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North Korea Nuclear Site; Assad on Chemical Attack; United Promises Refunds. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired April 13, 2017 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Great to have you with us this morning. Steven, you will be invited back. Thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

All right, we have new reports this morning from North Korea. That country might be primed and ready for a new nuclear test. That's next.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: so brand-new this morning, surveillance photos show that North Korea may be gearing up for yet another nuclear test. Analysts say these satellite images show continued activity around one of North Korea's testing sites. They describe it as, quote, "primed and ready."

BERMAN: This comes as Japan's prime minister says that the north may be able to launch missiles tipped with sarin gas. Moments ago, President Trump, he wrote about the rising tensions. He said if China doesn't properly deal with North Korea, the U.S. and its allies will.

[09:35:07] I want to bring in CNN international correspondent, he is inside North Korea right now.

Will, these preparations for possibly a new nuclear test.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, 38 North, the think tank that scrutinizes these satellite images, said that there's some new activity that they have detected just yesterday at the North Korean nuclear test site, Punggye-ri. This is significant because North Korea is telling us that they're trying to show their economic power, trying to show that they can grow their economy, even though they're under intense international sanctions. But then you have these satellite images that show activity, movement at the North Korean nuclear test site. And we've known North - the U.S. and South Korean officials have said for several weeks now that Kim Jong-un may be ready to push the button at any moment on this country's sixth nuclear test.

So, will it happen ahead of North Korea's major national holiday, the "Day of the Sun," on Saturday? We certainly don't know but the tension continues to escalate here on the Korean Peninsula.

HARLOW: They've been using this solid fuel and these - you know, that gives them more and more of an ability to do it without any notice to the international community.

Will, just - I mean you are the only American journalist inside of Pyongyang. It's remarkable that you're even there. Can you just talk to us and share with our viewers what it is like being there? What you're going through on a daily basis? I mean some things that stunning happened to you just this morning.

RIPLEY: Yes. And, you know, we - we were the only American journalist up until yesterday when an entire group of international press were flown in. So there are actually press from all over the world who have just arrived. And we received a phone call here at our hotel shortly after 4:00 this morning from our North Korean minders. They said, we had to put on suits, leave our cell phones behind and get on buses. And we didn't know where we were going. What we went to was a security check with the North Korean equivalent of the Secret Service. They went through all of our gear. And then we drove to a location in Pyongyang. And after several more security checks, and there were people, you know, scouring these entire streets that were closed off in the heart of Pyongyang, we waited a total five hours.

And then all of a sudden, North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un appeared. There were, at that point, tens of thousands of North Koreans in the crowd around us. He was there for the ribbon cutting of a new high- rise apartment complex that he ordered his soldiers to build in just over a year. Again, talking about North Korea trying to show their economic firepower. He didn't say a word, but all he had to do was cut the ribbon and clap and the crowd went into a frenzy. It really is remarkable to see the build-up around the North Korean leader. The music that they play every time he enters a room. He came in, in a black Mercedes limousine. And he had a crowd of tens of thousands, if not even more than 100,000 people, jumping up and down and screaming for him. He does have absolute power in this country and we witnessed it firsthand, Poppy and John.


BERMAN: What a sight. What a sight.

HARLOW: Will Ripley, thank you so much for being there and for your reporting every morning for us right here.

So, coming up next, what does this all mean for this administration? Look what they're facing in terms of North Korea. Look what they're facing in terms of Bashar al Assad. You just heard that new interview with him. We'll bring you more of it and debate it all, next.


[09:42:30] BERMAN: All right, the breaking news this morning, the Syrian president, Bashar al Assad, he sat down with an interview with AFP. Yes, it was with government cameras. Yes, it was heavily edited by the Syrian government. Yet he said some extremely newsworthy things, some shocking things, including questioning whether the video of the chemical attack from last week now that the world has seen, he questioned whether it was even real. Listen to what he said.


PRESIDENT BASHAR AL ASSAD, SYRIA: I don't know whether those dead children, were they killed in (INAUDIBLE)? Were they dead at all? Who committed the attack, if there was attack? What method of - you have no information at all. Nothing at all. No investigators.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you're saying it's a fabrication?

ASSAD: Definitely. One hundred percent false. It's fabrication. We don't have arsenal. We're not going to use it. And you have many indications, if you don't have proof, because no one has concrete information or evidence.


HARLOW: Pretty stunning.

With us now, CNN military analyst and retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, and CNN national security analyst Steve Hall. He's also a retired CIA chief of Russian operations.

Gentlemen, so nice to have you here.

Let me just begin with you, Steve, given your Russia expertise. I mean to say we knew Assad would say stunning things that were not factual, but to say as we look at this video of these children, right, and what happened to them in this chemical attack, to say you don't even know if that's real or if these children are even dead, does that not box in the Russians who have been defending him?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's actually taken straight out of the playbook - the Russian playbook. This is not - as a matter of fact, what he said was, you know, he - not only did he doubt whether it - whether this was true. He said actually this is a provocation. This is absolutely not true.

This is something that is straight out of Russian propaganda, you know, playbooks. What you've got is, when confronted with an inconvenient fact or something that's very difficult for you to get over, what you do is you simply deny it, you usually make a larger counter claim and then you try to shift the blame. So we saw the Russians doing this already, remember, as recently as yesterday saying that, you know, these - these - there's going to be additional attacks in Syria and it's going to be provocation, the terrorists there. ISIL and the rest are going to set this up and then try to blame it on Assad and on Russia.

This is simply a really well-planned and coordinated anti-propaganda attack that Assad is working probably with the Russians to coordinate so that they come across with one voice on this.

[09:45:00] BERMAN: You know, General Hertling, yesterday President Trump called Bashar al Assad a butcher in the comments about these pictures we're seeing right now. Certainly lend credence to that claim. But the fact is, is that Bashar al Assad was the same guy a week ago, two weeks ago, two years ago, three years ago. This is what he was doing and chemical attacks that he again denied this morning. He said Syria has never used its chemical arsenal at all, which, of course, you know, is false, dating back years. So, you know, how should the Americans now react to this?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Mr. Trump says a lot of things when he learns them. But as you just said, and as Steve just said, Mr. Assad, for anybody who has watched him over the last several years, not just recently but several years, knows he is a butcher. He has used these tactics before, as Steve just said. It is straight out of the Russian playbook to not only up the ante but basically claim that nothing happened.

It is ludicrous and it's disgusting, John. If you had watched or analyzed, as I know the CIA is doing on a daily basis, the actions in the Syrian government, we have seen chemical attacks before, multiple times. He has attempted to intimidate his people because that's the Syrian way of war. They use war to make sure the revolution doesn't occur.

So just because Mr. Trump said it yesterday doesn't mean it just happened yesterday. And that's an unfortunate issue with what's going on right now. All of these things are coming to the forefront, which have been happening for many years, that no one's paid attention to.

HARLOW: So turning to the North Korea situation and, you know, what the U.S.' next move is from the United States. In this wide-ranging interview with "The Wall Street Journal," here's what the president said. He told his Chinese counterpart when he met with Xi Jinping that he believes Beijing could easily take care of the North Korea threat. Mr. Xi then explained the history of China and Korea. Mr. Trump said - after listening for ten minutes he said, I realize it's not so easy, Mr. Trump recounted. So that's "The Wall Street Journal's" reporting.

After 10 minutes, Steve, he changed his entire view on China and North Korea? I mean does that lead other diplomats, other global leaders to think that they can just convince this president of anything if they give him a history lesson?

HALL: Well, I mean, it's funny that you mentioned history lesson because you may have noticed Sergey Lavrov, the Russian ambassador yesterday during the press conference was in full history lesson giving mode to Rex Tillerson saying things like, I know Mr. Tillerson just wants to focus on, you know, the present, but there's a lot of history.

I think you're seeing the Chinese probably taking the same tack and trying to, you know, sort of in an indirect way criticize both the secretary of state and the president saying, look, you know, you may have come in on promises of, you know, we're going to do things differently because we are, you know, the titans of business. We're not government as usual. But I think what you're beginning to see back from some of the larger powers in the world, like China and Russia and others are saying, look, you guys have some catching up to do to understand exactly what's going on.

And on the president's side, you know, he's probably learning that it's, you know, a lot easier to campaign on what appear to be black and white sort of binary issues, North Korea's bad, Iran's bad, we're going to do great things. And it's - and it is indeed much, much more complicated. So it is interesting yesterday that the Russian - that the Chinese exercise their veto power - or actually not veto, sorry, they abstained from -

BERMAN: They abstained.


HALL: Yes, from the Security Council vote, which is an interesting signal to send as well. So there's a lot of signaling. There's a lot of sort of feeling out, I think, going on with this new president and new administration with some of these world leaders.

BERMAN: All right, Steve Hall, General Hertling, always great to have you with us. Thanks so much, guys.

A lot of news this morning.

The man dragged from a United plane. Is he about to drag the airline to court? In just a few minutes, lawyers for the would-be passenger - the plane never took off with him on board - they hold their first news conference. And this fight, it might just be starting. Stay with us.


[09:53:18] HARLOW: So, this morning, a bad week for United might get a little worse. The question now, what is that passenger, Dr. Dao, who was dragged off that flight, what's he going to do? Is he going to sue? Really soon we're going to hear from his family and his attorney directly. The attorney's filed a court request to obtain the airline's surveillance video, their cockpit voice recordings and any information at all about the officers involved.

BERMAN: And the airline, for its part, is now taking extra measures to try to battle this growing outrage. It is offering a full refund to every single passenger who was on that plane, even the ones who were not dragged off, like Dr. Dao.

CNN's Ryan Young following these developments for us.

Ryan, what are you learning?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what a big conversation, you guys, talk about how they're taking those extra measures. Every time we stepped through the airport yesterday, it seemed like everyone had an opinion about this story. Doctor Dao's family is expected to be here around 10:00 Central Time to finally have that first conversation about this case.

But that reaction, the fallout, is still ongoing. Two other aviation officers have now been suspended due to what happened on that plane. The instant reactions, the tens of millions of people who have watched that video play over and over has led to such fallout, Jesse Jackson showed up yesterday to the airport demanding that people start to boycott United. He wants to go to the shareholders meeting and have a conversation with the idea about how customers are treated. You've seen lawmakers, senators and Governor Christie talk about the idea that once you buy a seat, that seat should be yours. So now you're having a broader conversation about what will happen next.

But you did talk about the high-powered attorneys who have stepped forward here in Chicago, who have asked that circuit court judge to freeze some of that video and some of that evidence to make sure they can go forward. I can tell you, over and over yesterday we heard people say he should sue them, he should get as much money as possible. So you know that tide, that public opinion is really pushing things in this case.

[09:55:12] HARLOW: Well, Ryan Young, I was just thinking, this story has lasted so long. Usually, these stories tend to be sort of one day for something. This is ballooning.

BERMAN: Well, that's an argument for getting the apology right.

HARLOW: Yes, no, no, no, you're right.

BERMAN: The level (ph) of the policy to get the apology right the first time. It doesn't last that long.

HARLOW: (INAUDIBLE) - yes, and the video when he was bloodied and -- absolutely.

All right, Ryan Young, we'll be monitoring for what the family says and the attorneys at the press conference. Thank you very much.

Coming up after this, our top story this morning, Syria's dictator speaking out for the first time after that deadly chemical attack on his own people. We are following the latest developments. You will hear from Bashar al Assad, next.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[10:00:00] BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

HARLOW: I'm Poppy Harlow.

We begin with breaking news this morning. A brand-new interview with Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad. The defiant dictator saying his regime did not carry out the chemical attacks that killed dozens, including children. He also