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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

President Trump Meets With Italian Prime Minister. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired April 20, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:02]

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Maintaining strong borders is a vital component of any security policy.

And a responsible approach to refugees is one that seeks the eventual return of refugees to their home countries, so that they can help to rebuild their own nations.

Finally, I want to say how much I look forward to visiting Sicily for the G7, as we seek to foster cooperation, not only on matters of security, but also science, commerce, health and technology.

Our two countries have shared interests and shared values, and we can each make great contributions to the other.

Mr. Prime Minister, I again want to thank you for being with us and being our true friend. Italy is a spectacular place. I know it well. I love the people of Italy. We have 18 million Italians living in the United States, people originally from Italy, and it is a great honor to have many of them as my friends.

Thank you for being here.

PAOLO GENTILONI, ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for hosting us here. An honor to be here at the White House today.

And I will now switch to Italian.

(through translator): We had a very fruitful meeting, which reflects an ancient friendship, as the president reminded us with his words.

This friendship, it is also a sign of the 18 million Italian Americans who have such an important role in our country -- in this country. And this friendship is witnessed also by the fact that Italy is the second choice for American students who study abroad. And we're very proud of this.

And this confirms the importance that the United States gives to the cultural dimension of our country, as the president himself just said. This friendship is based on a common commitment against terrorism. This commitment is a commitment in which we are both very active, our country is very active in Iraq and in Afghanistan. And I think that the stabilization work will be decisive, the stabilization work of Iraq, after the military defeat that we expect for Da'esh.

We know that this action against terrorism must take place within our individual countries, in Europe, with the social and cultural commitment against radicalization by cooperating with Islamic communities.

Italy contributes to peace and to stability in the Mediterranean, in Syria, where I believe the U.S. choice to react to the use of chemical weapons by Bashar Assad, and where a negotiated solution is more necessary than ever, in Libya -- and we discussed this in our meeting -- where we need to work against the division of the country in order to stabilize it.

This is a very decisive task if we want to manage the migratory flows, without giving up on our values and our humanitarian principles. And we need to contrast the horrible traffic of people and clandestine refugees.

Italy is convinced of its strategic commitment in favor of the transatlantic relationship. We have also spoken about common commitments in NATO and the goals that were identified in 2014 and the commitments on military expenses and the contribution that each country must make towards collective security. We are proud of our contribution.

And, finally, Italy is a country of dialogue. We are proud because we succeeded in keeping open the doors in difficult crises.

[16:05:00]

Dialogue can be useful, even vis-a-vis Russia, without obviously giving up our unity and our principles, and without giving up our strength and our values.

I also told President Trump that we have confidence, even though this is a difficult moment. And we all know it is difficult right now. We have confidence in the future of the European Union, and certainly in the importance of the relationship between the U.S. and Italy.

These are the two pillars that the transatlantic relationship is based on and a great part of peace and freedom in the world.

We are going through a difficult time, but I have confidence that the European Union will continue to be a positive response to this.

And, finally, we are expecting and I look forward to the president's visit to the summit in Taormina. And I trust that this will be the opportunity to show him the unity of our leaders of the principal free economies of the planet, because, right now, we really do need this unity.

Once again, thank you, Mr. President.

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Thank you. Appreciate it.

Take a few questions.

John Roberts of FOX, please.

QUESTION: Mr. President, thanks so much.

I hope you will forgive me for asking you a three-part question. It's been a while.

In just the last few minutes, I believe it was, was while you were meeting with the prime minister, there was a shooting in downtown Paris.

TRUMP: I see that.

QUESTION: It is being described as a potential terrorist attack. I wonder if you have something on that.

And further to that, two of the big trouble spots that you are dealing with right now, North Korea and Iran, do you believe that the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, is mentally unstable? Is that one of the reasons why you're so concerned about these latest developments? Is he a man who can be reasoned with?

And on Iran, do you have reason to suspect that they're cheating on the JCPOA?

And to Mr. Prime Minister, you talked just a moment ago about your commitment to NATO. President Trump would like to see all NATO members contribute 2 percent of their GDP to NATO. Your contribution is slightly less than 1 percent. Will you commit to committing 2 percent of your GDP to the alliance going forward?

Thank you.

TRUMP: Well, first of all, I love the question you asked the prime minister. I look forward to his answer, because I'm going to be asking him that same question very soon.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: Well, first of all, our condolences from our country to the people of France. Again, it is happening, it seems. I just saw it as I was walking in, so that's a terrible thing. And it is a very, very terrible thing that's going on in the world today, but it looks like another terrorist attack.

And what can you say? It just never ends. We have to be strong and we have to be vigilant, and I have been saying it for a long time.

As far as North Korea is concerned, we are in very good shape. We're building our military rapidly. A lot of things have happened over the last short period of time. I have been here for approximately 91 days. We're doing a lot of work. We're in very good position. And we're going to see what happens. I can't ask your -- answer your question on stability. I hope the

answer is a positive one, not a negative one, but, hopefully, that will be something that gets taken care of.

I have great respect for the president of China. As you know, we had a great summit in Florida, in Palm Beach, and got to know each other, and I think like each other.

I can say, from my standpoint, I liked him very much. I respect him very much, and I think he is working very hard. I can say that all of the pundits out there are saying they have never seen China work like they're working right now, many coal ships they have sent back. Many other things have happened.

Some very unusual moves have been made over the last two or three hours. And I really have confidence that the president will try very hard. We don't know whether or not they're able to do that, but I have absolute confidence that he will be trying very, very hard.

And one of the reasons that we're talking about trade deals and we're talking about all of the different things, but we're slowing up a little bit -- I actually told him. I said, you will make a much better deal on trade if you get rid of this menace or do something about the menace of North Korea, because that's what it is. It is a menace right now.

So, we will see what happens.

As far as Iran is concerned, I think they are doing a tremendous disservice to an agreement that was signed. It was a terrible agreement. It shouldn't have been signed. It shouldn't have been negotiated the way it was negotiated.

[16:10:04]

I'm all for agreements, but that was a bad one, as bad as I have ever seen negotiated.

They are not living up to the spirit of the agreement. I can tell you that. And we're analyzing it very, very carefully. And we will have something to say about it in the not-too-distant future. But Iran has not lived up to the spirit of the agreement, and they have to do that. They have to do that. So, we will see what happens.

Thank you very much.

GENTILONI: Thank you, Mr. President.

(through translator): First of all, allow me to join President Trump's words for what happened in Paris, these words of condolences and closeness to the French people. And this is a very delicate, delicate period for them, just three days before the election.

As far as the question is concerned, the commitment has been made. It was made during a NATO summit. And we are used to respecting our commitments. We know that this will be a gradual process. It has already begun, and we know that Italy has certain limitations when it comes to its budget, but despite these limitations, our commitment for common defense is very clear.

And, as I said earlier, I am very proud, not only of the progress made in our financial commitment, but also proud of the contribution that we give to the security of the alliance in so many areas of the world. We talked about Iraq and Afghanistan, but we could also talk about the Baltic Sea or the Balkans.

And in all of these areas, you will see the presence of Italian forces within the alliance, and we are proud of that.

Sky News.

QUESTION (through translator): First for you, President Gentiloni, I wanted to ask you.

We saw from this new administration a new type of policy on the international scene, very different from what we had in the past. And one of the last important operations which was carried out by President Trump was in Syria with a bombing following the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.

I wanted to ask you, does Italy think or conceive a possibility to take action in -- more acting -- more action in Syria?

Since my colleague from FOX News did, so I'm going to take as well the possibility to ask you two questions.

First of all, about European Union, you said in the past the Brexit was a great thing and that you think that other countries will follow. So, you know that Italy is an important player and supporter of European integration.

Do you believe that, actually, a strong Europe is important from -- for the United States also looking forward at a French election.

And then the second question is that you said that you're looking forward to come to Italy for the G7. And I wanted to know if you are also looking forward, if it is going to be possible, to meet Pope Francis during your Italian trip.

Thank you.

GENTILONI (through translator): Syria, we immediately assessed the operation that was ordered by President Trump, and decided that this was a motivated response to the use of chemical weapons.

We added that it is up to everyone to consider negotiation as the road through which we hopefully can put an end to this infinite dramatic war and come to peace.

Italy is not directly involved in the operations, in the military operations in Syria, other than marginal aspects, but it is not our plan to change this attitude.

TRUMP: Yes, a strong Europe is very, very important to me, as president of the United States.

And it is also, in my opinion, in my very strong opinion, important for the United States. We want to see it. We will help it be strong. And it is very much to everybody's advantage. And I look very much forward to meeting the pope.

[16:15:03] Fabian of "The Hill." Fabian? Yes?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

Some people on Capitol Hill believe you can get one of two things next week, a vote on healthcare or a vote on a government funding bill. So my question is which one is more important to you to have, a vote on healthcare or a vote on a bill to keep the government open?

And, Mr. Prime minister, I want to get your thoughts on a referendum in Turkey that occurred last week. You spoke about democratic values on the European continent, so are you concerned with the results of the Turkish referendum and is that something you discussed with President Trump?

TRUMP: OK. I want to get both. Are you shocked to hear that?

We're doing very well on healthcare. We will see what happens, but this is a great bill. There's a great plan, and this will be great healthcare. It is evolving.

You know, there was never a give-up. The press sort of reported there was like a give-up. There's no give-up. We started.

Remember, it took Obamacare 17 months. I have been negotiating this for two months, maybe less than that because we had a 30-day period where we did lots of other things, the first 30 days. But this has really been two months and this is a continuation.

And the plan gets better and better and better, and it has gotten really, really good. And a lot of people are liking it a lot. We have a good chance of getting it soon. I would like to say next week, but it will be -- I believe we will get it, and whether it is next week or shortly thereafter.

As far as keeping the government open, I think we want to keep the government open. Don't you agree?

So, yes, I think we'll get both. Thank you.

GENTILONI (through translator): The Turkish referendum is a fact that we must take note of, leaving aside any debates that can take place about how the vote took place. But I believe that the European leadership have taken note of the vote.

The consequences will depend a great deal on how the Turkish government and President Erdogan especially will take into account almost half of the population's expression of a different opinion. Will there be an inclusive approach or will there be a confrontation in this part of Turkey? This will be very important. For us in the European Union, the other thing that's going to be very

important is to -- is the respect of certain fundamental principles. We are members of the Atlantic Alliance, Italy and Turkey, and Italy contributes to Turkey's defense with its own military assets.

We believe that among our countries there should be a cooperation, and hopefully and we trust that this cooperation will have, among its consequences, the solution of the case concerning the journalist blogger who has been detained over the last few days in Turkey.

Italian radio?

QUESTION (through translator): President Gentiloni, you have focused a lot on the leadership, Italian leadership and American leadership in order to stabilize Libya. What do you expect exactly from Washington? And especially I'm asking you, what is necessary in this process, in a relationship of cooperation with Russia?

President Trump, do you see a role for your administration in helping stabilize Libya? And do you agree that stabilizing Libya means combating terrorism and ISIS?

TRUMP: Would you like to go?

GENTILONI (through translator): America has played a very key role, first of all, to prevent the consolidation of an important basis for terrorism. While Daesh was undergoing defeat in Iraq and Syria, there were operations that were sustained by the U.S. against Daesh in the city of Sirte which were successful.

Now, the commitment must be political.

[16:20:01] And, therefore, in the cooperation between the U.S. and Italy and other key partners in the region, the goal is to broaden the basis of consensus for the Tripoli government, which is recognized by the international community but which must be able to count on a broader consensus.

I believe that one clear goal should be this. We need the region and we need countries like Egypt and Tunisia that are close to Libya, we need a stable and unified Libya. A divided country and in conflict would be -- would make stability worse. The U.S.'s job is -- the U.S. role, sorry, in this is very critical.

TRUMP: I do not see a role in Libya. I think the United States has right now enough roles. We are in a role everywhere, so I do not see that.

I do see a role in getting rid of ISIS. We are being very effective in that regard. We are doing a job with respect to ISIS that has not been done anywhere near the numbers that we're producing right now. It is a very effective force we have. We have no choice. It is a horrible thing to say, but we have no choice.

We are effectively ridding the world of ISIS. I see that as a primary role, and that's what we're going to do, whether it's in Iraq or in Libya or anywhere else. That role will come to an end at a certain point and we'll be able to go back home and rebuild our country, which is what I want to do.

Thank you all very much. I appreciate it. Thank you.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We were just watching President Trump's joint news conference with the Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

Some of the headlines domestically, the president said, he was asked by a reporter if faced with a choice between a government funding bill next week or another shot at repealing and replacing Obamacare which would he prefer, and President Trump seemed to indicate that both would happen next week, both repeal and replacement of healthcare and also a government funding.

In terms of foreign affairs, he expressed condolences to the people of France for the Paris attack which he said looked like a terrorist attack, although right now, that is not yet confirmed. He said Iran is not living up to the spirit of the nuclear agreement. He said China would be doing more when it comes to North Korea and we should expect to hear news on that front in time.

He also said he did not believe there was a role for the United States in stabilizing Libya, which of course is an issue of great concern to Italians, and an Italian reporter asked about it because of the proximity of Libya to Italy. He did say there was a big role for the U.S. in eliminating the threat of the terrorist group in ISIS, whether that is in Iraq or Libya, he said.

Let's go to CNN's Jeff Zeleny who is also there in the East Room and joins me now.

I guess domestically, Jeff, the big headline the president seems confident he can get some movement on health care?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He did indeed, Jake. He left a little bit of room open to the possibility that the healthcare plan may not pass next week, but he said he certainly would like it as a goal. As you know, he was asked whether if he had a choice between finally getting some accomplishment on healthcare passed through the House of Representatives or keeping the government up and running.

As we know that government funding deadline comes essentially on the 100th day of his presidency, he said he would like to see both. But, interestingly, Jake, he said that the government will stay open. So that is a sign that this White House is willing to make concessions with Democrats, most likely, indeed to keep the government open.

But on healthcare, Jake, we have been reporting for the last 24 hours or so that the White House is stepping up its efforts to try and get some kind of agreement. That is far from a done deal yet, to say the least. Congress has been out of Washington for a couple of weeks. They've been hearing from their constituents here, but there are still differences. And we're only talking about the House Bill, Jake. We are not talking

about reconciling the house and the Senate, but the president said he wants to take another shot at it. He said that the Obama administration had some 17 months or so. They've only had two months, but, Jake, so many differences as you well know between the last administration and this on healthcare in terms of getting buy-in from outside.

As far as we can tell, all of the outside groups that oppose this still oppose it, but they will be trying to make that happen next week, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us. Thanks so much.

Let's bring back the panel. Gloria Borger joins us in addition.

Gloria, one light-hearted moment came in the press conference when a reporter asked the Italian prime minister if Italy would agree to commit to spending 2 percent of its GDP on defense spending, as all NATO member countries have agreed to do, although only five of the, I think, 28 countries are actually doing it.

[16:25:17] This is a big issue that President Trump has been pushing with European leaders, although he puts it in terms of paying dues, which, of course, it is not actually paying dues.

But take a listen to how President Trump responded to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: First of all, I love the question you asked the prime minister. I look forward to his answer because I'm going to be asking him that same question very soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It is actually is an important point for all of the countries, the United States, the U.K., Poland, et cetera, that are paying their fair share, that are spending more than 2 percent of their GDP on defense.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And, you know, it is one of the things that Donald Trump talked a lot about during the campaign, and it is honestly something easy for him to stick to during this time and when he meets with people like the prime minister of Italy, I think he is right to raise that point and he can raise that point. And there was no commitment here today to paying the 2 percent, but, you know, it is a popular issue because it makes a lot of sense to Americans.

And I wasn't surprised to hear the president say, "Good, I'm glad you asked that question."

TAPPER: Yes. I think the questioner said that Italy paid less than 1 percent. BORGER: Right, exactly.

TAPPER: And this is an issue President Obama made an issue of as well, although I think it is fair to say not as publicly as President Trump does.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's true. It is not particularly a new issue. The United States has long been the primary funder of NATO and other international organizations. So, it is no surprise he is raising it again. We will see if countries commit to do more and actually do more.

TAPPER: You were surprised, I believe, when President Trump -- well, you characterize your own feelings, I won't do it. But President Trump said he did not think there was a role for the United States in stabilizing Libya. What was your reaction to that?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET), CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, I hope what he was referring to is that, you know, we're not going to have massive influx of troops on the ground to do that, but we do have a convening power and a leadership responsibility with respect to certainly U.N. efforts to broker the peace there. I mean, we had a role in where Libya is right now, whether we like it or not we did. And so, we have a responsibility to try to see a brokered, fair, sustainable peace be brought about, and President Obama worked very hard on that. There was absolutely complete support to the U.N. efforts there, and I hope that's what will continue to happen here.

TAPPER: Mary Katharine, what do you make of President Trump saying to China and then saying publicly so often, you'll get a much better trade deal with us if you take care of this North Korean menace? Obviously, that is one of the complicating factors in the U.S./Chinese relationship, is that the U.S. really does rely on China to help with this issue.

But to say you're going to get a better trade deal if you take care of us, it seems interesting.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he is a transactional person, he makes deals, and he likes to speak in public about them when he has conflict. For instance, when it comes to dues, he will continue to mention it in public because he does things in public, and many among his staff have their fights in public. That's sort of how does things. It is a different way of doing things. I think many Americans look at it and go, yes, we're trying something different, which is what they were doing when voting for Donald Trump.

I also think he was fairly restrained on talking about the Paris attack. It is such an interesting world stage where he's with the Italian prime minister, they're going to be at the G7 in Europe as some of the questions about Europe are settled over the next little bit, and maybe the arrest in Marseilles recently. They have 50,000 police on the street.

And the different way that the French candidates respond to these arrests which were suspected Islamic extremists, it just echoes so much -- I don't want to be facile about it -- but it really does echo some of the lines we saw in our own election where Le Pen is saying, you know, this is devastating uptick in terrorism, we've got to deal with Islamic fundamentalism and she mentioned the borders. And then on the other side, he said, the greatest thing we have to do -- the more centrist candidate -- is come together.

And voters say I'm not sure it is the biggest thing we have to do. It is a gut response to this kind of danger that they see on a regular basis.

BORGER: You know, I think the interesting thing about Donald Trump is that what he says publicly is also what he says privately. And I guarantee you that he said to Xi, you know, you will do better on trade if you -- if you help us out with North Korea. I mean, you can -- and when he's talking, you know, when he is talking about NATO dues, it is the same thing.

I think, you know, this is a president who is used to being on reality television. He's used to speaking to the cameras. And, you know, there's not a lot that goes on in private, as you were pointing out, that he doesn't actually say to us. And when he said that it might be a terror attack, you have to assume that that's what he's just been told.

TAPPER: Yes. And we will go to Paris in few minutes for the latest on that attack.

You thought it was a missed opportunity that he didn't come out and immediately say something about the attacks?