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THE SITUATION ROOM

Crisis in Ukraine; Search for Flight 370

Aired April 25, 2014 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: significant changes in the hunt for Flight 370. We're now learning what's next for the Bluefin-21 as it finishes scanning the current search area.

And we're also waiting for word on the air search. Is it time for that to end?

Plus, exploding violence and fiery allegations, Ukraine's prime minister accusing Russia of wanting to start World War III. CNN is live on the ground in Ukraine.

And we're learning that terrorist hideouts are under attack in a widening crackdown on one of al Qaeda's most dangerous groups. Stand by. We're getting new information.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news in the hunt for Flight 370. We have brand-new information about what happens next as the Bluefin-21 finishes its scan of the most promising area of the Indian Ocean.

The operation right now at a critical turning point after seven futile weeks, deep frustration about everything that's gone wrong. Our correspondents and analysts are following every new development around the world and right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's begin once again with justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, for the very latest -- Pamela..

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just moments ago we learned from a U.S. Navy source that officials plan on expanding the subsea search and moving it slightly to north of the six-mile radius if no wreckage is found.

And this is important because it means the search will move closer to a point of another ping that officials viewed as a promising area because of that ping's signal strength, and it's a sign they're not giving up in the midst of mounting anger from passengers' family members.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): Fifty days spent searching for Flight 370, and still nothing, fueling frustration among passengers' family members. Outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing, families of the Chinese passengers angry, demanding answers, chanting "no more delays, no more lies."

QUESTION: What do you concretely want from the Malaysian government right now?

STEVE WANG, SON OF PASSENGER: The truth. The thing they're hiding.

BROWN: With the Bluefin coming up empty, crews are now expanding the search to areas adjacent to the six-mile radius surrounding the second ping.

JEFF WISE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It's really a hot mess right now. We were given in very strong indications and strong language that the plane would turn up with these pings have been detected. That is a powerful piece of evidence that the pings do not correlate to the wreckage. The wreckage was not where it was promised.

BROWN: Still, no word of whether submersibles like the Bluefin will be deployed.

FABIEN COUSTEAU, OCEAN EXPLORER: It would be wonderful to have a fleet of them to be able to cover a larger area in a same amount of time, but as you pointed out, there are few of them out there. There are other tools out there, ROVs, AUVs, and, of course, submersibles, that have their depth limits, that can be used in this particular circumstances, in the right order and in the right fashion. And only if we have tangible evidence of where to search.

BROWN: Now, we're learning resources are pulling out of the search. The Royal Navy today says the HMS Tireless, the only submarine in the search is done, saying there is no longer any prospect of detecting black box pings and now one of the surface ships, the HMS Echo returning to port to refuel, living it out of the loop for now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And as for that underwater search, we expect crews to shift to the north from where they're searching right now very soon, possibly this weekend -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Pamela, stand by.

I want to go to the base of the operations for the search.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is joining us once again. He's live in Perth, Australia.

What are you learning there, Miguel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, we know they're 95 percent through with the initial search area where the second ping was picked up and we know they're now searching adjacent areas, and presumably they are searching areas north of that second ping area that would take them in the direction of ping one.

This has been the issue for them all along. Exactly where was that ping located? They were able to get one sort of trajectory of it, but they weren't able to hone in on it specifically, so now they're going to their next best guess, which is go to the area, go toward the area of ping one -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And after that, do they have any plans beyond the next week or two? Are they looking long term? Or is it all day by day?

MARQUEZ: Well, as they move toward this, presumably they will come up with another plan if they need to launch it in order to do a wider search.

Keep in mind, it is a 700 kilometer by 80 kilometer -- that's a 21,600-mile -- square-mile area that is of interest. They have only searched about 150 square miles of that. So they have searched a sliver of the area of where this plane may be, but they're searching the most likely sliver out there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Miguel, thank you.

Let's go to Kuala Lumpur right now. There's a backlash against the Malaysian prime minister after his exclusive interview with CNN's Richard Quest.

Richard is joining us from the Malaysian capital right now.

Family members are not very happy with what they heard, are they, Richard?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, they're not, Wolf. They still believe -- the family criticisms come down to twofold. They believe they have not been given the information that they are asking for, and that is sort of, if you like, at the most reasonable side of the objections.

And then some of the objections become more outlandish because they still -- there are those members of the families that believe either the plane has been hijacked and has landed somewhere like Diego Garcia or Kandahar or the like, and they believe they're not only not being given information, but that details are being hidden.

So you have a spectrum of objections by the families into this, but I do have to say, it's not all the families that believe this. Many of them have taken the approach that they do recognize the reality of what has happened, have chosen to take what they would see as a dignified silence, and are now waiting to get on with the compensation claims and to get on with their lives.

BLITZER: And what's been the reaction to what he acknowledged, the prime minister, in that exclusive interview with you, Richard, when he said that Malaysian military radar did pick up this plane, they thought it was the plane flying over Malaysian airspace, they didn't think it was a hostile, they were exactly 100 percent sure it was this Malaysian airliner, but they didn't scramble jets because they didn't think it was a hostile environment? What's been the reaction to that?

QUEST: This is clearly the smoking gun, if you like, and so far, nobody's really running with it, except, I must tell you, the political opposition.

I have already had several reaches-out to me from the opposition, from various spokesmen who are sort of delicately pointing out, you know, maybe this is something we should look at further. And be under no illusion, yes, despite the relatively -- the single-party democracy nature of Malaysia, there is an opposition, and this opposition party, led, of course, by Anwar Ibrahim, does not miss the opportunity to put the boot into the government.

So there is a febrile political debate that does take place in this country, and I have no doubt, Wolf, none whatsoever, that what -- the failure of the military to deal with it on the night is going to become a political issue in domestic Malaysia.

BLITZER: On the eve of the president, President Obama's visit there as well. Richard Quest doing outstanding work for us, thank you.

Let's bring in our panel of experts, CNN aviation analyst Peter Goelz, CNN aviation analyst Michael Kay, aviation consultant Ken Christensen, and Geoffrey Thomas, the editor in chief of AirlineRatings.com and he's joining us from Australia.

Peter Goelz, first to you.

They're going to move this search, this underwater search a little bit further north, based on what, the second ping as opposed to the strongest ping? Is that what they're going to do?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: That's exactly right.

And I think they're obligated to do that. The Australians made a big deal about the pings. They have said this is the right spot, and the investigators have said this is the right spot. They have got to search the area around each of the pings.

BLITZER: So far, Ken, the first ping, the loudest ping, the strongest ping has produced nothing. The assumption was that if you get the ping from one of these so-called black boxes, there's going to be a lot of other wreckage nearby, because if that's there, presumably other wreckage from the plane would be there.

But they searched this first area, found nothing. Do you suspect they're going to find something in a weaker-pinged area, if you will?

KEN CHRISTENSEN, PRESIDENT, INTEGRATED AVIATION SOLUTIONS: I suspect they're going to find something within that area. That was a 17-mile area and then they're reducing it.

BLITZER: From the four pings.

(CROSSTALK) CHRISTENSEN: From the four pings. That's correct.

So the area they're searching now is just around one smaller area. So I believe, when they finish that, the larger search, I believe that they will find some debris.

BLITZER: Let me ask Michael Kay if he agrees.

What do you think, Michael?

MICHAEL KAY, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Wolf, I think we're in day 49. To put that into context, Air France 447 took over 700 days. And the way that this whole investigation has progressed has just been completely unprecedented.

If we go back to the beginning, we didn't have anything apart from the 2,500-mile radius from the South China Sea. That gives you over 10 million square miles. We then had some Inmarsat analysis which gave us the northern and the southern arc.

We then actually -- by luck, we came across these pings. The pings, as you rightly point out, go on amplitude. They go on signal strength. They're not geolocating. We also know the pings are affected by salinity, pressure, thermal waves and the temperature within the ocean.

So they're not accurate. I think we have got a long way to two. Air Chief Marshal Houston had a big decision to make when he decided to take the ping locator out, which was looking specifically for the black boxes, essentially going for the needle, not the haystack, and putting the Bluefin in.

As soon as he made that decision, that's when we all should have regauged for the long haul. That's what we need to be doing for the moment. And 49 days is relatively early in this investigation.

BLITZER: Geoffrey, you're there in Perth, Australia. What are you hearing about the air search?

GEOFFREY THOMAS, EDITOR IN CHIEF, AIRLINERATINGS.COM: Yes, Wolf.

Look, we are hearing that the Australia and one or two other countries are leading a push to convince the Malaysians to give up on the air search. Angus Houston alluded to this well over a week ago and said the air search would be scaled back. The civilian part has already been scaled back over a week ago, but the military side, there's a big push to say, look, we have looked and we have looked and we have looked. We find nothing.

And it's becoming futile and the best search area is where the pings are, and let's possibly put more assets on the bottom of the ocean and that's where we need to focus.

BLITZER: Who's reluctant to stop the air search, Geoffrey?

THOMAS: Well, I think Malaysians are reluctant to stop it because, I mean, this is a very highly politically charged situation. We have the issues with the relatives, which, you know, one can understand. It's very traumatic for them.

So they're sort of trying to walk a very fine line here between reality and compassion, if you like, sensitivity, if you like.

So, there's a lot of lobbing going on, but we're expecting something to be announced very shortly to say, the military, the air search, the military air search will come to an end.

BLITZER: Ken Christensen, a smart idea to stop the air search?

CHRISTENSEN: Again, I think at this point it is, because they're expensive assets and it's really not going to cover anything. If there is any debris field, it's so far from the point of impact on the wreckage that it wouldn't really provide the location of the larger wreckage that could be under the water.

The only thing we would determine if you did find a piece of wreckage is that it would confirm that it is the Malaysia airplane that went in the water, because to date we still don't have a piece of wreckage that confirms that.

BLITZER: Or even have a tiny piece.

You agree, end the air search?

GOELZ: Absolutely. These guys have done yeoman's service for a long time. Let's not put anyone on risk. Let's focus our attentions on the bottom, on the ocean bed.

BLITZER: Michael Kay, is it time to bring in a whole bunch of -- a lot more equipment to search that ocean floor?

KAY: No, I don't think -- maybe not necessarily new equipment, but, you know, you're talking about the air search there, Wolf. I think it's going to be from what's been a proactive air search, so flooding the area with maritime assets and all of the equipment and eyes out that comes with that, to more of a reactive search.

What I mean by that is, is that if we get a little bit of evidence from a satellite picture or from a trawler or from someone that sees something, then you will launch assets upon that information, rather than scouring it and being passive. I think there's a natural reset we need to do, anyway, in terms of the human factors piece, the air crews, the fatigue.

They have been going at a temper which is not sustainable. But also the aircraft as well, Wolf, they have got to through deep servicing. The hours they will have flown over the last 49 days will be phenomenal. They will need to reset. And as has already been alluded to, safety in terms of Air Chief Marshal Houston's will be the next primary objective to actually finding the airplane, paramount.

BLITZER: Michael Kay, thanks very much. Geoffrey Thomas, thanks to you, Ken Christensen and Peter Goelz. We will have more on this story coming up later.

But there's some breaking news we're following now on the fate of a young American man who's in custody in North Korea. U.S. officials are closely monitoring the situation.

Let's bring in foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott. She has got the latest information.

What are you learning, Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he was with a tour group when he was detained and he told he was exhibiting some pretty strange behavior as he went willingly into the hands of the North Koreans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT (voice-over): The 24-year-old American was picked up by North Korea for his -- quote -- "rash behavior."

North Korean state media didn't release a picture, but identified him as Miller Matthew Todd. They say he tore up his visa and promised to seek asylum as he passed through customs. U.S. officials tell CNN they first learned about his detention days ago, but are not confirming it publicly.

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We are, of course, aware of the reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea.

LABOTT: The news of the detention seems timed to President Obama's visit to South Korea, part of a campaign by North Korea's reckless young leader, Kim Jong-un, to steal the spotlight.

HAN PARK, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA: I think it's carefully measured. World attention is there, especially an American youngster seeking political asylum, and that is very useful self- esteem booster.

LABOTT: Tonight, new satellite images also show increased activity at North Korea's main nuclear site, suggesting to some officials Kim is on the verge of another nuclear test.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In light of what we expect to be further provocative actions from the North Koreans, whether in the form of long-range missile tests or nuclear tests, or both, that it's important for us to look at additional ways to apply pressure.

LABOTT: Even as Kim ratchets up the saber-rattling, Pyongyang featured the softer side of its leader this week, featuring rare baby photos of Kim and images of him being swarmed by female soldiers in tears as he visits their military unit.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: Wolf, the North Koreans are still holding Kenneth Bae, the Christian missionary who is serving 15 years in a labor camp for allegedly trying to topple the government. Now with the news of detention of another American, this could further complicate U.S. efforts to deal with North Korea's nuclear threats.

BLITZER: Certainly could. Thanks very much for that, Elise Labott reporting for us from the State Department.

Still ahead, Ukraine fighters training now for battle amid a new warning that an all-out war with Russia could happen.

And now international observers, the monitors are being held against their will. We will tell you how President Obama is responding to all of this. He's traveling overseas right now.

His foreign policy missteps, at least that's what his critics are calling them, could they be haunting him along the way?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: "CROSSFIRE" won't be seen tonight so we can bring you some new developments on several breaking stories we're following right here in the THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world.

Indeed, right now, there's breaking news on the crisis in Ukraine. A Pentagon spokesman confirming to CNN that Russian aircraft have entered Ukrainian airspace several times over the last 24 hours. The United States is urging Russia to de-escalate the situation.

It's getting more violent, more dangerous on the ground as well -- Ukraine's prime minister lashing at Russia for its role in the conflict, accusing Moscow of wanting -- quote -- "World War III." President Obama says targeted sanctions against Russia now are ready to go, his words, ready to go.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. He's on the ground for us in Eastern Ukraine in Donetsk right now. That's a flash point.

What's the latest there, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the concern really is now Ukrainian officials have announced what they refer to as the second phase of their anti-terror operation.

That will involve encircling the flash point of the unrest in the town of Slavyansk. Could that result in casualties, further conflict? We heard have of explosions today an airfield near there, of course, as you mentioned, these violations of Ukrainian airspace by Russian aircraft, given there are 40,000 troops across the border, extremely high levels of volatility here.

And really let's look at what things have picked up simply today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH (voice-over): Tensions flaring in Ukraine as the region teeters on the brink of war. Bloody, fiery crashes erupting as the Ukrainian military moves to reclaim cities taken by pro-Russian militants, killing five of them, they say, and destroying three checkpoints around the eastern town of Slavyansk.

Russian President Vladimir Putin seizing on the Ukrainian military action as a direct threat to Russia warning of immediate consequences, saying, quote, "If the Kiev regime has started to use the army against the population inside the country, it's a very serious crime."

SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation.

WALSH: Russia's response was swift, conducting new military drills for its 40,000 troops positioned along the Eastern Ukrainian border, moving tanks into place and testing jet fighters to overcome enemy missile defense. Running out of patience the Ukrainian president insists that Russia retreat and end what he calls its blackmail.

Ukraine remains a country divided with those in the east carrying a strong allegiance to Russia.

The war of words between the U.S. and Russia growing increasingly intense.

Secretary of State John Kerry accusing Russia of distraction, deception, and destabilization in the region.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: If Russia continues in this direction, it will not just be a grave mistake. It will be an expensive mistake.

WALSH: New U.S. sanctions against Russia could come as early as today if Putin refuses to de-escalate the situation.

U.S. forces on the ground in Eastern Europe holding military exercise of their own to counter the threat from Russia. These paratroopers are the first of 600 soldiers deployed in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, all NATO allies, all nervous about where Russia could strike next.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH: Now, probably the most troubling incident we're hearing of is from the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, who says that some observers working with the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, have been detained in Slavyansk, it seems, by pro-Russian militants, seven of them German, part of a military observation mission, five Ukrainian soldiers with them and a driver.

Now, we also are hearing from the self-declared mayor of Slavyansk and he's saying he thinks one of these people might be a spy. Their fate right now isn't entirely clear, but it's probably the most troubling thing we have heard in the last 12 hours certainly. And, Wolf, the key thing is when we hear the Ukrainian prime minister talk about the potential of World War III here, that's rhetoric, but each one of the small incidents could flare, could become the flash point, the moment of bloodshed which may cause Russian forces to decide they have the right to intervene -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a very important point. Nick Paton Walsh in Eastern Ukraine for us, thanks very much.

As Nick noted, there is this breaking development in the Ukraine crisis right now.

Those monitors, representatives from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, they have been detained.

Joining us now is the U.S. ambassador to that organization, Daniel Baer. Also joining us, our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Ambassador Baer, what are you hearing? What is the status of the monitors from the OSCE?

DANIEL BAER, AMBASSADOR TO THE ORGANIZATION FOR SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE: Well, Wolf, we have heard the reports that you all have, which is that a small team -- and just to be clear, this is not the OSCE monitoring mission that we have talked about before.

This is actually military inspectors that are invited by Ukraine under a document called the Vienna Document, which all 57 countries in the OSCE have signed on to, including Russia. This is a voluntary inspection that they are conducting. There have been several of these. You and I talked about this a month or so ago.

And so this was a rotating team that was there. What we have heard is what you have heard, which is that they were picked up by masked gunmen earlier today, and that they may be being held in a pro- Russian controlled, militant-controlled seized building in Slavyansk.

Obviously, we decry this kind of terrorist hostage-taking act and we are deeply considered about their well-being.

BLITZER: Any indications that Russians, themselves, that Russian government elements are involved in this, as you call it, hostage- taking?

BAER: Well, as we have seen over the last several weeks, Wolf, there's a number of pieces of evidence that point clearly to the Russian hand in the fomenting of unrest in Eastern Ukraine, the, you know, neatly pressed brand-new uniforms, the heavy weaponry would cost many, many months, if not years of salary in Eastern Ukraine.

We have seen the fact Russia's hand is behind the unrest in Eastern Ukraine, and it stands to reason that their hand is behind the pro-Russian militants in Slavyansk. It's part of the reason why the Geneva conversations last week were aimed at giving an off-ramp to the Russians, saying you say you want to dampen tensions in Eastern Ukraine, here are the first few actions that can be taken that the Ukrainians agree and you agree to.

And Ukrainians have taken all of the actions that they agreed to and Russia has done nothing, except continue more of the same, that is to say, more destructive activity.

BLITZER: Ambassador, hold on for a moment.

Jim Sciutto is here.

And, Jim, this is a very ominous development, if in fact these observers have been taken hostage and it's unclear who holds them, other than pro-Russian elements, if the Russians are directly involved. That escalates this crisis dramatically.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No crisis.

One thing U.S. officials have been very clear about, whoever directed these groups to take these monitors, the U.S. makes it clear that Russia has the power to get them to release these monitors, and that's a power that they say that the Russians are not using to this point.

And it's been a consistent complaint. They say that this is one in a spate of kidnappings. We talked earlier this week about an American journalist held there as well. As the ambassador said, it's just an indication of things getting out of control there.

BLITZER: One of these pro-Russian militants, Ambassador, they have alleged that at least one of these so-called monitors, these observers, as you correctly point out, they are accusing this individual of being a spy for the Ukrainian government, the Kiev government. What do you want to say about that?

BAER: Well, I think that's bogus on every level.

First of all, these escorts who were escorting these invited military observers are Ukrainian military escorts. They are not spies. And they're on the territory of Ukraine. There is nothing that they were doing wrong. They are not an armed mission that is going to confront anyone. They are observing activities and installations on the ground.

This is something that Russia has agreed to, this document, and they -- like Jim said, you know, they have done absolutely nothing. There's no question that the unrest in Eastern Ukraine would not be happening without the Russians, and there is no question that they could take steps that could help de-escalate and reduce the tensions.

BLITZER: One of the interesting elements of this, and it's very significant, potentially, Jim, is that some of these monitors are Germans, and that potentially could impact Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, who has got to make a decision now about tightening sanctions.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I think there are about -- and the ambassador can confirm this -- about half-a-dozen nationalities, European nationalities, including German, represented there.

And that's intentional, right? This is meant to be a team. And I think the others you have seen, although this team is not specifically OSCE -- it's sort of a part -- it comes under the umbrella -- Other OSCE monitors have run into problems before in Crimea when they've attempted to go in to monitor the situation.

And in fact -- and I'm curious what the ambassador thinks about this -- when there have been discussions about, you know, deescalating, monitors have been part of that conversation, not just from the European side, and the American side, but the Russian side.

Do you think the Russians, Ambassador, will accept monitors, international monitors to help deescalate?

BAER: Well, you're absolutely right, Jim. Both with the distinction that you're drawing between the OSCE monitoring mission and these monitors under the Vienna document, which is all states are signatories to within the OSCE.

You know, I think the Geneva plan was not meant to be a long-term plan. It was meant to be a short-term plan. And it assigned a specific role to the OSCE monitoring mission. There are 120-some people on the ground, including in eastern Ukraine.

It assigned a specific role to the OSCE monitoring mission in helping to facilitate the handing over of these illegally-occupied buildings, disarming of the illegally armed groups.

And the monitoring mission is on the ground in Eastern Ukraine. It is prepared to do that job. The Ukrainian government has taken steps to make that job possible. They introduced a new amnesty law. They have an arms buyback program. They've made statements about constitutional reform committing to the people in the east. They've taken all the steps. The Russians have not followed through on their commitments made just one week ago.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Ambassador, this statement coming in from our Pentagon sources suggesting that Russian aircraft have actually penetrated Ukrainian airspace. What do you make of that?

BAER: You know, I think it's another worrying sign. because it shows that Russia is continuing to escalate the situation and continuing to flout international norms. And those international norms are what underpin not only our safety and security but international commerce. It's a real threat not only to Ukraine but also to the rest of us.

BLITZER: Ambassador Daniel Baer, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Jim Sciutto is our chief national security correspondent.

There's more breaking news in THE SITUATION ROOM. Commando raids on al Qaeda hideouts and cells. Unfolding right now. We're learning brand-new information.

Plus a new claim of responsibility for that deadly attack on a political rally.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following more breaking news. Sources telling CNN commando forces in Yemen, they're carrying out ongoing raids on al Qaeda hideouts and cells in the outskirts of the capital and indeed beyond.

Let's go straight to our national security analyst, Peter Bergen, and our CNN correspondent, Mohammed Jamjoom. He's been reporting extensively on what's going on in Yemen. You've been there. You've reported. You're getting new information, Mohammed. What are you learning?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is exclusive information. There's a major operation that I've learned about from Yemeni sources going on in the outskirts of the capital. You have simultaneous raids being conducted by commandos from multiple elite units amongst the counterterrorism forces in the Yemeni military. They're still going on at this hour. This is highly secret.

The reason this is happening is because there are a lot of hideouts that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is al Qaeda in Yemen, that they have in and around the capital.

Yes, in the last few days we've heard of drone strikes. We've heard of aerial strikes in more remote parts of the country, but we must remember that AQAP, one of reasons they are considered the most dangerous wing of al Qaeda in the world is because they have been able to carry out spectacular attacks against highly-fortified government installations even in the capital.

In fact, this last December we reported extensively about an attack against the defense ministry. This is one of the most guarded facilities in the entire country. This is in the capital. Fifty-two people were killed as a result. AQAP actually got through the barrier there. They went into the hospital's defense ministry. They shot it up. At least 52 people killed. And it really shows power and the strength of this group even in these extremely guarded, fortified parts of the capital city in that country.

BLITZER: Last week there was U.S. military cooperation with Yemeni forces in going after al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Any indication U.S. military is involved in this current ongoing operation?

JAMJOOM: No indication. And it doesn't seem likely, because it is the capital, and because the capital is the seat there of the power, the military power. It is a weak central government, but they are able to really take care of the capital.

We're trying to find out how much longer these operations are ongoing. We also know the Yemeni military is deploying forces to try to encircle those parts of the country where the strikes have been going on, like Shabwah, like Abyan (ph), like Al Bayda (ph). They're trying to put a security perimeter, and they're trying to cut off vital outlets.

BLITZER: Peter, how much influence, how important is this al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, this affiliate of al Qaeda?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I mean, U.S. officials think it's the biggest threat to the United States of all of al Qaeda's affiliates. And now the leader of al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula is another No. 2 in al Qaeda writ large. So the fact that these operations are happening is a big deal.

One thing, Wolf, I think is important to point out, based on Mohammed's extensive reporting is -- I can't recall a time when we've seen major operations like this in and around the capital. Usually you think about al Qaeda being attacked in the south of Yemen in the very remote parts where all the drone strikes are concentrated. So the fact that they're doing these operations in and around the capital, I think, is a big deal.

BLITZER: You may be on the verge of a major, major shift in this entire effort to deal with al Qaeda, guys. Thanks very much.

Just ahead, President Obama facing a world of problems in Ukraine, the Middle East and beyond. So what's happening with his foreign policy?

Plus, we have details of a royal wrap-up down under.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama's Asia trip is being overshadowed by some fast-moving events that are overwhelming his foreign policy. From Eastern Europe, to the Middle East, to Asia, he seems to be facing a lot, lots of problems at every turn. Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is traveling with the president. He's in Seoul, South Korea, right now.

So, what does it look like, Jim? How bad is it for the president?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you know, the trip has been dubbed the Asia pivot, but the president has been doing pivoting of his own away from this region and toward some of the other foreign crises that have dominated his presidency, namely Russia and Ukraine. Senior administration officials say expect the next round of sanctions against Russia to come in days. Not weeks.

The pageantry in South Korea stood in stark contrast to the increasing chaos the president faces in Ukraine. With Ukraine's prime minister warning Russia wants to start World War III, Mr. Obama huddled on the phone with the leaders of Britain, Germany, France and Italy on the next round of sanctions against Russia to come in days. Not weeks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): The pageantry in South Korea stood in stark contrast to the increasing chaos the president faces in Ukraine. With Ukraine's prime minister warning Russia wants to start World War III, Mr. Obama huddled on the phone with the leaders of Britain, Germany, France and Italy on the next round of sanctions against Russia.

But afterwards, the British only spoke of, quote, "extension of current sanctions."

The president conceded the economic pressure so far has had little effect on Vladimir Putin.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that's self-apparent. I think that there are no guarantees in life. We'll continue to keep some arrows in our quiver in the event that we see a further deterioration of the situation over the next several days or weeks.

ACOSTA: But Ukraine wasn't the only crisis on the president's mind. There's also a major setback to his administration's Middle East peace efforts. As the president acknowledged, Israel's decision to pull out of talks with the Palestinians.

OBAMA: There may come a point in which there just needs to be a pause and both sides need to look at the alternatives.

ACOSTA: As for the president's Asia agenda, there's a new worry. After holding a 24-year-old American for two weeks, North Korea chose to reveal he'd been detained the day Mr. Obama showed up next door in South Korea. And that comes as North Korea was already threatening to conduct another nuclear test -- a move that would draw quick international response.

OBAMA: It's important for us to look at additional ways to apply pressure on North Korea, further sanctions that have even more bite.

ACOSTA: Mr. Obama offered an American flag and magnolia tree both from the White House grounds to South Korean President Park to honor the victims from her country's devastating ferry disaster. His response to the tragedy came as both a president and a parent.

OBAMA: I'm a father of two daughters of the same age or close to the same age as those who were lost, and so I can only imagine what the parents are going through at this point.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And there have been other setbacks for the president on this trip. He did not come away with the Pacific trade deal that he wanted, although administration officials say there was a breakthrough in some of the final details.

Next, he heads to Malaysia which has been dealing with its own tragedy lately and that is the disappearance of Flight 370 -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jim Acosta reporting for us. He's traveling with the president.

Let's go to Kuala Lumpur right now. Richard Quest is back with us.

That's the next stop, Richard, on the president's itinerary. He arrives in a few hours where you are. Malaysia's prime minister spoke about this upcoming meeting.

What did he tell you?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are absolutely agog for this meeting, Wolf. It's the first sitting U.S. president to visit Malaysia in 48 years. And this country and this region is absolutely front and center in the tussle for influence between the superpowers, China and the United States.

The Malaysian prime minister really made it clear, it doesn't have to be one or the other. It's both.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUEST: What is the message that you will be giving to President Obama?

NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: Is that we want to be friendly with both United States and with China and that we expect the two superpowers to play a productive and positive role in the region.

QUEST: Good luck. They both want you on their side perhaps to the exclusion of the other. You know that.

RAZAK: Well, that's life. You just have to manage two superpowers. Do we need to choose? I don't think we need to choose.

We need both. We need America's market, technology. America's the strongest superpower.

And we need China. China is our largest trading partner. And mind you, you know, the economic relations between United States and China is also quite strong. So, you know, we have to be realistic about it.

QUEST: In adopting that policy, that is an extremely tricky policy to execute.

RAZAK: It's a policy adopted by ASEAN as a whole, too. I mean, we believe that we must engage in the positive sense. Both superpowers.

QUEST: You're talking trade, the TPP. I've lost too many nights' sleep covering the Doha round and the WTO. I freely admit, prime minister, my cynicism at the ability to a deal. Why am I wrong?

RAZAK: I know you're not entirely wrong. I think it's a very complex deal. But, you know, we must try, Richard. When we have other trade agreements worked out, it's not impossible, but it's going to be tough.

(END VIDEO CLIP) QUEST: Wolf, this is the fascinating part about it. From Washington out to here to Kuala Lumpur, this is where the tussle takes place on the ground, in real time between, say, the United States and China for influence in Asia.

BLITZER: Richard Quest in Kuala Lumpur doing excellent work for us, thank you.

Just ahead, deadly twin explosions at a political rally, and now a new claim of responsibility.

But first, "Impact Your World."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REPORTER (voice-over): Mick Ebeling started Not Impossible Labs for one simple reason.

MICK EBELING, FOUNDER, NOT IMPOSSIBLE LABS: I can't stand the concept of no.

REPORTER: Where they identify a need, Not Impossible Labs will crowd source an affordable solution, gathering a team to create or adapt a technology. One of their first projects helped paralyzed graffiti artist Tempt One.

EBELING: He was struck with ALS. So he has been laying in the same bed for 10, 12 years. We created an ocular recognition device called the EyeWriter. It allowed him to draw with his eyes and he's doing incredible work. So that kind of really gave him his expression and his love and his art back.

REPORTER: More recently, Not Impossible found an affordable way to print 3-D limbs for a boy in the Sudan. Project Daniel has gone on to help many more.

EBELING: Yes!

Our device, you're looking at around $100. The really crucial part of what we did over there was to actually show Daniel, as well as the community, how to build them themselves.

REPORTER: In fact, Not Impossible wants to share their challenges and their solutions with anyone and everyone.

EBELING: Ultimately, everything we make will be online and open source. Our mantra is: "Help one, help many."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Some pretty severe weather headed towards the southeastern parts of the country this weekend.

Let's check in with CNN's Jennifer Gray for the very latest. What's going on?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Wolf, we still have these strong storms. No tornado warnings right now, but we still have the tornado watch in effect until 9:00 eastern time. These storms have been producing a lot of lightning, some very large hail, and also a couple of tornadoes have been reported with some of these cells. These are very strong and they're pushing off the coast of North Carolina and Virginia.

So, if you're in eastern section of these states, definitely be on the lookout for the storms for the next couple of hours. There are storm reports. We've had a couple of tornadoes reported, large hail like we mentioned, and wind. This is going to push off the coast.

And our next system is going to set up. And Saturday, Sunday, into Monday, we are really going to have to watch the severe weather anywhere from Texas all the way up through portions of Kansas, Nebraska, as we go through Saturday.

On Sunday, the threat shifts a little bit farther to the east you. You have the ArkLaTex in that moderate risk for very large hail, damaging winds, isolated tornadoes possible. And then as we go into Monday, Wolf, that is going to shift over to the eastern side of the country, including places like Atlanta, and even the Carolinas once again.

BLITZER: Jennifer Gray with that update, thanks. We'll be on the alert all weekend and into next week.

We're following some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including some deadly attacks. An al Qaeda splinter group says it launched this car bomb, which was followed by a suicide bombing in Baghdad.

The target was a Shiite political rally. At least 31 people were killed. Sectarian violence is flaring in Iraq ahead of next week's parliamentary election. Awful situation.

The House Speaker John Boehner is mocking fellow Republicans who are shying away from comprehensive immigration reform. The speech in his Ohio home district, he summed up their attitude this way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Here is the attitude. "Oh, don't make me do this. Ohhhh, this is too hard." You should hear 'em.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Boehner also said, and I'm quoting him now, he said, we got to get -- we get elected to solve problems. And he accused some of his colleagues of taking the path of least resistance.

Sources telling CNN right now the federal prosecutors could file charges against Congressman Michael Grimm as early as next week. The FBI has been investigating the New York Republican's campaign finances and business dealings for two years. His attorney says Grimm asserts his innocence and is disappointed by the looming indictment.

The duke and duchess of Cambridge, along with Prince George, are saying goodbye to Australia and New Zealand. The British royals wrapped up an almost three-week visit Down Under, as they say. Their final official appearance was at a ceremony marking Australia's day of remembrance. The duke and duchess laid a wreath honoring the country's fallen soldiers.

And look at the early computer art by Andy Warhol, lost from almost 30 years. He created these works back in 1985, but they remained forgotten, lost on a floppy disk in the archives of the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Another artist tracked down the disk after seeing an old YouTube video of Warhol talking about the project.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Tweet me @wolfblitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

Be sure to join us Monday in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can watch us live or DVR the show so you won't miss a moment.

Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.