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South Korea Sends Message to North Korea; Kim Jong-un Alarming Threat to the U.S.; President Trump Plans to End DACA. Aired 10:30-11p ET

Aired September 4, 2017 - 22:30   ET



[22:30:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: The breaking news is escalating tensions with North Korea, what will that rogue nation do?

This is CNN tonight. I'm Don Lemon. Thank you so much for joining us.

South Korean officials fearing North Korea may be preparing to launch another ballistic missile in the wake of the massive test of its most powerful nuclear weapon yet. America's ambassador to the United Nations lashing out today at North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un.


NIKKI HALEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: His abusive use of missiles and his nuclear threats show that he is begging for war.

And the Defense Secretary, James Mattis sternly warning North Korea that all military options are on the table.

Also ahead, sources telling CNN that President Trump expected to announce that he is ending the immigration program known as DACA, which protects young undocumented immigrants who came here as children from being deported.

Is President Trump living up to a campaign promise or passing the buck to Congress? We've got a lot to get to in the next couple of hours here on CNN. But I want to begin with the breaking news in the waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula.

CNN correspondent Ian Lee is in Seoul, South Korea for us right now. Ian, hello to you. The North Koreans have conducted this massive nuclear test. It's six so far and tonight CNN is reporting that South Korea is conducting live fire exercises off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula. Give us the very latest.

IAN LEE, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yes, Don. That is the continuation of these military exercises that we are seeing. This being a live fire exercise off the East Coast. This is to show that the South Korean navy is ready in case of any outbreak of violence.

We also are following this latest intelligence that North Korea could be firing a ballistic missile in the following hours or days. Also, we're following that President Moon here in South Korea spoke with President Trump over 24 hours since that nuclear test in which time President Trump spoke with the Japanese prime minister twice, something that didn't go unnoticed here in South Korea.

But in that conversation they talked about strengthening the cooperation between the two countries' militaries. And South Korea's defense minister talked that he's willing to consider the deployment of American tactical nuclear weapons, although South Korea's presidency said they're still committed to the denuclearization of the peninsula.

Also they talked about lifting the limit of the size of ballistic missiles South Korea can develop. Currently that is capped at 500 kilograms. They also talked about South Korea purchasing billions of dollars in weapons and equipment. Don.

LEMON: All right. Ian Lee, thank you very much. I appreciate that. I want to bring in now CNN White House reporter Kaitlan Collins, political commentator David Swerdlick, and Daniel Drezler, professor of international politics at Tufts University, and political analyst David Drucker. Thank you so much for being here, especially on this holiday evening.

I want to start with this. I want to read -- this is from North Korea. They issued a statement, a defiant message to the U.S. through their state media. And it read this. It says "Every time the U.S. goes crazy talking about sanctions and will of vengeance will become hundred and thousand times stronger," said one editorial. "Provoke us as you wish. With our nuclear strategic weapons we will eradicate the land of U.S. with no trace left on earth."

David Swerdlick, that does not sound like Kim Jong-un is backing down at any time.

DAVID SWERDLICK, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: No, he's not backing down at least rhetorically. There have been mercurial statements made both by the North Koreans and by us, by President Trump in recent weeks that have ratcheted the tension, ratcheted up the sort of, you know, stakes and the attention on this issue and probably led to a situation where allies and adversaries might see this as a potentially more fraught situation than it has been.

But the facts kind of remain the same right, Don, that North Korea wants to push ahead with its missile program because they want to project themselves as a power that can't be touched by the west, and we have a situation where although we are the world's greatest super power, we only have a series of sort of bad options.

So there's a level at which the stakes are higher and there's a level at which it's the same problem that confronts President Trump that's confronted a bunch of different presidents.

LEMON: You remember Steve Bannon saying there is no viable option in one report.

SWERDLICK: Yes. LEMON: Kaitlan, here is what the Trump administration is saying after

Pyongyang tested a nuclear weapon on Sunday, its most powerful test yet by the way. Watch this.


JAMES MATTIS, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Any threat to the United States or its territories, including Guam or our allies will be met with a massive military response.

[22:35:00] HALEY: His abusive use of missiles and his nuclear threats show that he is begging for war. War is never something the United States wants. We don't want it now, but our country's patience is not unlimited.


LEMON: So, Kaitlan, that's strong words from the Defense Secretary Mattis and the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley. What is President Trump prepared to do about North Korea?

KAITLAN COLLINS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, CNN: Well, we're actually getting some mixed signals from the White House on this here, Don. As you know, the president as he was leaving church yesterday was asked if he would order an attack on North Korea and he answered it a very vague answer of "we will see."

But so the White House is definitely using some tough language here, but what they're signaling is that they're more likely to put sanctions and economic pressure on North Korea. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced yesterday that he is drafting a new sanctions package that he will send to the president that will put economic pressure on them.

And now as you saw the president tweeted that he's considering stopping trade with any country that does business with North Korea. So they're using this tough language, you know, the same comments along the lines of fire and fury. It definitely seems like they're signaling they're going to put more economic pressure on North Korea at this time.

LEMON: Interesting. And we just put that up on the screen what he said. But aside from pressuring an ally, David Drucker, what is the president saying about, you know, diplomacy there?

DAVID DRUCKER, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, look, I think what we're seeing from the administration is in a sense a two track approach. Whether it's on purpose or not. What you have Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, General McMaster, the National Security Advisor with a more traditional, though much more aggressive push to try and contain the North Korean problem.

And then you have President Trump, who likes to speak colorfully -- colorfully and on Twitter and often seems to get ahead of where his own policymakers actually are.

LEMON: Fire and fury, right?

DRUCKER: Right. And so I think for the administration, I don't think it's necessarily a problem that they've ratcheted up the pressure because the previous three administrations have all tried different approaches, some more diplomatic than others, some with the carrot and the stick. Nothing has worked and the problem has only gotten worse.

Those were all valiant efforts so they're trying something here. I think what's important for this president is to make sure he doesn't get ahead of his skis. Is in other words, if he's going to make a threat, it's important that we're in a position to carry it out. If we're not going to do business with anybody who trades with North Korea, they better think through everything that that means.

So it's not so much trying new policies or even ratcheting up some of the pressure rhetorically that's the problem. They just have to be in a position where they know they can follow through because as the North Korean regime have shown over the years under this dictator and under his father, they don't really care.

Their only claim to legitimacy is that they have a nuclear weapons program. They're not going to be dealt with in a way that is going to separate them from that because then they would be vulnerable for the kind of regime that they're actually running, that is killing millions of their own people.

LEMON: Dan, I want to bring you in now. Where is the secretary of state? Where is Rex Tillerson on all of this? The State Department spokesman tweeted that he has made some calls to his counterparts including South Korea, but when North Korea is testing a hydrogen bomb, the most powerful test so far, I mean, do we need to hear more?

DANIEL W. DREZNER, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL POLITICS, TUFTS UNIVERSITY: Yes. It would be nice if we actually had a secretary of state that took an active voice in terms of dealing with the Korean Peninsula. You know what would also be nice? If we had an undersecretary of state for political affairs, if we had an assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, if we had an assistant of state for non-proliferation.

If we had an assistant secretary of state arms control. If we had an assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research.

Basically the problem is, is that there's been almost no political appointments made to the State Department. So you have a combination of an institution that essentially has almost no sort of upper level management in terms of trying to be able to reach out to other allies which is go to be necessary for any kind of coordinated response.

And unfortunately, a secretary of state that seems simultaneously on the outs with the president and not terribly effective in terms of actually communicating what our foreign policy is to other countries.

So, yes, this is a serious problem. And this is a situation where it doesn't seem like Rex Tillerson has really learned on the job terribly well. LEMON: Yes. Listen, Dan, I've got to ask you this before we move on

because I want to talk about DACA but I want to give it short trip and we'll talk about it in the hours to come. But I just want to -- as people are sitting at home right now and they're coming back from the holiday, the only -- the question that I got from everyone is like what's going to happen? Are we going to go to war? What's going to -- how should the American people, how should the average person read what's going on here?

DREZNER: Yes. I've been to two cook outs today and I got that question at both cook outs. So, yes, it's not a minor question. I have to say, unfortunately, I think the answer I can give is I think we'll be fine.

I can't say that with complete certainty, but there is a certain pattern in terms of confrontation with North Korea and their weapons and missile tests, which is they conduct a weapons or missile test.

[22:40:09] There is a great deal of rhetoric from the Trump administration about how this cannot stand. Sometimes the United Nations actually does impose new sanctions. China scold both sides for irresponsible behavior and proposes some other sort of solution to this. And then things die down for a little bit.

You know, I mean, in some ways this is a replay of what happened three weeks ago after Trump's fire and fury comments--

LEMON: Fire and fury, right.

DREZNER -- which was a response to the ballistic missile test. So we're right in the middle of this right now and I'm not saying that it will necessarily sort itself out, but there is an -- there is an unfortunate degree of predictability to these kinds of crises which is North Korea engages in some transgression, some degree of sanctions are imposed on them and life continues to go on until the next transgression.

LEMON: Yes. That seems like what's happening. OK. Thank you. Kaitlan, let's talk about DACA now. The president expected to end DACA, the program that protects undocumented immigrants who came here as children, the DREAMers, protect them from being deported with a six month delay.

He's putting this on Congress, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions is going to hold a no questions briefing tomorrow morning on this. Why now? Why deal with this now when has sort of been the August and looking at maybe the September of chaos?

COLLINS: Well, the president's hand has really been forced on this issue, Don. As you know, it was something that he railed against during the campaign. He said he would terminate it immediately if he got elected. And then we saw him not make any moves on it since he took office, saying that he was going to have heart for DREAMers and that they could rest easy.

But with this deadline set by these state attorneys general, he really has had to make a decision on this and now it's kind of falling on the shoulders of Congress to allow these people to find a way, a fix, a legislative fix to allow these people to stay in the country, the only country that they've ever known.

And so the blame is certainly going to be shouldered from the White House to the members of Congress, who have six months to make this decision while they already have a lot on their legislative plates.

LEMON: Hey, David Drucker, before we go, I mean, let's see.


LEMON: Republicans support -- some republicans support the version of DACA that's there, Speaker Paul Ryan, Senators Oren Hatch, Jeff Flake and others. It's something that impacts 800,000 people, more than 800,000 people. It has been reported that the president is looking for a way to push this off to Congress. So now what? What happens? I mean, will republicans be able to come up with something?

DRUCKER: Yes. This is really interesting, Don, because as you know republicans have been at war with themselves over immigration for about a decade. And under President Obama, who they could not work with most of the time for fear of getting primary and dealing with all sorts of internal political problems, they especially couldn't really work with him on the immigration issue.

Here you have the biggest immigration hawk there is theoretically in President Trump, who although the human element aside here, the politics of this is interesting because by saying he's going to give, if this is what he does, six months for Congress to do something about this before he implements the roll back, what he's theoretically saying is I'll sign a bill.

And so if you have the biggest immigration hawk in town saying he'll sign a bill, does that give republicans more room to maneuver politically internally and give them more room to work with democrats on a DACA fix.

We've already seen Tom Cotton talk about possibly being willing to sign on a DACA fix if he gets things, and probably not palatable to the democrats.


DRUCKER: But the fact is you're seeing some republicans say they will be open to this beyond the usual suspects. So, therefore, I think this could be interesting. But it depends on how high a priority republicans in Congress that support a DREAMer bill are willing to put on this and how much muscle they're willing to put into this.

I don't think the president is going to put too much muscle into this. But I think if Paul Ryan is willing to do it and other republicans who support this, then maybe they might be able to get something done.

LEMON: It's interesting because it's a campaign promise and some people who wanted him to end it and now he's saying he's kind of waffling on it. Thank you all. I appreciate it. We're going to talk DACA a lot more in the coming hours.

When we come back, much more on North Korea's growing nuclear threat. We're going to go live to Seoul with an update on what North Korea is saying now. And how countries in the region are responding.


LEMON: Breaking news, South Korea's navy conducting a major live fire drill in the waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula. It's a show of force in response to North Korea's massive nuclear test.

I want to bring in now David Straub, the former head of the Korea desk at the State Department who joins us via Skype. Also joining us is CNN contributor Jean Lee, journalist and global fellow at the Wilson Center. Thank you so much for joining us, both of you.

David, I want to start with you. By getting your reaction to South Korea's live fire exercises tonight on the waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula. Are we moving closer to war on the Peninsula?

DAVID STRAUB, FORMER HEAD OF NORTH KOREA, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: I don't think we are. I think the bottom line is the United States can contain North Korea and deter it, but there's going to be a lot of drama in the coming months because the North Korean strategy is to try to convince the United States that it can attack it with nuclear weapons.

LEMON: Jean, is this a message from South Korea -- from the South Koreans that they are ready to fight, and is it one that the North Koreans are likely to hear?

JEAN LEE, FELLOW, WILSON CENTER: This is certainly a part of a growing movement here in South Korea growing call to have their own protection. They want to be able to protect themselves.

But I think really what this is North Korea's bid to -- we're going to start to see North Korea reacting to this. We're hearing reports -- I just want to mention. We're hearing reports that there's some movement on the launch pad and that they may be testing another missile. This is North Korea's way to ramp up the tension so they can continue -- so they have the justification to continue testing its missiles and its nuclear devices.

LEMON: Interesting. David, the U.S. keeps saying that all options are on the table. And you just heard U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley in the segment we have before so that North Korea is begging for war. Is she right?

STRAUB: No. I think North Korea is trying to frighten us. They think if they intimidate us long enough, that sooner or later the United States will come to negotiations on their terms. So we need to be smarter about this. We should understand what they're trying to do and, rather than responding with our own brinkmanship rhetoric, we should say, this is not going to work.

[22:50:07] And you can calm down or not, but we'll deter you and we'll contain you. That would be real leadership. And that's not what we're getting from President Trump right now.

LEMON: Jean, I want to play just a little bit more of what the Defense Secretary Mattis' remarks, some of his remarks that we heard in an earlier segment but more of them. Watch this.


MATTIS: We are not looking to the total annihilation of a country, namely North Korea, but as I said, we have many options to do so.


LEMON: So Kim must know the U.S. could wipe him out. So what does he really want?

LEE: He does.

STRAUB: Well--


LEMON: That's for Jean. Go ahead.

LEE: Just remember, he is not suicidal. He is not suicidal. He also knows that the militaries in this region are constrained by the cease- ire and when they talk about military options perhaps the most they can do really at this point is the show of force that we're seeing right now, showing off and really reminding North Korea that they have these powerful and intimidating assets in the region.

But he knows how to push it right up to the limit and that is exactly what he's doing. And I agree entirely with David that he's trying to show them that he will go as far as he can to stand up to the United States. And if they let this go on further, he's going to have this intercontinental ballistic missile mounted with a nuclear warhead that is capable of striking the United States.

LEMON: Jean Lee, David Straub, I appreciate your expertise. Thank you so much. When we come back, much more on North Korea's nuclear capacity and how the president is handling the crisis.

Plus, President Trump appearing to end DACA in six months. The question is why now? Nicholas Kristof is going to join me to discuss it, that's next.


LEMON: President now dealing with three big crises including North Korea all at the same time.

Let's discuss now with Nicholas Kristof is here, the columnist for the New York Times. North Korea continues to be one of the biggest issues facing this country, Nicholas. The Trump hardline stance doesn't appear to be working with Kim Jong-un, something that General Michael Hayden addressed on CNN just yesterday. Here it is.


MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA & NSA DIRECTOR: Mr. President, it's not a manhood issue. This is a national security issue. Don't let your pride get ahead of wise policy here.


LEMON: Interesting because Trump and Kim, they both have very strong personalities. Has he finally met someone as stubborn as he is, meaning Trump?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Look, I've been as critical of President Trump as anybody and it's certainly true that his policy toward North Korea to the extent there is a policy isn't working but in fairness no policy to North Korea has worked.

I mean, over the years we and South Korea both we've have tried soft line policies, we've tried hardline policies, we've tried effectively bribery, we've tried sanctions, we've tried secret envoys, we've tried threats. And North Korea really wants a nuclear program and a missile program and I don't think that China is going to be there to step in to save the day even if they could, which I have some doubts about.

And so, you know, in international relations, unfortunately, there's more problems than there are solutions and I think this is an example.

LEMON: This is a reality that they're going to be recognized as a nation that has nuclear weapons? Is that -- is that Michael right? There's no viable option?

KRISTOF: My best guess is that, considering the alternatives, like a military intervention, that we will end up essentially acquiescing, unfortunately, in North Korea having nuclear warheads and a capacity to deliver them, and then we'll be forced to rely on deterrents, you know. And that should make everybody nervous, but on the other hand we have deterred them from using their huge stockpile of chemical and biological weapons.

LEMON: Do you think there will be military actions or do you think that it will be an acquiescence on the part of the United States and China and everyone in the region?

KRISTOF: My best guess is there won't be a military confrontation. There will be a lot of talk about it.


KRISTOF: But the one scenario that I worry about is North Korea has an ICBM on the launch pad and that we decide we want to take the risk of taking that out. That might work or it might start another Korean war.

LEMON: Yes. I just want to put this up. Because when you put up these things, "Every time the U.S. goes crazy talking about sanctions and war, our will of vengeance will become hundred and thousand times stronger." And he goes and talks about that. And he says, you know, "we're going to leave no trace of on the earth of the U.S." So that's why I ask you the question, does he met someone as stubborn as he is because he's not -- that's not backing down.

KRISTOF: You know, North Korea draw. They were -- Kim Jong-un is in office because they make a scapegoat of outside pressure. And so, we feed into their narrative of being surrounded and threatened when we make these statements. And the one thing they want to do is peel us off from South Korea and I'm afraid that President Trump is playing right into that game.

LEMON: I want to ask you about DACA now and why is he's going to -- because he's got so much on his plate. He's got North Korea as we're discussing now and we're here on a holiday discussing that. He's got Texas he's dealing with it and the immediate aftermath of Harvey. He's also dealing with the transgender thing that happened, and he's dealing with people questioning, you know, whether he -- his capacity to govern, right, and members of his own party and on and on and on.

And then he's trying to get tax reform through and then the Obamacare didn't happen for some repeal and replace. He's got so much going on, why is he announcing this now on DACA?

KRISTOF: Well, the timing is driven because several republican attorneys general are threatening to sue the federal government over DACA by tomorrow if President Trump didn't act. So that in one sense is driving it.

But, look, he can push back against these attorney generals. One of the problems is that Jeff Sessions is just vehemently against -- he's determined he's not going to defend it. But I don't think that President Trump is providing any real moral leadership here. And I think that we're breaking our promise to those DREAMers. They're a part of the fabric of our society. As you know, they came here as kids. They were in school, some of them in the American military.

LEMON: But as of 2011 he had spoken out saying that, you know, he supported DACA. This would be a change for him.

KRISTOF: Well, and even early this year he talked about them DREAMers in a very positive way.

[23:00:00] He talked about his big heart. And, you know--


LEMON: A naked appeal to his base, is that what it is?

KRISTOF: I'm sorry?

LEMON: This is a naked appeal to his base.