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Trump Warns North Korea of "Fire and Fury"; Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired August 9, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[06:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- Pyongyang that any threat to the U.S. would be met with, quote, "fire and fury."
BILL WEIR, CNN ANCHOR: And as a result lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressing alarm, slamming the president's comments and calling on Mr. Trump to be more measured as this crisis intensifies.
All of this comes after a new intelligence assessment that North Korea has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles. Escalating threats, of course, the drum beat of possible war, possibility of an arms race is on the minds of so many in the region.
We have the global resources of CNN covering every angle. And we begin with Will Ripley, no stranger to North Korea. He's been there more than a dozen times. He joins us live in Beijing, China, with the breaking details -- Will.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, what we're seeing in this region is an increasing concern that an accidental war could break out on the Korean Peninsula as these tensions escalate. We're seeing fiery rhetoric on both sides. North Korea putting out a very alarming warning to the United States threatening to potentially look at attack plans for the island of Guam, which is 2100 miles from the Korean Peninsula.
Now Guam is significant because it houses key U.S. military assets. There's a Coast Guard station. You mentioned Andersen Air Force Base. Also Naval Base Guam. The U.S. Military occupies about 33 percent of that 210-square-mile island.
But Guam is significant because the U.S. flies bombing missions from that island. On Monday the U.S. flew two B-1B bombers over the Korea Peninsula as a show of force against North Korea, ongoing show of force after their two ICBM tests in the month of July, but also last month the U.S. flew two supersonic jets from Guam which is why you saw this very strongly-worded statement from the North Koreans.
For the first time that we know of, specifically talking about an attack plan using medium to long-range ballistic missiles, missiles that they tested very, very -- at a very rapid pace especially last year. They're focusing on their intercontinental ballistic missiles right now. But they're also perfecting their medium and long-range missile technology. And those are the weapons that North Korea says they can potentially use against this key U.S. territory -- Bill.
WEIR: All right, Will Ripley, joining us from Beijing.
It's interesting to note that 72 years ago today the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. And that was the same week when President Truman used rhetoric eerily similar to yesterday's. They're talking about fire from the sky, a rain of ruin from the air the likes of which the world has never seen.
Well, of course, yesterday, on his working vacation from Bedminster, New Jersey, he used the words fire and fury twice, the likes of which the world has never seen. And this of course complicates diplomatic efforts on so many levels.
Joe Johns joins us now from the president's retreat with the very latest this morning -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill. That fire and fury pronouncement from the president of the United States, very strong wording. In fact some of the most incendiary language used by an American president in decades, it was quickly followed up with another threat from North Korea.
The president did not make clear in his statement whether he was talking about rhetorical threats from North Korea or if he was referring to physical military tangible threats from North Korea. It was also not clear whether the president had crafted the wording of that statement with his advisers or if he was speaking more extemporaneously. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea best not make anymore threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state. And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury, and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: The president's statement also attracted bipartisan criticism from members of Congress, perhaps most notably from Republican Senator John McCain who said an American president needs to be able to back up his statements and he said he wasn't sure President Trump at this point was ready to act.
The president's words also likely to complicate the efforts of the secretary of State in the region.
Alisyn, back to you.
CAMEROTA: OK. Joe, thank you very much for all that background.
The escalating tension between the U.S. and North Korea prompting neighboring countries to consider deploying more powerful weapons.
CNN's Alexandra Field is live in Seoul, South Korea with more. What's the latest there, Alexandra?
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, we know that a war of words can lead to a mistake. That's the fear. And that's what can cause conflict. And frankly North Korea, it doesn't need ICBMs or nuclear weapons to stage an attack in the region where you've got 30,000 U.S. troops posted in South Korea, another 50,000 troops posted in Japan.
[06:05:11] These are real concerns for the people who are living here. You've got more than 20 million people in the wider Seoul metropolitan area, just 35 miles away from the DMZ, where there are weapons all along that heavily fortified border. So they live under the threat of an attack constantly. But the heightened security concerns have been enough to prompt some officials in Japan to start talking about what Japan can do to increase its deterrent capacity.
Similar messages right here in South Korea where the president is again renewing calls to upgrade and overhaul its defense capabilities. He's outlined a number of ways that he wants to do it. But you even have one opposition party leader calling for conversations about how to restore nuclear balance in the region. That's very much a minority view, but it is something that is part of the conversation given the context that we're experiencing right now.
Look, officials here, they want to lower the temperature on the peninsula. They depend on the United States for security and defense so you don't hear officials here speaking publicly about those comments that were made by President Trump. They're pointing the finger at Pyongyang for raising the temperature.
Australia's prime minister is warning, however, that a war of words can, of course, lead to a mistake. And you've got New Zealand's prime minister weighing in as well, saying that Mr. Trump's words are not helpful -- Alisyn, Bill.
WEIR: Alexandra, thanks so much.
If U.S. intelligence assessments are accurate now, North Korea is very much on the path of becoming a full pledged nuclear power. The reclusive regime has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside one of their missiles capable of hitting either coasts of the U.S. mainland.
CNN's Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon on their advancing nuclear capabilities.
Barbara, what do they have exactly? Do we know?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Bill. And the question is, do we know? Do we know exactly what the North Korean threat is?
On the question of the nuclear warhead, U.S. intelligence does not have a -- view incomplete agreement. Some U.S. intelligence agencies are saying now that North Korea has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can go on top of one of these missiles.
Not everybody agrees. And what does a produced warhead mean? From people we're talking to, our sources are telling us it is not yet a tested warhead. They haven't tested it and it's not clear at all that that warhead would be deployable. In other words, could it actually go into the field and be part of an attack on top of a missile? What about the missile? We have seen North Korea test these missiles, long-range and intermediate-range. Ones that could potentially hit the United States, Guam and then also Japan and South Korea.
But the big question for the North Korean program right now is, have they really been able to solve all their problems? One of the big ones is something called reentry. You put a missile up into the atmosphere, you bring it down. Can you actually hit a precise target like Guam that you're trying to aim at? And can that missile and that warhead actually survive reentry?
It's an important question separating reality from rhetoric, could not be more important -- Alisyn, Bill.
CAMEROTA: Absolutely. Barbara, thank you very much for all that.
Let's bring in our panel. We have CNN military analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, CNN military and diplomatic analyst, Rear Admiral John Kirby, and Will Ripley is back with us.
John Kirby, let me start with you. Obviously you were in the State Department. You know well the tension between North Korea and the U.S. How do you rate what's happened today?
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, I think obviously the rhetoric has now elevated us to a level of tension that I don't think anybody really welcomes. And it was unnecessary. I don't think the president needed to go quite as strong as he did yesterday. I think there is still room for diplomacy.
You have to kind of -- I know it's hard and maybe not completely practical to separate the president from his team but let's just do that for a second. I mean, his team, his National Security team has taken a very deliberate, thoughtful, measured approach to the problem of North Korea. They did this since inauguration. They've been working this problem.
And they have had some success. They've got this 15-0 unanimous vote in the U.N. Security Council. You've got Tillerson in the region right now who has talked about the need for negotiations with the North. He has definitely made clear that we're not after a regime change or radical quick reunification of the peninsula.
So there is movement. And of course, General Mattis, Secretary Mattis, doing all that he can to make sure that from a defensive perspective that we're ready not only to defend ourselves, but our allies in the region. So there's been a lot of good work here that is undermined to a degree by the president launching off on this unnecessary rhetoric and just escalating the tensions. Plus he's playing right into Kim Jong-un's hands. Kim Jong-un wants
to make this about the United States, not about the international community which it very much is. When the president reacts the way he does, he reinforces Kim's propaganda that it is all about the United States and regime change.
[06:10:04] And he actually is working to help isolate us rather than isolate North Korea from the international community.
WEIR: Mark, it's worth pointing out that the talk about attacking Guam from the North Koreans doesn't come after the president's words yesterday in New Jersey but actually came after some B-1B bombing runs from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.
Talk about our capabilities, talk about the vulnerability of that American territory.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, you hit the exact point, Bill, that's critically important. First of all, the threats -- as the smoke has cleared over the last 12 hours from when the president stated his remarks at Bedminster and what we know today, first of all the statement of potentially going after Guam was made by a spokesman from the North Korean general staff.
That's about three levels down. I hate to insult my good friend John Kirby, but when it's a spokesman as opposed to someone from the general staff, as supposed to someone like the president saying that, it makes a world of difference.
So this is typical of North Korean threats. It's been going on for decades. Now is it important? Sure it is. I mean, when you threaten to hit Guam, that's a bad threat to make. But when you have a spokesman for the army staff versus the president of the United States ramping up the emotion, the alliteration and the hyperbole from zero to 60, it's not a good comparison. I agree with what John said that we've got to tamp this down a little bit.
Now when you talk about hitting Guam, as Barbara Starr just said, the North Koreans have we think the ability to produce a miniaturized weapon. Do they have the capability to launch it and have it re-enter and hit a target? There's no indication that they do yet. And then finally, do they have the intention of doing that, or is it just another threat?
Those three things, the ability, the capability and the intention are something that most military analysts are looking at and saying yes, it's not there yet, but it is -- it's a threat from a spokesman, and we've got to look at it that way.
CAMEROTA: Will Ripley, you're in Beijing. You know this region as well as any reporter anywhere. You've been in and out of North Korea. How do you see it this morning and what is China's response?
RIPLEY: Well, China and North Korea have been noticeably silent during the overnight hours in the United States. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs here is on a two-week break and they often take a while to respond, especially to provocative statements from President Trump.
North Korea also usually takes about 24 hours to put out a response at least because so many different people have to sign off on it. Unlike the U.S. where people just speak and it goes out and just spread everywhere. It's a much more controlled message in North Korea.
I was in Pyongyang about a month and a half ago. And I can honestly tell you that the sense I get from speaking with officials there, they want these weapons, they want to perfect these weapons but they do not want to use the weapons.
The weapons are there to keep the current regime, led by Jim Jong-un In power. That is why North Korea wants an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear tipped warhead. That's why they've been testing their medium to long range missiles that could strike Japan or Guam theoretically, because they want these weapons as a deterrent, to prevent the United States from doing in North Korea what they perceive happened in Libya.
I mean, they watched what happened with Gadhafi and they don't want to see a repeat of that with the Kim Jong-un regime. They've mentioned Libya, they've mentioned Iraq, they've mentioned Syria to me. And so they view these weapons as leverage, that perhaps could, if there are diplomatic talks, could help them gain concessions from the international community. But most importantly they view them as essential to protect international sovereignty.
And so when you have the U.S. president, and I can guarantee North Korea will broadcast his words across the country in their state propaganda, threatening to rain down fire and fury on North Korea, that only in the eyes of the regime justifies their efforts and justifies the sacrifices that they demand of their people because of all that they're investing in these weapons at the expense of things like food, electricity, clean water.
WEIR: Well, let's talk about those choice of words.
Rear Admiral Kirby, it is striking, when you look back at Harry Truman some 72 years ago talking about the bomb on Hiroshima and saying, a rain of ruin from the air, the likes of which has never been seen on this earth, much speculation this morning we don't know whether that was an extemporaneous comment from the president yesterday. His body language seemed to indicate with the crossed arms and repeating those words, that somebody had planted those particular words in his ear.
What do you make of the theory that some supporters would say he's being a madman like a fox the way Nixon would be bad cop to Kissinger's good cop?
KIRBY: So a couple of things here. First of all on whether it was planned or not, I agree, I don't think there's any way to know whether -- you know, whether somebody advised him to do it. It didn't appear to me to be scripted. I can't imagine for the life of me anybody on his National Security team thinking it's a good idea to put a three by five index card in front of him and say, hey, Mr. President, say this, this will help a lot. But -- and I don't know whether he's studied -- you know, a student of Harry Truman or not. But I don't think -- obviously it's helpful one way or the other.
[06:15:09] But I do think that it's important to remember that there are larger stakes here, and that trying to bring down the rhetoric, bring down the temperature, is really a better way to move forward here. He has room -- this is what I keep going back to, he has room for diplomacy, he just has to let it work.
CAMEROTA: Well, other lawmakers have other ideas, General Hertling, of how this should be handled. So here are John McCain and Darrell Isa yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think the rotund ruler in Pyongyang is not crazy, but he certainly is ready to go to the brink. The great leaders that I've seen, they don't threaten unless they are ready to act.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Yes.
MCCAIN: And I'm not sure that President Trump is ready to act.
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: If true, it represents the greatest crisis probably since -- let me rephrase that, undoubtedly since the Cuban missile crisis. And the correlation is very similar. This is something that can hit us and our allies, and it's with a rogue nation that we suspect would use it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: Obviously, General, two Republicans speaking out there. But what do you think about Darrell Isa saying this is akin to the Cuban missile crisis?
HERTLING: I think it's -- that's an understatement by the nth agree, Alisyn. This would be -- a war on the Korean Peninsula in the 21st century would be devastatingly catastrophic. I can't think of a conflict that would have more dire circumstances in terms of human tragedy than this would. Truthfully, you know, as I've seen war games and participated in war games on the Korean Peninsula, the various events that would occur with any kind of strike, preemptive or not, and the repercussions of that counterstrikes would be devastating not only to the Korean people, the South Korean people, but also not only -- everyone keeps talking about the 28,000 or so U.S. soldiers on the peninsula, that does not include their dependents, their spouses, their children, their parakeets, their pets, but it also includes about 100,000 U.S. expatriates.
So there would be devastating effects on these people, not just from the initial strike but then what comes after that. Having fought or trained rather on the Korean peninsula, the terrain is very challenging. It would be a tough conflict, much tougher than the desert kind of warfare that we've fought over the last 70 years, and the casualties would be astronomical.
I don't think I can say it with anymore hyperbole than that, but all of that would be true because we've seen war games that have tested that, and we see the results. It would not be a pretty sight.
WEIR: And so the fantasy that if, you know, in the movies --
RIPLEY: Can I just say North Korea has a lot of conventional artillery pointed across the demilitarized zone right? They've had the capability to kill a lot of people for many decades. All of the U.S. forces and their dependents and millions of people in metropolitan Seoul are all within firing range and they have been since -- you know, since the 1960s or perhaps even sooner.
North Korea has had a lot of artillery pointed, they haven't used it. And things have gotten to the brink before. North Korea hasn't used it for a reason, because they know that if they cross that line, that very likely if not certainty is the end of their regime and that's not their goal.
WEIR: He understands mutually assured destruction, at least that's the hope about Kim Jong-un.
CAMEROTA: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Stand by obviously throughout the program as there are developments.
And Will, thank you for all that context.
WEIR: President Trump sending this ominous warning to the regime in North Korea. But a new poll shows most Americans do not trust the president or find him credible.
How much of an impact will his words have? We will discuss next.
[06:22:41] CAMEROTA: A new CNN poll shows that Americans are concerned about the North Korean threat. Almost two-thirds, 62 percent say North Korea poses a very serious threat. And this poll was taken before the events of yesterday. That's up from 48 percent in March. This is the highest it has been in polling dating back to 2000. 77 percent say they believe North Korea can launch a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.
WEIR: North Korea now near ISIS on the fear factor in Americans' minds. Half say they disapprove of President Trump's handling of the situation while 37 percent approve. And as for whether the U.S. should take military action, pretty even split. 50 percent favor and 43 percent against.
Let's bring in CNN political analyst John Avlon and CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large Chris Cillizza, who joins us from Washington.
Gentlemen, good to be with you this morning. We've been talking, over six months of tweets and comments that he's yet to face a crisis. Is this the crisis? JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It certainly appears to be. It's
partly a crisis of his own making. His administration has been fairly firm and proactive on North Korea, more so than his immediate predecessors. But yesterday's statements are hard to write up solely as strategy. And I think that's where I think we're really seeing what has been a lot of people's concerns for some time. That most of the crises affecting this administration have been self-inflicted. But the job of president involves dealing with larger crises, now the two seem to have collided. And the potential impacts of course are massive.
CAMEROTA: Chris Cillizza, I heard the president's words yesterday as deliberate. Because he repeated them --
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Right.
CAMEROTA: What I thought was a sort of deliberate, methodical way, the fire and fury like the world has never seen. He repeated it again the second time. So that seems to my ear to have been a crafted statement. And I also believe that because of the way he used to tweet -- when Donald Trump would tweet in 2013 before he was ever a candidate or obviously president, he was frustrated by what he felt was President Obama's lack of strong rhetoric or action against the North Koreans.
I have one, I'll just read it, I don't know if we have it for our viewers. But "Our president must be very careful with the 28-year-old whack job in North Korea. At some point we may have to get very tough, blatant threat." Next tweet, "Where is the president? It's time for him to come on TV and show strength against the repeated threats from North Korea?"
[06:25:05] So it feels to me like that's what President Trump was doing yesterday.
CILLIZZA: Yes, I'm with you. I think on point one, I think it was deliberate. Remember, this was an opioid briefing and someone asked him the question. He didn't have to answer. I mean, this is a president who regularly ignores questions from the media. Not unique in presidents. But he didn't have to answer it. He chose to.
I think the repetition of the fire and fury line suggests, as you say, Alisyn, that it was on purpose. I do think there is a difference between tough rhetoric and tough action. Trump is very much a believer in tough rhetoric. There's no question about that. He has said basically on every front, particularly in foreign policy and diplomacy and trade, that our leaders are not tough enough. That we bow and scrape to the world, that we don't reassert ourselves.
Part of make America great again, yes, much of it was focused on the domestic side, but some of it was on foreign policy as well. We need to reassert our muscularity in the world.
CILLIZZA: This is him doing that. Whether a strong rhetoric can translate or should translate into strong action I think is what John McCain spoke to yesterday.
AVLON: Yes. I think the point is not that the president was unaware of the words coming out of his mouth. There was a scripted quality to them. The point is that from a strategic perspective, the president of the United States doesn't threaten nuclear war unless you're ready to go to nuclear war. And I think it's a total mistake to assume that is a strategy from the national security apparatus in the White House.
WEIR: You know, if you go back to the Cold War, go back to the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy's administration is trying to convince allies around the world we need to blockade this island nation, they've got weapons, they got their guns pointed at us. He sent an emissary to France, to meet Charles de Gaulle, and says the president would like to show you these satellite pictures. De Gaulle said I don't need to see them. If the president says it, I trust him.
So we've got a credibility issue not just with world leaders, allies, but his own people if these polls bear out.
AVLON: Right. And I think both the presidential parallels that have been used this morning are instructive in that they don't actually work. You know, the Cuban missile crisis, the Kennedy brothers were very focused on cooling the rhetoric, trying to separate some of the tough bellicose rhetoric out of the Soviet with what Khrushchev might actually do, trying to come up with ways for them to save face, pulling the Jupiter missiles ultimately out of Turkey which was decisive and getting the boat to turn around, as well as a military blockade.
In the case of Truman, while the rhetoric is similar, that rhetoric was given after the bomb.
WEIR: The bomb went off. Yes.
AVLON: Right. So -- I think, you know, presidential parallels in history are enormously important in providing perspective, but the parallels here don't really work. This was a comparatively hot comment often.
CILLIZZA: Sorry, John, I would just add, remember, too, during and after the campaign, remember the big line was the press and Democrats took Donald Trump literally. His supporters took him figuratively. You know, well, he doesn't mean everything he says.
CILLIZZA: OK. But now we're in a situation where what do we take him now? Is this a literal fire and fury, is it a symbolic fire and fury? And does Kim Jong-un know that? I mean, that's the -- this is the danger of Donald Trump sort of saying things he is sort of a provocateur by nature, always has been, saying things to get a reaction.
In American politics people can tut-tut and say, I wish he didn't say low energy Jeb, but at the end of the day, you know, other than Jeb Bush, no one is really deeply hurt by it. There are real consequences here if he is misunderstood or maybe properly understood.
CAMEROTA: Gentlemen, thank you very much for all of that analysis. We'll check back with you.
Meanwhile, we have to get to some sad news, the music world is mourning the loss of a country crossover icon. A look back at Glenn Campbell's extraordinary life and career in music next.