Return to Transcripts main page
Group of U.S. Navy Ships is Headed Towards the Korean Peninsula; Is Congressional Authorization Needed?; Christian Coptic Church Bombed in Tanta on Palm Sunday; Protesters Rally on the stReets of Caracas Against President Nicolas Maduro; President Trump Now Supports American Military Action in Syria. Aired 4-5a ET
Aired April 9, 2017 - 04:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[04:00:00] HANNAH VAUGHAN JONES, CNN ANCHOR: A group of U.S. navy ships is headed towards the Korean peninsula. A direct response to North Korean missile tests. We'll be live from Seoul and Pyongyang with the very latest.
HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: Also this hour, deadly airstrikes target the same town that was hit by chemical weapons in Idlib, Syria, less than a day, after the U.S. bombed a Syrian air base.
Hello, everyone. I'm Hala Gorani, we're coming to you live from Beirut, Lebanon. Welcome to all of our viewers in the United States and all around the world.
VAUGHAN JONES: And I'm Hannah Vaughan Jones, live for you here in London. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.
So, the United States is showing its military force now in North Korea in the hopes of stopping Pyongyang's nuclear threats.
An American carrier strike group is currently headed towards the Korean peninsula. A strike group is a formation of navy assets. Now, it's not unusual for the U.S. to send an aircraft carrier to the region but U.S. defense officials say this deployment is in response to recent North Korean nuclear provocations.
Well, CNN is using our global resources to follow this story for you. Our Alexandra Field is live to you in Seoul, South Korea.
We'll talk to you in just a moment Alexandra but, first, let's go to North Korea where our Will Ripley is the only American T.V. correspondent currently in Pyongyang.
Will, great to talk to you. We understand that the U.S. is doing this in order to try to stop Pyongyang's nuclear threat. What are the chances, do you think, from your perspective, of that, actually, being successful?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The North Korean officials who we're talking to on the ground here, Hannah, say that it is having the opposite effect. They view this as yet another provocative act by the U.S. after several weeks of joint military exercises with the United States and South Korea.
These exercises always enrage Pyongyang. They feel that is a dress rehearsal for an invasion of their country. That's what the state- controlled media tells the people who live here and they're talking about not just this carrier strike group because, as you mentioned, that is somewhat routine but also the airstrikes that President Trump -- the missile strike that President Trump ordered in Syria.
They point to countries such as Iraq and Libya and say that they do not want their country to fall -- to have the same fate which is why one official told me -- I'm going to read you a quote here, "The previous U.S. administrations have been attacking those countries who haven't gotten nuclear weapons and the Trump administration is no different from the previous U.S. governments in pinpointing those non- nuclear states."
Essentially the North Korean regime, led by Kim Jong-Un, views nuclear weapons as the ticket to their survival to their national sovereignty and analyst are saying this country could be ready to test their 6th nuclear weapon, really, at any moment given the provocative behavior that they feel is occurring on the United States side. Don't be surprised if something happens relatively soon here in the peninsula.
VAUGHAN JONES: And, Will, is there much concern there about what may or may not have been agreed between President Xi and President Trump just in the last couple of days in the U.S.?
RIPLEY: So, the officials were talking to feel that it was not a coincidence that President Trump ordered that missile strike in Syria while he was having dinner with Chinese President Xi.
They viewed that as a threat not only to the Chinese president because the U.S. wants China to impose more economic sanctions on North Korea but they also viewed it as a threat to their country as well because China is North Korea's only meaningful trading partner and is believed to provide a lot of the currency that this country uses to develop their nuclear weapons but the officials I was talking to said that their missile program and the nuclear program would be the last thing that they cut even if sanctions are imposed here.
And, when you're walking around the streets of this city it's really surreal, Hannah, because, just today, hundreds of people including foreigners from Europe and America, all over the world, were here for the Pyongyang Marathon, running, smiling, high-fiving with locals who were cheering them on. So, that's happening on the street level, where at the government level tensions are, certainly, the highest I've seen in 11 visits to this country.
VAUGHAN JONES: All right, Will, thank you. A
lexandra Field is standing by for us in Seoul, in South Korea now. Alex, we're hearing already these joint U.S. military drills with South Korea are not unusual at all but is this development welcomed by the South?
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, you would imagine that it would be because the security alliance here is very strong between the U.S. and South Korea. They've had this for some 60 years.
You've got some 30,000 U.S. troops who are based here in South Korea for the express and direct purpose of defending South Korea's security interests and the interests of the region at large. What you have now, with this aircraft carrier returning to the region on this unscheduled trip, a direct response to North Korean provocations, is the flexing of some muscle.
This is a message that is clearly being sent by Washington to Pyongyang. It comes on the heels of some other strong messages. You have White House officials saying that when it comes to North Korea and the nuclear threat, all options are on the table.
You also had U.S. President Donald Trump recently saying that if China won't solve the North Korea problem the U.S. will and now you see that this aircraft carrier has headed back towards the Korean peninsula.
Again, we have pointed out that this is an aircraft carrier that was in these waters just last month. There for the joint military exercises, which Will pointed out, tend to enrage the North every month but, this time, U.S. Officials are saying that it is a direct response to North Korea's provocations. That, of course, would be the four missile tests that we've seen from North Korea since just the start of this year. Hannah.
VAUGHAN JONES: Alex, thank you. Will Ripley still standing by for us in Pyongyang.
Will, I'm wondering, what the Pyongyang regime and Kim Jong-Un has had to say about the U.S. airstrikes on Syria, their reflections on that.
RIPLEY: Yes, you know, as I was saying, when they were speaking with officials they really view the airstrikes in Syria as an example that North Korea should watch.
They called Syrian crisis a bloody example that North Korea is paying very close attention and, again, they feel that this justifies their development of these weapons of mass destruction.
Their goal is to have a workable intercontinental ballistic missile, with a nuclear tip, capable of reaching the mainland U.S.
Most analysts say they're not there yet but they could be there in just a matter of a couple of years at a pace that they're going. International sanctions, condemnation, cyber -- your apparent cyber- attacks, even trying to infiltrate the supply line of missile parts, none of it has really been able to stop -- perhaps, slow a bit but not stop this country's missile development and, in fact, when they see things like the missile strikes on Syria, officials here say it makes them want to accelerate and move faster to get that weapon ready to go.
VAUGHAN JONES: All right, fantastic reporting from you both. Will Ripley live for us in Pyongyang, Alexandra Field live in Seoul, in South Korea. Thank you both. GORANI: Well, Hannah, let's turn our attention to Syria now and the
same rebel-held town that was hit by that chemical attack a few days ago, well, it was struck again Saturday by conventional weapons. Generating a lot less outrage, it has to be said, when 16 civilians were reported killed there.
It's not known who dropped the bombs but only Syrian and Russian warplanes fly in the air over that part of the country. The timing is noteworthy. The renewed airstrikes came immediately after the U.S. bombed the Syrian airfield in retaliation for that chemical attack.
New video, by the way, shows that that that airfield, the one that was hit by tomahawk missiles, is operational again. Our Ben Wedeman joins us from near the Turkish-Syrian border. Paula Newton is standing by in Moscow. We'll get Russian reaction in a moment.
Ben, first of all, talk to us about Shayrat, that airfield, apparently, it's functioning again and warplanes are taking off from there.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and this -- we've seen video of that and, I think, even President Trump referenced it in one of his tweets saying that it's very easy to repair a runway and, therefore, that's why they didn't hit it.
And, of course, this is the air base from which the strikes -- it's believed that dropped chemical weapons on Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday morning leaving 89 people killed were launched from.
And, in the meantime, yes, you mentioned Khan Sheikhoun yesterday. We understand that within the past hour Khan Sheikhoun has been struck again by aircraft, probably Syrian, possibly, Russian.
We understand in that case there were no causalities. However, in another town in Idlib province yesterday, Urum al-Joz, 19 people were killed. In Maarrat al-Nu'man also in Idlib province, today, two people were killed.
So, fact of the matter is that even though we're focusing so intensely on this chemical attack, there has been an industrial scale blood bath going on for the last six years. By my calculations, there have been 4,500 Khan Sheikhouns, if you take the number that's -- if you multiple it, that's what you get over the last six years.
So, certainly, it's laudable that the United States in the west is focusing on this one particular incident but this has been going on day after day for years and the international community has been largely indifferent. Hala.
GORANI: And, Ben, just stand by for a moment. I want to get to Paula Newton because we heard from the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, she spoke to our Jake Tapper. The interview will be broadcast today on State of the Union on CNN but she had a very interesting answer when asked about what the U.S.'s policy is, vis-a-vis, Bashar al-Assad. Let's listen first to what she had to say and then I'll ask for Moscow's reaction. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is regime change in Syria now the official policy of the United States?
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: So, there's multiple priorities. It's -- getting Assad out is not the only priority. So, what we're trying to do is obviously defeat ISIS. Secondly, we don't see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there. Thirdly, get the Iranian influence out and then, finally, move towards a political solution because at the end of the day this is a complicated situation. There are no easy answers and a political solution's going to have to happen but we know that it is not going to be -- there's not any sort of option where political solution's going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime.
It just -- if you look at his actions, if you look at the situation, it's going to be hard to see a government that's peaceful and stable with Assad.
TAPPER: Well, of course, it's hard to but is it the position of the Trump administration that he cannot be ruler of Syria anymore. Regime change is the policy.
HALEY: Well, regime change is something that we think is going to happen because all of the parties are going to see that Assad's not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria.
GORANI: All right, Paula Newton in Moscow, what was the reaction to that because, clearly, Moscow doesn't want to hear anything about regime change inside Syria. They very firmly support the regime of Bashar al Assad.
PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, and in a few seconds there, Nikki Haley basically did a laundry list of what it would take years to accomplish on the ground in Syria and, having said that, most of it would be against Russia's interest.
So, we had the head of Russia's foreign relations council, Konstantin Kosachev, saying calling a spade a spade. This is a direct sabotage in his words of the international community's efforts to start a process of political negotiations between the authorities and the opposition.
What he's trying to say is that, look, we've been at the table now for the last 18 months. It is completely unrealistic for Nikki Haley to come out and try and, in his words, sabotage what Russia claims is a productive negotiation already going on at the table.
But, Hala, what's clear here is that the United States along with its allies are trying to settle the parameters of what any kind of political process will look like in Syria going forward. They're making it clear they do not believe Assad has a role.
GORANI: All right. So, thanks very much. Paula Newton is in Moscow. Ben Wedeman is on the Turkey-Syria border. Thanks very much.
ANNOUNCER (voice-over): This is CNN Breaking News.
GORANI: All right. Let me bring you up-to-date on a breaking news story coming in to us here. Very few details that has to be said but it's a repeat of some of the attacks we've seen against Coptic churches in Egypt in the past.
Media in Egypt are saying there's been an explosion at a church in the Egyptian city of Tanta. You see it on the map there. There's been some instability there in that part of the country. There are reports of causalities. We're waiting for more information on that for you. We're also awaiting a statement from Egypt's interior ministry but we have seen, over the last few years, in Egypt, as many of you know, following news out of the country, repeated attacks against Coptic churches and Coptic civilian populations.
Fawaz Gerges is the Chair of Contemporary Middle East at the London School of Economics. He is also the author of a book on ISIS and he joins me now from London. So, Fawaz, just before we get to the Syrian news, you know, these attacks on Coptic churches, we're seeing more and more of them in Egypt. The Coptic population inside Egypt is extremely nervous. I want to understand why.
FAWAZ GERGES, CHAIR OF CONTEMPORARY MIDDLE EAST, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Well, first of all, the Copts in Egypt represent about 10 percent of the population of Egypt. It's a sizable community and you're right, Hala, there have been several attacks, systemic attacks against Coptic churches and Coptic symbols of worship in Egypt.
The latest of which was the cathedral in Cairo in which dozens of people were killed and injured. The attacks against the Copts in Egypt represent an attack against the el-Sisi administration. This is a direct attack against the legitimacy and the symbol of the el-Sisi administration.
The militants who are attacking the Coptic churches are trying to send a message, clear and loud, that the el-Sisi administration cannot protect its minority. That they're trying to undermine the legitimacy of el-Sisi and there are multiple insurgencies going on in Egypt.
So, this is an attack against the very legitimacy and the symbols of President el-Sisi, to undermine his presidency and show the world he cannot protect one of his (INAUDIBLE) communities in Egypt.
GORANI: Right, and we're waiting, as I mentioned to our viewers -- waiting to hear on these reports of causalities. We're waiting for the interior ministry as well to issue a statement regarding this particular attack.
Let's turn our attention back to Syria. Now, you may have heard the sound bite that we ran with the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley. She was asked about regime change. She didn't exactly say that the U.S. policy was to pursue regime change in Syria but, essentially, that all parties would soon realize that Bashar al-Assad cannot stay the commander-in-chief, the leader of Syria. However, Rex Tillerson, the U.S. Secretary of State, when asked a
couple of days after the strike, if there was a change in the U.S.'s policy towards Syria and he said no change.
So, it doesn't sound like they're signing from the same hymn sheet, what do you make of that?
GERGES: I mean, this is an administration really, Hala, full of contradictions. In fact, when the Secretary of State was asked after the attack he said, "Our first and foremost priority is to defeat ISIS. After we defeat ISIS, we'll pay more attention to Syria and we'll try to resolve the Syrian conflict." He didn't say militarily regime change but he said political transition in Syria means the end of the Assad regime as we know.
This is a very, very complex situation. It's been six years, Assad is there to stay, Russia is the most dominant powers. The reality is -- the question on the table for all of us, what's the end game of the Trump administration after attack against Shayrat military base in Homs?
If the end game is to deter Assad from using chemical weapons in the future, I think, this particular message has been received. I doubt it very much if Assad will ever use chemical weapon given the determination of the Trump administration to carry out military attacks.
But, the attack itself, Hala, does not change the complex dynamics on the ground is (INAUDIBLE)
GORANI: But, what is the end game though? I have to -- let me jump in. This is everyone's question. Is -- we don't have the answer is what you're saying.
GERGES: No, we don't.
GORANI: Is the end game to stop Assad from using chemical weapons? All right, that we took care -- you know, the U.S. took care for that, according to what you're saying. Is the end game to support a political transition that could keep elements of the regime in place but just remove Assad as figurehead, that's option two.
Option three is complete regime change. In other words, the group and power now gone and replace with another group. I mean, there are so many potential options and so many different ways to read Nikki Haley's answer to that question.
GERGES: And, also -- If you, also, read what the secretary of state said he made it clear the strategic priority is to defeat ISIS. It's not to really regime change at this particular moment. Even he did not use the question regime change. If you read carefully what Haley said she didn't say regime change, she said basically Assad cannot really (INAUDIBLE) because he has so much blood on his hand.
The question again to back, there is no political clarity. All of us keep saying, what is really the strategic roadmap of the Trump administration?
I am very skeptical, Hala, not because, I mean, I oppose Donald Trump but he is a salesman, impulsive, incoherent, full of contradictions, he is fascinated with higher power, he does not appreciate the complexity of the Syrian conflict.
How can you talk about regime change in Syria while the balance of power now favors Assad and the Iranians? You say -- I mean, Haley -- if you listen carefully to what Haley said. She said we want Assad out. We want to end the Iranian presence in Syria. How are you going to do it Ms. Haley? What are the American investment inside Syria?
GORANI: Yes, and also what do you replace this government with? Certainly, there's no viable, right now, group that could fill any vacuum there. We know what groups fill vacuums when they emerge in Syria.
So, as you mentioned, it's so complicated. We're going to be speaking with you again, hopefully. Fawaz Gerges on London with more on the news in Syria and the wider region as we've been reporting that breaking news out of Egypt, with a Coptic church -- a Coptic Christian church targeted once again by what we understand as some sort of explosive device or a bomb. We'll have more on that.
Coming up on the program, President Trump tells congress why he decided to take military action in Syria. We'll have those details coming up. Stay with us. We'll be right back on CNN.
GORANI: Welcome back, everybody, following our breaking news out of Egypt and also, of course, the aftermath of that U.S. strike on a Syrian air base. Just looking at the map here to get a better sense of Tanta it's relation to Cairo. You see it there on our map. It's about, I want to say, 100 kilometers, probably, from Cairo there in the Nile Delta.
There's been an attack on an Egyptian Coptic Christian church there. We understand it was, some sort of, improvised explosive device or, some sort of, bomb that targeted that church. This, of course, is sadly not the first time that the Christian Coptic community in Egypt has been targeted.
We are awaiting a statement from the interior ministry. We're not exactly sure what the casualty numbers are at this stage but just a few months ago there was an attack on a church, as well, closer to Cairo targeting the Coptic Christian community. We'll have more on that as we get it.
With our other news, Hannah, I -- just one moment I'm hearing from our producer, Luke, 13 people killed and this is according to the government source, Luke? We have 13 -- oh, what? So, we have an Egyptian state-run newspaper quoting a number of 13. Thirteen people killed in this Egyptian Coptic church attack. Dozens wounded. We're waiting for official word from the interior ministry. We'll, of
course, bring you that when you get it but a high death toll here so far, more details when we get them. Hannah, with the rest of the news, back to you in London.
VAUGHAN JONES: Hala, thanks very much indeed. Now, the U.S. president is telling congress why he ordered last week's missile strike on that Syrian air base. Mr. Trump sent a letter to the House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Orrin Hatch saying, "I directed this action in order to degrade the Syrian military's ability to conduct further chemical weapons attacks and to dissuade the Syrian regime from using or proliferating chemical weapons."
He goes on to say, "Thereby promoting the stability of the region and averting a worsening of the region's current humanitarian catastrophe." There's the words of President Trump to congress.
Well, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations tells CNN state (INAUDIBLE) President Trump won't stop at missile strikes if more needs to be done. We heard that grab from Nikki Haley earlier on the program.
Let's speak to Scott Lucas. He joins me now from Birmingham here in England. He is a professor of international politics at the University of Birmingham and the founder and editor of EA WorldView.
Scott, great to have you on the program. Let's talk about this letter to congress to start off with. Does President Trump, first of all, need to have congressional approval if he wants to follow through on that threat, that promise of doing more if more needs to be done?
SCOTT LUCAS, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM: Well, we've seen decades of U.S. presidents saying they don't need that authority for air strikes, let alone -- well, whether they need it or not for full scale ground operations is a different matter.
But with air strikes you can think about, for example, Ronald Reagan's attacks on Libya in 1986. You can think about the Clinton administration's attack on Iraq in the 1990s before the 2003 Iraq war and, of course, you can think about a whole series of manned and unmanned drone attacks on various targets around the world.
So, I don't think there's going to be a showdown in a legal sense if we have just a limited expansion of air strikes, especially, if the official line is they're just to degrade the chemical ability. The question is if the Assad regime and Russia continue widespread conventional attacks on civilian areas which it appears they're going to do, how does the Trump administration respond? First of all and secondly at that point, well, they need to go to congress.
VAUGHAN JONES: And, of course, the question is over the end game here for the United States. Hala Gorani has been asking all of our guest and talking about it this morning are already -- do you accept that this an administration in the U.S. which is currently full of quite a few contradictions in terms of what the U.S. secretary of state is saying and what the U.N. ambassador -- to the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. is saying?
LUCAS: I do. The baseline here is just that where everyone can agree in a Trump administration is that they want to ensure that there's no repetition of chemical attacks.
But beyond that, there's complete disagreement and you can't look to Trump for answers. I mean, as your previous guest said before the break, he's not coherent. He doesn't really have a deep knowledge of what's going on.
What you generally have are two camps. One is that you have the Pentagon and National Security Council who aren't (INAUDIBLE) with the Assad regime, but are they really saying that they are going to take on the Assad regime if it continues conventional bombing to the point of supporting the opposition to remove Assad from power? That's the staking point.
VAUGHAN JONES: Right.
LUCAS: On the other side, we clearly have --
VAUGHAN JONES: And this is the main -- sorry, go on. Go ahead, go ahead.
LUCAS: I'm saying on the other side, you clearly have Trump administration officials like Steve Bannon, the chief strategist who, although he has formally been sidelined from the National Security Council, are arguing against any type of action against the Assad regime.
We're opposed even to the airstrikes last Friday and they'll continue their opposition to any ramping up of U.S. Action.
VAUGHAN JONES: OK. We have to leave it there. Scott Lucas, great to get your reflections, reactions on the situation on Capitol Hill, of course. And of course, what's happening in Syria on the ground as well. Scott, thank you.
LUCAS: Thank you.
GORANI: Well, Hannah, we're going to take a quick break. When we come back, the U.S. missile strike in Syria. Could it be sending a message, in fact, to other countries like North Korea? We'll be looking at that and we'll have the very latest as well on that attack against the Christian church in Egypt. State run media saying 13 people killed. We'll be right back.
[04:30:23] ANNOUNCER (voice-over): This is "CNN Breaking News".
GORANI: Welcome back, everybody. More now on our "Breaking News" out of Tanta, about 100 kilometers north of Cairo, a Coptic church targeted. State run media in Egypt are saying 13 people were killed. Dozens more wounded. It is Sunday today. There would have been a service there with more people than other days during the week, obviously. And this is not the first time that the Coptic Christian community in Egypt has been targeted.
Last December, there was also an attack. A TNT bomb attack against a chapel joining a cathedral in Cairo, killing 25 people. Militants obviously trying to send a message that the government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi cannot protect its minority community, the Coptic Christians representing about 10 percent of Egypt's population.
Ben Wedeman was posted for many, many years in Cairo as our bureau chief there. He's currently in Southern Turkey with more there on this church attack. I mean, the undercurrent of this, is this ongoing, simmering, sort of not-very-covered war against Islamic militants and the government of Sisi, the military government.
WEDEMAN: That's correct. And let's not forget, it's not only Sunday today Hala, it is Palm Sunday. So that church, the Mar Girgis Church, was absolutely jam-packed. Tanta is an industrial town. It has a large Christian population. Obviously, many of them were at that church at the time of that blast.
And what's interesting is that one Arabic channel, Al Hadath, was actually broadcasting live from that church at the time of the explosion. And of course, their signal disappeared after that.
And yes, as you mentioned, this has been a very difficult period for Egypt's Christian minority. As you mentioned, in December, there was the church, their -- the attack on the church of St. Peter and St. Paul, also known as El-Botroseya.
And of course, last month -- or rather, in February, we saw dozens of Christian families fleeing from the town of El Arish in the Northern Sinai, where they had been targeted by ISIS. So it's a difficult time for Christians. And I suspect the death toll, as is often the case in Egypt, it starts off small but it may increase as the day goes on.
And of course, let's not forget that at the end of this month, Pope Francis is coming to Egypt so this may be something the Vatican will be taking into consideration. So it's a very, very difficult time for the Christians in Egypt. Hala.
GORANI: What's been the -- absolutely. And in other parts of the world as well where they felt increasingly targeted -- in other parts of the region, I should say. What has been the reaction though of the Christian community to all of this? Who are they turning to for protection as they feel more and more vulnerable?
WEDEMAN: Well, the irony is that following the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in the summer of 2013 and his replacement by Abdel Fattah el- Sisi, many of the cops felt that this new military (INAUDIBLE) which has been transformed into a government would be the protector of the Christian minority.
But increasingly, they are angry. They are feeling that the government has not done enough, is really just paying lip service to the fears of the Christians as they increasingly come under attack.
And certainly, what we saw when these dozens of Christian families left El Arish into Sinai was real anger that this government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is not doing what should be done to protect them.
And, you know, we've seen it before. For instance, the church that was bombed in December. Apparently, the security had sort of stepped away from their post to have breakfast. That the level, the professionalism of the Egyptian security that is protecting churches and other Christian facilities is far below the mark. Hala.
GORANI: Right. All right, thanks very much. Ben Wedeman there in Turkey with more on that Coptic Christian church attack with 13 people reported killed, many more wounded, 42 wounded in that church blast. But as Ben mentioned there, of course, this is a preliminary death toll. It is Palm Sunday. The church would have been absolutely packed in Tanta, the industrial town north of Cairo.
The Christian Coptic community in Egypt feeling very, very vulnerable right now, and one can very much understand why, with a lot of fear and anger running through that Coptic community in that country. We'll have more on our breaking news out of Egypt. And also, of course, reaction to the aftermath of the U.S. air strike on a Syrian air base after a break. Stay with CNN. We will be right back. And for now, Hannah, back to you.
VAUGHAN JONES: Hala, thanks very much indeed. A very busy morning here at CNN. We've got another top story that we want to recap for you right now.
A U.S. aircraft carrier lead strike group is currently cruising towards the Korean peninsula. This, just days after North Korea test fired another missile. It also follows the U.S., of course, hitting a Syrian air base with missiles of its own. CNN Military Analyst Colonel Rick Francona spoke to us earlier about what this means for Pyongyang.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's not just an aircraft carrier. It's an entire strike group, a whole package going there. So it's quite potent, and it does send a message to North Korea that we are serious about defending our allies in the area.
It comes at a time though, as you say, right after this strike on Syria. So the North Koreans have to be watching this and they realize that maybe Donald Trump means what he says when he says, "If you do something, I will react."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUGHAN JONES: Let's get more on this now. I'm joined by Chung-in Moon, he's a distinguished professor (INAUDIBLE) at South Korea's Yonsei University. Thank you very much for joining us, sir.
When you consider the options on the table for Kim Jong-un and Pyongyang at the moment, what do you think is the most likely response? Would it be words, would it be perhaps more missile tests, or even -- does he have it in his arsenal to carry out some sort of military strike against U.S. aggression?
CHUNG-IN MOON, PROFESSOR, YONSEI UNIVERSITY: April is months of celebration for North Koreans. The April has the birthday of the founder of North Korea, Kim Il-sung. And also, it has founding anniversary of North Korea People's Army. Therefore, North Korea has been showing some kinds of military even event such as, you know, launching of, you know, (INAUDIBLE) missiles or nuclear, you know, testing.
You know, it is very likely for North Korea to undertake those kind of events, despite, you know, pressures from the United States.
VAUGHAN JONES: So you're saying that there would be usual shows or displays of military strength from Pyongyang anyway just because we're -- we happen to be in the month of April, but nothing unusual, nothing more, given this U.S. navy deployment?
MOON: (INAUDIBLE) was here last month. For North Korea to take it, you know, as a routine, you know, (INAUDIBLE) under part of the United States. But I personally hope that North Korea will take a pause and find some other, you know, solutions with the United States. If United -- North Korea continue to show their kinds of, you know, provocative, you know, behavior, the situation of the Korean issue will get worse.
VAUGHAN JONES: What do you think may have been agreed between President Xi of China and President Trump of the United States when they met just a few days ago with regards to North Korea on future policy?
MOON: I personally believe that they failed to reach an agreement on how to deal with the North Korea nuclear issue. Apparently, President Trump has been emphasizing the importance of Chinese role in putting pressure on North Korea to give up the nuclear weapons.
But President Xi Jinping should have been emphasizing the importance of (INAUDIBLE) negotiation. Therefore, I believe the two leaders have failed to accomplish an agreement.
VAUGHAN JONES: So what does South Korea -- where you are -- what does South Korea really want? Is this show of strength from the United States enough to stop Kim and his nuclear ambitions?
MOON: There is none. South Koreans would welcome American show of strength against North Korea. But South Koreans would not want any kinds of military action by the United States and subsequent escalation under Korean Peninsula because South Koreans will pray to the victims of collateral damage of the American military action. Therefore, Korea is very much is unbalanced on the American military posture.
VAUGHAN JONES: Huge amount of concern about that collateral damage, as you said, across the peninsula at the moment, the Korean Peninsula. Chung-in Moon, thank you very much indeed for joining us. Now, still to come on "CNN Newsroom" this morning, police and protestors face off after another shocking decision by Nicolas Maduro, which outrages Venezuelans. Stay more -- stay with us for more on that.
GORANI: Welcome back, everybody. More on our breaking news out of Egypt as we continue, of course, to follow the aftermath of that air strike on Syria.
Now, we understand, from an Egyptian media, there has been an attack on a Coptic church in the City of Tanta, north of Cairo -- a Christian Coptic church there. State media are reporting 13 people are dead. Dozens more wounded. We're waiting a statement from the Interministry as well, but for the Coptic community there in Egypt, this is a terrible blow once again after a similar attack in Cairo on a church there, a chapel adjoining a cathedral.
Today is Sunday. It is, in fact, Palm Sunday, which means the church would have been absolutely packed on this day with worshippers. We are seeing some chaotic scenes, of course, in the aftermath of that attack. We'll bring them to you as soon as we get them. Hannah is in London with other news. Hannah.
VAUGHAN JONES: Hala, thank you. We've got to turn our attention now to Europe and Sweden in particular, which is now a nation in mourning. That, of course, after the deadly attack in the country's capital on Friday. Four people were killed and more than a dozen wounded when this truck plowed through a busy street in the capital, Stockholm.
Police say the suspect in this incident is from Uzbekistan and is known to intelligence. On Saturday, Sweden's King urged his country to seek peace.
CARL XVI GUSTAF, KING OF SWEDEN (through translator): We have experienced other violent acts before and we have survived it then and we will also survive it now. Sweden is and has, for a long time, been and shall continue to be a safe and peaceful country.
VAUGHAN JONES: To Venezuela now, where anger is growing against the government. On the streets of Caracas, the protesters were shouting down the President, Nicolas Maduro, as a dictator. The police shot tear gas canisters into the crowd, which some protestors then threw back. The rallies erupted when Mr. Maduro banned an opposition leader.
Saturday's demonstrations are just the latest show of outrage against President Maduro's government, and the opposition is speaking out. Our Rafael Romo has the details.
RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Saturday's clashes were due in part to the fact that the Venezuelan government has banned a very popular opposition leader from doing any political work.
Thousands of people were marching down Francisco de Miranda Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares in Caracas toward the capitals downtown, where most national government buildings are located.
At one point, they were stopped by the National Guard. (INAUDIBLE) positioned lawmaker described the moment to CNN saying, "Tear gas bombs started raining on us." Former presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, who was told Friday he can no longer do any political activity, said the show of force was unnecessary.
GOV. HENRIQUE CAPRILES RADONSKI, MIRANDA (through translator): This is repression. This is a crime. They're committing crimes and violating human rights by stepping on the rights of people. The government has staged a self-coup, and what they're now doing to me is part of it.
ROMO: This is the fifth consecutive day of protests in Caracas and elsewhere in Venezuela. Demonstrators are also protesting the Venezuelan Supreme Court, which issued a ruling, stripping the parliament of its legislative power and giving it to itself. The court reversed its decision after widespread condemnation in Venezuela and abroad, and three days of protest. Earlier this week, Socialist President, Nicolas Maduro, described the protestors as terrorists and vandals.
NICOLAS MADURO, PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator): We have them all identified. They're all identified. They will fall one by one, and they will go straight to face justice.
ROMO: The president said 30 people had been detained, but a Venezuelan human rights group reported Saturday, there had been 164 detentions since Tuesday. Venezuela is facing a deep humanitarian crisis sparked by an economic meltdown. Shortages of basic food products and medicines are commonplace. The Venezuelan opposition collected enough signatures to hold a recall referendum, but the government's electoral council has delayed and blocked efforts to carry out the elections. Rafael Romo, CNN (INAUDIBLE)
VAUGHAN JONES: Still to come this hour, Donald Trump now supports military action in Syria after vehemently opposing intervention just a few years ago. So what's changed his mind? That story, coming up next.
GORANI: Welcome back. An update on our breaking news out of Egypt, in Tanta, Egypt, an industrial town north of Cairo, there's been an attack on a Christian Coptic church. We understand, 15 people now killed. The death toll has risen. These are some images on -- of the aftermath of the attack. It is Palm Sunday today. This church would have been packed with worshippers.
And we understand that some sort of explosive device, IED, bomb attack targeting this church, killing 15 and wounding dozens more. We'll have more on this at the top of the hour. But back to our story on the aftermath of that U.S. strike against a Syrian air base. For many years, Donald Trump said he opposed any American military reaction directed at the Syrian regime, that his main priority is, and was at the time, ISIS. Now the U.S. President openly admits that he has changed his attitude. Why? Here's Brianna Keilar.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump has long said the U.S. should keep to itself.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not and I don't want to be the president of the world. I'm the President of the United States.
KEILAR (voice-over): That was before his decision to attack Syria in response to horrific pictures of a chemical weapons attack on civilians there.
TRUMP: Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.
These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated. My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.
KEILAR (voice-over): In fact, it is completely reversed. In 2013, when it was first confirmed the Syrian government was using chemical weapons on its own people, as pictures came to light of an attack much like the ones we've seen this week, President Obama weigh whether to make good on an earlier threat.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.
KEILAR (voice-over): At the time, Trump tweeted repeatedly opposing action. "To our very foolish leader," he said, "Do not attack Syria. If you do, many very bad things will happen, and from that fight, the U.S. gets nothing. There is no upside and tremendous downside." And he told CNN.
TRUMP: Why do -- we can't let see ISIS and Syria fight, and let Russia -- they're in Syria already -- let them fight ISIS.
KEILAR (voice-over): Then Thursday, an about face.
TRUMP: It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.
KEILAR (voice-over: And Trump's decision to strike Syria was a unilateral one, after once chastening Obama for considering a go-it- alone approach. "The President must get congressional approval before attacking Syria. Big mistake if he does not," Trump tweeted in 2013.
President Obama was ultimately unable to and scrapped plans to strike Syria until 2014, when Arab countries also participated in military action. But perhaps this is also classic Trump, championing the element of surprise in foreign policy.
TRUMP: I'm not saying I'm doing anything one way or another.
KEILAR (voice-over): And obsessed with appearing strong.
TRUMP: If President Obama's goal had been to weaken America, he could not have done a better job.
KEILAR: It also changed the narrative, long plaguing the Trump administration, the drip, drip, drip of the stories about his campaign officials, ties to Russia, and their meetings oftentimes undisclosed with Russian officials during and after when Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election. Brianna Keiler, CNN Washington.