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U.S. Navy Group Heads Toward Korean Peninsula; Syrian Airbase Operative Airstrikes Continues; Tillerson Set To Visit Moscow This Week; Surveillance Video Shows Deadly Stockholm Assault; 4 Dead. Aired 3-3:30a ET ET

Aired April 9, 2017 - 03:00   ET


[03:00:09] CYRIL VANIER, CNN NEWSROOM ANCHOR: A group of U.S. Navy ships is headed toward the Korean peninsula, a direct response to North Korean missile tests. We're live from Pyongyang and Seoul with reaction from both sides of the DMZ.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN NEWSROOM ANCHOR: Also, the Syrian airbase recently targeted by U.S. missiles is up and running again.

And so are the deadly airstrikes targeting the same town hit by chemical weapons last week.

VANIER: All right. Hi, everyone, thank you very much for joining us on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier.

ALLEN: I'm Natalie Allen. These stories ahead here as we begin CNN NEWSROOM.

VANIER: Now, the U.S. is building up pressure on North Korea to stop its nuclear threats. U.S. defense officials say an American carrier strike group is now headed toward the Korean peninsula. A strike group is a formation of navy assets, and this one includes the aircraft carrier that you see right here.

ALLEN: It's not an unusual military move. The U.S. regularly deploys aircraft carriers to the Korean peninsula as a show of force.

VANIER: And CNN is going to use our global resources to follow this story. Our Alexandra Field is in Seoul, South Korea. We'll get to her in just a moment. First, though, let's go to North Korea. Our Will Ripley there. The only American T.V. correspondent live now in Pyongyang.\

Will, the U.S. sending this navy strike group to the area, that's a lot of extra fire power. How do you think that's going to be perceived in Pyongyang?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: When the news came in this morning, Cyril, that the Carl Vinson was headed towards the Korean peninsula, the North Korean officials that we were meeting with did not seem particularly phased by that, as you mentioned, this is nothing new. And U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises have been ongoing for quite some time now for many weeks, and in fact, there's a new round of joint exercises that kicks off this week. North Korea always views this as extremely provocative, so they will essentially view this carrier strike group moving to the peninsula as just one more provocative act by the United States. One more reason why they continue to tell the people who live here in North Korea that they are under the imminent threat of invasion and attack by the United States.

VANIER: Will, tell me -- explain to us, if you will, if there's any kind of ripple effect, any kind of connection between the U.S. strikes in Syria that we saw recently, two, three days ago, and the thinking in North Korea? Is there a ripple effect there? How is North Korea looking at that?

RIPLEY: We have heard reaction here in Pyongyang within the last 12 hours or so from a high ranking government official, who told us that this validates North Korea's strategy, that their leader Kim Jong-un has been pushing forward with, which is to aggressively grow their nuclear and their missile programs. The leader of this country has ordered more missile launches just in the last few years than his father and grandfather combined. And analysts say looking at satellite data, that this country really is ready to push the button at any time on their sixth nuclear test. Three of those tests have been ordered by the current leader.

And so the strategy here is that this country wants a workable intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear tip capable of reaching the mainland U.S., so that they have insurance against attack. And what this official said that they've witnessed other countries be attacked. He didn't say specifically Iraq or Libya, but that's what this official was alluding to, and so, they feel that these weapons are their insurance policy to protect their sovereignty as a nation. And important to remember also, there is a tremendous amount of conventional weapons, including artillery, aimed right at the City of Seoul with tens of millions of people potentially in harm's way if this country is provoked and feels cornered.

VANIER: And Will Ripley bringing us this reporting live from Pyongyang. Thank you very much.

ALLEN: Thank you, Will. So, let's go to the other side now, Alexandra Field is there with a picture from Seoul. We just heard from Will, Alexandra, saying that Pyongyang probably like - they're used to this aircraft moving into the region. What's the view from there?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, it's a very different view, certainly from Seoul and also from Washington when you talk about who is provoking whom. And that is the reason that they have sent the USS Vinson back toward the Korean peninsula. They've rerouted this aircraft carrier which had been in the region for these joint military exercises, as we've pointed out.

So the fact that an aircraft carrier is in the region certainly not unusual, but the fact that a U.S. official is saying, that it is returning to the Korean peninsula because of direct provocations from North Korea certainly is the significant part here. The presence of this aircraft carrier certainly designed to send a message and it comes on the heels of several other messages that have been sent from Washington. You had White House officials recently saying that all options are on the table when it comes to dealing with North Korea.

[03:05:00] You also had U.S. President Donald Trump saying that if China would not solve North Korea, the U.S. would. So, what are these provocations that the U.S. says they are responding to with the return of this aircraft carrier? Well, that would be the four missile tests that we have seen from North Korea just since the first of the year, and then more than two dozen missile tests in the last year. Certainly, a ratcheting up of the missile-testing program. What you heard Will say from Pyongyang, was perceived to be insurance by North Korea, this intention to develop an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile capable of carrying a nuclear-tipped warhead all the way to the continental U.S., is certainly perceived by the U.S. and by Washington as an alarming threat.

These series of missile tests that you have seen and the series of engine tests that we have seen have led analysts to believe that North Korea is certainly accelerating the pace of their program and becoming more sophisticated in their program, and that's why you see them making moves, Washington making these clear moves to try and send a strong message that these kinds of attempts won't be tolerated by the U.S.

ALLEN: Alexandra Field for us there in Seoul and again Will Ripley live in Pyongyang for us, thank you, both.

We turn now to the crisis in Syria, at least 16 civilians were reported killed Saturday by airstrikes in the rebel-held area of Idlib.

VANIER: It's not known yet who dropped the bombs, but Syrian and Russian warplanes normally operate in that area. And this is the same place where more than 80 civilians were killed on Tuesday just earlier this week by deadly nerve agents.

ALLEN: And remember, that chemical attack is what led the U.S. to bomb a Syrian airfield with dozens of cruise missiles Thursday. Well, the U.S. military said the airfield was severely damaged. But new video, as you see here, shows the airfield is operational again.

VANIER: Let's get the latest from our colleague, Nick Paton Walsh in Istanbul, Turkey, who's monitoring the situation. Nick, tell us about the timing of this. Two days after the U.S. struck that Syrian airfield as punishment for using chemical weapons, raids target that very same town in Idlib province. What do you make of the timing?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's near the area where the chemical weapons landed. And so, you know, let's not get particularly focused on the fact that these raids have come after the chemical weapon strikes. These are part of the daily routine of Syrian civil war. Yes, we're looking at this area, we're paying more attention to the damage inflicted on a daily basis, but that's because of the focus the Trump administration's response there to chemical weapons strikes have brought. These kind of airstrikes, the ones we saw two days ago against

(INAUDIBLE) the ones that we saw against a different town or (INAUDIBLE) resulting in those 16 civilian deaths reported yesterday by the White Helmets rescuers, who very valiantly go to the scenes of these blasts and try and pull people out of the rubble on a daily basis. This is how it's been for four years in Syria now. Repeated airstrikes, repeated indiscriminate use of sometimes crude devices dropped from helicopters, known as barrel bombs, which are basically an oil drum filled with shrapnel, nails, anything you can lay your hands on, and explosives, and then dropped on civilians when helicopter crews view them gathering in certain areas.

That's just simply how this has been for years. Yes, it's nearly always the Syrian regime behind this, because they're most operational in the skies out of rebel-held areas, perhaps with some Russian support. But the fact is simply that these strikes are now in global attention because of the chemical weapons strike and the Trump administration's focus upon it. There's not a change in the routine of this war.

VANIER: So, Nick, what does that tell us about the message that Washington sent when it struck that Syrian airfield? That chemical weapons, out of the question, Washington won't stand for it, but conventional strikes which killed the majority of actually of victims in Syria, that's OK?

WALSH: I'm pretty sure the Assad regime is trying to work out quite what that message was. You could perhaps think that, well, for the second time, according to many of their critics, no doubt, analyzing these attacks they've used chemical weapons on a devastating scale, perhaps a third or fourth, depending on what count you look at. And any response they've seen so far militarily from the international community and remember, this is a regime that's been at war for well over four years, so military force is very much, I think, what they begin to learn to actually respond to or take notice of.

The only military response they've seen is one strike from the United States that seems to have taken a lot of facilities out around the runway, but according to some official sources and activists still left that runway operational. So they may will be perhaps shrugging their shoulders and saying, "Well, if that's all you've got, we'll just carry on what we've been doing." Cyril?

VANIER: Nick Paton Walsh reporting live from Istanbul, Turkey, monitoring the developments in Syria. Thank you very much.

ALLEN: Top diplomats for the U.S. and Russia discussed the Syrian situation by phone, Saturday. Our Paula Newton is following that story for us. She's live in Moscow. What do we know about those discussions, if anything, Paula?

[03:09:52] PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Natalie. Yes, it's interesting that we received information about this from the Russian ministry and definitely got their line about it and Sergey Lavrov said he made the point again to Rex Tillerson. Two main points, one is there was no investigation about who was responsible for the chemical attack, giving you clear indication that Russia is still saying, "Look, you don't have any proof that the Russian forces carried this out." Russian government still maintaining that it was the rebels, in fact, that carried this attack out.

And then, he points to the fact that these U.S. airstrikes embolden ISIS because they will compromise the Syrian forces' ability to actually fight ISIS on the ground. But that's not what the phone call was about. What's happening right now is Rex Tillerson, starting tomorrow, will have substantive meetings with his G7 colleagues. They will try and sort together some type of a message to take to Moscow again, obviously with the U.S. lead on this, and that is completely different, Natalie, than what we would have seen a week or 10 days ago.

The point is, the United States with its allies is going to say, "We want a seat at the table, and we want to understand exactly where we can go from here." Does that include humanitarian corridors? Does that include a no-fly zone, and does it crucially include some type of nudging towards a regime change?

ALLEN: My goodness, you know, we've been talking about these things, and Nick Paton Walsh just, you know, made that point in his reporting there from Turkey, Paula, about how we've circled around, and circled down, and circled around. Is anyone saying now because of the complex nature of the relationship right now between the U.S. and Russia, really, what Mr. Tillerson might be able to walk away from realistically?

NEWTON: You know, and that's a key question. I think they're all starting to figure out exactly the way Vladimir Putin is intercepting these U.S. airstrikes, and if he's willing to move, or if he goes in the other direction and still admits that, look, we will do whatever we have to, to keep Assad in power, and that is the key thing. You know, we've had the Kremlin say before, and also recently that its support for Assad was not in their words, "unconditional". The United States will take that message to the table and test it, and say, "What does that mean, unconditional? Does that mean we can start to move towards a political solution in Syria, and will you be part of that?"

The only way Russia's going to agree to be part of that, is it can maintain both its geopolitical influence that it has reclaimed in that area of the Middle East in the last 18 months, and militarily as well, if it can continue to hold on to that influence. So, a few interesting days ahead to be sure, Natalie.

ALLEN: And you'd covering it, of course, Paula Newton there live in Moscow. Thanks, Paula.

VANIER: Also on this story, President Trump is thanking the U.S. military for carrying out the missile strike in Syria. And out today, he tweeted this, "Congratulations to our great military men and women for representing the United States and the world so well in the Syria attack."

And in a letter to Congress, Mr. Trump laid out why he ordered the strike, saying, "I directed this action in order to degrade the Syrian military's ability to conduct further chemical weapons attacks and to dissuade the Syrian regime from using or proliferating chemical weapons, thereby promoting the stability of the region and averting a worsenning of the region's current humanitarian catastrophe.

The Trump administration is also signaling it's ready to take further action in Syria if warranted. CNN's Ryan Nobles has the details on this.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are mixed messages coming from the White House about what is next when it comes to the crisis in Syria. While the administration and several of its close allies have been insistent that this was a one-time attack designed to be a specific response to Bashar al-Assad's alleged chemical attack against his own people, there are signals that President Trump may be prepared to do even more if necessary.

In a taping of this week's "STATE OF THE UNION", Jake Tapper sat down with U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. She's someone who is becoming a central figure in the Trump administration's foreign policy. Haley told Tapper that what happens next is dependent on how others react.

NIKKI HALEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: He won't stop here. If he needs to do more, he will do more. So really, now what happens depends on how everyone responds to what happened in Syria and make sure that we start moving towards a political solution and we start finding peace in that area.

NOBLES: Syria isn't the only foreign policy challenge that Trump administration is confronting. A U.S. official confirmed on Saturday that a U.S. Navy strike group is moving toward the Western Pacific Ocean in the region of the Korean peninsula. This, as concerns about instability in North Korea only grow. These major issues come at a time as the president is trying to tamp down some internal strife amidst differences between key advisers Steve Bannon and his son-in- law, Jared Kushner. The president told them according to an official quote, "We got to work this out. Cut it out."

They had a meeting along with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on Friday in an effort to get them to work out their differences. White House officials say that no one's job is currently in jeopardy, still the president made it clear that he wanted tempers cooled.

Ryan Nobles, CNN, Washington.


VANIER: And you can also see more of Jake Tapper's interview with U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley. That's on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION", Sunday at 2:00 p.m. in London, 9:00 p.m. in Hong Kong.

[03:15:08] ALLEN: Let's talk more about Syria and U.S. politics. We're joined now by James Davis, he's the Dean of the School of Economics And Political Science at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. Thanks so much for joining us, professor. Let's first talk about the move by the Trump administration in Syria, to bomb the airfield after the chemical attack. What perhaps could this actually do to this already convoluted conflict?

JAMES DAVIS, DEAN OF THE SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL SCIENCE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ST. GALLEN: Well, I think we need to be careful not to confuse an isolated operation with something that we would call a strategy. It's pretty easy to launch a battery of tomahawk missiles and destroy some concrete. It's going to be very difficult to come up with a strategy that will end a six-year civil war, remove Assad from power, defeat ISIS, all of the goals that this administration has articulated over the course of the last week. I don't think we're anywhere near a strategy, and so what I want to see is, you know, what are they going to do moving forward.

ALLEN: And to that regard, you know, Rex Tillerson will be there in Moscow talking with Sergey Lavrov, and our reporter there was saying that the United States wants to find a way to separate Vladimir Putin from Hafez al-Assad. Do you see that happening?

DAVIS: Not really. I mean, what we've seen is the Russians increasing their presence in the region. I think the Russian President has shown that he's willing to support Bashar al-Assad quite a bit, and has made it clear that he sees Assad in power as part of the Russian national interest. So, I don't know how we're going to -- how we're going to do this. It may require quite a few more atrocities before the Americans are able to really make it clear to the Russians that we really want to see this man removed. But I don't -- I don't see that right now.

ALLEN: You paint a bleak picture, then, of really no way forward at this point.

DAVIS: Well, I mean, I think -- I think the Trump administration is going to come to terms with reality, the same reality that the Obama administration was confronting, and that is that this civil war is very complicated. We have a number of regional powers involved, we have a great power with Russia involved, we have a myriad of factions, no one quite knows who's on which side at any given moment. And so, the idea that somehow with a pinprick strike on a base, we're going to change the dynamics of that, I think, that's just -- that's just a fantasy right now.

ALLEN: And as far as, you know, the Trump administration, what do you make of his decision now to do this as you say, a singular strike, not a strategy, at a time when he's facing a lot of issues with his administration here at home?

DAVIS: Well, it provides some context. The domestic chaos provides the context within which he made -- he made this choice. It distracts us from a number of ongoing problems. I don't think anybody is going to criticize the president for sending a signal that the United States is not going to look on when states use chemical weapons against innocent civilians. I don't think that's anything that's going to -- anything that's going to be criticized in the domestic political context. But it's not going to change the dynamics of Washington, and it's not going to change the dynamics of his administration. And as we saw from your report, the White House seems to be conflicted with many factions, and the president is obviously getting frustrated with that because it's hindering his ability to pursue any kind of a coherent message.

ALLEN: James Davis, talking with us from Munich. We thank you for joining us, appreciate it.

DAVIS: Thank you.

VANIER: We're going to take a very short break, but when we come back, we'll tell you about a new move by Venezuela's government, which is sparking fresh protests. Why protesters are calling President Nicolas Maduro a dictator.

Plus, Sweden's King urges his country to seek peace after the deadly attack in the capital. We'll have the latest on the investigation after the break. Stay with us.


[03:21:21] ALLEN: Welcome back, we've got new video that shows the chaos during the deadly truck attack in Sweden, Friday. You can see the shoppers as they realize this truck was coming very fast, they're running for safety. The truck did plow through the retail area there of Stockholm.

VANIER: Four people were killed and more than a dozen wounded. Let's find out how the City of Stockholm is recovering from this. CNN's Max Foster joins us live now from the Swedish capital. What's the mood where you are, Max?

MAX FOSTER: CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Cyril, they're trying to get back to normal. It's quite extraordinary, really, but this is Queen Street, where the truck attacker literally thundered down that road there, directly towards us and eerie, but quite, sort of, inspiring that it's all back open again. It would have been much busier than this, by the way, when the truck came through, because it was rush hour. This is early on a Sunday morning, but people are out and about. And if I show you where the truck ended up, it was this shop here.

And they've worked as quickly as they possibly can to try to get things back to normal, and they've boarded it up. And what's happened, is that people have come along and they started signing it, and the most common phrase you see on there, really, is "tillsammans", and that means "together," but people are writing all sorts of things, anything that really comes to them, and laying flowers, of course, which adds to the wall of flowers that we got just around the corner which has become the main memorial, just around the corner in terms of flowers but this is now filling up, Cyril.

VANIER: Max, obviously, it's always critical to find out who did this, what the motivations were, what were the links, if any, to any outside groups, what's the latest on the investigation? What do we know at this stage? FOSTER: Well, it's interesting. We have spoken to the police. They're being quite coy about the investigation. They have spoken to more people, but they haven't arrested them. So, they are looking into deep background of this individual, this 39-year-old man from Uzbekistan, who is under police custody. They think he was the guy that crashed into this shop window. But they're not widening the investigation in terms of arresting people and tapping into any sort of network from what we can tell.

So, it does seem as though they're just looking into his background and how he may have been inspired, why he had this technical device, as they're calling it, on the driver's seats. We're also hearing -- starting to hear some stories from victims and they're being very careful not to name any of the victims. All they've said so far is that an 11-year-old girl, Cyril, was one of those who died.

VANIER: Max Foster keeping us updated on the developments in Sweden and how do Swedish people feel. Thank you very much, Max.

Also, angry protesters took to the streets in Venezuela as outrage grows against the government. Police fired tear gasses in crowds while demonstrators threw petrol bombs and rocks.

ALLEN: The people were rallying against the President Nicolas Maduro, calling him a "dictator," this after Mr. Maduro banned his main political opponent from holding public office for 15 years. For more now, here's Rafael Romo.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Saturday's clashes were due in part to the fact that the Venezuelan government has banned a very popular opposition leader from doing any political work. Thousands of people were marching down Francisco de Miranda Avenue, one of the main thorough fares in Caracas, toward the capital's downtown, where most national government buildings are located.

At one point, they were stopped by the National Guard. An opposition lawmaker described the moment to CNN saying, "Tear gas bombs started raining on us." Former presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, who was told Friday, he can no longer do any political activity, said the show of force was unnecessary.

[03:25:03] HENRIQUE CAPRILES, VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION LEADER AND FORMER VENEZUELA PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (through translator): This is repression. This is a crime. They're committing crime and violating human rights by stepping on the rights of people. The government has staged a self-coup, and what they're now doing to me is part of it.

ROMO: This is the fifth consecutive day of protests in Caracas and elsewhere in Venezuela. Demonstrators are also protesting the Venezuelan Supreme Court, which issued a ruling stripping the parliament of its legislative power and given it to itself. The court reversed its decision after widespread condemnation in Venezuela and abroad, and three days of protests. Earlier this week, socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, described the protesters as terrorists and vandals.

NICOLAS MADURO, VENEZUELA PRESIDENT (through translator): We have them all identified. They're all identified. They will fall one by one and they will go straight to face justice.

ROMO: The president said 30 people had been detained, but a Venezuelan human rights group reported Saturday, there have been 164 detentions since Tuesday. Venezuela is facing a deep humanitarian crisis sparked by an economic meltdown. Shortages of basic food products and medicines are common place. The Venezuelan opposition collected enough signatures to hold a recall referendum, but the government's electoral council has delayed and blocked efforts to carry out elections. Rafael Romo, CNN Atlanta.


VARNIER: Hundreds of residents have evacuated their homes in the Philippines this weekend after multiple earthquakes. Three consecutive tremors forced families to seek shelter elsewhere. And the quakes happened in a province of Batangas, about a hundred kilometers south of Manila. Landslides in several towns left roads totally impassable. Many homes are still without electricity.

ALLEN: (INAUDIBLE) turning now to Dallas, Texas, there was an eye- opening, ear-splitting shock for some people there Friday night.

156 emergency sirens rang out there just before midnight, all at once. Officials were finally able to turn off the sirens but it was nearly an hour and a half later, they had to shut down the entire system. Authorities believed the emergency alert system was hacked from somewhere within the Dallas area. Way to go.

VANIER: All right. Thank you very much for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier.

ALLEN: I'm Natalie Allen. A look at our headline for you right after this.


ALLEN: Our top stories here at CNN, the U.S. is pressuring North Korea to stop its nuclear threat. U.S. defense officials say an American carrier strike group is headed toward the Korean Peninsula. A strike group is the formation of Navy assets --