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North Korea Holds Military Parade; South Korea Reacts to North Korean Show of Force; Trump Sends Message through U.S. Military Might; Trump's Foreign Policy Shifts; U.S. Military's MOAB Killed 94 ISIS Fighters; Turks Divided ahead of Sunday's Vote. Aired 3:30-4a ET

Aired April 15, 2017 - 03:30   ET

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


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CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A show of force, North Korea's military parades through the streets of the capital, showing off what could be its newest missile technology as tensions mount in the Korean Peninsula.

Plus a look at President Donald Trump's rapidly evolving foreign policy.

And a key vote in Turkey that could strengthen the hand of President Erdogan. Thanks a lot for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier live from the CNN NEWSROOM.

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VANIER: Experts believe North Korea put on display new military technology; in particular, possible intercontinental ballistic missiles. The large canisters were paraded through the streets of Pyongyang during a military parade marking the country's biggest holiday.

Analysts warn that they were probably just mock-ups and there is no way of knowing if North Korea has the technology developed yet. The show of force came with strong words to match. North Korea issued another threat to the U.S., saying it would respond to all-out war with an all-out war.

China is trying to avert a full-blown crisis. Here is the Chinese foreign minister.

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WANG YI, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): On the Korean Peninsula issue, it is not those who use harsher words or raise bigger fists that would win. If a war breaks out, everybody will end up as a loser and there will be no winners.

Therefore, we urge all parties to refrain from provoking and threatening each other, either with rhetoric or actions, so as to avoid getting the situation out of hand and into an irreversible dead end. Whoever starts the war on the Korean Peninsula has to bear the historical responsibility and the consequences.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: CNN's Will Ripley is in Pyongyang. He had a front-row seat to that military parade.

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(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So far no nuclear test on the Day of the Sun, North Korea's most important holiday but you have seen a show of force of a very different kind.

You can see North Korean citizens are out here right now. These women are holding up a North Korean flag. Earlier, we saw North Korea's full arsenal on display. There were Scud missiles. There were submarine-launched ballistic missiles. There were land-based missiles that could be launched from a mobile launcher.

And at the very end, we saw North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles. We know that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's goal is to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead capable of reaching the mainland United States.

And while analysts say they may not be there just yet, parades like this are certainly evidence that they continue to make progress. (INAUDIBLE) progress that many experts have predicted.

A lot of people thought there might be a nuclear test today on this important holiday or in the lead-up to it. However, it seems as if the North Koreans are holding off on the nuclear tests for now.

But I have received information that a special operations exercise, a military exercise earlier this week, when commandos were jumping out of airplanes, that was in direct response to tweets from President Trump talking about North Korea and urging China to solve the North Korea problem, as he put it.

We also know that there's the U.S.S. Carl Vinson carrier striker, 60 planes, submarines equipped with nuclear missiles and a 97,000-ton aircraft carrier, all designed to send a message of deterrence to the North Koreans, telling them not to engage in provocative behavior such as another missile launch or a nuclear test.

But the atmosphere out here, as the North Koreans would put it, is a single-hearted determination to fight, to fight against the United States, because their country has told them all of their lives that they're under the imminent threat of invasion.

So you have a lot of these civilians out here, perhaps not many of these women but you have a lot of the men in the crowd here, who have a military background, who have told us repeatedly that if there were to be a war with the United States, they would leave their jobs, put their uniforms back on and fight. So this is what North Korea is saying, that they are being

underestimated by the world and they put on these supersized displays to try to prove to the world that they are here to stay and they're going to move forward on the road of their choosing, even if that road is a path to nuclearization that many others, including the United States, feel is a dangerous and destructive path -- Will Ripley, CNN, Pyongyang.

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VANIER: The increased tensions in the region come as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence heads to South Korea. He is expected to leave Washington shortly and travel to Seoul before heading to Hawaii, Japan, Indonesia and Australia, all of this part of his Asia Pacific tour. U.S. officials say his primary goal will be to reinforce U.S. alliances. And North Korea's nuclear and missile ambitions will likely be on the agenda when he hits the ground in Seoul.

CNN's Alexandra Field is in Seoul, where people are used to heated rhetoric from North Korea. I asked her how they were reacting to these latest tensions.

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ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The strong possibility, the likelihood, the probability of additional missile tests aren't new for South Koreans. It's not those facts in and of themselves that cause the most concern but it's the changing climate right here on the peninsula that has people more worried than they have been in the face of these provocative actions from North Korea in the past.

That's namely the fact that we do not know at this point how the U.S. plans to proceed when it comes to countering the North Korean nuclear threat. President Donald Trump has been very clear in saying that if China won't solve the North Korea problem, that the U.S. could act alone. And now they have deployed the vice president, Mike Pence to the region. He'll be coming to Seoul, South Korea, and on to Tokyo, Japan, to talk to allies about what kind of options are on the table and what options are being presented to President Trump when it comes to looking at how to deal with North Korea.

We know the White House has said they'll look into a military option. That's what raises concern here in South Korea because, while you have a lot of talk going on between China and the U.S. about how to deal with North Korea and when you have North Korea trying to project these images of strength and possibly on the verge of even more provocative actions, you have South Korea sitting right here very much in the line of fire.

It is widely believed if the U.S. conducted some sort of preemptive strike on North Korea, that South Koreans could very much be in harm's way with a strong possibility of North Korea then retaliating.

VANIER: They are vulnerable indeed. I've been wondering how the ongoing domestic political crisis in South Korea is shaping their ability to respond to this. The country's president was impeached. You reported on that a lot. New elections are due to take place in the country shortly.

Is South Korea right now able to respond to a threat?

FIELD: It is such an important question because you have the two world powers, China and U.S., really dominating the conversation when it comes to how to proceed with North Korea.

But you have an acting president here in South Korea who is trying to issue assurances to the people in this country. And we've heard these same sorts of words echoed by other officials in South Korea. They are telling the public here to rest assured that the U.S. will not act without them, that they're in close contact with their counterparts in the U.S., particularly when it comes to the idea and the possibility of some kind of military action.

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VANIER: So we just saw pictures of the U.S. warships that are being sent to the Korean Peninsula. That move raised tensions. Apparently perceived as a provocation by North Korea, eliciting strong words. We told you just a moment ago by Pyongyang, but again tensions do spike regularly here.

So I asked Mike Chinoy whether this was standard, given the constant war footing in the region or whether it was different this time. He is senior fellow at the U.S. China Institute at the University of southern California. Here is what he said.

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MIKE CHINOY, U.S.-CHINA INSTITUTE, USC: I think it's different on a number of levels. I think that one very crucial point is that you're getting very, very mixed messages from the Trump administration in the sense that there's a lot of muscle flexing, there's a lot of posturing. There's a lot of threats that have really raised the temperature.

And this comes when the North Koreans are repeatedly saying, if we feel we are about to be attacked, we are prepared to undertake a preemptive strike and that we'll use our nuclear weapons if we have to.

So what you've got is a situation where you've got posturing on both sides and if each side feels the other one is pointing a gun at it, then the temptation to strike first to avoid being the target increases very considerably. So I think that a very dangerous dynamic.

And it is compounded by the fact that I don't really get a sense that the Trump administration has a clear strategy of where it's going with this, how it's going to involve the South Koreans and the Japanese. I think its views about China's role on being able to rein in North Korea are very unrealistic. So there are a lot of complexities we haven't seen in quite the same

way in past crises.

VANIER: Mike, the possibility of a sixth North Korean nuclear test is believed by most analysts to be imminent.

What do you make of the increasing pace?

It's getting faster and faster, the number of ballistic missile tests and even nuclear tests coming from North Korea.

CHINOY: The North Koreans believe that nuclear capability is central to their survival. And they have determined that they are not going to end up like Saddam Hussein in Iraq or like Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. They believe that having the nuclear capability is what's enabled them to stay afloat when other countries that have been adversaries of the United States have suffered a different fate.

So they are accelerating their nuclear capability and they are also developing a missile that they intend will be able to hit the continental --

[03:40:00]

CHINOY: -- United States. We haven't reached that point yet. But I think to some degree, another nuclear test is not a surprise. I think to some degree the game-changer here is going to be when it's clear that they have, in fact, developed and can use an intercontinental ballistic missile on which they can place a warhead.

Because then North Korea becomes an existential threat to the United States. It can hit the United States with a nuke. And that is problem no American president has had to confront so far.

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VANIER: Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, he hasn't been president very long. But Donald Trump is shaking up U.S. foreign policy. We will go through the changes next.

And Turkey is a day away from a vote that could overhaul its political system. Why Germany's finance minister is issuing historic warnings. Stay with us.

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VANIER: Welcome back, everyone. We would like to welcome our viewers here in the U.S. I'm Cyril Vanier in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Donald Trump had little to no experience of foreign policy before he took office. But that changed quickly. Mr. Trump's recent foreign policy moves certainly got the world's attention. A message that Washington is willing to flex its military might. Elise Labott breaks it down for us.

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ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New warnings from China: as tensions rise with North Korea, the Chinese foreign minister warning that, if war breaks out, quote, "There will be losses on all sides."

Russia, Iran and Syria also issue warnings to the U.S. against new strikes in Syria.

The threats follow President Trump's decision to launch two major military strikes in Afghanistan and Syria.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have the greatest military in the world and they've done a job, as usual. So we have given them total authorization. And that's what they are doing. And, frankly, that's why they've been so successful lately.

LABOTT (voice-over): The display of military might, a message to U.S. enemies and their supporters in what is quickly becoming a hallmark of Trump's emerging foreign policy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump has given much more leeway to his military commanders to strike and they are striking. And I think that does send a message around the world that America's back.

TRUMP: Unbelievable.

LABOTT (voice-over): It's an about-face from the candidate who promised a national security strategy that put America first.

TRUMP: I want to help --

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TRUMP: -- all of our allies. But we are losing billions and billions of dollars. We cannot be the policeman of the world.

LABOTT (voice-over): But as commander in chief, Trump acknowledged the mages of last week's gas attacks in Syria had a deep impact.

TRUMP: I now have responsibility and I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly.

LABOTT (voice-over): In the span of a week, Trump has also changed his mind on the NATO alliance, now viewing it as a tool to counter Russian aggression in Europe...

TRUMP: I said it was obsolete. It's no longer obsolete.

LABOTT (voice-over): -- and abandoning his hard-line stance on China, now calling President Xi Jinping a partner to counter North Korea's nuclear threats.

TRUMP: President Xi wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding. I think we had a very good chemistry together. I think he wants to help us with North Korea.

LABOTT (voice-over): If a Trump foreign policy is emerging, it would be, "don't have a doctrine."

TRUMP: I like to think of myself as a very flexible person. I don't have to have one specific way. And, if the world changes, I go the same way. I don't change. Well, I do change.

LABOTT (voice-over): Trump says he trusts his commanders pressing him to flex U.S. military muscle. In Yemen, where the U.S. is stepping up airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, where Trump has sent hundreds of additional troops to fight ISIS since taking office and in Afghanistan, where his national security adviser General H.R. McMaster is traveling soon to plot the future of the U.S. military presence.

Trump now learning to trust the expertise of his generals he once boasted about knowing more than.

TRUMP: I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.

LABOTT: Military experts are pointing to a popular saying in the military, you can delegate authority but you cannot delegate responsibility.

And as commander in chief, President Trump still owns the consequences of the decisions taken by the military on his behalf. While he may be glad to take credit when the mission is successful, the question is, will he be willing to share accountability when things go wrong, including civilian casualties? Elise Labott, CNN, Washington.

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VANIER: And for more on President Trump's evolving foreign policy, here is CNN political commentator, also the Washington correspondent of "The New Yorker" magazine, Ryan Lizza, he's in Washington right now.

Ryan, what Mr. Trump calls his flexibility, that intellectual and policy flexibility that he actually boasts about on foreign issues, isn't that just code for "I'm learning this foreign policy stuff as I go along"?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think have you a good point there. It really is true that on some of the biggest issues, what he said on the campaign trail and what he thought about issues like North Korea and, for instance, what China's influence over North Korea was, what he thought about NATO, what he thought of about NAFTA trade agreement, what he thought about Assad, what he thought about Putin, those are all areas that have, without a doubt, changed in the last three months.

And so we are seeing someone who has gone from, you know, seeing the world as maybe he wanted it to be to recognizing the world as it is and adapting accordingly, which is not necessarily the worst thing this the world. It would be far worse if he were stuck in his views that were based on not having a command of the issues.

I think for his most ardent supporters, it has got to be a little worrying that he has such flexibility. You do, at the end of the day, especially his most serious supporters, you want someone with core convictions. But I do think there are places where, despite changes, there is a general consistency.

VANIER: Ultimately does it make U.S. foreign policy more or less predictable?

Because as you pointed out, Mr. Trump shows remarkable willingness to revert to what is fairly traditional U.S. policy. You mentioned the examples of NATO, for instance, or the (INAUDIBLE) Bashar al-Assad.

LIZZA: Absolutely. Look, where he is on Syria is exactly where Barack Obama ended on Syria; that is, not wanting any major intervention there, saying that Assad has to go but deterring Assad from using chemical weapons.

Obviously, Trump went a step further and used force. But if Obama had been in office later and Assad had used chemical weapons after their agreement, he probably would have done the same thing. On North Korea, he is where Obama ended up, which has no great options, frankly.

I think the big difference and --

[03:50:00]

LIZZA: -- the real break with both Democratic and Republican foreign policy is this: he is a realist. He does not speak in terms of American values: democracy, human rights. And so that is a significant difference with both Obama and George W. Bush, who both talked about their foreign policy, despite their differences, in terms of American values.

For instance, his meetings and the meetings of his aides with Vladimir Putin, the president of China, al-Sisi, the leader of Egypt, in previous administrations, there the fraught issue of human rights in those countries, of democracy and the rollback, for instance, of democracy in Egypt and in Russia, the jailing of opponents, those would have been issues on the agenda. That is not something that this administration seems to care about.

VANIER: All right, CNN political commentator, Ryan Lizza, on this emerging foreign policy that we are seeing from the new Trump administration, thank you very much.

LIZZA: My pleasure.

VANIER: Large-scale evacuations are currently going on in Syria. Civilians and rebels from several besieged towns are now allowed to leave. Thousands of people from two Shiite towns that remain loyal to the government are being sent to Aleppo and Sunni rebel fighters, who have also been under siege, are being relocated to Idlib province.

Iran brokered that swap with the support of Russia.

And in Moscow now, the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Syria met in a show of unity against the U.S. missile strikes. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said Washington should have respected Syria's sovereignty instead of undermining it, he puts it, "the peace process in Syria."

The U.S. military says dropping its most powerful bomb short of a nuclear weapon on ISIS was, quote, "the right weapon against the right target." It targeted a network of ISIS tunnels in Eastern Afghanistan. Afghan officials now say it killed at least 94 militants. CNN's Barbara Starr has more.

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BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The largest conventional bomb ever dropped in combat exploded above a complex of caves and tunnels in a remote area of Eastern Afghanistan. The top U.S. commander adamant the mission was only about killing ISIS.

GEN. JOHN NICHOLSON, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: The timing of the use of this weapon was simply the appropriate tactical moment against the proper target to use this particular munition. So it is not related to any outside events.

STARR: It does deliver a psychological message to ISIS. One military official tells CNN the massive bomb is powerful enough to destroy nine city blocks.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It will level that area and provide an unbelievable amount of concussion to that area. So it will collapse caves, it will blow up things and it will -- if you're alive afterwards, you're going to have perforated ear drums and a lot of trauma.

STARR: General Nicholson says it all went according to plan. Caves and tunnels destroyed, Afghanistan officials saying dozens of ISIS fighters killed.

NICHOLSON: We have persistent surveillance over the area before, during and after the operation. And now we have Afghan and U.S. Forces on the site and see no evidence of civilian casualties nor have there been any reports of civilian casualties.

STARR: The bomb had been in Afghanistan since early January. Nicholson signed the final order authorizing the mission just 24 hours before the bomb dropped. Afterwards, local Afghans described the enormity of the blast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last night's bomb was really huge. When it dropped, it was shaking everywhere.

STARR: A lot of firepower was used but the estimate is there's still upwards of 800 ISIS fighters inside Afghanistan -- Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

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VANIER: Recent terror attacks against Christians in Egypt failed to dissuade worshippers from attending Good Friday services. Coptic Christians filled this cathedral in Alexandria in Egypt, less than a week after dozens of people died in two bombings claimed by ISIS.

Church officials say they were surprised by the large turnout because they expected many people to stay home.

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VANIER: Turkey is weighing what could be a monumental shift in its political landscape. On Sunday, voters will decide whether to change the constitution. A yes vote would boost the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, abolish the office of prime minister and establish the president as the undisputed head of the executive branch.

This push worries anti-Erdogan protesters in Turkey. And, in Berlin, the German finance minister even warns that there's a risk of an Erdogan dictatorship. CNN caught up with a man who knows the Turkish president personally and, as Ian Lee, explains, he made some cutting --

[03:55:00]

VANIER: -- remarks, that pun fully intended.

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IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They say nobody knows you better than your barber.

So what happens when your client is Recep Tayyip Erdogan?

Yasher Ihem (ph) has known the Turkish president for decades. To learn more, I first have to sit in the hot seat for a trim.

While chatting, he tells me, "Erdogan hasn't changed much. He has lost his hair but he's still a charismatic and handsome man," adding that, "right now, he is stronger than Putin and Trump," and that Turkey needs him.

Like a good barber, Ihem (ph) won't divulge too many secrets, like if he tips. But almost everyone here has a story about the local boy done good.

"Yes, he has worked very hard for us. If he's in power, we're relaxed. If he isn't in power, then we're screwed."

The barbershop enter leads (ph) no doubt where the patrons' loyalties lie.

Mustafa (ph) tells me, "Anyone who looks at the issues and thinks rationally will vote yes. Turkey was in a crisis before. I'm a working man and now I have a house and car."

LEE (voice-over): But step outside the barbershop and into the neighborhood, not everyone is this enthusiastic.

"What gives me concern is will it only be him in power?" this lady, who's still undecided, tells me.

"What will happen to the parliament and will the people really have a voice?"

It's the nagging question for Turks. No campaign sees this as a struggle, not only for Turkey's democracy but also the country's soul, hoping to trim Erdogan's power with a single vote -- Ian Lee, CNN, Istanbul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: OK, just before we wrap up the show, this is impressive, a natural phenomenon so spectacular it can be seen from space.

California's four-year drought was broken by this, a so-called superbloom. Hundreds of species of wildflowers have colorized the state's once parched desert plains. And the kaleidoscope (ph) is so vast it can be seen from orbiting satellites.

This image, captured a few weeks ago, gives an idea of the scale. Californians should enjoy the display while they can. In just a few weeks, many of the flowers will disappear as the summer heat sets in.

All right. That's it from us. I'm Cyril Vanier. We will have more news with Natalie Allen and George Howell just after the break. Stay with us.