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Interview with William Cohen on Kerry's Trip to Seoul; North Korea's Fashionable First Lady; Many Americans Traveling to Cuba; Thatcher's Death Marked With Song

Aired April 12, 2013 - 12:30   ET




In China, 10 people have died from bird flu. The latest victim is a 74-year-old man who had just been diagnosed on Wednesday. Hong Kong plans to test all poultry imported from China's mainland. A number of cities have suspended trading in live poultry. Chinese scientists say the virus probably originated from migratory birds mixing with domestic birds in China's Yangtze River delta region.

In Mauritania, 70,000 refugees from neighboring Mali are living in what's described as appalling conditions. The group Doctors Without Borders says many of the refugees who arrive healthy are getting sick. They say there's not enough water and not enough latrines. There are also problems getting refugees the kind of food they need.

Fighting in Mali escalated in January when French forces arrived to help local troops battle Islamic militants.

In London, preparations are under way for the funeral of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. More than 2,000 invitations have been sent out for the service.

We learned a short time ago former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich will be among the guests. Also in attendance, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

The United States goes full-on diplomatic, trying to lower the temperature and volume coming from North Korea.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in South Korea with two messages, one that North Korea can't and won't be accepted as a nuclear power.

But he's also got an olive branch offering direct talks with the North if they are, in Kerry's words, "really serious and not playing around a robin game."

Joining me now from Washington, William Cohen, a former U.S. senator and former secretary of defense. Good to see you.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Good to see you. WHITFIELD: How do you interpret this escalation if the North Koreans don't seem interested in stopping?

Do you agree with the now Secretary Kerry to extend this olive branch at the same time say, you know, you're not going to be able to be a nuclear power in this world?

COHEN: I think there are two things we have to keep very much in line. We do indeed need to lower the rhetoric and beef up our defensive capability and offensive capability.

That message has to go through. We're not talking only about defending the interest of our allies. We can do that. But also there is a response capability which should be taken into account by the North Koreans.

But secondly, make it clear to them there are no concessions being offered. We are not going to reward you for bad behavior.

The North Koreans have pursued a policy of constructing a throne out of swords. The old expression, you can construct a throne out of swords, but you can't sit on it for very long.

They've been able to sit on it because other countries, including the United States, have provided a pillow over the years in the way of financial support, food, fuel.

We've got to take the pillow away, saying, you've made a choice, you've got guns but you can't have butter. And we're not going to reward you again for coming back to the table as such to negotiate with the five other parties.

Those messages have to go through very clearly, no concessions, no reward and no incrementalism. Don't think you can take some kind of action and there will be a minor response by either the South Koreans or the United States. This has to be made very clear to the North Koreans.

WHITFIELD: do you take China seriously in this equation that China can be hugely influential here. China just last weekend told North Korea, wait, you can't operate as though you're the only one in existence. You can't, you know, destabilize an entire region. But how far is China willing to go beyond shaking the finger at North Korea?

COHEN: Well, this is a dilemma for the Chinese. On the one hand, they don't want to see a united Korean Peninsula with U.S. influence spreading north.

On the other hand they understand that this problem country of theirs that they've been supporting has, in fact, created great instability in the region at least on a temporary basis.

Now we see the United States doing more and putting more of our forces into the region, more defensive capability, ultimately more offensive capability. That's not in China's interest. So I think they're trying to balance their interests and longstanding interest with the North Koreans.

On the other hand, seeing that allowing this young leader -- we don't know whether he's 28, 29 or 30, but clearly he's immature because he has climbed a rhetorical tree and not allowed himself any branches or many to step down onto get out of the tree that he's on right now.

So, hopefully, they'll persuade him to exercise some moderation here.

WHITFIELD: In fact, how concerned are you about Kim Jong-un, especially given the fact in Asian culture there is the saving face and that there's a lot of pressure that he has now presented himself and the rest of the region by offering these threats?

Is the saving face issue a very big and potentially dangerous one with him?

COHEN: Obviously it's important to save face, not only for Asians, for any country.

I think Secretary Kerry has issued an olive branch of sorts, but it has to be very clear this olive branch is one to help him climb down off this tree, but it's not to give him concessions in the way that he may be looking for as his father and grandfather have in the past.

This has to stop. We're seeing the face of nuclear blackmail. And we're seeing it here right now with North Korea. We may see it in Iran as well.

And so there's a lesson in this entire episode. What North Korea has now, Iran is seeking to get. And if you want to see instability spread from the Asian Pacific region into the Gulf region, let Iran go forward with its nuclear program as well.

That's why it's so important that the U.N., the international community, to make it as clear as possible, take whatever actions we can to dissuade the Iranians not to follow suit.

Do not follow the path North Korea has been on. It's going to put your area in great jeopardy and instability. That's not healthy for your economy and people or for world stability.

WHITFIELD: All right, thank you so much William Cohen for your time. Appreciate it.

COHEN: Good.

WHITFIELD: All right, she wears designer clothes in a country where most people are starving.

We'll actually meet Kim Jong-un's mysterious wife and talk about what she does to help or hurt her husband's image.


WHITFIELD: North Korea's new leader is not camera shy. Kim Jong-un is often seen with his troops or presiding over grand parades.

But the North Korean people are also fascinated by the woman who is often by his side. North Korea's silent but very fashionable first lady is who I'm talking about.

Anna Coren has more from Seoul.


ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sometimes seen, never heard, the lady in red is comrade Ri Sol-ju, introduced to the North Korean people as Kim Jong-un's wife last July, and seen here touring a new "pleasure center," always a deferential step behind the great leader.

PHILIP YUN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: There's very little publicly known. I know that there were some reports that he had been married in 2009. There's speculation that he might even have a child.

COREN: Analysts say that introducing Ri Sol-ju serves several purposes for the regime.

It shows that the Kim dynasty is thinking about its next generation, and it helps Kim Jong-un come across as more personable and connected to the people. Here, the couple tour a preschool.

But at the same time, it gives the 28- or 29-year-old leader an aura of maturity.

YUN: I think that announcing his marriage sort of just consolidates the fact that he is really a person who is of substance, and he's an adult who can handle whatever it is that North Korea has coming at it in the future.

COREN: Of Ri Sol-ju's background, little is known, though some reports say she is the daughter of an academic.

The South Korean media has been rife with rumors that she is now a mother, especially after she and Kim attended a concert at which the Johnny Mathis song, When a Child Is Born," was performed.

But in a country where most people struggle to avoid hunger, she has no shortage of designer outfits.

In fact, she's been seen clutching what appears to be a Dior designer handbag at official outings, a brand selling for more than $1,000 sell of the Demilitarized Zone, but unattainable to nearly every citizen in her own country.

Anna Coren, CNN, Seoul.


WHITFIELD: And tonight at 6:00 Eastern Time, Wolf Blitzer will devote an entire hour to the crisis in North Korea. Tune in for a special edition of "THE SITUATION ROOM." That's at 6:00 Eastern time.

Beyonce and Jay-Z aren't apparently the only ones choosing Cuba for their vacation. More Americans are heading there on government- approved trips. But critics say they're not seeing the real Cuba. We'll investigate.


WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back to AROUND THE WORLD.

Let's go to Africa now. The president of Sudan arrived in South Sudan for the first time since the country's independence in 2011. The meeting is a sign that relations are improving perhaps between the two countries after bloody battles in 2012. The Sudanese president says he wants peace and normal relations with South Sudan.

In Taiwan, hundreds of passengers had to be evacuated from a high- speed train today after explosives were found inside luggage. Police say the explosives were attached to a timer and close to detonating. They say the bomb could have killed everyone on board one carriage if police had not intervened. Police did not release any information about who could have planted the device.

On to Dubai now, a country dripping in wealth. Meet the latest addition to the police fleet, a green and white Lamborghini. The car worth about $500,000 can accelerate from zero-to-60 in just 2.9 seconds. It will certainly help police catch speeders. They often drive at more than 130 miles an hour in Dubai. Dubai isn't the first place where the police force is buying one of these. Lamborghinis are actually used by police in Italy and Qatar as well.

All right, traveling now to Cuba. A trip two a-list celebrities recently made and are defending in a creative way. Beyonce and Jay-z went to Cuba last week, angering some U.S. lawmakers who wanted to know if they had violated a ban on Americans vacationing there. Well, this week Jay-z recorded a song apparently taking on those critics. Listen.


JAY-Z RAPPER (rapping): I done turned Havana to Atlanta. Guayabera shirts and bandanas. Politicians never did (EXPLETIVE DELETED) for me, except lie to me, distort history. Obama said "chill, you gonna get me impeached." You don't need this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) anyway, chill with me on the beach. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So the White House has making clear, President Obama had nothing to do with approving Jay-z and Beyonce's trip. It was actually OKed by the Treasury Department. Officials say there was an educational element to the couple's visit and so it was permitted. Patrick Oppmann discovered Beyonce and Jay-z aren't the only Americans eager to see Cuba.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cuban street musicians strike up a tune to earn money from foreign tourists who come from just about every country in the world, except, that is, from the United States.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, I'm from Germany and I really love Cuba.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I live in Summerset, England. And I come to Cuba because it's (INAUDIBLE). It's changing and I'd really like to see it before it changes too much.

OPPMANN: That change may take place once U.S. government restrictions on travel to Cuba are lifted and the island is again flooded with Americans. But even though the travel ban remains firmly in place, there's a growing trickle of visitors from the United States.

OPPMANN (on camera): It used to be the only Americans you could find in Cuba were diplomats, journalists or tourists breaking the U.S. trade embargo. But increasingly, more and more Americans are coming to Cuba and doing it legally.

OPPMANN (voice-over): It's called people-to-people travel, guided tours by licensed operators that are supposed to focus on cultural exchanges and skip the beach.

ROB PETRICK, VISITING CUBA LEGALLY: Yes, it's good for trade, good for everybody's standard of living.

OPPMANN: On Monday, Robert Petrick, a real estate developer in California, wrapped up a week-long legal trip to Cuba where his tour met with independent entrepreneurs.

PETRICK: First of all, they like the United States and they like our business model and they'd like a chance to have a little more freedom in their economic activities. And we were able to impart a little bit of that to them and, of course, vice versa. So I felt actually like did - we accomplished something here.

OPPMANN: But several Cuban-American congressmen have said people-to- people travelers don't get to see the poverty and shortage of personal liberties in Cuba.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: What these trips are all about is nothing more than tourism. It's just tourism. It's just people going to Cuba. And the reason why this is problematic is because it gives money to the Castro government.

OPPMANN: Juan Hernandez says more and more American visitors are hiring him to drive them around Havana in his 1934 Ford. Hernandez shows them the good and the bad of life in Cuba.

"We take them everywhere," he says. "Some people say, don't show me the pretty areas. I want to see the reality." Well, people-to-people tour operators say interest is surging, travel to Cuba is expensive and bogged down with red tape. For most Americans wanting to experience Cuba, the island remains still just out of reach.

Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.


WHITFIELD: And a very unflattering tribute to Margaret Thatcher is making waves in England right now and it's putting radio stations in a pretty tough position. We'll explain.


WHITFIELD: All right, it's a movie most of us have seen in our childhood, "The Wizard of Oz." The musical was released back in 1939. Well, now, through a FaceBook campaign, the death of Margaret Thatcher is propelling one of the more memorable movie tunes up the U.K. charts.


SINGING: The wicked witch. Ding dong the wicked witch is dead. Wake up, you sleep head, rub your eyes, get out of bed. Wake up, the wicked witch is dead. She's gone -


WHITFIELD: All right, so the campaign is by a group of opponents of the former British prime minister. Erin McLaughlin joining us now from London with more on this.

So, Erin, explain the motivation behind these opponents of Margaret Thatcher and why they're actually getting some air time on some of the local radio stations, right?


Well, this simple 51-second song that's a classic really causing quite a bit of controversy here in the U.K. today. The state broadcaster, the BBC, taking the decision to play a portion of the song in the context of a news story during their pop chart radio show that normally airs on Sunday. Normally, any song that makes it to the top of the charts gets played out in full during that broadcast. They're obviously making an exception this time around, primarily because this is such a divisive issue.

On the one hand, you have people who actually bought the song, who see this as an issue of freedom of speech, their right to protest against the late Margaret Thatcher. On the other hand, you have people in this country who see this as incredibly distasteful, especially in light of the fact that her family members are still mourning her death. Her funeral is only just days away.

Today, the BBC coming out and saying that their decision is a, quote, "compromise." They issued a statement saying, quote, "the BBC finds this campaign distasteful but does not believe the record should be banned." So quite a bit of controversy here in the U.K. around this song and it really shows, Fred, just how divisive the late Margaret Thatcher continues to be in this country.

WHITFIELD: And who makes up this kind of opposition group?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you have to really kind of just put this into context. Margaret Thatcher was the prime minister of this country for 11 years. During that time, she was credited with really altering the economic and political landscape of this country for better or for worse. So her economic policies involved cutting government subsidies, taking on the unions. And many people of the communities that were affected by this policy say it cost them their jobs, changes that are still felt even to this day.

Her supporters, however, say that her policies brought the British economy forward economically. So, her policies still resonates to this day and that's perhaps why we are seeing this to be -- continue to be such a divisive issue in this country, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Erin, thank you so much.

All right, here's a new word in the lexicon, bitcoin. Ever heard of it? It's a virtual currency that's going mainstream. You can even use it to buy a beer at a bar. And we'll explain in the next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM.


WHITFIELD: All right, let's take a look at what's trending right now around the world.

This may look like an amusement park attraction, right? Well, it's actually a bridge. And it's in Vietnam. A bridge in the shape of a dragon that shoots fire and water from its mouth. And if that isn't spectacular enough, at night the bridge is lit up by more than 2,500 LED lights.

And people are celebrating the Thai new year. And some of them brought heavy artillery to this huge water fight in Thailand. Forget the super soakers, people. They have elephants to squirt the crowds there. Locals and tourists take part in the celebrations and water is a big part of it. Water is seen as a way to wash away the past and bring in good luck. The new year celebrations end Sunday.

And singer Katy Perry is trying to draw attention to one of the poorest countries in the world, Madagascar. She teamed up with the United Nations' Children's Fund. On her first visit to the African nation, Perry visited a center where she met abused and abandoned children and young mothers getting support and counseling. More than three out of four children in Madagascar live in extreme poverty, making them vulnerable to exploitation. UNICEF builds schools, trains teachers and runs health centers there.

And that's going to do it for AROUND THE WORLD. The "CNN NEWSROOM" starts right now.