ANDREA MITCHELL, Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, NBC News, Host of MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports: Joining me now is former Democratic Senator, Sam Nunn from Georgia, long-time chairman of the Armed Services Committee and now co-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Senator, thank you so much. What prompted you to write your letter to Vladimir Putin and President Trump?
FORMER SENATOR SAM NUNN, CO-CHAIRMAN, NUCLEAR THREAT INITIATIVE: Andrea, the four of us have been working together for five or six years on these issues, and we noted in a report called “Building Mutual Security” several years ago, that was presented both to President Putin as well as President Obama, that the tensions and distrust were alarming because we, the United States and Russia, have 90 percent of the nuclear weapons in the world, 90 percent of the nuclear materials, and responsibility for taking the lead on preventing dirty bomb attacks. All of those things mean we have to work together, but the distrust has been really increasing and now has reached a new level of danger.
So we felt that at this summit there were options that at least should be considered starting with the proposition that Reagan and Gorbachev expressed several years ago that a nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought. That's a signal to the military leaders that are confronting each other every day in the Middle East and Ukraine, NATO. So we felt that there were several options that could be considered and that this summit was an opportunity to start turning it around because it's going to take a while.
MS. MITCHELL: Overnight we've had of course this unusual statement from the White House press secretary warning Russia that it will be held responsible, as well as Iran, if the Syrian regime proceeds with what seems to be, according to intelligence, the possibility of an imminent second chemical weapons attack. What is your response to that, the way it was handled, this very public warning?
MR. NUNN: Well, I hope it's a deterrent, I hope there will be no chemical attack, I hope the message was received by the Syrian leadership as well as their allies, Russia and Iran. But I hope it was also coordinated with the Department of Defense because it's another red line and we have to -- when we declare red lines we have to make sure we are militarily ready to enforce them. We have other things we have to work with Russia on and we're going to have to learn to disagree with them and even be very firm as we are on Syria now. But at same time working on other matters like dirty bombs and making sure that we work together to secure radiological material that could cause tremendous economic havoc anywhere including Russia, United States, Middle East and other places. And that kind of material is all over areas where ISIL is now located.
And we also have to work on cyber together. Certainly the cyber attacks on the election here in 2016 was of grave concern and have to be thoroughly investigated. But think about cyber attacks on warning systems and nuclear command and control systems. This is an existential threat and could affect Russia as well as the United States.
MS. MITCHELL: But, Senator, how damaging is it when the President of United States seems to be ignoring the warnings of the intelligence community and even the warnings of his own Secretary of State saying that our relationship with Russia is in a perilous state. The president seems to be taking an outlier position on Russia and ignoring the threats that other people in the administration and in previous administrations and in the intelligence world have said are absolutely true.
MR. NUNN: Well, I don't understand the Trump position on Russia, I have no understanding, and that's what the investigations are all about, both in the Executive Branch, Justice Department, as well as the Congress, and those should proceed forward. But in the meantime we've got to protect our existential common interest, and that's what this message is all about. We can't stop thinking about nuclear because we have other disagreements.
We have a keen responsibility not only to our own citizens but the Russians have a responsibility to their citizens, and we both have a responsibility to the world because we possess, as I mentioned, 90 percent of the weapons and 90 percent of the materials.
MS. MITCHELL: And just finally, how much of a risk is it that we have so few appointments? This has nothing to do with Senate confirmation. There are no nominations at the Pentagon and at the State Department in critical positions.
MR. NUNN: Well, of course, I think the Pentagon is in better shape now than the State Department in terms of high-level leadership, but both are a concern. Congress has a responsibility, but they have to get the nomination before they can act on it. And when the President finally does begin to fill these positions I hope the Senate will move expeditiously to either approve them or reject them because we have to have leadership.
The world doesn't stop because we have our own internal investigations about an election in 2016. We still have responsibilities of leadership in the world while the investigations are ongoing. So we're going to have to get accustomed to tackling these things on a parallel track.
MS. MITCHELL: Senator Sam Nunn, as always thank you so much, thanks for being with us.
MR. NUNN: Thank you.
Senator Nunn appeared on Andrea Mitchell Reports (MSNBC) to discuss a recent open letter sent to Presidents Trump and Putin by himself, Des Browne, Wolfgang Ischinger, and Igor Ivanov ahead of the two leaders' meeting at the July 2017 G20 Summit.