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Israel UN Resolution, Chibok Schoolgirls; Music World Remembers George Michael; Other Musicians Lost in 2016; Trump's Nuclear Plans Worry World Leaders; Russia Investigates Deadly Military Plane Crash; China's Elevated Bus Causing Problems. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired December 27, 2016 - 01:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM. Ahead this hour intensifying anger as Israel's criticism of the White House becomes more personal.

Home for the holidays, released Chibok schoolgirls reunite with their families. We're live in Nigeria for a story you will only see here on CNN.

Plus George Michael's impact on the music world after his shocking death at the age of fifty three. This hour, the man and the hits that rocked the 1980s.

From CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm Rose Marie Church. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

A furious Israel is retaliating after a stinging diplomatic slap by the United Nations and the United States. It's suspending ties with twelve security council nations that approved a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Despite U.S. denials, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists Israel has iron-clad proof the Obama Administration orchestrated Friday's resolution. The U.S. abstained rather than using its veto which allowed the measure to pass.

A Palestinian official says this is not an about face for Washington.


MAEN AREIKAT, PLO DIPLOMAT: We have been hearing a lot of encouraging statements from the current U.S. administration and we have been urging them to translate those statements into action.

The United States did what confirms its longest standing policies since the days of Lyndon Johnson in 1967. Ronald Reagan, the Republican President, used abstention seven times during his two terms as President of the United States to allow resolution at the U.N. to condemn settlement activities.

So the U.S. is doing just what they have done all the time. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: Still, some don't see it that way. Israel's ambassador to the U.S. told CNN the Palestinians are the ones balking at peace talks.


RON DERMER, ISRAEL AMBASSADOR: The prime minister of Israel did a freeze. He did a freeze for ten months for the settlements and Palestinians did not come to the negotiating table.

This has not been about the settlements. What do the Palestinians want? What they want to do is to blame Israel for not negotiating, refuse to sit down and have discussions with us, and internationalize the conflict.

And for the last eight years they have not been able to do that because thankfully the president has stood up to those efforts in the Security Council. Now he gave the Palestinians exactly what they want.

He gave them the ammunition for a political, diplomatic, and legal war against Israel. He gave them that ammunition by not vetoing the Security Council resolution.


CHURCH: And Israel says it will turn over its alleged proof to the Trump Administration when it takes over in January.

More now from Oren Lieberman in Jerusalem.

OREN LIEBERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doubling down on criticism, not only of President Barack Obama, but also diplomatic moves against the security council countries that voted for this resolution.

He said his diplomatic steps aren't going too far. He called them quote responsible and vigorous actions.


LIEBERMAN: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accusing President Barack Obama of working behind Israel's back to put forward the U.N. Security Council Resolution critical of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The two leaders have always had a rocky relationship, now in its final days it is quickly deteriorating. Netanyahu hasn't held back at all.


BENAJMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: And, as I told John Kerry on Thursday, friends don't take friends to the Security Council

(END VIDEO CLIP) LIEBERMAN: Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, speaking to CNN one of many Israeli officials who've made the accusation but not offered any evidence.


DERMER: Look, it's an old story that the United Nations gangs up on Israeli. What is new is that the United States did not stand up and oppose that gang up.

And what is outrageous is that the United States was actually behind that gang up. I think it was a very sad day and really a shameful chapter in U.S. Israel relations.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Ambassador what's the evidence that the U.S. is behind this gang up? I've heard that a lot

DERMER: Well we have - well we have clear evidence of it. We will present that evidence to the new administration.


LIEBERMAN: Netanyahu turned to President Elect Donald Trump who urged Obama to veto the U.N. resolution and then weighed in on Twitter.

First he tweeted, as to the U.N. things will be different after January 20th. He followed that up with another tweet. The big loss yesterday for Israel and the United Nations will make it much harder to negotiate peace. Too bad, but we'll get it done anyway.

Netanyahu hasn't just lashed out at the U.S. Israel called in the U.S. ambassador and the ambassadors of ten other countries that voted for the U.N. resolution.

But those countries met with the Foreign Ministry. It was only the U.S. Ambassador that met privately with Netanyahu.

One more statement directed at President Barack Obama before he leaves office.


LEIBERMAN: So why now? Prime Minister Netanyahu knows of course that he only has a few more weeks until he has President Elect Donald Trump in office to work with and he's made it very clear that he's looking forward to Obama being out and Trump being in.


This, other than perhaps being a parting shot at Obama, also may have a little local politics mixed in. Obama's not popular at all with Netanyahu's voters and he may be playing to them as this unfolds. Oren Lieberman, CNN, Jerusalem.

CHURCH: And joining me now from Jerusalem Gil Hoffman he is the chief political correspondent and analyst for the Jerusalem Post. Thank you sir for being with us.


CHURCH: So what is this iron clad proof that Israel claims to have on the U.S. apparently orchestrating this resolution.

HOFFMAN: Look Israel has ties with countries all over the world and made sure to find out over the weekend what the Obama Administration was doing behind the scenes.

All I know is that I know a Cabinet Minister, Zeev Elkin, who is very close to the Ukrainian Authorities and he told me last night that Joe Biden intervened with them, that they were going to abstain on the resolution and Joe Biden's office convinced them to vote with - to vote with the other countries around the world in approving the resolution.

Joe Biden's office firmly denies that he intervened in any way.

CHURCH: What is the benefit in doing that though? Because in the end this particular U.N. Security Council resolution is non-binding and won't have any immediate impact will it?

But it's what may follow that's upsetting Israel, perhaps another resolution that could set conditions for negotiations. Why is that such a big concern to Israel and when might that next resolution come do you think?

HOFFMAN: So what Israel's trying to do is to prevent there from being another resolution between now and January 20th.

Netanyahu, by taking such drastic measures that have been described by opposition members of parliament as hysteria, has taken these steps because there's a possibility that when the French have a conference on the 15th of January where the Secretary of State John Kerry is supposed to make a very important address on Middle-East issues that that address would then be taken in the remaining five days before Trump takes over to the U.N. Security Council to become another resolution - that Israel sees as handcuffing it. Israel sees as hindering the possibility of a peace process in the future because it gives the Palestinians hope that they'll get their way from the international community and won't have to give anything up in talks where there would be give and take.

CHURCH: Now the U.N. Security Council Resolution that's upset Israel states that the settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation under international law.

What do you say to that? I mean clearly the international community views these settlements as illegal an obstacle to peace efforts.

HOFFMAN: Well I believe that the international community wants to advance a peace effort and by telling Israelis that Jewish neighbors in Jerusalem that their Holy Sites, the Western Wall, are occupied. That's the kind of thing that makes Israelis not want to give any concessions at all.

What the international community has done is really drop the ball here and really taken steps that make Israelis not want to be part of a peace process. At a time when there's a new administration coming in that would have a different approach than the approach over the last eight years that haven't even brought the two sides together.

Obama has eight years of failure on trying to advance the Middle East peace process. Obviously something else has to be tried and him trying at the last minute trying to save face by putting forth a resolution like that, try to justify and make what did over the last eight years of failure look good, it's just not going to work.

CHURCH: OK so you mention the next administration. Do you expect President Elect Donald Trump would try to repeal the resolution, can he even do that? If he does what will be the likely impact on the United States and Israel's relationship with the U.N. going forward.

HOFFMAN: I expect no matter who would have been president they would've had a very different approach to Israeli Palestinian peace making. If you look in Hillary Clinton's book she wrote that she advised Obama to have different policies to not focus so much on settlements.

She warned him that if you focus so much on settlements there won't be a peace process. And that's exactly what's happened. Over the last eight years there were nine months of negotiations that were the only nine months when the Obama administration said it would turn a blind- eye toward Israeli construction.

So of course Trump who is very different than Obama, he will have a very different approach that could work. Look those around the world that want there to be Middle East peace want there to be a different approach than Obama because Obama's approach is the approach of failure.

Any other approach can be an approach of success. And we in Israel hope as Americans do as well that Trump will succeed in whatever he touches.

CHURCH: Gil Hoffman thank you so much for joining us and sharing your perspective on this we appreciate it.

HOFFMAN: Thank you.


CHURCH: Well on Monday Donald Trump continued to express his displeasure with the U.N. resolution saying things are going to change once he's inaugurated next month.

He tweeted this, the United Nations has great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk, and have a good time. So sad.

Well President Obama claims he could have won a third term and beaten Donald Trump if he was eligible to run again. Mr. Obama gave an interview to his former Senior Advisor, CNN's David Axlerod, and said he's confident the country still backs his vision.

CNN's Athena Jones has more.


ATHENA JONES, CNN REPORTER: President Obama making a bold statement about the 2016 election in a near hour long sit down with his old friend and advisor David Axlerod.

Saying he still believes there is more that unites Americans than that divides them.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That shown as a beacon of freedom and opportunity.


OBAMA: I am confident in this vision because I'm confident that if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could've mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it.

JONES: But the President told Axlerod Democrats have to do a better job of connecting with voters everywhere, especially those who feel they've been left behind as the economy has recovered from the great recession.

Saying of Hillary Clinton's run

OBAMA: If you think you're winning, then you have a tendency, just like in sports, maybe to play it safer. The problem is, is that we're not there on the ground communicating not only the dry policy aspects of this but that we care about these communities, that we're bleeding for these communities.

JONES: The President says the party must rebuild through organizing at the local level and having a presence even in the reddest of districts.

And while he won't weigh in on day to day politics -

OBAMA: That doesn't mean that if a year from now, or a year-and-a- half from now, or two years from now, there is an issue of such moment, such import that isn't just a debate about a particular tax bill or, you know, a particular policy, but goes to some foundational issues about our democracy that I might not weigh in.

JONES: Athena Jones, CNN, Honolulu Hawaii.


CHURCH: In the last remaining weeks of his administration, President Obama is focusing on strengthening ties with Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in Hawaii for a major symbolic visit.

In the coming hours, he and President Obama will visit the USS Arizona Memorial to pay tribute to those who died at Pearl Harbor seventy five years after the surprise attack by Japan.

On Monday Mr. Abe laid wreaths at two cemeteries in Honolulu. He has indicated his visit is in return for Mr. Obama visiting Hiroshima earlier this year. The U.S. dropped a nuclear bomb on that city back in 1945.

A group of South Korean lawmakers are quitting the ruling conservative party and forming their own. The twenty nine lawmakers were member of President Park Geun-hye's party.

Now they say those who remain loyal to her have forgotten true conservative values. The party will be called the Newly Reformed Conservative Party. President Park was impeached earlier this month over a major corruption scandal.

Well, next here on CNN NEWSROOM, this holiday season is an extra special one for twenty one Chibok schoolgirls. That long awaited family reunion just ahead.

Plus, in less than a month Donald Trump will control the U.S. Nuclear Arsenal, why some world leaders are worried about his plans for the future. We'll explain when we come back.



CHURCH: Some of Nigeria's Chibok schoolgirls have been reunited with their families this Christmas after more than two years in Boko Haram captivity.

The terror group caused global outrage in 2014 when they kidnapped nearly 300 girls from a boarding school. Militants freed twenty one of the girls in October after negotiations with the government. Since then, they have spent ten weeks rehabilitating in the government's care before traveling back home.

And CNN's Isha Sesay joins me now from Lagos in Nigeria. Isha it is so good to see you. This has been such an emotional journey for these young girls. Talk to us about what they have said about what they have been through from start to this moment now where they have reunited with their families.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there Rosemary. It's such incredible scenes to have personally witnessed. To see these girls finally reunite with their families after such a long time.

It was actually truly overwhelming for me personally. You could not help but be overwhelmed to be in that room and to hear that joy, to see the tears and the warm embraces.

This was a journey, Rosemary, these girls had been longing to make after years in captivity. It was a long road back to reunite with their loved ones and their community.


SESAY: After almost two and a half years in Boko Haram captivity at last it's time to go home.

Having covered the Chibok girl's abduction from the very beginning, I'm going to make the long journey from Abuja to (Yola) with them.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're going home.

SESAY: How are you feeling? Somebody tell me what is the feeling in your heart right now? Are you happy?


SESAY: For all the talk of excitement, some of these girls are also nervous.


SESAY: Don't be nervous don't be afraid, OK? You hold your faith - you hold onto your faith OK. OK? The same faith that kept you all those months.



SESAY: With the girls on the move there are more smiles as they chat and giggle freely amongst themselves.

Once we land in Yola, the girls are welcomed by some of the Chibok community leaders as well as the governor of Adamawa State.

The road to Chibok, too dangerous to travel after dark, the girls spend the night at a local hotel. Outside a large security cordon is put in place. Inside, with their journey delayed, they gather in one room to do what they were unable to do while in Boko Haram captivity.

I learned from Rebecca Malam and Gloria Dama they were signing local Christian hymns. While in captivity their Christianity was not tolerated by the Boko Haram terrorists.


SESAY: What have you been doing since you been in Abuja?

REBECCA MALAM, CHIBOK SCHOOLGIRL: In Abuja we are very grateful. We are grateful for them because they are protect good they are done good for us. Now we are in Abuja we are playing football, we have English class that we are learning how to speak English and writing very well.

SESAY: You guys look so different since I saw you October. How are you feeling now, from that time to now?

MALAM: We are feeling beautiful because - since we can.

SESAY: You can tell me. You can tell me. Because you are beautiful.


SESAY: The next morning a military convoy escorts the girls to Chibok, a place that holds the promise of long-awaited family reunion and memories of a fateful night.


SESAY: So the convey has stopped in a town called (Mandaragirau) which is about an hour away from Chibok. The movement through these parts, such a well armed convoy, is drawing attention from passersby.


SESAY: As we enter Chibok town, locals wave excitedly, welcoming their girl's home. The moment of reunion eventually arrives, the room, almost vibrating

with the sound of unbridled joy.

But for some waiting parents, heartbreak. These women have come looking for their daughters who are still being held by Boko Haram. They had thought their children were among the group who were coming home for Christmas.


SESAY: There's been such an outpouring of grief amidst the joy. The piercing screams of mothers realizing that indeed they are not to be reunited with their daughters on this day. Which has turned what should have been an overwhelmingly happy moment into a bitter sweet one.


SESAY: For Rebecca and her father, the nightmare is over and her father is overcome with feelings of gratitude. Given all they have endured, the mental and physical abuse at the hands of their captors, the years of painful separation from their loved ones, this reunion here in Chibok moves these fractured families and their community a step closer to wholeness.


SESAY: Rosemary I can't stress enough how much the girls have changed in the 10 weeks since they've been released. They've blossomed - they've blossomed and they've grown in confidence and it truly is wonderful to see them making this journey towards full recovery.

The plan for them is that they'll spend time in Chibok with their loved ones and then in early January make the trip back to Abuja, Nigeria's capital, to continue their rehabilitation. Rosemary - CHURCH: It's certainly so incredible to see these young women return to their families. But the horrifying side of this is what you had in your story there where parents were waiting, expecting that their daughters may come home and they didn't.

Why would authorities set them up there for such an awful emotional fall? Certainly there are lists of names that they convey so - to at least protect some of these parents, some of the mothers particularly there we saw - from that sort of heartbreak?


SESAY: We asked about that. We asked about how that could happen. And Rosemary again let me say being in that room and hearing the cries and seeing the wailing, you know, really was just very difficult to take. Because these women their world came crashing down.

Our understanding of the situation is that, the word was spread to the parents by local community leaders and they tell us that somehow, someway, in the process parents heard about the return and just made assumptions.

Clearly something went wrong. Clearly something went wrong. Nobody admitting to us whose fault it is, to be blunt. But clearly something went wrong and people were allowed into that space only to find out that their children were not there and that reality was a crushing blow. Rosemary --

CHURCH: Just horrifying. CNN's Isha Sesay. We thank you for your incredible coverage of this story right from the beginning to this point of the reunions with the family, there will be more we hope further down the track. Many thanks to you Isha.

Well next here on CNN NEWSROOM, remembering George Michael, more on the British singers rise to stardom and his personal struggles.

Plus we look back at other star musicians we've lost in 2016.


CHURCH: And a warm welcome back to you all. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Rosemary Church. Wanted to check the headlines for you this hour.



[01:31:06] (SINGING)


CHURCH: That's George Michael singing "Father Figure," one of the British singer's many chart toppers in his three-decade career. He died on Christmas day at the age of 53 reportedly from heart failure.

Michael shot to fame in the early 1980s with the pop duo Wham! And later had an even more successful solo career.




CHURCH: With me now to talk about this is entertainment journalist, Holland Reid.

Thank you for being with us.

Unfortunate circumstances, of course.


CHURCH: But the world was shocked and stunned, weren't they, by the news of the death of George Michael? It seemed extraordinary at the age of 53. Talk to us about how people across the globe are remembering him and his legacy.

REID: Shocked and stuns were the only two words a lot of us could come up with. 53, so young. We lost so many stars in the year. In the bracket of 40s and 60s which seems so young and premature. George Michael being the pop icon he was, being able to enjoy him with wham when he introduced to the pop culture scene and a stunning career as a solo artist and writer and advocate and a personality like no other. Madonna said, the diva himself. He stood his ground and tried to live his authentic true self with scrutiny and controversy. But we enjoyed him and his music. Still I will say this, "Freedom," "Faith," "I Want Your Sex," such great song. I wasn't allowed to sing that in 1987 but it stayed with me. The world is remembering such a young artist. And it's just unbelievable at the age of 53. The young age of 53, another legend was lost.

CHURCH: He was such a generous man, too. But 1998 was a bad year for him. He was forced to come out and declare his sexuality as a gay man because of the arrest. He was arrested for soliciting sex from a male undercover officer in a California bathroom. Then he had more run ins with the law. He had a bad car accident. He was never able to overcome those problems. Why was he not able to ride that out?

REID: If I had that answer. It's so unfortunate. This is a man who donated the proceeds for "last Christmas" to band aide. He was an advocate and raised so much for charity off his talent and for him only to be dragged through the media over controversy. The sting operation which forced him to come out. Coming out isn't for everyone. And for him being such a public figure and giving so much like I said before to the community and the world and have to address something that is so personal in a way that is just -- he said, himself, he was not ashamed of his sexuality, he was ashamed it came out in such a stupid and ridiculous way and with the drug abuse and addiction and the issues in his personal life I hope we can look at that and say that is a small part of his time here that he did so much good. He did so much for charities, for human rights, for you know, the aids community and the LGBT community. He was that personal that always gave back. So, yes, he was troubled as a human being we all are. And he definitely had issues as a celebrity which he had many issues, even with being a celebrity. I mean, it was very hard for him to deal with that. And with that, I think, coupled with his closeted life people turn to things that aren't necessarily kosher and they have those struggles. But he will, in my heart and in many of our hearts be remembered as a phenomenal artist and humanitarian.

[01:35:57] CHURCH: The police describe his death as unexplained but not suspicious. They put it down to heart failure. But we have seen that photo circulating, haven't we? He was bloated and not looking well. What is being said about that?

REID: A lot of speculation. Nothing has been confirmed and I will be first to say nothing has been confirmed. But unnamed sources have said he possibly had an issue with heroin with the last year to two years. His partner has come out and was the one who found him. We are still looking into that. But unfortunately, all those things line up with drug addiction, a cardiac arrest, very much associated with drug addiction especially heroin. The bloated photos, heroin. We see this going back to our -- gosh, Whitney Houston, just so many other artists we see the late photos at the end of their life and we start to get the evidence and what actually happened. We can only hope it wasn't that. But unfortunately, we have a story line of a history of abuse to go along with it. Again, unconfirmed, waiting to hear. But in the days and weeks ahead we'll get more information about that as autopsies are performed.

CHURCH: Absolutely.

Holland, thank you for coming in. A sad story. The loss of another great singer in 2016. It's been a sad year.

REID: A very sad year. 2016. Oy.

CHURCH: Amazing.

Thank you again.

REID: Thank you, Rosemary. Appreciate it.

CHURCH: CNN's Samuel Burke looks back at other talented musicians who died this year.



SAMUEL BURKE, CNN DIGITAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the final days of 2016, yet another passing of a music legend. On Christmas day, '80s pop icon, George Michael, found dead in his home in England, just 53 years old.


BURKE: If you feel like this year we lost an uncanny number of revered artists, you are right. By September, alone, celebrity deaths have already outpaced previous years. The music world particularly hit hard. Leonard Cohen, Prince, David Bowie also played their last songs.


BURKE: Bowie lost a battle with liver cancer.


BURKE: the British pop star had an incomparable sound and a chameleon-like ability to reinvent himself.


BURKE: His parting gift to music was his 25th studio album released two days before he died at age 69.


BURKE: In April, Prince, a music legend, was found unresponsive in an elevator in Paisley Park, his home and recording studio in Minnesota. Like Bowie and George Michael, Prince's theatrics and cultural influence went far beyond his song. A medical examiner determined Prince died of an accidental overdose of opioid Fentanyl. He was just 57.


BURKE: And last month, Canadian singer/songwriter, Leonard Cohen, died at the age of 82. Known for his poetic lyrics, among Cohen's greatest hits were "Halleluiah" and "Suzanne." Just weeks before his passing, Cohen told "The New Yorker," "I'm ready to die. I hope it's not too uncomfortable. That's about it for me."

And with just a few days left in 2016, the Christmas lights still on outside George Michael's home, the world turns to the song "Fallen Stars" to remember the legends who are gone but whose music will play on.

Samuel Burke, CNN, London.



[01:40:11] CHURCH: Such great talent lost in 2016.

Still to come, we're going the take a short break here. In the Black Sea, a massive search operation to find out why a Russian military plane crashed killing all 92 people on board. What we're learning about the investigation is next.

Plus, world leaders are afraid that Donald Trump might reverse decades of nuclear policy. What could happen if he decides to build up the nuclear weapons stockpile. We'll take a look at that when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. India says it has test-fired its first intercontinental ballistic missile. That weapon would put Beijing and other Chinese cities within range.

It comes as world leaders are concerned the U.S. could expand its nuclear arsenal under President-elect Donald Trump.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has more.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Less than a month before he takes command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the world is not sure what President-elect Donald Trump meant with his tweet, "The United States must strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes."

A Trump administration move to expand the nuclear arsenal would be a stunning and unprecedented reversal of Democratic and Republican foreign policy largely set by Ronald Reagan.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.


REAGAN: The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used. But then, would it not be better to do away with them entirely?

[01:45:09] STARR: Reagan overcame his own opposition to arms control, sat down with Michel Gorbachev, and negotiated nuclear arms limits.

But Trump doubled down, commenting to a TV morning anchor in a dramatic statement delivered in a surreal festive setting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He told me on the phone, let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all. Any time any president talks about a nuclear arms race, it should be alarming for the whole world because the last thing we need are more nuclear weapons, more fissile material out there.

STARR: Vladimir Putin already signaling he won't bankrupt his economy on a nuclear race.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translation): If someone accelerates and speeds up the arms race, it will not be us. I would say that we will never, if we are in an arms race, we would never spend too much.

STARR: But Putin is moving ahead.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The Russians, in the last few years, have increased the capabilities and the capabilities of their systems dramatically.

STARR: It's not known if Trump has been briefed and if he believes the U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia is testing and possibly getting ready to field a new nuclear-capable ground-launched missile, a potential violation of a 1987 treaty negotiated by Reagan and Gorbachev.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Under President Putin, the Russians have violated that agreement. They have not admitted it. But once they do that will be a threat to our European allies. And probably on Donald Trump's watch he will have to do something about it.

STARR (on camera): So where do things stand now? The Europeans, indeed, are nervous, and the North Koreans may be planning another underground nuclear test.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


CHURCH: Russia is looking for the cause of a deadly plane crash in Sochi. Memorials in Moscow are honoring the 92 people killed. Authorities have recovered at least 10 bodies and more than 150 pieces of debris. Many of the victims were part of the Army's official choir heading to perform in Syria.

Matthew Chance has the latest.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Russian officials have stressed that terrorism is not being considered as a cause of the crash of the plane that plunged into the Black Sea on Sunday morning killing apparently all 91 passengers and crew on board. Russia's transport ministry say mechanical failure or pilot error are the most likely causes. But this before the crash investigation has been completed. In fact, the recovery teams are still working to locate all the pieces of wreckage before they can piece together what went wrong.

What we know this was an act operated by the Russian defense ministry. It took off from a military airport to refuel. It was transporting 64 members of the Russian army, the Red Army choir, known for their performances. They were meant to be performing a new year's conference in Syrian for Russian troops stationed there.

Russia held a day or mourning for the victims of the tragedy with entertainment programs on the television cancelled and church services were held across the country.

Meanwhile, that huge recovery operation continues around the deep- water crash site, with ships, submersibles and teams of divers working around the clock to locate what human remains they can and to salvage the wreckage of the aircraft so investigators can determine why this aircraft plunged out of the skies.

Matthew chance, CNN, Moscow.


[01:49:07] CHURCH: A shocking ending in Australia's Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Why the favorites had to quit.

Plus, China's rethinks its elevated bus of the future. Why the project is causing more problems than solutions.




CHURCH: It was meant to be a game changer, now China's big test project to help lighten traffic seems to have been abandoned.

Sherisse Pham explains why.


SHERISSEE PHAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was supposed to be the bus of the future designed to cruise over China's legendary traffic jams but four months after the test run here it lies parked and unused on a street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): It hasn't moved since winter began.

PHAM: The bus that was supposed to ease China's gridlock is now an obstacle for local residents to get around.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): It affects us a lot. We have to go through a narrow path now. It's very inconvenient.

PHAM: The company was supposed to return the road back to its original state by august but the tracks are still here along with the bus that goes nowhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): I think it's worthless. It only runs 300 meters. You can't go anywhere.

PHAM: A city official said he is aware of the traffic problems and knows nothing about future plans or when the city will get the road back.

Chinese state media reports the test run may have been nothing more than a, quote, "publicity stunt."

To pay for it they raised $15 million this year through peer-to-peer lending, according to state media. That's where lenders can be banks or investors for steady payments. Peer to peer is risky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): It is an example of the risks involved. But the investors didn't do their homework on the project and the fundamentals behind it.

PHAM: CNN called the company multiple times and all went unanswered.

When we visited the Beijing office, we found this, a darkroom with a toy version of the elevated bus circling a model of Beijing. Nothing but a show piece. Much like the company's bus.

(on camera): CNN did find one small office with a light on. And our Beijing producer talked to an employee who refused to give his name or appear on camera. His job is to finish, quote, "leftover work," and he doesn't know anything about the future plans.

Sherisse Pham, CNN, Hong Kong.


[01:55:28] CHURCH: Police in central Australia say seven people are missing after heavy rains and flooding there. The weather also forced the closure of one of the country's most famous national parks. A CNN viewer sent in this video from the national park where 23 centimeters of rain fell in just 24 hours. Incredible vision there.

The favorite in Australia's premier yachting event has dropped out of the race for the second straight year. Wild Oats XI was forced to quit because of a broken hydraulic ram. The competition is the most grueling yachting event. The winner is expected to finish Wednesday in Hobart.

And you're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Rosemary Church.

George Howell will join me with more news right after this short break. Do stay with us.


[02:00:09] CHURCH: Hello, everyone. This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta.