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North Korea Plans New Nuclear Test; British P.M. On U.S. Budget Battles; Women Being Cleared For Combat Duty; Kerry Confirmation Hearing; Deep Freeze Grips U.S.; New Flood of Syrian Refugees into Jordan

Aired January 24, 2013 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. We are taking you around the world in 60 minutes. Here's what's going on right now.

We begin with nuclear threats against the United States. North Korea today announced plans to test more nukes and more long range rocket launches which it says are designed to target the United States. North Korea's defense commission calls America the sworn enemy of the Korean people. I want to get straight to our Christiane Amanpour in New York.

And, Christiane, give us a sense of how serious this new threat is from North Korea.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, you're absolutely right, the words are very serious and very threatening and very bellicose. It is incredible to hear them directly threaten the United States in that way just ahead of what they say will be another nuclear test.

But what I'm hearing and what analysts are saying is, that's probably how one would have expected them to have reacted. It comes just a day after yet more U.S. action and U.N. action at the Security Council, yet more sanction action. And most people believe that this is not a threat of attacking the United States, but certainly the bellicosity and the words are threatening to the United States. They say, analysts, that this is North Korea's way of trying to deter any further action from the international community and that they have no capacity to invade, no capacity in terms of long range missiles, to reach the U.S.

Nonetheless, it's a serious issue if they do test --


AMANPOUR: Test any kind of nuclear war head or any kind of nuclear device.

MALVEAUX: Well, Christiane, you were in North Korea.


MALVEAUX: You witnessed them blowing up this cooling tower at a main nuclear facility. This was back in 2008. So what do you make of today's announcements? I mean does it look like to you, and we're watching -- we're showing our viewers some of the pictures of you right there. Does it look like to you like they're going backwards now? That they are not making the kind of progress that they at least seem to show you just a couple of years ago?

AMANPOUR: Well, you know, it was now nearly five years ago and that is an eternity in relations between North Korea and the United States and the rest of the international community. Back then, these pictures were absolutely dramatic. The access we had into the Yongbyon nuclear plant, which is where I am right there, and looking at the fuel rods and being there at a time when they had better relations and they had an ongoing negotiation with, at the time, the George Bush administration and they were going to halt their production there at Yongbyon and we watched them saran wrap all the bits and bobs (ph) that go into plutonium and into the purification of nuclear material. And then they invited us back a few months later to, as you say, watch them blowing up this signature cooling tower at that plant.

Now, everything then went backwards. It happened. It coincided with Kim Jung-il's illness. And things have been on a very rocky footing ever since. The international community wants, you know, more talks to happen within the framework of the U.S. and its allies. This new leader, Kim Jung-il's son, is, according to analysts, you know, trying to prove himself on the international stage. So a lot of it is rhetoric, but every time they make a test, you know, it shows that actually sanctions aren't doing what the west and what the U.N. hopes that they will do.

MALVEAUX: And, Christiane, I want to switch gears if I can here. Obviously Davos, Switzerland, you were there with many of the world leaders.


MALVEAUX: You just had a chance to speak with British Prime Minister David Cameron about the economic struggles that are happening, taking place in Europe and, of course, the United States. And, Christiane, I'm wondering here, because there's so many trips, E.U. trips, that I've been on with the Bush administration and even the Obama administration where they blame the United States for bringing down the rest of the world when it comes to its state of the economy. It looks like now things are almost reversed in a way. Tell us about your conversation with Cameron.

AMANPOUR: Well, I interviewed Prime Minister Cameron from my perch right here in New York and he was sort of in the lion's den, if you like, in Davos because he had thrown down the gauntlet with this speech about Britain's position in the European Union. Now, as you know, Britain is not fully in, in terms of it's not part of the Eurozone. It doesn't have the euro. But in many aspects, it is in and it's a full member. The United States depends on Britain for its very strong role in international affairs. It helps all over the place whether it's in trying to confront Iran, Syria or indeed North Korea with all these sanctions.


AMANPOUR: And it plays a very big role, whether it was Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, et cetera.

What David Cameron is saying is that, we like our foreign role, we like you and our economic role in the E.U., but we don't want to be part of your political role. So he's trying to negotiate a half in/half out role for the U.K. And that's something that's very concerning to the U.S. because he has raised the stakes by saying that he's going to put it to the British people in a referendum. And if they vote to get out of the E.U., that could fundamentally change America's relationship with that bloc (ph) and with Britain as well, not to mention Britain's relationship.

MALVEAUX: Sure. Let's listen to a little bit of your interview there.


AMANPOUR: Prime Minister, you see all the economic turmoil in Europe. You see it over here as well in the U.S., the wrangling over the fiscal cliff. There just seems to be endless economic uncertainty.

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: President Obama and I have always agreed that different countries should take different pathways according to their circumstances. And, of course, America is a reserve currency country. But everybody knows that over time that deficit has got to be brought down and difficult decisions will have to be taken.

I would say our experience in the U.K. is that you can take people with you as you take those difficult decisions, but it's a very -- it's a very tough and hard road, but it's a road we all have to travel. In the end, we all have to prove that we can pay our way in the world, that our credit is good and all the rest of it. It's not the only way that you will get growth. It is part of what we need to bring the world economy back to healthy growth.

I think the biggest thing that Britain and America can do together is work on this E.U./U.S. trade deal. Between us, we account for a third of world trade. So if we really got together and liberalized trade between the European Union and the United States of America, we could make both our peoples a lot better off.


MALVEAUX: So, Christiane, the takeaway real quick here?

AMANPOUR: Well, the takeaway is that David Cameron hopes to be able to renegotiate Britain's role in the E.U., to have a little bit of what he wants, a little bit -- give back what he doesn't want, and to try to make that the platform to convince Britain's to vote "yes" in a renegotiated E.U. position and vote to stay in. The takeaway is the United States wants Britain to stay a fully integrated member because it's better for the U.S. and better for Europe. So huge things are at stake right now and Britain is playing yet another pivotal role in what is right now a pretty shaky and uncertain future.

MALVEAUX: All right, Christiane Amanpour, thank you. Good to see you, as always.

AMANPOUR: Thank you, Suzanne.


One of the longest held policies in the United States military is now ending. Women in the U.S. armed forces will no longer be banned from jobs that may put them in direct, on the ground, front line combat. That means infantry, artillery, even special ops units like the Navy SEALs and the Green Berets. Women will no longer be shut out of any of those jobs. And Defense Secretary Leon Panetta making the announcement official. That is going to happen in the next hour.

Want to bring in our Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

So, Barbara, you know, the Blackberry, e-mail, it all kind of like went buzzing all at the same time. It was a little shocking, actually. It was quite surprising for this. We know that this has been an ongoing struggle, if you will, for some women who have been fighting for this. But for this to actually happen, did it surprise you, as well?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think inside military circles this had all been sort of afoot for some time. In fact, they were conducting some trial runs, if you will, seeing if women could pass some of the physical fitness courses that would be required. The Marines had two women wash out. Army, still working away at it. So not a huge surprise. And, you know, you have to remember, Panetta is about to leave office. This is a legacy issue for him. He wants to get this done before he goes, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And the reaction so far? I know a lot of, of course, female, those in the military, very happy, somewhat surprised by this. But is that the uniform reaction to this?

STARR: You know, I think that most people in the military think it is inevitable that this step would be taken, but there is a wide range of opinion, make no mistake. I have heard from military women this morning who are very concerned that they don't think this is going to work out. It could take years to make it all happen.

But I want to play some sound from Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. She is a veteran of Iraq. She was asked about this earlier this morning on CNN. And she had some interesting things to say.


REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: We're talking about highly trained professionals. People who build our strong military because they place the mission first and they're there to fight as a member of a team. All of the other things that differentiate us, make us unique, whether it be gender or race or religion, all of these things fall aside when you're there putting the mission first and selflessly serving as that member of a team. I can tell you from my own firsthand experience, as well as the many, many great people I've had the honor of serving with, that whether in training or in deployed setting, those things are not what's crossing your mind when you're operating.


STARR: But make no mistake, when she talked about gender there, what women will have to do to join these front line units is pass the same standards of physical fitness, scholastic, operational qualifications. It will all have to be the same as the men. This will be gender neutral.


MALVEAUX: Barbara, do we know how quickly this will happen?

STARR: The Pentagon says they want to have an implementation process and get this done by 2016. But, you know, there's still a big sort of out clause on all of this. The services, military units, could say at the end of the day they want an exemption, that they simply don't think they can have women in their units. You hear the same issues again, personal hygiene, can women really pass those physical requirements? All of this still on the table. So Panetta knows and Chuck Hagel was supporting him, his successor --


STARR: His designated successor. They know they have to do this somewhat gradually.

MALVEAUX: All right, Barbara, thank you. Appreciate it.

This guy, diplomatic trouble shooter, decorated war veteran as well, distinguished senator. Now John Kerry on track to become America's next top diplomat representing the U.S. around the world. And the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Kerry chairs, is holding a hearing on the nomination to become secretary of state. In his opening remarks, Kerry talked about how his military experience in Vietnam has shaped his views.


SEN. JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: And as we talk about war and peace and foreign policy, I want all of us to keep in our minds, as I think we do, the extraordinary men and women in uniform who are on the front lines even as we meet here today. The troops at war who helped protect America. I can pledge to you that as a veteran of war, I will always carry the consequence of our decisions in my mind and be grateful that we have such extraordinary people to back us up.


MALVEAUX: I want to bring in our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty.

Jill, Kerry, it seems like, is ready made for the job. I mean this is something where he got the nod after you had the U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, withdrawing her own nomination from consideration. But this is someone who has wanted something more than a Senate seat for quite some time.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he has. And, in fact, you know, when you say tailor made for the job, there was a moment there in the hearing, which, by the way, is still going on, where Senator Kerry mentioned in passing, "well, President Assad of Syria told me," and that's kind of the tone that we've had. I mean he's rubbed shoulders, talked with, you know, influenced, et cetera, most of the world leaders. And that's why he is, people would argue, a very good fit for this job. He knows it inside and out. In fact, at one moment -- or actually throughout this hearing, it really has sounded kind of like what he does every day as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

There was a moment, Suzanne, just a couple of minutes ago, however, where that subject of Benghazi came up. Quite interesting. The same senator, Senator Johnson, who got into it with Secretary Clinton yesterday, sort of got into it with Senator Kerry. And Senator Kerry said, you're not going to get any daylight between me and Secretary Clinton right here and basically stood up for what she has been saying, that she is and he will be, if confirmed, totally transparent and work with the committee.

And, Suzanne, just one other moment on the personal side. There was a moment where he mentioned that really the State Department is in his blood. And that was a reference to his father who was a foreign service officer. Let's listen to what Secretary -- sorry, Senator Kerry said.


KERRY: If you confirm me, I would take office as secretary, proud that the Senate is in my blood. But equally proud that so, too, is the foreign service. My father's work under presidents, both Democrat and Republican, took me and my siblings around the world for a personal journey that brought home the sacrifices and the commitment the men and women in the foreign service make every day on behalf of America.


DOUGHERTY: So he has a huge plate ahead of him with issues. And one of the biggest you'd have to say, Suzanne, is going to be the Arab Spring countries and that zone of instability in that region. It's a very, very big challenge. He called it a huge upheaval.

MALVEAUX: All right, Jill, thank you. Appreciate it.

Just ahead on NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL, the upper Midwest, northeast now experiencing snow and subzero temperatures now that the same cold front about to give the deep south a real taste of winter.

And slippery roads in Russia resulting in an incredibly close scrap with death for one family.

Plus, this is the first time -- this is pretty cool stuff -- we're seeing this colony of emperor penguins in Antarctica. We're going to talk to the man who actually helped make this discovery. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Millions of folks from North Dakota to Maine are enduring a third straight day of brutally cold temperatures. This is what we're talking, brutal. We are talking about wind chill temperatures to 85- degrees-below-zero. That is in Mount Washington, New Hampshire. It makes Long Lake, New York's negative-22 look balmy.

An arctic cold front is to blame for all of this and this is where Susan Candiotti is.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Talk about a double whammy. New Yorkers who made minimum home repairs after Superstorm Sandy may not have enough heat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are just freezing here.

CANDIOTTI: One reason warming centers are springing up in cold weather cities, giving the most vulnerable, young and old, some relief.

YETEVA RICH, NEW YORK RESIDENT: I haven't had any hot water and heat for three days. Yesterday, a little bit of heat came on. The only heat that we got was in the bathroom.

CANDIOTTI: In Syracuse a heavy downfall, lowering visibility. giving snow blowers a workout, making it tough for postal carriers to get from house to house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hopefully the driveway will already be plowed when I get back.

CANDIOTTI: In Iowa City, Iowa just one-degree-above-zero. A dog shelter begging for help after a heater broke down. Extra blankets needed to keep the cement floors warm for man's best friend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a stressful environment and we're trying to keep them as comfortable as we can.

CANDIOTTI: Outside Pittsburgh when a water main broke, single-digit temperature turned gushing water into a sheet of ice.

Sub-zero temps aren't all bad if you like ice boating. Skimming across the ice at speeds of up to 60-miles-an-hour in what looks like a mini-kayak with a sail.

For those who have to work outside ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As long as I bundle up really like double- bundle, I'm good. I have a lot of clothes on.

CANDIOTTI: Maybe the best way to get by is thinking hot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Key Largo's a great place this time of year. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: OK, we're going to try to think hot here.

Susan, how are you doing out there? What, 19 degrees, I understand, in New York?

CANDIOTTI: That's right with a wind chill of about 8, but, you know, they have set up warming centers here in New York City because it is very serious, this cold, for those who are vulnerable, the very young and the very old.

But, if you are hearty enough to come out, I mean, look at this backdrop. You've got a lot of people out here taking photographs of the fountain here in Bryant Park where, because they think it looks cool to get this effect every winter, they have heaters beneath the fountain which keep the pipes warm and allow them to keep it flowing.

And when it gets super cold, you see the effect ...


CANDIOTTI: ... nice icicles.

MALVEAUX: ... completely frozen over.

CANDIOTTI: I don't think this souvenir will last, but, at least -- exactly. Exactly.

But it's a beautiful sight out here, but, again, you have to make sure to put those layers on if you are going to stay out for a while.

MALVEAUX: I imagine it is pretty serious. We know that three folks have already died from this cold.

What are they recommending for people because, you know, sometimes you have just got to be outside?

CANDIOTTI: That's right. Well, of course, the best bet is to stay indoors, but those shelters are very important for people who cannot stand it or don't have enough heat in their house.

Or, you know, if you are coming out, to make sure that you have those layers on and just make sure -- they always recommend and it makes sense -- to check on elderly neighbors, in particular, to make sure they're OK when you have a cold snap like this.

MALVEAUX: All right, Susan, thanks for braving me the elements there. Try to stay warm if you can because, of course, the cold spreading. Parts of the Southeast are about to get hit by sleet and snow, as well.

Chad Myers and all things weather. Wow, Chad, this is a big one.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No, it's not a big one, but you know what? It only takes literally this much ice to make it to be a big one here.

What's going to happen overnight tonight is that all across the Southeast it's already below 32. It's going to stay that way and then this little bit of sleet's going to start to come down, freezing rain.

It's going to start in Paducah, going to roll through Nashville and that will be before the sunrise tomorrow and then into Knoxville, Asheville and even into Chattanooga.

So, that's what we're worried here, just about a little bit of moisture running through the cold air. And, as that happens, it doesn't take a lot to put a glaze on a roadway or two and that glaze can really get bad.

It's been cold here. It's also been cold across parts of Europe. This is the international show, after all. Here, all the way across northern Europe, record amounts of snow have been put down in some of these communities up here and they are shoveling and they are shivering just like we are, although it is a warmer day in London, all the way up to 36. That's balmy for what they've been seeing.

MALVEAUX: Yeah, and, Chad, I want to show you these pictures here. This is actually Great Britain. This is chimps who are at a sanctuary -- oh, look at him, oh -- in Wales, all bundled up there in blankets. They were served hot tea, as well, some hot tea.

Just how cold is it? This poor little chimp, what is he dealing with over there?

MYERS: You can see the snow on the ground, so it has been cold. Temperatures were down to about 17 Fahrenheit there. Now, they have warmed up to 37. So, maybe they think that is like a tea party or something. I don't know. They're out there. They're warming up now, finally, above freezing, but still for them it's still cold.

MALVEAUX: And us being in the South here in Atlanta, what are we watching? What are we faced with this afternoon?

MYERS: Atlanta proper is, I don't think, going to be a problem. But we are going to see problems in Nashville, Knoxville, Asheville, Chattanooga, maybe to Paducah and Memphis. That's where the ice maybe could be a quarter of an inch.

Now, that doesn't sound like a lot, but it is. You get that on the roadway and schools are going to be shut down. Wake up tomorrow morning a few minutes early because you will need the extra time tomorrow for sure.

MALVEAUX: Yeah, it's a big deal in the South. All right, Chad, thank you.

MYERS: You're welcome.

MALVEAUX: Appreciate it.

They are witnesses to suffering, a high level U.S. delegation visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey. We'll get a look at what they hope to accomplish.


MALVEAUX: As many as 20,000 Syrian refugees have crossed now into Jordan. That is in the last few days alone. That is according to officials there. This new influx is adding to about 350,000 Syrian refugees who were already in Jordan.

Well, now, aide groups are warning of a prolonged humanitarian crisis in countries that are surrounding Syria They are calling on the international community to step up with donations to try to help care for these refugees.

Officials now estimating about 600,000 Syrians are seeking refuge in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. They've been crossing the borders in droves since fighting started in Syria almost two years ago.

I want to bring in Hala Gorani to talk about some of these refugees in Turkey getting a visit today from a delegation of senior U.S. officials who are headed by the American ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford.

What do we know about this mission?

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the mission is a fact-finding mission. The United States is pledging some money to help this refugee situation not be as catastrophic on a humanitarian level as it is becoming.

Because right now, when you look at some of the images, when you also look at the numbers, we're talking 3,000 people a day over the last several days crossing from southern Syria into Jordan, over 26,000 since January 1st.

Keep in mind. Syria is a country of 22, 23 million people. If you add all of the internally displaced, all those who've had to flee to neighboring countries, all those expected to flee over the next several months, you're talking 5 percent of the population of this country is in some way affected by the civil war going on there.

If you apply that to the U.S. population, that's 15 million people. It gives you an idea of the magnitude of the crisis that we're talking about.

MALVEAUX: Is there any effort -- I mean, clearly, this is a civil war that has lasted for a while. It doesn't look like it is going to end any time soon.

Is there an kind of effort that either folks are going to stay in these neighboring countries, make them their home or are they eventually going to get back to Syria when all of this is over?

GORANI: Well, let's be clear here. They all want to go back home. Nobody chooses the life that some of these individuals have to endure.

In the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, for instance, where just over the last two days, two children have died because there is medical care, but not medical care for children who have illnesses, who have pre-existing illnesses that they carried with them from Syria to the camps.

And there is not enough money pledged. Point blank, they need more money. A small fraction of the money that the U.N., ACR and other organizations need to help care for these refugees has been pledged. And I'm talking in the single digits.

MALVEAUX: And, Ambassador Ford, we've learned information about -- something about Assad's family. What is happening within the regime's own family?

GORANI: This is very interesting because, over the last several weeks, we had heard rumors and repots that Bashar al-Assad's mother ...

MALVEAUX: His own mother?

GORANI: His own mother, Anissa, has fled to Dubai in the UAE.

Robert Ford has told our team in Turkey, including Ivan Watson, that she is in Dubai. She has joined her daughter, Bushra, Bashar al- Assad's sister.

She is now in the United Arab Emirates, Robert Ford said, and also saying that the spokesperson for the foreign ministry has fled to the U.S. He's right here in America. We're talking about Jihad Makdissi.

There were reports a few weeks ago that he was here. Robert Ford is saying he is. When asked is he working with the U.S. government, Robert Ford answered, no, he's not. I think he's a refugee.

MALVEAUX: So, Hala, when your own mother -- when the president's own mother leaves the country that signifies things are not good for him.

GORANI: Not good for him, that there is some concern, joining his sister, Bushra. But, also interesting that the UAE seems quite happy to welcome the family of Bashar al-Assad as they flee.