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AT THIS HOUR

Kim Jong-Un: President Trump "Mentally Deranged"; Defiant Iran Unveils New Long Range Ballistic Missile; North Korea Threatens Hydrogen Bomb Test In Pacific; Dominican Republic Reels From Flooding; Millions Still Without Power In Puerto Rico; National Hurricane Center Issues New Update On Maria; Death Toll Soars To 286 After Mexico Earthquake. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 22, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


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[11:00:15]

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera in for Kate Bolduan. Happy Friday. Let's get right to the new taunts between President Trump and the leader of North Korea escalating to new heights this morning. The rhetorical brinksmanship now leading to regime and threatening its most provocative nuclear test yet, setting off a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean.

This morning, President Trump hurled more insults on Twitter saying the North Korean leader is, quote, "a madman who doesn't mind starving or killing his people and he will be tested like never before."

That comes hours after Kim Jong-un himself delivered a rare televised statement in which he directly responded to President Trump's speech this week at the United Nations General Assembly.

Kim called President Trump, quote, "a frightened dog who barks louder" saying that "He will face results beyond his expectation and I will tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire."

We have got reaction coming in from our Ben Wedeman in Tokyo. But first let's get right to CNN global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott here with me in New York. Elise, you've been covering the U.N. General Assembly here and we're also hearing from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this morning.

ELISE LABOTT, GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, he was talking about the nuclear options the military options that really do exist. You know, there is all this taunting, as you said, between President Trump and Kim Jong-un and a lot of it, you know, is rhetoric.

But I think that President Trump and certainly Secretary Tillerson wants the North Korean regime to know that if they even think about any kind of nuclear test, or any kind of hydrogen bomb over the Pacific, as Kim Jong-un had said, there will be a real sorry situation for Kim Jong-un. Take a listen to Secretary Tillerson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they drop an H-bomb in the Pacific, if they somehow attached nuclear capability to one of these missiles, will the U.S. have to act?

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: That will be the president's decision, David. There will be assembled and there is assembled on a standing basis a national security council that meets to advise the president and it will be his decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LABOTT: What he's really trying to say to Kim Jong-un is, despite all of this taunting and rhetoric back and forth, this would be suicidal for the regime -- Ana.

CABRERA: They want to keep him on his heels. Meantime, let's step back for a second. The fact that Kim Jong-un himself made this statements on camera going directly after the president, personally, have you ever seen anything like it before?

CABRERA: This is really unprecedented. I mean, usually these statements are never in Kim Jong-un's name or with a picture of him with these statements and I think it shows that President Trump is certainly getting in his head. This is not the usual rhetoric fact and forth between North Korea and the United States.

This is very personal and, you know, President Trump I think Kim Jong- un has really met his match in terms of brinksmanship. The question is, what kind of taunts, what kind of threats from President Trump would set Kim off?

You know, here in the United States, there's certainly much more of a responsible military assessment before they use military action, but with such an unstable leader, no one really knows what it would take to set Kim Jong-un off.

Yes, the U.S. does have military options, but, you know, all military commanders and officials have said, none of them are good ones and, you know, the military action would really be unthinkable.

So, you know, certainly everyone is trying to push this towards a diplomatic solution, but that's getting harder and harder with this rhetoric.

CABRERA: We were talking about millions of people who would lose their lives should it escalate to a military confrontation of some sort. Meantime, we have Iran also thumbing its nose at President Trump, showing off its own military might with this new long-range ballistic missile that it paraded out there in Tehran. Tell us more about this?

LABOTT: Well, it's this new long-range ballistic missile that could have 2,000-kilometer range, the biggest ever, and I think that's what this administration is trying to talk about. When there's all this talk about the nuclear deal and whether the U.N. would stay in or stay out, the administration has kind of like, you know, been a little bit more clearer about what they are thinking in the last few days.

And they are saying listen, we want to have a comprehensive approach to Iran. It's not just about the nuclear deal. You know, they say that nuclear deal was meant to really improve Iran's behavior. That's not really true.

This was a very limited nuclear deal about Iran's nuclear activity, however, they're saying that you need to look at Iran's missile program, at Iran's sponsorship of terrorism and all these human rights violations.

The problem is, that the U.S. signed on to this deal, its partners are saying, and even the United States admits that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal. So, I think now what you see is the administration saying, well, we may not certify the deal, but that doesn't mean that we're going to pull out altogether. Maybe we'll just focus on these other aspects and destabilization.

CABRERA: Trying to add on to the deal.

[11:05:12] LABOTT: The one problem very quickly is that when you relate this to North Korea, what incentive does North Korea have to sign an agreement to curb its nuclear ambitions when it sees Iran do the same thing and now the U.S. moving the goal posts.

And so, when the U.S. makes a deal with another country, it really threatens the credibility of the international order and the United States if they're threatening to move the goal posts and walk out of the deal now.

So, I don't see where the incentive is for North Korea to have a diplomatic solution when they look at what's happening with Iran right now.

CABRERA: Where do we go from here, that's the big question. Elise Labott, thank you so much for the insight and your expertise.

Back to the unfolding crisis with North Korea, I want to turn to CNN's senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, live in Tokyo for us. Ben, what are you hearing there from U.S. allies in the region about this latest threat, very specific threat, of a nuclear test over the Pacific?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly here in Japan, officials are very worried about this statement, this threat of the possibility of blowing a hydrogen bomb above the Pacific.

Keep in mind that North Korea over the past month has fired two ballistic missiles over Japanese territory, and, of course, Japan has a very unhappy history when it comes to nuclear weapons.

And they're concerned, we heard, for instance, from the Japanese defense minister today, who said that they are worried that in addition to having missiles flying over, now they could face the possibility of a nuclear tipped missile being fired over Japanese territory.

And they're worried that this would severely destabilize not only the region, but the world in general, if Korean officials, North Korean officials, actually go ahead with this very disturbing threat -- Ana.

CABRERA: All right. Ben Wedeman for us in Tokyo, thank you very much.

I want to discuss all of this now with Gary Samore, the former top nuclear adviser for President Obama, and Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA North Korea analyst. Gary, so when North Korea's foreign minister says a response, quote, "could probably mean the strongest hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean." What exactly would that look like?

GARY SAMORE, FORMER OBAMA ADVISER, ARMS CONTROL AND WMD: Well, in theory, North Korea could fire a test missile armed with a nuclear warhead into the Pacific and detonate it over the ocean. I frankly think that's not very likely, although Kim Jong-un is always capable of miscalculating.

I think much more likely is that North Korea will test an ICBM, a long-range missile in a normal trajectory to show its full range but without a nuclear warhead on it. I think that's likely to be the next shoe that drops in this test campaign.

CABRERA: Does it surprise you that they were so specific?

SAMORE: Well, it wasn't very specific actually, if you looked at the statement, it was a bit ambiguous. But in any event, it's a threat and, you know, clearly the North Koreans are taking advantage of President Trump's intemperate speech at the U.N. in order to justify the next steps they probably planned to take anyway.

And I think the challenge for President Trump is to avoid saying things that causes him to be seen as part of the problem. Many governments are alarmed by the escalation and rhetoric and I think it would be in the interest of the United States for President Trump to appear to be reasonable and very responsible.

And let the North Koreans engage in wild rhetoric and personal insults. Unfortunately, where I think the president is in danger of creating a situation where he's seen as being at the same level of Kim Jong-un in terms of irresponsible words.

CABRERA: Sue Mi, if this has reached a level which they're talking about specifically detonating a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean, this war of words continues to escalate, but the threats themselves continue to escalate as well. Where does it put us in terms of this crisis?

SUE MI TERRY, FORMER CIA NORTH KOREA ANALYST: Not a good place, but I do agree with what Gary just said. They hinted at it, but it doesn't mean they're actually going to do this. A lot of things the North Koreans can do and I do agree probably intercontinental ballistic test is more likely next step. But or even a (inaudible) or a lot of other things the North Koreans can do. But I do think, you know, when I saw Mr. Trump's speech at the U.N., I knew that this was going to be very counterproductive. North Koreans have to act and react.

And I've been following North Korea for many years and I have to tell you, I have never seen a statement like this. This is very personal statement first person, Kim Jong-un, he -- this is very personal.

[11:10:05] So, he has to act domestically, too, to show to the elites and his populists that he's not caving to U.S. pressure.

CABRERA: I hear you both say skepticism is the key word in hearing the threat from North Korea, however, Gary, if North Korea were to go there, what do you think the next step should be by the U.S.?

SAMORE: Well, we would certainly go back to the U.N. Security Council and I think get international support for even stronger sanctions. Frankly, the Kim Jong-un has been doing a favor for us. His testing campaign in the last couple years has allowed us to enlist Chinese and Russian support since 2016, to put sanctions on North Korea's economy.

Of course, that hasn't produced the desired result of deterring further testing, but there's still a lot more sanctions that can be applied if China was willing and I think if North Korea carried out an atmospheric nuclear test, I think the Chinese would join us in supporting even stronger economic sanctions.

CABRERA: Do the sanctions that were announced yesterday by the U.S. administration make a difference?

SAMORE: Well, they'll make a difference in the sense that they will cause additional damage to North Korea's economy. I don't think the sanctions by themselves are likely to force Kim Jong-un to capitulate.

The purpose of sanctions, of course, is to create bargaining leverage, if we ever get back to the bargaining table. So, we can trade sanctions relief for constraints on North Korea's nuclear missile program.

But at this point, the idea of having a negotiation with North Korea doesn't seem to be very plausible. I mean, neither Pyongyang or Washington are in the mood to sit down and talk. I think we will go through a series of tests and sanctions for some period of time before even the possibility of having a real negotiation opens up.

CABRERA: Since this administration has said it's trying something new or at least a different approach in terms of dealing with the leader of North Korea, tougher talk, because in the past, what has happened, hasn't worked. How do you perceive the impact of this strategy, the president has pursued, tougher talk, for example, in terms of the outcome that we're seeing right now?

TERRY: Well, I think tougher sanctions are -- is helpful. I don't think tougher talk in the kind of rhetoric coming out of the Trump administration is not helpful. It's actually undermining what Trump is trying to do, trying to get international support, because you don't want to be like Kim Jong-un. You have to elevate yourself. You're the president of the United States.

CABRERA: You don't want to fight fire with fire?

TERRY: Kim Jong-un's statement yesterday is kind of interesting. He's acting like more of a mature person, talking down, saying Mr. Trump is not fit to be the leader of a country. So, I do think what Trump is trying to do in terms of pressure --

CABRERA: He called him deranged. I don't know if --

TERRY: -- (Inaudible) Trump going after secondary boycott against Chinese entities and third-party entities. All of this pressure is good. I just wish he would tone down the rhetoric because that's not helpful.

CABRERA: All right. Sue Mi and Gary Samore, thank you both. We appreciate it.

Coming up for us, a shocking development in the search for survivors in Mexico following that deadly earthquake. The Mexican Navy is now apologizing for reports that a young girl was trapped and still alive in the wreckage of an elementary school. We'll explain ahead.

Plus, the fight over Obamacare heating up. President Trump issuing a new warning to his fellow Republicans in the Senate, get in line or become a political punching bag. Stay with us.

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[11:17:52]

CABRERA: At this hour, Hurricane Maria is still churning through the Caribbean. Right now, this massive storm is lashing the Turks and Caicos islands with winds of more than 120 miles per hour and then it threatens the Bahamas across the region.

The death toll is still rising in Maria's wake. On the island of Dominica, the prime minister says at least 15 people are now confirmed dead and dozens of people are still missing.

CNN is among the few news agencies to reach Dominica where even the most basic supplies are now running out. Meantime, check out some images we have now of the flooding in the Dominican Republic.

That nation was only dealt a glancing blow from the storm and in Puerto Rico, the governor says at least 13 people have died there. He also cautions vast areas of this island are still cut off from communications and are completely inaccessible.

So, the death toll may very well climb as thousands of National Guard and Army reserve troops now make their way through the flooded and the blocked streets. Puerto Rico's 3.4 million people are without power. Some may have to wait for months before it is restored.

Let's begin our coverage of Hurricane Maria in the capital of Puerto Rico, and CNN's Leyla Santiago joins us from San Juan -- Leyla.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right now, government officials are actually trying to figure out what is basically a logistical nightmare, how they are going to allocate all of the resources that they expect to come into the San Juan Airport from FEMA, from other states, New York.

Bringing in generators, water, food, anything to provide some sort of relief for the most vulnerable right now that they can't get to because of flooding or debris like that is seen all over the island blocking roads.

Even the government here admitting that they have not been able to reach certain parts of the island. Not just by road, but also by land. There's a lot of questions as far as damage assessment goes, but we did talk to the mayor of San Juan and she actually was telling us she received a text message that was very touching to her.

[11:20:07] She received it from a home of elderly. I want you to hear how she described it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: We are stuck here. We can't get out. We have no power and we have very little water left. We got there just in time. The FEMA workers that came from New York and from Houston, joined us there. It was a very touching moment. If I can save one life, that would be good enough, but I have too many to save.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANTIAGO: Very emotional for government officials. The mayor of the capital and the people here, Ana. I cannot stress this enough. When we talk to people on the streets, they have a series of questions. One, do you have power, where do they have power. This entire island doesn't have power.

Two, do you have water and then three, do you have a signal. Can you reach your family? So many people on this island have yet to reach their families to just find out if they're OK.

CABRERA: Wow. Leyla Santiago, thank you so much for that update. You point to the communications difficulties and we know even the Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor has family who she can't reach. It has wide ranging tentacles touching so many people here in the mainland as well. Thank you so much.

We are getting an update from the National Hurricane Center now on the path of Maria and what's next. I want to go to our weather center and CNN meteorologist, Chad Myers. Chad, is there any potential still to the U.S. mainland?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, 12 hours ago we said no. After this update, it's still a maybe, and an honestly probably, Ana 2 percent to 5 percent chance of that happening. And so, you know, weather people always use percentages, whether it's rain or sunshine or whatever it might be.

What we know right now is that the storm is still 125 miles per hour and that it is not losing strength. Hurricane hunters flying back and forth seeing the storm as still a strong storm.

Finally, now, though, we have enough clearing in San Juan, that we're going to send a helicopter to St. Croix to get some pictures and some really some feeling for what's going on there because it's almost been a total blackout there.

The east side of the island not as bad, but finally now things clearing out because the storm is moving away. We can actually move around as crews and not be in danger of being hit by flying debris with an 80-mile-per-hour wind gust.

Here is that slight shift to the left that the hurricane center just talked about on their discussion and it's because the European model has a -- just a slight shift to the left, but then back out to the right.

Now, obviously we're already up here, five days ahead, we can't talk about seven to eight, nine, ten because there is no such thing as that forecast. In fact, as we know, day three forecast is rarely 100 percent anyway. Probably 200 miles apart one way or the other.

But look at Garcia and Puerto Rico, they picked up a yard, three feet of rain in 24 hours, Ana. There is not a place in America that won't flood with that kind of rainfall that quickly, and they're still dealing with the flash floods there.

CABRERA: And it harkens back to Hurricane Harvey and that kind of rainfall, we saw with what that meant in the streets in Texas. We don't have all the images of that in Puerto Rico, but we can imagine what that's looking like and the situation there. Chad Myers, thanks for that update.

Let's go to Mexico now because another tragedy is unfolding and unfortunately, time is quickly running out for rescuers to find survivors in the rubble and the collapsed buildings after Tuesday's huge earthquake there. Rain has now slowed the efforts and the death toll has gone up yet again. Now at 286 people killed from this earthquake.

Let's go live to CNN's Miguel Marquez in Mexico City. Miguel, for days we've been talking about these rescue efforts to try to reach a trapped schoolgirl and today there's been an odd update. Tell us about it.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's a little hard to see. I think there's a lot of egg on official faces. The deputy Marine, the deputy of the Navy Department here who was running the operation there, who yesterday said this little girl never existed, I never said anything, my people never said anything, has now sort of backtracked to where the government is saying look, we don't know who's under there. It could be a little girl or an adult. We are not sure. In a statement saying I was basing the information we gave out earlier about the little girl on the best information we had given what they were finding in that collapsed school and what they were seeing on the various means that they were using to test whether there was somebody down there.

[11:25:03] Apologized for basically saying that there was no little girl in there. I will say that it has caused a lot of heartache among families in that neighborhood that so much hope was there, that others would be found alive.

And to find out that, in fact, no one else or no little girls were alive in that building, there's a lot of frustration among many Mexicans that this information was given out and then retracted and now kind of falls in the middle saying we don't know who's down there, an adult or a little girl -- Ana.

CABRERA: So, one, are they still trying to rescue someone from that school wreckage and tell us also about the other rescues and efforts that you're seeing taking place there?

MARQUEZ: They are still trying to get into that school and still trying to figure out if there's somebody alive down there, but I will tell you, having spent 24 hours there when we left last night, and all reports this morning are the level of urgency there has gone down dramatically.

We're in a really beautiful neighborhood in Central Mexico and I want to show you this building, a multiuse building of both apartments and offices. You can see for the first time in a while we can see rescuers that are starting to go into the building from the building next to it partially collapsed.

In that partially collapsed building, like it's any other day, you can see the jackets and purses and sort of everything looks neat and tidy next to the front door of that building, but the entire building next to it is collapsed.

Two things here are important. One, they believe that there may be people trapped on the backside of the building near the emergency exits. They're not sure how many. They believe there may be dozens of people in this building dead or alive, but they did get some heat signatures on the back side of the building.

Because they've had heavy rains the last couple days the water has weighed down the building and it's very difficult for them to get there. There was a complete work stoppage. They said that building was in imminent danger of collapse. All workers were called off.

We've just seen a few appear on the top. They looked around, and now appears that they're trying to get around to the backside of the building to see if they can access it some other way. It is hoped that there are cavities in that building where people are still alive -- Ana.

CABRERA: We keep looking at these images. I keep thinking I would love to see as we all would somebody emerge be pulled from that wreckage and be OK. Miguel Marquez, thank you for that update for the hard work you are doing out there in Mexico City.

Coming up for us here in CNN's AT THIS HOUR, the battle over the Republicans' last-ditch effort to overhaul Obamacare is just getting hotter. President Trump now calling out Republican senators who have concerns about the new bill and he is not holding back. We'll have the details just ahead.

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