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Sparring With Several Nations; Death Toll In Iran; Kim Jong Un Hold Nuclear Button; North Korea In Winter Olympics. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 2, 2018 - 13:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Jerusalem, 10:30 p.m. in Tehran. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

We begin with a world on edge and global tensions on the rise right now. President Trump begins a 2018 facing a host of international challenges.

In Iran, protesters are out in force for a sixth straight day. Iran's supreme leader today blamed the country's enemies for stirring up violence. President Trump has expressed support for the protesters, and he warns that Iran -- he warns Iran that the U.S. is watching.

North Korea, meanwhile, may be trying to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul. The North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, is keeping up his harsh rhetoric against the United States while extending an olive branch to South Korea.

He raised the possibility of sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics games in South Korea next month. South Korea is welcoming the idea and calling for high-level talks.

A move today by Israel deals a potential blow to the two-state solution. The Israeli parliament passed a law making it harder to negotiate any part of Jerusalem. This comes on the heels of the decision by President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

And Pakistan fires back. President Trump says the U.S. foolishly gave the country $33 billion in recent years to fight terrorism and got, he says, nothing in return.

Pakistan's foreign minister says President Trump should hire an auditor to see who is lying.

All that coming up.

Let's get the latest right now on the unrest in Iran. The death toll on day six of the demonstrations has now risen to 21, and Iran is blaming its enemies for stirring up the violence.

The country's foreign minister also blasted President Trump for his support of the protesters. He called the president's tweets, quote, "useless and offensive."

Let's go to our Senior International Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh. He's monitoring all of these developments from London.

Nick, is President Trump's support likely to resonate with the protesters? What's the potential impact?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The danger is possibly that he might play into exactly the device being used by hardliners in Iran to discredit these protests.

Now, they began many, I think, unanticipated about social economic political grievances. And they've kept going now for six days.

The problem being the violence has increased, nearly doubling the death toll overnight. Much of that focused on one particular instance at a police station.

You're seeing pictures there of about six of the nine who died overnight, died there. But that has perhaps caused some of the more hardline rhetoric to amplify, particularly you heard from Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not a man who gives daily commentary on Iran (INAUDIBLE.)

But he is supposed (ph) to make a statement today, saying the enemy is waiting for an opportunity for a flaw through which they can enter. By the enemy, he almost certainly means the United States.

And a lot of the rhetoric from Iran's security officials is being to suggest that somehow these protests are being fermented by the United States. Well, that's not something we've seen much open evidence of, at this point.

But, remarkably, just in the last hours or so, a senior State Department official has, in fact, said, yes, we are communicating with people in Iran through social media sites, Facebook, Twitter in farcy (ph). They can access those sites using VPNs, sort of secure networks, if you like.

And, of course, Steve Goldstein, the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy, is saying the message, we want to encourage the protesters to continue to fight what's right and to open up Iran.

Now, of course, that's all, for decades, been a U.S. policy globally. But there's always been uncertain quite how wise that is in Iran, given the capacity now, for that to be cited by Iranian hardliners to say that these protests often young people, disenfranchised, angry at the lack of economic opportunity are, in fact, somehow foreign agents.

There's no purposeful street-level evidence out, at this point. But we've now had a statement from a senior diplomat in the U.S., suggesting, in fact, that may be what the U.S. is open to admit is, in fact, happening.

Confusion here. But the key point, Wolf, there's no leader for these protests. There's no manifesto. They are, it seems at this point, pretty grass roots.

The question is, what happens next? If there's no figure head that the Iranian government can negotiate with, even this more moderate element.

BLITZER: Yes, very dramatic elements unfolding. We'll stay on top of it. Nick Paton Walsh, thanks very much.

At the same time, North Korea right now issuing a dire warning for the United States. The North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, setting the tone for the new year of relations with the United States in his new year's address.



KIM JONG UN, LEADER, NORTH KOREA (translator): America will never be able to provoke war or attack us. The entire continent of America is within reach of our nuclear attack. They must never forget the nuclear button is placed on my desk at all times. They must realize correctly that this is not a threat, but reality.


[13:05:02] BLITZER: While North Korea keeps up the threatening rhetoric with the United States, they're actually reaching out to South Korea right now, with Kim Jong Un saying he wouldn't rule out sending his athletes to the Olympic games being hosted by South Korea next month.

And now, South Korea has eagerly responded.

Our Paula Hancocks joins us from Seoul -- Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're hearing some very positive signs from South Korea to that suggestion and that offer from North Korea that there should be talks between the two Koreas.

We are hearing from the unification minister today that he is suggesting a date for when they could actually talk. He is suggesting January 9th which is next Tuesday.

And he's saying that there should be senior-level talks between the North and South Korean officials at Panmunjom, which is the border village in the DMZ, in the de-militarized zone.

Now, they haven't had a response, at this point, from North Korea. But the (INAUDIBLE) are saying it's necessary to do it quickly and to have it high level very quickly as well. Because there's only a month left to go before the PyeongChang Winter Olympics start here in South Korea.

South Korea wants North Korea to be part of that. And this, of course, is what Kim Jong Un has suggested that he is willing to send a delegation.

So, certainly, this is something that Seoul is very excited about. They have billed this Olympics as the peace Olympics. To have North Korea as part of it is something that the president, Moon Jae-in, has said all along that he wants.

It's interesting, though, that we're seeing this very different two sides to Kim Jong Un, when he's looking ahead to deal with other countries.

A year ago, we had heard that Kim Jong Un, and certainly North Korean officials, were looking for, potentially, new relationship with the new Trump administration at that time.

But now, we are hearing just nuclear defiance, when it comes to the United States. And the overtures are only towards South Korea.

Clearly, North Korea feeling that last year there was a very bad relationship between the two countries, a very bad relationship between the two leaders, as well.

So, they're trying a different strategy. They are looking (INAUDIBLE) -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Paula Hancocks In Seoul, South Korea for us. Thank you.

President Trump, by the way, he's tweeting about all these developments in the Korea, saying, quote, "Sanctions and other pressures are beginning to have a big impact on North Korea. Soldiers are dangerously fleeing to South Korea. Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for the first time. Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not. We shall see." Close quote. That the president's tweet.

Joining us now, Michael Singh. He's managing director over at The Washington Institute, former senior director at the National Security Council. Also with us, former deputy assistant secretary of state, Heather Conley. Guys, thanks very much for joining us.

So, is North Korea, Heather, you think, trying to drive some sort of wedge between the United States and South Korea by reaching out in this, kind of, pretty dramatic way?

HEATHER CONLEY, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I think they're using the opportunity at the Olympics. The South Korean government is very anxious to have a success Olympics.

And I think the sanctions are, in fact, really starting to weigh in on the North Korean regime. They want to use this as an opening.

If they can divide the U.S from South Korea, that's a benefit. But I do think the sanctions are impacting. and they want to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea.

BLITZER: And they certainly would like to have a very successful Winter Olympic games in South Korea. And if they can entice the North Koreans to get involved and make sure there's no violence and no confrontation, that would be successful.

CONLEY: Exactly.

BLITZER: It comes at a time, Michael, when we heard the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, say this. Listen.


MIKE MULLEN, FORMER CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We're actually closer, in my view, to a nuclear war with North Korea and in that region than we've ever been. And I just don't see how -- I don't see the opportunities to solve this diplomatically, at this particular point.


BLITZER: Do you agree with him, that he doesn't see a way to resolve this diplomatically?

MICHAEL SINGN, MANAGING DIRECTOR, THE WASHINGTON INSTITUTE: I think a diplomatic solution is really far out of reach at this stage. And think he's right, about the chances of war being heightened.

And I think the reason for that is less the rhetoric on either side and more the fact that now the United States is having to confront for the first time the prospect of a nuclear tipped ICBM from North Korea that can reach the United States.

And I think that's prompting some very difficult discussions within the U.S. government.

BLITZER: Do you agree with Mike Mullen?

CONLEY: So, I -- what I'm concerned about is we're not searching for other tools to help reduce growing a potential conflict.

And Michael's absolutely right. North Korea now has acquired both, it seems, the reach and the technology to impact the United States. So, this is when you dive into all of your tools. The sanctions are tools.

But now, you really try to find those opportunities to bring down tensions to get into some verifiable dialogue with North Korea. But it just seems that we're not there right now.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Iran right now because these are pretty dramatic developments, day six now of these demonstrations that are going on. Some people have died in these demonstrations, many others have been arrested.

[13:10:07] The government in Tehran says President Trump's tweets are useless and offensive. What can, what should the U.S., the Trump administration be doing?

SINGH: Right. So, I think the response so far has been a good response. I don't think we should be silent. I think we should speak out.

But it's not enough that we speak out. We need to also organize an international response. I think we want our allies in Europe and elsewhere to speak out with us. It'll be much more effective if that happens.

I think we want them to warn the regime about the consequences of cracking down on the protesters. And then, I think we need to render direct aid to the protesters. Not necessary directly from the U.S. government.

But the west, in general, I think, needs to be helping the protesters to maintain their ability to receive information. The people of Iran to receive information. Their ability to coordinate and so forth.

BLITZER: What they're clearly trying to do, from the president on down, is differentiate the U.S. response now to these demonstrations in Iran, and not just in Tehran but other cities in Iran as well, to the -- what they would call the silence in 2009, during the Obama administration when there were massive demonstrations. And the U.S. basically stayed out of it.

CONLEY: There was criticism of the lack after the Green Movement in 2009. It was a very fine line to be balanced here. This is for the Iranian people to decide.

It -- we do not want to encourage the Ayatollah and others to saying this is about the United States. It's not about us.

It's about the Iranian people and making sure our values are in place. The right of assembly, the right of peaceful protest. If we make this about ourselves, then we -- in some ways, we make that revolution something else.

So, they need to keep it on the Iranian people but not give them expectations that we can't meet. And I think that's the concern right now.

BLITZER: There's the debate -- and I've heard it over the years since 2009, Michael, you have as well -- is would it have made any difference, the eventual outcome of the so-called Green Revolution in Iran back in 2009, if the U.S. had been more assertive, in speaking out and trying to provide some assistance to those demonstrators?

SINGH: Well, you know, statements alone aren't going to do very much, Wolf. But I think you have to remember, those statements have more than one audience.

And so, when the president speaks out, number one, it's a signal to the U.S. bureaucracy that this a priority. That this is something we should be focusing on.

And, number two, it's a message to U.S. allies, that, hey, you guys should get onboard as well. And, again, international pressure is much more effective than U.S. pressure alone.

BLITZER: Michael Singh, Heather Conley, guys, thanks very much for coming in. The stories are not going away. We'll have you back.

Fresh off signing tax reform into law. The president now setting his sights on new battles in Congress. We'll talk about his to-do list. That's coming up.

Plus, did a night of drunken gossip spark the Russia investigation? There's a report involving one of the president's former campaign advisers that shed some new light on what happened.

And the president now taking credit for the good news that not one person died last year for commercial jet flights. We're fact checking that.

We'll discuss that and more. Stay with us.




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Fresh off his victory on tax reform, President Trump now has work cut out for him as he gets to work on very substantial 2018 agenda, items topping the president's long to do list, including this, the president says there will be no deal with Democrats on DACA, the Dreamers without some support for funding his border wall with Mexico.

He is going to have to find a way to move it forward. It will be the same with a government funding bill where he will need some support from Democrats. He also has to battle the deficit hawks within his own party and with the individual mandate gone from Obamacare, President Trump now needs to find a way and the political will to extend health care reform and fulfill one of his biggest campaign promises. Our White House correspondent, Sarah Murray is joining us right now. Sarah, a huge challenge for the president, a huge challenge for congress as well. How does he hope to get all of this done in the next few weeks?

SARAH MURRAY, CNN REPORTER: Well it is, Wolf, as you put, a huge challenge. It would be a huge for any president, but certainly for President Trump who has such low approval ratings, so already democrats wouldn't necessarily be willing to cooperate with him. and you saw him on Twitter this morning, he's not exactly wooing them publicly; he's taking swipes on Twitter even though he knows he is going to need to win over some Democrats to get through the list of priorities.

Now, that's not to say the two sides are not talking. They certainly are. Some of the president's top staffers, Mark Short who's the head of legislative affairs here at the White House as well as Mick Mulvaney who's the budget director, are going to head to Capitol Hill tomorrow. They're going to be meeting with congressional leaders.

And of course, you know that President Trump is going to be in Camp David and huddle with congressional leaders as well. Those meetings could be key in trying to figure out what issues there even is a path forward on. We know that they need to strike a government spending deal, but the notion that there may be a broader deal on immigration, that could be harder to come to.

I mean, seen Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader essentially say good luck to those folks who are working on it, which is a bipartisan group of lawmakers and he's vowed to bring something to the floor if the can they strike a deal. But can these two sides strike a deal? It is hard to see. Bipartisanship is obviously in very short supply in 2017. We'll see if it's different this year, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you're standing by for a White House press briefing, that's coming up later as well. We'll have coverage - live converge here on CNN. Sarah, thanks to Sarah Murray over at the white House. Let's dig deep. What's ahead for the president, David Drucker is the CNN political analyst, senior political correspondent for the Washington Examiner.

David, thanks for joining us. Let's talk about DACA right now. The president now in that tweet over the past few days saying yes, he will support allowing the Dreamers to stay, but he wants funding for the border wall.

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The president here has some leverage, so it's a matter of how firm he's going to be in using it. It's also a decision for the Democrats, because the wall - they can support a lot of border security measures. The wall is one of the things that their base really dislikes and really dislike this Republican president more than past Republican presidents. And so they are going to have to decide whether or not they're willing to anger the far left corners of their base in order to do a deal that will protect the Dreamers, but could put their own stamp on funding for a border wall.


BLITZER: It's a big issue, indeed. Another area where the president thinks he can get some bipartisan cooperation, infrastructure development. Building new roads, bridges, airports and railroads. Is there a serious opportunity for bipartisan cooperation and funding that hundreds of billions of dollars, maybe a trillion dollars needed to rebuild America?

DRUCKER: Well, 2018 is an election year. Democrats have an opportunity to win back a lot of seats, and as Sarah was discussing, the president has continued to go after Democrats. He has not let up. And so the conditions for a bipartisan deal are not really there. But the president, when it comes to infrastructure, is going to have to try to see what he can do to corral Republicans, who is in the past, have been very hesitant to invest a lot of money on infrastructure.

They've always been concerned about the debt and the deficit. They talked a lot of that, but they did tax reform anyway. After doing tax reform after compromising, in their view and taking a lot of tough votes, I think the president is going to have his work cut out for him on this, simply because Republicans are going to be asking a lot of questions when it comes to spending money as opposed to cutting taxes and in a sense, cutting the government's trough (ph).

BLITZER: You've been doing a lot of reporting on trade. Some major trade issues, especially with China have to be decided fairly soon. He was relatively nice the first year, not so nice over the past few days. Hes getting tough.

DRUCKER: Yeah, we've been waiting for the president, since he took office, almost a year ago to see exactly how much of his tough trade rhetoric that we saw on the campaign trail was going to show itself in the White House. We are getting inklings that the president is thinking about pulling the U.S. out of NAFTA. Those new discussions have been very difficult with Mexico and Canada.

We now know that he's thinking about getting tough with China on trade, and that has a little bit to do with whether or not he is happy with President Xi when it comes to helping the U.S. with the North Korea crisis. I think the larger question now with trade is how much push back the president might get from, you know, as we think of the Trump country, those parts of the country that are heavily dependent on international trade, even though their manufacturing bases have been hurt, and whether or not the president is going to hear from his business base and others who support him and generally support his agenda, but are concerned that messing with NAFTA could cause a problem for the U.S. economy and hurt the growth we'd expect from tax cuts.

Over the break, there was an interesting tweet from John Cornyn, the majority WHIP from Texas who essentially in a tweet, defended NAFTA and cast shade on this idea that protectionism or anything like that would help the economy.

BLITZER: Hes got some major decisions, the president, he's got to make them fairly soon. David, thanks very much - David Drucker, helping us. Meanwhile, there's a new report that suggests one of the president's former campaign advisers who pled guilty actually helped launch the Russia investigation after a night of drunken gossip with an Australian diplomat. We'll discuss that and more, plus a stunning number. The commercial aviation industry didn't have one death last year and now President Trump is taking credit. We will fact check.


BLITZER: He was once sidelined from leading the House intelligence committee's Russia investigation, even though he's the chairman of the committee, but now Republican congressman Devin Nunez is again asserting himself and taking aim at the special counsel, Robert Mueller and his team. According to the "Washington Post," the Democrats say Nunez blocked attempts to subpoena more testimony from the Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Trumps' son, Donald Trump Jr.

Joining us now to discuss that and more, CNN contributor, Adam Entous, he's a staff writer for the New Yorker. Adam, Congratulations, new assignment, working for the New Yorker; excellent magazine. Let's talk about Nunez's actions. What is he trying to achieve right now. He is the chairman of the committee, but basically for all practical purposes, he removed himself from the Russia investigation.

ADAM ENTOUS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think you need to go back in time and you've look at it about a year ago when these allegations started surfacing about the relationship between Trump and Russia. Nunez was out there putting out that there was concern about Obama administration officials unmasking the U.S. officials who were involved in these communications and suggesting that that was inappropriate.

He now appears to be shifting his attention towards looking at the FBI and whether or not their approach to the Clinton e-mail investigation was appropriate. And so he's attacking them and obviously you see Trump falling suit in his tweets, which is obviously something that is raising concern among veterans of the FBI and the Justice Department, should the president, should Nunez be doing this?

BLITZER: Should Democrats really be worried that he's trying to short circuit or undermine the entire Mueller investigation? You have heard the concerns.

ENTOUS: Yeah, and if you look at the polling, you realize that the confidence in Mueller is not necessarily that strong. So this is maybe -- they think this is a vulnerability they can push in order to cast doubt about whatever Mueller might decide to bring in the end against people higher than the people he's already gone after.

BLITZER: Nunez told CNN, let me quote him, "it's not a secret that we have an investigation into the DOJ , the Department Of Justice." He says he wants to know what role that so-called "Steele dossier" played in launching the entire investigation.

ENTOUS: Right. So, Chris Steele is the former British intelligence officer who was investigating, it turns out, with the money that was provided by the Clinton campaign. He was investigating whether or not there were these appropriate or inappropriate ties between Trump and the Russians. He was preparing reports for a company known as Fusion GPS, which in turn, was providing those to a lawyer who was representing the Clinton campaign.

They see this again as an opportunity to - the Republicans do - as an opportunity to discredit that information by casting it as political. Of course, around the same time, Steele was producing these reports and providing them to the FBI and others, there were other pieces of intelligence that were coming in, that the NSA and the FBI were collecting...