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North Korea Committed to Nuclear Development; Assaults Targeting Egyptian Coptic Community; Trump Presidency; Stepped-Up Security for Times Square. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired December 30, 2017 - 03:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): North Korea reaffirms its commitment to nuclear development as U.S. officials say another missile test could be near.

Anger in Iran from the economy to corruption. Demonstrators take to the streets.

And New York City prepares for its famous ball drop.

Are you ready to ring in the new year?

If you're going to Times Square, bundle up. Our Derek Van Dam will tell you about that coming up here. This is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen. We begin right now.


ALLEN: North Korea says it is not backing down. It will continue to develop its nuclear program in 2018. A report from state media says as long as the U.S. and its allies remain a threat, the regime will push its program forward.

It goes on to say that, quote, "its entity as an invincible power can neither be undermined nor be stamped out."

But it also calls itself a responsible nuclear weapons state. At the same time there are troubling signs North Korea may conduct another weapons test sometime after the New Year. Our Barbara Starr has that from the Pentagon.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: U.S. officials are now telling me they are watching for the very real possibility that North Korea may launch another ballistic missile in yet another weapons test.

It is not imminent. The signs are still very preliminary. But right now, they don't think it's a satellite launch; much more likely to be a missile launch, if North Korea were to proceed with this. Now in an end-of-the-year meeting with Pentagon reporters, Defense

Secretary James Mattis said he was still very much on the page of diplomacy, buttressed by economic sanctions, trying to underscore that diplomacy will not be just words, that there will be real economic pressure on North Korea to give up its weapons program.

But, of course, no sign at this point that Kim Jong-un has any intention of doing that. So if there is a missile test, it comes at a very sensitive time after the New Year, when secretary of state Rex Tillerson is headed to Canada for meetings with the allies about North Korea.

And, of course, just weeks away from the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, a time when everyone is looking for a little stability and no drama in the region -- Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


ALLEN: China claims it's abiding by U.N. sanctions on North Korea as questions arise over whether it is providing the regime with oil. Last month, South Korea seized a Hong Kong-registered ship, it says, transferred oil to a North Korean vessel.

The U.S. released these satellite pictures of two ships allegedly showing that transfer in October. China denies any wrongdoing.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): A series of recent reports do not accord with the facts. China has always implemented U.N. Security Council resolutions pertaining to North Korea in their entirety and fulfills its international obligations.

We never allow Chinese citizens and companies to engage in activities that violate Security Council resolutions. If through investigation this confirms there are violations of Security Council resolutions, China will deal with them seriously in accordance with laws and regulations.


ALLEN: Meantime the U.N. Security Council is now denying international port access to four ships for breaching sanctions on the North Korean regime. Three of those ships fly North Korean colors. The flag of the fourth ship isn't clear.

North Korea has defied U.N. sanctions and researches (ph) in the past. Now a North Korean defector tells CNN the regime has a sophisticated smuggling network and can easily trade in banned goods. CNN's Brian Todd explains.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have new information tonight from this defector on exactly how Kim Jong-un's regime gets weapons and other banned material out of the country to sell on the black market.

This man knows how Kim gets his cash and helped him get it, funneling tens of billions of dollars a year to the young dictator.

TODD (voice-over): August 2016: a freighter called the Jeshun (ph) is intercepted, heading to the Suez Canal. Underneath 2,000 tons of iron ore on board, around 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades made in North Korea, part of what a North Korean defector describes as a spider web of smuggling to line the pockets of Kim Jong-un.

TODD: How do North Korean smuggling operations work?

Are there people with false names?

Are there ships with false names being moved around?

RI JONG HO, NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR (through translator): The smuggling --


RI (through translator): -- is conducted by any and every means you could imagine. Larger items are mostly done using ships; for example, by filing a cargo list where what's written is different from what is really being shipped.

TODD: For decades, Ri Jong Ho was a top wrangler of cash for Kim Jong-un's regime. He says he would sometimes hand bags of cash to ship captains, leaving from China, where he was stationed, for North Korea.

Ri defected in 2014. He says he worked mostly in legal imports and exports but also gave us insight into North Korea's smuggling operations, which he describes as being almost unstoppable.

RI (through translator): On the open sea, the Yellow Sea, there are hundreds of fishing boats, both from China and North Korea. And all the smuggling is done by these so-called fishing boats. Instead of fishing, they are involved in smuggling. And it is very difficult, even for China, to stop these hundreds of fishing boats.

TODD (voice-over): According to the U.N. and outside analysts, Kim's regime sells weapons on the black market, uses its diplomats to move illegal drugs, like methamphetamine. They've trafficked in counterfeit American dollars, fake Viagra, even endangered species.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kim Jong-un really sits atop a criminal network that would make Don Corleone or Tony Soprano proud.

TODD (voice-over): New U.S. sanctions are aimed at tightening limits on North Korean shipping to stop the flow of illicit goods leaving and arriving in North Korea. Those might include luxury items for Kim and his inner circle, like that well-known Mercedes limo, which the Supreme Leader is often seen stepping out of.

LI (through translator): The Mercedes-Benzes, for example, provided for the leader, they're not legally imported. They're being smuggled in.

TODD (voice-over): The cash that Ri was so good at getting to his boss, experts say, pays for Kim's weapons and buys off top generals and others to keep them from turning on him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has to maintain political loyalty and so he needs walking around money to hand out.

TODD: North Korean officials at the U.N. have denied that their government engages in smuggling. As for our interview with Ri Jong Ho, a North Korean official says the defector is telling lies to make money and save his own life.


ALLEN: Rare political protests in Iran to tell you about in the western city of Kermanshah. Similar demonstrations also (INAUDIBLE) around the country. Anti-government protests are uncommon in Iran with the constant police presence.

The current one started Thursday with rallies against price surges before turning political the next day.

The U.S. president applauded the demonstrations, tweeting, "Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with the regime's corruption and its squandering of the nation's wealth to fund terrorism abroad.

"The Iranian government should respect their people's rights including right to express themselves. The world is watching. #IranProtest"

That from the U.S. president.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for an attack on a Coptic church near Cairo, Egypt. Nine people were killed Friday when gunmen opened fire as people left the climate change service. A local archbishop says worshipers inside could hear machine gun fire.

On Friday evening, grief-stricken families held a funeral for the victims. The interior ministry says one of the attackers was a well- known terrorist, who had been part of five different attacks over the last two years.

The U.S. president is wrapping his first year in office with the lowest approval rating of any president in decades. But Mr. Trump doesn't seem concerned. He recently told "The New York Times" he's confident of being reelected and predicts that he'll be cleared in the Russia investigation. Here's CNN's Sara Murray with more about it.


SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump in full vacation mode and hosting Coast Guard members for golf at his Palm Beach club.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said to come use my course. I didn't know I would be flooded, but that's OK. You guys go have a good time.

MURRAY: But pressing pause long enough to rail against the Russia investigation in an interview with "The New York Times." While he didn't call for an end to the special counsel's probe into potential collusion between Trump's presidential campaign and Russian officials, the president insisted it's damaging.

"I think it's a very bad thing for the country," he told "The Times," "because it makes the country look bad. It makes the country look very bad and it puts the country in a very bad position. So the sooner it's worked out, the better it is for the country."

In the impromptu interview at his golf club, Trump insisted 16 times that no collusion has been uncovered in the various Russia investigations, reiterating the frustration he's aired publicly.

TRUMP: The Russia story is a total fabrication. There has been absolutely no collusion. Are there any Russians here tonight? Any Russians?

MURRAY: Trump also lamenting that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, insisting such a move wouldn't have happened under former Attorney General Eric Holder.

"I don't want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that I will say this. Holder protected President Obama. Totally --


MURRAY (voice-over): -- protected him," Trump said.

But even as more Republicans take aim at special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump predicted he will get a fair shake.

"There was tremendous collusion on behalf of the Russians and the Democrats. There was no collusion with respect to my campaign. I think I will be treated fairly."

Despite the swipe at Democrats, Trump appeared uninterested in trying to reopen an investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private e- mail server.

"I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department. But for purposes of hopefully thinking I'm going to be treated fairly, I've stayed uninvolved with this particular matter," he said of Clinton's e-mails.

Turning back to his legislative agenda, Trump said he is hoping to work with Democrats on health care, infrastructure and immigration, tweeting: "The Democrats have been told and fully understand, that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern Border and an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration et cetera. We must protect our Country at all costs!"

But Democrats may see little reason to cooperate with a president with a 35 percent approval rating, according to the latest CNN poll.

Even amid those low ratings, Trump is already gearing up for his reelection campaign, telling "The New York Times" he's sure to win another term because of his accomplishments in office,

"But another reason that I'm going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I'm not there because, without me, their ratings are going down the tubes."

MURRAY: President Trump also took to Twitter to express his displeasure of the media's coverage of his approval ratings, insisting that his numbers are on par with where President Obama's were at the end of his first year in office.

But if you look at nearly every reputable poll, you can see that President Trump's numbers trail behind nearly every one of his predecessors, including President Obama -- Sara Murray, CNN, West Palm Beach, Florida.


ALLEN: The president's comments about being able to tell the Justice Department what to do earned a sharp rebuke from the man who used to run the department under President Obama.

Former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder fired back on Twitter, calling Mr. Trump's remarks "Wrong/dangerous."

As we prepare to ring in the new year, you may be wishing for a quieter, less stressful news environment next year.


ALLEN: Sorry about that. That's understandable when you consider this year it's ending with a dizzying avalanche of shocking headlines, one after another. CNN's Phil Black recounts the chaos, conflicts and controversies that made 2017 one for the record books.


PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Terrorism, conflict, natural disasters. 2017 was a turbulent year. Dominated by politics, it saw a U.S. president unlike any we've seen before.


BLACK (voice-over): Donald Trump became known for his controversies.

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM CORRESPONDENT: This controversial travel ban.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Calling the Russia investigation a witch- hunt.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: -- blaming both sides for the violence in Charlottesville.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Another controversial tweet.

BLACK (voice-over): Name-calling.

TRUMP: Rocket Man.

They call her Pocahontas.

BLACK (voice-over): And internal battles.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sean Spicer is stepping down.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is out.

BLACK (voice-over): But through all the chaos, he reshaped the White House and the world's perception of America.

Across the Pacific, North Korea stepped up its rhetoric and its nuclear missile testing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: North Korea claims it successfully launched an intercontinental ballistic missile. Claims it tested a hydrogen bomb.


BLACK (voice-over): In Iraq and Syria, ISIS was driven from key cities and villages.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mosul finally liberated from ISIS.

DAMON: Raqqa fully-liberated.

BLACK (voice-over): And a slew of terror attacks hit at the heart of cities around the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were hiding upstairs and there's just gunshots going everywhere.

BLACK (voice-over): The U.K. suffered the highest number of attacks since the IRA bombings in 1992. And New York City experienced its deadliest terror event since 9/11.

Myanmar and Yemen, saw some of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in decades.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yemen is on the brink of collapse.

BLACK (voice-over): Sarin gas was used against the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun.

TRUMP: That crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line.

BLACK (voice-over): America reacted, launching its first military strike against the Syrian regime since the civil war began.

Back at home, the U.S. suffered some of the deadliest mass shootings in its modern history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody was panicking, of course, girls screaming, people fainting on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just opens the door and we just keep hearing the gunshots.

BLACK (voice-over): Across the globe, separatist movements pushed to independence, new leaders were elected.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: France's youngest President --

BLACK (voice-over): Some gained more power than ever.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Seismic shift in Turkish politics.

BLACK (voice-over): And others exited after ruling for decades.

2017 also experienced a mind-bending litany of natural disasters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is my neighborhood in flames.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel so panicked.

BLACK (voice-over): An urban fire raged through a London building, bringing death and destruction.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- people screaming, "Help me. My baby, help me."

BLACK (voice-over): Yet amidst the chaos, people spoke out against sexual harassment.

GORANI: Women coming out in their millions with the #MeToo.

BLACK (voice-over): A CNN report exposed slave auctions in Libya sparking outrage around the world and prompting investigations.

Away from the darkness, there was some light. Astronomers found new planets. Australia voted yes to same-sex marriage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- a day for love, for equality, for respect.

BLACK (voice-over): An epic mix-up at the Oscars went viral.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: "La La Land" was announced as the best picture winner, but it wasn't.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "Moonlight" was the actual winner. BLACK (voice-over): A royal wedding was confirmed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was so sweet and natural and very romantic.

BLACK (voice-over): And America got to see its first nationwide solar eclipse in 99 years.


ALLEN: Get ready to ring in the new year. We'll see what it bring when we come back why rooftop snipers and vapor-sniffing dogs will be in Times Square as well.

Plus who left the freezer door open? What some of the coldest temperatures in years are doing to Niagara Falls.




ALLEN: And welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM.

Thursday's deadly fire in New York started with a 3-year-old boy playing with a stove in his first floor apartment, that's according of officials. His mother apparently did not realize there was a fire until the boy screamed. They were fine but in their hurry to get out, they left the door open, allowing the flames to spread through the building.

At least 12 people died. It is the deadliest fire in the city in decades.

Two million revelers are expected to ring in 2018 in New York's Times Square. To keep them all safe, there will be stepped-up security measures, including snipers on rooftops, vapor-detecting dogs and radiation detection devices. CNN's Athena Jones has more.



ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there. The New Year's Eve celebration here in Times Square is an iconic event. It's also a massive security challenge. This is something the NYPD has been preparing for since the last confetti was being swept up after last year's celebration. That's according to the police commissioner.

We will see a stepped-up police presence here in and around Times Square this year. That means more uniformed police officers, more police officers carrying heavy weapons and more dogs.

Where I'm standing right here, including several blocks north, south, east and west, it's going to shut down to vehicular traffic starting relatively early on Sunday morning. There will be 12 access points for spectators, who want to come in and enter this area to view the ball drop, ring in 2018.

Those spectators are going to see teams of police officers, they're going to see metal detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs. They're going to see police who are able to detect radiological --


JONES (voice-over): -- material.

And they're going to have to go through two checkpoints, two screenings of their bags and of their persons in order to enter the pins to celebrate the New Year.

Also for the first time, "The New York Times" is reporting that, for the first time, police will be attaching reflective material to the outsides of some of the buildings in and around Times Square and that is so they can help -- those -- that reflective material can help them locate any gunman or shooter, should there be one. That, of course, is a lesson from the Las Vegas shooting.

Among the other stepped-up efforts, there will be rooftop observation and counter sniper teams; 125 parking garages in and around this area will be sealed and police officers are also undergoing a special suicide attack training, training to try to help prevent any sort of suicide attack.

We're also going to see the familiar sanitation trucks, filled with sand and cement blocks to help block off this area to prevent any sort of vehicular attack.

Now authorities from the mayor, the police commissioner on down say there is no credible threat to this New Year's Eve celebrations here in Times Square, no credible threat to New York City in general but they want everyone to remain vigilant.

They say that there's some 2 million people they expect to come out on Sunday night, so all remain vigilant and, as they say, if you see something, say something. Back to you.


ALLEN: Throngs of people will be at Times Square, New York of course not hardly the only the place preparing to celebrate. It is the one day of the year when the whole world grabs a wave that circles the planet one time zone at a time. CNN's Zain Asher reports.


ZAIN ASHER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It's almost time to ring in the New Year and cities around the world are getting ready for the party. In Germany, Berlin's Brandenburg Gate is the usual centered of festivities.

But people all over the country are putting on their own shows, spending as much as $164 million on fireworks according to one pyrotechnic company. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I got some rockets,

firecrackers, two pieces, a few. that is it, sparkling things, just to celebrate New Year's Eve.

ASHER (voice-over): But along with all the preparations, cities are taking precautions as well. Berlin is adding 1,600 more police officers and erecting barricades and fences to control the crowds.

The Red Cross is also setting up a safe area there for women who feel unsafe after hundreds of women were robbed or sexually assaulted in another German city, Cologne, two years ago.

Paris is beefing up its security, too, after a gunman had killed a police officer on the Champs-Elysees this April, temporarily shutting down the iconic tourist spot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There will be over 10,500 men and women, who will be deployed in and around Paris to ensure the safety of Parisians, Paris suburban residents and the tourists and visitors, which are always plentiful in the capital for this occasion.

ASHER (voice-over): Two million people are expected to watch the fireworks in another city known for its revelry. Rio is putting the finishing touches on its show at Copacabana Beach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It's going to be the biggest fireworks display ever seen in Rio de Janeiro. There will be 17 minutes long with 25 tons of fireworks, 17,000 explosives, lots of technology and structure that was specially made for this great show.

ASHER (voice-over): But leave it to the man who's currently starring in the movie, "The Greatest Showman," to help Sydney, Australia, put on a command performance this New Year's Eve.

Actor Hugh Jackman helped design about 20 seconds of its fireworks display. And that's sure to put some star power in the sky in one of the first places to celebrate 2018 -- Zain Asher, CNN, New York.


ALLEN: It will be one of the coldest New Years in a long time across parts of the United States, but despite the bone-chilling temperatures, it creates some striking pictures -- like this. This is Niagara Falls, covered in ice. By the way, it may look like it's completely frozen but water is still flowing underneath. The only recorded time the water stopped completely was in 1848 and that was because of an ice dam up river.



ALLEN: Two legendary performers are being awarded knighthoods in Britain. The Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr, is receiving the honor for his

contributions to music. He joins fellow Beatle, Sir Paul McCartney, who was knighted in 1997.

And Bee Gees singer Barry Gibb will be honored by Queen Elizabeth for his services to music and charity. He founded the '70s disco group with his late brothers, Robin and Maurice.

I'm Natalie Allen. Our top stories are right after this.