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CNN NEWSROOM

Malaysia Prime Minister Speaks Out; Sanctions on Russia

Aired April 24, 2014 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf Blitzer, thank you so much, as always.

Great to be with you here on this Thursday. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

You are about to hear now, top of the hour, Malaysia's prime minister answering CNN's questions, finally, on these secretive and, quite frankly, bungled handling of Flight 370 and its investigation. But first to the hunt and an alarming realization here, searchers may be about to run out of options. That torn up piece of medal, that fragment that washed ashore yesterday that we talked and talked about, could it be, might it be? No. The answer is no. It's just been ruled out as a piece of the missing plane.

The U.S. Navy's underwater drone, it has now scanned 90 percent of all that area considered most likely to hold the black boxes and thus far nothing, not a trace. And with mere hours remaining in the deep sea search mission, the chances of finding anything, slim to none. The visual search is taking place each and every day from dawn to dusk, not a single thing spotted is related to Flight 370.

So the question now is this, is it time to refresh, reboot? Dare I say go back to square one? Or is it time to employ more assets, more resources here? We are now beginning day 49 of dysfunction and secrecy on the part of Malaysian investigators. The loved ones of those on board are becoming increasingly suspicious, especially when it comes to this preliminary response report that has inexplicably been kept a secret.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF MH370 PASSENGER PHILLIP WOOD: We haven't actually been given a reason why they're not being - why we are not being given the report. But I find it fascinating that they seem to be choosing to treat us as if we are the enemy, as opposed to an interested party in helping to solve this mystery.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: And finally now the breaking news that we want to share with you on CNN. CNN has taken those questions from those family members to Malaysia's highest level, the prime minister. So joining me now, CNN's Richard Quest, who landed this exclusive interview.

And, Richard, you know, listen, I know he should have sat down with you weeks and weeks ago. Nevertheless, he has granted you this exclusive. He -- the prime minister is stopping short of saying this plane is lost. Explain that to me.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Right. It seems like a sort of contradiction in what he is saying. But it's not really. It's a nuanced answer. And basically, on the night, if you go back to March the 24th when he made his statement, he said that the plane, that they had come to the conclusion, because of the Inmarsat data, that Flight MH370 had ended in the South Indian Ocean. And he was quite clear. He never said it had crashed. He never said they were dead, the passengers.

The airline's chairman the next day did say there were no survivors. And people like myself have been pressing ever since, why and when will the Malaysian government actually say the plane and its passengers were lost. And there's a reason. It's not semantics. Until the state of investigation (INAUDIBLE) says the plane is lost, people can't claim compensation.

Anyway, I asked the prime minister again tonight, will he now say the plane and the passengers were lost? This was his response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: On the balance of the evidence, it would be hard to imagine otherwise, Richard.

QUEST: But the significance is, that until Malaysia says the plane has been lost, the compensation packages, the next stage of the proceedings under the Montreal Convention can't take -- go ahead. So I ask you again, prime minister, are you prepared to say that the plane and its passengers are lost?

NAJIB: At some point in time I would be, but -

QUEST: Right now?

NAJIB: Right now I think I need to take into account the feelings of the next of kin. And some of them have said publically that they're not willing to accept it until they find hard evidence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUEST: Now let's be clear about this, Brooke. This is not a man who is ignoring the obvious. He is basically saying, like the families, let's wait for there to be hard evidence. He wants to see some credible evidence. It's not a flip flop, it's not a contradiction, it is a nuanced response out of respect for the families.

BALDWIN: But it's an obvious just point of confusion, because correct me if I'm wrong and we'll move on to this preliminary report that will be released, but this is the same man who weeks ago said all lives lost, correct?

QUEST: No. No. That is not correct. The -- it was Malaysia Airline in the text and it is Malaysia Airlines in the statement of the chairman that said there were no survivors.

BALDWIN: I see.

QUEST: All airline -- all parties are lost. The government has never said in words of one syllable, or certainly not the prime minister, all lives have been lost.

But they're not fools. They know, obviously, the reality. But for the prime minister to jump that hurdle and actually say - and he's aware. And if you look at when I asked the question, his face - his head is nodding. He knows, you know, that I'm basically saying, isn't it time to call a spade a shovel as us Brits might put it. He knows what I'm asking him, but he politically and respectfully, he won't go that further - that further (INAUDIBLE).

BALDWIN: I understand. I understand. So that's the airline and that's the government.

Let's get to this information that the families have so badly been pressing the government for -

QUEST: Right.

BALDWIN: This just completed preliminary report, you know, that the prime minister told you that that will be released next week. First question on that is, what is in that preliminary report: What kind of information?

QUEST: Yes, well, don't hold your breath and get too excited. Of all the reports that will be issued, this is probably the most mundane. And that makes it even more inexplicable that they didn't release it when they sent it to Montreal. We know - it's been confirmed, I've already reported that there is a safety recommendation asking ICAO to look at real time tracking of aircraft and the benefits of that. That's there.

The rest of it, it will be the plane, the crew, not by name, the passengers by numbers, the route, the air traffic control. It will be a statement of fact.

Now, what the prime minister said he's going to do is he's going to have this international committee look at it to make sure what is being released. So I said to him, prime minister, are you going to be embarrassed? Is that why you're not releasing it? No, he said. I want to make sure we're getting it right.

Also tonight I've learned that the PM's committee will look at whatever investigation material can be released. I'm getting the feeling from the PM, Brooke, that he's basically saying it's time to start opening it up.

BALDWIN: So this could be the beginning of more information, more transparency because -

QUEST: Yes.

BALDWIN: If you're saying it's fairly mundane, I mean we're been hearing from the families saying they want, you know, the air traffic control conversations, they want more information from Malaysian radar, they want everything down to the numbers off those black boxes. None of that will be in this preliminary report, is that what I'm hearing?

QUEST: Yes, I asked - I mean not just - not to the prime minister but since I've been here, I've learned an enormous amount more about the flight and what happened and what's reliable and what's not.

Give you an example. All of this altitude changes, 45, 23, 14, four, none of it's reliable. Nobody can say with certainty because it's all based on primary radar and that primary radar is not as reliable on altitude.

The PM tonight said, yes, they saw the plane going across. But they thought it was civil. They knew it was civil. Didn't see it as a threat. That's an issue.

The question of what did Indonesia say and see? Indonesia says it didn't see the plane going around the top. Sources here tell me that's either because radar was switched off or because their radar is so bad.

BALDWIN: Yes.

QUEST: These are the sort of things that one's learning now in the investigation.

BALDWIN: This is absolutely fascinating. You are there pressing finally for some answers to these questions that we've been waiting for, the families have been waiting for. If I can ask you, Richard Quest, stand by. I want to get a quick commercial break in because really I want to ask you, you've been eating, living, breathing this story for just about 50 days. I want your biggest takeaway from this sit down. And if the prime minister shared it with you, I would love to know what he thinks happened.

Plus, we'll talk to more experts. More reaction on this breaking news, this exclusive sit down interview with the Malaysian prime minister, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: All right. Let's pick up exactly where we left off before break. Breaking news here as our aviation correspondent, Richard Quest, has traveled now to Kuala Lumpur, just sat down with the Malaysian prime minister, really pressing him on some incredibly important questions, families demanding more information. We're learning that the preliminary report, albeit according to Mr. Quest here, says it will be mundane. That will be released next week. The PM stopping short of calling this plane lost.

Richard rejoins me because, Richard, here was my question, and I don't know if he even offered up an answer for you, but did the prime minister say to you what he thinks happened to this plane?

QUEST: He -- all he said is he has his own theories but he doesn't have the evidence to back them up and until he does he's not going to reveal them. So the long and short of it is, I have no idea what Prime Minister Najib actually believe happened.

But I think the fascinating part here is that so much hinges on the Inmarsat pings. And without them they've got nothing. The investigation is just about bare without those pings and handshakes. And yet at the same time, it's the unprecedented nature of what's taken place that he keeps referring to.

BALDWIN: Yes.

QUEST: Not to explain what they may have done wrong, but so that you can understand how things have come to this position where they are today.

BALDWIN: Richard, you know more about this story, the details, the facts, the nuances than anyone -- than anyone. After this interview with the prime minister, what was your biggest takeaway?

QUEST: Oh, I've got no question, no doubt about this, all the nonsense that is spoken about pilots' names and last words and this, that and the other, when you look at the hard facts, the Malaysians pretty much -- forget the PR stuff and the communication stuff. If you look at the actual search and the actual core investigation, it's not being bad by any stretch of the imagination.

And I'll give you one example. The allegation that time was wasted looking in the South China Sea when they already knew from radar that the plane had gone the other way towards the Strait of Malacca. But that ignores the fact that off Vietnam they were finding debris and oil slicks. It ignores the Chinese satellite picture on that Wednesday night (INAUDIBLE) all racing in other directions. So every accusation of time wasting or incompetence or bungling has to be seen in the position that they were in at that moment. And until any of us can say, we could have done it better. I'm not saying they did a brilliant job, but I am saying it's by no means as bad as some of the critics would have us believe.

BALDWIN: Perspective. Perspective and context at the time. Richard Quest, live in Kuala Lumpur. Richard, thank you so much. We'll be hearing much more of Richard's interview with the Malaysian prime minister throughout the evening here on CNN.

I want to broaden the conversation out - Richard, thank you - with CNN safety analyst David Soucie, author of "Why Planes Crash."

And, David Soucie, you've been following this story, just as Richard Quest has, very, very closely. Listening to my conversation with Richard after this sit-down with the prime minister, I'm just curious, your reaction to all the information that he just divulged now?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, I'm really pleased with what Richard has found out. You know, I've been saying that as we do investigations, they have ebbs, that they have flows and if anyone dug into my investigations the way that they're doing with theirs, I would look equally as incompetent, honestly. I think anyone would in this situation. It's unprecedented. And I really think that the things they've been doing are heartfelt. They're going in the right direction. And they're going in the direction that they have to believe in. And there's all this peripheral information and collateral data that tends to kind of coalesce in one direction and then you see - you realize there's one piece that changes your confidence in it and then you move to another direction. And to have people question that during that time of indecisiveness or re-questioning the data is very difficult and puts additional pressure on the investigation. So after I've heard what Richard had said there as well, it really strengthens my opinion that they've really done the best they can with what they have to work with.

BALDWIN: You know as well as I do that these families have been begging, demanding for transparency for more information for answers to their questions and so we now know that the Malaysian PM that the preliminary report will be released next week. Though when I asked Richard Quest about it, what that might entail, you know, his adjective was it will be mundane. So when that finally comes out next week, David, will that just be a whole lot of nothing?

SOUCIE: Well, anything that the families get as far as transparency is anything but mundane. But the report itself, yes, can appear to be that way, particularly after it's redacted where they take the names and they take the certificate numbers and things like that out. So mostly what will be on that report are things that we already know. It's intended to include damage reports, reports of what the aircraft looks like, what kind of damage was done to the aircraft. Well, we don't have that. It's also supposed to talk about the route that the aircraft take - took. We don't have that. So the report is going be very empty. It's most checked boxes and fields that need to be filled out and those - there will be a lot of empty check boxes and a lot of empty fields in that report.

BALDWIN: And a lot of likely unsatisfied families.

David Soucie, thank you so much for joining me here.

We'll take you back to this breaking story. These new details on this missing plane. What we're getting from the PM. But let's move on to eastern Ukraine because it may be slipping away from the rest of the country. The Ukrainian military trying to contain this chaos, blaming Moscow for helping the separatists. Will another threat from the United States, might this keep Russia in line? We'll explore that.

Also, if this Bluefin-21, this underwater drone, remember this is the final mission, if it comes up empty, the search for this missing 777 could enter even more intense phase. We'll look at the technology search teams could use in the hunt. Stay here. CNN's special coverage continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Welcome back. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Hours ago, a U.S. journalist, reportedly held hostage by pro-Russia separatists in the Ukraine was set free. Vice News now reporting that reporter Simon Ostrovsky is in good health. In fact, the journalist himself tweeted, "I'm out and safe," he tweets, "thank you all for your support. Had no idea I had so many good friends."

Keep in mind, this comes hours after President Obama announced that the U.S. is, in fact, on the verge of slapping more sanctions on Russia in the biggest showdown since the Cold War.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have been preparing for the prospect that we're going to have to engage in further sanctions. Those are teed up. It requires some technical work and it also requires coordination with other countries. So the fact that I haven't announced them yet doesn't mean that they haven't been prepared and teed up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Ukrainian forces reportedly killed five pro-Russian militants in this push to take back a key city in the eastern part of the nation. Pro-Russian groups are occupying government buildings in several towns and cities here.

Russian's president, Vladimir Putin, warning of consequences if Ukraine's new government uses its army against its own people.

Want to bring in chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto because, Jim, when we hear President Obama again using the phrase t- ing up sanctions, does that mean days, not weeks? And how severe are these sanctions?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It does mean days. You might even see them, you know, before the end of the week. and they're going to be very similar to the first round of sanctions, so that means individuals close to the Russian president, maybe a state institution, a bank, but it doesn't mean the sector sanctions, which would be going after, for instance, Russia's energy sector, some of its big state energy companies. That's what would really hit Russia economically. But the trouble is, you know, European allies, it would hit them as well because they depend on Russia particularly for their natural gas, and that's a price that they haven't been willing to bear.

BALDWIN: What about what Vladimir Putin himself said just a short time ago, that, you know, what's happening in the Ukraine absolutely justifies that the actions, the annexation of Crimea, who was he speaking to when he said that?

SCIUTTO: He's speaking to a domestic audience, really. But the trouble is, that's the only audience he appears to care about, right? I mean you have these competing narratives and you'll hear this from American officials that -- and even European officials that Putin is living in a dream world, right, with a different reality. But that reality is the right one, the correct one, as far as his audience is concerned. And that is the concern, really, of U.S. officials, European officials that he doesn't care about this condemnation that he'll hear from President Obama or the German chancellor. That he has a domestic audience that he wants to please. In fact, he's very popular home, even as the economy falters. And that's the worry. If he's only listening to that audience, we don't know what he's going to do next.

BALDWIN: At what point does he wake up and care?

SCIUTTO: That's the ultimate question, you know?

BALDWIN: Yes.

SCIUTTO: You even talk to intelligence officials, you know, as they try to judge what is his next move going to be. The one thing that everyone I talked to agrees on, government officials, they don't know what's inside his head. They don't know what his calculations are. And that's a really worrisome situation.

BALDWIN: Yes. Jim Sciutto, as always, thank you so, so much, for us in Washington today.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Back to the search here for the missing Malaysian Air Flight 370. The Bluefin-21 might actually be one of the most powerful tools when it comes to these underwater searches, but it's far from the only one they could be using. We will take a closer look at other ways, other mythology, these teams searching for this missing plane could be using, deploying.

Also ahead, this is fascinating. This man called "the millionaire with no face" by South Koreans, this guy is at the center now of this sinking ferry investigation. We'll explain that and tell you his back story, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)