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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING

North Korea Launches Long-Range Missile; Interview With Senators Corker, Stabenow; Interview With David Axelrod

Aired April 5, 2009 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, HOST: I'm John King, and this is our "State of the Union" report for this Sunday, April 5th.

A defiant North Korea launches a rocket designed to reach as far as the United States. President Obama calls it a provocative act and calls for swift international sanctions. Pyongyang says it was simply launching a satellite, but its neighbors call the launch threatening. We will check in with CNN correspondents around the world covering this breaking story.

And what are the U.S. options going forward? We'll ask a veteran diplomat who has met North Korea's unpredictable leader face-to-face, and two members of the United States Senate.

President Obama is calling on world leaders to step up on the economy and Afghanistan, and this morning a new poll challenge -- to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Senior White House Adviser David Axelrod joins us to talk about the president's overseas debut. That's all ahead in this hour of "State of the Union."

We begin with the breaking news out of North Korea. The reclusive communist regime defied the United Nations resolution and ignored international threats of sanctions and launched a long-range rocket. The Taepodong 2 missile, which passed over Japan, was launched Sunday morning in Asia about 10:30 p.m. Eastern time Saturday here in the United States.

The goal for the North Koreans was to launch a satellite into orbit and to test the reach of its long-range missile program, but U.S. and Canadian aerospace officials say the mission failed. They say one stage of the rocket landed in the Sea of Japan. The remaining portions, along with the satellite, landed in the Pacific Ocean.

Still, the launch was in violation of a United Nations resolution passed after a previous North Korean test firing in 2006, and the Security Council is scheduled to meet later today to discuss a response.

President Obama is traveling overseas, and earlier this morning in the Czech Republic, he had strong words for North Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons. Now is the time for a strong international response.

North Korea must know that the path to security and respect will never come through threats and illegal weapons. All nations must come together to build a stronger global regime, and that is why we must stand shoulder-to-shoulder to pressure the North Koreans to change course. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry is traveling with the president, joins us now from Prague. Ed, let's start with how the president found out on this overseas trip.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it was White House press secretary Robert Gibbs who informed the president and woke him up around 4:30 this morning here in Prague. We're six hours ahead of Washington. Robert Gibbs says that initially, the president expressed no surprise at all. He has been briefed on this. He's been prepared. In fact, the president had several high-level meetings back in Washington even before they went on this trip to go through the various scenarios.

So today here in Prague he already had high-level briefings from his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel; his national security adviser, retired General -- Marine General Jim Jones, traveling with him as well. The president also reaching out by phone to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, military officials as well. And I can tell you, the U.S., as you know, pushing for strong action by the U.N. today when they have that emergency session of the Security Council. That's why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is traveling here with the president, she has been working the phones as well, reaching out to her counterparts from China, South Korea, Japan, as well as Russia, trying to make sure that this response is coordinated, John.

KING: And Ed, as we await the Security Council meeting, how about the timing of this? The North Korean leader is known to act to get attention. He picked a pretty good moment here. The president giving a dramatic speech in Prague, trying to talk about a pledge to rid the world someday of nuclear weapons. Does the White House believe the timing was on purpose?

HENRY: Top aides are saying, look, we can't get inside the mind of the North Korean dictator. We don't know whether they planned it, but the White House is insisting they were not planning anything on this side of things, that this speech had been in the works for weeks. They were going to move ahead on this speech about ridding the world of nuclear weapons, regardless of what North Korea did. They say they just can't get inside the head of that regime, but they believe, at least right now, that it was all coincidental.

What the president was trying to do in this speech today here in Prague was to try to put this whole situation in a broader context and say that the threat, the nuclear threat around the world is much broader than just North Korea. It also involves rogue nations like Iran, and the president made some bold promises. He said he wants to push now for a comprehensive test ban treaty all around the world, that the U.S. would be willing to sign, and he also wants to rid the world of the loose nukes, nuclear material that's available around the world that could get into the hands of terrorists. He promised he would rid the world of that in his first four years in office, so some big promises today from this president on a very dramatic day, John.

KING: Ed Henry, keeping track of the president's trip and the dramatic surprise or not-so-surprise from North Korea in Prague. Ed, thanks very much.

Let's turn now to CNN correspondents in the region. Sohn Jie-ae is in Seoul, South Korea, and Kyung Lah is in Tokyo. Kyung, let me start with you. Japan had mobilized some military resources just in case. Obviously no military threat from this launch, but what is the reaction in Tokyo?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reaction has been that now that nothing on Japanese soil has been struck by any loose debris or any falling objects from this rocket, what they want is diplomatic action, strong diplomatic action.

Japan's prime minister saying that today's actions simply cannot be overlooked. So Japan immediately called for and then was granted by the U.N. Security Council that emergency meeting. All eyes here in Japan looking forward to that meeting now, six hours away. They are hoping out of that emergency meeting, John, that there will be a strongly worded statement, and then follow-through, but no specifics on what exactly Japan is hoping for. John.

KING: And Kyung, in terms of the United States and Japan working together, any hope -- you say no specifics as to what to work on. In the past, sanctions have simply not worked against the North Korean regime. Is there any hope this time that you will get anything more than a symbolic resolution out of the United Nations?

LAH: What Japan is saying is it's a hands-off approach. They are really waiting for the U.S. to take the lead. They keep using the words "appropriate steps." These are words that the president has used, and they are hoping for a similar measure.

But what we are seeing behind the scenes is a lot of diplomatic action. Japan really pushing the U.S. for some strong, strong movement, but at this point, Japan is really just waiting to see what the U.S. is going to do.

KING: Kyung Lah, joining us there from Tokyo. We'll check in with Sohn Jie-ae in Seoul a bit later in the program. But joining us now is retired Air Force Lieutenant General Henry "Trey" Obering III. He's the former director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency in the Defense Department. General, thanks for joining us.

I want to take a closer look at what we have. This is a simulation built from satellite images, and let's go in to where we know this took place here. Let's come on in here.

This is the launch pad area here. You see residential areas, dormitories essentially, on the military facility. Let's come in and look a little bit closer here, this simulation. Looks pretty familiar. I know you've seen this many times before. The control bunker here. Over here, -- this gets a little finicky sometimes -- this is the assembly. You see the road, so they can take the missile out. They put it together in here. And this of course, what we are most concerned about, is the rocket right here. Taepodong 2 missile on the platform. The North Koreans have been working on this for some time. It's a two-stage missile. Payload on the top. What do we know about the capabilities?

OBERING: First of all, this could be an intercontinental ballistic range missile. That typically means it has more than one stage, two or three stages. We know that it is basically built on the old Scud technology that they improved. They made the engines larger and more capable. There may be advanced engines that could be used in the upper stages. We don't understand or know that. That is one of the things that we were very concerned and looking for.

But this represents basically the ability to range certainly the northwestern portions of the United States, if it is a two-stage missile. If it is three-stage, with some of the advanced propellants and lighter materials, it could range the majority of the United States.

KING: I want to take a look at the neighborhood. We can switch out to a different shot here. This is the neighborhood here. You mentioned the potential range, so let's start at that point, let's start from the range of this.

What they are hoping with this missile -- you see North Korea is here. The west -- just west of the Hawaiian islands, the residential parts of the Hawaiian islands. But up here, of course, this missile, if it makes that range, could reach Alaska, some of western Canada, and dangerously close to the West Coast of the United States. Are they capable of doing that yet?

OBERING: Apparently, because this did not succeed, they have not been able to achieve that yet. But it does show the dogged determination by the North Koreans to continue this development program, in spite of the intense diplomacy and the sanctions that have been placed against it.

One thing I would like to show you, if I could, John. If they were aiming for a space launch, what you would see them do is try to take advantage of the earth's rotation. So that's why you see the trajectory the way you see it, headed in this manner. So we are looking for any azimuth in this direction that would be a threat to the United States. That's one of the things that we were looking at, with respect to any threats to the United States.

KING: Let's break down what happened. Because we do know, as predicted, first stage hit in the Sea of Japan, to the west of Japan, from our perspective in the United States. But the second stage, this orange area is where a successful missile launch, based on everything we've been able to put together -- they thought the second stage would hit here. Instead, we are told by NORAD that the second stage of the missile, along with the satellite payload, hit the drink somewhere in here.

What does that tell you about what happened, what went wrong?

OBERING: It says that, first of all, they had successful first staging, and they were able to control that rocket through staging. That is a significant step forward for any missile program, because oftentimes those missiles become unstable as they go through these staging events.

The fact that they did not get apparent separation of the payload from the second or third stage means that they have more work to do there in terms of being able to achieve that. But the bottom line is they are continuing to advance in their ranges, and I think it's why it's important that we have the ability to defend against these types of threats.

KING: And help our viewer at home understand that this is not just to snub the nose -- thumb your nose at the international community. North Korea does this because it is in the missile business.

OBERING: Absolutely. In fact, in 2006, they launched seven missiles in addition to -- or six in addition to the long-range Taepodong 2 they tried then. Those other six were very successful, and they showed ranges of being able to range Japan, for example. They were successful.

The one thing in their brochure they have not been able to demonstrate is the very, very long-range weapon, and I think that was one of the primary intents of this launch.

KING: And in terms of the marketing, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, anywhere else?

OBERING: Yes. Well, anybody else that they can -- that is willing to buy the missiles, they'd be willing to sell to.

KING: General Obering, thank you so much.

KING: We'll continue to talk to you as this develops. And as you see the map, right here, again, just to show the neighborhood -- you understand the nerves -- South Korea here, Japan here, China here.

We'll continue. Thank you for the military perspective.

And when we come back, much more on the North Korean missile launch throughout the next four hours. CNN reporters around the world, getting the latest details on this story.

And up next, you'll want to watch this. We'll talk to a top U.S. diplomat who has actually sat face-to-face with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Il.

And later, we'll got to Prague for a conversation with one of President Obama's closest advisers, David Axelrod. "State of the Union" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Some breaking news this morning: North Korea launches a long-range rocket. The rocket failed to reach orbit, instead landing in the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean. That's according to U.S. and Canadian aerospace defense officials.

Joining us now is Ambassador Wendy Sherman. She was President Clinton's North Korean - Korea policy coordinator, and she participated -- quite rare -- in direct talks with Kim Jong-Il, the reclusive president of North Korea.

Wendy, based on that experience, why now?

What is he up to?

SHERMAN: I think that Chairman Kim Jong-Il is up to several things. First, he wants to solidify his own position as the leader of his country, following a stroke.

He wants to tell his military that it's a military-first economy, because, in fact, they get money, funds from the sale of this missile technology.

And he wants to say to the Obama administration, "Pay attention to me; I'm serious; I have chips on the table, and negotiating with me is serious business."

KING: Well, they are paying attention and they will take their attention first to the United Nations Security Council.

You have been the Security Council route. Are there any viable sanctions?

The world can scream; the world can complain, but are there any viable sanctions against this regime, considering that it has so few contacts with the outside world?

SHERMAN: I suspect that we'll get either a presidential statement or a resolution that reinforces existing sanctions. I think that China, in particular, and Russia, secondarily, won't want new sanctions, and they have veto power in the Security Council.

And I think everybody agrees, including the United States, Japan, and South Korea, that the most important thing is to get back to the six-party talks and back to the negotiating table.

KING: Explain to a viewer who might not follow this closely how different this country is. If you go to the DMZ -- it's not as common as it used to be, but they have the big speakers blaring the propaganda.

The missile failed. The missile went into the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean. The satellite did not reach orbit. But will the people of North Korea be told that?

SHERMAN: No. The people of North Korea will be told that, in advance of their parliament meeting this coming Thursday and anointing Kim Jong-Il their leader once again, that a satellite has gone into orbit and the songs of Kim Jong-Il and his father Kim Il-Sung are being sung throughout the universe.

It is a very closed society. People really only know what the leader tells them. They think all good things come from the leader. It's quite extraordinary and it's quite hard for all of the rest of us to understand what a closed society and what a controlled society is. In this Internet age, we can't imagine it.

KING: And because of that, when you talk about potential sanctions, one of the few things that gets in is emergency food aid, from time to time.

But you hear from all the governments and nongovernmental organizations that they believe a lot of that food goes to the president and to the military and not the starving people of North Korea, right? ?

SHERMAN: Well, in fact, the North Koreans have decided they don't want the World Food Program's aid because of complicated negotiations about the terms for that aid.

That's terrible for the North Korean people. There's probably an entire generation with stunted growth, stunted mental capability. And so, as the day comes that there is reconciliation with the South, it is going to be a big lift for that economy to help North Korea. KING: The six-party talks are the platform for the diplomacy. The United States is a key partner there, as well as Russia, China, South Korea and Japan.

One of the things President Bush did at the end of his term was to take North Korea off the list of state-sponsored terrorism.

Now, we know -- Vice President Cheney was in that chair a few weeks ago, on this program. He disagreed with that decision. I want you to listen to the former vice president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: He gets to listen to whoever he wants to listen to. And I had my say. I got my chance to voice my views and my objections. I didn't think the North Koreans were going to keep their end of the bargain, in terms of what they agreed to. And they didn't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The vice president, the former vice president, believes North Korea should still be on that list. It is one of the options available to President Obama. Should he take it, put them back on the list of state sponsors of terror, now that they have violated a U.N. resolution?

SHERMAN: I suspect that the president will not do that. Because, indeed, we have to get back to the bargaining table. That would probably make getting back to the six-party talks a longer route to go. This was agreed upon with the other parties in those six-party talks as a way to move forward.

And in fact, terrorism is probably not what we have to be most concerned with, with North Korea. What we have to be most concerned with is not only their nuclear weapons program but this missile technology which they sell to other countries gives them money to keep their regime going. We need to make sure missile technology gets added to the six-party talks.

KING: If you frame it that way, though, does Kim Jong-Il gets what he wants?

He gets the attention. He gets the United States asking him to come back to the table, and no sanctions with any teeth?

SHERMAN: Well, I think that, in fact, what we will have is a condemnation, an international condemnation, which the president began in his speech in Prague, has been joined by the European Union, by South Korea and by Japan.

Even China has said, although we ought to be calm, that this was not a helpful step forward. Russia, as well, agrees.

So I think that it helps to isolate North Korea further. I think we have to say that this was a mistake; this was not helpful. This will make the negotiations more tense and will make countries less likely to give everything North Korea wants as soon as it wants it.

KING: What is he like?

(LAUGHTER)

You sat across the table from a man who is a recluse. He is a mystery to the world. He and doesn't care when he defies the world. What's he like?

SHERMAN: He is actually fairly straightforward, more so than you would think. You can have a perfectly rational conversation with him. He doesn't much like to talk about his family and his personal circumstances, but he really is the leader of his universe.

He doesn't have to worry about the global economic crisis. He doesn't have to worry about the war in Afghanistan or building down in Iraq. He doesn't have to worry about health care for his country. He only has worry about one thing, and that's keeping his power.

KING: And let me ask you lastly about the timing of this. Any doubt in your mind that we've known this is coming? They fueled up the rocket, they put it on that launch pad and we've known for several weeks it could happen here, it could happen here, it happened on a day the president of the United States, on his first major overseas trip, was giving a big speech in Prague about proliferation of nuclear weapons and tried to call the world together to say let's rid the world of nuclear -- weapons grade nuclear technology, and let's stop the proliferation of missiles like this.

Any doubt that that's why this happened today? SHERMAN: I think that Kim Jong-il has actually helped President Obama today because he has given a perfect example of why the president's remarks are so important, that we really have to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

At the same time I think he was either going to do it during the NATO meeting yesterday, the West military alliance, or today during the president's speech about nuclear non-proliferation. In either case I think Kim Jong-il has helped President Obama make a very serious and important for the world's peace and security.

KING: Ambassador Wendy Sherman, thank you for your insights. And we'll keep in touch as this goes on.

And in addition to condemning North Korea's missile launch, President Obama made a speech this morning with an ambitious goal, as we just noted, to rid the world of nuclear weapons. We will talk about that and more with one of the president's closest advisers, David Axelrod. Our STATE OF THE UNION report, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: President Obama is nearing the end of his first overseas trip as commander-in-chief. It's a high stakes tour that began in England. That's where Thursday he conceded Wall Street greed was a major cause of the global financial crisis. And he appealed to other leaders for quick coordinated action to turn things around.

Yesterday in France, President Obama won only a modest, mostly temporary commitment of new NATO troops to help U.S. forces to secure Afghanistan. And the latest stop this morning, the Czech Republic, the president spoke in Prague calling on world leaders to join him in seeking a world rid of nuclear weapons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: This goal will not be reached quickly, perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Joining us from the city where the president delivered that speech just a few hours ago is senior White House adviser David Axelrod.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: David Axelrod, let's start with the ambitious agenda the president set out there in Prague when it comes to reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons. And let's start with the short-term proposal. The president says he wants to go back to table with Russia, renegotiate a new START treaty, strategic arms reduction treaty, and do it this year.

Under the current START treaty the United States and Russia are limited to 6,000 nuclear warheads, and in fact, both countries are already below those limits. How deep does the president want to go by the end of this calendar year?

AXELROD: Well, I think that's the subject of the discussion that is going to follow the meeting that he had this week with President Medvedev of Russia and -- but the president is committed to an aggressive regime.

And I think that there is a broad realization, John, the Russians understand it, the president certainly feels it, that this issue of nuclear proliferation has taken on a new and deadly turn with terrorism, the possibility that weapons can fall into the hands, not of a rational state, but of an extremist group bent on destruction.

So I think both countries have an impetus to help lead that reduction.

KING: And the broader goal of eliminating, eliminating the production of weapons grade fissile material, how realistic is that when you look around the world and you see in Pakistan, in Iran, in North Korea regimes that are not -- not only have nuclear programs, but trying to advance them?

AXELROD: Well, we have to mobilize the world to be part of this process, because this is really -- this is one of the great threats, nuclear -- weapons grade nuclear material falling into the hands of those who could fashion it into a weapon.

What we want to do is create a situation where nations that want nuclear materials for peaceful purposes, for powering their countries, can get it from an international bank. But that material is secured so it doesn't fall in the hands of rogue states and extremist groups.

KING: When a president, more than two decades ago, started down this path, the city you are standing in was still part of the Soviet Union, inside the Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain. President Reagan made a mark with the Soviets in reducing nuclear weapons.

Is President Obama's goal a legacy of a world free of nuclear weapons?

AXELROD: There's no question about it, John. And he said that during the campaign. He believes that now. He is acting on that.

You know, obviously, we live in a dangerous world and we can't unilaterally disarm but we can lead the movement to corral these nuclear weapons and begin that process of reduction.

And that would be the goal to remove this scourge from the face of the earth and take away that threat that hangs over us now.

KING: Let's talk more broadly about the trip to Europe. The pictures have been fascinating. The president's reception has been overwhelmingly positive. Most of the news accounts talk about it mixed results in terms of the substance. Some progress at the G-20, but not as much stimulus spending from France and Germany as the United States would have liked for their economies. At the NATO summit, some short-term commitments of troops to help around the Afghan elections, and certainly some important financial commitments, but no major investment of troops from NATO companies (sic) to go along with the risky big commitments the president is making here with new U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Is that how you see it?

AXELROD: No. I really don't, John. I think the G-20 was really successful. I think it was the most successful international conference in response to a financial crisis that has ever been held. There has been trillions of dollars of commitment made over the last few months as part of the process that led up to this -- to this summit.

There was agreement to pursue aggressive financial regulatory reform so that the kinds of things that happen that caused this crisis won't happen again, to set up early warning systems as well, to add to the International Monetary Fund $1.1 trillion, and the World Bank, and some of these other agencies that can help countries who are in desperate shape right now as a result of the crisis, and keep markets open for American businesses.

So a lot was accomplished at this conference. In terms of NATO, I disagree with your interpretation. The president, after 60 days of review, unveiled a strategy about a week ago and the world has embraced that strategy. The NATO countries have embraced it today -- over this weekend.

And Secretary Clinton met with foreign ministers from 80 nations earlier in the week at The Hague and there has been unanimous support for this. And there were strong tangible expressions of that support at the NATO meeting. Thousands of military personnel to help secure the elections that are coming up in Afghanistan and on August 20th, which is the next great test in this process. Thousands more to help train army personnel, police.

AXELROD: Half a billion dollars to help revive the Afghan economy, because that's a very important part of this mix. It's not just the military challenge. And additional money to help -- in a fund to help build up the Afghan army so they can defend themselves. So there was an awful lot that was accomplished. Eleven new countries are now participating in this process.

KING: One of the overriding goals of the trip at every stop, the president has been trying to tell his European audience that he is not George W. Bush. Many viewed George W. Bush in Europe as a cowboy diplomat, if you will. But striking at a town hall in Strasbourg, France, when the president was talking about the threat of Al Qaida and how the world still has to keep its eye on that terrorist threat, interesting language. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Al Qaida is still a threat. And that we cannot pretend somehow that because Barack Hussein Obama got elected as president, suddenly, everything is going to be OK. It is going to be a very difficult challenge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: David Axelrod, what is the message there? And was the use of his middle name, Barack Hussein Obama, was that somehow calculated?

AXELROD: Well, that was an answer to a question. I'm sure the president used his full name for a reason, but the most important thing here is that the president was very candid with the Europeans about our mutual responsibilities. He was candid about ours and he was candid about theirs.

And what was most interesting to me, John, standing at that town hall, was the enormously positive reception he received from an audience of people who -- who heard him make the case for why we had to be engaged in Afghanistan, who might have been expected to oppose the U.S. on this in the past, but who understood the case he was making. And I think the greatest benefit of all, as much as we've accomplished on this trip, is that he has sent a signal to the world that we're reengaged, that we want to build alliances that are based on mutual respect and mutual responsibilities, and that we're prepared to lead and we're also prepared to listen.

KING: First big international trip is a heady moment for any new president. On a lighter note, I'm wondering, since you just flew into Prague on Air Force One, how is the president enjoying traveling in his wife's shadow?

(LAUGHTER)

AXELROD: Yes. That's -- you know, I think he is used to that, to be honest with you. I think he resigned himself to that long ago. Michelle was hugely well received along the way here and has done a number of events on her own, communing with...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: They are joking back and forth. Do they joke back and forth about that, the headlines?

AXELROD: I don't know. But I think it isn't lost, at least on the staffs, that her approval rating is higher than his. I don't know what that engenders behind closed doors.

But you know, I mean, the fact is that the president -- Michelle Obama has fans all across the world, but there is no greater fan than the president himself. And I think, you know, he -- he's happy to bask in her reflected glow.

KING: A couple of weeks back on the program, we had the former vice president of the United States. And I know from talking to people high up at the White House that many officials, including you, were not so happy at the message former Vice President Cheney delivered. Sharp criticism of your boss on a number of fronts, including this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Do you believe the president of the United States has made Americans less safe?

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I do. I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I wanted to give you a chance to respond to Mr. Cheney.

AXELROD: Well, first of all, I find it supremely ironic, on a day when we were meeting with NATO, to talk about the continued threat from Al Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where they are still plotting against us eight years -- or seven years later. I think the question for Mr. Cheney is, how could that be? How could this have gone so long? Why are they still in business? That is the fundamental threat that we face, and it's a little incredible to me that he would -- that he would argue somehow that what we're doing in forging an international alliance to finally pursue a strategy to defeat and dismantle Al Qaida in Afghanistan is going to make us less safe.

I think it was an unfortunate statement. And let me say, in contrast, how much we appreciate the way President Bush has behaved. He was incredibly cooperative during the transition. And when he left, he said, I wish you guys the best. I'm rooting for you. I believe that to be the case, and he has behaved like a statesman. And, as I've said before, here and elsewhere, I just don't think the memo got passed down to the vice president.

KING: David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, thanks for joining us from Prague.

AXELROD: John, great to be here.

KING: And up next, we'll talk about the economy here at home, President Obama's overseas trip, and how the United States should respond to the North Korean missile launch with two United States senators, Michigan's Debbie Stabenow and Tennessee's Bob Corker. "State of the Union" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: I'm John King and this is "State of the Union." Here are some stories breaking this Sunday morning.

North Korea has launched a long-range missile defying repeated international warnings. The U.N. Security Council is holding an emergency session on the launch later today. North Korea says the Taepodong 2 rocket put a communications satellite into orbit. The South Korea and the United States say the payload never made it into space.

Speaking in Prague, President Obama says North Korea broke the rules with its rocket launch, calling it a provocation. He also called for international efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. The president is attending the E.U. summit in the Czech Republic. Next, he heads for Turkey.

In Pakistan, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a mosque, killing at least 20 people. It happened at the front gate of the mosque as worshipers were attending an event inside. That and more ahead on "State of the Union."

A view of the United States Capitol there. A beautiful morning, look at that sky, here in Washington, D.C.

Let's talk about the North Korean rocket launch and other issues with two members of the United States Senate. Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee joins us from Chattanooga, and Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow, celebrating the Michigan State win last night. She's in Lansing.

Senators, and Senator Corker, let me start with you. What are the United States' options here? North Korea has launched a rocket. Apparently, not a successful launch, but still in defiance of U.N. resolutions, and the president wants the Security Council to do something. Is there anything the United States can do here?

CORKER: Well, look. First of all, I think the president's comments, the tone was very good. Obviously, the follow-on is going to be more difficult. We need to quickly move back to the six-party talks, as has been discussed.

And let's face it, China is the key player here. Russia plays a role that's strong, but China is the key player. So I think convincing China that additional sanctions need to be put in place is going to be one of the most important components to what we do going forward.

KING: Any difference here, Senator Stabenow? And one of the options the president has would be to restore North Korea to the list of nations the United States says are state sponsors of terrorism. President Bush took North Korea off near the end of his term. Should the president put them back on?

STABENOW: I'm sure they are looking at all the options right now. As the president said, this is very provocative. We are fortunate that, at least in the short run, it was not successful, but it certainly sends a message about where they are headed and their defiance in terms of other countries. And so I would agree with Bob that this is a broader than just the United States. The National Security Council, of course, meeting. They've got to look at all the options and take this seriously.

KING: Let's talk more broadly about the president's first overseas trip. We're still getting to know this president here in the United States. This is our first chance to watch him in a major way on the global change -- on the global stage.

Senator Corker, at the G-20, the president didn't get as much investment from Germany and France as he would like in their economies. Do you see anything coming out of the economic part of this trip that is going to create jobs here in the United States, improve our economic standing here at home?

CORKER: Well, look, generally speaking, I think the president has had a good trip. I think he was well received. Candidly, I agreed with Germany that stimulus was not the answer.

The issue is credit. Many of the European countries have an unusual amount of banking assets in those countries compared to their GDP. They realize that the credit issues are going to be deep in those countries, and I think wisely, are not spending a lot of money on stimulus. So I actually agreed with their position in that regard, and still agree that in our country, the number one issue is solving our credit problems. That is the only way we're going to build this economy back. So I actually agreed with them there.

I think some of the other issues, of quantitative easing at the IMF -- we have been meeting with the IMF to understand where that goes. I did very much appreciate the fact that all of them agreed that we would not engage in protectionism over the next 12 months. I think that was a very healthy step.

KING: Senator Stabenow, let's look at the national security front. At the NATO summit, the president did win a commitment of about 5,000 troops from NATO into Afghanistan, but it's pretty temporary. They are only going in -- most of those troops are only going in for security around the Afghan elections.

In the campaign, President Obama said electing him meant the United States would restore its alliances and get more out of those alliances. This early test, the world is not ready to go along yet, right?

STABENOW: Well, I think this was step one. I mean, they were not coming together just to talk about specific commitments. So the fact that in their first meeting, that there were any commitments made, I think, was significant, and I think what is most important on this trip, John, is that, as the president said, he is there to listen and learn, as well as lead.

It's a very different tone. It appears to have had, I think, excellent results in terms of rebuilding some very frayed relationships. And everyone knows that we're all in this together when it comes to Afghanistan, what is happening in terms of Al Qaida and the fact that we all are threatened by this. It's not just the United States. I think the president made that clear. And my guess is we're going to see more willingness as we go along to make further commitments.

KING: Let's bring the conversation back home on this Sunday morning. You're both from key states, and you're both key voices in the debate about the future of the automotive industry here in the United States.

Senator Stabenow, you went on the record last December talking about the prospect of bankruptcy for General Motors or Chrysler. And you said this, "Bankruptcy in the auto industry just doesn't work. First of all, people aren't going to buy automobiles from a company in bankruptcy, and we're told that one bankruptcy could cost the taxpayers over $150 billion."

As you know, the White House essentially fired the CEO of General Motors last week, and the new CEO, who will be with us later in the program, he says he doesn't like bankruptcy, but that might just be the route we're going. Has your position changed, or do you think the White House would be wrong to push GM into bankruptcy?

STABENOW: Well, first of all, I'm very appreciative of the commitment that they've already made. You know, when March 31 came around, because they did not have all of the pieces in place for viable plans, the administration could have walked away, but they didn't. They have given additional time, additional commitment to Chrysler in forming a Fiat deal, an additional 60 days for GM to be able to get the bondholders to the table. We know that the workers have stepped forward and will continue to do that, with tremendous pain in our state as a result of what is happening.

I do not support bankruptcy, certainly as the first, second, or third options.

What they are talking about is a different kind of what they hope would be in and out of bankruptcy option.

But I still am very concerned, because, John, we have 600,000 retirees whose pensions, by the way, would become a federal liability in the worst-case scenario in a bankruptcy. We have retiree health care. People who gave up wage increases multiple times in order to make sure they had a pension and had health care. And so, there are tens of billions of dollars -- I've heard upwards of $80 billion -- in federal requirements, federal dollars that would be needed potentially if they went into bankruptcy. So it certainly is not my first option. And I know that it's not the first option of the administration.

KING: Well, Senator Corker, I want to bring you in, but first, I want to listen to something you said a few months back and something the president said just this last week. You have been on opposite sides on many of these issues, but listen to this. It sounds quite the same.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CORKER: The labor costs are out of line. They have to agree to have a contract in place that puts them on parity, on parity with companies like Toyota and Nissan and Volkswagen and other companies here in our country.

OBAMA: It will require unions and workers who have already made extraordinarily painful concessions to do more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So, Senator Corker, has the president come around to your way of thinking?

CORKER: Look, there's no question that they have been pursuing the same thinking that I laid out in December. I wish we had moved more quickly towards that, and I think these companies would be in much better shape.

Look, I think Fritz Henderson is the right guy. I think a lot of Fritz, and I hope that this administration is successful for both Debbie's state, our state, and actually this country, and the many people that depend upon it.

There is no doubt that bankruptcy is a possibility. I know they are looking at a 363 code section in the bankruptcy law to look at bankruptcy.

But the fact is that I do disagree with the government just coming in and taking over a company like this. I think that was heavy-handed. I think that is something that we'll look back on in several years and be very concerned about. But I hope they are successful.

And yes, this whole issue of shared sacrifice is something that I agree with the president on. Again, I wish they had done it in a different way. I wish the board and the company itself was moving through this and hope, as much as possible, that politics will stay out of the decisions that are made.

KING: You say, Senator Corker, politics will stay out of the decisions...

STABENOW: John, John...

KING: Go ahead, Senator, go ahead. Jump in, Senator Stabenow.

STABENOW: John, I just want to add, because Bob and I are working together on a number of fronts, but I disagree on one thing. When Bob talks about heavy-handedness in terms of the CEO, I remember back in December when Senator Corker was in a room representing Republicans in the Senate, saying that the UAW, the workers of the country, had to negotiate directly with Senate Republicans in order to be able to get their support in terms of what their wages were going to be and so on. I really felt that that was a tremendous intrusion into the company as well. So people look at that in very different ways.

The reality is I want to make sure that we have a company that is strong and healthy, that people have -- workers have pensions and health care and jobs. And we should support Fritz Henderson moving ahead in making decisions.

KING: Senator Corker, I want to ask you quickly... CORKER: John, let me -- let me just jump in...

KING: ... before we run out of time...

CORKER: Let me jump in.

KING: Go ahead. Go ahead.

CORKER: OK. There's no -- we were not negotiating. Republicans were not negotiating with the UAW. Chris Dodd and I were negotiating a bill that, again, provided covenants on loans. We were not trying to negotiate their contracts. That was going to be left to the folks at GM and Chrysler. So that is a gross misstatement and is not the way it worked (ph) out at all.

STABENOW: Bob, you were trying to negotiate how much they would make. KING: All right, we need to call a time-out here. But as we can tell from both of our senators, this debate and conversation will go on in the months ahead. I want to thank you both. Debbie Stabenow, and again, congrats to Michigan State. You are wearing your green today and joining from Lansing.

STABENOW: That's right.

KING: Senator Bob Corker in Chattanooga. And later in the program, as we said, we will have Fritz Henderson on the program, and also a report from Senator Corker's home state of Tennessee. We went down to Spring Hill this week and we talked to some of the auto workers affected by this.

Up next, though, our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour joins us with her unique insights into North Korea's provocative missile launch today. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, of course, following the latest developments on the North Korean missile launch. She joins us from New York.

And, Christiane, let's start with the basic premise. We have been down this road before. What is Kim Jong-il up to?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a successful launch, according to them, because last one, the Taepodong 2 that was fired in 2006, fizzled less than a minute after take-off. This one, at least, took off and went across Japan and then bits fell into the sea.

So for them -- and the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations has just made the first statement, saying, quote: "We are happy that this was successful."

Now, of course, other experts in intelligence say that the actual satellite did not go into orbit. So it's a mixed bag. But Kim Jong- il appears to be, according to experts who I have spoken to who have recently met with North Korean officials, appears to be making a statement at home at this time, but also making a statement about rejoining and moving forward with engagement with the United States and other countries.

KING: And so, Christiane, as those conversations, the diplomacy takes the next step, and as we have the conversation, I just want to show viewers on the map here what we're talking about.

You mentioned the missile went over. And the last test did fizzle out over here. That was in 2006. In this test, the first stage landed west of Japan, from the United States' perspective. And while the satellite did not make it into orbit, the second stage landed out here in the Pacific.

The debate moves next to the city where you are, to the United Nations and the Security Council. Is there anything beyond words of condemnation the Security Council can do here?

AMANPOUR: Well, look, you know, you just had former Assistant Secretary Wendy Sherman on, who has been to North Korea with then- Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who said perhaps one might see a presidential statement at the Security Council condemning what happened and an attempt to reaffirm existing sanctions. You know, the U.S. has taken North Korea off the list of states that sponsor terrorism, and moved towards lifting some of unilateral U.S. sanctions on North Korea. And what's interesting from nuclear experts who I spoke to overnight, they say that this missile, if it was used as an intercontinental ballistic missile, North Korea is still far away from developing the kind of small, light, and heat- resistant nuclear warhead that it could put on such a missile.

So they don't believe it had nuclear applications.

KING: And, Christiane, very quickly, what is the market? If they have at least proved they could fire it this far, who are we talking about in terms of the potential market to sell these missiles?

AMANPOUR: Well, as many intelligence and others who are tracking this suggest, North Korea has been selling and sharing proliferation technology and missile technology, whether it be with Iran, whether it be with Syria and others.

You know, Iran just launched a satellite, according to its defense ministry, more than a month ago. And Syria has also been in contact with North Korea over, they say, conventional weapons. But you remember Israel took out a plant in Syria back in -- back a couple of years ago that they said had some nuclear application. The details on that are still very, very vague. But obviously, that is what worries the rest of the world.

But having spoken to North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator and many others who have done, they want to engage the United States and they're desperate to engage the United States on long-term issues that affect them. For instance, on trying to, you know, give them the energy they need, give them the food they need, and try to make sure that the U.S. is not bent on obliterating North Korea. KING: Christiane Amanpour for us in New York. We'll continue to touch base throughout the day as developments warrant. And our coverage of the North Korean rocket launch and world reaction continues STATE OF THE UNION.

Plus, Howie Kurtz previews the real star of President Obama's first overseas trip, that would be Michelle Obama. All coming up after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: I'm John King, and this is our STATE OF THE UNION report for this Sunday, April 5th.

North Korea ignores warnings from world leaders and launches a long-range rocket. The United States says the missile landed in water, but still represents a big threat.

We'll check in with CNN correspondents around the world covering this developing story.

A new ultimatum to struggling General Motors and Chrysler: Produce a better plan to justify more federal help or face bankruptcy. GM's new CEO, Fritz Henderson, right here, on what needs to change, and quickly.

And why is First Lady Michelle Obama getting as many headlines as the president?

Howie Kurtz takes on that and more ahead in this hour of STATE OF THE UNION.

We begin with the major developing story out of North Korea. The reclusive communist regime defied the United Nations resolution and they ignored international threats of sanctions and launched a long- range rocket. The Taepodong-2 missile which passed over Japan was launched Sunday morning in Asia, about 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time, Saturday night, here in the United States.

The goal for the North Koreans was to launch a slight into orbit and, of course, to test the reach of its long-range missile program. But U.S. and Canadian aerospace officials say the mission failed. They say one stage of the rocket landed in the Sea of Japan. The remaining portions, along with the satellite payload, landed in the Pacific Ocean. Still, the launch was in violation of the United Nations resolution passed after a previous North Korean test-firing back in 2006, and the Security Council is scheduled to meet later today to discuss a response.

North Korea's actions have put other countries in the region on edge, including South Korea. That's where we find CNN's Sohn Jie-Ae.

SOHN JIE-AE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak had some harsh words for North Korea. A spokesman saying that the launch was a serious threat to the Korean peninsula and the rest of the world. South Korea said it was very disappointed over what it called the North's reckless act. South Korea also said that this was a clear violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution banning the development of North Korea's ballistic missile technology.

The military here were was also on a high state of alert. Military officials saying that they were on the watch for any further provocation from North Korea.

On a different note, however, today was Arbor Day here in South Korea. And while the news of the launch blanketed the South Korean media, for most South Koreans, they went about their business and planted trees -- John.

KING: Sohn Jie-Ae there in Seoul.

Let's go now to Hong Kong and Mike Chinoy, who's with the Pacific Council on International Policy. He's a former CNN correspondent, also the author of "Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis."

Mike, it is great to see you.

You know this regime as well as anybody. Just let's just get to the calculation of Kim Jong-il and launching this rocket.

MIKE CHINOY, PACIFIC COUNCIL ON INTERNATIONAL POLICY: I think there are a couple of factors. Number one is domestic.

He suffered a stroke last August. That has put into play the whole issue of his succession. And so having what they will portray as a successful launch is a way to build up his prestige, a way to promote the regime to the people of North Korea. So I think that's important.

The second thing is the North Koreans see this as very much strengthening their position vis-a-vis the United States and the other members of the six-party talks that have been under way for several years trying to roll back the North's nuclear program. The North clearly still wants to engage with the United States, but by defying all these warnings and carrying out these tests, I think they see themselves as coming into any future diplomatic process in a stronger position by having been able to go ahead with this.

KING: And Mike, you've watched the six-party talks, as you mentioned before. Is there any reason to believe with the change in administration -- President Bush, of course, late in his administration, pushed those talks forward. As you know, they get go in fits and starts. There's a commitment, then there's a long time between meetings. Then the United States and sometimes the other nations accuse North Korea of violating its word.

Any reason to believe with the new administration comes new hope for progress in those talks? CHINOY: Well, the irony is that Barack Obama campaigned on a platform of engaging adversaries like North Korea. But you've had a variety of factors driving the North Koreans to take a much more bellicose position.

Partly, as I mentioned, it's the internal dynamic uncertainty over Kim Jong-il's health. Partly, the North Koreans felt in the last few months of last year that they weren't getting what they had expected to get from the Bush administration as part of that process. And they said that if a sanctions effort moves ahead at the U.N., they'd consider pulling out of the six-party talks.

So I think the challenge for the Obama administration is, on the one hand, to not appear weak in the face of this provocative North Korean action. At the same time, to somehow keep the lines open so that some form of diplomacy can go ahead, because the track record of the last seven or eight years shows that coercion and sanctions don't tend to work with the North Koreans. Indeed, they have the opposite effect. And only when you sit down in a negotiating process is there any prospect of actually making some headway in rolling back their nuclear or missile programs, although by no means is it certain that resuming negotiations will lead to the kind of results that the United States and other countries out here in the region would like to see.

KING: And Mike, as people in the United States and around the world track this today, you're one of the few western journalists who have been in North Korea. Just take a minute and describe to the audience what life is like.

CHINOY: It's a very strange place. It's extraordinarily regimented, it's cut off from the rest of the world. The population is indoctrinated almost literally from birth with the idea that everything they have is due to Kim Jong-il and his father, the late president Kim Il-sung.

You have a very small elite who live very well in Pyongyang, some of whom are fairly plugged into what's go on in the rest of the world, who have access to the Internet, to CNN, to international media. Then you have the vast majority of the people who are leading pretty difficult lives. Malnutrition, hunger remain very widespread. Political oppression very widespread -- all pervasive political control.

And the game of this regime, and what Kim Jong-il's goal here is, to maintain this very strange system and to pass it on to one of his sons. And so regime survival is driving everything that the North Koreans do.

KING: Mike Chinoy for us in Hong Kong.

It is great to see an old friend. Sorry it's under these tough circumstances.

Mike, thanks for your insights and your help this morning.

And we will continue to track this story, North Korea's dramatic missile launch. We will to track it throughout the day here on CNN.

But for now, it's time, a little later than normal, to turn things over to Howie Kurtz and his RELIABLE SOURCES. Hi, Howie.

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