Skip to main content

tv   MSNBC Live With Alex Witt  MSNBC  May 20, 2017 9:00am-9:31am PDT

9:00 am
and rising costs, wipe that smile off your face. we're coming for you, too. for those who won't rest until the world is healthier, neither will we. optum. how well gets done. hello, i'm sheinelle jones at msnbc world headquarters in new york. we want to take you live now to saudi arabia where rex tillerson is with his counterpart. they're discussing their new agreement with king salmon. let's listen in. >> had a very, very good and very wide-ranging conversation. they discussed, of course, the challenges facing the region and the world. they began by talking about the bilateral relationship and ways to enhance it and improve it in all areas. they discussed the scourge of terrorism, terror financing and how we can work together to eradicate it. they discussed the nefarious activities of iran and the fact
9:01 am
that action has to be taken in order to ensure that iran does not continue with its aggressive policies in the region and that iran adhere to the letter by the agreement made between it and the p5+1 countries, that iran sees its support for terrorism, adhere to the security council resolutions with regard to ballistic missiles and cease its human rights violations and its interference in the affairs of the country in the region. they discussed the situation in syria. they discussed the importance of working towards peace between israelis and palestinians, the custodian of the two holy mosques expressed the kingdom's optimism that president trump with a new approach and determination can bring a conclusion to this long conflict. he certainly has the vision and we believe he has the strength and decisiveness and the kingdom stands prepared to work with the
9:02 am
united states in order to bring about peace between israelis and palestinians and israelis and arabs. they also discussed the situation in yemen, and of course they discussed trade and investment. it was a -- they had a great lunch where the conversation actually began before the meetings. the visit, as i mentioned, is a truly historic visit. we are very honored that president trump chose to come to the kingdom of saudi arabia on his first visit and we look forward tomorrow to hosting the u.s. gcc summit in saudi arabia and the arab-islamic-american summit which is historic and unprecedented that brings together the islamic world with the united states into a partnership and begins to change the conversation from one of of enmity to one of partnership. the president is to be commended for his foresight and his vision in taking this very bold and very historic step which has the potential of changing our world. if we can change the
9:03 am
conversation in the islamic world from enmity towards the u.s. to partnership with the u.s. and if we can change the conversation in the u.s. and in the west from enmity towards the islamic world to one of partnership, we will have truly changed our world and truly drowned the voices of extremism and we will have drained the swamps from which extremism and terrorism emanates. i cannot overstate the importance of such a gathering, and i believe after this visit the president will go to israel and will go to the vatican where he will essentially address the jewish world and the christian world and try to bring together the three major religions in the world into a partnership so that we move from any discussion of a conflict of civilization and move towards a discussion of a partnership of civilization. and i want to stop here and thank my friend, rex tillerson, for indulging me for taking up so much time. welcome to the kingdom of saudi
9:04 am
arabia. thank you for all your efforts and congratulations on an extremely, extremely productive and historic visit. >> well, thank you. and thank all of you for being here this evening. in particular i want to thank my long-time friend and colleague, foreign minister jabear. we have known each other for many, many years when our facial features were much younger. we remember those days, but we have remained friends for all these many years and now colleagues. i'm really proud to be here today with him to talk about this new strengthening of the u.s./saudi partnership and relationship. as just described, today truly is a historic moment in u.s./saudi relations. the united states of america, the kingdom of saudi arabia are really dedicating ourselves to a new strategic partnership, new for the 21st century and to charting a renewed path toward a peaceful middle east where economic development, trade,
9:05 am
diplomacy are hallmarks of the regional and global engagement and something that we will be working closely together on. this growing partnership is really grounded in trust. trust between our two nations that we are pursuing the same objectives. cooperation and a shared interest. the elements of this declaration that was signed today, the joint strategic vision, there are many, many elements and there is a lot of work now to implement those elements and really put them into motion, so that is going to require significant ongoing engagement and dialogue between our two nations. so i think you will find that we will be meeting with a great deal of regularity in order to review how these things are progressing. that is only going to serve to further strengthen, i think, our cooperation. also i think sends a very strong message to our common enemies. it strengthens the bonds between us and it does chart this new
9:06 am
pathway forward and will guide our path forward. you know, at the core of our expanding relationship, really are our shared security interests. america's security at home is strengthened when saudi arabia's security is strong as well. and the united states of america, the kingdom of saudi arabia are embarking on a number of new initiatives to counter violent extremist messaging, as you just heard the foreign minister describe. we're also going to be pursuing new approaches to disrupting financing of terrorism and advancing defense cooperation. today the united states and saudi arabia are conducting vital new expansions of security relationship that really spans over seven decades. but i think one of the real hallmarks of today is the economic cooperation. you know, if you have strong economic engagement between two countries, that really is foundational to a strong security relationship as well.
9:07 am
as you heard the foreign minister mention, today we announced 23 foreign investment export licenses leading to upwards of more than $350 billion of historic direct investment. these are going to result in literally hundreds of thousands of american jobs created by these direct investments in purchases of american goods, american equipment, american technology, but also investment into the kingdom of saudi arabia as well. i think it's important to note that this is an indication of the confidence the kingdom of saudi arabia has in the united states' investment climate. i think as they evaluate the future investment climate of the united states, what they are seeing already are the positive impacts of president trump's actions to improve the business
9:08 am
climate in the u.s. for investment and job creation, and they intend to be a part of that with these investments. similar to this is a great vote of confidence in the united states in the business environment in the kingdom of saudi arabia, as they continue to advance in their own reforms and seek new opportunities for their own people to create jobs as well. so strong economic relationships are the foundation for strong security relationships as well. the intended sales of the defense packages in particular fall into five broad categories. border security and counterterrorism, maritime and coastal security, air force modernization, air and missile defense, cyber security and communications upgrades. and i think you can surely identify in all of these the importance all of those areas have to u.s. national security as well. obviously along with this will go a lot of training and support to strengthen our partnership
9:09 am
with the saudi armed forces as welch further strengthens our relationship. the package of defense equipment and services supports the long-term security of saudi arabia in the entire gulf region, in particular in the face of maligned iranian influence and iranian threats, which exist on saudi arabia's borders on all sides. additionally it bolsters the kingdom's ability to provide for its own security and contributing to counterterrorism operations across the region. the important part of this is this huge arm sales package reduces the burden on the united states to provide this same equipment to our own military forces and will strengthen saudi security forces for the future so that saudi arabia is more capable of carrying a greater share of the burden of their own security, which as i indicated is important to the u.s. national security as well. so it lowers the demands on our own military, but it also lowers the cost to the american people
9:10 am
of providing security in this region, so extremely important to the future of the relationship, but also to the cost of providing security for american citizens in this region. it does commit the -- it does demonstrate the commitment to our partnership with saudi arabia. as i indicated, expanding hundreds of thousands of new jobs. i think the other important announcement, which was just mentioned, is the new counterterrorism initiative, the new global center for combatting extremist ideology, which will be opened in riyadh, will be a saudi-led hub for defeating extremism in the information space. as you've heard us say often, we have to defeat isis on the battlefield, but we really have to defeat isis in the cyberspace. this is their recruiting tool. this is how they message to lone wolves around the world. this center is going to concentrate heavily on how to enter that space from the
9:11 am
standpoint of experts that live in this part of the world and understand how to message to those who might be influenced by radical messaging. our partners in the gulf cooperation council, including saudi arabia, will be signing a new agreement tomorrow to close gaps in many of these areas, including the financial infrastructure, which terrorists can exploit, and we commend them for refusing to let terrorists conduct financial operations in their countries. we are calling on all countries to crack down on the way financing and funds reach terrorist organizations. all these new initiatives will bolster our joint efforts to deter regional threats from iran, in syria, iran and yemen and on saudi arabia's borders, as i mentioned. these new steps forward will serve the national security interest of the american people and the kingdom both. we're very proud of this relationship that we are embarking upon with the kingdom and are very appreciative of the
9:12 am
leadership of his royal highness in putting these initiatives forward. we've had a really productive day today, a truly historic day in this relationship. thank you. >> we have time for just a few questions. >> my question is together we prevail is the slogan of the summit as a shared character of the king's character and president trump. now, you just said earlier in your briefing that saudi arabia and the united states share some objectives. having said that, are there any crucial and solid actions that will be announced taking towards iran's policy and expanding in the region? >> we are closely coordinating our efforts in terms of how to
9:13 am
counter iran's extremism and its export of extremism, in particular its support for foreign fighters, its payment of foreign fighters, its support of militia that are operating not just in yemen but in iraq and in syria. we are coordinating carefully around how we view the nuclear agreement, the jcpoa, to be used in containing iran's nuclear aspirations. it's not just between ourselves and the kingdom of saudi arabia, but as you're well aware, we have a group of like-minded that is focused on yemen, a group of like-minded that is a coalition of countries focused on syria. so i think the leadership really starts here in the kingdom with the strong leadership of his royal highness as well as the crown prince, the deputy crown prince and certainly the foreign minister. they have been wonderful and very strong conveners of others who are like-minded in terms of
9:14 am
this fight against terrorism broadly, but specifically iran's role in supporting extremist organizations. >> mr. secretary, and i also have a question for you, but secretary tillerson, two questions. will you ever pick up the phone and call iran's foreign minister? have you ruled out diplomacy with iran? and secondly, on yemen, how does bringing in more weapons to saudi arabia actually hasten an end to that brutal war. and minister, can i get your reaction to the re-election of hassan rouhani and what guidance you are giving to the trump administration about whether to stick by what they have seen as the law of the nuclear agreement with iran? >> well, in terms of whether i'd ever pick the phone up, i've never shut off the phone to anyone that wants to talk or have a productive conversation. at this point i have no plans to
9:15 am
call my counterpart in iran, although in all likelihood we will talk at the right time. in terms of the situation in yemen, our emphasis is on finding a political solution. we view it as a tragic situation. obviously millions of people on the brink of starvation because of the impact of the fighting. but we also think it's important to put the pressure on parties to come to the table and talk. so i want to make it clear that we have efforts under way on both fronts. i think the rebels in yemen and those that have taken over the government in yemen, have overthrown the government, have to know they cannot sustain this fight. they will never prevail militarily. but they're only going to feel that when they feel the resistance militarily, so it's important we keep the pressure
9:16 am
on them. many of the armaments we're providing to saudi arabia will help them be much more precise and targeted with many of their strikes, but it's important that pressure be kept on the rebels in yemen. at the same time, we are actively engaged with others in the region to see if we can not advance a process by which we can bring this thing to a halt politically. we have a lot of work ahead of us in that regard. >> thank you. margaret, with regard to the re-election of rouhani, this is an entirely iranian matter. who they choose for their president is their business, as it should be. from our perspective, we judge iran by its actions, not by its words. the iranians have in the past said some things and done something else. they want to have better relations with us, but then they attack our embassies and
9:17 am
assassinate our diplomats. they plant terrorist cells in my country and in countries allied to us. they supply militias that want to destabilize countries like hezbollah and houthis and others in syria with weapons. they intervene and meddle in the affairs of iraq, syria, lebanon and yemen. they support terrorism. they created the world's foremost terrorist organization, hezbollah. they provide comfort and support for al qaeda with many of the al qaeda leaders living in iran for now more than 15 years. they are -- they have a relationship with the taliban that destabilizes afghanistan. and so when iran does all of these things, when they execute terrorist attacks in my country. in 1996 bombings where the iranian military and where the heads of the plot escaped and fled to iran and have been living in iran ever since, this
9:18 am
is not the behavior of good neighborliness and not the behavior of a country that wants others to treat them with respect. this is a state sponsor of terrorism who is on the list of state sponsors of terrorism and who deservedly is sanctioned by the international community for this behavior. so if iran wants to be a normal country and wants others to treat it like a normal country, it has to act in accord with international law and the values and the morals of the international system that have existed for centuries. we welcome an iran that's open to the world. we welcome an iran that lives at peace with its neighbors. we welcome an iran that doesn't interfere in the affairs of other countries. but this is not the iran we see. so when you come back to your question of what do we think about the re-election of rouhani, we want to see deeds, not words, and we will continue to judge iran based on its deeds and we will continue to base our policy vis-a-vis iran based on iran's deeds.
9:19 am
if i may say something, mr. secretary, about yemen. the perception is that we are fighting in yemen for a reason that we'd have no objective or no goals. the perception was that this was an aggressive war. it was not. people forget how this started. saudi arabia and the gcc worked together to come up with the gcc initiative, which created the transition from the president. yemen was in a transitional period. they set up what they call their national dialogue, which includes elements of all walks of yemeni life and all regions of yemen. women, students, tribal people, different religious sects, and they came up with a blueprint, a vision for what yemen should look like going forward, a federal system, rights for everyone and on and on and on. and then they were going to codify that into a constitution. then the houthis staged their coup. they attacked the city, they seized the government and took
9:20 am
total control of a country that is critically important to the security of the region. now we have a radical militia allied with iran and hezbollah in possession of ballistic missiles and an air force that has taken over a friendly government. friendly government asks for support. we intervened. from day one we have said there is no military solution. the solution is political. the houthis have to go back to the negotiating table and implement the outcomes of the national dialogue in yemen. the houthis are less than 50,000 in a country of 28 million. it is unacceptable that they would be allowed to seize power and get away with it. and so we and a coalition of countries have been fighting to restore the legitimate government of yemen, which now is in control of 80% of the territory. we have made mistakes and we have acknowledged those and we have investigated those. but we have been charged with things that we didn't do.
9:21 am
we were supposed to have attacked a wedding that never happened. we were supposed to have bombed an old city which never took place. we were supposed to have destroyed a port which we didn't do, the houthis did it from the ground up. but these charges were leveled at the kingdom and the coalition and they were not correct, but the image prevailed that we were waging an aggressive war against the country. and the houthis were made to look like they're victims, when it was they who started this. it was they who lobbed more than 40 ballistic missiles at our country's towns and cities. it is they who have violated thousands of times cease-fire arrangements that were put in place. it is they who have made 70 agreements and reneged on more than 70. not the coalition, not the legitimate government. saudi arabia has been by far the largest provider of humanitarian assistance to yemen. the areas under government control have no problem
9:22 am
distributing aid. the areas that the houthis control, they steal the aid and sell it to fund their war machine. the starvation that exists in yemen exists because the houthis laid siege on towns and villages and will not allow humanitarian supplies to get in. that's why people are starving. not because of the bombing. the starvation is because the houthis steal ships coming in. like i said, sell the products to fund their war machine. we have distributed aid to every area of yemen that we can. we are running the largest hospital, incidentally, in the houthi capital. the hospital that the kingdom built 30 years or so ago and has been operating ever since in order to help the yemenis. this hospital has been operating even through the hostilities because we have no -- >> we're going to continue to monitor this obviously with secretary of state tillerson and his counterpart there, but let's dig into what we're hearing here. let's bring in republican
9:23 am
congressman francis rooney, a member of the foreign affairs committee. good afternoon to you. >> good afternoon. thanks for having me on. >> absolutely. this has been, i have to tell you, a very fascinating press conference to me. you know, i was just talking to some of my colleagues here at msnbc. quite normally when we see press conferences these days, we're used to things being a little bit pulled back, not too many details. but you just heard it there, he's really not mincing words about, you know, security, shared security interests, what's going on in yemen. in your opinion what's the headline so far out of this press conference? >> well, i think that you can't solve problems unless you're willing to address them and speak candidly about them. i really admire the saudi foreign minister for speaking so clearly as well as secretary tillerson. >> i was just about to say that's a very good way to put it. he's not mincing words, he's digging right in. what should we take about this -- what rex tillerson has been talking about. shared security interests, partnership, economic cooperation. is that the way of the future? frankly, is that the only way to
9:24 am
a peaceful situation? >> i think this is a huge step forward for american diplomacy and for re-establishing security in the middle east based upon the historic sunni/american relationships that have endured for so long. i think the secretary said over 60 years. and the idea of putting the sunni bloc back in contra distinction to the recent rise of iran under the obama administration is a really good thing. the chronicle that the foreign minister gave of iran's mischief around the world was very complete. he left out the mischief they're committing in latin america as well. everywhere there's something bad going on in the world, iran has a footprint on it and this is a good step forward to re-establishing stability. the other thing that excites me is the islamic messaging center. a while back the jordan religious minister said you can't fight an idea. ever since pope benedict, there's been a growing realization that we have to bring soft powered diplomacy to
9:25 am
bear on the religious and theological aspects of islam and help bring it into consensus with the modern world and, therefore, provide an avenue for people to avoid radicalization. >> you know what else i thought was interesting, i did a report, gosh, about a year ago on the threat of -- the recruitment tools on youtube and cyberspace. this is one of the first times i've heard them address that front and center. you just heard rex tillerson talking about beating isis in cyberspace. i think that's a big part of this that quite often isn't talked about. >> it's a real big part. we've got to provide a constructive alternative to the people that are trying to radicalize at-risk youth, people in prisons, people who feel marginalized by society. we've got to figure out how to make them come back into the mainstream and to realize that islam is a religion of peace, just like the other abrahamic faiths. >> there are a lot of people like us, we're watching this day in and day out with each other, but there are a lot of people, it's a saturday afternoon. they're turning on and don't know all the ins and outs of the
9:26 am
politics of all of this. what is the takeaway from today as far as what we've just heard? >> if i had to say one word, i would say reset. i think president trump and secretary tillerson have reset the relationship with saudi arabia and our sunni allies. i think he's made a huge trade deal, which is both good for our united states enterprises, general electric and some of the arms manufacturers as well as set saudi arabia on to a course of stability and able to enforce its borders and defend itself. >> congressman rooney, i'm so glad that you're here with us this afternoon. stand by. i also want to bring in elise jordan, an msnbc political analyst and columnist for "time." elise, what is your take from what we were just discussing? >> i just think that the united states gave the saudi foreign minister just an example to spread propaganda about what they're doing in yemen. it's a dramatic, horrible humanitarian crisis. millions of people are going to starve, millions of refugees have fled. and the bombs that we are selling to saudi arabia are now just going to contribute to
9:27 am
making the situation worse. and so it's really disheartening that the united states is supporting this kind of war that is happening in yemen. >> can you put this into context with -- you and i just talked on the "today" show a little earlier this morning. can you put this in the context of the domestic issues and all the things we'll be talking about in the days and hours ahead about president trump and what he's facing here at home? >> you know, president trump wanted to come into this saudi visit with a win, and so that involved jared kushner negotiating personally to lower the cost of this arms package for the saudis to save them money for these bombs that are going to contribute to the worsening conflict in yemen, and the mass starvation, and that is the win that he is touting today. i see this as more of the same old, same old when it comes to u.s./saudi relations. it is the glaring blind spot of american's foreign policy. we still have not -- the saudis have never been forced to ever reckon with their potential
9:28 am
involvement in 9/11, and there are so many unanswered questions. so i still don't understand why we funnel more money into a regime that is committing gender apartheid and is sowing terrorism all around the region. >> if you look at the optics of it, you have these two men side by side. we haven't seen anything like this. if you put this into context for me as far as domestically for president trump, what would be considered a win in their opinion from this visit? >> really president trump just wants people to stop talking about what's happening domestically. if he can go on this foreign trip and have the headline of projecting of being a strong leader in these foreign capitals, that's good for him and that's a win. he needs to project strength right now. presidents usually gain in popularity when they're abroad on these foreign junkets. >> i don't want to put too much pressure on you, but obviously trump campaigned so much against muslims and tomorrow he'll preach tolerance. how do you think that will go over? >> it's quite ambitious for the president to give a speech on
9:29 am
islam after, you know, his policies do not necessarily preach tolerance and inclusion, but, you know, we'll have to see how he massages that tomorrow. and this is just another example of donald trump completely contrasting his action with what his words were during the campaign. he had promised that he was going to up-end a lot of the traditional foreign policy status quo with saudi arabia, and instead we're seeing him cozying up with the regime yet again. >> if i were to ask you who's his audience and give you 15 seconds to answer, would it be us here in the states, the folks over there? who is he talking to here? >> i think it's always domestic and international with a huge speech like this, but i think that the region is very much watching and curious to see how he is going to approach dealing with the issue of islam after his heated campaign rhetoric. >> well, i am so happy that you were standing by for this. elise jordan, as always, it was good to talk to you. much more on that news conference and president trump's
9:30 am
trip at the top of the hour. that wraps up this half hour of "msnbc live." i'm sheinelle jones. stay with msnbc for a brand new show. the premiere of velshi & ruhle is next. i'll see you again at the top of the hour. not much about the sometimes erratic behavior of president donald trump seems to faze investors, at least until this week. markets soured briefly on the white house after one too many controversies threatened to derail the trump agenda. >> and the president embarks on his first foreign trip abroad. first top, saudi arabia. why? because everybody cares about oil. >> welcome, everybody, i'm ali velshi. >> and i'm stephanie ruhle. we're going to be coming to you every saturday with a fresh take on how money, power and politics all come together and wu


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on