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Pelosi Touches Down In Taiwan, Angering Beijing; China Responds To Pelosi's Taiwan Visit; Chinese Ambassador: Pelosi's Taiwan Visit Will Escalate Tensions; American Drone Strike Ends Al Qaeda Chief's Reign Of Terror. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 02, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Right now, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is in Taiwan, and the Biden White House is warning a furious China to quote, think very carefully about what it does next.

The world's most wanted terrorist is dead. The United States missile strike in Afghanistan kills al Qaeda is Ayman al-Zawahiri. President Biden authorized the raid after months of planning and after assurances, there would be no civilian casualties.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Now, justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more.


KING: And another midterm test of Donald Trump's brand, five states hold primaries today. Three Republicans who voted to impeach Trump face primaries and several key races include 2020 election deniers with the Trump stamp of approval.

We begin the hour though, with a very important and defy and public show of force, by the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. A little over an hour ago, Speaker Nancy Pelosi walking down the tarmac in Taiwan. Her bright pink suit unmistakable. The symbolism to you cannot miss, you can see it there, the American flag on the tail of Pelosi's air force jet lit up, moments after touching down in Taipei.

Her trip is both high stakes and high danger. Pelosi says in a new statement, this trip reaffirms "the unwavering commitment" to Taiwan's young democracy. And her visit directly ignores weeks of stern warnings from the Chinese government. Just moments after Pelosi landed, this new threat from Beijing, "these moves, like playing with fire are extremely dangerous. Those who play with fire will perish by it."

Let's begin our coverage in Taiwan, in Taipei with CNN's Will Ripley. Will, we've been waiting for this, and Speaker landed, the air force lit up the flag on the jet. She stepped off the plane defiantly.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And China has now responded defiantly with what they are saying are going to be military exercises, various military exercises happening around the island of Taiwan in the coming hours, it is now midnight here in Taipei. So, you're talking about overnight military exercises.

We're not entirely sure how it's going to look. How it's going to sound. Will there be anyone in Taiwan who could hear echoing booms, you know, off in the distance from the water in the middle of the night from China. I mean, this is the dramatic kind of effect that they're going for.

But now, of course, that we know, that in addition to the propaganda videos and the statement, you know, now that Nancy Pelosi is on the ground in Taipei, and she has arrived safely, that China is going to be assembling some sort of, you know, military formations. You know, theoretically it takes a while to get these things approved.

And if you're obviously like China, so they must have been working on this plan either before or right when the news started to leak out about Pelosi has planned trip. And now you actually have them announcing that these military drills will be underway.

Now in terms of the Taiwan government perspective, now that that Speaker Pelosi has arrived here, they're finally starting to publicly acknowledge that she's here and welcome her here. It was radio silence all day long from the president's office on down.

And John, this is one of the most transparent governments here in Taiwan, I've ever covered, and they normally are always on digital and social media, putting information out to get in front of things. But they were very quiet about Speaker Pelosi even saying when the Foreign Minister Joseph Wu was at the airport, waiting for her that it was a VIP guests that he was waiting for.

They would not confirm until she was here. And it just speaks, John, to the sensitivity of this whole situation. We also have just confirmed this is brand new CNN reporting from my producer Eric Chung that the Speaker will indeed be going to the presidential office and parliament. Tomorrow she'll be meeting with members of parliament. She will be meeting with Taiwan's president, and we have that now officially confirmed just a few minutes ago.

KING: Will Ripley for us live in Taipei. Will keep us posted on this important development. Let's get now very important perspective, the perspective of the Chinese government on this visit. Qin Gang is the Chinese Ambassador to the United States. He joins us now.

Mr. Ambassador, grateful for your time at this important moment. The Speaker is in Taiwan, as you well know, China said don't go as she is there now. The Biden White House says this should not be a big deal. Newt Gingrich's speaker visited 25 years ago. Why?

Why is that the Foreign Ministry of China says this, it will definitely take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity in response to the U.S. speaker's visit? You just heard our correspondents say, there will be overnight military exercises. It's the Biden White House says, China here is making this a big deal, why?

QIN GANG, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Firstly, Speaker Pelosi's visit to China's Taiwan region, the Chinese side has repeatedly expressed is firm and strong opposition to the U.S. side at various levels through different channels. The Speaker's visit is a major event upgrading the substantive relations between U.S. and Taiwan. And assigns as a very wrong signal to Taiwan independence separates forces. It is a serious violation of the one China principle and the provisions in the three Sino U.S. drawn to communicates. (crosstalk) foundation and (Inaudible) and territorial integrity.


KING: Sir, let me jump in for one second. Forgive me, forgive me, please. I don't want to make this contentious. But that is the position of your government, but she says she is there in honor of the Taiwan Relations Act. I understand how difficult this is, but Taiwan has a democratically elected government. Speaker Pelosi says, it is very important at this time in the world, for her as the top woman in the United States government, the number three person in the U.S. government to show its support. China could have just said, let it go, played it down, ignored it. Instead, the White House would say, it is China looking for a provocation here.

GANG: Well, the question of Taiwan is not about democracy. It's about China's national sovereignty and territorial integrity. And it is the aspiration of the more than 1.4 billion Chinese people to achieve the reunification of China. And it is unbending real of the whole Chinese nation to defend our national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

And Nancy Pelosi is not a person in straight. As you mentioned, you know, he as a speaker, he is number three in the U.S. government. So, her visit in whatever form at whatever time during his tenure, you know, carries, you know, high political sensitivities. And it will result in the escalation of the tension across Taiwan street and escalation of the tension in the U.S. China relations.

So, we firmly and strongly condemn and the protest against it. And you mentioned that this is not the first time of the speaker's visit to China, to Taiwan. Let me say this, 25 years ago, Speaker Gingrich visit Taiwan, it was completely wrong. The Chinese side was firmly opposed to it from the start-stop. The U.S. side should draw lessons from it, instead of making repeat mistakes. And one mistake cannot justify the following mistakes in the same nature.

KING: Well, Speaker Pelosi says that you have to look around the world, and she sees Russia's invasion of Ukraine. She sees China violating its agreement with Hong Kong, about the one government two systems. And she says, therefore it is extra more important at this point for the United States to publicly make clear, it stands with the people of Taiwan and its democratically elected government.

Your government objects, you just condemned it. What will he do about it? Is the big question. Are these military exercises designed to frighten Taiwan? Will there be a break in relations any sanctions at what would happen in the U.S. Chinese relationship?

GANG: Well, people should not confuse the president of Taiwan with the Ukrainian conflict. And on the question of Taiwan is concerned China's core interest and that some people here in the United States. On the issue of Ukraine, they emphasized national sovereignty and a territorial integrity. But why they do whatever they want to damage China's courage core interested.

Infringed, China's national sovereignty, territorial integrity, this is a play of a double standards. So, we firmly reject that. And the China has every right to defend a sovereignty and a territorial integrity. We are fully justified to do what we must. The current situation is created purely by the U.S. side. So, of course, it has to bear the responsibilities.

KING: People can have different opinions about who's responsible for the moment, we are at this moment. And as Will Ripley says, the Chinese government has announced these overnight military exercises. Again, that is a risk of a miscalculation and a provocation. Is it not, is the government of China, President Xi Jinping, is he so determined to get Taiwan that, if necessary, he will take it by force?

GANG: Well, to achieve further reunification, as I said earlier, is the firm and strong will of the whole Chinese nation. So, China's sovereignty cannot be infringed, and Chinese people cannot be humiliated, and the reunification of China cannot be stopped. We said repeatedly recent time that the PLA will not stay idle, and the duty of PLA, the China's military is to define the China's sovereignty and territorial integrity. So, we will take whatever we can to respond and to protect, to save that our sovereignty, territorial integrity. And our response will be very form, strong and forceful.


KING: Full strong and forceful, those are strong words. Mr. Ambassador, I'm grateful for your time today. We will watch how this plays out. And I hope you can stay in touch with us in the days ahead as this plays out. I appreciate your time today, sir. There's a disagree, obviously a disagreement about some things, but I appreciate your time.

GANG: Thank you for having me.

KING: Thank you, sir. Joining our conversation now, Shihoko Goto. She's the Deputy Director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Asia Program, and the former Deputy Director of National Intelligence Beth Sanner. Shihoko, let me start with you. First, you heard the ambassador at the end, very forceful language. The question is, will the government in Beijing backup strong words with strong actions?

SHIHOKO GOTO, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, WOODROW WILSON CENTER'S ASIA PROGRAM: Well, we already think some action before Speaker Pelosi's arrival. The president's office of Taiwan came under cyberattack, and it was - it became dysfunctional for about 20 minutes. And we are already seeing this lineup of military aggression and provocation by the Chinese already. I think the best-case scenario to conclude Speaker Pelosi's visit to Taiwan will be, this is as bad as it gets.

But the big challenge is going to be, what is going to be Taiwan's position in the longer term. Will China continue to put pressure Taiwan? And what will the United States do to ensure that Taiwan can actually withstand the longer-term coercion that China is expected to do?

KING: And so, one of the questions Beth Sanner on the table is, what now? The Biden White House initially opposed this trip by the speaker, they tried gently to dissuade her. Once she was clear she was going, they decided to support her. This is Jake Sullivan; the National Security Advisor and you're watching these pictures on the stage.

Nancy Pelosi, she is making a very strong public statement here. She has been on this issue for 30 plus years, in terms of the Chinese government and its human rights abuses. She has been a friend of Taiwan throughout that period. Jake Sullivan says, he's worried now. The Chinese are going to use this excuse. And you heard the strong language for the ambassador as a pretext. Listen?


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: A Speaker of the House has traveled to Taiwan before, and members of Congress travel there all the time, including several who have already traveled there this year. So, for China, to try to turn what is in the historical norm into a crisis or to try to use it as a pretext for aggressive action around Taiwan, that's on them. And they would be the ones who'd be escalating.


KING: Is there a risk of the serious military escalation in and around Taiwan right now?

BETH SANNER, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: There is some. Certainly, in the next 24 to 48 hours, there is a significant risk, because we are going to see some military action. As Will pointed out, the exercises are starting. And the last time we had us high level visit, not nearly as high as Pelosi was in 2020. And that was the undersecretary of state for econ. And when he went, the Chinese flew almost 40 planes across the median line, the line that is an invisible line between the island and the mainland. That was the first time that happened.

In the 95-96 crisis, we saw missiles fired near Taiwan. I expect that we'll see some things like that happen. And at the same time, we're going to see the Taiwanese air force, they're going to scramble and put jets up into the air because that's what they always do.

And frankly, the Chinese the way that they've been behaving recently, Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff just warned about their unsafe behavior. And so, I think there is a risk of that. That said, I think that China is going to try to thread the needle. She has a lot on his plate at home and he doesn't need a crisis right now.

KING: And Shihoko Goto, to that point, you heard the ambassador use the words, China will not be humiliated, words mean different things in different political cultures. When the Chinese say that, given what Beth just laid out, there's been this theory of the U.S. term, wag the dog that China's having economic problems at home. President Xi has the big political Congress coming up. When the ambassador says, China will not be humiliated. How do you read that as how far is China willing to go?


GOTO: Well, China is the regional hegemon, and it wants to demonstrate the power that it has. It is clear that China does not want to back down, but at the same time it also has to walk a very fine line of ensuring that it can rally its people, ensure that it comes across as a strong government and also not have to waste its resources, its credibility amongst its allies and the global south in particular. And so, this is going to be one of the challenges that the Xi administration is going to have to face.

KING: It's a fascinating moment. And again, as Will Ripley outlined, the Speaker of the House planning to visit the presidency and the parliament in the morning hours in Taiwan, it is overnight now. So, we will watch this play out very tense moment in the world. Goto, grateful for your time, Beth Sanner is going to stay with us as we continue a very another important global conversation. Next, the world's most wanted terrorist dead in the U.S. drone strike.


KING: Now to another giant global story. President Biden giving a kill order that ends al Qaeda's top terrorists dead. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the most wanted poster, you see it there. Updated to say deceased after a drone strike, brought two plus decades on the run to a very sudden close.


That picture there, the Kabul skyline and the burning aftermath of two hellfire missiles, finishing a monthslong operation to track and kill the al Qaeda terror chief. This morning, the White House releasing this new photo, new photos of President Biden ticking through the details of the operation last month.

Examining you see it there, a top-secret model of the terrorists Kabul safe house, the White House says there was no collateral damage. No civilians or members of al-Zawahiri's family were killed. The operation ends a reign of terror. al-Zawahiri plotted the deaths of thousands of Americans. He was in the 9/11 planning, involved in the attack on the USS Cole and embassy bombings in Africa.

Let's get more now, straight to the Pentagon CNN's Barbara Starr. Barbara, walk us through literally a spy movie playing out. BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me start right at the beginning for one second, John. 184 souls lost their lives on the morning of 9/11 here in this very building. And right now, at this hour, we have yet to hear from any of the Pentagon leadership about the killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri. And of course, add on to that the thousands of U.S. troops and military families that made such a sacrifice for 20 years during the war in Afghanistan.

All of that said, what we do know, back in April, President Biden is given exquisite intelligence about Zawahiri being somewhere in Kabul, being in Afghanistan, moving into that country. Zawahiri felt comfortable enough to make the move, his family was there. And they started tracking him. Here's what we don't know. How were they tracking him?

The U.S. says it doesn't have people on the ground inside Afghanistan. So, if they were tracking him by drone, they came to understand exactly where he was, how he moved, what his pattern of life was. And then it was just a few days ago, that President Biden gave that final order to move in with a drone and two hellfire missiles.

But there is still plenty to learn about all of this, because they're not saying very much. The mission was carried out by the CIA. We know that. And we know that they say now that there are no civilian casualties and they do not have a final DNA confirmation that it was Zawahiri. They say they have visual evidence somehow and other confirming intelligence. So, a lot to learn about exactly how it all may have gone down, John?

KING: More drama, more questions, but grateful for that. Barbara Starr, live at the Pentagon. Let's try to answer some of those questions. Let's get some expertise and insights from the former CIA director, former Defense Secretary and former White House Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta, and the former Deputy Director of National Intelligence Beth Sanner, is back with us as well.

Leon Panetta, to you, you were at the CIA for a long time. You understand how these operations come together? Before we look back, let's look forward. al-Zawahiri, bad guy for a long time. What is it tell us about al Qaeda's capabilities today and tomorrow? Are Americans or people around the world safer because of this?

Leon Panetta: Well, I don't think there's any question that certainly in the near term. The loss of both bin Laden and now Zawahiri has removed some of the key leadership of al Qaeda. Al Qaeda will still remain a threat. However, they still have a mission to be able to go after and kill Americans and our allies. And I think they'll continue to do that.

And I think the danger here now is that with the Taliban, in control of Afghanistan, and having provided a safe haven for Zawahiri, or what they hoped was a safe haven for Zawahiri. I think the reality is that the Taliban will continue to allow al Qaeda to reconstruct itself in the future. So, in the long term, there's still a threat.

KING: And so that calls into question, this from the present United States last night, saying that, you know, the United States government has been looking for this bad actor for a very long time, and everybody should feel better. Listen?


PRES. BIDEN: People around the world no longer need to fear the vicious and determined killer. United States continues to demonstrate our resolve and our capacity to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm.

KING: Beth, the capacity part at the end is what jumps out to me in the sense that when the United States pulled out of Afghanistan, and it was messy. The administration did insist, it would have over the horizon capability that if the Taliban broke its word, and it did, and allowed al Qaeda back into Afghanistan, which it did that the administration would have the capability. Does this tell you the administration has a robust such capability? Or is this one episode and we're not sure, probably somewhere in between?

When we want to take someone out and it's a high-level target, we can put enormous amount of resources just like with the bin Laden raid, to track that person. But there are a lot of terrorists running around Afghanistan right now. And there are more than then since we left.


And so, you know, you can't just do one warhead or two in this case you have to bomb camps and you have to find camps in very, very remote mountainous areas that are hard to track down. So, it's a kind of a combination. And the Taliban certainly is giving safe haven.

KING: So, two very different operations. It was navy seals that to go into Pakistan to get Osama bin Laden hellfire missiles fired from a drone into Afghanistan, but two presidents taking our two top terrorists listen.


BARACK OBAMA, 44TH U.S. PRESIDENT: It his death, does not mark the end of our effort. There is no doubt that I'll try to will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must, and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad.

PRES. BIDEN: My administration will continue to visually monitor and address threats from al Qaeda. No matter where they emanate from.


KING: Leon Panetta, you're in the room as the bin Laden operation played out. As I know that these are very different. But given your understanding, both as Chief of Staff at the White House, Defense Secretary, CIA, the planning the level of detail, the questions from the president that come up about risk to U.S. forces, or in this case versus to civilians in Afghanistan, just take us inside the spy novel?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think we have to give a tremendous tribute to our intelligence and military officials who are involved in the planning, this takes a lot of work. And it takes a lot of reconnaissance. And if the intelligence people were able to follow Zawahiri to do reconnaissance through drones, to be able to have additional intelligence that pin down that he was, in fact there.

And then had the ability to target him specifically in a way that didn't involve any collateral damage, that takes a tremendous amount of planning, and a tremendous amount of work. And it's a tribute to them, that they were able to accomplish. At the end, this is really the completion of the mission that we started on 9/11, which was to go after those who were responsible for 9/11.

We went after their leadership, we went after bin Laden, and now we've gone after Zawahiri successfully. That does bring to an end that mission, doesn't mean that they don't remain a threat. But certainly, the mission that was established on 9/11 to go after them has been completed.

KING: Leon Panetta, Beth Sanner grateful for your important insights on this important story. Appreciate it very much. Next for us to shift to politics. It is primary day in five states. Kansas, for example, taking a statewide vote on abortion rights and the Trump brand being tested in several important contests.