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Japan's Abe Offers Condolences at Pearl Harbor; Israel Advancing Plans for New Homes in East Jerusalem; Trump Transition; Iconic "Star Wars" Actress Dies at Age 60; CNN Granted Rare Access to Tibet; CNN's Report from Tibet Censored in China; Former North Korean Diplomat's Dire Warning on Pyongyang's Nuclear Program. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired December 28, 2016 - 00:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:00:11] GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Ahead this hour --

Remembering a day that will live in infamy -- the leaders of the United States and Japan appearing together at Pearl Harbor.

Also, the side of Tibet that China doesn't want you to see -- CNN gains rare access to the autonomous region.

Plus losing Leia -- actress Carrie Fisher dies at just 60 years old. More on the life and career of this "Star Wars" icon.

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers around the world. I'm George Howell.

CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

A symbol of reconciliation -- that is how the prime minister of Japan describes Pearl Harbor, paying tribute to those who died in the Japanese attack 75 years ago. Shinzo Abe and the U.S. President Barack Obama side by side in Hawaii. They laid wreaths and bowed at the USS Arizona Memorial, holding a moment of silence for the victims, the many lives lost. Both leaders asserted their nations' alliance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This harbor is a sacred place. As we lay a wreath or toss flowers into waters that still weep, we think of the more than 2,400 American patriots, fathers and husbands, wives and daughters manning heaven's rails for all eternity. We salute the defenders of Oahu who pull themselves a little straighter every December 7th. And we reflect on the heroism that's shown here 75 years ago.

SHINZO ABE, PRIME MINISTER OF JAPAN (through translator): We must never repeat the horrors of war again. This is the solemn vow we, the people of Japan, have taken. Since the war we have created a free and democratic country that values the rule of law, and has resolutely upheld our vow never again to wage war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: And keep in mind Prime Minister Abe's visit comes seven months after President Obama traveled to Hiroshima.

CNN's Athena Jones has more now on the leaders' remarks.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there. A historic day here at Pearl Harbor, a moment 75 years in the making, and pictures and videos the likes of which we've never seen before. These two leaders, a U.S. president and a Japanese prime minister are going together to the USS Arizona Memorial to pay their respects to the fallen; both leaders later delivering emotional, moving remarks. Both leaders evoking the sights and sounds of that day in 1941 when more than 2,400 people never made it home.

President Obama saying that Abe's presence here shows what is possible between nations and how two former foes can become the closest of allies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: As nations and as people we cannot choose the history that we inherit. But we can choose what lessons to draw from it and use those lessons to chart our own futures. Wars can end. The most bitter of adversaries can become the strongest of allies. The fruits of peace always outweigh the plunder of war. This is the

enduring truth of this hallowed harbor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: Prime Minister Abe saying that his visit to the USS Arizona left him speechless. Here is more on what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABE: As the prime minister of Japan, I offer my sincere and everlasting condolences to the souls of those who lost their lives here as well as to the spirits of all the brave men and women whose lives were taken by a war that commenced in this very place and also to the souls of the countless innocent people who became victims of the war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: And so there you heard the Japanese prime minister offering his sincere and everlasting condolences to the souls of those who lost their lives here, but not offering an apology for the actions his nation took here 75 years ago.

But it's important to note that President Obama speaking at Hiroshima in May also declined to offer an apology for the U.S. action there, the dropping of the atomic bomb. Both leaders choosing instead to deliver forward-looking messages focusing on the future of the U.S.- Japan alliance. [00:05:09] Athena Jones, CNN -- Pearl Harbor.

HOWELL: Athena -- thank you.

Now to Israel -- that nation moving forward with plans to build hundreds of new homes in east Jerusalem; this move directly defying the U.N. Security Council. You'll remember that council approved a resolution just last Friday, that resolution calling for a halt to settlement construction there and in the West Bank. Israel says that it can prove that the United States secretly pushed for the resolution. That's a claim that the U.S. denies.

CNN's Oren Liebermann has more now on the rocky relationship between these two countries.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was very much aware that Secretary of State John Kerry wanted to give a speech laying out the vision of the Obama administration for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And yet the way things stand right with how bad relations are and how much worse they have gotten in the last few days between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, this speech and the inevitable Netanyahu response is like just to become another step, another stage of the ongoing fight between these two that we've seen in recent days. It's certainly not likely to endear Obama to Netanyahu any more over these last few days.

Netanyahu has already made it very clear that Israel has no intention of abiding by the Security Council resolution that Netanyahu blames squarely on President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. In fact, when it came to building in east Jerusalem, the city -- that is to say the city of Jerusalem has plans to build hundreds of more units in east Jerusalem.

It's important to note those plans were on the books even before the Security Council vote. And yet that's exactly the point. The city of Jerusalem, the deputy mayor who we spoke with says they're not changing any of their plans because of the Security Council resolution. And the response both from Netanyahu and from the Israeli government is likely to be the same to the Kerry speech.

Both sides here, that is to say the Israelis and the Palestinians will wait and see what it is that Kerry lays out -- what is the vision and how will the Obama administration handle some of the most sensitive and complex issues of the conflict. That is to say, the status of Jerusalem borders, Palestinian refugees and more.

And yet depending on what Kerry calls for, this might be a very difficult speech by the Israelis or Palestinians to accept because I suspect he'll call on both sides to make difficult concession on their way to what the Obama administration says would be a peace plan and a Palestinian state living by an Israeli state.

Oren Liebermann, CNN -- Jerusalem. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: The Trump transition -- the President-Elect is taking another poke at his predecessor on Twitter. He wrote, quote, "President Obama campaigned hard and personally in the very important swing states and lost. The voters wanted to make America great again," he said.

Trump and President Obama met in the White House, as you'll remember, just two days after the election. Mr. Obama pledged to do everything he could to help Trump succeed. Trump called the President a good man.

Let's make that the starting point of our political chat this day on the Trump transition and all the political headlines with Democratic strategist Matthew Littman, live in Los Angeles; and also from L.A. Republican consultant John Thomas. Gentlemen -- good to have you both with us.

Let's talk about this. Just last month, again we saw the President and President-Elect sit down together in the Oval Office after the election after a bruising campaign. They appeared to bury the hatchet. The meeting itself was a little awkward it seemed, but both men had positive things to say about each other.

Things seemed to have changed, though. President Obama said Monday that he could have won a third term if he were to run against Trump. Trump responded over Twitter saying "no way", and now Tuesday in Hawaii listen to what the President had to say. We'll talk about it in a moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It is here that we remember that even when hatred burns hottest, even when the tug of tribalism is at its most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward. We must resist the urge to demonize those who are different.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: So first to our Republican consultant John Thomas. Was that a veiled swipe at Trump?

JOHN THOMAS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Yes, absolutely. I mean, look, Obama started it. Let's be honest. He was the one who made the statement. And one thing we know about President-Elect Trump is that if you take a shot at him, he is probably going to take a shot back.

But look, Trump is extra sensitive to this because the left has been trying to delegitimize and kind of undermine his win, that it wasn't a real win since November's election and this I think Trump felt was just an extension of that.

HOWELL: All right, Matthew -- look, the President suggested in his message that, you know, he would have made a message that resonated with people. And he would have beaten Trump if he were able to run for a third term. Though the question here, is he misreading this particular electorate for the 2016 election, the electorate that gave Donald Trump the win?

[00:10:07] MATTHEW LITTMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: So two things -- George.

One is that was not a veiled swipe by Obama at Trump. That was a swipe. There was nothing veiled about it -- number one.

Number two, let's keep in mind that for Trump he did lose by almost three million votes in the popular vote. So to an extent, the American people have shown they really did not want him to be president.

And then in the Obama versus Trump exchange, Obama's poll numbers are 20 points higher than Donald Trump's. Donald Trump's favorability rating is only 38 percent, which is a record low. This is supposed to be his honeymoon period. Obama's are almost at a record high, almost 60 percent.

So that's part of the dynamic here as Trump's coming in, and he knows that he is not popular. He knows Obama is very popular. Yes -- go ahead.

THOMAS: George, I think Matt makes some good points. But here is what he is missing. An election isn't strictly based upon fave/unfave numbers of the man or woman history himself or herself. It has something to do with your policies.

Over the last two years Gallup has consistently shown that 77 percent of Americans wanted a change in direction. And I think if Barack Obama were to run, I know this is a lot of would have, should have, could have, but look, Obama is popular. It's hard to definitively say what would have happened.

But his policies were at stake. Even Barack Obama said that on the trail with Hillary. And voters rejected Obama's legacy and his policies. I just don't think it's wise of the President to get into this kind of looking in the rear view mirror game.

HOWELL: You point that out. The President supporting trade deals that were unpopular for many Americans. At the same time, this was a president who was just as popular, if not even more popular than Ronald Reagan. So that's a question that no one will ever know because a president can't run for a third term.

Let's talk Twitter diplomacy now.

And the President-Elect who may be known as the Twitter president, you know. That's the world we're in now. As Sean Spicer, who will be the new White House spokesman, and here is what he had to say to WPRI in Rhode Island. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, RNC CHIEF STRATEGIST: I think that his use of social media in particular, you brought it up is going to be something that has never been seen before. You're right. He does communicate in a much bigger way than ever has been done before. I think that's going to be just a really exciting part of the job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Exciting and innovative or dangerous when it comes to delicate diplomacy on matters of national security, on nuclear weapons. Can you cause even greater problems when you limit your responses to only 140 characters -- Matthew?

LITTMAN: Well, he is right. It's going to be exciting with Donald Trump on Twitter. That's true. Whether or not it's a good idea is a different story. You know, one thing that's I think bothering people about the Trump transition, why you're not seeing any honeymoon period for him is he seems to be very distracted, right?

One is he is sending out all these tweets all the time whether it's about policy or "Saturday Night Live". He has met with about 200 people, a third of whom are big donors since he has been elected -- right? And he has also met with Kanye West and Leonardo diCaprio and people like that, and he hasn't been getting his foreign policy, his national security briefings.

So I think people are starting to wonder is he taking this as seriously as he should, or is he just trying to have some fun with it with the meetings that he is having and being on Twitter all the time?

HOWELL: Ok. But look, so John Thomas, Trump has said himself Twitter is innovative, useful, efficient technology. The question, it is dangerous?

THOMAS: Obviously it could be if you put national security information on Twitter. Let's hope that the President does not do that. I don't think he will. He is a smart guy.

But I tell you, George, I find it actually refreshing. Although not all of it is great, it's refreshing in the sense of we the American people are hearing directly from the President, the next president of the United States, something that is completely unprecedented.

Normally by the time a press release is issued or a statement, it's been filtered by 20 different people. We're hearing it live from the President-Elect. And look, you got to take the good with the bad, but I find that refreshing.

HOWELL: The good with the bad --

LITTMAN: Let me just say -- George, let me just say why I disagree with John on this one.

HOWELL: Sure, sure.

LITTMAN: Of course, he makes good points, but I disagree with him because Donald Trump has not held a press conference. You want to hear directly from Donald Trump, hold a press conference. Don't be afraid to face the media. It's very easy to send out a tweet from your mobile phone but it's not as easy to sit in front of the press.

He hasn't done it in many, many months. And I think it's because he is scared to do it. It's a lot easier to send out a tweet.

HOWELL: That is the trick with social media and with Twitter, you know. You can certainly speak directly to the electorate, speak directly to the people. But at the same time you avoid the people like us that are going to ask a lot of tough questions, questions that need answers. So, you know, that will be an interesting dance as we all move through the next four years.

[00:15:01] Let's talk now about Russia. Donald Trump has made it clear that he hopes to improve ties with Moscow specifically to improve the relationship with Vladimir Putin. Not all see it that way, though.

Look, there are three senators on a trip right now to the Baltic States. Two of the leading Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham had some critical words for the President-Elect on some very important topics.

First, let's listen to Lindsey Graham talk about Russia's interference in the U.S. election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I would say that 99 of us believe the Russians did this. And we're going do something about it. Along with Senator McCain, after this trip is over, we're going to have the hearings, and we're going to put sanctions together that hit Putin as an individual and his inner circle for interfering in our election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: So John, how do you see things playing out between Trump and these leading Republicans, trying to figure out whether Russia interfered with the U.S. election?

THOMAS: You know, I have a feeling that once Trump actually becomes president, he is going to take a different tone with Russia.

(CROSSTALK)

HOWELL: You're waiting for a pivot?

THOMAS: Well, I am because I think right now he is really strictly thinking about his campaign. And he doesn't want people to undermine the legitimacy of his election. But I think the second he steps in that Oval Office as commander in chief, I think he takes a different tone with Russia. I think he agrees with a McCain or others.

HOWELL: All right. Matthew --

LITTMAN: Well, we've been hearing about that Trump pivot for about six or seven months, that he is going to pivot and change his tone, he is going to pivot and change his policies. On Russia, it really doesn't seem like he is going to pivot at all. I mean I think he is giving Putin a lot of what he wants, whether it's asking NATO countries to put in more money or the United States won't defend them. That's one thing. The idea of creating this new nuclear arms race with Russia also elevates Russia in a way that Putin wants to be elevated.

So I think that the way that it's going to right now is Trump is giving Putin what he wants. I don't see any reason why that's going to change.

HOWELL: Gentlemen -- we'll have to leave it right there. John Thomas, Matthew Littman -- thank you so much for your insight and we'll stay in touch with you.

THOMAS: Thanks.

Still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, the loss of an icon -- Carrie Fisher dead at the age of 60 years old. We look back at the life and legacy of the "Star Wars" actress famous for lines like this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRISON FORD, ACTOR: I think you just can't bear to let a gorgeous guy like me out of your sight.

CARRIE FISHER, ACTRESS: I don't know where you get your delusions, laser brain.

[00:17:22] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOWELL: The world has lost another iconic star in 2016. Carrie Fisher, the actress who won hearts of the many people who watched "Star Wars" around the world. People knew her as Princess Leia, and she died at the age of 60 years old.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FISHER: Stop that.

FORD: Stop what?

FISHER: Stop that. My hands are dirty.

FORD: My hands are dirty too. What are you afraid of?

FISHER: Afraid?

FORD: You're trembling.

FISHER: I'm not trembling.

FORD: I'm not the scoundrel that you know that I am.

FISHER: I happen to like nice men.

FORD: Nice men?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I isolated the reverse power uplink.

FORD: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Fisher passed away Tuesday after suffering a heart attack on a flight to Los Angeles last week.

CNN's Paul Vercammen looks back now at the life and legacy of Carrie Fisher.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FISHER: I should have expected to find you holding Vader's leash.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carrie Fisher won the hearts of generations as Princess Leia in arguably the most beloved movie franchise ever, "Star Wars". Princess onscreen, Hollywood royalty off it with a sharp wit and sharper pen.

Fisher was born in Beverly Hills. Mother actress Debbie Reynolds, father singer Eddie Fisher.

FISHER: I was primarily brought up by my mother, but I saw my father.

VERCAMMEN: Fisher deftly wove her experiences as a show business kid who struggled with addiction into the best-selling comedic novel "Postcards from the Edge".

FISHER: I was writing different takes on obsession. So I think of that as sort of the edge, and I thought of it in the car one day driving back from Palm Springs with the music up loud.

VERCAMMEN: Fisher turned her acclaimed book into a movie starring Meryl Streep as a recovering addict embroiled in constant, often funny mother-daughter drama.

MERYL STREEP, ACTRESS: Remember my 17th birthday party when you lifted your skirt up in front of all those people?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I did not lift my skirt. It twirled up.

VERCAMMEN: Fisher poked fun at the absurdities of showbiz life and all manner of self-medication, including taking pills to control her emotions.

FISHER: Any mood stabilizer is a weight gainer. You feel better, but then you're fat. So what you gain is a loss. It's not a good situation.

VERCAMMEN: Fisher spoke about being bipolar and often turned pain into humor, also writing "Wishful Drinking" and "Shockaholic".

There seemed no lack of material, after all, Elizabeth Taylor became her stepmother when Eddie Fisher remarried. Fisher was briefly married to sinter, Paul Simon in the 1980s. Years later she gave birth to a daughter Billie Catherine from her relationship with agent Brian Lourd.

She debuted in the acclaimed film, "Shampoo". In between the "Star Wars" movies, Fisher landed a mishmash of movie roles -- some stinkers, "Under the Rainbow", "Hollywood Vice Squad".

FISHER: You have names for every part of your body.

VERCAMMEN: Received praise for "Soap Dish".

FISHER: I think we found our waiter.

VERCAMMEN: And played Meg Ryan's wisecracking friend in when "When Harry Met Sally".

FISHER: Someone is staring at you in the first --

VERCAMMEN: But nothing could, would or perhaps should loom larger on screen than Fisher in "Star Wars".

FISHER: It transported you. It was extraordinarily entertainment filmmaking.

LARRY KING, TV HOST: Do you like the princess?

FISHER: I have her over sometimes. She is a little bitchy, you know.

VERCAMMEN: In 2016, 40 years after making "Star Wars", she wrote a book based on her diaries, and for the first time revealed an intense affair with the real Han Solo, Harrison Ford. "It was Han and Leia during the week and Carrie and Harrison during the weekend", she wrote. Ford has not commented.

[00:25:05] Fisher spent a lifetime trying to separate the princess from the person, one wisecrack at a time.

FISHER: I always felt like I was restricted because I was bigger than life and twice as unpleasant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Tributes have been pouring in for Carrie Fisher, especially from her "Star Wars" cast mates. This one from onscreen love interest Harrison Ford who says, quote, "Carrie was one of a kind, brilliant, original, funny, and emotionally fearless. She lived her life bravely. My thoughts are with her, her daughter Billie, her mother Debbie, her brother Todd and many friends. We will all miss her."

Other co-stars are also shocked, also grieving. Mark Hamill, for one, who played Luke Skywalker tweeted this. "No words, #devastated."

Billy Dee Williams, AKA Lando Calrissian said this. "I'm deeply saddened at the news of Carrie's passing. She was a dear friend whom I greatly respected and admired. The force is dark today." Peter Mayhew, who was Chewbacca in the film says this, "There are no words for this loss. Carrie was the brightest light in every room she entered. I will miss her dearly."

Dave Prowse played Darth Vader in the movies but also another actor did the voice. Prowse though tweeted this. "I am extremely sad to learn of Carrie's passing. She was wonderful to work with. Condolences to her friends, family, and fans around the world."

And Anthony Daniels who played C3PO says this. "I thought that I got what I wanted under the tree. I didn't. In spite of so many thoughts and prayers from so many. I am very, very sad."

Carrie Fisher, dead at the age of 60 years old.

For a long time now, China has restricted Tibet from the probing eyes of western media. Next, CNN gets access to the fascinating region for the very first time in ten years.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:30:00] HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta this day. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.

The prime minister of Japan Shinzo Abe says his country must never repeat the horrors of war. He made a historic visit to Pearl Harbor, Tuesday, offering condolences to those who died in the Japanese attack 75 years ago. Mr. Abe and the U.S. President Barack Obama spoke of reconciliation and affirmed their nation's alliance.

The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is set to give a speech, Wednesday, laying out the country's vision for peace in the Middle East. It comes as Israel defies the U.N. Security Council with plans to build hundreds of new homes in East Jerusalem. The council approved a resolution last week demanding an end to settlement activities there and in the west bank.

Now to Tibet, part of the world that has long captivated millions of people around the world. The region has a fascinating culture and has faced political and religious conflicts for decades now. The Chinese government has harshly cracked down on activist there demanding greater autonomy. And Tibet remains restricted to western media, but now for the first time in a decade, a CNN crew has been granted access to that controlled part of Tibet.

Our Matt Rivers was part of that crew, and is live in Beijing this hour.

Matt, set the scene for us, if you could, about your journey and what you saw.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: George, this -- you're right. This is the first time that CNN has been granted access to Tibet since 2006. And this particular trip was about six days. There was two dozen or so international journalists that were allowed in.

And even though we spent the better part of a week there, it became very clear, very quickly that we were only seeing the things that the Chinese government wanted us to see.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RIVERS (voice-over): Sounds of spirituality punctuating the predawn quiet in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. This is the Jokhang Temple, one of Tibetan Buddhism holiest places.

But the peaceful setting belies the region's tumultuous history. The communist government in Beijing has controlled Tibet since 1951 after a failed revolt against Chinese rule in 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader fled abroad. Simmering defiance from Tibetans who remain sometimes boils over into large scale riots. Activist says hundred have lit themselves on fire in protest of religious and cultural suppression. This is the Tibet the Chinese government does not want us to see.

In early September, CNN was given rare access to the Tibetan autonomous region, one of the most restricted places in China. We were allowed in only under the watchful eye of government minders who organized our days from morning until night.

We saw art classes, an opera, new hotels, and an international tourism expo populated almost exclusively by locals. But for people who track daily life in Lhasa, they say the calm exterior mask tensions that still lie beneath the surface.

NICHOLAS BEQUELIN, EAST ASIA DIRECTOR, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Tibet is one of the regions in China where the political suppression and religious suppression are at the highest point.

RIVERS: The Chinese government has invested billions of dollars into transforming Tibet. They say the standard of living has risen dramatically. There is new infrastructure, new schools but also massive migration of Han Chinese, the dominant ethnicity in China.

(on-camera): For all the development in and around Lhasa, though, there's still a lot of poverty. Neighborhoods with homes like these built of nothing but cinder blocks, no insulation, patched roofs. And many of these neighborhoods are populated by Tibetans.

(voice-over): Many of whom say they feel like second class citizens in their own homeland. This is the only ordinary Tibetan we managed to speak with independently after leaving our minders behind during a lunch break. He didn't go to school and works as a laborer.

"When we are doing the exact same work, the Han people get say 300 Yuan and the Tibetans get 200 Yuan," he says. The Hans get paid more than we do.

He is frustrated, but says there is not much he can do. If he protested, activists say he could be questioned and jailed without a second thought. BEQUELIN: The lack of space for any kind of dissent, even peaceful will continue to drive deep resentment in Tibetan society.

RIVERS: Many of those recently detain have been protesting over the lack of religious freedom and economic equality, and in support of the exiled Dalai Lama, who has been advocating greater autonomy for Tibet. We went to the Potala Palace, where he used to live.

(on-camera): But during an hour-long tour inside, he was scarcely mentioned. Just at the end of the tour, we asked our tour guide one question about him and our government minders immediately said it was time to move on to the next activity.

(voice-over): The lack of access to anything controversial or the ability to ask any real questions was a theme of this trip. We hoped to ask this Chinese official, the region's vice-chairman some difficult questions. Instead, we were forced to sit silently as he spoke for 80 uninterrupted minutes talking about how everyone in Tibet is happy and content. A picture in stark contrast to the one painted by human rights activists.

The Chinese government will tell you the peace of early morning prayers at the Jokhang temple is emblematic of broader Tibet. Others will tell you that demonstrations of dissent are just a spark away from being re-ignited.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RIVERS: And so, George, I can tell you that right now the CNN signal in China, in the mainland is currently being blacked out. We actually rolled on that and that's some video that we can show you.

The first time we actually aired this story several hours ago. What happens is that as soon as you bring something up about Tibet that the Chinese government doesn't like, they sensor CNN's signal here in China. So if you were at your hotel or in a home watching CNN, the screen would merely look black. That TV on the right is in fact on, but China's censors are consistently cutting off our signal.

And what's amazing is that they were the ones that invited us out to Tibet, but then they don't want us to report independently on it. Apparently, they want the people here in China to only hear about Tibet in the media anyway, from Chinese state-run, state-controlled media and not from independent sources like CNN and other international media.

HOWELL: CNN correspondent Matt Rivers digging deeper there, giving us a look inside Tibet, and also getting past the minders.

At least the rest of the world can see your report on this, Matt. Thank you so much for your reporting.

A former North Korean diplomat has a dire warning about Kim Jong-un's plans to further develop Pyongyang's nuclear program. A live report ahead. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:40:00] HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

It appears that North Korea is now rushing to complete its nuclear weapons program. A high profile defector from the north says that Kim Jong Un wants to develop weapons by the end of next year at all cost.

The former diplomat says Kim is calculating that the United States and South Korea, that they won't be able to stop him in 2017 during its leadership transitions. And he says that Kim has no plans of giving up his country's nukes, even if offered huge amounts of money.

CNN's Saima Mohsin is following the story live for us in Seoul, South Korea this hour.

Saima, it's good to have you.

Thae Yong-ho was a top diplomat at the North Korean embassy in London, and he has a very stark message for the world.

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he does. He says that he won't rest until he dismantles Kim Jong-un's regime and saves people from nuclear disaster. And his words hold a lot of weight.

As you say, he's a very senior diplomat. In fact, George, the highest ranking diplomat defection from North to South Korea in history. He was the number two, the deputy ambassador in London. So what he says brings a lot of weight to it. A lot of people have suspected various things. But now he has come to confirm it. Of course, we can't independently confirm the information he tells us, but in this briefing to South Korean media, he said that as long as Kim Jong-un is still in power, North Korea will never, ever give up its nuclear development program.

And in fact he said that even if offered, and I quote him, "$1 trillion or $10 trillion, he will not give up. He will persist."

And adding to that is a timeline. As you mentioned, he plans to push forward and complete his nuclear development program by the end of 2017. Why?

Well, apparently Kim Jong-un has calculated that by then President- elect Trump will be in the White House. And here as we know there is political turmoil in South Korea. President Park Geun-Hye is soon to be replaced either by impeachment or an election. And so he is calculating that military action won't be able to take place against North Korea and therefore he can complete his nuclear ambitions.

George?

HOWELL: So uncertainty with the Trump transition and uncertainty in South Korea, but certainty for sure according to this top diplomat that North Korea is moving forward with its plans.

CNN correspondent Saima Mohsin live for us in Seoul, South Korea.

Saima, always a pleasure to have you reporting.

A World War II veteran in the United States had a very special Christmas, all thanks to Taylor Swift. The 96-year-old says he is proud to be a Swifty, and was over the moon when his pop idol showed up at his house.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)

HOWELL: 96 years old and a party playing out right there. What a dream come true for him. Very happy for him. And thank you for being with us here on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. "World Sport is up next. You are watching CNN, the world's news leader.

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