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North Korea Committed to Nuclear Development; Trump Presidency; Assaults Targeting Egyptian Coptic Community; Top International Stories of 2017; Stepped-Up Security for Times Square; 2018 Blockbusters. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired December 30, 2017 - 04:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): U.S. officials say another North Korean missile test could happen within days.

Plus, his first year almost over, we take a look at the presidency of Donald J. Trump.

And New York City preparing for its famous ball drop in Times Square 2018, right around the corner.

Are you ready for it?

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm George Howell. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: 4:00 am on the U.S. East Coast.

We start this hour with a story about the New Year, 2018. Maybe you want to do something differently. That's not the word from North Korea, that nation telling the world it remains committed to developing its nuclear capabilities in 2018.

A report in North Korean state media says as long as the United States and its allies remain a threat, that regime will push its program forward. Pyongyang also boasted it can strike the U.S. with world class nuclear power but it calls itself a, quote, "responsible" nuclear weapons state.

At the same time, there are troubling signs that North Korea may conduct another weapons test sometime after New Year's. Our Barbara Starr reports.


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.


HOWELL: Barbara, thank you.

China insists it is going along with U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea despite questions over whether that nation is providing Pyongyang with oil.

Just last month, South Korea seized a Hong Kong registered ship that it says transferred oil to a North Korean vessel. The U.S. released these satellite images showing two ships allegedly showing a transfer in October. But China denies any wrongdoing. Listen.


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.


HOWELL: In the meantime, the U.N. Security Council is now denying international port access to four ships for the breaching sanctions on the regime. Three of those ships fly North Korean colors. The flag of the fourth ship is not clear.

North Korea has defied U.N. sanctions and restrictions 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 has this report for us.


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 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.


HOWELL: Brian Todd, thank you so much.

North Korea has certainly been among the top priorities of the Trump White House in 2017. But from the Russia investigation to immigration policy to midterm elections that could reshape Congress, the president has a lot ahead in the coming year.

He's already started to stake out his terms for addressing the so- called DACA immigrants, those who were brought to the United States illegally as young children. The president tweeted that legal protections for them would not be restored, would not be restored, he says, unless there was funding for a wall along the southern U.S. border.

And as Mr. Trump wraps up his first year in office, his policies so far have not been popular with most Americans. His approval rating just at 35 percent; important to note that is one of the lowest in decades for any president at the one-year mark.

Make no mistake about it, that 35 percent that has been in place for a moment, the president's voter base insists that Mr. Trump is doing a great job and isn't getting proper credit for it. CNN's Gary Tuchman went out to speak to voters about the Trump presidency.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dawson County, Georgia, is the heart of NASCAR country. It also happens to be one of the most Republican counties in a Republican state.

(On camera): Who did you vote for on Election Day?


TUCHMAN (voice-over): In this Dawsonville restaurant where every day they honor hometown NASCAR legend Bill Elliott, known as Awesome Bill from Dawson Ville, they also now honor President Trump and his first year in office.

DALE CUMMINGS, TRUMP SUPPORTER: George Washington was the father of the country. Abraham Lincoln held it together. Ronald Reagan saved us from communism. And now Donald Trump is going to save us from ourselves. He's going to build a strong economy.

SONNY SIMMONS, TRUMP SUPPORTER: He's done excellent as far as I'm concerned.

TUCHMAN: Restaurant regular Sonny Simmons is like many people here in saying that good news about Donald Trump is getting swept under the rug.

(On camera): What do you think that hasn't been reported that's been ignored?

SIMMONS: He has since -- they asked him, sign, no telling how much legislation that never gets mentioned.

TUCHMAN: You bring up a good point, Sonny, because he just said himself that he signed more legislation than any president since Harry Truman.

SIMMONS: He has.

TUCHMAN: Well, here's the thing, though, is that, objective people look at this and find out that he's actually signed less legislation than any president since Eisenhower. So it's kind of the opposite. And the question is why do you think --

SIMMONS: How do you they figure that out?

TUCHMAN: Well, because it's easy. Just count them. That's pretty easy and objective people count them and they say --

SIMMONS: If it wasn't for that Democratic Senate we'd have some good stuff done.

TUCHMAN: But does it concern you when he kind of embellishes a little bit? When he kind of fibs?

SIMMONS: What? He kind of what?


SIMMONS: Doesn't bother me at all.

TUCHMAN: How come?

SIMMONS: Because every one of them is big liars.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Many in the restaurants say the news media, Democrats and establishment Republicans have been working to keep the president down.

[04:10:00] JOHN CARY, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I don't blame him for nothing. In other words, he said what he could do. He's trying to do it and like I say, politicians, you know how politicians are.

TUCHMAN (on camera): How come he doesn't get any responsibility for not being able to pull people together when he promised he would?

CARY: He's trying.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): For proof of that, many here point to the legislation the president just signed.

MARK WOODARD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: A poor man ain't going to create a job. You know, rich people are what creates jobs.

TUCHMAN (on camera): So you like this tax plan because of the benefit it gives corporations?

WOODARD: Yes. Definitely.

TUCHMAN: Do you think that will benefit a man like you?


TUCHMAN: How is that?

WOODARD: Well, it's just going to stimulate the economy. Everybody

is going to be spending money. I mean, if they got money, you know, they're going to spend it.

TUCHMAN: So you have faith that these big corporations are going to take that tax savings and invest it in more workers and raise salaries?

WOODARD: Yes, I think so.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): And with 2018 now underway, here's advice for the president from his most loyal supporters.

MICHELLE EVERETT, TRUMP SUPPORTER: He could probably do better with his public relations.

TUCHMAN (on camera): But what would you advise him if you were his public relations expert?

EVERETT: Not to tweet.

TUCHMAN: If you can be talking to the president what would you say he should be doing?

SIMMONS: I would tell him, whatever you want to.

TUCHMAN: Rain check with you?

SIMMONS: Yes. Whatever you want to do, you're the boss now. TUCHMAN (voice-over): Gary Tuchman, CNN, Dawsonville, Georgia.


HOWELL: Gary Tuchman, thank you so much for the report.

Let's talk now about the Trump presidency a year in review with Gina Reinhardt. Gina, a senior lecturer in the Department of Government at the University of Essex in England.

It's a pleasure to have you with us live this hour. From what you just heard there in Gary Tuchman's report, he went out and spoke to people who voted for the president, who believe in the future of this presidency.

What do you make of where Trump voters stand right now?

GINA REINHARDT, UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX: I think Trump voters stand exactly where they stood before, which is that they support him pretty much no matter what they hear. And I think it's important to realize that somebody like President Trump exaggerates quite a bit and tends to issue statements sort of at the extreme.

For example, that he was treated better in China than any person ever has been. These people also expect that other people will be exaggerating just as much. So when Gary Tuchman said he has actually passed less legislation than anyone since Eisenhower, that just comes through as an exaggeration.

And people don't really believe the negatives. They believe the positives if that's what they want to believe. Note that 35 percent approval is still more than the 25 percent vote that he got of all adults in the United States. So that is more people than actually voted for him.

HOWELL: I believe for the president there it's called a truthful hyperbole but a contradiction in terms for sure. America is certainly still a divided nation. And in Gary's piece just a moment ago, we heard from some of the loyalists.

Take a look here at this most recent CNN poll, that shows his approval rating. At 35 percent, again, it's lower than most presidents at this time.

So the question, threefold here, Gina.

Who remains on the Trump train, who is getting off that train and how does this set up the Republican Party come the midterm elections?

REINHARDT: This is actually a pretty complicated question. The people on the train are the people who have always supported him. There are also some people on the train who are not really quite interested in politics, don't really care what's going on internationally. And they feel like their situation is just fine.

The Republicans are really scrambling to figure out what to do right now. Some of them are going to have to be very much on the fence in terms of their support of Mr. Trump and they're going to have to ask him to step out of their campaigns in the midterm elections because his support could actually be damaging to them.

But others are wondering whether they need to tie their wagons to him or continue to keep them hitched, so to speak. And they're sort of struggling with figuring out what to do and whether or not they need him as an endorsement.

What this means going into the midterm elections is that we could actually see a lot of sort of desperation. And the fear is that, when we combine this with the situation in North Korea, for example, we don't want somebody to try to incite violence or try to encourage war in order to boost approval ratings.

HOWELL: All right, Gina, so the president has signed less legislation than many of his predecessors, though he does end this year with a win on tax reform. This is the new law of the land, divided right along party lines.

But as far as his priorities for the year ahead, from infrastructure to health care and immigration, how important --


HOWELL: -- is it for this very polarized presidency to pivot, to gain bipartisan support?

REINHARDT: It doesn't seem like bipartisan support is necessary for him to pass monumental legislation. This tax bill is enormous and huge in the sense of its implications but also in what it accomplishes that hasn't been done in 30 years or more.


HOWELL: But even after the midterms, though, is the question, the uncertainty with what happens there.

How important is bipartisan support?

REINHARDT: Well, I think that that remains to be seen. It is uncertain -- you're asking if it's critical for him to pass this legislation. It would be helpful to pass legislation prior to the midterm elections. It would be helpful for his approval ratings and for other Republicans.

But he doesn't seem to be courting bipartisan support, despite the fact that he says he is. And so it really depends, I think, on, if there are any critical events that take place between now and the midterms, that might sort of tip public opinion in one way or another and would sort of shame the Democrats or shame the Republicans into trying to get their act together.

HOWELL: And, Gina, one other question that I have for you, the Russia investigation, it continues to loom large.

Does it overshadow achievements moving into 2018?

REINHARDT: It absolutely overshadows achievements. And, in fact, if the Russia investigation heats up or if it seems to be targeting President Trump or revealing evidence about him, I think we're likely to see a lot more drastic proposal of policies and activities coming out of the White House.

HOWELL: Gina Reinhardt, we appreciate you being on the show with us, giving us a perspective on the president's first year in office. Thank you. We'll be in touch with you, for sure.

REINHARDT: Thank you.

HOWELL: Rare political protests in Iran taking place, the largest in nearly a decade. We look into what's driving the new unrest -- still ahead.

Plus, families mourn their dead and yet another attack on the Christian minority in Egypt. Details on one of the gunmen, who opened fire at a Coptic Church, killing nine people. Stay with us.





HOWELL: Protests in Iran, they're being called the largest political protests in that nations since 2009. Anti-government demonstrations have taken root across the country. This all started Thursday when rallies took place about the economy. People frustrated there about surging prices for food and for gas.

By Friday, there was a massive outpouring of political dissent. Now this is a rare sight anywhere in Iran, let alone in seven separate cities, including the capital, Tehran.

The U.S. president applauded the demonstration tweeting this, "Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with 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 the right to express themselves. The world is watching," says President Trump.

In Egypt, ISIS has claimed responsibility for an attack on a Coptic church near the capital city of Cairo. Nine people were killed on Friday when a gunman opened fire as people left the church service. Grief-stricken families held a joint funeral for the victims. This is just the latest in a string of attacks on minority Coptic Christians in Egypt this year. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz has details for us.


SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN PRODUCER: Egypt is reeling after another attack on its Christian minority today in Cairo. Let's go through what happened.

Shortly after Friday services ended at the St. Mina (ph) Coptic Church in Idlan (ph) in Greater Cairo, as worshippers were leaving the church, two gunmen opened fire on the crowd; armed with machine guns police fired back. A gun battle ensued between them that lasted for about 15 minutes according to the archbishop of the church.

Nine people were killed. Among them, one police officer and separately one of those two gunmen was killed as well. The second one was arrested. He is the man that authorities have described as a known terrorist, one who has been involved in previous attacks.

And they say he had a bomb with him and he had intended to enter the church and detonate this explosive device.

Still, the attack was bloody and brazen, taking place during the day in Cairo. It is absolutely terrifying for residents but it is of particular concern to the Coptic Christian community in Egypt. Remember this is a minority group that makes up about 10 percent of the country's population. And they have long said that they're treated as second class citizens in Egypt.

But the past few years have been particularly bloody for the Coptic minority in Egypt. As President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has waged war on his opponents, as ISIS has taken a hold in the Sinai, as terrorism has been on the rise in the country, more and more of these types of attacks on Coptic Christians have taken place.

Remember one of the deadliest attacks on Christians in Egypt's history happened this year on Palm Sunday. That was in April; two churches were bombed, almost 50 people killed.

But it's important to remember that it's not just Egypt's Christian community that is suffering terrorism. Just last month, a mosque was attacked by ISIS. Almost 300 people lost their lives.

The entire country really reeling from terrorism. President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has issued his condolences to the victims of this attack. He has said it will only strengthen the country's resolve in the face of terrorism.

But during this holiday season, when people are on edge, of course Christmas for the orthodox community will be coming up in January. During these times they want to feel safe. But they're going to point to attacks like this one to say the state isn't doing --


-- enough to protect them -- Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, Paris.


HOWELL: Salma, thank you for the reporting.

All this year, we've seen some stunning reporting on the world's biggest stories. Our picks for the top seven stories of 2017 -- just ahead.

Plus, many places in the United States will see one of the coldest New Year's Eves in years. We'll tell you just how cold it will get and why that's not the only thing that officials in New York are concerned about.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM life from Atlanta, Georgia, this hour, simulcast on both CNN USA here in the States and CNN International worldwide. Thank you for being with us. More news right after the break.




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



HOWELL: Fair to say there have been plenty of major headlines to cover around the world this year. CNN's reporters have been all over it. They followed every story, no matter where it took them. Our Clarissa Ward looks back at the top seven international stories from 2017.



CLARISSA WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's our job as CNN correspondents to take you to foreign shores, to front lines. We at CNN go there. And in 2017, that journey unveiled the unthinkable: ethnic cleansing, countries collapsing, human beings sold like commodities. These are the stories that change the world.

WARD (voice-over): Our first story, a CNN expose.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: A crew traveled into Libya to track down a dark secret and they found it.

WARD (voice-over): Fleeing their homes, some of the most desperate people on Earth think they found a passage to safety but, instead, they found themselves in the hands of predators.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: Captured and sold like cattle, as Nima Elbagir witnessed first-hand.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): $700. $700? $800. The numbers roll in. These men are sold for 1,200 Libyan pounds, $400 apiece.

WARD (voice-over): The CNN report sparking self-reflection in Europe and the U.S. about the West's own response to the migrant crisis.

In Saudi Arabia, a powerful prince is shaking things up, bolstered by close relations with the Trump White House: 32-year-old Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince better known as MBS, embarking on a series of reforms, arresting many of his own cousins in a sweeping crackdown on corruption.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: He has swept away a generation of elderly and experienced ministers.

WARD (voice-over): While also taking on the kingdom's powerful clergy.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: There is only one country in the world where women can't drive and soon there will be none.

WARD (voice-over): But as he tries to take on an increasingly assertive Iran, things get complicated.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): As defense minister, he initiated airstrikes on neighboring Yemen.

WARD (voice-over): Involvement in a war that has brought 8.4 million people to the brink of famine.

WARD: It's not the bombs and the bullets that are killing the most people. It's the humanitarian crisis that is growing by the day, as Yemen edges closer to becoming a failed state.

WARD (voice-over): In Venezuela, a perfect storm of economic and political crises.

ZAIN ASHER, CNN ANCHOR(?): Those as the president has finally admitted that his government can no longer afford to pay its bills.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Venezuela may be just hours away now from more violence and chaos ahead of the controversial election.

WARD (voice-over): Maduro's party wins the election, the opposition and the U.S. claim fraud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Politicians who spoke out against current President Nicolas Maduro were yanked out of their homes by authorities in midnight raids.

WARD (voice-over): A CNN team goes undercover and is stunned by what they find.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This food truck, breaking down for mere seconds before it was looted. Basic food is scarce. Virginia has been doing this for 18 months to feed her five kids.

WARD (voice-over): Bombs, bringing with them a war crime so sickening, it is difficult to put into words. From his rooftop, he quickly sees, this is no ordinary strike. I warn you, the pictures you are about to see are graphic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: We are following breaking news, reports of a gas or some kind of chemical attack in Syria, killing dozens.

WARD (voice-over): All around him, people are foaming at the mouth, convulsions racking their bodies. The horrifying scenes shock the world. Victims, some of them --


WARD (voice-over): -- just children, gasping for their final breath. The Syrian government had dropped a sarin bomb on its own people.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Chemical attack on the Syrian town led to the first American military strikes against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

WARD (voice-over): Syrian president Bashar al-Assad remains defiant.

In 2017, two words would shock the world: ethnic cleansing.

BALDWIN: Armed government forces are attacking their own minority citizens.

WARD (voice-over): In Southeast Asia's Myanmar, the pariah state turned fledgling democracy, the unthinkable was happening.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They are beating us, shooting at us and hacking our people to death.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some 600,000 of them have fled to neighboring Bangladesh.

WARD (voice-over): The crisis, raising questions about the country's de facto leader, who was accused of doing nothing to stop the violence.

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Growing criticism of NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi over her handling of human rights abuses against the Rohingya Muslims.

WARD (voice-over): Coming in at number two, the fall of ISIS. Some three years after the terror group surged to infamy with staggering conquests across Iraq and Syria, its defeat came with a whimper, not a bang.

TAPPER: The Syrian forces taking to the streets and officially declaring the terrorist group's self-proclaimed capital of Raqqah has been totally liberated.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Now Syrian and Kurdish flags fly over the city, replacing the black flag of terror.

WARD (voice-over): The historic Syrian city of Palmyra, where ISIS fighters were filmed destroying ancient artifacts, reclaimed with the help of Russia.

In Iraq, ISIS desperately tries to hold its ground in the country's second largest city of Mosul.

WALSH (voice-over): Senior commanders take us in, in the calm before their final storm.

WARD (voice-over): Their ambitions to build a caliphate crumbling as small pockets of ISIS militants are flushed out.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The Iraqi prime minister is declaring full victory over ISIS in Mosul, saying the entire war-torn city has been liberated from brutality and terrorism.

WARD (voice-over): In 2017, ISIS loses all of its major strongholds. But beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria, lone wolf attacks in the name of ISIS ensure their global reign of terror is still far from over.

July 4th, U.S. Independence Day: North Korea lights up the sky with its own frightening milestone.

CUOMO: North Korea releasing new video, appearing to show the successful launch of its first intercontinental ballistic missile.

WARD (voice-over): Nuclear capable but not yet nuclear armed. But by September, Kim Jong-un's missile program reaches its final frontier.

BALDWIN: "The Washington Post" is now reporting that North Korea has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles.

WARD (voice-over): The stage is set for war but, for now, contained to a war of words.

TRUMP: We can't have madmen out there shooting rockets all over the place.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: "I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire."

WARD (voice-over): But just miles away from the North Korean border, on his Asian swing, President Trump replaced the petty name-calling with a more diplomatic tone.

TRUMP: The weapons you are acquiring are not making you safer.

WARD (voice-over): The president continuing to push China to contain the North.

TRUMP: The longer we wait, the greater the danger grows and the fewer the options become. WARD (voice-over): And as the nuclear standoff continues, the question remains: will the next missile trigger a war?


HOWELL: So with the top international stories of 2017, looking ahead now to 2018.

Officials say that New York's deadliest fire in 25 years was the tragic result of an accident, an accident at the hands of a young child. What happened next -- we'll explain.

Plus, security and celebrations, the extra measures being taken to keep New Year's Eve in Times Square safe for the millions of people there. Stay with us.





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

We have more now on that fatal fire that took place in New York City on Thursday. We now know that it started with a 3-year-old boy, who was playing with the stove in his first floor apartment, this according to officials.

His mother didn't realize there was a fire until the child screamed. They were fine but, in their hurry to escape, they left the door open. That open door then allowed flames to spread throughout the building; 12 people were killed in that fire. It is the deadliest fire in New York seen in decades.

Also in New York, Times Square. It will be buzzing with excitement come Sunday night. It's one of the focal points of New Year's celebrations around the world; 2 million people are expected to be in Times Square to ring in the New Year and authorities are stepping up security measures to keep people safe. CNN's Athena Jones has this report.


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 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 --


JONES: -- 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.


HOWELL: Athena Jones, thank you so much for that report.

It will be one of the coldest New Year's in a long time for parts of the United States. But despite the bone-chilling temperatures, it does create some pretty cool images. Take a look at this, Niagara Falls encased by ice. By the way, it may look like it's completely frozen over. That is not the case. There is still water gushing through that area.

The only recorded time the water actually stopped was in 1848 and that was because of an ice jam that took place up river.


HOWELL: Still ahead, spin-off sequels and superheroes, the blockbusters you just can't wait to see in 2018. We'll tell you about them.






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

With 2017 already in the rearview mirror in the world of Hollywood, looking ahead to 2018, some of the year's most anticipated films seem just a bit familiar. Here's Sara Sidner with a preview for you.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The movies in 2018 might sound a bit like the '90s.

"Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" will roar into theaters in June, starring Chris Pratt as the snarky hero and Jeff Goldblum reprises his role from the original "Jurassic Park." The film joins a flurry of blockbusters spin-offs and sequels. The "Star Wars" franchise will release "Solo" this summer.


RON HOWARD, DIRECTOR: Can we even say the name of the movie?

I'll see you next year.


SIDNER (voice-over): That's director Ron Howard. The film is part of Disney's strategy to appease voracious "Star Wars" fans year after year.

Marvel Studios will release a new "Avengers" film and the "Black Panther" will get his own spin-off.


LUPITA NYONG'O, ACTOR, "NAKIA": You get to decide what kind of team you are going to be.


SIDNER (voice-over): Starring Chadwick Boseman and Lupita Nyong'o --


SIDNER (voice-over): -- movie studios are going all in with sci-fi films in 2018, like "A Wrinkle in Time," based on a young adults book.


OPRAH WINFREY, ACTOR, "MRS. WHICH": We heard a cry out in the universe.

STORM REID, ACTOR, "MEG MURRY": My father's alive.

"MRS. WHICH": We believe he is.


SIDNER (voice-over): Oprah Winfrey, Chris Pine and Reese Witherspoon make up this all-star ensemble, only to be rivaled by the cast in "Ocean's 8," where a crime ring featuring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Rihanna try to steal Anne Hathaway's necklace.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Valued at over --

CATE BLANCHETT, ACTOR, "LOU": $100 million.

ANNE HATHAWAY, ACTOR "DAPHNE KLUGER": It's $150 million actually.


SIDNER (voice-over): On the animation side, Disney Pixar will release "The Incredibles 2" more than 13 years after the original.



Yes, baby!


SIDNER: You may have noticed Disney will roll into the new year with its name on some of the biggest money-making franchises, perhaps no surprise since Disney holds the top two highest grossing films of 2017 in the United States, "Beauty and the Beast" and "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," about a billion dollars combined -- Sara Sidner, CNN, Los Angeles.


HOWELL: That's a lot to look forward to.

That's this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Let's do it again: hour number two of NEWSROOM right back after the break. You're watching CNN, the world's news leader.