Return to Transcripts main page


WAPO: Intel Says Korea Has Miniaturized Nuclear Warhead. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired August 8, 2017 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] REP. JOHN GARAMENDI, (D-CA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Obviously, caused Kim Jong-Un to come out with wild extreme statements about wiping out the United States. Well, first of all, there's no way he can wipe out the United States. He can cause a lot of problems, more to the neighborhood than to the United States. And therein lies the reason I think that China, Russia and others are saying, OK, enough. We have to get this under control and we must do so.

A major war on the Korean peninsula is the very last thing anybody wants, and certainly it would be the end of the Kim Jong-Un family regime. They would be overdone, finished, and don't exist anymore. Of course, there would be extraordinary casualties and problems for South Korea, and quite probably for the neighborhood. That's why we want to get to the negotiating table. That's why the U.N. sanctions are extremely important. That's why the sanctions that the Congress of the United States put before the president, and the president signed it, reluctantly, but none the less, did sign those sanctions, all of that is part of the process of getting to the negotiating tables, backing North Korea away from its nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Of course, we should expect, before the negotiations ever began, for North Korea to say, no way, no how will we give them up. But that's why you sit down at the table, why you negotiate it from strength.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Quickly, final question, Congressman. The "Washington Post" reporting that North Korea already may have as many as 60 nuclear bombs in its arsenal. 60 nuclear bombs. Have you heard that before?

GARAMENDI: We've heard numbers varying from that number downward. The actual number, we don't know. The number of miniaturized weapons, we don't know that number either. The fact that a miniaturized nuclear weapon may be or is in existence or may be in existence is important. Let's keep in mind that this is not an imminent threat to the United States in that there are other steps they will have to have. We talked already on your program about the re-entry issue. But keep in mind that, for the neighborhood, you don't need a re-entry entry. You can use the ballistic missiles, shorter range, and put China, Russia, Japan and the neighborhood at threat. And I think that's why we're seeing the neighborhood getting engaged in a way they were not previously engaged. And certainly, they would be at the negotiating table also.

So let's -- let's not -- let's understand the seriousness of this. Let's make sure that we are having a comprehensive, rational policy out there available. That's not only available but in place. And included in that, as you said a moment ago, are all options.

The last option, we don't want to ever have to get there, would be to take out those nuclear facilities, which would be extremely difficult. Extremely difficult to do. And would almost certainly end or lead to a major conventional and possibly nuclear conflict on the Korean peninsula and in the neighborhood.

BLITZER: Let's not forget the capital of Seoul is 20, 30 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone. North Korea, just north of the DMZ, a million troops with thousands of pieces of artillery and mortars, conventional weapons, as they're called, which clearly could level that South Korean capitol. Still 28,000 U.S. troops south of the DMZ as well.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

GARAMEDNI: Thank you.

BLITZER: This is a major story we're following.

I want to bring in our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, joining us from the State Department.

What reaction, Elise, are you getting over there?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a think it's no surprise that North Korea has been moving in that direction. U.S. officials have been talking about some time they're working on mastering that miniaturization to fit a nuclear warhead on a long- range intercontinental ballistic missile. That's the scariest part of this. When you talk to officials, they say this emphasizes a need for a solution. As everybody has been saying, a military solution is really the last option.

And that's why Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Asia right now. He just wrapped up meetings with China, with Russia, with North Korea, South Korea and Japan about trying to find some kind of diplomatic solution. I'm putting pressure on North Korea, trying to use momentum of those sanctions. Today, he was in Malaysia, in Thailand, all in an effort to try and put pressure on North Korea.

And I do agree with the Congressman. This increasing threat -- and we have to note, Wolf, that this supposed DIA assessment, we don't know if that's the assessment of the entire Intelligence Committee. If they have a near certainty of the assessment that North Korea has been able to miniaturize. But certainly, the concern is if they're not there, they're almost there. And that's why I think you do see this galvanization of the international community. You saw those sanctions over the weekend.

Look, there's a lot of tension in the relationship between China and the U.S., between Russia and the U.S. Yet, they signed on to this resolution with very stiff penalties against North Korea anyway. That does signal a growing concern, agreeing urgency of the international community.

[13:35:25] BLITZER: Yes. The president, President Trump, tweeted earlier this morning, at 7:17 a.m. Eastern time, "After many years of failure, countries are coming to together to finally address the dangers posed by North Korea. We must be tough and decisive."

Elise, stand by.

Want to get back to our military analysts for right now, retired Colonel Cedric Leighton, retired Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, and retired Major General James "Spider" Marks.

Spider, when we talk about the military option, for all practical purposes, that would result in potentially hundreds of thousands of civilians, maybe millions of civilians in South Korea and in Japan, for that matter, killed.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely, Wolf. The estimates are out there. I wouldn't hazard to guess at the size of those estimates. What you described is probably, unfortunately, a pretty good estimate.

But the one thing to keep in mind is the message right now is very, very clear to the democratic nation of South Korea. The Republic of Korea understand imminently and they've lived underneath this umbrella, if you will, of the protection of the United States. We are inexorably tied to the government of Seoul. We have a very strong relationship there. We have, as you indicated, 28,000-plus troops south of the DMZ that are assigned to South Korea. We have family members that are there. So this suffering that will take place is real. And it's potentially imminent. And it has been for years and years. You realize, of course, that deployment of forces on to Korea has always lived under that -- that requirement to fight tonight. This now has been ratcheted up, the level of concern that we have, because of this capability.

Also bear in mind, as Elise pointed out, I think very, very well, this is a defense intelligence agency estimate. Which is great. All the intelligence community agencies, independently, will take similar intelligence and then run their competitive analysis against each other. So the DIA is saying this is what we've got. However, it's a distinction without a difference. When you put it all together, what we realize is, North Korea's got an ICBM capability. They have short- range missiles, plenty of those. They have been miniaturizing their nukes. Whether they have 20, some estimates, or whether they have 60, they have miniaturized nukes. North Korea is a nuclear power. They are now getting closer and closer, if not have already embraced and realized a capability of launching a nuke from sites in North Korea that could potentially hit the United States, and certainly have always been able to hit the southern portion of the peninsula. That's what ties us all together, and, really, starts to limit the number of options, but increases the requirement all of those elements of power, diplomatic element, informational, military and economic, should galvanize all together or we are creep closer to a military-only type solution. Now Kim Jong-Un is rational. He's very rational. Homicidal, but not

suicidal. That's the discussion that has to take place. If he were to launch or completely ignore any external end treaties in terms how they might try to embrace having a nuclear North Korea, but wracked in protocols and wrapped in inspections and having international community be a part of that, if he's not in a place to do that, he becomes suicidal.

BLITZER: Rick Francona, we've seen at least two intercontinental ballistic missile tests launched by North Korea. They do have impressive capability, potentially to hit Los Angeles, maybe Chicago, elsewhere in the continental United States. But there are some anti- missile systems, the THAAD System, for example, going up in South Korea. How effective would those systems be in knocking out the intercontinental ballistic missiles?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: That's the problem. THAAD was designed to get intermediate-range ballistic missiles. But the intercontinental ballistic missiles defenses are the ABM system. We've been testing that but we're not there yet. The technology isn't there. Calculations are so fast. It's like a bullet hitting a bullet. We feel confident in our ability to defend South Korea and Japan using the THAAD system. Once you get beyond that, then the numbers don't look very good at all. If you look at the missile tests, the antiballistic missile tests, it's about, I think, half of the tests are successful, and they aren't. Half is not good enough. When you're talking launching nuclear weapons, you need to be 100 percent sure you can do this. This is what's going towards this collapsing decision-making cycle that as we see that the North Koreans developed a real capability, if they demonstrate that capability, and we're very concerned about it, what do we do?

I think General Marks point is very key here. He is, Kim Jong-Un, is he suicidal or homicidal or is he rational? That's an assessment I don't think we really have a good handle on. I think he realizes, of course, he cannot launch a strike on the United States without inviting the destruction of his regime. He doesn't really want to launch a strike on the United States. I think he's coming close to what he wants. He wants a nuclear deterrent. The mere fact everybody is so exercised about his capability shows how successful he's being in that regard. He's developing the capability he wants and that's to keep the United States from attacking him.


[13:40:12] BLITZER: Yes. I was going to say, that's a really important point.

I want Cedric Leighton to weigh in as well.

The North Korean regime of Kim Jong-Un, they want respect but they also want to make sure they are protected, that regime. That nuclear capability is seen by the North Korean regime as the basis of that protection. So what makes anyone think, Cedric, that the North Koreans will give up that nuclear capability? Without it, they worry their days are numbered? COL. CEDRIC LIEGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely, Wolf. They

will not give up that capability voluntarily. We have to make a choice. Either we are concerned enough about their capability that we want to eliminate it, requiring, in my opinion, military action, direct military action against their nuclear capability, or we agree to live with it and have an international inspection regime as General Marks mentioned. That could then be one way to do that. But if the North Koreans are unwilling to accept an international inspection regime, we may find ourselves in one of those quandaries where we really end up in a place we don't want to be, and that would be a war that would require a lot of sacrifice on the part not only of South Korean people and Japanese people but also U.S. people and the folks that would be in the path of any intercontinental ballistic missile threat the North Koreans could send.

One other point I'd like to make, Wolf, one other connection that needs to be looked at here is the connection between North Korea and Iran. That is one that is going to be extremely important to look at, because there is some evidence that the Iranians have supported the North Korean missile program. And if that is, in fact, the case, then there is another source, not only Russia and China, but also Iran that could be serving the North Korean interests at this particular point in supplying them with weapons and technology that they can use to leverage their position and to gain, in essence, the status they want from a diplomatic perspective.

BLITZER: Yes. We know North Korea probably getting some help from others. But the North Koreas were providing this kind of technology, for example, to Syria years ago in developing a nuclear reactor that the Israelis destroyed. North Korea was very much involved in helping the Syrians. Didn't work out so well for the Syrians.

Stand by, guys.

I want to bring in Elise Labott, our State Department correspondent, our global affairs correspondent.

Elise, talk a little about diplomacy right now. You're getting word, I take it, that maybe some back channel, indirect contacts with North Korea are developing between the U.S. and North Korea?

LABOTT: Look, they've been all year, Wolf. You remember that the release of Otto Warmbier, although he ended up dying once back in the United States, but this sick detainee, his release was a product of secret talks between the U.S. and North Korea. The U.S. representative, the U.S. envoy for North Korea, Joseph Yun, had been meeting with North Korea officials. And the hope was that they could get all of the prisoners released. That they could kind of use that as a springboard to some further talks. The U.S. has been sending a lot of signals to North Korea that it does want to talk. And even as you hear kind of tough rhetoric coming from Ambassador Nikki Haley, from CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who talked about a possible regime change, saying, separating the regime from its weapons, you hear Secretary of State Rex Tillerson clearly saying he is ready to talk. Originally, had set no conditions. Now talking about some kind of suspension of missile tests. But I think you could be looking at an effort to try and get North Korea to the table. Certainly, the military option is the last resort, and Secretary Tillerson making quite clear, officials tell me, he would like to talk to the North Korean foreign minister. How close that is to happening, I don't know. Certainly, there are efforts being made to reach out to North Korea, to say, send us a signal, let us know that you're ready to talk, and we can find a formula that we can both feel comfortable with.

[13:45:29] BLITZER: He had a chance to talk to the North Korean foreign minister over the weekend. They were both together with a lot of other foreign ministers in Manila at this summit meeting. The North Korean foreign minister met with the South Korean foreign minister, with the Russian foreign minister, a whole bunch of other foreign ministers. But Tillerson did not meet with him. And a lot of folks are suggesting maybe that was a missed opportunity?

LABOTT: It could be a missed opportunity, Wolf, but you know from covering diplomacy so many years these type of talks have to be carefully managed and carefully prepared. You have to have an agenda, have the things you want to get across, and you have to have a strategy. Right now, the Trump administration is still feeling its way on what it wants from North Korea. And so I think this was an initial signal by Secretary Tillerson that we could have talks, but right now with North Korea launching missiles, making threats is not the time. But clearly, if you listen to what he's saying, he wants to get there. I think that officials didn't feel that the time was ready right now, would have been a little premature, but they are hoping to set the groundwork for further talks.

BLITZER: We'll see what President Trump decides. I know he has spent a lot of time since taking office on this North Korean threat right now.

Elise, stand by.

Will Ripley joining us from Beijing. He's been to North Korea a dozen times over the past few years.

Will, you're getting more regional reaction, reaction coming in from other countries over there where you are?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And we know that the Chinese government, Wolf, continues to reiterate their stance that the United States shares some of the blame here for the escalating tension on the Korean peninsula. What China, we expect, in the coming hours will call for, all sides remain calm despite the news in the "Washington Post" that North Korea, according to "The Post" has miniaturized a nuclear warhead. China will say that the United States needs to suspend its joint military exercises with South Korea. They believe if the United States suspended those military exercises, perhaps North Korea would be willing to suspend the testing of its missiles, would maybe stop launching missiles, stop testing more nuclear devices. They've already conducted five nuclear tests and have not ruled out the possibility of detonating more devices.

But the problem is the United States has said they absolutely won't discontinue their military drills because they say they have to practice with the South Koreans in the event of a conflict. And North Koreans say if those drills continue, they won't stop rapidly developing their missile program. So you have these two sides that are very far apart in terms of the conditions that would get them to the bargaining table. And complicating measure, a new round of sanctions approved by Russia and China, which is unprecedented. China has never approved sanctions after a missile launch. Normally, only after a nuclear test. It goes to show there is increasing concern in this region, certainly on China's part, about the progress North Korea is making.

Also, the Japanese government reportedly has also -- they also believe that North Korea miniaturized these nuclear warheads. A shared intelligence assessment from the United States also in Japan, although clearly the U.S., Japan and South Korea are all sharing intelligence information. We don't know what information has been shared. Hopefully, we'll get more clarity from all of the stakeholders in this region as well as in the United States in the coming hours -- Wolf?

BLITZER: I think we have a clip from Nikki Haley, Will. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She was on tv here in the United States earlier today speaking about China and its potential role. As you correctly point out, China did join the United States and -- and Russia and all members, all 15 members of the United States Security Council in voting for that U.N. Security Council resolution over the weekend, increasing sanctions against North Korea. China very, very significant. About 85 percent to 90 percent exports and imports involve China.

Listen to Ambassador Nikki Haley.


AMB NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: China stepped up and not only said they were going to vote for this, they announced that they were going to enforce, and they encouraged every other country to enforce. So this was serious. You have to remember that, for China, the last missile launch took place right next to their border. Their ground actually shook. The Chinese people felt it. They know this is serious.


[13:50:02] BLITZER: You're there in Beijing. So give us the reaction from -- of the Chinese government, the Chinese leadership to this most recent North Korean ballistic missile.

RIPLEY: Well, what China is indicating, Wolf, is that they are prepared to seriously enforce this now-seventh round of U.N. Security Council sanctions. And what that means is that China stops companies in this country from buying North Korean coal, iron, seafood, which are major revenue generators. That China agrees to crack down on banks that are doing business with North Korea to further restrict North Korean access to the financial institutions that have allowed them to evade these sanctions, by setting up fake companies, doing black-market deals that allow billions of dollars to continue to flow into the country, despite round after round of sanctions. So China is promising, at least for now, that they will enforce the sanctions.

But Wolf, you know sanctions take a very long time to take effect. It is not an overnight -- it is not an overnight solution. And analysts believe that North Korea is just a matter of months away from having this ICBM that could hit almost anywhere on the mainland U.S.

I can also tell you from talking to North Koreans, as recently as June, when I was in the country for just about a month and a half ago, this does not come as a surprise. And they say that no matter what economic action is taken on the part of China or anyone in the global community, they will cut from other programs before they cut from their missile programs. And this is a regime that's stayed in power during some very, very difficult times, economically, including the North Korean famine in the late 1990s, when there were natural disasters, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and very severe economic mismanagement inside North Korea that led to even the most privileged citizens eating grass and bark. And even then, when people were starving and dying of starvation in North Korea, the regime stayed in power.

So everyone that I've spoken with, from the official level down to the on the street level in Pyongyang, has told me they are ready for very difficult economic times if need be. That they would continue to support Kim Jong-Un's development of these nuclear weapons, which are, let's be honest here, they are designed to keep him and his regime in power. They are an insurance policy to keep the current government in power and to prevent outside attack. They feel the threat of an outside attack from the United States.

BLITZER: Very significant. And the North Korean regime, as you know, and you've been there, so many times, very, very isolated. Earlier in the year, the Chinese government, at least for a time, suspended flights on, what, Air China from Beijing to Pyongyang. But they have been reinstated. Is that basically the only way now to get into Pyongyang, to fly either Air China or the North Korean airline from Beijing into Pyongyang?

RIPLEY: So, there's usually about one flight a day from here in Beijing to Pyongyang on Air Koreo. Air China will sometimes suspend flights. They say it's because of lack of passengers, although we have no way of knowing if the political and military situation plays into China's decision to suspend their flights. There's also the ability to go into North Korea by train or there is also a bridge, a border crossing, that allows cargo to move back and forth. But for the majority of people visiting the country, you fly in from here in Beijing. You have to go to the North Korean embassy, which is just a few blocks from where I'm standing right now. You get your visa and then that's how you get into North Korea.

Obviously, if China were to shut down air space and stop Air Koreo from flying, that would be significant. Because I can tell you, I've taken many, many Air Koreo flights and you see televisions and large cargo boxes and even plants, and a lot of different electronics that are brought into the country on those planes. You see people in North Korea wearing Nike sneakers and Asics track suits. Those are brought in. That's fashion that is brought in from China. A lot of it brought in on those trains and also on those trucks and trains. So if China does crack down on trade the way they're saying they might do, it could have a significant dent in the quality of life for North Korea's consumer class, the privileged citizens in Pyongyang, who Kim Jong-Un really relies on for support.

Would sanctions be enough to stop that support? Again, we've seen North Korea go through some very hard times in the past and the regime has managed to stay firmly in control. It is an authoritarian country. Political dissent is not tolerated and yet people over the decades have proven remarkably loyal, even during some very difficult circumstances.

I also just want to point out, North Korea has had for decades weapons that could be very destructive. The conventional arsenal that's pointed across the Demilitarized Zone at Seoul, all of that artillery could annihilate a good portion of that city and kill so many people. North Korea's also believed to have possessed chemical weapons that they could use to launch an attack on cities in the United States and around the world. They haven't done that. Even at times over the course of recent decades, when tensions have escalated to a very close point of war, the sense I get, North Korea doesn't want to use these weapons. However, they say they wouldn't be afraid to use them if they feel they were provoked or -- and this is what a lot of people are worried about -- if there was some sort of misstep, some sort of action that caused a chain reaction, and then they wouldn't be able to stop it. That's the real fear on all sides of this conflict right now.

[13:55:33] BLITZER: And some analysts have suggested that North Koreans learned a lesson from the late Muammar Kaddafi, who was ruler of Libya. He gave up his nuclear weapons program. We all know how, in the end, that wound up for him. There's no Moammar Kaddafi right now.

RIPLEY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: His regime is gone. And the North Koreans don't want to follow in his footsteps.

So, Will, stand by.

I want to bring back Cedric Leighton and Colonel Rick Francona, our military analysts.

Cedric, let's start with you.

This whole notion of North Korea, at least at a minimum, freezing its nuclear program, and that could result in a direct dialogue, for example, with the United States, maybe easing some sanctions. Do you think that's at all realistic?

LEIGHTON: I don't, Wolf. I think it's highly unlikely that the North Koreans would voluntarily freeze their nuclear weapons program, because they see that as their main force of leverage. They're going to see this as going to be, in essence, the one piece that they have that's the supreme bargaining chip that will keep them, in essence, focused on regime preservation and the ability to keep everything that they hold dear in their system. So that is going to be, I think, a critical issue for them. So as far as that goes, I think that, in their view, is a nonnegotiable issue.

BLITZER: Rick Francona, let me put up a chart on our screen of the North Korean missile test that, at least so far this year, nearly a dozen tests, some more successful, clearly, than others. The two most successful, apparently, the last two. Shows they did have a range, potentially, of hitting the continental United States. How good is this capability that they have?

FRANCONA: Well, it's getting better all the time. Every time they have a test, even if it's a failure, they learn something. And each test is geared to test one component or one facet of the program. So, these -- the number of missile tests that they're doing and the rapidity with which they're doing them shows they're getting closer to the capability they want. And now they're putting the finishing touches on that capability. And the next step, I think everybody believes, will be the development of shroud that's required to protect that nuclear warhead and when it reenters. You know, and the North Koreans are good engineers. They'll figure this out. So I think we would be foolish to underestimate them. And I think we've all been taken a little by surprise on how fast and how effective this program has been.

And I do agree with Cedric, that no matter what we promise the North Koreans, they're not going to give up this program. This is their ace in the hole. This is their deterrent capability. This makes them not just a third-world country.

BLITZER: Yes, it gives them the protection, the insurance that they want to survive.

And so basically, Rick Francona, do you think that there's any chance they would at least at a minimum freeze the program?

FRANCONA: Yes, you know, that's an interesting concept. I don't know that they would. They may want to go a little bit further until they have the capability, and then set up some international program, as General Marks was alluding to earlier, the inspector regime. I don't see that happening. I don't see them bargaining this away. But you know, we often said that about the Iranians, that they weren't going to give it up and we see how that turned out. So there's precedent with other nuclear programs. But I think North Korea is a special case. I do not see them giving in on this particular issue.

BLITZER: And very quickly, Cedric Leighton, the sanctions, over all of these years, they've been very intense. Now they're going to pick up a bit thanks to this U.N. Security Council resolution. But do you think, when all is said and done, they'll make much of a difference?

LEIGHTON: I don't think they will make enough of a difference to prevent the North Koreans from actually deploying their nuclear capability. Their miniaturization piece, if this is accurate, is going to be the big thing that they have and nothing will deter them from that. BLITZER: That's a very, very dangerous situation.

Let me just recap for our viewers once again. We're following all the breaking news, major developments. "The Washington Post" reporting that North Korea, in the words of the "Washington Post," has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles. "The Post" quoting the U.S. intelligence community as assessing that North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles.

We're going to have continuing coverage of all of these late-breaking developments out of North Korea.

For our international viewers, "AMANPOUR" is next.

For our viewers in North Korea, "NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

[14:00:11] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.