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North Korea's Latest Missile Launch Fails; V.P. Pence Arriving in South Korea. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired April 16, 2017 - 02:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.


CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And I'm Cyril Vanier in Atlanta. We've got a special edition of CNN NEWSROOM as we follow breaking news out of North Korea.

WATSON: At a time of heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, another provocation by Pyongyang. The regime of Kim Jong-un on Sunday attempted to launch a missile, this one from the east coast port city of Sinpo. The U.S. says the rocket exploded almost immediately in a spectacular failure. CNN correspondent Will Ripley has the latest from the North Korean capital.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No confirmation from the North Korean government regarding this apparent failed missile launch from the eastern coastal city of Sinpo, home to North Korea's submarine base and also the site of another apparent attempted missile launch, a failure just before the meeting in Florida last week between President Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping.

We probably won't hear any confirmation from the Korean government on this because they don't announce failed missile launches. They announce successful launches and there have been a string of successes, really a remarkable run for North Korea and their leader, Kim Jong-un.

If you tally up the number of missiles that have been launched since the beginning of last year, more than 3 dozen, including a very spectacular and troubling launch last month, when North Korea simultaneously put up four missiles, three of which landed less than 200 nautical miles from the Japanese coast, prompting coastal residents in Japan to begin North Korean missile drills.

This is the first time they've had missile drills since World War II. So a very tense situation and only adding to the (INAUDIBLE) the arrival -- or imminent arrival -- of the U.S.S. Carl Vinson carrier strike group, expected here in the region, all designed by the Trump administration to project power and to deter North Korean leader Kim Jong-un from more provocative behavior.

But it doesn't seem to be working. After the Day of the Sun military parade when North Korea unveiled more missiles, analysts say, than any other North Korean military parade in the past, including two potential intercontinental ballistic missiles that have never been seen before, how far North Korea has actually gone in developing actual versions of those missiles since in the parade they tend to show mockups, we just don't know.

But what we do know is that North Korea has pledged to move forward, developing its nuclear program and its missile program as a deterrent against what they consider aggression from the United States -- Will Ripley, CNN, Pyongyang, North Korea.


WATSON: A former U.S. Defense Secretary is calling for a cautious approach to North Korea. (INAUDIBLE) administration and also headed the CIA. Here's what he (INAUDIBLE) D.C. on Friday.


LEON PANETTA, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The words from the administration are creating even higher volume in terms of the provocations that are going on. I think we've got to be careful here.

This is -- you know, we shouldn't engage in any precipitous action. There's a reason no U.S. president in recent history has pulled the trigger on North Korea.


WATSON: For South Korea's reaction to the failed North Korean missile launch, CNN's Alexandra Field joins us now from Yongsan military base in Seoul. That is the headquarters for U.S. forces in South Korea.

Good to see you, Alex. A question; we've heard some stern warnings from South Korea in reaction to the missile launch attempt.

But what real options does South Korea have at this time?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, North Korea's certainly trying to project this image that they're unstoppable when it (INAUDIBLE) ambitions in terms of testing their missiles and developing their nuclear problem (sic). So the question of how to counter this is a question that China is struggling with, that the U.S. is struggling with and that South Korea is struggling with in the most pressing way because they're the ones who are just on the other side of the DMZ, the border between these two countries.

The city of Seoul has some 24 million people in its wider metro area and these are the people who are concerned that they would be the direct victims of any kind of retaliation, that the North could decide to launch in terms of any pre-emptive kind of strike from the U.S. or any ally.

So what do you do that is different, that would actually be effective?

Again, that's the question here. What they did today in response to this fifth attempt to launch a ballistic missile that we have seen this year was basically the same as what they have done after any number of these launches and tests.

They convened a meeting of their National Security Council to talk about the possibility of further provocative measures from North Korea. And then the foreign ministry issued a statement, condemning this launch, pointing out that the five attempted ballistic missile launches this year stand in direct violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions. They went on to say that any more provocative actions from North Korea, like a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile or the country's --


FIELD: -- six nuclear tests would be met with strong punitive measures. And then they tried to assure the public they're working closely with allies like the United States and that they're working to accelerate strong deterrent measures against North Korean hostile actions.

When you talk about deterrent measures, it seems that they would be alluding to the THAAD system. That is the missile defense system. It's a U.S. designed system that is being deployed here in South Korea. It's a controversial system. China has objected to it, saying that it could be used to spy on China. But the U.S. has stood firm with their counterparts in South Korea, saying that it is an essential deterrent at this time in this region -- Ivan.

WATSON: But a lot of it does really sound like some of the same notes, some of the same statements that we hear after previous missile launches and nuclear tests, Alex. The U.S. vice president, Mike Pence, he is flying to the region. We understand that he was briefed about the attempted missile launch en route to Asia.

What kind of a message do you think he's going to try to bring to allies here in the region at this time of tension?

FIELD: Yes, the whole world was anticipating we'd see this kind of action from North Korea as he was heading to the region. So certainly he won't be surprised by it. You did point out that he was briefed. And the first stops that he'll make will be to the national cemetery.

And then he will come here to Yongsan. This is really the heart of the U.S.' presence in South Korea. There are some 30,000 U.S. troops who are stationed here. They work hand in hand, decade after decade, with South Korean forces to counter North Korean nuclear threats and to provide security for South Korea and for the region.

Of course you would expect that Vice President Mike Pence, when he comes here and when he meets with the troops this evening, celebrates Easter with the troops, will show them the support of the administration. That's the kind of thing that you would typically get from these diplomatic visits.

So certainly that's an opportunity for him to express his gratitude and support.

But more of the messaging for this trip will likely come out of his meetings with the acting president of South Korea and also with the prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. From Seoul, he'll move on to Japan.

This is the third high-level Trump administration official who has been out here. You had Secretary of State Jim Mattis coming out here to give confidence in the alliance then you also had the Secretary of Defense coming -- excuse me; secretary of state and Secretary of Defense both coming out here.

Now the vice president who is here to discuss what options exist when it comes to countering North Korea -- Ivan.

WATSON: It certainly is a lot of high-level regional diplomacy there. That's Alexandra Field from Yongsan, the headquarters of the U.S. and South Korean militaries, in South Korea.

I'm going to toss back now to Cyril at CNN headquarters.

VANIER: Yes, and Ivan, we've got more on that regional diplomacy you were mentioned. U.S. President Donald Trump has been calling on China to act on North Korea and said this week, if it doesn't, them the U.S. will.

A U.S. aircraft carrier group was indeed sent near the North Korean peninsula this week. Now China opposes a North Korean weapons program but it's urging restraint from the U.S. and others in dealing with the regime. CNN's Matt Rivers has more.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: China is very consistent in the way that it responds every single time there is a missile test from North Korea, every time there is a nuclear test from North Korea. China pretty much routinely condemns it.

It says that these kinds of actions are illegal under international law and it urges the Kim Jong-un regime to stop doing these kinds of things. But it's also very much consistent in its messaging to the United States in that the kind of actions the United States military takes each year with these annual drills that it conducts with the military from South Korea, that is also a provocation in its own right.

And so the consistent message from China is that the only way that there can be lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula and to scale back from this increasing tension is for both the United States and the Kim Jong-un regime to sit down and begin direct negotiations.

And China has noticed these increasing tensions. We've heard even just within the last few days from the foreign minister, Wang Yi, who was giving a press conference, who said, look, the conflict on the Korean Peninsula could break out at any moment. And both sides -- meaning the United States and North Korea -- really need to calm down, decrease the rhetoric and try and get back to the negotiating table.

So China very consistent in its positions when it comes to tests like this from North Korea. But they also are very swift to say the United States has a role to play in this as well -- Matt Rivers, CNN, Beijing.


VANIER: OK. So let's see how the U.S. is reacting to the failed missile test. Defense Secretary James Mattis put out a short statement including the reaction of President Trump. Suzanne Malveaux is in Florida where the president is spending the Easter holiday weekend.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: The White House response, the U.S. response is brief. It is strong. I want to read it to you. It is simple as well.

A statement by the Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, on North Korea missile test, the statement simply saying, "The president and his military team are aware of North Korea's most recent unsuccessful missile launch. The president has no further comment."

We also got --


MALVEAUX: -- some information from an senior administration official, saying that the vice president and the president had spoken while the vice president was in the air on his way to South Korea about the missile launch, confirming the missile launch about an hour after leaving Anchorage, Alaska, that that had also occurred.

Another U.S. official saying that the response would be low-key, to not give too much attention to this provocation by North Korea, that this is a very intentional strategy.

Having said that, the last 24 hours, the White House of course very much aware, on alert of any type of activity from North Korea. The president here at Mar-a-lago with his team, his deputy national security advisor, KT McFarland, giving him those updates, the United States very intentionally downplaying the significance.

All of this, of course, at the same time that Pence is on his way to the region, making those meetings with the acting president of South Korea even more relevant and even more urgent -- Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, West Palm Beach, Florida.


VANIER: I spoke earlier to Robin Wright, a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center. I asked her what Washington could do next as it deals with North Korea.


ROBIN WRIGHT, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: This is the fourth U.S. president that's tried to deal with North Korea, that's faced the confrontation of its developing missile and nuclear programs.

And each one of them has struggled to figure out a means of both scaring the North into cooperating and nurturing it enough to feel like there is an incentive in engagement.

I was on the trip with Madeleine Albright at the end of the Clinton administration when she went to Pyongyang and tried to deal with the North Koreans and with the current leader's father. And came away hopeful but it didn't lead to anything.

And, at this juncture, the United States really has to deal increasingly with China as the interlocutor with the North Koreans. President Trump has repeatedly said that the Chinese are the ones who need to take the critical steps.

He's tweeted that he's had great confidence that President Xi, after their talks in Mar-a-lago, was beginning to take the right steps. He pointed out again in a tweet that the Chinese had turned back a fleet of coal ships from North Korea.

But this clearly is not enough to change the thinking, the dynamics in North Korea and we have clearly not seen the last test by the North Koreans, arguably even the next few days.


VANIER: Robin Wright there.

All right. Thank you for watching this special edition of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier in Atlanta.

WATSON: And I'm Ivan Watson in Hong Kong. We'll have more news at the top of the hour. Stay with us for "MARKETPLACE AFRICA."