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U.N. Imposes New Sanctions On North Korea; U.S. President Signs 500-Page Tax Cut into Law; Severe Weather Claims 39 Lives in Philippines; San Francisco Terror Plot Thwarted; Two Palestinians Killed during "Day of Rage"; SpaceX Launch Lights Up the Sky. Aired 2- 2:30a ET

Aired December 23, 2017 - 02:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Punishing North Korea: a new U.N. Security Council resolution strangles Pyongyang's source of fuel.

Plus a win for Donald Trump. The U.S. president's promised tax cut becomes law.

And an exclusive interview. CNN talks to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Hello, everybody. I'm Cyril Vanier live from the CNN HQ here in Atlanta. Thank you for joining us.


VANIER: "An unprecedented response to an unprecedented challenge." U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley's words as the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to impose more sanctions on North Korea.

After last month's ballistic missile test, the new sanctions are designed to strangle the North's energy supplies, making it harder to create weapons. They'll also tighten restrictions on smuggling and the use of North Korean workers overseas.

U.S. president Donald Trump tweeted "The U.N. Security Council just voted 15-0 in favor of additional sanctions on North Korea. The world wants peace, not death."

CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott says the impact of these sanctions largely comes down to two countries.


ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think that one of the things President Trump in particular has been looking for is for U.N. member states to cut oil shipments to North Korea. And when we say U.N. member states, right, we really mean China because China gives North Korea -- I think it might even be 90 percent of its oil supply.

And so I think key here is that China agreed to these sanctions; Russia, who also, you know, has ties to the regime and who takes a lot of these foreign workers, about 40,000 foreign workers, I think, are in Russia, they have to be out of all these countries by the end of the year.

I think the fact that Russia signed out is very significant and I do think this could potentially be a gamechanger, if these countries actually implement the sanctions.


VANIER: North Korea was already furious over the new U.S. national security strategy, which identifies North Korea as a major threat and accuses the North of developing a biological weapons program, something Pyongyang denies. Here's CNN's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kim Jong-un's regime using some of its favorite phrases to insult President Trump, calling him "gangster-like" and "arrogant." Pyongyang was upset over the President's new national security strategy, a document which highlights what the U.S. sees as North Korea's desire for a missile program able to quote "kill millions of Americans with nuclear weapons," a threat the President promises to counter.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It will be taken care of. We have no choice.

TODD: But now Kim's regime is firing back with its own accusation that the quote "gang of Trump" is seeking to invade and control North Korea by starting a nuclear war. All of this just weeks before the winter Olympics start in South Korea.

KELLY MAGSAMEN, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We are all in a place of pretty heightened tensions over the past year. And I think as we are looking at the Olympics and beyond the Olympics, especially when the United States begin its military exercises again into the March and April time frame, the potential for escalation is pretty high.

TODD: But it's not just nuclear arms that are escalating tensions. The new Trump security plans says Kim's regime is also pursuing chemical and biological weapons which quote "could be delivered by missile."

South Korean government reports recently cited by Harvard University saying North Korea has 13 types of biological agents which it can weaponize within 10 days if Kim makes the decision to do that. The reports say anthrax and smallpox are the most likely agents that North Korea would deploy.

Could anthrax be deployed on a long missile could work and could it kill a lot of people? ANDREW WEBER, FORMER ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY: Yes. The Soviet

Union did have warheads that were designed for biological weapons, long range missiles like the SS-18.

But it's really not necessary. You could deliver an anthrax attack in Los Angeles or Miami or New York covertly and have strategic impact and kill tens and thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people.

TODD: It is impossible to know for sure if North Korea is creating these types of weapons because the regime is difficult to penetrate and intelligence is limited. And the U.S. intelligence community has been wrong about chemical and biological weapons in the past, including in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Still, experts who study North Korea point to what they say is troubling evidence, including these photographs from two years ago as Kim toured the Pyongyang --


TODD: -- biotechnical institute which the North Koreans claim manufactures pesticides.

But some machinery on display raise alarm among WMD experts. Equipment such as these silver tanks which experts say are industrial- scale fermenters capable of producing anthrax on a large scale along with other machinery used to convert biological agents in sprayable form.

Andrew Weber track biological weapons for decades at the Pentagon.

Let's say a thumb-nail size quantity of anthrax, how many people could that kill from just the sprayer?

WEBER: Delivered in the right condition, that could kill thousands, maybe, even over 10,000 people.

TODD: From a sprayer in an urban environment?

WEBER: Absolutely.

TODD: Millions of South Koreans and tens of thousands of American troops in South Korea could be vulnerable to that kind of biological attack and using biological weapons could give Kim Jong-un one other advantage. Experts say it's much harder to trace who used a biological weapon than it is to trace a nuclear weapon. This week, North Korea put out a statement denying that it has a biological weapons program -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


VANIER: CNN Philippines is reporting at least 39 people have been killed and hundreds of buildings damaged. This all comes after a tropical storm hit the southern part of the Philippines and triggered mudslides, flooding. Officials say the casualties are all on the southern island of Mindanao. (WEATHER REPORT)

VANIER: U.S. authorities say they have foiled a terror plot in the state of California. They accuse a former U.S. Marine of planning an attack in San Francisco and expressing support for ISIS. He allegedly said Christmas was the perfect day to carry out the plot. CNN's Jessica Schneider has more.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The FBI has thwarted a plot that --


SCHNEIDER: -- targeted San Francisco around the holidays. Authorities say Everitt Aaron Jameson was plotting to stage an attack on Pier 39 in San Francisco sometime over the Christmas holiday.

And the FBI agents who were tracking him online say he was modeling his planned attack on those over the past few years, including San Bernardino and most recently in New York City.

In fact, Jameson voiced his support for that truck attack in New York City on October 31st. That was when eight people were killed on a bike path.

And then the complaint says Jameson recently became a tow truck driver in his hometown of Modesto, California, leading to concerns that he could attempt that same time of attack that we saw in New York City.

The criminal complaint also details the letter that authorities found inside his home under a search warrant this week.

The letter said things like, "You all brought this upon yourselves and you've allowed Donald J. Trump to give away Al Quds to the Jews," that's a reference to Jerusalem.

Also he said, "We have penetrated and infiltrated your disgusting country."

Now top officials here in the U.S. have been warning as recently as last month about danger of a possible uptick in ISIS-inspired attacks right here in the U.S., especially with the collapse of the Islamic State's caliphate.

The FBI did a search of Jameson's home in Modesto, California, that's just 90 miles from San Francisco and they found firearms, empty magazines, ammunition and fireworks. Jameson is now in custody -- Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


VANIER: The man accused of plowing a car into a crowd of pedestrians in Melbourne, Australia, on Thursday has been charged with 18 counts of attempted murder. The 32-year-old suspect is facing one count of endangering life. Police say he has a history of mental illness and drug use. The suspect deliberately drove into the busy Flanders Street (ph) injuring 18 people. Several are still in critical condition.

Still ahead, President Trump finally gets his first legislative victory. Coming up, why a news conference to tout his first year in office didn't happen.

Plus, there's no easy way out of Spain's worst political crisis in decades. We'll have more on that, too, after the break.




VANIER: Welcome back.

U.S. President Donald Trump has left Washington to spend the Christmas holiday at his Florida resort. Before leaving, reporters were suddenly hustled into the Oval Office as the president signed a massive tax cut into law. CNN's Jeff Zeleny has this report.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So this is the bill right here and we are very proud of it.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump signing the tax bill into law today, his final Oval Office act of the year. Injecting a burst of reality show drama into the moment, the president hastily summoning reporters after a White House aide said he would sign the bill privately.

But from his seat at the Resolute Desk, the president making a rare --


ZELENY (voice-over): -- acknowledgement of a favorite pastime, watching television.

TRUMP: We were going to wait until January 7th or 8th and do a big formal ceremony, but every one of the networks was saying, will he keep his promise, will he sign it for Christmas, before Christmas?

And so I immediately called. I said, let's get it ready.

ZELENY (voice-over): The president hoping to end 2017 on a high note, presiding over the first major overhaul of the U.S. tax system in three decades. He downplayed concern of the law's unpopularity with many Americans or that it could be a weight on Republicans in the midterm elections.

TRUMP: I think it's selling itself. It's becoming very popular. But I think it will really -- you will see something on February 1st, when they open up the paycheck. That's when you're going to start to see it.

ZELENY (voice-over): Even as he blasted Democrats for standing in unison against the bill, the president said he believes his rivals will come aboard next year to support a major infrastructure plan.

TRUMP: The Democrats very much regret it. They wanted to be a part of it. It just doesn't work out. But I really do believe we're going to have a lot of bipartisan work done. And maybe we start with infrastructure, because I really believe infrastructure can be bipartisan.

ZELENY (voice-over): It's an open question whether bipartisanship is wishful thinking or a New Year's resolution. As he reflected on his first year in office, the president complained about not getting credit for his accomplishments.

TRUMP: Harry Truman had more legislative approvals than any other president and a record long-held. And we beat him on legislative approvals, for which I get no credit.

ZELENY (voice-over): We asked the president if things would have gone smoother if he had started with infrastructure, rather than trying to repeal ObamaCare.

TRUMP: I could have started with infrastructure. I actually wanted to save the easy one for the one down the road. So, we will be having that done pretty quickly.

ZELENY (voice-over): When asked whether he had any regrets from the start of his presidency, Mr. Trump shook his head no. Yet Politico reported a memo from the president's handpicked RNC chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, suggesting the GOP is in danger of losing its majority in Congress next year.

As Republicans brace to defend seats in the House and Senate, the role of the president's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, remains a critical question. At a year-end news conference on Capitol Hill today, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear he blames Bannon for losing a Republican seat in Alabama.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY.), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, let me just say this. The political genius on display, throwing away a seat in the reddest state in America, is hard to ignore.

ZELENY (voice-over): At the White House, there was no traditional year-end news conference, like most presidents have done.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All I want for Christmas is to take your questions.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With the holiday season upon us, I'm delighted to see Americans giving each other the best Christmas present possible, a strong economy.


ZELENY (voice-over): In fact, President Trump has not held a formal solo news conference since February. He was initially planning one to tout his accomplishments, CNN has learned, but some advisers argued against it to avoid being besieged with questions about the Russia investigation.

That tension was clear in the Oval Office today, as aides tried again and again to escort reporters out, even as the president seemed eager to talk.

A few hours later, Mr. Trump arriving in sun-splashed Florida with a bounce in his step, greeting supporters as he started a 10-day Christmas break.


OBAMA: Merry Christmas.


ZELENY (voice-over): Even though President Obama and other presidents have long celebrated Christmas, Mr. Trump has taken credit for shining a new spotlight on the holiday, with one of his super PACs launching this ad.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, President Trump, for letting us say Merry Christmas again.


ZELENY: That has long been one of the big applause lines at Trump campaign rallies when Mr. Trump was running for office and since he's become president. He promises to bring back Christmas again; of course, it's always been proper to say Merry Christmas. But his supporters have seized on that.

As for Mr. Trump, he will be at Mar-a-lago for the next 10 days, celebrating the Christmas holiday with a break from Washington -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.


VANIER: The U.S. is meeting Ukraine's request to help it improve its military defense. A senior State Department official says the U.S. will supply Kiev with antitank weapons. Ukraine has long requested the weapons to fight Russian-backed separatists who are using armored vehicles.

The U.S. accuses Russia of supplying the vehicles. The development comes as Ukraine experiences an uptick in violence with the militants.

Any hopes that Thursday's elections in Catalonia would resolve divisions with Spain's central government and within the region are being rapidly dashed. Pro-independence parties won a majority in parliament, reinvigorating supporters of the separatist movement. On Friday, Spain's prime minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed a call from the former Catalan leader, screen left, Carles Puigdemont, a call to talk about the country's future.

Mr. Puigdemont says now is the time for all sides to work together.


CARLES PUIGDEMONT, CATALONIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I am open to meet Prime Minister --


PUIGDEMONT (through translator): Rajoy in Brussels or in a different country within the E.U. that would not be Spain.

I am ready to do it because we should discuss the new political era that is beginning in Catalonia, in the Spanish state and in Europe, which should be an era preceded by political solutions and not by judicial repression, which is this delirious repression in which they have entered.


VANIER: Prime minister Rajoy had called Thursday's vote with the hope of subduing the separatist movement but his gamble failed and now he's under pressure to resolve Spain's worst political crisis in decades.


MARIANO RAJOY, SPANISH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I will make an effort to maintain a dialogue with whatever government comes out of these elections in Catalonia but as I have said, I will also make an effort so that the law is followed.

And it is good that I remind you of that. I hope there's a government that abandons the unilateral decisions and does not place itself above the law.


VANIER: Also complicating matters, Puigdemont is in Belgium, where he's been in exile since Spanish authorities announced that they were seeking his arrest for leading this year's referendum to secede from Spain.

Coming up after the break, CNN's exclusive interview with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. How Israel sees its relationship with the world changing for the better. Stay with us.



VANIER: Welcome back.

Palestinian officials say Israeli forces killed two demonstrators during a day of rage protest along the Gaza border. The Israeli military says about 2,000 Palestinians tossed rocks and burning objects toward Israeli soldiers on Friday.

This is the latest violence after the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Palestinian leaders have condemned that decision, saying it's a violation of their rights.

Israel's prime minister meanwhile is celebrating the United States' commitment to move its embassy to Jerusalem. CNN's Oren Liebermann sat down with Benjamin Netanyahu to hear his position. Take a listen.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In an exclusive interview with CNN, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the results of the United Nations General Assembly vote that overwhelmingly condemned president Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Netanyahu wasn't fazed at all, saying other countries will come around, even going a step further and saying other countries are now in touch with Israel about following Trump in recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or getting ready to move their embassies.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: It's about time that the United States said -- I'm glad they said it -- this is the capital. We recognize it. And I think that's going to be followed by other countries. We're now talking to several countries, who are seriously considering now saying exactly the same thing as the United States and moving their embassies to Jerusalem.

Which countries? Or from what continents?

NETANYAHU: I can tell you that, but I won't because I want it to succeed. And I think there's a good chance it will.

LIEBERMANN: President Trump didn't use the word united. Neither did you use the word united right there. And he said Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem is open for negotiations as are the borders.

Are you ready to negotiate Jerusalem?

NETANYAHU: Our position is Jerusalem should remain a united, safe and secure city. Freedom of worship for all faiths which we guarantee. And, by the way, in the Middle East, we're just about the only ones that guarantee this freedom of worship for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

So, that's my vision of Jerusalem. Now since we have a different vision, they should come and negotiate.

LIEBERMANN: Are you willing to negotiate Jerusalem?

NETANYAHU: I'm willing to put my position forward. They will put their position forward. That's what negotiations are for.

LIEBERMANN: President Trump didn't rule out a Palestinian capital or a Palestinian city in some part of Jerusalem.

That's OK with you, in negotiations?

NETANYAHU: He didn't preclude our position either. He just said I'm not addressing that. There's not going to be any peace where Jerusalem is not Israel's capital. So he was saying something that is a historical fact, but I think it was important to say it.

And for the --


NETANYAHU: -- furtherance of peace, I think you have to finally recognize that reality. And I think that's -- it's just happening. It's happening outside the halls of the U.N. a lot faster than it's happening in the theater of the absurd of the U.N. but it's happening.

LIEBERMANN: You're not fazed ever so slightly by the General Assembly resolution, are you?

NETANYAHU: It may take about 10 years until the absurd automatic majorities against Israel will change. But that process has begun. The overwhelming response of Asian countries and African countries, Latin American countries, European countries to Israel, to its technology, water, agriculture, health, security, they're just -- I'd say they are embracing Israel in a great way.

And what will happen eventually is that this embrace of Israel, the flourishing of our relations with the world will eventually get even to the theater of the absurd of the U.N. It will take time.

LIEBERMANN: Are you ready to openly come in here to a two-state solution?

NETANYAHU: Well, I'm openly committing to a situation where the Palestinians can govern themselves, have all the powers to govern themselves except the powers who threaten us. And that's always been my position. I said, you know, this is --

LIEBERMANN: But the state of Palestine next to a state of Israel?

NETANYAHU: Depends what that state is. You know if it's North Korea...

LIEBERMANN: With whatever qualifications you want --

(CROSSTALK) NETANYAHU: -- then they start saying, well, that's not a state. You know, they start saying that. So, rather than dealing in brands and naming, I'm just saying, here are the conditions we need. The most important condition that we need for an effective, sustainable peace for both Palestinians and Israelis and for the region is a situation where Israel has overriding security control.

LIEBERMANN: What happens next, from the big picture, whether it's the U.S., Russia or other countries, what happens next?

NETANYAHU: I think, first of all, you are going to see the continuing trend of Israel's increasing ties with the many countries in the world. That's happening. I think if we can get the hearts of the people -- we already have the minds, I think, of many of the governments.

But if we can get the hearts of the people, that's cause for hope and I think that's the highway to peace.

LIEBERMANN: Meanwhile Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas was in Paris meeting with the French president, where he said he rejects any role for the U.S. in a peace process because he no longer sees the U.S. as an honest broker between Israelis and Palestinians.

That actually plays in Netanyahu's hand, because Netanyahu can now commit to a peace process or whatever the Trump administration has planned without the fear of having to make any concessions -- Oren Liebermann, CNN, Jerusalem.


VANIER: That's it from us. Thanks for watching. I'm back with the headlines in just a moment. Stay tuned.