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Malaysian Prime Minister Speaks Out about Flight 370; Bluefin- 21 Scanning Last 10 Percent of Search Area; Malaysians: Report to Be Released Next Week; New Details on al Qaeda Threat

Aired April 24, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jake, thanks very much.

Happening now, breaking news. In an exclusive interview, Malaysia's prime minister talks to CNN about the controversial investigation into the mystery of Flight 370, his own silence and the demands of passengers' families.

The U.S. Navy's Bluefin-21 now wrapping up its deep-sea scan of the search area without finding any evidence from the airliner and the all-important black boxes as officials now consider the next step.

Plus, new information about an al Qaeda threat to a U.S. embassy and possible retaliatory strikes against westerners in the Middle East following devastating anti-terror raids. I'll speak live this hour with one of the world's most influential leaders, the former British prime minister, Tony Blair.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: But we begin with the breaking news. The prime minister of Malaysia breaking his silence on the mystery of Flight 370. You're going to hear his comments made exclusively to CNN.

But first, the latest developments.

The Bluefin-21, the U.S. Navy's underwater drone, is now scanning the last 10 percent of the search area, but its mission is winding up with no trace of the airliner as authorities weigh what to do next.

Families of Flight 370 passengers are demanding to see data from an initial report filed by Malaysia to a U.N. aviation organization. Malaysia's prime minister tells CNN that report will be released next week.

Our analysts are standing by here in THE SITUATION ROOM. our correspondents are standing by around the world, bringing you the kind of coverage only CNN can deliver on the hunt for Flight 370, the escalating Ukraine crisis, and new details of a terror threat to Americans in Yemen.

But let's begin with a CNN exclusive as the Malaysian prime minister sits down with CNN's Richard Quest for his only television interview. Richard is joining us live from Kuala Lumpur -- Richard.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Wolf. Good morning from Kuala Lumpur. It is 5 on a Friday morning.

And the Malaysian prime minister, we can go back to the statements that he said before, the 14th on the 24th of March. But this for the first time is that -- when he sat down for a full-scale television interview to discuss what had happened. Who had seen what on the night when the plane was burned back and flew back across Malaysia.

And as we discussed with Prime Minister Najib Razak, as we discussed, the decisions taken by Malaysia, whether or not he would say the plane is now lost, it became clear that there are many facts which are only now coming out.


NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: Now, the military radar, the primary radar has some capability. It tracked an aircraft which did a turn back, but they were not sure, exactly sure whether it was MH-370. What they were sure of was that the aircraft was not deemed to be hostile.

QUEST: No planes were sent up on the night to investigate?

NAJIB: No. Because -- simply because it was deemed not to be hostile.

QUEST: Don't you find that troubling, that a civil aircraft can turn back, fly across the country and nobody thinks to go up and have a look? Because one of two things -- I understand the threat level, and I understand -- either the plane's in trouble and needs help or it's nefarious and you really want to know what somebody is going up there to do. So as prime minister, don't you find that troubling?

NAJIB: You see, I'm coming back to my earlier statement. Is that they were not sure whether it was MH-370.

QUEST: Even more reason just to go up and have a look.

NAJIB: They were not sure, but it behaved like a commercial airline.

QUEST: Moving to when the Inmarsat data is brought to your attention. Did you have any doubts when Inmarsat said and your advisers said, "We believe now the plane flew for 7 hours or so, 6 1/2 hours or so, and this is where it went," did you -- you must have had quite a shocked reaction?

NAJIB: To be honest, I found it hard to believe to begin with. Because how could a plane that was supposed to be heading towards Beijing, you know, they could decide that the plane ended halfway towards Antarctica? It's a bizarre scenario which none of us could have contemplated.

So that's why, when I met the team -- and mind you, these are the foremost experts in the aviation industry, they are the real experts, as you know. You know, they come from the United States; they come from the U.K. They were there. I asked them, "Are you sure?" I asked them again and again, "Are you sure?" And their answer to me was, "We are as sure as we can possibly be."

QUEST: Are you prepared now to say the plane and its passengers have been lost?

NAJIB: On the balance of the evidence, it would be hard to imagine otherwise.

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 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.

QUEST: But not 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 publicly that they're not willing to accept it until they find hard evidence.


QUEST: Wolf, listening to the dignified answers of the prime minister, who's clearly had to make some very difficult decisions and been at the helm of this, it's starting to become clear just how much Malaysia has done towards the 26-nation search that's taken place. And if the allegations of early bungling, well, if they still surround, the prime minister has certainly made great efforts to turn the perception tonight.

BLITZER: You know, Richard, it's interesting what is -- he didn't think that that plane was flying over Malaysian air space. He thought it was a commercial airliner flying at a normal commercial way, didn't know if it was the Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, didn't know what it was, but their experts thought it wasn't hostile.

But you know, all of us remember, there were four commercial airliners on 9/11 that were commandeered and became very hostile and became weapons of mass destruction. There are plenty of tall buildings where you are in Kuala Lumpur.

QUEST: and that, Wolf, is the key issue, the elephant in the living room. Whatever phrase you want to use. Forget inconsistencies on pilot names and, you know, last words and all. What happened when that plane flew back across Malaysia, that is probably the single most embarrassing fact for Malaysia, and that is the fact that they're going to have to release in the preliminary report and the final report. And from what I heard tonight, that's what the prime minister is starting to get to grips with.

BLITZER: Richard, stand by, because we have a lot more to discuss. More of your interview coming up, as well. But I want to bring in our panel of experts: CNN's safety analyst, David Soucie; along with retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Ken Christiansen; and commercial pilot, certified aircraft crash investigator and CNN aviation analyst, the former NTSB managing director, Peter Goelz.

David, what did you make of the explanation of why they didn't scramble jets, if you will, when the airliner was flying over Malaysian air space and they didn't know what it was?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: You know, we have to frame that JUST a little bit, because remember this radar is primary radar. So it's not like air traffic control, where it sends the signal out, gets a secondary signal back saying, "Hey, I'm MH-370." This is radar that's just primary. All it's intended to do is be of a defensive nature. So it wouldn't be uncommon for them to see commercial aircraft going along, and they wouldn't be able to know whether the transponder was on or off. So in his defense, I can see that a little bit.

On the other hand, where was the communication between this? They knew that there was an aircraft that had gone off their primary and secondary radar, the air traffic control radar. So why was that not communicated? I think partly there's -- because there's a separation between the military defense and the actual commercial airways.

BLITZER: Ken, you were in the air force. How do you know if a plane is -- seems to be hostile or not hostile? What would go through your mind?

LT. COL. KEN CHRISTIANSEN (RET.), COMMERCIAL PILOT/CRASH INVESTIGATOR: First of all, in our ATC environment, you would have -- the military would have an ATC feed in it. So this -- this situation where they don't know what airplane it is, if they see a primary target, we have a secretary feed in there. We would be trying to communicate with that plane immediately. If that didn't happen, jets would get scrambled, and if it was in our air space to investigate and physically get eyes on the aircraft.

BLITZER: So you would think in this post-9/11 world, all countries would have some sort of procedure like that. Right, Peter?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I think all countries do, but I think the Malaysians simply didn't follow it that night, and that's been part of the problem from day one.

BLITZER: Let me go back to Richard Quest in Malaysia right now. Richard, as you correctly point out, that's a pretty surprising development.

Another little bit of news there that you've got out of the prime minister today is that they are going to make available this report that they're giving to this United Nations aviation agency next week. What do we expect is in that report?

QUEST: Well, I wouldn't get too excited, because it is a fairly mundane document. Well, I say that. You know, where you have other facts. But where you don't have any facts and where verified details have not been forthcoming, then it will be important. Because it's going to make clear, Wolf, what happened at 1:22. It's going to be important what air traffic control did. It may even tell us more details about how the search, who told what to whom.

It will be both factually and symbolically crucial, because this is the prime minister saying, it's no longer going to be done the way it's been done so far.

BLITZER: David Soucie, what do you make of what the prime minister told Richard Quest, that he's not yet ready to say once and for all that the plane is lost because out of deference to the families. Given the fact, though, that the Malaysian government a few weeks ago said it was in the water, the Malaysian Airlines issued a release to the family, saying that everyone is dead, what do you make of this new statement today from the prime minister?

SOUCIE: I think that he just doesn't want to contribute to the seesaw that goes on with the emotions of these families. And I respect that. I think that that's a good decision on his part.

We've been saying all along with investigations, our job as investigators and as communicators and lead investigators is to state the facts and not make the conclusions for them. And it's difficult at best for him to say, conclude that the aircraft is lost, because we don't know, and that's going to be the next challenge with getting these settlements. Even if he did say it was lost, at that point the insurance is going to request a proof of loss, which is different than just saying the aircraft is lost.

BLITZER: See, I think, Peter, what the prime minister said today is an appropriate way of phrasing it, as opposed to what his other aides, including Malaysian Airlines, said a few weeks ago.

GOELZ: I agree with you. I think the prime minister showed sensitivity and some gravitas. I thought it was a really extraordinary interview.

BLITZER: All right, guys. I want everybody to stand by. Richard Quest, stand by in Kuala Lumpur. We'll have -- we'll be back with much more of your exclusive interview with the Malaysian prime minister. That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, new frustrations and new anger from the Flight 370 relatives. Why can't they see a report that Malaysia has already submitted to the international authorities? Why do they have to wait until next week?

And new details about an al Qaeda threat to a U.S. embassy and to westerners in the Middle East. Is the terror group preparing to retaliate for a deadly U.S.-led strike?


BLITZER: Breaking news now on the hunt for Flight 370. The U.S. Navy's Bluefin-21 is wrapping up its sonar scan of the targeted search area. A dozen deep-sea dives; still no trace at all of the airliner. Is the mission coming to an end?

We go live to CNN Miguel Marquez is joining us from Perth, Australia, once again. Miguel, what if the Bluefin doesn't find anything? The remainder of its search is almost over, as we know. How long before a wider search begins? And is the Bluefin immediately shipped out?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bluefin probably will not be shipped out immediately and even once they've finished all 100 percent, it's not even clear that they'll end the Bluefin operation. There may be other areas that they want to get to.

But when it comes to a wider search, if they cannot find anything, it is very likely that there will be a stoppage of a week, perhaps weeks before they can get the gear in place, ships refitted and everybody back out to sea, in order to search a much wider area.

Keep in mind, we're talking about an area that's been searched now about 154 square miles, the area of interest where they picked up all those pings, with that Malaysian airliner melee is as big as 21,000 square miles, 21 and a half thousand square miles. So it's a massive area -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We know the air search is going to begin NOW in the next couple of hours or so. Any idea how much longer the air search will go on?

MARQUEZ: Look, there has been discussion about this air search ending all week. And we -- we are only surmising, but we guess that it probably will end at about the time that this initial search of the Bluefin ends. It would make sense. It has been 40 days that this thing has gone missing. The storms have blown through here. They have not found anything of significance. And it is a heck of a lot of work for those crews and their planes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Miguel Marquez, we'll check back with you later. Thank you.

Flight 370 relatives say they -- they're once again being kept in the dark by Malaysian authorities, this time over a preliminary report on the investigation. The families are angry. They are frustrated. They're ready to take action. Brian Todd is here. He's got new information -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the families say this preliminary report to be released next week should have been shared with them already. They've gotten no explanation why it hasn't been, and the families now say they're going looking for answers elsewhere.


TODD (voice-over): A new round of resentment over the Malaysian government's handling of this investigation. Malaysia's prime minister promises their preliminary report on Flight 370's disappearance will be released next week, but the report was already sent to the U.N.'s aviation branch. And for now, the Malaysians are not saying what's in it. The families of those missing say they haven't been told what's in the report or why it's been withheld so far. For them, it's another bitter turn.

SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF MH-370 PASSENGER: 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.

TODD: Sarah Bajc says family members will seek answers from Boeing, the plane's manufacturer, at a company shareholders meeting next week. Boeing isn't commenting, but that meeting is only for Boeing shareholders, and even if they get in, the families may not get much information.

MICHAEL GOLDFARB, FORMER FAA CHIEF OF STAFF: Boeing can't talk to the families. Boeing can only talk to the NTSB. The protocol of the investigation prohibits anybody but the Malaysians from doing what they want to do with the families and the press.

TODD: Another reason for wondering why the report was not immediately made public. The NTSB'S preliminary report on the Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco was only five sentences long, saying simply the plane impacted the seawall and three passengers were killed, and not much else.

GOLDFARB: The report is a standard factual short report 30 days out from the country that is leading the investigation, explaining, in fact, when it happened, not why it happened.

TODD: Malaysian officials say they have nothing to hide, and there's nothing embarrassing in the report. A former U.S. ambassador says the Malaysians simply don't have much practice with this.

JAMES KEITH, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MALAYSIA: They haven't been able to organize for this kind of event in the past. They haven't had the occasion or the need to be put under this sort of international scrutiny and, as a result, their lack of experience has shown.


TODD: Former FAA official Michael Goldfarb says, because of their lack of transparency so far, whatever Malaysian officials say in this report or any future ones will likely be a little bit undermined, taken with a lot of skepticism -- Wolf.

Blitzer: All right, Brian, thanks very much. Brian Todd reporting.

Coming up, we're getting, days after a massive raid on al Qaeda militants, new information. One world leader is warning that the threat from Islamic extremists is more dangerous than ever. Today, the former British prime minister Tony Blair is here in THE SITUATION ROOM, walking in. We'll talk with him in just a moment.


BLITZER: Breaking news on the terror threat in the Middle East, including a plot against the United States embassy and possible retaliation for the drone attacks, the anti-terror raids, which killed dozens of suspected terrorists.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. Has been doing some excellent reporting on this.

Barbara, you're learning more details about the al Qaeda threat in Yemen. What's the latest information you're picking up?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, several sources in the U.S. government are now telling me that the threat stream, the stream of threats out of al Qaeda in Yemen has increased in recent weeks.

It is one of the reasons, not the only one but one of the key reasons there was a decision to go ahead with these drone strikes and anti- terrorism raids because of these threats from al Qaeda in Yemen.

CNN has also learned that the U.S. believes al Qaeda in Yemen has a potential target list, if you will, that there is intelligence showing that the U.S. embassy is, in fact, on their target list, we should say. The U.S. embassy always under high threat from al Qaeda in Yemen, but also western targets, kidnapping of westerners as well as Yemeni military and government installations, all on al Qaeda's list.

Now, it's not at all clear, Wolf. Information was fully corroborated, but in fact, one source with access to the latest information tells us that in fact a plot against the U.S. Embassy was disrupted earlier this year. And all of this, Wolf, adds up to why the U.S. -- why the Yemenis have decided to really step it up and go after these al Qaeda terrorists -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The U.S., so the Obama administration clearly continuing with drone strikes. They don't necessarily solve all these problems, though, do they?

STARR: The Yemenis certainly do not believe they do, and I think the U.S. has found that over the years, Wolf, the drone strikes will take out a terrorist camp, as it is believed they did in this round.

They could go after specific people, but you are talking about an al Qaeda affiliate that continues to regenerate itself, continues to develop new operatives, new leaders. and one indication of that, Wolf, they just took a big hit from these drone strikes. Already, Yemeni authorities are on high alert, worried about retaliation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr with new information from the Pentagon, thanks, Barbara, very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper with someone who has fought terrorism as one of America's closest allies and struggled to make peace of the Middle East envoy at the same time.

Joining us now, one of the world's still most influential leaders, the former British prime minister, Tony Blair. Prime Minister, thank you for joining us.


BLITZER: When you see the video of 100 al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula militants operating there, the U.S. then goes in with drone strikes and beefs up Yemeni forces on the ground. Your point -- and you've delivered a major speech on this this week is, what? That Muslim extremism is on the rise right now, represents the greatest threat out there?

BLAIR: Yes. And I think you've got to see this as a whole. The situation in Yemen, obviously in Syria, you've had Egypt going through a very, very difficult passage. You've got Iraq still very difficult, Afghanistan.

You look at northern Africa and Libya in a very, very difficult situation. That's spreading down into the northern part of sub- Saharan Africa. You might need two things. You obviously, in respect to each country to do what you can in respect to the security situation and fighting terrorism and getting the country on its feet and to develop. But then we've got to deal with this wider issue of this poisonous and corrosive Islamist ideology that is taught to children at a young age.

BLITZER: So are you fearful of another 9/11?

BLAIR: I'm fearful of a growing Islamist threat. What form that takes is hard to know. But, for example, we in U.K. now, our single biggest security worry are our own people, citizens who have been born -- brought up in the U.K., going and fighting so-called jihad in Syria, returning to the U.K. and becoming a major security threat because they're battle-hardened, they're radicalized and they are angry.

BLITZER: So what was the point of the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, all of the trillions that were spent, the lives lost if this threat is potentially, in your own analysis, even greater today?

BLAIR: Well, here's the problem that all of this, in my view, has one central origin. And that is this toxic mix of religion and politics and what is really happening in the Middle East is that it's in the Middle East because that is the epicenter of thought and theology in Islam that the future of Islam and its relationship with politics will be decided.

And one of the things that I'm saying to people is that, yes, we've been through hugely difficult campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. We don't need to repeat that, but we do need to stay engaged with this problem. We need, for example, to realize that in respect of Egypt, whatever our concerns are over some of the human rights issues there, it is absolutely essential that country is helped on its feet.

If Sisi is elected as the president of Egypt, that he is given support and help to move the country forward. We're talking in the end about one struggle. It's got many different aspects to it. There are lots of local factors but in the end it is about this toxic mixture of religion and politics. And the reason why Iraq was difficult, Afghanistan was difficult is precisely because of that.

BLITZER: And you're even suggesting -- and I don't want to put words in your mouth but from what I've read that the West, the U.S., the Europeans, Britain should put aside Ukraine for now and make -- try to maintain a normal relationship with Vladimir Putin?

BLAIR: No, I'm certainly not suggesting we put aside Ukraine. I mean, the difference over Ukraine will remain and we should take up proper and tough response on that as indeed the administration has been doing. What I'm saying is, though, at the same time as this is happening, on this issue, which is the threat of radical Islamist ideology, we actually have a common cause, East and West. And so, for example, Russia has now got a Muslim population of over 15 percent. They've got real problems of terrorism cells.

You've seen what's happened in the northwest of China where there have been terrorist attacks and so on. Across the whole belt of Central Asia down into the Far East, there are major problems there. So what I'm really saying is whatever the issues are in Ukraine, we should deal with those issues, make no mistake about it. We have to understand that this Islamist threat is there, it remains, it's growing and it has to be dealt with, in my view, as a whole.

We have to deal with it partly in respect of each individual country where there's a problem but also I've suggested that we make the idea of education, informally and formally, towards a religiously tolerant outlook a major feature of our international negotiations with our allies and with those with whom we deal --


BLITZER: So how do you deal with this growing, from your analysis, threat? What do you really need to do? Because since 9/11, the U.S., the British, the allies, the NATO, they've been trying their best and you're saying it's not really working.

BLAIR: Wolf, what I'm saying is -- by the way, I think if we weren't taking these measures, we'd be in even greater difficulty. I think maybe the best way for us to look at it is to look at it like revolutionary communism or fascism as a totalitarian ideology.

In the end, how do we defeat revolutionary communism? We defeated it both by taking the necessary security measures but also by galvanizing people behind a better idea, which is the idea of free societies and open economies. Now it's the same thing here. All over the world where this Islamist ideology is spreading its poison, you will have to take security measures as you've just seen U.S. taking in Yemen.

But at the same time you've got to help countries to develop and you've got to make it absolutely clear to our allies, by the way, as well as those opposed to us that, in the education of our young people, we've got to be educating towards an open-minded religiously tolerant view of the world, because that's the only view of the world that works in the 21st century.

BLITZER: I know you've been working hard on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in recent years. That looks like it's at least right now dead.

BLAIR: I don't think it's -- it's not dead, but right now what is absolutely essential is that we realize any Palestinian government that comes out of unity between Hamas and Fattah has got to be compliant with the principles in the international community. And that means support for the two-state solution. It means peaceful means, not violence.

And secondly, whatever obstacles there are -- and this is the reason why I so strongly support John Kerry's commitment on this issue. Whatever obstacles there are, we're always going to come back to the same thing. The only solution is two states, a secure state of Israel, a viable state of Palestine. And the only way to get it is through peace --


BLITZER: But do you think that Hamas is ready to accept Israel's legitimacy?

BLAIR: That's a decision they are going to have to take. They're not --

BLITZER: But do you believe they are?

BLAIR: There's no sign that they are at the moment. And if they are not, that's going to cause a serious problem for the talks going forward. So look, right now we just heard this news in the last 24 hours or so, we'll take stock in the situation. I'm sure the secretary will be working out how to take this forward.

But, you know, the commitment and energy he's shown on this issue over these past months in my view, gives him a very strong position from which to speak on this and look, I think my view is most people in the region, and actually a majority of Israelis and Palestinians, still want to see this move forward and still know the only way to peace is a two-state solution.

BLITZER: The former prime minister of Britain, Tony Blair, thanks for coming in.

BLAIR: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, the Russian president Vladimir Putin has a stern new warning to Ukraine. What did he threaten on this day of deadly violence?

And we're also learning much more about the three Americans killed in Afghanistan, including a doctor who died doing what he loved.


BLITZER: Ukraine is on the edge after a deadly day of skirmishes between Ukrainian soldiers and pro-Russian militants with scenes like this one, where soldiers stormed the militants' roadblocks and killed at least five people. Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is here. He's got the details on these developments. And once again, they're pretty ominous.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And they're sparking real concern here in Washington. Speaking to U.S. officials in fact in the last 24, 48 hours, you can detect increasing concern just within that time period. In the simplest terms, they're more concerned. They are watching Russian military movements on the Ukrainian border for signs the Russians may move in and they are watching Russian aircraft buzzing European and American airspace extremely closely for signs of more aggressive contact attuned to any indication that Russia will escalate the crisis in Ukraine further.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): This is Ukraine descending into violence, bloody, fiery clashes as the Ukrainian military move to reclaim cities taken by pro-Russian militants. Kiev authorities say five people were killed. Russian President Vladimir Putin seized on the Ukrainian military action as a direct threat to Russia and warned of immediate consequences.

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (Through Translator): But the Kiev regime has started to use the army against the population inside the country. It, beyond any doubt, is a very serious crime against its people.

SCIUTTO: Russia is backing the rhetoric with new military drills for the 40,000 to 50,000 Russian troops now deployed on Ukraine's eastern border.

Running out of patience with the looming threat of a full Russian invasion, the Ukrainian president went on national television to insist Russia retreat.

OLEKSANDR TURCHYNOV, UKRAINE ACTING PRESIDENT (Through Translator): We demand from the Russian Federation to stop interfering with internal affairs of Ukraine, stop the constant threats and intimidation and to withdraw its troops from the eastern border of our country.

SCIUTTO: Even as the situation on the ground only deteriorates President Obama traveling in Asia said Russia still has a chance to pursue a diplomatic solution, though he called that prospect unlikely.

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.


SCIUTTO: Now these sanctions are likely to be similar to the first round of economic penalties against Russia targeting senior Russian officials with asset freezes and travel bans and possibly targeting state banks, state institutions as well as the president said the new round will come within days, only the technical details need to be worked out.

I mean, the intention here, Wolf, is to make these next round of sanctions something of an escalation but they're not talking about the sector-wide sanctions that some had pushed forward just because frankly the costs seemed to be too high particularly for our European allies.

BLITZER: Yes. The Germans and so many of those European countries rely on gas and other energy sources from Russia.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Hold on for a moment. I want to bring in retired U.S. General James "Spider" Marks who is here with us in the SITUATION ROOM.

A lot of people fear, General, this could explode literally at any moment.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: This is one of the largest challenges that we face and my concern is that all the elements are in place right now for the explosion that you just described. Kiev -- the government of Kiev is ill-equipped to handle the myriad of task that it has.

It's getting pressure from us to do what it must within its own borders and Russia is calling on us to assist in that whereas Putin could very easily stop what's taking place in eastern Ukraine right now. He could do that. And they've already invaded and annexed Crimea. So all of this toxic mix is really kind of coalescing in Kiev. We have a very large role to play.

BLITZER: Jim, what do you think of this Russian statement calling on the United States to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine?

SCIUTTO: It's funny. You know, it's been -- like a game of tennis, right? We make a statement as you heard from U.S. officials saying, you know, it's Russia's responsibility to exercise control over these pro-Russian militants and you hear an echo of that coming back from the Russian side and this is a real problem because you are dealing with two separate realities here, right?

MARKS: True.

SCIUTTO: You've heard that from American leaders, from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And that's the problem. It's two ships passing in the night on the justification. And meanwhile, with every statement that you're hearing from the Russians, building this pretext, the same pretext that they used in Crimea before they went in, that Russians are under threat. If they continue to be under threat, we're going to take action.

BLITZER: Same pretext they used going into Georgia, the former Soviet Republic of Georgia back in 2008. SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

BLITZER: So when Putin talks of, quote, "consequences" if this situation continues and pro-Russian elements in Ukraine are hit for whatever reason, what does he mean by that? Because he does have 40,000 Russian troops on the border with Ukraine.

MARKS: Wolf, that's exactly what he means. Those 40,000 troops that are just north of Ukraine are incredibly, strategically provocative. If he were to disband that force and send it back to garrison, it would be a different calculus inside the country but he's chosen not to do that. He's chosen not to do that very, very consciously. That should be the first move that the United States have put pressure on them, and say you've got to stop doing this.

And let's call what's taking place in east Ukraine what it is. It's Russian instigation and these are Russian forces. These aren't just pro-Russian separatists.

BLITZER: So what does the Ukrainian government do in a situation like this? If they go in there and try to establish themselves as the legitimate government, try to reclaim buildings that we're taken over by pro-Russian elements or, as the U.S. charges, actual Russian paramilitary forces, that will clearly escalate the situation.

SCIUTTO: No question. I agree with Spider that they're in a precarious situation, right? Because they are getting pressured to exercise control, both from the outside but internally. This is an embarrassment for them to have these cities on the eastern part of the side taken over by the militants. And early on those attempts to take back those cities were repelled. You have Ukrainians -- changing side.


SCIUTTO: On the flip side, though, as they do that, they are feeding into that Russian story line that Russians are under threat and in effect giving him more of that pretext to move in.

MARKS: But these are Ukrainians citizens.


MARKS: These are not Russian citizens.


MARKS: Unless if you are a natural-born or you can speak Russian, you are -- this is the near-abroad. The discussion of the near-abroad which is a Cold War term. And that's what we see right here. These aren't Russians being affected. These are Ukrainian nationals that are being affected. They might be pro-Russian. I've got that.

SCIUTTO: But in the Russian view of reality, right? And Sergey Lavrov used that term yesterday. He said Russian citizens here and they are a threat -- you know, a threat to them is a threat to the Russian federation.

MARKS: Right.

BLITZER: General Marks, thanks for coming in.

Jim, you'll be back with us later.

We're going to have much more on the deadly crisis in Ukraine. I'll speak live with a deputy foreign minister of Ukraine. He's here in Washington meeting with top U.S. officials. We'll discuss what is going on live in the next hour.

Just ahead, the Malaysian prime minister breaking his silence in an exclusive CNN interview. Don't miss what he says about the night that Flight 370 went missing.

And a deadly day in Afghanistan. So what made a guard turn on three Americans, two physicians and a nurse he was supposed to be defending?


BLITZER: Three Americans are dead at this hospital in Afghanistan. Gunned down by a man meant to protect them. And we're just learning now more about the victims. A dedicated doctor, a father, and a son.

Our foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is over at the State department with their story.

Elise, what are you learning?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, Wolf, it was a terrible and senseless tragedy and it really comes at a moment of cross roads for the Afghan people and the for U.S. presence there.


LABOTT (voice-over): Chicago pediatrician Jerry Umanos was killed when an Afghan security guard opened fire at the gates of the hospital where he worked. Umanos told friends he felt called to move to Afghanistan to help treat children. Hours before his death, he told a friend he was excited to start a program to teach Afghan women health care skills.

Umanos had been a doctor in inner city Chicago.

DR. BRUCE ROWELL, FORMER COLLEAGUE OF UMANOS: He was a loving, caring physician who served all of his patients with the utmost of respect.

LABOTT: Two other Americans, a father and son, also killed in the attack.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Through Translator): We came here under immense pressure and we're here only to serve the people of Afghanistan.

LABOTT: The shooter, an off-duty police officer, shot himself and was treated at the same hospital where he opened fire before being handed over to Afghan authorities. It's the latest in a string of recent attacks on foreign civilians as western forces prepare to leave Afghanistan, and Afghans elect a new president.

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: Afghanistan has been and continues to be a war zone and there are certainly efforts that are under way every day to work with Afghan security, to work with officials on the ground, to continue to prepare for the future.

LABOTT: Earlier this month, two foreign journalists shot. One of them killed in the eastern province of Khost. And more than a dozen foreigners were killed in January in a Taliban attack on a popular restaurant in Kabul's Diplomatic District.


LABOTT: And, Wolf, with eight months to go left until U.S. forces are expected to leave Afghanistan, you have to wonder these type of attacks whether Afghan security forces are going to be ready to protect both the Afghan people and foreign civilians working there and whether the next president who should be decided in the coming months is going to be up to the task of going after the Taliban which clearly seems to still have a lot of strength as a country.

BLITZER: And the people who are supposedly protecting Americans who volunteer their services, go over there with excellent intentions to help people with their health or whatever, the people that are supposed to be protecting them wind out -- wind up to be killers.

What do you do about that?

LABOTT: Well, it's really hard. It's like those green-on-blue attacks that we've seen so often where Afghan forces are dressed as forces but seem to be insurgents. So we asked the State Department about that today. Are you going to provide any more security for U.S. personnel? For foreign workers over there? They just don't have the answers to that yet, Wolf. They say we continue to work with the Afghan forces but clearly they have a long way to go.

BLITZER: They certainly do. All right, thanks very much, Elise, for that report.

Coming up, a CNN exclusive. The Malaysian prime minister breaking his silence. So when will he release that secret report on Flight 370 and the investigation?

And Ukraine on the brink of war. I'll talk to the deputy foreign minister of Ukraine about today's clashes with militants and the threats from Russia.