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Trump's Summit with Chinese President Xi; Trump Says Gas Attack Changed His View of Syria; Bannon Removed from National Security Council; Dustin Johnson May Not Make It to the Masters; Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 6, 2017 - 05:00   ET




ROMANS: Every advertising and PR class in the country is, like, watching that thing, wow.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The president perhaps needs a can of Pepsi for North Korea? Bind you to that logic?

ROMANS: I don't know.

BRIGGS: EARLY START continues right now.

ROMANS: President Trump combative and candid following the chemical attack in Syria. Why he says he's changing his view on Syria. One of many issues maybe for the first big foreign policy test for this young administration.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East on April 6th.

President Xi, President Trump, the most important bilateral relationship on the globe, set to meet again. The president facing his first major foreign policy test and responding with outrage to a chemical attack in Syria that killed scores of civilians. The president now signaling a major change in his Syria policy in the wake of this attack. As recently as last week the administration said that ousting Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad was no longer a U.S. priority.

ROMANS: But at a Rose Garden news conference, President Trump blamed the attack on Assad, condemned it as heinous and he hinted that the U.S. might take action against Assad.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much. I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me. Big impact. That was a horrible, horrible thing. And I've been watching it and seeing it and it doesn't get any worse than that. It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, that crosses many, many, lines beyond the red line. Many, many lines.


ROMANS: The president was also asked about an earlier White House statement that blamed the attack in part on President Obama. President Trump said the responsibility is now his and he'll, quote, "carry it very proudly." President Obama's failure to resolve the Syria problem, the president said it was a great opportunity missed.

The Syrian attack is not the president's only foreign policy priority today. He's also set to host the Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago state with North Korea's missile launched, and the president's long history of tough talk about China as the backdrop for Xi' visit.

For more on what we can expect of the U.S.-China summit, I want to bring in CNN's Matt Rivers in Beijing.

With the $300 billion trade deficit with China, the president has talked endlessly in very crude terms sometimes about what he says China is doing to the U.S. and stealing American jobs. That is a big bone of contention. But at the same time he needs help from China on North Korea.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right and I think that that's why you're going to see North Korea take the very top of the agenda when these two men meet for the first time in Florida later on today. Especially given what you've seen from North Korea recently. Two more ballistic missile tests in the beginning of this year, dozens last year, and there are satellite imageries suggesting that a sixth nuclear test might be just around the corner.

Both sides agree that the weapons development program from Pyongyang is a problem. They disagree very strongly on the best way to solve it. China believes the United States should directly negotiate with the regime. The United States says that China needs to do more to use its economic leverage to force Pyongyang to scale back its ambitions. How they're going to work together or not is going to have a big impact on the future of this ongoing crises on the Korean Peninsula.

But the other thing you mentioned, trade. These two economies, number one and two in the world, inextricably linked but the president has been incredibly critical of what he calls China's unfair trade practices. He's threatened import tariffs, he's threatened to label China a currency manipulator. Does he bring that up with his Chinese counterpart? A very interesting meeting set for Florida -- in Florida later today.

ROMANS: Yes. Three big things on that. Donald Trump hit list for China will be jobs, jobs going to China, trade barriers and the currency. Those are the three big things that got him elected frankly.

Matt Rivers, we'll see if that comes up today. Thank you. BRIGGS: Massive agenda. Let's bring in CNN chief international

correspondent Christiane Amanpour live from London.

Thanks so much for being with us this morning. We want to get that meeting with President Xi but let's start with what's happening in Syria. The chemical weapons attack and then President Trump in a press conference says this about crossing lines.


TRUMP: The country of North Korea, we have a big problem. We have somebody that is not doing the right thing. And that's going to be my responsibility. But I will tell you that responsibility could have made -- been made a lot easier if it was handled years ago.


BRIGGS: OK, so let's get there then with North Korea, Christiane. Obviously the president wants help on trade, wants help with the currency manipulation. How does he get President Xi to help curb or stop North Korea's nuclear ambitions?

[05:05:04] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, here's the thing. Obviously the U.S. has decided that China is going to be the main conduit. So you've got this idea of President Trump who's called on the campaign, you know, China as a currency manipulator and said China has been raping the U.S. economy and now he's got to sit down with President Xi for the first time since making those comments and all the other things that have happened, and try to get together not just on the economy which is massively important for both countries and for the world, but also on the incredibly dangerous existential threat that is posed by North Korea.

Most analysts believe that North Korea is well on its way not just to be nuclearized, which it is at the moment, but to be able to miniaturize a weapons, to be able to develop ballistic capability including intercontinental ballistic capability that would directly threaten the United States. It has already threatened allies South Korea and Japan. And how to get this to happen.

So China is going to want to say to the president that no matter how unpalatable you all think it is, negotiations are going to be crucial. And even some in the U.S. experts who've advised the Bush administration in the past, former Clinton secretary of Defense have said that no matter how politically difficult it is, the only way to get anywhere is going to be through some kind of direct negotiations with North Korea. And to try to get China to arrange that, and to at least see what can be achieved.

And President Trump is a negotiator, maybe nothing can be achieved but it would be foolish, these analysts say, not to try it because these years of so-called strategic patience of outsourcing the idea to negotiations to a whole another set of country has not worked. And China -- or rather North Korea has, as you know, gathered its nuclear weapons program at pace. ROMANS: Such a huge test on the North Korean front. Probably the

biggest geopolitical concern going right now. And then there is this humanitarian crisis in Syria and the president also talking about that yesterday. That's where he said, you know, they crossed many, many lines. Maybe that's, you know, he can be hyperbolic. The president can sometimes reach with some grandiosity in his language but he says he has changed his position on Syria.

And Christiane, you know, he's seen these pictures, he talked about, you know, these beautiful children, these beautiful babies who have been killed. One wonders, is the seven years of civil war, there have been numerous pictures of crises, this is a president who wants to keep Syrian refugees out of this country because of potential terror threat. How big of a shift is this in the president's language and tenor about Syria?

AMANPOUR: Well, I think it is a massive shift. I've sort of described it as a 180 on Syria. Who could not have been affected by what Donald Trump said in the Rose Garden yesterday? He really put his finger on the depravity of the Assad regime and he described in very colorful and painful detail what had happened to those children, to those women, to those civilians who have been gassed.

His own secretary of State has said we are in no doubt that this was by the Syrian regime. His own U.N. ambassador at the Security Council yesterday called for U.N. to stop this depravity, all said that sometimes in the history in the course of nations we are compelled and obliged to act ourselves. Vice President Pence doubled down as well, saying that all options are now on the table.

And listen, this is very, very crucial because this is not just a humanitarian outrage, which of course it is, it is a violation of international law. The use of weapons of mass destruction is a violation of the Geneva convention, and it requires all the signatories to do everything to stop it. And it is crucial what action the United States and its allies take now over Syria because if they don't it's perceived that Assad will continue, but even more important what does North Korea say if it sees the United States and its allies allow Bashar al-Assad to get away with repeated usage of weapons of mass destruction?

So this is a huge pivotal moment for foreign policy, it's a huge fork in the road, and of course candidates say things on campaigns, but then when they get into office, the reality of the depravity in some corners of the world, you know, hits them full frontal, and many have described what he said last night and especially saying that it crosses so many lines even beyond red lines, this is -- you know, he's laid down a marker, the president.

ROMANS: Right.

AMANPOUR: And when the president of the United States says something like that the rest of the world listens and, you know, there are policy options that many believe can and should be taken to punish Assad. We're not talking about regime change, we're not talking about invasions ala Iraq, we're talking about punitive actions to deter this man from repeating what he's done over and again.

BRIGGS: Well, Tom Cotton and John Thune, senators who did say they've called for regime change. What are those steps the U.S. could take?

[05:10:06] AMANPOUR: Well, Dave and Christine, I do not believe there's going to be any regime change in the works because we've heard from many presidents, you know, from President Obama, from President Trump that's not what's going to happen, but what can happen and I'm sure President Trump will be getting his advice from his best military, the Defense secretary, his National Security adviser, and all the others, his intelligence, there are punitive strikes that people have talked about in the past.

For instance, taking out and disabling runways, airfields, aircraft. Do not allow them to take off with these barrel bombs. That is possible. Obviously it's difficult because Russia is now much more involved than it was years ago and so you have to be very careful not to involve or antagonize or accidentally create a worse situation. But there are ways in which to do this.

And as you know the United States and its allies fly sorties all the time over Syria, trying to attack ISIS. So those things are being mooted as possible, and as you know Israel has over the years of this year taken its own unilateral air action against President Assad when it is deemed Assad to have threatened Israel's interest, so it's doable. The question is, is there a will?

And of course many are saying that if you make these statements and then you don't follow up, then again it puts you in the position of creating this vacuum, creating this impunity, and emboldening those who would use any excuse to attack their own people.

ROMANS: It's exactly what President Trump accused President Obama of doing, of making a line and not crossing it.

BRIGGS: Yes. He's boxed himself in, in that regard.

ROMANS: Absolutely. In he is on record.

All right. Christiane Amanpour, it's so nice to see you this morning. 11 minutes past the hour. Thank you.

A big shift in the National Security Council. The president's top strategist is out. But who's in and who put this change in motion?


[05:16:17] BRIGGS: President Trump's political guru, Steve Bannon, seeing his sphere of influence at the White House shrink considerably. The president removing his chief strategist from the National Security Council. The shakeup amounting to a demotion for Bannon, said to be orchestrated by National Security adviser H.R. McMaster.

We get more now from CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, as foreign policy challenges are testing this Trump presidency unlike they have in the first 11 weeks in office, there are suddenly a shakeup in the National Security Council.

Steve Bannon, the president's chief strategist who is a part of that principal's committee named in the early days of this administration, was suddenly on Wednesday removed from that principal's committee. Now this is saying that General H.R. McMaster, the security -- National Security adviser here at the White House, is exerting his influence.

Steve Bannon taken off that principal's committee and two other people put back on, returning back to the traditional structure here of the National Security Council. Dan Coates, the director of National Intelligence and General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are returning to the principal's committee at the National Security Council. Steve Bannon stepping aside here.

Now this again is a -- seen as a major shakeup because Steve Bannon, largely one of the most influential advisers inside this White House with a portfolio spinning from domestic affairs to foreign policy will still be involved of course, but by not having a seat at the table, which was very unusual at the time, it certainly is giving more power to the National Security adviser, H.R. McMaster.

So a bit of inside baseball staff changing here but so significant that Steve Bannon we are told having a more diminished role now and the new National Security adviser empowered again -- Christine and Dave.

ROMANS: And Bannon of course has long been an important political adviser to this president. He is not completely out of the mix, of course. A senior administration official tells CNN Bannon did attend a National Security Council meeting last night. But a new power center is emerging at the White House with chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and Deputy National Security adviser Dina Powell, considered internal allies of Trump's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.

The "New York Times" reports Bannon discussed quitting over his removal from the principal's committee of the NSC. The officials we spoke to, however, are reporting nothing about that.

BRIGGS: Yes, the notion being that Trump not truly that ideological, that perhaps he got his world view from Steve Bannon, does this show a dramatic change in that world view?

ROMANS: Maybe. Who knows.

BRIGGS: We shall see.

ROMANS: All right. The quest for the green jacket may have to go on without the world's top ranked golfer.


ROMANS: Andy Scholes with the details. The "Bleacher Report" next.


[05:23:22] BRIGGS: Hello, friends, the world's best golfers set to tee off around one of the masters with the favorite to win it might be out of the action room.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has this morning's "Bleacher Report."


Dustin Johnson, the number one golfer in the world, he's the favorite to win the Masters this year, but now he might not even compete because of a back injury. Talk about the bad timing here. Johnson fell down some stairs and landed on his back in his rental home yesterday. His manager said he's receiving treatment, but his status now up in the air for the tournament.

The good news for Johnson is he is the -- in the very last group to tee off today. So get going if he plays at about 2:00 Eastern.

All right. If you're looking for someone to root for this week at the Masters, look no further than Jason Day. Day withdrew from a tournament two weeks ago after just six holes to go be with his mother who's battling lung cancer. At the he said he just could not concentrate on golf but after a successful surgery for his mom, things are looking better.


JASON DAY, WORLD NUMBER THREE RANKED GOLFER: Just got the news yesterday from her doctor. She doesn't have to do chemo which is really, really exciting stuff. This week I just feel a lot lighter. I feel refreshed, in a way that, you know, the -- all the new hard stuff is behind us. We just got to make sure that we stand on top of it.


SCHOLES: Severe storms forcing one of the most popular events this week to be cancelled. The annual Par Three Contest. Now it's not going to be raining today in Augusta but it's going to be windy. They're expecting gusts up to 40 miles per hour. And Jordan Spieth, who's been a second, first and second in his three Masters, he says it's going to be tough out there.


[05:25:08] JORDAN SPIETH, 2015 MASTERS CHAMPION: It just puts more of a premium on speed putting. You know, big time. You know, you don't want to have a five-shooter from above the hole when the wind is blowing. They're already as challenging as anywhere here and they become, you know, a less than 50-50 chance from five feet with the wind blowing.


SCHOLES: All right. Finally Astros outfielder Josh Reddick making a young fan's day, giving the ball after the final out of an inning last night. But the umpire comes over and says, you know what, son, you've got to give the ball back. The young fan says, OK, but April Fool's, guys. The umpire is just pulling a trick on him. Look how happy the little guy was to get the ball back.

And I'll tell you what, it's a good thing the umpire gave that ball back quickly because you should see the face of all the other fans in the stands when he was making that kid give the ball back. Look at everyone, like, are you serious? You're really doing this?


BRIGGS: It was --

ROMANS: That kid is awesome.

BRIGGS: The kid gave some knuckles --


SCHOLES: The kid's like, good one, yes.

BRIGGS: Well played. Enjoy the Masters.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: President Trump facing a series of global challenges head on. He's welcoming the Chinese president today after a big shift and Syria, following that chemical attack. We'll break it all down next.