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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Nuclear Brinksmanship; Trump: Kim Will "Regret It Fast" If North Korea Attacks Guam. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 11, 2017 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:00]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon. And welcome to the lead. I'm Jake Tapper.

We have breaking news in our world lead.

Just minutes ago, President Trump issued a brand-new warning to North Korea, saying that Kim Jong-un will not get away with what he's doing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If he does anything with respect to Guam or anyplace else that's an American territory or an America ally, he will truly regret it and he will regret it fast.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Earlier today, the president used language one might be more accustomed to hearing in a Hollywood action flick than in actual international diplomacy and geopolitics, tweeting -- quote -- "Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully, Kim Jong-un will find another path."

In just minutes, the president will meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser and Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

Before the president's latest tweet, North Korean officials said in a statement to state-run media that the U.S. is -- quote -- "driving the situation to the brink of a nuclear war and "would suffer a shameful defeat and final doom if the U.S. persists in extreme military adventure."

We have our team of CNN correspondents spread out across the world from Guam, Tokyo, and Beijing to the Pentagon and New Jersey, where the president is on his working vacation.

We're going to begin with CNN's Barbara Starr, who is at the Pentagon.

Barbara, take a last to what the president said when he was asked what words locked and loaded meant militarily. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think it's pretty obvious. We are looking at that very carefully.

And I hope that they are going to fully understand the gravity of what I said. And what I said is what I mean. So, hopefully, they will understand, Peter, exactly what I said and the meaning of those words. Those words are very, very easy to understand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Very, very easy to understand, what do you make of that and what are you hearing from people at the Pentagon?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, we will see if Kim Jong-un understands what Donald Trump is saying.

What the president is doing over the last couple of days, people will tell you, is laying out a military strategy for dealing with Korea in a way that we have not seen him do it before.

He has gone bit by bit and he's started by talking about if they initiate something, the U.S. will react, today, narrowing it down, being much more specific, if they attack an American ally, an American territory, Guam, if you will. He's laying out these are his lines in which the U.S. will respond.

He has he isn't ruling out a preemptive strike, but you haven't heard a lot about that. This is all about if North Korea makes the move to attack America through Guam, firing those four missiles at Guam, as they have threatened to do.

And he talked today, very interestingly, I thought, about the U.S. being able to react fast. What we know is that the U.S. military for weeks now has had options for the president for so-called rapid- response option if it came to that.

They are ready. Locked and loaded, maybe those are Hollywood words, but the military reality is the U.S. has the THAAD missile defense in Guam, it has ships at sea that can shoot down North Korean missiles, it has troops in South Korea, in Japan, spread across the Pacific.

They have aircraft, bomber aircraft, fighter jets. Everything is really in place if the president gives the order, if it comes to that, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

CNN's Martin Savidge is in Guam, the U.S. territory at the center of this conflict right now, and home to two U.S. military bases and nearly 200,000 Americans.

Martin, a Guamamanian official -- I'm sorry -- a Guamanian official said it would take just 14 minutes for a North Korean missile to reach the island. That's the headline the nearly 200,000 U.S. citizens in Guam, including 7,000 service members, woke up to this morning.

How are preparations going there?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's two kinds of preparations, Jake, going on here.

One is of course the physical of the emergency supplies, say, what you might lay in for a hurricane, typhoon. And then there's the mental preparations. That one is a lot more difficult. You mentioned the headline in the paper. It's a new day, a new headline, missile watch.

But look at the one at the bottom down here. It says officials -- quote -- "Do not look at the flash." That's a direct reference to any kind of nuclear fireball that could, in fact, come if Kim Jong-un were to carry through on his attack.

Let me point out something else. The governor here is trying to play it down very carefully. He's telling people that, look, life should go on as normal. You're safe and sound on this island. It's the old keep calm and carry on.

But then you have got the civil defense and the homeland security of Guam, and they're putting out a fact sheet about what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, including, yes, don't look at the fireball. By the way, get beneath something for any kind of shelter. Duck and cover, you may remember from the Cold War era.

[16:05:02]

On top of that, they're saying, if it does go off, stay inside your home for 24 hours to avoid the fallout, scrub yourself down in a shower with soap and water vigorously.

All of this is designed to make people understand the severity of the situation. It is truly one they worry about here, Guam -- Jake.

TAPPER: That's quite a headline in the paper there. Martin Savidge, thank you.

In the event of a launch towards Guam from North Korea, North Korean state media says its missiles would fly over key regions of Japan.

CNN's Kyung Lah is in Tokyo, Japan, for us.

Kyung, what steps are being taken to try to counter any potential military escalation?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a very visible step, and it's something that is being done in public view, the Japanese military moving ground-based PAC-3 missile interceptors into those regions that were specifically called out by the North Koreans as any potential missile heading to Guam.

These are areas that would fly specifically over Japan. And overnight, in the overnight hours here in Japan, those interceptors were moved on to bases in four locations of those areas. And something we need to point out, Jake, one of those areas is Hiroshima. This country views everything through its history. The constitution here is a pacifist one. And what we're seeing here are people who actually bare the scars of the only nuclear bomb that's ever been dropped on a country.

They are arming themselves via their Self-Defense Ministry for anything to potentially hit this country, so a defensive posture here in Japan.

TAPPER: That's right, Hiroshima and Nagasaki on this week in 1945.

Kyung Lah, thank you so much.

Another key player in the region, of course, is China. An editorial published in a Chinese state-controlled newspaper today said, if North Korea launches missiles at the U.S., China will remain neutral, but if the U.S. and South Korea initiate, then China will take action.

CNN's Will Ripley is in Beijing.

Will, now we hear that Russia and China are working together?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are trying to convince the United States to suspend the military exercises scheduled to begin later this month, as they always do in August and April.

And, as they always do, they anger Pyongyang. North Korea often launches missiles during those military exercises, which are happening miles from their own borders, because they tell their people that the military exercises which the U.S. insists are just for training purposes are actually a dress rehearsal for an invasion.

Interesting you mentioned that article, that editorial in "The Global Times." It's a tabloid here in China, but it does represent the views of at least some factions of the Chinese government, implying that if the United States were to use a preemptive strike on North Korea, that China would actually intervene.

That really changes the whole dynamic. And even though that's not the official government line, there are analysts who believe it does reflect the unspoken policy of China, which continues to issue statements urging all sides to remain calm and collected and to defuse tensions, not aggravate them with the kind of rhetoric that we just heard from the president minutes ago, Jake.

TAPPER: President Trump says the American military is "locked and loaded" when it comes to North Korea. What does that mean? We will talk to a retired Air Force combat commander who led thousands serving in Japan, Korea, Hawaii, and Guam.

That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:12:17]

TAPPER: We're back with more in our world lead.

President Trump's new warning to North Korea just moments ago, if it does anything to Guam or any U.S. territory or any U.S. ally, Kim Jong-un will -- quote -- "regret it fast."

The U.S. has the most powerful military in the world, but experts say a war with North Korea would, of course, have catastrophic consequences regardless.

Joining me now to talk about this, retired Air Force General Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle He was commander of the Air Combat Command. He also led 45,000 U.S. airmen serving in Japan, Korea, Hawaii, and Guam as the commander of Pacific Air Forces.

Thanks so much for being here. Appreciate it.

GEN. HERBERT "HAWK" CARLISLE (RET), U.S. AIR FORCE: Thanks, Jake. Appreciate it.

So, you just retired in May, so congratulations on your service. Well done.

CARLISLE: Thank you. Thank you.

TAPPER: Let me ask you about the president's rhetoric.

And, first of all, let me also say, of course, of course, Kim Jong-un is the bad guy here. He's the one that runs an unstable country and is a human rights oppressor. And if anybody criticizes President Trump, that's not to say that Kim Jong-un should be favorably treated.

But, that said, we're hearing language from the president that we're not used to hearing when it comes to international crises or showdowns with individuals like Kim Jong-un. Fire and fury. Locked and loaded. He will regret it fast.

What's your take on that rhetoric?

CARLISLE: Well, Korea's been going downhill for a long time. And, so, over several administrations, what we have tried hasn't really worked.

But at the end of the day, we've been -- the one thing the military does very well is plan. And we have been planning for a long time. And the term that's often used for the Korean Peninsula is the fight tonight mantra.

TAPPER: What does that mean, the fight tonight?

CARLISLE: It means the folks on the Korean Peninsula and the vicinity of that are ready to go at a moment's notice. They're ready. They're always on call. They're always ready.

And that means that we don't know what's going to happen. And we know that he's unpredictable, he's irrational, so that we have to be ready, because he can do anything at any time. And we are in close proximity, so the challenge for us is that we have dominant airpower.

We have dominant naval power. We have a very, very credible and good missile defense system. We have great partners and allies in the Koreans, south Koreans, but he has -- the challenges he can throw out way is time and distance.

TAPPER: So, when you're dealing with somebody who is an unpredictable and unreliable actor, like Kim Jong-un, the argument from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is President Trump using threats like fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen, is that Kim Jong-un doesn't speak diplomatic language, he doesn't respond to the kind of calm language that President Clinton and George W. Bush and Barack Obama used.

Therefore, President Trump is using language that maybe he will understand. Do you agree with that? Do you have any concerns about using that kind of heated rhetoric?

CARLISLE: Yes, you know, I'm not inside those discussions.

[16:15:01] And I will tell you, I mean, I know Secretary Mattis, I worked for him a couple of times. I have the utmost respect and admiration for him, and obviously, I don't know Secretary Tillerson very well, but those conversations inside the administration, I really don't know how they're, what they're talking about or how that's going.

I will tell you the way the president talks to me, kind of goes back to the days of brinkmanship, diplomacy. It almost feels that way back in the Cold War days where, you know, you get to the point of -- you're almost to the brink and then you find out, you know, what's going to happen then?

So, I think what is happening now if you look at it across the administration, between Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis, obviously, the president, General McMaster, the national security advisor, I know they're all talking and thinking about it. I do know, I don't think a rational player will respond rationally. And that's the part that's concerning.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We heard that China or there was an op-ed in the Chinese newspaper that represents a faction of the Chinese government saying that if North Korea starts something militarily, China will refrain from any action, but if the U.S. or South Korea do, China will not. That seems concerning that China is basically saying, there better not be a preemptive strike, but if their North Korea strikes, we're not responsible.

CARLISLE: Right. And -- that it is, it's incredibly concerning because the fact that -- well, the fact that it's neutral is good and that if we did something to defend ourselves with missile defense or there's an attack coming our way and it was eminent and it was attribution, we knew that was going to happen, our ability to defend against that and then, you know, retaliate, that they'd stay neutral, that's good. The idea of a preemptive strike, though, that's a huge challenge. We

can win the war. I think -- General Dunford, the chairman said that and I believe that. We have dominant air power, dominant naval power. We have the capability, but the cost would be extraordinary.

TAPPER: What would the cost be? Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of --

CARLISLE: It goes back to time and distance. We know that he can do things -- he's an insular authoritarian state that doesn't have to worry about allies or partners. So, he can do things very rapidly.

So, time is a factor. And then distance. Greater Seoul metropolitan area is about 25 miles away. Scary.

TAPPER: Yes, and 14 minutes to Guam.

CARLISLE: It's just the challenges that it poses to the military. We could win it, but there's huge challenges getting there.

TAPPER: All right. General, thanks so much for being here. We really appreciate your time. Congratulations again on your service.

CARLISLE: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: In just minutes, President Trump holds a high level meeting on the North Korean threat with some top advisors. We're going to go live to the president's golf club in New Jersey, next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:22:12] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

More on the breaking news this hour. President Trump again turning up the language on North Korea just minutes ago. He will hold another high level meeting in minutes with U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, national security advisor, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as the threats reach even more volatile territory.

CNN's Athena Jones is traveling with the president in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

And, Athena, President Trump not dialing it back again.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jake, not at all. This is the third time this week, not counting the president's remarks on twitter. This is the third time we've heard him deliver a stern warning or you could call it a threat to North Korea.

Let's play a little bit of what he had to say once again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If he does anything with respect to Guam or any place else that's an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it and he will regret it fast.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: Now, the president also said that Kim Jong-un would regret uttering a threat in the form of an overt threat toward Guam or any other U.S. territory or ally. Well, Jake, as we know, Kim Jong-un uttered a threat, the threat to Guam. And so, you have leaders around the world, certainly in that region, listening very, very closely to the president's words, and it may not be exactly clear what sort of action would be necessary to prompt a reaction, certainly military- wise from the U.S.

What is clear is that the president wants to continue to be strong, to put forward a strong front towards North Korea to encourage them to back down. As you mentioned at the top of the hour, the president is going to be sitting down with U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, to discuss this issue. So, we could still hear more from him on this topic -- Jake.

TAPPER: We've heard from a lot of members of Congress, how are they reacting to the president's words?

JONES: Well, it's interesting. We don't have reaction yet to what he just said. We know that earlier this week, his fellow Republican Senator Marco Rubio defended the president's threat of fire and fury against any sort of North Korean aggression. We've also heard members of his own party say that he -- they want to see him perhaps deliver an Oval Office address to the nation about this topic. So, a range of reactions from members of Congress -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Athena Jones, traveling with the president in New Jersey, thanks so much.

While the prospect of war against North Korea looms, on the horizon, we're going to take an inside look at an internal war against the president's national security advisor.

Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back.

Our politics lead, now a source knowledgeable about the day-to-day challenges of national security advisor, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, describes to CNN an incredibly difficult work environment for the man who is trying to help President Trump steer this intense international crisis with North Korea.

Quote, McMaster knows that he's under attack from all sides in the building, the source told me. It's ferocious. Noting that even people within the White House are trying to undermine McMaster and discredit him because he does not share their nationalistic foreign policy views.

In the last couple of weeks however, the campaign against McMaster outside and inside the White House, has intensified and now, we're getting a closer look at some of the rather extreme views McMaster is being pilloried for not sharing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): While the president's national security advisor and the National Security Council are trying to provide guidance to President Trump as he attempts to navigate an escalating high stakes showdown with North Korea, they're also facing attacks from outside the White House and from within the White House.

Lieutenant General McMaster, the national security advisor to the president, has been fending off an information and sometimes disinformation campaign against him by a warring faction vying for power under the same White House roof -- allies of the president's senior strategist Steve Bannon and those of his first fired national security advisor, General Michael Flynn.

MICHAEL ALLEN, SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT, 2005-2009: It's really a fight for the soul of President Trump as he grapples with, should I be more of a traditional national security president or should I try in and be a foreign policy president in my campaign voice?