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North Korean Nuclear Standoff

Aired October 9, 2006 - 22:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, everyone. Here is the question of the night, what happens when an outlaw nation run by a ruthless dictator gets the bomb? Could be we're all about to find out.
ANNOUNCER: Raising the stakes... North Korea says it tested a nuclear device. Was it a dud, is it a bluff, or is the world on the brink of a new arms race? Even a nuclear 9/11.

BUSH: The United States condemns this provocative act.

ANNOUNCER: Now the hard part. Doing something about it. Very few options, none of them good. Some down right terrifying.

And, what voters think of the Foley affair. Will instant messages cause lasting damage to Republicans? Across the country and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360. Sitting in tonight for Anderson and reporting from the CNN studios in New York, here's John Roberts.

ROBERTS: Thanks again for joining us. We want to start tonight by showing you a surprising image. A stark contrast in this nighttime satellite image of north and south Korea. One is booming. You can tell by the lights of the cities and the highways. The other, North Korea, is a black hole, an economic basket case. But now out of that black hole where millions of people go hungry comes a nuclear challenge. So all the angles tonight on the underground explosion last night that North Korea calls a nuclear test. More, too, on yet another crisis for the United States. The diplomatic options limited, the military options, worse. We'll also look at North Korea's eccentric dictator and the failing state that he leads. What does Kim Jong-Il want? What will he do if he doesn't get it? First, the explosion and CNN's Dan Rivers.


DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was the moment a North Korean newscaster gleefully announced, the regime had detonated a nuclear device. North Korea's reclusive dictator Kim Jong-Il had warned the world of a test, but when it came, it still sent political shockwaves around the globe. The blast occurred deep underground at a test facility (INAUDIBLE) near the city of Kil Ju in the northeast of the secretive regime, where activity has been monitored for years. Underground explosions give off a unique seismic signature, which was picked up first by the South Koreans and later by Russian and U.S. monitoring stations. As nuclear technicians were making their final preparations, the Japanese prime minister was meeting the president of South Korea. They were the first to react, both condemning the move.

North Korea has been pursuing nuclear technology for more than a decade. It has a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. The regime has ignored the 1994 so-called landmark agreement with the U.S. to stop activity. Analysts think if the reactor was completed, it could produce enough plutonium to build one weapon a year. On the border with North Korea the South Korean army has raised its alert level. The United States has 28,000 troops in South Korea helping to keep an uneasy peace between two countries which are still officially at war.

(on camera): This observation post is one of a handful of places that you can actually get a glimpse into North Korea. Down here is the demilitarized zone, the no man's land that is strewn full of mines and has been deserted since 1953, the end of The Korean War. And just beyond is North Korea itself. This is the last front line in the cold war, a frontline that now has global significance.

(voice-over): On the streets of the South Korean capital, Seoul, protesters vented their anger at the news.

TRANSLATION OF UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't say my friends at school are in panic, but they definitely seem nervous from this incident.

TRANSLATION OF UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no doubt that we have to deliver our strong message.

TRANSLATION OF UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the global community has to stand strong as North Korea keeps threatening the world peace.

RIVERS: There are now fears the nuclear technology first developed by the west will be sought by other nations in the region. South Korea and Japan both rely on the U.S. deterrent. But now they're living next to a tyrannical dictator who claims to have exploded a nuclear device. What was once a fear in Iraq could now become a reality in North Korea.


ROBERTS: Dan Rivers joins us now live from the DMZ, the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea. And Dan, when will we hear if, in fact, it was actually a nuclear explosion last night?

RIVERS: Well, we're being told by a presidential security adviser in the last few minutes that it's going to be at least two weeks before they know the exact nature of this blast when they know the size and the exact location. There's been a disagreement about that at the moment. What's interesting here is the effect that it's going to have on South Korea's policy towards the north. This is the border right here, just beyond -- a bit of waste ground and then a river. Beyond that river is North Korea. So this is about as close as you can physically get to North Korea. Now, at the moment this border is largely sealed off to the South Koreans but there is very limited trade, about 30 or so vehicles are allowed across into a special economic zone for every day. Now, it may be that these South Koreans as a result of this nuclear test decide to completely seal this border off to stop all southern contact with the north, to stop their engagement with Kim Jong-Il's regime, the so-called sunshine doctrine.

ROBERTS: Something else to ration up tensions. Dan Rivers from the DMZ. Thanks very much.

Again, for the moment the focus at the White House seems to be on diplomacy. U.N. ambassador John Bolton is circulating a draft resolution at the Security Council calling those it does for tough new sanctions against Pyongyang. It's not clear if China and Russia will go along with it. But a nuclear explosion, if indeed it was a nuclear explosion, is certainly something that gets your attention. CNN Suzanne Malveaux reports now it's a notion that the White House appears to be counting on.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush declared North Korea's test a threat to international peace and security.

BUSH: The United States condemns this provocative act. Once again, North Korea has defied the will of the international community and the international community will respond.

MALVEAUX: But, in fact, the alleged North Korean nuclear test comes after three years of warnings from President Bush.

BUSH: We will not tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The United States' credibility is on the line.

MALVEAUX: So early morning Mr. Bush made a round of urgent calls to the leaders of China, South Korea, Russia and Japan, to ensure those once engaged in talks to convince North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program would respond with one voice.

JAMES SASSER, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: You have a paranoid, isolated, dangerous state now on the verge of possessing nuclear weapons.

ALBRIGHT: There really could be a nuclear war in northeast Asia, and so you have to -- you have to now focus on this problem much more and this test scares people.

MALVEAUX: That fear nuclear weapons experts say, could work in the Bush administration's favor, making the U.N. Security Council more receptive to the president's call for tougher sanctions against North Korea for pursuing its nuclear ambitions. Today the council condemned North Korea's actions, but its neighbors are nervous about how Pyongyang might react to a resolution with real teeth.

ALBRIGHT: China has made clear that it sees the tough economic sanctions as just provoking North Korea toward a military confrontation. MALVEAUX: Japan and South Korea fear their neighbor's regime could collapse and leave the region in chaos. In the meantime, North Korea has consistently called for the U.S. to conduct one-on-one talks, but U.S. officials reiterated the Bush administration will not be sucked into a showdown with North Korea, that it will only engage in regional negotiations. Many political and nuclear analysts believe that approach is a mistake.

ALBRIGHT: The United States holds the key, and it has to talk directly to North Korea. It has to be able to make a deal because in the end North Korea fears the United States the most, and most worries about a U.S. attack or a U.S. effort to destroy the regime.


ROBERTS: So, Suzanne Malveaux, the administration has been pursuing this North Korea policy for the better part of six years now. Why has it failed to change North Korea's behavior so far?

MALVEAUX: You know, John if you ask nuclear analysts, I think it's all about credibility here. They really believe that the Bush administration's biggest problem is that it's moving the red line. You remember back in July when they had the missile launch test and the Bush administration said of course, we're going to get tough with North Korea. You've got this apparent nuclear test that's already happened. The Bush administration saying we're going to get tough. But if you look at President Bush's language today he also issues this warning saying that North Korea cannot go ahead and share this nuclear technology or nuclear weapons with rogue states or terrorist groups. And nuclear analysts look at that as perhaps even moving that red line once again. John?

ROBERTS: All right, Suzanne Malveaux at the White House. Thanks very much.

Diplomacy, the humorist Will Rogers once said is the art of saying nice doggy while you look around for a rock to smack it with. As Suzanne just mentioned the administration refuses to talk one-on- one with the doggy in question and rocks seem a little hard to come by these days. So where does that leave us? Earlier tonight I talked about it with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson who once had the job dealing with North Korea back in the Clinton administration.


ROBERTS: Governor Richardson, if in fact this was a nuclear test, which indications appear that it was, are you surprised that the North Koreans went ahead and did this?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, (D) NEW MEXICO: Well, they've been hinting at it for a while. I'm really worried about it because I believe that they have hunkered down. They feel that diplomacy is not working. Six-party talks are not working. That the U.S. won't talk to them. It's another way, also, to get the attention of the international community. They have felt, I believe, that there's too much attention on the Middle East, on Iraq. So it's a cry for attention but also a move to isolation that I thank it's a bit dangerous because it means their military leadership seems to have prevailed in an internal debate in North Korea that they should get tough, they should show their military muscle to maximize their negotiating leverage. But it's not a good situation because there's going to be an arms race in Asia which is in no one's interest.

ROBERTS: But why is Kim so desperate to get the attention of the United States?

RICHARDSON: Because I believe he psychologically feels he's been dissed, that he's not treated with respect. He wants to be on the par of a major power in Asia, with the United States. He wants us to negotiate with him directly, as we did in the Clinton administration. He feels that basically he gets no respect, to use that comic line. The problem is that he is so unpredictable and North Korea has nuclear weapons and close to a million and a half troops, that you got to take this blunder of his seriously because he's dangerous. So it's important that we have a strong sensible policy to deal with it rather than continue refusing to negotiate and talk to North Korea.

ROBERTS: America keeps giving Kim the cold shoulder, unlike the previous administration. Kim's tantrums continue to escalate. Are we going to soon come to a point where this gets really dangerous or are we already at that point?

RICHARDSON: Well, it's awfully dangerous now because what this nuclear weapons test is going to produce is an arms race. Japan, South Korea is going to arm strongly, rearm, possibly nuclear weapons. So that's not healthy for the peninsula and we have securely interest there, we have troops there. So what needs to happen, I believe, is direct talks to resolve the crisis, U.S., North Korea. We need to have sanctions at the United Nations. Military technology sanctions, financial transaction sanctions, at least to squeeze them. And then China, the big player who's been absent, needs to step up and put some real pressure with food and fuel to the North Koreans.

ROBERTS: Does this embolden Iran as well, Governor Richardson? Are the Iranians looking at North Korea saying, they fire off these missiles, they develop nuclear weapons and then they shoot off a nuclear weapon. Nothing really much is happening to them so what would happen to us if we went ahead and built one?

RICHARDSON: Well, this is why I believe the Bush administration needs to listen to Secretary of State James Baker, the former secretary, who says that you need to talk to Syria, we need to talk to Iran, we need to talk to North Korea. We need to talk to them about stopping their nuclear weapons development but do it directly. Carrot and stick, not necessarily giving anything up, but by isolating ourselves and saying we're not going to talk to you because you exhibit bad behavior, that is not smart, tough diplomacy.

ROBERTS: Well, we'll see if they can get that at the United Nations, three years running they haven't been able to get it yet. Governor Bill Richardson, thanks very much. Appreciate you joining us today from Palm Beach.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

ROBERTS: North Korea's apparent nuclear test may be the latest but it is certainly not the first to shake the world. Here's the raw data. Since 1945, there have been more than 2,000 nuclear tests worldwide. Not only did the United States conduct the first one. It has also carried out the most, 1,039. The next most prolific tester, the former Soviet Union, with 718 tests. And France with 198. The debate will continue over whether North Korea actually detonated a nuclear device. Up next on "360," the impact the test may have on the rest of the world. And later, an exclusive journey inside North Korea.


ANNOUNCER: These people have committed the crime most damaging to North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-Il. They made contact with the outside world.


ROBERTS: Undercover video, a rare look at the brutal reality of life in the secret state.

But first, new allegations about former Congressman Mark Foley's relationship with pages and what it may mean for Republicans just weeks before the elections. When "360" continues.


ROBERTS: We've been telling you about North Korea's claim that it tested a nuclear device over the weekend. U.S. officials are questioning the size of the detonation but other experts say it's not the size of the explosion that matters. It's the impact such an event has on North Korea's neighbors and the rest of the world. Here's CNN's Senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Senior U.S. intelligence officials tell CNN North Korea's underground detonation was so small, it could have been caused by several hundred tons of conventional explosives, such as TNT. One U.S. official told CNN it was a sub-kiloton explosive event, adding, we cannot confirm if it was a nuclear explosion. The U.S. Geological Survey detected a seismic event at 10:35 Monday morning, North Korea time, some 240 miles northeast of the capital of Pyongyang, matching the announced location of the test. But it registered a magnitude 4.2, indicating the yield was much smaller than the several kilotons from a typical nuclear test. Still, experts argue that really doesn't matter.

MIKE CHINOY, PACIFIC COUNCIL ON INTERNATIONAL POLICY: It would be irresponsible for any serious policymaker in Washington, Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul, or elsewhere to go on the assumption that simply because it was small that the North Koreans don't have a nuclear bomb.

MCINTYRE (on camera): The relatively small blast raises several possibilities. That the test was not nuclear but an elaborate charade. Or that the test was nuclear, but intentionally small, perhaps to limit radiation and conserve fissile material. Or the test was supposed to be bigger, but something went wrong. As one U.S. official put it, more fizzle than pop.

(voice-over): Still, if the idea was to get the world's attention and increase North Korea's leverage at the bargaining table, it was a booming success.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Essentially this test was a political act and not a military act. And all the political consequences are going to happen whether it was fake or true, whether it was a fizzle or a success.

MCINTYRE: Few in the U.S. government doubted North Korea had the ability to conduct a simple nuclear test, but most intelligence officials believe it still lacks the technology to miniaturize a nuclear bomb and put it on a missile that could hit the United States. But there are real fears that tests could spark an Asian arms race.

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FORMER WEAPONS INSPECTOR: We could be on a spiral where the tensions will be ratcheted up, the chance of military conflict will go up, and in that you'll have a greater chance that countries like Japan and South Korea will start to re-evaluate whether they should get nuclear weapons too.

MCINTYRE: For now the working assumption is that the test was, in fact, a nuclear event and that more data including air and ground tests for radiation will confirm that. Already experts say the seismic wave pattern bears the signature of a nuclear blast. Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.


ROBERTS: We continue now to cover all the angles on North Korea's suspected nuclear testing. Joining me now is Robert Kaplan, national correspondent for "Atlantic Monthly" magazine, and recent author of a chilling article on the Korean crisis. Bob Kaplan, what do you think that this nuclear test, if it is in fact a nuclear test, means for regional, even global security and stability?

ROBERT KAPLAN, THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY: Well, we've been having an Asian arms race for many years now, John. No longer do you have peasant armies in Asia. What you've got is real civil military industrial complexes building in India, China, the Korean peninsula, Japan, elsewhere. Europe is sort of dying as a military power and Asia is rising. And the North Korean test in particular, what it indicates is how weak the regime may actually be. Nuclear bombs are increasingly a poor man's weapon. It's a way to get attention. It's a way to solidify the legitimacy of a regime, half of whose population is starving. Population about the size of Iraq that's much poorer, with chemical, biological weapons and which could collapse at any time in the next 10 years or so.

ROBERTS: You suggest in what is a very fine article on this whole issue in "Atlantic Monthly" that Kim is beginning to lose his edge and therefore may be becoming more panicky, more dangerous. Do you think that this test is part of that?

KAPLAN: Well, he tried -- he tried getting our attention with missiles over the summer and it didn't really work. President Bush instead of sending Secretary of State Rice to Asia sent Assistant Secretary Hill. It was sort of met with a collective shrug. Kim's nightmare is not the United States. That's not what he stays up at night worrying about. He stays up at night worrying about China because China covets his geographical territory but really doesn't think much of his regime. Yes, they want it to survive. They don't want it to collapse suddenly. But they do have plans for a post-Kim Korea that would be a sort of Tibetan like buffer state of Gorbachevian communism that would gradually have more and more links with South Korea. So to have more leverage with China he needs to get our attention and talk directly to us. And that's what this test was about.

ROBERTS: So what does the United States want? What does this White House want? Does it want to leave Kim in power but have him behave or would it like to see regime change?

KAPLAN: Well, it seems that they would want to see regime change. That might be irresponsible if it happens suddenly. Because nobody in northeast Asia wants a sudden collapse of North Korea because with Kim vial, a population poorer than Iraq, with even less of a chance for democracy of any kind, you could have real chaos. What people want is a real soft landing, transitional dictatorship for many years that would gradually reunite with South Korea. But getting that soft landing is going to depend more upon China than upon us. Because they're the ones with the military contacts inside North Korea. They're in a better position to manage some regime change than anyone else is.

ROBERTS: What about the military scenario, Bob Kaplan, from the United States' standpoint. To use the military, as it almost did in 1984, to take out North Korea's nuclear program. Are there any good options?

KAPLAN: No, there isn't. If Kim gets more desperate, remember, he's got 13,000 artillery pieces. He can lob 300,000 rounds an hour on greater Seoul and South Korea. It's a target-rich environment. If we went into North Korea, it would be sort of the mother of all humanitarian relief operations because of the starving population. There wouldn't be, I don't believe, any unilateral U.S. military intervention there without the cooperation of the Chinese, the republic of Korean forces and maybe even the Russians and the Japanese.

ROBERTS: Well, as we said, no good options. Robert Kaplan, "Atlantic Monthly." Thanks very much. I recommend Robert's article to you by the way if you want to take a look at the possible scenarios of what happens if North Korea comes unglued.

These latest developments come just as South Korea's foreign minister Ban Ki-Moon is formally nominated as the next secretary general of the United Nations. Ban would take over for Kofi Annan whose second five-year term expires at the end of this year. The nomination now goes before the 192 member general assembly for approval.

While Kim Jong-Il puts the world on notice, we take you inside his country. Coming up in the next hour, a CNN exclusive, North Korea, the secret state. We'll give you a rare and chilling look at a rogue regime ruled by fear.

But first, more trouble for the GOP after a Republican lawmaker says he received warnings about former Congressman Mark Foley's e- mails with at least one page years ago.


ROBERTS: From the House to the Senate to the Oval Office, the scandal surrounding former lawmaker Mark Foley's relationship with male pages is taking more turns and causing more trouble for Republicans. New polls show how much the fallout is hurting the president and his party. We'll get to that in just a moment. But first, another bombshell about who knew what and when. Here's CNN's Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As far back as the year 2000, six years before Mark Foley's inappropriate conduct with pages became public, a former page contacted Congressman Jim Kolbe's office to complain about an e-mail he got from Foley. We got a complaint that this made the former page uncomfortable, Kolbe's spokeswoman Korenna Cline confirms to CNN. It's unclear if Kolbe directly confronted Foley about the complaint or if it was handled by staff. It was Kolbe's understanding that corrective action was taken and the matter was resolved but his office did not know specifics.

Even as Kolbe's awareness of Foley's behavior is becoming public, another Republican is emerging as a central figure in this drama, former House clerk Jeff Trandahl. CNN is told Trandahl, who left his job last year repeatedly raised red flags about Foley's behavior years before Republicans confronted Foley about an e-mail with a former page, according to several sources familiar with the situation.

Trandahl took his concerns to Kirk Fordham, Foley's former chief of staff, many times, the sources tell CNN. As clerk, Trandahl had authority over pages and was one of a handful of Republicans who met with Foley at the end of 2005 about a non-explicit e-mail between Foley and a former male page.

Multiple sources, including one familiar with Trandahl's version of events, tell CNN that Trandahl had both observed and was told about worrisome Foley behavior in the House clerk room and elsewhere and was actively monitoring Foley's interaction with pages.

How Congressman Kolbe and senior Republican staff members handled all this is a key question for the investigations. It is also central to an undercurrent in the GOP, which the Foley scandal has thrown into the open. Tensions between gay Republicans and some Christian conservatives who consider homosexuality a sin. TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: This is what you end getting. You get congressman chasing 16-year-old boys down the halls of Congress.

BASH: Foley publicly acknowledged he is gay just over a week ago. Congressman Kolbe announced he is gay 10 years ago. Both Fordham and Trandahl are also gay, but gay advocacy groups insist suggestions by some conservatives that there was an effort to protect Foley are ludicrous.

CHUCK WOLFE, PRESIDENT, GAY & LESBIAN VICTORY FUND: It's the gay men who actually tried to do something about it, and yet people are saying things like, well, they were involved. They tried to cover it up. Well, actually the evidence appears to be just the opposite.

BASH (on camera): The investigations are the best hope of resolving conflicting accounts about who knew what when. Resolving ongoing tensions between gay Republicans and cultural conservatives is a whole different challenge.

Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.


ROBERTS: The latest accusations could leave a lasting Mark on the Republicans. New polls out are painting a gloomy picture about the GOP's handling of the scandal, especially the speaker of the House.

But is the Foley fallout and the war in Iraq enough to give the Democrats a victory next month? We're covering all the angles tonight on 360.


ROBERTS: President Bush always likes to say he doesn't look at polls. But maybe he should. Tonight a new CNN poll has some troubling numbers for the president and the top Republican leadership in Congress. And it comes just weeks before the midterm elections.

CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider is live in West Palm Beach for us tonight with the results.

Bill, what does the latest poll say about House Speaker Dennis Hastert and whether or not people think that Republicans are covering up, or at least covered up what Foley did?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, most Americans believe speaker Hastert would r should resign his position as speaker. And in fact, a third of Republicans believe that Hastert should resign.

Most people also believe that the failure of Republican leaders to investigate this matter was part of a deliberate cover up. It was not because they were unaware of the serious and inappropriate nature of Mr. Foley's behavior.

ROBERTS: So the way that Americans are reading it, what kind of impact might this have on the midterm election, Bill?

SCHNEIDER: Well, we're seeing a very significant impact. Among likely voters, Democrats nationwide have a 21-point lead over Republicans, which is about double what it was a week ago.

The main reason for that? Because Republicans seem far less enthusiastic about voting.

Many years ago Ronald Reagan's pollster talked after Watergate about what he called the embarrassed Republican vote: many Republicans who chose to stay home rather than vote for their party. That could be happening again.

ROBERTS: So obviously, Bill, this has a big impact on the 16th Congressional District which -- in Florida, which is where you are now. But is it spilling over into other congressional races?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I visited the next door race, the 22nd race, where there's a senior Republican, one of the senior members of the Florida congressional delegations, and he's stressing his seniority, how much he can do for the district. But you know what? A lot of voters are saying, oh, my God, what are they doing up there in Washington?

And Congress does not look very good to them right now, and they don't value seniority. Seniority is actually making the incumbent more vulnerable and the race looks very close right now.

ROBERTS: Four weeks is an awfully long time any time in politics, particularly in an election year. Do you get any kind of a sense, Bill, that already this Foley scandal is starting to diminish a little bit? I mean, take a look. We've got North Korea all over the headlines today. Who knows what could be in the headlines tomorrow.

And is the impact therefore starting to diminish, as well?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I think that the headlines are beginning to diminish in part because you have other stories like North Korea, but the impact, I think, is lasting, because it was really shocking to Americans to read about what is going on in Washington and this is not a complicated issue like Iraq or the Middle East.

This is an issue that most Americans can grasp, that they understand. And it just creates the impression that Washington is a very alien place, and Congress has gotten out of control.

ROBERTS: Something about living inside the beltway, not sure what it is. Bill Schneider in West Palm Beach for us tonight. Thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Losing poll position is one thing for the Republicans; losing the elections next month, well, that's something completely different. Up next, more on what's at stake for the GOP and whether it can turn things around.

And in the next hour, secretive and sealed off, we take you behind the barbed wire for an exclusive look at life and death inside North Korea.


ROBERTS: You can tell by that photo montage, it has been some very good years for the Republicans. The president has been running the nation for nearly six years now. His party has dominated the House since January of 1995 and the Senate for most of the past 12 years.

But with Iraq in turmoil, a president losing support and a scandal that's not going away, could the party soon be over for the GOP?


ROBERTS (voice-over): Each new day a new revelation about former Congressman Mark Foley, every new revelation taking the famously disciplined Republican Party farther off script.

CHARLIE BLACK, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it has certainly thrown us off message, and it's been a huge distraction from the message we would like to get out there.

ROBERTS: So instead of campaigning four weeks before the election, Republicans are focused on undoing the damage. The Foley scandal is an unfortunate twist, but not a death knell, says Republican strategist Charlie Black.

BLACK: It's not fatal, no. There's plenty of time, four weeks to go. You wouldn't want to have the election today if you were a Republican, but with four weeks to go the pendulum could swing back and forth a couple of times between now and election day.

ROBERTS: And to help swing the pendulum back, Republicans are presenting a united front on the Sunday talk shows, trying to put behind them intraparty sniping politicos call the circular firing squad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to focus on what are the facts of this case and investigate it and get the facts out there.

ROBERTS: But Republicans have more to worry about than just the Foley scandal.

STUART ROTHENBERG, THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: The Mark Foley scandal has obviously added to their problems. But their problems predate that. It's about the war in Iraq. It's about the president's performance and reputation. It's about the administration's response to Katrina. A series of problems, ethics and performance. And right now the voters seem to want a change, and that means Democrats.

ROBERTS: Democrats smell blood over the latest ratings that show control of both the House and Senate within striking distance. A rise in the president's poll numbers have stalled, and some conservative leaders are predicting even evangelical values voters will stay home on November 7.

ROTHENBERG: It's going to be all about Republican turnout if Republicans are disillusioned, embarrassed, depressed about the state of things, they won't vote. And then the Democrats will have a terrific chance to take the Senate, as well as the House.

ROBERTS: Analysts also point to new states in play. The Senate race in Tennessee and the tightening contest in Virginia, where incumbent Senator George Allen's campaign has come all but unglued over charges of racism and denying his family's religious background. But not so fast, says Charlie Black.

BLACK: Nobody could have been shot more full of holes, even if he did do some of it to himself, and he was over a full week period. And he's still ahead of the polls. The best is yet to come for Allen.

ROBERTS: If Republicans are thankful for anything, it's that the Foley scandal erupted now and not November 1. Already, it's being pushed out of the headlines. And, as party faithful like to point out, the election is still a month away, in a business where a day is a long time, a week, forever.

RONALD KESSLER, NEWSMAX.COM: Well, it clearly has depressed the polls. It certainly has taken some of the momentum away. But a lot of this is ephemeral. It's something that, you know, I think will go away within a week or so. You know, in the end, all these people actually did take appropriate action. It's not a scandal that I think has legs.


ROBERTS: So given all this bad news, is it too late for the GOP, or is it too early to write them off? With me now is blogger and "TIME" magazine essayist Andrew Sullivan, who's also the author of the new book, "Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get it Back".

Andrew Sullivan, how much trouble do you think the Republican Party is in over this whole Foley scandal?

ANDREW SULLIVAN, AUTHOR, "CONSERVATIVE SOUL": I think the Foley scandal works because it's resonates with a broader story about abuse of power, been in there too long being corrupt, being out of touch and also a Republican Party that has essentially abandoned some core conservative principles.

You see, it's conservatives that are mad at this Congress as much as liberals on things like spending, where they been spending faster than any Democratic Congress, let alone Republican Congress since FDR, immigration, where they can't agree on how to control illegal immigration.

And the war, I think. The National Intelligence Estimate found that the Iraq war has made the world more congenial to terrorists than less. And that's -- that's having an impact.

ROBERTS: Right. So it all adds up to perhaps some trouble on November the 7th. You write in next week's "New Republic" that you find the Foley scandal infuriating. What infuriates you about it?

SULLIVAN: Well, I said it's infuriating because it's hard to know exactly what it's about. I mean, there's been a series of things that we've heard about. We don't know the full facts. I think we have to wait for the facts.

But I also think within the Republican Party there is a problem. And they have plenty of gay people in their ranks. They privately tolerate them. I call them closet tolerances. Including the president. Vice president's daughter is a lesbian.

And yet they play an anti-gay message at the base. And that's what's behind this particular problem. You can't send one -- give one face to Washington and another face to the base.

And the people at the base realize they've been kind of -- they've been kind of lied to about the subject. And these people in Washington aren't telling the truth.

ROBERTS: All right. Well, what about from the position of gays who work for the Republican Party? Is it -- is it a hypocritical position for the party to take?

SULLIVAN: Well, I think it is if they're supporting anti-gay policies. I know that the psychological toll that it's taken on people who have been Republicans for many years and who are gay, now find it impossible to carry on. Increasingly hard to carry on.

I mean, it used to be the Republican Party was "leave us alone party."


SULLIVAN: Now it's "let us tell you what you should do in your bedroom and all sorts of parts of your life." You can't have the religious right and openly gay Republicans in the same party without a big fight happening.

ROBERTS: This latest revelation, Andrew, that Represented Jim Kolbe received a complaint about Foley back in the year 2000 and confronted him about it. That means that for six years Foley was acting inappropriately. How is it that the leadership didn't know that Foley was going to be a problem?

SULLIVAN: I don't know, John. I mean, that's the bottom line. It seems from what we've heard that they, whether they knew or not, is really not the question. The question to me is, they should have known.

These are kids under their care. They have an obligation to take care of them. If anybody is abusing that power, the leadership should be right on top of it and stamping it out. It looks like some people did try and stamp it out, but you need the big guns to really do it, and they were AWOL.

ROBERTS: Well, let me point to just another phrase in your article. You compare Dennis Hastert to Cardinal Bernard Law, who looked the other way while all this abuse was going on with the priests.

SULLIVAN: I think they're very uncomfortable with all this. An openly gay person would find someone like Foley absolutely reprehensible and disgusting.

But these people can't actually grapple with it. They can't be honest and candid about the subject. And I think at some point there was a failure of communication. This guy Foley should have been told years ago to cut it out or he'll be out of there.

But they didn't. They couldn't find the words. They're too uncomfortable. And they're too busy pandering to the base in order to deal with the problems they have in Washington.

ROBERTS: Andrew Sullivan, thanks very much for your thoughts. Appreciate it. Also like your article coming out next week in the "New Republic". Thanks.

In Iraq next -- or to Iraq next where hundreds of Iraqi police officers became ill after eating in a mess hall. Was it an attack by insurgents or just negligence?

Plus, back to North Korea. Few outside the country know what life is like for those who live there, until now. Coming up, a rare look inside North Korea as CNN presents "Undercover in the Secret State" when 360 continues.


ROBERTS: "The Shot of the Day", what some people might call a kissing fool, that's coming up. But first, Erica Hill from Headline News joins us in the 360 news and business bulletin.

Hi, Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: John, we begin tonight in Iraq, where authorities have arrested the man in charge of the mess hall where hundreds of Iraqi police officers fell ill after eating their Sunday evening meal, breaking their daily Ramadan fast. Now initial lab tests on the food and water suggest it was not a deliberate attack but rather negligence by the contractor.

Meantime, another day of violence in Iraq. At least 40 gunmen surrounded Iraqi army checkpoint in Baghdad and kidnapped 11 soldiers today. In a city Baghdad neighborhood, gunmen shot and killed the brother of Iraq's vice president. He was the third member of his family to be murdered this year.

At one U.S. soldier and three U.S. Marines were killed in Iraq in just the past 48 hours, making a total of 31 U.S. troops killed so far this month.

On Wall Street, stocks rebounding today despite higher oil praises and news of North Korea's nuclear weapons test. The Dow closed up seven at 11,857, 13 points shy of matching Thursday's record close. The NASDAQ tacked on 11. The S&P basically flat but still up one point.

And Internet search engine Google is buying the popular online video site for the low, low price of $1.65 billion in stock. YouTube is one of the most well-known online video sites. More than 100 million downloads a day, John.

ROBERTS: And how many times -- how many times have you kicked yourself, Erica, to say why didn't I invent that?

HILL: At least once a day. Yes.

ROBERTS: Yes. We're in television. We know people want to be on TV. We should have figured it out and we didn't.

HILL: Dang it.

ROBERTS: The next one. We'll get the next one.

HILL: OK. I like your thinking.

ROBERTS: And check out our "Shot of the Day", because not too many people would want to do this. A new world record has been set for kissing snakes.


ROBERTS: Yes. It took this part-time snake charmer from Thailand less than an hour to kiss 19 king cobras, which are the most venomous snakes in the world.

Guinness World Records has very strict rules for winning the most cobras kissed title. You might not know it but they do. You have to make sure that your lips touch the snake's head.


ROBERTS: If you're bitten in any way you're automatically disqualified from seeking the record. Probably disqualified from life, as well.

HILL: I was going to say, don't you have bigger concerns if the snake actually bites you than whether or not you're losing the record?

ROBERTS: I would think so, yes. The snake charmer says he spent a lot of time exercising his legs to make sure that he could jump away if any of the snakes tried to bite them, which it looks like all of them did.

HILL: Oh! It looks like, yes, one sort of jumped back at him, like, "Don't you be kissing me, buddy."

ROBERTS: Yes, exactly. You know, it's a reaction that a lot of women have when I try to kiss them, as well.

HILL: That's why it's a good thing you got married. There you go.

ROBERTS: Yes. Thanks, Erica.

HILL: Have a good night, John.

ROBERTS: You, too.

Tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING", a new reality for millions of commuters. The fight against terror goes underground.


CHIEF JOE CARTER, MBTA TRANSIT POLICE: What we hope to achieve and will achieve in this program is a high degree of deterrence, detection and prevention of a potential terrorist attack.


ROBERTS: It's already taking place in some cities, and it could be coming to your hometown. That and all of the latest on the North Korea nuclear tensions tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING", starting at 6 Eastern Time.

And that's it for this part of 360. For Anderson Cooper, I'm John Roberts. More from us on North Korea straight ahead. A rare look inside a country so secretive and, frankly, so surreal that people call it the hermit kingdom. CNN presents "Undercover in the Secret State", next.


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