Return to Transcripts main page
President Trump Visits Saudi Arabia; President Trump Signs Arms Deal with Saudi Arabian King; "New York Times" Releases Story on President Trump Telling Russian Officials of His Firing James Comey. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired May 20, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:08] CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. So grateful to see you on this Saturday. I'm Christie Paul.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Martin Savage in for Victor Blackwell. CNN Newsroom begins right now. Nice to be with you and with you.
PAUL: Always good to have you here, Martin.
All right, we have some breaking news for you this morning. President Trump receiving a royal welcome in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia rolling out the red carpet as it hopes for a reset with the new administration.
SAVIDGE: The White House already announcing a multibillion dollar deal as they look for a reset from the controversy swirling back home. New video just in, the president and the Saudi king now holding bilateral talks with their senior staff. Earlier President Trump was met with plenty of pageantry as he kicked off his first international trip in office, and he and the first lady stepped off Air Force One to a red carpet, a military band, and a jet flyover.
PAUL: And that was after that they sat down with the king and other top Saudi leaders at a welcoming ceremony. What you're looking at here is at the royal court. King Salman then presented the president with a gold medal. This is considered the kingdom's highest honor.
SAVIDGE: CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is live in Riyadh. And he is joining us now. Jim, very busy day for the president so far. And I'm wondering what's the latest we have. This is remarkable that way we've been able to watch it actually unfold.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. The Saudi government providing live television images of all of this unfolding as we've been here in Saudi Arabia, watching the president's arrival here in Riyadh. Any moment now, and it may have just happened in the last several moments, the president and the king are expected to culminate a deal providing some $110 billion in defense equipment and assistance to the Saudi government. The White House putting out a statement in just the last several minutes making it very clear that some of this assistance is intended to provide a check on Iran in the region. A lot of people might think, well, the president because of all of the
things that were said during the campaign with respect to a Muslim ban and so forth might be at odds at every turn with the Saudi king. That is not exactly the case. President Trump and Saudi King Salman do have common interests when it comes to checks Iran's influence in the region. The president has been very critical of the Iran nuclear deal that was brokered by the Obama administration as has the Saudi Kingdom. And so because of Iran's growing influence in nearby Yemen, the Saudis have been greatly concerned about that. And so this arms and defense deal will obviously go a long way in ensuring the Saudis that the United States has their back.
Now at the same time, the other big story of the day, obviously, Christi and Martin, is the color and the pageantry that we've seen so far, the president's arrival here for this eight day foreign trip beginning here in Saudi Arabia. The president will deliver a speech to the Muslim world tomorrow that's intended to say to the Muslim world that they need to step up their efforts in the fight against terrorism.
We should point out in the last several minutes we've been told by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be providing an on camera briefing to reporters here at the reporter press file as we call it here in Riyadh, along with his Saudi counterpart, the Saudi foreign minister al-Jubeir. So it'll be interesting to watch the secretary of state later on this evening describe just what kind of preparations are going into the president's speech and what kind of message he intends to send to the rest of the world.
But make no mistake, Martin and Christi, let's not bury the lead and ignore the major headline that is following this president at every turn. Obviously the Russia probe is something that the president has been spending a lot of time thinking about, talking about. Obviously that headline in the "New York Times" that popped yesterday evening detailing some of the very, pretty nasty remarks that he made about the former FBI director that he fired, James Comey, that is obviously going to be a question that will be asked at some point during this trip, if they give us that opportunity at this stage. Even though we have this briefing with the secretary of state later on this evening, the White House has not announced any press conferences the president will have during this eight day trip which is pretty remarkable for a trip of this length. Martin and Christi?
SAVIDGE: That is remarkable. All right, Jim, thanks very much. And a reminder, when that news conference begins, CNN will bring it to you live.
PAUL: And as the president gets ready to sign that arm's deal with Saudi Arabia, in the U.S., the latest bombshell coming from the "New York Times." "The Times" says the president bragged to two top Russian officials that firing former FBI director James Comey relieved, quote, "great pressure" on him. Earlier CNN's Michael Smerconish to one of the reporters who broke that story, Matthew Rosenburg, here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEW ROSENBERG, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You're telling the Russians -- you're conveying strength by saying I got rid of our chief law enforcement official. And the big issue we've often had with Russia, we say the rule of law is important. Human rights are important. Leaders following the rules are important. Then you've got the president in the Oval Office bragging, saying this guy was a problem, and now he's gone. And that's what I mean -- that just doesn't play well with a lot of people in Washington, and probably a lot of Americans as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[10:05:20] PAUL: Let's bring in Richard Painter, former White House ethics lawyer, Marc Fisher, senior editor for "The Washington Post," and Jack Kingston, CNN political commentator. Gentlemen, thank you all for taking the time to be with us. Jack, I want to go to you first and get your reaction on this latest reporting this morning and what was said in the Oval Office.
JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the president was conveying is that James Comey was a loose cannon, and having this in the hands of a responsible investigator now in Mr. Mueller, I think it's going to be more level in terms of an investigation and in terms of the directions that we can go.
James Comey, up until two weeks ago, was a national embarrassment which both parties readily wanted to get rid of. Then suddenly because of him being fired, he was canonized by the Democrats. But you could find that, they were the ones who had the #fireComey. And that's all we heard from them.
So I think with somebody who is consistent, and what we've all seen in this investigation is a lot of finger pointing, a lot of grandstanding, a lot of press conferences on innuendos and half- truths. And yet not one crime has been identified at this point.
PAUL: It has been a winding road, you're right, It has been a winding road for Comey, no doubt about it. But when you hear the report that the president said that, "I faced great pressure because of Russia, that's taken off. I'm not under investigation," we have attorneys who say, that sounds like obstruction of justice.
KINGSTON: I think we have partisan attorneys who are ready to say whatever Trump says is reason for impeachment. But, you know, it's funny. Alan Dershowitz, who goes about as a standpoint of a civil libertarian, has said on this station many times, there has not been obstruction. There has not been a crime committed. Obstruction would be tampering with a jury or intimidating a witness. That has not taken place. And if James Comey as the director of the FBI and this guy who's a seasoned pro in Washington thought that he was being intimidated, why did he not go to somebody promptly after that meeting? February 14th, why did he run out and say the president tried to intimidate --
PAUL: That is a question. You're right, that's a question that's been asked a lot. Jack, I don't mean to cut you off, but I want to make a moment here as we look at these pictures. We're seeing the president move to this document signing. We understand the White House says it's a significant expansion of the over seven-decade long security relationship between the United States and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The president and Secretary Tillerson will attend a signing ceremony for almost $110 billion worth of foreign military sales. That is what we're going to be watching right here. This document signing creating an allegiance, so to speak, on paper between Saudi Arabia and the United States. They're going to be selling everything, $109 billion worth of -- this arm's deal includes a weapons package, tanks, fighter jets, warships.
We have to remember, Saudi Arabia is the third largest defense spender in the world. They want to create their own defense industry, their own auto industry. They want to be strong on tourism. And part of this package is going to help with that.
SAVIDGE: It will indeed. We want to bring in Marc Fisher here to talk about what we're seeing here. The significance of an arm's deal goes beyond just the dollars, right Marc?
MARC FISHER, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Certainly, given the tensions in the region, this is a statement by the American administration, one very much welcomed by the Saudis, that this is an administration that is going to deal with the Saudis the way they like to be dealt with. Not with any reminders of any problems with human rights, not with any stern admonitions about the role of women in society, but rather in what Donald Trump has always promised he would be, a kind of negotiating businessman, country to country, almost company to company in a sense.
SAVIDGE: And part of the problem with this, or criticism of this kind of arms deal is that, of course, the concern is these American arms are going to be used in the conflict that's taking place right next door in Yemen. And there has been some severe criticism of civilian casualties that the Saudis have not necessarily been as mindful as people would like, right?
FISHER: Certainly. And the president is scheduled to be in the same room with leaders of Yemen and other countries in the region that might have been difficult for previous presidents to meet with, or at least be in the same room with. This is a president who made it clear before the trip that he will not be bringing along that sort of moral human rights baggage or position that American presidents have carried to that region in the past. And this is something that's being welcomed by certain countries including Saudi Arabia.
[10:10:12] PAUL: Marc, a lot of Americans may be sitting in the living rooms right now watching this and remembering that a majority of the 9/11 attackers came from Saudi Arabia. So they watch this, possibly with some questions that they have. Do you have a sense of whether Saudi Arabia is committed to fighting terrorism on the scale the U.S. wants it to?
FISHER: Well, Certainty Saudis say they are. And they are making a commitment that they think they can work with this administration better than they were able to with the Obama administration. And they believe that, that they are simpatico with Trump and the people he's put in place in fighting terrorism around the world. Now, Donald Trump's use of the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism," certainly pretty controversial in that part of world. You know, there's a real disconnect between the kind of rhetoric that this president used to get elected about Muslims, about the Muslim world, versus the kind of attitude that he's bringing now on this trip.
So we'll see in this speech coming up by the president in Saudi Arabia written by Stephen Miller, his aide who was behind a lot of his very tough rhetoric on Muslims, that speech coming up we're hearing maybe a little more conciliatory and open to the Muslim world then what we've heard from his hand in the past.
SAVIDGE: And we're looking here as you see the king of Saudi Arabia and you see President Trump sitting down there. They're being handed the documents now, of course we can't see them specifically ourselves, but we believe this is the $110 billion arms deal that the Trump administration has been talking about even before President Trump landed in Saudi Arabia. It certainly adds up in a lot of dollars.
There is some question as to what the offsets are and when it comes to the manufacturer of some of this hardware, will it be Americans that benefit from it or will it be Saudis? Because part of the deal, apparently at least when it comes to helicopters, they will be manufacturing them in Saudi Arabia, which would mean those jobs are not going to be in the U.S. Saudi Arabia very much wants to begin beefing up its own military industry as far as being able to make weapons themselves and not just buy them from the United States. The United States likes to see Saudi Arabia with a strong military because it is seen as a counter to the forces of Iran. And you can bet that Iran is watching the president's visit very carefully right now. And remember, Iran just went through an election and has renewed their president for the second time. Let's just listen.
SAVIDGE: Seemed to be the end of at least the signing portion. All of this, of course, is carefully, at least visually, controlled by the Saudis. They have been showing this. They know it's being played in the United States and throughout the Middle East as well. And the Saudis, of course, can carefully control the message, which is in part what is happening here. President Trump for the most part has been relatively quiet.
PAUL: Nic Robertson is joining us now from Riyadh. Nic, we just witnessed here the signing of this, this arms deal, that's one of the things we were watching. But help walk us through what we've seen here in the last two, three hours, four hours I guess now, since the president has arrived in Saudi Arabia, because it has been a welcome like one we have not seen in the past.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely. It's been a very warm welcome. And part of it has been to do with the deals that we've just seen signed there, $110 billion arms deal that's being signed there. We talked earlier about a $6 billion arms deal that's being signed, the black hawk helicopters, you mentioned there, 150 of them, Lockheed Martin Blackhawk helicopters to be assembled in Saudi Arabia. And Raytheon also to do some production as part of that $6 billion deal here in Saudi Arabia. And G.E. having armored vehicles assembled here in Saudi Arabia, again, as part of that $6 billion deal.
And that's part of the Saudi's aim here is to build their own weapons industry. They need to do that because they're trying to modernize the country. The deputy crowned prince who is the defense minister and the king's son has this vision they call here the 2030 vision to shift the country from 40 percent private sector employment to 65 percent private sector employment by 2030.
[10:15:07] So what, what the Saudis are getting out of this is delivery on some of that, to help get their arms industry up and running. They want to build car manufacturing plants as well. There are a number of other things that they want to do, improve their standing in the global airline sector.
But there are deals here that we're told that are going to benefit the United States. The $22 billion worth of oil and gas deal are being signed, $12 billion could go up to as much as $18 billion with Saudi Aramco, who are going to be allowing -- going to be giving some of their refining capacity, if you will, moving that to Port Arthur in Texas. We're told that could bring two-and-a-half-thousand jobs to Port Arthur, Texas, right at the get go with the deal. If the deal goes well and all goes through as expected or hoped, by 2023 you could have as many as 12,000 additional jobs in Port Arthur, Texas. So all of these things are on the horizon. Dow signing for $100 million here to build a manufacturing plant. G.E. signing a 15, $22 billion -- a $15 billion deal, rather, for a power generation plant and other facilities.
So the deals are going both ways. They're intended to benefit both countries. But when you're talking about figures as big as the ones we're talking about, $110 billion in the arms industry, for example, a lot of the capacity in that will fall to the United States. But absolutely, the Saudis are going to not let this opportunity get away as we've seen today, trying to build closer ties to the United States. They're trying to get long-term benefit from it to move away, move their capacity in the country, move it away from the oil sector into other areas. And certainly you'll get some regional experts who say that would be a good thing for the long-term stability of the region. Obviously weapons procurement on the scale that Saudi Arabia is doing, given the high animosity with Iran, also will be a troubling detail. However, these are the deals that are being signed here today.
SAVIDGE: And just to remind our viewers, you're looking at live pictures coming from Saudi Arabia, President Trump's first overseas visit, the first country he went to was Saudi Arabia. And we just have the signing of what we believe was a major arms deal, and we continue to follow and look as government leaders meet with representatives of the administration. And there are also members of the royal family and the Saudi leadership as well. There's a large contingent from the United States. Nic, I wanted to ask you this. You know, we talk about $110 billion,
we talk about other projects. The Saudis don't have -- well, I should say this -- the cost of oil has gone down significantly and with it, too, somewhat the economics of the Saudi nation. So they are not -- they're still a rich and powerful nation. But they don't have as much as they used to, right?
ROBERTSON: They don't. And they're borrowing in a way that they won't and they're selling off some of their major oil company, Aramco, so that they can raise money for an IPO, raise money to invest in projects like car manufacturing, invest in tourism, invest in an airline hub. They've got an eye to the future, but they don't have the money, and part of the reason for that is the price of oil has dropped. And that leaves the royal family, the government in this country who has a massive amount of wealth and many people in the country who don't enjoy that same sort of wealth have seen their prices of fuel, gas, and oil go up, subsidies come down.
And while the price of oil drops, those subsidies were cut. There was a backlash against that. So recently the government has reinstated those subsidies. So yes, it's a precarious situation for the government here. The price of oil is key to their future. It's coming back up a little bit, but absolutely when oil dropped to $25 a barrel, that hurts the Saudis hugely, not just, not just in their pockets, but the potential stability for this oil rich kingdom. It's no good being rich in oil if you will. The price of oil is so low, they know that.
SAVIDGE: They do, indeed. And that's part of, as you point out, not everybody in Saudi Arabia loves the Saud family. And they believe that there is some real problems and it goes right to the top. So yes, when the social infrastructures, as it were, social map, declines because of the price of oil, then you're going to get unrest. And that's the last thing the Saudis need.
PAUL: We do want to let you know that secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and his Saudi counterpart will be speaking in just about 40 minutes as well. We will take that for you live when that happens. But Nic, before we watch this signing we were having this conversation about the breaking news here in the U.S. from the "New York Times" and some comments that the president allegedly made to his Russian leaders when they were at the Oval Office.
[10:20:07] How much of a White House under investigation is of concern to the Saudis, to Israel, to the Vatican on this trip? How much of that will overshadow, if at all, what's happening in these countries with the president's visit?
ROBERTSON: Certainly for the Israelis it does seem to be that it was their intelligence that President Trump in the Oval Office apparently, allegedly shared with Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. Israel would have a deep and abiding concern that their sources may be compromised, that the information may be given to the Iranians. So all of this would be a deep worry for them, and perhaps there will be some side discussions about that. Although General McMaster has been very clear, there was wholly the conversations, he said were wholly appropriate in the Oval Office that day by the president.
When it comes to Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia has taken a very firm stance behind the United States, behind President Trump, pretty much from the get go. And in a way you can call it a gamble. It can backfire. It can backfire more in a democracy. You take, for example, Theresa May, the British prime minister went to meet President Trump very quickly. There was a backlash when the travel ban was instituted, it reflected badly at her on home. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, reflected badly on her. Both of these leaders are going to the polls in their own countries for reelection in the coming months. So it can hurt them.
But here when the king puts his weight behind President Trump, he's not going to go through an election. If there is some bad press, he perhaps believes that he can weather it. Whereas, where other leaders in more democratic countries around the world may be more careful about associating themselves so strongly with the United States, Saudi Arabia, the king clearly believes that so much is at stake that the United States and President Trump in person can potentially be a worthwhile ally. Worthwhile that risk. We talk about that risk in political terms, but in religious terms, of course this is the cradle of Islam, and President Trump to give that key speech about Islam tomorrow. And there will be many, many Muslim leaders and Arab regional leaders to hear that.
So in some ways the king also gambling that president gets the nuance of that message to call for a more peaceful version of Islam, one that doesn't push people towards terrorism if you will. They need to get a good reception on that. But if he gets the nuance wrong, the king is taking a very big gamble backing him there. But again, in a country like this, an autocracy, perhaps the king has more leeway to make associations like this than others might in other countries.
SAVIDGE: And Nic, you know, we talk about the security issue since we're talking about the signing of the military deal, the United States of course is very focused on the battle against ISIS. And yet, the Saudis are focused more on Iran. And I'm wondering if it's possible that the two may think they're talking the same thing, but they're actually talking past one another.
ROBERTSON: I've wondered the same thing myself. And as so often happens when you have big meetings like this between leaders and where they only have a brief time with each other, you do wonder if they talk past each other.
But here, the key of today I think has been that the king has spent so much time with President Trump. And of course, the opportunity is there for them to talk past each other and miss that point. It was interesting when the foreign minister spoke here two days ago, he spoke about how Iran must be made to behave, made to behave like a normal country, respect international law. In a 45 minute press briefing, he didn't talk about the fight against ISIS. Interestingly when Defense -- Secretary of Defense Mattis was here a month ago, he also said we must help Saudi Arabia with the resistance against Iran's intent in this region, against their mischief in the region is how he characterized it. So on Iran, both sides seem to line up. And I think when we look at
what the king here has done, it was only a year or so ago he built a very big Sunni alliance of 35 nations, essentially to have a Sunni force ready to go and fight, potentially, for Sunni interests in Syria. That of course was all kind of stood down because it was the wrong message at a time his talks were getting under way.
So when it comes to tackling ISIS, countries like Saudi Arabia are under threat from ISIS and Al Qaeda. They threaten the monarchy directly because this is the holiest country for Islam. So this is something that they will, the United States, President Trump will find support here on.
However, as you rightly point out, it doesn't appear to be on the top of the agenda, so I would guess that's something that President Trump and Secretary of Defense Mattis, Secretary Tillerson, are all going to have to push that keep that narrative going and to define the precise support that they want.
[10:25:14] Certainly Saudi Arabia is providing useful intelligence to combat Al Qaeda and ISIS in the region over the past several years that has directly helped the United States.
PAUL: Marc Fisher, senior editor for the "Washington Post," I want to bring you back into the conversation here. We heard Nic talk about almost the trust that the Saudi king is putting in President Trump, particularly for this speech tomorrow and what he's going to say to these leaders of 58 Muslim countries tomorrow. We know the White House is saying it's going to be a speech of unity. But Marc, do you think that the president can speak with authority in bringing religious faiths together, particularly Muslims, on the same page when he has said so many other things as candidate Trump that would be offensive to them?
FISHER: Well, that's a tough line he's going to have to walk. And obviously he's dealing with two different audiences. There's the audience of the Middle East, of Arab countries, Muslim countries around the world that are waiting to hear very skeptically from a president who they believe in large majorities in polling in the Middle East showing that people in Muslim countries believe this president is anti-Muslim.
Meanwhile he has the other audience back home that he needs to appeal to. Many of the people who elected him did so in part because he did talk so tough about Muslims, about radical Islamic terrorism. So there is a real disconnect between his need to talk to his base back home and show that he's still the tough talking, straight talking president that they elected, versus the Muslim world, which is waiting to hear from a president who says that he wants to work with these countries in a common effort against ISIS and against terrorism.
PAUL: All right, do stay with us. We're going to have more. Quick break, but you are watching live pictures from Saudi Arabia as President Trump can check the box of one of the accomplishments he wanted to achieve when he was in Saudi Arabia. They have just signed this deal, we believe the $110 billion arms deal, weapons package that will go to Saudi Arabia and conjunction with the United States. Do stay close. We're back in just a moment.
PAUL: Welcome back. So grateful to have you with us. I'm Christi Paul.
SAVIDGE: And I'm Martin Savidge in for Victor Blackwell. A high stakes trip with a president under pressure. President Trump is in Saudi Arabia for his first trip abroad. The president is taking part in a bilateral meeting with Saudi royalty just wrapping up a signing ceremony for a $110 billion arms deal.
[10:30:13] PAUL: These are live pictures coming to you from Saudi Arabia this hour. Now the magnitude of the event is being overshadowed however by the probe into his campaign's possible ties to Russia. There's a "New York Times" report this morning, claiming the president told two Russian officials inside the Oval Office, including a top Russian spy, that FBI director James Comey was a, quote, "nut job," and the, quote, "great pressure he felt from the Russia probe had been taken off."
I want to talk about with this Bob Baer, CNN intelligence and security analysts and former CIA operative, Clarissa Ward, CNN senior international correspondent, and Kimberly Dozier, CNN global affairs analyst and senior national security correspondent with "The Daily Beast." Good morning to all of you. Thank you for sticking around. We're going to keep the live pictures up there as you see on the right hand side of your screen as this signing ceremony continues and makes its way through it's normal procedure.
But, Bob, I want to get from you your reaction to this "New York Times" report and the allegations in it.
ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Well, you'd never air your internal secrets, your dirty laundry with a foreign government, especially an adversary like Russia. It's just not done, especially when those same Russians are under investigation. It looks bad here, it looks bad abroad. I think that the president was just trying to, you know, loosen up the conversation, be frank. But really, this was a diplomatic meeting and you do not do that. And I think that's come across and it's going to hurt him in the long run, especially when you look at the "Washington Post" when there's a subject of interest in the White House, this is going to be coming out this week, I would imagine. So the pressure in fact was not relieved, it's gotten worse.
SAVIDGE: Clarissa, let me ask you this. We've been watching it, of course, all morning, President Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia, the start actually, just the beginning of an eight-day trip through the Middle East in Europe. And the goal, I think, many believe is to reset relations with the Muslim world. What are you hearing about it?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Martin, I think that this actually might be one of the few parts of the world -- I'm talking specifically about Saudi Arabia -- where President Trump is really being embraced. In fact, many of the Gulf countries did not enjoy a great relationship with the Obama administration. They felt that his policy on Syria was not productive. They also were dismayed by the Iran nuclear deal.
And there's a sense now that under President Trump, there can be, as you said, a kind of reset of relations to try to get the U.S. back on track in terms of bolstering its relationship with Sunni Muslim powers in the Arab world. So, I think that President Trump has probably found so far this has been a very friendly visit. As we saw, the king himself, came and greeted the president as he came off the plane. The same did not happen with President Obama. Now they've been signing this $110 billion weapons deal.
And obviously the sort of moment that everyone's waiting for now is to see what kind of a tone President Trump will adopt in this speech that he is supposed to be giving about Islam. And it is a very crucial tone that he needs to strike in order to appease both Muslims in the Arab world, who perhaps feel that his policies had shown signs of Islamophobia, but also to appease his voters here back home who elected him precisely because they do feel he has taken a more sort of clear speak, openly, sort of skeptical of Islam's relationship to the threat of terror, Martin.
PAUL: Kim, as we watch really the pageantry of this morning, I mean, it's been three or four hours of a lot of ceremonial, traditional, very grandeur, or grandiose, I don't know, pageantry, I guess, is really the best word for it when you think about it. But I'm wondering, what do you think when you look at everything that's involved here, has to happen for the president to be able to call this trip overall a success?
KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, they've already lined up a number of what they call deliverables. White House officials briefed us before they departed on this trip and said you'll see at each step of the way something like the large arms deal that was just signed. So at the end of this, they can say that this trip, which was really showcasing what Jared Kushner can do, because he organized the bulk of this, that this president is serious about foreign policy.
[10:35:00] Now, on the Saudi side of things, what they explained to a small group of us before this trip kicked off is that they think that this president can, through his unconventional ways, break some of the logjams in the Middle East, possibly even bring about peace between Israelis and the Palestinians.
What I'm hearing behind closed doors, though, is that they see a president under siege, and they see an opportunity to show him the pomp and circumstance and respect that he feels he's not getting at home, and quietly deliver a message to him, say things like, that phrase you use, "radical Islamic terrorism," it really makes it hard for us with our people, and we're at front lines of the fight, please stop using it.
One sign that that message might already be getting through, and by the way it's a message that the president is also hearing from his national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, but an A.P. obtained copy of the speech doesn't contain that phrase. We'll see what he actually delivers tomorrow. SAVIDGE: Bob, let me ask you this. You know, there's a dualism, I
guess, going on here in the sense that the Saudis look at themselves, of course, as keepers of the Islamic faith, and candidate Trump was highly critical of the Muslim faith. Now President Trump visiting this country, and I'm wondering, do the Saudis, they're pragmatic people. Do they forget everything that Trump said on the campaign trail and put it up to a man running for office?
BAER: Oh, absolutely. They're not going to bring this up. They are too polite, the Saudis, to bring it up with the president of the United States.
But more than that, what we really have to look at is the Saudis need the United States. This is why they signed this arms deal and other deals, because they are worried, terrified, if you like, of Iran. Iranian influence is supreme in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. The Saudis are aggrieved by the Obama administration. When Obama went to Riyadh last year, he was met by the governor, which was a snub, an insult to Obama. Now they're hoping for a reset.
They would really like the United States to do something to contain Iran wherever. But what they don't want is a Shia Levant which on the top and in Yemen, to their south, and Iranian influenced Houthi government. This is an existential threat to the Saudis, and they're willing to bend over backwards and forget the past if the Americans are willing to help them in their security.
PAUL: Yes, the question is, can Americans, everyday Americans, sitting in their living rooms forget that the past? Because I think it's fair to say to is a lot of people and they are remembering that the majority of 9/11 attackers were from Saudi Arabia. So, Clarissa, when we know that, they may be sitting here wondering here we are signing this billion dollar plus arms -- this $100 billion arms deal, is Saudi Arabia committed to fighting terrorism on the scale, on the scope, within the boundaries with which the U.S. is wanting to fight?
WARD: Christi, I think that's a really good question, and certainly one that's on the minds of a lot of Americans. The best description I have heard for the Saudi relationship with the whole issue of terrorism was one read I read by a historian who said on the issue of terror, the Saudis are both the arsonists and they are the firefighters. What do I mean by that? Well, Saudi Arabia is largely responsible for exporting this kind of austere, fundamentalist version of Islam known Wahhabism that has really spread like wildfire across the entire world and which is seen by many is contributing to sort of extremism that we have seen proliferating across the entire world.
At the same time, nobody stands to lose more than the Saudi monarchy to terrorists because most terrorists groups view the Saudi monarchy as being heretics in fact because they view them as traitors to Islam. So they are on the one hand partially responsible for the proliferation of this ideology, but on the other hand they are fighting very hard to try to stomp out these various extremist groups because they pose a threat to their very existence.
I think what Americans need to understand is you have to be somewhat practical about this matter. The reality is Saudi Arabia is the most important Sunni Muslim country in the Arab world. And any effort to try to stomp out terrorist groups, to cut off their funding, cannot be successful if you do not have partnerships like those with the Saudis. So you may, some people argue, that it's making a deal with the devil and you have to hold your nose and just do it, but certainly when you look at the end goal is to try to eliminate extremism or at least minimize the threat of some of these dangerous terrorist groups like ISIS, it's very difficult to envision being able to do that without the help of Saudi forces, Saudi counterterrorism, Saudi intelligence, and so on, Christi.
[10:40:13] SAVIDGE: And you're looking at live pictures that are coming from Saudi Arabia as President Trump makes his first international visit, the interesting choice of Saudi Arabia as a very first country he goes to particularly given the rhetoric in the campaign against Muslims in general. We should point out that these images are coming out from Saudi Arabian television. So they are coming to us, I guess you can say they are managed by the Saudi government. This is all being carefully orchestrated both visually and in words in deeds to put the very best spin on it. And you see the opulence and you see the magnificence there of the royal surroundings in which all of this is taking place.
Kimberly, let me ask you this. If you're Iran and you're watching this, what are you thinking?
DOIZER: You're thinking that you're seeing a new alliance arrayed against you, that the channel has changed from the Obama administration for at least the next four years. And it's a good thing that this visual happened after the Iranian elections because, of course, the moderate compared to the person he was running against, looks like he's won again, according to the election returns. And with Hassan Rouhani in charge, that means that perhaps they will stick with the Iranian deal, with the terms, and try to get some economic benefits from other nations.
The U.S. has already signaled this week, the Trump administration passed new sanctions against Iranian defense officials over Iran's continued ballistic missile program, which it's allowed to do despite the Iranian -- the Iranian nuclear deal. That wasn't part of the deal, and that's part of what the Trump administration has criticized the outgoing Obama administration for, the past Obama administration, because it didn't make Iran's behavior throughout the region or it's ballistic missile program part of getting money and economic return for the deal.
So if you're Iran, watching this, you are waiting to see, OK, how does this play out on the ground? Does this mean we're going to see increased patrols against us, or simply increased economic action? And does this mean we're going to see something like in places like Syria, some sort of military offset or pushback to Iranian support to Syrian forces or to Hezbollah inside Lebanon?
PAUL: All right, so Bob, Kim just mentioned the Iranian nuclear agreement that is in place. Do you think that at this point, President Trump will leave it as is? Does he have an alternative? BAER: He doesn't have an alternative. I mean, it's not a bad
agreement. It holds off any development in nuclear weapons by the Iranians, good inspection regime. But it's not really nuclear weapons that disturbs the Trump administration right now. It's their aggressive policies in Iraq and Syria. And that also scares the Israelis. And it's no coincidence that Trump is going from Riyadh to Tel Aviv to reassure them about Iran.
Don't forget that Hezbollah sits on Israel's border, has a lot of rockets trained on Tel Aviv and could do major damage. The question is, how do you contain Iran? They are clearly the victor in the first decade of the 21st century. And, you know, they are getting stronger and they are a stable country, and the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and other gulf states, are truly terrified of Iran. And what can the United States do at this point? General Mattis, the secretary of defense, recognizes Iran as a threat as well. So what we're going to have to see is what is this Riyadh meeting translate to, you know, in terms of containing Iran? It's unclear right now.
SAVIDGE: But real quick, can I ask you, we just talked about this $110 billion deal. Sometimes Trump can portray deals bigger than they may truly be. He's mentioned a lot about potential for jobs here. How many jobs, you don't have to give me numbers, but how realistic is it that it will be a real job creator? Did you hear me, Bob?
BAER: Yes. It's going to help. No, this is going to be a victory for Trump because it will bring jobs, it will be refining capacity. Saudi Arabia is selling part of Aramco. We're going to be part of that deal. I think that after all the turmoil in Washington, this is going to be a victory for him so far. And I think the meeting in Tel Aviv, it's going to be great relief from the pressure of Washington. And I think that President Trump is going to find, you know, that these visits abroad are better than facing the music back in Washington.
[10:45:10] PAUL: All right, Bob Baer, Kim Dozier, Clarissa Ward, so grateful to have your perspective as we watch this unfolding here hour by hour. Thank you so much.
And just a reminder, in about 15 minutes, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his counterpart there in Saudi Arabia are to speak live. We will take that when it happens. We're going to take a short break here. We'll be back in just a moment. Do stay close.
SAVIDGE: We've been monitoring live pictures from Saudi Arabia. President Trump has just wrapped up a signing ceremony with the Saudi king. It will be expected to bring close to $110 billion worth of armed sales to Saudi Arabia. Any moment now, we are expecting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to hold a news conference with his Saudi counterpart.
Let's bring back now CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta, he's live in Riyadh. [10:50:00] We've seen a lot already happen, Jim. There's still
significant events still to come in Saudi Arabia for the president. He's got a huge speech, and he's actually going to partake on Twitter, apparently, to engage Saudi youth, right?
ACOSTA: That's right, that'll be something to watch because of the Twitter habits. One thing that you do hear from time to time covering this president, whether he was a candidate or whether he's in the Oval Office, is that his aides from time to time do get nervous when he is tweeting. So that will obviously be something interesting to watch when he engages in what they're calling this Twitter chat. That'll happen tomorrow even before he departs for Israel on Monday.
But just to back up and catch up viewers on what we just saw, the White House press secretary Sean Spicer just tweeted out how the president just signed and culminated the largest arms sales deal in history between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, some $110 billion. It was interesting to watch as some of the video there in addition to the signing part of the ceremony between the president and King Salman. You saw various American business executives cycling through and shaking hands with their Saudi counterparts.
And so how you were just talking about in that last segment how they're really rolling out the red carpet and snowing this president a lot of deference. That is absolutely true. I was here a few year ago with President Obama. We had to hop on helicopters and fly some 45 minutes across the desert to see the president interact with the king at his desert palace. This time with President Trump here in town, it's a very different situation. The Saudis are very much showing that they like seeing President Trump here in Riyadh. They like the attitude that he's bringing here to the region.
Yes this president did say some very tough things and what a lot of people feel are just very unkind things about Islam during the course of the campaign. But the Saudis do appreciate the strong hand. They apply it themselves. And they see that kind of attitude in President Trump, and so in some ways they are likeminded in that respect.
That arms deal that we saw signed here just a few moments ago will help bolster, the White House says, Saudi's efforts, the Saudi kingdom's efforts to counter Iran in this region. The Saudi government does not like what they see Iran doing in Yemen. They don't like what Iran is doing in Syria. And so that is a big part of that.
You mentioned secretary of state Rex Tillerson. He is expected to brief reporters here at the top of the hour here in Riyadh. Not exactly sure whether that's going to start on time, but a lot of these questions are going to be focused on this speech that the president is going to deliver here in Saudi Arabia tomorrow that is aimed at the Muslim world. The president is expected to issue a challenge to the Muslim world to do more in the fight against terrorism, do more in the fight against ISIS. As we've been saying, it's been crafted in large part by his chief speech writer Stephen Miller who played a huge role in drafting that travel ban, the ill-fated travel ban that's been tied up in courts back in the U.S. that attempted to ban travel from majority Muslim countries.
And so, the question will be, will the president utter the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism"? We're told by White House officials that that is not in the current draft of the speech. However, we should point out heading into the state of the union speech earlier this year, the president's joint -- address to joint session of Congress there was some discussion with his national security advisor as to whether he should use that phrase, and he ended up using it. So it'll be interesting to watch and see how all of that unfolds.
But make no mistake, this is a very important chapter in this president's foreign trip overseas. A lot of eyeballs on what he's going to be doing here, what he's going to be saying here. We've already been observed how some local customs have been observed and not observed, the first lady not wearing a head scarf and so on, but also fascinating to watch the pomp and circumstance for a U.S. president here on Saudi soil, something that you did not see when President Obama came to Saudi Arabia. Very, very different tone and welcome for President Trump here today, guys.
SAVIDGE: Yes, Jim Acosta, thank you very much for pointing all of that out. And it's true, the cameras have been capturing and our cameras have been capturing the key moments of the Trump administration on this, the president's first overseas visit, one of the most remarkable moments was starting with the Saudi Arabian kingdom at a moment of signing.
PAUL: Yes, the biggest moment there was the signing this $110 billion arms deal we've been talking about. Jim, thank you so much.
President Trump says this is going to supply the kingdom with weapons, with tanks, and at the same time, create jobs for Americans in the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as we said, is going to be meeting with his counterpart just moments away, we understand. They are going to take to the podium, so we're going to take that live as soon as it happens.
[10:55:00] But quite a big contingent that has followed the president to Riyadh here. OK, here are live pictures as we're waiting for, Tillerson to come out and speak. But Tillerson is there, Reince Priebus is there, his chief strategist Steve Bannon, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, senior adviser Jared Kushner, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, so just some of the people that have followed the president on this eight-day trip. And from here, of course, going on to Israel. But before he gets there --
SAVIDGE: A very key speech tomorrow morning.
PAUL: Very key speech to the leaders of 50 Muslim nations and a speech the White House tells us will be about unity.
Thank you so much for keeping us company as we watch what was happens happening there in Riyadh this morning. It's always an honor to have you with us here. And we certainly hope you make great memories today.
SAVIDGE: We will see you again tomorrow. The next hour of CNN newsroom will continue in just a minute.