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Vice President Mike Pence Visits South Korea; Pence: "All Options Are On The Table" With North Korea; Pence Warns North Korea "Era Of Strategic Patience Is Over"; Interview with Rep. Adam Kinzinger. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 17, 2017 - 08:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Let's begin with Dana Bash who is live in Seoul, South Korea. She has an exclusive interview with the vice president. Dana, what struck you most in speaking with Vice President Pence?

[08:00:04] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, obviously the location. We were at the DMZ. It was the vice president's first time there, the first time in this young administration that either the vice president or the president has been there. There have been lower ranking cabinet officials, but the fact that this visit happened right now when things are so incredibly tense and that the vice president went out, looked out across at the DMZ, saw North Korean soldiers who were taking pictures of him, that was one of the first questions I asked him, wanted to ask him, what was that like?


BASH: Mr. Vice President, I was watching you watch what is behind you earlier. What was going through your mind looking at North Korea?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a frontier of freedom. Now for more than six decades, U.S. forces and forces of South Korea have held the line for freedom here at the DMZ. And it's inspiring for me to see the resolve of these soldiers, to see the alliance that we have forged with the people of South Korea throughout the generations. And it gives me great confidence as we go into the future that we will achieve our objective, the secure and prosperous South Korea, but also that we will see a Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons.

BASH: You said that the age, excuse me, you said the era of strategic patience is over. What does that mean in real terms?

PENCE: It was the policy of the United States of America during prior administrations to practice what they called strategic patience, and that was to hope to marshal international support to bring an end to the nuclear ambitions and the ballistic missile program of North Korea. That clearly has failed, and the advent of nuclear weapons testing, the development of a nuclear program, even this weekend, to see another attempt at a ballistic missile launch, all confirms the fact that strategic patience has failed. BASH: But what does it mean to end it in practical terms? It's

either use military force or find a diplomatic solution that has eluded all of your predecessors.

PENCE: I think as the president's made clear that we're abandoning the failed policy of strategic patience. But we're going to redouble our efforts to bring economic and diplomatic pressure to bear on North Korea. Our hope is that we can resolve this issue peaceably. And I know the president was heartened by his discussions with President Xi. We've seen China begin to take some actions to bring pressure on North Korea, but there needs to be more.

BASH: And, you know, this is real for you, that there are estimates that North Korea could have a missile ready that could hit the continental U.S., Seattle, by 2020, which is going to be on your watch. Is that weighing on you, and is that a deadline that you all have in mind?

PENCE: I know the president of the United States has no higher priority than the safety and security of the American people. The presence of U.S. forces in South Korea, our longstanding commitment to the Asia-Pacific, and ensuring the security of the continental United States will remain the priority of this administration.

But look, we want to be clear. Our hope and, frankly, our prayer is that, by marshaling the resources of nations across the Asia-Pacific, not just South Korea and Japan, other allies, and China, to bring renewed pressure to bear will achieve our goal of a nuclear free Korean peninsula.

But the people of North Korea should make no mistake that the United States of America and our allies will see to the security of this region and see to the security of the people of our country.

BASH: I know we're running late. I just have to ask about your dad. I just heard you say that General Brooks gave you some information about his service here. He was awarded the Bronze Star. What did you learn and how does it feel to be here in an area that is still at war effectively, only an armistice, still at war for 67 years?

PENCE: It's very meaningful for me and my family to be here so many years after my father's experience. My dad didn't talk about his experience until we were all grown up. There was a lot of tough fighting here. He spent time on Pork Chop Hill and Mount Baldy, and the general and his team were kind enough to share information about those battles with us.

[08:05:06] But I think in some ways my dad just might be smiling from heaven to see that sacrifices that he and other American soldiers and South Korean soldiers made here now passed on to my generation, has not changed our commitment to the security and prosperity the people of South Korea. The sacrifices that he made and that generation of Americans made have made this an extraordinary success of South Korea possible. And for me, it's deeply meaningful to be here, and maybe in some small way to continue that generation's work and to make it clear to the world that America stands with South Korea to preserve freedom on the Korean peninsula, and to bring stability and security to the Asian region.


BASH: So you see there the vice president seemed to be cautious much more so than later in the day when talking about the idea of military action potentially against North Korea. There at the DMZ he was about 100 feet away from North Korean military men. But later he gave ace speech next to the acting president of South Korea, and he was much morrow robust and forward leaning in the notion of military action, Poppy, talking about the fact President Trump used military in Afghanistan and Syria already and that the North Koreans should keep that in mind before they test the resolve of this president and the resolve and the ability of the U.S. armed forces. Poppy?

HARLOW: Fascinating interview, incredible access. Dana Bash, thank you so much. Stick around, we also want to get to the White House because the big question this morning is can this White House actually convince China to do enough to really compel North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster insisting, quote, "The problem is coming to a head."

CNN's Athena Jones is live at the White House with more this morning. Good morning.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. That is one of the most important questions at the moment, will China do more? It's clearly something President Trump wants to see. He has been quite vocal about his expectation that China, which is North Korea's main trading partner, will step up pressure on the north to rein in its nuclear ambitions. He has acknowledge, though, in recent days that even China may not have the magic bullet here. One thing that is clear from the perspective of the president's national security team is that some kind of action is going to be necessary. Here's more of what H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser had to say about all this.


H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: And I think it's really the consensus with the president, our key allies in the region, Japan and South Korea in particular, but also the Chinese leadership that this problem is coming to a head. And so it's time for us to undertake all actions we can short of a military option to try to resolve this peacefully.


JONES: So there you heard McMaster talk about undertaking all actions short of a military option. So it's interesting to see the president take to Twitter on Sunday morning to talk about the U.S.' military strength. He tweeted "Our military is building and is rapidly becoming stronger than ever before. Frankly, we have no choice." So you're seeing a lot of tough rhetoric on all sides. You have North Korean officials saying the regime is ready for war. You have the president boasting about U.S. military prowess, china calling on all sides to come together to resolve this peacefully. So a lot of eyes are going to be on the vice president's trip over the next several days throughout the region. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Appreciate the reporting.

North Korea trying to show off but may have shown its hand, according to some U.S. military experts, analyzing the weapons on display. CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with more. What did we see that we haven't seen before?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. One of the big pictures, one of the big images, giant canisters apparently from intercontinental ballistic missiles, but we don't know if there really is an intercontinental ballistic missiles. These canisters rolling through this paraded in Pyongyang over the weekend. North Korea has never built an ICBM of this kind of range and capability. So were these just cancers or does it represent a new missile capability? They have a long way to go, experts say, in guidance and targeting to have these missiles really work.

They also showed off missiles that they apparently do have, intermediate shorter range, if you will, regional range missiles both land and sea based that could potentially attack Japan or South Korea. That is a big, more near term worry right now. The U.S. has missile defense in the region if either of those countries were to come under attack from North Korea.

[08:10:03] But right now what everybody is also watching for is North Korea about to have a sixth underground nuclear test. Pentagon officials say it still could happen at any time. Chris, Poppy?

CUOMO: Appreciate it, Barbara.

Let's bring back Dana Bash in Seoul, South Korea. Joining us now, Gordon Chang, author of "Nuclear Showdown, North Korea Takes on the World," he's also a columnist with "The Daily Beast," and Chris Cillizza, reporter and editor at large for CNN politics. Gordon, you made that observation what was in the canister. That mattered to you. This notion of what happened with the latest missile test, was it U.S. cyber skills that took it out, or could it could have been something else? What is your take on these issues?

GORDON CHANG, COLUMNIST, "DAILY BEAST": I think that certainly it could have been cyber sabotage. We've obviously developed a lot. There have been a lot of unexplained failures of North Korean missiles. But also there's another aspect. I actually don't think the North Koreans were really thinking of testing a missile now. I thought they were going to go for the nuke just before the big parade, because China warned them off, because we warned China. So essentially this I think was a rushed missile test. This missile looks like it was one that was fired off on February 12th and August 24th. It worked both times before. The fact that it didn't work now means I think the technicians didn't have time to prep for the test because is Kim Jong-un made a political decision to have a test to show how strong he was.

HARLOW: Chris, we had Representative Jim Himes on last hour, Democrat. He said, look nothing is different this time around. All past administrations, Republicans and Democrats, have tried to deal with North Korea's nuclear ambitions and have failed. He said this president is dealing with the same chessboard. Is he or does he have more leverage here with China than his predecessors?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNN POLITICS: I watched, I was fascinated by that. I think a question is, how much did the Mar-a-Lago visit with President Xi matter? We know they've done some things potentially talking about North Korea, but that's not, this is within a week. I don't know that we can draw broad conclusions from it.

A lot I think of what you see right now is rhetorically and tonally different from the Trump White House than the Obama White House. You see Mike Pence there, Mike Pence said the era of strategic patience is over. He's very tough in the speeches, as Dana mentioned. That's not a policy. But it does matter, in diplomacy. Tone, rhetoric matters in these things. That is different. Whether or not China has adjusted its broad scale stance as it relates to North Korea based on one visit to Mar-a-Lago I struggle to see.

HARLOW: It's an interesting point because China did turn away those North Korean coal ships. But if you look at total net imports into China from North Korea, they're up. They're still benefiting North Korea economically.

CUOMO: And these missile tubes that Gordon and Barbara Starr are talking about, there is part of the calculus. How did they get those? How did they get those J.L. missiles? How did they get the same thing that China has in North Korea?

Dana Bash, words matter. Stares matter. What did you make of the moment you asked about the reality of North Korea having a munitions or military asset that could make it to the United States. The vice president stared at you. Did you take it as deliberation, fatigue, not liking another one of those Dana Bash questions? What did you take it as?


BASH: Probably all of the above, and other things that we're not thinking about or maybe shouldn't say on morning television.

No, I mean I think that this is very, very sensitive. It's very difficult. I mean, that is a reality and a reality that I think any administration would rather not talk about publicly, and when I say that, it is that intelligence experts, people who are very focused on this, and even senior people who I've talked to on Capitol Hill who have access to this intelligence say they are genuinely concerned that the North Koreans will be able to develop a long range missile that can hit the continental U.S. by 2020, which would still be when President Trump and Vice President Pence are in the White House.

So that's why I specifically asked that question, and I don't think it takes a nuclear rocket scientist to conclude that that is one of the main reasons why the Trump administration has been so robust and so focused on North Korea in its early days in the administration, why Mike Pence in his first trip to Asia came to South Korea first, went to the DMZ first, made the statements that he made today, because they understand this isn't something that they can kick the can down the road on as, not for lack of trying. But the Clinton administration, the Bush administration, and the Obama administration did vis-a-vis the North Korean nuclear policy. It's not something they can do because the longer they wait, it's not possible. It's more imminent, and that's obviously why he said what he said today.


HARLOW: Gordon, critics are right when they say so many of this president's predecessors have tried and failed at this. But what is the lesson learned? What is the lesson learned from the Clinton administration's failure on nuclear agreement? What pages can this administration take from President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, on dealing with North Korea? Granted, a different leader but same sort of Hermit Kingdom, same idea with what you're grappling with here?

CHANG: I think the most important lesson comes after what the Bush administration did, and that was really to place a higher priority on integrating China into the international system then disarming North Korea.

So we got basically a pretty arrogant China and a nuked up North Korea, and I think it's very important for President Trump to say or at least to imply, as maybe H.R. McMaster did today that North Korea is our number one problem.

We are going to solve this, and other things like China's relations are secondary. I think Beijing needs to understand that, and if they see there has been a shift in that very important sort of doctrine that we've had, putting China first, I think we might actually get some progress.

CUOMO: Cilizza, what is the political observation of this dynamic here in terms of who's calling the shots? There is a suggestion that Trump is being heavily reliant on the military right now, that's why we're seeing this posturing, brinksmanship, saber rattling.

It's not like during the Clinton era when they were heavy on soft power and diplomacy which you could argue was the only time in recent history that North Korea seemed to stand down. Let's put that to the side.

Do you think that that's what we are seeing here as Trump is quiet, wasn't out front in Syria and Afghanistan. Not out front now, it's Pence who is in South Korea, because he's listening to the military.

CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, what we know, Chris, is that Donald Trump puts a huge priority on surrounding himself with former military, whether it was mike Flynn, whether it's H.R. McMaster, General Mattis. This is General Kelly and he speaks about it all the time.

You know, he loved the "Mad Dog" Mattis nickname. He likes that ethic of the military, which is not unique among presidents but he's particularly drawn to it. So I think that's part one. Remember he's come a long way since I know more than the general. That famous quote. I think he does tend to defer a little bit, number one.

Number two, I do think what you're seeing here, Syria, Afghanistan, and now statements about North Korea from Pence in some way it feels as though there's a new sheriff in town doctrine.

You know, the Trump doctrine to me is very ill formed at this point, but it's sort of, it's a tonal thing in many ways. It's -- on Afghanistan they didn't do enough, on Syria not enough. North Korea it's still a problem.

We're not going to let that be a problem. We're not going to be in the soft power. We're going to be in the hard power and tough statements and tough actions if those statements aren't respected. So I think you're seeing a little coalescing there.

HARLOW: Chris, Gordon, Dana, thank you all very much. Dana is going to be back with us very shortly to take us inside what it was really like for her as a journalist to be there in the DMZ with the vice president, pretty remarkable. Stick around for that.

Coming up directly after this, no more strategic patience. Do Vice President Pence's comments mean the U.S. will take more decisive action next time Pyongyang launches another missile test? We'll ask Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger how the U.S. should respond. That's ahead.



CUOMO: Vice President Mike Pence warning North Korea not to test the United States strength or President Trump just moments after he visited the DMZ. Joining us now is Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, the deputy Republican Whip and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. It's good to see you, sir.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: You too, Chris. Thanks. Good morning.

CUOMO: So talking tough. Americans like it. Works well especially domestically, but it is a very different game as you know all too well once you go abroad. This apparent brinksmanship, do you think that's what we are seeing that the White House is testing the idea of the threat of force to try to change the dynamic of North Korea?

KINZINGER: I think the White House is doing in this case what needs to be done, which is, look, the diplomatic instrument of power is best and most effective when backed up with the military instrument of power. So basically in an adversarial relationship, if you say the North Korea or China or to whoever and say, we are willing to use military force and I guarantee you we will prevent.

We have the ability to prevent you from marrying you existing nuclear missiles or your nuclear warheads to a missile that can reach the United States. We're promising that you won't be able to do that and we're giving that credible threat now let's find diplomacy as a way to do this, as a way to get out of this without military confrontation.

I think that's what you're seeing in this administration and it's like when you look at what happened in Syria, the president, President Obama and Secretary Kerry in a very good heart wanted to negotiate a solution to Syria, but when all of a sudden done, they did not back that with a credible threat of force.

And so therefore you saw Assad and Russia never compelled to really get a peaceful negotiation (inaudible).

CUOMO: Well, two points, right, Congressman? First, 2013 was very different in 2017 in terms of the American and Congress' appetite for force, right? Obama drew the red line, right or wrong, pretty clearly crossed in most people's observational notion.

And then he goes to Congress, he says, you have to weigh in, the congressmen didn't want any part of it. The American people didn't any want any part of it so it wasn't as simple as just being weak about it.

We'll see what difference this bombing makes in Syria, but the idea of, hey, we want to do this diplomatically, but you know, U.S. is no joke when it comes to military might. That's always been the position, but this seems to be more aggressive and is there a risk that comes with that aggression?

KINZINGER: Well, I think there's always a risk on Syria by the way I was talking about a year and a half ago there was an attempt to negotiate a solution and I agree, I think Congress bears some responsibility, because you had people like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul out there campaigning against giving the president authorization to bomb in 2013.

And North Korea, what you have is a new Donald Trump, a new administration that came in, can start that relationship on a fresh page and say, all right, here's the deal.

[08:25:04]We know that you are close to marrying a nuclear -- keep in mind they already have nukes, marrying that to a missile to reach our allies in the short term and us in the long-term.

Here's the deal, the deal is we're going to do anything we need to militarily to prevent that. Our hope is through China and through other means you know that we're serious and we can get to a peaceful solution.

CUOMO: The notion of a preemptive strike, you said earlier on, hey, we have the ability right now to keep you from marrying a nuclear capability with a propellant, with the actual missile. Would you back a pre-emptory strike? What would you need to hear from the president of the United States to vote yes on something like that?

KINZINGER: Well, in terms of a pre-emptive strike, to me the absolute worst case scenario is you know, Korea, North Korea has a nuclear missile that can deliver on any of our allies. Next to the worst is a preemptive strike.

So this is the last case scenario, but this is where the administration has to look at the whole thing and say, look, number one, do we feel that we are at threat right now of passing the point of no return with North Korea, where there is no option, once they do have the ability to put that to an ICBM?

And I think up until that point, we need to do everything possible to prevent that. There is a moment, again, North Korea is exactly where we fear Iran could get and why there was a whole Iran nuclear deal was to prevent them from getting to this point.

So this is dead serious and this will be up to the experts in the military to say here's the point which there is no return beyond it, and hopefully we never get there because that's a next to worst case scenario.

CUOMO: And as interesting shadow dynamic, you remember what the threats of force seemed to do with Iran, right, they doubled down and go deeper into the reserves of where they were going to test and how they were going to test.

It was the economic sanctions and the soft power ultimately created a resolution, "resolution" as many don't think it ended the situation. Let me ask you something about what we're not talking about because of what's going on abroad right now, which is Russia and its geopolitical implications and impact on our election.

You had a congressional delegation meeting with your foreign counterparts as part of what we should all be on the same page about Russia loomed large. What did you hear?

KINZINGER: So look, all of our allies, I was in France, Latvia, Poland and the Netherlands and all of them were frankly happy about the strike in Syria. They said not just because of the Syria issue. It sent a message to Russia.

They were happy with what the vice president and Secretary Mattis and folks in the administration have said about NATO and they feel more comfortable in it. There's no doubt they were concerned with some of the early words of the president, but that seems to have shifted lately, because he has said NATO is no longer obsolete.

And so look, there are some strong concerns. We're having to rebuild infrastructure right now in Eastern Europe, as part of the European reassurance initiative with troops deployed in the Baltics. I saw by the way our men and women operating heroically doing live fire exercises in Latvia.

And I got to tell you, we have the best trained military and I'll tell you the Russians will think twice before making any incursions into the Baltics because they know what they would face on the other end.

CUOMO: And not just another appraisal of the uninitiated. You're a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Thank you very for joining us as always, Congressman, appreciate it.

KINZINGER: Any time.

CUOMO: Poppy.

HARLOW: All right, thanks, Chris. The president this morning up and tweeting about the media again. So why is he doing this when there are so many serious situations playing out around the world? We'll get the bottom line, next.