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North Korean Nuclear Fears; Syria Launching Missiles; Interview With Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson

Aired December 12, 2012 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. officials are scrambling to respond to new threats from two of the most dangerous regimes in the world right now.

North Korea's surprise rocket launch is raising fears that the communist nation is closer to being able to fire its nuclear weapons long distance, perhaps as far as the United States.

And the Syrian regime appears to be escalating its bloody and destabilizing civil wars by launching Scud missiles. We have extensive coverage, beginning with Syria's missile attacks.

Let's go our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty. She's got the latest -- Jill.


Well, U.S. military satellites are tracking those missiles and a U.S. official tells CNN that even in the last few days, four of the missiles, these Scuds, were fired north in the direction of Turkey, but they did not cross the border. However, they got very close.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): The fighting in Syria grows more vicious. Troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reach into their arsenal for more deadly weapons, even the fearsome Scud missile. Experts say al-Assad has between 300 and 400 of those short- and medium-range missiles in his stockpiles.

Just Monday, opposition charged the regime forces launched a Scud from the suburbs of Damascus.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If this proves to be true, it's just another indication of the depravity of Assad and his cronies.

DOUGHERTY: What's more, the State Department says Assad's forces last week started using what's called barrel bombs.

VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: Which is an incendiary bomb that contains flammable materials. It's sort of a napalm-like thing and it's completely indiscriminate in terms of civilians, so very, very concerning and indicative of the regime's desperation and the regime's brutality. DOUGHERTY: Human rights groups say such weapons produce extremely painful burns, often down to the bone, burns that are very hard to treat. The deadly turn comes just after worrisome signs that an increasingly desperate al-Assad is moving closer to possibly using chemical weapons. Chemical weapons plus Scud missiles would be a lethal combination.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: If you were to marry up a chemical capability, a chemical warhead onto the Scud, you now have an area denial weapon system, which is very nasty. It affects everybody. It doesn't discriminate from friend or foe.

DOUGHERTY: One means of stopping Scuds, Patriot air defense systems. And just a week ago in Brussels, NATO approved Turkey's request to deploy the weapons in that country to protect against any possible attack from Syria.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: The mere fact that the missiles, the Patriot missiles have been deployed make it necessary for any potential aggressor to think twice before they even consider attacking Turkey.

DOUGHERTY: A Pentagon spokesman tells CNN Washington will be giving orders for the deployment of U.S. Patriot batteries and personnel within days.


DOUGHERTY: And all of this means that on the ground, for those civilians in Syria, it's an increasingly desperate situation, and the U.S. administration today announced that they are giving an extra $14 million for humanitarian aid.

That brings the total to $210 million. And this time, Wolf, the focus is on young kids, on their nutrition, and also on medical supplies for everyone.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty at the State Department, thanks very much.

Now to another alarming story, North Korea's rocket launch.

Kate Bolduan is working this story for us.

Kate, a lot of us pretty worried right now about what happened.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely. And, Wolf, you know from your experiences in North Korea, it's impossible to tell right now if this is just muscle flexing or if this is the regime taking steps and working towards a long distance nuclear attack.

Tom Foreman is here to give us a better sense of what North Korea did today and what it may be able to do in the future.

Tom, what are you finding out? TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kate, this rocket, the Unha-3, may represent the most advanced technology we have ever seen come out of North Korea, about 105-feet tall, weighs 175,000 pounds at liftoff, and a payload of 220 pounds.

More importantly, when you look at this, you realize what they have done here. They have launched a three-stage liquid fuel rocket, all the way up and put a satellite into orbit, which even now is circling the Earth. They have been working 14 years toward this moment. And when you combine it with their nuclear weapons program, a lot of nations are getting worried.

Let me bring in a map and I will show you why. Up until this point, when the North Koreans have talked about a ballistic missile, we have pretty much figured it's something they could fire here and it would go 4,000 miles. The outermost ring here may be to the edge of Alaska on a good day, if everything went right for them.

But now, with this one, we're talking about 6,000 miles. The ring goes out further, and now you're talking about maybe reaching Washington state, Oregon, California. I think a lot of things have to go right for that to happen. But, nonetheless, it's no longer beyond comprehensible -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: So, Tom, what does this mean when you take a look at this? What does this mean for North Korea's nuclear capabilities, and their capability to hit the continental United States?

FOREMAN: Well, they can't do that yet. There's no indication that you would believe that.

But let me bring this up and talk about the technological achievement here because it is profound. When you talk about a three- stage rocket like this, what has to happen is, each stage, for this to work, had to burn for a precise amount of time with a precise amount of thrust. As they separated, the next one in a split-second had to pick up and continue on the same course with the same amount of thrust, all of this while going about 17,000 miles an hour, 120 miles up into space.

This is not an easy trick. And bear in mind, because it's burning so much fuel so quickly and going through the atmosphere, the handling of this and the weight of this craft are changing virtually by the second. And, nonetheless, they were able to get to the point where they launched this satellite out of the end, as they describe it.

Now, we don't know a whole lot about that satellite. But we know it's quite a trick to make this happen in any way, shape, or form. Based on the payload size we were talking about a moment ago, we would guess that it's somewhere around this size, around the size of Sputnik, which was launched more than 50 years ago by the Soviets.

So that's not a very big piece. And more importantly, more importantly, intelligence analysts say they do not believe that the North Koreans have managed to miniaturize any of their nukes, so that they could fit into the same space. Even if they did, there are other challenges out there. For example, if you put something like this into space, you have to be able to get it back from space. You would have to come up with heat shields to protect it so it didn't burn out on reentry.

They will have to have some kind of trajectory control that works around the world to keep it pointed in the right direction, and they would need some sort of targeting mechanism to put it somewhere near where they wanted to put it. The bottom line is, though, even though they may not have all of that, North Korea appears to be closer today to all of that than we thought they were 24 hours ago -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, quite a lot of symbolism, if nothing else, in that launch that we were all a bit surprised about. Tom Foreman, a fascinating look at what is all happening before our eyes. Thanks a lot, Tom.

BLITZER: The White House is warning there will be consequences for North Korea's rocket launch. The defense secretary, Leon Panetta, calling it a clear provocation.

CNN's Erin Burnett spoke with the defense secretary in Afghanistan.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, I sat down exclusively with Secretary Panetta here in Kabul and I asked him about North Korea's, frankly, somewhat surprising move to test a long-range rocket right now. People thought it could be coming, but this was a little bit sooner than many had expected.

North Korea has celebrated this launch as a major success. Many other experts have as well. It even prompted the U.N. to host an emergency meeting. But the defense secretary told me, not so fast. And the Pentagon -- and Wolf, I want to quote his exact words -- he said -- quote -- "is still assessing whether or not it really was a success."

Now, Wolf, of course, you know NORAD has confirmed that North Korea successfully launched an object into orbit. And as I said, others have characterized this as a success. I wanted to know exactly what the defense secretary meant when he said he wasn't sure. So here's the exchange.

BURNETT: You said you weren't -- you're still determining whether it was a success or not. Is that still something that the U.S. is not sure about?

LEON PANETTA, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: No, I think we still have to assess just exactly what happened here, track -- you know, we had radar tracking the flight of that, to be able to analyze just exactly what happened during the course of that flight, the various stages, and then, most importantly, the final stage, to determine really whether or not that did work effectively or whether it tumbled into space. That's the issue that we need to assess. BURNETT: Wolf, it remains to be seen exactly what happened, but, of course, we know this. The American defense secretary doesn't want to make headlines, saying North Korea just had a successful rocket launch. When you think about it, Wolf, experts say that a rocket like the one North Korea just tested, if they were to actually launch it, could strike the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, or Alaska.

It's a very real threat to the American homeland. When I asked the defense secretary about that specific issue, whether the United States would have the capability to prevent such a missile from hitting America, he was unequivocal. He said, and I will quote him again, "I'm very confident" and he said that American defense capabilities are able, no problem, to block a rocket like this one -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Erin, thank you. By the way, you can see more of Erin's interview, exclusive interview with the defense secretary, Leon Panetta, in our next, on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT," 7:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

North Korea is spending a lot of money on rockets and technology, even though the nation is poor. I have seen it firsthand along with the former New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson. I will talk about that with him, the danger Kim Jong-un's regime poses to the world.

And why the president and the House speaker aren't connecting, even in private.


BLITZER: A new and important warning today from the Federal Reserve chairman about the dangers of going over that so-called fiscal cliff.

BOLDUAN: Very real dangers. Ben Bernanke says there will be economic consequences for everybody if automatic spending cuts and tax hikes go into effect in the new year.

But talks to prevent that from happening don't seem to be getting going anywhere, absolutely nowhere, anytime soon.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, who has more on this.

Dana, it doesn't seem either side is ready to budge, at least today.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly doesn't. And there was an interesting moment here today, when the former Democratic House speaker, who says that she forced her caucus to do things many times they didn't want to do, had some blunt advice for the current Republican speaker -- quote -- "Figure it out."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BASH (voice-over): Sources in both parties say a Tuesday evening phone call between the president and Speaker Boehner did not go well.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Well, the president and I had a deliberate call yesterday and we spoke honestly and openly about the differences that we face.

BASH: CNN has learned at least part of the reason why. Tuesday's GOP counteroffer included a renewed explicit call for a -- quote -- "permanent extension" of Bush era tax cuts for the top 2 percent of Americans, according to a Democratic source familiar with the language. The Democratic source argued that proposing to permanently extend tax cuts for the wealthy that the president calls a nonstarter showed that Republicans are either -- quote -- "unwilling or unable" to make an offer that can pass and the president will sign.

CARNEY: Those magic beans are just beans and that fairy dust is just dust. It is not serious. And the president will not sign an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest.

BASH: A Republican source responded to CNN that the White House is misinterpreting Boehner's office, that it also included a proposal to revamp the tax code down the road, which would make current tax rates moot. Regardless, it appears both sides are still talking past each other, even in private.

BOEHNER: Listen, there were some offers that were exchanged back and forth yesterday, and the president and I had a pretty frank conversation about just how far apart we are.

BASH: From the GOP perspective, the talks are back at a standstill because the president is offering too few spending cuts and too much in tax increases.

BOEHNER: The president has called for $1.4 trillion worth of revenue. That cannot pass the House or the Senate.

BASH: CNN is told that in a meeting of House Republicans behind these closed doors, Boehner expressed frustration with the president's negotiating stance. So far, he thinks rank and file angry at the president appears to be helping keep Boehner keep his troops behind him.


REP. TRENT FRANKS (R), ARIZONA: Because I think the speaker is at a profound disadvantage in the negotiations at it is.

BASH (on camera): Why?

FRANKS: Simply because he's got a recalcitrant Senate and a president that simply is out of touch with reality.

BASH (voice-over): Despite the renewed flash point over taxes, privately, more and more Republican lawmakers tell CNN they do anticipate giving in on raising tax rates for the wealthy. That's why publicly most GOP lawmakers are careful not to box Boehner in.

(on camera): If the speaker agrees to a raw deal that includes rate increases for the top 2 percent, would you go for that if it also included significant spending cuts?

REP. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R), WEST VIRGINIA: Well, I think we would have to look at the whole package and I have said let's leave everything out there.


BASH: And Boehner said publicly today, he's actually still optimistic that a deal can be done by the holidays, but, Wolf and Kate, we are told that privately, he told his rank and file House Republicans behind closed doors that they should not make plans for Christmas.

BOLDUAN: And he always says that he was born with a glass half full, but I feel -- I have a very strong feeling we have seen this movie many times before.

Dana Bash, we will talk to you soon. Thanks so much, Dana.

BASH: Some soon-to-be-former U.S. senators complained about the polarization in Washington as they said goodbye to their colleagues today, many of them.

A number of the high-profile members who are retiring or were defeated gave farewell speeches on the Senate floor. They reflected on the political climate and their own careers in remarks that ranged from serious to the lighthearted. Take a listen.


SEN. SCOTT BROWN (R), MASSACHUSETTS: I have been and still am deeply concerned about the lack of bipartisan efforts to solve our country's most pressing economic challenges, and in turn move our country forward. Many times, political party and personal gain is put before the needs of our country. I know we can do it better.

SEN. DANIEL AKAKA (D), HAWAII: We're truly all together in the same canoe. If we had paddle together in unison, we can travel great distances. If the two sides of the canoe paddle in opposite directions, we will go in circles.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: When I started here in the Senate, a blackberry was a fruit and tweeting was something only birds did. No more.

SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA: Mr. President, we have this long tradition in the Senate of senders giving farewell remarks. I want to alert colleagues that mine will be especially long, so you might want to go have lunch and then come back.


BOLDUAN: Senator Conrad has a very good humor, a very dry humor. He always has a very witty comment every time I see him.

BLITZER: Some of these senators, I have seen them, so many. They have been in the Senate forever. Can you imagine the Senate without Joe Lieberman in the Senate?


BOLDUAN: I know. And I found it just so interesting with all of them commenting kind of on the political climate. And they seemed a little melancholy in some of their remarks, but make no mistake, Wolf, they're going out with a bang. They're still facing the fiscal cliff. It's not like they're going quietly into the night.

BLITZER: They still have at least one more important vote.

BOLDUAN: Yes, at least one more very more important vote.

BLITZER: We will watch them closely. We wish them, obviously, all the best in their new challenges, the new chapters in their lives.

He came face to face with a gunman, and lived to tell a chilling story. A survivor of that Oregon mall shooting describes a scene of horror in his own words. That's next.



BLITZER: A serious subject we're watching, major news, the North Korean, they are celebrating the launch of a satellite into orbit. So, what does it say about the power and the credibility of the new young leader, Kim Jong-un? We will talk about the new leader's nuclear ambitions and how the U.S. should respond.


BLITZER: Happening now: Iran is cheering North Korea's rocket launch, a breakthrough that's raising nuclear tensions around the world. I will talk with the former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson about the threat and our experiences in North Korea.

And after the Tea Party's losses in Congress, members of the group may be ready to give ground on a defining issue.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BOLDUAN: U.S. officials say they hope they never have to face the threat of a North Korean nuclear attack aimed at the United States.

BLITZER: But that possibility seems, seems more real right now, after the communist regime's rocket launched today.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is standing by. She's got some U.S. reaction to what's going on.

What are you learning, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Kate, the military, the intelligence community in Washington had been watching North Korea around the clock, since they announced they were going to launch this missile, but then the North Koreans said they were having some problems, it could be delayed.

When it finally did happen last night, few people were surprised.


STARR (voice-over): The North Korean anchor's excitement was clear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The second version of satellite Unha-3 successfully lifted off.

STARR: Announcing the launch of a long-range rocket that put a North Korean satellite into orbit around the Earth. The North Koreans clearly achieved one goal, raising everyone's anxiety level.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, PRESIDENT, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: This is a step towards the ability to build a long-range missile that could strike parts of the United States.

DAVID WRIGHT, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS: While I don't think this really was a great advance forward, I think in terms of the perception of North Korea, this probably has changed the way its neighbors think about it.

STARR: In an interview with CNN's Erin Burnett, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wasn't about to say this three-stage rocket launch was a success for Kim Jong-un.

LEON PANETTA, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We still have to assess just exactly what happened here, most importantly, the final stage to determine really whether or not that did work effectively or whether it tumbled into space.

STARR: But North Korea did succeed in putting what U.S. officials describe as a rudimentary satellite into space. The U.S. is trying to determine if North Korea is now able to control the satellite. And while it's all the same technology that could some day result in a North Korea missile being able to hit the U.S., experts say, don't panic yet.

CIRINCIONE: It has to demonstrate that it cannot just get something up to space, but bring it back down. That requires a re- entry vehicle.

STARR: The U.S. believes Iran may be just one country that has helped North Korea fix its technical problems. Iran state media calls the accusation, quote, "baseless."

(END VIDEOTAPE) STARR: And as you know, the U.S. maintains a small number of missiles in both Alaska and California, capable of shooting down a North Korean missile, if it came to that. As for the nuclear warhead issue, that might be a few years off, but, you know, when it comes to North Korea, nobody is saying, don't worry about it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Barbara, you're getting some new information about that satellite, supposedly, that's in orbit right now?

STARR: Yes. Absolutely, Wolf. We've just talked to a U.S. official who confirms to CNN, nearly 24 hours after the North Korean launch, the U.S. still is looking at the question of whether North Korea really is able to control this satellite in orbit. This official telling us now there are initial indications they are having trouble controlling the satellite, and this is because the U.S. is not seeing certain radio signals you would expect between the ground station in North Korea and the satellite.

Those radio signals have not yet happened. So that is the first indication that the North Koreans may not be able to control the satellite, but the official went on to say, don't think of it as tumbling and about to hit earth. He said, this thing could stay up there for months before it either burns up or comes back down. But the first sign of trouble for Pyongyang in this program tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Barbara has got the very latest from the Pentagon. Thanks very much.

Let's continue this conversation with someone who knows North Korea well. Been there on several occasions. We're joined by the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., the former New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson. He was in North Korea two years ago, exactly two years ago, conducting sensitive negotiations during a rather tense near nuclear standoff. I covered that visit, was there with him.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in. What is your assessment? Why did this new young leader, 29 years old, decide to do this now?

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: For several reasons. The first domestic -- the first launch failed. He wants to show his people after one year in leadership that North Korea is a strong military, technological, space, nuclear power, nuclear weapons. I think that was partly to shore up the military, to shore up his support.

Secondly, he's saying to the world, look, I'm back. You can't keep me off the headlines. I have to be dealt with. This is the capability I have.

Third, he might have wanted to influence the South Korean presidential elections, which are going to be held December 19th. But the main message here is, I believe, for the United States, for the six-party countries is, we need a new approach in dealing with North Korea. These guys are serious, they've got missiles now. ICBM capability, nuclear weapons. It's uncertain about the new leader. I'm disappointed, because I thought maybe there's a positive political opening with him. Maybe there still is. But we have to figure out a new way to deal with North Korea, barring some kind of unforeseen development.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And Governor, I mean, you're touching on it there, but what do you really think the success of this launch means for the U.S. and our allies? I mean, do you believe with this launch that the world is a more dangerous place today than it was yesterday?

RICHARDSON: Well, they are developing their capability more. They violated the moratorium on launches, the U.N. Security Council resolutions. There are going to have to be consequences. The European Union is also going to get involved and more sanctions. But my point is, I don't think they still have the capability to reach the United States, but they might some time soon.

And so what we have to do is recognize that possibility. So a new approach, I believe, is needed. And I haven't figured out what that might be. We've tried engagement, diplomacy, excessive sanctions, isolation. I still think the worst thing to do is try to isolate them, sanction them to death. They already have so many sanctions. Perhaps some new framework involving a different kind of six-party talks.

The view has been that China runs the show with North Korea. Well, that's obviously not the case. They've got leverage, but I think some new thinking is really needed.

BLITZER: Because I've heard, and I'm sure you have as well, from some optimists out there, because he has now proven himself to the generals and others, Kim Jong-Un, the new leader of North Korea, approaching the one-year anniversary of his father's death, he's got credibility, and precisely because of that -- maybe this is overly optimistic -- he potentially could do some opening up, that he couldn't have done before. Do you buy that at all, Governor?

RICHARDSON: Well, it's possible. Anybody that predicts what happens in North Korea isn't going to do very well, but it could be that once he feels that he's shorn up his domestic strength, people forget the launch that failed. Celebrating the anniversary of his father and grandfather on this occasion, that now he will be ready to deal. Maybe he's also saying, OK, I've got missiles now, I've got nuclear weapons, Western countries, you've got to deal with me. I need food, fuel, technology, sanctions off.

We've gone this route before, but hopefully this is the message that he is sending. The main point, Wolf, is isolating him, putting him in a box, I believe, as we've done before, isn't going to work. That doesn't mean you reward him, but it means that a new kind of engagement. Maybe the Russians. They're skilled at diplomacy.

South Korea, what's happening that is encouraging is a new set of leaders coming up in South Korea. Obviously, President Obama's been re-elected in Japan, in China. This infusion of new leadership maybe will be creative in finding a new way to deal with this regime, with their own new leader, trying to strengthen his economic and domestic and political base after just one year in power.

BLITZER: All right, Governor, hold on for a moment. I want to continue this conversation. I also want to talk about our trip to North Korea two years ago. What we learned about the country. Whether it's a nuclear negotiators can even be trusted. Stay with us.


BLITZER: North Korea's alarming rocket launch today is a flashback to another tense time in the region. Exactly two years ago, I was in that secretive country with a diplomatic trouble shooter, the former U.N. ambassador, Bill Richardson. He was conducting tense negotiations about the country's nuclear program.

Governor Richardson is standing by. We're going to talk about that, what's going on right now. First, though, here's a clip of a report I filed during our trip.


BLITZER (voice-over): This is a place few outsiders have ever seen. At first glance, it looks like any other major city. High-rise buildings, kids playing, couples strolling, people jamming into street trolleys, wide roads with traffic cops, male and female. But this is no ordinary city. This is Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, and we're heading there during one of the most dangerous times in its history.

We land in North Korea late in the afternoon on Thursday, December 16th. The North Koreans take us into a room and confiscate our passports and cell phones. On the trip with me, Governor Bill Richardson and four aides.

RICHARDSON: Whenever I go to North Korea, and this one was probably more apparent, you're constantly watched, your rooms are bugged, your telephone is bugged, they don't let you, like, leave the hotel. You have to ask your handlers.

BLITZER: Still, we have extraordinary access to a mysterious country that few outsiders have ever seen. We head to the Foreign Ministry.

RICHARDSON: This will be our first meeting, where we try to ease tensions.

BLITZER (on camera): Ease tensions? Easier said than done.

(Voice-over): That morning, Richardson has his first meeting with North Korean officials. This one with Ri Yong-ho, the new vice minister, who's their expert on the United States. He's a former North Korean ambassador in Britain, who speaks English well.

CNN is allowed in at the start of the meeting, but then asked to leave. We go outside to get a flavor of Pyongyang.

(On camera): And here we are. This is Kim Il-Sung Square. As you can see, it's really huge. It's magnificent. And they often have events here, which is totally understandable. These are all government buildings over here.

This is a brisk, cold day on this Friday, here in Pyongyang. But it's nice.

(Voice-over): Our first full day in Pyongyang, but the next day will be critical. Richardson will be meeting with North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, the man who invited him to visit this country. Just as tensions on the Korean Pennsylvania are mounting.

(On camera): The whole world is watching right now. One miscalculation could cause a full-scale war.


BLITZER: You know, the stakes, as I was constantly aware, during the six days we were there, Kate, the stakes are really enormous. You have a million North Korean troops, who have a lot of weapons. Nearly a million South Korean troops, 30,000 or so American forces right in the middle, along the demilitarized zone. And now what's going on, we see what's going on, obviously, a powder keg.

BOLDUAN: When you visited -- when you visited in 2010, a very tense time. Again we are -- seem to be right back in that same place.

Look, we're joined once again by the former U.N. ambassador, the former New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson.

As that piece was ending, Governor, you were about to go in to meet with their chief nuclear negotiator. What was your sense coming out of that meeting and coming from your visit? Do you -- did you find them reasonable, especially in light of what we're facing today?

RICHARDSON: I did find them reasonable, but these were the Foreign Ministry types, the nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye-gwan, the vice foreign minister in charge of the United States. They're moderates in the sense of the power structure in North Korea.

What concerns me is, one, I want to hope that they're still in power. They are, but whether they still have influence. The concern I have is the North Korean military. We met some there, but there's been a lot of purging of some of the North Korean military officials that have been in power.

Now I don't know if the purging means that more moderates have come in or more conservatives, certainly more of Kim Jong-Un, the new leader's people are in. So the big power there is held by the military, by the political party, and the foreign ministry types, I have found, in dealing with them over the years, are the most pragmatic.

So I did come out of those meetings with hope because of the pragmatism of these individuals that have negotiated with U.S. officials, with six-party countries. I just don't know where their influence lies, especially with the new leader.

BOLDUAN: Yes. That's a great question.

And, Wolf, I want to get your sense of this as well because you were in that country, you have rare access, and you talked about your access, the sort of access you were given to North Korean officials. Do you think that you were able to get an honest assessment, not only of North Korean officials, the government, but also how North Koreans themselves live?

BLITZER: No, because we were basically restricted to Pyongyang, the capital. We did drive out in the country one day, saw a little bit of what was going on, but as the governor points out, you're really restricted, in six days, there's not necessarily a sense you can see what's going on.

Governor, here's what worries me. And tell me if you think I'm on track right now. On the one hand, maybe he'll do something positive, open up the country, do something reasonable and reach out now that he's got this credibility with his own people, Kim Jong-Un.

On the other hand, if the sanctions intensify, if the anger intensifies, he could do something even more brazen, have another nuclear test, for example, just to poke his finger in the world's eyes once again. That would certainly ratchet up the tension in that part of the world.

RICHARDSON: That is a possibility, that the next step they take is a nuclear test. That concerns me, because that really raises the stakes. Now what we need to do is respond, as prescribed in Security Council resolutions, and you can't just basically say, OK, we're going to forget about this.

But after those responses, Wolf, what I think is needed is the six-party countries, led by the United States and China, I think need to say, OK, we've got to deal with these guys in a new way. The best way is diplomacy, is negotiation. But exactly what framework are we going to use this time?

Let's test this new Korean leader. Let's not assume that everything he is doing is public without ever having talked to him. I'm not advocating talks between President Obama and this leader. I'm saying our diplomats, but combined with perhaps the Russians and the Chinese, and as I said, there's new leaders cropping up just at the start of the year.

There are going to be new leaders in the region. And they need to come together and come up with a common strategy, that works and makes sense, because you don't want to isolate a country that has these nuclear weapons, a million men in arms, now intercontinental ballistic missiles that their capability is getting stronger.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly is. All right, Governor. We'll continue this conversation down the road. Thanks, as usual, for joining us.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: It's a very worrisome situation.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, Wolf.

Still ahead, their power has waned. Are Tea Party lawmakers now ready to deal and avoid the fiscal cliff?


BLITZER: Tea Party perhaps isn't what it used to be. Here is CNN's Jim Acosta.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the Tea Party, change is brewing on Capitol Hill. Florida Republican Allen West, who rode the Tea Party wave into Congress two years ago, only to be swept out in November, has already lost his office, which is being prepped by painters for its new occupant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They say he's an outsider, a reformer.

ACOSTA: Another Tea Partier, Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp, was booted from his seat on the Budget Committee, he believes, because House Speaker John Boehner wanted to send a message to get in line for a deal on the fiscal cliff.

REP. TIM HUELSKAM (R), KANSAS: We have determined there is some type of secret scorecard --

ACOSTA (on camera): A scorecard?

HUELSKAMP: Scorecard which based on particular votes.

ACOSTA: You think there's some House wrangle (ph)?

HUELSKAMP: Well, I think there's going to be an attempt to, potentially -- I hope not -- push a tax increase through the House. And -- we will see what happens.

ACOSTA (voice-over): While the speaker denied he's bringing down the hammer, stating in a letter that there is no scorecard --

GROUP PROTESTING: Stop spending now. Stop spending now.

ACOSTA: -- it's clear Tea Partiers are not rallying to shut down the government anymore. Some are even leaving room for compromise on raising taxes on wealthier Americans.

(On camera): Are all of you saying that you would not vote to raise income tax rates on the top 2 percent? Are you all basically saying that's just out of the question?

REP. RAUL LABRADOR (R), IDAHO: But the problem is that I want to see real cuts. Real cuts. I'm not saying yes and I'm not saying no.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Even as conservative colleagues are holding their ground.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: The simple fact is, raising taxes is not going to grow our economy.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I remain the most optimistic person in this town, but we've got some serious differences.

ACOSTA: Boehner's private negotiations with President Obama over the fiscal cliff have many Tea Party Republicans like Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson fuming.

(On camera): Does Speaker Boehner speak for you?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: I don't know what he's doing behind closed doors, truthfully. Nobody speaks for me other than myself.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But he told CNN, he won't filibuster a compromise that raises some taxes.

JOHNSON: We have to understand about our reality in some point in time. Republicans have no power in this negotiation. There's only one person that can prevent taxes from being increased in the American public. It's the president. Because without any action, without him being willing to sign a bill, taxes go up for every American. I don't want to see that happen.

ACOSTA: Some conservatives who once had the power to say my way or the highway now realize the train has already left the station.

(On camera): Some of these Tea Party Republicans caution their new spirit of compromise largely depends on what the president proposes and a few of them remain convinced the president simply wants to take the country over the fiscal cliff, to gain the kind of leverage they used to have.

Jim Acosta, CNN, Washington.



BOLDUAN: And finally, here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What do we creatures of television do while we're waiting to go on the air? We eat. We sanitize. We stare.

But check out how this anchor at FOX 40 in Sacramento breaks the monotony of a commercial break. KTXL co-anchor Tia Ewing told us she didn't know she was being recorded dancing to Beyonce. But when she found out, she uploaded the video to YouTube to show to her family. Tia's rendition of "Single Ladies" went viral. It's downright contagious. As someone posted, "Who's the dummy who hasn't put a ring on it? She is single." Admirers tweeted things like, "Save Me a Dance."

Tia now joins the ranks of dancing anchors. MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski go-goed her way back to the set to the Bee Gees. CNN commentator Roland Martin couldn't sit still when Earth, Wind, and Fire played at the 2008 Democratic convention.

(On camera): Cut, cut, cut. Not all anchors need music for their routines. This may look like advanced patty cake.

But WGN's weekend co-anchors in Chicago do a version of this in the first commercial break of every show. The trick is to time it --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ten seconds. Coming up to a voice-over.


MOOS (voice-over): So they finish just before the commercial ends.

But none of these commercial break dancers -- none of them did it when Tia Ewing did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was at 4:15 in the morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now people know who you really are.

TIA EWING, KTXL CO-ANCHOR: Yes, that's really who I am.

MOOS: This is one Beyonce fan who puts the ring in anchoring. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Love her. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.