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Interview With Michigan Senator Carl Levin; North Korean Crisis; North Korea May Fire Missile at Any Time; Possible Paths to War; U.S. Communications with North Korea; North Korea's Unnerving Warning

Aired April 9, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, and this a SITUATION ROOM special report "The North Korean Crisis."

Happening now, while U.S. allies are running drills, new word that a missile launch by North Korea could happen literally at any moment without warning.

Plus, Kim Jong-un's family secrets, how he rose to power over his brothers, and his insecurities right now.

And a clear and direct threat to America, very strong words coming from the top U.S. military commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific. His troops are preparing for the worst.

A U.S. official tells us that a launch of North Korea's ballistic missiles may be imminent. And it might happen without the usual warning to planes and ships in the region. That's a very, very dangerous scenario. Defensive missiles are now poised in Japan, in South Korea, and on Guam, where there are 6,000 U.S. troops. The United States says it will track any missiles launched by Kim Jong-un and quickly decide whether to shoot them down.

Our correspondents are covering this crisis from around the globe, as only CNN can.

And Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria, they joining us this hour. They are following every new development.

But first, let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence for the very latest -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a U.S. official now says that North Korea could test-fire a mobile ballistic missile at any time.

Now, what happens after that depends on where that test takes place.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): The U.S. has been poring over the latest satellite images of North Korea and the intelligence assessment is, they have likely completed all preparations to launch. An administration official says the missiles have probably received their liquid fuel.

Even though the U.S. has no way to confirm that information on the ground, the military is sending a clear message to Kim Jong-un. It's not when you launch the Musudan missiles, but where. If a test missile flies out over the water, the U.S. Pacific commander does not want it shot down.

ADM. SAMUEL LOCKLEAR, COMMANDER, U.S. PACIFIC COMMAND: I would not recommend that. If we have any predetermined INW (ph), we will have a good -- we should have a sense of where it's going to be aimed.

LAWRENCE: But if it's aimed over land near Japanese territory, interceptor missiles could be used to destroy it.

LOCKLEAR: And if it was defense of our allies, I would recommend action.

LAWRENCE: Admiral Samuel Locklear said this launch could be different from previous tests, when the U.S. had significant indications on what was about to happen before liftoff.

LOCKLEAR: To understand the direction of the launch, where it was at.

LAWRENCE: U.S. radars will calculate their trajectory of North Korea's new road mobile missile. But Locklear admits the U.S. won't know as much as soon.

LOCKLEAR: In this case, in the scenario we're in, we're probably looking at being able to see it being in a general location, and then to sense a launch.

LAWRENCE: Will North Korea launch or stand down? Locklear says it's hard to read Kim Jong-un.

LOCKLEAR: His father and grandfather as far as I could see always figured into their provocation cycle an off-ramp of how to get out of it.

And it's not clear to me that he has thought through how to get out of it.


LAWRENCE: And U.S. officials say this time they're working under the assumption that Kim Jong-un will not issue a mariner's warning. That's sort of a warning to ships and planes in the area, don't be in this area during this specific time, because that's where the missile could land.

It's also a warning to the world, a heads-up, so to speak, that the missile launch is imminent. U.S. officials again operating under the assumption that North Korea may not do that this time. But, again, Wolf, bottom line, a missile that flies over the water, goes into the water is just a test.

BLITZER: They're worried, obviously, though about that worst- case scenario as well. Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon watching all of it unfold.

It's Wednesday on the Korean Peninsula, the day Kim Jong-un has hinted he might begin to take specific action. And his threats of war have gotten more urgent by the hour.

CNN Kyung Lah is in South Korea, in Seoul for us right now.

What's the latest there, Kyung?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the countdown clock is on, because it's in the morning time, Wolf, that South Korea has seen these types of missile launches.

But in a rare move, what we heard from Pyongyang and what is a little more concerning is a threat pointed directly at international visitors.


LAH (voice-over): Another threat from Pyongyang, but this time it wasn't aimed just at South Koreans, North Korean state TV warning foreign institutions, companies and tourists that for their own safety, take shelter and evacuate Seoul and the rest of South Korea, warning the Korean Peninsula may be headed toward thermonuclear war.

VICKY POLASHOCK, AMERICAN VISITOR: I am concerned, not enough not to make the trip.

LAH: Atlanta visitor Vicky Polashock is in Seoul for business. She's not rattled, though Kim Jong-un's threats did get her to register with the U.S. Embassy. This latest warning?

POLASHOCK: That particular threat doesn't heighten the sense of danger I feel, any more than just everything that's been occurring for the past couple of weeks.

LAH: It has been a long couple of weeks, coming to a head now. South Korea's capital bracing itself to see if the unpredictable leader in the North would carry out the threat of a missile launch.

"It's hard not to be worried," she says, "but I doubt they will attack." South Koreans are numb to the onslaught of threats, but they're also well-practiced in living with them, monthly civil defense drills, where people in Seoul practice citywide emergency evacuations.

(on camera): Seoul is a city of 11 million people, one hour from the DMZ. What all of these people know is if there's some sort of attack, they know to head underground.

(voice-over): Shelter, or the subways, which double as underground bunkers. Seoul is a maze of underground concrete halls. But most of the residents don't believe they will ever have to use them.

Why South African native Wayne Schutte isn't worried.

WAYNE SCHUTTE, SOUTH AFRICAN VISITOR: They just (INAUDIBLE) and smile. It's like -- it's normal to them. It's like crying wolf.

LAH: Hoping the talk, even as loud as it gets, stays just that, talk.


LAWRENCE: The South Korean presidential office is dismissing this latest threat against foreigners, saying that this is just more psychological warfare from the North. But certainly people are paying attention, as is the stock market. It continues to drop, as does the Korean currency -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of concerns in Korea, South Korea, to be sure. Kyung Lah in Seoul for us, thank you.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now. We're joined by the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: I know your panel had extensive hearings today with the U.S. military commander from the region. The administration, we're told, believes a launch by the North Koreans of missiles could be imminent. What are you hearing?

LEVIN: Well, it could be imminent.

We have to assume there will be a test launch, the way they have tested previous missiles before. That's a totally different story from if there's an attack on a target. For instance, a couple years back, in 2010, North Korea attacked a South Korean ship, killed 46 South Korean sailors. They have attacked with artillery a South Korean island.

So whether this is a test of a missile, which is providing it's not targeted at South Korea or the U.S. or any of our allies, providing it is aimed at the water just as a missile test, that's a very different deal than if it's targeted at us or our allies.

BLITZER: What if it is that worst-case scenario, they do target U.S. allies in South Korea or Japan for that matter? Is the U.S. ready to take military action against North Korea?

LEVIN: We are.

The -- our Pacific commander today said that we are ready, with a variety of responses for the South Koreans or us to choose should there be an attack on South Korea or us. But it's also clear, he said, that we can shoot down a missile that is aimed at us. Those two points were made very clearly this morning by Admiral Locklear, both that we can shoot down a missile if it is targeted at South Korea or at us, but also that we have -- that we will act. And we are ready to act in some proportionate way to an attack by North Korea.

BLITZER: Because as you well know, Senator, in 2010, those two incidents you mentioned when North Korea attacked positions in South Korea, including killing 46 South Korean sailors aboard that warship, there was no retaliation either from South Korea or the United States. What I hear you saying, this time there will be.

LEVIN: This is what the admiral says, and I believe it's true. That is that the North Koreans this time can expect that there will be a response. Now, he didn't lay out what the options are, nor should he in public. But he did say very precisely that this time it would be likely and expected that there would be a response.

Frankly, I think it's obvious that the North Koreans would face some kind of a response, in the words of Admiral Locklear, and this time would not get off without that kind of response. It would be presumably proportionate in some way to what the attack is. We're not going to up the ante and have events spiral out of control, if we can help it. But North Korea's not going to get off scot-free if they attack an American or South Korean or allied target.

BLITZER: As you know, there are 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, another 50,000 troops in Japan, 6,000 on the island of Guam. And it raises questions, have they gone into a heightened state of alert?

LEVIN: Well, we have -- I assume they have. I don't know that for a fact, but I assume that they have.

But we have also taken some other actions. There's been some airplanes that have flown there, flying over South Korea, both B-2s, as well as there's F-22s as well. There are B-52 -- there's a B-52 flight that has gone there. We have some Aegis ships which have gone there, some additional THAAD radars which are in place.

So the United States has responded in kind of a firm way. We haven't used the hot rhetoric that the North Koreans have, the heated rhetoric, which hopefully is bluster. And we, on the other hand, can't assume that it's only bluster. We have to be ready for whatever comes. And we are.

BLITZER: Senator Levin, thanks very much for joining us.

LEVIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Carl Levin is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Still ahead, I will speak with the White House press secretary, Jay Carney. We will talk about the Obama administration's secret communications with North Korea. What's going on? We will share with you what we know. Plus, Kim Jong-un's rise to power, his pampered youth and his mysterious family.

And our own Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria, they're standing by with their takes on the latest threats from North Korea and the U.S. response.

Our special SITUATION ROOM report continues right after this.


BLITZER: North Korea now poised to test-fire mobile ballistic missiles literally at any time without warning, that according to top U.S. officials.

But the man with his finger on the launch trigger is largely a mystery.

CNN's Brian Todd is here this THE SITUATION ROOM investigating Kim Jong-un, his family for us.

What else are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have learned that Kim Jong-un may not have been the original choice to succeed his father. He's got two older brothers, one who apparently squandered his chance, the other seen as too weak.

We're now left with an unproven, unknown young man whose country has already tested nuclear devices.


TODD (voice-over): How did we end up with such a young dictator menacing the world? It's a twisted tale of a third son born, analysts say, to Kim Jong Il's mistress. Kim Jong-un was reported to have been pampered as a young man, sent to boarding school in Switzerland, developed an affinity for James Bond and the NBA, hence the recent Dennis Rodman visit.

He had spent virtually no time in North Korea's army when his father elevated him to a general's rank in 2010. That was one of the first signs that Kim had leapfrogged his two older brothers? Why?

On the eldest, Kim Jong-nam, believed to be about 41:

MIKE GREEN, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Kim Jong-nam made the mistake of taking his playboy lifestyle abroad. He was arrested by the Japanese police in 2001 trying to go to Tokyo Disney World. The Japanese police spent hours and hours with him, which means the CIA and other intelligence services learned a lot about him.

TODD: Analyst Mike Green says Kim Jong-nam is a gambler, lives in Macau, speaks to journalists too much for the family's liking.

GREEN: They can't kill him. But they can't let him run the country. He's not a reliable vehicle for the cult of personality, for the Stalinist propaganda.

TODD: Then there's the mysterious middle brother, Kim Jong-chol. Local media showed this photo, claiming it was him at an Eric Clapton concert about two years ago.

STEPHEN NOERPER, THE KOREA SOCIETY: Kim Jong Il found in Kim Jong-chol somebody who was reportedly effeminate, timid, did not have much political interests.

TODD: Just as enigmatic, the young woman reported recently to be Kim Jong-un's 20-something wife, Ri Sol-ju, apparently a former singer. Could she have any influence over him?

GREEN: Is it possible she will say, what about the North Korean people? What about the starving people? Maybe. But that's certainly not the environment she grew up in.

TODD: That background helps experts try to figure out what Kim Jong-un's thinking now.

(on camera): What is your best take on his calculations now, what he's thinking?

GREEN: The aim is to rattle us and frighten us, and also the Chinese and South Koreans and distract us from implementing Security Council sanctions and other pressure on the North.

TODD: Green, who dealt with North Korea on the National Security Council, says Kim may also be trying to compensate for the fact that he's so young, 29 or 30. Analysts say he's got to show strength with the military.

NOERPER: He's trying to look as a young man of 30 in a Confucian society where age is respected as tough. So that's his way of looking to the generals like he is in control.


TODD: But he may lose control if he cannot produce a male heir. His wife, Ri Sol-ju, will be counted on for that to solidify a dynasty that some analysts say is on shaky ground.

There were reports at the end of last year and early this year that Ri Sol-ju had been pregnant, may have given birth to a daughter, but nothing solid beyond that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We also know that Kim Jong-un has another relative that has significant power, influence in North Korea.

TODD: That's right. It's his uncle, Chang Sung-taek, married to Kim's late father's sister. Chang Sung-taek was a key player behind the scenes during the transition, while Kim Jong-un learned the ropes.

Analysts believe that he, the uncle, may still be running the government in large part, dealing with policy and things like that, while Kim Jong-un makes all the public appearances and deals with the military. So the behind the scenes maneuvering is fascinating. It's a lot of tea leaf reading, but you can get some insight.

BLITZER: They're trying to learn as much as they can, U.S. intelligence obviously. Brian, thanks very much.

Let's get a little bit more now with our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, and Fareed Zakaria, the host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS."

Christiane, the Obama administration now believes according to officials a test launch of North Korean missiles could be imminent, and that North Korea would not give the standard warning to shipping in the region, to aviation in the region. They're taking this very, very seriously. What do you make of this?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously it has to be taken very, very seriously.

I think, look, I have got the latest issue of "The Economist," which basically says Korean roulette. And you see Kim Jong-un's finger on the red button. That pretty much sums up the anxiety of the world right now at a point where there are these unprecedented threats. We simply have not heard these kind of threats from the North Korean leadership for, you know, more than 20 years or so.

So they are very concerned. I was fascinated by Senator Levin and indeed the admiral in charge of the Pacific Command, Admiral Locklear, who testified today that they would not necessarily recommend shooting down a North Korean missile unless it was aimed in anger and it was targeted either at the U.S. homeland or at allies like Japan or South Korea, that they wouldn't recommend shooting that down, because they are terribly afraid of miscalculation, and generating a wider conflict.

They're worried also, because obviously the pressure is on South Korea and the new president precisely because of what you were discussing, the fact they did not respond the last time that their ship was destroyed, 46 sailors were killed. They didn't respond when that island, Yeonpyeong, was attacked. And so now they're concerned that the South Koreans will have to respond if there is an attack that threatens them and their people.

So, also though at the same time our producers in the region have been calling around and the latest information, you heard some of it from Kyung Lah, is that none of the international embassies, none of the foreign embassies in Seoul nor the U.S. Embassy is telling their citizens to leave South Korea despite the threats from and the warnings from North Korea. And the same in Pyongyang. Embassies are not yet telling their people to leave.

BLITZER: We will see what happens over the next few days, because these are critically important symbolic days leading up to April 15, the birthday, if you will, of the founder of the North Korean regime.

What do you make, Fareed, of Senator McCain and some others who say, you know what, if they launch a missile, shoot it down, intercept it, destroy it, even if it's heading into the middle of the water? Obviously if it's heading toward a populated area in Tokyo or Guam or South Korea, that goes without saying. But just knock it out to make a point.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think it's a very good example of the difference between what a John McCain foreign policy would be and what President Obama's has been.

President Obama throughout this has been trying to show some restraint, not to play into the kind of the yank your chain that the North Koreans are trying to do. The North Koreans are desperately trying to get attention, to get some kind of negotiations going, to get concessions. So they have been threatening, clearly like a child who keeps screaming and has not been paid attention to. They're screaming more and more loudly.

Yesterday, they shut down the joint industrial park with the South Koreans, which was actually in many ways a bigger issue. They're doing more and more things to get noticed. Senator McCain's strategy would play into their hands. What they want is for the West to react to this, and then they can respond to what they would see as an act of provocation.

The trick here is to maintain some restraint, not to play into that dialogue, while at the same time reassuring the South Koreans and the Japanese, deterring the North Koreans. I think it would be precisely the wrong thing. It would be a kind of silly tit for tat that would escalate in an entirely unpredictable manner, precisely what the admiral spoke about today.

I think it would be a kind of hot-headed response, when what we need right now are calm and steady nerves.

BLITZER: Both of you, please stand by for a moment. We're going to continue this analysis on our special SITUATION ROOM report.

North Korea only needs five minutes to hit Japan and the island nation is ready with Patriot missiles deployed. We're going to go to Tokyo for a live report. That's coming up.

And President Obama's spokesman delivers a direct message to North Korea right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Happening now, North Korea's neighbors have their defenses up right now. Stand by for reports from the region. It's now bracing for Kim Jong-un's next move. It could happen at any time.

The big question right now, if North Korea launches a missile soon, what -- where would it go? We're mapping out the possibilities and the threat of war.

And news fears about an axis of evil -- is Iran's volatile leader helping North Korea develop nuclear weapons or vice versa?

I'm Wolf Blitzer, and this is a SITUATION ROOM special report: "North Korean Crisis."

The world is watching North Korea's every move right now. As we have been reporting, a U.S. official tells CNN the regime could go ahead with a provocative missile test literally at any time, and without any warning. Japan is dangerously close to North Korea, and is on alert right now.

Let's go to Tokyo. CNN's Diana Magnay is standing by with the very latest.

What is the very latest, Diana?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Japan's prime minister has said that he will do whatever it takes to protect the Japanese people. That's why he's moved Patriot anti-missile batteries right into the very center of the Japanese capital.


MAGNAY (voice-over): In the dead of night, Japanese self-defense forces placed Patriot anti-missile batteries in the heart of Tokyo, amid concerns of a possible North Korean missile test. Those with homes overlooking the Ministry of Defense waking to (INAUDIBLE) clad machines of war in amongst the cherry trees.

(on camera): It's not the first time, though. Japan has deployed these missile batteries three times since 2009, every time North Korea has announced it will launch a satellite.

(voice-over): And Aegis destroyers were sent into the Sea of Japan, too. It's reported the ships have deployed again.

But the government won't confirm the maneuvers, reluctant, in the words of a spokesman, to disclose its cards to North Korea. But analysts say Japan is not a target as such.

NARUSHIGE MICHISHITA, DIRECTOR, SECURITY STUDIES: North Koreans are not trying to attack Japan, but to impress or scare the Americans.

MAGNAY: Tokyo is just 800 miles from Pyongyang. North Korea has accused Japan of blindly toeing U.S. policy, whilst threatening to strike U.S. military bases on Japanese territory.

Junro Kato (ph) has come out in search of TV crews like us.


MAGNAY (on camera): Yes.

JUMBO KATO, TOKYO RESIDENT: North Korea missile shoot Japan within five minutes.

MAGNAY: He says he feels the U.S. took their eye off the ball with North Korea, focusing too much instead on the Middle East, and on Iran's nuclear intentions.

KATO: It was a miscalculation, featuring United States, North Korea, the conflict.

MAGNAY: The Patriot anti-missile batteries, as much a symbol of reassurance of people like him, are a message of readiness for North Korea's defiant young leader.


MAGNAY: Wolf, if there is a Musudan missile that North Korea is planning to test, it would be the first time that they have tested one of those. So the concern for Japan is that if it malfunctions, which has happened in the past in North Korean missile tests, then there's a very real chance that debris could fall down onto Japanese soil. That is, of course, what the Japanese self-defense forces have to be prepared for -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly do. Obviously some nervousness in Tokyo right now. Diana Magnay reporting.

Let's take a closer look at some possible scenarios, where North Korea might fire a missile and what kind of response that would trigger from the United States and its allies. CNN's Tom Foreman is over at the Magic Wall with our CNN contributor, the retired U.S. Army General James "Spider" Marks.

What are you guys seeing?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've been sort of gaming this out all afternoon, what might happen. Let's say that we do that. Here's North Korea up here, South Korea. The two capitals. Let's say that North Korea in fact did launch a missile, and it went out over the Pacific and over Japan. What happens?

GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Tom, instantaneously what's going to occur, is the telemetry of that missile will be tracked, which means we'll identify what the launch is, what the arc of the flight looks like, and what the intended target or impact would be.

FOREMAN: So we would know very -- in a matter of seconds.

MARKS: Instantaneously, we would pick this up. By sea, by ground, by air and by space. This integrated target system. The Japanese even have a Aegis cruiser, which is part of this integrated radar system.

FOREMAN: So if it went out there and, in fact, it was not headed to a target, but went to the sea, a test of the missile, would there be any response?

MARKS: There would be no kinetic response at all. We would not fire back. If we knew that it was going to land harmlessly, we would collect intelligence, and then we would scramble ships to go find the debris so we could continue to collect intelligence.

FOREMAN: Let's look at another scenario, which is another possibility. Let's say that North Korea instead, with a missile or perhaps artillery, started shelling some sort of target down here in South Korea and specifically let me say a South Korean military target. No U.S. troops involved, not a civilian target. What happens then?

MARKS: Well, very important to differentiate between striking a U.S. facility in South Korea or a South Korean facility in South Korea. Very, very important. And to minimize civilian casualties.

What I think would happen immediately is the response is, if North Korea fires, the United Nations command, the combined forces command of the United States and South Korea, would return very precise fire against that location of launch. Not to escalate, but to maintain the DMZ and the armistice. If they fire, we would fire back.

FOREMAN: Simple equation on that.

And then let's look at the one scenario that possibly gets much more out of hand, among the things that seem like they might vaguely be possible. What if North Korea in fact did something, like on these shelves and islands over here that is in this disputed territory, of who owns what, let's say they attacked a facility like this in a strong way, and tried to land there and essentially seize the property. What happens then?

MARKS: Not unlike what we just discussed. If the North Koreans were to target and then try to occupy, the United Nations would then, again, go reclaim that. There would be a fight to get that island back, if that was the case.

I don't suspect that that would happen. We have seen this specifically before. What might occur, we have to think about this. The 2018 Winter Olympics are in the town of Pyeonchang. That is tucked up in the northeast corner.

FOREMAN: You've been there.

MARKS: I've been there, physically walked the terrain. It's absolutely beautiful. This is where the Winter Olympics are. And it's very close to North Korea.

If North Korea was to take aggressive action against Pyeonchang, that would cause an incredible international implications, and possibly reconsideration. Is this where the Winter Olympics are really going to be held? Six years from now. After the leadership here has had some additional time to try to weaponize their nuclear capabilities.

FOREMAN: Any indication that, even if they did this, that this would spark a larger war or would it still try to contain, limited?

MARKS: Tom, the objective of the armistice and the cease-fire is to maintain the armistice. The presence in South Korea is not to expand and reclaim, reunify the peninsula. It is to hold what we have.

FOREMAN: So Wolf, some of the ways that it could play out if it continues growing in pressure the way it is.

BLITZER: We're watching together with you guys. Good explanation. Thank you.

Up next, a message from President Obama to North Korea. The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, delivers that message from here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, the growing fear of nuclear cooperation between Iran and North Korea. Stay with us.


BLITZER: The Obama administration said it's ready to respond to whatever happens on the Korean Peninsula. I asked the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, if the president has met with his top national security advisers.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The situation in North Korea and the developments that we've seen in the last days and weeks are the subject of the president's regular national security briefings, one of the subjects, to be sure. It's something that we've been watching very closely and that the president is concerned about.

And that is why, Wolf, as you know, we have taken a series of precautionary measures in response to what we have been seeing out of Pyongyang.

It is also important to remember, Wolf, that this is part of a pattern of behavior that predates this current episode, that is reminiscent of some of the actions taken by the regime in Pyongyang in the past, under previous administrations. And it never serves any purpose for the ultimate goal of the North Koreans, which is to improve their economic lot, and for the regime, which should be -- their goal should be to rejoin the community of nations by proving that they are willing to abide by their international obligations.

BLITZER: There's a report out there, Josh Rogin, on a Foreign Policies blog, suggesting that a top U.S. official, a State Department official met with the top representative of the North Korean government in New York in March. Is that true?

CARNEY: Well, Wolf, we have always been clear that we have a channel of communications with the North Koreans, and we utilize that channel.

But the issue here is not whether or not we're having communications with North Koreans. It's the North Korean decision thus far to flout its international obligations, to engage in provocative rhetoric, and behavior that only heightens tension and threatens to destabilize the region.

And that's why we've taken the precautionary measures we've taken. It is why we are consulting regularly with our allies in Seoul and Tokyo. It's why we've been working with the Russians and the Chinese to encouraging them to use the influence they have on the North Koreans to persuade the North Koreans to ratchet down the rhetoric and cease the destabilizing actions.

So this is an all-fronts effort here that we're engaged in, and we're taking all the necessary precautions that we have to.

BLITZER: I asked the question about that so-called New York channel, the U.S./North Korea U.S. channel. Because Senator Dianne Feinstein the other day, she said she hopes that U.S. officials, top officials, including the president and the vice president would engage with the North Korean government to try to ease this crisis. So can you confirm that that channel was used in March?

CARNEY: I can confirm broadly that we have a channel of communications, Wolf. And we've been clear about that. But the issue here is, North Korean behavior and rhetoric.

There is a path open to North Korea that would lead it to lessen the isolation that it currently endures, that would lead to greater economic prosperity, or opportunity for the North Korean people. But that path lies through fulfilling its obligations in the international arena, fulfilling its obligations under a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Remember, it was just last month that the Security Council unanimously, including the Russians and the Chinese, endorsed a resolution sanctioning North Korea for some of its actions in this regard. And there really is a concerted international effort under way to help persuade North Korea to take the right path.

BLITZER: Has the president spoken on the phone with the leaders in the region, the leaders of South Korea, Japan, China, or Russia, for that matter?

CARNEY: Well, the president has been engaged in general with communications with our partners and allies. But I don't have a specific conversation to read out on this issue. We have certainly been engaged with our Chinese and Russian counterparts, as well as very closely with our allies in Seoul and Tokyo on this issue.

I don't have specific presidential communications to read out, but you can be sure that he's very focused on this issue and making sure that we are taking all the necessary measures and that we're working very closely with the Japanese and the South Koreans as well as others to try to bring about a change in behavior by the North Koreans.

BLITZER: One final question. If they're watching you in North Korea right now -- and I know personally that they do get CNN International in North Korea -- what message would the president have to -- have to share with the leaders of North Korea right now?

CARNEY: That it is in the interests of North Korea, in the interest of the people of that country, that there be stability on the Korean Peninsula. And it is in the interest of the people of North Korea that the regime fulfill its international obligations, and cease to pursue the nuclear weapons, and cease violations of its obligations regarding missile development and testing.

If it chooses that path, North Korea will have an opportunity to rejoin the community of nations, and to increase economic development and opportunity in its country. But the obligations are what they are, and the United States is not alone, the United States is a part of a broad international consensus with regard to what North Korea must do in order to get right with the world.

BLITZER: Jay Carney, delivering a message to North Korea from the president of the United States. We're going to get reaction to that message from the White House to North Korea. Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria, they are both standing by. We'll discuss as soon as we come back.


BLITZER: We're back with Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria. Fareed, what did you think of Jay Carney's message to Pyongyang?

ZAKARIA: I think what was notable was that he mentioned that there had been a past pattern like this, they've done this kind of thing before. What they really need to understand is that there's a path open for them.

So he was tough and stern, but kept pointing out that there was a path out of this crisis, that there were benefits at the end of it. I thought that is exactly the kind of message you want to convey, which is, we're going to be tough on this; we're not going to jump every time you yank our chain, but there is a path out. And we do want to see some path out.

He also pointed out correctly that this is not a U.S. versus North Korea thing. Which, by the way, is exactly how the North Koreans portray this. If you watch, you know, and read what you can about North Korea's portrayal of this on its state media, it's entirely North Korea against the big hegemonic superpower. Instead, Carney tried to place it in the context of other countries including Russia and China that are agreeing that North Korea has crossed the line and needs to start obeying international law.

BLITZER: Christiane, you've been to North Korea twice. You've been speaking with your sources. What are they telling you about how the United States is dealing with this current crisis with China right now, which clearly has a lot of influence with North Korea?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is the central part of U.S. Diplomacy right now. And you know that Secretary Kerry is on his way. He will later this week go to Beijing. He's go to Tokyo and to Seoul, and he'll be talking about what's going on. But particularly with the Chinese, trying to see if they can narrow the gap and figure out, persuade the Chinese that they have a mutual interest in stopping this behavior by Kim Jong-un.

And also, I'm told, and it's probably publicly known, that the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff is heading over there over the next couple of weeks, and so will the head of the CIA. The idea is to, quote, "have a deep dive" into Beijing and have everyone try to convince the top leadership in Beijing that they hold the key, and that it's in their interests, as well as everybody else's interest, to get this brought back from the brink.

You know, again, while they know, and Jay Carney said, you know, just a couple of minutes ago, that this is the way for North Korea to step back. The problem is does Kim Jong-un really understand this off-ramp as Admiral Locklear pointed out, and as many people are worried about? They know that these provocations and this sort of cycle of provocation has gone on for decades now but that this young leader they don't know whether he knows how to get off on the off- ramp. So I think that -- that's a big issue.

And of course, there is this New York channel. The State Department, while it won't confirm any details of what was said, does admit that that is still open, that channel. And that, I know from personal experience, that this is a communications channel. They don't negotiate. The North Korean representative to the United Nations is not authorized to negotiate, but he does take messages back to Pyongyang, but it can also take ages to get any message back.

BLITZER: And they have do the -- U.S. does have diplomatic representation through a third country in Pyongyang.

What do you make of the so-called New York channel, Fareed? U.S. officials meeting with North Korean officials assigned to the United Nations in New York. Apparently nothing much came of that last meeting in March.

ZAKARIA: It's totally meaningless, Wolf. In a regime like North Korea, the decisions are highly centralized. They are made at the very top. You have to be negotiating with those people.

Look, there are other countries that have -- have representation in North Korea. And the crucial issue is, again, China. The real negotiation that has to take place is between Beijing and Pyongyang. The key person in that is Kim Jong-un's uncle, and that dialogue is one we are unfortunately not privy to.

So I think that the secretary of state going to China, the chairman of the joint chiefs going to China helps a lot. But fundamentally the Chinese need to understand that there is now great danger of instability on the Korean Peninsula and, yes, North Korea collapsing would be a big problem for China. It would be a big problem for the region.

But even if they don't -- even if North Korea doesn't collapse, there's a danger of instability anyway, and North Korea has now become the driver of that instability. So simply propping up this terrible regime is not going to work. The Chinese still have not come to that conclusion.

At the end of the day, the Chinese believe stability means propping up this regime. What we have to convince them -- and this is the task for John Kerry; this is the task for General Dempsey -- is to convince the Chinese that stability means in some way resolving this completely weird, irrational, unpredictable regime, reining it in. Because otherwise, it's not just the North Koreans to do something; the South Koreans might react; the Japanese might react. We need to get China on board.

BLITZER: Fareed Zakaria, Christiane Amanpour, we'll see you back here tomorrow.

This important note to our viewers around the world. You can watch Christiane's report on CNN International, her nightly foreign affairs report, and it airs weekdays on CNN International, 3 and 5 p.m. Eastern Time here in the United States. Tune in to "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" every Sunday here on CNN, 10 a.m., 1 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

A nuclear nightmare scenario. Coming up, why the U.S. believes Iran and North Korea may be working together on weapons.


BLITZER: There are new and ominous developments involving the cooperation between North Korea and Iran. Our own Jill Dougherty has been investigating what's going on. She's got new information. We will share that information with you tomorrow, in our special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM, "Crisis in North Korea." This connection between North Korea, cooperating with Iran, on nuclear weapons, what's going on, stay with us tomorrow. Jill Dougherty's report coming up.

Meanwhile, an unnerving message from North Korea, warning all foreigners to flee South Korea, because war may be imminent. What's going on?

CNN's David McKenzie is joining us now from Beijing.

David, China has enormous influence, we're told, in North Korea. Are they engaging in some quiet diplomacy right now?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're engaging in quiet diplomacy, certainly, but not out in the open. And even though North Korea threatened foreigners in South Korea, there are many foreigners, including Chinese there, and the Chinese foreign ministry said that they don't want war; they want peace. They don't want tensions; they want dialogue. No open criticism of North Korea, so certainly not ratcheting up in public any kind of pressure on North Korea.

That has many lawmakers in Washington frustrated because, obviously, they say China could have a huge amount of leverage on the North Korean regime -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the U.S./China level of cooperation with North Korea is concerned? We know the secretary of state, John Kerry, is heading toward Beijing. What's the latest, as far as cooperation or confrontation, as far as North Korea's concerned? MCKENZIE: Well, many analysts you talk to here in China have a very different take to what maybe some analysts in the U.S. are saying, Wolf. While the U.S. is saying China needs to push North Korea, people here say this has nothing to do with North Korea; this is all about the Chinese/American relationship. North Korea hasn't been directly threatening Beijing with any kind of rhetoric or threats of any kind of weapon attacks.

So China has a very different take on this. They believe that North Korea is useful to them. It provides a buffer against U.S. and South Korean forces.

And what this much-touted pivot to Asia of the Obama administration, Chinese officials are nervous about anything that could end the status quo.

But another friend of China or cooperation agreement with China is obviously the U.S., the huge trading partner. So if the U.S. believes this is important, and they can apply enough pressure on China behind the scenes, that pressure from the U.S. towards China could get it to push North Korea to end this rhetoric.

But really, China doesn't see much threat from North Korea right now. If they see it, they see a very long-term threat and nothing in the immediate future -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David McKenzie, reporting from Beijing. We'll stay in close touch with you.

We asked online, if North Korea launches a test missile how should the U.S. respond? Here's some responses.

Bob on Facebook says, "We need to show force and show them that we are not playing around with them."

A different viewpoint from Tyler on Twitter: "Keep a cool head and a steady hand. Don't jump the gun ourselves, so to speak. Communicate with the North and prepare the South."

That's it for our special report. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. The news continues next on CNN.