not advance the ball. And you could argue it actually takes it back because it's not as specific as the previous document. What are the conversations about that?

KIRBY: So what they're going to have to do now is come up with a framework, a sequencing plan for verification that is irreversible and that deals with the human rights issues. They have to come up with a plan, a framework, a piece of paper that both sides agree to that this is -- this is the way we're going to march towards the sequencing forward. That's what's really required right now.

KING: That's what's missing.

We'll continue the conversation.

Up next for us here, the Trump administration goes, as we've just been -- just discussing, from trust and verification with Kim Jong-un, to trust and cross your fingers. Hope for the best.


[12:17:56] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.


KING: That was President Trump back in August. A very different tone from the president. He was mad because of this, Kim Jong-un, look at the rate of missile launches under Kim Jong-un. Way up from his father and his grandfather. Much more belligerent. Much more provocative. Twenty-three of them just in the short time Donald Trump has been president of the United States. That's why the president was so mad. Upset about an arsenal in North Korea that is growing. Four kinds of missiles. This is what worries the United States most, intercontinental ballistic missiles. But these, a threat in the neighborhood, Japan and South Korea worried.

Thought to have 30 to 60 nuclear warheads in the North Korean arsenal. That's what these negotiations now are about. And the -- as the president enters them, North Korea's capabilities have advanced quite dramatically, at the point where they are -- if they can't now, they are close to being able to miniaturize a warhead and launch it on the United States.

Remember last year, the president told his former secretary of state it wasn't worth negotiating with North Korea? Listen to the president today saying he believes these negotiations will get the North Koreans to give up the nukes.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Chairman Kim is on his way back to North Korea. And I know for a fact, as soon as he arrives, he's going to start a process that's going to make a lot of people very happy and very safe.

Well, I don't have to verify, because I have one of the great memories of all time.

He was very firm in the fact that he wants to do this. I think he might want to do this as much or even more than me.

I may stand before you in six months and say, hey, I was wrong. I don't know that I'll ever admit that, but I'll find -- I'll find some kind of an excuse.


KING: Should the president feel so confident?

Joining me now to discuss, Gordon Chang. He's the author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World." And Kathy Moon, senior fellow at the Center for East Asia Policy.

Kathy, let me start with you. Did you see anything from Kim Jong-un that convinces you this time North Korea is actually going to keep its promises and deliver?

[12:20:04] KATHARINE MOON, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR EAST ASIA POLICY: No. I can't say that from the summit meeting there was any sign of that. We just have to hope, as Mr. Trump is hoping upon hope, that Kim will, quote, do something different, and wish for his people the best.

The meeting was aspirational. The joint statement by the two leaders, aspirational with absolutely no substance, no clarity of direction. And it's also important to keep in mind that that statement has no legal binding on either party, no accountability. So, either side, both sides could just dump it any time.

KING: Just dump it any time.

So, Gordon, let's listen to a little bit. To see Kim Jong-un sitting next to the president of the United States was remarkable and historic in its own right. The question is, do you get anything from it. Does North Korea keep its promise.

Listen to Kim here talking about how hard it was just to get to this point.


KIM JONG-UN, NORTH KOREAN LEADER (through translator): It has not been easy to come to this point. For us, the past has been holding us back, and old practices and prejudices have been covering our eyes and ears, but we have been able to overcome everything to arrive here today.


KING: Overcome past practices and prejudices to get there. The question is, what was your take on what comes next or what needs to come next to see if he's real? GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE

WORLD": Well, we need to have intensive negotiations with the North Koreans to get what we believe we absolutely need, which is for the North Koreans to give up their nuclear weapons, to give up their ballistic missiles, even the short-range ones, to dismantle their weapons infrastructure, also to get verification. And, finally, for the Japanese, to get an accounting of the abductees.

These are things which I believe are absolutely essential. The president has said they're absolutely essential. He's got a standard. He's held himself to a very high one. He needs to meet it.

KING: But the president, Kathy, was not very specific about that. He said they had a brief conversation about human rights. He did not dwell on it in his public remarks. Sometimes that's not necessarily a bad thing if you raise it in your private remarks. If you can do the business behind closed doors, it's not necessarily a bad thing.

But I want to come back to Kim again. Listen to Chairman Kim here saying that the world should trust him. Things are going to change.


KIM JONG-UN, NORTH KOREAN LEADER (through translator): Today we had a historic meeting and decided to leave the past behind. And we are about to sign a historic document. The world will see a major change.


KING: We have had similar promises in previous administrations with other North Korean leaders. I should say his father and his grandfather have told the world before things and broken their promises. Again, I come back to the idea, as you already have, number one, he gets the meeting. Number two, he gets the president of the United States to say, we're going to cancel joint military exercises with South Korea. Two big wins for the North. Now China is saying, ease up on the sanctions already. And China can't do that at the United Nations. The United States could veto that, but Chinese could do it just in the neighborhood and reopen the border.

Has Kim already won and is there incentive -- what is the incentive, I guess, for Kim to keep going?

MOON: If that's a question for me, I'll take it.

Kim has won in the sense that it is up to him now to be in the driver's seat. And Mr. Trump has sadly given him that position. Mr. Trump seems to think he can trust Kim. Kim, now, it's all up to him to determine whether he has the political desire and will to turn the crusty ship of state called North Korea into what he wants to believe is a new era.

He has been prepping his public and the military in particular for this for some kind of a big change. Basic changes, fundamental, strategic new line, he calls it. But whether or not he would be able to do it domestically is a big question. And whether or not he would have the incentive, if he does not get goods delivered from the U.S. and other countries, that's another question.

And, right now, we have no idea where the actual bilateral relationship between the DPRK, North Korea and the U.S. is supposed to go. So I don't know how Kim would know.

One thing that I want to mention, which is very important, the fact that there were no official note takers. The fact that we, the public, the international public, are left to just take the two leaders at their word when this summit was just a tremendous, tremendous opportunity, that I find very disconcerting. They could say whatever they want and we have no way to verify it.

KING: And to that point, Gordon, the initial response from the South Korean government, they were caught off guard by the military exercises announcement. But President Moon has said he hopes -- he hopes that the negotiations get going quickly and show some progress.

What is your sense of Seoul's role in this now as we go into the next chapter?

CHANG: Well, Moon Jae-in want to have a unification of the two halfs of the Korean peninsula. And this sort of helps him do that because you're starting to make some progress. Not much progress, but some progress toward denuclearization.

[12:25:05] The one thing that's a concern is what Trump called the war games and which everyone else calls the joint military exercises. You know, we need to have a high state of readiness to deter North Korea or, God forbid, to defend South Korea. And at this particular time, when you don't have those exercises, readiness erodes very quickly.

So I think if you're an ordinary South Korean, you've got to be extremely concerned about what the future holds if you don't have the two militaries working together, getting that interoperability correct. And so this is going to be an issue for everyone in the region, and including the United States, because that's our western defense perimeter, John. We need to have it strong and we need to have it hold.

KING: Gordon Chang, Katharine Moon, I appreciate your insights on this important day very much. Take care. Both of you, thank you.

Up next for us here, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill weigh in. They have a fair amount of skepticism, but they're also wishing the president well.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you think Kim is very talented, as the president said?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no earthly idea.