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North Korea's Attempted Missile Launch Fails. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired April 15, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:15] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera live in New York. Thanks for joining us. I want to welcome our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world as we follow breaking news right now out of North Korea where an anxiously anticipated missile launch has failed.
Still, a senior U.S. official says the threat is not over, warning that North Korea could still launch a nuclear test at anytime.
Here's what we know at this hour. The missile was launched from a place near Sinpo, North Korea's east coast. The U.S. military says it was able to both detect and track it and that the missile blew up almost immediately after it was fired.
Tonight this attempt comes less than 24 hours after North Korea put the world on notice, parading its military arsenal through the streets of Pyongyang, flaunting missiles, tanks, and synchronized soldiers in celebration of a major holiday there of the founding fathers.
CNN is live on both sides of the DMZ just hours before Vice President Mike Pence arrives in Seoul, South Korea.
I want to begin with CNN's Will Ripley right in the heart of Pyongyang.
Will, how is this launch being framed there?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not even being acknowledged here, Ana, although it does really fit the pattern of North Korean missile test, a predawn launch, the second launch attempt this month from the eastern coastal city of Sinpo, home to North Korea's submarine base, U.S. Pacific Command saying it was a failure, you know, almost immediately after launch.
And what I have experienced in the past when there have been other failed launches, and I'm inside this country, it's never reported in the state-controlled media. Of course a successful launch would be a lead story with, you know, pictures of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, triumphantly overseeing the event. Given that this appears to be -- this test appears to be a failure, probably most North Koreans, the vast majority, will never know that it happened, Ana.
CABRERA: And, Will, explain the difference between this failed launch and an actual nuclear test.
RIPLEY: So North Korea has conducted a number of missile launches since the beginning of last year, three dozen missile tests. It's fairly easy for North Korea to fire these. They probably don't have a warhead inside the trajectory, has them falling in the waters off the Korean peninsula, although there was a simultaneous missile launch last month where three missiles landed within 200 nautical miles of the Japanese coast prompting a coastal village to do North Korean missile drills for the first time they've had missile drills since World War II.
So certainly troubling for the citizens in Japan, a key U.S. ally where 52,000 U.S. troops are based. There are 28,000 U.S. troops in Seoul, South Korea, and there's a lot of people looking at the radar to monitor these missile launches.
Nuclear tests are different. These are conducted at Punggye-ri. It's an underground nuclear test site. They dig these tunnels deep into the mountains and these tunnels are built to withstand a sizeable, you know, nuclear explosion. And so we've seen the size of North Korea's nuclear explosions according to analysts who are looking at things like seismic activity because these create essentially an artificial earthquake.
These explosions have been getting bigger. We know that North Korea is trying to develop a larger nuclear weapon. And when these tests happen, the U.S. and South Korea and China will send up sniffer planes and they'll put out radiation detection equipment to try to see if radiation has seeped into the outside environment.
In previous tests they have been contained to that tunnel area. But the North Koreans -- they really looked very closely at what President Trump did when he dropped that MOAB, the mother of all bombs, on those ISIS tunnels in Afghanistan because in some quarters here it was perceived possibly as a threat that the U.S. may try to drop a similar bomb on underground tunnels in North Korea.
I mean, they wonder would the U.S. actually try to attack their nuclear test site. Is that one of the strategic targets that could come into play? So this really is -- things are always intense on the Korean peninsula. This is certainly the most tense that I've ever experienced in 11 trips to this country. And we really don't know how the Trump administration are going to respond and how -- what Kim Jong-un is going to do.
CABRERA: And we do know that the president of the U.S., President Trump has been briefed on this latest missile launch that failed, and we are expecting a statement from the White House any moment. As soon as we have that, of course, we will bring that to our viewers here.
But in the meantime Vice President Mike Pence is en route right now to Seoul, South Korea. He's expected to land there in just a few hours.
CNN's Paula Hancocks is there in Seoul. Paula, how is South Korea responding to this new development?
[20:05:05] PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, we know there's going to be a National Security Council meeting in a little less than half an hour. This is a meeting where all the top leaders of the country will be trying to figure out what kind of response they can give to North Korea. Clearly they've had a lot of experience and practice of this. It's very difficult to see what kind of different statement we will see.
They always say in the past that they have a readiness posture. They say they will strongly respond if this continues but, of course, it's very difficult to see what they can do beyond that and, of course, bear in mind that there is political stalemate in this country at this point. There isn't a full president. There's just an acting president as the previous one has been impeached and imprisoned on a corruption scandal.
So of course this is a very tricky situation that the Vice President Pence is arriving in. The fact that the people he will be meeting, the acting president, won't even be in power in a few weeks' time. But certainly what the South Koreans want from the United States at this point is guarantees, continued guarantees that we saw from the secretary of State, that we saw from the Defense secretary in recent weeks, that the United States is going to stick by South Korea -- Ana.
CABRERA: All right. Paula Hancocks and Will Ripley reporting from both South Korea and North Korea. We appreciate it. But stay with us. Back here in the U.S. the threat posed by North Korea still looms over the Trump White House.
I want to bring in my panel now. CNN military analyst and retired lo Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, CNN intelligence and security analyst and former CIA operative Bob Baer, and from the World Policy Institute, Jonathan Cristol.
Jonathan, somebody asked President Trump if the massive bombing in Afghanistan that Will Ripley referred to this week was also a message to North Korea. We heard Will say that some of the people in North Korea certainly thought it was a message to them. Well, this was the president of the U.S.' answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Does it send a message to North Korea?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know if it sends a message. It doesn't make any difference if it does or not. North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: So, Jonathan, what was your reaction when you heard that?
JONATHAN CRISTOL, WORLD POLICY INSTITUTE FELLOW: Well, you know, I don't think it's news. Dropping a bomb on a country that we have been bombing regularly, going after terrorist groups and Taliban fighters, the fact that it's a larger bomb, I don't necessarily tie those two things together.
Now it could be that we're showing the North Koreans what we have in terms of our armaments and what we're willing to use. Just as they are doing. I mean, North Korea when they conduct missile tests, part of this is to show this is what we're able to do. We will be able to target bases nearby. We haven't seen evidence of that yet. But that's the message they're trying to send when they assassinated Kim Jong-un's half-brother, part of that was to show, look, we have VX nerve gas. And we're willing to use that.
And so both sides have an interest in showing what they are capable of doing. And with the hope that it actually alleviates the tension and allows people to walk back.
CABRERA: So, General Hertling, when we were hearing from Will that, you know, these nuclear test sites are underground, it does make you think about why they use this MOAB, the mother of all bombs, in Afghanistan because it was an area where there were caves and tunnels. Could the U.S. military use that kind of a weapon to attack the nuclear sites in North Korea?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: No, I'll push back a little bit on this, Ana, and say they certainly could but it wouldn't be effective and it would not be the weapon that you would use to hit some of the tunnels and some of the complexes in North Korea but there are other weapons systems that the U.S. has that could certainly do that.
You know, this whole discussion of the MOAB throughout the last week has been very interesting to me because I know why they used it in that particular area against that particular target and it was really coincidental that it occurred right at the same time that this event was occurring in North Korea and right after the missile strike in Korea. It had no connection whatsoever. This was a tactical commander's call on the ground.
Now that's the reality. The perception and the second and third order effects, if other countries believe that we would use weapons like this and certainly it does send a message but that was not the intent in this particular situation. I'm sure of that.
CABRERA: Bob Baer, could North Korea launch some kind of a nuclear test now after this failed missile launch to save face?
ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, I do, Ana, and I think they will. I think as the president goes on about taking on North Korea with or without the Chinese, the North Koreans, normal reaction will be to keep going and keep going stronger and we will continue launching nuclear weapons.
[20:10:11] And our problem is, and I keep on going back to this is absence of intelligence. We do not have sources in North Korea. It all has to be done remotely from satellites. Some -- you know, their army is quite remarkable. It can move divisions without us detecting them until the last minute. So whether they will or not is -- you know, is a supposition on all of our parts but my guess is as long as the rhetoric stays the way it is, they're going to set up a nuclear test very soon.
CABRERA: And I want to go back to Will for that because I know, Will, you have been there on the ground this past week and you have witnessed and heard of other military movement from North Korea. What do we know about the preparations that have been happening very recently leading up to a potential nuclear test?
RIPLEY: Well, we obviously are not allowed to get close to Punggye- ri, the nuclear test site, but the satellite imagery from just a couple of days ago had showed vehicles, personnel, equipment at that nuclear test site leading people who have been observing this nuclear test site for quite some time to -- their analysis showed that they believe it's primed and ready for a sixth nuclear test.
And as far as North Korea responding to actions by the United States, you know, we heard some very strongly worded responses to the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group, you know, threats of a nuclear retaliatory strike from North Korea, which by the way isn't anything new. North Korea has many times threatened a nuclear attack to rain fire on the United States and its allies. So that's not new.
What is new is there was a special forces operation that Pyongyang conducted last week. It was the same day that we saw the images of this special forces operation that were released on the same day that we saw North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in person at the ribbon cutting of a new sky scraper that he had ordered built here in Pyongyang. At the moment that we were attending this event with the North Korean leader, their state media put out these images of Kim Jong-un overseeing a special forces operation with commandos jumping out of a plane.
The state media release did not necessarily a motive for that, but when I was chatting with government officials at the military parade yesterday, I was told that that special forces operation was in response to tweets from President Trump about North Korea and about China needing to solve the North Korean nuclear problem. Those same officials also said that, frankly, they're not concerned about increased economic pressure from China.
Clearly Chinese trade is helping this country grow its living standard at least in the capital city. We're not allowed to get outside of the capital. We don't know what life is like for people in the countryside. Clearly their living standard is lower, but we don't know because we're not allowed to go there. But, you know, Chinese trade with North Korea jumped up nearly 40 percent in the first quarter of 2017 and despite five nuclear tests China has been reluctant over the last decade to really exert a tremendous amount of economic pressure on this country because they don't want to see a destabilized North Korean regime, they don't want to see a humanitarian crisis of North Koreans flooding across their border, but they also most certainly do not want to see any sort of military conflict between the United States and North Korea. In the Chinese view that would be catastrophic.
CABRERA: And let's just go back through what we know of the last year or so. We know the last actual nuclear test was in September of 2016. Meantime this year there still has been a lot of activity of these missile launches that we've seen. In fact, this would be the fifth missile launch attempt just since February. And what we're learning about this latest missile launch that failed is the U.S. Defense official now telling us that early indications is that this failed missile was not an intercontinental ballistic missile.
So, General Hertling, what's your take on that new information?
HERTLING: Not unexpected, Ana. What we saw in the parade today, and both the CIA and the DIA analyst, that direct Defense Intelligence Agencies, are looking at the films and the satellite imagery from the parade today. There were a couple of key items that occurred in the parade, one was a longer missile, intercontinental ballistic missile that went through the parade longer than what the Koreans called the KN-08 and the KN-14. It was brand new.
It was also the first time that they showed submarine launch ballistic missile. That's important because it's showing that their missile program is growing. But if they wanted to literally show that they had a successful launch, what they're most concerned about is something called a cold launch. That's with solid fuel versus liquid fuel in the rocket.
[20:15:00] And I don't mean to turn into a geek here but what it does, it allows the North Koreans to pull a missile out and fire it immediately because it's been pre-fueled as opposed to taking a missile on the launch pad and then taking a lot of time to fuel it up. When that happens, it's not detected.
They can also launch it out of a canister like a submarine so it will pop up and then the rockets ignite and then it goes on path. That's the most important thing they're looking at now as well as connecting a weapons system to the missile which they have not done yet. I would guess -- my guess would be that this was a short-range ballistic missile that they fired out at Sinpo. But they were testing the cold launch system and they wanted a success in that area.
CABRERA: We do know this was the same area they launched the last one that Scud missile of some sort from the submarine zone there on the port city of Sinpo.
Thank you so much for that analysis. Everyone, stay with me. We need to squeeze in another break. But much more on our breaking news. North Korea with a failed missile launch just hours before Vice President Mike Pence is due to arrive in South Korea. We will go live to Mar-a-Lago where the president has been briefed and also to China, a country with enormous influence on North Korea.
We'll have much more on this day ahead. Stay with us.
[20:20:37] CABRERA: Continuing to follow breaking news. We are now being told that President Trump in Florida has been briefed on developments in North Korea.
Let's go CNN's national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, who is in Florida with the president.
Suzanne, we've just learned the vice president was also briefed before he lands in South Korea. What more can you tell us?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, we are actually getting a report from a senior administration official who is aboard Air Force Two traveling with the vice president on his way to Seoul, South Korea.
I want to read you what we have at this moment here that the Vice President, Mike Pence, briefed on what the vice president's office called a failed missile launch from North Korea, that Pence was in contact with President Trump, and that this was relayed to recorders aboard the plane, that Pence was briefed on the situation in North Korea within an hour of his departure from Anchorage, Alaska.
Also informed that Pence's briefing as Air Force Two was flying over the Barring Sea. Air Force Two, as we know, is currently en route still to Seoul, South Korea. Expected to land, arrive about 3:30 p.m. local time or 2:30 Eastern Time. We know that when he does land on his agenda, Ana, he's going to be talking with the acting president of South Korea about the situation.
As you know as well the president also very much briefed and informed of what has occurred here. We are expecting at least a paper statement from the president himself on this. We're waiting for this. But also should let you know this is something that they were preparing for at Mar-a-Lago certainly expecting much, much more. Not a failed test but potentially sixth nuclear test. That did not happen but the deputy national security adviser, KT McFarland, traveling with the president here in Florida who has been briefing him step by step -- Ana.
CABRERA: All right. Suzanne Malveaux, as you point out, this was not a nuclear test, although officials from the U.S. are saying it's still possible. That could happen at any moment. Again this was a failed missile launch. That has happened in the last couple of hours.
I want to head to Beijing now. CNN international correspondent Matt Rivers is there with us.
Matt, China, of course, is a key player in all of this. A key ally of sorts to North Korea. What are Chinese officials saying about these developments in North Korea?
MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, no official response as of yet from Beijing but government officials here are very, very consistent in their positions. And so what's going to happen later on today is the Chinese are going to come out and they're going to ask all relevant sides, they put it, to refrain from provocative actions. They always condemn these missile tests because they say that they are in clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that have been levied against North Korea in the past.
But what the Chinese want to happen here is what they're calling a grand bargain. There was a commentary released in state media yesterday where they're calling for a grand bargain between Kim Jong- un and Donald Trump. They believe that the only way to firmly solve this problem, to create lasting peace on the Korean peninsula would be for the United States to go back to the negotiation table with the regime in Pyongyang. So far that obviously has not been the track that the Trump administration says it wants to take.
The Trump administration regularly says that China needs to be using its economic leverage, that it does have quite a bit of over Pyongyang to get Kim Jong-un to stop developing these missiles and these nuclear weapons. So both sides very, very split on all that but later on today Chinese officials will be condemning this missile launch in all likelihood as they have done many times before.
CABRERA: Now President Trump tweet this on Thursday. Let's put it up on the screen. He says, "I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. If they are unable to do so the U.S. with its allies will. USA."
So how is that sentiment being received in China, Matt?
RIVERS: Well, when Donald Trump tweets, Chinese officials rarely take the bait. But what I think you've seen over the past week and what we've reported on is the Trump administration has actually kind of taken a 180 on China when it comes to the way they're reacting to how China is dealing with North Korea. It was at a press conference earlier this week that President Trump had with the secretary-general of NATO where he actually praised President Xi Jinping of China quite profusely and actually pointed to the fact that the Chinese have stopped importing North Korean coal as a sign that China is working very hard as the president put it to try and solve this problem.
[20:25:09] It was back in mid-February that the Chinese said that they were nearing limits to the amount of coal that countries are allowed to buy from North Korean under U.N. sanctions that were issued in 2016. The Chinese said they were nearing those limits and so they stopped importing North Korean coal. And that's a big deal because that's one of the key ways that the regime makes money, brings hard currency into the country. So the president actually was very, very effusive in his praise for China.
But on the flip side very shortly after that press conference Chinese trade data that came out from the Customs Ministry here actually showed the total trade volume between North Korea and China was up nearly 40 percent in 2017 alone. And so there's kind of two sides to this. On the one hand, yes, there've been coal imports and that's a big deal. But on the other hand they're still finding ways to kind of extend that economic lifeline to the regime in Pyongyang. So in terms of, you know, how the Chinese are going to respond moving forward, the numbers kind of speak for themselves. They're not willing to cut off Pyongyang entirely and in fact trade is going up.
CABRERA: And do we know, Matt, is China actually providing some of the material that Pyongyang might be using to develop these weapons?
RIVERS: Well, you have two different ways that China has been alleged to have been a part of this. On the one hand because of that amount of trade they are providing hard currency to the regime in Pyongyang and they do that in a number of different ways. They allow North Korean businesses to use Chinese banks to make sure that they can continue to operate. North Korean labor comes over here. There are thousands and thousands of North Koreans that work in China every day and send that currency back home. And of course that trade that we just talked about where North Korea does buy things like seafood, like half made clothing, like other minerals besides coal. And so they do have a way to do that. So there's certainly a way that China is contributing to this.
CABRERA: Gotcha. Matt Rivers, reporting in Beijing, we appreciate it.
After a quick break, just into CNN, news on the expected U.S. response to this failed launch by North Korea. That's coming right up.
You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
[20:31:35] CABRERA: Welcome back. With the breaking news I'm Ana Cabrera. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.
A missile launch by North Korea has failed. I want to get right out to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, near Mar-a-Lago where the president is this evening.
Suzanne, what have you just learned?
MALVEAUX: It is a very brief statement, I'm going to read it to you. This is from the secretary of Defense coming through in our e-mails here saying a statement by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on a North Korea missile test.
"The president and his military team are aware of North Korea's most recent unsuccessful missile launch. The president has no further comment."
It is as simple as that, Ana, very brief. We were told earlier CNN had learned by U.S. officials that it would be a very understated response, very intentional. Not to give attention to North Korea. And that is the strategy, that is the tactic of the White House this evening. It has been the last 12 to 24 hours they have been looking to see whether or not North Korea would, in fact, do anything on its national holiday.
That holiday past. It was after that holiday that this failed missile launch occurred and the White House has chosen to respond in a very low key manner. They do not want to give any kind of undue attention or credit to North Korea. All of this, as you know, as the vice president is on his way to Seoul, South Korea to meet with the leader there -- Ana.
CABRERA: Exactly. And we are just learning that in South Korea National Security Council is now going to meet tomorrow to discuss where they go from here. Suzanne Malveaux, again reporting near Mar-a-Lago where the president
is this evening, very understated response from the U.S. president. Acknowledging that this missile launch failed and really nothing beyond that. No further comment as they say.
Thank you, Suzanne.
I want to bring in my panel now. CNN military analyst and retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, a fellow at the World Policy Institute, Jonathan Cristol, and Atlantic Council senior fellow and former State Department official, Jamie Metzl.
Guys, my colleague Elise Labott also reporting from a senior U.S. official that as they assess the type of missile that was used here, it may not be the end of it. If it was medium range, there could be more launches according to this U.S. official, or there could still be a nuke test.
So it seems to me, General Hertling, when I hear that, that officials are kind of on edge and they aren't really sure where this is going to go next.
HERTLING: They're a bit on edge. And they're tracking it intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities across the peninsula. You saw the release by Pacific Command immediately saying they tracked it. It was off the launch pad and then exploded thereafter.
Ana, they are going to have aircraft and satellite overhead. They're going to be tracking from radar to ships at sea and they're going to have all their intelligence sources watching this and others. And the focus is certainly going to be on Sinpo where the missiles are launched from. That's their test facility as well as Punggye-ri. That's where the nuclear test could occur, it's where it's occurred in the past.
So all of those places are being watched. And you know, as you know, we have the ships across the sea, all the patriot missiles are alert in South Korea, the Aegis cruisers that are part of that carrier task group are ready to shoot anything down that threatens either Japan or South Korea.
[20:35:03] So there is a readiness factor there. What I found interesting, though, was the statement that Suzanne just read came from the secretary of Defense and not the president's office. That seemed a little odd to me.
CABRERA: Why is that?
HERTLING: Well, because the secretary of Defense, rightfully so, he's not going to comment on what comes next but if the president was informed you would think the presidential spokesman would say something as opposed to the secretary of Defense. But that's just the way in the past it's been done. So Mister -- President Trump has changed his protocol on this, I assume. CABRERA: Jamie Metzl, let me bring you into the conversation and
welcome to our conversation as we are continuing to dissect and figure out what's going to happen in North Korea especially how the U.S. might respond.
What do you make of this response? Let me read it to you one more time.
JAMIE METZL, SENIOR FELLOW, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure.
CABRERA: "The president and his military team are aware of North Korea's most recent unsuccessful missile launch. The president has no further comment." The statement coming from the Defense Secretary James Mattis.
METZL: Well, it's very, very interesting. President Trump put a lot of pressure on the North Koreans and the Chinese put a lot of pressure on the North Koreans. And the North Koreans had three options. It was the Goldilocks options. They could go big, which would be a nuclear test. They could go middle which would be some kind of pre- ICBM or something moving towards the development of an ICBM. And then they could do this minimal, it's kind of the smallest thing.
They had to do something. In North Korea -- there was all of this hype and all of this pressure and North Korea didn't do anything, then on Monday everybody was saying -- would be saying wow, President Trump won. He put all this pressure on the North Koreans and they are very rational actors. They can't allow that to happen. So this goes at minimal -- this is kind of as little as they could do to not create a bigger crisis.
CABRERA: And yet Trump is so unpredictable. Right, Jonathan? I mean, you've written about this maneuvering between Kim Jong-un versus President Trump, two people who both are somewhat unpredictable. How do you see this maneuvering taking shape as we get this statement?
CRISTOL: Well, you know, I think that, you know, as Jamie was saying, that Kim Jong-un has proven to be a rational actor and these continued tests also make sense. They are not random. They come at times of anniversaries and political events in the region such as Trump meeting with Abe -- not in the region but an even that --
CRISTOL: Leads to the region and then --
CABRERA: happened when the Japanese prime minster was here at Mar-a- Lago.
CRISTOL: Exactly. And they want to see what they can get away with. You know, and I would actually say that in some ways Kim Jong-un is behaving as a more traditional leader than Trump is.
CABRERA: Well, that's interesting. CRISTOL: That is not a value judgment, obviously I'm not -- I do not
favor Kim Jong-un in this, but he is limit-testing and seeing what he can get away with because he has this new president who has said, you know, options one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, and 10 are on the table. And he doesn't know who he's going to listen to and he's not going to tell anyone what's coming. And so I think that --
CABRERA: Does that scare you a little bit, that unpredictability, and that now kind of silence about what could come next?
CRISTOL: It makes me a little bit nervous but, you know, the actual guidance that he asked for from the Pentagon which was just released I think within the last 24 hours basically says watch closely and wait. Containment is not a radical difference from any of the policies of the past. And if Trump defers to the Defense Department and to the experts on this I could breathe a little bit easier. But if he leaves it to himself and thinks that Kim is some like young kid who doesn't know what he's doing and is kind of going bonkers, I would -- that would actually make me very nervous.
METZL: And one thing that Kim is actually calling President Trump's bluff because the question for the North Koreans is how much pressure are the Chinese ultimately going to put on Pyongyang? And the North Koreans are betting that there's a limit to how far China will go because, still, China values North Korea as whatever it is, and there's no love lost between them. But China would still rather have even a hostile nuclear armed North Korea on its border than a reunified Korea potentially allied to the United States. And so President Trump has real limitations to what he can do and Kim is calling that bluff in a very smart and strategic way.
CABRERA: Gentlemen, stay with me. We've got to squeeze in a quick break. But there's much more to discuss. Again we have been continuing to follow this latest news out of North Korea. As you see there on the banner in the bottom of your screen, North Korea, has launched a missile that failed. Right now the latest information is that it failed almost right after it departed from the port city of Sinpo. And it all comes on the heels of this major military parade that happened in the last 24 hours in North Korea.
[20:40:06] On a major holiday there celebrating the birth of the founding father, Kim Jong-un's grandfather, in North Korea in which they also displayed all kinds of missiles or at least mock-ups of missiles including what they say is an intercontinental ballistic missile.
We'll continue to follow this and be right back with more information. Stay with us.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
CABRERA: The U.S. Defense secretary issuing a statement on North Korea's military action today. It's a short statement so I can read that to you. This is retired General James Mattis saying, quote, "The president and his military team are aware of North Korea's most recent unsuccessful missile launch. The president has no further comment."
And with me now from Pyongyang CNN's Will Ripley and also alongside me here in New York, Atlantic Council senior fellow and former State Department official Jamie Metzl.
[20:45:06] I'll go to you first, Will. You have been there to North Korea now 11 times. You've spent the last week on the ground there. You were there for the parade. That was now yesterday. North Korean time. Since you guys are about 12 hours ahead of us here Eastern Time in the U.S. Give us a sense of what the feel is on the ground in North Korea right now.
RIPLEY: There's a real sense of defiance on the ground here in North Korea after the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un unveiled his growing missile arsenal. We were speaking with people after the parade. We were asking them about the fact that many expected a sixth nuclear test and that did not happen and people were telling us that they felt that what North Korea did here in Pyongyang yesterday by showing these two never-before-seen intercontinental ballistic missiles was perhaps even more powerful than a nuclear test because it was a way to show the world what North Korea has in its arsenal.
These are missiles that could potentially deliver a nuclear warhead to the mainland U.S., although at this point we don't know how far along these missile mock-ups are and their capability. It's standard practice for countries around the world to put mock-ups of missiles in display. In military parades, they wouldn't put the real thing in front of, you know, crowds of hundreds of people in close proximity to their -- all of their national leadership but they do say that they are in possession of viable weapons and that they continue to test and continue to develop.
So the mood is defiance. The mood is optimism that if the United States were to take military action against North Korea that they could respond in force and potentially, you know, use these weapons.
CABRERA: So, Jamie, I'm wondering for you when you look at what we see in that military parade and then we learn that they've done this launch of a missile that failed thankfully, why do you think they would have done a missile launch should they have had the capability of doing a nuclear test instead.
METZL: Because they were under a lot of pressure. President Trump certainly has raised the temperature in the region. China has put a lot of pressure on North Korea. And there was a risk. If they did take -- if they did have a nuclear test this time, they didn't know what was going to happen and there was additional variability. On the other hand, if they did nothing, the story on Monday would have been that Kim --
CABRERA: They did nothing.
METZL: Kim backs down and that would have weakened him as well. So this was really a -- the porridge is just right kind of position by the North Koreans and that's why there's a whole lot of theater. I mean, Will mentioned these missiles and nobody knows whether inside those canisters there are missiles or livestock or anything else, but this is all about theater and symbolism. And certainly it's bad for Kim that this missile launch didn't work. But everybody is positioning and everybody is trying to figure out where they fit relative to China, the United States and the Koreas.
CABRERA: We know that Vice President Mike Pence is on his way right now to South Korea.
CABRERA: This was a visit that had been planned well in advance of all the developments of the past week in terms of this heightened escalation of rhetoric between North Korea and the U.S.
CABRERA: If you were Mike Pence and you're heading to South Korea now all that's happened in just the last few hours, what is your priority when you're on the ground in South Korea?
METZL: Well, the biggest thing is to reassure the South Koreans that the United States-South Korean alliance is strong. And South Korea, as you know, just recently impeached their president. So they're a month away from their elections and how the U.S. is handling North Korea is a critical issue in those elections. So this is a very, very complicated environment that Vice President Pence is stepping into.
CABRERA: Do you think it was odd that the president of the U.S. didn't come out and issue a statement himself?
METZL: It was odd but everything is odd that this president does, and so we're certainly -- if there is a playbook, it's a different playbook than we've known or the world has known. And right now --
CABRERA: And yet he hasn't -- he hasn't withheld from tweeting.
METZL: Yes, well, who knows what -- who knows what he was -- as a matter of fact in the car over here we were looking at his Twitter and it was the wrong Twitter, it was like a fake Donald Trump account. He was talking about who would trust somebody who has a bad haircut. And we were thinking, god, did President Trump really tweet that? Because we just don't know. In the world there's a level of insecurity about what Donald Trump could do and so we're seeing a little more caution from North Korea. But there's also a much greater level of variability in the world and that is also very dangerous.
CABRERA: Right. Jamie Metzl and Will Ripley, our thanks to both of you. Quick break. We'll be right back.
[20:53:58] CABRERA: Ebola, Zika, bird flu, recent outbreaks of these deadly diseases have claimed thousands of lives and the worst might be yet to come. CNN's new original film "UNSEEN ENEMY" looks at where the next disease
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over the last decades there have been about 30 newly emerging diseases that have the potential be pandemics. If we do nothing, it's not a matter of if there will be a global pandemic, it's just a matter of when and which virus and how bad.
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CABRERA: You can catch the CNN film "UNSEEN ENEMY" next right here on CNN.
That's going to do it for me for now. I'm Ana Cabrera and we appreciate you joining us this weekend here on CNN.
[20:55:02] Don't forget we will be following this breaking news out of North Korea, the failed missile launch and what happens next, as the vice president heads to South Korea and should be there any moment in the next few hours, touching down. And we'll continue our coverage right now on CNN.com. And I'll be back here tomorrow night at 5:00 p.m. Eastern. Have a great night.