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U.N. Imposes New Sanctions On North Korea; U.S. President Signs 500-Page Tax Cut into Law; Two Palestinians Killed during "Day of Rage"; San Francisco Terror Plot Thwarted; Severe Weather Claims 39 Lives in Philippines; U.K.-Russia Relations. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired December 23, 2017 - 03:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Unanimous condemnation: the U.N. Security Council imposes tough new sanctions on North Korea.

Terror plot uncovered: U.S. officials say a man was planning to attack a popular tourist destination in San Francisco over the Christmas holiday.

Plus the mysterious light show over California.

What was this?

We'll tell you later on in the show.

Hi, everyone. I'm Cyril Vanier at CNN HQ here in Atlanta. Thank you for joining us.


VANIER: So world powers are presenting a united front against North Korea's nuclear ambitions after yet another missile test last month. The U.N. Security Council approved new sanctions against the North in a unanimous 15-0 vote.

The measures are aimed at preventing further weapons development and applying economic pressure by limiting energy access, smuggling and the use of North Korean workers overseas, who sent money back to North Korea.

U.S. President Donald Trump applauded the move on Twitter, saying the world wants peace, not death. Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the U.N. expressed her disappointment with the lack of a peaceful resolution so far.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Nine times before today, we've asked the North Korean regime to choose the path of peace. And if they do, we would welcome them back into the community of nations. But Pyongyang has chosen the path of isolation. (END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: The Russian envoy, for his part, said, deescalation, in this case an end to Pyongyang's provocations, was vitally important.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The launch from Korean territory without warning of ballistic missiles poses tremendous risks to maritime and air transit in the region and poses grave risks to the lives of ordinary citizens. Such activity must immediately be put to an end.


VANIER: CNN's chief U.S. security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, explains why the impact of these sanctions largely depends on two countries.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Crucially, that includes Russia and China, who have been resistant recently, in fact saying that the U.S. arguably making as much trouble, perhaps as the North Koreans, in this relationship.

But Russia and China, they have actual business with North Korea. So these sanctions and, crucially, again, if followed through on, if implemented, have the potential to have real economic impact on North Korea.

And that's really the primary leverage that the world, the international community has on North Korea right now. Keep in mind, China has real business there. China supplies them with the fuel oil that they need.

And this, these sanctions promise to cut those by 80 percent again, if China follows through. It also calls on these countries to withdraw North Korean workers that they have working inside their countries. And that applies to both China and Russia.

So again, economic impact on North Korea if these countries follow through, as said. So potential but, again, if that unanimous vote is followed through with action, then it could have real impact.


VANIER: Previous U.N. sanctions have done little to slow the North Korean weapons programs. In fact, the North has conducted 16 tests since February alone. Just this past June a travel ban and a crackdown on North Korea's spying operations was followed about a month later by the country's first successful ICBM test.

Then in August the U.N. targeted the North Korean economy, costing it about a third of its exports. And just like clockwork, North Korea claimed to have tested a hydrogen bomb roughly a month after that. So North Korea's response to sanctions, as you see, historically, has

been defiant. They say the measures only strengthen their resolve to reach their nuclear ambitions. And that makes their response to U.S. accusations about a biological weapons program all the more curious. Brian Todd reports.


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 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: U.S. politics now. The Republican tax cut bill that was rushed through Congress is now the law of the land. Donald Trump signed the massive document Friday at the White House. It's the president's only major legislative achievement so far.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny asked Mr. Trump if things would have gone better if he had focused on a bipartisan issue earlier in his presidency.


ZELENY: (INAUDIBLE) started with infrastructure at the beginning of this year, would that --


TRUMP: Yes. We'll, we're going to get into infrastructure. Infrastructure is the easiest of all. Infrastructure is by far the easiest. People want it. Republicans and Democrats. We're going to have tremendous Democrat support on infrastructure as you know. I could have started with infrastructure. I actually wanted to save the easy one for the one down the road. So we'll be having that done pretty quickly.


VANIER: After the signing the president headed to Florida to spend the holiday at his Mar-a-lago resort.

Just last Thursday, the United Nations overwhelmingly condemned Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. But that symbolic rebuke wasn't enough to stop another day of rage in the West Bank and Gaza.

Thousands of Palestinians turned out Friday to protest Mr. Trump's Jerusalem policy. Palestinian medics say at least two people in Gaza were killed by Israeli fire. One of them was shot in the chest.

Israel says soldiers fired live rounds, quote, "selectively" toward main instigators in order to disperse riots.

Israel's prime minister, meanwhile, is celebrating the United States' commitment to move its embassy to Jerusalem. 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 --


LIEBERMANN: -- 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 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 --


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: The man accused of plowing his SUV 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 also facing one count of endangering life. Police say he has a history of mental illness and drug use.

Police say the suspect deliberately drove into the busy street, injuring 18 people, several of whom remain in critical condition.

And 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 that Christmas was the perfect day to carry out his plot. CNN's Jessica Schneider has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The FBI has thwarted a plot that 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 --


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): -- 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: Coming up, the top diplomats of Russia and the U.K. trade barbs at a joint news conference but insist they are committed to improving relations between the two countries.

And this just in to us at CNN: the death toll continues to climb following a tropical storm in the Philippines that triggered mudslides and flooding.



VANIER: Britain's top diplomat, Boris Johnson, here, has gone to Moscow. He's the first U.K. foreign secretary to visit Russia in five years. And one of his goals is to try to improve the poor relations between the two countries. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen reports.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was certainly a very difficult visit that the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, made here to Moscow and one that really had some very testy exchanges with his Russian counterpart, with Sergey Lavrov.

Now one of the most difficult and certainly one of the most controversial issues was Russia's alleged meddling in affairs of European and other Western countries, especially when it comes to the cyber sphere, some of Russia's cyber activities.

The Russians came out in the form of Sergey Lavrov and said they believe some of the accusations that were levied against them were unfair. They say they were angry that a lot of them were made in public rather than speaking to the Russians down diplomatic channels.


SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): For example, my neighbor here, Boris Johnson, recently admitted that he had no evidence that Russia had interfered in the referendum on the U.K. leaving the E.U. He's frightened that, unless he objects, his reputation back home with the media will be ruined.


PLEITGEN: Boris Johnson, for his part, said, look, we believe that we understand, that's Great Britain, believes that it understands what the Russians are doing in cyberspace, namely, meddling in other countries' affairs.

But he also said that he believes it's important for the West and the United Kingdom to have better relations with Russia and to try and foster those relations.

That was really one of the main points when it came to some of the other big issues that these two men spoke to with each other and then also at the press conference that they held later on.

There's the crisis in Ukraine. There's the issue of Crimea, where really very little headway was made. However on another topic, they both said that, for instance, trade between the United Kingdom and Russia had actually grown a great deal in 2017 and certainly Boris Johnson said that he hoped that that would continue into the future.

Of course, one of the things that the Russians keep pointing to is they believe that a lot of the sanctions that have been leveled against the country, not just by Europe but, of course, by other entities as well, they believe those are unfair and those need to go.

It certainly seems as though the visit by Boris Johnson has not necessarily moved that any closer to actually happening. But if we look at the relations between the United Kingdom and Russia over the past couple of years, which have been very bad -- in fact, a foreign secretary hasn't actually been to Russia in the past five years -- then at least Boris Johnson's visit here in Moscow has gotten these two countries talking on a different level than they have been over the past couple of years -- Fred Pleitgen, Moscow.


VANIER: Ever since Russia helped spread misinformation during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook has been upping its fight with fake news. The social media network is scrapping the disputed flag that it uses and it will now put related articles next to fake news posts.

Facebook says this strategy shift is partly because the red flags --


VANIER: -- sometimes further entrenched belief in a bogus article. The site also rolled out a tool that lets users see whether they follow any Facebook pages or Instagram accounts associated with a troll farm linked to the Kremlin.

Now take a look at this.



VANIER (voice-over): You are looking at the final SpaceX rocket launch of the year. The rocket carried 10 satellites into orbit for the SpaceX customer Iridium, which focuses on data satellite communications.

But the launch did alarm residents from California all the way to Arizona, when they saw this in the sky. Many assumed that this was somehow an alien. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk poked fun at the confusion. He tweeted a video of the launch, titling it "nuclear alien UFO from North Korea."

OK. Citizens of the ancient city of Rome are seeing their tax dollars at work this Christmas. And the results to some are a little sad. To others, it's just a flat-out disgrace. Delia Gallagher brings us the tale of a Christmas tree gone horribly wrong.


DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Christmas in Rome: A time of peace and goodwill, unless, of course, your tax dollars have paid for this, the city's Christmas tree. Furious Romans are calling it Spelacchio, the Italian for "mangy" or "baldy." It cost $60,000 and was brought here from Northern Italy.

But Romans are up in arms over its appearance, saying the tree is depressed and a sign of the decay of the city. Experts have been brought in to measure the density of its pine

needles and a court case has been filed, demanding an investigation. Now much of the blame is being directed at Rome's mayor, Virginia Raggi of the Five Star Movement.

And her superintendent for the environment, who's in charge of the tree, defends Baldy, saying the tree isn't perfect but criticism has gone too far and Romans should be thanking the tree because it is distracting them from the real problems of the city, like unemployment.

But for Romans, an ugly tree in an otherwise beautiful city is a real problem and it's one even the tourists have noticed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was the first thing I noticed, was that it was drooping because that is unusual Because the Christmas trees we've got in England are all very pert.

GALLAGHER: Now the city says there are no plans at this late date to replace the tree. So the Romans are stuck with Baldy, which in any case has become something of a treasure, with people leaving love notes to the tree, reminding Romans what really counts at this time of the year, as one of these notes says, the important thing is to be beautiful on the inside -- Delia Gallagher, CNN, Rome.


VANIER: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. The best of "CNN TALK" coming up next. Have a great day.