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American Morning

Kim Jong-il Dead, North Korea's Neighbors On Alert; N. Korea Test Fires Short Range Missiles

Aired December 19, 2011 - 06:00   ET



ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il is dead. The country is already announcing what it calls a great successor to the so-called dear leader.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: The region is on alert and the world is trying to figure out what now for the most isolated nation on the globe and its nuclear weapons on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning to you. It is Monday, December 19th. I'm Ali Velshi along with Alina Cho this morning. We're glad you're here, Alina. You're one of a handful of people here at CNN who's been into North Korea and very familiar with the region.

CHO: I am, and I have to say quite a shock. He had been sick since 2008 officially. Had suffer a stroke there, but I think it came to a shock to a lot of people including South Korea and we do begin with this breaking news this morning.

Some hope, some fear and lots of uncertainty. People are reacting worldwide to the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. His 17-year reign of totalitarian power is now over.

VELSHI: This announcement for some of you who are up late last night, came late last night on North Korea state television delivered by a weeping TV anchor who was having trouble keeping it together. Take a look.

Now, this, what you're looking at, is the last known image of Kim Jong-il released by state media. North Korea says Kim Jong-il died Saturday of a heart attack. They said he was on a train when he suffered. Only 69 years old.

CHO: The country has already announced what it calls a great successor to the so-called dear leader. His son, third son, Kim Jong- un, who is said to be either 27 or 28 years old, and his life may be even a bigger mystery than his father's.

In Washington, instability in the region, a major worry this morning. CNN's Dan Lothian live at the White House. Dan, good morning. What's the reaction been from the White House?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Alina. You know, it's been a cautious response from the White House, in many ways. The language that will be used could potentially define the relationship between the United States and North Korea going forward.

President Obama, we are told by the White House, did at midnight place a phone call to the South Korean's president, President Lee. They discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula and decided to stay closely in touch and also coordinate the national security teams.

This followed a short statement that was released not long after word started spreading of the death of Kim Jong-il where the White House said that they are "closely monitoring the reports that he is dead."

That the president had been in touch not only with South Korea, but allies such as Japan and that they remain committed to security in the Korean Peninsula, but again, much more than that.

We expect perhaps later today, but initially the White House being very cautious in its response -- Alina.

CHO: Dan, I know that President Lee Bak (sic) of South Korea has also been in touch, had a phone call with President Obama and spoke to the leaders of Japan and Russia as well. Having said that, I'm getting a sense that world leaders were really caught off guard by this news?

LOTHIAN: Well, they really are. I mean, we have known that the leader was ill for quite some time, that there had been this succession plan in the works for the last three years or so, but I don't think that anyone fully expected this to happen so quickly.

The big question now is what will happen going forward? Does the situation in North Korea now present an opportunity for the relationship between the United States and North Korea, or perhaps will it be more of the same? I think right now it's still a little too early to tell.

CHO: Dan Lothian, live at White House for us. Dan, thank you very much.

VELSHI: Meanwhile, South Korea has ordered its military on alert while urging people to stay calm. South Korea's president released a statement to CNN saying in part, quote, "peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula is more important than anything else. It should not be threatened by what has happened," end quote.

Close to 30,000 U.S. troops are still stationed in South Korea and they are reportedly stepping up surveillance across the border this morning.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is live at the Pentagon for us. Good morning, Chris. What's the situation as the U.S. military sees it?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ali, I spoke with a defense official who said the U.S. military officials are in very close contact with their South Korea counterparts, but he said that's always the case over there in which the two countries work so very closely together.

They're going to have to keep a very close eye on this situation, but the two nations had already been on somewhat high alert. I mean, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was just in the region about two months ago.

And at that time he said that the United States and South Korea were going to beef up their efforts to try to head off some of these North Korean provocations and attacks. He said that including increasing operations in the northwest islands over there, where there had been several attacks by North Korea.

And also to step up their defenses against cyber attack. They have a feeling that North Korea, and a belief, that North Korea has stood up a cyber center and may have even carried out some attacks on South Korean banks.

VELSHI: We have, Chris, seen that, you know, obviously the North Korean ministries and their military are on alert. They often are in that part of the world, as you mention. With respect to the U.S. military, has it changed their state of readiness?

I mean, while this is somewhat unexpected, there has been talk of succession. He wasn't an entirely young man. Has the U.S. military changed its status in South Korea as a result of the passing of Kim Jong-il?

LAWRENCE: I haven't heard any official statement about changing the level of readiness, although if you talk to U.S. military officials in that part of the world and who are positioned there, it's a fairly high state of readiness in normal circumstances.

And the -- the man who runs U.S. forces Korea is part of this confirmation hearing. I mean, he was already sounding the alarm saying it was his expectation that Kim Jong-il would continue his cycle of provocations, that he was the number one threat to that part of Asia.

And, you know, just last year when former Defense Secretary Robert Gates looked at some of these provocations by North Korea, he said publicly that he thought it was the youngest son attempting to earn his stripes with the North Korean military.

VELSHI: All right, Chris, we'll follow it very closely. If you have any developments from the U.S. military, please, let us know.

Alina, this is a tough one to understand because sometimes in the west you only see North Korea as a provocateur, those northwest islands, the activities.

But there is some analysis that suggest some of what they're doing including the welcoming of western journalists in some cases is meant to have a two-part strategy. Provocative on one side, but really hope that we end up with a negotiated deal in the end.

CHO: Well, it's interesting that you should mention that because as I said I'd been there twice. I was there first in 2008, when the New York philharmonic performed there. I went back in 2010.

What struck me about the second trip there, honestly, was that it did seem more western on the surface. Cell phones, I saw. I saw currency for the first time. Street lights for the first time.

Yet, it is the same repressive regime that I saw before, and, you know, when you're walking around North Korea, I think it's important to note that you do not have any freedom as a western journalist.

You are watched by your government minder. They literally tell you where to point the camera and so it's this dichotomy.

VELSHI: And they share a zone, where the trade is open, by the way, the zone between North Korea and South Korea where there was a lot of trade, hundreds of thousands of workers.

That remains open and they share a boarder with one of the most advance countries in the world, one of most internet wired, one of the most industrial, media saturated countries. So North Koreas, some of them, get some exposure to it.

CHO: They do, and yet they cannot label it. What was important to note about the cell phone use, for example, is they could call inside the country, but not outside.

VELSHI: Not outside.

CHO: You know, so it's important to watch. You know, you mentioned South Korea, how South Korea reacts to this in the coming days and hours. They've already had a high-level cabinet meeting and we'll watch that very closely as well.

Meanwhile, North Korea's closest ally China is offering its condolences for the death of Kim Jong-il. Kim Jong-il visited both China and Russia as recently as this past August.

CNN's Stan Grant is live in Beijing with reaction from there. Stan, good morning to you.

STAN GRANT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Alina. This is really a crucial moment for China. This relationship between China and North Korea, which goes back decades, forged in the heat of battle during the Korean War. It's been described in the past as one of lips and teeth.

That's how close it has been seen. We know China was instrumental in getting North Korea to the table with the six-party talks to negotiate North Korea's nuclear program. Now the rest of the world looking to China for how much influence it can bring to bear during this transition period and head off any potential instability.

Now, China today, expressing its grief and its condolences to North Korea, describing Kim Jong-il as a great leader of socialism, but also saying it's committed to stability. What's really going to be crucial here is the relationship between the United States and China.

Now, what we see, will we see them withdraw to cold war corners? See the United States go with the South Korean side. China line up with North Korea or will they be able to find a way through this and try to maintain some stability while the unknown takes place in North Korea.

Just how will Kim Jong-un handle this transition, how will he be able to impose himself, will he be able to impose himself and what fractures will you see in the hinterlands as you move away from Pyongyang once they learn more of this news? China front and the center -- Alina.

CHO: And Kim Jong-un, 27 or 28 years old. The big question, will he be a figurehead or will he have any real power? CNN's Stan Grant live for us from Beijing. Stan, thank you very much.

VELSHI: Sort of underscores the issue here when we say Kim Jong- un is 27 or 28 years old. We don't even have those kind of details confirmed. So from a leader who was a little enigmatic whom we didn't know, we now go to his son, the new leader.

We don't know enough about him. Let's bring in Dr. Jim Walsh. He's an international security analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Jim, good to see you. Thank you for joining us. One of the experts on North Korea, we're going to talk to a little later on, said this is the biggest shock you could have thrown into Asia. Do you share that view?

JIM WALSH, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: Well, I think it is a big development and it's an unwelcome development, but why? Because North Korea is now starting a period that's going to be tenuous.

It's going to be uncertainly and frankly, it's going to be dangerous. Yes, it could work out well. Maybe North Korea will adopt a new policy and move in a new direction, but right now we've got a young leader, as you emphasized, Ali.

And he is trying to establish himself, and anytime a leader dies in a country, the first thought inside the government is, are our enemies going to take advantage of us? How do we show strength, project strength to the outside world?

When you talked to Dan earlier, he said South Koreans have gone on alert. The U.S. is stepping up surveillance. Well, if you're in Pyongyang, that looks like threatening behavior at a time when they feel vulnerable.

VELSHI: Right.

WALSH: So this is going to be a very delicate period to get through.

VELSHI: The South Korean statement that came out though did seem remarkably measured. They were not talking. They were saying that sort of stability on the Korean peninsula is about the most important thing here.

We were just talking to Stan about the six-party talks. What's your read on where Kim Jong-il was in this process, because some people were reading that perhaps he was taking on a slightly more conciliatory tone about these negotiations and that that might be unraveled by his son?

WALSH: Yes. I think that's another thing I'm concerned about. One is getting through this dangerous phase of transition and the other is the direction of policy. I do believe Kim Jong-il in part because of domestic problems and in part because he wanted to have a legacy, to give North Koreans, was open to a better relationship with the United States.

Unfortunately, we had mistimed policies, because the policy of the U.S. was strategic patience. We were going to sit back and wait to see what happened. Well, unfortunately the clock ran out and Kim Jong-il has died.

So we may have missed a real opportunity here because right now I think again a young leader who's just on the job, has very little experience. He's going to be more conservative. He's not going to be a big risk-taker.

He's going to try to consolidate his position, win the support of the military. So giant changes in Korean policy, I don't think are to be expected in the near term.

VELSHI: Tell me about this. One thing we're not thinking about just yet. We're going to cover this a lot today, obviously. Would there likely be a succession struggle or is it fairly obvious that he has groomed his son for the two years and his son is going to be the new leader of North Korea?

WALSH: Bottom line is we don't know. Now, if you look at Korean history at the founding of North Korea, right after World War II, there was a major competition between four different groups for power. Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-il's father, won that competition.

When Kim Il-Sung died in 1990s and Kim Il-Sung took over, he was able to consolidate power, but it took a year, two years to finally make that happen and he had to bring in the military in and sort of buy off the military to make sure that transition went well.

What is the role of the military today? I don't know. Are there other powers, relatives who may want power? I don't know. The majority of analysts are betting that this is going to be fairly smooth, but it's not going to happen overnight. And there could be unexpected events that push things in a different direction.

VELSHI: All right, Jim, always adding clarity to our coverage. Thanks very much for being with us. Jim Walsh is an international security analyst with Massachusetts Institute of Techonology. Thanks, Jim.

CHO: Kim Jong-il's death comes at a critical moment in U.S.- North Korean relations. Joining us now is CNN's senior State Department producer, Elise Labott.

Elise, good morning to you. I know you've been working the story all night as many of us have been. You know, what has the reaction been from the State Department?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT PRODUCER: Very muted, Alina. Basically, the U.S. can put out a very muted statement saying it's seen the reports, going to be waiting and watching.

Obviously, we heard that President Obama spoke to President Lee Myung-bak in South Korea, U.S. and South Korea coordinating closely on this. Of course, it was expected, but I don't think, you know this as well from your sources, that they didn't expect this to happen so soon. They believed the health of Kim Jong- il was tenuous but I don't think they felt it was not eminent.

And now, they're scrambling a little bit.

VELSHI: Elise, obviously, our viewers are listening to this, they know. Everybody knows North Korea's been -- you know, we've seen it as a belligerent in recent year. We may not know as much as the six- party talks. We used to talk about that a lot.

What's the status of the six-party talks, what are they meant to do and what's likely to happen?

LABOTT: Well, this is the U.S./South Korea/Japan/Russia and North Korea. And, basically, this is to get North Korea to end its nuclear ambitions, on hold for many years. North Korea really refusing to verify some of the commitments that it made to end its nuclear program.

And so, in recent months, we've seen the U.S. -- North Korea doesn't care to talk to all of these parties. What they really want is an agreement with the United States. In recent months, we've seen some engagement with the United States on restarting these talks.

CHO: Well, there was just a report out of the "Associated Press" just yesterday, as a matter of fact, saying that the U.S. was about to agree to send food aid for the first time in three years to North Korea.

LABOTT: That's right.

CHO: That in exchange, that North Korea would suspend its controversial uranium enrichment program.

LABOTT: That announcement was supposed to come as early as today.

CHO: Right.

LABOTT: We could be sitting here talking about that. So, it's really unsure now how this throws everything into the equation. I think what the U.S. is going to be doing is watching, waiting and preparing, coordinating, with the South Koreans, with the Japanese -- and also with China. The U.S. has been trying to get China for about a year now to talk about succession issues. China didn't want to go there. Now, there's no choice.

But certainly there was a lot of promise and not only on the nuclear issue but on this food issue, that things were moving in the right direction. I think they want to see if Kim Jong-un will be able to consolidate his power.

VELSHI: And this is an interesting point that we'll talk about again through the course of the morning, is that North Korea is a powerful country. A nuclear arm country, but it is an impoverished country.

CHO: That's right.

VELSHI: So, food aid. A lot of people don't have enough to eat.

LABOTT: And the North Koreans have been experts at brinkmanship in terms of trying to extract the highest possible price for the smallest possible concession.

VELSHI: That's right. Elise, thank you so much.

CHO: I was given the rare opportunity to report from inside North Korea just last year when the nation put on a show of military might for its heir apparent. It was a stunning glimpse inside one of the most secretive societies in the world. Take a look.


CHO (voice-over): The most reclusive dictator in the world opens his arms and his doors to the world, an unofficial and elaborate coming out party for Kim Jong-un, the hermit nation's hidden prince, the son of Kim Jong-il, who one day will become its leader. This is the world's first glimpse of him in action after being named a four- star general last month.

Just after touching down, we're whisked to Pyongyang's May Day Stadium for the first event, the mass games.

(on camera): There are 100,000 people performing in a massive display of coordinated song, dance, and gymnastics. They practice eight hours a day every day for a year. And there's never a guarantee that Chairman Kim Jong-il will be in attendance. But tonight, he is.

(voice-over): What's different this time is that Kim Jong-il appears alongside his son. When the show is over, North Koreans in the audience applaud not for the performers, but for their leader.

Next up, a massive military parade, billed as the country's largest ever, a goose stepping show of fire power by one of the largest armies in the world. Kim Jong-il, said to be in frail health and rarely seen in public, shows up again for the second time in two days, walking unaided, but with one hand on the railing.

This woman says "Long live the general and long live his son." Here, Kim Jong-il flashes a rare smile as his son jokes with elders. The crowd goes wild, jumping, clapping, even crying. And then as night falls, yet another spectacle.

CHO (on camera): Tonight's event, public soiree, is the third such event in less than 24 hours and it is full pageantry. Take a look behind me -- the colors, the choreography, literally thousands of dancers in traditional dress.

The media has been invited as guests. This is the invitation. But make no mistake: the real guests of honor are up there in the balcony, Kim Jong-il and his son, the heir apparent, Kim Jong-un.


CHO (voice-over): This man, an actor from Denmark, one of a handful of private citizens invited by the North Korean government, is among those watching.


CHO (on camera): What about all of the reports of oppression and the people starving and --

MELSKENS: I can't see it. Maybe it is there, but I can't see it. I can just see lucky people.

CHO (voice-over): This secretive nation will soon close its doors, leaving many questions about its future. How will the young son rule? How long can North Korea continue as an isolationist state? The world's eyes are watching as North Korea begins its transfer of power.


VELSHI: All right. Alina, first of all, let's just ask this. That whether it was expected or not expected, you saw Kim Jong-il. He didn't seem -- he seemed a little frail that hand on the rail but he didn't seem like a man on death's doorstep.

CHO: That's absolutely right, because he famously suffered a stroke. It is believed, at least that's what is said publicly back in 2008, around August or September. I was expecting a man looking much more frail than he did, quite frankly. Yes, his hand was on the railing but he was walking unaided.

I saw him on three separate occasions during that trip. It was quite a shock to me when I heard the news last night, and by all accounts, it was a shock to the U.S. government, and to South Korea, and everyone around the world. I don't think this is any -- even though they had the succession plan in place --


CHO: -- I think this did come, in the end, as a surprise to a lot of people. The big question will be, you know, will Kim Jong-un, the son, 27 or 28 years old, very young man, will he have --

VELSHI: Without any military experience.

CHO: Without any military experience. Kim Jong-il's sister has a lot of power, as does her husband, and in some circles, it is believed that they will be controlling the son.

VELSHI: And one last thing I wanted to ask you. I know you spoke to the South Korean's president office, Elise Labott spoke to the State Department, both muted responses. Nobody going out there and having, sort of trumpeting the death of Kim Jong-il.

CHO: And as you mentioned before, probably a smart response, given the state of affairs and given what we know about North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

VELSHI: Right.

CHO: We'll have to see what happens. There was an emergency cabinet meeting in South Korea. We'll be watching that closely.

VELSHI: We'll talk more about Kim Jong-il's death and the shock of the unknown in the next hour with Victor Cha who worked in the White House National Security Council on North Korea.

And 7:15 Eastern, we'll speak with Governor Bill Richardson. He helped win the release of Americans held in North Korea.

CHO: We will continue to follow the latest on the death of Kim Jong-il, but are watching several other big stories of the day, including the last American troops leave Iraq, ending the nearly nine- year war. What will the future hold, and are we really gone for good.

VELSHI: And Iran says it captured a U.S. spy and got him to come clean on camera. We'll show you the alleged confession tape coming up.

CHO: And will he stay or will he go? Florida A&M weighing in on whether to oust its president in the wake of an alleged hazing death scandal.

Twenty-four minutes after the hour. We're back after this.


VELSHI: Twenty-seven minutes after the hour. Welcome back. We're "Minding Your business" right now.

News of Kim Jong-il's death is pushing Asian markets down across the board this morning. European stocks have recovered since the start of trading. Right now, U.S. stock futures are trading higher ahead of the opening bell.

We're expecting low trading volume this week ahead of the holiday weekend, which could mean exaggerated market swings all week. Investors will be again watching Europe very closely this week. Ratings agency Fitch warned that it may downgrade France and six other eurozone nations. Why? Well, Fitch says a comprehensive solution to the region's debt crisis may be out of reach at this point.

Back here in the United States, Congress passed a $1 trillion budget over the weekend, making it harder for low-income students to get and keep Pell Grants.

Under the bill, students who take longer than six years to graduate will have their grants cut off. Also, fewer grants will be made available. The good news, though, students will be able to receive a maximum of $5,500.

That spending bill over the weekend also slowed the phase out of those incandescent light bulbs. Under the bill, the Department of Energy will be barred from enforcing the rule that America's most popular light bulbs are at least 25 percent more efficient starting next year.

Daniel Ruettiger, the man who inspired the movie "Rudy," has agreed to pay the SEC more than $382,000 to settle stock fraud charges without admitting or denying the allegations. According to the agency, Ruettiger and his associates misled investors about their sports drink company back in 2008 that inflated the price of the company's stock price and generated about $11 million in profits.

And Sherlock Holmes topping the box office this weekend. But a film starring Robert Downey Jr. took in a disappointing $40 million. "Alvin and the Chipmunks" debuted with more than $23 million.

AMERICAN MORNING will be back right after the break.


VELSHI: Welcome back to you. Thirty-one minutes after the hour.

Breaking news this morning: South Korea's military on alert and the White House watching the situation closely after North Korea announces the death of Kim Jong-il. North Korea says Kim Jong-il died Saturday of a heart attack he suffered while he was on a train. He was 69 years old, and held total power over North Korea for the last 17 years.

CHO: North Korea waited two days to release the news. It is already announced a great successor, what it call as "great successor" to the so-called "dear leader". His 20-something son Kim Jong-un, either 27 or 28 years old, he was made a four-star general last year and had been going through the grooming process of becoming the next leader.

VELSHI: And intense moments along the demilitarized zone after the death of Kim Jong-il, South Korea's president is holding an emergency cabinet meeting and placing the military on heightened alert. Japan has also called an emergency security meeting. The White House saying it's staying in constant touch with its allies in the region.

CHO: And the final U.S. troops have left Iraq, ending the nearly nine-year war. The last 500 soldiers crossed over to Kuwait Sunday. At the height of the battle, some 240,000 military members were stationed in Iraq. In all, 1.5 million Americans assisted in the war.

Nine years later, 4,500 troops killed, another 30,000 injured and the war cost $700 billion.

The U.S. will maintain a small civilian presence in the country.

VELSHI: Also making news this morning, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is urging Egypt's government and protesters there to show restraint. But neither security forces nor protesters are backing down. Over the past four days, violence on Cairo's streets has left at least 10 people dead, 500 injured.

There's new outrage over video that we warn you is graphic. It shows security forces beating a woman. Look at that on the streets of Cairo on Saturday.

CHO: Iranian officials say they have captured a U.S. spy and secured a confession on camera. A TV station in Iran aired the alleged confession on Sunday. The man in the video says he joined the U.S. Marines back in 2001 and got special training before he was sent to Iran. U.S. authorities have not yet commented on the authenticity of that report.

VELSHI: Florida A&M University considering today whether to suspend the school's president in the middle of a suspected hazing death scandal. The death of a FAMU drum major Robert Champion has officially been ruled a homicide. Florida's governor says the president should step aside. But alumni say they should back off.

CNN's George Howell is live in Tallahassee.

Georg, the alumni say the governor could put the university's accreditation in jeopardy by suggesting or causing the head of the university to step down.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ali, it comes down to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, SACS as it's better known. That is a group that oversees accreditation for many schools in the area.

Tommy Mitchell, who is the head of the National Alumni Association, held a press conference over the weekend to make the point saying that should the board choose to suspend Dr. Ammons under the pressure of Governor Rick Scott, the school could then lose accreditation. Mitchell says that SACS sent the governor a warning, saying that such could happen.

So, what we've been seeing is a tug-of-war play out between the governor, between SACS, that could play part in this. And today, the board of trustees that will have the final decision to decide whether Dr. James Ammons will remain or be suspended as the university's president -- Ali.

VELSHI: George, just -- clear this up for us. Why would Ammons resigning or stepping down under pressure from the governor cause the university to lose its accreditation?

HOWELL: Well, basically, SACS making the point that this board should operate without political pressure. It should make its decisions on its own. So, the governor has been very vocal, making the suggestion that the doctor should step down or be suspended, that the board of trustees should suspend him. So, today, we will see that play out in this building to see what happens with the Dr. Ammons, clearly, under pressure given the death of Robert Champion -- Ali.

VELSHI: And the latest on the death of Robert Champion, the autopsy report came out saying that it was as a result of hazing. What more do we know?

HOWELL: Indeed, that result came out Friday. And at this point, the Orange County Sheriff's Office is still investigating. No arrests at this point. Keep in mind, several weeks back, four students were suspended in connection to Robert Champion's death. Those students were back in school, placed back in school after the FDLE asked the university to rescind any disciplinary actions.

Also, the band president -- rather, the band director was suspended but now he's back on the job, too, Ali.

VELSHI: All right. George, thanks very much. George Howell joining us in Tallahassee.

CHO: All right. We want to get to the weather.

Severe storm taking aim at the southwest with blizzard warnings now in effect. Our Rob Marciano in the extreme weather center with more on that.

Hey, Rob. Good morning.


We're going to have winds in excess of 30 miles an hour's maybe a foot or more of snow in spots. It's the same storm track that we've been dealing with really for the past couple of weeks. That part hasn't changed.

Here it is on the satellite, you see it streaming in from the Gulf of Mexico. That's ingredient number one. Strong piece of information coming out of the four corners, ingredient number two. And when it happens, cold air coming down the eastern spine of the Rockies.

So, winter storm warning and blizzard warnings in the orange here, 12 to 15 inches, including the Texas panhandle, parts of New Mexico, southeastern parts of Colorado, and getting into parts of Kansas as well. And the timing of this, this is just getting going now. As we go through the day today, things will begin to increase and blizzard condition will be problem this afternoon and tonight. And travel along those interstates will be difficult if not impossible at times.

Also, the severe threat for thunderstorms from Dallas down to Houston today. East of the Mississippi after a chilly, chilly weekend will see temperatures rebound nicely. Finally, some lake-effect snows is across parts of the eastern Great Lakes, but temps not quite cold enough for that today, 47 degrees in New York City, 61 degrees in Atlanta.

Next hour, we'll talk about the chances of that snow getting to the Northeast. Looking for a white Christmas? Don't hold your breath.

CHO: Really? OK.

VELSHI: I thought that was going the other way for a moment. It's such a mild -- cold but it's a relatively clear week for us in the Northeast. I just assume that means by the end of the week, we'll have snow.

CHO: Speak for yourself.

VELSHI: I wanted to try. Maybe we'll get some snow there or same scene? No snow either, Rob, in Toronto?

MARCIANO: Probably not.

CHO: All right.

VELSHI: Check and see if you can get me a white Christmas.

MARCIANO: All right, pal.

VELSHI: Rob Marciano in Atlanta for us.

All right. Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, could the tug-of- war over your paycheck be heading back to square one? Hear what the House speaker has to say about the Senate's plan to extend the payroll tax holiday.

CHO: Iowa's largest newspaper now endorsing GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Our panel of political experts will weigh in on this new campaign development. How important is it? We'll talk about that, next.


VELSHI: A lot of overseas this morning. Let's bring it back to the U.S. for a few minutes.

It could be back to the negotiating table this morning for lawmakers who are trying to hammer out a deal to keep you from taking home less money next year. House Republicans are not happy with the Senate's plan to extend the payroll tax holiday for two more months. House Speaker John Boehner told NBC the short-term fix is just not acceptable.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Two months is just kicking the can down the road. The American people are tired of that. I frankly am tired of it. On the House side, we've seen this kind of action before coming out of the Senate. It's time to just stop, do our work, resolve the differences, and extend this for one year and remove the uncertainty.


VELSHI: If the House and Senate can't come to agreement by January 1st, the average working American will be paying thousands more in taxes next year.

CHO: New GOP campaign developments. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman scoring some big endorsements this weekend with the Iowa caucuses just around the corner. But we are also waiting today for reaction from the candidates to what's happening in North Korea with the death of Kim Jong-il.

Here to talk more about that is Dana Loesch. She's CNN contributor and radio host of "The Dana Show." She's in St. Louis.

Good morning to you.

And Republican analyst Lenny McAllister is in Chicago.

Good morning, Lenny.

Nice to see you both.

Obviously, the big story today is the death of Kim Jong-il and its just, of course, another reminder that the news cycle can shake up any political race at any time. You know, up until now, we've been talking about the economy and who's strongest there. But what about on foreign policy?

Lenny, let me ask you first. Who do you think benefits the most from this news?

LENNY MCALLISTER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it really depends on what the Republicans really want to do from a candidate standpoint on the GOP side. If people are looking for that historian that gives a perspective of what the reason has been like over the last 60 to 70 years and how things are coming together, Newt Gingrich is still going to be that guy that can give more of perspective and put things together and be a mold breaker, like Reagan was, set the agenda versus going with the status quo.

If you want somebody that's going to be more of a caretaker, which is what you're seeing from the establishment now, people getting behind somebody that they think is steady and a caretaker, it's going to benefit Romney. It really depends on what these primary voters actually want in their next president. It will be very interesting to see what people decide upon as we move into Iowa and beyond.

CHO: Dana, let's not forget that Jon Huntsman is the former ambassador to China. He's starting to get some traction in New Hampshire. I just spoke to President Clinton last week, and he said, you know, when you're talking about Newt Gingrich, the two people you cannot count out are Mitt Romney and surprisingly when he said this, you know, he said Jon Huntsman. He said he doesn't think Jon Huntsman has seen his time in the spotlight yet.

So, do you think that Huntsman would become someone to contend with in New Hampshire and possibly beyond?

DANA LOESCH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think so. I think there's still a little bit of wiggle room for these candidates, and definitely from one of the things we've seen with the grassroots base, they're not quite ready to acquiesce to someone like Romney or Gingrich just yet.

And the fact Huntsman does have significant foreign policy experience, his ambassadorship to China. But, you know, that does help and that sort of raises his profile in the eyes of many conservatives but it remains to be seen. I mean, especially what we have going on right now with North Korea, definitely testy times.

I think the only person who perhaps makes voters a little concerned maybe is Ron Paul, just because some of recent answers in some of the debates.

CHO: Lenny, I want to ask you about all of these endorsements that we saw this weekend. The biggest, of course, being "The Des Moines Register" endorsing Romney, saying he had, quote, "the sobriety, the wisdom and the judgment to stand out from the crowd."

You know, Romney famously has not spent much time in Iowa. So, does this endorsement really matter?

MCALLISTER: Well, we'll see. We'll find out, because I do think that Romney hasn't spent a lot of time in Iowa but now he's starting to creep back into the polls, he's starting to get back into that second place and nestled there.

If he can do well and do respectable in Iowa, knowing that he hasn't put a lot of resources there all the way back to the straw poll, this will really do well for him going into New Hampshire and then getting the Nikki Haley endorsement down in South Carolina.

It really boils down to this, people in America, the voters, are really upset with the establishment right now. So, what we're finding is the establishment guy in Romney versus the anti-establishment. Who comes out in more force during these early primaries will dictate what type of candidate we'll see from the GOP by the time we get to Tampa.

CHO: Dana, there's a lot of talk about the Tea Party, obviously, and the big news will be when the Tea Party comes out supporting one candidate. You know, is it just too early yet? Some analysts are saying we're just in the third inning. Remember, we haven't even seen the Iowa caucuses, but is there one candidate that you can see getting behind or the tea party, ultimately, get behind at this early stage?

LOESCH: That's such a great question. And you know, because so many groups -- all of the different groups that are within the movement are really individually sovereign. There are some Tea Partiers that have gotten behind Mitt Romney. There are some Tea Partiers who've gotten behind Newt Gingrich, which is crazy when you consider where Newt Gingrich and the Tea Party was just 2 1/2 years ago.

I don't think that the whole of them, though, I don't think that they've coalesced behind a single candidate yet. Some of them are sort of scratching their heads and asking them how two of the individuals that, perhaps, embody everything that they've been fighting for, fighting against, rather, the past couple of years, how they're leading.

But Newt Gingrich and Romney, they are the one in three in Iowa, because grassroots are getting behind them, and a quick note about that Des Moines, Iowa register endorsement. That is the newspaper that did endorse Barack Obama over John McCain. It's a pretty liberal newspaper in Iowa. So, I don't know if it's actually going to matter in the grand scheme of things.

CHO: All right. Dana Loesch, Lenny McAllister, thank you so much for joining us.

VELSHI: It was the talk of the NFL this weekend. Did Tom Brady and the Patriots survive Tebow time? Game highlights ahead like you don't know what they are. Forty-seven minutes after the hour.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

VELSHI: This just in to CNN. North Korea has just test fired a short-range missile on its eastern coast. That is according to the South Korean news agency.

CHO: That's right. We want to bring in CNN senior producer, Tim Schwarz. He joins us now live from Hong Kong. Tim, few people know North Korea as well as you do. You've been there nearly 20 times. You and I were together twice just last year. What are your thoughts when you hear this news?

TIM SCHWARZ, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: I think we must be careful of reading to much into this, frankly. The North Koreans have short- range missiles, and they do test them from time to time. We have very little information on this particular firing at the moment often (ph) the fact that there's quite over the east sea. So, it's not true the North Koreans were tested a missile.

There's no indication that South Korean officials have already said that they've been following the North Korean missile for some time, and they have no indication that this is, in any way, connected with the death of leader, Kim Jong-il.

The short-range missiles are very different factor from the long- range missiles with North Korea has tested (INAUDIBLE) such as the 1 and 2 test missiles or the incident a year ago when they actually opened fire on South Korean island. So, this is -- at the moment, there's no indication that this is anything likeness into that.

VELSHI: Tim, it's Ali. Obviously, because of the tense situation between North Korea and its neighbors in South Korea, we often see the testing of nuclear missiles as provocation as opposed to simply testing. You said this is relatively common. What's the distinction between testing short range missiles and long-range missiles.

SCHWARZ: Well, there are two things, Ali. Of course, North Korea has not yet tested a nuclear missile. There's no sign that they have the capability of militarizing their nuclear armament to fit on the top of a missile.

They necessarily be the larger missiles, the (INAUDIBLE) of ballistic missiles, these, of course, very significance if North Korea can weaponize its nuclear weapon and put it on a delivery vehicle that can see that to reach as far as the United States, then that's a hugely scary thing for the world. The short-range missile would be used on any short -- could be used against South Korea, for example.

But there's no indication that this indicates North Korea is trying to send a message to South Korea. They have these missiles. These missiles do need testing from time to time. It doesn't show a significant improvement in their technology or in their level of threat as far as we know at the moment.

CHO: Tim, as I mentioned when we introduced you, you and I had been to North Korea twice together, and you've weren't there more than a dozen times, probably close to 20 times. If my memory serves me well, I believe you did meet Kim Jong-il on one occasion, did you not?


CHO: You did not?

SCHWARZ: I never did meet Kim Jong-il. I've seen him from afar many times. I met his father, the original founder.

CHO: That's Kim Il-Sung. That's right. Just your thoughts on the passing of Kim Jong-il?

SCHWARZ: Kim Jong-il was from a very early age -- at least, since the 1970s, has known that he was being groomed as his successor to his father. He was prepared for nearly three decades, his coming on to the scene as leader of the country was prepared for nearly three decades. The groundwork was done very well. That's because of propaganda. He was a genius at this. He's a genius at that, an expert marksman, an expert horseman, a tactical genius.

So, the country was given a lot of exposure to him. This is not the case with Kim Jong-un who's now be the third generation of his family to lead the country. Kim Il Sung, the original founder of the country, Kim Jong-il, have a lot more history. The country knows nothing at all about Kim Jong-un. They haven't even heard his name until a year ago.

There are no great stories of his birth or achievements. The North Koreans don't even know that he actually studied abroad in Switzerland, that he's a basketball fan, that he's open to the outside world. They know nothing about him. So, it's going to be much more of a challenge to present Kim Jong-un as the legitimate leader of the country that it has been for his father.

VELSHI: Tim, good to talk to you. Thanks for your insight. If anything else develops on this, I know you're standing there in front of that camera, get back in there and talk to us about it. Tim is one of our most informed reporters and producers on Asia and on Korea. Thanks, Tim.

CHO: That's right.

He calls himself a cyber illusionist, combining the technology at the moment with the ideas of old world magic. This week, Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduces us to futuristic showman, Marco Tempest on CNN's "The Next List."


MARCO TEMPEST, FUTURISTIC SHOWMAN: Making art is not my aspiration. My aspiration is, is to do what I love, like to show my passion to my audiences, and I can show that to my audience, that's -- that's totally enough. That's exactly what I want to achieve.



CHO: You can catch the "NEXT LIST" each Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time right here on CNN.

VELSHI: All right. Continuing coverage of breaking news. Next hour, the death of Kim Jong-il. We'll talk with Governor Bill Richardson who has been inside North Korea eight times. We'll also bring you the latest on the news that North Korea has tested some short-range missiles this morning. You're watching CNN. This is breaking news. It's 55 minutes after the hour.



VELSHI (voice-over): Breaking news this morning. Northern Korean dictator, Kim Jong-il, is dead. The country already announcing what it calls a great successor to the so-called dear leader.

CHO (voice-over): The region on high alert and the world trying to figure out what now for the most isolated nation on the globe and its nuclear weapons on this AMERICAN MORNING.