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North Korea Freezes Nuclear and Missile Tests; Concerns Trump Personal Attorney Could Flip; Outrage after Scuffle with Morality Police. Aired 3-3:30a ET
Aired April 21, 2018 - 03:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Suspended: North Korea says it no longer needs to test nuclear weapons. It remains to be seen who will claim this diplomatic victory.
And closing in on Cohen: investigators focus on President Donald Trump's long-time attorney.
Plus this: a young music star's life cut short. Remembering deejay and producer Avicii.
Live from the CNN NEWSROOM, here in Atlanta, I'm Cyril Vanier. Great to have you with us.
VANIER: So North Korean leader Kim Jong-un says he will close one of the country's nuclear testing sites and suspend further testing of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
This surprise announcement comes just days ahead of his historic summit with his neighbor, the president of South Korea. While Kim said nothing about short-range missiles or scrapping any missiles and warheads that he may already have, South Korean President Moon Jae-in praised the North Korea move as a positive step toward denuclearization.
Here's how state TV reported the North Korean leader's statement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Under the proven condition of complete nuclear weapons, we no longer need any nuclear tests, midrange and intercontinental ballistic rocket tests and that the nuclear test sites in the northern area has also completed its mission.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER: Will Ripley has reported from North Korea many times. He's in Hong Kong right now.
Will, you've been making calls about this.
What do you think is behind this announcement by Kim Jong-un?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is significant news and you see that evidence by the fact that Ri Chun-hi (ph), the grande dame North Korean newscasters, who comes on the air only to deliver the big news, she had a special report.
And North Koreans, I have been to the country, when she comes on television, people stop and they listen. So this is significant, the fact that Kim Jong-un is telling his people that, at this point, he's completed his nuclear program, no need to test any more intercontinental ballistic missiles or midrange missiles and are going to be shutting down the nuclear test site at Punggye-ri.
But these moves, while significant, are largely symbolic at this point. It wouldn't be very difficult for North Korea to resume testing very quickly and to reopen that nuclear site or another one if the upcoming summits don't go well.
But it does seem that the North Koreans are determined for these summits to go well and that has also been the indication from South Koreans, who have been interacting with the North Koreans as well as the impression that CIA director and secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo got when he went to Pyongyang and met face-to-face with Kim Jong-un.
President Trump said the meeting went well. Sources who were familiar with the discussions also said that the tone in the room was good. It seems as if Kim Jong-un is ready to try to make a deal with the United States, to do something that the two previous North Korean leaders have been unable to do. Nine U.S. presidents have never been able to resolve the stalemate with North Korea.
But President Trump now has a potentially huge historic opportunity here if he can go to the meeting with an understanding of what the North Koreans want when it comes to denuclearization and with a very clear set of goals for himself, what this is all going to accomplish.
VANIER: So what's been the reaction in the region of this?
RIPLEY: Overwhelmingly, positive. In fact, we have a couple of statements and put out in South Korea by the Blue House.
They said, quote, "We welcome North Korea's decision to discard its nuclear tests and to suspend the launch tests of midrange missiles," going on to say that North Korea's decision is "a meaningful progress for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
Over in Beijing, China also saying that the announcement is "conducive to the denuclearization of the peninsula and the process of resolving the peninsula issue politically. Denuclearization and sustainable peace in the region are in the interest of people on the peninsula and the region and is expected of the international community." But again here, the devil is going to be in the details. The North Koreans have indicated that they don't expect American forces to pull off the Korean Peninsula but they will likely want a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War. They will want assurances for their safety and security as a government.
And if President Trump can convince them that this path forward of denuclearization will benefit the country and the people in the long run, this could really have the potential to change the course of history for this part of the world.
VANIER: But about North Koreans themselves, how do you think they are likely to feel about the new direction that their country is taking?
I know it's hard to gauge public sentiment in North Korea but you've been there many times. You can probably do that as well as anyone.
RIPLEY: This is a U-turn certainly. You walk around Pyongyang; you're surrounded by imagery celebrating the nation's nuclear program, that can Kim Jong-un has spent the better part of his six years in power developing.
But at the same time, if this change in policy --
RIPLEY: -- keep in mind that North Korea didn't say they're giving up their nuclear program; they said they've completed their nuclear force. They haven't talked about destroying nuclear weapons yet. But they have said that there will be no more tests.
And if these discussions in the coming weeks lead to better economic conditions for the 25 million people living in North Korea, I can't imagine that they would be too upset about that if, all of a sudden, they are much more prosperous than they were in previous months and years and if their living conditions continue to improve as a result of this.
And that is something that the United States could offer Kim Jong-un. The normalization of relations with the U.S. and the potential trade opportunities that come with that could dramatically improve the quality of life for North Koreans eventually.
And then you've seen the rapid growth. Kim Jong-un's certainly witnessed the rapid economic growth in his neighbor and patron, China. And I am sure that he would love to see something similar in his country if they can find a way to work out a deal that allows him to stay in power and still maintain, you know, his control and the ideology of the country.
VANIER: All right, Will Ripley, reporting live from the region in Hong Kong, thank you very much. I know we're going to keep you busy all day today but thanks for your insights.
All right, let's turn now to John Delury. He teaches at the Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies in Seoul, South Korea. He joins us now.
John, what is your read on all of this?
What is North Korea, in your view?
JOHN DELURY, YONSEI UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, one thing that is really important to not about this statement by Kim Jong-un, which happened at a major leadership meeting, a party meeting, the third plan, they're calling it, is if you look at the full statement, it is overwhelmingly focused on economic development, as Will Ripley was mentioning at the tail end there.
So we immediately home in on the details of the nuclear and the missile program, which makes sense; that's what we're worried about, that's where we feel the threat coming from.
But it is very important to step into North Korean shoes, and look at what they are up to and what are their underlying interests here because, obviously they're not going to seek denuclearization as their goal. That is our goal.
So what is their goal?
Kim Jong-un just said in a very forthright way, stronger than he's ever said it before, he actually said that the strategic line of the last five years called Byonjin (ph), dual progress on the nukes and on the economy, that is completed. We're now 100 percent on the economy.
So, as we move into these summits, the North-South Korea summit next week and then the Trump-Kim summit whenever and wherever that happens, it is critical to remember this announcement and it and to remember the context here from the North Korean perspective is Kim is basically saying it is the economy, stupid, moving forward.
VANIER: So does that mean he is going to want the U.N. sanctions lifted?
DELURY: Yes and no. I think that the sanctions are important. They establish a kind of lid on what North Korea can achieve. You know, North Korea is a small country. I think it is the size of Pennsylvania, 25 million people. They have some good natural endowments.
But you know, it is not good for farming. Really, if North Korea can become the last Asian tiger, which is what I think Kim Jong-un is talking about, it has to integrate into the region. It has to have financial integration. It has to have all the trade and investment flows that have made East Asia what it is it, that have made South Korea what it is and Japan and China and Vietnam.
I think that's where Kim Jong-un is -- I mean, that's what he saying, is where he's aiming his country. And so to do that, he knows he has got to deal with the security situation and satisfy the concerns of the United States and others in the region, the international community have about the nuclear program so that he can start a process of lifting sanctions, integrating North Korea. That is not going to happen overnight. That is not something that,
you know, you can shake hands and Trump and Kim can do all that. That is going to be a process. But the key thing in this process is the degree of political will, the determination.
And we're seeing again, with this announcement, Kim Jong-un is all in. He is very serious going into this process.
VANIER: And John, you just mentioned in the Asian tiger that perhaps Kim Jong-un would like to emulate. As you were speaking, I was thinking of another country and going out on a limb here, tell me if this is crazy.
I was thinking of Myanmar because this is -- this was once one of the most secretive countries in the world, closed off, led by a military dictatorship. And within the space of just a few years, they managed to sort of have their cake and eat it.
It has opened up. They have got the economic benefits of lifting sanctions. They've started normalizing relations with the rest of the world. And yet we know that the military leaders still hold a lot of power in the country.
Could that be a blueprint for North Korea?
DELURY: Well, yes and no. I mean, it is worth thinking through these analogies. There's a guy, Andre Abrahamian (ph) --
DELURY: -- who just wrote a very interesting book. You might check out, comparing literally North Korea and Myanmar.
So there are -- there are things to that analogy. But I would say that the biggest differences that strikes me is in the case of Myanmar, you have a very different domestic political situation. You had Aung San Suu Kyi, you had a civil opposition, you had conflict between the military and the civilians.
And of course, that has been part of the process of change there. And there has been a kind of democratization process.
There are no signs of anything remotely like that in the North Korean situation. The domestic politics of North Korea, it is more like a court; you basically have a dynastic state. And, you know, I think people ask a lot about why this is happening now, why is Kim Jong-un doing this now.
I would argue it is because he achieved in the last five, six years, he was able to consolidate power and deal with all the stresses of that core politics and he now has, even though he is young -- you know, kings are often young in history -- and he has the system enough under his control, he is ready to move to the next level of dealing with all these complex international issues.
And so that is where I think the analogy breaks down in terms of the internal dynamics of the two places are very, very different.
VANIER: All right, well, thanks for -- thanks for humoring that. John Delury, thank you very much, speaking to us from Seoul today, thanks.
We're giving you some of the reactions to all this from the region. We haven't told you about Japan yet. Japan's Prime Minister has called all of this "forward motion." However, Shinzo Abe told reporters that Japan's policy towards North Korea has not changed. That is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. That is what they want.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHINZO ABE, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): North Korea's announcement is forward motion that I'd like to welcome. But what is important is that this motion leads to complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. I want to take a close look at it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER: Japan's defense minister, for his part, sounded a more skeptical note, calling the North Korean announcement, quote, "insufficient."
North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests to date. The first, in 2006, was estimated to be about a kiloton, just a fraction of the strength of the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima during World War II.
The second test was in 2009; that was bigger, 2 to 6 kilotons.
The third test followed in 2013. It was the first under Kim Jong-un and in January 2016, a fourth nuclear test. North Korea says that one was a hydrogen bomb.
September 5th, 2016, came the fifth nuclear test and September 3rd of last year, you see the pace quickening there, North Korea carrying out its most powerful nuclear test to date. Analysts estimate the yield at 250 kilotons.
So that just shows how far they came between the first and sixth nuclear tests.
Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, shocking video that has gone viral. Why activists in Iran hope it will grab the public's attention in their fight for women's rights.
Plus new legal concerns for President Trump.
Could his personal attorney soon write "The Art of the Squeal"?
Stay with us.
VANIER: Welcome back. I want to walk you through several developments in the legal firestorms surrounding President Trump.
First of all, "The Washington Post" reporting that attorney general Jeff Sessions told the White House that if President Trump fired assistant attorney general Rod Rosenstein, Sessions would consider leaving as well.
That came in a phone call last week between Sessions and White House counsel, Don McGahn, after Rosenstein had met with the president.
Rosenstein, remember, is the person who oversees the Russia probe and there are reports that Trump also lashed out after Rosenstein approved the raids on his personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
Let us get to that topic. There is late word that the former attorney for both porn actress Stormy Daniels and former "Playboy" Playmate Karen McDougal is now cooperating with federal authorities in their probe of Cohen.
Keith Davidson was at the center of agreements that kept both women quiet over their alleged affairs with Donald Trump before he became president. Davidson has turned over what his spokesman calls "certain limited electronic information."
A source familiar with the matter told CNN that, earlier this month, the FBI seized recordings that Cohen made of his conversations with Davidson. There is growing concern in the White House that Cohen, who has worked with Donald Trump for many years and has been called Trump's fixer, they are so close, could end up cooperating with federal investigators.
Earlier I spoke about all of this with Peter Matthews. He is a political analyst and professor of political science at Cypress College.
VANIER: The fact the president's allies are concerned that Cohen might turn on the president.
Doesn't that mean they assume the president did something wrong?
Otherwise there would be no reason to be concerned.
PETER MATTHEWS, CYPRESS COLLEGE: Kind of like the cow in the bag when they said that, you know, he might turn on him because that presumes that Trump did something wrong, something illegal. That's quite interesting.
I believe that there's a good chance that Cohen could turn on the president because Cohen is not ready for prison and jail and people who know that about him said that about him and when he is facing years and years possibly imprisonment, it depends how much the sentence would be able to plea bargain will be.
There is a good chance that the prosecutors could get him to turn and to save his own skin basically.
VANIER: And we're also finding out a little bit more color on their relationship between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen. According to "The New York Times" reporting, Donald Trump has treated Mr. Cohen over the years with contempt.
Here's a quote from Roger Stone, an ally of the president.
He says, "Donald goes out of his way to treat him" -- i.e. Michael Cohen -- "like garbage."
Do you think that's something that could come back to hurt the president if it's true?
MATTHEWS: That interesting, Cyril. These kind of attitudes are developed over time can really come in all of a sudden in a rash way to hurt someone like the president if you've been doing this all these years.
And it is like a -- Cohen has been building up in him. And he could explode by saying, look, I don't owe this man anything in the end. I want to save myself.
And that certainly is the fact that could play in here if he's been treating him that way.
VANIER: We also know that the reason investigators raided Michael Cohen's office, hotel room, house is because they want to find out about the hush money that he paid to Stormy Daniels.
Now they've got Stormy Daniels former attorney cooperating with them. This is the man who negotiated that the whole deal, the whole hush deal with Michael Cohen. It seems like what ever actually happened it's not going to remain secret for long.
MATTHEWS: No, it is not and it's not just Stormy Daniels' attorney, he was also the attorney for Karen McDougal, the other person that was, in a sense, paid up to -- her story was caught and carried, basically, to not expose it and she was paid $100 few thousand and it was negotiated by Cohen.
So it's even -- Keith Davidson. So he's involved with more than one person there. And really this is a very precarious situation, especially since Davidson is actually cooperating and turning over information and already has turned over information to the investigators.
VANIER: Amid all of this, this week, we found out that Mr. Trump was boosting his legal team. One high-profile name, the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani; others not so high-profile. What do you make of this?
MATTHEWS: I make of that most lawyers with any kind of reputation don't want to represent this president because they can't trust what he's going to be doing as a client. And furthermore their reputation, their own reputation's at stake and Giuliani is about the one of any kind of reputation that the president was able to get.
He's known him for a long time so he can't but help the president. But he's having a real difficult time getting top-notch lawyers to represent him. That is quite telling in itself.
VANIER: Also this, and is separate, the Democratic National Committee --
VANIER: -- is suing the Trump campaign plus Russia plus WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and they're alleging a grand conspiracy to release emails that ultimately harmed the Democrats in the presidential election.
Now they acknowledge that their lawsuit brings no new evidence. They just pull everything that we already know into one big narrative.
Do you see this as real legal threat here for the president or Republicans?
Or is this a political move mostly?
MATTHEWS: I think it is more of a political move because it is -- the fact that the DNC is really resenting having lost that election, totally unpredictably, to Donald Trump and they haven't gotten over it and they want to get some kind of political support from the public on that.
I'm not sure if it's such a wise move because the public could also look at the DNC --
VANIER: You agree with Donald Trump on that, by the way.
MATTHEWS: Pardon me?
VANIER: Because that's what -- you agree with Donald Trump on that. He says that's their main motivation. They haven't gotten over losing in 2016.
MATTHEWS: To some extent, that's got to be true. But there may be something else there. I don't think there's -- I think it is mostly political in a sense and I'm -- I certainly support them trying to do this. But I think they should really, instead of work on -- win the midterm elections that are coming up as opposed to putting all of their efforts into this thing. And you know, frankly, it's quite a bag of different defendants there. You look at all the people that are suing together, and this thing is a big conspiracy.
Well, let's see what comes of that. It'll be very interesting to watch that and follow it. But I think they should spend their energy on other things, like winning the Congress back in 2018 and going on for 2020.
VANIER: Peter Matthews, always good to talk to you. Thank you for your time.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Cyril, my pleasure.
VANIER: For years, Iranian activists have been fighting a law that requires women to cover their hair in public. Women who don't end up facing the morality police -- or at least it can happen.
A dramatic new video now shows us the kind of violence that activists are determined to stop. CNN's producer Salma Abdelaziz reports.
SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN PRODUCER (voice-over): A dramatic moment of defiance. It's now a viral video shows Iran so-called "morality policy" in a physical confrontation with a woman. Her crime, allegedly wearing her headscarf too loosely.
First, the police woman seen here wearing all black tries to pull the woman in the red headscarf aside.
ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): "Sit, I'm telling you. Sit, you animal," she says.
The woman refuses and yells an insult, "You are without honor."
The confrontation turns physical, the agent's pushing and shouting screams of "Leave her alone and help Iraq," as the woman's friends tried to protect her. When falls to the ground, it's too chaotic to see why.
Before the clip ends, a final exchange "I'm going to file a complaint and sue the hell out of you," one of the women says.
The police officer responds, "You can't do a damn thing."
CNN cannot independently verify the video.
But Masih Alinejad, an Iranian woman right back to this, said she was given this material by an eyewitness who told her these university students were celebrating a birthday in a Tehran Park when the altercation ensued.
MASIH ALINEJAD, IRANIAN WOMAN'S RIGHTS ACTIVIST: They were not even unveiled. But the police thought that, you know, they don't have inappropriate hijab. So, the police went to them and asked them that cover yourself. One of the girl got, you know, resisted the police.
ABDELAZIZ: Iran's interior ministry has called for an investigation into the incident.
And Iran's vice president for woman's affairs condemned the attack tweeting, "What justifies this behavior?
Where is the limit of an officer's action?
Even if they were insulted, I strongly condemn this treatment. No human deserves this kind of harsh anti-religion behavior."
More than 35 women since December 2017 have been arrested in Tehran in an ongoing movement against the compulsory veil, according to CNN International. The guidance patrol, commonly known as the "morality police," has been accused of using force to impose required dress codes.
ALINEJAD: Every individual woman in Iran who never believe in compulsory hijab, they have the same experience. So, this time this is the power of social media getting all the people under one umbrella.
ABDELAZIZ: The gathering chorus of voices online and on the street may finally have the government's attention -- Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, London.
VANIER: One more thing we want to tell you before we wrap this up. Avicii, the Grammy-nominated dance music artist, has died. He was only 28. His publicist says he was found in Muscat, Oman. The cause of death has not been released.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER (voice-over): That's just one example of one of his hits. Avicii was known for electronic dance music. His first international hit came in 2011 with "Levels." In 2013, he had a crossover pop hit with "Wake Me Up."
Avicii, though, suffered from acute pancreatitis, which he attributed to excessive drinking. His collaborator on "Wake Me Up," Aloe Blacc, tweeted, "My heartfelt condolences to Tim's family and close friends. I can't express how deeply sad I am.
"Meeting him changed my life. He was an amazingly talented person and it hurts so much that he is gone."
Avicii, once again, was just 28 years old.
Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'll have the headlines in just a moment. Stay with us.