Return to Transcripts main page


Huge 6.3 Magnitude Explosion Tremor In North Korea Sparks Nuclear Test Fears. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired September 3, 2017 - 00:00   ET


[00:00:12] ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. I'm Isha Sesay. We have some Breaking News for you this hour. Let's get right to it.

There are reports of seismic activity in North Korea. No word yet on whether this is some kind of nuclear test. But past tests have been detected as earthquakes.

That is the breaking news we want to bring you, that of seismic activity in North Korea. We do not know whether this is the result or fallout of some kind of nuclear test. But to repeat, past tests have been detected as earthquakes.

Well, just a few hours ago, Pyongyang said it has a hydrogen bond that can put on an intercontinental ballistic missile. These images report to show North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un inspecting the device.

In an English report, state media simply called it a nuke. But in Korean, it is described as a thermonuclear hydrogen bond. There has been no independent confirmation of the claims. Of course, a lot to get to, a lot to discuss.

Let's bring in our Ian Lee who joins me now from Seoul, South Korea. Ian, only one place to start and that would be, were these reports of seismic activity in North Korea, what are you hearing?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Isha, we are hearing from the Korean meteorological administration, which is saying that the earthquake was a 5.8 on the Richter scale also saying that this was man-made. The United States Geological Survey is also confirming this earthquake being man-made, saying it was a 5.2. This happened though in an area where we know North Korea carries out nuclear test.

Now, we do not know what causes earthquake, but all signs right now are pointing to that this possibly could have been a nuclear test, Isha. And we should note that according to previous tests that we've seen previous, it has carried out that it also triggered earthquakes. This one is one of the largest we've seen so far, Isha.

SESAY: All right, so to be clear. You're hearing where you are from -- in South Korea that it's 5.8 on the Richter Scale, U.S. Geological Survey saying 5.2. As you say, larger than previously. This would be the sixth nuclear test if indeed that is what happened here.

I mean, what are we looking at in terms of a reaction from regional palace if indeed North Korea has gone ahead and launched a nuclear test?

LEE: President Moon is going to convene a meeting of the National Security Council here in South Korea. There -- that's going to take place in about a half hours time. We're expecting something to come out of that.

A lot of developments though happening in the last 24 hours and we haven't heard any of formal statements from the South Koreans, the Japanese, or the Americans. But if this is indeed a nuclear test, I expect something to come out quite soon.

And you also have North Korea saying that they are capable of putting a nuclear weapon on top of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Experts had thought that that was months if not years away, but North Korea saying they do have those capabilities. Although independent experts are scrutinizing the pictures that North Korea put out on state TV. But that's really all they can do to try to figure out if in fact North Korea does have those capabilities. But these both are very significant developments happening here on the Korean peninsula, Isha.

SESAY: And Ian, to that point of verification, if we focus on just the seismic activity which, you know, right now we're hearing from two sources, from the South Korean and American saying it was man-made. Do we anticipate that the North Koreans will confirm it if indeed they carry out a test, the nuclear test?

LEE: Well, in the past, we've seen the North Koreans brag, boast about successful test. So we'll be watching North Korean states media very closely to see what we can get from there. Really, that, Isha, is the window into North Korea is their state media.

So, that's something that not only we will be watching but experts and governments trying to figure out what exactly took place. So also expect, you know, the United States, South Korea, Japan has other ways of detecting if this was -- in trying to confirm directly for themselves, if this was a nuclear test. If it was, they would probably come out with some sort of statement confirming that.

But right now, what we do know is that you have this large earthquake, over 5.0 on the Richter scale in the northeastern part of North Korea, in an area which is known for the conducting of nuclear tests. Again, we don't know if it's a nuclear test, but all signs point to that it was, Isha.

[00:05:04] SESAY: All right, I want to pick up on something you just said. That the U.S. and its allies would be looking to verify what exactly took place in this northeastern part of North Korea. But let me ask you about anticipating such an event if it is indeed a nuclear test that we're looking at.

Should people be surprised that the U.S. and its allies and others with spy intelligence capabilities did not see preparations to such a test ahead of time?

LEE: Well, they could have seen preparations and just not have shared that, so with the public. You know, one way that they would be able to verify if this was a test, it is a flying aircraft and trying to gather samples from any radiation that may have leaked from a possible test. So that's one way that they would be able to verify it.

As far as, you know, intelligence gathering, you know, we reached out to the Koreans, we've reached out to the Americans, that they are fairly tightlipped at times like this. Although the north -- the South Koreans have said that they are expecting another nuclear test within the year. It looks like now that this possibly could be that test.

SESAY: Yes, it certainly does. Ian Lee for us there in Seoul, South Korea. Ian, we appreciate it. I know you're going to continue to get reaction for us. We will come to you for that when you have it.

Let's bring in Colonel Rick Francona who joins us there, you see on our screen. He's there in Port Orford, Oregon. And he's a CNN Military Analyst.

Colonel Francona, good to have you at this time. Let me start by asking you first and foremost, what you make of these reports of seismic activity? We're hearing that it is over 5.0, according to the USGS 5.2 on the Richter scale. In the past when we have seen this kind of activity, it's been tied to a nuclear test. Your thoughts?

RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, I don't see what else it could be, especially if they've already declared that it's, you know, a man-made seismic activity. I don't know what else we would suspect it to be.

And we have been expecting the sixth nuclear test for sometime. We just didn't know when it was going to be. Of course, the intelligence committee may have been watching preparations that they haven't shared as you mentioned. But I don't -- I don't find this surprising at all. I find the timing a little surprising.

Today, Kim Jong-un shows us what he purports to be a hydrogen bomb. And now, we see this massive, rather massive test happening at the same time. The timing just seems too much to be a coincidence. So I think the Koreans have really ramped up the rhetoric. They ramped up this tit-for-tat game with the United States. The sharing of threats on one side, but one side says one thing, and then the other side reacts. And we're seeing this ramp up.

Now, we have to see what the American and the Korean and Japanese reaction will be.

SESAY: I mean, Colonel Francona, let's take a moment and pause on this issue of timing. Typically, when North Korea launches these tests or launches a missile of some sort, often it's around a major date, a major anniversary. We know that there's one coming up September 9th in North Korea, nothing that we can tell on the calendar at this moment, in these 24, 48 hours. So what is it in terms of mood music that you think might have led to this, this possible test?

FRANCONA: I think this is a reaction to that demonstration of force conducted by the Japanese, the South Koreans, and the United States just a few days ago where they actually flew a coordinated air mission and dropping bombs on the target ranges in South Korea. That was a show force directed at North Korea showing American, Japanese, Korean coordinated combined capabilities. And I think the Koreans are reacting to that by saying, well, we have a deterrent now.

When you look at what North Korea is trying to do, they're not building a weapon to use it. They're building a weapon to deter the United States. If you look at this from their perspective, they believe the United States is the aggressor nation and they believe that acquiring a nuclear deterrent is the only thing that guarantees the survival of the Kim Jong-un regime.

SESAY: OK. This is, as you say, this is placed in the context of engaging with the United States. Let's flip it and look it from the U.S. perspective.

President Trump had been very clear in the last couple of weeks about drawing red lines, talking about fire and fury in event of North Korea proceeding with threats and with action. Well, this is a pretty big action if indeed this is as thought, a nuclear test. One --

FRANCONA: Yes, and --

SESAY: -- I mean, where does this leave the U.S. administration?

FRANCONA: Yes. Well, and this is a key thing. We're assuming that what this -- the North Koreans are saying is true, that they actually have a hydrogen weapon and they can mount on ICBM. We don't know that yet. But assuming that that is true, they may have achieved their goal of a strategic -- deterrent against United States.

[00:10:12] So the question now is what does the United States do in return? What will be the U.S. administration's reaction to this announcement? And of course, right now, you have to air on the side that they actually do have this capability.

Are we going to now threaten North Korea with military action or are we going to create some sort of a deterrent? (INAUDIBLE) we do with the Russians and the Chinese, a mutual assured destruction protocol. And these are questions that are probably being asked right now at the Pentagon at the White House.

SESAY: Colonel Francona, you know, it is always sad when we discuss North Korea, which we have done for many, many years, that there are just no good options when it comes to constraining or dialing back the actions in this realm.

The U.N. Security Council sanctions when -- recently imposed on North Korea was the toughest yet? And many had placed much faith that those words, you know, would reign in Kim Jong-un. Those haven't worked. So diplomatically speaking, what's left?

FRANCONA: Well, that's a really good question and I don't know the answer. I know that Secretary of Defense, Mattis, has talked about there are still diplomatic options they could try. And if we believe that economic sanctions are going to reign in Kim Jong-un, I think we're making a mistake.

It appears to me that this regime has dedicated whatever resources they need to accomplish this goal. This is their Manhattan project. They put almost their entire national economy behind this. And they're willing to accept the sanctions but still get -- developed this capability. Because once they have that capability, that gives them bargaining leverage. So what they're doing is they're playing the long game against our short game.

SESAY: Colonel Francona, it is great to have you. Do stay with us. We want to keep the conversation going.

For a moment, I want to bring in Will Ripley who joins me now on the line from Tokyo. Will, your thoughts as we get this word of the seismic activity, which according to the U.S. Geological Survey and officials in South Korea, was man-made. And the assumption being that North Korea could have indeed launched some kind of nuclear test. Your thoughts?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I said certainly not a surprising development given that it was last year, around this time that North Korea conducted their fifth nuclear test, just one week after those joint military drills ended between the U.S. and South Korea. Those joint drills this year just ended this past Thursday.

But yesterday, I woke up in Pyongyang. I just landed back from North Korea. Here in Tokyo last night. And we were talking about the North Korean rhetoric and they were talking about diplomacy. They were saying that if the United States were to change its strategic position and recognize North Korea as a nuclear power, which is something they've had written into their constitution since 2013, the North Korea was hinting that there could be discussions, there could be progress made.

And I thought it was noteworthy in the past couple of days after that, that bomber and fighter jet fly over on the Korean peninsula, that show force from the United States, North Korea didn't put out statements immediately threatening a retaliation in terms of another missile test that they talked about, that the United States flyover was a rush act. That the United States have been caught off guard by North Korea's missile launch over Japan and their intercontinental ballistic missile launch, two of them that happened in July.

But what we didn't hear for North Korea was the threat of imminent action. And it seems, at that time when I was in North Korea and even in my discussions with government officials, that well, there was a lot of tension that perhaps things were going to deescalate for the time being. And we might go back into a holding pattern.

Well, obviously, that wasn't the case. North Korea clearly sending a very strong message here by an apparent detonation of a yet another nuclear device at their Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site. That they are in this full on in terms of this showdown with the United States, not backing down whatsoever.

The seventh round of U.N. Security Council sanction has been passed. They -- the discussions with officials in North Korea, they said they are not concerned about the sanctions. They have lived under sanctions for so many decades. And they also think that the United States and South Korea and Japan are surely mistaken. Even if they were to convince China to cut off this government economically, if they were -- if China were to just cut off trade with North Korea, stop the flow blow into North Korea, the North Koreans say they would handle it. And they would still launch missiles and they would still test nuclear devices.

And they point, as an example, to the great famine of the late 1990s, when the country had hundreds of thousands of people dying of starvation and yet the regime stayed firmly in control. And they still launched missiles during that time.

[00:15:00] This is a country that had survived very difficult times and they feel that these weapons are their leverage. Nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them are the leverage that will eventually give them a seat at the table and respect from the international community and legitimacy.

But, wow, I mean what a development that North Korea has now upped the ante even after -- initially, after that bomber flyover, they did not have a strong response or threaten retaliation. But they certainly have delivered an action if not words.

SESAY: Yes. I mean, it is indeed a stunning development in light of the sanctions, in light of the very strong, very clear rhetoric coming from the United States.

What are your thoughts now in terms of regional response? You know, you're there in Tokyo, what are you anticipating? We know that South Korea will be holding a National Security Council meeting in less than 20 minutes from now. Do you expect any tangible action to come out of that?

RIPLEY: Well here's what I can tell you from my perspective, both as someone who visits North Korea frequently and who travels frequently to China, South Korea and Japan. You know in Japan, there is an increasing amount of fear about North Korea. That this missile that flew over Hokkaido really hit home for a lot of people.

People woke up to air raid sirens for the first time since World War II. Children are being raised and being told what to do in the event of a nuclear attack for the first time since the Cold War. You know, Japan lives through Hiroshima. They live through Nagasaki.

I received a letter here in my apartment building with a list of emergency precautions to take in the event of a North Korean missile strike. One of the suggested pieces of advice is to run to the nearest subway station. Get as far belowground as you can. So that's the reality of life for people here in Japan, increasing fear in the region.

South Korea, they live with this threat of war, imminent war for many years. So actually that's probably one of the more relaxed places where people -- people are nervous about the heightened tension because this is escalating to a w hole new level and yet they lived through this their whole lives. Life goes on. Life also goes on in North Korea where people have also lived with the imminent threat of war their whole lives.

From the Chinese perspective, they don't feel that North Korea is necessarily a military threat to them. But for the Chinese government, it is being made increasingly clear that Chinese money trade with North Korea is being tied to this nuclear program. So every time that North Korea does something, Chinese President Xi Jinping's name is brought up. And this is very bad timing for him because just next month, the major party Congress where he expected (INAUDIBLE) further. And he doesn't want this kind of -- he doesn't want this kind of distraction.

And so --

SESAY: Yes, it --


SESAY: Go ahead. Sorry, Will.

RIPLEY: Yes, yes. So obviously, every country interprets this differently. But this is not a good development for anyone in this region, with the exception in North Korea.

SESAY: Yes. Will, I just want to update our viewers so they can see it on our screens. We're getting new information about the magnitude of that seismic activity, that explosion in northeastern North Korea.

We're now hearing according to the U.S. Geological Survey that it was of a magnitude 6.3. That is an upgrade of the initial number of 5.2. We're now hearing that indeed it was a massive explosion of 6.3 on the Richter scale.

We're, of course, working to get more details. But we can tell you that the South Koreans and the USGS have all said that this was a man- made development, man-made explosion. So in the past, when we've seen this, these earthquakes, this kind of seismic activity, it has been tied to nuclear test.

Let me just run through for you the five previous nuclear tests we've seen take place in North Korea. The first, in 2006, was estimated to be about a kiloton, just a fraction of the size of the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima during World War II.

The second test in 2009 was bigger, 2 to 6 kilotons according to the Arms Control Association. A third test followed in 2013. That was the first one carried out under lead of Kim Jong-un.

In January of last year, a fourth nuclear test. This time, the regime claiming it successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb.

And then September 9th, 2016, a fifth nuclear test and the most powerful one yet, estimated at 10 kilotons. Of course, right now, we -- we don't have confirmation as to what exactly took place in northeastern North Korea. But the working assumption right now is that it was a nuclear test. We don't know the size of it. We don't know what kind of device may have been tested.

Let's go to our Ian Lee. He joins me now from Seoul, South Korea.

[00:20:02] Ian, this is a remarkable moment for everyone in the region, given all that has been done to try and reign in North Korea. Talk to me about what this moment means for South Korea's relatively new leader, Kim Jong-un, who really campaigned on engaging North Korea, bringing them back to the table and leaning to some kind of diplomatic breakthrough.

Where does he stand now at this moment in time?

LEE: Well, Isha, South Korean President Moon had campaigned on dialogue, diplomacy thinking that was the best way forward. But really, he has been cornered into -- after these recent tests and also what the rhetoric coming from North Korea.

And now we have this, what appears to be a nuclear test. I need to point out that we are now hearing that it is 6.3 and that appears to be, if it is a nuclear test, the largest one that they have carried out. So that is quite significant in itself. But it really looks like diplomacy is going to be tough to do right now. You do have the United States.

President Donald Trump just spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Abe, they reiterated that the efforts need to be diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to get them to abandon their nuclear program. But as we've heard from Will Ripley's reporting in North Korea, that doesn't look like it's going to be the case. That has only encouraged them, galvanized their nuclear program.

So you really do have -- what you're seeing right now is the Americans, their allies, the South Koreans, the Japanese saying that what needs to happen right now is for pressure to be placed on the North Koreans. The North Koreans are saying, that's just having the opposite effect, so really not coming to the conclusion that they want right now.

But when it comes to diplomacy, you know, the South Koreans have said that they are willing to sit down without preconditions to talk about what they need to do to resolve the crisis between the two countries. Although the United States have said that they won't sit down with the North Koreans unless they abandoned their nuclear program, Isha.

SESAY: Does the South Korea hold that same line about deneutralize (ph) North Korea before engagement?

LEE: You know, North Korea says that this is their right to have a nuclear program. As Will said, it's in their Constitution. So it is unlikely that they are going to abandon their nuclear program. So you're really at a rock, between a rock and a hard place. If you're President Trump, you know, how do you deal with this? You know, there are options but it seems like the options they're pursuing right now are having an -- the alternative effect. So really, what it seems like they're going to have to do is just to try to put more pressure on China. That seems to be one of the only leverages they have right now, Isha.

SESAY: And at that point and not to cut you off, but I just want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and everyone watching this from around the world. You are joining us to the Breaking News out of North Korea. Speaking to our Ian Lee there who's in Seoul, South Korea.

Let's bring you up to speed with what we know right now. There are reports of an earthquake in North Korea not long after Pyongyang claimed to have a nuclear weapon. And the U.S. Geological Survey said it was 6.3 magnitude explosion.

It is unclear yet if this was actually a nuclear test. We want to be very clear on that. We do not know this. As a fact, it has not been confirmed yet. But what we can tell you is that South Korean officials say they believe the tremor was man-made.

North Korean state media said earlier it had a hydrogen bond that could be put on an intercontinental ballistic missile. And they ran these images that you're looking at right now on your screens. They put these out, reporting to show North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspecting the device.

Let's go now to Will Ripley who joins me now on the line from Tokyo. Will, you are just back from North Korea. As you say, you're just waking up in Tokyo now. But you were in North Korea the last couple of days. When you were there, was there any indication that there was a nuclear test on the horizon?

RIPLEY: Well, all last week when we were reporting from North Korea, Isha, we reiterated that it was around this time last year that they conducted their fifth nuclear test. That nuclear test happened shortly after the end of the joint military drills between the U.S. and South Korea, which always infuriates the North Korean government. And this is something that has infuriated them for a long time.

So last year, a week after the drills ended, they conducted their fifth nuclear test. The drills this year just ended on Thursday. And well, we saw that highly provocative launch over Japan.

[00:25:03] North Korea didn't give any warning of an impending nuclear attack. But what they have done is they put out messaging over the past couple of days talking about their nuclear program and how it's becoming increasingly advanced and urging (ph) the United States to shift its long-standing position of not acknowledging North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. This is something that North Korea is demanding as a precondition for any sort of discussions with United States and its allies, is that the notion that North Korea throw away its nuclear program be taken off table.

North Korea said that's not going to happen, no matter what kind of sanctions or diplomatic pressure are thrown on them. They believe they have made far too much progress and they believed that these weapons are the leverage that will guarantee and down the road long- term a better future, a better life for the North Korean people. The North Koreans will come to the diplomatic table for a position of strength as supposed to what United States would like to see, which is a cripple North Korean regime becoming financially desperate enough to have discussions and then be willing to perhaps throw away the nuclear program.

But North Korea officials -- on the last week, we got in there last weekend, had a number of different discussions and they said time and time again that absolutely is not going to happen. And with this latest test demonstrate is an increase in their ability that the earthquake it was created by last year's explosion around this time was 5.3. This is a 6.3 magnitude explosion which means that it's a much larger nuclear device that they tested. And they also put out that picture of North Korea Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un apparently standing next to what looks like in what North Korea claim is a miniaturizing nuclear warhead being loaded onto an intercontinental ballistic missile.

So North Korea just a couple of days, they go sad that they have an increasing capability and they're calling on the U.S. to change their position on acknowledging North Korea as nuclear weapons state. And then perhaps, there could be taught in North Korea's own terms.

I thought when I was in Pyongyang and talking about that a couple of days ago, that perhaps that meant -- that the situation with the escalating as we go back into a holding pattern for a while, but clearly, for that bomber and fighter jet fly over in the Korean peninsula, North Korea has decided to up the ante in a big way.

They are not concern about function. They are not concerned about international condemnation. They are going all in on the strategy to show the world that they are becoming increasingly apparent with nuclear arsenal, and in fact, they just put out a news bulletin within the past 12 hours or so, saying that these warheads are 100% homemade, which means that they say they're -- have all the material they need to build these nuclear weapons inside North Korea right now. They don't need to be brought in from other countries. They don't need to trade with other countries to build these weapons.

So they're saying, you can try cutting us off, but we can build as many nuclear weapons as we want, and if you continue this policy which hasn't work for so many years, they're continue building more and more weapons and become more and more of a threat to the international community, including the mainland U.S.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, that pointed you just made about North Korea's declaration of having the capabilities to basically build the components for the nuclear ballistic devices internally. It was one that struck me as I read the reporting for that by KCNA, the state media.

We effectively, I mean, looking at the North Korea that's going in positive plaintiff of any return. I mean, essentially, if what they claiming is true, if they are completely willing to ignore sanctions and the threat of most significant action. I mean, at this point, you have to ask yourself, what is left on the table in terms of means of bargaining with North Korea.

RIPLEY: Well, the United States certainly does have a lot of leverage in bargaining with North Korea. North Korea has more wanted normalize relations with the United States. They have wanted a more normalize relationship with much of the international community. And what would North Korean officials have been telling me for years, this last trip with my 14th trip to North Korea over the three years, and on every single trip they use the same terminology. They say that the United States has in there in eyes a hostile policy. And they would like that hostile policy to change.

But from the United States perspective, this is very difficult because what North Korea has done by testing the nuclear devices and launching these missiles is in flagrant violation of international law. And so for a long time, the United States government has said, why would we reward a country that has violating international law repeatedly and flagrantly and by acknowledging them as nuclear weapons state, or by being willing to have discussions, by being willing to give them confession. There are people in the United States that feel that any assistance, any aid that's been give in North Korea has only gone to further strengthen this country development of their nuclear arsenal.

[00:30:01] But then there's another viewpoint that this point they have come so far with developing these weapons, that if the world continue strategies that have proven to be a failure -- and in fact, Russian President Vladimir Putin just a couple of days ago said that he believes putting pressure on North Korea, fiery rhetoric, sanctions, he believe it's a dead end road. And it's only going to make the situation more dangerous.

Because what North Korea has shown the world is that despite round after round, round seven of U.N. Security Council sanctions which just passed, despite all of that, despite attempts to cut them off, they have found ways to get around the sanction to continue bringing in money through, A, means necessary impossible and they have continued to advance. More quickly than most analyst believe that they would even if recently just a few years ago.

And so now you have, yet, another apparent nuclear test at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site creating an explosion so powerful that it could be felt as an earthquake across the border in China. And you have North Korea defiantly saying that they are not worried about what China is going to do. They're not worried about what the United States is going to do, or Japan or South Korea. They are going to do what they see as necessary to protect their national sovereignty, and more importantly for them to continue to have leverage over the rest the world.

And they essentially have created a scenario, Isha, where even though the United States is far more wealthy and far more powerful, North Korea has something that the United States is going to be very hard- pressed to find a response to, because all military analyst would say that a preemptive strike, a military option against the nuclear North Korea would be far too dangerous for the country to accept. I mean the humanitarian consequences would be catastrophic.

So one option is that we, the United States, United States needs to talk with North Korea and there's a lot of people in Washington that don't like the sound of that, that don't like to reward a country for bad behavior, for illegal behavior. But if they don't do that, there are others who say this is going to continue to escalate and become increasingly more dangerous because, obviously, North Korea is not stopping the nuclear development.

SESAY: That's right. Will Ripley joining us there on the line with some great insights. Will, there in Tokyo, we appreciate that you standby for us. We will, of course, be coming back to you for your expertise. We want to take a minute and bring in Colonel Rick Francona who joined us now from Port Orford, Oregon. He's a CNN military analyst and retired lieutenant colonel.

Colonel Francona, thank you for being with us. As Will just said, is it time for the U.S. to speak to North Korea and to come to the table without the expectation that this is a statement -- it can be denuclearized. Is it right time to let go of that idea, especially in line of everything we've heard in the last couple of hours, the possible nuclear test and sense that they may have indeed been able to conquer hydrogen technology, hygiene nuclear technology?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: If you listen to the statements made by Secretary of Defense Mattis and Secretary State Tillerson, it seems like were getting to that point. Now they have to keep up the standard U.S. position that we will not discuss things with North Korea until they disavow themselves of a nuclear program, but I think most people realize. And as Will gave an excellent run down there, I don't think there's any chance that the North Koreans are going to give up this program.

This is in their Constitution. They believe it is in their strategic national interest. They believe it is the only thing that keeps them from being overtaken or, you know, attack by the United States. Whether it's true or not is not really important, is their perception is a perception of their people and that's what they believe that they have to have the strategic nuclear deterrent to keep themselves in power.

So as long as that's the case, I don't see anything that's going to make them want to even discuss giving up their nuclear weapons. So what is the option, then the United States says (INAUDIBLE) how do we live with a nuclear armed North Korea? We've lived with other nuclear powers in the past, the Russians and the Chinese for example. And we've been able to develop a deterrence posture with them. He would initially sure destruction.

I think the North Koreans know full well that any attack on the United States would be met with overwhelming military force that would lead to the end of the country.

And as I said before, Kim Jong-un does not want to use one of these weapons. He wants to own the weapons because he believes that his strategic deterrent. That's what gives him leverage. That would him a viable world power.

SESAY: Colonel Francona, has the North Korea leader back the U.S. president into a corner? I say that in light of President Trump's statement of "fire and fury" if North Korea continues to escalate its threats and carry out any provocative actions.

Well, what now? What now from President Trump, because President Trump drew a redline which North Korea very swiftly jump over --

[00:35:05] FRANCONA: Well, if you look at, you know, you go back in history. We've been dealing with this problem for years, for decades, and it was always kick the can down the road because they don't have the technology, they're not ready yet. We still have time. Well, we don't have time anymore.

You know, the Koreans have really ramp this program up. They've acquire these capabilities much faster than most people thought they could, and now we're faced with the end game and we have to do something.

So, it's not that they back President Trump into a corner. They back the United States into a corner. They've done this successfully for each presidential administration. And now there's no more road to kick the can down onto, where at the -- where the rubber meets the road.

Something has got to happen. We've got to determine what our policy is going to be rather than saying we still have time. We don't have time.

SESAY: Are you surprised by how quickly they're moving with a nuclear program, how quickly these tests are happening, how regularly these missiles are being flown? I mean, in terms of acquiring this capability, how are they doing it?

FRANCONA: Well, they put their entire national resources into this. This is their number one priority. Every resource they have, all of the top scientists in the country are working on these programs and we have no concurrent programs going on. You got the nuclear weapons program and you got the ballistic missile program. They're both very important and at some point, these technologies combine into that capability that they want and they're almost there. In fact, if what Kim Jong-un demonstrated today is real, they've achieved that -- the combination of these two technologies.

And so, am I surprised? You know, the North Koreans are pretty good engineers. I've a lot of their equipment over the years, you know, we've got in our hands on some of it and it's well-made as well engineered. So, am I surprised that they have the capability to do this? No, not really. I am surprised at the speed which they're developing. I mean every, you know, the timeline is compressing so fast, and as I say, their developing capability is faster than we're coming up with policies to deal with it.

SESAY: Yes, very true. Colonel Francona, please stay with us. We want to keep your viable insight. So we're going to hit pause for a second and bring Adam Mount and he joins us now from Washington. He's a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress. Adam, thank you so much for joining us.

Let's start by getting your reaction to what could well be North Korea's sixth nuclear test.

ADAM MOUNT, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: It does look like it was a sixth nuclear test. The magnitude was higher than previous tests.

Earlier tonight, North Korea released photographs of what it said was a two-stage thermonuclear nuclear weapons that's an advanced system it's been, they've had -- that this warhead could fit in an ICBM. In fact, it was loaded into a Hwasong-14 ICBM that they say is capable of reaching the continent of United States. We can't verify all of the details that they releasing that statement. But this appears to have been a very large test. They boosted the load (ph) of their weapons. And we need to take that -- take really seriously.

SESAY: Take it seriously and respond how from the U.S. perspective?

MOUNT: Well, the interesting thing is a thermonuclear weapon doesn't necessarily mean that deterrence is impossible. You can and devastate a city with the Hiroshima style bomb, like the one that we dropped on Hiroshima. And we already do the North Koreans had. This would simply up the (INAUDIBLE). It means that it would be capable of greater devastation and damage. But the facts about deterrence, what the United States and its allies need to do to prevent North Korea from using a nuclear weapon are roughly the same.

So North -- we expect that North Korea does not want to utilize one of these weapons out of the blue to attack U.S. homeland. We think that they would want to use one if it (INAUDIBLE) the regime was under a threat facing invasion.

So the first priority is to reestablish a deterrence and a strong defensive posture upon the Peninsula to ensure that these weapons are never used.

SESAY: What is that look like? I mean, there's already -- the construction of the THAAD anti-missile system there in South Korea. I mean, what are you talking about? You're talking about strengthening defense pacts between the U.S. and its allies Japan and South Korea. I mean, break that down for us.

MOUNT: Yes, the Trump administration has not mounted a firm invisible response to the fact that North Korea has tested missiles at an accelerated pace all throughout the spring, over than a tested this ICBM which was a critical threshold for the United States.

[00:40:07] So far, U.S. and allied force posture on the Peninsula has not change significantly.

One of the things we should be looking at is, what are the new military capabilities, defensive military capabilities that could help to prevent North Korea from aggressing, aggressing against allied forces.

What are the things that concern me tonight was the statement that KCNA, the North Korean state media released along with these photographs said that this nuclear war is capable of valuable yield. So you dial down the yield to a lower yield.

And that suggested that North Korea is not just thinking about having the capability to retaliate against American cities and the united invasion but in fact they're thinking about how to use these nuclear weapons for blackmail, potentially to use them in a wider range of circumstances and situations.

So, the priority now should be to close range with our allies, abandon this fools errand to draw out of the course FTA, the Free-Trade Agreement which was announce today. Stand -- talk with our allies and make sure that we have the capabilities necessary to deny North Korea from any kind of aggression. And low levels of escalation and also its nuclear level.

SESAY: Adam, let me ask you this question which people are divided on. Where do you stand on this point of the U.S saying that talks with North Korea will not proceed unless North Korea expresses the willingness, or (INAUDIBLE) the action to freeze it's nuclear program and ultimately denuclearize. Is that mixer fool's errand?

MOUNT: I think the denuclearization is important long term goal. It should be --

SESAY: Is that realistic? Is it realistic though, Adam?

MOUNT: I think we should think about it as long-term goal and a short-term solution. The short-term priorities are in to turn in defense, strengthening American alliances. If they focus too much of the denuclearization, they are starting to overlook these near-term imperatives.

So, the other thing that happened is it talks could stand a reasonable chance of promoting civility on the peninsula. But you got to abandon this insistence ongoing for broke with denuclearization in order to get there.

In August, both the United States and North Korea stated they restrain themselves from taking provocative action. North Korea and slowing missile test tempo. The United States in refraining from the B1 for over flights.

Now, unfortunately, neither of these restraining messages got across. There was miscommunication. And neither side was willing to take the first step in solidifying that regime of restraint.

But if we're going to maintain the term, and if want to have any hopes in slowing this missile tests, then they've got to have this direct talks. Better focus not on denuclearization but on arms control in the peninsula.

SESAY: Adam, before I let you go, we've going to talk to China because this administration has placed a great amount of faith in China's ability to reign in North Korea. And not just this administrations and to be accurate, you know, past administration have also made the point because it is true that China is the north biggest trading partner and having significant leverage that has not lead to North Koreas changing it's actions.

What is your expectation in terms of a response from Beijing in light of this possible fix nuclear test? And after the sanctions passed by the U.N that China has signed on to enforce vigorously.

MOUNT: China does customarily sign on to a new U.N sanctions when there's a missile test are -- and especially when there is nuclear test. We can expect done to -- we convene the U.N Security Council in the coming days and push for a tough new resolution.

What need to be skeptical of is, whether economic pressure forces the North Korean regime today in ways that we want. Whether it has the effects that we desire or whether it's just a way of looking top for the international community and domestic audiences.

One of the things we need to explore over the long run is if we can step back from denuclearization, stop manufacturing crisis in the near-term. Whether it's China will help us determine North Korea.

You got to remember that their primary interest are then stability on the peninsula. If they start to understand that North Korea is destabilizing to the region they may be willing to coordinate with us in different or acquiring from progressing and employing one of these nuclear weapons.

General Dunford's visit to Beijing and to Shenyang in the north of China earlier this month or -- excuse, earlier on August with a good sign that this coordination could occur. That's something we need to explore, but we can't get there if we're still going for broke on denuclearization.

[00:45:13] SESAY: All right. Adam Mount joining us from Center for American Progress, we appreciate it. Thank you for the insight and analysis. It's actually being fascinating to get you used to work on the CNN. Thank you.

MOUNT: Thank you.

SESAY: I want to bring in Ian Lee, our correspondent who joins me from Seoul, South Korea. Ian, what's the latest from where you are? We're getting anymore reaction to this possible effect to nuclear test by North Korea. What do you hearing?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Isha, right now the National Security Council is meeting here in Seoul. They are going to be discussing of this earthquake and we heard that the joint Chief of Staff also they are investigating whether this was, in fact the nuclear, a nuclear test. Now, all signs as we've been talking about over the past hours have pointed to the fact that this does appear to be a nuclear test. We're also hearing from the joint Chief of Staff saying that they have increased the alert level for the military here in South Korea. They're also increasing the surveillance of the North to determine what exactly happened and to see what is going on there.

You know, it's interesting thing to point out, Isha, is that in 2016, when that nuclear test happened in North Korea, it was a 5.3 on the Richter scale. Now, we're seeing this one today, it is a 6.3. And how does Richter scale works? Every point up is 10 times more powerful. Now that's not to say that whatever blew up or whatever caused this earthquake is 10 times more powerful than the last one. It just says according to the Richter scale, this earthquake is 10 times more powerful than the previous one in 2016. So that's something to give the expert some insight into what exactly happened.

But we're also monitoring Korea -- North Korean state television. They usually come out fairly quickly with some celebratory statement saying they carried out a nuclear test. We're watching very closely to see when an f they do that. But right now, things are tense, at least for the government here because they are monitoring, trying to figure out, scrambling that National Security Council meeting right now. We'll be waiting to hear what they have to say once they are out of that meeting, Isha.

SESAY: Ian, I want you to put something in context for me. And if this was a nuclear test, again we want to stressed on viewers who may just be joining us, there was this explosion according to the USGS, it was 6.3 on the Richter scale but it has not being confirmed that it was a nuclear test. But if indeed that it what took place in North Korea, the 6-1, I mean, to what degree this has change our assessment of the threat imposed by North Korea to those that -- those in the region and the U.S.?

LEE: Well, this just shows that from what the Richter scale says from the magnitude of this earthquake that it's pure a larger device, if it was in fact a nuclear weapon. You know, the interesting thing earlier today, Isha, just in the last 24 hours, North Korea came out and said that they have the capabilities of putting a hydrogen bomb on intercontinental ballistic missile. And that's something that experts thought North Korea was what months if not years away from achieving.

But now according to state media who showed pictures of North Korean Leader Kim Jon-un at their nuclear facility and inspecting this nuclear bomb, inspecting how it would be put on an ICBM. You know, that is very significant because previously we knew that North Korea could strike the region and could strike the United States with a missile but they hadn't been able to put a nuclear device on those missiles. And now they say that they are capable of doing that and that comes as what appears to be a test of a nuclear weapon.

That's a strong show of force by the North Koreans as comes also as President Donald Trump had a phone conversation with the Japanese Prime Minister Abe talking about what they could do to put pressure on North Korea. They talked about the diplomatic isolation. They talked about economic sanctions. But as we've heard from Will Ripley's reporting in North Korea, that just doesn't seem to have an affect in fact it has a reverse effect where it galvanize them to achieve their goal of having in advance nuclear program for what they say as a deterrent who what they perceived as western aggression, which the United States and South Korea says is laughable because they say, the only think that they are doing is defensive measures.

[00:50:04] These drills that we saw this last week, they say they are just defensive measures as a show of force, but they say that all the drills that are conducted, all the military exercises conducted between the two countries. They're a defensive posture but that's not seen as that way in North Korea.

So you really have a lack of understanding really where United States really trying to put pressure on North Korea to have them abandon their nuclear program through sanctions, through diplomatic pressure. It's just having the reverse effect. Really now we're going to be watching is what China has to say about this latest development. And really they are of the big player in the region that we haven't heard from. We haven't heard from other countries other than the fact that their monitoring what is going on. But China, that's where eyes were going to be I looking, at you to see what their responses to this latest perceived nuclear test.

SESAY: Ian Lee, thank you, stand by for us. I want to bring in CNN Military Analyst Colonel Rick Francona from Oregon. Colonel Francona, you had Ian Lee say, that in this moment as we wait for confirmation as to whether or not this was a nuclear test, all eyes will be on China if the moment comes.

And it is indeed confirmed, what are your expectations of Beijing.

FRANCONA: You know, that's the issue right now. Everybody's been relying on the Chinese, hoping that Chinese would be the solution to this problem. It doesn't appear that they're going to be. We've heard this in the past we're going to rely on China to put more pressure on North Korea. And as we've heard from, you know, from both Will and Ian, it just does not appear that any pressure we put on North Korea, or any pressure that China puts on North Korea is going to have the desired effect.

This is North Korea's primary objective is to develop this deterrent capability and they're going to do it regardless of what it cost them because they believe that once they do that then they will have leverage against any kinds of sanctions or pressure from the outside. So, you know, they're going to be playing a long game. So, I do not expect that China will do much for us. They may condemn the test but I really don't think this is going to be a game changer.

SESAY: So, I just want to be clear on the situation when it comes to China. I mean it's -- your belief that its more of case China doesn't want to do more because at the end of that day, you know, it is well documented that North Korea uses China's Banks, that North Koreas get its oil from China that, you know, the economic relationship is one that is so into woven that if China really did, you know, put the pressure on North Korea, they could affect change. Is that wrongheaded thinking?

FRANCONA: No, no, I do not think destroying had thinking. I just think that China -- I think Chinese, will do it because it's not in their interest too. The Chinese are looking at North Korea and they think we don't like what is going on there. But if we take action against the North Korea's is going to have an effect. The level of that action will cause such angst and such problems in North Korea that we may see a real problems in North Korea.

We may see a refugee crisis. We may see internal strife and that's something the Chinese do not want to deal with. They don't like North Korea and what it's doing right now. But they like a stable North Korea.

SESAY: This Administration has been accused of not speaking with one voice or being on the same page when it comes to North Korea that the president, President Trump has been more inclined to bellicose rhetoric and threats of fire and fury. While the likes of the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have added on statements we're not seeking regime change, that, you know, you know, diplomacy is not off the table. Do you think that discordance has kind of given a message to North Korea that they could proceed with this, with this possible past and would continue testing of missiles?

FRANCONA: Yes, I think that's a fair assessment because they hear one thing from the president and then they hear what they think is something different from the Secretary's statement, something different from the Secretary Defense.

Now those three will tell you that they're all on the same page but when you're reading what they're saying and in you're a North Korean analyst, would not all the understanding, the nuances of American politics. You may think that there is division there and that might involve you. And they say listen if the Americans don't have -- they have a coherent policy.

So, now that now is the time for us to continue to develop our program and to achieve that goal before they get their act together.

SESAY: Is now the time for more harsh rhetoric from President Trump of the fire and fury strain that we had a couple of weeks ago.

[00:55:03] If this was indeed, six test, is this the moment where that kind of response is necessary or are you one for saying that if indeed six test, that needs to be done right back and, you know, behind the scenes back to interaction that was no negotiations, because there isn't one, but at least attempts to rein (ph) North Korea it needs to be step up.

FRANCONA: Yes, I favor the back door approach, because I don't think this public tit for tat really gets us anywhere. It just ratchets up the rhetoric in it destabilizes, you know, you what stability is in the region, but it also destabilizes our allies in that part of the world and around the world.

SESAY: Colonel Francona, we appreciate it. Stay with us. I want to go back to Adam Mount for a second. He is still with us from D.C. And I want to ask him -- Adam is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Let me give you a full introduction one again, Adam.

And to that point that I just ask Colonel Francona, is now the time for more fierce rhetoric from this Administration. Do you want to see more with that? Would that have any effect, any positive effect if indeed this was a sixth nuclear test?

MOUNT: Well, there's no evidence that American rhetoric effects North Korea prevent to do the test whatsoever. Throughout the spring, Donald Trump and his administration have tried to ramp off the rhetoric, you heard this fire and fury threats in a variety of others. H.R. McMaster, for example, said that North Korea can not be deterred. The implication is that he would want to strike before North Korea really consolidated this ICBM nuclear capability.

Those sorts of statements are not helpful. They have not kept North Korea from testing. And I see no reason to do so in the future. All they do is manufacture in crisis to try to the ramp up the pressure and North Korea just doesn't feeling it.

SESAY: Adam, talk us about the propaganda value, if you will, of such a test within North Korea itself for the values of Kim Jong-un.

MOUNT: As you've heard from Will Ripley's reporting, North Korea's citizens are enthralled by these nuclear test and missile tests. Each one is treated like a national triumph. So every test does strengthen the leaders hand with his population, but also within the cabal (ph) of leaders, generals, military officers, political apparatchiks that surround him within the administrations. So they're important for him to maintain internal control.

SESAY: So that being said in a way to follow your line of thinking, Kim Jong-un needs these tests for his own internal survival and cohesion of his country.

MOUNT: Right. And that's one more reason why we be should be skeptical that any kind of rhetorical statement from the United States could constant to give them up, why moving aircraft carriers into the region, or B-1 bomber over flights could force North Korea to fold and act with us to American pressure and volunteered to eliminate their nuclear arsenal. They're simply too important for to the survival of the regime, they're too valuable internally, and they're useful for sending a deterrent signal to the United States and its allies. There are not capabilities that North Korea is going to want to give up easily.

SESAY: Quickly, before I let you go. We also haven' heard anything from China, are you surprised?

MOUNT: We'll try to geological society did confirm that there was an event. Normally, the statements take a while to percolate through China and though the United States. The South Korean government tends to be a little more rapid in responding so they convened the national Security Council meeting there and the military has said that they do -- they -- that this looks like a nuclear test.

You know, China will respond as it sees fit, it won't be rushed to these sorts of things. So, we can expect them to go back to U.N. Security Council, but they will react as they see their national interests. SESAY: Yes. Adam Mount with the Center for American Progress joining us there from Washington D.C. Adam, we appreciate it, do stay with us. There's much more to discuss in the coming hours as we try and piece together what exactly took place in the northeastern part of North Korea.

Adam, stand by first. We'll be with you shortly.

Hello everyone. I'm Isha Sesay. You're watching CNN and we have breaking news for you.