News Brief: Cuba Without Castro, Trump And Kim, Missouri Gov. Greitens

Apr 19, 2018
Originally published on April 19, 2018 6:22 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump says he is optimistic about a potential meeting with North Korea's leader.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah, we should say this meeting is not set yet, though Trump's CIA director did visit North Korea as a preliminary step. And the president is thinking out loud about how the talk might go and what he might do.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If I think that it's a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we're not going to go. If the meeting when I'm there is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting, and we'll continue what we're doing or whatever it is that we'll continue, but something will happen.

GREENE: The president was talking during a joint press conference with Japan's prime minister.

INSKEEP: Let's bring in NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So listening to the president, what did you learn about how he sees this potential summit?

LIASSON: I think his comment shows you that these talks are not precooked or even guaranteed to happen. So no results are guaranteed, as in other high-level summits, which occur after months and months of planning and preparation. The president says fruitful is, he wants North Korea to denuclearize. But Kim Jong Un sees nukes as an insurance policy that he and his regime survive. He would want some security guarantees. He would want the U.S. to remove its nukes and troops from the Korean Peninsula. The president also said he wants to get back three Americans that are being held prisoner in North Korea, and he wants to get some abducted Japanese home.

INSKEEP: He wants to do that, but he has not said that as a precondition for talking, has he?

LIASSON: Right. No, he has not.

INSKEEP: OK. And when you say a result that's not precooked, normally, when two leaders would meet, they would've virtually negotiated everything beforehand. Here, we don't have quite such a clear sense of what might be on the table. Now, what do you make, though, of this preparatory visit, this secret visit by Mike Pompeo that's no longer secret?

LIASSON: That's pretty interesting. The White House is using this as a way to push Pompeo's nomination for secretary of state. He's facing some potential difficulties in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, if not on the floor of the Senate. But the U.S. has always used the intelligence agencies as the back channel to North Korea, so Pompeo didn't go there in his capacity as the secretary of state nominee but as the CIA director.

INSKEEP: Now, Mara, we also heard when the president took a few questions with the Japanese prime minister a demonstration of why he has not taken so many questions from reporters in many months, because reporters naturally have to ask about the Russia investigation. And what did he say when asked this time?

LIASSON: This time, he repeated his usual criticisms, that it was a witch hunt and a hoax. He - but he also talked about how cooperative he's been with Robert Mueller, and he seemed to suggest he wasn't about to fire him. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: They've been saying I'm going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months, and they're still here. So we want to get the investigation over with, done with, put it behind us.

LIASSON: So that's different from the tone that his spokesperson has struck. Sarah Sanders has said recently that the president has the legal authority to remove Mueller without adding her usual caveat that he wasn't planning to do that. Today, the president seemed to go back a little bit to say he hadn't fired him, therefore, he wasn't going to.

INSKEEP: OK.

LIASSON: ...Maybe.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: We'll see. Keeping his options open, liking to be flexible, as he also said in a different context in the news conference. Mara, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK, big day in Cuba. It is Raul Castro's last day as president of Cuba.

GREENE: Yeah. Raul took over the presidency in 2008 from his brother Fidel, who governed the country for nearly a half century. Their presumed successor is part of a generation of Cubans who have only ever lived under Communist rule.

INSKEEP: Wow. NPR's Carrie Kahn is there, joins us now.

Hey there, Carrie

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

INSKEEP: So just to be clear, Raul Castro's stepping down, but is he really handing over power as opposed to being some kind of power behind the scenes?

KAHN: Right, that's the big question. Raul Castro is giving up the presidency today, but he will still head up the Communist Party of Cuba for at least the next three years. So it's unclear how involved he'll be in the day-to-day running of state matters. Many say he'll still be in charge after all as head of the party. He's still, quote, "the superior guiding force of society and the state" - still the most powerful political actor on the island. But, you know, Castro is 86 now. He looks great, but he's 86. And he's been saying he wants to retire and move back home. You know, one of the State Council officials that will also be selected today, though, is a fellow octogenarian like Castro. So while Castro's formally handing over the presidency - as he would say, to the younger generation - the old stalwarts of the party are still in place.

INSKEEP: OK, so still going to be in a profoundly powerful position, but a new president - what can you tell us about the new guy other than that he's not named Castro?

KAHN: Right. Well, first, there's - that's also not a surprise. It's the man who for years has been Castro's first vice president. His name is Miguel Diaz-Canel. He's 57. Tomorrow is actually his birthday, and he turns 58. And he ran unopposed for president in this so-called election, so it's really a selection. Diaz-Canel has been a longtime Communist Party official, first as a provincial leader and then later as head of higher education. He's regarded as a modest, down-to-earth guy, reportedly back in the day known for riding his bike around his town, sporting long hair and even loving rock music. But he's been in the party for decades and rose to the top not by defying or pushing for reform of that - of the one-party system here; that's clear. Last year, a video of him espousing a crackdown on independent journalists and railing against some foreign embassies here was leaked, and that was thought to be like a signal to hard-liners that he wouldn't push for political change as elevated to president. So many Cubans are not anticipating much to change here politically, especially in the short term.

GREENE: Carrie, do people even know who this guy is? I mean, it's so interesting to have a new president coming, and you think, like, there would have been an election in this country to know who your president's going to be. Are they familiar with him?

KAHN: Not really. He has showed up more recently on state-run TV in this runup to the handover of power. But he's pretty much an unknown quantity in Cuban society.

INSKEEP: How much trouble will he face as a new president? Assuming he has authority, what are the main challenges?

KAHN: Oh, he's got extreme challenges. And top of the list, of course, is Cuba's stagnant economy. There, Cubans are clamoring for change. And for Diaz-Canel, who can't fall back on his revolutionary creds like Fidel and Raul Castro did for years, he has to prove himself right out of the gate, and he has to build legitimacy and a base of support. That's going to be his big challenge. And the economy is No. 1 on his list. The economic situation here is dire, and so he really has to prove that he can make some changes - but not ushering in any political changes. So it's going to be a tight - it's going to be an interesting situation for him.

INSKEEP: OK. Carrie, enjoy the Caribbean.

KAHN: Oh, thank you very much.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: And now let's go to Missouri, where the governor, Eric Greitens, is resisting calls to resign in the face of accusations that he blackmailed his mistress.

GREENE: Yeah, it's a big day. A judge is going to rule on whether his upcoming criminal trial on invasion of privacy goes forward. But we should say, this is just part of a string of scandals involving the governor.

INSKEEP: So let's talk this through with St. Louis Public Radio reporter Jason Rosenbaum, who joins us via Skype.

Hey, good morning.

JASON ROSENBAUM, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So how did the governor end up in court?

ROSENBAUM: Well, the governor ended up in court because he's accused of taking a seminude photo of the woman he had an affair with before he was governor without her consent. But the judge is determining today whether to throw the case out because an investigator who interviewed witnesses apparently made false statements during a deposition. He's also weighing if St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner did enough to correct that investigator. Gardner's office is clearly worried about this, so much so that one of the assistant circuit attorneys conceded that the investigator created a, quote, "terrible appearance." So it's a big day in court here in St. Louis.

INSKEEP: Wow. So all these questions about whether the investigation was conducted properly, and then - but nevertheless, you're there in court today. What is the judge going to decide?

ROSENBAUM: Well, the judge is ultimately going to decide whether the case proceeds or whether it gets thrown out. If the case ends up proceeding, the governor will end up going on trial on May 14.

INSKEEP: So there's the question about the investigation and whether it was done properly, but what about the case itself? If the governor has a defense - I mean, he's acknowledged the affair. The photo is the photo. What is really at issue here? What would decide between guilt or innocence?

ROSENBAUM: Well, the issue for the prosecution here is, they don't have the photo. And although it's not required to have a photo to find Greitens guilty of invasion of privacy, it would certainly make things a whole lot easier for the prosecution. Until they get that, the case is not seen as particularly robust, but not necessarily impossible.

INSKEEP: Does Greitens admit that he took the photo without her consent, as opposed to with her consent?

ROSENBAUM: Greitens has been asked that question multiple times, and he has never directly answered whether he took a photo. He has consistently said, though, he did not take a photo for blackmail, which I think is a way of not incriminating himself in that particular situation.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, as he goes about his duties as governor, is it possible for him to talk about anything else without this coming up?

ROSENBAUM: Not really, and he has not actually talked or had much interplay with reporters since this scandal broke in January. It's a really unprecedented situation where the governor is not really answering a lot of questions about his conduct or his tenure in office.

INSKEEP: Jason Rosenbaum of St. Louis Public Radio, thanks very much.

ROSENBAUM: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "RIDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.