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CNN NEWSROOM

South Korean Artists to Perform in North Korea; U.S. and South Korea Begin Joint Military Exercise; Deaths in Gaza Protests; Trump Accuses Amazon of Scamming USPS. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired April 1, 2018 - 02:00   ET

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


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ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone, thank you for joining us. I'm Isha Sesay in Los Angeles. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

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SESAY: To begin with war games on the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. and South Korea kicking off an annual military exercise as the world waits to see how and if North Korea responds.

The drills were delayed this year to ease tensions during the Olympics. They're also said to be shorter by about a month earlier. Still, the U.S. says, they'll be similar in scope to past drills like the ones seen here.

Last April, North Korea was testing missiles with abandon but now it seems to be testing diplomacy. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wrapped up a surprise trip to China a few days ago. He also met with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, who says North Korea will participate in the next two games.

Mr. Kim is also set to meet with South Korean president Moon Jae-in later this month and eventually U.S. president Donald Trump. But North Korea's highest profile visitors this week will not be politicians.

A group of South Korean musicians and performers has arrived in the North for a short tour. They include a K-pop girl group and a rock band. CNN's Alexandra Field has more on the musical diplomacy from Seoul.

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ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A South Korean delegation of almost 200 people arriving in Pyongyang in North Korea, the latest in a cascade of diplomatic developments, showing the stalling of tensions right here on the Korean Peninsula.

Among them, performance artists that include one of South Korea's most famous K-pop bands, a legendary rock group and other famous singers. They flew by charter flight from South Korea into North Korea.

Before that, we heard this from some of the performers who were getting ready to the stage take this weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I hope the warm spring day comes in South and North Korea through a performance of the South Korean art troupe in Pyongyang.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It is our great honor to perform with veteran singers. As we're the youngest singers, we will do our best to deliver great energy to North Korean people. Thank you.

FIELD (voice-over): The South Korean performers have not taken the stage in North Korea for more than 10 years but it was just a few weeks ago that North Korea came into South Korea for the Olympics. That signaled a change in the relations between these two countries.

After that the announcement was made that there would be a summit between the North Korean and the South Korean leader. That's not scheduled to take place at the end of April and even the possibility now of a sit-down between Kim Jong-un and U.S. president Donald Trump himself.

This weekend's event signal another kind of step forward when you talk about warming relations here, a cultural exchange, something that has been part of the tradition of these two Koreas dating back to 1985.

It is only happened a handful of times. But it hasn't happened in more than 10 years. So certain this is a symbolic step forward. The concert will be broadcast in South Korea, also in North Korea. South Korean groups will take the stage to perform on Sunday night. There will be a joint inter-Korean concert on Tuesday night.

It's a moment that artists tell us they feel will be moving, an opportunity to move hearts, certainly to reach out across one of the world's most heavily fortified borders. We spoke to members of the YB Band, which will be performing in North Korea this weekend. They had a similar opportunity back in 2002.

They say at that point when they performed their set for the audience, it was awkward. It seemed to be music that North Koreans hadn't heard before. Upon landing in Pyongyang now, the leader of that group says he's interested to see what kind of reaction the audience will have now, some 16 years later -- in Seoul, South Korea, Alexandra Field, CNN.

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SESAY: For now on what's happening in the Koreas, I'm joined from Seoul by Andrei Lankov. He's a professor at South Korea's (INAUDIBLE) University and the director of the analysis firm Korea Risk Group.

Thank you so much for joining us, Professor Lankov. Given the planned summit with North Korea, do you think it's the right decision to conduct the customary Foal Eagle military exercises in a rather more low-key fashion this time around?

ANDREI LANKOV, KOREA RISK GROUP: Yes. I believe it was the right decision because cancellation of such exercises will be excessive and would be seen as a sign of soft (ph) position.

And as a matter of fact, even the North Korean leader himself, talking to the South Korean delegation, made clear that he does not really mind such exercises being conducted.

At the same time even though the U.S. and South Korean sites said it's the same school as it used to be, it's really low key and relatively downsized, which is very good because big, important initiations are coming. And this is better not to drive tensions high.

SESAY: On the part North Korea, those comments ascribed to Kim Jong- un, that he understands why these drills must go ahead, that's a marked turnaround for everything we've seen in recent years, where whenever these military drills have happened, we've seen tests, missile tests and the -- and the like.

What's the calculation on the part of North Korea in making such a statement?

LANKOV: They want to reach a compromise. They are not going to surrender their nuclear weapons and denuclearization is likely to remain a dream. But they're willing to freeze their nuclear program and maybe make other kinds of concessions, too, because they don't want to be shot at.

And there have been signs that the U.S. is seriously considering a military action. And they also would like to have some of the sanctions lifted because their economy, which, by the way, used to work quite well until recently, contrary to what most people believe the last few years was successful plan for North Korea, usual market reforms.

Yes, it is going to begin a serious problem if sanctions and usually exceptionally tough sanctions will continue.

So they are looking for compromise and they are needing to keep low key and these exercises is not an exception. This is why they are sort of tacitly accepting it. And they even unofficially indicated that they don't mind this time.

SESAY: Your point about denuclearization remaining a dream is something many have said. So many agree with you. But I want to talk to you very quickly about the soft power of cultural diplomacy, which is on display with these South Korean groups performing in Pyongyang this week.

Explain for our viewers what this kind of cultural exchange can achieve that your standard suited diplomats sitting around the table cannot.

LANKOV: Well, I'm sort of optimistic about any short-term achievements but if they are talking about long-term, this type of exchanges show to the North Korean how the outside world lives.

They basically are going to like the show and it's you have (INAUDIBLE) on what they want for their country. They will be more likely to demand change. One of two concerts are not going to change it completely but it's a massive support for the forces within the North Korean society, which are arguing for a different type of North Korea, maybe slightly different, maybe really seriously different but different.

So in the long run, it is a very good idea but don't expect it to have an immediate impact right now. People who are running North Korea are bright, pragmatic, cynical, realistic, Machiavellian and they are not going to change their attitude to the world just because a group of good-looking South Korean girls are going to deliver a good performance in Pyongyang.

SESAY: Well, there are some good-looking South Korean boys there in the group as well, to be equitable.

Professor Lankov, we appreciate it.

LANKOV: I don't mind. Boys, girls --

SESAY: We take your point. Professor Lankov, we appreciate the insight and analysis. Many thanks.

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SESAY: Tensions remain high in Gaza following the deadliest violence in the region in years. The European Union is calling for a transparent investigation after 17 Palestinians were killed and hundreds were wounded in clashes with Israeli forces at the Gaza border on Friday.

The U.S. has blocked a U.N. Security Council statement that also called for an independent inquiry, according to U.N. diplomats. Both Israel and Palestinians have released videos, showing what they say happened.

Look at this with me. This is video posted by the official Twitter account of the Palestinian Media Center. It appears to show a Palestinian man carrying a tire and running. Then there is a gunshot and he appears to fall to the ground.

In another video posted by the same group, a woman, waving a Palestinian flag, is seen running back and forth. Gunfire and she, too, appears to fall. The Palestinian Media Center says both were shot by Israeli forces.

The Israel Defense Forces accuse the Hamas military wing of orchestrating the violence and circulating the videos as propaganda. It insists they do not accurately depict what happened. It has released its own videos purporting to show alleged sabotage attempts by quote, "terrorists attempting to infiltrate Israel" during the unrest. The IDF says its soldiers responded after facing gunshots, firebombs, rocks and rolling burning tires. And it says its troops acted in accordance with the rules of engagement, firing only when necessary.

Protests are expected to continue Sunday although on a much smaller scale than Friday's clashes.

Funerals were held Saturday for some of the Palestinians who were killed. The founder of a Palestinian group not affiliated with Hamas said the protesters were peaceful and did not carry any weapons.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) civilians participating, no gunmen whatsoever, no violence whatsoever. It was very much (INAUDIBLE) marches exactly the same, which is a very important moment because even Hamas and (INAUDIBLE) Palestinian groups are adopting non- violence resistance, which should be (INAUDIBLE).

And it was not Hamas only. It was the whole population of Gaza.

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SESAY: A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists Hamas organized Friday's protest and says Israel responded as necessary.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An organized effort by Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization, to storm into Israel, to overrun Israel, thousands of people to have them stream in, bombs were placed, rockets were shot, guns were shot at Israelis.

And Israel did what any country around the world would have done. It responded by defending its citizens.

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SESAY: The European Union says while Israel has the right to protect its citizens, the use of force must be proportionate. In a statement, it is calling for an end to the clash (ph) with Gaza and a full opening of the crossing points while addressing Israel's legitimate security concerns.

It adds, "The E.U. further urges the Palestinian side to increase their efforts to enable the Palestinian Authority to exert its full control over Gaza."

Protesters are marching in Sacramento, California, right now for a first-rate day letter (ph) shows some live pictures, live from the scene. They have been blocking streets, demanding an end to police violence against African Americans here in the U.S.

The Sacramento fuse was lit by the death of Stephon Clark, an unarmed African American man, who was shot by police just two weeks ago. Police say they he had a gun but it turned out to be a cell phone.

An independent autopsy requested by Clark's family showed he was shot eight times with six bullets entering in his back.

Some of the Russian diplomats expelled by the U.S. have left for Moscow. Two Russian planes took off from Washington on Saturday. More than 20 countries have expelled Russian diplomats and it all stems from the nerve agent attack on a former spy and his daughter in the U.K. Russia is denying any involvement and has retaliated by expelling a similar amount of diplomats from Russia.

Moscow also ordered the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg to be shut down and on Saturday, as you see there, the U.S. flag was removed from the consulate building.

U.S. President Donald Trump is attacking Amazon again with claims that are not backed by facts. Trump tweeted the U.S. Postal Service loses money on each Amazon package it delivers.

The president also accused "The Washington Post" of being a lobbyist for Amazon. Here's a fact check. Amazon actually pays the same as other bulk shippers. The U.S. Postal Service says its deal with Amazon is mutually beneficial.

And while both "The Washington Post" and Amazon have the same owner, Jeff Bezos, they operate independently. Amazon does not have a stake in the newspaper.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Isha Sesay. I'll be back with the headlines at the bottom of the hour. For now, "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is next.