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Trump Warns North Korea of "Fire and Fury"; Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 9, 2017 - 07:00   ET



[07:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Time for us to redouble our diplomatic effort.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Effective diplomacy has got to be backed up with credible military options.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't be engaging in school boy rhetoric with North Korea. This is absurd.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're talking about incomprehensible death and destruction. It would be apocalyptic.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Chris is off this morning. Bill Weir joins me. Great to have you here with all of this breaking news.

So up first, North Korea threatening to attack the U.S. territory of Guam, home to one of America's air force bases, in response to U.S. bombers flying over the Korean Peninsula. This comes after President Trump's extraordinary warning to Pyongyang vowing to unleash, quote, "fire and fury," end quote, if threats to the U.S. continue.

BILL WEIR, CNN ANCHOR: Fire, fury and power, the likes of which the world has never seen. Lawmakers on both sides slamming the president's response, calling on Mr. Trump to be more measured as the crisis intensifies. It comes of course after U.S. intelligence assessment that North Korea has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that could theoretically fit inside its missiles.

The tensions sparking talk of war, possibility of an arms race in the region. Others saying cooler heads will prevail as they have in the past.

We have the global resources of CNN covering every angle. And we begin with Will Ripley who has been inside North Korea more than a dozen times. He joins us live with the very latest from Beijing -- Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Bill, a couple of developments just breaking here within the last few minutes. We have just received word from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The first response on the record to President Trump's "fire and fury" remarks and North Korea's threat to attack U.S. military assets in Guam. Of course China very concerned that an accidental war could break out on the peninsula. So they are reiterating what they have said during other times of tension. They are calling for calm.

Let me read you the statement, I don't know if we've had time to make a graphic. It says, quote, "The current situation on the Korean Peninsula is complex and sensitive. China calls on all relevant sides to uphold the broad direction of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue through political means, avoid remarks and actions that could aggravate conflicts and escalate tensions, and make a greater effort to promote the issue through dialogue and negotiation."

That message aimed both at President Trump and also at North Korea because North Korea responding to the flyover on Monday of two U.S. B- 1B bombers, talking about potentially targeting U.S. Military assets in Guam, including Andersen Air Force Base, Naval Base Guam, Coast Guard station. 30 percent of that island occupied by the U.S. Military, thousands of troops there. North Korea saying they could potentially hit it with their medium to long-range missiles.

Also a piece of breaking news just out from North Korea. They have released their longest held Western prisoner, a Canadian pastor named (INAUDIBLE) who has been held there since early 2015. I interviewed him about a year and a half ago. He had been serving a life sentence of hard labor. He's been released into the custody of a Canadian delegation that we expect will be leaving Pyongyang in the coming hours.

Alisyn, I have to say, this may be an attempt by North Korea to project their humanitarian side, their benevolence in the midst of all of this tensions, by allowing this prisoner to go free after 2 1/2 years.

CAMEROTA: It sure sounds like it, Will. So that's a lot of breaking news. Thank you very much for keeping us posted on what's happening there. We'll check back with you in a moment.

Meanwhile, President Trump's unprecedented warning to North Korea of unleashing, quote, "fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen," unquote, has lawmakers from both parties slamming his rhetoric.

So CNN's Joe Johns is live in Bridgewater, New Jersey, near the president's golf resort.

What's the statement coming from there today -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, this "fire and fury" statement from the president is, at the very least, certainly surprisingly strong language, arguably some of the most incendiary language used by an American president in decades. And it was followed up almost immediately by another threat from North Korea.

The president did not make clear whether he was talking about rhetorical threats which come from North Korea all the time or more physical, tangible, military threats against the United States.

It was also not clear whether the president has sat down and talked to his advisers about this language, or if he was speaking more off-the- cuff. Listen.


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.


[07:05:02] JOHNS: Now the president's statement there quickly attracted bipartisan criticism, perhaps most notably from Republican Senator John McCain who said an American president needs to be willing, ready and able to act to back up his words. And he said he wasn't sure President Trump is willing to act at least at this stage.

This is also likely to complicate the efforts of Secretary of State Tillerson in the region -- Bill.

WEIR: Joe Johns, thanks very much.

These mounting tensions between the U.S. and North Korea prompting neighboring countries to consider deploying more powerful weapons.

CNN's Alexandra Field live in Seoul, South Korea with more.

Alexandra, this is the reality of daily life in Seoul. They're used to threats from up north. But not words like this from the American president. What's the reaction so far?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. They're used to threats but there's real fear about a mistake that could lead to conflict. And frankly, North Korea doesn't need an intercontinental ballistic missile or a nuclear weapon to stage an attack right here in the region if they feel threatened, if the wires get somehow crossed, and the implications could be truly dire.

The city of Seoul, the larger metropolitan area here, has some 20 million people. They are just 35 miles away from the DMZ, that heavily fortified border between South Korea and North Korea where North Korea has its weapons lined up. Again, they can attack the region at any time if they would want to. They know that they would face incredible repercussions. That's the only thing that would be holding them back.

But given the heightened tension on the peninsula, given the heightened security concerns, we are now hearing calls from the president of South Korea for the country to up its defense capabilities and capacity, similar sentiments being echoed by lawmakers in Japan. Officials here are trying to lower the tension in the region.

They haven't responded directly about those incendiary comments made by President Trump, pointing the finger at Pyongyang, calling for calm there and saying North Korea has created the problem here -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Alexandra, thank you very much for that update.

So if U.S. intelligence assessments are accurate, North Korea is on a fast track to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power. The reclusive regime has reportedly produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with more on their advancing nuclear capabilities.

Barbara, this is happening faster than we had been warned.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. The key words there are produced. Produced. The assessment by some portions of the U.S. intelligence community is they have produced some type of nuclear warhead device item, if you will. Whether it has been tested, which is doubtful, and whether it would actually be able to be put on a functioning missile launched and get to a target is still an open question.

The question is, how far along are they really, have they tested all of this? As for a missile that would carry that warhead, we know that they have tested intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the U.S., more intermediate range missiles that could potentially hit Guam.

But the big question is, have they really locked in all the advanced capabilities for targeting the missile and the warhead to a specific spot thousands of miles away? And could that missile and warhead survive the heat and pressure of re-entering the earth's atmosphere?

These are key questions, key technical questions, of course. But it all goes to what is the rhetoric versus the reality of the North Korean program -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK. Barbara, thank you very much for all of that from the Pentagon.

Let's bring in our panel. We have CNN political analyst David Gregory, we have CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd, CNN Politics reporter and editor-at-large Chris Cillizza, and Will Ripley is back with us from Beijing.

Will, we want to start with you. For people who are just joining us, you had some breaking news for us moments ago about the first Chinese response to all of this. Tell us what they're saying.

RIPLEY: That's right. I'll read you the response once again because China, what they tend to do in situations like this, is they stand in the middle and they tell the United States to calm down, they tell North Korea to calm down because what they don't want to see is an accidental war break out on their doorstep. And there's growing fear here this morning that that is exactly where this path is leading, not that either side necessarily wants a military conflict, but that one action could lead to a chain reaction from which there's no coming back.

So the statement once again reads, quote, "The current situation on the Korean Peninsula is complex and sensitive. China calls on all relevant sides to uphold the broad direction of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue through political means, avoid remarks and actions that could aggravate conflicts and escalate tensions." That aimed obviously at the president. "And make a greater effort to promote the issue through dialogue and negotiations."

But also that remark aimed at North Korea as well because they have been putting out provocative rhetoric for years. They've threatened including just this week to annihilate the United States, to retaliate if the United States tries to take out their Supreme Leader Kim Jong- un.

[07:10:04] So China is trying to be the intermediary here and also continuing to insist that they do -- they are not responsible for this. They place the blame for escalating tensions on the North Koreans, but also on the United States and South Korea for their joint military exercises.

WEIR: David Gregory, let's talk about President Trump's understanding of the region. On the campaign trail he alluded to the idea that maybe Japan should take care of this on their own. After meeting President Xi of China, says, well, he explained the history, it's more complicated than that. He once called Kim Jong-un a smart cookie.

What do you think was going through -- was he talking to his base from Bedminster? Was he talking to his voters, you know, in the heartland? Or do you think he had any sense of talking to the capitals of Beijing and Tokyo?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I -- I think in this case the president is making a calculation and is thinking about this strategically. Whether it's wise, I think he is being strategic because he is conferring with top military and diplomatic advisers on this. There's been a process according to people I've talked to over the past months indicating that there is a serious -- a seriousness about this, to reach a diplomatic solution to all this.

So I think in his mind he wants to meet Kim's rhetoric with his own over-the-top rhetoric to send a message to China and to North Korea that there is a new sheriff in town, that he's going to do things differently, that he's not just going to try to contain, he's not going to just try to negotiate with the North, but he might just be crazy enough to call their bluff.

I think there's something -- Donald Trump has made these comments in the past referring to the mad man theory of foreign policy that President Nixon employed, to persuade the North that he just might be, you know, unusual enough to do this. I think what worries people is that, you know, to draw this kind of

red line, you want to be much more opaque. Because at the end of the day, I think serious experts on this see some kind of negotiation that leads to a containment of the North, even though I'm sure Trump looks at this and says, I want to do something different than previous administrations have done that hasn't worked up until now.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely, David. In fact, his own tweets from 2013 say that very thing. I mean, before he was ever a candidate, Donald Trump was putting out tweets like this about President Obama, what he thought was lack of forceful enough response to North Korea. He said, "Where is the president? It's time for him to come on TV and show strength against the repeated threats from North Korea."

So that's what he vowed to do even before he was ever president, Phil Mudd. So now he's doing it. And you know, if that's -- if what David just spelled out is that President Trump wants to show that he, too, can be volatile, he, too, can be unpredictable, well, it has gotten the attention of China, I mean, according to Will Ripley, because of the statement they just put out.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I suppose, but it's a mistake. Look, he's trying to project power. He's done that with the Mexicans on building the fence, with the Canadians on NAFTA, he's threatened the Europeans by opening questions about our commitment to NATO. He's tough to the Chinese initially, amicably, and now he's been more threatening to the Chinese.

Here is the problem. And it is one of the most profound mistakes in any foreign policy decision, Alisyn, and that is what we call in the business the rational actor model. He's threatening because he knows we dwarf the North Koreans' military capability, their economy. And he's assuming that the North Koreans will view this rationally, that they will say any military engagement with the Americans would be a huge mistake take and could eventually end the regime in North Korea.

That's a mistake by President Trump for the simple reason that you do not understand how the adversary will interpret your message.

Let me give you one different interpretation. The North Korean leader says actually the president is serious and he might consider military action and he might consider toppling my regime? What does the North Korean do then? He lashes out to defend himself.

As soon as you use language like this, Alisyn, you threaten the prospect that the adversary interprets the language in ways that you never anticipated.

WEIR: The mad man theory of leadership, as was referenced there, depended on Henry Kissinger playing good cop to Nixon's bad cop. It's worth pointing out that there is no ambassador to South Korea right. Have not even one has been nominated, no secretary for East Asian affairs, no secretary of Asian Pacific Affairs. But we do understand that Rex Tillerson, our secretary of State at the moment, on a surprise trip to Guam had some comments to say. He was flying from Kuala Lumpur to the Pacific Island, maybe

predicated by the president's comments to go calm that down. We'll play that sound when it becomes available. But in the meantime, Chris Cillizza, how about that diplomatic effort? If in the "Art of the Deal," in Donald Trump's world, when you open with fire and fury, where do you go from there?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yes. Yes. When you start out at 10, it's harder to get louder, right?

[07:15:04] I'm with Phil Mudd in that I do think the danger here is that Trump is 50 percent of this equation. He's not 100 percent. And during the campaign the big thing or at least after the campaign was, see, you guys, the media, take Trump seriously but not literally. His supporters take him literally but not seriously. Sorry. The other way around.

The point being, you know, they know that he just says stuff. They don't -- he's not going to do it.

WEIR: That's just Donald, yes.

CILLIZZA: You know, build the wall, he's just talking. You know, we like that he's willing to say those things. Right? We like that he starts up on 10, Bill, not on two. It's a harder game when you're talking about foreign powers, particularly when you're talking about a rogue nation like North Korea.

Phil is exactly right. We don't know how this is going to be interpreted in Pyongyang. Sure, if they look at our military might versus theirs, a rational decision would suggest they do not provoke in any way, shape or form. But when you have the president of the United States saying things like fire and fury, does Kim Jong-un say, well, he's just -- you know, I take him seriously, but I don't take him literally.


CILLIZZA: What if he takes him the other way around? I mean, that's always been the question with Trump. What would this mean, taken out of the context of a campaign where he's saying things about this person or that person and put it in the context of world affairs, and then where are we? That's the question we're asking today.

GREGORY: But the bigger question is not so much how North Korea ultimately absorbed this message. It's how China does. And China is a rational actor and China is -- doesn't just think in terms of the next couple of months but thinks in terms of years, in terms of a relationship with the United States. And the power dynamic in the Far East, in that part of the world. So China can ultimately use its influence to try to calm things down.

The other piece of this is you have to look at our recent history. And Phil has dealt with these issues directly. In the period of the Iraq War, you have Libya after the invasion of Iraq give up its nuclear program. There was an intelligence assessment at the time that indicated that Iran had slowed down a little bit after the invasion of Iraq, the projection of U.S. power. But in the end, the administration under President Obama negotiated with Iran about its nuclear capability to try to push that down the road. With a regime like North Korea that has continued to advance, I still think we're looking at negotiation. At some point it's got to be contained.

CAMEROTA: Yes. David, David, hold on one second. I'm sorry to interrupt you but we do now have the sound coming from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He's just arrived in Guam. This is a surprise visit. And he has just spoken about North Korea. The tape appears to be freezing at the moment. We will get back and tell you that he has said that the president has issued strong words against North Korea and that he said that North Korea does not seem to understand any diplomatic talk. We'll play that directly for you as soon as we have it.

But, Will Ripley, it's interesting, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is really trying to thread a needle because what he has been saying is that he's been working on a peaceful pressure campaign. That was before the president's words. Here he is now.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The president said that North Korea's threats against the United States with fire and fury like the world has never seen. Is this part of a diplomatic strategy, or did you find those remarks to be --

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I think, you know, the U.S. and international community with respect to North Korea has actually had a pretty good week. We had a unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution to strengthen sanctions against North Korea with China and Russia joining us in that vote. And then at ASEAN, a lot of strong statements coming out of ASEAN that I think also reinforced the global community has expressed its view that North Korea really needs to stand down this program.

So I think in response to that the North Korean's rhetoric has just ratcheted up louder and louder and more threatening. So I think the president -- what the president was 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 the U.S., you know, has an 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.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Well, one of their -- one of North Korea's responses was to say it's going to direct missiles in Guam.

[07:20:08] That's exactly where you're headed right now. Would you consider rerouting?

TILLERSON: Well, look, the North Korean missile capability can point in many directions. So Guam is not the only place that could be under threat. No, I never considered rerouting the trip back. And I do not believe that there is any imminent threat in my own view.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think there's a longer-term threat specifically about Guam, against the region in general?

TILLERSON: Well, I hope not. Again, what we're hopeful is that this pressure campaign which the entire world now has joined us in and with the engagement of China and Russia, two of North Korea's closest neighbors, that they can begin to persuade the regime that they need to reconsider the current pathway they're on, think about engaging in a dialogue about a different future.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have China and Russia been helpful at all to you in the last 24 hours? Have you spoken to your counterparts? And then they (INAUDIBLE)?

TILLERSON: Well, I haven't spoken to them since we left Manila which was I guess about a day and a half ago. But we had great discussions in Manila about the situation. I know that they were having talks as well with the representative from North Korea. I think that is evidence that they have very good open channels of communication to be able to talk to the regime in North Korea.

And we hope that they will be encouraging now to stand down their program, to abide by the U.N. Security Council resolutions which both China and Russia have voted for in the past. So I'm hopeful that they can use their influence, and I believe they do have influence with the regime to bring them to a point of dialogue, but with the right expectation of what that dialogue will entail.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Has anything happened in the last 24 hours to lead you to believe that we are leaning towards a military option perhaps more quickly than anticipated?

TILLERSON: I have nothing that I have seen and nothing that I know of would indicate that the situation has dramatically changed in the last 24 hours.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you have any immediate diplomatic plans to deescalate the situation that could have an impact within days instead of months or years?

TILLERSON: Well, we have a very active ongoing diplomatic effort. Most of which is behind the scenes because that's where diplomacy is most effective. We have very open conversations and our telephone lines remain open certainly to China and Russia, as well as our allies. And I think publicly we've been pretty clear in our statements directed at the North Koreans as to what we would like to see happen and to make clear to them that we do not seek to be a threat to them. But we have to respond to the serious threats that they make towards us.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: There have been calls for you to launch a new diplomatic effort. Do you feel a new strategy may be warranted? TILLERSON: I do not. I think the strategy we're currently on is

working, in fact. Again, we have now garnered widespread international support, obviously not just with the U.N. Security Council resolution, but globally countries are speaking out and expressing the same view as to what North Korea should do, which is not be a threat to the stability of the region.

I think, in fact, the pressure is starting to show. I think that's why the rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang is beginning to become louder and more threatening. Whether we've got them backed into a corner or not is difficult to say. But diplomatically, you never like to have someone in a corner without a way for them to get out.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And what is Pyongyang's way out?

TILLERSON: Talks. Talks with the right expectation of what those talks will be about.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you have any advice for Americans? Should they be worried?

TILLERSON: I think Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric over the last few days. I think the president again, as commander-in-chief, I think he felt it necessary to issue a very strong statement directly to North Korea. But I think what the president is reaffirming, the United States has the capability to fully defend itself from any attack and defend our allies, and we will do so. And so the American people should sleep well at night.


CAMEROTA: OK. That was a hopeful note to end on and very helpful to hear from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson there who made a surprise visit to Guam. We were just playing it for you, we were hearing it for the first time along with you. He said a lot of I think attention-grabbing things, that President Trump -- he explained President Trump's rhetoric by saying that President had to use language that would get Kim Jong-un's attention because diplomatic language is not getting it.

WEIR: It is not getting it.

[07:25:02] Even though Kim Jong-un watched -- grew up watching his father fire missiles and threat against the Western world as well but he thinks that ratcheting this up may get through.

CAMEROTA: Right. But he also just said that Americans can sleep well tonight.

WEIR: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Because he doesn't think that he sees any marked change in what's happened in terms of tension over the past 48 hours.

WEIR: Right. CAMEROTA: So he has a more sanguine approach.

WEIR: Very sanguine.

CAMEROTA: Than we've heard from other -- some Republicans.

WEIR: Sure. Absolutely. You heard it from Darrell Issa comparing this to the Cuban missile crisis, John McCain, very critical of this.

Thanks to our panel who was with us. We lost them as the secretary of state spoke. But let's bring in another man who knows this region so well, Bill Richardson, former U.N. ambassador, former governor of New Mexico, and a man who has dealt with the North Korean threat for most of his career.

Ambassador, good to see you. Tell me how you reacted when you heard those words about fire and fury unlike the world has seen.

BILL RICHARDSON (D), FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: Well, my first thought was that the president should calm down, that that was overheated rhetoric, but it was matching the North Korean rhetoric which they do all the time. The North Koreans, every chance I've dealt with them, they have this kind of blustery rhetoric.

I think what Secretary Tillerson was saying is we need to have a rational policy. He was calming people down after the president's remark. But what I see the gravest threat now is the intelligence assessment that a miniature warhead is capable of hitting the United States with a missile. We don't know for certain.


RICHARDSON: That report was very disturbing. I think we have to get our intelligence people to focus a lot more than they have in the past on this.


RICHARDSON: But at the same time I think this is a chance for the president to be presidential, to calm the nation. To have a rational policy, to reach out to Republicans and Democrats on what we're going to do.


RICHARDSON: Let's not match the North Koreans with their rhetoric.

CAMEROTA: Well, look, I mean, that seemed to be what Secretary Tillerson was just doing. He had the most calming words of any I think that we've heard in the past 24 hours. But he also is confusing, Governor, because he said he doesn't think that anything has dramatically changed in the past 48 hours. But then there's word that the North has produced this miniaturized nuclear warhead.

That does sound as though we have moved -- this has been a major step function move from where we were 48 hours ago if those intelligence assessments are correct.

RICHARDSON: Well, I do think this is the gravest situation I've seen in the peninsula, not maybe crisis proportions, but with that miniaturized warhead observation, with the very strong sanctions that passed, this really is going to bite North Korea if China doesn't force them.

And then the North Korean rhetoric is a bit over the top, even though they do this consistently. The fact that their foreign minister said it so visibly, and I know that foreign minister. He's basically a moderate in the scheme of things in North Korea. So it is a grave situation, but this is a time when I think the president needs to be presidential, that we need to develop a comprehensive policy, that we have to accelerate the development of that policy because of the decision on the nuclear warhead, that our intel people have detected.

And we want to calm fears in places like Guam and Alaska and continental United States. Look, we can overwhelm North Korea. They're a smaller country, small economy. But I think the only way out is through a diplomatic solution. I think what Secretary Tillerson has said, let's have a dialogue with North Korea, but you guys have to freeze your missile tests, I think that's a sensible proposal.

Now the important thing, also, is that the rest of the administration, the Pentagon, the National Security adviser, U.N. ambassador, should follow Tillerson's lead, should not come up with mixed messages, preemptive military strikes. Let's be rational about this.

CAMEROTA: So you think there has been a mixed message between Nikki Haley and Secretary Tillerson?

RICHARDSON: I do, and with the National Security adviser, you know, and especially now with the president. This, you know, fury statement, he should calm down. He should be presidential. He should be careful.

The North Koreans don't think like we do. They don't react like we do. They're not tit-for-tat. They -- look what they did today, they released this Canadian prisoner. Maybe, you know, they're starting to be a little rational. But you never know what they're going to do. So don't expect them to act rationally. They're unpredictable.



RICHARDSON: The best thing we need to do is --

WEIR: Go ahead, finish your thought please.