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Lindsey Graham Talks North Korea; North Korea Claims Successful Hydrogen Bomb Test; Rift Between Iran, Saudi Arabia Escalates. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 6, 2016 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-SOUTH CAROLINA: I am not going to be voting for Ted, but I think that he is decent enough fellow, and he is qualified to run for president. And when you talk to the Donald this afternoon, I would ask one question of him and I'm dying to know the answer, are you satisfied that President Obama was born in Hawaii and not Kenya? Because I don't want the standards bearer of the Republican Party, potentially, to have any doubt that President Obama was born in Hawaii.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And we will talk to Mr. Trump later today, and no issue about that.

Let's talk about North Korea, a subject that you know well, and what should the U.S. do now as a result of the reported -- and we don't know whether it was a hydrogen bomb tested or some other type of bomb tested -- but it did cause some serious results as a result of the potential earthquake over there is concerned. What do you know about it?

GRAHAM: I don't know a whole lot more about it than what I have been seeing on the news. We should deter it that what it means to sell the technology no the terrorist groups or to use it. It is possible to deter North Korea, because they are not religiously motivated. The regime is crazy, but the nation is rogue with a big "R." Deterrence will work. And I'm not here to beat on President Clinton or Bush or Obama. The whole world has failed this. The regime has decided it is better to have a weapon of mass destruction than do business with the whole world, and they are probably right about that.

BLITZER: Is there something that the U.S. should be doing militarily right now in the aftermath of the test?

GRAHAM: Well, you know, I reinforce the deterrence aspect. Let the North Koreans through the Chinese know that we won't tolerate exporting that technology, and if there's any indication that if they try to use it, we will act preemptively. And I don't have the answer for North Korea. The whole idea of engaging the regime, to give them sanctions relief if they would abandon their nuclear quest has not worked. It has worked on the Democrat watch or the Republican watch, and it hasn't worked from the U.N. perspective. I hope we've learned our lesson when it comes to this kind of approach regarding a regime that wants a bomb, like Iran.

BLITZER: Do you have any evidence that North Korea is trying to export any of the nuclear technology?

GRAHAM: No. We know that they have in the past a little bit. That is what I worry about, not so much of them putting a bomb on the top of the ICB and hitting the United States, but they are a cash-starved country of exporting this technology. But, no, I don't. But I would let them know that from the American perspective, that would be an aggressive act that would not go unchecked, that we could check them. We would consider that provocative and put the regime's survivability at risk militarily.

BLITZER: And I remember when the Israel's destroyed the Syrian nuclear reaction back in 2007. Word is that nuclear reactor was provided by North Korea --

GRAHAM: By North Korea, yes. That's exactly right.

BLITZER: Is that your recollection as well?

GRAHAM: Yeah, yeah. I worry that the regime has a history of selling every weapon they have every developed. They are one of the greatest arm suppliers to the terrorist organizations in the world. To think they would not share nuclear technology is naive. But I think you can deter them from doing that, and developing the technology to deliver the bomb to America and to our allies. I don't think they are completely irrational, though they are pretty crazy. I think Iran wants a nuclear weapon for regime survivability. And unlike North Korea, I think they will actually use it. I think they have a religious agenda they are trying to carry out that requires them to destroy Israel and take over Islam as a whole. So I worry that Iran is going to be emboldened by North Korea.

BLITZER: So there was North Korean cooperation against Syria. Any indication that North Korea has cooperated with Iran on the nuclear front?

GRAHAM: Well, not that I know of -- and I will get back to you about that. But it is not farfetched to believe they would do that. Any time you have a cult of personality regime like you do in North Korea, where the military and one man are in charge, it is not farfetched how a star of a cash-starved nation like that. I would tell the Chinese to please communicate to North Korea. China basically owns them in terms of the economy, the fuel supply, and China is the key to changing North Korea's behavior. But everybody on your show says the same thing. I'm not beating on President Obama for North Korea, because I don't know the answer myself, other than deter the continued buildup of nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: I'll ask one final question on politics before I let you go. Are you ready to endorse one of the candidates, even though you said that you would not vote for Senator Ted Cruz?

GRAHAM: No, not yet. I am looking to see if I can make a difference for South Carolina. I'm looking for a commander-in-chief ready to go on day one, somebody who can get 270 electoral votes. I don't dislike Senator Cruz, and he has run a very good campaign, a very smart campaign. I don't believe he is the standard bearer. I will look long and hard and see if I can help somebody in South Carolina. I haven't made a decision yet.

[13:35:22] BLITZER: Senator Graham, thanks very much for joining us.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

BLITZER: And now we are joined by the managing editor of "Quartz," Bobby Ghosh, and CNN's global affairs analyst; and also CNN contributor, Michael Weiss, who is the co=author of "ISIS, Inside the Army of Terror."

A lot to talk about.

Bobby, I am anxious to get your reaction to this nuclear test, or the purported testing here.

BOBBY GHOSH, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, to me it is crucial to hydrogen bomb, and if they have succeeded to miniature bomb, and whether it is hydrogen or nuclear, and to me, that is meaning it is a change for me, and it changes the threat perception of North Korea. Not suggesting they are going to be using it, but they do have long range missiles to hit not just American allies, but make landfall on the American territory and places like Guam, and that is going to change the perception, and so it is not so much about the hydrogen, but the miniaturized. If they have miniaturized, that is dangerous.

BLITZER: And, Michael, as you know the counter terrorism experts say that if the they get their hands on some crude nuclear device, is has money, and they stole a lot of money from Mosul, and gold and bouillon, and hundreds of millions of dollars, and is there serious concern that a terror group like ISIS could get their hand on some sort of nuclear capability thanks to North Korea?

MICHAEL WEISS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR & AUTHOR: Well, there is concern, but it is not serious. And so it is much like the dirty bomb of them trying to get their hands on the chemical weapon, and others and have used chemical weapons against the Kurds and relying on the depleted stocks of the Sarin gas in houses that Assad had gotten rid of due to the U.N. Resolution, and relying on the remnants of Saddam Hussein's chemical raids. And that is the WMD threats that people had access to, and the know-how and the capability to deploy.

BLITZER: You agree with that, Bobby?

GHOSH: Yes, not that the North Koreans have shown that they can work with rogue regime, and no look at working with ISIS, for example, because they are loose cannons, in their minds, but they want to work with other governments. So I would be surprised if they went that far.

BLITZER: That would be a nightmare scenario for the entire world.

Thank you, guys.

Coming up, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, he's made several diplomatic missions to North Korea. I joined him on a diplomatic mission five years ago. Up next, we will hear what he has to say about Kim Jong-Un's claims, and what they can do, if anything, to de-escalate the tensions in the area.


[13:41:39] BLITZER: Updating the top story this hour, North Korea is celebrating what they claim is the country's first successful test of a hydrogen bomb. Kim Jong-Un signed the order saying that the world would look up to their strong nuclear country. We should stress there's no independent confirmation that this is, in fact, a hydrogen bomb, but if verified, it would represent a dangerous escalation in North Korea's nuclear capabilities, and virtually the entire U.N. community is condemning the testing. The U.N. is now considering whether to impose new sanctions on North Korea.

Joining us is Jim Sciutto, our chief national security correspondent.

Jim, what are officials saying about this North Korean test? Do they believe that it is a hydrogen bomb?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have had the most definitive public statement from the administration on this, and they have been analyzing, and U.S. intelligence has been analyzing the test since the hours that North Korea conducted it. And moments ago, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest says that the initial analysis indicates that it is not what North Korea claims, not a successful hydrogen bomb test.

This is what Josh Earnest had to say.


JOSH ERNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a serious subject. The initial analysis that has been conducted of the events that were reported overnight is not consistent with the North Korean claims of a successful hydrogen bomb test. There is nothing that has occurred in the last 24 hours for the United States government to change our assessment of North Korea's technical and military capabilities.

Now I hasten to add that we are continuing he work necessary to learn more about the nuclear test that North Korea conducted last night.


SCIUTTO: Now, North Korea has been claiming for a number of weeks it was moving towards a hydrogen bomb capability, and whenever it's made that claim, we've heard the same doubts from the White House, and you are hearing them again.

But, Wolf, I've spoken to some nuclear experts and there are some disagreement here about what this constitutes. And there is a school of thought there that North Korea was able to conduct at least a step on the path towards a hydrogen bomb, and possibly a one-stage exPLOsion as opposed to a two-stage exPLOsion, and neither of us with atomic scientists with pieces that go into that. But the White House saying that the U.S. Initial intelligence assessment is that it was not a successful, and completely successful hydrogen bomb test.

BLITZER: Still very, very worrisome whatever kind of test it is. And parts of it could be felt all of the way over in China.

Thank you, Jim Sciutto.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Joining us now is the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also the former governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, who has made several diplomatic missions to North Korea.

Governor, thanks very much for joining us.

You just heard Jim Sciutto's latest -- the latest information coming to Jim Sciutto from the White House, and your reaction?

BILL RICHARDSON, (R), FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR & FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Well, I believe that the White House is correct, and that apparently it measured 6 kilotons, and it is very worrying, because Kim Jong-Un is on the path to show his muscle, and to say that the nuclear development is not a bargaining trip, this is the first test they have had since 2006, and they are doing the ballistic missile test, and sign that also says to the world, hey, it is not just the Middle East that you have to at the end to that is exploding, but it is the tinderbox of northeast Asia, and we are here, and you have the deal with us. That is the message.

[13:45:22] BLITZER: Is he simply crying out for attention, is that what you are saying, Kim Jong-Un, the North Korean leader?

RICHARDSON: I think that he is trying to get attention number one, but I think that he is also sending a message that, if you want to deal with me, if you want me to curb our nuclear weapons, it is going to be a high price. You have been there, Wolf, when we were there, and it is a very poor country, they need the humanitarian assistance, and energy assistance, and they need all kinds of sanctions lifted. It could be that he is preparing for negotiation. I think that he is looking at what happened with Iran, and he is saying, you know, maybe there is a deal that can be struck for me, although we don't know how this man thinks. He is very unpredictable, and I think that China is going to be the key. China can move the step forward by putting pressure on North Korea. They give them food, fuel, energy, and they are probably the only ones who can step up, and the fact that the blast was very near China is going to be getting the Chinese attention, and possibly Kim Jong-Un to the negotiating table. We need a new strategy to deal with North Korea.

BLITZER: As you know, there are a lot of reports that North Korea provided nuclear technology to Syria, and the Israelis destroyed that nuclear reactor in 2007 that they supposedly supplied nuclear technology to Pakistan which now has a nuclear arsenal, and how worried are you, Mr. Ambassador, that he could sell some of the nuclear technology the rogue regimes or terrorist groups?

RICHARDSON: Well, that is another danger that North Korea poses, the fact that for foreign exchange, because they are very poor, and the sanctions that they have enormous sanctions on them, and the only way they can get foreign exchange, and one of the few ways is to sell their nuclear technology, and this is going to be on the black market, and this is going to beat the bad regime, and be for Pakistan and Iran and al Qaeda, and hopefully not, but it is very worrisome. We need to find a way to deal with North Korea, and the keys are China, and United States and Russia. Russia has had some new relations with North Korea, and again, we need some new diplomacy, and perhaps the pope, and perhaps the special enjoys, and perhaps some type of South Korean reconciliation effort, and it is very tough inside of South Korea, but they are an important player, and our ally, and it is important to us, Wolf, because we have close to 30,000 American troop, and North Korea has the ballistic missile, and ten nuclear weapons that are make them unpredictable, and testing the nuclear warheads. I don't believe they have a hydrogen bomb, but if that is true, they have a dramatic increase in the sophistication of the nuclear arsenal.

BLITZER: Certainly is.

Thank you, former ambassador to the U.N., Bill Richardson.

RICHARDSON: Thank you. Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. We have breaking news coming out of Alabama right now. The state's chief justice has just issued an order prohibiting same-sex marriage in the state. Probate judges have been told to no longer issue licenses for same-sex marriages. The order comes from the Chief Justice Roy Muir, and it states that, quote, "The probate judges have the ministerial duty to not issue any marriage licenses that are not in the Sanctity of the Alabama Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Act." We will follow up on this story in Alabama. Get more information on that. A major development right there.

And also, coming up, tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and now a threat to the Syrian peace efforts that are under way. Why are the U.S. and the West not doing more to soothe relations? What's going on? Stand by. Ford Fraker, the former ambassador to Saudi Arabia is standing by -- there he is. We will discuss when we come back.


[13:52:54] BLITZER: In the Middle East, there's growing concerns the escalating tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran will have an impact on the upcoming Syria peace talks. It began on Saturday with the kingdom's execution of a prominent Shiite cleric along with dozens of others accused of terrorism. In response, Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Saudi Arabia has severed all diplomatic, trade and aviation ties with Iran. Now other prominent Arab Sunni nations are following suit.

Let's bring in Ford Fraker, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He is the president of the Middle East Policy Council.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks for joining us.

Do you think the Saudis expect the backlash, some of the negative opinions that emerged against them following the execution of the Shiite cleric, Nimr al Nimr? FORD FRAKER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SAUDI ARABIA & PRESIDENT, MIDDLE EAST POLICY COUNCIL: Wolf, we have to remember that Shaikh al Nimr was tried and convicted and sentenced in 2014. Everyone involved has had a lot of time to think about this. So I don't believe the reactions came as a surprise to the Saudis.

BLITZER: So do you think the Saudis anticipated that the Iranians would storm the Saudi embassy in Tehran, ransack it, burn it? Did they think that would happen, do you think?

FRAKER: I don't think they anticipated that, and, you know, it's worth pointing out that by treaty every country in the world is responsible for protecting the diplomatic missions in their countries. And the Iranians have a pretty terrible record of doing that, going back to 1979 when our own embassy was stormed by Iranians and our diplomats were held captive for over a year. So while the Saudis wouldn't have anticipated this, I don't think they're terribly surprised that actions like this would have been taken.

BLITZER: The Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted today, and I'll read it, "Which country is exacerbated Sunni/Shia divide, bombing Yemen and undermining governments in Iraq and Syria by providing funds and arms to ISIS?" He's alleging that Saudi Arabia is doing all of this. What should the U.S. do to try to calm things down?

[13:55:07] FRAKER: Well, first off, I think it's a bit rich for the Iranians to be pointing fingers at the Saudis when the spread of Iranian influence and the spread of the Iranian Revolution throughout the Middle East is one of the objectives of the Iranian regime. So, you know -- and we also need to see this in the context of the historical rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran for power and influence in the region. And in the past, things have escalated and diplomatic relations have been severed, but these countries have been living in the same part of the world for thousands of years, and they generally figure out a way to get along. So I think you'll see some of this rhetoric play down as both sides focus on some of the more important regional issues that they both have a stake in.

BLITZER: The biggest problem Saudi Arabia has with Iran is what?

FRAKER: Well, you know, as I said, it goes back to this historic rivalry, and the spread of Iranian influence. You can see this in Iraq. You have Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Quds forces in Iraq. Same thing in Syria, Hezbollah operated in Lebanon. You have Iranian support for upheaval and disruption in Bahrain and Yemen. So Saudi Arabia finds themselves in a position they feel to react and defend their interests.

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for your expertise.

FRAKER: Pleasure. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's it for me. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room." Remember, my sit-down interview with Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, will air then.

In the meantime, the news continues right after a quick break.


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