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Morning News Brief: North Korea Missile Test, Turkish Vote, Ohio Manhunt


Up first, the United States says it has run out of patience with North Korea. So what's the Trump administration do now? A missile test failed in North Korea over the weekend, but tension remains. On the birthday of North Korea's founder, the government showed off missiles in a parade and also tried to test one - didn't work. It happened just as Vice President Pence visited U.S. ally South Korea.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: We will meet any use of conventional or nuclear weapons with an overwhelming and effective response.

INSKEEP: One U.S. official says if there had been a nuclear test over the weekend - which there was not - the U.S. may well have responded.


All right, a couple of colleagues who have been covering this story - NPR's Rob Schmitz is in Shanghai, and Scott Detrow from NPR's Politics team is here in Washington. Hello to you both.


ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: Let's listen to a little more of what Vice President Pence said in Seoul today.


PENCE: Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan. North Korea would do well not to test his resolve.

GREENE: Scott - mentioning other military strikes from President Trump there, is President Trump getting ready to hit North Korea?

DETROW: Well, whether or not he is, I think it's clear that President Trump and the Trump administration want North Korea to think that this is a real option for the United States. You've seen increasingly tough talk from President Trump, saying declaratively and bluntly, the U.S. will solve the problem, you know, this from Vice President Mike Pence, also national security officials telling various news outlets that the U.S. is actively looking at different options here. The difference of course between North Korea and Syria and Afghanistan is that this is a country with a massive arsenal that could strike our allies, like South Korea and Japan, you know, almost immediately if there was any sort of confrontation. So it's very high stakes.

GREENE: OK. High stakes and nerves in Asia where, Rob Schmitz, you are. And we should say - Rob, I mean, the vice president - not just these tough words but he goes to a visit right in the demilitarized zone, where you can actually look into North Korea. I mean, is he sending some kind of message there?

SCHMITZ: Well, I think visiting the DMZ is something past presidents have done, and it's something Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did a month ago when he visited the region. So a state visit to South Korea usually involves a trip there. But Pence's visit to the DMZ today carries more weight because I think relations are so tense in this region.

And, you know, he addressed this escalation in the speeches he made today. He said that all options are on the table when it comes to the North. As you mentioned, he talked about Syria and was - he sort of spoke in a threatening tone. But what's interesting also is that this seemed all to contradict Trump's NSA adviser, H.R. McMaster, who told ABC this weekend that the president was not considering military action against the North for now.

GREENE: I mean, different messages coming from different people in the administration. Scott Detrow, is this a White House that is sort of learning as they go here in these early days?

DETROW: Well, I think a lot of people keep coming back to that quote from President Trump last week, saying - talking about his meeting with China's president, Xi Jinping, saying that, you know, he thought China could really control the situation here. But after listening for 10 minutes, I realized it's not so easy. I thought that they had tremendous power, but it's not what you would think. So I mean...

INSKEEP: A reminder that perhaps he hadn't been listening for 10 minutes before. But go ahead. Go ahead.

DETROW: (Laughter) But I mean, I think one big shift you saw in terms of how Trump deals with China is this issue of currency manipulation. That's something he talked a lot about on the campaign trail, saying...

GREENE: Over and over again...

DETROW: Over and over, almost part of his daily stump speech. And he changed his minds, said they wouldn't do that. And then this weekend, he tweeted that - why would I label them that when we're working with them to solve the North Korea issue?

INSKEEP: Scott, you made an interesting point when you reminded us that President Trump promised, at one point, that I will solve the problem - we will solve the problem of North Korea. I just went back and counted. President Trump is the 13th American president to be dealing with this North Korean regime, the 13th...

GREENE: That's amazing.

INSKEEP: ...President in a row, a reminder of what a giant order that is to solve this problem. Up to now, for president after president, this has been a problem to manage not solve.

GREENE: All right, Rob Schmitz, I know you're going to be covering this story. Thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

GREENE: And Scott Detrow, stay with us as we turn to another story. Turkey has now just voted, really, to undermine its own democracy. Steve, what exactly happened?

INSKEEP: Well, Turkey's president claimed victory in a referendum over the weekend. And I'm sure he would not say it undermines democracy. But Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked for and narrowly received much more power. The referendum here changes Turkey's constitution, abolishes the post of prime minister and does add to fears that a popular Democratic leader has made his country far less democratic. Remember, this is the president whose crackdown on the media put journalists in jail, put opposition lawmakers in jail. The vote was very close, roughly 51 to 49 percent. And a main opposition party says it's going to challenge many of the ballots.

GREENE: And we've got NPR's Peter Kenyon on the line in Istanbul. Hey, Peter.


GREENE: So what is - exactly does this mean? Is Turkey a different country now after this vote?

KENYON: Well, a lot of this isn't going to kick in till after the next elections, and those are set for 2019. But, I mean, really Erdogan has been acting like a very strong president ever since he was elected in 2014. And at the moment, he's got extraordinary powers because of this state of emergency Steve referenced, this huge purge, more than 100,000 people - military, civil service, media.

And the government yesterday sees this vote as a public stamp of approval for Erdogan's increasingly strong-handed rule basically. But what is he ruling? - a very divided nation, no matter how many times he called for unity. You know, I listened to his speech last night. He kept calling Turkey my nation, as in no one can threaten my nation.

GREENE: Belongs to him...


GREENE: It belongs to him, not the people, which is...

KENYON: It almost sounded that way for a minute. And he's threatening to bring back the death penalty. That could end the EU bid for Turkey, raise a lot of questions about where it's heading. And you know, as we keep saying, this is important. All those anti-ISIS airstrikes, they're coming from Turkish air bases. There's the migrant issue. There's NATO. A lot of places - the West relies on Turkey. And those strains, we have to say, are pretty - and those ties, we have to say, are pretty strained right now.

GREENE: Yeah. I mean, you mentioned an important but strained relationship with the United States. Scott Detrow, I mean, President Obama tolerated Erdogan as it looked like there were signs he was moving closer and closer to being more authoritarian with these crackdowns and so forth. Is there any sign that President Trump is going to handle this relationship differently?

DETROW: I don't think so. I know one consistent of Trump has been his comfort with autocratic or strongman rulers, his praise for Vladimir Putin very well-documented, I think it's safe to say. You know, he met with Egypt's president, el-Sissi, the other week in the White House. He had very warm words, saying that el-Sissi's done a fantastic job.

The readout we got from an early call between President Trump and Erdogan was positive. They talked about working together to defeat ISIS. And Trump actually praised Erdogan several times last year when he was responding to the coup. That's a response that, you know, as Peter mentioned, involved a lot of crackdowns.

GREENE: So Peter, no sign that the U.S.-Turkey relationship is going to change fundamentally here?

KENYON: You always hear that it's too important economically, securitywise. But at the moment, the rhetoric is certainly on a very dangerous edge.

INSKEEP: This is a reminder, I think, that when you learn in school that democracy is majority-rule, that's an incomplete answer. It's not quite right. It's not even just the rule of law. Democracy, we've learned, is a situation where nobody has a monopoly on power. We've seen...

GREENE: And you don't call it my country.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And we've seen a demonstration of that here in the United States. The president has to wrestle with the courts. He has to wrestle with Congress. Congress has to wrestle with people in town hall meetings. They've all got to deal with the media. The situation that's evolving in Turkey, though, is a president who has to deal with less and less of any kind of questioning or opposition.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul and NPR's Scott Detrow here in Washington - thanks, guys.

DETROW: Sure thing.

KENYON: Thanks.


GREENE: And Steve, a really troubling, bizarre story out of Cleveland this morning about crime and the role of social media.

INSKEEP: Yeah. The FBI and police in Cleveland are searching for a man who, they say, posted a video of a murder on Facebook. They say the man, named Steve Stephens, began filming in his car before he stopped and killed 74-year-old Robert Goodwin (ph) Sr. who is described as a random victim. Now also in a video, Stephens claimed - although this is not confirmed - he claimed to have committed other murders.

GREENE: Annie Wu, a reporter from WCPN Ideastream in Cleveland, has been following this. And she is on the line.

Annie, what - this is just bizarre in so many ways. Is Facebook saying anything about their role here with this video going up?

ANNIE WU, BYLINE: Well, a Facebook spokesperson issued a statement calling it a horrific crime and they work hard to keep a safe environment on Facebook and that they're in touch with law enforcement in emergencies. So I asked Cleveland police how did they learn about the incident - was it from Facebook, and are they working with Facebook in any way on this incident? But I haven't heard back from the police yet.

GREENE: But it just raises questions about the role of a social media organization in a tragic event like this.

WU: Well, so we'll be watching to see how Facebook continues to react to this. Will they crack down on these postings where people are in physical danger? Will there be calls for more oversight over social media, and will that be self-regulated oversight or government-regulated oversight maybe? As far as self-regulation goes, Facebook has now removed the video, but some have continued to share it. So if you look on Twitter, you'll see people are asking others to not continue to circulate this video.

GREENE: The kind of self-regulating you're talking about there, if people would be willing to do that. Annie Wu from WCPN Ideastream, thanks a lot.

WU: Thank you.

GREENE: Steve, it feels like this tells us something...

INSKEEP: Yeah, yeah.

GREENE: ...About this moment.

INSKEEP: Well, a little bit of a reminder that social media, by and large, is not edited. It's reality. And there may even be cases - we'll find out more about this one - where the presence of social media itself creates a kind of reality or encourages people to create a kind of reality on the ground.


Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
Annie Wu