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Rodman Visits Kim; Queen Elizabeth Leaves Hospital; Man helping North Korean Defectors Dies; Interview with Frances Fragos Townsend; Biden Extends Invite to Iran

Aired March 4, 2013 - 12:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm John Berman, in for Suzanne Malveaux and Michael Holmes.

We begin today in Rome. Cardinals pray for guidance as the gather to pick a new pope. More than 140 cardinals are meeting in the Vatican right now. More are on the way. They're beginning to talk about their big decision, but they haven't decided on a date yet for the conclave where they will actually decide who the new pope will be.

In Pakistan, Karachi shut down for the day as the city mourns. A car bomb exploded near a marketplace and ripped through two apartment blocks on Sunday. At least 45 people were killed, another 145 were injured. No one has claimed responsibility for this blast.

So, Dennis Rodman, the basketball diplomat, is back from his chummy trip to North Korea and he's delivering a message from its leader to President Obama. Call me. The NBA star says Kim Jong-un told him, quote, "I don't want to do war." The U.S. government is distancing itself from Rodman's trip, which was arranged for a documentary.

So, Rodman got so close with leader Kim Jong-un that he's delivering messages to the U.S. like this one.


DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA STAR: He want Obama to do one thing. Call him.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC'S "THIS WEEK": He wants a call from President Obama?

RODMAN: That's right. He told me that. He said, if you can, Dennis, I don't want to do war. I don't want to do war. He said that to me.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Did you say, why don't you pick up the phone and call President Obama?

RODMAN: No, you know, it's a different story. It's a different story because, guess what, the kid's only 20 years old -- 28.


BERMAN: By the way, we think Kim Jong-un is actually about 30 years old, but we'll, you know, give Rodman some credit for, you know, getting close at least. CNN contributor John Avlon and former Homeland Secretary Advisor Fran Townsend join me now.

John, you wrote a very critical essay about this trip for A lot of people were joking about how funny the two of them looked together. You don't find much to laugh about.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There's not a lot to laugh about when people cozy up to dictators. I mean I'm sure it's a lot of fun. It's a great way to see North Korea, go watch a basketball game, get drunk with the dictator's entourage. But this a county where 3.5 million people have starved to death since 1995. This is not the north -- Dennis Rodman didn't experience the North Korea that exists for the vast majority of its citizens. And palling around with the dictator and that -- there is a moral consequence that comes with that kind of a decision.

BERMAN: Apparently he was part of a big feast lined (ph) with food and drink for the whole time.

AVLON: That's it. Yes.

BERMAN: All right, Fran, you know, Dennis Rodman actually dismisses the charges of, you know, mass starvation right there and nuclear war and things like that. He says that was Kim Jong-un's father talking. Let's listen.


RODMAN: I didn't look at all the (INAUDIBLE). I understand what he's doing. I don't condone that. I hate the fact that he's doing that. But the fact is, that, you know what, that's the human being though. He let his guards down. He did one day to me. He's been a friend. I didn't talk about that. I understand that. I understand that.


BERMAN: So, he says, they're friends now. There is the issue of, though, access. Dennis Rodman has now had more contact with Kim Jong- un than really any American diplomat, Fran. So is there anything the State Department can and should do here? I mean wouldn't it be malpractice not to try to get to Dennis Rodman to find out what he knows about the North Korean leader?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, look, Dennis Rodman calls this guy a friend. He spent a couple of hours and got drunk with the entourage, as John Avlon just said. I mean this is not a friend. And Dennis Rodman is speaking from a place of total and utter ignorance. You can't divorce the fact that he's done missile tests and nuclear tests. You can't divorce the fact that he's starving his own people. And the notion of meeting with him in this forum and give -- this is a propaganda cue for North Korea. It is nothing more than that. And, frankly, for the State Department or our government to countenance or to encourage it in any way by meeting and thinking they're going to act on Dennis Rodman's the North Korean dictator doesn't want to do war, is ridiculous. I mean the whole thing is ridiculous, frankly.

BERMAN: You know, indeed the North Koreans put it on the front pages of their newspaper, you know, the very next day.

John, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council made this critical statement after Rodman's trip, saying, "instead of spending money on staging sporting events, the North Korean regime should focus on the well being of its own people who have been starved, imprisoned and denied their human rights." Rodman really did seem oblivious to the pain of the North Korean people here. Do you think the State Department comment goes far enough?

AVLON: I mean, it certainly covers the broad ground here. But, no, Dennis Rodman visited Disney Land and thought it was the real deal. I mean he is a -- was totally duped by this dictator. And he admits as much that he doesn't understand what's going on and is concerned by reports of prison camps. But, yes, you know, if you're going to go to North Korea and walk through the front door because the dictator likes basketball and get treated like a prince, you should do your damn homework because this is a regime that is not only threatening war constantly and are a nuclear rouge regime, but this is a regime that has murdered its own people, imprisoned its own people. When we find out the totality of what's really been happening in North Korea over the past several decade, we the curtain finally gets pulled back and we learn the real history of our times, this will be a shameful incident. This will be -- not just an embarrassment to Dennis Rodman, but an embarrassment to everyone who backed the trip.

BERMAN: You equated it to Charles Lindbergh.

AVLON: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Fran, though, is there any intelligence that can be gained from his trip? Should there be questions that he is asked through some official U.S. channels?

TOWNSEND: Well, there's no question. Look, we collect intelligence on a national basis through a whole variety of means. We ought not assume just because someone hasn't spoken to Dennis Rodman that the United States and its allies aren't -- didn't collect and continue to collect intelligence based on that trip.

Is it worth it to have him interviewed by -- you know, quietly and privately, by U.S. officials who may be able to glean from the intelligence committee, may be able to glean some intelligence? Sure. Understanding the dictator's mental capacity, his reasoning, what was said. But you have to understand, by and large, this -- because it was a staged event, there's a lot of deception going on here. So how much we -- we shouldn't overestimate, frankly, what we can learn from this, even if Dennis Rodman is interviewed, because it was very much a planned and staged event for our consumption, for Dennis Rodman's consumption.

BERMAN: For North Korea and for "Vice" magazine, which is looking to sell a lot of magazines and sell its new documentary which will air on HBO at some point. You know, a lot of people were making jokes about his. I thank Fran Townsend and John Avlon for putting a serious spin on a story a lot of people have been talking about. Thanks to both of you. AVLON: Thank you.

BERMAN: I should also note that Dennis Rodman was scheduled to be on "The Situation Room" today. He has canceled the interview.

All right, to London now and Britain's Queen Elizabeth. Looking pretty spry today as she left the hospital just a short while ago. She spent the night there for a treatment of a stomach bug. Buckingham Palace says the 86-year-old queen is in good health. Max Foster following developments outside the hospital for us.

And right now, Max, what is the latest on her condition?

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest is she's going to be staying the night at Buckingham Palace, but all her engagements for the week are still canceled, despite the fact that she was only in for one day, in the end. She was due to be in for two days, but she came out early. She looked pretty well when she did come out and she walked pretty well towards the car. And she media a big smile, giving a message.

She thought there was a lot of fuss about everything over the last couple of days, but we've still got these issues of, we don't exactly know what was wrong with her. We're told it had the symptoms of gastroenteritis, but still not confirmation that it was. So some mystery surrounding it and some degree of concern because this is rare for her, but she is resting now and she looks pretty well, John.

BERMAN: Yes, there's a lot we don't know about it. We do know she canceled virtually a week's worth of events, which she almost never does. Do we even know when she got this sickness?

FOSTER: We're getting the impression that it was on Friday and she went to Windsor Castle for Saturday and then she actually got a lot worse on Sunday, which is when she got hospitalized. The concern was that she's in her mid 80s and you get dehydrated when you get this illness. So I suspect that she was on some sort of rehydration treatment in the hospital behind me. And it seemed to have worked.

But there is a debate now, John, about her overworking. Perhaps she should be handing more over to the younger royals, to Prince Charles, to William and Harry, and step back a bit. Some people say she should abdicate, like the Dutch queen, but I don't think she has any plans to do that. Not her style.

BERMAN: Well, we saw the -- you know, the Dutch queen. We also saw the pope do it at the Vatican. I'm glad you brought that up. I don't know if it's an in politics subject to talk about that in England, but there are people mentioning that out loud, that perhaps it's time for her to move on.

FOSTER: Yes, and I think the pope in particular is an example that she might look to, simply because it's not a normal done thing for a pope to retire. Hasn't been done for hundreds of years. And it's not been done in the U.K. I don't think ever. But if she did want to hand over, in the same way as the Dutch queen did, to a younger prince, having said that, you know, Prince Charles is in his mid 60s, then she should do that in the modern age if she wanted to modernize things. But she was brought up and she's very much a product of the war and she's got this stiff upper lip. She wants to carry on. And she is very, very committed to what she does. So, I don't think she'll give up all together, but maybe she'll step back a bit.

BERMAN: And I have to say, her health has been remarkable up until now and she looked pretty good leaving the hospital today. Max Faster for us in London. Really appreciate it. Nice to see you there today.

Here's more of what we're working on this hour around the word.

A South Korean missionary ends up dead in China. His family believes he was poisoned and they blame North Korea.

Plus, Joe Biden extends an invitation to Iran. And an Iranian ambassador has an answer for him. Could there be a compromise in the nuclear talks? Meanwhile, the vice president says the ball is in their court.

And, a major confession by one of the catholic church's highest clerics. Cardinal Keith O'Brien apologizing for his sexual conduct. We'll talk about the impact on the church just ahead.


BERMAN: Here are the stories making news around the world right now.

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meet for a working lunch. They talk about resuming Palestinian and Israeli peace talks. Kerry is in the middle of his first official overseas trip.

In Port Said, Egypt, fights break out between police and protesters. The minister of health there says at least five people have been killed, hundreds have been injured. Protests like this have been happening there since January. That's when 21 people were sentenced to death for their part in a deadly soccer riot last year. Later this week, a court will decide the fate of 52 other defendants.

In the Vatican, there is no word on whether disciplinary action will be taken against Cardinal Keith O'Brien of Scotland. O'Brien has apologized for sexual propriety. That is an about face from last week when he said allegations against him were false. Four men accused him of abuse when they were studying to be priests in the 1980s. O'Brien has resigned. He will not take part in selecting the new pope.

So, new questions have surfaced over the death of a South Korean missionary in China. His family believes he was poisoned and that North Korea was involved. Anna Coren has the story.


ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For 14 year, Kim Ha-young had been doing God's work, a calling that would ultimately lead to his death. In August 2011, the 46-year-old South Korean missionary was working in Dandong, China, helping North Koreans cross the border and defect when he suddenly dropped dead. His wife, who's speaking publicly for the first time, had called him 15 minutes earlier.

"He told me he was meeting a North Korean defector and would then come home," she told me. "An hour later, I got a call and raced to the hospital. I found him dead with foam coming out of his mouth."

Hospital officials said the father of two had committed suicide by swallowing pesticides. His wife is convinced he was poisoned by a North Korean agent.

"He was aware of the dangers. He knew his work was a threat to the North Korean regime. But we never thought it would cost him his life."

An official autopsy by the Chinese government would reveal there was no poison in his system. When we contacted authorities, they refused to comment.

Fearful of a cover up, his wife went to the morgue before his body was cremated and collected samples of his blood on a glove. She returned to South Korea and gave it to officials.

Government authorities here in Seoul won't speak to us on camera, but they have shown us the official forensic report on the investigation into Mr. Kim's death.

It reveals that poison was detected on the blood samples, at a level that would kill a person immediately.

It's not the first time North Korea has been implicated in attacks against South Korean citizens using a poison-tipped needle like this one disguised in a pen.

In 1996, a South Korean diplomat working in Vladivostok was poisoned. The following year, a North Korean couple claiming they wanted to defect were caught trying to poison a politician.

And in 2011, a North Korean spy was arrested in Seoul during a foiled attempt to kill a prominent activist.

Fellow missionary Sak Sa Juen (ph) says his friend feared for his life.

Before his death, we'd heard a rumor that Mr. Kim was on North Korea's terrorist list. His murder has frightened other missionaries, but we must continue his work.

One of the people Mr. Kim helped was Kim Meong-ok (ph). She and her family were starving in North Korea when he helped them escape.

I was so upset when I heard the news. We would have died of hunger. He saved our lives.

One man was arrested in connection to the murder on espionage charges and sentenced to four years, but that's little comfort to his grieving wife. He was too young to die. We had so many plans and dreams. He was taken away from us in such a cruel way.

Anna Coren, CNN, Seoul.


BERMAN: And our thanks to Anna.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden extends an invitation to Iran. Could there be a compromise in the nuclear talks, when we come back?


BERMAN: Now to Iran and what could be a breakthrough in nuclear talks.

In an exclusive interview on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Mohammad Khazaee, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, says his country is open to direct negotiations. That is in response to an invitation extended by Vice President Joe Biden a couple of weeks ago.

Have a listen to exactly what the ambassador said.


MOHAMMAD KHAZAEE, IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: The clear message of Iran is that if you see that United States is serious and is honest about its proposal for negotiation, cooperation, direct talks with the Iranians, Iranians will accept it and we will welcome it, definitely.

There is no doubt about that. I can confirm it here with you and also for your distinguished audience, that Iran welcomes negotiation and talks, direct talks, with United States provided that we make sure that U.S. is serious and do not act differently.


BERMAN: I'm joined now by Fareed Zakaria and Nicholas Burns. Burns is the former U.S. under secretary for political affairs and worked in the White House under two presidents.

I'm going to start with Fareed. Fareed, this sounded like a very big deal, if you were listening to it. It sounded like Iran was essentially accepting an invitation to have discussions here.

What did it sound like to you as it was happening?

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Well, I agree with you. I think that part of the reason I would agree with you is they reached out to us.

We've always been in contact with the ambassador's office because we always try to maintain, you know, that line of communication, but they did reach out to us and, if you notice the language, he says, I can confirm.

You know, he was trying to signal he had this from higher-ups than himself, though he is himself essentially Iran's senior-most diplomat out there in the world.

This is something we've always wanted, direct talks with the Iranians, because there's a whole host of issues.

Nick Burns worked on this issue tirelessly because people like him always felt we have many things we want to talk to the Iranians about, not just the nuclear program -- their interest and activities in Afghanistan, where we see eye-to-eye on some issues; their interest and activities in Iraq, where they are destabilizing issues; Lebanon; Israel.

You know, if we could get that all on the table, it would be a much more productive set of discussions than just the nuclear issue.

BERMAN: This was no slip of the tongue. This wasn't lazy language. This was a marker.

ZAKARIA: This was absolutely a marker and this is a very skilled, seasoned man.

Mohammad Khazaee, the guy I was talking to, has been a senior figure in the Iranian government since the 1979 revolution.

BERMAN: All right, Nick, let me turn to you here.

Let me play you a little bit of what Vice President Joe Biden had to say at AIPAC, which is essentially a conference of supporters of Israel. He said that today. Let's listen.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The purpose of this pressure is not to punish. It is to convince Iran to make good on its international obligations.

Put simply, we are sharpening a choice that the Iranian leadership has to make. They can meet their obligations and give the international community ironclad confidence in the peaceful nature of their program they can continue down the path they're on to further isolate and mounting pressure of the world.


BERMAN: So, Nick, that does not sound much like a response, a direct response at least, to the Iranian ambassador.

When the State Department hears what was said on Fareed's show from Iran, what kind of response do you think they need to make?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Well, you know, the administration thinks it's already made the offer for direct talks. Vice President Biden made it himself at the Munich security conference a couple of weeks ago.

I agree with Fareed. This has the potential to be very significant because it's been really since the Jimmy Carter administration when the United States has had the chance to have extended, substantive discussions with any Iranian government.

We haven't had any kind of discussions like that since then, and so we need the time and space to figure out if there's a diplomatic deal out there.

And I think it's positive that Ambassador Khazaee made the offer. It would be more positive if a supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, at some point acknowledged it because, as you remember, when Biden made the offer of direct talks, Khamenei, the supreme leader, turned it down.

The other factor here is that Iran's having presidential elections in June and, while they may be ready for direct talks -- I hope they are. I agree with Fareed on that. It may be that they'll wait until June when they have a new president before they agreed to substantial talks.

BERMAN: That is several months from now.

So then, what does the State Department do? What do you do as a signal back to Iran that says hey, we understand your offer for talks or at least your response to our offer for talks? Here's how we're going to put it together.

BURNS: Well, I think the State Department is going to wait for, since there's no contact between direct contact between the two governments -- they'll wait for some kind of affirmation from Tehran.

There are also going to be, as you know, these multilateral talks, the U.S., Europe, Russia and China with Iran, both on March 18th and April 5 and 6.

There's another opportunity to hear back from the Iranian that direct talks would be acceptable to them, but it's very important that we get there because, while this is an international issue, this Iranian nuclear program, it really is going to be decided, I think, by the United States and Iran, whether we can have a peaceful resolution, some compromise that avoids war.

BERMAN: Fareed, what do you think direct talks would look like? It seems almost impossible to imagine one-on-one talks between a representative of the United States and a representative of Iran officially.

Where would they be? How would they look? Any sense of what that might be?

ZAKARIA: I think that the logistics of the talks wouldn't be difficult. You'd do them probably in some place like Geneva. You'd use somebody very much like Nicholas Burns, an incredibly experienced diplomat. That part is easy to imagine. Here's the difficulty. It's the reaction in both countries to those talks. So, if President Obama goes down this road, you know the Republicans are going to scream and they're going to say he's selling the country out.

Remember, there is domestic politics in Iran as well and one of the things he said on -- in the interview to me, he said, look, don't make it so hard for us.

When you keep saying we're going to pressure Iran, we're going to crush them, we're going to punish them, it's hard for Iranians to accept an offer and say we want to talk to these guys because they're -- so each side faces this problem which is, if they move, if you will, to the center, they're going to find on both sides in Washington and in Tehran, there's going to be a lot of very unhappy people who are going to start screaming.

BERMAN: It was almost as if the ambassador was saying help me help you.

All right, Fareed Zakaria, also Nicholas Burns, thank you for joining us. Very significant movement between the U.S. and Iran.

All right, moving on now, the top British cardinal apologizing for his sexual conduct. He has resigned. He will not attend the conclave to choose the next pope.

We will take you live to Vatican City as, more bombshells, they just keep dropping, surrounding the Catholic Church.