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CNN This Morning

North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un to Meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to Discuss Possible Military Weapons and Technology Trade; Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville Criticized for Ongoing Hold on Military Promotions; Manhunt Continues for Escaped Convict in Pennsylvania; 2,400-plus Killed in Morocco Quake Amid Race to Find Survivors; Nikki Haley: I View China as an Enemy. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 11, 2023 - 08:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It is Monday, we're so glad you're with us.

And we begin with breaking news this morning. The Kremlin and North Korean state media both confirming Kim Jong-un is going to Russia to meet face-to-face with Vladimir Putin. A South Korean official tells CNN that Kim is already on his way. It is a meeting that U.S. intelligence has been sounding the alarm about now.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Also developing this morning, the death toll from the catastrophic earthquake in Morocco rising to nearly 2,500 people as rescuers race against time to save survivors who might still be trapped underneath the rubble.

HARLOW: The Secret Service agent who was just feet away from JFK during his assassination now breaking his silence, revealing a new detail that could rewrite the narrative.

This hour of CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

Here's where we begin. We begin on the breaking news this morning. Kim Jong-un appearing to be on his way to Russia right now to meet Vladimir Putin. a South Korean government official tells CNN it looks like the North Korean dictator is headed there on a train that departed from Pyongyang.

MATTINGLY: Moments ago, the Kremlin and North Korean state media confirmed the meeting would happen soon but did not specify exactly when. You'll remember last week, U.S. intelligence warned Kim was planning to meet with Putin to discuss supplying weapons for the war in Ukraine in exchange for satellite and nuclear submarine technology.

Joining us now, Sue Mi Terry, former North Korean analyst for the CIA. Thanks so much for being here and for your time. This is an incredibly consequential meeting. U.S. officials had been warning about this meeting. Now that we know it's in the midst of happening, what should people be looking for to come out of it.

SUE MI TERRY, FORMER CIA NORTH KOREA ANALYST: First of all, I think the Biden administration leaked intelligence about their meeting to prevent this from happening, but obviously we couldn't do that because we don't have a lot of leverage with North Korea, because talks with Pyongyang has completely broken down.

What's very concerning is the transfer of technology, not only that North Korea is now going to be a supplier of ammunition and artillery shells to Russia's war efforts, it's Russia's technology for North Korea's nuclear missile program. So that's very concerning. It is ironic and pathetic in a way that North Korea is now resorting to asking aid from -- asking North Korea's help on this, but I think it's -- North Korea has a runaway nuclear program. They need technology for nuclear-powered submarines, for their satellites and so on. So this exchange, this cooperation is very concerning.

HARLOW: I think it's also fascinating, and I wonder about the broader impact of this pariah state being needed, it's now needed by Russia in its war on Ukraine and how that changes Kim Jong-un's mindset, emboldens him as he gains this new weapons technology from Russia. Does it make North Korea more dangerous?

TERRY: Absolutely right. This is what I was saying about Putin. Russia is supposed to be a patron of North Korea, not asking 198th ranked economy in the world that cannot feed its own population for help. But North Korea loves to play China off Russia. So, what's interesting is what China's response is going to be all about this, because it's going to make North Korea less dependent on China if you can also rely on Russia for aid and technology and so on.

So we'll see what China's reaction is. But, yes, Kim Jong-un is, he already, the environment was favorable for North Korea in terms of their nuclear missile program, expanding it. The United Nations Security Council could not do absolutely anything about this because Russia and China refused to help, refused to implement sanctions, and refused to pressure North Korea. So, yes, absolutely, Kim Jong-un is emboldened, and there's absolutely no repercussions for his actions.

MATTINGLY: Can you step back into Poppy's great point and question there, Kim Jong-un leaving the country, not something that happens very often. Last time he hung out with Putin was in 2019. Him leaving, what does this say about him? Can you tell people kind of who he is, he's known as a hermit-like leader in a hermit-like kingdom to some degree.

TERRY: North Korea is one of the most isolated countries in the world, and their leaders don't like to leave the country. And they don't like to fly. Often, they take trains. Remember that Hanoi summit where Kim Jong-un rode 70 hours on a train to go and meet with President Trump and come back.

I think it says that he's now feeling a little more relaxed, right. During COVID years, North Korea was completely on lockdown. And now he's actually going out, and now he wants to act like a normal leader of a normal country, which we know that he's not a normal leader of a normal country.


HARLOW: We appreciate it. Sue Mi Terry, thank you for all of the analysis.

MATTINGLY: Joining us now is the former European affairs director of the National Security Council, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman. Sir, thanks so much for your time. I want to start there before we dig in a little bit more on Ukraine and the idea of what we're seeing and what it means near term and longer term with this meeting between these two leaders. What's your sense of things?

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN (RET), FORMER EUROPEAN AFFAIRS DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Thanks for having me on. So I wouldn't overstate too much what this meeting means. Certainly, it means that Putin is in somewhat of a desperate situation, trying to acquire munitions that are severely depleted during this war effort. A lot of this would have been coordinated ahead of time, so he had some promises in that regard. It's not entirely clear what the Koreans are getting in turn. Probably something in the form of advanced technologies, probably something in the form of hard currency.

What's striking to me is that Putin didn't attend either the BRICS summit. The South Africans said that they couldn't guarantee the fact that they wouldn't take action against him. He didn't attend the G20, but he's meeting, he's flying all the way from Moscow to Vladivostok to meet Kim Jong-un. Not a good turn of events for somebody that positions himself as a world leader. But I think the fact is that the Ukrainians are going to see some North Korean munitions start to arrive in the war effort.

HARLOW: I'd like your take on the language that was agreed on for the communique out of the G20, which was strikingly different when it comes to Russia's war on Ukraine last year when there was an outright condemnation. There is not that. The United States and others supporting that were not able to get that out of the G20. Nikki Haley was very critical of that in her interview with Jake yesterday. She called it a win for Russia and China. Is she right?

VINDMAN: I think it's interesting -- it's definitely not optimal with regards to Russia, Ukraine. It is the most critical geopolitical challenge the U.S. faces. But I think the fact is that the U.S. has global interests. It is looking long-term to balance against China, and this was actually in a lot of ways a very successful G20, a lot of other business being handled. What they decided to do is not spoil long-term objectives with a communique that could have derailed the rest of the bargains that were struck.

So it is somebody that watches Russia and Ukraine very closely, I would have expected to see a much, much firmer stance. But in terms of substance, there was a lot that the president delivered. And, frankly, the U.S. continues to provide support, the west continues to provide support. The language itself probably shouldn't have been the obstacle to the agenda.

HARLOW: So it's worth it, net-net, is what you're saying. What he got out of the trip is worth it, even if you can't get these words?

VINDMAN: I think it is a -- probably an indication of the fact that the U.S. wasn't in as dominant a position as it may have been historically. Some of the power has shifted to other members of the G20. The U.S. is still the most important player in that organization. So I would have liked to see a much stronger language. I think we probably could have gotten away with it, but I think we did OK. I think we did quite well on balance. The relationships -- the strengthened relationships with Vietnam, the kinds of bargains that were struck with the Indians, I think probably makes it -- on balance, makes it worth it.

MATTINGLY: I was struck yesterday by General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, putting a timeline, we almost forgot, in the middle of the counteroffensive, in the middle of the summer, that different weather, a different climate is coming soon in the war in Ukraine, saying about 30 to 45 days left before rainy weather patterns start to hamper the ongoing counteroffensive. What does that mean to you?

VINDMAN: It's interesting that we tend to think about campaign seasons. It's somewhat a bit of an antiquated notion about when it's effective to fight, when it's not effective to fight. I think a lot of our leadership have experienced campaign seasons in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are winter lulls. I don't know if I would expect that much of a lull in the fighting between Russia and Ukraine. I think in the northern and eastern parts around the Kharkiv, Luhansk, it does get -- it's going to get probably a little bit more difficult to fight.

I think in the south, that is an area that tends to be drier. We could very well see a fairly high level of fighting all the way throughout that scene. So I wouldn't overstate the amount of time left. I think it's probably somewhere -- I've been in this region. I think it's probably somewhere closer towards the very tail end of this year before really weather kind of seeps in and bogs down armored vehicles. But it's also not an armored vehicle fight. This is infantry, light infantry assaulting across fields. I think the fact is there will still be a high degree of fighting.

HARLOW: I do want your take, while we have you, Lieutenant Colonel, about what Senator Tuberville is doing in terms of holding up the confirmation of hundreds, around 300 really critical military positions.


We heard the House Foreign Affairs Chair Mike Roger -- Mike McCaul, I should say, excuse me -- tell Jake Tapper yesterday that it is, quote, paralyzing. We heard how Hikki Haley responded to it, as well. You have said that this makes your blood boil. Those are your words. Explain to people why.

VINDMAN: Sure. This definitely is a personal topic for me. I was forced out of the military because my promotion was politicized. I decided I was not going to be the reason that we held up promotions of colonels, and I did not want to subject my peers to basically all of this unpredictability. As long as I was going to be on that list, President Trump and his henchmen were going to keep me off.

Tuberville is doing the exact same thing. He is politicizing promotions. He is having a disastrous effect on readiness. By the end of this year, it's going to be over 75 percent of general officers and flag officers will be on hold. Imagine a football game in which the head coach is out for a season, because we've already been eight months into this. No leadership, it's going to be for the Joint Chiefs, for elements of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the chairman of the joint chiefs. It has an impact.

For a little while, you could cruise on. But eventually it has an impact on readiness. It has an impact on how the military interacts with the rest of government. I was up in D.C. visiting with friends, military officers serving in the Pentagon. It cascades down to the colonel level and below. It has a major effect on readiness. It's going to have an effect on retention. And this is, this is an attack on U.S. national security.

And it's not just Senator Tuberville. It's the entirety of the Republican establishment that refuses to challenge him. This needs to end. It is affecting the U.S. national security. It's affecting soldiers' lives. It's affecting soldiers' families and children, and it needs to stop.

HARLOW: I will say, we did hear a bit of a challenge from Nikki Haley on it, but I hear you when you're talking about Republican elected officials --

VINDMAN: That is --

HARLOW: Go ahead. Go ahead.

VINDMAN: That is not appropriate, yes, that is not appropriate. She's saying that the Department of Defense was the root cause. That is not true. The Department of Defense was taking care of soldiers. Women that have reproductive health care needs have the ability -- under this current policy, have the ability to have their travel expenses paid. It doesn't have anything to do with the medical care itself. It's the Department of Defense taking care of families, and it is not the responsibility of the Department of Defense. It's the politicization by Senator Tuberville, by other fellow Republicans, of military promotions.

There are other ways to handle this. Legislation. If Senator Tuberville felt so strongly about it, he could have handled this through legislation. He did not. He took the coward's way out, and he's affecting military readiness. It needs to stop. And frankly, this is a passion project for me, and I'm going to press all the levers I can to do whatever I can to help lift that hold.

HARLOW: We're glad you're here this morning on all of these topics. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, thank you very much.

So there are also new developments this morning in the search for the convicted killer who escaped 12 days ago from that prison in Pennsylvania. Danelo Cavalcante was spotted over the weekend again, but he was spotted more than 20 miles from the area where authorities had focused their search, and he has a new look.

So on the left of your screen, you see before and then to right you see the photos now, right, with a shaved face. He's described as cleanly shaven, wearing a green hooded sweatshirt.

Chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller has been following all of this. He is with me us now. So many things happened. He has got a new look, he's somehow shaved, he got a van that he drove until it rant out of gas. He's 20 miles away from where they were looking. Last week it was a two-mile perimeter. Now where? Where do they look, everywhere?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Now it's the other end of the county. And the idea that he stole a vehicle suggests that he's probably attempting to steal another and put real distance between him and that box.

Look, he's certainly exceeded my expectations, because if you go by past experience, most escaped prisoners from an actual prison or a jail are caught within 24 hours, most within two miles. I know he's exceeded the expectations of investigators. But you also have to remember, the stakes are different for him, right. He's sentenced to life basically without parole, and he's out, which means he is desperate and willing to really play his hardest, because if he goes back, he's going to a place where he's not getting out.

MATTINGLY: Just to ask the obvious, non-expert question, how is this possible? How did law enforcement let him through kind of the net, through the search area, let him get to this point? It seems astounding to me.

MILLER: So part of it is terrain, which is, this is farm country.


These are large houses far apart from each other. These are roads with, you know, woods on both sides. When we've seen him, it's either been a piece of video on a trail camera or that part of the woods that skirts the border between somebody's backyard while he's looking for -- looking for a house to break into to get that change of clothes, to find an electric razor to shave, to do all the things he's successfully done.

But when you're in that kind of terrain, it's not like in the grid system of a city where people are walking around, that picture is fresh in their mind and they're calling every minute.

They use drones over the woods at night. But you know, they're seeing deer and raccoons, you know, as heat signals. During the day, it is too hot for the thermal stuff to work. There's a lot of challenges for them.

MATTINGLY: So, you don't see this as a failure or they're dropping the ball. This is just the reality of this dynamic.

MILLER: I mean, I know my fugitive hunts. I was, you know, in the FBI after we found Eric Rudolph, you know, that was five years in the Nantahala forest with somebody who was trained by the military to survive.

Back in Pennsylvania, though we had the Mike Burham case just in July, 10 days on the run, also found in the woods. We're rounding that period now in this case.

But in Pennsylvania, you had I think, 2014, the Eric Frein case, this was a domestic terrorist, 48 days on the run, and that ended in a shootout where a trooper was killed.

So this is not unusual in the scope of a desperate criminal in a rural environment, exploiting the terrain. But it is a case where they want to get him back. They have to get him back. And of course, from his point of view, he's got to keep going.

MATTINGLY: Surpassing expectations, to some degree in terms of his ability. It's been a remarkable story.

John Miller appreciate it, as always.

MILLER: We will stay on it.

MATTINGLY: Well, the death toll in Morocco rising this morning, nearly 2,500 people are now dead after a powerful earthquake. We are live on the ground. That's next.

HARLOW: You are also now, take a look, these are live images of the youngest and most active volcanoes on the island of Hawaii erupting right now. We have details ahead.



MATTINGLY: This morning, the death toll in Morocco is rising. Nearly 2,500 people are now confirmed dead after Friday's catastrophic earthquake. Right now, rescue teams are in a race against time to save survivors. The critical 72-hour window to find people alive in the rubble is closing quickly.

CNN senior international correspondent, Sam Kiley is in a devastated mountain village.

Sam, what are you seeing on the ground right now?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Phil, here we are in Asni, where the Moroccan Armed Forces, you have a specialist unit designed for catastrophic interventions, emergency interventions worldwide have now managed to establish a presence, so they've got a radiological tent, they've got laboratory testing facilities, they've got surgeries. They've got a whole series of specialist tents. They have got 24 doctors -- 25 doctors, 48 nurses already. The

capacity of this field hospital is 30, but as we've seen when we've been up into the hills, the numbers of people injured are climbing because these mountains up there aware the need is greatest, Phil and Poppy, and they are highly inaccessible.

So at the same time, the military is also sending significant numbers of helicopters up into the areas that have been cut off in order to bring people down and get them treatment. If the people have been sadly killed, then they will be left in place for the time being because the purpose of this Moroccan emergency operation right now is triage, it is to find the people who can and should be helped, get the most injured immediately to the established hospitals, stabilize them here.

They can expand this facility if they need to. They're also building just beyond these tents, a very substantial accommodation area, a refugee camp effectively of tents, to accommodate people who are coming down out of the hills.

Many of them also, people staying up in the hill. So the next phase for the military may well be to try to get accommodation tents and other support up to people into those more isolated hill areas.

But quite naturally, the Moroccan people in the initial stages, particularly in that 72-hour period when people stuck under buildings have a chance of survival have been angry about what they said was the slow response of the Moroccan government to their predicament.

The reality is that the roads have been closed by this earthquake. Assessing their needs is really paramount, but now, they are getting underway.

HARLOW: Sam Kiley, thank you to you and your team on the ground.

We'll get back to you soon.

MATTINGLY: Well, this morning, Hurricane Lee rapidly re-intensifying to a major hurricane over unusually warm ocean waters. The storm has strengthened back to a Category 3 on Sunday with maximum sustained winds of 120 miles per hour.

Now, it is expected to ramp up to a Category 4 later today. Lee is expected to slow down considerably and spend the next several days sending hazardous beach conditions as it inches closer to the East Coast. Forecasters warn on the dangerous high surf and life- threatening rip currents as the storm moves up the Atlantic.

HARLOW: Happening now, Hawaii's youngest and most active volcano is erupting again after nearly three months of quiet. Authorities are using Kilauea's alert level from watch to warning as they work to assess the hazard from the eruption.

Lava has been spewing from the fissures at the crater's base, but for now, officials say the activity is confined to the park and "does not pose a lava threat to communities." For now, primary concerns are volcanic gas and delicate strands of

volcanic glass that can float down wind and cause eye and skin irritation.

MATTINGLY: Well, Nikki Haley is seizing on a CNN poll that shows she is the strongest candidate to take on President Biden, the latest on the 2024 race when we come back.

HARLOW: We are also looking at live pictures this morning. That is the memorial marking ground zero right here in New York City. It has been 22 years since America was attacked on September 11.

We'll be right back.



HARLOW: Republican presidential candidate, Nikki Haley, very clear about what she thinks about the current relationship between the US and China. Listen to this.


NIKKI HALEY (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: China has been practically preparing for war with us for years. Yes, I view China as an enemy.

How much more has to happen for Biden to realize you don't send Cabinet members over to China to appease them, you start getting serious with China and say we're not going to put up with it.


HARLOW: There is also a new CNN polling, it shows Haley leading President Biden by six points in a hypothetical general election matchup making her the Republican candidate posing the greatest risk to President Biden at this point.

Haley says it shows Americans are ready for change.


HALEY: I think the majority of Americans know we need a new generational leader, that we need to leave the negativity of the past behind us.

The majority of Americans don't want to see a rematch between Trump and Biden. That's been very clear.


HARLOW: Our Evan McKend following all of this and joins us now.

I thought it was a really fascinating interview that Jake did with her yesterday. They got to so many issues that affect every day Americans, and she gave a lot of very straight answers on exactly how she feels on this stuff, and it seems like voters may be responding to her calls for change.

EVAN MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well Poppy, if you are Ambassador Haley or her team, you are encouraged by this polling data and what we've seen is her on the campaign trail really seizing on this, this notion that she may be the best one to confront President Biden in a general election.

But context is really key here. She still lags far behind Trump in support among Republican voters, well behind DeSantis as well in many polls, but her messaging has been consistent.

She has long argued that there is a need for a new generation of leadership, that it is time for folks to pass the baton here and she has been out for months, sounding this alarm.