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Search Zone For MH370 Moves North; Ukrainian Civilians Form Self- Defense Committees In Wake Of Russian Troop Buildup; UK's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Lifts At Midnight; Trial of Oscar Pistorius Postponed; U.S. President Barack Obama Visits Saudi Arabia; CNN Documentary on 25th Anniversary of The Cold War

Aired March 28, 2014 - 16:00:00   ET


MAX FOSTER, HOST: Tonight, shifting the search: crews hunting for any sign of a lost Malaysia Airlines plane turn their attention northwards. We'll bring you a live report on the conditions teams are facing in the air over the southern Indian Ocean.

Plus, visiting the Kingdom -- U.S. President Barack Obama touches down in the Saudi capital to renew an old relationship.

A former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia tells us why it's been strained in recent years.

Also ahead...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we were born, it was illegal to be gay, let alone get married.


FOSTER: Winning the right to say "I do," as same-sex couples in the UK are poised to walk down the aisle, we'll look at the state of gay rights around the world.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN London, this is Connect the World.

FOSTER: After weeks of false hopes and frustrating dead ends, Australian officials say they now have a credible new lead in the search for flight 370. An international fleet of ships and planes are shifting more than 1,000 kilometers northwards, abandoning the remote area of the Indian Ocean they've been searching for more than a week now.

A new analysis of radar and satellite data reportedly shows the plane could have flown that far south, because it burned through -- or it couldn't have flown that far south, rather, because it had burned through its fuel faster than previously thought.

Already five planes have spotted and photographed ocean debris in the search area. Those images are being analyzed overnight.

CNN's Kyung Lah was on one of the planes that located those objects today. She joins us now live from Perth in Australia. It's an arduous process, isn't it? But you managed to see something.

KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT; We did. We were aboard the U.S. P8 Poseidon. This is a state of the art aircraft for the U.S. military. The navy crew had us embedded aboard with them. And when we entered this new search area it took two hours and 20 minutes to get there. And as we were descending, one of the crew members actually spotted something on the sea. And so we took a closer look.

What that crew member saw were some white objects. And then another crew member saw some orange rope and also a blue bag.

So, this is some objects seen floating on the surface. We can't call it debris, because we don't know if it's connected to the plane. The crew did not think that it was important enough to drop a buoy, but they did think it was important enough that a sea vessel be alerted so that it could go out and check out exactly what this is.

Max, there were five planes out of the 10 that did discover something floating out there. Part of the reason may be because there were extremely good conditions. It was very easy to see what was out there. And all these crews, Max, that are going out there desperately want to try to find some evidence of this plane -- Max.

FOSTER: Is there a sense that you've managed to hone down the area to a particular zone, which is much more hopeful?

LAH: Well, remember there was a different zone about 1,000 kilometers away that was also considered quite hopeful. So this is simply shifting that to a new area.

There's a little bit of frustration, because we're not really sure exactly where they're looking.

But there is this sense that if there is going to be something found, it will be found by one of these search planes. In this particular area, the water -- at least today -- was quite calm. So there is a renewed sense that perhaps now might be the time that they can find something.

FOSTER: Kyung in Perth, thank you very much indeed.

Well, families with loved ones on flight 370 are fed up with the lack of answers. Some accuse Malaysian authorities of misleading them and hiding the truth. Frustrated relatives in Beijing walked out of a briefing today with Malaysian government and airline officials. They're reportedly urging China to conduct its own investigation into the plane's disappearance.

The constant reports of new leads that only end in dashed hopes are becoming unbearable for some.

CNN spoke on Friday with a woman whose American partner was on board. She says she simply can't take another let down.


SARAH BAJC, PARTNER WAS PASSENGER ON FLIGHT 370: I'm actually better today because I stopped watching the news. I mean, other than the occasional check in to make sure there's nothing critical. But, you know, the reality is, every lead has been a false lead so far and the up and down was killing me, so I just had to stop watching.


FOSTER: Well, two dozen nations are helping in the search, some putting aside old rivalries to coordinate their efforts. Jim Clancy has that part of the story.


JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORREPOSPONDENT: The search for flight 370 compelled rivals across Asia to come together as partners.

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSEEIN, ACTING MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER: In an area in Southeast Asia where we were fighting over rocks in the middle of the sea, now working together. I think that is a great achievement.

CLANCY: From the Sea of Japan to the Malaka Straits, disputes over islands, oil and gas riches and fishing rights are being crushed in the 24 hour news cycle. Social media burst, as a vanished airliner with 239 passengers captivates the wordl.

JAMES CHIN, PROFESSOR, MONASH UNIVERSITY MALAYSIA: Basically, I think all the governments in the region are reacting to this tremendous pressure put on by the public to do something about locating these planes.

CLANCY: Do something. Planes and ships from China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the United States are searching, steered by satellites in space.

While its own technology and resources fall far short, Malaysia is using diplomacy to bring two dozen nations into the search for flight 370.

MANON MANSOR, VICE PRESIDENT, MALASIA PILOTS ASSOCIATION: I think ever in the history of Malaysia we have got these -- one of 24 countries helping us out, very encouraging indeed. If you go to Suban (ph) it's like an international airport of various military aircraft now parking down there.

CLANCY: There have been problems. China, whose citizens made up nearly two-thirds of the missing passengers, openly criticized Malaysia's handling of the crisis. Repeated protests had government approval at the very least.

Malaysian officials reminded Beijing its own faulty satellite photos squandered precious search time.

Chinese tourists, known for the cash they spend while traveling even threatened to boycott. Not everyone offered full cooperation. National security kept some from giving up their military radar records, even as they join the search.

CHIN: We also saw a level of distrust among many countries of the region. Countries close to Malaysia like Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia and Vietnam, they all had radars, but they all refused to share the data in the first initial hours where it was crucial in finding out which direction the plane was flying.


FOSTER: Well, you've made the search for flight 370 one of our top stories online. Right now one article goes through the most frequently asked questions, giving you straightforward answers. Find that at

Still to come tonight, the Ukrainian crisis is at a critical point. We'll have a report from the country's border where troops are gathering en masse.

Search crews battle weather, wreckage and their own grim emotions as they look for more survivors from Washingotn's deadly landslide. We'll have the latest for you from Washington State.

The stage is set for the UK's first same-sex marriages. We'll catch up with one happy couple ready to tie the knot tonight. All that and much more when Connect the World continues.


FOSTER: You're watching CNN. This is Connect the World with me, Max Foster. Welcome back to you.

Now U.S. officials say as many as 40,000 Russian troops are positioned at the Ukrainian border. U.S. President Barack Obama is urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull his forces and ease the tension. On the Ukrainian side, ordinary civilians are digging in to join the defense.

Karl Penhaul is near the Ukrainian-Russian border and has this report.


KARL PENHAUL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORREPSONDENT: This is northeast Ukraine, and just a short distance away through forest and over farmland there the Russian border. And it's across on the other side that Pentagon officials say that up to 40,000 Russian troops are now massing.

The Ukrainian government put that figure almost twice as high, saying also that the Russian troops are back by tanks and by helicopter gunships.

Of course the Ukrainian army and the border patrol are beefing up security, but men like these, civilians, who have turned out and are now forming self defense committees are the ones setting up small checkpoints like this. And they say, too, they will join the fight against the Russians.

Now look at some of the preparations here. You see old car tires are tossed against barricades where there are sandbags as well. They say that if the Russians do come, they'll set light to these and set up a smoke screen across the highway.

Ringings this checkpoint as well, trenches, several yards of trenches. They say that the military, the Ukrainian army, can use these areas as fallback positions to fight from here against any Russian advance.

And walk through, they have this little camp set up, again very rudimentary. And you see some of the men -- there's a mixture of military uniforms. None of this has been issued by the government to then. This gentleman, for example, wearing a British military uniform. He, like the others, say they simply went to army surplus stores, paid about 100 euros and are uniforming themselves.

And look across here, supplies of food, pickled foods in jars, other supplies. And these are being donated. We've seen it. People just pulling up at roadside and unloading boxes of food for them, saying that they have to support this effort by these self-defense committees.

Now of course the big question is the Pentagon still don't know what Russia's real intentions are, whether they really intend to roll across that border and try to annex parts of eastern Ukraine.

But these men arrayed in these self-defense committees certainly believe that this could be the next potential front line. They certainly believe the Russians may be coming.

Karl Penhaul, CNN, Ukraine.


FOSTER: Now a journalist was among three people killed on Friday in violence in Egypt. Mayada Ashraf was shot whilst covering clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and security forces. She worked for a private Egyptian newspaper.

Across the city, there was also violence at a Cairo University. Police moved in to stop students supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. They have been increasing protests in Egypt after military commander Abdul Fattah al-Sisi announced he'll run for president.

In the Northwestern U.S., the grueling and emotional search for survivors continues after a devastating landslide last Saturday. So far, 26 bodies have been recovered and as many as 90 are still missing. Bad weather during the past few days is significantly hindering the rescue operations.

Dan Simon joins us now from Arlington in Washington State near the search site with an update. And it's still so grim, Dan.


If you know this area, the Seattle area, they get a lot of rain. It's cold this time of year. And we're seeing a lot of rain. It's going to rain over the weekend. And that's just adding to the misery for all of those search and rescuers who are working through that debris around the clock trying to pull out bodies, trying to salvage people's belongings. And of course trying to look for survivors, although the idea that somebody could still be alive this far out, six days since the catastrophe, obviously hopes are fading. But they're still calling this a search and rescue mission, Max.

In terms of where we are with the death toll, right now officially the death toll stands at 17, but we know there are at least seven additional bodies that have been found, they just haven't been recovered. And until the medical examiner releases those bodies and identifies them, they're not going to officially announce that the death toll has increased.

We're expecting a news conference in the next couple of hours where they will probably update us on those numbers.

Now in terms of the folks who are working the scene, obviously you have the seasoned professionals, but people who have never done this kind of thing before, people who live in this area, who are volunteering their time trying to help out some of the rescuers. Take a look.


SIMON: When you say you are digging by hands, can you explain what that means? Are you literally using your hands?

GORDON STOROE, COMMUNITY VOLUNTEER: Yes, gloves on, garden tools. You try to move some debris and mud out of the way. You are literally, a handful of dirt at a time to get every board out of the way. It is so deep. It's six, seven feet deep. It is just roots, trees, wood, shards of glass, window frames. Anything. Those houses are blown into pieces so small. I can't believe it.


SIMON: Well, we're talking about a debris field that spans for an entire mile and in some places it's 30 feet deep with the mud. And so we're talking about a huge challenge for these rescuers. And like I said, it's going to keep raining over the weekend, so that's going to add to the difficulties in terms of searching and locating bodies -- Max.

FOSTER: Dan, thank you very much indeed.

In South Africa, Oscar Pistorius's murder trial has been suddenly put on hold. That's because one of the cases assessors was hospitalized. An assessor is someone who helps a judge reach a verdict.

The South African Paralympic star was expected to take the stand on Friday. He's pleading not guilty to murdering his girlfriend on Valentine's Day last year. We'll have more from the courtroom in Pretoria later on in the show for you.

Live from London, this is Connect the World. Coming up, the ring of wedding bells is in the air as the clock ticks down to the UK's first same- sex marriages. One couple will tell us about their long journey to the alter.


FOSTER: You're watching Connect the World live from London. Welcome back. I'm Max Foster.

Now in just a few hours, same-sex couples in the UK will officially be allowed to be married. Britain already recognizes unions, called civil partnerships. But after midnight, gay and lesbian people will have the same legal right to marriage as everyone else.

Erin McLaughlin met one couple preparing for their very big day.


ANDREW WALE, BRIGHTON RESIDENT: I love the fact that Neil is extremely patient with me.

NEIL ALLARDL, BRIGHTON RESIDENT: And I think that, well you're clever, very educated.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Andrew Wale and Neil Allard never thought the day would come when they would be able to exchange vows.

WALE: When we were born it was illegal to be gay, let alone get married.

MCLAUGHLIN: Now they are set to host the first same-sex wedding in Brighton, England.

Andrew and Neil won an essay contest to be the first couple to be married in the music room of the Royal Pavilion.

ALLARD: We've had all sorts of requests for people to come and take part.

WARD; You never know.

MCLAUGHLIN: Not everyone is excited about Andrew and Neil's new legal rights. There have been some small-scale protests such as this one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How controversial can it be to say that marriage is between a man and a woman? All we're saying that people (inaudible)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE; Rubbish. You're a hater! You're a hater!

MCLAUGHLIN: A poll shows that 57 percent of the British public is in favor of same-sex marriage.

While civil partnerships have been possible for years, in July 2013, UK Parliament passed legislation paving the way for Andrew and Neil to get married.

WALE: I think it's important to make those kinds of statements. Be visible. Be proud of who you are and what you are. In a world which seems to be stepping backward in lots of different places, there are gay people struggling to be allowed to form relationships, let alone be married.

MCLAUGHLIN: So you feel lucky to be in this position.

ALLARD: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Lucky. Privileged. I do feel terribly privileged, well to be getting married here, but to be able in this day and age to be stepping forward.

MCLAUGHLIN: Erin McLaughlin, CNN, Brighton, England.


FOSTER: Now how do other countries view homosexuality and same-sex marriage? Well, take a look at this, because the UK is about to join 15 countries that already have laws allowing same-sex marriages and domestic partnerships highlighted here in green. They include Argentina, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, also France, Belgium, Holland, Spain and a handful of other countries as well.

As it stand, there are almost 20 others shown here in yellow that offer some rights to same-sex couples, including Germany, parts of the U.S. and Mexico.

But more than 70 countries ban or restrict same-sex relationships in some way. According to Amnesty International, there are seven countries where same-sex relations are sometimes punishable by death. They include Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and parts of Nigeria and Somalia.

Benjamin Cohen is a journalist and campaigner for marriage equality. he joins me now live.

Thank you for joining us.

Was -- well, will tomorrow be a significant moment for the world? Or is it just for the UK?

BENJAMIN COHEN, JOURNALIST: Well, it's not even just for the UK. So, I mean, The Pink News, which is a publication that I publish has been reporting all day from politicians and couples here who are going to be geting married, but it's only in England and Wales, so it's not the whole of the United Kingdom that this will apply. Scotland will be having it later this year, but Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, still bans same-sex marriage. And if you get married today here in -- well, tomorrow, here in London, if you go over to London in Northern Ireland you won't be married if you're gay, you'll merely be in a civil partnership, the second class status of relationships.

FOSTER: And define for those who don't understand the difference between what was the system, the civil partnerships, and the marriage.

COHEN: Well, what's the difference? There's one difference, which is what it means. Marriage is something that's been understood by people for thousands of years. Civil partnerships was a construct created by the last government to kind of give gay people almost the same rights as the straight people. But there's not a big difference. Civil partnerships are civil. So the relationship can only be solemnized by a civil registrar, a vicar or rabbi or a priest is banned from conducting a civil partnership.

With a same-sex marriage legislation that's been passed in England and Wales, religious ministers who wish to do so and who represent churches or synagogues that want to do it can perform it. So there's a big difference in terms of the rights of religious people to be able to have their relationships recognized.

FOSTER: So today is a good day for equal -- equality within marriage in England and Wales, but what can -- it's not the first country to do this, so what impact will this have on pushing this out to other countries?

COHEN: Well, I think it sends a really important signal, because of course there are lots of countries that already have same-sex marriage, but there are not many countries that, like Britain, have imposed anti-gay legislation all around the world. So during the time of the British empire, we put laws all across the world whether it's India or Africa, parts of the Middle East to make being gay illegal. It's quite symbolic to me, I think, the queen, the head of the Commonwealth, and would have been, I guess, the head of the empire, passed legislation and signed into law legislation that gives gay people equal rights when it comes to marriage.

FOSTER: So this is a gateway into equality throughout the Commonwealth, does it?

COHEN: Not so long ago, I was out an event where the prime minister was speaking. He actually made that point that he hopes that this will demonstrate to Commonwealth heads of government that things can change. You don't have to be stuck in a world where same-sex -- people in same-sex relationships are treated as second-class citizens. If we can do it here in England and Wales then you can do it to.

And actually the British government is helping -- helping campaign groups and others in Commonwealth countries try and change the law.

FOSTER: In the meantime, you've got to sort of Northern Ireland, is that the idea? It seems a bit hypocritical that not the whole of the UK...

COHEN: It completely is, but we have (inaudible), and unfortunately (inaudible) in this case means that Northern Ireland, it's the politicians that want Northern Ireland to be part of the UK are so opposed to the right of the rest of the UK going to enjoy.

FOSTER: OK, Benjamin Cohen, thank you very much indeed for your time.

The latest world news headlines are just ahead.

Plus, Oscar Pistorius did not take the stand today in his murder trial. In fact he left as quickly as he arrived. Find out why after this break.

And U.S. President Barack Obama visits the king of Saudi Arabia. What did the two leaders discuss? What did they leave out? We'll be live from the capital Riyadh for you.



The top stories this hour. A dramatic shift in the hunt for Flight 370 after what's being called a credible new lead. Investigators say the plane could have flown as fast half as previously thought -- could not have flown as fast as previously thought as crews have shifted their search to a new area closer to the Australian coast.

You're looking at video that's just in to CNN that shows Ukrainian troops digging in as Russian troops mass across the border. U.S. officials say as many as 40,000 Russian forces are now positioned just inside Russia. U.S. President Obama has urged Russian President Putin to withdraw and ease tensions. This comes as Ukrainian civilians join the military to build up the country's defenses.

Despite bad weather, search and rescue operations are underway in the U.S. state of Washington. Crews are desperately hoping to find more survivors from Saturday's deadly landslide. So far, 26 bodies have been recovered. As many as 90 people remain missing.

U.S. President Barack Obama has met with the king of Saudi Arabia. The two leaders were expected to discuss Iran's nuclear program, the Syrian crisis and U.S.-Saudi relations. We'll bring you much more on this story later in the show, including a live report from Riyadh.

Oscar Pistorius was expected to take the stand on Friday at his murder trial. But the trial was suddenly put on hold because one of the case's assessors is hospitalized.

Robyn Curnow has more now from South Africa.


ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The courtroom was filled, packed not only with more journalists than usual, but also with members of Oscar Pistorius's family as well as Reeva Steenkamp's. Everybody waiting for the defense to present their case, also expecting to hear Oscar Pistorius tell his side of the story for the first time.

Instead, the judge said this.

JUDGE THOKOZILE MATILDA MASIPA, HIGH COURT OF SOUTH AFRICA: This matter then will be postponed to the -- to Monday, the 7th of April, 2014 at 9:30 in the morning. And I'm grateful too all counsel and the court staff for accommodating us.

CURNOW: The reason for the postponement, that empty chair next to the judge. Her assessor taken ill, sent to hospital, a critical member of the court process.

MANNIE WITZ, ATTORNEY ADVOCATE, BRIDGE GROUP OF ADVOCATES: They can't overrule the judge on a question of law. But on facts, it they decide, at the end of the day, that they believe, for example, Mr. Pistorius's, the accused's, version, and the judge says, well, I don't believe his version, you've then got 221. They can overrule the judge and the whole conviction.

CURNOW (on camera): The court has given the assessor more than a week to recover. So, Oscar Pistorius's defense will now start on April the 7th.

Robyn Curnow, CNN, Pretoria, South Africa.


FOSTER: The court can't continue without the assessor. If she can't return, the trial will have to start all over again. That's part of the way that cases such as this work in South Africa.

It's being handled by the National Prosecuting Authority, a government agency that deals with criminal cases.

Given the seriousness of the charges, the case is being heard in the country's high court by a single judge. South Africa abolished jurors -- abolished jury trials in 1969.

Prosecutors say Pistorius committed premeditated murder. He's pleaded not guilty. The charge carries a possible sentence of life in prison. South Africa has no death penalty.

All right, let's get more on this from CNN legal analyst Paul Callan, who joins me now from CNN in New York.

Obviously, so many people were expecting to hear Pistorius, well, his side of the story today. That didn't happen.

What does this mean for the case, the prosecution, the state cases?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think it will have a huge impact on the case one way or the other. I mean a lot of people think, well, you know, Pistorius is all ready to get on the stand and now, with the disruption, it's going to throw him off a little bit. You know how it is when people get ready to do something and then all of a sudden the thing is postponed.

But, you know, he's a professional athlete. He's used to false starts in races. He's used to regrouping and resetting himself. I don't think this will have any effect on Pistorius at all. And, in fact, he'll get more time to think about what he's got to say over the weekend.

But of course, on the other hand, prosecutors will have more time to work on their cross-examination.

So in the end, I think the delay will have very little impact on the trial.

FOSTER: You've been watching this very closely, of course. The whole world has been watching this very closely.

What did you make of the first part of this case?

CALLAN: Well, I think the prosecution's case had a lot of problems. And I think Pistorius has a very effective defense attorney and a very effective defense team. And I think they have raised a lot of questions about the issue of whether this was really what we think of as a premeditated murder, which, although the law says if you just think and plan ever so briefly, the murder, that's premeditation. I think most individuals and most convictions for premeditated arise when it's sort of a lengthy planning process.

And here, as the case went in during the prosecution's case, it's shaping up like a crime of passion. It's shaping up like someone who was either angry at his girlfriend and lost his temper and fired the shot or acted recklessly thinking burglars were in this bathroom stall when they were not.

On either scenario, I think likely that there will be an acquittal on the premeditated count. But I think Pistorius faces a real uphill battle on the other count, the culpable homicide count. There, I think he faces possible conviction.

FOSTER: The case might have to start all over again, of course, because of this system particular to South Africa, where they have assessors.

Just explain how that works, because there are many people that say it's a very strong system.

CALLAN: It's a very strange system. You know, of course, in the United States and in many of the British Commonwealth countries, where we have juries deciding the facts in criminal cases. In the United States, you have 12 people and all 12 have to agree beyond a reasonable doubt. And we pick alternates, also, so that if somebody gets sick, an alternate comes in and replaces the juror.

In other countries, you have simply one judge, or sometimes a panel of judges, making a decision. But in South Africa, you have a judge who is advised by two civilian assessors. And the thought was that they didn't want to go to a system where it was just a judge acting alone because the civilian assessors, as they're called, can bring a lay person's perspective to the proceedings.

So it's an important thing and it's an important part of the process.

But obviously here, if this assessor is ill and doesn't return, it may result in a mistrial and they may have to retry the case.

FOSTER: Pistorius appearing will obviously be a huge moment, because the whole world is so engaged in this trial.

How can the defense best prepare him, because it's not just what he says, it's how he says it, as well?

CALLAN: Well, I think they've had a lot of problems preparing him and I'll tell you -- I'll tell you why I say that, Max.

You know, throughout the proceedings, he has reacted in a highly emotional way. I mean there have been reports of him crying and retching and vomiting in court at various points during the testimony -- very, very highly emotional.

Now, on the one hand, you could say well, that shows that he's very human and that he was very much in love with Reeva and the judge and the assessors will sort of lean in his favor because of that.

But my view of it is it shows a relatively unstable human being who acts out of passion. And I think this is a crime of passion. This is -- no one could think that he didn't have strong feelings for her. And many times in these cases where a man kills a woman arising out of the love affair, it's the passion that causes the crime. But it doesn't mean you're innocent.

So let's look on the witness stand. If he loses his temper on the witness stand, if he can't control himself, I think that's going to indicate to the judge and assessors that he was capable of doing this reckless, homicidal act.

So he's got to hold his temper, stay under control and explain why he did this horrible thing and -- and that he really was in fear of his life and thought that burglars were in the house en -- endangering both him and Reeva.

FOSTER: Paul Callan, thank you very much, indeed.

We'll wait to see how that trial continues next week.

Pistorius widely expected to take the stand as soon as he's back in the trial.

CALLAN: Thank you.

Thank you.

FOSTER: Live from London, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD.

Obama was in Saudi Arabia today. We'll be live in Riyadh for details on what the two leaders discussed and what they didn't discuss, as well.

Plus, will have a preview of CNN's special series on the cold war. This week, the outbreak of the Korean War.


FOSTER: President Barack Obama has met in Riyadh with the king of Saudi Arabia. During Mr. Obama's brief visit to the kingdom, the two leaders held a private discussion at the monarch's desert farm.

The talks were expected to focus on Syria, Iran and the difficult state of relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

CNN's White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinksi, has been traveling with the president.

She joins me now from the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

What did you get, then from the White House, about what was discussed?

Anything decided?


All right, we just stepped out of a briefing on the subject. And White House officials described the meeting with Saudi Arabia's 90-year-old king today as excellent and more than two hours long.

And yes, this could have carried tensions going in. I mean Saudi Arabia has not been happy with Americans' foreign policy lately, worried about America's reaching out diplomatically to Iran in nuclear negotiations. Some might say that that left Saudi Arabia feeling insecure, worried about what kind of relationship that would establish with Iran, and then, in tandem, how that might change the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, along with other Gulf States.

Well, what we're told happened was a lot of reassurance, that the U.S. told Saudi Arabia that we will not accept a bad deal on the Iran nuclear issue, that those talks continued, and that the U.S. is committed to stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

On that, both sides here agreed.

Also, they said Syria was -- was the other major topic. Saudi Arabia has been concerned about the U.S. not intervening directly militarily in Syria. And the issue has been the US' worries about proliferation there and which of these maybe 70 or more opposition groups that don't have a lot of unity among them, which ones do you arm, which ones do you support?

So the administration told us that there is broad agreement now, more than ever, between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. on which groups to support, that the U.S. has been working closely with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States on that issue and that -- that the U.S. is supporting those groups and will continue to.

They said, yes, that does include some military support, but they wouldn't go into detail on exactly what that means.

So those were the two major topics. They said even though this meeting was lengthy and good and it was personal, it wasn't a time, they said, to list grievances or complaints, there wasn't time to get into everything, including human rights.

You know, we wanted to ask the question, the president has spent a week now around Europe meeting with leaders, not only in Europe, but also Asian leaders, talking about the importance of human rights, freedom, democracy, the rights of an individual to govern themselves, chastising Russian President Vladimir Putin for ignoring those rights.

And President Obama met with the pope on those very issues.

Meanwhile, here in Saudi Arabia, the human rights situation, you might say in some respect, has degraded. They just passed a series of anti- terrorism laws that makes it a crime to organize a sit-in or a peaceful demonstration, makes it illegal to Tweet your dissent with the government.

So how could the president not bring up those issues here?

The administration said they're -- they're simply wasn't time for that and that Syria and Iran were what really needed to be discussed at this point, but that the U.S. continues to discuss those human rights issues in other channels with Saudi Arabia -- Max.

FOSTER: Michelle, thank you very much, indeed.

A key meeting.

For more than six decades, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States has been largely flourishing, really. In 1945, it was the first time a U.S. president met a Saudi king. Teddy Roosevelt met King Abdul Aziz on board a U.S. Navy ship, establishing a partnership based on oil and military support.

Following Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Saudi Arabia's neighbor, Kuwait, America sent a half a million troops to bolster Saudi defenses. Later, George W. Bush allied with the kingdom on the war on terror. Pictures of Bush holding hands with King Abdullah were a symbol of how cozy the two nations have actually become.

But during President Obama's term, the U.S.-Saudi relationship has come under some strain. The president was mocked for appearing to bow before the king when they met in 2009.

Since then, the Arab Spring, the war in Syria and negotiations with Iran have all led to tensions between the two countries.

My next guest has deep insight into U.S.-Saudi relations.

James. B. Smith was the United States ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2009 to 2013.

He joins me now live from our Boston bureau.

Thank you so much for joining us.

Human rights was an issue in your day, as it is today.

Can Obama get away with not bringing it up in a meeting with the Saudi king?

JAMES B. SMITH, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SAUDI ARABIA: Well, I don't know that he didn't. But you have to understand, Max, there are about nine key issues that were the centerpiece of U.S. objectives in the four years that I was there.

And while the (INAUDIBLE) relationship, the counter-terrorism relationship got a lot of attention, we were still focused on human rights, women's rights, freedom of religion. Those latter three are often challenged, but we work through -- on those issues through many channels. And I expect that's going on as we speak today.

FOSTER: There doesn't seem to be any progress, though, over the years.

SMITH: Oh, my goodness, yes, Max. In 1965, the literacy rate of women in Saudi Arabia was 5 percent. Today, 60 percent of the college graduates are women. We have 80,000 Saudi students studying in the United States. Nearly half of them are women.

So when you look at the progress of women, you've got to look past the driving issue to get to the pre -- get in the press and actually look at those of education, opening up job opportunities and creating opportunities for women.

That is happening.

FOSTER: In terms of the other key issues which are very much on the table right now, and President Obama and the king had to discuss them, I mean at the top of the list, really, Iran, because the U.S. relationship with Iran fundamentally affects the relationship with Saudi Arabia. And this is something that you didn't have to deal with in the same sense when you were ambassador.

But do you think that President Obama is handling it appropriately, because it's so sensitive with the Saudis?

SMITH: Well, I think so. The big fear is that the United States is so focused on a nuclear agreement that we would sign what the sais would call a grand bargain, which is we would get a nuclear agreement and then withdraw from the region, leaving a vacuum for Iran to take advantage of, like we did in 2003 and 2004 in Iraq.

So part of this visit is a reassurance, a reassurance, one, that if we do get a nuclear deal with Iran, that we will be there to help enforce it, and the fact that this pivot to Asia is not a move away from the region.

You have to understand how Saudi Arabia looks at the world, because their world has so fundamentally changed in the last three years. King Abdullah's friends that he worked with for decades are all gone. Saudi Arabia was an island of -- of stability, with chaos all around it. They see Iran muddling in the internal affairs, trying to destabilize all the countries in the region.

So while Saudi Arabia is modernizing, albeit not as quickly as many would like, at the centerpiece is understanding that you've got to have stability to modernize, because the absence of stability is chaos, and that's what they've seen around them.

FOSTER: OK, Ambassador, thank you very much, indeed for your time today and your insight.

All right, coming up after a short break on CONNECT THE WORLD, it's 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell. But understanding the cold war has never been so crucial. We'll preview a CNN documentary for you.

And imagine top athletes augmented a robotics and mind control. This isn't just another sci-fi film. We'll talk about the world's first cybathalon.


FOSTER: It's the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, something CNN is marking with a 24-part special series, "Cold War." The series looks back at the struggle between communism and capitalism that defined the second half of the 20th century.

This weekend's installment looks at the lead-up to the Korean War.

And here's a preview.


KENNETH BRANAGH, ACTOR: The Democratic People's Republic of Korea was proclaimed, with Kim Il Sung as its president. As Soviet troops withdrew, Kim dreamed of uniting Korea under communism.

COL. PETR SIMCHENKOV, SOVIET HIGH COMMAND (through translator): Kim Il Sung understood that to resolve the problem of unifying the two Koreas was very difficult, that he would need help. Of course, the help he was hoping to get would come from the Soviet Union.

BRANAGH: In March 1949, Kim Il Sung went to Moscow. His secret agenda, to seek Stalin's permission to invade the South.

KIM IL-SUNG, PRESIDENT, NORTH KOREA (through translator): The reason I'm visiting the Soviet Union is because I want to strengthen the relationship between Russia and North Korea.

BRANAGH: Stalin, preoccupied with crisis in Berlin, rejected Kim's request to invade. By the end of 1949, the international situation had been transformed. The Soviets detonated their first atom bomb and the communist revolution in China was finally successful. Mao Tse-Tung proclaimed the People's Republic of China.

A treaty of friendship between Mao and Stalin created a communist global alliance, opening a second front of the cold war in Asia.

Stalin was now confident that the United States lacked the will to respond to events in Asia. In April 1950, he finally gave approval for Kim Il Sung to invade South Korea.

June 25, 1950 -- the North Korean Army launches its surprise assault on the South.

HANG AN, STUDENT, SEOUL: I remember vividly, even today, the day the war broke out. It was Sunday morning. And we heard this kind of remote -- the roaring noise from the North.

BRANAGH: Equipped with Russian tanks and artillery, and directed by Soviet advisers, 10 combat divisions of the North Korean army flooded south.


FOSTER: Well, do tune in this Saturday for the next episode of CNN's landmark series, "Cold War." A divided Korea becomes a battlefield between communism and its foes, as the cold war turns hot for the first time. That's on the next "Cold War." That's on Saturday. It's at 8:00 p.m. in London, 9:00 p.m. in Berlin.

CNN CONNECT THE WORLD wants to hear from you, is there. And do have your say. You can also Tweet me, @maxfostercnn. Your thoughts, please, @maxfostercnn.

Now, in tonight's Parting Shots, in 2016 in Zurich, athletes augmented with robotics and mind control are set to compete in the world's first cybathalon. Technology, and not just athleticism, will be the star of the show.

And Robert Riener is a rehabilitation robotics expert at ETH Zurich and the organizer of the event. He hopes the cybathalon will put the development of prosthetic robotics into the fast lane.


ROBERT RIENER, CYBATHALON ORGANIZER: This event is about a competition with patients, or, we call them pilots, using robotic (INAUDIBLE) which helps them to move in their real life. It's like Paralympics, but not like Paralympics. So those patients who cannot propel the wheelchair with their arms would be excluded in all Paralympics (INAUDIBLE) but they are included in our event because they can use a powered wheelchair.

And similar with the select (ph) prosthesis. This allows them to better climb stairs, for example, and (INAUDIBLE).

This (INAUDIBLE) driven also by completely paralyzed pilots who are using electrical stimulation where the muscles are stimulated artificially to enable them to ride the race cars.

The highly paralyzed patients, maybe even locked in patients, could be -- participate riding a virtual car race wearing brain sensing technology based on ethical measurements. That way, they can drive a virtual car in a virtual environment. It's competitive not only for the pilots, but also for the device providers, which are research labs or innovative companies.

That's our goal, actually. We want to push the development of such a specific (INAUDIBLE) which are still much too far away from daily use, from practical use, from the acceptance of the users.


FOSTER: It really is amazing. And let's see how the event turns out.

I'm Max Foster.

That was CONNECT THE WORLD from London tonight.

Thank you for watching.

Have a great weekend.