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Iran Foreign Minister: Allegations Meant To Prevent Sanctions Talks; Iran Showing Off Its High-Tech Military Capabilities; Report: South Korean President Feels Marginalized; U.S. Freelance Journalist Held Since 2012; Push On Capitol Hill To Pressure Law Makers For Action; Macron: We Must Listen To Young People On Climate; Environmental Groups Fear China Sliding On Climate Promises. Aired 2- 3a ET

Aired September 24, 2019 - 02:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to viewers joining us from all around the world. From Atlanta, I'm Rosemary Church. Let's get started.

High drama at Britain's high court: we're just hours away from a ruling that could have big implications for Brexit.

A presidency in peril: calls for impeachment grow louder as U.S. president seemingly admits to damning information about that phone call with the leader of Ukraine.


GRETA THUNBERG, CLIMATE ACTIVIST: You all come to us young people for hope.

How dare you?


CHURCH: Tough words from teen climate activist Greta Thunberg, shaming world leaders at the United Nations for their inaction on the climate crisis.


CHURCH: Good to have you with us.

And get ready for another round of Brexit drama. In just a few hours from now, the British Supreme Court will rule on whether prime minister Boris Johnson's move to suspend Parliament was legal.

His opponents believe he suspended the assembly to sidestep the opposition to his Brexit plan before the October 31st withdrawal deadline. He said the suspension was necessary to give the government time to prepare for a new legislative agenda.

If the court rules in favor of Mr. Johnson, Parliament will remain shut down, until October 14th. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told CNN what he plans to do if the court rules against his political rival. Take a listen.


JEREMY CORBYN, LEADER, U.K. LABOUR PARTY: Demand that Parliament is recalled and that the suspension of Parliament will be lifted at the moment, Parliament has been suspended until the opening of the new session of Parliament, which is not due until the middle of October. It's the longest suspension between one session and another for 300 years and it seems to me an attempt by the government to prevent any questioning, any debate or any voting.


CHURCH: Those remarks coming as Corbyn's Labour Party endorsed his stance on Brexit during its annual conference on Monday. They voted down a proposal that would put Labour in the Remain camp. Instead the party wants to negotiate a new Brexit deal and then let voters choose between that deal and remembering part of the European Union.


CHURCH: So get's bring in Thom Brooks, he is a professor of law and government at Durham University.

Good to have you with us.


CHURCH: So not long now and we will know what Britain's Supreme Court has decided on Boris Johnson's suspension of Parliament. If the court rules against him, what needs to happen next?

BROOKS: If they find against him, it will be, I think a real blow to Boris Johnson because it would have confirmed the prime minister misled the queen in requesting that she suspense Parliament, effectively that he lied to her and it will really provoke a constitutional crisis.

In normal circumstances a prime minister would resign at the mere thought that he or she might have done so. And I think that his position will get pretty close to untenable, if not untenable, if he loses today. It will be a massive blow to him. Parliament will have to be reconvened effectively right away.

CHURCH: And what's the sense that you're getting or do get any sense this will go either way?

BROOKS: I don't know, frankly, another lawyer or legal commentator that thinks that the government will win. We all think the government will lose this case. The argument was

pretty weak, saying that they needed the longest, as you heard Jeremy Corbyn saying, the longest break in of 300 years in order to put together a speech for the queen to read out on the legislative agenda.

Typically, this is just a few days. This is kind of a formal break from one session of Parliament before the next one. It's never required really a week, let alone several weeks to do.

And the court in questioning the government seem pretty brutal, you know, take down of a number of arguments. They were really taken by their opponents, who said that if the government was able to suspend Parliament for five weeks to suit their agenda, what's to stop for doing it for five months or five years if they couldn't get their way in Parliament?


BROOKS: And that seemed the wrong way around because the Parliament is sovereign, not the government. The government is (INAUDIBLE) Parliament. So we all expect that the government will lose.

CHURCH: Interesting. And Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as we just heard told CNN that if the Supreme Court thus rule that the suspension of Parliament was unlawful, he would demand the Parliament to be recalled and the suspension lifted, but that's all he says about it.

And given lawmakers will have less than 30 business days to figure all this all out before the October 31st deadline, does a no deal Brexit look inevitable at this time?

BROOKS: I don't think it looks inevitable quite yet. I mean, one thing that was true throughout Theresa May's troubled tenure trying to get any type of Brexit deal to the Parliament, is that members of Parliament at the moment are not united on much.

One thing that brings them altogether is their opposition to a no deal Brexit. That's the one thing that always gets the majority in this, it has consistently done so. And I think and that is why it's been alleged that Boris Johnson wanted to suspend the Parliament to try to stop Parliament from being able to get in his way of delivering the threat of a no deal.

So, I think that while there won't be much time and it's the only thing, the only vote that we can expect the Parliament will stand up to the prime minister and stop it.

Remember, this a prime minister that does not have a majority in Parliament. He's in a minority group and a lot of his actions over the last few weeks and only his first few weeks as prime minister. He's lost every vote in Parliament so far and dripping away what majority, working majority he's had.

So, I think that, if Boris Johnson loses today, it will be a real problem for him to get anything done at all, until a general election and I think it could well be hurting his party. CHURCH: Right, of course, we reported too that the Labour Party voted down a proposal Monday that would have put it in the Remain camp, instead it moved to negotiate a new Brexit deal and leave it up to voters to choose between the new deal or remain in the E.U.

What's the strategy behind that and will Labour voters buy it, do you think -- and other voters?

BROOKS: I've come down to Brighton. I was in the hall for that debate and its results. It's a difficult one. I think that the strategy that seems to have won the day on the floor was that, Labour's trying to unite the country.

The country was much divided between Leave and Remain and they thought it was a mistake to go for, on the one side, thinking that they've been wrong to go for a no-deal option. It was never part of the referendum deal.

And the on the other side, they don't want to invoke and Brexit deal altogether without going to the people. They thought that was something that hasn't had much of a democratic mandate.

I think the so-called people's vote, a second referendum, is the only way to go about it, not on Theresa May's deal. They seem to be confident they would be able to do something themselves.

It's unclear what that something else would be, over the last several months they have been having their own negotiations with Brussels and they are pretty confident they would have a different deal to offer to voters.

The controversial part of the plan was that Labour was not now committing itself to be for Remain if they were to put a Leave -- a new Brexit option to voters. Remain is very popular with Labour members and though the country is itself divided at the moment and Labour is not committing one way or the other and leaving it to the voters to decide.

How well that strategy will play out, we will find out soon, I'm sure.

CHURCH: We shall and we will find out hours from now the outcome from the Supreme Court, so will keep an close eye on that. Many thanks to you, Thom Brooks,.

BROOKS: Pleasure.


CHURCH: And we will have complete coverage of the high court's ruling. That starts at 10:00 am in London, 5:00 pm in Hong Kong, right here on CNN.

Later on Tuesday, Trump will deliver a message to a chamber full of presidents, prime ministers, dictators and royals. The specifics are not known yet but for his third address to the United Nations General Assembly, he will reportedly talk about Iran. Mr. Trump wouldn't say if he is planning to meet with Iran's President

Hassan Rouhani. But Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif has a defense answer when asked if he's meeting with Mr. Trump.


QUESTION: Will you meet with President Trump?



CHURCH: There you have it.


CHURCH: This comes as the U.K., France and Germany back to the U.S. allegations of Iran's involvement in the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities.

President Trump is set to meet with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday and the two could have a lot to talk about. A senior administration official tells CNN, the U.S. president ordered a freeze on military aid to Ukraine back in July. It was worth hundreds of millions of dollars and came just days before Mr. Trump's call with President Zelensky.

In that call Mr. Trump is accused of pressuring Ukraine to investigate the son of his political rival, Joe Biden. CNN's Kaitlan Collins has more now from the U.N.


TRUMP: Everybody's looking for that call.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): President Trump's place on the world stage overshadowed tonight by questions about his conduct during a phone call with a foreign leader.

TRUMP: We had a perfect phone call with the president of Ukraine.

COLLINS: Trump insists he didn't cross a line with the president of Ukraine, after confirming he did bring up former Vice President Joe Biden and his son during the call.

TRUMP: The one who has got the problem is Biden.

COLLINS: Aides denied reports he pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rival, though Trump is publicly accusing the former vice president of corruption tied to his son's business activities.

TRUMP: If a Republican ever did what Joe Biden did, if a Republican ever said what Joe Biden said, they would be getting the electric chair by right now.

COLLINS: Biden says Trump is abusing his power to smear him and should release the transcript.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Trump is doing this because he knows I will beat him like a drum.

COLLINS: Trump's admission has reignited Democratic calls on Capitol Hill for his impeachment, warnings Trump dismissed today. TRUMP: It's just a Democrat witch-hunt. Here we go again.

COLLINS: He may not be worried, but he also hasn't committed to releasing the whistleblower's report to the Intelligence Committees, as the law mandates.

QUESTION: Are you willing to clear this up by releasing the whistle- blower report, sir?

TRUMP: Quiet.

COLLINS: Instead, he questioned the patriotism of that whistle- blower, asking if the person is on our country's side.

One question surrounding the call is whether or not Trump threatened to withhold millions in military aid if Ukraine didn't investigate Biden and his son.

MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX NEWS: Did the president threaten to cut off aid --


BARTIROMO: -- to the Ukraine?

GIULIANI: No. No. That was a false story.

BARTIROMO: One hundred percent?

GIULIANI: Well, I can't tell you if it's 100 percent.

COLLINS: His attorney may not be sure, but Trump insists he didn't.

TRUMP: I put no pressure on them whatsoever. I could have.

COLLINS: Critics say the question could be cleared up if the White House released the transcript of the call.

TRUMP: Perhaps you will see it. Perhaps you won't see that. It depends on what we want to do.

COLLINS: While the White House debates releasing it, aides are struggling to explain how Trump can attack the international business dealings of his rival's children, when his own children profit from businesses he still owns.

STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: I'm not going to speculate on that.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I don't understand. So it is OK for Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump to do business all over the world. It's OK for Ivanka Trump to have copyrights approved all over the world while President Trump is president, but while Vice President Joe Biden was vice president, his son shouldn't have been able to do business dealings?

MNUCHIN: Again, I don't really want to go into more of these details.

COLLINS: Amid the firestorm, Trump abandoned plans to skip the climate summit at the United Nations today.

QUESTION: He's not going to be there?

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You know, he -- I wouldn't be surprised if he popped in and stopped by.

COLLINS: Instead, sitting in for just under 15 minutes.

The White House is debating whether or not to release the transcript House Democrats are already moving forward saying they are going to host special meetings to discuss what they are going to do with the special investigation.

You know the Intelligence Committees right now the White House has said there is not something that they are considering we will be watching weather what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is going to do so far he's very she's very hesitant about moving forward with an inquiry into the president.

Whether or not this changes her mind is something remaining to be seen -- Kaitlan Collins, CNN, outside the United Nations headquarters in New York.


CHURCH: For more, I'm joined from England by Natasha Lindstaedt. She's a professor of government at the University of Essex..

Good to have you with us.


CHURCH: In just a few hours President Trump will meet with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, and the world will be watching very closely because of what we now know. Mr. Trump apparently ordered a freeze on military aid to Ukraine just days before the call to Mr. Zelensky and he now admits he asked for an investigation into his political rival Joe Biden's son, Hunter.

Those military funds were then released on September 11th.


CHURCH: What are we to make of all of this?

What do you make of this? LINDSTAEDT: Well, I think that the only response I can have is just complete shocked. I'm terrified by what's going on, namely because I don't see the Republicans really being up and arms about this and this is a really threat to democracy. And the Democrats are also sort of stalling. So, we'll see what happens there. I'm sure we'll talk about more -- about that more in a bit.

But to just highlight the differences between the 2016 case and what's happening here. In 2016, this was, you know, the collusion efforts you could say were initiated by the Russians. This was initiated by Trump himself. And in 2016 it really only involved aides. And this is involving Trump and Giuliani predominantly.

And the other thing that's important to note, is this is all post- Mueller, this happens on the heels very fresh off the Mueller investigation so Trump would know better.

And the other big difference is in 2016 Trump was just a candidate and now he's the president and he's abusing power in order to undermine the credibility of U.S. elections again.

And what that shows to us is that he has become more brazen as the Mueller investigation didn't really lead to anything, he feels that he can really get away with whatever he wants to.

CHURCH: Right.

LINDSTAEDT: And we're seeing in his response about this. He is not necessarily denying what's happened. He's just sort of saying, that that's OK, that it was a great conversation and this is something that he's allowed to do.

And once the Democrats decide to actually press him on this, then he's going to continue with this behavior where he flagrantly abuses the rule of law and oversteps the boundaries of what executive power were meant to be.

CHURCH: Well, let's talk about that, because as we mentioned

President Trump admitted that he asked Mr. Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden's son and said he was within legal bounds to do that. That's not actually the case.

Does this leave Democrats with little alternative but to impeach the president and if they do that, what will be likely the outcome, because it doesn't look good in the Senate. And of course, Nancy Pelosi isn't really moving in that direction, but will this be the reason she has to go there?

LINDSTAEDT: Right. And I think with this case, bare minimum, it's probably a campaign finance violation. It does not even get into all the other complications of withholding aid to a country that is desperately in need of it to fight off Russian aggression.

I think the Democrats have no choice to impeach. I think this should be the final straw for them. And I think from Nancy Pelosi's position, she felt that as there wasn't enough of the public behind impeachment before, she didn't want to risk it. And so, she thought that taking a slow and cautious strategy would be better by making the case through these investigations.

But what we found in dealing with Trump the investigations haven't been working because he simply refuses to provide information, block things, blocks the release of documents.

And in order for the Democrats to take more power, vis-a-vis, or let's just say the House to have more power, vis-a-vis, the executive branch, they are going to have to initiate impeachment because that gives them more legal power in order to get access more information, whether to be issuing subpoenas or getting witnesses to come forward.

In the current state they don't have that power and they tried to make the case through these investigations but it keeps getting blocked by Trump himself.

CHURCH: Natasha Lindstaedt, thank you so much for your analysis. We appreciate it.

LINDSTAEDT: Thanks for having me.


CHURCH: We will take a short break here.

Still to come, their bags are packed but there is no way to get home. Hundreds of thousands of travelers stranded the latest after Thomas Cook went bust. The latest on what the British government is doing to bring them home.

Plus Puerto Rico is in the path of another big storm. We will take a look how Tropical Depression Karen could affect the island -- that's next.





CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone.

Some were on their honeymoon, others were vacationing with family but after Thomas Cook, the world's oldest tour operator went bust, hundreds of thousands of travelers worldwide are scrambling to get back home.

The British government is promising to help. Prime minister Boris Johnson visited the British consulate in New York to meet with staffers working to bring Thomas Cook's British customers home. More now from CNN's Melissa Bell.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was the last Thomas Cook plane ever to fly. It landed at Manchester Airport from Orlando just hours after the world's oldest tour company had gone into liquidation.

PETER FRANKHAUSER, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, THOMAS COOK: I want to apologize to my 21,000 colleagues who I know will be heartbroken. You all fought so hard to make Thomas Cook a success.

BELL: With all of its flights grounded overnight, 600,000 tourists found themselves stranded abroad as British authorities prepared to get U.K. citizens home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a huge operation, 150,000 people currently abroad. We've charted over 40 aircraft and those aircraft are already in position. And in the next few hours, we'll start bringing -- we'll start bringing passengers home.

BELL: Others who have been scheduled to start their holiday arrived in British airports where they heard the news that their trips and even their honeymoons had been cancelled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We're absolutely gutted. We've looked forward to this for a long time. Had the wedding in July. So it's been another problem months waiting for this. And, yes, absolutely, just totally gutted.

BELL: The company had been in talks with its biggest shareholder, the Chinese firm, Fuson, over a 900 million pound bailout package.

But the request with the British government for an extra 250 million pound contingency fund was turned down, leaving the British opposition and unions to lay the blame squarely at the British government's feet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Today, we have members who have woken up to the story that their company has collapsed and they haven't got a job. This is absolutely shocking and then actually economic vandalism that this couldn't be allowed to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Excuse me, what did you tell staff this morning?

BELL: But the government says that providing the money would just put off the company's collapse rather than preventing it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So the government obviously would do anything we could to support, but the reality is, I think, times have changed and this is a business that was still, perhaps, operating on a model that was good for, you know, the last century or the 1980s or something. But not for really the Internet age where people are booking their own holidays so much.

BELL: Online competition and political uncertainty and some of the company's key destinations have been blamed by Thomas Cook, but also Brexit, for pushing people to delay making their holiday plans.


BELL: For years, the company's advertising called on people urged those looking to get away not to book it but to Thomas Cook it.

This morning, hundreds of thousands of customers found that they're going to have to rebook it themselves-- Melissa Bell, CNN, at Gatwick Airport.


CHURCH: Right now three storms are spinning in the Atlantic, one of them Tropical Depression Karen is fading but it is still expected to affect Puerto Rico. Take a look at the video, you can see the rushing floodwaters carrying away a car after Karen tore through Trinidad.


CHURCH: Three more countries put the blame on Iran for the Saudi oil field attack. You will hear what Iran's foreign minister says is behind those allegations.

Plus Tehran showing off its latest military gear during massive parades this week and sending a message to the world that it is prepared for an armed conflict if pushed. We're back with that and more in just a moment.



CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. I'm Rosemary Church. I want to update you now on the main stories we've been following this hour. The British Supreme Court will soon rule on whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson's move to suspend Parliament for five weeks was legal. His opponents believe he suspended this simply to sidestep opposition to his Brexit plan before the October 31st withdrawal deadline. Mr. Johnson says the suspension was necessary to give the government time to prepare for a new legislative agenda.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz are in talks to potentially form a unity government after last week's election produced no clear winner. They met with President Reuven Rivlin on Monday and are considering a rotation where each would take turns serving as Prime Minister.

The U.K., France, and Germany are backing the U.S. accusation that Iran was behind the attack on a Saudi oilfield earlier this month. The joint statement also urges Iran to reverse its decision to scale back compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement. Well, Iran's Foreign Minister promptly responded, urging the three countries called the E3 to stop following the U.S. lead. In a tweet, Javad Zarif writes, The E3 have not fulfilled their obligations in the Iran nuclear deal. He adds the countries must forge their own path, not parrot absurd U.S. claims. Here's the key-line, there will be no deal before the countries are compliant with the current one. Javad Zarif even further with our Christiane Amanpour, he tells her,

the U.S. level those allegations because they knew it would shut the door on further talks on sanctions.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Foreign Minister, are you saying that there's a plan afoot to close the doors to negotiation by the U.S. President?

JAVAD ZARIF, FOREIGN MINISTER OF IRAN: I think the only reason they would redesignate our central bank is to make it impossible or very difficult for this president or his successor to remove the name from the list. The bar is very high now. And I think those who propose this to President Trump wanted to close the door to negotiations, not during his presidency, but even after his presidency.

AMANPOUR: Some are saying that actually a hard-line element like the one you're describing here in United States, in Iran, also wants to see doors to diplomacy closed.

ZARIF: Yes, there may be people but the leadership in Iran is more prudent than to fall in their trap.


CHURCH: And while Iran has lowered its hopes for negotiations, it wants the world to know that his military has high-tech capabilities, and it's prepared for an armed conflict if necessary. CNN's Fred Pleitgen has our report.


FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Tehran showing off its latest military gear. Iran kicking off its sacred defense week with a major show of force. Warning America not to pick a fight or face backlash in the entire region.

We are present in a resistance from the Mediterranean to West Asia, this former Revolutionary Guard commander says. It seems the Americans must be engaged in a war in that entire region.

While Iran is known to control militias and countries like Iraq and Syria, its military has recently also shown its high-tech capabilities. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia say Iran was involved in recent drone and cruise missile attacks on two major oil facilities in the kingdom. While Tehran denies the allegations, Iran's military has praised its own advances in cruise and ballistic missile technology. The head of the elite Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Forces claiming Iran is now a world leader in this technology.

Today in the field of missiles, we are one of the major powers in the region, he says, and we're also among the top powers in the world. Iran has also developed its own drones and claims to have reversed engineered American unmanned aerial vehicles. And paraded one of its most advanced self-developed air defense missile systems, which the Iranian say was the system that recently shut down a U.S. drone over the Persian Gulf.


The wreckage of the U.S. Global Hawk drone is currently on display in Tehran. Touring the exhibit, the head of the Revolutionary Guard Corps claiming Iran has a lot more high tech weapons ready to go.

Our enemies must know we have raised our strength to be able to produce unknown risks, he says. Our major capabilities are hidden. We have shown only a small part of our capabilities.

While Tehran continues to say it does not want an escalation or a war with the U.S., Iran's message is clear. If it does come to an armed conflict, they are prepared. Fred Pleitgen, CNN Tehran.


CHURCH: President Trump and his South Korean counterpart are not offering any new approaches to nuclear talks with the North. Mr. Trump met with Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on Monday. The tone was cordial but Brian Todd reports there are signs relations are strained.



BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, Donald Trump is still on a mission to get a critical next meeting with Kim Jong-un.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're getting along very well with North Korea. I have a good relationship with Kim Jong- un.

TODD: But the President's comments at the U.N. today come as one of Trump's key allies in the process is reportedly feeling snubbed and left out. Despite the smiles and handshakes at the U.N. between Trump and one of his wingman, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, aides to President Moon reportedly feel South Korea has been marginalized. One top South Korean official telling the news Web site Vox, it quote, bothers him, South Korea is not at the negotiating table. Another top Moon advisor told Vox, the U.S. position has been really harmful to South Korea's efforts to build better ties with the North.

A State Department spokesperson tells CNN there is complete agreement between the U.S. and South Korea on a common approach to denuclearization. But a veteran diplomat who's had recent discussions with the South Korean official tells CNN tonight, there is something to the Vox report.

EVANS REVERE, FORMER U.S. DIPLOMAT IN SOUTH KOREA: In certain circles, particularly inside the Blue House in Seoul, there are some people who are not pleased with the overall status of North-South dialogue. And some of those people, including people who are very close to President Moon, have in the last two or three weeks, said some things on the record, conveying their sense of exasperation and even anger.

TODD: One indication that President Trump may have been willing to leave Moon behind is Trump's nonchalance over North Korea's recent barrage of short-range missile tests, which violate U.N. resolutions and directly threatened South Korea's security.

TRUMP: They has been doing some short range missiles but so does every other country do short range missiles. Every country is doing them, they're pretty standard affair.

TODD: But at the same time, U.S. officials recently told CNN, Trump himself has soured on Moon, believing Moon hasn't done enough to rein in those North Korean missile launches. For its part, experts say, North Korea has been trying to drive a wedge between Trump and Moon Jae-in and has always tried to marginalize South Korea.

MICHAEL GREEN, SENIOR VP FOR ASIA, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: At every opportunity, the North Koreans under Kim Jong-un will do just what they did, and honor his father and grandfather, which is to put the South Koreans in a place where they're isolated, and they look like they're not the legitimate government, and to portray North Korea as an equal to the United States, China, Russia.

TODD: Analysts say another big obstacle for South Korea in this entire process is Kim Jong-un's own view of unification. They say that just like the South, North Korea also wants the two countries to come together as one, but Kim wants to do that under the communist rule of North Korea, something the U.S. and South Korea will never agree to. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: They have had no word from their son in seven years, but the parents of a journalist being held in Syria are not giving up. Their push to gain his release, that's ahead. Plus, as environmentalists speak out at the U.N. Climate Action Summit, China may not be keeping its promise to battle the climate crisis. We'll find out more when we come back.



CHURCH: Seven years ago, an American freelance journalist was taken captive in Syria. Austin Tice went to cover the war in 2012. But he was detained at a checkpoint in Damascus. His parents haven't been able to contact him since then. But they say they know he's still alive. Austin Tice's parents, Marc and Debra, join me now from our D.C. Bureau. Thank you so much for being with us. And I can't imagine the heartbreak you are both feeling at this time.

DEBRA TICE, MOTHER OF AUSTIN TICE: Thank you so much for having us, Rosemary, and we wouldn't ask you to imagine that.

CHURCH: No, it is -- it's every parent's nightmare. And of course, Austin has been held in secret and in silence for seven years now. How frustrating and difficult has it been for you both, trying to get your son released from captivity in Syria? And what's been the hardest part about the waiting?

D. TICE: I think the hardest part about waiting is when we begin to realize what seven years means, you know, seven years is the difference between an infant in the cradle and a second grader, right? And just when you start measuring time in these big volumes, I think -- I think that's one of the most difficult things and frustrating has been just getting the momentum that we need to bring Austin home.

MARC TICE, FATHER OF AUSTIN TICE: Right. And maintaining that momentum with the people that we believe have the best opportunity to get our son back home safely.

CHURCH: Yes. And you're reaching out to the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Congress. How are you hoping they can help you bring Austin home?

M. TICE: Well, like -- you know, like anything else, the Congress and Secretary Pompeo have an awful lot of things on their plate. And so, you know, we believe that the most constant reminder that can be provided to them, whether it's from us, from other people in media, when they interview a member of Congress or interview Secretary Pompeo, or, you know, a news article or an interview like this, which we very much appreciate. Keeping Austin top of mind is a challenge, but also, we think very important to drive momentum to bring him home.


CHURCH: And why do you think it has taken so long? When we're talking about seven years. Why has the U.S. government and others not done more to help you get your son back home?

D. TICE: Well, that's a good question, but the other part of the question is -- you know, what's going on, on the Syrian side? Austin is an American detained in Syria.

And so, you know, it's going to take both of them to get him home. And even if we have 50 percent of the equation, all in, it's still only 50 percent. Not --


CHURCH: Do you know -- do you know anything about the situation in Syria under what circumstances he might be being kept in captivity? Do you have any knowledge of the situation on that side of the equation?

D. TICE: Not really. We don't -- we don't have any definite information. We know that Austin is alive. The United States government knows that Austin is alive. And that, that he will walk free.

And so, we just have to get all the stars lined up, and all the ducks in a row and all those different metaphors to get this done for Austin.


D. TICE: And so, that was why we were on Capitol Hill today with 100 volunteers organized by the National Press Club was to encourage our Congresspeople to -- encourage our government to continue their efforts to bring Austin safely home.

M. TICE: Yes, and as Debra said, there are two parts of this -- to this equation. And so, you know, we would like, especially, you know, given this opportunity to talk to you at CNN International to reiterate that, that we have asked, and we continue to ask. And we've actually been told by officials in the Syrian government that they will do everything they can to bring Austin home safely.

So, you know, we asked for that and it's much easier for us to motivate our government. But we don't sit in Syria. But we know that the Syrian government is best placed to work with our government and to ultimately safely have Austin released.

CHURCH: And what do you think it is that those in Syria holding your son captive want in return for his release?

M. TICE: You know, if we -- if we knew that, things would be much easier to deal with. We would have something to hold on to. Something to begin a discussion. Unfortunately, no one has reached out to us, no one has reached out to our government or any others that are helping us to explain that to us, or tell us what a next step might be.

So, we -- you know, we always ask for his captors to reach out and let us know how to begin this process to bring Austin home.

CHURCH: And if you could both talk to Austin now, what would you say to him.

D. TICE: We love you. Keep that strong will. Don't give up, we're not giving up. We will see you walk free. We love you to the moon and back, as always.

M. TICE: Right. And, and you have no idea how many people are focused on bringing you home safely or praying for you. And we look forward to holding you in our arms again as soon as we can.

D. TICE: Yes.

CHURCH: That is a beautiful message from both of you. Mark and Debra, thank you so much for joining us.

M. TICE: Thank you.

D. TICE: Thank you so much for having us.

CHURCH: And still to come. A 16-year-old climate activist has some frank words for world leaders.


GRETA THUNBERG, STUDENT AND CLIMATE ACTIVIST: If you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil, and that I refuse to believe.


CHURCH: You will hear her message and the reaction it got after the break. And a warm welcome for a royal couple, Prince Harry and Meghan, wow the crowd as they launched their first overseas tour as a family. Back in just a moment.



CHURCH: Well, the United Nations General Assembly gets underway in just a few hours from now. But on Monday, world leaders gathered to discuss solutions to the climate crisis.

Among them was U.S. President Donald Trump, who spent about 15 minutes at the meeting. And looked like he didn't really want to be there. Climate activist Greta Thunberg wasn't happy he was there either.

She stared him down as he passed by. And the 16-year-old also scolded world leaders for their inaction on climate change. Take a listen.


THUNBERG: This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school, on the other side of the ocean. Yet, you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you. You have stolen my dreams, my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!


CHURCH: Powerful words there. And French President Emmanuel Macron echoed that sentiment. He urged his colleagues to listen to young people like Greta Thunberg.


EMMANUEL MACRON, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE (through translator): We need our young people in our countries to tell us to work faster. We need the young people to help us to change things.

To act and to put more pressure on those who are recalcitrant, whether they are states or finances or companies.


CHURCH: Meanwhile, climate activists filled the streets around the world to demand their leaders do more to tackle the crisis. Ahead of the U.N. assembly, a landmark report reminded us of the urgency of the climate crisis.

It found sea ice continued to decline, while sea levels are rising, and becoming more acidic. It also found 2015 to 2019 are on track to be the warmest five-year period on record.

Well, not all countries are keeping their end of the bargain when it comes to battling climate change. CNN's David Culver takes a look at how China's coal power plants are still flourishing.


DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: On the plains of Inner Mongolia, Li Jianjun tends to his flock. The 40-year-old sheepherder explaining how energy production is making his job tougher.

LI JIANJUN, HERDSMAN, CHINA (through translator): The coal mines have wasted underground water badly. Now, we have no water. We have to transport water to feed the sheep.

CULVER: This is what he's referring to. A massive operation to mine the fossil fuel and then truck it off to be burned for energy. All of this happening in a place where building coal power plants was supposed to stop two years ago as a part of China's commitment to battle climate change. But as CNN found out, construction is well underway and moving at a rapid pace.

Coal. This is what the small-town-turned- city of Xilinhot, China is now known for. To get to Xilinhot from the capital city of Beijing, it's about an hour flight north. To learn just how committed China is to achieving its cleaner climate goals, we needed to get closer.

Standing here, just about every angle, you're surrounded by a power plant. Some of them, fully operational. Others, like this one behind me, nearing the end of construction. This one even has a fresh coat of paint on it.

China is the world's largest producer and consumer of coal. And in recent years, the countries made efforts to reduce its heavy reliance on fossil fuels. In 2017, China's National Energy Administration began suspending construction of plants in many provinces, among them, Inner Mongolia. Projects dating from 2016 onward were to be halted.

But look at these satellite images from 2016, then 2017, and finally, this year. You can see several plants outside Xilinhot sprung up during that time.


LI SHUO, SENIOR CLIMATE AND ENERGY POLICY OFFICER, GREENPEACE CHINA: Inner Mongolia is an interesting place because it is really the hot spot of the climate battle.

CULVER: Environmental groups fear China's recent economic slowdown, coincided with the U.S. trade war, has the central government sliding on its environmental promises, putting more focus on GDP, and in turn, quietly allowing the construction of coal plants to continue.

LI: The planet can hardly afford any new and additional coal-fired power plants. We are in a climate crisis. There's really no other way on -- than just putting all hands on deck.

CULVER: China is pushing forward with other sources of energy. Greener ones, in fact. Across the Inner Mongolian plains, you've got farms like these popping up. Efforts to harness both solar and wind power.

We found those resourceful wind gusts about three hours outside of Xilinhot. It's here, we met 62-year-old Ning Tienlong, a third- generation Mongolian herdsmen.

NING TIENLONG, HERDSMAN, INNER MONGOLIA (through translator): Coal is the worst. It's polluting the water, which in turn has damaged the grasslands. I will be the last-generation herdsmen in my family.

CULVER: We took these mounting environmental fears to China's energy officials.

Will China be building more coal-fueled power plants?

The officials stress that the new plants are more efficient and environmentally cleaner. But they stopped short of saying they would halt ongoing or future plant construction.

The rapid expansion of energy production in Xilinhot has afforded many residents here a more comfortable lifestyle. But with increasing financial uncertainty in China, this might prove that environmental protection has been sidelined in exchange for economic survival.

David Culver, CNN, Xilinhot, China.


CHURCH: Well, Britain's Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, kicked off their tour of South Africa with a message of support for women's empowerment. The royal couple visited a group that teaches self- defense in a township known for being South Africa's murder capital.

The crowd cheered when Meghan told them she was there as a mother, wife, woman of color, and their sister. The couple chatted with the women and children and joined in their dancing. Some pretty impressive dancing going on there too.

And thanks so much for your company this hour. I'm Rosemary Church. I'll be back with more news in just a moment. You're watching CNN. Do stay with us.