Return to Transcripts main page
U.S. Official: North Korea Fired Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile; White House Aware Of Missile Test, Monitoring Situation; South Korea: Working With International Community To Take Punitive Actions; Trump Doesn't Respond To Question About North Korea. Aired 8- 9p ET
Aired February 11, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:00] MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This missile test does not appear to be, according to sources, that kind of a missile test. This missile, we know only traveled about 500 kilometers or so before crashing into the sea. And we still don't know yet whether it was a successful test or not. We're still talking to our sources here in South Korea and in the United States. But officials from both sides confirm that this test happened around 7:55 a.m. local time. And it is in line with other tests that we have seen from the North Koreans. It was in 2016 that we saw the North Koreans fire off a record rate of these ballistic missile tests. We saw lots and lots of tests throughout 2016 in addition to two nuclear tests. And so, what we're seeing this morning here on the Korean peninsula is what's shaping up to be the first test when it comes to North Korea for this brand new Trump administration.
ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Exactly. And Athena Jones is there with the administration who, of course, is meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister and his wife. Athena, any word right now from President's security or diplomatic team about this launch?
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ana, so far, no word at all. Not from any of the White House sources I've reached out to, not from the Japanese sources who are traveling here with Japanese Prime Minister Abe. They are also not responding. We do know that the press pool traveling with the president that covers more of his - much more closely than we do, could get an answer, could at least ask him a question -- an opportunity to ask a question in the next few minutes or so. We don't know for sure that they're going to have that opportunity, but we'll certainly report back if the president does respond.
But as we've been saying, this is something that there were signals about some time ago. U.S. intelligence satellites picking up signs of activity last month in North Korea, that signaled that this kind of test firing could be coming. So, it doesn't seem as though the White House or NSC should have been caught flat-footed on this. It's possible they're still monitoring the situation just as folks that had stayed in Pentagon or - and even though we're now hearing that maybe this wasn't a very successful test or didn't have much of a range, even if it's, you know, more smoke than fire, it's still an important first test as we've been saying, for the Trump administration. You will remember that tweet in early January that we've been talking
about, where Trump, then president-elect Trump, basically said there, something of a "make my day" tweet to North Korea, saying North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S., it won't happen.
Now, clearly, this is not a missile that could reach the U.S., it doesn't appear to have been a nuclear missile, but it's clear, the North Korea wanted to send a signal to President Trump and wanted to do so exactly now, when he and the Japanese Prime Minister are meeting for this weekend of diplomacy here at Mar-a-Lago, knowing how important the U.S., Japan, and South Korea, that trilateral alliance is for the Asia-Pacific, so, a very important test. It will be interesting to see how and when the White House and the National Security Council respond. Ana?
CABRERA: And we are monitoring President Trump's Twitter feed because we often know he likes to respond there first or put out a message and initial response. We haven't seen anything just yet. But Elise, this launch, we do know, was anticipated for some weeks. The warning by North Korea back on January 1st, that it is soon to having an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile ready to go. And again, we can confirm that this was not an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, but it is the first launch of North Korean missile since the election of President Trump.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And everybody did think that this might have happened during the inauguration. There seemed to be some activity around the missile sites at that time. And there were even some reports that there were missiles on the launchers ready to go. Now, that never took place, but there's always the expectation that North Korea is going to try to get some attention with a test like that, and also, is going to continue these missile launches, to continue to develop to get that ICBM, that internet -- Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. They don't seem to have that capability yet. But, you know, U.S. commanders in the pacific have said that they're on their way.
And so, this is one of the big issues that this Trump administration, I understand, when President Trump was meeting with President Obama, this was one of the things that came up from President Obama, something that President Trump when he came into office needed to look at very closely. And U.S. officials now in the government tell me that this is something that they've been really worried about. And when North Korea says they're going to do something, generally, they do it. So I know that President Trump was tweeting that North Korea was trying to develop a missile, "it isn't going to happen," it probably is going to happen, unless the U.S. is willing to take some type of military action or is willing to strike some kind of a deal with North Korea.
[20:04:57] And those are the kind of things that they're discussing. Should the U.S. increase their defense posture in the region? Should there be some type of pre-emptive action to stop North Korea's missile and nuclear development? Or should there be some type of way to reach out to the North Koreans, working with the Chinese? You remember during the campaign, everybody laughed it off a little bit, but President Trump said I'd be willing to talk to Kim Jong-un. And then there was some flurry of, you know, messages back and forth, that the North Korean leader didn't really take it very seriously, but would be willing to talk to any U.S. leader that would give North Korea its due respect.
And so, no one took that very seriously at the time, but as we've been talking, you know, what North Korea really wants, yes, they want acceptance, yes, they want food aid, but what they really want is not only a deal with the region, but they mostly want a deal with the United States. And President Trump being a dealmaker, this might be something that he thinks that he wants to do. And so, we'll just have to see whether the U.S. starts with a much more aggressive posture. I would expect that's what they're going to do, I think we can expect some strong action at the U.S. Security Council.
I also understand that the U.S. has been working, just like it did with Iran, you saw right after Iran launched that Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, right after that, the U.S. imposed some sanctions on North Korea. And I understand that the U.S. is also working on sanctions for North Korea to be at the ready. I don't think it's going to be a long period of time before you see some action on North Korea by the U.S. administration, Ana.
CABRERA: Let's go right back to Athena now. I understand word from the White House.
JONES: That's right, Ana. It isn't much. It's clear the White House is being very careful about this. Here is the word from a White House spokesperson. "We are aware of the reports and are closely monitoring the situation." That is the extent of it, very similar to what we've heard from other departments. We'll still await more possible word from the president if the press pool gets an opportunity to ask him a question. But as of right now, all the White House is saying, is that "we are aware of the reports and are closely monitoring the situation." Ana?
CABRERA: And Matt, since you were there in the region where so much of this really matters to the people who live there, what is the reaction on the ground there from the leader of South Korea, for example?
RIVERS: When we know that the security council, the National Security Council here in South Korea will be holding an emergency meeting at 9:30 a.m. this morning local time, to discuss this situation. But, you know, when it comes to missile tests like this, this is something that South Koreans are extremely used to, in fact, this entire region is very used to this. What would have been something brand new is if this missile test would have been an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, that kind of long range missile. But this kind of intermediate-range missile test is something that the South Koreans have been dealing with for a very, very long time. But this has been kind of a topsy-turvy time, given what we had heard from then President-elect Trump about perhaps pulling back U.S. commitment to South Korean defense here. There are tens of thousands of U.S. troops stationed here in South Korea. But it was just last week or two weeks ago that Secretary of Defense James Mattis chose to come to South Korea on his first overseas trip as the Secretary of Defense. And I think what you saw here in South Korea is a collective sigh of relief, because what general -- Secretary Mattis said when he came here was an unequivocal statement saying that the United States is here to support the South Koreans. They're going to do what it takes to stand up to the North Korean nuclear threat. And so, when it comes to this particular test, it's something South Koreans have done before, but they were certainly reassured by the presence of Secretary Mattis on his first overseas trip, Ana.
CABRERA: All right. Matt Rivers, Elise Labott, and Athena Jones, our thanks to all of you. We want to take a quick break. We'll be right back.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN BREAKING NEWS.
[20:10:00] CABRERA: We are continuing to follow BREAKING NEWS. If you are just joining us, CNN has confirmed that North Korea has launched some type of ballistic missile, this confirmation coming from both South Korean and American officials. We'll talk with Gordon Chang. He's an author and columnist with the Daily Beast. Also, our military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling is with us. General, we've learned this missile was launched about 500 kilometers and went into the sea. We just heard Matt Rivers say officials are still trying to determine whether this was a successful test. What would make it successful?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, if it stayed together, first of all, Ana. If it broke apart and traveled 500 kilometers, that could give an indication. But again, the North Koreans have often fired these launches toward the sea of Japan. The accuracy of their weapons just are not very good. They aim and shoot and don't care where they land. They're trying to get distance, they're trying to read things like does the missile fall apart. They may have been testing some type of heat shield on the re-entry vehicle; they may have been testing whether or not a missile could withstand Gs, given a payload. It wouldn't had to have been a nuclear payload, it could have been a weighted payload, just to see how the missile reacted when something was placed on the top of it.
So, there are a lot of things. I'm not a missileer, but I know there are a lot of things that those who fire missiles are testing whenever they do these kinds of things. The interest piece is, North Korea has fired multiple missiles during 2016. And they said they would continue to work toward an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. They are still doing that, they still have a lot of problems in their missile program. But this is another launch where they're tweaking Japan, the United States, China, and others, saying we still have the capability and we will continue to do this.
CABRERA: Gordon, I know you spoke earlier, that the Chinese could have an important role here. What could the U.S. do in collaboration with the Chinese that might effectively counter what's happening there in North Korea and the development of these nuclear missiles?
GORDON CHANG, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, if China wanted to, it could certainly cut off loads of oil, and it could cut off purchases of coal and all sorts of things to really undermine the North Korean economy, but it hasn't done that. You know, we've had a policy of trying to work with Beijing, and that policy has been in effect since 2003, since the beginning of the six-party talks. But nothing has seemed to push China in the right direction.
The one thing we could do which we haven't tried, because we've tried virtually every policy, the one thing that we haven't done is to impose sanctions on Chinese banks and other Chinese entities that are actually quite coercive. If we were to do that, that, of course, would have all sorts of implications. But nonetheless, at this point, what we have been trying to do with China just hasn't been effective. So, we need to try something different, because Beijing has basically said it's going to support the North Korean regime and it's been consistent in that over the course of decades.
[20:15:16] CABRERA: We know that -
HERTLING: You know, I want to -
CABRERA: Go ahead.
HERTLING: Yes. I'm sorry. One of the things, that you have to walk a very fine line, having been assigned with forces in South Korea, the policies that are involved between the United States, China, Japan, and South Korea, all have to deal with not only attempting to get North Korea to stop this kind of behavior, but you really run a very fine line between humanitarian disasters when you continue the kinds of sanctions that have been in place, you walk a fine line between how many sanctions will affect the government versus how many sanctions will cause a humanitarian crisis and will affect the millions of people that live in North Korea.
One of the concerns of China, as I'm sure Mr. Chang will tell you, is a humanitarian crisis, it would cause an implosion in North Korea, and a huge humanitarian relief crisis, and it's one of the plans that the United States and South Korea has looked at in case that border opens up, if the dear leader is deposed and you have millions of North Koreans who then need humanitarian assistance. That's troubling as well.
CABRERA: Nothing of such importance is ever simple when it comes to a solution, right? I do want to let you know, we're getting reaction now from South Korea. And according to the spokesperson for the acting president there, this is what they're saying. At 7:55 today, this is North Korea Time, on Sunday, North Korea fired what appeared to be a ballistic missile again. The South Korean government and the international community are working together to take punitive actions appropriate for this launch. Gordon, what would be appropriate in terms of a reaction to this launch? It's obviously a fine line, and you have to kind of thread the needle, right, to show power, but yet not provoke. CHANG: Well, we've always said that our sanctions are intended to bring North Korea to its senses, not to its knees. And so, there's a room for additional sanctions on the North Korean regime itself. We could add North Korea to the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. We could go more effectively after their sources of money. But the real coercive penalties that we could impose are sanctions on Chinese banks that have been involved in North Korea's elicit commerce. And we have not done that, and of course, that would shock the global financial system. But it would tell Beijing that we are serious about protecting the American homeland. And we haven't done that, because we have tried to work this problem around the edges.
So, there is a difference of approach that we could take that we've never taken before. Of course, it could have adverse consequences. But we do know that the policies we have now just haven't worked over the course of decades, so we've got to change.
CABRERA: Why do you think the U.S. and its international counterparts haven't done what you're suggesting?
CHANG: Well, because any time you impose real costs on a country, you could have North Korea lash out. And North Korea lashing out could be an invasion of South Korea, which would be millions dead. There are all sorts of things North Korea could do. It already has ballistic missiles that can reach the lower 48 states. They can't make a nuclear warhead, too, than we think, but that's like three or four, five years down the road. But they could launch one of those (INAUDIBLE) and put a dent into Los Angeles. So, we don't want that to happen, and that's why we've been very ginger - versus in a very gingery manner of not imposing the highest sanctions.
CABRERA: Let's bring back Elise Labott, I know you've been listening, Elise, to this discussion, your thoughts?
LABOTT: Well, I think - I think Gordon is right, there's a lot of things that the U.S. hasn't done, particularly on the financial area. Like, you remember what the U.S. did with Iran. And that was a very carefully-put-together strategy, what they call a sanctions regime on Iran, which virtually cut Iran off from the international financial system. Now, North Korea is a little bit different, because Iran wanted to be part of that international system. The main lever that the U.S. has right now is China. And China has not been wanting to pull its influence on North Korea to the extent that the U.S. would like.
Now, China has come a long way in recent years. You know, some of the recent sanctions that have been put on North Korea by the U.N. Security Council, particularly blocking the export of North Korean coal, that's a very big thing that China did. Obviously, it's not enough. The U.S. would like China to do more, there are a lot of holes in those sanctions.
[20:20:01] But China over the years has grown increasingly frustrated with this young Kim Jong-un, this young leader. His father, Kim Jong- il, was a little bit more pragmatic. And so - and you heard President Trump, he -- one of the things that he's saying in terms of a "deal" with China, is that he wants China to take more action against North Korea. And certainly, they could. I think it's going to be very interesting to hear President Trump at his next press availability, when he's asked about North Korea and this latest test, and what he wants to do.
I think one of the dangers is that previous administrations have avoided overreacting on these type of missile tests. This is not a very long range missile, you know, officials are saying, look, it's bad, it's not earth-shattering. And (INAUDIBLE) particularly in the Obama administration, they were really careful to calibrate their response. This president is not someone who calibrates a response. You know, he's very fiery with his rhetoric, fiery with his tweets, and that goads North Korea.
I mean, they're playing a game a little bit with President Trump. And I think the danger is, you get into this situation where the rhetoric escalates, and then you don't know -- North Korea is very unpredictable, and you don't know what they would do. This is one 500-kilometer range missile. You know, it's bad, but you don't want to see 12 of them in the next couple of days. And this is - I'll say, it's not only a test to President Trump, this is a missile testing program, this is a missile that North Korea has not been successfully able to launch. So, it's continuing to launch that, and they're going to continue to launch, you know, more.
I've been speaking to experts and they say, this is just the beginning. And so, this is just the beginning of the test to Trump, this is just the beginning of launching these missiles in the Trump administration. There's only been one kind of a few weeks before the election. And so, I think this is going to be a very precarious period right now. And, you know, I think that President Trump's aides, particularly Defense Secretary Mattis, Secretary Tillerson, his inner circle at the National Security Council, would be wise to get him to kind of take a breath. And before he starts tweeting and before he starts with the rhetoric, to think about where this could go and where the U.S. wants it to go, and to enlist Japan, to enlist South Korea, and to enlist most importantly, China.
CABRERA: General Hertling, you wanted to get on this?
HERTLING: And - yes. And if I can, two things that have been happening, two things that I'd like to point out: The United States military has been formulating a ballistic missile defense program throughout East Asia for the last several years. It is more than just the variety of ground-base and sea-based systems, it is satellite systems that can test - that can determine where launches are going. When you have an errant launch into the South China or the Sea of Japan, no one's going to do anything about that. I'm sure that we picked up that launch as soon as it left the launch pad in the facility in North Korea.
But there's another factor here, too. And I just remind everybody not to square the circle too much, because we've been talking primarily about China, South Korea, Japan, Australia. There's another player in all of this, and that's Russia. A lot of the equipment that are - that these missiles are based from comes from Russia. There is an alliance between North Korea and Russia. As you remember, last year in the May Day parade, the only foreign dignitary that traveled to Moscow to sit near Mr. Putin during the May Day was the President of North Korea.
CABRERA: All right. Stay with me, all of you, I appreciate it. Much more on our BREAKING NEWS, North Korea testing a ballistic missile, the first major foreign policy test of President Trump's time in office. We'll be right back.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN BREAKING NEWS.
[20:25:00] CABRERA: BREAKING NEWS here on CNN. The confirmed launch of some type of ballistic missile from North Korea. The exact type of missile, we just don't know yet, the exact flight path of that missile, we also don't know. Joining us know, Ambassador Chris Hill who headed the U.S. delegation to six-party talks and who has negotiated with the North Koreans numerous times in his career. Also with us, Athena Jones. I want to start with you, Athena. As I understand, the president has recently come before cameras. Did he say anything in reaction to what we've learned in North Korea's missile launch?
JONES: Hi, Ana. No, he didn't. But I want you to watch this tape and listen. You'll see exactly how it went down, then we can talk about it on the other side. Go ahead and play that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: South Korean military (INAUDIBLE) that North Korea fired some kind of projectile, do you - do you know what happened, can you comment on that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: So, you can clearly hear that the president - so you can clearly hear the president heard that question and decided to ignore it. We saw a statement earlier from the White House spokesperson saying, "We are aware of the report and are closely monitoring the situation." It's clear that they're taking a cautious approach to responding on this. Now, you guys have been talking about some maybe strategic reasons for not overreacting to what was, in the end, not a very long range missile test, maybe more smoke than fire. It's clear that they are taking a cautious approach, very different from what we might have expected from President Trump. If you look at that January 2nd tweet we've been talking about, where he essentially had a sort of "go ahead, make my day" message, saying, North Korea just stated that it's in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S., "it won't happen."
Now, we - you know, this is - this is - this is not as bellicose a response as we're getting from that White House spokesperson or from the president himself, he simply did not want to answer that question that he clearly heard. Ana? CABRERA: All right. Athena Jones, keep us posted. Let's bring in Ambassador Chris Hill now. Again, significant because you, ambassador, headed the U.S. delegation to those six-party talks between 2005, 2009, had numerous opportunities to try to negotiate with North Koreans. I want to get your reaction first to what we've learned of this missile launch.
[20:30:10] CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO SOUTH KOREA: Well, first of all, we don't know a lot about it. It might be a missile we've seen before. It might be something else. It might be a solid fuel missile, and that's something we're worried about because they could stand those up in a hurry and before we could -- we could attack them. So, there are a lot of questions about it. It does not appear to have been an intercontinental ballistic missile, so that's probably good news. But I think what we have to understand is North Korea has an extremely robust missile testing program. They've continued it for some years now, and I think they'll continue it in the future.
What is really interesting about this, though, is for the last month or so, they've been very careful not to do things that could be provocative in South Korea. South Korean President has been impeached. She may well be convicted. They may be going to elections very soon in the next couple of months. And the usual betting is, when North Korea provokes in this kind of way, there are the harder line right of center tends to benefit in Korea. So, this was certainly helpful to them. I think it was also helpful to people, and many Koreans feel this way, about the need to bring in the kind of latest U.S. anti-ballistic missile system, in this case, something called the "THAAD", the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system. So, when the North Koreans provoke, more and more South Koreans say, "Well, we need that system." So, we have to see. And of course, I think we're all a little surprised that President Trump chose to pass on it. Maybe that's a good sign, because I think Elise Labott had it right, that he needs to kind of talk to some people, think about these things before going public.
CABRERA: As you mentioned, this was not an intercontinental ballistic missile, that the range of that is typically somewhere near 5500 kilometers. This particular missile travelled about 500 kilometers. So, just to give that perspective to our viewers, again, officials still assessing whether this could be considered a successful launch, what kind of test exactly this was, what kind of missile this actually was, but it's believed to be in the intermediate range when it comes to this ballistic missiles that North Korea has been testing in recent weeks, and months, and years, obviously. Ambassador Hill, I'm wondering, given your experience with North Korea in terms of negotiations, but not necessarily with their current leader, Kim Jong- un, does it make a difference that he's the one who's at the helm right now, in terms of how the U.S. and other international community leaders respond?
HILL: I think it does, because his father, Kim Jong-il, appeared to care what the Chinese thought. And he would hold back on these kinds of things. And frankly, he actually had some interest in the negotiating process. There's no sign, whatsoever, that his son, Kim Jong-un, first of all, cares what the Chinese think, let alone what we think, nor is he at all expressed any interest in negotiation. So, I think there is a difference. Now, I know there's been a lot of discussion, you know, the U.S. can't count on China, et cetera. I understand the frustration, believe me. A lot of those negotiations that we have with North Korea, were actually they are to kind of show the Chinese that we're serious about trying to pursue this, and we try to work very closely with the Chinese to come to a solution.
The Chinese have been very worried that to put additional pressure on North Korea, for example, to cut off fuel supplies, things like that, could result in some sort of chaos or implosion in North Korea. Many people pointed out they're worried about refugees, perhaps, but I think they're worried about a much more strategic issue, which is, if South Korea is a successive state, if U.S. troops are up on the Chinese border, terrible defeat for China, victory for the U.S. So, a lot of people in China will think that way. So, I think it really speaks to the need for this administration, Trump administration, to kind of work closely with China. And I think it was a very positive sign, a couple of days ago, when President Trump had that very good discussion with President Xi Jinping. Obviously, there are a lot to be done. We're not going to solve this alone. We need China to be along with us.
CABRERA: And meantime, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is here in the U.S., meeting with President Trump as we speak, presumably having dinner. We saw the photo opportunity there, with both of the wives also joining their husbands. What do you think is the topic, not just the topic of conversation, but really the narrative that may be playing out between those two individuals right now?
HILL: Well, I'm sure they're talking about North Korea. I like to think that would be the number one issue, although, obviously, the Japanese Prime Minister invested heavily in this multilateral trade agreement with East Asia. Obviously, he and many other Japanese were disappointed that the U.S. has no interest. So, that would be a big issue, obviously. But the North Korean problem, I think would probably be number one. And I suspect there will be some discussion of, you know, whether or how to -- how we can better engage China in this. Japan, obviously, has its or has its tremendous frustrations and tensions with China. But Japan has also had -- they've tried to improve things with South Korea. That's a work in progress, especially as the South Korean President, over this lengthy corruption scandal, looks like she may well be finally convicted of her impeachment, and that they'll have a new government very soon. So they have a lot to talk about, I'm sure.
CABRERA: When you said that nothing seems to have broken through with this new young leader, Kim Jong-un, what would you do?
HILL: Well, I think the key, frankly, you know, we need to get those antiballistic missile systems that we're talking about. We need to get those fielded. They're expected to be so by -- during this year. We need to do whatever we can to support our allies, South Korea and Japan. So, we need to really step up that kind of cooperation. That's one. Two, I think, we really need to kind of sit down with the Chinese and have a no-kidding discussion about where this could lead. I know that Chinese worry that somehow the U.S. will take strategic advantage from it, that is, we'll have troops up on the (INAUDIBLE) river, it will make China look bad. I think we need to have a discussion with the Chinese about what our reaction, that is our reaction, together with our allies, South Korea, would be in the event of the North Korean implosion.
China doesn't like to talk about those issues, but I think it's very important that we be willing to do that and establish, there, I say it, some level of trust with the Chinese. It's been a bit of a rocky start for the Trump administration. But as I mentioned, I thought that conversation the other day, in which President Trump did accept the One-China policy is a -- is a good step. And I know there's a lot of talk about whether Russia could be helpful. In my experience, they have never been helpful on this. But, you know, I'll leave it to President Trump to decide what he can do with Vladimir Putin.
CABRERA: All right. Ambassador Chris Hill, thank you so much for spending part of your weekend with us. We appreciate it.
Much more on our BREAKING NEWS: North Korea's test of a ballistic missile and a development from Mar-a-Lago, where President Trump is having dinner right now with Japan's Prime Minister. A live report from West Palm Beach, next. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN BREAKING NEWS.
CABRERA: We're staying on top of BREAKING NEWS here on CNN, news from overseas. Now confirmed, a launch of a missile, some kind of ballistic missile from North Korea.
Our White House Correspondent Athena Jones is in South Florida, where President Trump is playing host to the Japanese Prime Minister this evening. Also, here with us, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, our Military Analyst. Athena, the two leaders just came out to reporter's cameras. They didn't say much but you're learning more that the president has been briefed.
JONES: That's right, Ana. The president has been briefed about this North Korea missile launch. And as you said, we saw video just a short while ago, where you could clearly hear the press pool that closely follows the president's every move, as close as they can, asking him a question about North Korea. The president clearly heard the question, or appeared to hear it, and chose to ignore it. We also heard from that same White House spokesperson earlier saying that, "We are aware of the report and are closely monitoring the situation." So, this shows a White House that wants to respond to this in a cautious way. It may be an indication of just how different, you know, campaign rhetoric is from governing. It might not be necessarily the kind of response one might expect from President Trump, who has been rather aggressive in some ways towards allies like Japan, South Korea, saying during the campaign that maybe they should start paying -- develop their own nuclear weapon, pay more for U.S. protection. We didn't see that language in the joint communique that came out of
the meeting yesterday, that first official meeting between the president and Prime Minister Abe. We saw much more the usual diplomatic language that you would expect to see, kind of from any administration, talk of the unshakeable bond, the unshakeable alliance. That alliance, being the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific. But it is important to note that North Korea made this action, took this action, the very day after, in that joint statement. Japan and the U.S. strongly urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and not take any further provocative actions. In that same statement, also talking about the importance of cooperation between the U.S., Japan, and South Korea, and their commitment to rigorous implementation of the U.N. Security Council resolution on North Korea. This is North Korea answering that statement and making this move, while Prime Minister Abe is here. Ana?
CABRERA: All right. Athena Jones, thank you.
Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, we just heard that the president has been briefed about this ballistic missile launch. We, again, are working to get more details about this launch. In terms of that briefing, what would have been discussed? How would that have gone down, do you think?
HERTLING: Well, I would think they'd give him the details and I -- and then what would happen is they would press the president for a decision making in terms of getting the Principals Committee together at the NSC. There's going to be a lot of work to do, and this is, you know, everyone will focus on the military aspect of this, but they will bring in all elements of national power, diplomacy, intelligence, information, economy, and the military, in that principals meeting, which will likely meet in Washington, D.C.
This is not necessarily something that the president has to get involved in immediately, but you can bet that there's a bunch of folks pulling together, getting information to Ambassador Haley at the U.N., and what she might be asked to do, pulling the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and all of the folks from the Intelligence Community together. Mr. Tillerson from the State Department will come together with -- and I'm sure all -- because all of these individuals are new at their -- at their different departments, they're going to be relying very much on the old hands who have the information, the South Asia desk of the State Department, the J5 and the Pentagon, those in the CIA who handle North Korea. So they're going to get the information together, and, perhaps, present some options in a Deputies Committee and then eventually a Principals Committee. So, they probably just wanted to get the president the most up-to-date information and say, "This is what's happening in the national security element of your government right now."
CARBRERA: These committee meetings that you speak of, how quickly does that happen?
HERTLING: I would bet some of them are meeting right now. You know, with some of the underlings. They're pulling -- they're pulling the facts together, the wires are hot between here and North Korea and the Japanese government, more than likely. I'm sure there's been some reach-out to, again, Ambassador Haley at the U.N., because she's going to have to pull some things together in that body. That probably won't happen tomorrow, but it certainly will happen on Monday, where North Korea will be condemned. So, as we're talking about this, the wheels of action are occurring within our government. But again, it is a new government, a new presidency, and a lot of the folks at the head of these organizations are new and still trying to find the way around their department. So, a lot of the old hands will take over for the next day or two.
CABRERA: Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, thank you so much for your expertise and insight. Athena Jones, our thanks to you as well. We have to squeeze in another quick break. Much more on our BREAKING NEWS when we come back.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN BREAKING NEWS.
CABRERA: Breaking international news right now. Some details coming from the Korean Peninsula, where it has been confirmed, North Korea did launch some sort of ballistic missile believed to be an intermediate range missile. Our Global Affairs Correspondent, Elise Labott, is joining me, also, columnist and author, Gordon Chang. Elise, let's bring our viewers up to speed. Tell us what we know now about this launch and why it matters so much the type of missile the North Koreans fired?
LABOTT: Well, Ana, our understanding, and let's be clear, it's very early, you know, the U.S. and its partners in Japan and South Korea, are just looking now at this projectile. It seems to be a intermediate range missile, not the intercontinental ballistic missile that North Korea had threatened to launch. And it seems to have gone for a range about 500 kilometers. Now, that's not very far. This is a missile that North Korea has tested before and hasn't done so well. So it is continuing -- this is a missile testing program. It is continuing to try and develop that missile technology. Its goal is that long range intercontinental ballistic missile, which would be able to hit the U.S. mainland.
Now, in addition to kind of just launching this missile, this is also a test for President Trump who is meeting tonight with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his retreat, at the -- his resort in Mar-a- Lago, in Florida. And this is obviously a very important issue for the two leaders. This has been something that President Trump has been very concerned about coming in, and was warned by President Obama. This is going to be one of your number one national security threats. Ana?
CARBRERA: Gordon, you'll recall during the campaign, President Trump then president-elect or candidate Trump at the time, was talking about, perhaps, scaling back support when it comes to military defense and support for countries like Japan, like South Korea. I would imagine a test like this changes things. CHANG: Well, it certainly does. Last March, when Trump talked about
withdrawing from the South Korean and Japanese alliances, he sent shockwaves through the region. Now, he's a -- that as president he's changed, because he sent his Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, to both Seoul and Tokyo on the first foreign trip for Trump administration official, and that was to provide reassurance, that United States would stand behind both alliances. And of course, you had Trump yesterday at the press conference, standing behind Japan and U.S.-Japan defense treaty. I think we're going to see a very traditional American foreign policy in the Trump administration, even though he had threatened, during the campaign, to break all of these norms that we had been used to over the course of decades.
CABRERA: We know that James Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, met with folks in South Korea, the officials there, last week. He said any nuclear weapons used by North Korea would be met with, quote, "An effective and overwhelming response." Now, again, this is just a ballistic missile test. Whether it was successful or not, still to be determined, a lot to
learn about what kind of missile this was, but, Elise, is there danger in overreacting?
LABOTT: I think that there is. OK. We said, you now, look, any time North Korea tests a missile of this range, they are continuing too perfect the program. So, it's not like this is not important, but it's not a development that the U.S. needs to kind of ramp up in a significant way. Its posture, it's already doing that in the region. The U.S., South Korea, Japan, have been looking at increasing their deterrence, talking about, you know, bigger defenses in the region. The U.S., this new administration, is clearly doing a review of what it wants to do with North Korea. But I think the Obama administration has been very careful not to overreact on this type of missiles.
Now, maybe, you know, they kind of got a little bit nonchalant about it at a point. You know, Ana, if you remember, last year at this time, sometimes you would see like three, four of these missiles a month. And sometimes, you know, you would call up the state department officials and they'd be like "Yes, just another day with North Korea," and they didn't take it very seriously, because that program is continuing to be perfected. But I do think that there's a danger that the rhetoric doesn't get out of control. President Trump is not someone who really kind of, you know, calibrates his rhetoric. I think it's very important that he didn't answer that question tonight. He -- from that press pool, he wants to talk to his advisers, be briefed by Secretary of Defense Mattis, by his National Security team, by his Secretary Tillerson, and get a plan in place. And I think that's a very smart strategy, and I think it shows that the realities of governing are very different than the rhetoric you hear on the campaign trail.
This is clearly going to be one of President Trump's biggest national security issues, and they are going to have to decide what they want to do. The Obama administration exercised what they called "strategic patience", they didn't want to do anything, they didn't want to negotiate with North Korea until it's ready to give up its nuclear program, and some people think that they delayed themselves into a very substantial North Korean nuclear and missile program. So, they can't -- they don't have the luxury of continuing to delay this any longer. Commanders in the pacific have said that North Korea has, you know, could have an ICBM within a year, and as they continue to perfect their nuclear capability, that's a very dangerous trajectory.
CABRERA: All right. Elise Labott and Gordon Chang, our thanks to both of you for the information. Again, just to recap what we're learning this evening, here in the U.S., again, morning in overseas, where this ballistic missile test happened, in North Korea, this morning at 7:55, local time there. We're still getting more information, but we've learned it was about 500 kilometers that this ballistic missile travelled, ended up in the sea. It was not an intercontinental ballistic missile, which we know North Korea has been working to develop, but again have not fired any of those to that range or caliber up to this point.
Certainly, the first test and international test of President Trump's presidency, as he continues his weekend meeting with the prime minister of Japan, who's here on a visit to the United States. So much more to learn about what's happening in North Korea and still awaiting a response, a specific response from the president of the United States. For our international viewers, we return you to our regular programming on CNN International. For viewers here in the United States, up next, is the "CNN ORIGINAL SERIES: THE HISTORY OF COMEDY". How's that for a turn? I'm Anna Cabrera, New York. Thank you for joining me. I'll be back tomorrow night at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. Have a great night.