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Netanyahu Arrives at White House; Michael Flynn Questions; White House's Two-State Solution; Turmoil over National Security Team; Netanyahu Faces Investigations; Trump/Netanyahu News Conference. Aired 12-12:30p ET
Aired February 15, 2017 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[12:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Alert our views to what we're seeing. This is the South Lawn entrance to the White House. You see the color guard, the Marines are already there. The first lady, Melania Trump, you see her. She's standing there, together with the president of the United States.
The prime minister and his wife, they'll be driving in, and they will be receiving the prime minister at this entrance to the White House. And you can see the Marines. They're getting ready for this formal arrival ceremony. It's sort of a little modified arrival ceremony. Netanyahu is the head of government of Israel. He's not the head of state. There is an Israeli president who is the head of state. So it's not one of those traditional, full scale arrival ceremonies, but a nice arrival ceremony for the prime minister. And you see his limo arriving right there.
You know, let's just watch and listen for a few seconds as the prime minister gets out of the limo and is received by the president.
All right, so a nice, short little arrival. The photo op taking place. They're going to go inside now, spend a few minutes quietly, then go into that news conference right away.
Jim Acosta is still in the East Room of the White House.
Jim, you were making important points that this comes at a very, very tumultuous moment. Less than a month into this new administration. There's so much going on, and the president's national security advisor, as you point out, Michael Flynn, he was -- he was just fired only three weeks into this administration.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. That's right, Wolf. President Trump, according to this White House, fired his national security advisor, Michael Flynn, just a couple of nights ago as all these questions are now swirling about whether or not the president's aides or associates during the campaign had contacts with Russian individuals who are known by the intelligence community, the operatives in the Russian intelligence community, and that is going to be a dominant question here at this news conference if the White House elects to give that question -- this is a two plus two news conference, as you know, Wolf, two questions for the American press, two questions for the Israel press -- if the White House allows somebody from the mainstream news media to ask a question, which has not happened in the last few news conferences, that could get asked of the president. What did he know and when did he know it? That age-old question will likely be asked of this president.
But getting back to the issue of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, you and I both know, Wolf, this is a president that Benjamin Netanyahu wants to deal with. He had a very frosty and prickly relationship with President Obama. They had massive disagreements over the Middle East peace process. And, in particular, the Iran nuclear deal. And what you heard during the campaign from President Trump, then candidate Trump, was a move in Benjamin Netanyahu's direction. He -- and also talked about moving the embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That was music to Benjamin Netanyahu's ears. There was also this issue of settlements and -- as well as the two-state solution.
And, Wolf, we should mention, in just the last 24 hours, White House officials have acknowledged that they are now perhaps backing away from any kind of insist that there be a two-state solution as part of a Middle East peace deal. White House officials were telling reporters last night that that's not necessarily going to have to be the case. That they're not going to insist on the Israelis abiding by that. And that is really a shift from a U.S. foreign policy for Republican and Democratic administration's going back many years now. And so that is obviously a question that's going to be asked.
[12:05:14] But, Wolf, you know, the one thing that has not changed so far is that this administration has not abandoned the Iran nuclear deal. So -- you know, so much talk about this during the campaign. The president went after the Iran nuclear deal just about every chance he got during the campaign, but it stands at this point. They did add additional sanctions on Iran because of that recent ballistic missile test, but they have not given up on the Iran nuclear deal. I think one of the questions from the Israeli news media, Wolf, will be what does Benjamin Netanyahu, what does the prime minister think about that, the fact that the Trump administration has not thrown that nuclear deal over board?
So there's a lot of questions to be asked of this president and prime minister. If all of these questions weren't swirling around the president and his contacts or his aides' contacts with Russia, there would be plenty to be asked just about this relationship between the U.S. and Israel, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, four questions, two Israeli reporters, two American reporters. Although very often they're multi-part questions that will be coming out.
We saw Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, walk in, lay out a little folder on the lectern where the prime minister will be speaking. Presumably some remarks, his opening remarks. Both of these leaders will have opening statements, followed by the Q&A with reporters.
Barbara Starr is over at the Pentagon. Barbara, there's -- a lot of discussion will involve the U.S.-Israeli
relationship. Hovering over this, much more significantly for the president, is the turmoil involving his national security team. You're getting insight from your sources over at the Pentagon and elsewhere. Update our viewers.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one of the key questions now, even if Mr. Trump doesn't get a question about it because he doesn't ask someone who might ask him that question, he's not going to be able to hide from this forever, if that is what the intention is, because you are seeing growing calls in Congress for some type of investigation into all of this.
The latest information is that we now know that Trump aides, throughout the summer, while Trump was the nominee, had constant and frequent contacts with Russian officials, with Russian persons. It was all monitored by the U.S. intelligence community. The intelligence community growing so alarmed by the frequency of the contact and what might be being discussed that they briefed then President Obama and briefed Mr. Trump about all of this.
Now, to be clear, we do not know publically what was discussed in these conversations that were monitored by the intelligence community, but it is another contradiction, it is another underscoring that the Trump camp did, in fact, have frequent, constant communications with Russian persons, with Russian entities. And you are seeing those calls in Congress for a more open, transparent look at all of this.
Now, as far as the Israeli meeting goes, one of the things we're beginning to hear here at the Pentagon is there's some anxiousness to get a new national security advisor in place, get the NSC, the National Security Council, back up and fully running because as one official said to me a short time ago, if we call over there, we don't know who to talk to. We don't even know who's going to answer the phone. So there's a lot of frustration and a lot of urgency in the various departments, I think, around Washington for the White House to get this sorted out and to get moving to get the NSC up and running fully.
BLITZER: The Israeli delegation clearly is seated there. The U.S. delegation, the American officials, have not yet walked in, although I assume they'll be walking in very, very shortly. And they'll be followed by the president and the prime minister, who will then make their opening statements.
I want to bring in our panel as well. John King is here. He's our chief national correspondent. He's joining us. Elise Labott is our global affairs correspondent. Also joined by our political director, David Chalian, CNN global affairs analyst, the former advisor to numerous secretaries of state, Aaron David Miller is with us. Oren Liebermann is still in Jerusalem. We're going to get to Oren shortly as well.
John, you and I have covered the White House for a long time. I don't remember, if ever, a joint news conference that a president has with a visiting foreign leader that begins their conversation, and then they sit down afterwards for a substantive dialogue. Almost always, I think always, the news conference is at the end of the meetings, not at the beginning, before the meetings.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Everything about this president and everything about the first 27 days of his presidency is different from the scheduling. You're right, normally they talk first. Now, what does it do? It allows them to say, well, we haven't talked about that yet if you press them on the two-state solution, if you press them on how hard will the President Trump push back on Israeli settlement expansion, Israeli settlement growth. How hard will the president push to get some kind of a process, or at least the beginning of a process to start a peace process back in place. He can say, well, I'm going to talk to the prime minister. You can deflect those questions.
[12:10: 07] That arrival ceremony, as you noted, not an official state arrival ceremony, but that's -- I've never seen that done for a visiting head of foreign government to go out to the south. We've seen the president on the north side, Prime Minister Abe here last week. Again, the president trying to send the signal that this is an elevated U.S.-Israeli relationship. These are two men who know each other from the New York days. This is very important.
But interesting dynamics, as we talk about -- you were talking to Barbara about General Flynn being missing. That was Prime Minister Netanyahu's best voice inside the Trump administration for a tougher posture with Iran. He is now gone. So the complexities of these conversations between these two leaders, just in the U.S.-Israeli context, are fascinating. And then you have the much larger bubble, cloud, over this White House right now about the dealings with Russia and the entire political standing of this president. So it's a big day for the president. Quite unusual, remarkable that they would come out and talk first before they've had any conversations.
BLITZER: Yes, and you make a good point, maybe they'll be able to say, well, we're going to discuss that. We'll get back to you later.
Sensitive issues, Elise, for example, moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. During the campaign Donald Trump said, yes, that was going to happen. That was going to happen quickly. Now he's saying, not so fast.
As far as a two-state solution, though last night a Trump administration official suggested, well, maybe that's not necessarily the U.S. objective right now. It was a pretty sensitive -- a pretty sensitive moment because for decades Republican administrations and Democratic administrations have always said there -- in the end there should be a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Israel along -- alongside a new state of Palestine.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, and I think a lot of this right now is for Prime Minister Netanyahu's benefit. I mean this arrival ceremony, as you saw, this press conference before the actual meeting allows Netanyahu to get this on the evening news, although maybe they could have done the meeting a little bit earlier. But you see Netanyahu has walked away from a lot of the things that he said in the campaign. He said that he wanted to negotiate the ultimate deal. He said that he was going to be very firm on supporting Israel on settlements. He said that he was going to move the embassy, and now he seems to be walking, not necessarily walking away, but softening these positions.
And I think this is really a visit right now to boost Netanyahu's standing at home. He's facing multiple investigations in his own government. He needs that kind of boost that they are rekindling this relationship. I don't think anything is really going to be -- you're not going to see any deliverables out of this meeting. I think you want to see a reaffirmation of the commitment to the relationship.
BLITZER: We're seeing more -- more people coming in. We're still waiting for the arrival of others. Momentarily this news conference will begin.
Oren Liebermann, you're in Jerusalem. And Elise Labott raises an important point. The prime minister, right now, he's facing enormous problems domestically in Israel, including criminal investigations. He's been interviewed, what, at least once, maybe twice by Israeli police right now. Update our viewers on that.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's actually been interviewed three times for more than eight hours, more than ten hours, I believe, over the course of the last few weeks. And there are some reports, too, that there's a fourth interview coming related to a couple of different cases here. As of right now, those cases are a criminal investigation. They don't move quickly.
Wolf, you know here that there are multiple prime ministers, including Netanyahu himself, have been faced with -- or have faced criminal investigations. And the question is, where do they go? Netanyahu himself has been investigated. Those led nowhere. There were no charges filed. There was no indictment. That is what he is predicting will happen again this time. He's trying to portray confidence, and yet the investigations have shaken public confidence in him. There's some politicians who have said that if he is indicted, he should step down. Others have said, stay on until charges actually come and until you're convicted. Under Israeli law, he's allowed to stay in power to remain the prime minister, not only until he's convicted, but until those convictions are upheld through the entire appeals process.
So, again, though, what's important here is that as he faces these investigations, nothing here is happening quickly. The police are being very careful. The attorney general here is a Netanyahu appointee. So he, too, will be very careful. But Elise is absolutely right, that he's facing not only that, he's also facing tremendous political pressure. His right wing coalition, many in his own party have called on him to walk away from a two-state solution, his public commitments to a two-state solution, simply abandon that. So that's the political pressure he's facing ahead of this.
BLITZER: We see the first lady, Melania Trump, and the -- Mrs. Netanyahu. They sat down. And Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump there. There's Steve Bannon, the top strategic advisor. Stephen Miller is there. Other U.S. officials there. There -- there I think Reince Priebus we saw as well. So the president and the prime minister with all of the aides, the Israeli delegation, the U.S. officials, now there. Jared Kushner, right in the middle of your screen, he's been discussed by the president as a Middle East envoy, a special negotiator if you will, sitting next to Ivanka Trump.
[12:15:09] John King, that would be pretty extraordinary for the son- in-law to emerge now as the peace negotiator, if you will, between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
KING: And you see -- I think the two leaders are going to walk in any second. Sean Spicer just cut across there, putting up the president's remarks on the podium. It is unusual. There was the whole conversation about is this nepotism to bring your son-in-law into a key role in the White House. But we saw the president's daughter play a key role at a business roundtable yesterday.
Here they are.
BLITZER: All right, here they are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The prime minister of Israel --
BLITZER: All right, there they are, the prime minister and the president. The president will speak first.
[12:15:45] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. Thank you.
Today, I have the honor of welcoming my friend, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to the White House. With his visit, the United States again reaffirms our unbreakable bond with our cherished ally, Israel.
The partnership between our two countries, built on our shared values, has advanced the cause of human freedom, dignity and peace. These are the building blocks of democracy. The state of Israel is a symbol to the world of resilience in the face of oppression. I can think of no other state that's gone through what they've gone, and of survival in the face of genocide. We will never forget what the Jewish people have endured.
Your perseverance in the face of hostility, your open democracy in the face of violence, and your success in the face of tall odds (ph) is truly inspirational. The security challenges faced by Israel are enormous, including the threat of Iran's nuclear ambitions, which I've talked a lot about. One of the worst deals I've ever seen is the Iran deal.
My administration has already imposed new sanctions on Iran, and I will do more to prevent Iran from ever developing -- I mean ever -- a nuclear weapon. Our security assistance to Israel is currently at an all-time high, ensuring that Israel has the ability to defend itself from threats, of which there are unfortunately many. Both of our countries will continue and grow. We have a long history of cooperation in the fight against terrorism and the fight against those who do not value human life. America and Israel are two nations that cherish the value of all human life.
This is one more reason why we reject unfair and one-sided actions against Israel at the United Nations, which has treated Israel in my opinion very, very unfairly, or other international forums, as well as boycotts that target Israel.
Our administration is committed to working with Israel and our common allies in the region towards greater security and stability. That includes working toward a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The United States will encourage a peace and really a great peace deal. We'll be working on it very, very diligently. Very important to me also, something we want to do.
But it is the parties themselves who must directly negotiate such an agreement. We'll be beside them. We'll be working with them. As with any successful negotiation, both sides will have to make compromises.
You know that, right?
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Both sides.
TRUMP: I want the Israeli people to know that the United States stands with Israel in the struggle against terrorism. As you know, Mr. Prime Minister, our two nations will always condemn terrorist acts. Peace requires nations to uphold the dignity of human life and to be a voice for all of those who are endangered and forgotten.
[12:20:01] Those are the ideals to which we all and will always aspire and commit. This will be the first of many productive meetings and I again, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much for being with us today. Mr. Prime Minister, thank you.
NETANYAHU: President Trump, thank you for the truly warm hospitality. You and Melania have shown me, my wife Sara, our entire delegation. I deeply value your friendship. To me, to the state Israel, it was so clearly evident in the words you just spoke, Israel has no better ally than the United States. And I want to assure you, the United States has no better ally than Israel.
Our alliance has been remarkably strong, but under your leadership, I'm confident it will get even stronger. I look forward to working with you to dramatically upgrade our alliance in every field, in security and technology and cyber and trade and so many others, and I certainly welcome your forthright call to ensure that Israel is treated fairly in international forums and that the slander and boycotts of Israel are resisted mightily by the power and moral position of the United States of America.
As you have said, our lives are based on a deep bond of common values and common interest. And increasingly, those values and interests are under attack by one malevolent force, radical Islamic terror. Mr. President, you've shown great clarity and courage in confronting this challenge head on. You call for confronting Iran's terrorist regime, preventing Iran from realizing this terrible deal into a nuclear arsenal, and you have said that the United States is committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons. You call for the defeat of ISIS.
Under your leadership, I believe we can reverse the rising tide of radical Islam, and in this great task, as in so many others, Israel stands with you and I stand with you. Mr. President, in rolling back militant Islam, we can seize an historic opportunity because for the first time in my lifetime and for the first time in the life of my country, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy, but increasingly as an ally.
I believe that under your leadership, this change in our region creates an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen security and advance peace. Let us seize this moment together. Let us bolster security. Let us seek new avenues of peace and let us bring the remarkable alliance between Israel and the United States to even greater heights.
Thank you, thank you, Mr. President.
TRUMP: Thank you. Again, thank you.
We'll take a couple of questions. David Brody, Christian Broadcasting. David?
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister.
Both of you have criticized the Iran nuclear deal and at times even called for its repeal. I wonder if you're concerned at all as it relates to not just the national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who is recently no longer here, but also some of those events that have going on with communication of (ph) Russia if that is gonna hamper this deal at all and whether or not it would keep Iran from becoming a nuclear state?
And secondly, on the settlement issue, are you both on the same page? How do you exactly term (ph) that as it relates to the settlement issue? Thank you.
TRUMP: Michael Flynn -- General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media, as I call it, the fake media in many cases. And I think it's really a sad thing that he was treated so badly. I think in addition to that from intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked, it's criminal action.
[12:25:09] It's a criminal act and it's been going on for a long time before me but now it's really going on. People are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton. I think it's very, very unfair what's happened to General Flynn, the way he was treated and the documents and papers that were illegally -- I stress that, illegally leaked. Very, very unfair. As far as settlements, I'd like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit. We'll work something out but I would like to see a deal be made, I think a deal will be made. I know that every president would like to -- most of them have not started till late because they never thought it was possible and it was impossible because they didn't do it but Bibi and I've known each other a long time.
Smart man, great negotiator, and I think we're going to make a deal. It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand. That's a possibility so let's see what we do.
NETANYAHU: Start (ph).
TRUMP: Doesn't sound too optimistic but.
TRUMP: Good negotiator.
NETANYAHU: That's the art of the deal.
TRUMP: I also want to thank -- I also want to thank Sara, can you please stand up? You're so lovely and you've been so nice to Melania, I appreciate it very much.
Thank you. Your turn.
NETANYAHU: Who is it (ph)? Yeah, please go ahead. QUESTION: Thank you very much. Mr. President, in your vision for the new Middle East peace, are you ready to give up of the notion of two-state solution that was adopted by previous administration? And will you be willing to hear different ideas from the prime ministers as some of his partners are asking him to do, for example, annexation of parts of the West Bank and unrestricted settlement constructions?
And one more question, are you going to fulfill your promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? And if so, when? And Mr. Prime Minister, did you come here tonight to tell Mr. -- the president that you're backing off the two-state solution? Thank you.
TRUMP: So, I'm looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I'm very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two but honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians -- if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I'm happy with the one they like the best.
As far as the embassy moving to Jerusalem, I'd love to see that happen. We're looking at it very, very strongly. We're looking at it with great care, great care, believe me. And we'll see what happens. OK? NETANYAHU: Thank you. I read yesterday that an American official said that if you ask five people what two states would look like, you'd get eight different answers. Mr. President, if you ask five Israelis, you'd get full (ph) different answers.
But rather than deal with labels, I want to deal with substance. It's something I've hoped to do for years in a world that's absolutely fixated on labels and not on substance. So here's the substance. There are two prerequisites for peace that I laid out two -- several years ago and they haven't changed. First, the Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state.
They have to stop calling for Israel's destruction, they have to stop educating their people for Israel's destruction. Second, in any peace agreement, Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River because if we don't, we know what will happen. Because otherwise, we'll get another radical Islamic terrorist state in the Palestinian areas exploding the peace, exploding the Middle East.
Now unfortunately, the Palestinians vehemently reject both prerequisites for peace. First they continue to call for Israel's destruction inside their schools, inside their mosques, inside the textbooks. You have to read it to believe it. They even -- you know, they even deny, Mr. President, our historical connection to our homeland. And I suppose you have to ask yourself, why do -- why are Jews called Jews?
Well, the Chinese are called Chinese because they come from China.
[12:30:00] The Japanese are called Japanese because they come from Japan. Well, Jews are called Jews because they come from Judea.