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Minneapolis Issues Rare Cold Warning; Polar Vortex Blamed; Rodman Takes Ex-NBA Players to North Korea; No Troops Going to Iraq; U.S. To Assist Iraq With Intelligence; U.S. Coast Guard To Help Antarctic-Trapped Ships; Media Reports About Kim Jong-un Feeding Uncle to Dogs Is Not True

Aired January 6, 2014 - 12:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: It always makes me concerned that they don't question at least a little bit before they implement things with their kids.


BANFIELD: Kelly Wallace, always good to see you.

WALLACE: Always good to see you.

BANFIELD: Thank you. Nicely, warmly dressed today.

WALLACE: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Thanks for watching, everybody. I'm flat out of time. Great to have you with us. Keep warm. Set a timer for your pets if you let them outside, please. Such an easy thing to do. AROUND THE WORLD starts now.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Brutal cold with some high temperatures not even hitting zero. It is so bad. Your skin can freeze in as little as five minutes.

Plus, the U.S. is vowing to help the Iraqi government fight al Qaeda- linked fighters. But it doesn't mean U.S. troops will swoop in.

Also this --


DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA PLAYERS: I'm going over there to do one thing, try to interact with him on that point we love, sports. He loves sports. I like the guy. The guy is awesome to me. And that's about it. No more.


MALVEAUX: Dennis Rodman back in North Korea. This time he brought a team of former NBA players. The goal, to play some basketball for Kim Jong-un's birthday.

Welcome to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

Well, just keeping safe and warm is a priority, a big challenge for so many people in this country. We're talking 140 million people in the United States right now. Half the country dealing with temperatures below zero. In some places, the cold is so extreme, it is dangerous to even be outside for just a few minutes.

The wind chill in Duluth, Minnesota, feels like 55 degrees below zero. That can freeze exposed skin in just five minutes. Other places like Chicago, St. Louis, not much warmer, really. The deep freeze reaching all the way down into the Deep South, as well.

The whole state of Louisiana has been under a hard freeze warning today. That means the temperatures have been in the 20s for several hours. Baton Rouge and New Orleans expecting record lows. Memphis, colder than Anchorage this morning, if you can believe that. In Atlanta, where I am, colder than Moscow.

Well, forecasters say that a warming trend, thankfully, is come on Wednesday. But until then, much of the country is seeing the coldest weather in 20 years. My colleague, my friend, Stephanie Elam, braving it in Minneapolis, Alexandria Steele in the Severe Weather Center to explain why all of this is happening.

And, Stephanie, God, I've got to start off with you because I know what it's like to be out there when you're covering the cold weather and you can't talk. You're literally -- your mouth freezes and everything is frozen. How are you doing?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I learned my lesson, Suzanne. I'm not going to take this thing off until it's time to talk, because I know I look like I'm in a horror movie. But it is that cold out here.

I've never felt anything like this before. I've never felt any kind of cold that is this deep. And it's just not the right way to describe it. We've checked in with the city to see how they're dealing with it. What's interesting, they said crime goes down when it gets cold, but when it gets really cold like this, it goes way down.

What they do see more, though, are more domestic issues, because people are cooped up in the house. But they said, overall, they've been working on clearing the streets, people who are homeless, who need to get to hospitals, get them to shelters. They've been working to do that.

The transportation departments saying that things are moving fairly well throughout the city, but they are concerned about black ice being an issue. They're also saying make sure you don't go anywhere if you have to go without half a tank of gas in your car and be prepared because if you have a car that's sitting there too long and it freezes up, if you have an antifreeze issue, that could be another issue too.

So really, they're just telling everyone to stay home. They even closed down the zoo today because they didn't want people taking their families there as an alternative since the schools were closed down for the first time since 1997, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Yes, I can't imagine those animals are doing all that well, unless they take them inside, as well.

Stephanie, you're hanging for dear life on to that cup there. Is it frozen? Is that actually liquid still liquid now or is that just trying to keep your hands warm?

ELAM: I'm keeping my hands warm. And we heard - I saw it happen last night. We saw this man throw hot water into the sky and it turned into snow. Now, I don't know if I've been holding it too long to try it, but let's just see what happens. OK, I'm going to try it.

MALVEAUX: OK. All right.

ELAM: See what happens here. Woo!


ELAM: It kind of happened. That was crazy.

MALVEAUX: Yes, that was pretty amazing.

ELAM: Hot water. This was boiling hot water and it turns into snow immediately in this kind of cold. Absolutely crazy. It's like a cool science project.

MALVEAUX: That you're a part of today. Well, Stephanie, it's not going to last much longer, so don't worry about it. Hang in there. Be warm. Wednesday -- it's supposed to change by Wednesday, warm up a little bit. But you're doing a great job, Steph, so we'll see you in a little bit.

ELAM: Thanks.

MALVEAUX: All right.

Some -- they're calling this a polar vortex that is responsible for all of this wicked cold. Alexandra Steele is in the Severe Weather Center.

Did you see what happened to that? That was pretty amazing.


MALVEAUX: He - the water just, you know, turns immediately into snow and it just - just by hitting the air.

STEELE: Yes, you know, this is really rarefied air. Now this is the polar vortex. And a piece of this is coming down. It's the coldest air in the northern hemisphere. Now, normally this air circulates around the poles. But when the polar vortex is weak, it's allowed kind of able that deep cold to drop into the northern hemisphere. And, hey, if you're under 40 years old in this part of the world, you've never seen air like this before, so rarefied. Fifty-one blow is what it feels like in Duluth. Five minutes, that's all you need for frostbite. Thirty-five below, you only need 10 minutes. So certainly dangerous. They're calling this a PDS. We usually only use that terminology as meteorologists around Minneapolis when there are even tornadoes or severe weather.

But around Minneapolis in the upper Midwest, it's a PDS, "particularly dangerous situation." Temperatures are cold, air is cold, of course the snow that fell and also the visibility and that coupled with do not get out and drive also because you get out there, something happens to your car, the antifreeze freezes at 15 below, you're stuck in the car and you're in life threatening cold temperatures. So that's the do not drive reason behind kind of the package.

Cold air, look at this, brutally cold, 30 below where we normally are in Atlanta, Georgia. It will find the northeast, though. Temperatures in the 40s and 50s right now from Boston to New York. That will change by this afternoon and they too will get into this rarefied air. And there you go, highs and low temperatures in Atlanta, Georgia, Suzanne, getting to the single digits for the first time since 2003. We're expecting seven. If it goes to five, it will be the first time since 1985.

MALVEAUX: Oh, my God. Unbelievable. All right, well, thank you very much. I mean hopefully it's going to warm up soon. On Wednesday, you say, just a little bit better. But, boy, you just -

STEELE: Absolutely. We're going to all see warm -- much warmer temperatures by the time we get toward the end of the week. You want to see how warm? Fifty in Cinci. What does that look like for Saturday?

MALVEAUX: Pretty good.

STEELE: Sixty in Atlanta Saturday.

MALVEAUX: Very nice. Very -- I'll take that.

STEELE: We're getting there.

MALVEAUX: I'll take that. In the meantime, stay indoors and be safe.


MALVEAUX: Now to North Korea, where they're welcoming a familiar face. We're talking about Dennis Rodman. The eccentric former basketball player there, he is helping King Jong-un celebrate his birthday in North Korea. His team of former NBA players, they're going to play the country's senior national team. Now Rodman says, look, this is all about fun. This is not about politics. But others are wondering, why does he keep visiting this country? It's very repressive. It's got a history of human rights abuses. Well, here's Karl Penhaul with more.


KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Party time for North Korean's strong man, Kim Jong-un. He turns 31 Wednesday, and basketball bad boy, Dennis Rodman and his team of NBA all-timers headed there to help him celebrate.


PENHAUL: Rodman is describing this trip as basketball diplomacy. But prior to takeoff, he ruled out specifically pushing for the release of American missionary Kenneth Bae, who's doing hard time in a North Korean labor camp.

DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA PLAYER: I'm not trying to save the world. I'm not trying to save Ken Bae or these people. That's not my job. Not my job. My job is one thing -- sports. I'm going over there to do one thing, try to interact with him on that point we love, of course, sports. He loves sports. I like the guy. The guy is awesome to me.

PENHAUL: Rodman and his NBA buddies are scheduled to shoot hoops with the North Korean national squad. It's a birthday treat for Kim, who's an avid basketball fan. On his last trip in December, Rodman spent a few days coaching the North Koreans. As they waited for their plane to Pyongyang, players insisted the focus was on the game, not politics. But shooting guard, Doug Christie, is hopeful they can build bridges.

DOUG CHRISTIE, FORMER NBA PLAYER: Sport is what we're going for. Sport is something that cancels and conquers all borders, all lines. And it's an exciting feeling.

PENHAUL: Power forward, Charles D. Smith, also seemed optimistic.

CHARLES SMITH, BASKETBALL STAR: Well, the extreme views on North Korea come about because most people have not been there. And because people have a sense of fear of the unknown.

PENHAUL: Critics see the trip as a publicity stunt and highlight North Korea's record of human rights abuses. But the NBA all-stars just want to play ball.

VIN BAKER, FORMER NBA PLAYER: I'm looking forward to playing and putting on a show in North Korea.

ERIC FLOYD, FORMER NBA PLAYER: We don't really get into the political aspects of it. But we all enjoy the game, love the game. We just try to spread all the great qualities that the game brings.

PENHAUL: Only last month, Kim Jong-un sent his own uncle to the firing squad on charges of corruption and treason. That kind of controversy prompted Rodman's Irish sponsors to pull out. But he remains unfazed.

RODMAN: It's about one thing, showing people that we could actually get along. Let's get along as human beings.

PENHAUL (on camera): Some people are describing this trip as basketball's version of the movie "The Expendables," where a group of has-been action heroes come together for one last mission. We must now just wait and see whether Rodman's main mission is simply to party with a dictator or whether he's hoping to score a diplomatic slam dunk.

Karl Penhaul, CNN, Beijing Airport.


MALVEAUX: Here's more of what we're working on for AROUND THE WORLD.

Secretary of State John Kerry says the U.S. will not supply boots on the ground to help stabilize Iraq, but will offer support in other ways.

Plus --


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The terrain is dense and disoriented. The men force their way through the undergrowth and squash the (INAUDIBLE). Our CNN team can barely keep up.


MALVEAUX: Police chase down poachers who are killing elephants in the Congo.


MALVEAUX: There is now new fighting in Iraq between al Qaeda-linked militants and government troops. And it's raising questions about whether or not U.S. forces will return there. Over the weekend, there were battles in Anbar province and fighting in Fallujah, that important central city 37 miles west of Baghdad. Well, Secretary of State John Kerry says that the United States will help, but not with troops.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis. That is exactly what the president and the world decided some time ago when we left Iraq. So we are not, obviously, contemplating returning. We're not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight. But we're going to help them in their fight.


MALVEAUX: Joining me, Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, Nic Robertson, who's covered the Iraq and Middle East for many, many years, and Jerusalem.

I want to start off with you, Barbara, here. Secretary Kerry says the U.S. is not going to put boots on the ground. So tell us, in very practical terms, what can the U.S. do at this point to stop the fighting in Iraq?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it will be very limited. Of course, no troops, because neither the U.S. or the Iraqis two years ago could come to an agreement that would allow U.S. troops to stay. So the U.S. pulled out and Maliki well knew what he was getting into at that point.

The aid, the assistance, most likely to be the acceleration of some weapon sales to Iraq, especially hell fire missiles and drones so that they can conduct their own surveillance and reconnaissance in this area of western Iraq.

And also, intelligence-sharing, the U.S. will share, as it has for the last many months, satellite intelligence, intercept information, that sort of thing, with the Iraqi government.

But no troops and very limited help at this point, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Nic, I want to bring you into the conversation here.

We know that American forces, very successful in going up against al- Qaeda, 2006, 2007, essentially because we were aligned -- the United States, rather, aligned with the Sunnis.

But now you've got a situation where the Sunnis are aligning with al- Qaeda. They are so frustrated with the Shia-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki.

How do you win them back?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What happened was, the Sunnis we're talking about here, that sided with U.S. troops to overthrow al-Qaeda in 2006, 2007, were really the tribes.

It's the tribes that have the power in al-Anbar, and the tribes realized that al-Qaeda was undermining them.

And, also at that time, prior to that time, the United States had really taken away the power of the tribal leaders. They gave that back to them, allowed them to carry weapons, have weapons and have authority.

And right now, if the government of Nouri al-Maliki can give the tribal leaders some authority, make them feel like they count if their area, i.e., give them political responsibility, not just in al-Anbar, but at a national level, as well, then he'll win those tribes back, and they will turn against al-Qaeda as they have done before.

They know what al-Qaeda are like. Al-Qaeda was killing tribal leaders before, and even recently, has been doing the same.

So there is a lot vested there for the tribes to go with the government, but the government has got to put that on offer, and it's not clear that's happening, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Barbara, give us a sense of who these people are that we're talking about, these militants that Nic says are in Anbar, members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

STARR: Well, this is what is so important right now in this area. These al-Qaeda groups, look, this is not the old al-Qaeda of 2003, the old al-Qaeda of 9/11. This is the rise of the al-Qaeda affiliates, young, fierce fighters, very much committed to their own agendas.

And this is an area without that central government control that Nic is talking about, that is free for them to operate.

And make no mistake, you look at the map, this is right up against the Syrian border, so you have a rat line of fighters going in and out of Syria. You have an increased capability to train, fight, recruit, finance.

These are the worries that the U.S. has, that this whole new area is emerging of al-Qaeda strength of this new affiliate group. And it may be very tough to stop them.

MALVEAUX: And, Nic, if you can, just button this up for us, because this is related to what's happening in Syria, the civil war in Syria and the fact that this is spilling over into Iraq.

Explain how these two are related.

ROBERTSON: Sure. What ISIS is doing in Syria is trying to grab land. They've had the longest and best of all the rebel groups strategic plans, coming, using years of experience in Iraq, putting some of the first fighters on the ground, rebel fighters inside Syria, building on that, being good fighters, being able to go against the Syrian forces, winning over, for a while at least, Syrian support.

They have attracted a huge number of foreign fighters. They're attracting a lot of money to their cause, you know.

But what's another worry for the international community, just this weekend, an ISIS fighter from Spain was arrested, going back to Spain after he'd been to Syria.

There are thousands, thousands of foreign fighters with ISIS right now fighting in Syria, in Iraq, possibly, as well, too, but potentially going to go back to their homes.

Many, many have come from Europe and this is a real concern. They pose a real threat to security when they go back home, as well.


MALVEAUX: All right. We're going to be following the developments in Iraq very closely.

Nic, Barbara, thank you so much for your perspective from your perch there.

We're also following this. The U.S. Coast Guard, going in to save the day, this is an American ice breaker headed to the icy Antarctic trying to free not one, but now two ships that are stuck.


MALVEAUX: Welcome back to AROUND THE WORLD. Here is some of the news happening right now.

In Great Britain, they are now preparing for another onslaught of rain. Parts of southern England and Wales have already been devastated by a series of storms that experts say are the worst to hit the U.K. in 20 years.

Another barrage of rain is coming over the next 24 hours, with wind gusts up to 70-miles-per-hour. At least three people have died since last week, including a man killed when his scooter fell into a river in Oxford.

And in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel, back in Berlin, recovering from a skiing accident. Now, Merkel fractured her pelvis while cross- country skiing in Switzerland.

Officials say her injuries are not serious. She is expected to make a full recovery. However, she will need help walking, has canceled some of her appointments.

The news of Merkel's fall comes just eight days of her fellow countryman, Michael Schumacher, the most successful race car driver in Formula One history, was critically injured while skiing in the French Alps.

The U.S. Coast Guard, now on the way to the icy waters off Antarctica to try to help a pair of trapped ships. Fifty-two tourists and scientists were airlifted from a Russian ship last week. You might recall that story.

But a combined 120 crew members, they're still aboard that ship and the Chinese ice breaker that got stuck actually trying to help them.

Our Diana Magnay has details on the latest rescue mission.


DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's now the turn of the U.S. coast guard to try and free the two ships frozen into the Antarctic ice. The U.S. ice breaker, Polar Star, is going to head south from Sydney.

She really is the mother of all ice breakers. She's 399-foot long and she can carve through 21 feet of ice at one time.

So here's hoping she can do what the others couldn't. And that is to set the Akademik Shokalskiy and the Chinese ice breaker, the Xue Long, free from the ice.

I know we have been saying this for a while, but fingers crossed.


MALVEAUX: All right. Fingers crossed, the rescuers now trying to rescue the rescuers.

If you spend any time on the Internet in the last couple weeks, you have probably seen this. This is a headline that said Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, executed his uncle by feeding him to a pack of hungry dogs.

The fact that Kim had his own uncle killed in the first place shocked a lot of folks. And this really took it to a whole another level.

It turns out the story has more red flags than a military rally in Pyongyang. It is not true.

Our senior media correspondent Brian Stelter is with us. So, Brian, it starts off with something pretty outrageous to begin with, but it was -- it started -- it was satire, and people just didn't know it was satire.

Then it snowballs, people start to think it's real. Now what is it?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: It's one of these stories that snowballs. It does start from a very tiny place, one person's satirical message.

But then it gets picked up by a newspaper and a website in China that seems to take it as if it's true. And then translated versions of that Chinese report start to spread on to American Web sites.

We saw all sorts of websites posting these stories, even some pretty usually respected ones, like, for example. They put it up and they said "report" and then it had the headline about how the North Korean leader allegedly fed his uncle to 120 dogs.

By having the word "report"-colon, these Web sites seem to think it's OK to repeat what someone else has already said, but that's not what real news organizations should be doing.

MALVEAUX: It almost goes to, when you start -- if you say it often enough, people start to think it's true, even if it's not true.

And I think I guess part of the problem too is the nature of North Korea being so secretive itself, it wasn't like it was going to say either way, no, we didn't feed them to the dogs, we did.

How did that play into this?

STELTER: Because we have so little visibility into North Korea, that stories like this can take on a life of their own, because it can't be disproven, for example. You know, there's no evidence that it wasn't true. Although there is evidence it wasn't true. But it's impossible to completely prove it either way.

You know, and also because we don't see into the country, I think that's why people are willing to believe just about anything about North Korea.

And that's a problem both for the American media, as well as for American citizens, when they're reading the media. We have to take reports about North Korea with a lot of grains of salt.

MALVEAUX: Yeah, absolutely. All right. Thank you, Brian, appreciate it very much. Fascinating story.

Big decision from a member of a prominent political family. What Liz Cheney says she needs to do, and why she is doing it.

Our own Wolf Blitzer has got the details, up next.


MALVEAUX: Gay couples in Utah have been able to get married for the last two weeks, but that ends today. The Supreme Court has just ruled in favor of the state's request to temporarily block same-sex marriages.

Jeffrey Toobin joins us from New York to talk about this.

And, Jeff, you've got hundreds of gay couples who have gotten married since December 20th when the district court judge said that the state's law banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.