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Severe Weather Claims 47 Lives in Philippines; U.N. Imposes New Sanctions On North Korea; U.S. President Signs 500-Page Tax Cut into Law; Kremlin's Patience with Trump May Be Waning; Two Palestinians Killed during "Day of Rage"; SpaceX Launch Lights Up the Sky. Aired 4- 5a ET

Aired December 23, 2017 - 04:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A unanimous decision. The U.N. Security Council slaps North Korea with tough new sanctions.

A foiled terror plot: U.S. officials say a popular tourist area in San Francisco was the target of a Christmas holiday attack.

And the dazzling and mysterious light show over California. We'll tell you about it.

Live from CNN World Headquarters here in Atlanta and all over the world. I'm George Howell, CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news. It is 4:00 am on the U.S. East Coast . We begin this hour with breaking news out of the Philippines. A major storm has left dozens of people dead. At least 47 people have been killed by widespread flooding and landslides triggered by tropical storm Tembin. This according to our affiliate CNN Philippines.

Officials say the casualties were on the southern island of Mindanao; a 4-year-old child is among the dead.


HOWELL: Moving on now to North Korea. A new round of sanctions imposed by the United Nations. The Security Council unanimously voted to put more pressure on Pyongyang; this in response to North Korea's provocative missile test in November.

The sanctions aimed at preventing further weapon development and applying economic pressure by limiting energy access, smuggling and the use of European workers overseas. The U.S. President Donald Trump struck an aspirational note on Twitter, saying this, "The world wants peace, not death."

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said -- expressed her disappointment with the lack of 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.



HOWELL: And the Russian envoy said de-escalation in this case and in Pyongyang's provocations was vitally important.


RUSSIAN ENVOY (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.


HOWELL: So tough new sanctions imposed by the United Nations. The impact largely depends on two countries. CNN's chief U.S. security correspondent Jim Sciutto explains why.


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.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HOWELL: Jim Sciutto reporting there.

Now as for previous U.N. sanctions, they appear to have done little to slow North Korea's weapons program. 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 about a third of its exports.

Like clockwork, North Korea claimed to have tested a hydrogen bomb roughly one month later.

The U.S. President Donald Trump has left Washington to spend time in Florida at his resort there. But 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 that report for us.


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 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 --


ZELENY (voice-over): -- 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.



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.


HOWELL: Jeff, thank you.

For those who celebrate Christmas, it has always been normal to say Merry Christmas. So let's talk about all this from tax reform to North Korea. We have a great deal to discuss with Inderjeet Parmar. Inderjeet is a professor of international politics at City University, live in our London bureau.

Christmas upon us soon, Inderjeet. Merry Christmas to you, if that is the case. We start with the situation of tax reform, the new tax law, a major accomplishment for the president for sure. It was a campaign promise delivered his first year in office.

Put this into context, for us, though, given the many other controversies surrounding this president, does this reset the table?

INDERJEET PARMAR, CITY UNIVERSITY LONDON: I don't think so, I think it's a continuation of the breaking of numerous promises. He did promise tax reform but he also said to the people, during the election campaign, especially blue-collar workers and middle class workers, that he's going to increase taxes on the rich. And he was going to decrease taxes for them.

But actually, this is probably a major act of class warfare, because in the end, he's transferring a massive amount of wealth and income towards the very richest in the society.

And this process began in 2010 and 2012 and really ramped up. And I think he's just continuing that. So it's not a reset at all. It's a continuation of what you could say is a corporate takeover of American politics and government.

And I think next year, his supporters are going to be probably see messages coming to them, suggesting that Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security is going to be cut because the deficit is going to increase quite a lot as a result of this tax cut.

HOWELL: Let's talk about that, moving forward into 2018, looking ahead at the midterm elections.

What are the overall optics here?

Does this translate as a campaign promise delivered to working Americans or does it translate as a big gift for the rich and for corporations?

PARMAR: I think this is what -- if you look at a public opinion poll after opinion poll, what we see is this is a deeply unpopular tax law now and that it's largely seen as something which is transferring wealth to the very wealthy already.

Effectively, what this does, it continues the legitimacy crisis, the feeling of most Americans in the electorate that the government has really very little to do with solving their problems, that they're very busy with various kinds of scandals and probes and investigations and things like that.

But when you actually look at what's going on in terms of deregulation and now this tax law, that largely government is about other people and that their problems, their desire for a better future, if you're a college student and your indebtedness that you will suffer, if you're a factory worker, the health and safety laws --


PARMAR: -- and wage laws and so on, all of those are going down. So I don't think this is going to do very much for the legitimacy either of President Trump or the GOP. In fact, probably not even the Democratic Party because even their suggestions about the tax law were merely to reduce corporate taxes to about 25 percent as opposed to 21 percent, which is what happened. So they've kind of shown their commitment to Wall Street much more

than they have to Main Street during this particular period.

HOWELL: Inderjeet, I'd like to shift to another topic that we've covered on the show here with regard to the U.N., these sanctions on North Korea. Unanimous decision in the U.N.

Is this a game-changer with China and Russia signing on?

PARMAR: Well, China and Russia have signed off on several previous U.N. Security Council sanctions votes as well. But the problem is that North Korea is already a deeply impoverished country. Half of its population is being basically fed by foreign aid.

They have very little left to sanction. As Thomas Bossert, who is an adviser to Homeland Security, said, effectively, apart from starving them to death there's really nothing more that anybody can do.

Russia and China are supporting these sanctions but they're also probably helping to ease the impact of these sanctions. And the other thing, of course, is that they're suggesting that there should be a freeze for freeze, that the United States should stop ramping up the sanctions and the military threats and the military exercises in return for North Korean freezing of missile tests and so on.

I can't see anything being resolved here with further sanctions. And it looks to me that the likelihood of a military confrontation, a kind of a military attack, a preemptive strike, seems to be increasing on a kind of weekly or monthly basis. And that, I think, is very dangerous for the people of that region.

And I wonder what China and Russia will see, will think about that kind of ramping up of tensions.

HOWELL: Inderjeet Parmar, live for us in our London bureau, thank you so much for your time and your perspective today.

PARMAR: Thank you.

HOWELL: Still ahead here on NEWSROOM, authorities in the United States say they stopped a terror plot in the city of San Francisco. What we know about the suspect's military ties as NEWSROOM pushes on.






HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

Here in the United States, authorities say they prevented a terror plot in the state of California. Officials say that a former U.S. Marine planned an attack in San Francisco and expressed support for ISIS. He allegedly said Christmas was the perfect date to carry out that plot. CNN's Jessica Schneider has more for us.


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, 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.


HOWELL: Jessica, thank you for the report.

In Melbourne, Australia, a man accused of plowing his SUV into a crowd of pedestrians 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 that he has a history of mental illness and of drug use. Police say that the suspect deliberately drove into that busy street, injuring 18 people. Several remain in critical condition. Ukraine is set to get powerful new weapons in its conflict with Russian-backed separatists. A senior U.S. official says Washington will give the country anti-tank weapons. Ukraine has long requested the equipment to fight separatist armored vehicles.

The U.S. said that Russia is supplying those vehicles. The development comes amid an uptick in violence between Ukrainian and separatist forces.

Providing anti-tank weapons to Ukraine is not likely to sit well with Moscow. In fact, the Kremlin has grown increasingly concerned with relations with the United States under the Trump administration. CNN's Fred Pleitgen explains why.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: After heaping praise on President Trump for days, tonight speaking to his generals, Russian leader Vladimir Putin is ripping into America and Trump's new national security strategy, which the Kremlin says is anti-Russian.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Diplomatically speaking, if I can put it in two words, it is an attacking nature and if we use military terms, it's no doubt aggressive. We need to take that into account --


PUTIN (through translator): -- in our practical work.

PLEITGEN: Trump mentioned Russia as a challenge to U.S. national security when he rolled out his new strategy on Monday.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We also face rival powers, Russia and China. That seek so challenge American influence, values and wealth.

PLEITGEN: The strategy document, which his national security team wrote, went further saying Putin's government is using, quote, information tools in an attempt to undermine democracies.

There are signs this growing rift could lead to confrontations between the U.S. and Russia including in Syria. Sources tell CNN the U.S. believes Moscow is deliberately breaking an agreement aimed at helping U.S. and Russian jets operate safely there.

Moscow's response, America should get out of Syria all together.

ALEXANDER LAVRENTIEV, RUSSIAN ENVOY TO SYRIA NEGOTIATIONS (through translator): We believe there are no legitimate reasons for their presence there at the moment.

PLEITGEN: Only last week, Putin and Trump exchanged warm words and several phone calls and Trump has repeatedly heaped praise on Putin in public. TRUMP: I respect Putin.

PLEITGEN: But while the president voices his admiration, U.S. authorities are following a tougher line, sanctioning several Russians under the Magnitsky Act this week, including the son of Russian state prosecutor Yuri Chaika and Chechen strongman and Putin ally, Ramzan Kadyrov, who pretended to laugh the sanctions off in a body building video on his Instagram account.

But experts say Moscow's new rhetoric may be a sign its patience with Trump is running out.

VERA ZAKEM, CNA CORPORATION: Putin and his presidential administration thought that sanctions were going to get lifted, relations were going to be a lot warmer. But, you know, we are hampered by Congress and it's not easy so to just warm relations and given the investigations that are ongoing in terms of the interference into our elections.

PLEITGEN: So far Russian officials have been very careful to criticize U.S. Policies but to go softer on President Trump in the hope that he would be able to restore U.S.-Russia relations. But now that hope seems to be fading leading to harsher reactions from the Kremlin -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Moscow.


HOWELL: Fred, thanks.

Still ahead, CNN's exclusive interview with the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. How Israel sees its relationship with the world changing for the better.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live in Atlanta, Georgia, this hour, simulcast both on CNN USA here in the States and CNN International worldwide. Stay with us.





HOWELL: Welcome back. To our viewers here in the United States and around the world, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM. It is good to have you with us. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.

And we're following breaking news in the Philippines: at least 75 people have been reported killed, 58 people missing. This after a tropical storm hit the southern part of that country, triggering mudslides and massive flooding. Officials say the casualties are all on the southern island of Mindanao.


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

It's the latest violence after the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Palestinian leaders have condemned that decision. They say it's a violation of their rights.

Israel's prime minister in the meantime is celebrating the U.S. commitment to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Our Oren Liebermann sat down with the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in this exclusive interview to hear his position on the situation. 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 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 --


NETANYAHU: -- 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.


HOWELL: Oren with that exclusive interview with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, thank you, Oren.

Now for more on the situation, let's bring in our guest, Arash Aramesh. He's is a national security and foreign policy analyst joining from Los Angeles.


HOWELL: First of all, Benjamin Netanyahu told our Oren Liebermann that President Trump simply acknowledged the fact that Jerusalem is Israel's capital and there can be no peace where that is not the case.

In the meantime, the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas said it will no longer accept the United States as a mediator in the peace process because of this decision on Jerusalem.

So the question to you, where does that leave the United States at this point, when Israel says there's no peace without Jerusalem as the capital and Abbas says they don't want the U.S. in the peace process?

ARASH ARAMESH, NATIONAL SECURITY AND FOREIGN POLICY ANALYST: And that's exactly why every president before President Trump tried to stay away from this issue. Now let's be honest and put things into context.

Every American presidential candidate, every nominee from every major party has always, has always agreed to accept and recognize Jerusalem as a capital of the state of Israel. But when every one of those candidates, from Reagan to Bush the

father, to Clinton, to Bush the son, to Obama and so on and so forth, from either party and won the election and came to the White House, they realize now as president now at the White House, they have a great duty to try to be at least somewhat of an honest mediator between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Secondly, the issue of Jerusalem being recognized as the capital of Israel has always been an issue of final status. Final status meaning that the very last stages of negotiations, when the Palestinians and Israelis finally reach an agreement, then the President of the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital.

HOWELL: So as you point out, it was a final status issue but now, the question as you indicate, has the United States given something away without really getting anything in return, as far as pushing that peace process forward?

Let's talk about Nikki Haley's speech on Thursday. She said that "The Jerusalem decision is what the American people want us to do." That's the quote. But take a look at the latest CNN polling on this. Now it shows Americans evenly divided on that issue: 44 percent approve, 45 percent disapprove, 11 percent unsure.

Looking at these numbers, does that surprise you at all?

ARAMESH: It doesn't, no. The country is very polarized and it's very divided. That division shows itself not only in domestic policy and domestic politics but also in our view and approach towards foreign policy. I think the vast majority of American people are very pro- Israel --


ARAMESH: -- there's no doubt about it, at least compared to other Western democracies. Americans, let's say compared to Australians and Europeans and even perhaps Canadians, are the most pro-Israeli population in the Western world.

But Americans would also like to see a certain resolution and a peaceful solution to this ongoing conflict. Now there are pockets within the U.S. population, perhaps amongst the evangelical religious right that have certain motives for supporting Israel. They have certain religious motives for support Israel.

And to them, any sort of a peace deal short of Israel taking over all of -- from Nile to Euphrates would be a biblical disaster. But again, there -- all you have to do is just look at D.C., New York, L.A., Atlanta, Milwaukee, and you see so many center right, center left liberal and conservative organizations, Jewish, Christian and secular that are pro-Israel and are pro-peace.

And they want to make sure that, A, a long lasting two-state solution does occur between the Israelis and Palestinians because that is the only way we can guarantee the long-term survival peace, security and safety and prosperity of the state Israel. Because just look at the numbers, you cannot have a small Jewish state

constantly threatened by an ocean to the left of it (INAUDIBLE) to the left, to the west and surrounded by enemies or neighbors that are very, very, very hostile to it.

So there has to some long-lasting solution and a long-lasting peace that has to go through a two-state solution. And that has to be something that the Palestinians will be somewhat happy with.

HOWELL: Arash Aramesh, we appreciate your perspective on all of this. Thank you so much.

ARAMESH: Pleasure.

HOWELL: And still ahead this hour, the world braces for another potential threat from the North Korean regime, one that Pyongyang claims it doesn't have. Stay with us.





HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM.

Back to North Korea now, which has long bragged about its nuclear missile program. It parades missiles through the streets of its capital. But now, it is denying the existence of a biological weapons program. Our Brian Todd looks into this.


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.


HOWELL: Brian, thank you for the report.

Still ahead, a mysterious bright light over Los Angeles sparks a UFO freak-out. We'll explain what was really traveling through the sky. You'll want to stick around for this.








HOWELL (voice-over): You are looking at the final SpaceX rocket launch of the year.


The rocket carried 10 satellites into orbit for SpaceX customers Iridium (ph), which focuses on data satellite communications. However, that launch alarmed residents from California to Arizona.

When they looked up in the sky on Friday evening, they saw this. Many people assumed it might have been an alien. The Los Angeles Fire Department issued an advisory, explaining where the mysterious light in the sky was coming from.

It even lit up social media, many people wondering if it was a rocket from North Korea, a UFO or possibly even Santa Claus. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk poked fun at the confusion.

He tweeted, "A video of a launch, titling it 'nuclear alien UFO from North Korea'."

Elsewhere in the state of California, firefighters are fighting what is now the largest wildfire in the state's modern history. The Thomas fire has torched more than 110,000 hectares. That's about 270,000 acres.

The flames erupted earlier this month. They destroyed more than 1,000 buildings. Officials say it's 65 percent contained with more than 28,000 firefighters fighting this fire. They're expected to continue their work around the clock and into the New Year.

We end this hour with the U.S. President ending his first year in the White House with what he's described as a gift to American taxpayers, tax reform that is now law. But for some, the president himself has become a gift for Christmas. Jeanne Moos explains.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prepare to be blown away by this Christmas gift, just by the fact that it exists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): The wind whispered through the forest.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): I come when the trumpet sounds. Introducing the original Trumpy Bear.

MOOS (voice-over): "Is this really a thing?" reads a typical comment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Just find the secret zipper and pull out the flag blanket.

MOOS (voice-over): "This looks like a bad 'SNL' skit," read another.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Everyone knows Trumpy Bear loves to go to the golf course.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I ride with Trumpy Bear, he makes my golf game great again. Thank you, Trumpy Bear.

MOOS (voice-over): "Is this crap for real?" read a third.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Simply style his trademark hair.

MOOS (voice-over): You betcha.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Order now for only two payments of $19.95.

MOOS: I can personal vouch for Trumpy Bear. He exists. We have one.

MOOS (voice-over): A company that specializes in Xenon TV ads is doing the marketing for the woman who created Trumpy Bear.

"Nothing partisan," the V.P. says. "We'd like everyone to buy it," meaning Trump lovers and haters.

ELLEN DEGENERES, TV HOST: Trumpy Bear is proudly made in America. I'm kidding. It's made in China.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): The most fearless bear anywhere.

JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE NIGHT HOST: That's right. He will kick Winnie- the-Pooh's ass. MOOS (voice-over): Instantly recognizable with its red tie and its combable hair, no wonder critics are making small hands jokes.

"I am disappointed with the size of its paws."

MOOS: One thing Trumpy Bear cannot do is tweet: no fingers.

MOOS (voice-over): Hey, if President Teddy Roosevelt can inspire teddy bears, why can't President Trump inspire Trumpy Bears?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm proud to have Trumpy Bear ride by my side.

MOOS (voice-over): Its maker is planning some design changes in the New Year, but it will still come with...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): The special certificate of authenticity.

MOOS (voice-over): -- so that you-know-who can't say --

TRUMP: Why doesn't he show his birth certificate?

MOOS (voice-over): Jeanne Moos, CNN --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God bless Trumpy Bear.

MOOS (voice-over): -- New York.


HOWELL: Well, there you have it. More news right after the break. Stay with us.