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Trump Faces Isolation from World Leaders at G7 Summit; Iran's Foreign Minister Makes Surprise Visit to G7 Summit; President Trump Cites He was not Surprised By Iranian Foreign Minister's Visit to the G7. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 26, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] BERMAN: Pittsburgh Pirate super fan Catherine Kyle finally got to watch her team play in person. Her family surprised her with a trip to PNC Park on Saturday. They wore matching T-shirts and Catherine must have been a good luck charm because the Pirates beat the Reds 14-0. Look at that. That's a fan right there. Congratulations to her.

CAMEROTA: And there you. All right. "CNN NEWSROOM" is next.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy Harlow is off today.

We begin this morning with America isolated from its closest allies on virtually all of the country's top international challenges. Trade with China, the nuclear deal with Iran, climate change, Russia, and more.

This was a telling scene at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, a chair, the one supposed to be occupied by the U.S. president, left empty at the summit's meeting on climate change. The White House says that bilateral meetings with Germany and India went long so they sent a staffer in the president's place, but that claim easily undermined by one photograph.

Both leaders were supposedly in those long-running meetings with the U.S. president. Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it to the climate summit.

In a few minutes we will hear from President Trump. It's a chance for him to clarify the contradictory messages he has been sending on trade with China. In a span of 72 hours, hopes for an end of the trade war have been raised, lowered, then raised again. The latest the president said he spoke with Chinese officials on the phone, and he says they want to make a deal. That news immediately boosting markets. And they are set to open higher later this hour. However, his own Treasury secretary would not confirm that any such phone call or conversation took place.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: There was a statement that the spokesman for foreign ministries -- DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know about --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: He said they weren't of the calls happening.

TRUMP: I don't know about that story.

STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: There's been communications going on.

TRUMP: At the highest level. At the highest level.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you clarify the calls, Mr. Mnuchin?

TRUMP: No, I don't --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Let's see what happens. Hey, look, in the meantime, our country is doing great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Here is a simpler question. Is the president telling the truth? If so, why wouldn't he or his Treasury secretary, given the chance there, confirm what is, and we should note, clearly market- moving news.

Joining me now from Biarritz, France is CNN White House correspondent -- chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim, do we know the answer to that question? Is the president telling the truth? Did any high-level phone calls take place between him and the Chinese leader?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jim, I think the clearest answer I can give you is we don't have a definitive answer as to whether or not we were getting a straight story about those phone calls as you were just laying out a few moments ago. The president said earlier in the day here in France, at the G7 summit, that there were calls that took place with Chinese officials.

Chinese officials said those calls did not take place. And then the president was pressed on that further and said, I don't want to talk about calls. The Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, he went on to say that there were discussions. And so we don't really have a clear answer to all of that.

We were also in the dark yesterday for much of the day when the president was saying, well, I have second thoughts about this trade war with China. And then White House officials were saying no, no, no, his second thoughts were that he would like to raise tariffs on China in this trade war. And then there were other officials who were saying oh, the president never heard -- really heard the question in the first place. And so we're getting multiple versions of what they are saying is the

truth here in France, Jim. I mean, that's the closest I can give you in terms of a straight answer as to what they're telling us over here.

The president is kicking up other controversies as well. He's causing other confusion on a range of fronts. The president, for example, earlier this morning talked about the possibility of hosting the next G7 summit in Miami at his own golf course right near the airport in Miami. And here's what the president had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We haven't made a final decision but right next to the airport, right there, meaning a few minutes away. It's a great place. It's got tremendous acreage, many hundreds of acres, so we can handle whatever happens. So people are really liking it. And it's Miami. Doral, Miami, so it's a great area.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And the other piece of confusion on all of this, is why the president, as you were just mentioning it a few moments ago, Jim, why the president did not attend that climate change meeting here at the G7 summit. We were told it was because the president was meeting or had these bilateral meetings scheduled with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and India's Prime Minister Modi.

But, Jim, as you probably saw on those pictures coming out of that climate meeting, both of those leaders were in the meeting. The president was not, instead there was an empty chair, though I am told by a White House official that a National Security Council staffer was there in the president's place. But of course, that is not the same as having the head of staff, the, you know, most powerful leader in the world sitting in on a very critical, important meeting on climate change just as the Amazon is burning and raging out of control as we speak -- Jim.

[09:05:09] SCIUTTO: And raises the question, who was the president meeting late with if both those leaders, the German leader and the Indian leader, were present at the meeting.

Jim Acosta in France. Thanks very much.

ACOSTA: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Let's bring in our team of experts. Abby Phillip, there is only one version of the truth, as we know. The president is claiming and the White House presenting multiple versions of the truth on a very basic question. Did the president have any conversation over the weekend that indicates a meeting of the minds with China or was he looking for a positive story as the markets open on a Monday.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And I think a lot of the indications that we have right now are that the president is trying to change the narrative around China trade talks. It's not even clear if any prospective meetings with China are particularly new. We've known for a long time that coming up in the next several weeks there were plans for meetings. There are some questions about whether those plans might have been scuttled because of the escalation that we saw late last week but President Trump is clearly trying to right the ship in terms of the narrative that's being told to investors on Wall Street and generally for the world economy.

But it's not clear if these meetings or these conversations were even real or if they were at very low levels. I mean, I think it's fair to say that they are probably very low-level conversations happening all the time on a fairly constant basis. The question is, did it completely reset the state of play between the U.S. and China? I think we just simply don't know.

SCIUTTO: And there's no -- really no evidence of that.

Nic Robertson, I believe we have you on the ground in France there. It does seem that there are two G7s. There's the G7 summit between the U.S. and its closest allies that is actually happening that facts back up and there's a G7 that the president is presenting on a whole host of issues, whether it's on Russia's readmission, the resumption of trade talks substantive with China and others.

From your view on the ground and I know you're speaking to diplomats participating in these talks here, what is the real G7 summit that's taking place?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You know, I think it's a different one to one that everyone came here to expect for a number of reasons. One is that there was more communique, that President Macron said days in advance there wouldn't be. And as we all know that's a kind of mostly pre-agreed roadmap to where the -- where all the discussions will end up. So that allowed everything to get into more of a free flow.

Then you have the fact that Macron did something that we haven't ever seen before. He invited the Iranian foreign minister to Biarritz for a meeting with him and with his foreign minister. That was essentially as President Trump says that Macron asked him for permission to do that. The day before President Trump has said he hasn't been asked, then he said he was asked that he said it would be OK to do it. So that's been different.

But I think the reality of what we see here is President Trump trying to reset the narrative of last year where it was a G7, where it was six plus one, where he left early, refused to sign the communique at the end of that summit. And here he's been saying well, we've had no arguments, everyone is getting along great, and trying to publicly put forward the same message that he's putting forward behind the scenes about the way he's dealing with China on trade. That there may be some pain but this the right way forward. We've got the upper hand. China, Xi is a good guy, he'll come around eventually.

So we're trying to -- we're seeing the president here, I think, define himself this time around as one of the players, despite not being at the climate change meeting. Define himself as one of the players and not an outlier. That criticism seemed to hurt him. And here he is giving support to Macron now on Zarif talking about the joint statement that may come out about Iran here at the G7 shortly. So I think this very much feels -- it's been very heavy on spin. And I don't think it's until the dust settles afterwards that we get to really know what's going on behind the scenes. Most diplomats here don't come out and speak about what happens behind the scenes.

SCIUTTO: Nia-Malika Henderson, let's for a moment drop kick the phrase narrative well into the stands, forget narrative and let's talk about facts, what's actually happening. This is Trump's third G7 summit. And on the key issues, trade war with China, Russia's readmission to the G7, the nuclear deal with Iran as well as climate change, the president is at clear odds with his closest allies. Forget narrative, the facts are he has not moved the allies on any of these issues.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that's right and they haven't moved him. And even if you're going into this summit, there were reports out of the White House, the president was complaining that he even had to go. Larry Kudlow, one of the president's top economic advisers wrote a piece in the "Wall Street Journal" essentially saying the G7 may have lost its way.

[09:10:05] That he felt like this particular G7, maybe it was too focused on niche issues like gender inequality, income inequality, the climate and things like that. And these are obviously very key issues for these nations, for the Western-style democracy. So, you have, I think, President Trump going there and sort of trying to -- sorry to use the word -- narrative but counter the narrative that his own team had said.

SCIUTTO: We'll call it a false narrative.

HENDERSON: Yes. Yes.

SCIUTTO: Because if it's false, it's false.

HENDERSON: Yes. I think that's right. So where he goes from here, I mean, I think we're certainly seems like America alone on the stage. But this is the America that was sort of -- what Donald Trump wanted. He felt like America, he could sort of bully these other nations, that he could maybe isolate them and maybe team up with Russia or whatever, which seems to be leaving him with little place to go, and kind of in this confused space where he seems to not be telling the truth on China, seeming to want to say, oh, maybe there were regrets, but oh, the real regret was that I didn't raise tariffs high enough, leaving the question of --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HENDERSON: Is he going to raise tariffs at this point? But then he wants to calm the markets. The markets, by the way, since he began this tariff threat and fight, they flat lined. Right? And remember, this was part of his idea of why he was such a good president, that the stock market was soaring. Well, since he started this trade war they pretty much flat lined.

SCIUTTO: It is a view in Wall Street, the bear market has already started.

Jill Dougherty, let's talk about one of those issues that the president differs clearly with his allies. That's on Russia's readmission to G7. Just to remind our viewers, Russia was kicked out in 2014 for invading and annexing Crimea, a part of a sovereign European country. That has not changed. In fact, Russia has escalated since then, because it has since invaded eastern Ukraine. On that issue, has he moved the allies at all?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No. With the exception I think the Italian prime minister said he might accept --

SCIUTTO: The outgoing -- yes.

DOUGHERTY: Yes. The outgoing. But no, he hasn't. But you know, I think looking at this kind of like ahead is Putin looking at this as Trump says, hey, come on back in, I think they both disdain international organizations that they don't run. So, you know, Trump really, is -- you were just saying, he doesn't want to be there because he thinks it is kind of useless because it is America essentially telling the world what to do.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

DOUGHERTY: Putin is very much the same way, although he has an economy that's like half the size of California.

SCIUTTO: Right.

DOUGHERTY: But he also doesn't want to be in any international organizations that he can't kind of run. So, what they're saying is, the Russians saying essentially, we don't need your G7. Let's have the G20 where they are members and they actually have a role. And they both -- I think Trump and Putin both say the G7 is kaput. It is -- it's outlived its usefulness and we don't really, really need it. And that's the more disturbing part.

SCIUTTO: That's in Russia's interest, right?

DOUGHERTY: Yes.

SCIUTTO: I mean, and that is certainly not in the interest of the allies. But, Molly Ball, we often we'll see moments of -- I don't want to say outrage, but just confusion back and forth from the White House, specious claims from the White House. When this third G7 is all done and bested, and the president leaves, what will have fundamentally changed?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I have no idea. I don't think anybody knows.

(LAUGHTER)

BALL: No, I mean, there is this cloud of confusion around the whole thing. The China talks are a bit of a black box and that's why the president and the administration have been able to send so many conflicting signals. You know, in the big picture you saw the market freak out when it looked like they were saying this is over, this is not happening, this is done, and so they rushed in to say no, no, no. We're still talking. But, you know, there's -- I think there's a tendency to dismiss a lot of the sort of -- the blather from the White House. The president who just kind of says stuff, whatever flies into his mind and often is at odds with the truth.

But this really matters for people, right? This really matters for people in the economy, who are dealing with tariffs. This really matters for investors who are trying to get some clarity about --

SCIUTTO: Matters for companies who are do business in China. Yes.

BALL: What's really happening in the markets. And I don't think that anything has been done to clear any of that up. You know, he does have a lot of disdain for international institutions but at the same time he wants to have it both ways. He doesn't have the courage of his convictions to actually pull out or boycott or not go to these conferences that he claims to have so little use for. So, you do have on the one hand a philosophical opposition, which, you know, you may disagree with it but at least it's an idea that these institutions are not worthwhile for the United States and that we shouldn't be participating in them.

But at the same time he shows up and he wants to be respected and he wants to be in the photo-op and he has to go and Twitter and claim that all of these leaders are sucking up to him behind the scenes and saying all these things about how terrible the American media is treating him.

SCIUTTO: Right.

BALL: I don't think a lot of people believe that's actually happening. But you see this need on his part to have both, to claim to have the respect of the world community at the same time as he's, you know, voicing --

SCIUTTO: Dismissing them. Yes.

BALL: Dismissing them and voicing opposition, too.

[09:15:00]

SCIUTTO: All right, Molly, Jill, Nia-Malika, Abby, please stay with us. Lots more to discuss, still to come at this hour, what will the president say as he leaves the G7 Summit just moments for now. We're going to bring you his news conference live, it is coming up shortly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: It is a tale of two summits this morning. "The Atlantic" analyzing the G7 Summit saying this, the president's narrative stands in stark contrast to what is happening on the ground. Listen, folks, there's only one version of the truth.

Let's stop talking about narratives, let's talk about facts, what we know. We'll learn just how well the president thought the summit went and he speaks to the cameras shortly. Joining me now to discuss is David Rohde; executive editor for "The New Yorker", website and CNN global affairs analyst, and Michael Bociurkiw; he's global affairs analyst, he's also a former spokesperson for the organization for security and cooperation in Europe.

[09:20:00] Good morning to both of you. I want to ask you, David, because you've covered summits like this before, and you get the sense that the allies are handling the president with kid gloves in public, loathe to exacerbate any differences or to embarrass him in public, but in private, making it very clear that they have real differences on the key national security challenges. Is that the dynamic you're seeing play out here?

DAVID ROHDE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE NEW YORKER WEBSITE: Yes, that's my sense. And I think, you know, President Macron of France is sort of really running this. So, I think he was very careful, he informed Trump that the Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif was going to be there beforehand to avoid some sort of explosion.

And then as you pointed out earlier, Trump not being at this Amazon meeting, you know, could have been planned or intentional or the president may not have wanted to be there anyway. But for Macron, it's a win. He gets a real result and he avoids having, you know, Trump disrupt the meeting.

You could argue maybe that, you know, other democracies, these other leaders are getting more effective at managing Trump. That does seem to be what's happening, and they're moving forward without him on key issues.

SCIUTTO: So, tell us, Michael, you spent a lot of time in Europe covering U.S. -- the U.S. relationship with its key allies here. Tell us the significance of the best result from a meeting of America with its closest allies in Europe, when the best result is U.S. allies managing the president so as to avoid open and embarrassing disagreements?

MICHAEL BOCIURKIW, GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Good to be with you. We're aware it's an unbelievable time right now. I mean, imagine, Jim, if you're European policy maker or North American, you're waking up this morning, who do you believe? The Trump that who said something this morning or something in the afternoon.

I think what we're seeing is a kind of tantrum diplomacy, if you will or White House foreign policy buffoonery. The big problem here of course is that the allies don't know what the real policy is, even if they speak to someone like Pompeo.

So, I think what you saw for example with the French initiative inviting the Iranian Foreign Minister is a sign that Europe is now starting to go off on its own, with or without the United States. And also very legitimate concern about the situation escalating relatively close on their door-step.

The other kind of behind-the-scenes -- just quickly, thing we saw here is Macron is really stepping up, becoming kind of the European statesman perhaps ahead of Angela Merkel retiring. And I think he really likes to play that role and be kind of the leader on major initiatives now.

SCIUTTO: Now, David, we know that the one thing President Trump really wants to avoid is being dismissed or diminished in any way. You had a telling moment over the weekend where Boris Johnson, the new U.K. Prime Minister said to Macron, well played on the way he handled the open -- the Summit, particularly with relation to Trump. Is that what's been playing out here and is the president aware of it?

ROHDE: I think he's aware of it. I think he's very attuned to American news coverage or doesn't care about coverage from the rest of the world. And the one thing that I think is sort of, you know, scaring him and sort of taming the president is the American markets. I think he is very afraid as you mentioned earlier about the market continuing to dive.

And that's why this new story -- I won't use the other word -- has emerged that there is progress with China. And lastly, I think the president is missing an opportunity on China. He could have tried to bring European countries together somehow on trade or this is how alliances work, but he just seems to disdain them, and you know, he's inventing these sort of stories and it's not working.

SCIUTTO: Speaking of that, I mean, a quick fact-check there. The president talks about resumption of talks next month as if it's news, it's not news. I spoke to the president's trade negotiator on Friday, they were scheduled to start in September regardless, delayed from July. Michael, on the issue of Iran, this is again the president's third G7 Summit.

The European allies are staying in the Iran nuclear deal, which the U.S. left, and the European allies are finding work around for U.S.- imposed sanctions. How significant is that for the U.S. to be out in the woods, as it were, on the Iran nuclear deal after arguably the most powerful country in the world being ignored by its allies.

BOCIURKIW: Yes, hugely significant. I mean, this is one of the major foreign policy conflicts in modern history I would say. And again, what the Europeans are mostly concerned about, I have spoken to diplomats here is that this thing escalating suddenly because the tensions are extremely high.

Look, I think the closer we get to the elections, the more you're going to see the kind of tantrum diplomacy from Trump. He did promise his base that the U.S. is no longer going to be the world's police man, so they're stepping away.

[09:25:00] And this leads a -- this creates a very dangerous void. Hence, as I said, you're going to see more strength, more initiative coming from people like Macron to solve these crisis because it's a very -- we're in a very dark place right now I would say.

SCIUTTO: David Rohde, Michael Bociurkiw, thanks to both of you. Soon, we're going to hear directly from President Trump. He'll speak at a live news conference with the French President Emmanuel Macron as the G7 concludes in France and the president returns home. We're going to bring that to you live from that podium right there shortly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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