RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump says the U.S. is trying to figure out exactly who is behind the disappearance and alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The president told "60 Minutes" that if the top leadership in Saudi Arabia is responsible, there will be severe punishment. Saudi Arabia continues to deny any involvement and said that if the U.S. imposes sanctions, it will retaliate. This was one subject covered in a wide-ranging interview that aired on CBS last night with President Trump.
NPR's White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe joins us now. Good morning.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: So Turkish investigators say Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in their country on the order of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, which would prove very complicated for President Trump, who has sought to develop closer ties with him. Did President Trump in this interview outline what the severe punishment might be if Saudi is proven to have been behind this?
RASCOE: He did not. And what he did do is outline what it will not be. And that is it will not be any sanctions that limit arms sales or ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia. And he made clear that he felt like that would be economically damaging to the U.S., and therefore it wouldn't be a good idea to go that route. Some lawmakers have called for that action. But he said that that is not what he plans to do, although he did say that he was very upset by this story and that - he said he will take strong action.
MARTIN: And he at least opened the possibility. He said that it could be Saudi Arabia's top leadership. So we just don't know what the consequences of that would be.
MARTIN: So this was also, in this interview, the first time the president has really been pressed on climate change since he entered the White House. What did he say? Did - has his position changed at all?
RASCOE: He said he doesn't think it's a hoax. He famously - before he became president said it was - that he believed climate change was a hoax. He said he doesn't think it's a hoax anymore, but he still doesn't think it's manmade, or it may not be manmade. And he said if the climate is changing, it may change back. He was really pressed on this - why he doesn't believe scientists or believe some of his own scientists. And he said that some scientists have political agendas and that he - so he would have to figure out what scientists are saying this because he thinks that some may be politically motivated.
MARTIN: And by changing back, presumably he means right now the climate is warming, but it could stop warming at some point.
RASCOE: It seemed to be that way.
MARTIN: Did he present any evidence for that?
RASCOE: He seemed to be kind of making the argument that it could be a bit random in a way, and we don't know what's causing this. That was the argument he was making.
MARTIN: President Trump has had a lot of kind words for North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, as of late. Lesley Stahl, the "60 Minutes" anchor, asked him about this. What did he have to say about the current status of that situation?
RASCOE: Well, he had very good words again. And - now, this came after he made headlines last month saying that he and Kim had fallen in love. And Trump defended that quote saying it was just a figure of speech. He says he knows that Kim is the head of an extremely oppressive regime. But he argued what's important is that he has a good relationship with him.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I get along with him really well. I have a good energy with him. I have a good chemistry with him. Look at the horrible threats that were made. No more threats. No more threats.
RASCOE: So basically he's saying that right now we're not seeing nuclear tests, and we're not seeing these verbal threats against the U.S. And so that's what's important. And that's happened because of his good relationship with Kim.
MARTIN: Although there's no evidence that the North has stopped all of its nuclear weapons program.
RASCOE: No. And he said we don't know that. Nobody knows. So he acknowledged that the U.S. is still in the dark on some things.
MARTIN: All right, NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe, thanks.
RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.