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U.S. President Barack Obama Meets With Interim Ukrainian Prime Minister; Tension In Northwestern Crimea As Russian Troops Threaten Base; China Says They Found Possible Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 Crash Site

Aired March 12, 2014 - 16:10   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: Well, that's the president of the United States with the interim prime minister of Ukraine. Obama said we support the courage of the Ukrainian people in seeking a democratic future. He said the most pressing challenge is the threat to Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty. He said Russia's incursion into Crimea is a violation of international law and he says the U.S. have been firm in saying it will stand with Ukraine in ensuring its territorial integrity and sovereignty is maintained.

He said we completely reject a referendum in Crimea patched together, to all intents and purposes, under the barrel of a Russian gun. This is a diplomatic dealbreaker, it seems.

Also words from the Ukrainian prime minister who thanked the U.S. for its support both diplomatically and financially.

Let's get you to the State Department, because there is another string to this story today. As the president pointed out, his Secretary of State John Kerry has been meeting with his counterpart Sergei Lavrov and the president -- Elise Labott standing by for us on that -- the president said that the secretary of state is looking for a diplomatic end, Elise, to this crisis speaking to his counterpart about that. If that doesn't work out, he said, we will be forced to apply a cost to the Russians.

Have those diplomatic efforts yielded any results at this point?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, not really so much, Becky. At this point, the Russians have really not shown a willingness to meet with the Ukrainian government in any way, shape and form. This was really what Secretary Kerry was trying to do last week in Europe. He's been on the phone with Sergei Lavrov over the last few days trying to get a diplomatic opening. And so far they're not biting.

But he thought that there was enough engagement by the Russians, they weren't closing the door completely to continuing to negotiate so that Secretary Kerry will be leaving tomorrow night for meetings with Minister Lavrov in London on Friday.

Not sure what will happen beyond then, but certainly they're trying to get Russia to stand down, take this diplomatic off ramp that we've been talking about all this time where Russian troops would, you know, return to their barracks. But so far there doesn't really seem, Becky, to be an incentive for the Russians to do so other than the threat of sanctions, the stick if you will, where's the carrot for Russia to stand down and save face?

ANDERSON: We will be forced to apply a cost to the Russians. And the president -- that's from the president tonight. And appealing to congress to make sure that the U.S. president has everything in place in order to do that. We talked over the past couple of weeks about what those costs might be -- effectively asset freezes and trade sanctions going forward.

He also talked effectively about this referendum in Crimea this weekend, effectively being a deal breaker. Do you -- I mean, you're so close to these talks. You've been traveling with John Kerry over the past couple of weeks. You've seen where he is and how his persona is, do you get the impression that if this referendum were to go ahead on Saturday that all bets are off so far as any sort of relations with Russia and the U.S. are concerned on the diplomatic front?

LABOTT: Well, I think they have to be in the short-term, OK. You have these longer issues on Iran, on Syria, which is something so important that the U.S. and the Russians have been working on together. My understanding is that in all the talks about six or seven conversations and meetings that Kerry has had with Lavrov over the last week, Syria hasn't even come up once. And so obviously they're going to need to get back to working on these other -- important international issues, but I don't see how on Monday if that referendum goes through, how you put the genie back in the bottle. If that goes through -- I mean, the Russians aren't going to one day accept the referendum and then say oh forget about it.

So that's why I think that this meeting with Secretary Kerry on Friday is so important.

And I have to be honest, I don't think that this love fest between President Obama and Interim Prime Minister Yatsenyuk is really going to help things. That was a very defiant Ukrainian prime minister sitting next to the American president saying we will never surrender. We are going to be part of the west and the EU. We will be friends with Russia. But he's sitting there and Ukrainian foreign minister even told us last week we have the United States, the world community on our side, this is an emboldening us. And we don't feel that we need to shoot any bullets, because we have that world support, Becky.

ANDERSON: Yeah, fascinating.

I want to bring in Nick Paton Walsh at this point, because Nick, I think Elise brings up a really good point. You know, witness the interim Ukrainian prime minister sitting with the president of the United States and sort of -- it was only 10 days or so ago that you and I were in Kiev together talking about how the U.S. had seemed to be working through the EU and not looking to get involved in the first instance in the sort of -- in the diplomatic sort of maneuverings that are going on.

As Elise rightly pointed out, the Ukrainian prime minister saying we fight for our freedom, our independence and our sovereignty and we will never surrender.

Also alluding to the fact, he says, we are looking west going forward still looking for a friendship with Russia. We will stick to any bilateral or unilateral treaties that we have.

But this was a very big and very bold statement by the Ukrainian prime minister tonight, wasn't it?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly. And I think this is definitely much an attempt for a poker face on both sides here. We're seeing Putin giving no ground at all, frankly on the grounds they were full steam ahead towards Sunday's referendum. No one really doubting it's going to bring Crimea much closer to Russia if not make it part of Russia. This, I think, is the last minute bid by the White House, by Washington to try and make perhaps Moscow reconsider its moves in the next days, maybe the threat of sanctions has got them worried there, perhaps hoping that. But I think they're perhaps miscalculating how set Putin and his inner clique really are in establishing their control here and making Ukraine's new government sweat, certainly.

It may be that meeting between Kerry and Lavrov yields something, but it's all a little bit too late now, really, here.

And also tension definitely rising on the ground. When that referendum goes through, most think it will, there's a question of what are the thousands of Ukrainian troops there still in their bases going to do who are still loyal to a new government in Kiev. And we saw today a tense standoff between Russian soldiers and Ukrainians in one base in the northwest of Crimea.


WALSH: Stuck out in Crimea's windswept northwest, these Ukrainian are edgy, weapons loaded, defenses laid. Here's why.

Two masked soldiers approach fast. They say nothing.

The captain tells me the soldiers have told him they're Russian but haven't spelled out their demands. A second track of Russians moves in. Its soldiers fanning out.

The base calls its soldiers to their positions ready to defend.

Four Russians have moved along down the side fence near the base. Then, the Russians make their clearest threat, placing a heavy machine gun in front of the gate. Meters apart, weapons loaded, Ukrainians isolated from their leaders in Kiev, Russians whose very existence here is denied by the Kremlin.

Just the kind of standoff that everybody has been fearing in Crimea -- Russian troops heavily armed with machine guns they're now meters away from Ukrainian soldiers, their weapons loaded ready to defend the base.

Suddenly the Russians pull back. Some locals are more sympathetic to the Russian troops than the Ukrainians, many of whom actually live in the village. And these ask us to leave.

But the show of force isn't over yet. This helicopter has a red star on it consistent with Russian military markings. Increasingly bold as the referendum on whether Crimea becomes part of Russia nears, the soldiers gather here beneath the Russian flag, probing the readiness of those beneath the Ukrainian flag to die. So far, so isolated from their cause and commanders in Kiev.


WALSH: Becky, the real question is what happens, I think, after Sunday. You know, we've seen pro-Russian militia -- they're grip tightening on the railway stations, the airport here. The pro- Ukrainian voice very much silenced.

The question is what happens to those who are still loyal to Kiev once this area even sees itself on its way to becoming part of Russia or part of Russia, everything is ready, really, logistically here for the greenlight if it comes to on the vote on Sunday. The tension really will come when those still loyal to Kiev have to make a choice. Do they give themselves up to Russian forces like you saw there, or do they try and stick it out -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Nick Paton Walsh on the story for you. Thank you very much indeed. You also heard from Elise Labott this evening.

A lot of news in the past 20 minutes or so.

Still to come this evening, the search area has been expanded, but the mystery of the missing plane continues. The latest on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. That after this.


ANDERSON: Welcome back. It is 23 minutes past 8:00 in London. I'm Becky Anderson for you with Connect the World here on CNN.

Now despite a full scale search intense international attention and the prayers of anguished family members, there is still no sign of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Authorities have more than doubled the total search area in the last 24 hours. Searches are now scouring an area of nearly 92,000 square kilometers, an area roughly the size of Hungary.

Two U.S. federal agencies assisting Malaysian officials in interpreting radar data.

Now Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared on Saturday with 239 people on board.

So where exactly does the search stand? Are investigators any closer to pinpointing where that plane might be?

Well, CNN's Tom Foreman brings us bang up to date and looks at the challenges posed by what is this new expanded search area -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Becky. The trend line of this search is going in absolutely the wrong direction. Let me bring in the map and talk about what I mean here. We know where this plane took off. We know where it was heading. And we know what happened in the sense that we know it disappeared without a trace.

But since then, there have been so many conflicting reports coming in from people who have said I saw something, or maybe I heard something, or maybe I think I heard something. We've had these talk about possible radar reports. What that has done is have a real impact on the search itself. Originally, they had a somewhat contained search area, now look what has happened. It is growing exponentially, not just to other bodies of water, but even to land.

And this has to tax the searching entities out there. Yes, they have some 42 different ships, they have some 39 aircraft, they have a dozen countries involved, but every time they expand the space that means there's another area that needs to be cut off into grids and aircraft and personnel and ships have to go over that a mile at a time to look for any sign of this aircraft.

And the more you expand it, the more they're diluted, the less chance they have of being in the right place, because there's so many places to consider.

This, I think, is part of what's leading to the frustration not only of the families, but of the countries that are involved here, because it indicates that the Malaysians actually have no idea where this plane went, not even a good hint. And at this point, a few days afterward, you'd like to see the opposite, that they were narrowing down on a real target -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Yeah, absolutely Tom. Thank you for that.

Now listen, literally as Tom was just reporting there, we've just got information into CNN from China. China's satellite images may now, we are told, show the missing plane. I'm going to read you what I've got. I'm not sure we've got images to support it, so listen up -- and this is it -- and I quote, "upon learning of the missing Malaysian passenger airliner, the state administration of science, technology and industry for national defense immediately tapped into China's satellite resource center and," and I quote, "observed a suspected crash area at sea with satellite high definition images captured by a satellite at 11:00 am on March 9 in what is a 20 kilometers radius" -- and they give us some coordinates at this stage.

And I think we may be seeing them. Here, I'll give you those 105.63 east, 6.70 N. Three suspected floating objects and their sizes, 13 by 8, 14 by 9 -- I'm assuming these are in meters -- and 24 by 22. Correct, they are in meters. 13 by 18.

One floating object, 14 by 19 meters. And another floating object at 24 by 22 meters.

Now the notes that we've got just in to CNN from our CNN bureau in Beijing, the optimal -- the agency will continue to organize satellite resources based on these developments in the investigation and will optimize the imaging area and analyze any relevant data to assist in the search and rescue effort of the Malaysia Airlines missing jet.

That is information just into CNN from China from the satellite images you are seeing here and these being obtained from the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry saying that they have at least in principle observed three suspected floating objects and those you see on the screen as described by me.

That is information just into CNN as we, of course get more on this, we will bring it to you. It's one of those stories that is -- well, it defies belief almost, doesn't it, that this many days on this may be the first information that we get concrete information about where that plane might be. But by no means can we confirm that at this stage.

The latest world news headlines here on CNN next.

Plus, the death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan triggered a new round of protests in Turkey. We're going to get you the very latest from Istanbul.


ANDERSON: The interim Ukrainian prime minister has been meeting with US president Barack Obama at the White House. These are your headlines this hour. He is seeking help for his fragile government just days before what is a critical secession referendum in Crimea. President Obama reiterated once again that Moscow was violating international law.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The more pressing challenge that Ukraine faces at the moment, however, is the threat to its territorial integrity and its sovereignty. We have been very clear that we consider the Russian incursion into Crimea, outside of its bases, to be a violation of international law, of international agreements of which Russia is a signator, and a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.

ARSENIY YATSENYUK, INTERIM PRIME MINISTER OF UKRAINE: It's all about the freedom. We fight for our freedom, we fight for our independence, we fight for our sovereignty, and we will never surrender.


ANDERSON: Moments ago, Chinese officials released satellite images of what may be the wreckage from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane. You can see these images here, these are the ones that have been released to CNN. A Chinese agency has said that the satellite, and I quote, "observed a suspected crash area at sea." I'm going to get you more information on this as it comes in. We're just beginning to collate this information out of China in the past hour.

Well, Israel is promising a tough response after the heaviest barrage of rocket fire from Gaza since 2012. A militant wing of Islamic Jihad says it fired dozens of rockets to retaliate for an Israeli airstrike that killed three of its members. The rockets landed across southern Israel and caused no casualties.

At least two people are dead after an explosion in New York that leveled two buildings. Smoke billowed over the city skyline after the blast. Authorities suspected the explosion was the result of a gas leak reported a short time before.

Now, rescue crews dug through the rubble at street level searching for survivors. There are still a number of missing people. At least 18 have been taken to hospital with injuries. For the very latest, let's get you to Poppy Harlow, who is CNN's correspondent on the ground. Poppy?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Becky. We have been here all day. I want to give everyone an updated number of the injured. We've known that there are two fatalities, two women, but the injured now coming in at 54 people injured in this massive and tragic building collapse.

Take a look behind me. We have now police tell me more than 50 first responders -- firefighters, police officers, OEM officials -- digging through the rubble of what was two residential apartment buildings here in East Harlem that collapsed after a gas leak caused a massive, massive explosion.

The mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, calling this a tragedy, especially given the lack of advance warning. There was a phone call that went in about 15 minutes prior to this explosion from a nearby building saying they were smelling gas, but no one was able to arrive here in time before that explosion.

I can also tell you that this is very much a search and recovery effort, because you still have at least ten people, we are told, unaccounted for. At least ten people unaccounted for. I've talked to family members searching for their loved ones.

I was just with two sisters searching for their aunt who's lived in one of the buildings on the second floor for more than two decades. We're told it's a very close-knit community, close-knit buildings, people have been there for a long time there. We're told about over 100 years old from residents there, these buildings.

But I was also told by the family members that they had not heard complaints before from their loved ones who lived there of smelling gas or anything of the sort. Now, the investigation continues. What could have caused this? Could something have prevented it?

And also, where are those at least ten people that are unaccounted for. Our thoughts are with them, certainly, and we'll keep you posted as soon as we have more, Becky.

ANDERSON: Poppy Harlow in New York for you with the very latest from there.

All right, let's move on. And thousands of people turned out in Istanbul today to mourn a boy whose death has deepened widespread anger against the government. A red-draped coffin carried the body of 15-year- old Berkin Elvan through the streets as mourners shouted anti-government slogans.

Now, he died yesterday, nine months after being critically injured during a protest. His family says he was hit by a teargas canister fired by police. Well, news of the boy's death renewed a wave of furious protests against the government.

Our own Ivan Watson witnessed some dramatic moments in Istanbul this time last night as police used teargas and water cannons to clear the crowds. It unfolded right here on the show. Let's just remind you of what happened.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is an explosion of anger over the death of a 15-year-old boy, a 15-year-old boy - - who has spent the -- oh, God!


WATSON: Teargas is pretty bad now. He's spent the --




ANDERSON: Well, Ivan joins us once again live from Istanbul this evening. Ivan, describe the mood tonight, if you will.

WATSON: Well, it is not as violent in Istanbul's Beyoglu district on Istiklal Boulevard as it was last night. The riot police are out in force, as you can see, the riot control vehicle that you can see in the distance.

There's the trace of teargas in the air, and demonstrators have been kind of facing off and hurling abuse at the police, but they seem to be using a new tactic, which is just to block off one of the most important pedestrian thoroughfares in Turkey's largest city, a really popular place for tourists in the entertainment district, here.

This comes after an enormous funeral procession Becky that comes --


WATSON: -- probably ten-kilometer distance, tens of thousands of people. It was peaceful, there was no police presence. People escorting the coffin of -- died on Tuesday, and I have to say, everybody in the crowd, including the parents, directly accusing the government and the riot police of killing this boy nine months ago during anti-government protests in these same streets.


WATSON: Now, the father of the boy -- the father of the boy spoke on our sister network, CNN Turk, this week, and he issued a direct statement to Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Let's wait for this ambulance, perhaps, to pass.


WATSON: We have seen a wounded woman brought away -- we don't know why she was injured -- about ten minutes ago. But this is not a normal night in Istanbul.

Anyway, the father of Berkin Elvan, he issued a statement directly to the Turkish prime minister on television today, saying that if he wanted to, he could bring the murderer of his son to justice in a minute. And the father went on to say that the prime minister is the guilty one, because he gave the orders for the police crackdown last June in these very streets. A controversial --


WATSON: -- police cracked down at that. Now, the prime minister himself, who has appeared multiple times in public at political rallies, because national elections are coming up at the end of this month. So the -- of this boy, Berkin Elvan, who crowds of tens of thousands today in Istanbul and in other cities directly choose the government of Chile. Becky?

ANDERSON: I'm going to -- I'm going to stop you for a moment. I want to bring you back in, Ivan. Our sound is a little odd, but we'll see if we can fix that while I get our viewers just a step back for a moment, because this is a fascinating story.

Anger, of course, against the Turkish government has been building since last year, as Ivan pointed out. It all started as a protest against a threat to one of Istanbul's only remaining green spaces, but it quickly grew into something far bigger.


ANDERSON (voice-over): The troubles began last summer with a protest over the future of Gezi Park in downtown Istanbul. Anti-government rage quickly spread across the country as people complained that Prime Minister Erdogan was encroaching on their rights and freedoms. Thousands took to the streets and, in the summer heat, violence erupted.

ANDERSON (on camera): I just want you to walk a little way with me, because they say in Istanbul, all roads lead to Taksim Square. Well, let me tell you, that all roads are barricaded to Taksim Square at present.

ANDERSON (voice-over): Riot police used teargas and water cannons. The authorities were criticized by human rights groups for using excessive force. But this only made the protest worse. Thousands of demonstrators were injured.

The death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan has reignited anti-government sentiment. Elvan, who was critically injured last summer, has become a symbol of the opposition at a time when the government is already under pressure.

Local elections at the end of this month will be something of a referendum on Erdogan's popularity. The prime minister has been on the defensive since this --


ANDERSON: And I'm going to take us from this to some breaking news. Let's join our sister network, CNN USA, on this latest news on what may be evidence of the Malaysia Airlines crash site.