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Kim Jong-un Invites South Korean President to Pyongyang; Israeli Fighter Jet Crashes amid Syrian Anti-Aircraft Fire; U.S. President Praises Aide Accused of Domestic Abuse; Mexico Captures Drug Cartel Leader; Exploring South Korea's Winter Olympics Sites. Aired 3- 3:30a ET

Aired February 10, 2018 - 03:00   ET




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

CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): I'm Cyril Vanier. We've got a lot of news for you right now. First, breaking news from South Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has officially invited South Korea's president to visit Pyongyang.

The invitation came during a historic meeting between Kim's sister Kim Yo-jong and President Moon Jae-in. This happened at the Blue House of the South Korean presidency. You are watching footage of that right now.

Remember the North Koreans are in South Korea for the Olympic Games. President Moon hopes the event will foster better relations with the North. No word yet if he has accepted the invitation, but we know that he has been pushing for a rapprochement between the two Koreas.

Now we have got multiple things on the ground. Paula Hancocks, our South Korea correspondent, is in PyeongChang. Screen right, this is where the games are taking place.

And Paula Newton, screen left, is in our bureau in Seoul.

Paula Hancocks, let's start with you.

Is this, in your opinion, more substance or symbol ?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: To be honest, it's both. It is incredibly symbolic, seeing the images of South Korean president Moon Jae-in shaking hands with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un's sister, Kim Yo-jong.

It's incredibly symbolic but the very fact that his sister has now come to South Korea and has handed over a personal invitation from Kim Jong-un for the South Korean president to go to Pyongyang, to visit with the North Korean leader, that could be more substance.

Now, of course, there is no detail of exactly when this would happen at this point. The invitation says simply at the earliest convenience and we're waiting for an official response or decision from the South Korean president Moon Jae-in.

I don't think there's many people though, that would imagine that he would not take up this opportunity. So yes, it's symbolic but it could lead to something quite filled with substance.

The fact is President Moon from the get-go has said that he wants more engagement, more dialogue with North Korea. He came to power last year, having campaigned on this ticket and this is exactly what is happening right now.

Just a few months ago he was talking publicly about how there should never be a second Korean War, about concerns of suggestions that could be military strikes on North Korea and now you have him sitting in the same box with the North Korean delegation; also with the U.S. Vice President, Mike Pence on the side, not really involved with the North Korean delegation.

But it is a very symbolic image. But, of course, the substance is there as well, the fact that there is this official invitation -- Cyril.

VANIER: Yes, certainly I think if you told us all of this in this conversation that by early February 2018 we'd be seeing those pictures of Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un's sister sitting across from one another at the table, I think we would have been hard-pressed to believe it.

Paula Newton in Seoul, what is the precedent for this?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a precedent of sorts in the sense that during the Sunshine policy, which was South Korea reaching out to North Korea really, some have determined that to have been a failure. You can argue that one way or the other. But there were two Korea summits, one in 2000 and one in 2007 with Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jung-il.

Now many people at the time had thought that perhaps that was a failure, that that a way that North Korea stalled for time in order to develop their missile and then nuclear program. Others say that it was right, that the policy may have been right for those times.

Nonetheless, you have to say that this is without precedent. The reason is that North Korea has now tested an ICBM. They have had several nuclear tests. There is just so much more at stake right now, Cyril.

So for that reason it is without precedent. Also, as Paula was just saying, the symbolism of someone from the Kim dynasty after six decades, finally setting foot in South Korea in a country that is still -- countries that are still technically at war, extraordinary.

And as you said, something no one could have imagined in December although we're told this has taken months of diplomacy behind the scenes. VANIER: Yes, these are two countries that have weapons, powerful

weapons pointed at each other.

Paula Hancocks, Moon Jae-in says that the U.S. and North Korea should talk directly.

The feel, the Korean Peninsula has suddenly become harder to read for the U.S., tell us where they fit into this equation.

HANCOCKS: Absolutely. Cyril, I think this all changed on New Year's Day when you heard that address by the North Korean leader, Kim Jong- un. He was specifying how important it was for the two Koreas to work together to resolve the issues on the Korean Peninsula.

He wanted Koreans to be sorting out the --


HANCOCKS: -- problem and he said he did not need and it wasn't necessary to have external interference.

Now that was a very clear reference to the United States. So he really outlined exactly what his next tactic was, which was to move away from the United States and talk directly to South Korea.

This is exactly what has been happening. Now we heard some interesting elements from the Blue House meeting. There was a welcome book before the North Korean delegation went in. They signed that book. I've got the notes here.

The sister of Kim Jong-un said that I expect Pyongyang and Seoul will be closer together in the hearts of all our people and a future of reunification and prosperity will be expedited.

And interesting, at the same time as we are hearing that from Kim Jong-un's sister, we're also seeing an article from the state-run media, from North Korea, from KCNA, criticizing the U.S. vice president Pence, saying he is misusing the sacred Olympics for political purpose.

So at the one -- on the one side, they're holding out a hand to South Korea; and on the other side, they are slamming the United States once again. This is a real -- a dual track that we have seen over the last two months, putting their hopes and their faith and their discussions with South Korea and really trying to sideline the United States completely.

Now it was interesting seeing those photos in the box at the opening ceremony of the Olympics, just last night. You saw the excitement as that joint Korean walked out. You saw the North Korean delegation jumping up, excited. President Moon, his wife excited, shaking hands.

And from all the photos we have seen, you also saw U.S. vice president Mike Pence and his wife, sitting down, effectively the only ones in the whole stadium potentially that weren't standing up as everybody else did stand up to applaud that team walking in.

So there's this real dual track at the moment -- Cyril.

VANIER: Yes. I would offer that it is a bit rich perhaps for North Korea to accuse the United States of using the Olympics for political purpose. Not only is North Korea right now not pioneering but being a very good player at Olympic diplomacy.

Also, there's just a very, very long and rich history of Olympics being used to advance political goals. Just the actors change, depending on where and when we're talking about.

Paula Newton, to you, how you think Koreans are going to feel about all of this, about their president?

It still needs to be confirmed but potentially, likely their president going to Pyongyang.

NEWTON: Well, it's been so interesting to watch this unfold over the last few weeks, going from a situation where there was high tension and no one knew how the Olympics was going to go, to all of this entente.

Having said that, as South Koreans watch this, I have actually been surprised at how much especially the younger generation has met this with a lot of cynicism and really have thought to themselves, what is in this for us, in the sense that they are a lot more reticent, a lot more ambivalent about anything that resembles reunification with North Korea and a lot more ambivalent, quite frankly, toward North Koreans themselves and culturally in older people, older South Koreans, there is that bond with North Korea.

And yet that just is not the way it is in the younger generation. I can tell you that Western diplomatic sources in this city say that the reaction has caught Moon Jae-in and his government by surprise as well and it's something that, through this kind of acceptance, if they accept going to Pyongyang, that popular opinion, that divide in South Korea is something that Moon Jae-in and his advisors will be watching for very closely.

VANIER: All right, thank you very much, look, Paula, Paula, thank you so much for your insights. It's been a pleasure speaking to you.

And to our viewers, by the way, I would point out, since the beginning of the week, we've been using the word Olympic diplomacy. And I know it is a tired old cliche but looking behind Paula Hancocks, the slopes in PyeongChang, that's the Olympics and this invitation of South Korea by North Korea, that's the diplomacy.

Something like this is what we have been expecting since the beginning of the week. Paulas, thank you.

Now we continue to track breaking news out of the Middle East. Israel says one of its F-16 warplanes has crashed after Syrian antiaircraft fire. The jet reportedly crashed in Israeli territory. Both pilots survived but one was severely injured. This video shows a police roadblock in Northern Israel near the site

of the crash. Israel says its military targeting Iranian sites in Syria. CNN's Ian Lee joins me by phone.

Ian, it's such a combustible area. We need to have a good grasp of what happened. Walk us through the details.

IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, let's just start with this morning, Cyril, when a -- according to the Israeli military, one of their combat helicopters intercepted an Iranian UAV. That's an unmanned aerial vehicle, a drone. That was shot down. The Israeli military then said that they accused Iran of sending over that drone.

That's when they said that they launched --


LEE: -- airstrikes on a number of Iranian targets inside the Syria. They say they were targeting areas where the UAV came from. During that operation, there was a lot of antiaircraft fire and amid that, the Israeli military says one of their planes went down. The pilots ejected, as you said.

They are not saying what caused the plane to go down. They say that is currently being investigated. Now the Syrian state media has said that multiple Israeli planes were hit, although the Israeli military counters that, saying that only one plane has crashed and all other planes were turned back to the base safely.

Now continuing throughout the morning, there have been a lot of rocket sirens going off in the northern part of Galilee as well as the Golan Heights. Israeli military says that because of a continuing operation.

They say that just a few minutes ago -- this is according to an Israeli military statement -- 12 targets, including three aerial defense batteries and four Iranian targets were hit inside Syria. That has also been confirmed by Syrian state media, that an Israeli plane had targeted sites within Syria.

This is a very ongoing and of course, as you know, Cyril, a very fluid situation. Tensions are high and really you are seeing that kind of tit-for-tat at this moment.

VANIER: Ian Lee, reporting from Israel. He is on his way to that border area, try to fill in some of the details on that story.

Ian, thank you very much.

And a second White House official has resigned over allegations of domestic abuse. Speechwriter David Sorensen denies these accusations but he stepped down anyway. His resignation comes just days after White House staff secretary Rob Porter abruptly quit after a photo surfaced of his then wife with a black eye. As our Jim Acosta reports, senior advisors at the White House are now scrambling to contain the fallout. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump finally broke his silence about the resignation of his former staff secretary, Rob Porter. But it was hardly a #MeToo moment.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we wish him well. He worked very hard. I found out about it recently and I was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well. It's a -- obviously, a tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House.

And we hope he has a wonderful career and hopefully, he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it and certainly, he's also very sad now.

ACOSTA: The president said nothing about the women who say Porter abused them, but he made a point to highlight Porter's denials.

TRUMP: He also -- as you probably know, he says he's innocent and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent. So you'll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well. Did a very good job while he was at the White House.

ACOSTA: That sounded eerily similar to the president's comments about failed GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, who faced accusations of sexual abuse.

TRUMP: He denies it. Look, he denies it. I mean, if you look at what -- what is really going on and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn't happen and you know, you have to listen to him also.

ACOSTA: The White House is still engaged in damage control after the Porter scandal broke. Chief of staff John Kelly, who first released a statement heaping praise on Porter, eventually issued a memo that adopted a different tone to White House aides writing, "While we are all processing the shocking and troubling allegations made against a former White House staffer, I want you to know that we all take matters of domestic violence seriously. Domestic violence is abhorrent and has no place in our society."

Kelly also held a meeting about Porter with staffers, where he insisted, "I got his resignation." But that's not in line with the facts, as sources tell CNN Kelly has known about the allegations facing Porter for months. Kelly was still backing Porter when the White House first commented publicly on the matter.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can tell that you Rod has been effective in his role as secretary and the president and chief of staff have had full confidence and trust in his abilities and his performance.

ACOSTA: Sources tell CNN Porter first informed White House counsel Don McGahn about his past a year ago. That was when Porter's ex-wives began speaking to the FBI. By the spring of last year, the FBI provided a preliminary report to White House security officials.

Then in the fall, Porter was interviewed by the FBI. It was in November that McGahn, Kelly and another deputy, Joe Hagin, were made aware of Porter's domestic issues. In recent weeks, CNN's learned one of Porter's ex-girlfriends has told McGahn she had concerns about Porter's relationship with communications director Hope Hicks.

One of Porter's ex-wives told her story to Anderson Cooper.

JENNIFER WILLOUGHBY, EX-WIFE OF ROB PORTER: The reality is he's not a monster. He is a -- intelligent, kind, chivalrous, caring professional man --


WILLOUGHBY: -- and he's deeply troubled and angry and violent. I don't think those things are mutually exclusive.

ACOSTA: Democrats are seizing on the Porter saga to argue the president and his team just don't get it.

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just before I walked on stage, a statement from the president saying he wishes him luck. He has so much talent.

That's like saying, "That axe murderer out there, he's a great painter."

You know, think. Think. Translate this into everyday terms. Is there any other crime -- and it's a crime -- where there'd be an explanation the reason why we shouldn't pay attention to the transgression is because they're good at something?


VANIER: More news coming out of the White House. U.S. president Donald Trump blocking the release of an intelligence memo written by House Democrats. The White House says it contains classified and especially sensitive information and has been sent back to the House Intelligence Committee for changes.

The document was meant as a rebuttal to a Republican memo released last week with President Trump's approval, that one. That memo alleged surveillance abuses at the FBI and potential anti-Trump bias within the bureau.

But the FBI says that it omitted key information and was misleading.

Still to come on CNN NEWSROOM, how Mexico captured a powerful drug lord, wanted for murder, kidnapping and other crimes.

Plus from the mountains to the coast, we will be taking you on a tour. PyeongChang's Olympic venues. You'll want to stay with us for that.




VANIER: Mexico has captured a top leader of the notorious Los Zetas drug cartel. Jose Maria Guizar Valencia faces charges of murder and kidnapping. He's accused of trafficking thousands of kilos of cocaine and methamphetamine to the U.S. on a yearly basis. Rafael Romo explains how he was captured.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR: The Mexican national security commissioner said Friday that the operation to capture the drug lord was so well-planned that the use of force was unnecessary.

The official also said Jose Maria Guizar Valencia, top leader of the drug cartel known as Los Zetas, was one of 122 priority targets for Mexican law enforcement. Guizar Valencia, also known as Z-43, was arrested Thursday in Mexico City after intelligence gathered around the country by federal agents led the Mexican navy to a location in the capital's Roma borough, the commissioner said.

According to a statement by the U.S. Department of State, Guizar Valencia is responsible for the importation of thousands of kilograms of cocaine and meth to the United States on a yearly basis.

U.S. authorities had offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest of the American-born suspect, who holds dual --


ROMO: -- Mexican and American nationality and was born in California, according to the U.S. Department of State.

The commissioner added that Guizar faces charges in both Mexico and the U.S. for offenses including organized crime, murder, kidnapping, drugs and arms trafficking. No word yet on whether Z-43 will be extradited to the United States -- Rafael Romo, CNN, Atlanta.


VANIER: And Colombia is tightening its borders due to the unprecedented number of people trying to desperately escape Venezuela. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have been fleeing political and economic turmoil for months and Colombia has felt the brunt of it.

Reuters reports that Colombia will add 3,000 new security guards along the border, suspend new daily entry cards for Venezuelans and impose stricter migratory controls in an effort to manage this crisis.

The move is a major setback for Venezuelans, already suffering from a lack of food and other basic necessities under President Nicholas Maduro's unpopular government.

Now back to the Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. Five medal events are scheduled for Saturday. Sweden took the gold in the women's 15-km skiathlon, the first gold of this Olympics. There are also eight other competitions Saturday, including the Olympic debut of the unified Korea women's hockey team. We've talking about them a lot.

PyeongChang has spent years preparing for this moment. Ivan Watson takes us on a tour of the Olympic sites.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Winter Olympics have begun, a festival of athletics, music and culture in the frigid mountains of South Korea.

Until recently, most people around the world probably never heard of PyeongChang. It is a small South Korean ski resort town of around 43,000 people that is now home to the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The Korean hosts have been preparing for years. PyeongChang may not be big but it is offering extra activities on the sidelines of the games to entertain visitors from around the world.

The mayor of PyeongChang tells me he anticipates 2 million visitors during the Olympics. Unlike previous Winter Olympic host cities, Vancouver and Sochi, warm temperatures are not going to be a problem in PyeongChang. It is well below freezing here, day and night.

Surprisingly, snow is an issue because there is very little precipitation here right now. So even the organizers of this annual snow festival have to rely on manmade snow. The snow festival and ski slopes may look festive and frosty but, for now, most of the surrounding hills look pretty brown.

We've left the mountains of PyeongChang and Mr. Kim is driving us about an hour away to the coastal city of Gangnam. And that is where the venues are for other events like figure skating and ice hockey.

We also hear that the weather there should be quite a bit warmer.

In Gangnam, the venues are more concentrated and located within walking distance of each other. Sightseers looking for something different may visit the city's coastal unification park, where the icy weather is not really that much warmer.

Here, we find a submarine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This submarine is from North Korea and made it the South Korea (INAUDIBLE) in 1996 and September 23.

WATSON: You can even take a tour of the captured North Korean submarine, provided you wear this helmet.

WATSON (voice-over): Along the coast, barbed wire and military fortifications protecting South Korea from its northern neighbor. South Korea is calling these the peace games for the fact is that the Olympic venues are in close proximity to the demilitarized zone and to North Korea.

Both of these countries are still technically at war, a reality that makes up part of the backdrop of these Winter Olympics -- Ivan Watson, CNN, Gangnam, South Korea.




VANIER: All right, it's this guy, topless (INAUDIBLE) please, flag bearer from, yes, Tonga. His name, Pita Taufatofua. He has done the same thing. You might remember. We all remember, I think. We've been talking about this on CNN.

He did the same thing in the slightly more forgiving temperatures of Brazil's Summer Games in 2016, less of a challenge, right?

So in Brazil, he was the first Tongan person to compete in taekwondo. Now he's hoping for a better result as the first person from Tonga to compete in cross-country skiing.

He is not planning to stay topless for that event. But he says simply, I won't freeze. I am from Tonga.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Interesting. I thought Tonga was --

VANIER: I love the logic.

"I am from Tonga. Thus, I will not freeze."

VAN DAM: I just want to know if he did some research.

Did the oil -- is that protecting his skin from getting cold?

VANIER: He's got a brand. He's got a brand. He's sticking to the brand.

VAN DAM: He's won the hearts of most women out there, too.

VANIER: And people are loving it.

Derek Van Dam, we love you, too. Thank you very much.

Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I will be back with the headlines in just a moment. You do not want to miss the headlines.