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Trump Prefers Quick Vote to Confirm Kavanaugh; Trump Chairs U.N. Security Council Meeting; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 26, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:16] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. A lot going on today in this hour particularly the president is wrapping up his U.N. General Assembly week at the head of the U.N. Security Council.

You're looking at live pictures there as world leaders trickle in for this meeting focused on nuclear nonproliferation. You'll hear from the president in a moment. He just had a one-on-one bi-lat with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And he is set this afternoon for a formal solo news conference. His mind, though, also on an extraordinary and an historic public moment that is set 24 hours from now, some 200 miles south of the United Nations.

SCIUTTO: At this time tomorrow the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin putting questions to the California professor who says the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the early 1980s when they were both teenagers. Kavanaugh will be questioned as well, both of them under oath, though Republicans have brought in a sex crimes prosecutor to interview both witnesses on their behalf.

Just moments ago the president lashed out again at the accusers' Democratic supporters and he praised Senate Republicans for being, quote, "nicer" than he says he would have preferred they be.

Let's get right to Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, the president took several questions. Took on Venezuela, North Korea, on Melania Trump, even appeared to make some news on North Korea saying that a second summit with the North Korean leader is basically done and dusted. But the president's focus appeared to be on that hearing tomorrow.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim and Poppy, there is no question. It almost seemed like President Trump was waiting until he was asked about Judge Kavanaugh as he was arriving here for his third day of meetings at the United Nations. He was taking questions from a lot of foreign reporters. And he indeed wanted to make the point again about Judge Kavanaugh.

I am told talking to a variety of officials this is something he has been fixated on all weekend. Focused on. And he believes that he needs to take the reins of defending Judge Kavanaugh. He believes that the defense has not been as robust from Kavanaugh himself first of all in that FOX News interview but as well as from some Senate Republicans.

So the president devised the phrase con game, accusing Democrats of doing that, but he also said he would have gone much faster had he been in charge of this. Let's take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think the Senate, the Republicans could not be nicer in the way they're handling this. They could have pushed it through two and a half weeks ago and you wouldn't be talking about it right now which is frankly what I would have preferred. But they didn't do that.

He has been treated very unfairly by the Democrats who are playing a con game. They know what they're doing. It's a con. They go into a back room and they talk with each other, and they laugh at what they're getting away with. It's a con game.


ZELENY: So what the president is trying to do is here is trying to influence the debate going into this hearing tomorrow, trying to shore up any, you know, concern among Republicans, among, you know, even some people in his base and others about, you know, should this be sort of slowed down. Should the process be slowed down. Of course, Democrats would argue that Republicans are rushing this, they're not being too slow at all. So that clearly is on the president's mind even as he is, you know, moments away from wielding the gavel for the first time here at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

This is a big moment for him. Of course a lot of focus on that. But it is clear talking to a variety of White House officials that his focus is on Judge Kavanaugh. He is -- you know, it was his idea to have the press conference this evening. He wants to set the tone going into that hearing. Now of course it's an open question if that's a good idea or not. You know, some key Senate Republicans like Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, very uncertain about this.

But that's what's on the president's mind today even as he prepares to chair this meeting of the U.N. Security Council -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: It's a very important. I mean, Lisa Murkowski as you said a key Senate vote on this saying she was victimized at some point and it's important to hear her out fully.

Thank you very much.

All right. Let's get to what's going on at the U.N. today. This is a very significant day for the president on the world stage.

Elise Labott is with us, our global affairs correspondent. Elise, you live and breathe this stuff. What do you think we'll hear

from the president today as he kicks off this meeting on nuclear nonproliferation?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, this was originally supposed to be a meeting just on Iran. But then his advisers figured because of U.N. rules that if it was just about Iran as a topic then Iranian President Rouhani would be invited to sit right across from him and also address the session. So they broadened it out to nonproliferation. And that's also a very important topic at the U.N. This is but only really the third presidential national U.N. Security Council meeting that's been on this topic in decades.

[10:05:08] And so I think what President Trump is going to do is draw the parallels between North Korea and Iran. You heard yesterday he really slammed Iran not just on the nuclear deal but other issues. He's going to point to the progress that he feels he's made with Kim Jong-un, working toward a nuclear deal, and make that contrast to Iran, try and rally the world on, you know, keeping up sanctions on Iran, really putting the pressure on Iran in terms of proliferation.

But you saw yesterday the other countries in that nuclear deal, the Europeans, Russia, China all have this meeting yesterday without the United States saying they were going to stick in the deal. So I think that there is definitely a lot of debate on what is going on between the U.S. and its partners on Iran, not necessarily sure he has the rest of the world around him.

Syria and chemical weapons will also come up. Obviously, use of chemical weapons by the Syrians in recent months a real concern to this council -- Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Elise, stay with us. Joining us now as well, Tony Blinken, Christiane Amanpour and David Drucker.

Tony, if I could begin with you because beyond the pressure and continuing to back the president's decision to leave the Iranian nuclear deal there's been pretty incendiary rhetoric from the president in his speech yesterday but also from John Bolton, his national security adviser. Have a listen to the way -- to the threat I suppose you could call it that he issued to Iran just yesterday.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: If you cross us, our allies or our partners, if you harm our citizens, if you continue to lie, cheat and deceive, yes, there will indeed be hell to pay.



SCIUTTO: "Hell to pay."

Tony Blinken, reminiscent of the fire and fury comments that the president directed at North Korea last year. Does Iran take those threats seriously?

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, you know, there is a constant theme here. And actually if you go back to the very briefly tenured National Security adviser Mike Flynn remember he put Iran, quote, "on notice" very early in the administration. So there's a constant theme here. The question is, what does Iran take from this?

The great irony, Jim and Poppy, is that Iran is doing a lot of bad things that we don't like around the world. The one thing that we've managed to get under control and contain in cabin was the nuclear program. And of course, that's the agreement that the administration, the president decided to tear up.

The big question now is -- there is a tremendous amount of pressure being exerted on Iran. Countries are saying they don't want to go along with pulling out of the agreement. But the fact is, companies are starting to pull out of Iran. We're going to see what happens with Iran's oil sales, whether it's going to be able to continue the drills, get the money it needs.

At some point if the economic benefits of the deal are not there, then Iran is going to have to decide whether it sticks with its obligations under the agreement which it's been doing so far, or the hard liners in Iran decide that guess what, we're not getting the benefits. We're going to go back to our nuclear program.

And if they restart the program we'll be right back where we were before the deal was struck with the terrible choice between either allowing Iran to have a threshold nuclear capability, the ability to produce material for a bomb on very short notice, or in effect attack them to stop it. That's exactly the really bad choice the deal managed to get rid of.

HARLOW: And the president has consistently pointed to critics of the deal, the fact that it didn't deal with funding of terrorism, Christiane Amanpour, the ballistic missile program, but when it comes to the nuclear agreement in and of itself and threats like that from John Bolton, you sat down with President Rouhani.


HARLOW: Do they believe this? Do they buy the rhetoric?

AMANPOUR: Well, look, this is so apples and oranges. You know, they're saying look what North Korea is doing versus what Iran did. The two situations are completely different as the president of Iran said to me. North Korea has nuclear weapons, Iran doesn't. North Korea has nuclear weapons capable intercontinental ballistic missiles, North Korea doesn't.

The victory of the international community was to contain Iran in a formal U.N. recognized deal to contain its proliferation danger on North Korea. Now the United States has chosen to pull out and is again making all of these hell to pay -- well, hell to pay for what exactly? Because in the Iranians view they have actually kept to the terms of this agreement and in the view of the IAEA and all the other signatories.

So this is what President Rouhani told me particularly about the other issues which are legitimate issues for the world to want to talk about. Ballistic missiles, terrorism, Syria, all of that kind of stuff.

HARLOW: Right.

AMANPOUR: But they say we're not going to be able to talk about that until we get back on track on the nuclear deal.


PRES. HASSAN ROUHANI, IRAN (through translator): Well, you see, after many years of negotiations and dialogue a consensus was reached, an agreement was reached between the seven countries.

[10:10:02] And it was agreed upon by the leadership of those seven countries involved subsequent to which in the United Nations Security Council that was approved under formal resolution 2231. So no one has the right to unilaterally exit such an agreement without just cause and cannot violate a United Nations Security Council resolution.

Therefore, the United States government deviated on a path during the past few months and it must return from that deviated path to the previous point, to the point of departure. And there will be the point where we can talk about as to whether this agreement is being implemented well.

This is not the time to talk about anything else, to hold dialogue about anything else prior to the proper and precise implementation of the previous agreement that was reached.


AMANPOUR: So that's the bottom line. They say we are holding up our end of this particular bargain on the nuclear situation and where can we go from there? We are not necessarily going to be able to talk about these other issues until this is settled. So as you pointed out, the way -- and as Tony was pointing out, for Iran to stay in, they have to have the financial and economic benefits that they were promised under it. So the EU along with Russia, China and all these people at that meeting last night minus the United States are trying to figure out what they call a mechanism to make sure that Iran can still benefit economically without running afoul of the U.S. financial system to keep Iran in the deal. So it's -- you know, it's a very complex situation right now.

SCIUTTO: Among its allies, the U.S. virtually isolated on this. At least --

AMANPOUR: That's the other very important point. You know, President Trump and John Bolton hoping to get the world to come back with huge sanctions but it's going to be incredibly difficult. They are actively working against it. And interestingly, of course, just have to say, President Trump's speech was all about sovereignty of the United States. That's what his speech was yesterday.

Well, the Europeans who've made their deals with Iran believe that they also have sovereignty, they should be able to under U.N. legitimate deal continue their sovereign right for their businesses to deal with Iran.

HARLOW: Continue operating there.

AMANPOUR: So, you know, this business on sovereignty cuts both ways.

SCIUTTO: David, I want to get your thoughts but we're going to get into a quick break here. As you watch, these are live pictures from the U.N. Security Council who are awaiting the president, President Trump who's going to chair this meeting.

We'll be back after this quick break.


[10:17:00] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. You are watching live pictures there from the U.N. Security Council. President Trump about to speak within moments there on a -- the subject, nuclear nonproliferation, certainly Iran likely to be at the top of the list of his comments.

Back with us now, David Drucker, Christiane Amanpour, Tony Blinken, and Elise Labott.

David, if I can begin with you, on America's Iran policy here, which is principally withdrawing from the Iran deal as it has done, I mean, you have a situation where America's closest allies, the other signatories here, are undermining U.S. policy. Are they not? Because they are looking for ways -- first of all they're staying in the deal. Second of all, they are looking for ways to continue to trade with Iran.


SCIUTTO: Around whatever restrictions the U.S. is attempting to put in. I mean, they are deliberately, they're not only not on board with President Trump's policy, they are undermining Iran policy.

DRUCKER: This isn't the first time that the U.S. and its allies have been divided on a major component of foreign policy, Mideast policy in particular. I think that for the president the challenge now is to say OK, you withdrew from the deal because you felt that it was not effective so he has to deliver, he has to deliver a better situation and he has to try and coerce Iran into dealing with the issues of terrorism and proliferation, and its hegemonic designs on the Middle East.

And if he cannot deliver on that I think there are going to be a lot of questions. But I think that we also have to step back and understand that one of the reasons the president felt emboldened to pull out of the Iran deal is because however effective it may have been, and there's a disagreement on that, but however effective it may have been in containing Iran's nuclear weapons program, many Americans, especially among Republican voters, never felt satisfied with the deal.

They never agreed that it was doing the job. And as much as we talk about President Trump breaking norms and fighting with allies, any of the Republicans that would have been elected president if it wasn't President Trump would have pulled out of the Iran deal --

SCIUTTO: I mean, no, but I mean --

DRUCKER: Because they all -- because they all --

SCIUTTO: History is that Iran has been abiding by --

DRUCKER: Right. And they all campaigned on it and none of them ever believed the intelligence reports. And --

HARLOW: But -- and of the IAEA.

DRUCKER: Yes. But from covering Republicans and understanding where they are on foreign policy, one of the reasons it was such a big fight in the U.S. Senate, one of the reasons Tom Cotton sent a letter to the Iranians, however out of bounds, some people think it was, is because nobody ever trusted it, nobody ever believed it. And so one of the lessons is, if you're going to strike a major deal like this, if it's the right thing to do, you have to do a better job of selling it domestically. That's what President Trump now has to do with his Iran policy.

HARLOW: Let me jump over back to our global affairs analyst Elise Labott.

And Elise, I want your thoughts on this as well as your take on just what's happening inside of Iran right now in the midst of all this. Our Frederik Pleitgen there is reporting that there has been a major outpouring of support on the streets in Tehran and across Iran for Rouhani and his response to the president and on Iranian social media.

LABOTT: Well, that's exactly right. And I hear what David is saying about the deal. But the whole thing with President Trump is they really -- Iran, the nuclear issue is not the big issue. It's some of these other issues that we've been talking about, whether it's terrorism, whether it's Israel, whether it's missile proliferation. And so by pulling out of the deal --

[10:20:09] SCIUTTO: Elise -- Elise, hold your thought just for a moment there.


SCIUTTO: The president is walking into the U.N. Security Council. Likely to be a couple of moments before he begins speaking. But please go ahead. Finish your thought.

LABOTT: He's just, you know, alienating the other allies that he might have support for dealing with some of these other issues. You know, right now the administration sees Iran as the world's boogie man, the kind of Soviet Union of the modern day. And they talk about no regime change but what they are looking for is to put pressure on all of these levers of Iranian power around the world. Even, you know, you heard Secretary Pompeo is meeting with Iranian diaspora this week. And the hope is that, you know, perhaps the regime implodes from within more peacefully. Kind of like the Soviet Union does.

If he doesn't get some of these allies on board it's going to be a very lonely show in terms of dealing with Iran.

SCIUTTO: As we wait for the president there you can see with him the U.N. -- U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley. You see Secretary of State Mike Pompeo behind him, John Bolton, his National Security adviser, and of course John Kelly, his chief of staff, as we await for the president to begin his remarks here.

AMANPOUR: And of course the U.N. secretary-general sitting right next to President Trump. I think the --

SCIUTTO: Let's see if the president set to begin. A reminder, the subject denuclearization or rather nonproliferation.

HARLOW: Nuclear -- yes.

SCIUTTO: Of nuclear weapons. This meeting. Originally it was meant to be all about Iran, but that created a problem in that the Iranian president would have had to be there. Now it is about a broader subject.

Here's the president.

TRUMP: -- three hundred and 62nd meeting of the Security Council is called to order.

The agenda for this meeting is maintenance of international peace and security, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The agenda is hereby adopted. I am honored to be here today to chair this meeting of the United Nations Security Council. It is also my privilege to welcome the distinguished heads of state, heads of government, ministers and other leaders and representatives here with us.

Thank you.

I also wish to warmly welcome Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for joining us.

Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary-General.

The Security Council will now consider item 2 of the agenda. I will make a statement in my capacity as president of the United States of America. It is a great honor to be here today at this U.N. Security Council briefing to discuss a matter of urgent importance concerning and countering the proliferation of deadly chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. The nations of the world have long recognized that certain weapons are so dangerous and can inflict so much suffering that all of us have a vital interest in preventing their further development, spread and use. Since my inauguration the United States has taken bold action to

confront the sinister threats. Many of us are rightly focused on the dangers of nuclear weapons, but we must never forget the risks posed by biological and chemical weapons.

The United States was one of the first nations to unilaterally renounce the use of biological weapons. And since World War I we have led international efforts against the scourge of chemical warfare. Most recently in Syria we have twice imposed severe consequences on the Assad regime for using chemical weapons against innocent civilians.

I want to thank Prime Minister May and President Macron for their country's close partnership in those efforts last April.

The Syrian regime's butchery is enabled by Russia and Iran. The Iranian regime exports violence, terror and turmoil.

[10:25:03] It illicitly procures sensitive items to advance its ballistic missile program and proliferates these missiles all across the Middle East. The regime is the world's leading sponsor of terror and fuels conflict across the region and far beyond. A regime with this track record must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon. For this reason, I announced earlier this year that the United States would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

This horrible one-sided deal allowed Iran to continue its path towards a bomb and gave the regime a cash lifeline when they needed it the most. They were in big, big trouble. They needed cash. We gave it to them.

In the years since the deal was signed Iran's aggression only increased. The regime used new funds from the deal to support terrorism, build nuclear capable missiles and foment chaos.

Following America's withdrawal the United States began re-imposing nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. All U.S. nuclear-related sanctions will be in full force by early November. They will be in full force. After that, the United States will pursue additional sanctions, tougher than ever before to counter the entire range of Iran's maligned conduct. Any individual or entity who fails to comply with these sanctions will face severe consequences.

I ask all members of the Security Council to work with the United States to ensure the Iranian regime changes its behavior and never acquires a nuclear bomb.

With all of this said, I want to thank Iran, Russia and Syria for, at my very strong urging and request, substantially slowing down their attack on Idlib Province and the three million people who live there in order to get 35,000 targeted terrorists. Get the terrorists, but I hope the restraint continues. The world is watching.

Thank you also to Turkey for helping to negotiate restraint. Anything the USA can do to help resolve this problem in order to save perhaps even hundreds of thousands of lives, maybe more, we are willing and able. We are available to help.

In my remarks yesterday to the United Nations General Assembly, I laid out my administration's commitment to building a more just and peaceful future. Regrettably we found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election, coming up in November, against my administration. They do not want me or us to win because I am the first president ever to challenge China on trade.

And we are winning on trade. We are winning at every level. We don't want them to meddle or interfere in our upcoming election.

As I also mentioned yesterday, we have seen the results of historic efforts to open new pathways to peace on the North Korean peninsula, on the Korean Peninsula, and it's something we are extremely proud of. I am pleased to say that North Korea has not conducted a missile test since last November. It has not conducted a nuclear test since last September. And the hostages have been returned to us. And very importantly, the remains of American heroes are now returning home.

In June I held a historic summit with Chairman Kim Jong-un in Singapore where he reaffirmed his commitment to complete denuclearization. Last week Chairman Kim reiterated that commitment to President Moon at their third summit and to me in a very strong letter form. I think we will make a deal.