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THE SITUATION ROOM

North Korean Crisis

Aired April 5, 2013 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. This is a special SITUATION ROOM report, "North Korean Crisis."

Happening now: missiles poised and tensions rising. North Korea may be hinting at a timetable for an act of aggression that could rattle the world. U.S. troops in the region, they are on alert. We have new details emerging right now in how a war might start and put tens of thousands of Americans in danger.

And is someone pulling Kim Jong-un's strings? We're learning about two people with considerable power to influence North Korea's young ruler.

In North Korea right now, we're told that two, two missiles are in their launchers, they're loaded and they're ready to go. The White says it won't be surprised if Kim Jong-un orders those missiles to be fired in a new test of his military power.

The communist leader is sending all sorts of signals about his next move, and when it might happen, including an ominous new warning to foreign diplomats in the North Korean capital.

Our correspondents are standing by with all the latest developments in the region and here in the United States. And Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria, they are here in the studio as well to give us the global view on this unfolding story.

But first, let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, for the very latest -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there were some initial signs today that things could be cooling off a little bit with the North Koreans, but then again, maybe not.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): A dire new warning from Kim Jong-un to foreign embassies in North Korea's capital Pyongyang. After April 10, the regime may not be able to protect them in the event of war.

Sweden, which oversees U.S. interests in North Korea, as well as Britain and Russia cautiously acknowledged the warning. SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): We are very much concerned over the escalation of tension. We also asked them whether this is just a proposal or requirement. We were told that this is only a proposal.

STARR: One U.S. official called the warning weird. No one is sure what the North Koreans are trying to do. It comes as the U.S. now believes North Korea has loaded two Musudan missiles into mobile launchers and could be ready to fire them at any time from its eastern coastline.

Those missiles with a 2,500-mile range theoretically could hit targets as far away as Guam and even Alaska's west coast.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We would not be surprised to see them take such an action.

STARR: But no one can say for sure if and when a launch might happen. The U.S. is watching two critical dates on the calendar, April 15, the 101st birthday of Kim Il-Sung, the late North Korean leader, and April 30, when the current U.S.-South Korean military exercise ends. U.S. officials worry the regime could then feel free to launch a small-scale attack, perhaps at sea or across the border.

But it's hard to really know what the North Koreans have in mind. After days of broadcasts with talk of war, for now, it's new stores, farms and medicine on state TV.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Why is all of this so important, Wolf? Well, this missile movement is so far the only substantive military movement by the North Korean regime. That's why everyone is watching it so closely. If they were to test-fire these missiles, and if these missiles went over Japan, this will rattle the Asian region, the economic powerhouse of the region that the world has come to depend on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly would. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

As the crisis in North Korea plays out, the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, said the United States cannot afford to underestimate Kim Jong-un. He said all it takes is being wrong once for something disastrous to happen.

CNN's Tom Foreman is in our virtual studio with a closer look at how a war could start.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, all eyes remain on the east coast of North Korea, and on these, these mobile launched Musudan missiles, because if one of these takes off, everything changes very, very quickly.

General, come on over here and let's bring if the map and talk about this some. If there is a launch, you say the very first thing would be some action by a satellite. Why?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Tom, this satellite is going to pick up the infrastructure, the I.R. signature coming off the mobile launcher. Instantaneously, it will then send messages to the tracking system. So we can track the telemetry of that missile.

FOREMAN: The tracking system involves units at sea, in the air, on the land, everywhere, trying to hone in on this thing, right?

MARKS: Exactly correct. From the ground, from the sea, from the air. Totally integrated, tracking the missile. And the key objective there is to make sure it's not threatening a U.S. or an allied resource in the region.

FOREMAN: It's worth noting this is not an easy task. A missile like this would be traveling at thousands of miles an hour. It's nothing at all like an airplane.

MARKS: No, it's not. This technology has been in place for a while. It's been exceptionally highly refined. And we know how to make this happen, but it's totally automated.

FOREMAN: If we see this moving toward a target, something we care about, something we want to protect, if the computers see that happening, they will automatically do what?

MARKS: They will take that missile out, but that's just the start.

FOREMAN: How will they take it out?

MARKS: It will be launched from one of the platforms, either from the sea or on the ground, that will be able to track it and immediate.

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: Essentially countermissiles that will go up and hit and blow it apart in the air.

MARKS: You got it.

FOREMAN: But then there comes the hard part because then there is the human equation. Because humans have to say, how do we respond to the fact that they tried to hit an asset, or maybe didn't?

MARKS: This is a political and a strategic decision. And those that are acting most closely to all of this is the United Nations command, which is in South Korea. And the objective there is to maintain the armistice. We might in fact go after the exact launch location, where that missile came from.

But the objective is to maintain the armistice. That is a cease- fire that we signed in 1953.

FOREMAN: Maintain a North Korea, South Korea.

(CROSSTALK)

MARKS: Which acknowledges a North and a South. That's our objective.

FOREMAN: But it could be some very tense moments along the way to maintaining that objective -- Wolf.

FOREMAN: Tom Foreman, General Spider Marks, guys, thanks very much.

Let's bring in CNN's Fareed Zakaria. He's the host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS." Also joining us, our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour.

They're loading missiles, Christiane. They're telling foreign diplomats in Pyongyang we may not be able to protect you. What is going on over here?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Can I just take a deep breath and a little step back? We don't actually know whether they are for sure loading these missiles on their launchers.

We have not been told that has actually been spotted. What we do know is that now the United States is saying the prudent thing, probably the obvious thing which is we won't be surprised if there is some kind of launch. This will not be the first launch from North Korea. They have done this stuff before.

The South Koreans are saying that they do not know whether this if it happens will be an act of aggression, in other words, targeting something or will it be a test. They have not seen, despite the fact they're deploying defensive warships, et cetera, they have not seen any mass movement of any troops, nor are they mass moving their own troops. The embassies, the governments, the foreign ministers, you just heard Sergei Lavrov, the Russian, who have had this advisory from North Korea to perhaps move out their people, and would they like help in doing that?

They are not doing that yet. Neither Britain nor the Russians are deciding to evacuate their embassies. So I think everybody is really trying to take a step back, perhaps being prepared for the inevitable which might be some kind of launch, but they're not saying they think this will be a hostile thing or that it will trigger a wider war.

BLITZER: The actual decision that they made to ask foreign diplomats, you might want to leave because we can't -- that, Fareed, seems more ominous to me than maybe launching -- than putting these two missiles on these launchers, which they have done before, as Christiane points out.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: Much more ominous, Wolf, you're exactly right. And that's why Lavrov, very interestingly, the Russian foreign minister, said, are you demanding we do that or is this some kind of a plan?

Then they were told, it's a proposal. What the hell does that mean? I think so far, Christiane is absolutely right, everybody has tended to be quite restrained in responding to South Korea. The U.S. has the most difficult role, where we have to reassure the Japanese and the South Koreans so they don't overreact, that we will take care of things.

But yet no one wants to overreact, because there's a real danger here that if you overreact and you do something, this regime is probably pretty fragile and it could collapse and then that produces a whole set of problems that nobody wants to deal with, not the South Koreans who don't want to unify, not the Chinese, in some ways not even us.

BLITZER: Why would the White House, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, say publicly the U.S. would not be surprised that North Korea took this kind of military action?

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: Well, because I think they're realizing this is now following a pattern that has been evident for the last 35 years, provocation, accommodation, provocation, accommodation.

And I have been looking at the timeline. Often when they have threatened these things, they have then done it. It happened in February, it happened with the nuclear test in February, with the satellite launch in December. So these things have happened, and they have warned it.

I think the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, who is traveling in Germany today, has said it correctly, that, look, we are not trying to be provocative, we're trying to be defensive.

They understand that some of their moves have obviously rattled the North Koreans and have contributed to this constant ratcheting up of tit for tat. He's been saying also that one of the things we really find very difficult right now is that we just don't know what motivates this new young leader. You know, we had a relationship of sorts with the founder, Kim Il-Sung. With Kim Jong Il, we kind of knew what was happening, we had some relationship towards the end of his life. But this is a new...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: This raises an important issue, Fareed, because the U.S. has terrific technical information, satellite, intercepts, that kind of stuff, but not necessarily good insight into what is actually going on with this 28- or 29- or 30-year-old young leader in North Korea.

ZAKARIA: Wolf, I'm struck. When you talk to senior U.S. officials, they really know nothing about what's going on in North Korea. It's a black box. We haven't had diplomats there, of course, ever. We have never had much of a presence in terms of the CIA. We don't understand the society. This is true not just of North Korea, it's true of Iran. The U.S. has real difficulty understanding these rogue regimes, because we don't talk to them.

BLITZER: Hold on, guys. We have more to talk about amongst ourselves.

Up next, Kim Jong-un's leadership has been questioned. Is someone else really running the show behind the scenes? New information coming in.

And a closer look at North Korea's arsenal reveals it may not be the weapons that pose the biggest danger.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's threats and bluster may be getting the world's attention, but many suspect he's little more than a puppet, the public face of a more mysterious and powerful hierarchy that's really in control.

Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence has more on who may be pulling Kim's strings.

What are you learning over there, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Make no mistake, Wolf, I mean, there is a power behind this throne. It's really a family affair, with one woman in particular sitting right next to the throne.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): North Korean videos show us how Kim Jong- un wants the world to see him. But they barely give us a peek into Kim's inner circle.

(on camera): What are we not seeing in this video?

JOSEPH DETRANI, INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY ALLIANCE: Who are the people whispering to him in his ear, telling him what to do? Who is he beholden to as his key advisers? We don't see this in these pictures.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Joseph DeTrani is a recently retired intelligence official who focused on Korea.

(on camera): Here we see a row of male officials, and one woman. Who is she?

DETRANI: Well, this is the aunt. This is the sister of Kim Jong Il.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Kim Kyong-hui holds powerful positions in North Korea's cabinet. They made her a four-star general in 2010 and she helped transfer power from her brother to her nephew.

JOHN PARK, CENTER FOR CONFLICT ANALYSIS AND PREVENTION: She is someone who is an operator behind the scenes.

LAWRENCE: And the most powerful woman in North Korea.

PARK: But it's her husband, Chang Sung-taek, who is the rainmaker of the Kim regime.

LAWRENCE: Chang Sung-taek led North Korea's attempt to revive its economy, and has extensive ties to China of. He's now Kim's key policy adviser.

DETRANI: He's come very far, in a very short period of time, from number 19 to number two.

LAWRENCE: And he may be the closest North Korea has to a reformer.

DETRANI: A reformer to them is anyone who deviates, even slightly, from the path, the line.

LAWRENCE: Outside the first family, the inner circle is small.

(on camera): Are these Kim's military elite?

DETRANI: No, they're gone. Most of these people are gone now.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Kim purged the military veterans his father relied on and installed his own man. Choe Ryong-hae is a party man, with no military background, the first bureaucrat to run the military and its valuable arms sales business.

PARK: He is someone who is considered to be the Kim Jong-un's inner circle man when it comes to the military.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: Make no mistake, Kim rules with an iron fist, but it's not an isolated one. And after sweeping aside a lot of the folks who were in power with his father, he's even more reliant now than ever on his aunt and uncle, Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, with good information from the Pentagon. Thanks very much.

Let's bring back Fareed Zakaria, the anchor of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS," also our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour.

This notion of he's a puppet, that there are these people pulling the strings behind the scenes, what do you make of that?

ZAKARIA: I think, look, he's a 29-year-old boy, he's barely in office for much time.

Clearly he is not alone in exercising power. Clearly, this is a military dictatorship and that means the military part is very important. I think he does have -- it's a family dynasty wedded to military power, so both sides have an important play. The key adviser though is Chang Sung-taek. He's the liaison to China.

Remember, the reason North Korea is able to survive is that the Chinese government provides it with 50 percent of its food and 80 percent of its fuel. The man who negotiates with China is probably the lifeline of the regime.

BLITZER: But it's so weird. I mean, you can't make this kind of stuff up, Christiane. One day he's going to a basketball game with Dennis Rodman, and inviting Dennis Rodman over for dinner, and partying it up, whatever they were doing, and the next day he's threatening South Korea, Japan, the United States.

AMANPOUR: It's more than weird. It's actually very troubling that the United States of America, the superpower, does not have any personal relationship or personal insight into this other very troubled adversary, North Korea, that there's no diplomacy, there's no face-to-face engagement, there's no knowledge.

When you hear the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying that this is what makes it so unpredictable and difficult to read, because we just don't have...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What should the Obama administration be doing?

AMANPOUR: There should be a lot more diplomacy.

BLITZER: Like what?

AMANPOUR: Well, engagement. Look, whoever thought -- you know that it's not engagement. You know it's with the party of six. You know the United States relies mostly on China. In other words, the United States currently is outsourcing its most critical issues, let's say Iran on one hand, but also North Korea, right now to China.

I have spoken to U.S. officials whose job it is to deal with this, and they are hoping beyond hope, fingers crossed, that China will use its leverage to bring Kim Jong-un into control and into line. And also, China has been saying they're very troubled by this. They regret various moves. But, you know, what are they going to do?

BLITZER: Is the U.S. outsourcing its diplomacy to China?

AMANPOUR: Yes.

ZAKARIA: I don't think it is, because we don't have any leverage.

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: Fareed, it's not true. The Chinese is the superpower of the world. (CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: Christiane, we could nuke them.

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: No, Fareed, there's diplomacy. Nobody's going to nuke anybody.

ZAKARIA: Christiane, give me a second. They are one of the most isolated countries in the world. You talk about understanding them.

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: Not understanding. I'm talking about engagement and diplomacy.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: The South Koreans speak the language, are the same people. And if you talk to South Korean diplomats, you will be stunned.

They are more baffled by the North Koreans than we are. The reason this regime is difficult to understand is it is a brutal dictatorship. It has starved two million of its own people. Can you explain the rationale behind that? No, we can't comprehend the way in which they do these things.

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: But the United States engage with the Soviet Union, a military nuclear power.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: You find that when regimes are isolated, it is very difficult for us, particularly, to have much control over them, because we don't trade with them. We don't do anything. We can't sanction North Korea because they don't do any business with us anyway.

The one country that does business with them is China. It's not that we're outsourcing. We're going to the country that has influence.

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: Because we have no connections.

BLITZER: They do some business with Iran. They sell stuff to Iran. They do some business with Syria. They have sold some stuff. They do some business with other countries. And that presumably brings in a little bit of foreign currency for them.

(CROSSTALK) AMANPOUR: Quite a lot.

ZAKARIA: You're going to ask Mr. Assad to help us with the North Koreans?

BLITZER: I want to bring this up, because all of us remember how the U.S., indeed, I think the whole world miscalculated Saddam Hussein in 1990, on the eve of his invasion of Kuwait when he moved 100,000 Iraqi troops from the Iranian border to the Kuwaiti border, and all the top U.S. officials were telling me, I assume they were telling you, he's bluffing, he's not going to go in and invade a fellow Arab country, maybe he is wanting the Kuwaitis to raise the price of oil a little bit. He would never do that. Maybe a little border skirmish, but it's really a bluff.

And it wasn't a bluff, and he went in there and he moved like a knife through butter through Kuwait heading towards Saudi Arabia. I think of that now when I see a lot of people saying maybe Kim Jong-un is bluffing.

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: Well, hold on a second. He may have bluffed -- or called everybody's bluff and did what he did, but the United States assembled, with a coalition, 500,000 troops.

BLITZER: Over six months.

AMANPOUR: Yes, and did the job of getting rid of him. They would not appease what happened and as he went back. The real bluff was Saddam Hussein thinking the world was bluffing in 2003. He didn't think the United States was going to invade. And he was busy telling people he didn't have any nuclear -- that he had nuclear weapons when he didn't. Now the North Koreans do.

BLITZER: But the question I'm asking is, if all of these analysts right now are suggesting, Fareed, he's bluffing, he's got his own initiative, we don't understand him, but he's not going to do anything crazy, suicidal, should we buy that?

ZAKARIA: Look, that's why what we have to do is some mixture of deterrence.

I agree with Christiane that there has to be some way to better understand them. But we have got to remember these regimes are inherently unpredictable because they rest on very narrow bases of power. It's one guy. The Saddam case is a perfect one. As you well know, it wasn't just U.S. analysts who were saying this. It was the king of Jordan who was saying this, it was the president of Egypt. All the Arabs who spoke his language, who met him several times, they thought he was bluffing.

So when we look at North Korea, when the South Koreans don't understand it, let's not get too deeply into the psychoanalysis of one human being. What we have to do is to protect our interests, reassure our allies and put in place a structure that keeps peace. BLITZER: Don't go away. Both of you stay with me. We have more to discuss, a lot more coming up on our special report.

Up next, North Korea's missile force -- missiles may force global powers to pay serious attention. We have live reports from the international capitals in the region, where war fears are building right now.

And a rare and remarkable look at the tense Korean border from the communist North side. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now: North Korea's military threats leave the region on edge. But is Kim Jong-un's arsenal as dangerous as he makes it seem?

The North Korean leader, mocked, and his government's Web site hacked. It's part of another Korean war, a cyber-war. And the communist's regime most unlikely target. The Texas governor responds to the threat of attack in Texas.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, and this is THE SITUATION ROOM special report, the "North Korean Crisis."

The ripple effects of the Korean crisis are being felt far beyond the Korean Peninsula. Thanks to the worldwide reach of CNN, we're monitoring this crisis from national capitals around the globe.

Before we hear from our correspondents in Moscow and Beijing, let's start with CNN's Kyung Lah. she's joining us now in Seoul.

What's going on there, Kyung?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a country with the biggest bullseye on it. Seoul is only about an hour's drive south of the DMZ.

And there is growing concern about these incremental steps that appear to be leading to a possible, we stress possible conflict. There continues to be tough talk from the South Korean government, and among the older generation, people who truly remember the 1950-1953 Korean conflict, a bloody conflict that also claimed many American lives, there is concern about that possibility.

But, overwhelmingly, there is numbness in this city. They have seen these missile launches before. They have always been tests. So for the place with the biggest target on it, it is praying this will also, if there is a missile launch, only be a test.

Now, for the view from China, my colleague David McKenzie -- David.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kyung.

Here in Beijing, North Korea has had few friends for a long time, but China has always been one of them. Western diplomats believe China could hold the leverage point to try and solve the situation diplomatically, because China could literally cut the taps off to North Korea, with fuel and food supplies.

But on the Chinese side, they face this balancing act, because China wants the status quo to remain. They believe that a dictatorship in North Korea could help them here, and provide a buffer against U.S. troops in the Korean Peninsula.

So while China should be the leverage point, they don't want to push too hard.

Let's hear from Moscow and Phil Black.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, David.

The Russian government says that its representative and all other foreign ambassadors in Pyongyang have been advised by a North Korean official to consider packing up their embassies and pulling out their people. Now, this seems to have taken Russia by surprise. And the foreign minister here says -- they ask, what is this exactly? Is it a direct order from the North Korean leader or just a suggestion? We're told for the moment it is only a suggestion.

The British government says its ambassador was also among those who were warned they could not be protected in the event of a military conflict. And that now all been given just four days to let the North Korean government know if they need any help to evacuate.

For the moment, both Britain and Russia say they have no immediate plans to withdraw their people. But they are considering their options.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: For the moment. Those are key, key words. Guys, thanks very much. Kyung Lah, David McKenzie, and Phil Black, reporting from around the world.

Let's bring back CNN's Fareed Zakaria, the anchor of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" and chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour.

Christiane, you were there during the good old days when the North Koreans actually blew up one of their nuclear reactors.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I was, indeed, that was in 2008. They invited us, a selective group of journalists first, in the winter of that year to accompany -- can you imagine? -- the New York Philharmonic Orchestra to Pyongyang as, really, this unprecedented cultural rapprochement between Pyongyang and Washington, D.C. This was an amazing moment, and it marked an agreement of sorts between Pyongyang and Washington.

That day they disabled their main plutonium processing plant, which is Nyongbyon. We saw them do that. We saw them do that. They disabled it. We saw them do it.

BLITZER: There are the pictures.

AMANPOUR: Well, that was several months later when they then blew it up for us, as a further show of good faith.

Well, then, afterwards, Kim Jong-Il fell ill. And after that, these talks basically went nowhere. And then the gradual ratcheting up of these tensions.

But let's just go back to before 2007, and it was the Bush administration's decision not to engage with North Korea. In fact, to cut off all previous engagement with North Korea. To dismiss South Korea's sunshine policy. This was the policy of President George W. Bush.

After that North Korea pulled out of the nonproliferation treaty and then kicked out the IAEA, the U.N. atomic agency inspectors from Pyongyang. And then they went ahead, and they did several nuclear tests. And this where we are today now.

There are Americans who continue to go to North Korea. Not all the time, but they do still go. And some of them are very highly- placed scientists. Aseem Becker (ph), who was the director of the Los Alamos national laboratory, and many others. Former secretaries of defense, William Perry, and others have been there. And they do have this two-track, or rather track 2 policy going on. So there are people who can have this dialogue. But they're not empowered to have official dialogue.

BLITZER: They're very sensitive, the North Koreans. You know this. When I was there in December 2010 -- Christiane speaks about the visit, which was well-received in Pyongyang of the New York Philharmonic. You know what the North Koreans wanted? To send their philharmonic to perform in New York at Carnegie. They were told that that was going to happen, a reciprocal visit. I don't think -- Christiane, correct me if I'm wrong -- that has happened. Is that -- they're very sensitive to relatively small things like that.

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": They are. You know, I'm all for people-to-people diplomacy. I'm all for more information about that. But let's keep just in mind the blunt facts, which is the Clinton administration tried to engage with them, signed an agreement with them. They broke it. It wasn't that the talks went nowhere. They cheated on it, consistently, and by all accounts, all international authorities.

The Bush administration, after the first term, as happened off with Bush, the second term of the Bush administration here, he did engage, signed two agreements with the North Koreans. They cheated on those again.

What they have tended to do -- we've watched this movie before. They threaten. They kind of try to get attention. They lure the United States into negotiations, get some goodies, and then break the agreement. So I want us to engage. I think it would be a wonderful thing to find some path, but let's keep in mind this is a regime that has used this tactic now twice in the last two decades. Who knows what is going on? But it's certainly possible that this is a third attempt to do exactly the same thing.

And I think to a certain extent, the Obama administration is being wise not to rush in there and say, "Oh, my goodness, we'll send diplomats immediately. We need to understand you. We need to feel your pain."

Let's just figure out what's going on. But, you know, we've been sold this Brooklyn Bridge twice before.

AMANPOUR: Well, I think feeling your pain is not quite what I would, you know, advocate. I think most people who talk about engagement, again, go back to the fact that diplomacy is a centuries- old tool that is used to deal with precisely these kinds of issues with your adversaries. It doesn't mean to say you have to love each other. It doesn't mean to say you're appeasing them.

The United States is the world's super power. It has more than enough to be able to defend itself and its allies. It is not physically threatened. It can defend itself. It has to figure out how to get beyond this, which is completely and utterly tied in a knot.

As Fareed has said, as we've all said, this is one of the most sanctioned regimes in the world. And yet they continue, not just to be blustery and belligerent, but to make advances in their missile technology and perhaps even in their nuclear technology.

That thing that they blew up, they can, according to the scientists, put back together, the entire plant within six months to a year. They only have a certain amount of bombs' worth of plutonium. They may have some uranium enrichment, but they don't have the wherewithal to attack the United States.

ZAKARIA: They have two or three crude nuclear weapons. They're a basket case regime. Their real power is that the Chinese are so scared that if they were to put some pressure on them, the whole regime would collapse. It's the kind of, you know, power that you have because you are so screwed up and so dysfunctional, that everyone is walking around gingerly.

They sank a South Korean ship a few years ago. The South Koreans were extraordinarily restrained. And I talked to the South Korean foreign minister at the time: "How come you guys didn't do something?"

He said, "Because we all live in fear of the fact that, if we do too much, the whole thing will collapse and then we, like West Germany, will have to absorb..."

BLITZER: I've been -- I've been saying that for days. The new president of South Korea, President Park, she is a tough, tough lady. And I believe if a similar incident like that were to happen, she would respond militarily. God knows what would happen as a result of that.

Guys, excellent discussion. Our coverage is going to continue on this. So you will be back. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

And please be sure to watch Fareed Zakaria, CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS." It airs Sunday mornings at 10 a.m., also at 1 p.m. every Sunday here on CNN.

You can also see Christiane Amanpour weekdays on CNN International at both 3 and 5 p.m. Eastern around the world. Two of the very, very best. We're fortunate to have them here with us on CNN.

North Korea has one of the biggest militaries in the world. But we're finding some surprising flaws in the country's stockpile of weapons. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: U.S. officials fear North Korea will conduct a provocative missile test and will conduct it soon. There's no doubt the regime is dangerously unpredictable, but are its weapons any match for the most powerful military in the world?

Tom Foreman is back.

And Tom, you've been looking at North Korea's arsenal. What are you seeing?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, almost all of the experts say that barring something really unforeseen, this is not a case of North Korea likely going nuclear. They don't really expect that.

The fear beyond that, though, is that somehow, through a series of unforeseen events, we stumble into what is a more conventional war, and we see more of their traditional military power.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): In those massive parades of North Korean military might, the display may seem impressive. More than 1 million troops under arms, row after row of missiles, tanks and other weaponry. At GlobalCity.org, John Pike, a skilled military analyst, sees something else.

JOHN PIKE, MILITARY ANALYST, GLOBALCITY.ORG: It would look pretty good to people who didn't know anything about military equipment. You know, I mean, all these rockets are the same. But if you look at it closely, you basically see, this is a lot of old clunky stuff.

FOREMAN: When we asked Pike's team to look over some photos of North Korea's military, they quickly pointed out problems. Old Soviet style tanks still using technology from the 1980s or even further back. Antiaircraft guns that lack any connected radar or computer targeting. Boats not suitable for the high seas. Almost antique equipment for communications. Much of it appears to have been updated, but just look at a North Korean war room compared to one in the South.

JOSEPH TREVITHICK, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: We're talking about very simple, very rudimentary systems.

FOREMAN: There is, however, that greatest asset of the North, the massive number of troops. Both active and reserve, they run into the millions. Retired Army general and CNN contributor Spider Marks.

GEN. SPIDER MARKS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: They train every winter for weeks and weeks, in terms of maneuvering their forces with great accuracy. Now the issue is, how do they sustain that?

FOREMAN: Analysts believe in full battle with the South, the North could face critical shortages and rations, ammunition.

PIKES: And at some point any North Korean offensive is going to stall, simply by virtue of not having fuel to run the tanks.

FOREMAN: It all means that, even though North Korea's military may roar loudly enough to strike fear, in any extended battle, analysts think it could prove a paper tiger.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Although, you know that word "extended," Wolf, the simple truth is that many think that, in the initial days of a conventional conflict in North Korea, it would be very bloody and very difficult, because they would be expected to fight very fiercely with what they do have -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They have thousands of artillery shells that would be launched from North Korea into South Korea. And there are millions of South Koreans right in harm's way, not very far away. It would be a disaster. All right, Tom, thanks very much.

I know from personal experience, if you do manage to get into North Korea, they keep very close control over what you're allowed to see. But some people are trying to show everyone what's really happening. CNN's Mary Snow is here. She's got this part of the story.

What are you seeing, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, as you know, because trips into North Korea are so scarce, any glimpse into the country is closely watched. And Dennis Rodman's surreal visit is part of a documentary that's being made for our sister network, HBO. But there are other trips that give insight and a look into just how tightly controlled things are.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): This is what the Demilitarized Zone looks from the North Korean side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're in Panmunjom, the Demilitarized Zone, where the armistice was signed between the DPRK and U.N.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The U.S. had a great loss, so they proposed to us, to have the armistice talks in June 1951.

SNOW: The footage was taken by Vice Media, which produced Dennis Rodman's controversial trip to North Korea in February. While that trip made the most headlines, Vice made other trips, getting rare access into a country the world rarely sees. And there's the Choreographed displays North Korea wants the world to see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the history of the Korean revolution as portrayed by 120,000 people doing a simultaneous pantomime.

SNOW: On a tour of the Great People's Library, even a reading desk is linked to the supreme leader. A tour guide says Kim Jong-Il invented it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So the Great Leader personally sat down in the chair and taught us that the desk should be made convenient for the readers.

CHARLES ARMSTRONG, DIRECTOR OF KOREAN STUDIES, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: They're really in this bubble in which all you see around you is the state media, and the information that the regime wants you to see. There's no place in the world that has that kind of informational control.

SNOW: Charles Armstrong is the director of Korean studies at Columbia University. With no direct lines of communication, unconventional exchanges like Rodman's face time with Kim Jong-un took on more significance. Rodman and the crew took heat for Rodman fawning over the communist dictator and handing him an opportunity for propaganda. But Armstrong says, in the end, it could prove useful.

ARMSTRONG: The fact that Dennis Rodman is the first American to actually meet Kim Jong-un is pretty amazing. And we can learn a lot through that visit.

SNOW (on camera): Such as?

ARMSTRONG: Well, what kind of a person Kim Jong-un is. What is he like? What's his personality like? What's the way to reach him?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: If nothing else, we found out that Kim Jong-un likes basketball. And it's worth noting that he did meet with other Americans, including Google's CEO, when he went to visit North Korea.

BLITZER: And wouldn't meet with Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, when he was there in January, either. Some fascinating material. Let's see what happens.

Mary, thanks very much.

Kim Jong-un has been targeted by hackers. We're taking a closer look at another big threat in the region, cyber war.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now to something North Koreans wouldn't want anyone to see. Take a look at this. Hackers apparently are responsible for this doctored image of Kim Jong-un showing up on North Korean Web sites. CNN's Kyung Lah looked into who is responsible.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It sounds like North Korean state TV, but what it says -- "You're no better than a dog, Kim Jong-un." That's what greeted viewers of the North Korean government Web site, Uriminzokkiri, along with pictures of Kim Jong-un in drag.

Somber songs showing Kim Jong-Il drinking wine while North Korean children starve. On Uriminzokkiri's Twitter account, links to this image, a wanted poster showing Kim Jong-un dressed as an obese pig with exposed chest hair and a Mickey Mouse tattoo on his gut, calling him a threat to world peace.

The North Korean Twitter account blared the word "hacked" and showed an image of a mask that's the favorite symbol of the hacking group Anonymous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

LAH (on camera): That sounds totally like the North Korean announcer.

PROFESSOR SEUNGJOO KIM, KOREA UNIVERSITY: Yes.

LAH (voice-over): You can't help but laugh, says information security expert Seungjoo Kim, but this is just the latest shot in an ongoing and very serious cyber war between the two Koreas that goes far beyond just the humiliation of a leader.

(on camera): Which is the bigger threat: the conventional war, a nuclear war or this cyber war?

"The purpose of a cyber war is to disable the enemy's ability to fight," says Professor Kim. "If the cyber war continues, there's a high possibility it could lead to a conventional war."

And a country that claims to be the most wired in the world, South Korea has been under increasing attack. Just last month a major cyber assault knocked South Korean television networks offline and froze business at banks.

That's why Seoul is building a cyber army. These are the soldiers learning to break code and understand what they call North Korean cyber terrorism. We can't show you their faces, because many of them will eventually work with the South Korean military on the cyber front lines, where they'll face off with cyber soldiers from the North.

(on camera): As amusing as this is, there is growing concern among security experts in Seoul that, because this was so successful and so funny, that North Korea may become enraged and launch a massive counter cyber-attack against South Korea.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Seoul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Here at CNN, we've gotten to visit places inside North Korea that few people ever get to see. A very personal take on the country. That's just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Certainly a rare opportunity to visit North Korea. And those of us who have agree it's an unforgettable experience. CNN's Alina Cho went there twice.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Your eyes are not deceiving you: this is communist North Korea. Look at this western- style amusement park. It's packed. There's a ride called Power Surge. And take a look inside the food court. You'll find western fare. On the menu, hotdogs and waffles on a stick. The Aun (ph) family comes often to unwind.

At the time, he said, "Words cannot explain the excitement. After working so hard General Kim Jong-Il has given us this park to relax. We really love it."

If North Korea is Stalin's last playground, this is its version of Disneyland.

Not far, at this outdoor food market, they're serving up more traditional fare, like soybean pancakes. And people are paying. Like their enemy neighbors in South Korea, North Korean currency is also called the won, but this features a hammer and sickle. One hundred North Korean won equals one U.S. dollar.

In the years since I last visited North Korea, I did notice some changes. For one, more average North Koreans speak English.

(on camera): Do you like coming here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, very much.

CHO (voice-over): For the first time, there are streetlights, installed just before I arrived.

Most notably, in a country closed off to the rest of the world, North Koreans are now talking on cell phones. This girl says everyone in her family has one. But international calls are forbidden. Word is, punishable by death. In that way, and others, time stands still. We can only see what our government minders want us to see, and undeniably, it is North Korea's best face. Many North Koreans live in poverty. One in three young children is said to be malnourished and the average salary, a few dollars a month. There are still very few cars. In this city, there is no such thing as a traffic jam.

(on camera): This is Pyongyang's Puhung (ph) subway station, one of two main hubs and one of the main forms of transportation for average North Koreans. Many don't own bikes, let alone cars, so this is how they get from point A to point B. And today, the trains appear to be running on time.

(voice-over): Many travel by foot. On the streets, there are no ads, only propaganda billboards. And listen -- they not only see the message; they hear it. North Korean propaganda songs blaring across Pyongyang.

(on camera): Look at what we happened upon here. You know, we're in the middle of weeklong celebrations here in North Korea, commemorating the 65th anniversary of the Worker's Party of North Korea. This is how people are celebrating. They're literally dancing in the streets.

For all the small changes we've seen, the larger question remains: is the new young leader the son of the last any different? For now, it doesn't appear so. And North Korea remains sealed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Alina is here in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

When you see what's going on now, this incredible tension that has developed over the past few weeks, and you've been there and you see the faces of real people on both sides of the Demilitarized Zone, you've got to be very nervous. You've got to be worried, passionately, about the potential disaster.

CHO: I am. And, you know, you look at the leader, Kim Jong-un, and here is a young man we don't know his age. He looked like a kid when I saw him 2 1/2 years ago in 2010. He's said to be 28, 29, maybe 30 years old.

You know, there was a lot of thought at the time, as you well remember, Wolf, and a lot of people were asking, would he open up the country? Would it become more western because he went to school in Switzerland? So far that is not proving to be true, and it's really, really concerning to a lot of people who are watching this closely.

BLITZER: Alina, thanks very much. We're going to continue our special coverage, obviously, but stay with us. The news continues next on CNN.