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North Korea Vows "Merciless Response" to Provocation; North Korea Holds Military Parade; Tensions Rise between U.S. and North Korea; U.S. Military's MOAB Killed 94 ISIS Fighters; Great Barrier Reef "Cooking and Dying". Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired April 15, 2017 - 02:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): North Korea shows off what could be new ballistic missiles at a massive parade in Pyongyang. As tensions rise in the region, we ask what it means for the country's weapons program.

Plus, Turkey's president could see his powers expand further. Sounds from Mr. Erdogan's barber shop as citizens weigh what could be a monumental shift in their political landscape.

And later, scientists warn that large parts of the world's biggest living thing are dying and it's mainly our fault.

From CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. I'm Cyril Vanier.


VANIER: North Korea is showing off what could be some powerful new missiles as it marks its biggest holiday with a massive military parade. Experts say these are probably just mockups and there's no way of knowing if North Korea actually has the technology developed yet.

But the international community is holding its breath as tensions between Pyongyang and Washington threaten to escalate into real conflict. North Korea issued a typically direct message after the U.S. sent a Naval strike team their way.

A high-ranking official said North Korea will respond to all-out war with an all-out war. China meanwhile is looking to avoid that, warning that a war on the Korean Peninsula means everyone loses.

CNN's Will Ripley is in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. He had a front-row seat to the weapons North Korea wants to showcase.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So far no nuclear test on the Day of the Sun, North Korea's most important holiday but you have seen a show of force of a very different kind.

You can see North Korean citizens are out here right now. These women are holding up a North Korean flag. Earlier, we saw North Korea's full arsenal on display. There were Scud missiles. There were submarine-launched ballistic missiles. There were land-based missiles that could be launched from a mobile launcher.

And at the very end, we saw North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles. We know that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's goal is to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead capable of reaching the mainland United States.

And while analysts say they may not be there just yet, parades like this are certainly evidence that they continue to make progress. (INAUDIBLE) progress that many experts have predicted.

A lot of people thought there might be a nuclear test today on this important holiday or in the lead-up to it. However, it seems as if the North Koreans are holding off on the nuclear tests for now.

But I have received information that a special operations exercise, a military exercise earlier this week, when commandos were jumping out of airplanes, that was in direct response to tweets from President Trump talking about North Korea and urging China to solve the North Korea problem, as he put it.

We also know that there's the U.S.S. Carl Vinson carrier striker, 60 planes, submarines equipped with nuclear missiles and a 97,000-ton aircraft carrier, all designed to send a message of deterrence to the North Koreans, telling them not to engage in provocative behavior such as another missile launch or a nuclear test.

But the atmosphere out here, as the North Koreans would put it, is a single-hearted determination to fight, to fight against the United States, because their country has told them all of their lives that they're under the imminent threat of invasion.

So you have a lot of these civilians out here, perhaps not many of these women but you have a lot of the men in the crowd here, who have a military background, who have told us repeatedly that if there were to be a war with the United States, they would leave their jobs, put their uniforms back on and fight.

So this is what North Korea is saying, that they are being underestimated by the world and they put on these supersized displays to try to prove to the world that they are here to stay and they're going to move forward on the road of their choosing, even if that road is a path to nuclearization that many others, including the United States, feel is a dangerous and destructive path -- Will Ripley, CNN, Pyongyang.


VANIER: And North Korea made sure to show off these as part of its growing arsenal, what appears to be two new intercontinental ballistic missiles. Joining me now is David Schmerler, a research associate of the James

Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies.

David, these parades are all about displaying new military technology.

What do you make of this claim of new ICBMs and why is it so important?

DAVID SCHMERLER, JAMES MARTIN CENTER FOR NON-PROLIFERATION STUDIES: Well, it's interesting. For the past two parades, we have seen both of the two ICBMs that we associate with North Korea, those being the Kn-08 and the Kn-14.


SCHMERLER: This year we didn't see either of those ICBMs. In fact, we saw something that looked similar, potentially shorter on the truck, that belongs to an entirely different missile that was first successfully tested last year.

The thing I think is getting everyone worried are the two large missile-launched canisters that we saw, missiles that belong to things that we had seen in the past that we didn't see this year.

So it's hard to say whether they're entirely new ICBMs or they've changed the delivery method, taking the missiles and putting them in canisters. But I'm leaning more toward them at least showing that they're intending on building a new type of ICBM and they're going to put it in this type of a launch configuration.

VANIER: David, so that I can follow you and that any layman, really, can follow you and our viewers can follow you, several things here.

Why is this so important?

Why are we focusing on the ICBMs so much?

Just remind us quickly.

SCHMERLER: Sure, well, North Korea is very much interested in being able to deal damage out to the United States. They feel like that is their way to preserve the integrity and stability of their own country.

It fends off the United States and makes the United States think twice about going on any route that involves military action on the Korean Peninsula.

So displaying or at least hinting to the possibility that they have two new ICBMs that we haven't seen before, signifies that they're trying to or at least are intending to diversify their intercontinental ballistic missile fleets. And the more diversity they have in that, the greater chance of success they'll have should they ever try to hit the United States. VANIER: Right and that was going to be my question. Their ultimate goal is to be capable and prove that they're capable of hitting the U.S.

What does today's parade tell us about that ability?

SCHMERLER: Well, today's parade doesn't tell us much about their capability to test or successfully field an ICBM. The only way we're going to know that is when we see the Kn-08 and the Kn-14, which are two of the ICBMs we'd seen in the past, tested in a manner that is deemed a success by people who analyze North Korea's ballistic missile tests.

But this parade just goes to reinforce the intention that they're not going to be giving up their ambition to develop an ICBM anytime soon.

VANIER: When the Pentagon looks at this , what's the next step?

Because you're telling it's not just a matter of actually looking at the pictures; you've got to try to sort of make a determination of what's the reality behind that.

So how does the Pentagon do that?

SCHMERLER: Well, I have never worked with the Pentagon. So I'm not quite sure how they would go about it. But really, at this point, it's just a matter of sitting and waiting to see how their potential tests unfold.

VANIER: All right, OK, thank you very much. Tracking the new weapons that were put on display by Pyongyang. And the very important point that you're making is that we see them but we don't know exactly what the reality is behind what we're seeing in those pictures, which is something very important to point out.

Thank you very much.

SCHMERLER: Yes. Thank you.

VANIER: And China is urging calm as tensions escalate on the Korean Peninsula. Its foreign minister had this to say on Friday.


WANG YI, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): On the Korean Peninsula issue, it is not those who use harsher words or raise bigger fists that would win. If a war breaks out, everybody will end up as a loser and there will be no winners.

Therefore, we urge all parties to refrain from provoking and threatening each other, either with rhetoric or actions, so as to avoid getting the situation out of hand and into an irreversible dead end. Whoever starts the war on the Korean Peninsula has to bear the historical responsibility and the consequences.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VANIER: The U.S., however, seems undeterred by China's calls for a de-escalation.

For a closer look at the rising tensions between Pyongyang and the U.S., here's Jim Acosta.



JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A critical moment may be at hand as U.S. foreign policy experts worry North Korea just might celebrate its 105th anniversary with a dangerous display of military might, a nuclear weapons test ordered by that country's leader, Kim Jong-un, designed to provoke President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a new president and Kim Jong-un is trying to challenge him, is trying to get him back to the negotiating table.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The U.S. flexed its own muscles earlier this week, diverting an aircraft carrier to the region as the Trump administration dropped a massive nonnuclear bomb on an ISIS target in Afghanistan. Add to that, the president is ratcheting up the rhetoric on North Korea.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know if this 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.

ACOSTA (voice-over): A high-ranking North Korean official told the Associated Press the Trump administration's posture toward the Communist nation is becoming more vicious and aggressive.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are also making it worse. With our bluster and by sending aircraft carriers in there, we're raising the crisis.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Earlier in the week, the president held out hope that Chinese President Xi Jinping could help contain North Korea.

TRUMP: President Xi wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding. I think we had a very good chemistry together. I think he wants to help us with North Korea.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But the president acknowledged to "The Wall Street Journal" he only recently learned that the Chinese may only be able to do so much, saying, "After listening for 10 minutes I realized it's not so easy. I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power over North Korea. But it's not what you would think."

The president will be monitoring the potential crisis at his Florida resort, Mar-a-lago, where he'll spend the holiday weekend without much of his senior staff. But Vice President Pence is headed to the region this weekend. The Mar-a-lago trip marks the 17th visit to a golf course as president and his 11th weekend at a Trump property. TRUMP: But they don't have nukes yet. They will have them, by the way, unless I get to be president. If I get to be president, I promise you folks they won't have them.

ACOSTA (voice-over): During the campaign, the president vowed he would keep nuclear weapons out of North Korea while offering some surprising praise for Kim Jong-un.

TRUMP: But if you look at North Korea, this guy, this -- I mean, he's like a maniac, OK?

And you've got to give him credit, he wiped out the uncle, he wiped out this one, that one.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Just who is coming and going to the White House to advise the president will be kept a secret. The White House announced today it won't be making its visitor logs public, a break from a practice during the Obama administration.

When Barack Obama was in the White House, Mr. Trump had a different take on openness, tweeting, "Why is Barack Obama spending millions to try and hide his records? He is the least transparent president ever and he ran on transparency."

ACOSTA: And President Trump just offered a big incentive to China to help contain North Korea. The Trump administration formally announced it will not label China a currency manipulator. That's a major reversal for the president who promised to do just that during the campaign and said China will be listed as a country that's being monitored for trading practices -- Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.


VANIER: Lt. Colonel Rick Francona is with us.

Rick, let's talk some more about what the options are for the U.S. regarding North Korea.

What are the military options?

And, more specifically, what's the point of sending more force to a region where the U.S. already has considerable firepower and more than 30,000 troops?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, let's take that second part first. There are a lot of American forces in the area, not only in Korea itself but in neighboring Japan.

There's a lot of airpower assets, a lot of ground force. And now it's being reinforced with the U.S.S. Carl Vinson strike group. Now that just brings additional firepower. It also sends a message that the United States is concerned by diverting the ship from Singapore to Australia and it's been diverted to North Korean waters.

So it's just demonstrating to the Koreans how seriously we take the tensions on the Korean Peninsula right now. But as far as military options, honestly, they don't look that good.

Do we really want to get into a shooting war over a test that hasn't happened yet?

We're ratcheting up tensions and we really don't know what's going to happen over the next few days.

VANIER: Even when the test happens -- and everybody, it seems to be, analyzing it's a matter of when and not if -- North Korea has been undeterred. And it's even increased the pace of its nuclear and missile tests recently.

So, again, what are the options, given that they -- ?


VANIER: -- given that they're not giving this up?

FRANCONA: Yes, this is a real problem.

Because what are your options?

Are you going to conduct a strike?

I can tell you right now the United States is not going to conduct a preemptive strike into North Korea. There are just too many other factors that we can't control, notably the Chinese and also the South Koreans. So this is just not a good situation for us to be in. We can make this show of force.

But what if the North Koreans call the bluff?

What are we going to do?

Are we going to get into some sort of a naval operation against the North Korean navy?

I just don't see a win here for the United States.

VANIER: The U.S. has also already tried diplomacy with six-party talks. All the avenues have been tried, it seems like. Sanctions have been tried. Asking China to put more leverage on North Korea, that's been done; to what extent that's actually been met with success is a matter for debate.

So where do you go from here?

FRANCONA: Well, I think the Chinese option might be the best one right now. We should let that play out. We should see if the United States and the Chinese come to some sort of agreement on North Korea. That's a win-win for everyone.

It gives the Chinese a better relationship with us. It gives us a better relationship with the Chinese and it contains the North Koreans. And the Chinese really are the only ones that can do this without ratcheting up tensions even further. I'm hoping the Chinese will take the role of being the interlocutor that can actually ratchet down tensions on both sides. They're --


FRANCONA: -- probably the only ones that can do it.

VANIER: All right, Lt. Col. Rick Francona, thank you very much for coming on the show.

FRANCONA: My pleasure.

VANIER: Still ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, Turkey decides. The country is only a day away from a vote that could overhaul its political system.

Plus, the Great Barrier Reef is not as colorful as it should be. In fact, it's being bleached white. The transformation and why it matters -- after this.




VANIER: The U.S. military says dropping its most powerful nonnuclear bomb on an ISIS position in Afghanistan was, quote, "the right weapon against the right target." Aerial video shows the massive shock wave caused by nine tons of explosives. Afghan officials now say at least 94 ISIS militants died in that attack; nicknamed the "mother of all bombs," it struck a network of ISIS tunnels near the Pakistan border.

The U.S. military says it has found no evidence of civilian casualties.


VANIER: Now Turkey is weighing what could be a monumental shift in its political landscape. On Sunday, voters will decide whether to change the constitution. Voting yes would boost the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, abolish the office of prime minister and establish the president as the head of the executive branch.

This push worries anti-Erdogan protesters in Turkey and, in Berlin, the German finance minister even warns that there's a risk of an Erdogan dictatorship. CNN caught up with a man who knows the Turkish president personally. But first, Ian Lee had to get a little off the sides. Watch this.


IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They say nobody knows you better than your barber.

So what happens when your client is Recep Tayyip Erdogan?

Yasher Ihem (ph) has known the Turkish president for decades. To learn more, I first have to sit in the hot seat for a trim.

While chatting, he tells me, "Erdogan hasn't changed much. He has lost his hair but he's still a charismatic and handsome man," adding that, "right now, he is stronger than Putin and Trump," and that Turkey needs him.

Like a good barber, Ihem (ph) won't divulge too many secrets, like if he tips. But almost everyone here has a story about the local boy done good.

"Yes, he has worked very hard for us. If he's in power, we're relaxed. If he isn't in power, then we're screwed."

The barbershop enter leads (ph) no doubt where the patrons' loyalties lie.

Mustafa (ph) tells me, "Anyone who looks at the issues and thinks rationally will vote yes. Turkey was in a crisis before. I'm a working man and now I have a house and car."


LEE (voice-over): But step outside the barbershop and into the neighborhood, not everyone is this enthusiastic.

"What gives me concern is will it only be him in power?" this lady, who's still undecided, tells me.

"What will happen to the parliament and will the people really have a voice?"

It's the nagging question for Turks. No campaign sees this as a struggle, not only for Turkey's democracy but also the country's soul, hoping to trim Erdogan's power with a single vote -- Ian Lee, CNN, Istanbul.


VANIER: Looking good, Ian.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, after the break, Earth is thankfully headed for a near miss as an asteroid barrels our way. Stay with us.




VANIER: So it turns out a large asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. Don't worry. This man is here. That means it's all OK. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam has the details.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No need to duck and cover. There's a zero percent chance that this will be striking us here on planet Earth. But you want to see this. This is very interesting. It's got a rather dull name, Cyril, it's called 2014 J025. And it's making a close call to planet Earth. On this Wednesday, April 19th, it's going to pass within about 1.8 million kilometers of us here, which is about five times the distance between Earth and the moon.

It may seem far, but astronomers call this the galactic equivalent of getting grazed by a bullet. Guess what, this thing is massive. It's larger than the Freedom Tower, 650 meters long.

Did you pay attention in your science classes when you were in school?

Roll the video, please.

We've got an asteroid we're talking about now.

What is this?

This is a meteor.

What's the difference?

This is a meteor that vaporized as it reaches Earth's atmosphere. An asteroid is a large rock which will be coming close to Earth here this Wednesday. But only revolve around the Earth's sun and maybe get a near miss here in the United States.

This is, by the way, in San Diego earlier this week.


VANIER: Scientists say the latest images of the Great Barrier Reef are proof of the devastating effects of climate change. The latest evidence:


VANIER: -- vast areas of the once colorful coral reefs off the coast of Australia are now bleached white. That's on your screen right . Scientists blame rising sea temperatures. That's an effect of climate change. By the way, this is all going on as President Donald Trump proposes cutting billions of dollars from programs trying to fight the effects of climate change. Our Ivan Watson talked to scientists who are trying to send a warning.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, a vibrant underwater ecosystem of coral and sea life that's roughly the size of Italy, so huge you can actually see it from space.

(on camera): But scientists are sounding the alarm. They say for the second year in a row, this sprawling underwater treasure is bleaching on a massive scale. A new study by Australia's ARC Centre shows approximately two-thirds of the reef is affected.

SEAN CONNOLLY, ARC CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE FOR CORAL REEF STUDIES: It's quite terrifying actually, the magnitude and severity of the event.

WATSON (voice-over): Sean Connolly is one of a team of scientists who've been surveying the damage.

CONNOLLY: A coral is a partnership between an animal, which is what builds the skeleton and constructs the reefs that you see and the tiny one cell algae or plants that live inside it.

WATSON: His team released footage of barren expanses of coral, bleached bone white -- in some cases, turning a drab, lifeless brown.

Look at the before and after contrast of coral gone from healthy to bleached.

Dr. Nancy Nolton, a coral reef biologist with the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, says the coral is basically suffering from heat stroke.

The Great Barrier Reef is more of not just home of thousands of species of fish, birds, coral, whales and dolphins. It's also a major tourist attraction that earns Australia $3.7 billion a year. To add to the bad news, a big part of the reef that escaped bleaching was pounded by tropical cyclone Debbie last month.

(on camera): Scientists say coral can recover from bleaching. The problem is that recovery can take more than a decade and this is the second straight year that we're seeing bleaching on a mass scale on the Great Barrier Reef. I'm Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.


VANIER: Ivan Watson there.

Thank you for watching. Do stay with us. "MAINSAIL" is coming up next. First I'll get you the headlines in just a moment right after this.