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North Korea Ran Fifth Nuclear Test This Month; North Korea Moves Ahead with Missile Program; Trump and Clinton to Face Off in First Debate; Aleppo Bombarded, Ceasefire a Distant Memory
Aired September 26, 2016 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:10] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, the annihilation of Aleppo rebel-held areas of the city pounded with shocking and relentless
wars. I speak to the U.N. special adviser on humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland.
Plus, has the West taken its eyes off North Korea. It has just conducted its fifth nuclear test, and I'll speak to the former State Department
officials Joel Wit.
Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
The world awaits, not just the first dramatic debate between Clinton and Trump tonight, but what will the next president do about the most serious
foreign crisis today.
The savage war in Syria and the rise of North Korea, as a nuclear state. For sure, those haven't been issues on the campaign trail.
But Kim Jong-Un is moving full speed ahead with the North Korean missile program, and this month launched its fifth most powerful nuclear test. The
South Korean defense minister admitted that elite forces are on stand by to assassinate Kim if they detect a serious threat of a nuclear attack.
But how did it come to this? And who can diffuse this battle of wills. We'll talk to Korea expert Joel Wit. Key is North Korea's main ally China,
as our Matt Rivers reports from Beijing.
MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two nuclear tests, nearly two dozen missile launches. It's been an aggressively ambitious year for Kim
Jong-Un and North Korea's growing nuclear program.
The latest test explosion registered at an estimated ten kilotons, and state media claimed the detonated warhead was small enough to place on a
ballistic missile. Though many experts doubt that claim, there's no denying that this test was the largest so far.
But any truly effective new multi-lateral sanctions would have to include China, North Korea's only ally and its largest trading partner by far.
In the border city of Dandong, CNN cameras captured truck after truck bringing goods from China into North Korea earlier this year. The
relationship accounts for nearly 70 percent of North Korea's total trade volume with China controlling the purse strings on necessities like food
Experts say that economic dominance is why China has more leverage than any other country over the Kim Jong-Un regime. Threatened to stem the flow of
trades goes the argument, and you could force Pyongyang to end its weapons program.
China signed on to previous rounds of sanctions and says it is rigorously enforcing bans on items of potential military use and luxury goods. But
critics have questioned how strictly China is actually doing that, trying to see for ourselves what was being shipped in Dandong, our cameras were
often met with men determined not to show us.
(on-camera): And trying to see for ourselves how these inspections are done can prove to be difficult, as you can see. We try and talk to
ordinary people, truck drivers even, to talk to them about these inspections, but none of them would agree to speak with us. And we
constantly face harassment like you're seeing right now.
Though China has consistently denounced North Korea's nuclear ambitions, many argue that geo-politically speaking, Beijing actually wants the
current regime to stay in power.
For starters, the Chinese see the North Koreans are an effective deterrent to the United States on the Korean peninsula.
Plus, if the regime were to ever fail, China could face a massive humanitarian crisis on its northeaster border.
Matt Rivers, CNN, Beijing.
AMANPOUR: So with me now to discuss all of this is Joel Wit, who worked on North Korea policy at the State Department, and who is now a senior fellow
at Johns Hopkins U.S.-Korea Institute. He's also the founder of a North Korea Web site called 38North.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Wit, welcome to the program.
Can I ask you, first, right out, because this is troubling? The South Koreans, the foreign minister actually acknowledged that North Korea is,
quote, "At the final stage of nuclear weaponization."
Is that an assessment that the United States shares?
JOEL WIT, SENIOR FELLOW, JOHNS HOPKINS U.S.-KOREA INSTITUTE: Well, I think it is an assessment that the United States shares. And private experts
like myself have been warning for a few years now that North Korea can put nuclear weapons on top of a missile. And up until now, it's been a missile
that can attack targets in the region. But going forward, what we're talking about is a missile that potentially could reach the United States.
AMANPOUR: So how dramatic or what did the fifth nuclear test and the missile test tell the world?
[14:05:15] WIT: Well, of course, this is a very murky situation where we can't be sure about what the North Koreans are learning about individual
tests from individual tests.
What we do know is that they have steadily been developing a war head to put on top of missiles, and they probably reach the point now where they
are on the verge of doing so.
The key issue now is they don't have an ICBM. They don't have a missile that can reach the United States, and I would expect that in the next year
or so, we may see them start to test that.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Wit, is it fair to say that the USI has been off the North Korea ball for the past many, many years, certainly in this administration.
And is it also fair to ask, if the United States can achieve a nuclear agreement with Iran, could it not achieve something with a state that
appears even more dangerous, because its program is so much further along?
WIT: Well, you know, based on my experience of dealing with the North Koreans and others as well, we have been arguing for the past seven years,
eight years of the Obama administration that the policy it has had called Strategic Patience, which was basically based on increasing pressure on the
north and that would bring them back to the table, and they would negotiate agreements we liked, we have argued that that policy would not work,
because we know the North Koreans, and we also know that the Chinese have very different interests on the Korean peninsula than the United States.
And we're not going to convince them to throw those interests overboard.
So, of course, the second part of your question, I'm sorry, on reaching an agreement, that's going to be very tough. But I can guarantee that the
policy we have now is going to fail.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you two things. That's quite dramatic what you said. It's going to fail, because it begs the question of then what. But
you heard what our Matt Rivers reported from Beijing. And you've touch on it as well. The Chinese have a different view of it, but they have the
So what can or will China do, and what's the option? I mean, South Korea, what are they going to do about it?
WIT: Well, I think the Chinese are playing a very clever game here. They do respond when North Korea conducts nuclear tests. They tighten the
spigot, but then they loosen the spigot. So they're trying to keep us happy and they're trying not to put too much pressure on the North Koreans.
So far that obviously hasn't stopped the North Koreans from doing what they are doing. And so we need to understand that rather than the common view
that China has the most leverage, in fact, the United States is the central player here, because only if the United States and North Korea can sit
down, talk and explore if there are peaceful solutions, is there a possible way forward. But we're avoiding that central issue.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Wit, you talk about the U.S., and many do say many of these nations want the legitimacy of some kind of recognition or engagement with
the United States.
You yourself have said, and have written that there should be a peace deal finally offered by the U.S. to North Korea, and see where that takes us.
The U.S. point -- the administration's point is, well, we can't rewarding them for bad behavior.
How do you bridge that gap?
WIT: Well, I understand you can't be rewarding them for bad behavior, so we have to make a basic choice here. Whether we want to sit down and see
if there is a peaceful arrangement that can be reached with them, and in fact, that may appear to be rewarding them for bad behavior, but it will at
least deal with the threat to ourselves and our allies. Or whether we want to stand on that principle of not rewarding North Korea, and let the threat
get worst and worst, and the dangers are only going to grow.
AMANPOUR: Let me just go to South Korea again, because we reported that, you know, elite forces they claim are on stand by to assassinate Kim. They
are very angry in the neighborhood.
China is very angry that the South Korean president has accepted these fad, you know, defensive missile shields from the United States. So what does
that do to cooperation and expectations from China? And how does that complicate this issue, if it does?
Assassinate Kim, and they're angry the South Korea president has accepted these defensive missile shields from the United States.
So what does that do to cooperation and expectations and how does it complicate this issue, if it does?
[14:10:10] WIT: Well, there are two points to make here. The first point is that the South Koreans and the North Koreans are engaged in a tit for
tat escalation of not only rhetoric, but also the counter measures they are taking against each other. And that's going to be very dangerous.
The second point with regard to the Chinese is, yes, they are unhappy about the deployment of F.A.D. But if the United States steps out front here and
at least tries the diplomatic track in a more serious way, something the Chinese have been urging us to do, then at least that might help us nudge
the Chinese more towards supporting our policies than supporting the North Koreans. They're not going to throw them overboard but it might help.
AMANPOUR: Again, you know, the U.S. might say, well, listen, we tried it under Kim Jong-Il. You know, we had this rapprochement. We had a deal.
He closed down Yongbyon. I mean, we went to witness that. We saw them -- I watched them blow up the cooling tower, and then it all fell apart.
WIT: Yes, so that's part of the narrative here, is that negotiating with North Korea never works. But in fact, I was part of an experience reaching
the 1994 denuclearization agreement that lasted until 2002.
And, basically, in 1994, we were looking at North Korea having 100 nuclear weapons by the beginning of the next decade, by the 2000s. And in fact,
when the agreement collapsed in 2002, they barely had enough material to build five bombs. So agreements can work. They can serve our national
interests if we sit down and try to explore whether it's possible or not.
AMANPOUR: And I did sort of start this whole issue by saying this hasn't played out at all on the campaign trail. There is no serious discussion
about North Korea, except for Donald Trump said that he would engage or meet Kim Jong-Un. And he also said, didn't he, that perhaps South Korea
and Japan should have their own nuclear weapons.
Apparently, some in the South Korean community believe that they should bring back tactical nuclear weapons as well.
Is that a starter, as far as you are concerned?
WIT: Well, it's sort of the combination -- it's the worst of both worlds. Donald Trump thinks he is going to sit down and just strike a deal, maybe
buy the North Koreans off, but that's not what they're interested in. They are interested in improving relations with the United States. And on the
other hand, Donald Trump has also said that, well, maybe we shouldn't have these alliances with South Korea and Japan, and maybe it's OK if they have
So if the first part of that equation fails, and the Japanese and South Koreans take what he says to heart, we are going to have a Northeast Asia
where every country has nuclear weapons, and that's not a good situation to be in.
AMANPOUR: Does anybody know about Kim Jong-un? People have met his father. People have met his grandfather. How well known is he? And does
one really know what he wants?
WIT: Well, of course, that's very difficult to answer at this point. And all I can say is that with Kim Jong-Il, for example, when he first took
over and not many people had met him, you know, there were all sorts of silly rumors circulating around him, just as there are around Kim Jong-Un.
But when American officials met him face-to-face, they discovered someone who, of course, was authoritarian and a dictator, but also had a good grasp
of the international situation, and of the substantive issues dividing the United States from North Korea.
So, you know, we can only tell if we sit down and meet face-to-face. And that leads to the second question you've asked, which is do we know what he
really wants. And once again, we can't exactly figure that out by reading North Korea media. A lot of it is propaganda.
So that brings us back to the same place. Only through face-to-face discussions can you discover what they want, and whether a deal is possible
AMANPOUR: Joel Wit, thank you so much for that analysis. Thanks very much for joining us.
[14:15:00] AMANPOUR: And when we come back, obviously, the other major challenge facing the next American president is Syria.
As the war drags on, we look to the humanitarian catastrophe haunting the country. But, first, floating dreams. The story of North Korea's
defectors, lighting up the River Thames here in London.
This cube there is constructed of 500 pictures and stories made by North Korean refugees fleeing the regime. The piece by Ik-Joong Kang creates a
patchwork of the childhoods they endured in that repressive state. And it will be a drift until the end of the month.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back.
As the United States gears up for one of the biggest TV spectacles ever, the first Clinton-Trump debate, a dramatic development, many of them are
underway in Syria, where despite the relentless carnage, the Russian foreign minister says don't give up on the Russia-U.S. ceasefire deal. But
on the ground, it is expired.
War planes scream over Aleppo with more than a dozen strikes last night alone and very violent results. Activists say at least 237 people have
been killed by air strikes in and around Aleppo since last Monday, when Assad declared the brief truce over really before it even began.
Blame and outrage amounting after the bombing of a U.N. Red Crescent Aid convoy last week. The U.S. accuses Russia of doing it. Russia denies it.
But the U.N. secretary general called it savage and apparently deliberate.
Over the weekend, the U.S., France and Britain called an emergency Security Council meeting, but what will these scathing words change?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEW RYCROFT, BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: This weekend, the regime and Russia have instead plunged to new depths, and unleashed a new hell on
Aleppo. Bunker busting bombs, incendiary ammunitions and to cap it all water supplies so vital to millions are now being targeted. Depriving
water to those most in need. In short, it is difficult to deny that Russia is partnering with the Syrian regime to carry out war crimes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now as the Syrian ambassador prepared to speak, Ambassador Rycroft along with the American and French ambassadors walked out.
And joining me now from Oslo to discuss all of this is Jan Egeland. The advisor to the U.N. envoy to Syria.
Mr. Egeland, welcome. I don't know where I'm looking because our technology has failed us and we have you on the phone. But let us ask you
A war crime, this is a very, very serious accusation. Even if it turns out to be true, what will it do to change what you're facing on the ground?
JAN EGELAND, U.N. SPECIAL ADVISER, HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS: What we're facing on the ground is an impossibility of reaching the civilian population. We
did get to five out of the eight -- to six actually out of the eight besiege areas in Syria in the last five days, but nothing coming into
eastern Aleppo, except a reign of bombs, many of them indiscriminate, hitting civilians more than soldiers.
[14:20:28] AMANPOUR: Yes. You've called them -- in several tweets, you've called them vile and inhumane. You also sent a message to Capitol Hill is,
"We need U.S. leadership in the quest for peace talks and the humanitarian access in Syria.
But Mr. Egeland, you're a former foreign ministry official. You've been a long time U.N. official. This isn't working. This isn't going anywhere.
Even this so-called conversation with Russia is going nowhere, when it comes to helping the civilians there.
EGELAND: Well, what I do know is that without U.S. and Russian leadership, we have only hopelessness. The few times where we've seen progress this
year, one period was since the February cessation of hostilities, we could go to places. We could deliver humanitarian aid. And there were periods
of calm in many areas.
I now fear that we will only see the fighting. We only see carnage and that is precisely because there is no leadership from the U.S. and Russia,
only mutual accusations.
AMANPOUR: Except for Russia is obviously banking on Assad's leadership, because Assad has stated to the world that the cease-fire is over, and that
he wants to retake Aleppo. It looks to me that that is what they're trying to do. Would you agree?
EGELAND: Well, I'm humanitarian worker. What I see is that there is no military solution to this war. They've tried for more than five years to
win militarily on either side. There is only a political, you know, negotiated settlement.
It can get -- it's horrible now. I cannot remember a war as bad as this in terms of carnage and displacement of civilian population, for the last
generation. But it can get even worst. It's not going to be solved by arms. It's going to be solved by negotiations. And the first thing would
be cessation of hostilities, so that we can get in relief to civilians and civilians will not be killed and maimed as they are now routinely in this
AMANPOUR: Mr. Egeland, I wonder if you would respond to report in the "Wall Street Journal" about the convoy that was bombed. Basically, the
"Wall Street Journal" has reported that in exchange of messages showed that there were divisions between the Damascus-based U.N. agencies over the very
risk of sending that convoy to Aleppo in a time when there was still air strikes.
Why was that convoy sent in nonetheless?
EGELAND: It was sent in because it is our duty to go where we can to help civilians. It is wrong that the way -- I've asked myself, the people in
Damascus and they wouldn't have gone if there was a concrete threat to this convoy. The convoy to Orem in Aleppo County had no such warnings. They
have of course been warnings going across the Castello Road into East Aleppo. That's a very different thing.
What we now need is an independent investigation into whom attacked a clearly marked and clearly announced humanitarian convoy that went to a
place that was known to everybody, who is fighting in this war.
AMANPOUR: And finally, you say you are a humanitarian, and you are, but you have made also a couple of political tweets. And since it's the first
debate in the United States, I want to ask you about this one.
You've said "What Donald Trump Jr. and others do to keep Syrian refugees away is exactly what kept Jews from escaping Nazi Germany."
What is happening here?
EGELAND: As a secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, it is my job to defend refugees. They are the most vulnerable of all people. And I
tweeted this image of an opinion poll on -- from 1939, where people were asked, are you willing to take refugees from Germany, mostly Jewish
children, and 60 percent said no, 30 percent said yes in the United States.
At the time, it was the same in European countries. And the excuses for that was precisely that some of them may be involved in this or that.
What happened was carnage to these civilian people. So I have no sympathy for those who are saying that civilians fleeing the terror of ISIS are a
threat to anybody.
[14:25:35] AMANPOUR: Very strongly put. And a very, very important historical reminder, because 90 percent of those who were denied entry in
1939, went back to their certain death in the gas chambers.
Jan Egeland, thank you very much, indeed.
And when we come back, we imagine a world where parties and political poison is laid to rest. And opposing sides come together in Washington.
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we imagine a world where leaders who are polls apart, reach across the divide with their arms wide open. This
weekend in Washington, the Smithsonian's National Museum of African- American History and Culture made its debut.
In attendance were presidents past and present, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. And it was the First Lady, Michelle Obama, who bridged the gap with
a hug. Historic as a first for African-American culture. The museum is also symbolic of bipartisan achievement.
Because while Obama cut the ribbon, it wouldn't have been possible at least not yet without George W. Bush signing off in 2003.
Did he ever imagine then that 13 years later, the first African-American president would open the museum?
That is it for our program tonight. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.