tv CNN Newsroom CNN December 19, 2011 6:00am-8:00am PST
that's it for us, but ou coverage of the developments in north korea will continue. >> a special edition of cnn newsroom with our wolf blitzer starts right now. hey, wolf. >> thanks very much, guys. we begin this hour with the death of kim jong il. late last night north korea dramatically announced his death and allowed a rare peek inside the secretive country. state-run newscasts showed citizens weeping and inconsolable. kim was revered in a nation that's often been described as a cult, but his almost cartoonish appearance belied a fearsome determination. his people starved while he developed nuclear weapons and amassed a huge military, always potentially ready to strike. the man likely to take over, his youngest son, kim jong eun is mostly unknown, mostly untrained for the job ahead of him and
today the world is asking what happens next. i'm wolf blitzer in washington. we want to welcome our special -- our viewers through our special coverage of kim jong il's death. we're covering all the angles of this developing story. we have reporters across the world from beijing to the pentagon, to london, to the white house and beyond. instability in the region is a major worry right now. stan grant is in beijing and is joining us now live. stan, just a couple of hours ago we learned north korea test fired a short-range missile. what's the reaction in china, which obviously has the closest of relations with north korea? >> reporter: no reaction to that report of the short-range missile being fired. we know that north korea has these and has carried out these types of test firings before. out of south korea there have been reports that they don't see this as having been a hostile act towards south korea or anything related to that. however, this once again leads
to the uncertainty and that's what the situation is, wolf, it is uncertain. china stressing once again the need for stability in the region. this is the key relationship. china and north korea described in the past as close as lips and teeth. a relationship forged on the battlefield when chinese fighters fought alongside north koreans in the korean war. china seemed to exert the most influence over north korea, bringing north korea to the negotiating table with the six-party nuclear talks. but remember, china has influence but it does not control north korea. north korea has caused strains in that relationship before, particularly with the nuclear tests in 2006, 2009. china concerned about its own border. there are a lot of people who fled across that border. around 30,000 refugees. here at the moment china very concerned that any implosion in north korea could see more of those people heading for the border. now kim jong eun has been brought here in the past by his father to get the chinese
leader's approval. they are now going to see if he can be the leader in north korea that china needs. >> we'll learn a lot more about kim jong eun in the coming days. but let's back up for a moment, stan, right now. what do we know specifically about kim jong il's death? we know he had been ill several years, but over the past year i at least got the impression and a lot of observers got the impression that he seemed to be okay. but all of a sudden he has a heart attack. what happened on saturday? >> reporter: absolutely, wolf. i remember reporting about six years ago, when he started to look a little bit more frail. when you started to see the hair thinning, the weight loss, the reports of having a stroke in 2008. but you're absolutely right, in recent times he appeared to be more robust. he certainly had a punishing schedule. he was here in china, he had been touring around his own country. a lot of speculation. the official report is that he had a massive heart attack. there was one report earlier coming out of north korea that he died from overwork, working
as the state broadcast there said for the good of north korea. but it seems to have been a massive heart attack that happened very suddenly. some, though, and this must be stressed purely speculative are actually raising the prospect of perhaps some foul play. but once again a secretive state, getting any information out of there is always difficult. wolf. >> stan, stand by. we'll be coming back to you. earlier this morning president obama spoke to his counterpart and close ally in south korea. our white house correspondent, dan lothian, is standing by. dan, what's the latest reaction we're getting from the obama administration, because clearly this is a very, very tense situation on the korean peninsula right now. >> reporter: this is a tense situation and it does remain uncertain. no new information from the white house, wolf, beyond what administration officials had earlier told us, that president obama in fact did speak at midnight with his south korean
counterpart, president lee, a very close ally in the region. there's concern about security in south korea in light of what has happened in north korea. during that conversation they talked about security in the korean peninsula. they said they would continue to stay in touch and would continue to coordinate their national security teams. but as you know, wolf, the united states and its allies and those in the six-party talks have been concerned about trying to tame north korea's nuclear ambitions, and there have been some small steps in trying to improve the relationship between the united states and north korea. but at the same time there has been tough talk from this administration, trying to use sanctions and also isolation of north korea to try to get them to tame their nuclear ambitions. so the big question now is what happens next? is this a chance for chain and opportunity or will it be more
of the same? and as far as the american people who are closely watching this, the feeling has been all along one of unfavorability towards north korea. in fact the most recent polling done in may, an orc/cnn poll showing that 81% of americans have an unfavorable view of north korea and 49% view north korea as an enemy. so it will be interesting to see if what happens next will change the view of the american people, wolf. >> i was in north korea, dan, exactly a year ago in december of last year. spent six days in pyongyang. and i know how paranoid the north koreans can be, but at the same time how sophisticated the top leadership is in watching what's going on. here's the question, and it's a delicate question for the obama administration. i don't know if they have an answer to this yet but i'm sure officials in north korea will be watching and waiting carefully
to see if, if the obama administration expresses condolences to the people of north korea for the death of kim jong il. what are you hearing at the white house? >> reporter: we simply don't know. but you are so right about that. how will the administration, when they finally do, whether it's the president coming out or whether they release a broader statement on the situation in north korea, whether it will be one of more calm the nation, whether it will be condolences or whether there will be a balance between the two. at this point we simply don't know. but whatever that language is, it will be key, perhaps, in determining the future relationship between the united states and north korea. >> dan lothian, i want you to stand by as well. as all of our viewers know, there are nearly 30,000 u.s. troops in south korea along the demile militaryized zone. chris lawrence is our pentagon correspondent. chris, give us a sense of what
the u.s. military, the defense department wants, is doing right now. as you know, there are a million north korean troops just north of the dmz, nearly a million south korean troops south of the dmz, 30,000 american forces almost in between. what's the reaction from the department of defense? >> reporter: well, right now, wolf, it's a very cautious response. talking to their counterparts with the south korean military. as you mentioned, doing perhaps more reconnaissance over or around north korea, getting more intelligence analysts on board to try to decipher what's going on. but not rocking the boat, so to speak. in many ways, wolf, this scenario is what some in the u.s. military feared. just about six months ago the man who now runs the u.s. forces in korea warned the united states senate that kim jong il's death could make north korea a bigger military threat.
and by that he told us -- or he told the senate basically that kim jong il's son had an imperative to establish his credibility with the hard liners within north korea's military and he said that combined with the son's youth and inexperience increased the possibility of a miscalculation. and he said so in the short term, the son could be possibly more unpredictable. so, again, that is the worry right now. a miscalculation that could escalate tensions. >> is that the sense of why the north koreans launched just a little while ago this short-range missile which clearly could be seen as an act of provocation? >> reporter: i don't get that sense, wolf. i get the sense that this was something that they actually -- that u.s. forces and south korean forces knew was coming.
the north does do these short-range tests from time to time. this doesn't rise to the level of their long-range ballistic missile tests that they conducted, say, in 2009 and 2006 when you saw a rapid escalation of tensions. these short-range missile tests do happen from time to time. but what we're hearing from some defense officials as recently as just six weeks ago, they were saying that what the north -- north korea has told them, that the feeling in north korea is that one of the reasons that moammar gadhafi's regime was ousted in libya is because libya did not retain its wmd program. it abandoned its weapons of mass destruction. the official said, you know, when you sit down to negotiate and you hear the other side saying that, it really calls into question how serious they are about negotiating an end to their nuclear program or even a reduction of it. >> chris lawrence, we'll stay in
close contact with you. he's watching what's going on from the pentagon. let's turn overseas for a moment and go to london to look at what the international news media have been saying about the death of north korea's long-time leader. max foster is joining us from london. from your vantage point, max, what are you seeing, what are you hearing, what's the reaction? >> well, wolf, there's so much confusion. it's the same debate really, how to make sense of this. you said already what happens next. the international media are grappling with it as much as everyone else. kim jong il's death an uneasy leg aens. in western eyes, the age of dictators is over. china sees things differently and has just given its blessing to the enthrownment of a brand new one. the guardian always saying that china is a big part of this story. the national, for all the cult of personality, any dictator needs a whole supporting apparatus of military and civilian officials.
what ideas for change these people will offer the new ruler and how he will respond will be watched with great anxiety. and the sydney morning herald saying world watches as north korea mourns the death of its dear leader. everyone will be watching sideways to see who might emerge as north korea's khrushchev or goe gorbachev. the people's army will have its work cut out watching both the dmz and trying to stop a mass breakout for china. >> it's going to be a very, very tense situation on the korean peninsula. arguably one of the, if not the most dangerous spot on earth for so many decades. max, thanks very, very much. coming up, we'll continue our special coverage as attention shifts from kim jong il to his son and apparent successor, kim jong eun. we'll take a close look at kim jong eun.
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great successor as he's called. victor cha is joining us, a professor at the university in washington. he served on the national security council as the director of asian affairs under the president george w. bush. thanks for coming in. kjong-ukim jong-un, people say studied briefly in switzerland whachlt do we know about him? >> we know very little about him. there are wide reported stories that in high school he spent some time in switzerland and people hope that means he's going to be more of a reformer. but the fact of the matter is we don't know. this is the most opaque regime that is a nuclear weapons state and now they have a leadership vacuum in which a kid is basically trying to run the country. so it's not a good situation at all. >> this talk that his uncle would be the regent, if you
will, at least for the time being, is that serious talk or just guesswork? >> i think it's -- it is a bit of guesswork. i think essentially when you have a young leader like this they are going to try to surround him and that's what they have done the past two years is surround them with elders in the party and the military. the problem is that all of those folks are untested quantities themselves without kim jong-il in the picture. >> are you among those analysts who believe that because he is so untested, because he is so young he has to prove his bona fides and be very tough and assertive and do provocative things? >> that's certainly the concern and one of the dominant theories on why the north koreans did the provocations in 2010 so i think that concern is certainly there. again, we just don't know because there's so little that we can tell about this regime. the thing that i'm concerned about is that the first sign, first news of some sort of instability within north korea, it will raise all sorts of alarm bells here and in seoul about
who has control of the nuclear weapons, and that's obviously a concern for the united states. >> because instability -- there's long been this dream in the west and certainly in the united states that the north korean regime would unravel, especially after a succession. is that a realistic scenario? >> i really don't think you can rule it out. i mean before this event happened, if you had asked any analyst inside or outside the u.s. government, they would have told you the most likely scenario for collapse would be a sudden death of the north korean leader. so we are now living in that scenario today. >> this was not necessarily -- he's been sick for years, even though -- he had a massive heart attack, which is what the state media say, that would have been a sudden death so they weren't necessarily prepared for it. is that what you're saying? >> i think they're completely unprepared for this. the idea was to have the young son basically in a transition process that would take at least a decade, if they could have it their way, but that's certainly not going to happen. he's only been doing this job, if you will, for about two and a
half years now. so i think there are lots of questions about whether he has control of the military, which is the all-powerful group within north korea, whether he has respect of the party, whether they even have a new ideology in which to bring him into this leadership position because that is necessary in the north korean system. they're completely unprepared for this. >> here's my concern and it's a deep concern based on six days i spent in pyongyang last december and studying the region over many years, a miscalculation right now. the south koreans go on a higher state of military alert. u.s. forces along the dmz go on a higher state of alert. that's seen by elements of north korea as they have got to respond to that, otherwise they'll be seen as weak. and their response could lead to further response and nuclear tensions could emerge. >> right. you have it just right, wolf. i think from a u.s. perspective, the way the forces are arrayed on the peninsula, both sides are on a hair-trigger response. this is why it's so critical to
know whether they are going to a higher level of alert status in terms of combined forces. >> very quickly one final question. should the obama administration, if you were advising them, express condolences to the people of north korea. >> i think at this point it's best to sort of stay put and just watch the situation. anything that you do in terms of that sort of thing could create unknown dynamics in the system and i don't think we want to do that. >> no one in the u.s. would go for the state funeral on the 28th? >> highly unlikely. >> thanks very much. we'll continue our conversation later. exactly a year ago i was in pyongyang for six days. coming up wee we'll revisit the north korean capital.
the entire world is watching a rather tense situation on the korean peninsula right now. none watching it more closely than the u.s. military. our barbara starr is our pentagon correspondent and is traveling with the joint chiefs of staff, in ramstein air force base in germany. barbara, what are you hearing, what's going on as far as the u.s. military is concerned? >> reporter: well, wolf, we have just concluded an on-camera briefing with general dempsey and will be bringing that material to you shortly. but general dempsey has given us extraordinary insight into what went on overnight when he was woken up here in germany, given the news and joined an overnight interagency call with top military and civilian national security officials to discuss the crisis. general dempsey telling us the first thing they wanted to know was whether anybody had seen any unusual movements by north korean troops or weapons.
so far everything appears status quo, he said. u.s. troops in south korea, 28,000, not on any heightened state of alert. but general dempsey said the u.s. military in his words is remaining vigilant in the wage of the death of the north korean leader. they are keeping all eyes and ears on the north to get any indications of what is going on inside the regime. and like so many people have already said today, wolf, front and center, they want to get a better sense of whether the designated succession into kim jong-il's son is what will happen in north korea. will he be able, despite his youth and inexperience, to take control of the government and exert control, and what type of leader will he be. these are the key questions facing the chairman of the joint chiefs, the u.s. pacific command and of course president obama and the obama administration. wolf. >> did he get -- did he offer a
good analysis, any sense of insight into kim jong-un, the 28 or 29-year-old successor? we do know that kim jong-un has been named the head of the funeral arrangements for his father. about 250 leaders of north korea on that committee. what did he say? because we know that general dempsey is privy to the best analysis and most sensitive information that the u.s. government has. >> reporter: well, you know, exactly. and what he talked about is the very question that you have already raised, youth and inexperience. kim jong-un is the designated successor obviously from his late father. he is the one that the u.s. is looking at. but the u.s. military is the first to acknowledge that intelligence about the north korean regime is imperfect at best. so what they are looking for is despite this young man's designation as the successor, with his youth and inexperience
will he be able to take charge? will he take charge of the regime? and if he does, will he be the key player that exerts control, or will there be other people, perhaps, to emerge behind the scenes who are exerting more control. that will be a very tough intelligence problem for the u.s. to begin to understand because, of course, there's no direct knowledge really, perhaps maybe through the chinese, about the north korean regime and north korean leadership. so these are the key questions that they are watching right now, wolf. >> all right, barbara. we'll stay in close touch with you. barbara starr is traveling with the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in germany right now. we'll have much more on the death of kim jong-il coming up. but there's other important news we're watching right here in washington. serious trouble brewing on capitol hill for that payroll tax cut extension. the two-month extension approved by the senate over the weekend could be shot down in the house of representatives when it votes
on the measure later today. let's bring in our congressional correspondent, kate bolduan, she's up on capitol hill. everyone seemed to be so positive over the weekend when the senate overwhelmingly passed this two-month compromise to keep this tax cut going, but all of a sudden yesterday it seemed to explode. what's going on, kate? >> reporter: yeah, it seems this is the latest twist in this fierce, bitter, year-end battle. over the weekend the senate passed this two-month extension with broad bipartisan support. the vote was 89-10. on a conference call following that vote we're told by a republican source that house speaker john boehner called -- described the deal, the compromise in the senate as a victory, as a good deal and as a way to live to fight another day, if you will. but he faced some serious pushback from his republican members who, as you heard then from speaker boehner yesterday that house republicans now stand opposed to the short-term deal. quite frankly they say they're
sick of these quick fixes, these kicking a can down the road. if they're going to support a payroll tax extension at all, they want it to be for a year. well, not surprisingly, that has democrats from the white house on down pouncing on this. democrats saying that the house has two options here. one, pass the senate compromise or the other, be responsible for many millions of americans seeing a tax increase come january 1. so we'll have to watch how it plays out today, wolf, as there is a vote in the house this evening. but one top democrat tells me, and this is an interesting point, that nothing is stopping the two sides from negotiating this full deal that speaker boehner says he wants, but only if, and this is important from this perspective, only if the house will pass this two-month extension. so it seems the staring contest is continuing today, wolf. >> and everything is at take for about 160 million americans. if they don't work out a deal, taxes are going up starting january 1st.
from washington to tokyo, world leaders are weighing the death of north korea's mysterious dictator. the communist nation says kim jong-il died of a heart attack over the weekend. they have dubbed his youngest son the great successor. kim jong-un will have to rely on advisers sips he's had little grooming for the job. south korea responded to the news by putting its military on a higher state of alert. the united states has nearly
30,000 troops in south korea. it has stepped up its monitoring of north korea and of its military. just over a year ago kim jong-un entered the international spotlight getting a promotion, an important title and become his father's presumptive successor. there was an important military parade in pyongyang. alina cho was there. before we get to the trip, and i want to share with our viewers your impressions of what happened then, what you think is going on right now, give us a little news that you might have alina, because i understand you've been on the phone with some sources. >> you know, i just traded some e-mails with a high-level source, wolf. as you know, the funeral of kim jong-il will be on december 28th. the official mourning period in that country ends on the 29th. a lot of questions about whether westerners or outsiders will be let in. it doesn't appear that that will be the case. this e-mail that i received was from a high-level source again
saying that he has just landed from pyongyang to beijing, was hoping to get into the country, was turned away at the airport and was told that no outsiders will be let in for the next ten days. so an interesting development there. >> you know, we don't really know much about the successor, if in fact he turns out to be the successor, kim jong-un, but reflect a little bit because you're one of the few western journalists who got into north korea. >> you as well. >> i was there at a different time. it was a very tense situation what i was there. when you were there, they were trying to promote their country and show off some of the best qualities, if you will, of north korea. >> that's right. and what's interesting about that trip, wolf, is i remember very distinctly, because i had just come back from a vacation actually, my first day back. we had gotten word that we were invited into the country, but we weren't told exactly why. we were only told that it would be -- that we would witness the largest military parade in the
country's history. now, as you know, when you land in north korea, your passport is immediately confiscated. your blackberry, your cell phone is immediately confiscated. and we were whisked away to mayday stadium and we saw an amazing display of acrobatics and dance called the mass games there. and i must tell you that i was stunned, because many times kim jong-il does not attend those events, but he was there. and i saw him on three separate occasions during that trip of the and what we quickly came to learn was that it was the unofficial unveiling of this son, kim jong-un. as you mentioned, we don't know much about him. we don't even know his age. he is said to be 27 or 28 years old. he know he's studied in switzerland, is a fan of american basketball, but outside of that no military experience to speak of, and so a lot of
questions about whether he will be a figurehead leader or a true one, wolf. >> just around that time they said he was in his mid-20s and they made him a general to give him some credibility. this is after his father became ill. his father has been sick for several years, but suffered what was described by north korean media as a massive heart attack on saturday and died, even though over the past year he was traveling to china and he seemed to be making many public appearances, seemed to be getting better from that illness, but obviously didn't work out all that well for kim jong-il. getting back to the news that you have, when your source says that no foreigners are being allowed into north korea right now, i assume this is the situation during this period of mourning leading up to the funeral on december 28th, they're not going to let foreigners visit unless they're very special foreigners. is that what you're hearing? >> well, you know it's unclear. what i do know or at least what i can tell you that i've read is
that kim jong-il's body is on display at a mausoleum in the center of pyongyang, the same place where his father, kim il-sung's body is on display in a glass case, i might add. what i understand is that north koreans will be able to pay their respects, if you will, during this official period of mourning, but that no outsiders will be let in. and so it would stand to reason then that this will not be as journalists had hoped, it will not be another propaganda opportunity for north korea to put an elaborate show on for the western world, although as a journalist, of course, you're always hopeful that we might get an invitation. >> we'll see if they do. they have big celebrations coming up in april. we'll see if those are still in the works what happens then. alina, thanks very much. alina cho, one of the few western journalists who's actually spent some time in north korea for cnn. thanks very much, alina.
we have a lot of other news going on, what's happening in washington, also the markets, what's the reaction to all the tension on the korean peninsula. and elsewhere in europe, stand by. much more news right here in the cnn newsroom right after this. it's easy to see what subaru owners care about. that's why we created the share the love event. get a great deal on a new subaru and $250 goes to your choice of 5 charities. with your help, we can reach $20 million dollars by the end of this, our fourth year.
right now. alison kosik is monitoring the new york stock exchange for reaction to the tension on the korean peninsula. asian markets were down overnight. what are we seeing here? >> reporter: right, exactly. you saw the major reaction in the asian markets, wolf, falling anywhere from 1% to 3%. south korea's market was hit the hardest, 3%. that's how much it fell. right now european markets are trading, seeing a muted reaction there. same thing to the u.s. markets here. you'll see the dow is up 48. the nasdaq, s&p 500, they're all in the green. so not really much reaction from kim jong-il's death. now, one thing you can expect to happen this week, wolf, expect investors to sit on the sidelines this week because it's going to be one of these holiday weeks. that's how the markets view it. the bond markets are actually closed on friday and we edge up to christmas. but what may wind up happening, you may see the markets have some exaggerated swings because not many investors are taking part. now, the big concern for wall
street continues to be europe. there is some new hope today because european finance ministers are discussing today the new euro zone fiscal agreement. now, this is just a draft. it's not going to be finalized until january, but at least things seem to be moving forward. still, we've got some lingering concerns about a possible credit downgrade for france. fitch has already cut its outlook for france. standard & poor's is up to bat next with rumors of a possible downgrade so those are the issues wall street will be focusing on today. >> thank you very much. coming up much more coverage of kim jong-il's death, the tension on the korean peninsula. also the iowa caucuses only 15 days away. mitt romney picks up another key endorsement. we'll read the tea leaves with our political reporter from the des moines register right after this.
15 days until the iowa caucuses. mitt romney picking up a key endorsement from the "des moines register" in an editorial. joining us is jennifer jacobs, the political reporter for the "des moines register." you wrote a piece about the state of play in iowa, a strong article, i must say. is newt gingrich likely to pull this out in iowa?
what's the sense 15 days and counting? >> the sense is that he has the momentum here. our last poll showed that there is a lot of intensity, of passion for newt gingrich, but it seems like he's slipping a bit in the polls and taking a serious pounding from a lot of different directions here. >> a very serious pounding from ron paul. ron paul, as you know better than most, as an excellent ground operation in iowa, throughout iowa. a lot of devoted supporters out there. i wouldn't be surprised if he pulls an upset. would you? >> it would not be a surprise at all. and we know that newt gingrich's ground game is quite a bit weaker than ron paul's. ron paul is really appealing to those independents and democrats so he definitely has a shot at the lead here. >> what about mitt romney, he sort of ignored iowa for a long time. lately he's paying a lot more attention to it, but still, i suspect, not as much as a lot of his supporters in iowa would have liked. >> that's for sure, but he had
that base from four years ago. he's definitely carrying a lot of that over. i don't think it's hurt him too badly. he has a lot of support from the establishment republicans here. i think there's a lot of quiet endorsements that might show up in the next few weeks. there's definitely a strong ground game for him as well. so i would predict that he's still in the top three at least. >> your editorial, you didn't write it, you work on the news side of the newspaper, but the editor yal board of the "des moines register" cited romney's sobriety, wisdom and judgment in endorsing him. step back a little bit, forget that you work for the "des moines register." what's the track record of endorsements in republican contests by the "des moines register." how good or bad is it in terms of predicting the winner? >> well, we don't always predict the winner, but it's not meant to. it's just five people sitting in a room sharing their opinion. they have really close access to these candidates who are smart people who are just sharing what their opinion is at the moment. it's not meant to help or hurt,
just to let people know where they think the candidates are at. >> but does it have a lot of influence in these republican caucuses? i assume it does, it's the major newspaper in iowa. >> i don't think there's many insiders in iowa that thinks it hurts the candidate. there's nobody that thinks that this kills a candidate's momentum. it can't do very much to hurt them but it's nothing but momentum for these people. it's a lot of conversation and gets people talking, so i think it's a good thing. >> are these candidates by and large going to stick around in iowa during christmas, getting ready for new year's or are they going to go back to their homes and stop campaigning during these holiday days? >> some of them are. your lower tier candidates are really going crazy with the stops. michele bachmann has 18 campaign stops today and tomorrow and then you've got rick perry and rick santorum who have about seven or eight stops today and tomorrow. yes, they'll take a short break for christmas, but then we expect a full barrage in the next couple weeks.
>> we'll be watching every step of the way. jennifer, thanks very much. jennifer jacobs writes for the "des moines register." coming up, the death of one of the most powerful dictators in the world. we're taking a closer look at the life and the legacy of the north korean dictator, kim jong-il, who passed away over the weekend. [ female announcer ] help i need a holiday party idea. mmm... pillsbury crescent wrapped brie just unroll, wrap the brie and bake. it's so easy. now this might even impress aunt martha. pillsbury crescent wrapped brie. holiday ideas made easy.
we're here in the "cnn newsroom." let's check in with anna coran. she's in south korea. >> that's right. we are coming to you live from seoul. we're going to tell you about how people are feeling on the streets of the capitol and the deep concern that is growing here in south korea following the death of north korea's leader. i'm dan lothian. at the white house the obama administration is closely monitoring the situation on the ground on the korean peninsula. so far a measured response from president obama. i'll have the details at the top of the hour. thanks very much, guys. kim jong il was as peculiar as he was powerful. he sometimes looked more like an aging elvis impersonator than the man who had a fierce nuclear
power house. >> reporter: kim jong il always had a slightly bizarre figure. his characteristic hair were parroted by some in the west. for the citizens of the democratic people's republic of korea he was the embodiment of this reclusive state. feared, loved, wore shished, his cultive personality was deeply entrenched. his father was kim il sung who had the backing after world war ii. he was a little boy when the korean war broke out in 1950. the soviet-backed north invading the american-backed south. after fighting ended he became steeped in his father's philosophy of self-reliance. the north became ever more reclusive. the north and south never formally signed a peace treaty and remained technically at war separated by a tense demilitarized zone.
gradually kim jong il was groomed for the top making public appearances in front of cheering crowds. when kim il sung died in 1994 he was declared eternal president so his son instead became general secretary of the ruling workers party of korea, and by 1998 as head of the army he consolidated his position of absolute power. >> he will be remembered as a person who was responsible for awful things. for the existence of one of the worst dictatorships in probably not only korean history but in the world history, in the 21st century. yes, he did not create his dictatorship, it was his father's, but he took responsibility and he made sure that it continued for many more years. >> reporter: he was known for his love of fine wines. at odds in a country where food shortages was common.
he was said to have indulged in his appetite for the finer things, his people were literally starving to death. the collapse of the soviet union hit north korea hard, suddenly ending guaranteed trade deals. and then devastating floods compounded the famine. estimates vary for the number that died, but even the regime itself admitted that almost a quarter of a million perfect riched between 1995 and 1998. some say it was more like ten times that figure. but in the capitol the artifice of a successful state was maintained. an on pew lent subway, proof the dear leader would say of the dpr progress under his and his father's leadership. kim jong il was well known as a film buff. here visiting the set of a north korean production. his personal video library was said to include 20,000 titles with rambo and "friday the 13th"
supposedly topping the dearly disfavored lists. in 2000 there appeared to be a thaw in north-south relations. the first ever summit between him and his count ter part from the south. the south so called sunshine poly say of engagement seemed to be bearing fruit. but kim jong il pressed ahead with his nuclear weapons program. the u.s. label it part of the access of evil in 2002. awe year later north korea withdrew from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. in 2006 the north conducted a nuclear test and test fired missiles. it added extra urgency to the six-party talks designed to deal with north korea's nuclear program. a break through came in 2007 when kim jong il finally agreed to disable the nuclear reactor in return for fuel and better relations with the u.s. but des spite dramatically blowing up the cooling tower, north korea seemed to backtrack
afterwards. the deal appeared to be in jeopardy. the capture of two u.s. journalists on the north korean border sparked another crisis in 2009. it ended when former president bill clinton flew in and successfully negotiated their release prompting hopes there would be further engagement. observers say kim jong il will be remembered as a nearly impossible man to bargain with, stubborn and fickle in equal measure. a man who kept 23 million people in a totalitarian nightmare, in one of the most repressive, reclusive regimes in the world. still ahead we'll have special insight into the upheaval from the american diplomat christopher hill. that's coming up in our next hour.
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-- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com good morning. welcome to our special coverage of kim jong il's death. i'm wolf blitzer in washington. we're covering all the angles of this developing story. lots at stake. we have reporters across the world from south korea to the white house. let's begin this hour with the death of kim jong il. late last night north korea dramatically announced his death and allowed a rare peek inside
the secretive country. tv images showing everyday life grinding to a halt and citizens overcome by grief. >> reporter: even the news anchor on the state-run tv appeared inconsolable. she reported that kim jong il had died of a heart attack. he was reveered in a nags that's often been described as a cult but his almost cartoonish appearance belied a fierce determination. his people starved while he developed nuclear weapons. his youngest son kim jong unis likely to take over. south korea responded to the news. they put their military on a
higher state of alert. they have remained at war, the two countries, but the threat of instability is a concern that ripless across the region all the way to washington. >> reporter: i think it is a big development, and it's an unwelcome development. why? because north korea is now starting a period that's going to be tenuous, it's going to be uncertain and frankly it's going to be dangerous. >> our international correspondent based in tokyo is joining us now. give us a little analysis of how tense this situation potentially could become. >> reporter: well, we have to see exactly what's going to happen. from right now what we are getting are these images that are chosen by north korean leadership to show the rest of the world that the country is in mourning, but we don't really know what's happening behind those images. remember, this is the hermit kingdom. the reason it's called that is because we don't know what's happening inside. even reporters who cover this
region, like i do from japan, we don't really know. we can only interview people who have left that country. so we have to see how smooth this transition is going to be. wolf, you and i were there about a year ago at the exact same time and we saw how tense it can very quickly become if a leader decides he wakes up on a bad day. remember there are 45,000 u.s. troops stationed right along that region. there are even more troops in japan. geographically this country is very close to u.s. interests if they decide, because they do have a nuclear arsenal, to launch. that's how this can quickly spiral out of control. that is why we're watching this very carefully and we just have to see if beyond the imagery exactly how smooth this transition will be. wolf, you and i both know, it's like covering the super bowl from the parking lot. we just don't know what's happening inside. >> that's absolutely true. when i was there, i assume when you were there as well, the hatred that still exists among
north koreans towards japan still comes across. they remember world war ii almost as if it were yesterday, at least in the conversations i had there. what's been the reaction in japan to the death of kim jong il because how japan reacts will have an influence over how north korea responds. >> you're absolutely right. very strong u.s. ally, japan. what we're hearing from the streets of japan is that they are just hoping that we don't hit any road bumps, that this will be a smooth transition. what people in japan are also hoping for is that there is an opening, that a younger leader might perhaps give the western world a bit more of a peek inside, that they won't be so reclusive. so we don't have these moments of instability where he decides he has a bad day and he wants to destabilize the region. so what we're hearing from japan is that things run smoothly, but there is a lot of nervousness.
we're seeing that in the world economy, and that is what's going to affect everyone's 401 k. how this will affect the world economy, the asia region, that's spilling over into the eurozone and the u.s. economy. >> reporting for us from japan. thanks very much. earlier this morning president obama spoke to his counterpart and close ally in south korea. dan lothian standing by. dan, it wasn't exactly a 3 a.m. phone call that the president received, but he did get the word late at night. what, around midnight he was making phone calls? >> reporter: that's right. to his counter part in south korea, president lee. south korea is an area that this administration very much focused on, concern about instability in the region, but in particular about the security of south korea, which is a close ally of the u.s. you might recall just a couple of months ago back in october, actually, the south korean president was here at the white house during a joint press
conference you heard a very stern message not only from south korea but from the united states about the need for north korea to rein in its nuclear ambitions but also painting out what would happen if, in fact, there is no move toward that, that there would be continued isolation of north korea. again, this is a very critical region that the administration is very concerned about, a place that president obama visited twice so far during his administration. i went along to south korea on both of those trips, and you might remember that next year the nuclear security summit will be held in south korea as well. so far though a measured response from this administration in the form of a short statement released shortly after the news broke last night that, in fact, kim jong il had died simply stating the fact that the president was informed of this and that the administration was in contact with allies such as south korea
and japan. and in an additional statement by jay carney later we heard that the president's speaking with president lee, that they would continue to talk and that they would continue to coordinate with their national security teams, wolf. >> all right. thanks very much. dan lothian, our white house correspondent. let's take a little closer look at the diplomatic challenges ahead, and they are enormous. our senior producer over at the state department is joining us. what are you hearing as far as some sort of formal statement, a condolence statement, anything along those lines in the works? >> reporter: right now, wolf, we don't know, but i expect not. basically this is being all very closely coordinated with the south koreans. how do you calibrate a response? at one point you don't want to reach out too much to this young, untested leader, kim jong un, because you don't want to alienate any military people
unfriendly to the united states. you don't want to undermine him by reaching out to anyone else. the u.s. and south korea are calibrating this carefully. i spoke to people this morning and they said they don't expect they're going to expect they'll issue condolences. they don't expect the u.s. to issue any condolences. as you know, it's not just what happens inside north korea. how is south korea going to respond? experts say that's a real wild card. japan, speaking to the south koreans, they were very upset that the japanese offered condolences. they feel that is out of step in the message that all allies should be taking together. the region really thrown into turmoil. the united states as well. that's why they're really very carefully balancing how they respond right now, wolf. >> what are your sources, elise, saying about how this death could affect the so-called six party talks involving north korea, south korea, obviously the u.s., china, japan, russia? >> well, certainly right now it's on hold.
the nation is in mourning, and the u.s. and the other parties in the south in the six party talks have to really see who they're dealing with. they don't even know who they're going to be dealing with. who is going to be calling the shots? we've seen that kim jong il's sister and brother-in-law have been elevated to higher status in the country, and they assume that they're going to be the ones that are running the show while kim jong un kind of begins to be mentored to really take the reins. they feel that if this couple, if they are in charge of the decision making, that perhaps that engagement will continue. but if the military is the one calling the shots, then that could have a pullback. wolf, we could have been having a much different conversation today because the u.s. was on the verge of announcing that it was going to resume food aid to north korea. there were some really encouraging signs over the last couple of months that the u.s. and north korea were talking about the nuclear issue, that they were beginning to resume food aid in exchange for north
korea taking certain steps to halt its nuclear program, its enrichment program. that was the expectation, that this would have six party talks to resume. obviously that thrown into turmoil right now, but it really remains to be seen whether it's going to be an opening or whether it's going to be further chaos, wolf. >> that's why everybody's watching it so closely right now. as i say, the stakes really are enormous on the korean peninsula. coming up, we'll go inside north korea. alina cho and i both visited pyongyang on two occasions. much more coming up.
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you're looking at a live picture from capitol hill right now. the house speaker, john boehner, is getting ready to walk to the microphones and make an announcement of the fate of the payroll tax cut. a vote is coming up in the house of representatives following the vote in the senate. kate baldwin is standing by as well. in the meantime, more on what's going on in the korean peninsula right now. the stakes are enormous. from washington to tokyo world leaders are weighing the death of the north korean mysterious dictator. they say kim jong il died of a heart attack over the weekend. the government has dubbed his youngest son, quote, the great successor. he'll have to rely heavily on advisors. he's had little grooming for the job. 's not even 30 years old yet.
south korea responded by putting its military on a higher state of alert. the united states has nearly 30,000 troops on the demilitarized zone. it has stepped up its monitoring of north korea and the north korean military. just over a year ago kim jong un entered the international spotlight getting a promotion and important title and becoming his father's presumptive successor. his first big presence was in a military parade in pyongyang. alina who was there. >> reporter: the most reclusive dictator in the world opens his arms and his doors to the world. an unofficial and elaborate coming out party for kim jong un. the hidden prince. the son of kim jong il who one day will become its leader. this is the world's first glimpse of him in action after being named a four star general last month.
just after touching down we're whisked to pyongyang's may day state yum to the first event, the mass games. there are 100,000 people performing in a massive display of coordinated song, dance, gymnastics. they practiced eight hours a day every day for a year, and there's never a guarantee that chairman kim jong il will be in attendance. tonight he is. what's different this time is that kim jong il appears alongside his son. when the show is over, north koreans in the audience applaud not for the performers, but for their leader. next up a massive military parade billed as the country's largest ever. a goose stepping show of firepower by one of the largest armys in the world. kim jong il said to be in frail
health and rarely seen in public shows up again for the second time in two days walking unaided but with one hand on the railing. this woman says long live the general and long live his son. here kim jong il flashes a rare smile as his son jokes with elders. the crowd goes wild jumping, clapping, even crying. then as night falls yet another spectacle. >> tonight's event is the third such event in less than 24 hours, and it is pure pageant tri. take a look behind me. the colors, choreography. literally thousands of dancers in traditional dress. the media has been invited as guests. this is the invitation, but make no mistake, the real guests of honor are up there in the balcony, kim jong il and his son
kim jong un. >> reporter: this man, an actor from denmark, one of a handful of private citizens invited by the north korean government is among those watching. >> what about all of the reports of oppression and the people starving and -- >> i can't see it. maybe it is, but i can't see it. i can just see lucky people. >> reporter: this secretive nation will soon close its doors again leaving many questions about its future. how will the young son sflul how long can north korea continue as an isolationist state? the world's eyes are watching as north korea begins its transfer of power. alina is joining us. we're going to the speaker of the house, john boehner in a moment, but a lot of work was getting ready for april when
north korea presumably was going to be opening up its doors a little bit to the west celebrating what, the 100th anniversary, the birthday of kim il sung. >> that's exactly right. it's a trip i know both of us want to go on. it was billed as an extraordinary celebration. obviously now, wolf, with the death of kim jong il, the tenor of that event will certainly change. >> hold on a sechblgtd here's the speaker. >> in a time when millions of americans are out of work. democrats and republicans agree that the payroll tax cut needs to be extended for a full year and to provide the kind of relief that americans need in the struggling economy. the house last week passed a bill to do just that. instead of passing the house bill or another bill which extended the payroll tax to a full year, the senate democratic leaders passed a two-month
extension punting the problem into next year. we opposed the senate bill because a two-month extension instead of a full year extension causes uncertainty for job creators. i used to run a small business. i met a payroll. i hired workers. a two month extension creates uncertainty and will cause problems for people who are trying to create jobs in the private sector. the idea that tax policy can be done two months at a time is the kind of activity that we see here in washington that's really put our economy off its tracks. last week both chambers worked together to pass a full year bill to fund our government. i don't think this issue is any different. it's time for congress to do its work. no more kicking the can down the road. tonight the house will vote on the senate-passed bill.
this is a vote on whether congress will stay and do its work or go on vacation. i expect that the house will disagree with the senate amendment and instead vote to formally go to conference. the formal process in which the house and senate can resolve differences between the two chambers and between our two bills, and i expect the house to take up legislation that reinforces the need to extend the payroll tax relief for a full year rather than just two months, again, to provide certainty for job creators. i think the best way to resolve the difference between the two-month extension and a full year bill is to follow the regular order here in congress. when there's a disagreement between the two chambers, we sit down in a conference and resolve those differences, and that's exactly what i believe the house will do. the president has said
repeatedly that no one should be going on vacation until the work is done. democrat leaders in the house and senate have said exactly the same thing. so i think it's time for the senate democrat leaders to follow the president's example, put their vacations on hold, and work in a bipartisan manner to finish the nation's business. >> mr. speaker if you can't work out a deal in the short amount of time that you have left, are you prepared to let the tax cuts lapse altogether. >> i think we've made it perfectly clear that we believe a full year extension of these tax cuts are very important. i don't believe the differences between the house and senate are that great. it's time for us to do our work. >> mr. speaker, if you and your colleagues over here in the house are so against this two-month extension short term, why did you not raise the red flag with your republican colleagues who for the most part voted for this in the senate? >> we expressed our reservations
about what the senate was doing, but understand i have made perfectly clear to senator reid and senator mcconnell someti sometime mid last week. the senate produced a bill. we expressed our reservations and i do believe they're trying to resolve this between the two chambers in the regular order of our business, that's the appropriate way to proceed. >> how can you get a guarantee that the pipeline would be in this deal? you got it. are you going to guarantee them that you'll get a full year -- that congress will get one full year? >> we agree with the president, that all of these, the payroll tax cut, the unemployment insurance with reforms, the docs fix for two years, all of it needs to be done in the right way. you know, i've been around here for a while. i've seen congress kick the can down the road, kick the can down the road.
it's time to stop the nonsense. we can resolve these differences and we can do it in a way that provides certainty for job creators and others in our economy. >> 90% approval in the senate, including the entire gop leadership is now dysfunctional. why? >> what i'm suggesting is that the president asked for a full year extension. we agree with the president. democrat leaders have said the same thing over the last two weeks, that we should do this for the full year. why do we always have to go to the lowest common denominator? it's time for us to do our work. we're prepared to do our work. >> one year extension, what other specific changes do you want in the bill? >> we believe that we passed a reasonable bill that extended all of this for a year. if there are differences between the bodies, we'll be able to resolve this. >> mr. speaker, how do you propose paying for a full year extension that will satisfy the
democrats? >> when we sent our bill to the senate, 90% of the offsets were offsets that the president agreed to so i don't believe it's going to be that difficult to come to an agreement that would make reforms in the unemployment insurance program and do so in i think a fiscally responsible way. one more. >> did you ever tell the white house that you would reject the senate proposal? >> no, never a conversation with the white house. >> mr. speaker, you initially supported moving forward with the two-month plan. what changed in your mind? >> no. >> you were told that you initially supported it on the concept that the house should move forward with the senate. >> no, that's not true. what i was outlining was the fact that having the keystone pipeline in here was a success, but i raised concerns about the two-month process from the moment that i heard about it.
thanks, everybody. all right. so there he is, the speaker of the house, john boehner, saying he wants basically a conference committee to begin right now negotiating differences in the legislation to extend the payroll tax cut for a full year. differences between the senate and the house. our congressional correspondent kate is watching what's going on. here's the first question, kate. does the speaker have the votes in the house of representatives tonight to reject, in effect, the senate compromise version that passed overwhelmingly in the senate? >> reporter: house leadership believes that they will reject the senate compromise. the vote this evening is more of a political statement saying that this can't move forward in the house than anything else. i'll tell you i hear from democrats that if house republicans bring this bill to the floor, which they are, they will get a vast majority of support from house democrats
which would make the number of republicans that would need to support it to push it through obviously much, much less. but it's going to be one of these votes this evening, wolf, that we'll have to watch very closely as nothing has been very certain in this back and forth standoff battle that we've been seeing. there's really very little you can count on as things have changed and there have been new twists and turns all throughout this. >> we know the clock is ticking because if legislation isn't passed, signed into law by the end of this year starting january 1st there will no longer be that payroll tax cut for about 160 million americans potentially if they don't work it out. the average family could lose at least $1,000 or $1500 a year. the senate has gone into recess. they're on vacation. if the house rejects the senate language in a resolution later today, is the senate going to be brought back to join in the conference committee between now and the end of the year to see if they can work out some sort of full-year extension?
>> reporter: couple things on that. we heard here kind of for the first time really firmly from house speaker john boehner that he believes the best way forward is to go to conference, but there has been no indication to this point, i'll say, that senate democratic leaders are willing to reconvene the senate to even consider this. top senate democratic aid telling me there is zero chance when i spoke to this person over the weekend that the senate will be brought back in. another top democrat though made an interesting point, and it's an interesting perspective, as house speaker john boehner was making the point that we all agree that one-year extension is the best way to go, that's why we want to negotiate a one-year extension, this top democrat said to me that there's nothing stopping both sides from continuing the negotiations that really got held up last week toward a one-year deal, that is if the house would first pass this two-month extension to at least prevent this tax cut from
lapsing come january 1. as we can see, both sides are really staring the other one down here, wolf, as house speaker john boehner says that a two-month extension is unacceptable. the reality is the reason senate democratic and republican leaders came to this conclusion that a two-month extension was the way to go is because they could not reach agreement on a comprehensive deal that would extend this talks cut as well as unemployment insurance and other issues for a full year. so how they're going to be able to bridge that gap now since they couldn't bridge that gap during negotiations last week is quite unclear. i think speak eer boehner's statement that it shouldn't be hard to bridge the divide or get over differences here, however he said it, i think that might be the biggest understatement yet of the week. >> very quickly, kate. the 100 senators, they basically left town. they're in their home states right now, traveling around the world on vacation. they're not in washington any
longer, is that right? >> reporter: they're not in washington any longer, but the senate did not -- it's kind of procedural. the complexities of congress. they didn't necessarily go into recess. they're in these pro forma sessions, sessions that come in for almost a minute or so and then gavel out. so the senate will be in per se every few days, if you will, during this so-called break. so they do have the opportunity that they at least will be in session. that does not mean that the senators are in town. only one or two will be there to bring the senate into session and then gavel it out. so there is an opportunity procedurally that they could do something on what we like to call unanimous consent. we won't get into that, but senate democratic leaders have made no indication that they're willing to come back in, to start negotiating this again. they want to get this through, pass this. the house to pass the senate version so they can get this passed to ensure that this tax credit does not lapse. then they say obviously the fighting and negotiating will
continue in the new year, wolf. >> the main reason the senate doesn't go into full recess formally is because they don't want to give the white house the opportunity to give them recess appointments. kate, thanks very much. lots more on this coming up. lots more on north korea coming up. also a powerful winter storm punching its way across the southwestern united states. heavy snow, strong winds, icy roads all heading your way potentially. weather forecast right after the break. so i was the guy who was never going to have the heart attack. i thought i was invincible. i'm on an aspirin regimen now because i never want to feel that helplessness again. [ male announcer ] be sure to talk to your doctor before you begin an aspirin regimen. talk to your doctor, and take care of what you have to take care of. you know, typical alarm clock.
from washington to tokyo world leaders are weighing the death of north korea's mysterious dictator. they say kim jong il died of a heart attack over the weekend. the government has dubbed his youngest son the great successor. kim jong un will have to rely heavily on advisors. south korea responded to the news by putting its military on a higher state of alert. the united states has nearly 30,000 troops along the demilitarized zone between north korea, south korea. it has stepped up its monitoring of north korea and its military. instability is a major worry across the region right now but nowhere so than in neighboring south korea. the two countries technically have remained at war for more than 60 years.
anna is joining us from seoul. just a few hours ago we learned north korea did test fire what's described as a short-range missile. what's been the reaction in south korea? >> reporter: that's right, wolf. that happened about 8:30 a.m. local time. this was, of course, several hours before the news of kim jong il's death was made public. certainly people here in south korea, officials are playing it down. they're saying that it wasn't intended for south korea, that this is something that the north occasionally does. it was fired out into the sea. so they're not too concerned. they're certainly playing it down. the feeling here in south korea following the death of kim jong il is concern, wolf. i'd have to say deep concern. it depends on what generation of south korean you're speaking to. younger people are saying, yes, we're concerned. we are relatively calm. we did see this coming. kim jong il was ill back in
2008. that was when he suffered that stroke, and he has been frail ever since. they believe that the south korean media are playing down the story. they're not giving as much coverage as what they normally would. whether that's to keep things relatively calm, who knows, but when you speak to the older generation, we spoke to a man in his 60s, he says he is deeply concerned. he is concerned about the threat of war and that the government, as you say, has heightened the state of alarm for the military. they are in heightened alert. also they have called bang all their workers from holiday. there is a real concern amongst the older generation as to what will happen in the future, wolf. >> all right. we'll stay obviously very, very close touch with you. anna is joining us from seoul. alina cho is joining us once again from new york. alina was in north korea last year. i had a chance to visit separately north korea last year as well, and i've got to tell
you, alina, based on evg i saw when i was there, i assume when you were there, a lot of the leadership is so paranoid, that if south korea or the u.s. were to dramatically step up its state of alert right now, they almost certainly would respond seeing south korean military action or u.s. military action as a provocation. they, in effect, have to show their manhood by responding. that could lead to a miscalculation. >> that's absolutely right. remember, the u.s. and south korea have been enemies of north korea since the country was born in 1948. you know what's interesting to note, too, wolf, as you know is that many u.s. officials are saying, this is obviously true, that an unstable north korea is a more dangerous north korea. a lot of that has to do with the mystery surrounding this next leader, the man they are calling the great successor, just as they called kim jong il the dear
leader and the general. the third son of kim jong il, kim jong un. we don't even know his age. is he said to be either 27 or 28 years old, but we're not entirely sure. we believe that he spent some time studying in switzerland, that he's a fan of basketball, but again we pointed this out earlier. he has no military experience. when i was in north korea in october of 2010, a little more than a year ago, it was his unofficial coming out party, if you will. it is when they elevated him to a four star general in north korea. again, a lot of questions about whether he is fit to lead. a lot of questions about whether he will simply be a figurehead or whether he will have real power in north korea. that is why the world community is reacting with such caution and in some cases fear, wolf. >> it's interesting because he's the youngest son. three sons of kim jong il. another son, the older son, i don't know if you know this, but i've read over the years, i've
heard from folks, he's sort of like a playboy hanging around casinos, nightclubs and obviously not part of the north korean regime anymore. the other son not in line for succession because his mother and kim jong il never got married. so it's now the succession is in the hands of the third son, kim jong un. you're familiar with these three sons, right? >> yes, absolutely, wolf. i have a really interesting story about my last trip in north korea when i was there when they unveiled kim jong un as the next leader. the eldest son, kim jong nam, you may recall he came out publicly and said that he opposed the line of succession. just as we were getting that news, i'll never forget this, i was live for cnn in front of the famous statue, the enormous
statue in the center, the founder of kim il sung. after i gave that report with government minders watching me, they came up to my producers and they said the fact that you reported that kim jong nam is opposing the line of succession, that's fine. we can't regulate what you report, but to do it with the statue of kim il sung in the back drop is akin to blasphemy because we see this as the church of north korea. they actually requested that we turn the camera around and report the news with the city in the backdrop. i found that very interesting. it gives you just a little insight into what it is like to report inside that country as a western journalist. wolf, you know that very well. >> i spent six days in pyongyang with severe restrictions obviously. we wound up doing a one-hour
documentary on that trip. fascinating trip for me and i hope for a lot of our viewers as well. we'll have more of that coming up. more on the death of kim jong il coming up. other news including the weather. if you live in the southwest, heavy snows, strong winds, icy roads all heading your way. we'll have the forecast. that's coming up next. what's this? it's progresso's new loaded potato with bacon.
it's good. honey, i love you... oh my gosh, oh my gosh.. look at these big pieces of potato. ♪ what's that? big piece of potato. [ male announcer ] progresso. you gotta taste this soup. people across the southwestern united states bracing for a major winter storm. blizzard warnings are up in several states. some areas could see up to two feet of snow. our rob marciano is joining us right now with the details. rob, looks pretty snowy out there. >> it's certainly in the same spots, wolf, that got a pretty
intense winter storm just a week ago and a week before that. the track really hasn't changed all that much. here's where the intensity is across parts of texas. the texas panhandle and parts of new mexico where it's snowing heavily. there are some state roads in new mexico that are seeing closures at this hour. interstates are open. north texas it's all rain, heavy rain, much needed rain. that rain is going to turn to snow. we've got blizzard warnings in effect from parts of northeast arizona, texas, colorado, kansas, oklahoma. 12 to 15 inches of snow. on the back side we'll get north winds that will gust at times over 40 miles an hour. there's your moisture and snow getting up into parts of high plains as far north as kansas city and then this thing begins to track its way off towards the north and east. also with this strong possibility of seeing severe weather across southern texas, dallas down through houston. this thing will make its way off
towards the east. this storm track hasn't changed all that much. it has kept the east coast on the mild side. when it heads to the northeast it will keep at least the eastern third of the country warm and at times wet. another storm coming closer to christmas, wolf, will be a little bit dicer as far as those who want to do some travel through the holiday. >> a lot of folks dreaming of a white christmas. they'll get it. kim jong un is being called the great successor. that story after the break.
the death of the north korean leader kim jong il is prompting deep security concerns. little is known about the younger man who is supposed to succeed his father. >> reporter: a little over a year ago north koreans got their first glimpse of kim jong un. the young man had been catapulted from obscurity only from the day before to the rank of four star general in the korean people's army. the appearance cemented rumors circulating in and out of the secretive state for about a year that the kim dine nasty would go to a third generation. unlike his father kim jong il or his grandfather kim il sung, their lives are celebrated in great detail every day in the official media, his early life is a blank for most north koreans. the youngest of three known sons of kim jong il, he was born into a life of privilege and luxury.
his compatriots endured famine and extreme poverty. his mother was a japanese-born korean and professional dancer. she studied as a teenager in an international school in switzerland and reportedly speaks english and german. hardly a typical north korean childhood. north korean propaganda mentions none of this preferring to concentrate on the younger kim's deeds of the last year, pulling up his military connections, modern technological skills, and his tireless support of his father. kim jong il was already a seasoned politician when he took over the family dictatorship in 1994 having served a 20-year apprenticeship at his father's side. thought to be only 28 years old and with so little experience, kim jong un will have to rely on powerful guard yangs. north korea's power couple will
help him. his aunt, kim jong il's sister and a four star general. does his unconventional up bringing give hope for change or will his reliance on the vested interests of the old guard mean business as usual on the northern half of the korean peninsula. the world will be watching closely. christy lu stout, cnn, hong kong. we'll have more on the upheaval in pyongyang. we'll get insight from christopher hill. he headed up the u.s. delegation to the north korean nuclear talks.
he's dean of international studies. he served as the u.s. ambassador of korea. thanks very much for coming in. a few technical questions. give us your sense. some have suggested it might be a nice gesture on the part of the obama administration to issue some sort of statement of condolence to the people of north korea. would that be a good idea or a bad idea? >> i think it's all in the drafting. i'd be very careful about issuing condolence on the death of someone who's really been part and parcel of one of the most tyrannical regimes in the world. on the other hand, i think something can be done that will show some sim pa thee to the north core reans. >> how worried are you that the stepped up state of military alert in south korea, u.s. military along the demilitarized zone could prompt the north
koreans to take some sort of step leading to a huge miscalculation. >> first of all i'd be worried if they didn't take some steps to ramp up the level of concern. i think what's probably important for us at this point is to make sure that we're in touch with china and they know precisely what we're doing, what the south koreans are doing in stepping up the alert levels. presumably the chinese have some contacts into the korean peoples army that they could tell them what we're doing. >> how worried are you, ambassador, that kim jong un, who's the apparent successor, who's not even 30 years old yet might try to take some bold military action to sort of prove his credentials to the north korean military leadership? is that a concern? >> well,'s definitely not ready for primetime player, but on the other hand, i don't think he
could take those steps at this point. i think we're kind of shifting, at least for the time being, to a sort of military hunta. the question is whether the north korean military would want to do that. often in these circumstances they want to show how tough they are to the world, and that may have been the reason for these early morning missile tests. i would expect that they will try to show a maximum of stability as they go through what's obviously going to be a very difficult and dicey time for them. >> ambassador hill, thanks very much. i want to stay in close touch with you over these coming days. i suspect it's going to be a touchy situation. the death of the north korean dictator kim jong il, it has the world buzzing right now for good reason. this morning we're hearing reacti candidates. that story and more coming up.
we're getting new information about those devastating floods in the philippines. the death toll continuing to rise. the philippines red cross now putting the number at 713. government disaster relief official puts it at 927 people were killed by flash floods caused by several hours of torrential rain. we'll update you when we get more information. we're also getting reaction to the death of the north korean
leader from kim jong il getting reaction to the death of kim jong il from a couple of the republican presidential candidates. our senior political editor mark press stop is joining us. who's saying what, mark? >> well, wolf we've seen statements out from jon huntsman who was the former u.s. ambassador to china as well as mitt romney. they see opportunity in the death of kim jong il. in fact, let's take a look at what governor huntsman said this morning. he describes kim jong il as a tyrant whose death closes a tragic chapter for the people of north korea and offers them the best opportunity to get on a path towards a more free and open society and political reform. we also see that mitt romney, the former massachusetts governor, says that kim jong il's death represents an opportunity for america to work with our friends to turn north korea off the treacherous course it's on. now as we were coming into this segment we've seen a statement put out by rick perry. this will be one of the major
talking points we will hear from the republican presidential candidates that has to do with north korea's nuclear capability. he says they remain a nuclear power and there is a great threat that they have those weapons. so, wolf, not a major issue in the republican presidential candidate because there's not a whole lot of disagreement, but it will be a talking point on the trail. thanks very much. we are a following the death of the north korean leader. suzanne malveaux will talk to the parents of that florp da a&m band member who died recently from suspected hazing. "cnn newsroom" continues right after the break.