Return to Transcripts main page


North Korea Threatens to Strike Guam; South Africa's Zuma Survives No-Confidence Vote; Nagasaki Marks 72 Years Since Nuclear Bomb

Aired August 11, 2017 - 14:00:00   ET



[14:00:15] ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, I'm Robyn Curnow. You're watching CNN "News Now."

We're still waiting for final word on who won Kenya's election. These were live pictures from Nairobi. Preliminary results gave President Uhuru

Kenyatta a significant lead over opposition leader Raila Odinga.

These are the images, live, out of Nairobi. But Odinga tells CNN, he won't believe the result because he says the form signed by officials at polling

stations may have been manipulated already.

We'll keep you posted if there are any new details out of that announcement.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted, "Military solutions are now in placed. Locked and loaded if North Korea acts unwisely." He adds, "But hopefully

Kim Jung-un will find another path. Earlier, Pyongyang statement to Trump was pushing the situation on the Korean Peninsula to the brink of nuclear


North Korea will top the agenda later when President Trump meets with some of his top advisers. Among them, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson;

national security adviser H.R. McMaster and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley. Tillerson has in the past showed an openness to talk with North Korea.

And the death toll could rise further in Northern Egypt after two passenger trains collided in Alexandria. The health ministry says it leaves 36

people dead. More than 120 are injured. One train was carrying passengers from Port Said, the other from Cairo.

Well, that's your CNN "News Now." AMANPOUR is next. You're watching CNN. The world's news leader.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN HOST: Tonight, saber rattle in North Korea. Could talk of the fire and the fury be a self-fulfilling prophecy? We take a deep

dive into what's next for the Korean Peninsula and try to untangle mixed messages from the White House with veteran war correspondent Tom Ricks.


THOMAS RICKS, AUTHOR AND MILITARY CORRESPODENT: 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.


WARD: Also ahead, South Africa's Teflon President Jacob Zuma, survives another no confidence vote in parliament. We will talk about what that

means for the rainbow nation.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to a special weekend edition of our program. I'm Clarissa Ward in London sitting in for Christiane.

Once the dust settles, how will history remember this week in U.S.-Korean relations. First, come reports that North Korea is now making missile-

ready nuclear weapons.

Next, President Trump responds promising fire and fury like the world has never seen.

And then as his cabinet try to massage President Trump adlib message, North Korea ups the ante with threats to fire missiles at the U.S. territory of


So how do we get here? And what happens now?

Meredith Sumpter is the Asia director at the Eurasia Group. I spoke with her, Wednesday.


WARD: 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 they 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 that?

[14:05:00] 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 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 States.

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 wants to see a 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: 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 with 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 think 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.


WARD: President Trump's belligerent comments about North Korea raised questions about his administration's strategy in the face of a 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 timely look at

principal leadership and ongoing threats to liberty.

I spoke with him from Washington.


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

RICKS: You're welcome.

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 he's saying to China, look, if you don't help the situation, we will.

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 Trumpian 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


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 end.

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 defend

our allies. And we will do so. And so the American people should sleep well tonight.


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


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

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?

[14:15:42] 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 sitting 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 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, Orwell, two 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 than fact.

So I think there are a lot of lessons from 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: Up next, Zuma the great survivor clings to power. As another no confidence vote fails, we find out what is next for the ANC.


WARD: Welcome back to the program.

On Wednesday this week, South Africa's President Jacob Zuma survived yet another vote of no confidence. Allegations of corruption as a tanking

economy have angered Mr. Zuma's opponents. But when it came to it, enough members of his own ANC party stood by the controversial leader.

After the vote, I spoke to Richard Poplak, a Senior Writer for the South African online newspaper, "Daily Maverick."

I began by asking if he was surprised that Mr. Zuma survived his eight vote of no confidence.


RICHARD POPLAK, SENIOR WRITER, DAILY MAVERICK: Oh, he's unkillable. It's amazing. He's an incredible fighter and credible political operator.

Am I surprise by the outcome? I'm surprise of how close it was actually. I don't think there was any doubt in my mind and certainly anyone who's

experience to it sort of analyzing South African politics.

It's not particularly big shock that he survived. But it was pretty close. ANC counting abstentions lost 35 votes, 35 MPs across the floor and that's

got to be a big blow and that's really, really got to hurt.

WARD: But we've seen these crowds who are out celebrating on the street, his supporters celebrating in the parliament when the vote failed. I just

wanted to get a sense from you more broadly speaking across South Africa.

What do you think the mood is like tonight? Are people largely supportive of Zuma? Are they pleased that the vote has failed? Or is this something

of a blow?

POPLAK: No, I don't think there's any real support for Jacob Zuma himself. It's not like his a popular president by any means. I think his polling

numbers are disastrous. And so far there's as any real sophisticated polling here in South Africa.

As far the ANC, you know, the ANC especially in the rural areas still hold a lot of power. It's an enormously powerful political brand. And there's

a lot of emotional attachment to it.

You know, this is Nelson Mandela's Party. It's the liberation party in (INAUDIBLE).

It's a real, real powerful political force in this country. And that's why this death is happening so slowly and it's happening so painfully.

And, you know, the real reason for all of these chaos is Jacob Zuma.

So, much of the focus and much of the anger is sort of being shunted towards Zuma. But even out in rural places where the ANC retains much of

its popularity but still an enormous amount of discontent.

The country is not in love with the ANC right now.

WARD: So give us a sense for some of viewers who aren't following South African politics so closely.

What the root of some this discontent was -- is rather. And what some of these allegations that have been leveled against President Zuma are?

POPLAK: Yes. I mean the short answer to that question is corruption. The long answer to that question is massive, massive amounts of corruption.

Jacob Zuma is tied to a family called the Gupta's who essentially act as gate keep. So anytime you want to get contract with the state own company,

effectively you have to go through the Gupta's.

So, we have a term here called state capture and narrative is that the Gupta's along with Jacob Zuma and his family had effectively captured the

state. And have looted tens of billions of rent from state coppers and send them off to effectively to bank accounts in Dubai and elsewhere in the


So, this is a highly sophisticated corruption syndicate and Jacob Zuma although there's no smoking gun. My publication, the "Daily Maverick" has

done extensive work and trying to dig up exactly how tied to the Gupta's Jacob Zuma is. And it is very, very deep how far the stuff runs.

WARD: And just quickly because we're running out of time. But I do think it's important to touch on the fact that in December the ANC will meet and

decide on the future leadership of the party.

Is there a chance that Jacob Zuma may go on to live yet another day, or is his time not withstanding the failure of this no-confidence vote coming to

an end do you think?

POPLAK: Well, the African National Congress constitution doesn't really allow him to stand for another term as President of the party and the

constitution of the country doesn't allow him to stand again as president.

But he has a very powerful faction within the ANC who is promoting to try to ensure that they retain power, which would mean he retains his patronage


So the real fight now is within the ANC, two factions battling out going into December, going into the electoral conference, desperately,

desperately trying to win.

If Jacob Zuma faction loses, well it means Jacob Zuma is in a lot of trouble and he could very well lose the immunity that protects him now.

And for him that is enormously dangerous and existential threat.

WARD: OK, Richard Poplak, thank you so much for your perspective and we will continue to watch closely.


WARD: In a week where nuclear threats hang heavily on the planet, after the break, we remember the bombing of Nagasaki. The horrors we hope to

never see again.


[14:26:35] WARD: And a final thought tonight, after all the talk of military might, the likes of which the world has never seen, we imagine a

not so distant past where fire and fury were more than words.

This week, Nagasaki marked 72 years since the nuclear bomb was dropped on the city, killing 40,000 people in the blink of an eye. On the 9th of

August 1945, a blinding flash of light and heat tore the city apart.

The bomb dropped by allied forces was named Fat Man. The lightness of the name only adding to the surreal and extreme horror of the event as Japan

looked back in a ceremony this week, flowers were laid for the tens of thousands killed.

And amid, a moment of silence, the city rang the bell of peace with the hopes that the world might never see such distraction again.




WARD: That's it for our program tonight. Remember, you can listen to our podcast, see us online at

Thank you so much for watching and goodbye from London.