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Man Killed at Paris Airport Grabbing Soldier's Gun; Report Does Not Confirm Trump Spy Claim; Russia's Annexation of Crimea Three Years Old. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired March 18, 2017 - 05:00   ET

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


[05:00:00]

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Uneasy allies, the U.S. president holds a tense meeting with the German chancellor Angela Merkel. There were some awkward moments, but still some gains that were made as well. We have that story.

Just hours before his secretary of state arrived in Beijing, the U.S. president tweets this, "China has done little to help with North Korea." CNN's Will Ripley is live in the Chinese capital with reaction.

Plus, three years since Russia annexed Crimea, Moscow claims the territory is fully integrated into Russian society. Our Fred Pleitgen went to the area to find out.

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm George Howell. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

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

HOWELL: And we begin this hour 5:01 on the East Coast with news we are following in France, that nation's interior ministry says a man at Orly Airport in Paris was killed just a short time ago when he tried to grab a soldier's gun. CNN's Melissa Bell is live by phone with us following the story with us.

Melissa, first of all, we understand the airport's south terminal had to be evacuated during the police operation that followed.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, George. And here at the south airport of Orly, scenes of chaos as people still try to make their way on foot to what is an airport terminal that's been entirely cordoned off.

It was 1.5 hours ago for the man tried to seize a weapon of one of the soldiers on guard at France's airport. Ever since, the state of emergency was put in place, have been heavily patrolled, you will see heavily armed soldiers patrolling them night and day.

Now one of those soldiers who has targeted the man took his weapon and tried to seek refuge in one of the shops. That's what we had just confirmed to us by France's interior ministry spokesman. The man who had taken the weapon was then shot.

No one else was wounded in the in the attack, however and we are expecting France's interior minister to arrive at the airport within a few minutes.

HOWELL: Melissa, I understand it's still very early in this investigation into what happened there.

But do we have any indication at this point from investigators or officials who spoke with about motive or reason behind what happened here?

BELL: That is the first question they are going to seek to answer with the inquiry that's now been opened to try and work out precisely what this man was doing. It was just over a month ago that another solitary man tried to attack, again, soldiers who were on duty as a result of this state of emergency, as a result of the sentinel (ph) operation at the Louvre museum, similar kind of attack. It appears to have been today not to be terribly well thought out.

He tried -- he took off for the soldier's weapon himself.

What were his motivations?

What was he hoping to achieve and what might have happened if he hadn't been killed by the security forces fairly quickly?

Those are all the questions that they will be looking into in that inquiry, as I say, has now been opened.

HOWELL: A lot of questions for sure, keeping all of this in context, of course, there is still an ongoing investigation. At the same time, there have been many attacks within France.

Just to get a sense of the mood of people, given something like this, what would your surmise the response will be from people as they learn this breaking news we're following ?

BELL: I think there will be an awful lot of interest (INAUDIBLE) happen again. You know, France remains on a state of high alert, that state of emergency as I mentioned a moment ago, is in effect until the 16th of July. It's been in effect, George, since November 2015, during the November 13th attacks left 130 people dead.

So France, you can really sense it when you walk around its streets, when you approach its monuments, when you're in its airports train stations. It is on high alert. There are soldiers and policemen, extra soldiers and policemen on patrol all the time.

And although it's been a while and there's this sense that people have been starting to think, well, perhaps the worst is over; perhaps the sort of coordinated attacks that we saw back in November of 2015 at the time of "Charlie Hebdo" but also the kinds of Nice attacks back in July, when the man -- and is still the subject of an investigation -- may have been in coordination with others is (INAUDIBLE) entirely established.

But certainly managed to cause a lot of deaths around him with his truck that day on July 14th.

But those sort of large-scale attacks are over. There is still the chance that --

[05:05:00]

BELL: -- anything could happen anytime. And what you've seen more and more of are these sort of so-called lone wolf attacks and, again, we don't know, George, whether this man was working with anyone else, whether this was coordinated, whether this was planned or whether we are dealing with someone who was just unstable and decided to try and go on the attack on its own.

Those (INAUDIBLE) solitary attacks have become more and more frequent. And it appears to be what we've seen today.

HOWELL: But again, the headline this hour, the breaking news we are following for our viewers in the U.S. and around the world, a man killed at the Paris airport, Orly airport, after grabbing a soldier's gun.

Melissa Bell was on the phone with us live, our Paris correspondent, Melissa, thank you for the reporting. We will stay in touch with you as you continue speaking with investigators there.

Following this story now in China, the U.S. secretary of state held a news conference with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing just a short time ago. He is there for meetings with China's leaders. Rex Tillerson's visit follows a stop in South Korea, where he said the U.S. would consider military action against North Korea if it was provoked.

CNN's Will Ripley is following this story live in the Chinese capital with us this hour.

Will, thank you so much for your time, first of all, just what are you taking away from that meeting between Rex Tillerson and his Chinese counterpart?

What are the main headlines coming out of it?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, George, certainly, publicly, Foreign Minister Wang and Secretary Tillerson were very cordial. They talked about the mutual benefits of the longstanding U.S.-China relationship, not only economically but also strategically, citing the fact that the two countries have gotten along for decades without any sort of military conflict, really not since the Korean War.

And so they also talked about the shared goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and this is one thing they said on that topic just moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Foreign Minister Wang and I had a very extensive exchange on North Korea and Foreign Minister Wang affirmed again China's longstanding policy of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

We also exchanged views and I think we will share a common view and a sense that tensions on the peninsula are quite high right now and that things have reached a rather dangerous level. And we've committed ourselves to do everything we can to prevent any type of conflict from breaking out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RIPLEY: At this hour, we believe a similar discussion is taking place with China's other even higher-ranking diplomat, state counselor Yang (ph). And then tomorrow of course Secretary Tillerson meets with Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

Behind closed doors, these conversations are much more frank, much more candid, from the U.S. perspective and the Trump administration has made this clear, China needs to do more to rein in North Korea.

And what Tillerson is trying to find out is exactly how far China is willing to go to punish Pyongyang and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, for these repeated provocations, nuclear tests, two last year; multiple missile launches so far this year, more than 20 last year.

And so that's what they're trying to assess. And this is of course queuing up to the meeting that we're expecting in the United States early next month between President Xi Jinping and President Trump -- George.

HOWELL: Well, let's just talk a bit more about this. Rex Tillerson has said that patience for North Korea has ended; also, as you pointed out, that all options are on the table.

Before he arrived, the President of the United States tweeted this about 20 hours ago. Let's take a look at this tweet, if we can.

President Trump saying this, "North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been "playing" the United States for years. China has done little to help!"

Will, the question that I have for you, it's a two-parter, how is that response received in China?

Does it put pressure on them to, indeed, do more with the U.S. pushing more?

And how might the pressure be perceived in North Korea?

I know you have traveled extensively there.

What do you surmise the response will be there? RIPLEY: Well, we know that the Chinese do monitor President Trump's Twitter account. We also know that the tweet apparently was a surprise to Secretary Tillerson; it wasn't some sort of coordinated thing.

However, what President Trump said in the tweet does not come as a surprise to the Chinese. They know that this is the U.S. position. They're going to counter that they believe the U.S. is responsible for the rising tension on the Korean Peninsula.

Because every year North Korea gets very angry and launches missiles and does other provocative acts when the U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises are taking place a very short distance from North Korean shores. And they feel that that is a threat.

So China wants the U.S. to stop those military exercises. The U.S. wants China to penalize North Korea in terms of sanctions. And all of this is being watched, of course, by the regime in Pyongyang.

What may make them more nervous than they felt during the Obama administration is this language from Secretary Tillerson, that all options are on the table, including a military response. They knew during Obama years, the years of strategic patience --

[05:10:00]

RIPLEY: -- that a military attack on North Korea is something that would never happen. There will be many -- it is very unlikely that scenario would ever happen.

They're not so sure, however, what the Trump administration is going to do, George. There is that sense of uncertainty, and that has to have not only Pyongyang but also Beijing if not nervous, certainly on their toes, wondering what is going to happen.

HOWELL: The U.S. president on the campaign trail, when he was running, did indicate that being unpredictable would be a major asset when dealing with foreign affairs.

Will Ripley, live for us in Beijing, Will, thank you so much for your reporting.

Now to the U.S. president's claims of wiretapping and the lack of evidence to support them. Nothing new there to talk about. But this is new. The Justice Department delivered a classified report on the matter to Congress Friday.

Officials familiar with that report say that it found no evidence to back up Mr. Trump's assertion that he was wiretapped last year at Trump Tower by his predecessor, the former U.S. president, Barack Obama.

President Trump had the chance on Friday to put that matter to rest. But standing side-by-side with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, he actually joked about it. And Merkel didn't laugh. Jim Acosta has this story. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was an opportunity for President Trump to withdraw a baseless accusation that former President Obama wiretapped him and apologize. But for a president who never admits mistakes, it was an opportunity missed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Are there, from time to time, tweets that you regret?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Very seldom.

QUESTION: Very seldom. So, you would never wish...

TRUMP: Very seldom. Probably wouldn't be here right now but very seldom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA (voice-over): At a news conference with German chancellor Angela Merkel, the president refused to back down, pointing to past reports that Merkel was once surveilled by the U.S. intelligence community during the Obama administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: As far as wiretapping, I guess, you know, this past administration -- at least we have something in common, perhaps.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA (voice-over): The White House is digging in even after press secretary Sean Spicer sparked a diplomatic uproar defending the president's comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: You also tend to overlook all of the other sources that -- I know you want to cherry pick it. But, no, no, but you do.

But where was your concern about "The New York Times" reporting?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA (voice-over): And to back up the president's wiretapping allegations, Spicer cited an unsubstantiated report from a FOX News commentator.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: Last on FOX News on March 14th, Judge Andrew Napolitano made the following statement, quote, "Three intelligence sources have informed FOX News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. "He didn't use the NSA. He didn't use the CIA. He didn't use the FBI

and he didn't use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ."

What is that?

It's the initials for the British intelligence spying agency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA (voice-over): The British government was outraged, "utterly ridiculous, should be ignored," said the British signal intelligence agency, GCHQ.

The British prime minister's office added, "We've made clear to the U.S. administration that these claims are ridiculous and should be ignored. We have received assurances that these allegations won't be repeated."

But during the news conference, the president said no apology was necessary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind, who was the one responsible for saying that on television.

I didn't make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on FOX. And so you shouldn't be talking to me.

You should be talking to FOX?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA (voice-over): After the press conference, Spicer told reporters he was just passing on news reports from various outlets.

"I don't think we regret anything," he said.

For the president, the Merkel visit was a chance to mend some fences.

In late 2015 he tweeted about Merkel, "I told you @TIME Magazine would never pick me as person of the year, despite being the big favorite. They picked person who is ruining Germany."

Tensions Merkel appeared to acknowledge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY (through translator): Is that I've always said it's much, much better to talk to one another and not about one another and I think our conversation proved this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And as for a response to the president's latest remarks at the news conference, a spokesperson for the British government offered no comment -- Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Jim Acosta, thank you so much for your reporting.

This is CNN NEWSROOM. And still ahead, a look inside Crimea, three years after it was annexed by Russia. What residents say life is like under Russian rule -- ahead.

Plus, torrential rains take over neighborhoods as a deadly storm rips through Peru. We'll have the latest on the rescue efforts there, as CNN NEWSROOM continues.

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HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

It is still unclear who is responsible for a deadly attack off the coast of Yemen. The International Organization for Migration says a boat packed with refugees was fired upon. At least 42 people were killed. Many of the victims were from Somalia.

Survivors have given conflicting accounts of what happened. Some say that a helicopter opened fire while others say that a military vessel attacked that boat there.

In Ukraine, a key anniversary has been reached in that country's conflict with pro-Russian separatists. It was just three years ago that Russia announced its annexation of Crimea. CNN's Fred Pleitgen traveled to Crimea and has this look at how annexation is affecting the people there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): It was the final pen stroke at the end a brazen land grab, Russian president Vladimir Putin signing the order to annex Crimea three years ago.

"Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia," he said.

"This conviction on truth and fairness has always been resolute and was passed from generation to generation. Both time and circumstances could not erase it."

It's important to remember that Crimea has been home to Russia's Black Sea naval fleet for over 200 years, not something easy for Russia to give up. Three years after the annexation, Russia says Crimea has been fully

integrated into Russia while many Crimeans says there still is much work to be done. Moscow points to the positive, like the luxury hotel Alainah (ph), where Chef Bogdan Perina (ph) prepares Crimean oysters that he is experimenting with local ingredients instead of luxury products from abroad.

"I only serve local food made from local ingredients," he says.

"It's not hard to keep the quality high if we just drive around here and pick the suppliers. We do it to oyster farms and trout farms."

Of course, many things are harder to come by because of international sanctions slapped on Russia for the annexation of Crimea. But general manager Kyra Zakharova (ph) tells me, business is still going well.

"There is a tendency for guests to stay longer than they used to," she says. "The people used to spend a weekend or just a few days; now the average stay is around seven days."

Russia shocked the world when mass forces appeared in Crimea in the midst of the upheaval in Ukraine. Moscow originally claimed the troops weren't theirs before Vladimir Putin finally admitted he had sent them.

Only weeks after the conflict began, Crimeans allegedly voted to break away from Ukraine and join Russia in a referendum that was heavily criticized by the U.N., the U.S. and the E.U.

The United Nations still recognizes Crimea as part of Ukraine. And the U.S. says sanctions --

[05:20:00]

PLEITGEN: -- until the territory is returned to Ukraine.

And despite the positive development, much of Crimea remains like this, poor with little economic development, much of the holdup coming down to logistics. There is no direct land route from Russia to Crimea; planes and these ferries, the only way for Russians to get there.

"Cars are often stuck in traffic for days," this woman says, "and sometimes the connection is disrupted because of sea storms. Of course, if we had a bridge, we would have more people here, too."

The Russians are building a bridge for faster access in the future.

PLEITGEN: Russia hopes to complete the bridge by 2018. It's supposed to include a rail link as well as a motorway. And many people here in Crimea hope that the bridge will help alleviate a lot of the problems bringing both people and goods on and off the peninsula.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): For now, however, the bridge to Kerch (ph), like much of the integration of Crimea into Russia, remains a work in progress -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Kerch, on the Crimean Peninsula. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Fred Pleitgen, thank you for the reporting.

Now let's bring in CNN's Clare Sebastian, live in Moscow, following the reaction there.

Clare, this question about Crimea; the pressure remains for Russia to return Crimea to Ukraine.

But is that even a consideration in the Russian capital?

Or is that just a non-starter?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's not a consideration at all, George. This is a closed issue in Russia. Russia is simply not willing to discuss either the issue of a possible new referendum on Crimea or any discussion of returning it to Ukraine. Russia believes that Crimea was returned rightfully to Russia through that referendum and that this issue is not up for discussion.

In fact, it's not just that it's a closed issue; it's a source of national pride. We are seeing celebrations across the country today, commemorations for that third anniversary of Putin signing that order, absorbing Crimea into the Russian territory. Weaklings (ph) there's a student concert that's going to be happening here in Moscow.

So this is definitely not something they are willing to discuss. And I think there was a certain amount of hope when the Trump administration took over in Washington that the U.S. might be willing to soften its stance.

Certainly the reason why then candidate Trump was so popular in Russia, one of the reasons, was that he said during the campaign that he might be willing to consider recognizing Crimea.

Since his inauguration, we have certainly seen the administration toughen its stance, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, saying multiple times that sanctions won't be lifted until Russia returns Ukraine to Crimea. Russia is not willing to countenance any discussion of that -- George.

HOWELL: Clare, pivoting to a different topic but still on the topic of Russia, on Monday, the FBI director, James Comey, is set to inform legislators about the investigation into an alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election. This remains a big issue with deep questions on this side of the pond.

But, Clare, what is the feeling about this issue there?

SEBASTIAN: Well, George, I mean, on the surface, they're trying to distance themselves from it, really. We asked the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, on his call with journalists yesterday, whether he was concerned about this hearing on Monday, this investigation.

He said they've frankly got better things to do. They have their own issues to deal with and they're not really watching it. He called it "a broken record with futuristic songs," and you know the Kremlin has consistently denied any involvement in, you know, hacking the U.S. election. They haven't denied that there were any contacts between Russia and the Trump team.

But they are certainly denying that this was anything out of the ordinary. And they have starting to call this "hysteria" in Washington, hysteria by the U.S. media, they say they're simply stirring up anti-Russian sentiment.

And more recently, the Kremlin has said this has the special to harm relations between the two countries, so certainly this is seeing themselves but also you know, kind of warning that this could come between them and the U.S. -- George.

HOWELL: Clare Sebastian, following this story, live for us in Moscow, Clare, thank you so much for your reporting.

We're following a situation in Peru, some remarkable footage that has come to light from that nation. Our meteorologist, Derek Van Dam, is here to tell us about this -- Derek.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, George, you got to see this footage of a dramatic almost rescue attempt. This was from the flooding that took place, that has been taking place in Peru, specifically, along the coastal areas.

This particular woman emerging from the mud, crawling and stumbling over debris that were dragged along by this raging torrent. We had onlookers right along the banks of this -- over this flooded river. And they gathered around her and helped in her recovery. She has now been transferred to a nearby hospital and is safe.

But she said that she survived by grabbing onto pieces of wood, tree branches, trying to build a makeshift bridge to pull herself out of the mud and --

[05:25:00]

VAN DAM: -- the muck. Unbelievable scenes coming out of Peru. The infrastructure there has been greatly hindered by this flooding. In fact over 100 bridges have become impassable because of the flooding. And the scenes that you saw on your television screens just a second ago, over 115,000 houses have been damaged or destroyed.

You can imagine the livelihoods impacted by that, over 60,000 people displaced, in fact.

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HOWELL: Still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, there could be fallout from a super secret spy alliance after Donald Trump refuses to walk back claims that he was wiretapped. Again, there's no evidence to back that.

Plus the U.S. is disputing reports that its warplanes bombed a Syrian mosque. But there is no disputing the devastating aftermath that happened.

CNN is live this hour from Atlanta, Georgia, on our networks both in the United States and around the world this hour. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM.

[05:30:00]

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And a warm welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM and it is good to have you with us. I am George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.

(HEADLINES)

HOWELL: Returning now to our top story this hour, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, deepening the controversy over wiretapping. Again, no evidence to back that. That he repeated a FOX News commentator's account, claiming that he was under surveillance by British spies during the election campaign on behalf of the former President Obama.

Downing Street says it's been told the allegation won't be made again. But the president offered no apology. And, as Brian Todd reports, the United Kingdom is not happy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An accusation that is still bringing outrage from across the Atlantic. The White House Press Secretary reciting a claim from a FOX News analyst that former President Obama got British intelligence to spy on Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: He didn't use the NSA. He didn't use the CIA. He didn't use the FBI and he didn't use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD (voice-over): GCHQ, Britain's equivalent of the NSA, a super- secret eavesdropping agency with some of the world's best technology. According to the FOX analyst quoted by Sean Spicer, using the GCHQ to spy on Donald Trump would have given President Obama plausible deniability.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: He's able to get it and there's no American fingerprints on this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD (voice-over): The British are furious, calling the comments "ridiculous" the head intelligence overseer in Britain's Parliament saying, "Longstanding agreements between the Five Eyes countries means they cannot ask each other to target each other's citizens."

What are the Five Eyes countries?

JAMES BAMFORD, AUTHOR, "BODY OF SECRETS": Five Eyes is basically one organization; they share everything, they collect help each other collect information.

TODD: Five Eyes, the intelligence agencies of English speaking allies, the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Experts say after working so well together to defeat Germany and Japan in World War II, those nations formally established Five Eyes right after the war to spy on the Soviet Union. Experts say they meet at least once a year.

And from human intelligence, to wiretapping to hacking, it's the most effective intelligence-sharing alliance in the world.

BAMFORD: Basically, GCHQ and the NSA are closer than the NSA and CIA. And what they've done is they've divided the world up into spheres of interest -- --

[05:35:00]

BAMFORD: -- so that Britain, for example, can collect against Europe or Russia a lot better than the United States can.

So this is their area of focus. The U.S. can eavesdrop on South America or, to some degree, a lot of the Pacific area.

TODD (voice-over): The brotherly ties between British and American intelligence agencies often immortalized on the big screen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You must be James Bond.

TODD (voice-over): When James Bond met up with his CIA counterpart, Felix Leiter.

DANIEL CRAIG, ACTOR, "JAMES BOND": See, that's what I like about U.S. intelligence. You'll lie down with anybody.

JEFFREY WRIGHT, ACTOR, "FELIX LEITER": Including you, brother. Including you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD (voice-over): Now intelligence analysts fear the fallout from the White House, citing an unproven accusation.

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: What the UK has that we don't is listening sites closer to the Middle East. They have a listening site, for instance, in Cyprus, which is absolutely crucial to our collection. If they close that down or they throttle off the information, it will risk American lives. TODD: Other experts say that may not happen because then the British wouldn't get access to U.S. intelligence, which they depend on as much as the Americans depend on the British.

What may happen, analysts say, is that the British and other Five Eyes partners may get increasingly nervous about sharing some intelligence with the Trump administration, not knowing if it would be talked about in the open or how it would be used. And, as a result, some intelligence may be held back from the Americans -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Brian Todd, thank you for the report.

The U.S. secretary of state is in Beijing this hour for meetings with Chinese leaders. Rex Tillerson faces a delicate task of pressuring China to drop its opposition to a U.S. missile defense system in South Korea.

He also is seeking Chinese support to reign in North Korea's weapons program. We get more now from CNN's Alexandra Field.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kim Jong-un's nuclear ambitions are fueling Fast and Furious developments, putting South Korea under mounting pressure.

The U.S. is racing to deploy THAAD, a missile defense system, on South Korean soil, insisting it is purely about protection from North Korea. U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korea's acting president say it must be installed as quickly as possible. China demands they stop and Korea is stuck in the middle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think when I see people discuss about the THAAD deployment issue, people also worry about the escalating tension in the Korean Peninsula and also in Asia.

FIELD (voice-over): South Korea is in the throes of a political crisis; protesters demanded the impeachment of disgraced conservative president Park Geun-hye. Now some want to push pause on THAAD. They want the next president, to be elected in May, to have the final say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I read the Trump's -- the autobiography, "The Art of --

FIELD: "The Art of the Deal."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- "Art of the Deal." It is very impressive.

FIELD (voice-over): But Songyung Yo (ph), who represents a presidential front-runner for the Democratic Party, says...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't decide our destiny, our problem. The United States and President Trump needs to -- should respect our -- the democratic government, new government.

FIELD (voice-over): He says Seoul is too close to North Korea, that THAAD can't protect it. The system is designed to intercept short- and medium-range missiles. But the reach of its radar raises concern for countries in the region.

Russia and China say the U.S. could use it to monitor their own missile launches. Now China appears to be pushing back. China says they haven't taken any official action against Korea.

But South Korea says there are signs of retaliation for the installation that are hitting the country in the pocket, like cancellations of Chinese tours, leaving local businesses to feel the effect.

"The popular shops are a little emptier in this tourist neighborhood," she tells us.

"Shop owners are out in the streets, trying to attract customers."

Older conservative party voters, proud proponents of the U.S. alliance, support THAAD. Liberals pushing for more open dialogue with North Korea fear it could keep everyone away from the negotiating table.

Six-party talks, which involved Russia and China, broke down in 2009.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: North Korea has developed their nuclear power during the period where the six party is not working properly. And we actually gave them an opportunity. While we're not actually talking to them, they used that moment to develop their nuclear weapons.

FIELD (voice-over): Kim Jong-un is once again upping threats, promising this year to test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the U.S. -- Alexandra Field, CNN, Seoul, South Korea.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: In Syria, evacuations have started from the last neighborhood held by the opposition in the city of Homs. Activists say that about 2,000 residents are headed to the Aleppo countryside.

In the meantime, the U.S. that its warplanes bombed a mosque in Northern Syria, an attack killing dozens of people. Officials say Al Qaeda --

[05:40:00]

HOWELL: -- fighters in a nearby building were targeted instead. Our Jomana Karadsheh shows us the scene.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Syrians are describing it as a massacre, according to a Syrian monitoring group, activists and rescue workers.

Scores were killed and wounded after airstrikes destroyed a mosque full of worshippers on Thursday evening in the town of al-Gina (ph) in Northern Syria. U.S. military officials have confirmed carrying out an airstrike in the area, killing several terrorists but did not bomb a mosque.

The target, they say, was a building where an Al Qaeda meeting was taking place but acknowledged the building was only 40 to 50 feet away from the mosque. A U.S. military official says, according to satellite imagery, the mosque was still standing after the strikes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Warplanes have violated the sanctity of God by striking one of the houses of God, destroying it over the heads of worshippers, which led to one of the most heinous massacres.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): The U.S. military's Central Command said they are looking into allegations of civilian casualties.

In recent weeks, the U.S. military has ramped up its airstrikes targeting Al Qaeda in the Northern Idlib province. But activists say the majority of those killed Thursday were civilian worshippers.

Syria experts warn Al Qaeda may use more incidents to gain more support in a part of the country where they are already growing stronger. One of the Syrian rebel groups called it a war crime and a, quote, "shameful scene" by an international community that has gone from silent to becoming a partner in the killing of the Syrian people -- Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, Istanbul.

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HOWELL: Jomana Karadsheh, thank you for the report.

Still ahead, a terrifying drought; a famine growing out of control. It is the worst humanitarian disaster Somalia has seen in decades. We'll have that story for you -- ahead.

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HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM, I'm George Howell.

Millions of people could starve to death in famine that the U.N. is calling the worst in decades. A severe drought in Somalia has made conditions even more desperate. The United Nations is asking for immediate financial assistance to help those suffering.

Our Robyn Curnow takes a look at how health workers are trying to treat the sick, many of whom are children. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a hospital in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, workers struggle to save people affected by famine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In most of the cases, they are dying -- the death cause is dehydration.

CURNOW (voice-over): The head of pediatrics says they are rehydrating a baby, treating for diarrhea and cholera. But their best efforts are at times not enough. Some of the children come in already severely malnourished and workers here say nearly 50 died from hunger-related ailments over the past two months.

The land in much of this country is dry and barren. There was little rain here for about two years until 2016. And when the rains came, they did not last. Water sources have dried up in the countryside. Animals are dying and people are moving to the cities in search of food and water.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was in the country earlier this month, appealing for more than $800 million to help about 6 million people who face the risk of starvation. He warned of a tragedy without that support.

Somalia is just one of several countries that the U.N. says faces the world's worst humanitarian crisis since 1945. Others are Yemen, South Sudan and Northeast Nigeria.

STEPHEN O'BRIEN, U.N. UNDERSECRETARY-GENERAL FOR HUMANITARIAN AID: Now more than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death.

CURNOW (voice-over): In Yemen, more than 7 million people are facing what the U.N. calls severe food insecurity, not yet a famine but getting there.

ERTHARIN COUSIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WFP: We don't have enough food to support the scale-up that is required to ensure that we can avoid a famine.

CURNOW (voice-over): More than 2 million people face starvation in Nigeria while more than 5 million are at risk in South Sudan, where the World Food Programme, the WFP, has been airdropping supplies. Armed conflicts in need countries are compounding the problem. In Yemen, the WFP is asking warring factions for road access to deliver aid to some of the hardest-hit areas.

And in the affected areas in Northeast Nigeria, Boko Haram remains a threat even though the Nigerian government has had recent military success against them.

In Somalia, as people forage the land for food and water, Al-Shabaab continues its deadly campaign against any attempt at asserting central rule for Mogadishu. Yet aid workers, doctors and nurses are braving the storm to save some of the worst affected -- Robyn Curnow, CNN.

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HOWELL: In South Sudan, U.N. officials are calling for emergency help for more than 1 million displaced people. Fighting has devastated the country and led to a severe famine condition there. Drought has made the situation there worse as well. Here's how one U.N. leader explains the disaster that is playing out.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eight months after fresh violence erupted in South Sudan, a famine produced by the vicious combination of fighting and drought is now driving the world's fastest growing refugee crisis.

Total displacement from South Sudan into neighboring region is now at 1.6 million people. The rate of new displacement is alarming, representing an impossible burden on a region that is significantly poorer and which is fast running short of resources to cope.

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HOWELL: Despite the deepening crisis, a sports day encouraged students to be champions of peace in their school communities. One athlete says he is hoping for reconciliation in South Sudan very soon.

This is CNN NEWSROOM. We'll be right back after the break.

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HOWELL: The restaurant chain in the U.S., McDonald's, it is in damage control after a social media snafu. The Twitter account of the fast food chain was hacked. Someone posted an insulting tirade against the president, Donald Trump. CNN's Jeanne Moos has this report for us.

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JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORESPONDENT (voice-over): Like salt on a wound, there was nothing sweet about this McTweet from McDonald's: "@realDonaldTrump, you're actually a disgusting excuse of a president and we would love to have @BarackObama back. Also, you have tiny hands."

This to a guy who has been photographed eating McDonald's, who knows the menu.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: What did Donald Trump order?

TRUMP: A fish lite (ph) sometimes. The Big Macs are great. The Quarter Pounder with cheese.

MOOS: The tweet lasted only about 20 minutes before McDonald's deleted it, later posting, "Twitter notified us that our account was compromised, hacked by an external source."

A McHack attack.

Seth Meyers tweeted, "Clown-on-clown crime."

Someone else made The Donald resemble Ronald McDonald.

Was the culprit the Hamburgler

Or perhaps rival Burger King?

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MOOS (voice-over): While the president probably wasn't loving it, this guy may have been.

Barack Obama was Photoshopped into the president's meal asking, "Too much special sauce?"

Trump supporters suggested a boycott.

Once it became known the account was compromised, there were mostly jokes.

"In fairness, Trump's hands make their regular cheeseburger look like a Big Mac."

MOOS (on camera): Do my hands make my burger look big?

MOOS (voice-over): To think the president once did a McDonald's commercial.

TRUMP: A Big and Tasty for just $1?

How do you do it?

What's your secret?

MOOS: And guess who has to clean up this whole McDonald's PR mess?

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MOOS (voice-over): Former Obama press secretary, Robert Gibbs, who is now global chief communications officer for McDonald's.

What does the president like about McDonald's?

TRUMP: At least you know what you're getting. I don't want to go into a restaurant and say, Mr. Trump would like a hamburger to go. Now I don't know what they're going to do to that hamburger. If they like me, I'm happy.

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MOOS (voice-over): At least his hamburger didn't get spit on. Someone just spit out a tweet -- Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

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HOWELL: And we saw Grimmus in that report. Always good to see Grimmus.

All right, from purple now to green, much of the world celebrated St. Patrick's Day on Friday. It honors the patron saint of Ireland, credited for bringing Christianity to the country. It is a national holiday for the Irish and is largely observed there as a religious day.

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HOWELL: The scene in Savannah, Georgia, here in the United States, is generally marked by parades in many cities across the country and widespread use of that color, green, even the White House got on with the act with St. Paddy's Day dye in its fountain you see there.

And Brazil gave its Christ the Redeemer statue a special glow of green.

That wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

For our viewers in the United States, "NEW DAY" is next. For other viewers around the world, the "BEST OF QUEST" starts in a moment. Thank you for watching the cable new network, CNN. We are the world's news leader.