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Koreas Meet for Second Time to Discuss Winter Olympics; Trump Criticizes Democrats on DACA; Officials Blame Human Error for Missile Alert; People Flee Renewed Fighting Near Idlib; Pope in South America; Chinese Oil Tanker Sinks in South China Sea. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired January 15, 2018 - 00:00   ET


[00:00:11] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: A second round of talks as North and South Korea again meet face-to-face.

Plus a rare look inside one of Syria's last rebel strongholds where finding safety is nearly impossible.

And still struggling for answers -- what Hawaii is now doing to ensure a missile false alarm never happens again.

Hello everyone. Thanks for joining us. I'm Rosemary Church here in Atlanta, CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

North and South Korea are meeting for a second round of talks after more than two years without direct discussions. Pyongyang says it is trying to improve relations with the South but will not negotiate its nuclear weapons. They are now figuring out the details of how the North will participate in the Winter Olympics next month in South Korea.

Well, CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson joins us now live from Seoul in South Korea. Ivan -- what are you learning about what will likely be decided on North Korea's participation in the South Korea's upcoming Winter Olympic Games? And what are the options on the table?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this round of talks is focusing on culture and in particular on North Korean art troupe that is expected to perform on the sidelines of the upcoming Winter Olympics. And so most of the talks this morning, we've been told, have centered around the scheduled location and the condition of the stage for this art troupe.

Now, judging by one of the North Korean delegates that's attending, it might be very plausible that this North Korean all-female music group known as the Moranbong Band that this is perhaps the troupe that's being discussed for participation here. That's a performance group that is often on North Korean state television -- all female with singers, with instrumentalists, with dancing as well. And it's possible that North Korea is planning on sending that group down to the Pyeongchang Olympics because only two North Korean athletes are believed to have qualified for the Olympics, even though they missed the application date for attending by months. It does look like the International Olympic Committee is going to remove the bureaucratic roadblocks to let them attend. And without many athletes participating in the games, North Korea has pushed to have a number of other kind of cultural and sports demonstration groups attending which means that it's delegation at the Olympics could number easily in the hundreds - Rosemary.

CHURCH: And Ivan -- North Korea insists it won't ever negotiate its nuclear weapons. But that's exactly what South Korea and certainly the United Sates are hoping will be achieved.

So ultimately what all can be gotten from these talks? Certainly North Korea appears to be getting what it wants, doesn't it?

WATSON: Well, I mean this has been an example of true Olympic diplomacy where two governments that didn't communicate directly for some two years have now gotten in the practice of communicating both through this kind of hotline communications line that was reopened this month. And now in what is the second round of face to face discussions.

You know, one of the issues that did come up in the groundbreaking first talks just last Tuesday was the South Koreans proposed setting up these reunification, reunion meetings between families that have been separated on both sides of the demilitarized zone ever since the Korean War of the 1950s.

Well, we've since learned from South Korean officials that North Korea came back to that proposal and raised the issue of 12 North Korean waitresses from a North Korean restaurant in China who defected en masse last April -- April of 2016 rather. And it was accused from Pyongyang that those waitresses were kidnapped by South Korean intelligence.

So it sounds like Pyongyang responded to the suggestion of let's have meetings again by bringing up the case of these waitresses which were an embarrassment for the North Korean regime and it does seem like they want to negotiate on that issue to try to get the waitresses from that restaurant back.

And what that, I think, underscores Rosemary -- is that there are just a whole host of issues, including the elephant in the room -- North Korea's nuclear weapons that still are enormous for North and South Korea to try to get over to move forward in any area aside from the Olympic Games themselves -- Rosemary.

[00:05:05] CHURCH: Our Ivan Watson bringing us, that live report from Seoul in South Korea where it is just after 2:00 in the afternoon watching the progress there of take two of these talks between North and South Korea. Many thanks to you.

Want to turn now to U.S. politics and President Donald Trump says if the DACA program is dead it's the Democrats' fault. On Sunday Mr. Trump spoke to reporters about the program which prevents undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from being deported. He has promised to end it unless he and the Democrats make a deal. And as Boris Sanchez reports it was discussion of that deal that's got the President defending himself again.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Trump taking time before dinner to answer questions from reporters alongside House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California on Sunday night. The President making news on several fronts answering some uncomfortable questions specifically whether he is a racist after it was reported on Thursday that several remarks the President made specifically about African nations and Haitian immigrants to the United States drew ire from both Democrats and Republicans.

Listen to the President's response.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No, I'm not a racist. I am the least racist person you've ever interviewed -- that I can tell you.


SANCHEZ: The President also addressed the potential for a looming government shutdown as that Friday night deadline approaches for lawmakers to come up with a budget deal. He said that there should not be a shutdown but that he wasn't sure if one might happen or not. Listen to more of what the President said.


TRUMP: I don't know if there will be a shutdown. There shouldn't be because if there is, our military gets hurt very badly. We cannot let our military be hurt.


SANCHEZ: Now, getting back to those reported comments that the President allegedly made during a meeting with lawmakers at the White House on Thursday when discussing immigration there is some division among lawmakers about what the President actually said.

Some Republicans like Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue initially said that they couldn't recall what the President said during the meeting. On Sunday both of them are outright denying that the President ever said those derogatory remarks about African nations or about Haitians.

Others like Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said in a statement that he confronted the President him about his remarks though he didn't specify what those remarks were.

Reportedly he did tell fellow Republican Senator from South Carolina Tim Scott that the reports about the President's conversation were accurate.

Beyond that you also have Senator Dick Durbin confirming that the President made those remarks and saying that they were hate-filled.

All of that, the backdrop of this, not only a disagreement about what the President said but also on policy with a government shutdown looming on Friday.

We could potentially see some kind of deal from lawmakers to keep the government funded or a stopgap bill that would keep the government funded and punt on this conversation about DACA and immigration. Or we could see a government shutdown if some Democrats follow along as they have promised to not vote on any kind of budget without a solution to the issue of Dreamers being included.

Boris Sanchez, CNN -- traveling with the President in West Palm Beach, Florida.

CHURCH: CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer joins me now. He's also an historian and professor at Princeton University.

Good to have you with us again. In the wake of the President's vulgar comments directed at certain nations, Mr. Trump is now saying he is not a racist. Is that enough? And how does that sort of language compare to other presidents who have come before him?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Once you have a debate on the issue, you already have a problem. So the fact it's such a big question is not a debate we should be having in 2018.

His saying that is not enough. You have a long line of statements from the President going all the way back to the 2016 campaign where his critics will say he's used nativist language, racist language. And for him to just say well, I'm not a racist won't really do much to satisfy the concerns.

Other presidents have used terrible language -- Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon -- but we're many decades from that. And we would hope that presidents aspire to something better, not to aspire to the worst kind of comments that we have heard in the past.

CHURCH: Yes. Of course it has to be said that some Republicans -- a couple of Republicans have said he didn't actually say it, but that is another story in itself.

Mr. Trump also tweeted that the Dreamer program, DACA, is probably dead in the water. He's blaming the Democrats. This all coming after he held an on-camera bipartisan meeting last week where he indicated he was ready to make a deal.

What went wrong? What changed and given where things stand now, can this perhaps be worked out, do you think?

[00:09:54] ZELIZER: Well, the first thing that happened was that the Republicans in the House of Representatives came out with a bill that was much more draconian in its border control and money for security than most Democrats would be able to accept for restoring DACA.

And then came the President's comments which undermined that confidence Democrats will have that he would really follow through on his promises or that he would be sympathetic to immigrants.

And right now it's in a very perilous moment. And it's very hard to see how in the next week or so he will be able to achieve a bipartisan deal. Many Democrats are not willing right now to compromise with the President and they have all the leverage that they need on the budget.

So he's the one who really needs to concede if he wants a deal to be made.

CHURCH: Is he likely to do that? What do you think his strategy is right now?

ZELIZER: I'm not sure there is a strategy. I think there's a bit of ad hoc politics that we see from the White House. But I do think his sympathy is with the hard line elements of the Republican Party on immigration.

This is somewhere he's been pretty consistent. So I'm not sure there's a lot of give. And the tweets we've seen in the last few days suggest that he's focused more on blaming the Democrats than on reaching a deal with the Democrats.

CHURCH: And just finally, I do want to return to those vulgar comments from the President. You wrote this in your recent opinion piece on "If we tolerate this in a president, what does it say about us?"

What did you mean by that exactly?

ZELIZER: Well, there's a lot of focus on what his comments, not just these but other comments that he's made say about the President. But the fact that he is President is a product of the democratic will of the United States.

And if we allow this to continue, and if many people are passive when these kinds of comments are made, it ultimately says a lot about where the country is. If we normalize some of these kinds of things in the presidency, it reflects poorly on the United States not just on the person who's president.

CHURCH: Julian Zelizer -- always a pleasure to chat with you and get your analysis and perspective on the matters ahead. Thank you.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

CHURCH: Officials in Hawaii are changing procedures and putting systems in place to guard against another mistaken missile alert. An employee pushed the wrong button during a routine drill, sending an emergency inbound missile warning to cell phones, TV and radio stations in Hawaii.

Residents and tourists raced to find cover Saturday. It took officials 38 minutes to correct the mistake. In the hours after the alert, Internet searches for how to survive a nuclear missile surged in the U.S.

And Sara Sidner is in Hawaii and has the latest information on what is being done to make sure a false alert like this never happens again.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're told that the person responsible for pressing that button, so to speak, and sending that erroneous message out to the population here in Hawaii that did create panic and fear has been reassigned for the time being as the investigation is under way but not fired.

Now, we spoke at length to the Emergency Management Agency administrator who apologized for what happened and said it was his mistake. It was his department that made the mistake but that they are going to make changes. They have already made changes.

First of all, they're able to now send out a false alarm warning faster than they did before. It took them 38 minutes this time; a lot of time for people to be worrying and panicking.

And second, that a second person will be responsible for approving whether or not a message is sent out. Those are the two things that have been done immediately as this investigation continues.

But population here, there was fear, even a state representative who's very familiar with how things work. That's because the population here knows that if indeed North Korea were to fire a missile, from launch to the time of impact here in Hawaii is just some 20 minutes. The population would have about 15 minutes to try and get out of the way, to try to get to shelter and to try to save themselves.

So there is a bit of a heightened awareness about all this with the rhetoric that was going on between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un of North Korea. At this point in time though they want everyone to know this was a false alarm and they say it will never happen again.

Sara Sidner, CNN -- Honolulu.


CHURCH: Let's hope not.

We'll take a short break here.

But still to come, this is what a so-called deescalation zone looks like in war-torn Syria. The latest on renewed fighting -- ahead.

And Pope Francis heads to South America this week -- the controversy waiting for him in Chile and Peru. That's story to come.

Just stay with us.


CHURCH: The New Year has brought more carnage to Syria's eastern Ghouta. The enclave near Damascus has been bombarded by the central government and its allies. Rescue volunteers say almost 180 people have been killed over the last two weeks. And the U.N. says at least 30 of the victims were children. Eastern Ghouta was supposed to be a deescalation zone, so was Idlib near the Turkish border.

This video from Syrian rebels purports to show fresh fighting in the area. Turkey accuses the Syrian government of stepping up attacks there in recent weeks.

Well, the war in Syria keeps raging as U.S. President Donald Trump nears his first anniversary in office. Next Saturday marks one year since he was sworn in as president. Under his tenure, ISIS was driven from Raqqa but violence has intensified in other areas.

CNN's Arwa Damon has this report from war-ravaged Idlib.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It feels like one is peering into a macabre dollhouse of broken lives. Bits of concrete tumble down as people try to clean up or salvage what they can amid the horrors that they can't escape.

[00:19:57] Five of his relatives were killed in that building, three children among them.

Images like these are familiar a year ago from the siege of Aleppo. But this is Idlib City. This is where families were supposed to be safe. This was meant to be a refuge, one of the last remaining ones. Part of a so-called deescalation zone that lately has become anything but.

The four strikes that hit here happened five days before we arrived. And many of those we met have actually fled from Aleppo.

So lucky they were in that back room.

(INAUDIBLE) is haunted by all he has lost. His wife was killed in Aleppo six years ago. He's raising his two sons on his own.

We asked where the boys are now and his eyes filled with tears. "We fled from Aleppo to get here," he told us, whispering, choking on his words.

There is no solution, there is just no solution. The boys were both studying for exams when the bombs shook the building, sucked the air out of the room, and everything went pitch black.

"They were screaming daddy, daddy," Mohammed remembers. He couldn't find them right away. When the kids were younger, back during happier times.

"What childhood," he laments, "What childhood? Children have lost everything in life."

We head south where some towns already feel deserted. In (INAUDIBLE) closer to the front lines of the fighting, children rummage through the aftermath of bombs to look for plastic to sell.

"We do get scared. We hide from the bombs," they say.

The Syrian regime and its foreign backers' latest push seems aimed at eliminating or at the very least suffocating the last major rebel stronghold.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been on the move the last few weeks; many fleeing ahead of what they know is coming or as soon as the first strikes hit. Some live in makeshift camps along the road to Turkey, bringing everything they can, including their livestock.

By now, everyone is resigned to knowing that no one is going to save them. No one is going to stop the violence.

Raza (ph) and her family were initially in ISIS territory over a year ago. As they were fleeing, there was an explosion; her daughter (INAUDIBLE) almost lost her leg.

"I don't like to remember," the seven-year-old tells us. They thought they would be safe but then the regime and the Russians started bombing. Four days ago, they arrived here.

Turkish aid organizations are building new and expanding old camps in Syria right up against their border. Mohammad's youngest, was born in the camp the day they arrived. He's saying freedom, (INAUDIBLE) bitterly jokes, if a barrel bomb had hit us when we were sleeping it would have been more merciful.

Syria's remaining rebel areas risk turning into the next Aleppo, only this time even fewer people are watching, even fewer seem to care. For many we spoke to here, it's not about if this area will also get bombed, it's about when. And how many souls can get crushed into this shrinking safe space? And what happens when it's gone.

Arwa Damon, CNN -- Idlib, Syria.


CHURCH: And for more, I'm joined by CNN military analyst, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona. He's also a former U.S. military attache in Syria. Always good to have you with us.

So what exactly are the Syrian regime and Russia trying to achieve militarily in the rebel-held areas particularly in Idlib which was supposed to be a deescalation zone but also in Aleppo and Hama?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You know, this area is where all of the fighters were allowed to go. If you remember the fighting that was going on throughout the country, every time the Syrian government would have them surrounded, they would make a deal and they would relocate all these fighters to Idlib.

Now that's where they all are. So that's where the Russians and the regime is concentrating their bombing. There's just no other place to hide. And unfortunately being a noncombatant in this area is just dangerous. There's nowhere for them to hide and this is going to get worse.

It's only going to stop when the regime is successful in destroying the opposition. Unfortunately before then, a lot more of these civilians are going to die.

CHURCH: Yes. I wanted to ask you that. What do you think will ultimately happen to opposition forces? You see that the regime and Russia simply want to wipe them all out. Will they be given any opportunity to simply depart the area?

FRANCONA: They've got nowhere else to go. Idlib was kind of the dumping ground for all of these forces as they were allowed to leave. Now they're in Idlib.

[00:25:02] What the Russians did was very -- very militarily significant because they've gotten them all in one area. We, in the military, call this a target-rich environment.

That's where all the bad guys are. And that's where the Russians and the regime are bombing. And unfortunately they've mixed themselves into the civilian population. We've seen this before.

You know, the Russians and the regime have got so much firepower now against the opposition. It's only a matter of time before the opposition collapses.

CHURCH: Right. And what's Turkey's role in all this, particularly with its troops in Idlib?

FRANCONA: Yes. Turkey is really playing a dangerous game here. At first they were supporting the Russian deescalation zone. They thought this was going to be a good thing.

But the Turks are most concerned about the Kurdish population on their border. So if you see what the Turks are doing right now and the President Erdogan has already announced that they're going to conduct a military operation to cleanse the area of the YPG who they believe are nothing more than a terrorist organization.

So we're going to see the Turks conducting military options, right next to where the Russians and the regime are conducting operations. It's going to get more dangerous for the civilian population in this area.

CHURCH: And with what we're seeing the role of Turkey and particularly the role of the Syrian regime and Russia, how is the United States likely to respond to all of this? And what should it do militarily?

FRANCONA: You know, the United States is keeping its focus over into the northeastern part of Syria where they have the Syrian Democratic Forces, this Kurdish group that they're supporting.

They've just announced they're going to create a 30,000-man border security force. The Turks not happy about that -- they do not want the Kurds controlling their southern border. So we're looking to -- there's going to be a showdown with the Turks coming.

First of all, it's going to be the operation in the northwest. And then how are the Turks going to react when we do create a 30,000-armed Kurdish force on their southern border?

Tough times ahead for the both countries.

CHURCH: Yes. And before you, I do want to get an idea. We talk about the opposition here. But it's not one group, is it? Just very quickly, just describe to our viewers, if you would, who makes up that opposition.

FRANCONA: You've got everybody in one area now. You've got the Free Syrian Army, you've got other militias that are anti-Assad, but they're not jihadists. Then you've got the two major jihadist organizations, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham, cooperating sometimes, fighting each other at times.

So you've got these groups there, and they're all under attack from the regime and the Russians. So it's just kind of a free for all among the opposition.

CHURCH: Colonel Rick Francona -- we thank you, as always. Appreciate it.

And we'll take a short break here.

Pope Francis arrives in Chile during a week-long trip to South America. Still to come, the reason some are protesting his visit.

We're back in a moment.



CHURCH(voice-over): Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Rosemary Church. Time to check the headlines for you this hour.


CHURCH: In a few hours from now, Pope Francis leaves Rome for a six- day tour of South America. On Sunday, he led a special mass to mark the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

During the service he urged communities to not let fear keep them from welcoming immigrants.


POPE FRANCIS, PONTIFF, ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH (through translator): Having doubts and fears is not a sin. The sin is to allow these fears to determine our responses, to limit our choices, to compromise respect and generosity, to feed hostility and rejection.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHURCH: The pope's message comes after sources say U.S. President Donald Trump made disparaging comments about refugees from Africa, Haiti and El Salvador. Pope Francis' trip to South America includes visits to Chile and Peru. Many people are coming from all over Latin America to see him. But there's some distrust, especially over the Catholic Church's handing of child sexual abuse cases.

CNN's Rafael Romo has the details.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): Homemade firebombs exploded before dawn Friday at three churches in the Chilean capital. Police say no one was hurt and the damage was minor but the vandals threw pamphlets as they fled.

One read, "Pope Francis, the next bomb will be in your robe."

The incidents come just days before the pontiff is set to arrive for a week-long trip to Chile and Peru, the violence a remainder of struggles both countries have faced with the Catholic Church.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have to recognize that the church in Chile has suffered the shocks of scandals, of coverups and therefore we Catholics have pending issues to settle and tackle.


ROMO (voice-over): In 2015, the pope appointed a bishop accused of protecting an alleged pedophile while the bishop denied any wrongdoing, demonstrations are planned in Santiago Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The pope today represents what we thought was an organization that would support those of us who accuse a priest of sexual abuse and yet they did the exact opposite, supporting the image of church, its reputation and the aggressors.

ROMO (voice-over): Another issue: the rights of indigenous people, who have protested what they see as a history of opposition closely tied to the Catholic Church.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It is not enough for the pope to say --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): "My peace I give you," because their peace has been dispossession, submission, evangelization, domestication.

ROMO (voice-over): Despite the church's controversies, Francis is a much-loved pope and the first from Latin America where many followers eagerly await his arrival Monday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I hope the pope gets here as soon as possible. I wish he were staying much longer. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We welcome the pope, who we are in need of here. People are in really bad shape. There's a lot of robbery, a lot of bad things. So we need some spirituality.

ROMO (voice-over): Something the pope says he plans to deliver.

POPE FRANCIS (through translator): Brothers and sisters of Chile and Peru, I greet you with affection. I want to share your joys, sorrows, difficulties and hopes. I want to thank you that you are not alone and that the pope is with you, that the whole church embraces you, that the church sees you.

ROMO (voice-over): It is a message the inmates of a women's prison in Santiago hope to hear firsthand.


ROMO (voice-over): Clapping and singing, they rehearse for a live performance in front of Pope Francis during his visit there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It a very beautiful and happy occasion, because it was done here by the women, who are deprived of their freedom. I'm excited to know that the pope is coming. I feel blessed.

ROMO (voice-over): Rafael Romo, CNN.


CHURCH: We'll take a short break here. But coming up, an outpouring of grief in Iran. Families of the missing crew members of the Sanchi oil tanker are demanding answers about their loved ones.

And we will show how passengers reacted seconds after the plane skidded off its runway in Turkey. We're back in a moment.





CHURCH: It has been more than a week since an oil tanker collided with a cargo ship off the coast of Shanghai. And that tanker is now at bottom of the East China Sea. The vessel was adrift and burning since the January 6th collision, sinking Sunday after final explosion. The bodies of just three crew members were recovered from the tanker, along with its data recorder. The families of the remaining 29 missing crew want answers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking foreign language). CHURCH: The remaining crew members are presumed dead.

And there are stunning new images of a passenger jet that skidded off a runway at a Turkish airport; 168 people were on board when it happened Saturday. And you can see the plane's nose --


CHURCH: -- dangerously close to the Black Sea. A passenger took this video of passengers mere moments after the incident happened. Pegasus Airlines said no one was hurt.

Officials in Florida authorities are praising a shuttle boat captain whose quick thinking saved the lives of all 50 people on board. The shuttle was heading to a casino boat when a fire started about half a mile from shore.

The captain turned the boat around as soon as he notice the flames and that made it easier for emergency workers to reach people who had to jump into the cold water. Fifteen passengers suffered injuries, including smoke inhalation, but everyone on board was accounted for.


For the first time this year, authorities in China's capital have issued a smog alert. That may seem like the norm but there's actually something good about this one.



CHURCH: And thank you so much for your company this hour on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Rosemary Church. "WORLD SPORT" with Patrick Snell is up next. I'll be back at the top of the hour with more news from all around the world. Do join us.