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North Korean Leader Warns of "New Path" if U.S. Insists on Sanctions; Trump Signals Slower Withdrawal from Syria; Sudan Suppressing Protest Coverage; Dozens Ring in New Year as Newlyweds; Larry the Cat Unimpressed by Brexit Dilemma. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired January 1, 2019 - 03:00   ET

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


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JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Cheers from the western United States as the last few towns and cities welcome in the new year. Hello 2019, good riddance 2018.

From our headquarters, I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

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VAUSE: It's now 2019 across much of North America and the world with the clock striking midnight just moments ago in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver and cities around the world the party goes on.

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VAUSE (voice-over): A light show and fireworks display playing out on the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

An hour earlier there were fireworks over the Acropolis in Athens.

In Bangkok they brought in the New Year with a loud bang. A million people attended the fireworks display in the Thai capital.

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VAUSE: But in his new year's address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has warned if there is no relief from U.S. sanctions, he can abandon the current thaw in diplomatic relations and in his words, seek a new path.

Along with that threat was a conciliatory message from Kim Jong-un, saying he was committed to denuclearization and willing to meet with president Donald Trump at any time.

This annual address by the North Korean leader is closely watched around the world. Last year's speech marked the start of unprecedented international diplomacy with both Washington and Seoul. For more now, CNN's Alexandra Field is live in Hong Kong.

What was interesting is what Kim Jong-un actually meant by this new path. He didn't spell it out and it was kind of a notable choice of words because it was tame. It isn't the usual threat that we're used to hearing from the North Koreans.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He didn't rock the boat with the fiery rhetoric that you're used to hearing. But he made it clear that there is frustration on the North Korean side.

You've heard the North Koreans and Kim Jong-un reaffirm their position, saying they're committed to denuclearization. There is no plan materialized between the U.S. and North Korea in this year of unprecedented engagement that we've seen.

We know that Kim Jong-un wants a second summit with president Donald Trump but nothing has been agreed to. We've seen a number of delays here. In the meantime, North Korea is saying they want reciprocal measures. They are chafing under sanctions so they want to see them eased as they work towards denuclearization.

This is how Kim Jong-un put it in his address today.

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KIM JONG-UN, NORTH KOREAN LEADER (through translator): However, if the U.S. does not keep its promise it made in front of the world, it misinterprets our people's patience and makes one-sided demands and continues down the path of sanctions and pressure on our republic. Then we will have no choice but to defend our country's sovereignty and supreme interests and find a new way to settle peace on our peninsula.

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FIELD: John, as you mentioned, Kim Jong-un doesn't go on to describe what a new way could be. In the U.S., administration officials have been quick and ready to point out very frequently that North Korea hasn't conducted any nuclear tests or any ballistic missile tests since the two leaders sat down back in June.

Both sides looking to make some progress, both sides continue saying that they want to have a second summit but it has been difficult to move towards that.

VAUSE: What we have also learned from the North Koreans is usually when They say something, they mean it and they usually carry through with whatever threat it may be.

The question here is, what does a new way, a new path look like?

And is there a timeline here?

How long are they willing to wait for the U.S. to take any meaningful action when it comes to sanctions relief because, at this point, there doesn't seem to be any indication that the Trump administration is willing to move on that?

FIELD: Right. The Trump administration says repeatedly that they won't ease any of the sanctions until North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons. It's tough to see how there could be a way forward when we know that all sides are trying to keep the talks going because they feel that is key to keeping the sense of peace restored or created over the past year.

In terms of a timeline, it is North Korea that is chafing under the sanctions. They're the ones feeling heat from it. The White House following the summit in June, talked about moving very quickly to put meat on the bones of what was a very amorphous agreement to work toward denuclearization. They have since backed off that point, saying --

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FIELD: -- there really is no timeline, talking about the complexity of this issue and saying that there is no pressure to move immediately but take a certain amount of time that they are no longer willing to define.

So you could have another fundamental disagreement between the two sides of exactly how much time really is on the clock. We do know that both leaders have said that they're hoping to have this summit and have it in the first few months of this new year.

VAUSE: OK, Alexandra Field, thank you. Happy new year.

FIELD: You, too.

VAUSE: The start of the new year will look a lot like the end of the old one as far as the U.S. government shutdown is concerned. Donald Trump and congressional Democrats remain deadlocked over the president's demands for billions of dollars for a border wall.

In the meantime, thousands of government employees are left wondering when and even if they will go back to work. Kaylee Hartung has that part of the story.

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KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's no end in sight to the government shutdown, forcing thousands of federal workers and their families to make tough sacrifices.

ANGELA KABANA, WIFE OF FEDERAL WORKER: It's pretty scary not knowing when you're going to get paid.

HARTUNG (voice-over): Angela Kabana's husband is an air traffic control for the Federal Aviation Administration.

KABANA: He's considered an essential employee so he has to go to work. And I can't go to work, because I just had a baby.

HARTUNG (voice-over): With no income, they're slashing expenses, focusing on the mortgage and feeding their family; 420,000 federal workers like Angela's husband are entering a second work of week without pay.

Another 380,000 federal employees are on furlough, effectively put on a leave of absence without pay. That's why the trash is piling up at some national parks around the country, where they're unstaffed with no one to supervise the land and facilities.

At Joshua Tree National Park, volunteers from the local community, like these rock climbing guides, are stepping in to do the dirty work during the park's busiest days of the year.

SETH ZAHARIAS, ROCK CLIMBING GUIDE: I'm guiding every day and, in my free hour or two in the evening, I'm running to the park and cleaning toilets, not to mention we're about $400 out on cash buying toilet paper.

HARTUNG (voice-over): The impact of the partial government shutdown spans the country. Americans are talking about the tough financial challenges they face on Twitter, using #shutdownstories.

In Wyoming, Ernie Johnson says thankfully his auto loan deferred his truck payment in January but if he doesn't receive back pay, he'll likely be evicted February 1st.

Lauren in Pennsylvania tweets that she depends on child support from a federal corrections officer paycheck. Without it, she says she won't have the funds for after-school scare or school lunch.

And Sarah Waterson, who describes herself as a Marine Corps veteran on Twitter, puts her family struggle into perspective, saying, "My children don't care about walls. They do care about having a warm house to live in, a car to ride in, clothes to wear and food in their bellies, none of which is possible if their mom can't go to work."

Candid thoughts from Americans about the toll of policymakers bickering. And the longer the shutdown drags on, the more widely the effects will be felt -- Kaylee Hartung, CNN.

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VAUSE: Only part of the U.S. government has been shut down. Crucial services like Defense continue to be funded as normal. But when workers arrive at the Pentagon in the coming hours, they will have a new boss. Outgoing Defense Secretary James Mattis gives his farewell message, what some believe was a none too subtle dig at the president.

Barbara Starr reports.

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BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Before the stroke of midnight, the Pentagon will make a classified phone call, transferring the power of Defense Secretary from James Mattis to acting Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan. Before leaving, Mattis sent a final message to the troops, including

what some see as a last dig at the president's isolationism, telling the nation's warriors to "keep the faith in our country and hold fast alongside our allies, aligned against our foes."

PATRICK SHANAHAN, ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Hey, good morning.

STARR (voice-over): Shanahan takes over Tuesday with, perhaps, his first task: sorting out what the president really wants to do about withdrawing troops from Syria.

Just today, President Trump signaled a change in the speed with which the U.S. is withdrawing troops from Syria, tweeting, "we're slowly sending our troops back home," a chance from what Trump said in the White House video posted nearly two weeks ago.

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TRUMP: They're all coming back. And they're coming back now.

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STARR (voice-over): He also today tweeted that ISIS is mostly gone, a change from a few days ago, when he declared, "We have defeated ISIS in Syria."

Military leaders say that is not the case. The tweets coming on the heels of a lunch with one of the president's closest allies, Senator Lindsey Graham, who is adamantly opposed to a rapid withdrawal.

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SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.), MEMBER, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: The president is thinking long and hard about Syria, how to withdraw our forces but at the same time achieve our national security interests, which are to make sure that ISIS is destroyed, they never come back, that our allies, the Kurds, are protected and that Iran doesn't become the big winner by our leaving. So I think we're in a pause situation.

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STARR (voice-over): But it is not clear what happens now.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: In this particular situation, it sounds like Senator Graham is basically saying, hey --

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HERTLING: -- I got to the president and I'm hoping he rethinks his decision.

STARR (voice-over): It is leaving allies and enemies confused.

HERTLING: The problem is the president already announced it to the world and there are both friends and foes alike who are taking his last announcement of over a week ago, thinking that's what we're going to do.

STARR: President Trump is insisting he is just doing what he campaigned on, getting America out of its wars -- Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

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VAUSE: A U.S. citizen has been detained in Russia and accused of carrying out an act of espionage. According to Russia's federal security service, Paul Nicholas Whelan was arrested on Friday. Very little is known about him or his alleged crime.

Under Russian law a spying conviction could carry up to 20 years in jail. Some analysts believe it is a tit-for-tat strategy by the Kremlin after a Russian spy, Maria Butina, was arrested back in July.

Three weeks ago she struck a deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty to one count of conspiring to act as a foreign agent in return for cooperating with investigators. Prosecutors say she infiltrated several political groups in the United States, including the National Rifle Association.

Sudan's president has made a call for an end to a wave of deadly protests but CNN has learned that he had a very different message when meeting with senior police officers. We will tell you what that is after a break.

Also ahead a milestone for Cuba and its president. Why the island is celebrating more than just the new year.

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VAUSE: Fireworks exploded above the Baghdad tower in the Iraqi capital to welcome in 2019. The New Year celebration comes just three weeks after Baghdad opened the green zone to the public. It had been cordoned off for 15 years during the Iraq War.

Sudan's president is calling for an end to deadly protests which have rocked the country. In a nationwide speech, Omar al-Bashir called on all sides to renounce violence. He acknowledged the severe economic problems facing the country and promised free and fair elections in 2020.

But critics say it is the president who is encouraging the violent crackdown, which has left dozens of protesters dead in the past two weeks. We get details now from CNN's Nima Elbagir and, a warning, some of the images in her report is disturbing.

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YASIR AWAD, PROTESTER: I'm on my way to the public march called for by the Sudanese Professional Association in downtown Khartoum. I'm frightened. The regime has been gassing, terrorizing and even gunning down people. Peaceful protests have been going down, peaceful protesters. And I just hope nothing horrible happens today.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He went anyway and he wasn't alone. But the heavy deployment of senior security forces rendered it almost impossible to document the march. If the marchers continue, the Sudanese state seems intent on ensuring the continue away --

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N. ELBAGIR (voice-over): -- from the eyes of the world. My sister, Yousra Elbagir, a journalist filming for CNN in Khartoum, was harassed and assaulted by officers who caught her filming.

YOUSRA ELBAGIR, JOURNALIST: We just got to a safe place a little while ago, a convoy of national security officers and armed trucks caught us secretly filming them. They aggressively approached the car; they banged on the windows.

Finally I opened the door. They ripped my shirt, trying to get me to give up my camera phone. They're on high alert today and they're trying to make sure that the world isn't watching

N. ELBAGIR (voice-over): Today is day 13 of demonstrations across Sudan, calling for the almost three-decade rule of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir to end. This is the first demonstration since Bashir addressed his top police officers, initially calling for restraint but then quoting a verse from the Quran that counseled their exact penance.

And what is exacting penance?

He went on to say, "It is killing, it is execution as a deterrent."

The next day he says this film (INAUDIBLE).

A bloody body wrapped in a sheet. Activists say he was killed after live ammunition was shot into the crowd by security forces, joining the dozens to have died in less than two weeks and hundreds injured.

The streets are now quieter. Demonstrators dispersed using tear gas. How long they will remain quiet is uncertain -- Nima Elbagir, CNN, London.

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VAUSE: This new year comes with a milestone for Cuba; 60 years since Fidel Castro seized power in a socialist revolution. A lot has changed between those years but perhaps most notably of all, a once testy relationship with the U.S. CNN's Patrick Oppmann has the view from Havana.

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PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba, few thought the revolution he led would endure for 60 years. Castro was just 33 years old on New Year's Eve 1958, putting him on a collision course with the U.S. government who considered the Caribbean island to be part of Washington's sphere of influence.

In a 1959 interview with CBS' Edward R. Murrow, Castro initially sought to ease Americans concerns about which side of the Cold War he was on.

FIDEL CASTRO, CUBAN REVOLUTIONARY LEADER: Well, I don't worry because really there is nothing (INAUDIBLE) about coming here to (ph).

OPPMANN (voice-over): But as Castro nationalized U.S. properties and executed hundreds of enemies in show trials, the U.S. government decided that the Cuban rebel leader had to go.

A U.S. backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs failed though. Castro was now firmly aligned with the Soviet Union. The Cuban leader would rail against the U.S. for hours and end marathon speeches by declaring, "Socialism or death."

In 1962 the CIA discovered that he had secretly allowed the Soviets to place nuclear missile throughout Cuba, reducing the time Moscow would need to strike the U.S.

After a tense standoff that many feared would lead to nuclear war, the Russians pulled the missiles back. Castro would continue to be a thorn in the side of U.S. throughout the Cold War. Many thought that the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba's largest trading partner, would lead to the end of Cuban communism and Castro.

The Cuban economy cratered but Castro remained in power. The CIA tried to assassinate Castro countless times but it was a mystery stomach ailment that in 2006 nearly killed him. Two years later he stepped down for good and turned the reins to his younger brother, Raul.

Hardly a reformer, Raul Castro opened some areas of the tightly controlled Cuban economy. He signaled he wanted a less confrontational relationship with the U.S. The suddenly warming U.S.- Cuba relationship led to the opening of embassies, reestablished direct flights and a first visit of a U.S. president to Cuba since the revolution.

Ties, though, with the U.S. under President Trump cooled just as Raul Castro announced a hand-picked successor to succeed him as president. Born after the Cuban revolution began, Miguel Diaz-Canel is the first Cuban head of state in 60 years not named Castro. He is on Twitter and promised to govern with transparency. But he is a staunch defender of Fidel Castro's ideology.

"We are defending our process and we are defending our revolution," he says, "which continues to be threatened, which continues to be attacked."

Sixty years later, Cuba is still beset by severe economic problems and a love-hate relationship with the U.S. And the future of Cuba's revolution remains unclear -- Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.

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VAUSE: In Jakarta, hundreds celebrated the New Year with a wedding; to be specific, a mass wedding for the young and (INAUDIBLE). Brides and grooms aged from 19 to 76 (INAUDIBLE) organized specifically for poorer families who often don't have the --

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VAUSE: -- official documents needed for a legal marriage. A legally recognized marriage helps with access to health care, education and other government services.

The world looks forward to 2019 and NASA is actually quite literally looking at the past, it seems. Right now the New Horizon spacecraft is flying by what is known as Ultima Thule, a distant object so old and pristine it is like looking into a time capsule from the beginning of our solar system.

It's almost 6.5 billion kilometers away, way beyond Pluto, making this the most distant planetary fly-by ever. New Horizon's launch was in 2006, it made a successful fly-by of Pluto back in 2015.

Still to come, the corridors of power, Downing Street's chief mouser seems less than impressed with the prime minister's cat-like reflexes in her Brexit battles.

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THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: In the next few weeks MPs will have an important decision to make. If Parliament backs the deal, Britain can turn a corner.

The referendum in 2016 was divisive. But we all want the best for our country. 2019 can be the year we put our differences aside and move forward together into a strong new relationship with our European neighbors and out into the world as a globally trading nation.

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VAUSE: Theresa May there, using her new year's address to urge lawmakers to back her Brexit plan. But there is one political mainstay of Downing Street who just doesn't seem impressed by any of this. Larry the Cat has actually been seen debating current affairs with CNN's Anna Stewart. Yes, here she is.

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(MUSIC PLAYING) ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It has been a year of political instability around Brexit.

MAY: We have had a meaningful vote. We had it in the referendum on 2016.

STEWART (voice-over): The debate rages on in Downing Street, in or out.

No, not of the E.U. but of Number 10 itself. Larry the Cat just can't make up his mind.

With no cat flap, Downing Street's chief mouser commands a squad of policemen with little more than a glare.

And with videos like this one which went viral, he has a huge international fan base. He has been in power since 2011, joining Number 10 during David Cameron's administration. Speculation that the prime minister and Larry didn't see eye to eye were put straight in Cameron's resignation speech.

DAVID CAMERON, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: And the rumor is that somehow I don't love Larry. I do. And I have photographic evidence to prove it. Sadly, I can't take Larry with me. He belongs to the house and the staff love him very much, as do I.

STEWART (voice-over): Under new prime minister Theresa May, divisions soon become evident. A leadership challenge for a feline in the foreign office, Palmerston, wailing long into the night, with neither willing to back down. A harbinger of a fight to come between their respective ministers, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, who on all sides for the party rebels recently --

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STEWART (voice-over): -- failed to oust her.

Larry is an opinionated pundit with over 200,000 followers on his unofficial Twitter page. But one wonders if some of it is fake news.

He recently said he rejected an offer from the prime minister to be the next Brexit secretary. And his own poll revealed 92 percent of the participants think Larry more likely to secure a good Brexit deal than the prime minister or the opposition leader.

Whisker to whisker he is less politically engaged. In fact, he is not very engaging at all unless you have some cat treats, giving reporters short shrift in interview like this one, a CNN exclusive.

STEWART: What do you think about that?

Not much. I mean, that is dreadful bribery. I'm not sure what the media regulators will say but the good thing to know is, no matter what happens in the coming weeks, Larry will be with us, strong and stable leadership, at least from this wonderful Downing Street cat -- Anna Stewart, CNN. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: It's a cat. It's a cat.

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VAUSE (voice-over): Just across the Thames, the city welcomed in the year with brilliant fireworks display. An estimated 100,000 people turned up. Millions more welcomed 2019 across Asia and (INAUDIBLE).

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VAUSE: Thank you for joining us. I'm John Vause. Stay with us. "Going Green" is up next but I will be back in just a moment with a check of the headlines. You're watching CNN.