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North Korea Holds Military Parade; Tensions Rise between U.S. and North Korea; Trump Sends Message through U.S. Military Might; Trump's Foreign Policy Shifts; U.S. Military's MOAB Killed 94 ISIS Fighters; Turks Divided ahead of Sunday's Vote. Aired 5-6a ET
Aired April 15, 2017 - 05:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): North Korea put its military on display, showing off possible new ballistic missile canisters.
GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And mounting tensions on the Korean Peninsula just the latest in a series of foreign policy hurdles for the Trump administration. We look at how President Trump differs from candidate Trump on some very key issues.
Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm George Howell.
ALLEN (voice-over): And I'm Natalie Allen. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.
HOWELL: It is 5:00 am on the U.S. east coast. In North Korea, what could be some of those powerful new missiles marking its biggest holiday with a major military parade.
ALLEN: Experts say these are probably just canisters that you see right here and there's no way of knowing if North Korea actually has an intercontinental weapon ready to go.
HOWELL: But the international community is watching on cautiously as tensions between Pyongyang and Washington threaten to escalate into a real conflict. North Korea issued a typically direct message after the U.S. sent a naval strike team their way.
ALLEN: A high-ranking official said North Korea will respond to, quote, "all-out war with an all-out war," end quote. China, meantime, is looking to avoid that, warning that a war on the Korean Peninsula means everyone loses.
HOWELL: CNN's Will Ripley is in Pyongyang and witnessed firsthand the show of force. Here is his report.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So far no nuclear test on the Day of the Sun, North Korea's most important holiday but you have seen a show of force of a very different kind.
You can see North Korean citizens are out here right now. These women are holding up a North Korean flag. Earlier, we saw North Korea's full arsenal on display. There were Scud missiles. There were submarine-launched ballistic missiles. There were land-based missiles that could be launched from a mobile launcher.
And at the very end, we saw North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles. We know that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's goal is to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead capable of reaching the mainland United States.
And while analysts say they may not be there just yet, parades like this are certainly evidence that they continue to make progress. (INAUDIBLE) progress that many experts have predicted.
A lot of people thought there might be a nuclear test today on this important holiday or in the lead-up to it. However, it seems as if the North Koreans are holding off on the nuclear tests for now.
But I have received information that a special operations exercise, a military exercise earlier this week, when commandos were jumping out of airplanes, that was in direct response to tweets from President Trump talking about North Korea and urging China to solve the North Korea problem, as he put it.
We also know that there's the U.S.S. Carl Vinson carrier striker, 60 planes, submarines equipped with nuclear missiles and a 97,000-ton aircraft carrier, all designed to send a message of deterrence to the North Koreans, telling them not to engage in provocative behavior such as another missile launch or a nuclear test.
But the atmosphere out here, as the North Koreans would put it, is a single-hearted determination to fight, to fight against the United States, because their country has told them all of their lives that they're under the imminent threat of invasion.
So you have a lot of these civilians out here, perhaps not many of these women but you have a lot of the men in the crowd here, who have a military background, who have told us repeatedly that if there were to be a war with the United States, they would leave their jobs, put their uniforms back on and fight.
So this is what North Korea is saying, that they are being underestimated by the world and they put on these supersized displays to try to prove to the world that they are here to stay and they're going to move forward on the road of their choosing, even if that road is a path to nuclearization that many others, including the United States, feel is a dangerous and destructive path -- Will Ripley, CNN, Pyongyang.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ALLEN: Rising tensions with North Korea come as U.S. Vice President
Mike Pence heads to South Korea. He's expected to leave Washington shortly and travel to Seoul. Stops in Hawaii, Japan, Indonesia and Australia are also planned on his Asia Pacific tour.
U.S. officials say his primary goal will be to reinforce U.S. alliances during these tense times in Seoul. North Korea's nuclear missile ambitions will likely be on the agenda.
HOWELL: China is urging calm as tensions escalate on the peninsula. Its foreign minister had this to say on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WANG YI, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): On the Korean Peninsula issue, it is not who uses harsher words or raising bigger fists that will win. If a war breaks out, everyone will be a loser and there will be no winners.
Therefore, we urge all parties to refrain from provoking and threatening each other either with rhetoric or actions, so as to avoid getting the situation out of hand and into an irreversible dead end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: No one is the real winner, he says.
Following this story, CNN's Alexandra Field, live in Seoul, South Korea.
Alexandra, it would be an understatement to say that tensions are high. This major military parade that took place in Pyongyang, also the U.S. vice president headed to Seoul, a gesture to show U.S. commitment. There is a lot happening.
What is the mood there in Seoul?
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you can't overstate the fact that people here want to see a peaceful resolution of the tensions that have ratcheted up so much in recent weeks and particularly in recent days with this being the most important day on the North Korean calendar.
There was a great deal of concern not just from people in South Korea but really officials in Washington and analysts in the U.S. that Pyongyang might do more around this day or in the coming days to provoke some kind of response from the U.S., be that another ballistic missile launch or another nuclear test, which would be the country's sixth nuclear test.
You've got analysts who are looking at satellite images saying that the country is ready to carry out that test at any time and there are thoughts that that kind of test could accompany the kind of propaganda that you're seeing on the screen in front of you, this show of force that North Korea typically rolls out on this holiday, that they call the Day of the Sun, the celebration of the founder's birthday.
Of course, this happens at the same time that Vice President Mike Pence is making his way to the region. You've had other top administration officials come out here, Secretary Mattis and Secretary Tillerson who were both offering nervous allies in the region reassurances about the strength, the alliance between these nations.
The topic of North Korea, of course, topping the agenda. We do understand that Vice President Pence will be talking about all the options that are being presented to President Donald Trump about how to deal with a nuclear threat from North Korea.
That, of course, includes a military option. Nobody on the peninsula wants to see it come to that because there is still the very real fear that any kind of preemptive strike on North Korea would endanger people living here in South Korea -- George, Natalie.
HOWELL: Also, the U.S.S. Carl Vinson Striker Group deploying there, as well.
But Alexandra, the question that I have for you, what is the general mood, the overall feeling of everyday people there in South Korea?
Because the ratcheted-up rhetoric for North Korea, that's nothing new for people there but it does seem that the geopolitical optics are very different right now.
FIELD: Right. It gets the world's attention when you've got state news in North Korea publishing sentiments like the fact that there will be a merciless response if there's any kind of hostile act or provocation from the U.S. But this is the kind of messaging that people here in South Korea are aware of all the time.
This is exactly the rhetoric that you consistently hear from North Korea. There are consistent threats of nuclear war from the North Koreans. And year after year people here in South Korea watch as these missile tests happen, watch as these nuclear tests happen.
So when you're out on the street, like we were this afternoon, you're walking around; it's a beautiful day in South Korea, people are not living in any immediate fear of some kind of action from the North. But the wild card here that does have people talking and concerned is how the U.S. could respond to the next provocation from Pyongyang because you have had very strong words from Washington, D.C.
You've had these calls on China to rein in North Korea and you've had threats, frankly, from the Trump administration that, if China does not act to solve the North Korea problem, that the U.S. would.
So now you've got people here in South Korea who are turning to their leaders, the interim or the acting president here in South Korea, coming out and trying to reassure people by saying, no, the U.S. will not act in a military capacity without first consulting South Korea. The people here want to know that their fate is not being handled alone by China and the U.S. but that they will be closely consulted if the U.S. were to take any kind of action and that they would be part of the strategy going forward here -- George.
HOWELL: As we said, a lot of moving parts here. Alexandra Field, covering it all for us in Seoul, South Korea, thank you for the reporting.
ALLEN: And we'll continue our analysis of Donald Trump, what could he do in North Korea, how he is shaking things up in other parts of the world. We'll get into that, coming up next.
HOWELL: Plus, Turkey is one day away from a vote that could overhaul its political system. Why Germany's finance minister is issuing a stark warning. The story ahead.
ALLEN: Donald Trump has been president less than 100 days but his recent foreign policy decisions have rattled the world a little bit.
HOWELL: His actions in Afghanistan, North Korea and Syria, they're all sending a message. Washington is willing to flex had its military might.
But the question, what is the strategy overall?
Our Elise Labott breaks down some on of those big gestures.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, new warnings from China. As tensions rise with North Korea, the Chinese foreign minister warning that if war breaks out, quote, "There will be losses on all sides."
Russia, Iran and Syria also issue warnings to the U.S. against new strikes in Syria. The threats follow President Trump's decision to launch two major military strikes in Afghanistan and Syria.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have the greatest military in the world and they have done a job as usual. So, we have given them total authorization and that's what they're doing. And, frankly, that's why they have been so successful lately.
LABOTT: The display of military might a message to U.S. enemies and their supporters and what is quickly becoming a hallmark of Trump's emerging foreign policy.
COL. PETER MANSOOR (RET.), U.S. ARMY: President Trump has given much more leeway to his military commanders to strike. And they're striking. I And think that does send a message around the world that America's back. TRUMP: Unbelievable.
LABOTT: It's an about-face from the candidate who promised a national security strategy that put America first.
TRUMP: I want to help all of our allies. But we are losing billions and billions of dollars. We cannot be the policemen of the world.
LABOTT: But as commander in chief, Trump acknowledged the images of last week's gas attacks in Syria had a deep impact.
TRUMP: I now have responsibility and I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly.
LABOTT: In the span of a week, Trump has also changed his mind on the NATO alliance, now viewing it as a tool to counter Russian aggression in Europe.
TRUMP: I said it was obsolete. It's no longer obsolete.
LABOTT: And abandoning his hard-line stance on China, now calling President Xi Jinping a partner to counter North Korea's nuclear threats.
TRUMP: President Xi wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding. I think we had a very good chemistry together. I think he wants to help us with North Korea.
LABOTT: If the Trump foreign policy is emerging, it would be, don't have a doctrine.
TRUMP: I like to think of myself as a very flexible person. I don't have to have one specific way and if the world changes --
TRUMP: -- I go the same way, I don't change. Well, I do change.
LABOTT: Trump says he trusts his commanders pressing him to flex U.S. military muscle in Yemen, where the U.S. is stepping up against ISIS, in Iraq and Syria, where Trump has sent hundreds of additional troops to fight ISIS since taking office and in Afghanistan, where his national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, is traveling soon to plot the future of the U.S. military presence.
Trump now learning to trust the expertise of his generals he once boasted about knowing more than.
TRUMP: I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.
LABOTT: Military experts are pointing to popular saying in the military, you can delegate authority, but you cannot delegate responsibility.
And as commander in chief, President Trump still owns the consequences of the decisions taken by the military on his behalf. While he may be glad to take credit when the mission is successful, the question is, will he be willing to share accountability when things go wrong, including civilian casualties? -- Elise Labott, CNN, Washington.
ALLEN: Let's talk more about Donald Trump and what is shaking down globally with Inderjeet Parmar. He's a professor of international politics at City University and joins me now live in London.
Thanks so much, sir, for being with us. What we just saw in that story, you had Donald Trump on the campaign trail and now Donald Trump as president. The White House talking about his flexibility because things aren't always what they seem until you get into the White House. It's almost like he's now becoming aware of the world around him.
How do you assess what we're hearing from him?
INDERJEET PARMAR, CITY UNIVERSITY: Well, it's very interesting that there's been an about-face on practically every question on which he campaigned in the 2016 elections, as your report showed.
And it seems to me that partly of course is a reality of power when you get into a position of authority and responsibility, you get to know more. But I think it also seems that the unorthodox positions that he took became untenable because of that. But also I think you got a look at his domestic record since he took office.
He really has very little to suggest that he's achieved very much in the less than 100 days that he's been at the moment. His two executive orders on Muslim bans have failed. The courts have declared them unconstitutional.
His health care bill didn't even get to a vote. He has got Russia scandals about interference in the elections and he hasn't really achieved very much. So to some extent, the foreign policy aggression may well be related, to some extent, to his -- the travails of his administration domestically.
ALLEN: Flexing his muscle with the military globally and showing that he's in charge when, maybe, as we heard from Elise Labott, it's one thing to act, it's another thing to take the responsibility for those actions.
And you're right, he's changed his mind on NAFTA, Vladimir Putin, Assad in Syria, China and NATO as well.
What specifically do you make of his rhetoric with North Korea?
Is this the time to say these things since -- because of the rapidity of North Korea's testing and its harsh words about -- this has every intent to be a nuclear state with the ability to attack the United States?
PARMAR: I think the ratcheting up of the tensions is very, very dangerous. It reminds me a little bit of the madman theory that used to be used to explain President Richard Nixon. That was there's a rationality to appearing to be mad or irrational. And I think both powers here, North Korea and President Trump, are playing the same kind of game.
That is, they don't want the other party to think that there's nothing they would do. That is, there are no limits on what they might do. And I think it's a very Cold War-style game of chicken, which could go disastrously wrong, should there be some sort of military incident by accident.
And I think it goes in line with all those things that you said in your previous report, that there are more troops in different parts of -- in Afghanistan, 8,000 more troops. There's that massive bomb there just the other day, the cruise missile strikes in Syria.
There's air raids going on, more than last year in total in Yemen. This is a ratcheting up of tensions in all areas. And I think your report suggested that Trump has no doctrine. I think he has. I think he's developing now a military-first, war-first doctrine because as far as I can see, in all the areas where the military escalations have been going on, there doesn't appear to be a diplomatic plan of any form to follow it.
That is to say, if you bomb a place, what are you going to do with it --
PARMAR: -- in terms of a political settlement thereafter?
Who are you going to ally with?
Who are you going to talk to in order to implement the plan?
And it seems to me that the military first is where he seems to stand. He's given a lot of authority to the generals now.
And you're right to ask the question, when it goes well, that will be fine. But when it goes wrong, which it probably will, because it is difficult to escalate military tensions in a range of areas and for nothing to go wrong, I think there's going to be an issue.
The responsibility in the end comes to President Donald Trump. He is the commander in chief, after all, and he's the one who is going to have to pay the price.
And we're still in the -- embroiled in the controversy about the sarin chemical attack because Professor Theodore Postal (ph) of MIT has really analyzed the NSA report and shown that probably the device which delivered that wasn't dropped from the air.
So we've got some controversies coming about, which I think are going to really test what this Trump doctrine is about and whether President Trump is willing to take responsibility for all that the military is doing now. ALLEN: Yes. As you say, so many complex situations around the world and the world is watching. We thank you so much for joining us, Inderjeet Parmar, from London. Thank you.
HOWELL: It's interesting to hear that, though, the first time we've heard the idea that the president does have a strategy doctrine, a doctrine, a military-first doctrine, which would be similar to what North Korea would have, military first. And the question of who is more unpredictable.
ALLEN: I don't like to be compared to North Korea.
HOWELL: Yes, it's an interesting comparison from our guest.
ALLEN: Well, the U.S. military says dropping its most powerful nonnuclear bomb on ISIS, again, this was something else that just happened, was "the right weapon against the right target." It hit a network, as you know, of ISIS tunnels in Eastern Afghanistan.
HOWELL: Afghan officials now say at least 94 militants, including four commanders, were killed there. Barbara Starr has more.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The largest conventional bomb ever dropped in combat exploded above a complex of caves and tunnels in a remote area of Eastern Afghanistan. The top U.S. commander adamant the mission was only about killing ISIS.
GEN. JOHN NICHOLSON, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: The timing of the use of this weapon was simply the appropriate tactical moment against the proper target to use this particular munition. So it is not related to any outside events.
STARR: It does deliver a psychological message to ISIS. One military official tells CNN the massive bomb is powerful enough to destroy nine city blocks.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It will level that area and provide an unbelievable amount of concussion to that area. So it will collapse caves, it will blow up things and it will -- if you're alive afterwards, you're going to have perforated ear drums and a lot of trauma.
STARR: General Nicholson says it all went according to plan. Caves and tunnels destroyed, Afghanistan officials saying dozens of ISIS fighters killed.
NICHOLSON: We have persistent surveillance over the area before, during and after the operation. And now we have Afghan and U.S. Forces on the site and see no evidence of civilian casualties nor have there been any reports of civilian casualties.
STARR: The bomb had been in Afghanistan since early January. Nicholson signed the final order authorizing the mission just 24 hours before the bomb dropped. Afterwards, local Afghans described the enormity of the blast.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last night's bomb was really huge. When it dropped, it was shaking everywhere.
STARR: A lot of firepower was used but the estimate is there's still upwards of 800 ISIS fighters inside Afghanistan -- Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.
ALLEN: We turn now to Turkey. Voters there head to the polls Sunday for what could be a seismic change to the country's political future. A yes vote would mean sweeping constitutional changes and a power boost for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
HOWELL: Anti-Erdogan protesters are anxious, though, about the referendum's outcome. And, in Berlin, the German finance minister warns there is a risk of an Erdogan dictatorship.
Let's go live now to Istanbul with CNN's Ian Lee, following this story for us.
Ian, explain the popularity of this president and exactly why many feel that he is due more power.
IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, George, to quote former U.S. president George H.W. Bush, "It's the economy, stupid." And that's what you hear from everyone.
They say Erdogan was able to take Turkey to become one of the top 20 largest economies in the world. They say lives have increased dramatically, places in rural Turkey see better infrastructure and industry. I spoke with a man --
LEE: -- who knows him personally, probably more than most people.
IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They say nobody knows you better than your barber.
So what happens when your client is Recep Tayyip Erdogan?
Yasher Ihem (ph) has known the Turkish president for decades. To learn more, I first have to sit in the hot seat for a trim.
While chatting, he tells me, "Erdogan hasn't changed much. He has lost his hair but he's still a charismatic and handsome man," adding that, "right now, he is stronger than Putin and Trump," and that Turkey needs him.
Like a good barber, Ihem (ph) won't divulge too many secrets, like if he tips. But almost everyone here has a story about the local boy done good. "Yes, he has worked very hard for us. If he's in power, we're
relaxed. If he isn't in power, then we're screwed."
The barbershop enter leads (ph) no doubt where the patrons' loyalties lie.
Mustafa (ph) tells me, "Anyone who looks at the issues and thinks rationally will vote yes. Turkey was in a crisis before. I'm a working man and now I have a house and car."
LEE (voice-over): But step outside the barbershop and into the neighborhood, not everyone is this enthusiastic.
"What gives me concern is will it only be him in power?" this lady, who's still undecided, tells me.
"What will happen to the parliament and will the people really have a voice?"
It's the nagging question for Turks. No campaign sees this as a struggle, not only for Turkey's democracy but also the country's soul, hoping to trim Erdogan's power with a single vote.
LEE: And, George, talking to election monitors who are looking to see if this election or this vote is going to be free and fair, they say that, by and large, this is expected to be a free election, not with much tampering.
But when you look at the fair side, they say it doesn't appear to be fair. And that's because the yes campaign, they say, is using government resources. And you can see how prolific it is around Turkey. There are banners all around here, big banners that are saying, evet, which is yes in Turkish.
And then the no campaign, they aren't receiving those government funds and they've complained of intimidations, threats of violence and violence -- George.
HOWELL: Ian Lee for us, live in Istanbul, Turkey, Ian, thank you for the reporting.
ALLEN: We've been talking a lot in the past two hours about North Korea and the tension on the peninsula. Next, we'll take you to Moscow.
Could North Korea's embassy there be a front for the country's dark arts?
And does Russia know?
(MUSIC PLAYING) GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. It is good to have you with us. I'm George Howell.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And I'm Natalie Allen. Here are our top stories.
ALLEN: Back now to the news we're following from North Korea. At a military parade Saturday, Pyongyang showed off two canisters that were about the right size to hold intercontinental ballistic missiles. One analyst says these would be bigger than anything North Korea has ever produced.
HOWELL: Another weapons expert, though, told CNN they were likely just mock-ups. But a fully developed ICBM could hit targets in the mainland U.S. and in Europe.
North Korea's been aggressively developing its missile and nuclear technology for many years now.
ALLEN: CNN's Brian Todd has the latest of assessments of where its capabilities currently stands.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): CNN has learned Kim Jong- un's nuclear weapons build-up is advancing rapidly. North Korea's now estimated to have produced between 13 and 30 nuclear warheads.
That's according to a new report from former U.N. weapons inspector David Albright, whose firm examined the regime's plutonium and uranium production.
Albright stresses North Korea's nuclear program is so secretive that completely accurate figures are difficult to get. But based what he's found, the former inspector has an ominous projection for the number of warheads Kim could soon produce.
DAVID ALBRIGHT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: By the end of 2020, the numbers could go up to 25 to 50 and, in the worst case, could go up to 60.
TODD (voice-over): With a stockpile that large, analysts say, Kim's regime could make it harder for the U.S. to track his nuclear weapons.
GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR: That means they can disperse them. Most of them I suspect will be underground and that ultimately means the U.S. does not have a first strike capability because we can't be assured of taking out all of their weapons.
TODD (voice-over): U.S. intelligence officials and independent weapons experts tell CNN, Kim Jong-un's been more aggressive with nuclear and missile tests over the past year and a half than he's ever been.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies says the regime's tested missiles more than 20 times since the beginning of 2016 and tested nuclear warheads twice in that span. Albright says with each nuclear test, the young dictator gets closer to producing a more powerful --
TODD (voice-over): -- nuclear bomb.
ALBRIGHT: They can break into kind of thermonuclear weapons if they continue to test. And that would give them the ability to make a much larger explosion. It would give them ability to actually miniaturize their warheads better.
TODD (voice-over): Experts with the monitoring group 38 North believe Kim already has the ability to test a nuclear warhead 16 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, the calculations made even more menacing by the unpredictable nature of the young man with his finger on that nuclear trigger.
CHANG: I believe Kim Jong-un is even more dangerous than he appears. And the reason is that I don't think his regime is stable. And that means Kim Jong-un could have a much lower threshold of risk than we think. It means he could do something that could surprise us because, from his perspective, he may think he has little to lose.
TODD: Analysts say if Kim Jong-un conducts another nuclear test in the coming days or weeks, it's going to mean China likely was not able to use its leverage and influence over Kim Jong-un and that, they say, is a very dangerous sign -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.
ALLEN: For more analysis of the North Korean nuclear and missile programs, our colleague, Cyril Vanier, spoke earlier with Adam Mount. He is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADAM MOUNT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: North Korea is not going to give up their program for nothing.
And as they advance their nuclear missile capabilities, the price keeps rising. So you know, there's some real creative thinking that this administration is going to have to do when thinking through what it's prepared to offer, what it's prepared to pay and how to get North Korea to start talking about limits on this nuclear program.
One thing that we do know is that pressure alone is not going to be sufficient. There's no number of carrier strike groups that you can send to the peninsula that's going to in and of itself compel North Korea to come back to the table. There has to be some kind of diplomacy and unfortunately diplomacy has not been this administration's strong suit so far. So there's a lot of work to be done.
(END VIDEO CLIP) ALLEN: North Korea's arsenal isn't all that's growing. The United
Nations says the North Korean embassy in Moscow is also gaining in sophistication.
HOWELL: And the U.N. says Pyongyang may be outmaneuvering some sanctions. Our Paula Newton has this report from the Russian capital.
PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): North Korea's embassy in Moscow, singled out in a U.N. report as diplomatic cover for Kim Jong-un's illicit activities, now described as increasing in scale, scope and sophistication.
The March report draws several lines of evidence to Russia, specifically, the Korea Kumsan Trading Corporation. It's controlled by the North Korean government's atomic energy bureau and is a so- called cash route to Pyongyang.
Kumsan already sanctioned by the U.S. and U.N. deals in prohibited minerals. According to the U.N. report, Kumsan sales' address is advertised as the North Korean embassy in Moscow.
NEWTON: This embassy is at the heart of allegations into how North Korea uses its diplomatic missions as a front to skirt U.N. sanctions.
NEWTON (voice-over): Hugh Griffiths (ph) is the coordinator for the U.N. expert panel.
HUGH GRIFFITHS, U.N.: What the Kumsan investigation based at the North Korea's Russian embassy shows again is that the North Koreans continue to use their embassies a as a focus for illicit activities.
NEWTON (voice-over): The U.N. panel informed the Russian government of the activities and was told in part that Kumsan was not a registered company in Russia. The report draws no conclusions about whether Russia has given tacit approval of such activity to the North Korean regime.
But Russia makes no mention of any efforts to stop it. The Russian government told CNN it had no response to the U.N. report and referred us to the North Korean policy statement on its website.
Phone calls to the North Korean embassy went unanswered.
At issue now, how seriously Russia takes these alleged sanctions violations.
For Oxford academics, Samuel Ramani, who has been watching the relationship closely, Russia's motives are clear.
SAMUEL RAMANI, OXFORD UNIVERSITY: The Russians are beginning to have a very clear gap between their official rhetoric and their actual policies. So in practice, leading Russian officials have condemned North Korea for their unilateral aggression and for their nuclear tests. But in practice, they are continuing to back up the North Korean regime and they're very critical of U.S. policy towards North Korea.
NEWTON (voice-over): Russia shares a slim Far Eastern border with North Korea. It has some commercial, financial, educational and even questionable military links to Pyongyang.
As pointed out in a U.N. report, North Korean military personnel have attended international arms affairs in Russia. So far, Russia, unlike China, hasn't taken any further punitive measures against North Korea following its most recent nuclear tests.
Bill Richardson --
NEWTON (voice-over): -- is a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and has negotiate with North Korea.
BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: I think Russia is trying to have it both ways. They vote for more sanctions in the U.N. Security Council, the P5. So, publicly, they're for restraining North Korea, put more sanctions when North Korea conducts missile tests.
But there are reports that Russia and North Korea have gotten in a tighter relationship.
NEWTON (voice-over): All of this shows it's not just China with leverage in North Korea. Experts note that Russia is shrewdly using its ties to the regime to not only support Kim Jong-un but to try and have more influence on the outcome of any future North Korean negotiations -- Paula Newton, CNN, Moscow.
ALLEN: Back to Syria in a moment. The Syrian leader Assad dismisses video of a chemical attack in his country, openly questioning even if the victims are dead.
HOWELL: Plus, our meteorologist, Derek Van Dam, will explain a close call, an asteroid headed toward Earth. But Derek says you don't have to worry. Can't wait to hear from Derek about that.
HOWELL: -- the story ahead.
ALLEN: Recent terror attacks against Christians in Egypt failed to dissuade worshippers from attending Good Friday services.
HOWELL: Coptic Christians filled this cathedral in Alexandria, Egypt, less than a week after dozens of people died in two bombings claimed by ISIS. Church officials say they were surprised by the large turnout because they expected many people to stay home.
Large-scale evacuations are underway in Syria as civilians --
HOWELL: -- and rebels from some besieged towns are now allowed to leave.
ALLEN: Thousands of people from two Shiite towns that remained loyal to the government are being sent to Aleppo and Sunni rebel fighters, who have also been under siege, are being relocated to Idlib province. Iran brokered the swap with Russia's support.
HOWELL: And, in Moscow, the foreign ministers of Iran, Russia and Syria all met in a show of unity against the U.S. missile strikes. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov says Washington should have respected Syria's sovereignty instead of undermining the peace process.
ALLEN: The shocking carnage we see in Syria is deeply disturbing to just about everyone except the leader of that country. President Bashar al-Assad openly questions if those scenes are even real.
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has our report. And we do warn you, many of the images that you see, the victims, the children, the people that are suffering here, these images are difficult to watch.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the world of most Syrians: rubble, bombs, indiscriminate slaughter, even chemical weapons.
Welcome to the world according to Bashar al-Assad, where things that make him look bad simply didn't happen.
BASHAR AL-ASSAD, PRESIDENT OF SYRIA: We don't know whether those dead children, were they killed at Khan Sheikhoun?
Were they dead at all?
Who committed the attack if there was attack?
WALSH: Denial is nothing new for a man who was an eye doctor trained in London, yet has found himself a hated dictator. In his 17-year reign, he swung from reformist to murderous. U.S. missile strikes on talk from the Trump administration like this...
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Our view is that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.
WALSH: It's unclear whether that's on the verge of happening.
He denied that bombings like this have ever happened. He's denied being behind this sarin massacre in 2013 before agreeing to give his chemical weapons up under pressure from Russia.
Denial pretty easy if your world is in a palace that you haven't really left for five years. In fact, this may be the only time Assad left war time Damascus in a military plane en route to meet Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin -- a public sign of the Russian support that has turned the war in his favor.
The center of Damascus is a lot quieter than the rest of Syria, at least now when the regime on the military front hurt. When a place is damaged, it's often repaired.
The Syrian first lady, British-born Asma al-Assad, once a brief darling of "Glamour" magazine, even dubbed, quote, "a rose in the desert" by "Vogue," can enjoy the charm she flaunts on Instagram, often sharing photos of her with her family.
Assad never knew this lonely, twisted role was coming his way, rushing into the presidency after his older brother's fatal car crash, yet he adapted to it with terrifying speed and strategic patience, the last man standing in his warped reality, whose personal fate influences how much longer his people suffer -- Nick Paton Walsh, CNN.
HOWELL: I very cautiously read this next headline to you. But a large asteroid is hurtling towards Earth. But here is the guy to tell us, there's really no reason to freak out right now.
DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: All right, let's be clear, George, Natalie and everybody watching at home, zero percent chance of this thing reaching us here on Earth.
HOWELL: Can you say that again?
VAN DAM: Zero percent.
ALLEN: -- kind of bad news already.
VAN DAM: I know, I know. And I'm trying to (INAUDIBLE) because you can actually go outside and see this with your own eye. You need a telescope. But just a traditional telescope will actually work and it'll happen on Wednesday.
But here is the details. You need to know this. We'll call it an asteroid close call if you call 1 million or 1.1 million miles away from us a close call, then that's on you.
This may seem far away for you and I, but astronomers call this a galactic equivalent to being grazed by a bullet. This is about 2,000 feet long. It's a very dull name, by the way, it's 2014 JO25. And the thing about it is, it is actually larger than the Freedom Tower in New York City.
If you're lucky enough to get outside and see this, it will happen in the night sky late on this Wednesday.
Now I'm going to test your skills here.
Do you remember science school?
How well did you pay attention?
Do you remember the difference between an asteroid and a meteor?
Let's talk about it. Show you some footage that was captured in San Diego. This is by one of those little cameras on someone's doorstep. That, my friends, is a meteor close up. You can see that burning in the night sky.
The difference between an asteroid and a meteor, a meteor is a small rock that reaches the Earth's atmosphere and vaporizes before it reaches the ground. An asteroid is a large rock that orbits around the Earth's sun.
HOWELL: "Star Wars" fans are definitely feeling the force right now.
ALLEN: First trailer has just been released for "The Last Jedi," the new film in the sci-fi saga. And it's burning up the Internet. It always does. It's a top-trending topic on Twitter.
HOWELL: The sneak peek has glimpses of favorite characters, including the late Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.
ALLEN: This will be episode 8 for "Star Wars." But you'll have to wait eight months to see it. "The Last Jedi" hits theaters December 15th.
HOWELL: May the force be with you today. Thanks for being with us. I'm George Howell.
ALLEN: I'm Natalie Allen. For viewers here in the U.S., "NEW DAY" starts now. For everyone else around the world, "AMANPOUR" starts in just a moment. Thanks for watching CNN.