Return to Transcripts main page


Winter Olympics 2018; Avoiding Shutdown; White House Aide Abruptly Resigns Amid Domestic Abuse Allegations; Netanyahu Proclaims Innocence in Criminal Probes; Taiwan Earthquake; Angela Merkel Agrees Coalition Deal With Social Democrats To Stay In Power; Merkel Reaches Coalition Deal With Social Democrats; Turkish Operation May Lead To Confrontation With U.S.; Snow Making For Winter Games. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired February 8, 2018 - 02:00   ET


[02:00:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN NEWSROOM HOST: This is CNN "Newsroom" live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour.

ISHA SESAY, CNN NEWSROOM HOST: With the Winter Games starting in South Korea, the north has just held its own event, troops and tanks parading through the streets of Pyongyang.

VAUSE: A top White House aide resigned, accused of physically abusing his ex-wives. What did the administration know and when did they know it?

SESAY: And the breakthrough in German coalition talks. What the deal could mean for Chancellor Angela Merkel's future? Hello, welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. Good to have you with us for the third hour of "Newsroom L.A."

The opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games is a day away, but competition has already started. Well, the mission of the games is to build a peaceful and better world. Diplomatic tensions on the peninsula remain high.

SESAY: North Korea wants some attention before everybody starts focusing on the Olympics. So, it held its annual military parade a couple of hours ago in Pyongyang, and the message here, the message, the north has no intention of stopping its nuclear program.

VAUSE: Well, addressing U.S. troops in Japan on his way to the games, U.S. vice president again repeated those plans to impose the toughest sanctions yet on North Korea.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As I announced yesterday, we will continue to intensify this maximum pressure campaign on North Korea until it abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile programs once and for all. But until that day arrives, let the world know, from here in Yokota Air Base and beyond, we are ready for any eventuality. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: The delegation of high-ranking officials from the north including Kim Jong-un's sister is attending the opening ceremony. Pyongyang says it has no intention of meeting U.S. officials there.

VAUSE: Let's bring in Paula Newton in Seoul, South Korea and Paula Hancocks at Winter Games in Pyeongchang. Paula -- I just got to say Newton, because it's going to be confusing. So, Newton, to you, let's start with this military parade.

It's been done and lasted at about an hour, but clearly, the North Koreans want to control very tightly what is seen and what is not seen. Foreign reporters were not invited in. And there has been no indication of when those images will appear on the state own broadcaster (ph).

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, we were told that they will likely appear soon. That's not happened. We're still under archive footage here. I'm still watching the North Korean broadcast, still black and white footage from the 40s.

So, we await the parade. But the point of this is that it did happen in the morning. There were about 50,000 people. Apparently 13,000 soldiers. Plenty of tanks. But it was indeed apparently smaller in scale than other parades that we have seen.

At the same time though, they want this to be quite a propaganda tool. For that reason, foreign media were not allowed to shoot it themselves or shoot it independently. So, we are waiting to see what North Korea will ultimately broadcast.

VAUSE: And Hancocks, to you over there at the Winter Olympics, the response to this parade from the South Korean government has been fairly muted that really ties to almost ignore it or play it down unlike the United States for instance and others. So, you know, it does seem to be effort by the South Koreans to avoid this parade overshadowing the games. Has it played out -- has it played out that way?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far, it has, John. I mean, it's almost as though the parade hasn't happened. Down here in Pyeongchang, the South Korean officials are not mentioning it at all. They are not mentioning the protests that have greeted some of these North Korean delegation as they've traveled around the place.

As far as South Korea is concerned, this is the peace Olympics. They are very happy that North Korea is here. There is nothing but good in North Korea being here. Now of course from the U.S. point of view, they can't see much good in the North Korean delegation being here.

We're hearing from the U.S. vice president, Mike Pence, saying that they are going to have stronger sanctions. He is taking the father of Otto Warmbier, the student who died shortly after being released from 17 months in captivity in North Korea, to the opening ceremony. So the two different approaches from the U.S. and South Korea could not be more different.

It's worth pointing out though that South Korea right now is focusing on hosting the biggest sporting event that is going on at this point. The Winter Olympics are here, 30 years after the Summer Olympics were here. This is the focus. They're not going to be talking

[02:05:00] about anything that is going to detract from that. But of course, the people will be, we will be looking at that military parade and the timing of it.

VAUSE: And Newton in Seoul, if we're looking at the response from the U.S. administration, the vice president, Mike Pence, on his way talking tough about, you know, being ready for any possibility, warning of these tough new sanctions on their way for the North Koreans, this -- the moment seems much more of an issue or the tensions are between Pyongyang and Washington, much less so Pyongyang and Seoul.

NEWTON: Yes, and that's the problem. As much as U.S. officials would like to say that there is no division between South Korea and the United States militarily, that may be true, but diplomatically, there are tensions about where all of this is headed.

Having said that, you know, U.S. officials have been very clear and Donald Trump has been clear that he is supporting the Olympics and they will do whatever they can to support South Korea to have the peace games that they truly want.

What they have made clear to us, John, the United States at least, is that they don't see any kind of an outreach whatsoever, and that after the games, they expect this to be business as usual and that includes having all of those joint military drills that South Korea and the United States have.

So, yes, to a certain extent, the United States is on board in terms of giving South Korea the games that they want. That includes overlooking a few things when it comes to sanctions.

VAUSE: And Hancocks, we will finish with you on the Winter Games. This does seem to be, you know, a fly in the ointment if you like as far as the South Koreans are concerned. The biggest issue they have right now at these games, it's just too damn cold.

HANCOCKS: That's true. It has been incredibly cold. I mean, in the years I've been here, I do not remember a winter like this. And many of the press conferences, we are hearing Pyeongchang officials not talking about the opening and closing ceremonies, not talking about the athletes, they are talking about how to protect yourself from the cold at the opening ceremony.

For example, they're going to be giving out hot pads, cushions, blankets, et cetera. Another thing that they're obviously concerned about as well, there has been a small outbreak of norovirus here which is also knows as the winter vomiting bug.

About 86 people have now been confirmed to have the virus. They've gone quarantined. Not just in the security guard area that we reported on yesterday, but also some Pyeongchang Olympic officials have now been infected.

We know four press support staff as well, in different locations to the original location. So certainly they're scrambling to try and contain that. You have a lot of people in very close proximity here. You do not want that to spread throughout. John?

VAUSE: Bitterly cold. The winter vomiting virus and the ever present threat of nuclear annihilation. There has not been a winter games like it. To the two Paulas, thank you both.

SESAY: Well, the prospect of another U.S. government shutdown now seems a little less likely. Senate leaders announced a bipartisan two- year budget deal including $80 billion in disaster relief from the recent hurricanes and wildfires.

But the bill's future, well, that is uncertain when it comes to the House. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi says she is opposed. She held the floor for eight hours. You heard right, eight hours, Wednesday because the plan doesn't address immigration.

Meanwhile, the White House is under fire for defending top aide Rob Porter. He resigned amid accusations of domestic abuse from his two ex-wives. Porter is denying those allegations.

And republican senator claims former President Barack Obama may have tried to interfere in the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, but the timeline of events doesn't quite line up and a source familiar with the probe says the text message in question is being taken out of context.

There is lot to unpack here with our panel. I'm pleased to say we have them with us here. Mo'Kelly, a political commentator and host of "The Mo'Kelly Show" here in Los Angeles, and Chris Faulkner who is a Republican strategist with Majority Strategies. Gentlemen, welcome, good to see you once again.

Chris, let's start with the situation involving Rob Porter resigning amid these allegations of physical abuse by his two ex-wives. He is denying it. Let's put his statement. He is saying, these outrageous allegations are simply false. I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.

All right, we got what Porter saying in. I think the question here on the minds of many is, what did the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly know? When did he know it? He came out earlier on Wednesday and passionately defended Porter.

I want to read what he said initially. Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can't say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.

He changed his tune later Wednesday and said this. I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society.

[02:10:00] I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming chief of staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation. I accepted his resignation early today and will ensure a swift and orderly transition.

Chris, CNN is learning that senior aides knew about this. They knew about these allegations about Rob Porter. They had known for a while. So, does it seem credible to you that the chief of staff could express the shock in the second statement?

CHRIS FAULKNER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: One thing about Washington D.C., these rumors are never far from places of power and certainly rumors about people that work in and around the White House are extremely common, even horrible, horrible things like domestic violence.

Whether or not they are true, we don't know. Hopefully there will be due out and we will get to find out. I would imagine General Kelly when he made those statements is probably looking at somebody he works with, not knowing anything about maybe what's going on in his private life, if in fact this is true, which we still don't yet know.

SESAY: Correct.

FAULKNER: And he made a strong statement about his co-worker, that this guy -- probably does a great job at the office. Now, if these things are true, you know, he is obviously -- he has resigned from the White House which is appropriate because it's hard for the White House to keep doing its job when someone is facing a serious allegation like this.

SESAY: Mo'Kelly, this matter is complicated by the fact that it is emerged that the White House communications director, Hope Hicks, is romantically involved with Rob Porter. That in and of itself shouldn't be a headline except that Hope Hicks helped craft the statement put out by General Kelly and also the statement made by Sarah Sanders.

What does that say to you? Do you find that troubling? Because normally you would expect in a situation like thus that she would have recused herself.

MO'KELLY, HOST, THE MO'KELLY SHOW: Normally but these aren't normal times. And there is a question of whether anything matters to this White House in terms of hiring the best people, the extreme vetting. I mean, either they did not know which is a problem or they did know and did not care.

This was relatively known in terms of two ex-wives who had gone on the record in terms of their divorce decrees as far as what allegedly happened in their relationships. So, this should not have been an unknown quantity with the exception of the people in the White House who are now saying they didn't know.

SESAY: Chris? FAULKNER: Well, and again, when there is a serious allegation like this, I think any of us would want to give someone the benefit of the doubt until they are proven guilty. Obviously, you want to take an allegation like this seriously which I think we have.

You know, in terms of whether or not Hope Hicks, you know, crafting the statement -- General Kelly is a 30-year marine corps veteran. I'm pretty sure he crafts his own statement and says what he means. I don't think there's been manipulation on the part of the communications director of the White House.

SESAY: I think a point that's being made is that as it is -- you know, as we are learning from CNN and you make a very good point, I will continue to stress this allegation. There is photo of an ex-wife with a bruised eye.

But Rob Porter says there is more to that story than the image. Fine. But I think the question a lot of people have is, if these allegations were swirling, how is it that this man's stock still continue to rise within this White House?

FAULKNER: Again, if they were allegations, and at the time no one had come forward with any kind of credible proof, and he was doing a good job at the office, whether you're in Hollywood or in Washington, D.C., people want to give you the benefit of the doubt, that yes, there are people that may make allegations against you.

If it does prove that these things are in fact true, then yes, absolutely. Absolutely, he should be removed from his position and shouldn't tarnish the White House or anything else that's going on there with anything like this.

MO'KELLY: Was this the first time that the White House actually heard of these allegations? I suspect that it wasn't. If you're going to get a White House clearance or security clearance --

SESAY: Which had been delayed for a good number of months.

MO'KELLY: Right. This was something which would be at the top of the pile or the top of the list. I suspect as opposed to something which is hidden and one really knows until a reporter does some fact finding.

It's hard for me to believe that this White House continuously time and time again does not know that the people in its employ either have questionable histories or questionable relationships with other countries. That's the common thread which is woven through all of this.

SESAY: Chris, unless you want to weigh in on that, I'm going to move on to budget, but I suspect you don't, so let's talk about the budget, shall we?

FAULKNER: Let's talk about the budget.

SESAY: I thought you'd want to say that. Let's talk about -- FAULKNER: Let's talk about job numbers.

SESAY: Let's talk about budget in this bipartisan deal which was agreed upon, hasn't been voted on yet, but we have a deal on the table that would increase domestic and military spending by some $300 billion across the next two years. It raises the federal debt limit.

Chris, fiscal hawks saying that this would add some $1 trillion to the fiscal deficit in 2019 and beyond. Is this a deal you could get behind as a Republican?

FAULKNER: Absolutely. Any time we strengthen our nation's national defense and we are doing things - I'm a little biased.

[02:15:00] As a veteran of the military myself, when you look at the pay scale for entry level members in the military, it's below the poverty line. We need to be doing more to help people that are defending our nation.

We need -- obviously we are going to be doing more than just pay raises, but we are going to be doing a lot of things to strengthen our military, strengthen the capabilities. Other countries need to understand when we mean to defend freedom and democracy whatever it is at, we really mean those things. And the military no doubt has been stretched thin by the ongoing warfare for the last 15 or more years.

And it is time that we really invest in the military. And by doing so, as a benefit, we are also investing in the U.S. economy. We are creating jobs. There is all of these things that we're going to be putting in the military having a residual value in terms of jobs created and growth in other sectors.

SESAY: Mo? Let me also add, this bill does not include DACA, which the Democrats had gone to the mat to fight for.

MO'KELLY: There are two things to this. First, I agree with Chris in the sense of it will help the economy and it will help veterans. For that, I'm absolutely all for it. But let's be intellectually honest in terms of the financial implications.

We don't know this in conjunction with the proposed trillion dollar infrastructure bill which has not been manifested yet from President Trump or the deficit involvement in terms of the tax law, how that is going to be impactful.

Let's have a serious conversation and not just push that aside monetarily. In terms of DACA, the Democrats are going to have serious problem. Because since the first term of President Obama's administration, they've been promising immigration reform and they haven't gotten it. They shut down the government.

Last month, they didn't get it. And now, they have this new budget bill for the next two years with only a promise of a discussion of immigration reform, which means that if they don't take care of business, the democratic constituents will likely stay home.

SESAY: Chris, very quickly, as we talk about being intellectually honest, does this lay to rest the GOP's claim of being, like, you know, basically fiscally responsible?

FAULKNER: I think the GOP is still very fiscally responsible. When it comes to the largest parts of our federal budget, entitlement reform and things like that are still (INAUDIBLE) share of the abilities and the ways that we have to balance the federal budget and to reduce the deficit.

Increases in spending and defense are almost never a bad idea as long as they are applied appropriately. Of course, as with any government agency, there is going to be some stupid money that is going to be spent. But overall, this is going to be a net good thing for both the American economy as well as Americans who are wearing the uniform.

SESAY: You know there are a lot of conservatives who absolutely disagree with you, right?

FAULKNER: Absolutely.

SESAY: The fiscal hawks in the House.

FAULKNER: And that's good. We should have the disagreement because it is going to keep people on it. I am glad there are people that are opposed to this.

SESAY: Last one to you, Mo'Kelly.

MO'KELLY: I'm opposed to the spending and the idea that yesterday we were against all the spending but now we're OK with it. I remember, I was born at night, not last night.


SESAY: You love that line. Mo'Kelly, Chris Faulkner, always a pleasure. Thank you.


VAUSE: Well, still to come here, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is again saying he is innocent in a corruption investigation.


VAUSE: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a message for all his friends on Facebook, and pretty much everybody else. He is innocent in two separate criminal investigations. The prime minister posted the video as local media continues to report that police are about to recommend indictment. The cases involve allegations of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (through translator): There will be nothing because I know the truth. The state of Israel is a nation of law. The law saw that the person who decides if there is sufficient evidence against the prime minister is the attorney general, and he confers with the state attorney's office. The state attorney said recently that half the recommendations from police end in nothing, so don't be under pressure.


VAUSE: As Netanyahu just said, if police issue a recommendation to indict, it will be up to the attorney general to decide whether or not to follow through.

Ian Lee is live in Jerusalem this hour. So, Ian, amid all the reports that Netanyahu will soon be charged, Israel's police commissioner, a man chosen by Benjamin Netanyahu for the job, has made some extraordinary claims about powerful people gathering information on the investigators involved in the Netanyahu case that sounds ominous in so many ways. What is he talking about?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a bit of soap opera, John. Let's just start from the beginning. So, you have these two cases which they include bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. You have case 1000 where the prime minister allegedly received gifts from a businessman.

You have the case 2000, where the prime minister allegedly colluded with the owner of a newspaper for positive coverage in return. The prime minister would allegedly reduce the circulation of that paper's rival. So, these are the two cases we are looking at.

And so what we are hearing, what you are referring to is this allegation made by the chief of police, saying that there are private investigators investigating the police investigators to dig up dirt on them. The prime minister called it ridiculous or ludicrous and said that that sort of allegation cast shadow on this investigation.

And that post -- you know, that was one of the two posts that the prime minister made last night. One defending himself and the other going after the chief of police, John.

VAUSE: Yes, it all sounds, as you say, quite the melodrama. You know, the prime minister has, you know, basically said that those comments by the police chief are outrageous and fictitious, you know, a rant. But he is also raising the prospect that those comments may in fact, you know, mean that there could be an end to this investigation or essentially call it off.

LEE: Well, you know, the prime minister -- you know, there is no question that he wants this investigation to go away. And so this is the dirty part of politics that we are seeing right now being played out here. You know, it really will be up to the police to determine whether to recommend an indictment.

There is talk that that could come as early as next week. Again, we -- we -- the police haven't done that. But then it comes down to the attorney general. The attorney general has to accept that indictment and move forward and take that to the courts. This is a long process. This isn't something that will be over with any time quickly if the attorney general decides to move forward with it.

But at the same time, you know, the prime minister will come under heavy political pressure. The opposition is already going out against him this morning, you know, accusing him of playing politics with this investigation by going after the chief of police. So, you know, the political pressue is building, especially expected to build a lot more if the attorney general finds that there is enough evidence to move forward with this case.

VAUSE: You wouldn't want to be an attorney general these days, would you? Ian, good to see you.

SESAY: Well, rescuers in Taiwan are dealing with more aftershocks in buildings on the brink of collapse after Tuesday's 6.4 magnitude earthquake. At least nine people were killed, nearly 300 injured. Crews are doing everything they can to shore up buildings and find the dozens of people still missing. The latest now from CNN's Alexandra Field.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The unreal view from above shows a building perilously tilting, shaken off its foundation by the quake. Rescue workers across the city of Hualien are searching for dozens of people still missing, many possibly trapped in the rubble.

[02:25:00] (on camera): This apartment building which is also a hotel is just one of several across the city that has either shifted off its foundation or collapsed entirely. You can see those enormous beams are actually holding it in place. The Taiwan president is warning the clock is ticking.

TSAI ING-WEN, PRESIDENT OF TAIWAN (through translator): We are racing against time and now is still the crucial time. We hope that we can quickly put the steel frame up and prop up the building so that rescuers can go inside the site and rescue people who are now trapped inside.

FIELD (voice over): Another area where people are trapped, the Marshal Hotel, which partially collapsed. Among the hundreds injured, a group of Japanese tourists. This man is still in shock is an employee at the hotel. His coworker didn't survive.

Rescues took place in the dark of night, children were carried out of the windows in this damaged building, just some of more than 200 rescues across the city. During the chaos, one shop owner wasted no time helping people escape.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): When the quake happened, we took the children and ran. My shop was still open at the time. My wife told me the opposite building has collapsed so we quickly took the flash lights and went over to save the people. FIELD (voice over): In this motorcycle shop, you can see the moment the earth began to shake and the horror on their faces. The family told CNN they're used to earthquakes but this one was particularly frightening.

A look inside this woman's apartment shows the damage. You can see where the dinnerware crashed down to the floor. Many of her personal belongings smashed into pieces.

Watch this man. He was on a sales pitch when the tremor struck then ran for cover.

(on camera): A woman who lives in a fifth floor apartment in that building tells me that the building fell so far that she was actually able to crawl out her smashed window and she found herself on the street level. Firefighters here say that they have gone through this building floor by floor, the 12th floor down to the third, looking for any survivors.

They have cleared all the apartments on those floors. Now, they are turning their focus to the most seriously, heavily damaged portion of the building, the bottom two floors, and that is where they expect that they could find more people. Back to you.


VAUSE: Alexandra Field, thank you for that report. We'll take a short break. When we come back, thousands of troops in a display of military might, the latest on North Korea's military parade in the capital of Pyongyang.


VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. Thanks for staying us. You're watching CNN "Newsroom" live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. The headlines this hour. U.S. Senate leaders have announced a two-year budget deal that could prevent

[02:30:00] another government shutdown later this week, but the plan may be a tough sell in the House. Some Republicans are concerned about raising the debt ceiling. Democrats want action on immigration. VAUSE: In a video on Facebook, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reclaimed his innocence in two criminal investigations and acknowledges reports that police will likely recommend his indictment. The cases involve allegations of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. Ultimately the attorney general will decide whether to indict or not.

SESAY: Aftershocks are complicating rescue efforts in Taiwan where (INAUDIBLE) and others all over to collapse. Dozens of people are still missing. At least nine people killed and hundreds more injured in the 6.4 magnitude quake.

VAUSE: A big military parade has rolled through the streets of Pyongyang just a few hours ago. Leader Kim Jong-un looked on as thousands of troops, tanks, artillery, and missiles took route in the celebration to mark the founding of North Korea's army. The parade was rescheduled from April coinciding with the start of the Winter Olympics in South Korea. We're seeing as a message of defiance especially aimed at the Trump administration.

Daniel Pinkston is a professor of international relations at Troy University. He's with us now. So, Daniel, good to see you. In the past when the North Korea has held this kind of big military parade, you know, they've often invited foreign reporters to be there and see it firsthand. What does say this time that they would keep (INAUDIBLE) in not be going? And this parade, you know, will be broadcast on tape delay. Won't go out live.

DANIEL PINKSTON, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, TROY UNIVERSITY: Well, I think in the past many analysts have looked at the images and have been able to make assessments of the weapon systems on display. And with taped version going out on a North Korean broadcast, of course, they can control the message that's going out.

VAUSE: And so with that in mind, the North Koreans are -- they know what they want the world to see. So what will they actually want us all to, you know, gather from this being military parade when it finally does make it to air?

PINKSTON: Well, I think, you know, any country in any military has incentives to conceal some of their capabilities. There might be some weaknesses that they don't want disclosed. They might want to exaggerate their capabilities. But nevertheless, they have a number of reasons to conceal them. So, maybe they've become aware of some of the analysis that has gone on before. And of course, the parade is directed at a number of audiences. I think the primary audience is the North Korean audience. And then, of course, there's an international audience and then there's the audience in South Korea. So, they calibrate or tailor that message to those different audiences. And the message is slightly different.

VAUSE: Yes. So the message for the North Korean domestic audience is what?

PINKSTON: Well, it's interesting. I was watching some of the programming from Korean Central Television earlier today when we're expecting the parade to come on the air. And it was a lot of patriotic songs, a lot of images and short stories about the military. It is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army, the regular army in 1948. And there were a lot of images of cooperation and collaboration with citizens and the military and the army. So in the North Korea state narrative, the military plays a very big role in development, independence. Their foreign policy, their development policy. And so they were trying to send that message out in these very strong patriotic nationalistic messages to the North Korean citizens.

VAUSE: And, you know, right now, the bigger picture here seems to be that the South Koreans are playing good cop with the North. The U.S. is the bad cop. Seoul has welcomed Kim's sister to the games even though she is a target of U.S. sanctions. Seoul is not saying a whole lot about this parade to the North. The U.S. Vice President says that we will be there in South Korea to remind the world not to be fooled by the charm offensive. The regime is still ruthless and brutal. In some way that would be a pretty good strategy except for the fact that South Korea and the United States just aren't actually working together.

PINKSTON: Well, the outside media, the world media focus on North Korea belligerence there, threats and their missile programs and nuclear programs in which you should of course. That is the top story. But a few people realize or analyze very closely the North Korean political objectives, what the regime is trying to achieve. And then what instruments they have and what strategies they develop to use those instruments to achieve their objectives. So, of course, they have military instruments or force or to use force. They can use coercion. They have a number of information, operations, and propaganda tools. And in this case, they are using what they believe is soft power propaganda to further their objectives.

[02:35:07] So, it's very important part of the Korean worker's parties activities. Kim Yo-jong who is Kim Jong-un's younger sister. She's the first vice director of the propaganda and agitation department. So she is visiting here. So, deployed these cheerleaders and other messages to show an image of North Korea as being cooperative and a tolerant partner to create divisions in South Korea. This is also part of their tactics.

VAUSE: The other story here of course is that's all part of a grand plan by the North Koreans, you know, to draw this wedge between Seoul and Washington because President Moon Jae-in there in Seoul is much more inclined, you know, to take a softer stance and engage directly with the North Koreans, much more also than the Trump administration.

PINKSTON: Well, that's probably too true. They are Koreans. And the South Korean president has a constitutional obligation to seek peaceful unification with the North. I think most Koreans believe they should work for that even though the younger generation maybe has doubts about that because of the costs. But nevertheless, the President will pursue that in the south and in the north they have very different ideas about governance and how society should be organized. The relationship between the state and its citizens, the social contract, how an economy should be organized. It's vastly different, there are huge gaps there. And both leaders on each side have confidence in their system. I think there are a number of inefficiencies and contradictions in the North. And I think when President Moon interacts with North Korea, these types of exchanges, I think President Moon believes and I tend to believe as well that over time at least hopefully this will have a transformative effect on the North Korean and eventually their attitudes and thinking change.

VAUSE: And that's better option than a bloody nose and a short-range tactical war I guess. Daniel, thanks for being with us. I appreciate it.

PINKSTON: My pleasure. SESAY: Still ahead and NEWSROOM L.A. An exclusive look at the

frontline in Northern Syria. It's a bizarre and tense situation with the U.S. on one side and its ally Turkey on the other.

VAUSE: Plus, in Germany, an end to a political deadlock when Chancellor Angela Merkel forming a coalition government but at what price?


SESAY: Well four months after an embarrassing election set back. German Chancellor Angela Merkel worked out a deal to govern with the center-left rival, the Social Democratic Party. The agreement could set the stage for the return of the so-called grand coalition that existed before last September's election.

VAUSE: The deal is far from finalized, however. The Social Democrats need formal approval from the 460,000 members. The process which could take several weeks.

[02:40:01] German Chancellor sounded update as she announced the break.


ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY (via translator): You had two justified demands. First finally form a government and make it a stable government. And secondly during your talks please think about the actual needs and interests of the people. I am convinced that the coalition deal that we have reached can be all of this. The basis for a good and stable government that our country needs and that many in the world are expecting of us. And the working plan that will improve life in Germany and will help push our economy into the future to keep it competitive and to support social cohesion in the country.


SESAY: Well, the European Affairs commentator Dominic Thomas is here to explain what this development means, both to Germany and Europe. Dominic, my friend, good to see you. You know, she said all the right things which could be construed as upbeat but she also looked really weary. And the fact to the matter is this was bruising, it was four months to get to this point with former partners who had said they wouldn't be doing this. So what exactly happened?

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: Well, I think at the moment, Chancellor Merkel announced that she would run again but this would be the last time. We entered the post-Merkel era before we've actually physically got to that time and we saw it in this-- in the election in September. The two parties that -- are now going to go back into, it looks like a grand coalition. But he only two of the six that got seats in the German Parliament have actually lost votes in the election, right? So that's interesting. The SPD got its worst score since the Second World War. And the two of them combined the worst score since German gained reunification. And so the whole question that sort of mainstream political parties has been thrown up into the air. Having said that, the SPD have no interest in working with her initially. And she herself said she would not work with the far right AfD, the Alternative for Germany nor which she worked with the (INAUDIBLE) on the left. So that initial coalition talks which was interesting because it was the largest coalition talks that have ever taken place. Four political parties try to find and come to an agreement. And of course, it's in the German DNA to have these coalition talks. But when they fell apart, the only real option we have is the SPD and one could argue that the SPD has done extraordinarily well out of these negotiations.

SESAY: And let's talk about that as they handed out the portfolios, right? So the SPD ended up with control of finance foreign affairs if you will and made a policy. I mean, they did really, really well. So let's break it in two. First of all, I mean, this is a huge coup. What does this mean for Germany, what does this mean for Europe to have a center-left pay in charge of such big parts of the pie.

THOMAS: Right. So, in some way, they've won. The question is whether it was a victory worth winning. Now, of course, Angela Merkel is still the chancellor. She controls the purses. She will make important decisions as to what these different ministries end up with. But the fact is that in four years time the SPD are going to be held accountable.

SESAY: And we got the numbers drop when they were in coalition.

THOMAS: They already dropped. And the big risk, of course, is that right now, first of all, the German economy is doing very well but there is some global uncertainty around the economy. Europe is as we know rather divided at the moment between the sort of frightening rise of far-right political rhetoric and nationalism in places like Poland and Hungary. Brexit uncertainty and the global uncertainty around what's happening across the Atlantic in the United States and the Trump presidency. And so, that future and to be holding onto so many important portfolios is going to be important, now, of course, Schultz, the former head of the SPD who has been named -- will be named the ministry foreign affairs is like Angela Merkel, very pro- Europe. And certainly, Emmanuel Macron has been sitting there in his corner for a while waiting for this to come to an end so that he can get back into talks with Germany and move some of this important European project forward.

SESAY: So, Angela Merkel herself have given away so much. How weakened is she? What does she got left?

THOMAS: Right. Well, she has the chance --


SESAY: -- that you just said but --

THOMAS: Beyond what she's already given away, there are other concessions that have being made and I think this is interesting that even within her own party coalitions, it's not just a coalition with the SPD, it's also a coalition with the sister party in Bavaria, the CSU. The head of which is now going to be taking over the interior ministry that is added to a portfolio. This interesting word (INAUDIBLE) country, homeland, nation and so on. And there is a clear attempt to reckon with the aftermath of the refugee and migrant crisis and the way in which that the fueled far-right extremism and popularity at the polls. We also saw what happened in Austria and this is a way to try and sort of appropriate some of that far right vote. But in so doing also move away from some of those key liberal Democratic principles of the European Union of tolerance and diversity in moving the area.

[02:45:02] So, we see some divisions. Now, these divisions are going to be interesting when the SPD actually finally weighs in on this, because many people in Schultz's Party believe that it's a mistake to go back into this coalition and they would have been better off trying to wait. It is hard though to think of what the alternative would be.

SESAY: Is it going to be stable? We're out of time, but is it stable? Will this last the -- will it -- you know, stand the test of time.

THOMAS: Well, the expectation is that it will because for the time being to go back to the tables with the Free Democrats and the greens does not seen an option. So, for the time moving forward, some kind of stability is will probably return to the table.

SESAY: Fascinating (INAUDIBLE) for Germany. Thomas, appreciate it. Thank you.

THOMAS: Thank you.

JOHN VAUSE: In Syria, U.S led coalition forces say they came under fire, Wednesday from hundreds of fighters loyal to the Assad regime. According to U.S. officials, the unidentified group crossed the Euphrates over with Russian made tanks and artillery. The attacked has being described as unprovoked and was forced back by U.S. airstrikes and artillery.

In Northern Syria, fears are rising that forces backed by Turkey could seem clash with Kurdish militia, allies of the United States. Turkey began their military offensive last month to create a buffer zone along the border and targeting Kurdish fighters considered terrorists by Ankara. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has about to push east, all the way from the town of Afrin to Manbij, where hundreds of U.S. forces are based training and equipping the Kurds. Both cities are under Kurdish control shown here in green. And from there, Nick Payton Walsh has this exclusive report.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They have been trying to stay out of the dust and chaos here for years but it hasn't worked. And now, American Special Forces give us the first access to their daily risky patrols in Syria. They're here despite of unprecedented threat from a supposed friend, Turkey, whose forces are just over the hill. And NATO ally whose President has demanded only hours earlier that the U.S. withdraw immediately.

These Syria Kurdish fighters are the reason why America fought with them to defeat ISIS across Northern Syria. But Turkey thinks they are terrorists linked to Turkish Kurd fighters, and here they are, barrel to barrel.

This is the strange new world in Syria in the end game of the fight against ISIS. NATO ally facing NATO ally here. American troops very much on the front line after years, you might stay -- of trying to stay out of the messy Civil War. A new chapter of which is now beginning, this is the scramble for the land ISIS built and lost.

In fact, in the last hour, the rebels from over there have fired on a nearby checkpoint as if they heard the Turkish demand the U.S. leave.

But still, the Americans send their highest ranking officer yet, the message, we're not going anywhere.


WALSH: Would you take fire from this direction, three, four times a week were being told?


WALSH: And that's from forces supported by your NATO ally Turkey?

FUNK: Right.

WALSH: Which is by definition bizarre, right.

FUNK: Yes, absolutely. You said that, that's exactly right. It is bizarre. I would say that the people that fought to take Raqqa back from ISIS, no matter what nationality they were, no matter what their believes, were heroes.

WALSH: But Turkey says some of them are terrorist.

FUNK: Well, OK.

WALSH: And that's the complexity of where we are right now.

FUNK: It is, that's exactly right.

WALSH: What's your biggest worry about what's going on here?

FUNK: Miscalculation -- could be anybody's --

WALSH: And if these two sides end up in open conflict, what do you do about that?

FUNK: We de-escalate.


WALSH: But don't pretend this buffer role for America goes anywhere good fast. Turkish and Kurds hate each other perhaps more than they did ISIS. And they won't fight ISIS if they're fighting each other.

The coalition's goal, this commander says, was to finish ISIS in the area but Turkey, with the actions and statements, is giving life to ISIS again.

And this is just the beginning, we drive past a huge convoy in support of Kurdish fighters in a nearby Kurdish enclave to the west of Afrin. But Turkey is invaded despite American please, they don't.

In the nearby town of Manbij, America's special forces commanders strolls around the market liberated from ISIS, 18 months ago, where life is just about becoming life again, where hotels are trying to open. But, where business is hamstrung by the fear Turkey will make good on its threat to send its NATO-equipped army to invade here too.

They thought they were getting over the war here but it looms again. Another possible ugly chapter, an ally against (INAUDIBLE) while ally is nothing new to brutalized Syria. Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, near Manbij, Syria.

[02:50:04] SESAY: Difficult days. Next on CNN NEWSROOM, no snow, no problem. How Pyeongchang is keeping the Olympic ski slopes covered. Details ahead.


SESAY: Well the 2018 Winter Olympics are on track to be the coldest games in decades. South Korean officials are issued countrywide warnings about injuries like hypothermia and frostbite.

VAUSE: Putting winter in the Winter Olympics, here's the thing though.

SESAY: Do tell.

VAUSE: It's so cold, but there's a problem. Because to make snow it's going to be cold and what else do you need?

SESAY: What?

VAUSE: Water.

SESAY: That's right.

VAUSE: They don't have any snow. Here is Paula Hancocks.

HANCOCKS: Snowmaking started early in South Korea this season. October saw the first artificial snow hit the ski slopes and hasn't stopped since. Pyeongchang certainly doesn't have the same problem that Sochi and Russia has four years ago. Any natural snow that falls here is going to stay on the ground, it is cold enough. But the issue is there's just simply not that much natural snow. After all, winter in Korea is the dry season.


IAN HONEY, PROJECT MANAGER, SNOW MACHINES INCORPORATED, SNOW MAKER: Yes, At least -- at least five actually, before that too.

HANCOCKS: Ian Honey is the project manager for the SMI snowmakers, his company has already made snow for five Winter Olympics. He started preparing for Pyeongchang three years ago.

HONEY: Here it's all 100 percent man-made snow. And as I said we've had great temperatures, we've been really lucky.

HANCOCKS: So, none of this is natural snow then.

HONEY: Pretty -- yes, 98 percent would be man-made.

HANCOCKS: This is been the scene for months in Pyeongchang, mountainsides wrapped in a mist of man-made snow. So, how do you actually make it?

HONEY: Where doing very similar to what mother does. We're taking -- we're taking water and were forcing it into the atmosphere and we're getting a -- we're generating a crystalize structure. But the structure that will generate is more consistent structure. They basically, they're all the same, where natural snow is -- every flake is different.

HANCOCKS: Tourists don't seem to mind the snow is man-made, enjoying a last peaceful day on the slopes before the games begin. As for which is better, natural or artificial, these two ski instructors say there's no contest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Artificial snow is good for skiing more, then, because we can more speeding, they're really good.

HANCOCKS: And speed is what Olympic athletes want. Well, no doubt, he has seen enough whether they approve of Pyeongchang snow. There have been some heavy snowfalls in recent months. A few weeks ago, there was a rush to preserve the snow after it fell, carving it into massive blocks.

We now see why as the snow festival opens. Massive sculptures towering over children who are more interested in the snow than the art. So, while it may not always look like the Winter Wonderland, did expect from the Winter Olympics. The organizers say they're ready, let the games begin. Paul Hancocks, CNN, Pyeongchang, South Korea.


SESAY: Well with more on this frigid games, Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri, joins us with more. Pedram, it supposed to be whole clearly but is it supposed to be miserable?

VAUSE: I, on -- in the Lake Placid at 1980, they had no snow.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN WEATHER ANCHOR: Yes, You know that and that's right.

SESAY: You are old.

VAUSE: I'm old?


JAVAHERI: John takes his vitamins, he remembers the 1980s very well.

[02:55:03] SESAY: Quite look so good, it's all the vitamins you say then. That's what is, the vitamins.

JAVAHERI: Let's talk about what's happening here guys because you know, you talked about it being extremely cold. And when you break it all down it really comes down to the level of cold and the moisture content in the atmosphere, because it's counter-intuitive. People often think if it's cold, that's perfect for snowfall, not so the case.

If you're actually below zero by a considerable margin as it is across this region this time of year or at least, has been, that reduces the moisture availability in the atmosphere. So, the snowfall amounts would be less than even if there was a storm in the area. So, you get to the poles around Antarctica, one of the driest places on our planet is Antarctica. It's a prickly had desert across parts of that region because of the lack of snow because much of that is just form of frost and ice that's been in place for years.

But, when you look at this, we heard Paula mentioned of as well, the driest time of the year right there. February, in fact, the second driest month of the year across Pyeongchang. And not unusual to see this sort of a pattern, but it's unusual to see the extensive a cold air that's been in place. And we're talking subzero, wind chills, in fact, going in to say, Thursday evening. Talking 5, 10 below into the overnight hours, as cold as 15 below zero what it feels like outside. And again, that is a good margin below what is seasonal for this time of year.

So, the perspective, in fact, the last couple of weeks has been among the coldest in recent years as well. Because we're talking three and a half, to four degrees. Some areas, more than five degrees colder than what a typical review for this portion of late January until early February. And of course, we're coming off of Torino Vancouver, Sochi, where all have had unusually mild winters.

This comes in quite on the opposite end of the spectrum with the extreme cold, but guess what, there is some wintry weather in store here. We do have a snowmaker in the works that quick moving shot of it. We haven't had snow across this region in about a week's time. But, you go for closer look, I think, sometimes say around the overnight hours of Friday into Saturday, we get a couple of centimeters out of this. Again, not a blockbuster snow maker but it is nice to see it come in on the second official day, they're on Saturday.

So, that's what we're watching here at the first day temps around places such as Pyeongchang. Would be about six for a high, 10 below for a low. You notice the chance for snow goes up there, it come Saturday and we think it will stick around and a little bit warmer expected going into early next week. Still cold enough to support snow but at least we get some snow on Saturday, guys.

VAUSE: Luckily, it's a balmy three degrees there in Atlanta, enjoy.

JAVAHERI: Yes, we're trying. We're waiting for our spring too, yes.

VAUSE: It's going to be a while.

SESAY: Yes. Stay then, stay warm.

JAVAHERI: Thank you.

SESAY: You know, thank you. You've been watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. The news continues with Rosemary Church, she is in Atlanta where it's three degrees, right after a short break. You're watching CNN.