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North Korea conducts its sixth nuclear test. Aired 1-2a ET
Aired September 3, 2017 - 01:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Hello, everyone. I'm Isha Sesay. You're watching CNN and we have breaking news for you.
We're following the news out of North Korea. There are reports of an earthquake there, not long after Pyongyang claimed to have a new nuclear weapon.
The US Geological Survey said it was a 6.3 magnitude explosion. Now, let's be clear, it's still unclear yet if this was actually a nuclear test. But South Korean officials say they believe the tremor was manmade.
North Korean state media said earlier it had a hydrogen bomb that it could be put on an intercontinental ballistic missile. Now, they ran these images that you're looking at on your screen. They ran these pictures, purporting to show North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspecting the device.
Let's go to straight to Seoul, South Korea where our Ian Lee is standing by for us. Ian, bring us up to speed with the latest as you're hearing it. I know that the South Koreans were holding a National Security Council meeting.
IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And that meeting is still ongoing, Isha, that National Security Council meeting convened about half an hour ago. We're also hearing that the South Korean military has been put on a higher state of alert. There's also more surveillance taking place right now of North Korea. That, according to the joint chief of staff.
They're just analyzing what took place in that northeastern corner of North Korea in the Punggye-ri area where we've known that nuclear tests have taken place in the past.
This one, according to the United States Geological Survey, a magnitude 6.3, which is according to the earthquake scale ten times larger than the test that took place just last year in 2016, was a 5.3.
Now, we cannot confirm that this was a nuclear test, but right now, all signs point to the fact that it was. We're waiting to hear from the North Koreans; also waiting to hear from the South Koreans and the Americans, the Japanese about what their response is going to be to this.
But, right now, we know that they're analyzing the situation, they're trying to determine what took place and then what their next step is going to be.
But, Isha, this is the second development today coming from North Korea. Earlier in the day, we were told - we saw on North Korean state media that the country has been able to miniaturize a nuclear weapon and put it on an intercontinental ballistic missile. That is a major development too. So, really two major developments coming from North Korea today, Isha.
SESAYL: Yes. And, Will, the claim of being able to mount a hydrogen bomb, if you will, that has not been verified. Just as in the case of this explosion, it hasn't been confirmed that it was indeed a nuclear test. How difficult will it be to confirm, to verify either of these two issues?
We seem to have lost - no, we still have Ian. Go ahead, Ian.
LEE: To verify these issues is going to be a task. What we've seen in the past is you have American aircraft, Japanese aircraft, South Korean, they fly over an area to test the air from around that area to get the samples. And that will indicate whether it was a nuclear test.
So, that's one way that they will try to verify, in fact, if it was a nuclear test other than North Korea coming out and saying that they did indeed carry out the test.
Now, as far as this miniaturized nuclear weapon, putting it on top of an intercontinental ballistic missile, an ICBM, really that's for the experts to study the pictures that have been released to try to figure out, piece together if it was, in fact, they are able to do that, if they do have those capabilities, or if it's mere propaganda that the North Koreans are trying to project the image that they have these capabilities.
Now, experts for a while have said that they expected this to be months, if not years away, this sort of capability. So, I think this would take a lot of people by surprise if that is, in fact, the case that they're able to miniaturize it.
But, really, these are two very big significant developments coming out of North Korea after a fairly tense week. It started with North Korea test firing a missile over Japan on Tuesday. Right afterwards, we saw military exercises carried out by South Korea, which was designed to showcase how they could take out North Korean leadership in the event of a war.
[01:05:05] And then, you also had another military exercise on Thursday, which involves B1 bombers from Guam, it involved F-35s from Japan and F-15s from South Korea showcasing their unique capabilities over the course of a ten-hour exercise.
And you also had another major United States-South Korean military exercise taking place. And then, once that concluded, we have today's developments. You have that earthquake in the northeastern part of the country, which appears to be a nuclear test. You also have North Korea saying that they are able to miniaturize a nuclear weapon and put it on top of an ICBM.
So, a very tense week a with a lot of major developments as things progress. So, we also have heard that US President Donald Trump has spoken with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and they talked about what they believed the best step forward is, and that's more isolation on North Korea, both diplomatically and economically, which doesn't appear to have the effect that they wanted.
As we heard from Will Ripley's reporting in North Korea all last week, the North Koreans see that as one of the major threats, and they say that what they're going to do in response is galvanize their nuclear program. It has the reverse effect of what the Americans and the Japanese, the South Koreans were hoping for, trying to curb their nuclear efforts. They say that it's only going to galvanize them towards advancing that now.
You also have here, in South Korea, President Moon, while he is in that National Security Council meeting, when he was elected president, his agenda was trying to create dialogue with North Korea, to try to talk it out, try to lower the rhetoric, lower the temperature, get everyone talking and trying to find some sort of diplomatic solution, but he seems to be in a corner this morning as North Korea makes these two significant announcements, Isha.
SESAY: Yes. Absolutely. Ian Lee joining from Seoul. Ian, standby for us. We appreciate it. Thank you. I want to bring in Will Ripley who joins us now on the line from Tokyo.
Will, to pick up on what Ian was saying, just in terms of what a significant couple of hours it's been, whether we're just talking about North Korea's claims of being able to mount a hydrogen bomb on an intercontinental ballistic missile or this explosion - or as well as this explosion, I should say, in northeastern North Korea, when you take both of those together - again, I want to be clear to our viewers who may just be joining us, we don't know whether this was a nuclear test. That hasn't been confirmed yet.
But if it was a nuclear test and we have these claims about the hydrogen bomb, how does this change our understanding of the threat posed by Pyongyang.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is North Korea sending a very strong message, Isha, a message that they told us all last week when we were in Pyongyang and as recently just yesterday morning when we left the city, which is that they are pushing forward very aggressively with increasing the size and capabilities of their nuclear arsenal.
So, to see this message from North Korean media showing the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, watching this, what they claim is a miniaturized H-bomb warhead being loaded on to a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile and then to have just a few hours after that, apparently, what by all indications seems to be their sixth nuclear test happening roughly one year after their fifth nuclear test, just days after the end of joint military drills between the United States and South Korea and also that fly over with US and South Korean planes over the Korean Peninsula, bombers, fighter jets, all of this is North Korea's defiantly responding and telling the United States that their position in the world and their view has changed.
And, in fact, they put out an editorial in the Rodang newspaper, the leading mouthpiece of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea just a couple of days ago saying that it's time for the United States to change its long-standing position, refusing to acknowledge North Korea for what they believe they are, which is now a full-fledged nuclear power. They have it written into their constitution. They have since 2013. They're going to grow their nation's nuclear program, along with trying to grow their nation's economy simultaneously.
And frankly, they have accomplished doing that. North Korea's economy, despite round after round of international sanctions, grew by almost 4 percent last year according to South Korean Central Bank estimates.
And, of course, we see an unprecedented barrage of missile testing. Kim Jong-un, this year alone, has launched more missiles than his father did or his grandfather did during their entire years in power.
He's launched more than 80 missiles since he took power in late 2011 after the unexpected death of his father. And so, he's really doubled down on this strategy, which is that North Korea feels that, long-term - perhaps, in the short-term, they are sanctioned, they are condemned, but long term, they feel that these nuclear weapons will give them the leverage that they need to come to the bargaining table with the United States, a much more powerful, a much more wealthy, much more influential country, and yet North Korea has in its arsenal this weapon that the United States does not have a clear cut answer to because any military option would be so catastrophic, especially now.
[01:10:28] It would have been catastrophic just with conventional weapons, but now with what appears to be an increasingly capable nuclear North Korea, all it would take was one nuclear missile being launched, hitting somewhere in the world. And can you imagine how devastating that would be? North Korea showed they have the capability to launch these missiles when they launched the Hwasong 12 over Northern Japan.
When they launched the Hwasong 14 intercontinental ballistic missile and it shot up to an altitude higher - far higher than the International Space Station.
This is North Korea saying now, with these nuclear tests, we have the warheads, we have the missiles, and if you don't talk to us, if you don't respect us, if you don't recognize us, we're going - despite what sanctions you throw at them, despite the international pressure, they're going to continue to grow and develop their arsenal.
And it's noteworthy, Isha, that they said - that these warheads that they are producing now are 100 percent homemade, which means that all of the source materials, they say they have inside North Korea, so they don't need to have them imported from China or from other countries. They can get all of the materials inside their country to continue producing warheads, even if the world were to cut them off economically.
And, look, North Korea has survived very difficult economic hardship in the past. The Great Famine of the late 1990s was a devastating time for the country. People at that time thought the regime was going to collapse when hundreds of thousands of people were dying of starvation, and yet the regime stayed firmly in control even during that difficult time and, in fact, continued to launch missiles.
Now, North Korea is much more self-sufficient than they were. Yes, they rely very heavily on trade with China for comfortable items that the privileged North Koreans enjoy in Pyongyang, but when it comes down to the basics, they believe that they could hunker down and continue to develop this, even if things got really bad, even if China were to do what the United States wants them to do which is to cut off the regime economically.
So, it's a very difficult situation for the United States, which now has to ask itself a very tough question. Do they continue with a strategy that has not worked during previous US administrations, which is to try to pressure North Korea, to try to pressure China, or do they have a different way of thinking about this and is it time to talk with North Korea?
And I also need to point out, Isha, that these possible reports out of China that a second smaller earthquake was detected that could indicate some sort of a tunnel collapse at the Punggye-Ri nuclear test site, if there was a tunnel collapse, that raises the fear in the region of radiation being spilled into the atmosphere.
And, right now, there are sniffer planes here in Japan that will be deployed. Sniffer planes are - their job is to try to detect signs of radiation seeping into the atmosphere. And that, of course, would also be a very frightening development for people living around the Punggye-Ri nuclear test site in the mountainous region of the northern part of North Korea, near the border with China.
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization was speaking with CNN's Barbara Starr short time ago. They said that 30 of their seismic stations worldwide picked up this particular North Korean quake, which indicates how large of an event it was.
Last year's explosion, their biggest ever, was a 5.3 magnitude earthquake; this year, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. And what we should expect to hear in the coming hours - it could take up to 24 hours because North Korea doesn't announce these things right away. They are often delayed by up to a day. But we'll have to find out how large they say this explosion was.
If this was what they claim was an H-bomb, how big of an explosion was it? North Korea's statement that they put out said they had the capability to produce warheads that are significantly larger than anything we've seen them test before.
SESAY: And, Will, before I let you go, as you just completed your 14th trip to North Korea, I've got to ask you about the propaganda value of such a test, if indeed it is confirmed that it was a nuclear test. Talk to me about the value domestically for Kim Jong-un, for him to have done such a thing.
RIPLEY: Oh, yes. It's huge. It's huge propaganda value. Not only do they gain scientific knowledge from these tests and from these launches, but I'll give you an example.
We were down at the central train station in Pyongyang late last week. It was one day after the rest of the world knew that that Hwasong 12 missile had been launched over northern Japan. For all of Tuesday, North Koreans went about their day with no idea that this happened. And right now, it's Sunday. It's the only day off in North Korea.
And from just being in Pyongyang yesterday, I can tell you, some people are at work, some people are playing volleyball with their neighborhood volleyball teams and North Koreans, at this moment, are unaware that this has happened. They're unaware of this storm brewing in the outside world.
But when North Korea announces this to its own people, they will have likely their main news anchor, Ri Chun-hee, the woman who we've seen for decades announcing all the major events in North Korea, she will give a very enthusiastic announcement proclaiming a victory for the North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un.
[01:15:10] They will have highly-produced video, photos, maps. Likely, they'll show North Korea's leader in some sort of a control room overseeing the event and they will portray this to people as a victory, as another win, as another step forward, as another step down the road to a better future for the North Korean people because that's what the regime tells its people that these nuclear tests and these missile launches are going to bring them a better, more prosperous future.
They don't tell people that these are causing them to be more diplomatically isolated, that perhaps they faced a lot of suffering and economic hardship because of this behavior. They say that this is the path that will lead them to a stronger, better North Korea.
And when I speak with people in the streets, including when I spoke with people after that missile launch just last week, they said that they believe it.
Now, then again, what would they say? This is a country where political dissent is not tolerated. I have never heard - in three years of visiting the country, I've never heard anybody criticize the government because that's just frankly not allowed.
But I do think that there are a lot of people in North Korea who do believe that Kim Jong-un, through this strategy, as counterintuitive as it might seem to the rest of the world, there are a lot of North Koreans who believe that this is going to bring them a better future for their country down the road because it's getting them to a level where the international community is forced to acknowledge, respect, give legitimacy to this regime, which has sought that for so many years and been unable to attain it, but yet from the North Korean viewpoint may be on the verge of obtaining that now. Isha, when I watched the video of the missile being launched in North Korea, and we actually have that video, you could probably cue it up for later shows, people broke into a round of applause, they were jumping up, they were smiling, they were clapping. They don't view this as frightening. They view this as yet another historic national achievement.
SESAY: It's remarkable, as you say. Internally, it is seen so differently from the way the rest of the world is viewing and processing these developments out of Pyongyang.
Will Ripley, we appreciate it. Thank you for the great insight. Do stand by for us.
I want to go now to Ambassador James Jeffrey. He joins me. He is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former US Deputy National Security Adviser.
Ambassador Jeffrey, thank you so much for being with us. North Korea could well have launched their sixth nuclear test. According to the USGS, it was 6.3 on the Richter scale. The last one they did Ambassador Jeffrey was 5.3, significantly larger, if this was indeed a nuclear test. Your reaction?
JAMES JEFFREY, FELLOW AT THE WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY AND FORMER US DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: This was not only a nuclear test, if we can believe the leader of North Korea, this was a thermonuclear, a hydrogen bomb. That's even more dangerous.
We are coming into an extraordinarily dangerous period. I disagree with your last speaker. North Korea isn't doing this to get respect, to have people talk to them. We have had four administrations try to talk to them.
They are trying to conquer all of Korea, unite the country, and push the United States out of the Western Pacific. That is their goal and they are pushing a very dangerous strategy. We have to make very, very serious choices because very soon they will have the capability to rain nuclear missiles down on the United States, and that's an unacceptable situation for any American president. So, that's the dilemma we're in right now.
SESAY: Ambassador Jeffrey, just to be clear, you believe that North Korea's end game here is one of military dominance there on the peninsula. So, as you say, you disagree with our Will Ripley that this is more a bargaining strategy, but does North Korea honestly believe that it could win any kind of military conflict on the peninsula with South Korea being a U.S ally?
JEFFREY: South Korea is no longer a US ally because the United States will not risk of Washington and Seattle and Los Angeles to defend Seoul. Yes, I think North Korea believes it can conquer the peninsula.
It slaughtered a generation of its own young men in 1950 to 1953 to that end. We didn't think Ho Chi Minh was serious about uniting all of Vietnam and we learned to our pain that he was. We should believe the same about this guy.
SESAY: Ambassador Jeffrey, with your assessment, let's keep your assessment on the table, that this is what North Korea is going for, in that case, how should the Trump administration respond?
JEFFREY: There is only one path forward. I disagree with this idea, again that we've just heard, that Chinese economic sanctions, if they're really abiding, would not compel the regime to change course.
[01:20:07] Where does North Korea get all of its oil? From China. The trade has been going on quite smartly despite the latest sanctions.
China, however, does not see North Korea as an irritant or a problem or worry about refugees, which we have all of the time. China up to now sees North Korea as another pawn in its long-term strategy, again, to drive the United States out of the Western Pacific.
If China comes to the realization that we're about to go into a war with North Korea, that might get China to really put the screws on North Korea, but nothing short of that will work. That's why we're in such a dangerous situation because even threatening a war is in and of itself potentially extremely dangerous and destabilizing.
SESAY: Ambassador Jeffrey, I want to pick up on the China play, if you will, in all of this. But just bear with me for one moment because I want to update our viewers on some news just coming into us here at CNN.
So, Ambassador Jeffrey, we'll speak on the other side. The Japanese government is now saying that those tremors detected in North Korea were a nuclear test. So, if you're just joining us, we want to let you know that, according to the Japanese government, that explosion that was detected in the northeastern part of North Korea, according to Japanese government officials, that explosion signals a nuclear test.
According to the USGS, the US Geological Survey, it measured 6.3 on the Richter scale. To be clear, when the USGS put out the initial statement, they said it was 5.2. They upgraded it to 6.3. So, we shall continue to watch that number and see if it changes again.
But let you read the statement that the Japanese foreign minister just gave and it was broadcast live on Japanese television. This is what they said, "After analyzing data provided by the Japan Meteorological Agency, the Japanese government concluded that North Korea has conducted a nuclear test." That is the assessment by Japan.
Ambassador Jeffrey, to bring you back in here, I know you're with me and I know you heard what I just shared with our viewers that Japan says it was indeed a nuclear test.
Talk to me about how this changes things now. You said this was a massive escalation, but just talk to me about what we're looking at now in terms of a regional response, what this all means for what comes next. JEFFREY: Well, what it means is that the United States very soon will be threatened by nuclear strikes, ICBMs fired out of North Korea with thermonuclear - that is, hydrogen bomb - warheads. That is a total game changer. It calls into question our ability to defend, not just South Korea, but Japan.
Again, the only way to respond is very quickly to up the military pressure. We're not talking about airplane flybys. We're talking about moving tactical nuclear weapons back into the region that we pulled almost two decades ago.
We're talking about intensive work with Japan, in particular, to ready Japan for a possible Japanese move to nuclear weapons itself. That will definitely move China.
If we don't do things as dramatic as this and potentially do a tit- for-tat strike against North Korean facilities, we are soon going to be in a position where we're going to be facing a nuclear exchange.
SESAY: Ambassador Jeffrey, the scenario that you lay out, or the scenario that you are endorsing or suggesting as the right one in terms of a response is one that carries huge risks, especially when you're dealing with what some people would say is an irrational actor in the likes of Kim Jong-un.
In this kind of situation, anything could trigger an all-out conflict. What you're saying now is, take these steps as a means to deter them, to kind of cower them, but with someone like Kim Jong-un, could you not just indeed be lighting the match, which leads to a huge explosion here?
JEFFREY: No. You're absolutely right. That's why this is such a last-ditch proposal because you've got a choice. You can deal with the mad man, as you aptly described a moment ago, now when he cannot strike the United States or you can deal with him when he can strike the United States.
So, the question is, what do we want to do. Again, negotiations, trying to show him respect, four administrations have tried that. I worked intensively on this in the Bush White House with Condoleezza Rice. It has gotten us nowhere, nothing has worked.
[01:25:00] SESAY: It is indeed a massive escalation of the situation on the peninsula and in the region itself. Ambassador James Jeffrey, thank you for joining us there from Washington DC. We appreciate your perspective and your insight. Thank you.
JEFFREY: Thank you.
SESAY: I want to go right now to Andrew Stevens, who is in Xiamen, China. Andrew, you heard what I just shared with our viewers. I know you've been following it from China. Japan saying it was indeed a nuclear test, the sixth one by North Korea, what is the reaction in China? Is anything coming out of Beijing? ANDREW STEVENS, CNN ASIA PACIFIC EDITOR: Well, at the moment, Isha, the only thing we have is confirmation of that explosion. The China Earthquake Administration saying about an hour or so ago that there had been a 6.3 event. And they used the word a likely or possible explosion, followed by a 5.8 event and that a tunnel collapsed.
So, this detonation, the first detonation coming at zero depth. So, that is - the only thing they're saying at the moment, Isha - where I am in Xiamen is the scene for the annual BRICS conference, this gathering of five countries.
And we're expecting the Chinese president to be speaking to be welcoming delegates in the next three or four hours or so. So, expecting him certainly to say something about this.
This is, as your guests say, a massive ratcheting up of the tensions in the Korean Peninsula. And it comes, remember, just a month after the Chinese foreign minister took the North Korean foreign minister aside at the United Nations to say do not make any more provocative actions, do not launch any missiles, do not detonate another nuclear device for the sake of not provoking the international community.
Now, as we've heard, China is the number one ally of North Korea. But that advice held for a few weeks. But in the last seven days, starting with that missile being fired over Japan, North Korea has plainly, clearly ignored China's wishes there.
And China said repeatedly it will not tolerate a nuclear Korean Peninsula, it will not tolerate chaos on the Korean Peninsula. And that chaos line is interesting because that would have a direct impact, obviously, on China.
China shares a land border with North Korea. They don't want that chaos to result in a flood of North Korean refugees. This is all information we've been hearing from China repeatedly. They don't want that flood of refugees. So, they don't want that destabilization of North Korean Peninsula, which could end up with South Korean power in the ascendancy which would be an ally of the United States.
China's really sort of strategic equation here, Isha, is what it is worth? Having a US ally on your doorstep or having a nuclear powered or nuclear capable North Korea. And a lot of people you speak to in China say the Chinese government would prefer the latter. They would be able to live with that more easily than they would be able to live with the chaos on the border, millions of refugees and also perhaps a US friendly government of the united Korean peninsula right on its doorstep.
So, these are the big geopolitical sort of equations, the strategic decisions which have been looked at at the moment. But there is no doubt this will be extremely annoying to the Chinese leadership. They do not want North Korea to go down this path.
The other thing to remember too is what we've seen in the US about ratcheting its military presence in this region. China doesn't want to see the US, a more powerful, a more muscular military presence in this region either.
So, its lack of action, if you like, could lead to the US stepping up its military presence here. So, that may be a backdoor way of the US putting more pressure on China to actually take some action on North Korea. It's got 90 percent of North Korea's trade. It has the power to change North Korea economically at least.
SESAY: Andrew Stevens joining us there from Xiamen, China. Andrew, we appreciate it. Do stand by for us. I want to bring in CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. She joins me now on the line.
Barbara, good to have you with us. The Japanese government saying this was indeed a nuclear test, what can you tell us from the US side of things, what are you hearing?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far, the US, the Trump administration very early here in Washington, Sunday morning, of course, has not spoken publicly about this.
The president tweeting a short time ago when he got back to the White House from the hurricane relief operations in Texas about that. So, he's awake, but not tweeting about this. One can only suspect he is being briefed at this hour.
[01:30:04] We have talked to some officials in the Trump administration. They do not have firm confirmation from the US point of view about exactly what happened.
But, look, they're saying there's every reason to believe this was a manmade seismic event. That means an underground nuclear test by the North Koreans.
This now really puts the president in a bit of a box about what to do next. Just late August, he had said that he thought the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was beginning to respect the United States. And since then, what you have seen is North Korea fly a missile over Japan's territory and now this sixth apparent underground nuclear test in the last couple of hours.
So, the North Korean regime, as always, by all accounts, paying absolutely no attention to the efforts by the international community to get it to ratchet back on its weapons program. And, in fact, continuing to step it up.
It was on Saturday US time that photos emerged from North Korea showing Kim Jong-un standing next to, what the North Korean said, was a potential hydrogen bomb type warhead, not confirmed by the United States.
But we are at the point where US military commanders will publicly say they have to assume that North Korea now has the capacity, the capability to attack the United States. They have to plan against that scenario. They just don't see North Korea ratcheting back. And this sixth nuclear test is pretty big evidence that that appears to be the case. Isha? SESAY: Absolutely, Barbara. This is an administration that has talked about all options being on the table. You mentioned just a few moments ago that North Korea has, in some sense, boxed in the president.
What are the options? Is there a preferred option on the part of the Pentagon in terms of how to respond to North Korea?
STARR: It's a fascinating question because, again, the president potentially making foreign policy by Twitter had said just a day or so ago that talking was not something that was working out. It's not that the US talks to the North Koreans at this point, but diplomacy is essentially talking. And that is in fact the option that certainly Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis have publicly time and time and again said that is the way to go.
In fact, Defense Secretary Mattis just saying, at the end of this past week, at the Pentagon, he does not believe that the US has run out of diplomatic options.
Military options for North Korea remain hugely, hugely problematic for the simple reason - not so simple - that the calculation has always been if the US were to attack North Korea, North Korea would quickly retaliate with a counterattack against South Korea and tens of thousands, if not millions, could be killed in Seoul alone.
So, the geography is not really in favor of a US military option and that has brought the world back to diplomacy, talking, trying to use China and sanctions as a lever.
None of it - what we have seen in the last couple of hours is North Korea very willing still to ratchet up yet again with this apparent nuclear test.
SESAY: Barbara Starr, Pentagon correspondent, joining us there on the line from Washington. Barbara, we appreciate it. I know it's very early where you are on the East Coast. Thank you. Do stand by for us.
I want to bring in Daniel Pinkston. He joins us now. He's an expert on North Korea and he joins us now from Seoul. Daniel, thank for joining us. The Japanese government saying that explosion in northeastern North Korea was indeed a nuclear test.
The US hasn't confirmed it, but that's what we're hearing from Japanese officials. Your thoughts now on this move by Kim Jong-Un. What is his calculation by launching such a test at a time when everyone is warning him to back down and to basically deescalate the situation.
[01:35:18] DANIEL PINKSTON, NORTHEAST ASIA DEPUTY PROJECT DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: Well, the North Korean regime has been very consistent and persistent. They've worked on their weapons programs for decades.
This is 1950s technology. They've been cultivating the human resources, which are the most important, training the scientists and engineers and giving them the resources to work on the programs. They've been doing that since the 1950s. And they work it on every day.
So, other indications had shown that they were ready to conduct a nuclear test at any time. So, this should not come as a surprise. And we're going to have to learn to live with North Korea and its nuclear arsenal.
SESAY: You say this shouldn't come as any surprise, but I do wonder whether you are surprised by how Kim Jong-un has been able to compress the time line and manage how he's managed to launch all these missile tests, this would be North Korea's sixth, I believe they did two last year. Are you surprised by the speed, the acceleration?
PINKSTON: Yes. But Marshall Kim has been in charge now for a few years now since December 2011. The number of missile flight tests has been much more frequent compared to the time under his father and his grandfather.
So, the pace of the testing schedule has been collapsed and they' been willing to conduct these tests at a much more rapid clip.
So, that suggests they are making more progress than they had in the past. This has taken some people by surprise as far as the pace. But as far as their determination and their long-term commitment to achieving these goals and obtaining these capabilities, that should not come as a surprise.
SESAY: Well, as you cite, North Korea's determination and their focus on continued development of their nuclear programs, what options does the US have when it comes to engaging with Pyongyang and trying to deescalate the situation?
PINKSTON: Well, the default response is deterrence and containment. And the good news is that North Korean regime is rational. I heard on the program earlier, someone was saying that the leadership is not rational or is irrational. I think that's not true.
They wish to survive and to maintain control of the Korean Workers' Party and the DPRK. You have to be hyper-rational, you have to be calculating your costs, benefits on a daily basis. So, I don't think they're willing to commit suicide.
And the international community has a number of resources. We have much greater resources than North Korea. North Korea does not have the strategic depth, they don't have allies. We have a lot of experience in deterring a much greater menace during the Cold War, the Soviet Union.
So, we need to go back and look at what has worked in the past and what succeeded for decades and apply those same principles that we used during the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
SESAY: All right. Daniel Pinkston joining us there on the line from Seoul, South Korea. Daniel, we appreciate it. Thank you so much. I want to bring in former CNN correspondent Mike Chinoy. He joins us now from Hong Kong. He is a senior fellow with the US-China institute at the University of Southern California and he is also the author of the book "Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis".
Mike, thank you so much for being with us. As you know, North Korea likely launched a sixth nuclear test. The Japanese government is confirming that that is what caused that explosion in the northeastern part of the country.
What in your view is Kim Jong-un's end game with this sixth test. What is he trying to achieve?
MIKE CHINOY, SENIOR FELLOW WITH THE US-CHINA INSTITUTE, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Well, the North Koreans have, I think, a pretty clear plan to acquire robust nuclear and missile capability, which is primarily designed to deter the United States or anyone else from taking any countermeasures.
The North Koreans see nuclear capability as the most important guarantee of their survival. This program is not new. It's been around for many years.
In the early 2000s, the North Koreans looked around and saw the United States invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein who did not have a nuclear capability. They saw Libya's Muammar Gaddafi voluntarily give up his nuclear program and then he was overthrown and killed.
[01:40:04] And I think the North Korean calculation is that having nuclear weapons is the most important factor in keeping the Kim dynasty in power.
SESAY: Mike, as you talk about the North Korean calculation, from the outside and every other government, there's this constant need to try and figure out what they're going to do next or where they stand at that point in time.
On the 22nd of August, President Trump speaking about Kim Jong-un at that rally he held in Arizona said, "I believe he is starting to respect us." That was the assessment of the US president at that point in time of where Pyongyang stood.
Follow that up with seven days later and North Korea goes ahead and fires a missile that flies right over Japan, which, of course, is a key US ally.
Fast forward to the 3rd of September and here we are looking at a possible nuclear test. Japan saying in fact it was a nuclear test. Talk to me about North Korea and just trying to kind of gain a handle on why it does things when it does them.
CHINOY: Well, first of all, I think the president was completely wrong in his assessment of North Korea. And I think the notion that for some reason the North Koreans may have been deterred by Donald Trump's bluster is nonsense. The North Koreans have their own very clear calculation. And I think, right now, Kim Jong-un likely feels that he is in the driver's seat at the moment.
If you look at what has happened here, the North Korean staged this a very provocative missile test a few days ago. The missile flew over Japan and it was at a combat level trajectory. It was not at the previous very high trajectory.
And what you have afterwards was just the usual hang-wringing, urgent phone calls between the US secretary of state and his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, statements that the United Nations Security Council resolution adopted, but no new sanctions.
The Chinese, for their part, were very cautious about supporting any new measures. The Russian delegate at the UN said sanctions were not the way to go.
So, I think when Kim Jong-un looks around the world, he sees the United States, which is in the midst of a major internal domestic political trouble with a president who is under siege, very inconsistent messaging from senior administration officials, some talking tough, some talking about dialogue; they see a new liberal South Korean government, which is caught in middle of its own rhetoric about wanting to improve ties with Pyongyang even though that's been rebuffed and not sure what to do; it sees Japan hamstrung by a pacifist constitution and it sees China ineffectually saying both sides should show restraint.
So, I don't see any reason why Kim Jong-un calculate correctly that he can get away with all this stuff and nothing is going to happen to him that would alter his calculation.
SESAY: Mike Chinoy, does North Korea - do they even want to be engaged in diplomatic talks with the US? Forget this issue of whether the US drops preconditions and forgets about this idea of denuclearized North Korea. Does Kim Jong-un actually want to engage diplomatically?
CHINOY: My own judgment is that the North Koreans remain willing to talk to the United States, but what they want is a dialogue between two nuclear powers on an equal footing to discuss arms control and regional security in Northeast Asia.
They don't want a diplomatic engagement that would be North Korea being browbeaten that then has to make all the concessions. And I do think since Kim Jong-un is not crazy and since I do not believe North Korea is going to launch an attack on American territory, for example, I think a lot of this is calculated to strengthen Pyongyang's negotiating position in the event that some kind of diplomatic contact were to resume.
And the fact of the matter is, given that sanctions have so far failed to change North Korea's behavior, given the international landscape that I just mentioned in which the Chinese are reluctant to squeeze North Korea and given the enormous costs that would be involved in any kind of military strike that the US might initiate against North Korea, at the end of the day, you do come back to the fact that, at some point, the best - although it's uncertain, but the best chance of trying to move this crisis back from the brink is some kind of diplomatic engagement. And the North Koreans I think will feel confident that they have an increasingly strong hand to play, if it came to that point.
[01:45:08] SESAY: Mike Chinoy joining us there on the line from Hong Kong. We very much appreciate it. Thank you so much for joining us, Mike.
I want to bring in CNN military analyst Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona. He is still with us. Col. Francona, I want to pick up on that time line that I just shared with our Mike Chinoy that it was just on August 22nd that President Trump said, "I believe he's starting to respect us." He was talking about Kim Jong-un.
And then we have this. We have, days later, those missiles or that missile, I should say, being fired over Japan. That was on the 29th of August. And then here we are talking about a sixth nuclear test.
When you look at that time line and you put it up against what the president said, President Trump underestimated Kim Jong-un, it would appear.
LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It appears that way. A lot of us thought that some of the rhetoric was beginning to have an effect. It may be the North Koreans were backing down a little bit.
We did see the leader of North Korea say, well, I'm not going to exercise that test against Guam because that would be too provocative.