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North Korea Threatens Strike On Guam; Trump Threatens "Fire And Fury"

Aired August 9, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:17] CLARISSA WARD, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, the fire and the fury as President Trump delivers his strongest warning yet to North Korea. It

retaliates with threats of missile strikes on U.S. soil. Reaction from Washington and we're live in the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

Plus, rise of the generals, Pulitzer prize-winning author Tom Ricks on the military men inside Trump's White House.

Good evening everyone and welcome to the program. I'm Clarissa Ward in London sitting in for Christiane. Well, the rhetoric is ratcheting up and

the threats are alarming. North Korea's regime and U.S. President Donald Trump trading warnings as tensions between the two countries escalate

sharply. Pyongyang says it will turn the U.S. mainland into the theater of a nuclear war at the first sign of the U.S. attack. And it's threatening

of preemptive strike against the Pacific territory of Guam.

President Trump already saying North Korea would face "fire and fury" if the threats continue. And earlier, Mr. Trump used Twitter to emphasize his

point, saying his first order as U.S. president was to renovate and modernize the nuclear arsenal. He went on to say that hopefully the U.S.

will never have to use that power. The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stepped in afterwards to explain the president's statements.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I think the president -- what the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language

that Kim Jong-un would understand, because he doesn't seem to understand diplomatic language. I think the president just wanted to be clear to the

North Korean regime that U.S., you know, unquestionable ability to defend itself, will defend itself and its allies, and I think it was important

that he deliver that message to avoid any miscalculation on their part.


WARD: Well, Ivan Watson joins us now from the U.S. island territory of Guam in the Pacific this evening.

Ivan, I want to get a sense of how people there are responding to this threat from North Korea.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I've only been on the ground here for a couple of hours, but I do not see any signs of

panic or, you know, the community preparation for anything that -- anything like a conflict. If anything, believe it or not, I flew in here from South

Korea on a plane, a commercial airliner full of tourists from Asia to what is a pretty popular tourist destination, almost all the hotels here were

fully booked. It was hard to get a hotel room here.

There was some gallows humor at customs and border control from the U.S. officers there, jokes and kind of questions about what may be in the

future. So, clearly, people know that Guam has been threatened recently by North Korea and that there's been this heated exchange of words between

President Trump and North Korea.

The governor of Guam has come out and made it clear that this island isn't under any particular new threat that he's in touch with the Department of

Homeland Security in Washington, which also has representatives here in Guam. He's in touch with military commanders here who reside here on some

of the U.S. military bases here and that there are adequate defense mechanisms here such as a THAAD missile defense system that was installed a

couple of years ago. That's the same system that was more controversially brought to South Korea within the last year.

And then finally, you have the fact that Secretary of State Tillerson himself traveled through Guam just a matter of hours ago from Asia on his

way back to the U.S. His plane stopped here for refueling, this is one of the key uses for Guam for the U.S. military for refueling and resupply and

so on. And was asked specifically about possible threats to Guam or perception of threat, and what his response was is that, he did not at

anytime consider redirecting his itinerary and he insisted that there is no additional threat to Guam right now. Clarissa.

WARD: OK, Ivan from the strategically important U.S. territory of Guam. Thank you so much for joining us.

The U.S. Defense Secretary has issued a new warning to North Korea saying Pyongyang should seize any consideration of actions that will lead to the

end of the regime and the destruction of its people.

[14:05:11] Joining me now is Meredith Sumpter, she is the Asia director at the Eurasia Group. She joins me from Washington.

Meredith, thank you so much for being with us on the program. I guess let's start out. We're hearing a real ratcheting up of the rhetoric. But

do you think anything has changed in substance? Are we sort of pushing ever closer to the edge of an abyss here?

MEREDITH SUMPTER, ASIA DIRECTOR, EURASIA GROUP: Absolutely not. Despite tensions being ratcheted up with that exchange of fiery rhetoric, we are no

closer to actual military confrontation now than we were before.

WARD: And so when people --

SUMPTER: And that is really for -- there are two key reasons for that actually that perhaps we should discuss.

On Pyongyang side, Kim Jong-un says a lot of things that he makes a lot of threats, that the end of the day, he knows that if he should undertake any

kind of military strike against the U.S. or its allies, the counter response would likely be the end of his regime. And on the U.S. side, the

U.S. defense chiefs that are advising President Trump, are keenly aware of the catastrophic consequences of any kind of military action against North

Korea. And have been clear and consistent that their focus -- the administration's focus rather is on ratcheting pressure on North Korea to

force them back to the negotiation table.

WARD: So what did you make of this report in the Washington Post that talked about North Korea successfully producing a miniaturized nuclear

warhead that can fit inside its missiles? If this is true, obviously, this is a significant landmark or benchmark, how concerned would you be about


SUMPTER: Well, first of all, I should note that this was a Defense Intelligence Agency report. The DIA is one of many upwards of 30 plus

intelligence agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.

So, one intelligence agency coming forth with a report does not mean that is the sense of the broader intelligence community that this is indeed the

case. But regardless, I think it's pretty clear that North Korea has made progress across a range of issues with these nuclear and missile programs,

and so everyone is watching closely for onward evidence with this missile testing that this is indeed the case. But keep in mind, there are four key

things that allies (ph) are watching to determine whether or not North Korea has a credible ICBM -- nuclear capable ICBM threat. And so far,

North Korea has only met one of those four factors, that being that it has demonstrated it has an ICBM, that could reach the Continental United


WARD: So when you hear President Trump talking about fire and fury and we should add that according to CNN reporting, these comments of his according

to some White House insiders were reportedly just sort of improvised as opposed to the result of some kind of coherent strategy. But when you hear

that type of rhetoric, does it give you pulse for thought or concern given your rather more sort of sober analysis of the situation?

SUMPTER: I think the most important thing for those of us that are watching the North Korean nuclear threat in the likely U.S. response would

be to keep your eyes focused on what the defense chiefs and what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says. By that, I mean, General Mattis, I mean, the

Joint Chiefs of Staff head General Dunford, watch them closely for how they are convened in the North Korean nuclear threat and what the U.S. is

prepared and willing to do.

They are going to always have to push back on North Korea's blaster. But from what we have seen thus far, the military chiefs, Secretary of State

Rex Tillerson and others are clearly focused on trying to ratchet up pressure on North Korea through staving off any financial reserves that it

used to build its missiles and nuclear capability to force it back to the negotiating table. Neither side must to see a (ph) military confrontation,

but both sides are raising to develop leverage over the other for use at the negotiating table.

Bottom line, the ending here is more likely to be at the negotiating table than on the battlefield.

WARD: That may be the case, but I guess the question becomes, at what stage do we say that the status quo ante simply doesn't work anymore? We

tried strategic patience, it didn't work. We tried the diplomatic negotiating table, the root of negotiations, it didn't work. They're still

developing, they're still making progress. At what point do you believe a military option becomes in -- a legitimate consideration?

SUMPTER: There are no good options as you have rightly noted. But I would say that, at this point, we placed about a 10% probability on a military

option, a 70% probability that the U.S. administration will continue down the pressure track on North Korea to try to force Pyongyang back to a

diplomatic and negotiated diplomatic solution.

With only -- I'm not going to ascertain any hypothetical question, but I would only say that the president himself has made clear that he is not

making any red line with North Korea.

[14:10:05] But the defense chiefs have said that if they can gain evidence that North Korea is in a process of preparing to launch an attack against

the United States, that then would be perhaps something that the U.S. feels that it absolutely has to respond to, but only then its very last resort.

And, the defense chiefs, the diplomatic chiefs and the president himself are now focused on trying to find any other means to resolve this issue

peacefully and without military conflict.

WARD: The president has also said that China should -- ultimately would be the country that takes the lead on this issue. We saw them agree with the

Security Council to usher in this new round of sanctions. Now, we're hearing officials in Beijing calling for calm. Do you expect to see China

now start to play a more proactive, more productive role in pushing for a diplomatic solution to the North Korea crisis once and for all?

SUMPTER: The Chinese have always been pushing for a diplomatic solution to the North Korea crisis. But, the parameters of what they want, that

diplomatic solution to look like, has been unacceptable to the U.S. side. So I expect that China will continue to be heavily involved in the North

Korean nuclear crisis and look to continue to keep those communication channels open with Washington, as well as the Seoul and Tokyo on viable

ways to ratchet down tensions and focus all the parties on trying to steer this away from more fiery rhetoric intentions, and more so towards how can

we find a negotiated solution and outcome to the North Korea problem.

WARD: And just quickly to finish off. I mean, are you concerned at all by these joint military drills that continue to take place with South Korea,

with Japan? Is there running a risk of escalating an already fever pitched situation even further?

SUMPTER: I would see the military exercises as really just a form of diplomatic pressure and not likely to have these tensions, you know, boil

over unnecessarily. What it would also add though is that, given how close North Korea appears to be reaching that acquiring that capability, and

given that there are no good options between having to choose between war, which should be absolutely catastrophic for all parties concerned, or a

diplomatic outcome. There is beginning to be a conversation among sink tanks and other countries, but not within the U.S. administration itself

is, do we have to learn to live with a nuclear North Korea --

WARD: Indeed.

SUMPTER: -- nuclear North Korea. And what would that actually look like?

WARD: Very important question. Meredith Sumpter, thank you so much for joining us with your perspective.

While words speak of war actions may tell a different story, North Korea today releasing a Canadian pastor who have been serving a life sentence of

hard labor. Hyeon Soo Lim had served two and a half years of sentence for crimes against the state. North Korean State TV says he was released

because he is sick.

But when we come back, a deeper dive on the raging rhetoric surrounding North Korea and as Trump stacks his administration with generals, we ask if

the move will help or hinder his presidency. That's next.


[14:15:05] WARD: Welcome back to the program. President Trump's belligerent comments on North Korea raised questions about his

administration's strategy in the face of the growing nuclear threat. And whether the president is on the same page as his foreign policy team.

Tom Ricks is a veteran war correspondent and military analyst. His new book, Churchill and Orwell, The Fight for Freedom, is a tingly (ph) look at

principal leadership and ongoing threats to liberty. I spoke with him earlier from Washington.

Tom Ricks, thank you so much for joining us on the program.


WARD: I want to just start out by asking you about President Trump's promise of fire and fury. What did you make of his comments?

RICKS: I generally think it's better for the American president to follow Theodore Roosevelt's rule of speaking softly and carrying a big stick. I

think especially in the Asian context, it's worrisome for a president to engage in overblown rhetoric. But I do think that Trump was trying to

speak as much to China, as to North Korea. I think it's saying that China, look, if you don't help the situation, we will.

But I do think that a preemptive war against North Korea to prevent it from having deliverable nuclear weapons has been a possibility in America for at

least 20 years. The Clinton Administration considered it, and I think the Trump Administration is considering it very seriously.

WARD: So, did you see these comments as being somehow strategic then, or did you interpret them as perhaps more of a heat of the moment shoot from

the hip?

RICKS: I think they were deliberate in typical trumping (ph) in style. But I think they did reflect strategic thinking. One of the concerns here

for me, one of the issues, is that the U.S. Air Force in recent years has developed what they believed is a very effective weapon, the B61 low-yield

nuclear weapon. It burrows down deep to about 100 feet and then explodes. And this reduces the dangers of fallout considerably.

And so, I think the U.S. military's thinking is you could conduct devastating nuclear strikes against North Korea's missile facilities and

nuclear weapons facilities without the extraordinary number of casualties that were predicted in the past, mainly because these low-yield nukes do

their explosions but don't throw up a lot of fallout in the air.

WARD: And yet we hear from the Secretary of Defense James Mattis saying that any war with North Korea, while the U.S. will be certain to win it,

would come at an extraordinarily high human cost.

RICKS: Yes, because you would have the conventional response from North Korea, artillery weapons, especially big guns firing into the South. And

then, the U.S. and South Korea would be bombing those artillery sites, cluster bombs. And that's going to kill a lot of people. And of course,

the great danger of war is it is the most unpredictable of human actions and enterprises. Once you begin a war, you're never sure how it's going to


WARD: I want to play you a bit of sound from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson where he appeared to be trying to diffuse tensions a little bit.

I'll play you the sound and then we'll talk about it afterwards. Take a listen.


TILLERSON: I think what the President was just reaffirming is the United States has the capability to fully defend itself from any attack and to bid

(ph) our allies. And we will do so. And so the American people should sleep well at night.


WARD: I mean, do you believe, as Tillerson says, that the American people should sleep well at night? And does he seem to be playing the sort of

good cop to President Trump's bad cop here?

RICKS: Yes, I think he is trying to play the good cop. He is also, I think, recognizing that Trumps rhetoric did scare the American people. But

frankly, I have to say as an American, Trump is taking away a lot more sleep for me than North Korea ever has.

WARD: I want to pivot now for a moment back to the U.S., and a lot of critics or some critics, I should say, have used the word hunter to

describe President Trump's inner circle, because there are so many high- profile military veterans, H.R. McMaster, General Mattis, General Kelly. What is -- what do you make of this militarization, if you will, of the

White House?

RICKS: Well, the first problem the Trump administration has is that not a lot of people want to work for it. H.R. McMaster, though, is an active

duty general. And, when he was asked to do it by the president, that's effectively an order from the president, either he retires or he takes the

job. I think others in national security I know took the job much more in a patriotism than out of allegiance to President Trump.

[14:20:03] In some ways, what you have right now in the U.S. government is like what you'd have after a decapitation strike in a nuclear war. We

really don't have an effective president. We have someone who plays one on television and on Twitter. We have an incompetent White House. But the

surprise is the rest of the U.S. government is chugging along pretty effectively. The federal government, it turns out, is a pretty robust

organization. They can do their jobs every day without being directed by the White House.

And this White House seems much more concerned with infighting and with being on TV than with actually doing the job of governance. Trump and the

people around him don't seem really interested in doing the job, but they seem interested in playing the job.

WARD: But -- so what you're essentially saying is that if President Trump is a sort of stress test on the wider U.S. government, the U.S. government

is actually coming through the stress test pretty well. My question would be, how long can that last? Is this sustainable?

RICKS: I've got to wonder how long is sustainable psychologically for Trump. Here is a guy who, all his life, has paid people around him to

flatter him, to tell him how smart and clever and effective and pretty he is. Suddenly, he's sting in a room and all day long, what honest people

can only do with him is say, no, Mr. President, you don't understand. And I think that probably most irking (ph) especially when somebody like

McMaster says, no, you can't do that and here's why. Or, yes, Mr. President, that's an interesting thought. But when we tried it here is why

we think it didn't work.

WARD: I want to talk, of course, briefly about your book as well, Churchill and Orwell, to sort of great luminaries of the 20th century.

They likely never even met. But what you have said links the two of them, "It is the agreement that objective reality exists, that people of good

will can perceive it, and that other people will change their views when presented with the facts of the matter." Do you think that still applies

in this day and age, or are we seeing a shift?

RICKS: I think we're seeing a shift not unlike what Orwell and Churchill both saw in the 1930s, another time of political turbulence and a time when

opinion was seen as more important, in fact. So I think there are a lot of lessons for both Churchill and Orwell for today. I would say the key

lesson is have principles, be willing to try to figure out the facts and then apply your principles to those facts.

So for example, the people I'm paying real attention to nowadays are the people who are willing to criticize their own side, which both Churchill

and Orwell were going to do. So, sticking to your principles and being willing to criticize your own side is not a formula for making friends.

However, it is a formula for having decent political discourse and ultimately preserving individual liberty.

WARD: Tom Ricks, thank you so much for joining us on the program.

RICKS: You're welcome, anytime.

WARD: After a short break, we imagine Guam, the tiny island in the Pacific Ocean that's landed in the eye of the storm, created by North Korea and the

United States. But first, after all the talk of military might, the likes of which the world has never seen, we look to the not-so-distant past where

fire and fury were more than just words.

Today, Nagasaki marked 72 years since the nuclear bomb was dropped on the city, killing 40,000 people in the blink of an eye. In a ceremony earlier,

the city rang the bell of peace and a hope that the world might never see such destruction again.


[14:26:06] WARD: And finally tonight, we imagine the stretch of land that's become a key piece on the American and North Korean nuclear

chessboard. Guam, a U.S. island territory far, far out in the Western Pacific hundreds of kilometers away from its nearest neighbor. Despite the

distances, tourism drives its economy, the island nation has found itself fought over throughout its history.

Originally colonized by the Chamorro tribe 4,000 years ago, the territory has been passing hands for more than a century, from Spain, to America, to

Japan and back. All natives are U.S. citizens by birth but they don't get to vote in the U.S. election. And today, the Guam governor proudly claimed

the American heritage of everyone on the island.


EDDIE BAZA CALVO, GUAM GOVERNOR: An attack or threat on Guam is a threat or attack on the United States. They have said that America will be

defended. And I also want to remind the national media that Guam is American soil. And we have 200,000 Americans in Guam and the Mariana

Islands. We are not just a military installation.


WARD: While the military presence on the island may have put Guam in the North Korean crosshairs, but it's been keeping the island afloat for many

years. Stunningly, the military presence is the second biggest chunk of the island's economy, perhaps fitting for the so-called island of warriors.

Well, that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can listen to our podcast, see us online and follow me on Facebook and Twitter

@ClarissaWard. Thank you so much for watching and goodbye from London.