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Trump and North Korea; Cuba's New Leader; Russian Journalist Who Has Met An Untimely Death; Unclear When An Inspection Team Will Be Able To Verify If Chemical Weapons Were Used In A Deadly Attack In Syria Earlier This Month. Aired 12m-1a ET

Aired April 19, 2018 - 00:00   ET

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


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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN Newsroom live from Los Angeles, ahead this hour; Donald Trump believes he can do what his predecessors could not do when it comes to North Korea. And he's not afraid to walk away from talks with Kim Jong-un if things just don't go his way. Cuba without the Castro's for the first time in almost six decades the communist country will have a leader not named Castro, but will a new president, a new name bring real change. Plus, not even a blown engine could rattle the nerves of a Southwest pilot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAMMIE JO SHULTS, SOUTHWEST PILOT: Yes, we have a part of the aircraft missing, so we're going to need to slow down a bit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: More on the woman in the cock pit who saved the lives of nearly 150 passengers. Hello, welcome to our viewers all around the world, great to have you with us, we have three hours ahead of us of Newsroom, L.A., and the first hour begins right now.

It seems Donald Trump is going increasingly optimistic, even eager, about the prospect of achieving the unthinkable for his upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un. But the President says that if the talks aren't working he's prepared to walk. Mr. Trump and the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, spoke with reporters on Wednesday, doing their two day summer in Florida. Both agreed to maintain maximum pressure on North Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As you know I will be meeting with Kim Jong-un in the coming weeks to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Hopefully, that meeting will be a great success and we're looking forward to it.

It would be a tremendous thing for North Korea and a tremendous thing for the world. So, we will be doing everything possible to make it a world wide success. VAUSE: Well, CNN is following their actions throughout the Asian

Pacific region, we've Anna Stewart in Tokyo, Paula Hancocks in Seoul, Will Ripley, in Hong Kong, Matt Rivers also live this hour in Beijing, we'll go first to you.

President Trump, he's becoming - he's has his optimism right now, he's eager, he's growing every day it seems that this summit might actually work out, but here is a very basic question about logistics, if they can't agree to a location for the talks, if they don't have a site, the White House can't announce it's date, if they can't announce the site and a date, they can't announce a deal.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and the clock is ticking, because remember Chinese President, Xi Jinping, might be visiting Pyongyang and it would certainly diminish the impact of the Trump summit if Xi Jinping makes a visit before the summit. So they do need to sort this out. President Trump said on Tuesday, five locations are being considered.

The U.S. has completely ruled out going to Pyongyang for the simple fact that they couldn't guarantee the security of the President. They can't prevent things like bugs, or nerve agents, potentially. They've also ruled out, apparently, the demilitarized zone, which both North and South might like to see, because it might appear like President Trump is, you know, meeting on North Korean territory, so to speak.

Because the DNZ, of course, the dividing line between the two countries. Kim Jong-un reportedly has ruled out meeting in an aircraft carrier off the coast of the Korean peninsula. So now it's been narrowed down, we're told, to a handful of locations, either in Asia or in Europe. So, it could be Sweden or Switzerland, it could be Vietnam or Cambodia or possibly Singapore.

We are hearing John that the capital of Mongolia is still also being considered but is far less likely when it was earlier thought to be a front runner here. So, first they decide on the location and then of course they have to actually prepare for the talks and this big question about what denuclearization is going to mean for North Korea, what it's going to mean for the United States and can they come together, can they walk away from these talks successfully?

Of course, President Trump saying he will walk away if he doesn't feel like it's a good deal.

VAUSE: Denuclearization means different things to different people, even so, this is playing out well politically for Donald Trump. Maybe not so well for Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, so Anna Stewart in Tokyo, to you now, just as Mr. Abe was looking for some positive headline to distract from some problems he has at home. Seems maybe he's been sidelined by the U.S. President.

ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean he was certainly feeling sidelined before all of this. And he's appeared to be - the bromance seemed to have soured somewhat and he was out of the loop in some of the summit discussions going around. However, they were singing from that same hymn sheet in North Korea in the statements today. And actually Abe's got quite a few political points.

Firstly, in North Korea, Trump assures him, promised him, that actually bring the issue of Japanese abductees held in North Korea, to any discussions he had a lot to say on supporting Japan security in all of these discussions. So, that will pave out very strongly here. Their bromance was also kind of restored with pictures of them on the golf course, and although the (pat)ph - sending optics their really important actually, showing that he's a strong international leader back at home, that he's a big alley of the U.S.

[00:05:00]

And then we have trade and it was a much more mixed baggage on because Japan did not get an exemption on aluminum and steel terrorist.

However, it hasn't had to commit to a bilateral free trade agreement which is what Trump was really pushing for. And what Japan definitely didn't want, instead their opening up a dialogue for free and fairer, sort of, trade talks. That's far from a bilateral FDA. And then there was TPP, and I got a little bit of TPP whiplash here, because we've had a lot of back and forth on this from Trump.

Just Tuesday night he said again that he wasn't interested in joining and then in this statement he said actually maybe it was a possibility, in fact his words were, "if they offered us a deal that I can't refuse on behalf of the U.S., I would do it." So perhaps Japan's prime minister has brought him around on that.

So, some really strong stuff for Abe, question is will it be enough at home, because his situation here is very weak, as you said, he's involved in a number of corruption scandal, his approval rating is low, and we've had huge protests here in Tokyo.

VAUSE: Yes, I mean the back and forth on the trade issue, I guess, is kind of, why people worry about the President's commitment when it comes to Japan's defense and North Korea and then going into that for the Japanese currently being held by the North Korean's. Anyway, Anna we appreciate that.

We're going to go to Beijing now where there is also concerns about being sidelined in these talks, especially compared to the role that China has played in previous North Korean negotiations. So, Matt Rivers, live to you now, Japan's Prime Minister, I wont say was calling for this continuation of maximum pressure on North Korea and that opens the door for Beijing to play a hand.

RIVERS: Yes, absolutely. In Beijing and frankly North Korea are taking steps over the past severely weeks to make sure that Beijing is playing some sort of role in this summit. So consider what's happened, Kim Jong-un made that surprise trip to Beijing, presumably this upcoming summit between that United States and North Korea was the number one topic in those discussions.

Shortly thereafter, you had a top Chinese delegation go to Pyongyang, where they were great quite warmly by Kim Jong-un himself, and then as Will was talking about a little bit earlier we are expecting President Xi to make a visit to Pyongyang at some point. Right now, most indications appear it wouldn't be before the summit but it certainly a possibility, and so what you're seeing here is China do everything possible to make sure that it has a role here to play.

Interestingly John, here in China the general thought amongst people that we speak to here that are in the know, is that, China is looking for any excuse to back off that maximum pressure campaign. They want North Korea, the economy there, to get better and so they're hoping this summit goes well, because if it goes well, boom, there's their excuse to back off some of these sanctions that have really crippled North Korea's economy and to get the economy there going again and that makes Beijing happy.

VAUSE: Matt, thank you, so now to Seoul in South Korea, and Paula Hancocks. And Paula before there is a meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, there will be a meeting between North Korean leader and the South Korean President. And those preperations are not having any problems at all. They're moving along with quite a clip is, renovations to peace house and the North Koreans even agreed to broadcast some key moments of those talk live on television.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, yes, apparently from the moment they shake hands we will be seeing what happens live. Now, obviously not the meeting between the two leaders, we don't believe - but the fact that Koreans really have pushed to show this light is because they say they know what a historic occasion it is. Now, I went to the DMZ just yesterday, and I was taken to the peace house, we're allowed only outside as their were renovations inside ending at the end of this week. But just to show exactly where they were going to be meeting, we also were told that there's going to be very few protocols when it comes to this summit.

They want it to be more practical so it can just be the first of many. Now, there were people measuring out the distance from the border to the peace house, potentially ready to put that read carpet down. But I think, you're not going to see this, sort of, pompon ceremony and propaganda play that you saw in the previous summit's when South Korean Presidents went to Pyongyang. And that is what this South Korean President wants. He also said that he's well aware that this summit is a guide post for the next summit, for that U.S., North Korean summit.

And they've said that it's going to be important for the very simple fact they'll be able to asses whether or not North Korea is serious about denuclearization and of course whether or not they put forward this sort of conditions that the U.S. would be prepared to accept the blue house also saying they're making sure, painfully sure, that they're keeping the U.S. in the loop at every stage, because they believe the reason previous summit's, the reason those agreements were not stuck to is because Washington was not fully on board and those in the region were not fully on board so they're going to make sure this time around it's completely open, completely transparent, broadcast live on television, and make sure that the U.S. agrees with them, every step of the way. John.

[00:10:00]VAUSE: Paula, thank you, also thanks to Anna and Matt and Will, the awesome foursome in Asia. Thanks guys. Joining me here in Los Angeles, democratic strategist, Caroline Heldman and republican strategist Luis Alvarado. Good to have you guys with us, as I have endured, just to keep things going, I guess.

So on Wednesday the President twitted this, "Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong-un in North Korea last week, meeting went very smoothly, a good relationship was formed, details of summit being worked out now, denuclearization will be great thing for world but also for North Korea." And then later whilst he was talking to reporters he had this comment to add.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think Mike Pompeo will go down as one of the great Secretary of State, and by the way he just left North Korea, had a great meeting with Kim Jong-un, and got a long with him really well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: And this brings us to the reporting we had a couple hours ago from politico about why details of Pompeo's trip to North Korea were leaked with no leaks. The revolutions was time to sure up Pomeo's image, as "a diplomat capable of executing center of negotiations on the Presidents behalf, according to a senior administration official.

And undermine democratic efforts you portray him as warmonger, unsuitably the countries diplomatic corps." Caroline what's the problem here when the President wraps his - you know, a domestic play like this, in with what is potential a nuclear annihilation missiles and North Korea's nuclear program.

CAROLINE HELDMAN, DEMOCRATIC STATEGIST: Well, it's just - it's kind of naked politics right? So, he's running it like a reality show, where a meeting that the most sensitive meeting, perhaps, we could have globally, he's using it to spin it in order to get partisan support for his candidate for secretary of state.

You know, otherwise I think Trump is doing a reasonably good job on North Korea, giving his limited options of, you know, removing Kim Jong-un or doing a military strike, or using sanctions or diplomacy. But this is, kind of, a craft political move which makes you question his judgement.

VAUSE: I was going to say and also (Luis Del la Weis)ph says that - questioned the Presidents motives in all this because, yes, this is the President who tweeted to his secretary of state, you know, what six months ago. "Don't worry about negotiations, (Rex) says no point when it comes to North Korea." And now suddenly this is what's happening.

LUIS ALVARADO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, Korean diplomats will tell you that everything has a tempo in diplomacy because that's how people get accused. And with Donald Trump that tempo is just don't knock the wind on it, becomes a rock concert. And nobody knows how - what to expect and that is uncertain - the uncertainty of that is what creates the change and hopefully what we are looking for is, with that change actually break something that usually hasn't been obtainable with past diplomat efforts. And he is a negotiator, you know, one thing you can't deny is he does negotiate, even leaving negotiators way out of trouble sometimes, he's still a good negotiator.

HELDMAN: He's not a good negotiator. He calls himself a negotiator but what has he accomplished? I mean, sorry, but most of his major initiatives he hasn't been able to negotiate even with his own party.

VAUSE: All right, well he did say, as part of these negotiations he's willing to walk if they don't go well, is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: If I think that it's a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we're not going to go. If the meeting when I'm there is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting and will continue what we're doing or whatever it is that will continue, but something will happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Luis the problem here is here are the whatever will continue, something will happen. And this is the uncertainty of this, this is why all these details are usually locked down, so you don't have to walk away and you don't have to be in a position where maybe the next step in this is military compensation.

ALVARADO: Yes, at the same time, that uncertainty could also be the door that's never been cracked open before when it comes to finding some solutions. Because the one thing we can all agree in this, that Donald Trump's strategy and style are very close what (unhalfs)ph with regards to how he see's the world. So you're going to have two people at least going to speak the same language.

VAUSE: And hope (faceably)ph came in, OK.

ALVARADO: Correct, and hopefully that actually allows them to identify some kind of consensus that will be beneficial and will be supported by the rest of the nations.

VAUSE: Caroline.

HELDMAN: Well, you just compared Donald Trump to a dictator and I couldn't agree with you more and --

ALVARADO: Well not a dictator, I'm talking about styles of personality when it comes to dealing with situations.

HELDMAN: Well, that's -- but he is a -- Kim Jong-un is a dictator so what's what he brings to the table. And Donald Trump is very much bringing a big hammer as well. Unprepared for this, but he is getting further than previous administrations have, the American public is pretty happy about it.

[00:15:00] Experts are concerned because putting him in the room with other you know, people he has to negotiate with, he often says things and is unprepared and is simply not ready to do what needs to be done.

ALVARADO: And that's exactly what the American people wanted.

VAUSE: Okay. On to Russia now, CNN is reporting that President Donald Trump personally made the decision to abandon plans to impose more sanctions on Russia for supporting Syria's chemical weapons attack on civilians. According to three senior administration officials and a source familiar with the discussion, but don't worry, President Trump put Moscow on notice Wednesday in no uncertain terms.

(START VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We'll do sanctions as soon as they very much deserve it, we will have a -- that is a question. There has been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Caroline, nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump. Just because you say something over and over and over again, it doesn't make it true.

HELDMAN: Well, I think it resonates with the 20% of Americans who believe him, even though this is the least honest President we've ever had sitting in the Oval Office. He is not the toughest on Russia. The very fact that he flip-flopped on these sanctions and told his Secretary of State, I am sorry, told his UN Ambassador one thing and then flipped it is a clear indication, right, that he is not tough on Russia.

The fact that he waited even after Congress almost unanimously passed Russian sanctions. He waited half a year to implement even tepid sanctions is an indicator that he is simply not telling the truth. This is a country that meddled in the 2016 elections, and he has failed to take action, just as President Obama did. Neither of them has really taken any action that they need to take.

VAUSE: We're going to talk, so do we sort of get it mixed in here, because just because he tweeted, it doesn't make it true either. This is from the President. "Slippery James Comey, the worst FBI Director in history was not fired because of the phony Russia investigation where by the way, there was no collusion." In caps, except by the Dems.

Because here is the President speaking, well a year ago.

(START VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, "You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: And this other reporting which supports you know, this account that the President gave to Lester Holt, you know, in front of all the TV cameras and things.

ALVARADO: You can't put the toothpaste back into the tube. And there's two -- there are two tracks here and one is the political track that he is still trying to maintain control and then there is the legal track with regards to what advice he is getting from his legal team, with regards to a strategy if there any type of legal actions in the upcoming months.

But, to go back, you know, it's not 20%, it's more like 40% of people, Americans who are still supporting the President, and that's still a reality that although there are many Republicans who are walking away in one way or another from the President, there still is a base -- that base is still --

HELDMAN: It's only one in five that strongly support him. The rest are you know, Republicans who are concerned about him or somewhere in the middle.

VAUSE: Let's change up it though with the ongoing saga of Trump's personal lawyer, his henchman, his fixer, the possible bagman Michael Cohen, who by all accounts is in some pretty hot legal water right now. And because the President doesn't actually have any more words at the moment, apparently he called old friend, his attorney from the '90s, 85-year-old Jay Goldberg, who negotiated Trump's first two divorces. And apparently on Friday, Goldberg warned the President to be careful about his longtime friend Michael Cohen.

Maybe he predicted, he could end up cooperating with prosecutors. And anybody who is facing 30 years never stands up, Goldberg says, he told the President. Without exception, A person facing prison term cooperates.

Goldberg also added that in addition to cooperation, the person may also wear a wire. Goldberg said the President had no response.

He also told the President not to speak to Special Counsel. They can jam you up even if you're telling the truth. Okay, Caroline, let's just bring this full circle. If there is in fact this legal peril for the President, but it's not entirely clear kind of, exactly you know right out treason, some mudding of the waters, whether it's collusion or obstruction of justice.

And all of this comes out whilst he's in the midst of these negotiations, these very sensitive negotiations with North Korea, trying to end this you know crisis, this problem which has confronted the world for years and years and years. That seems an awfully good political cover just to let those charges, let that matter drop while the President does this very important work.

HELDMAN: Well, I think they're going to stay on it there, right, there's no way, as James Comey --

VAUSE: I mean, politically not legally.

HELDMAN: Oh, politically. Well, absolutely. I mean this is great centrifuge, right? I mean, this is the time to be pressing this issue. And as much as you know, it might be for political purposes, which it certainly was with Pompeo. It's still really good that he is doing this in the sense that -- I mean, at the end of the day, I don't think it's his eyes sparkling personality, Trump's or negotiations. I think it has a lot more to do with the fact that Nikki Haley was able to get stronger sanctions to the Security Council at the UN, and that is working on North Korea. It is really putting the pressure on them that they haven't felt for years.

VAUSE: Very, very quickly, Luis. Am I giving Trump way too much credit?

ALVARADO: We'll know in a few --

[00:20:15]

ALVARADO: -- weeks. It is still way too early to tell, but the opportunities for him to actually pull out a rabbit out of the hat.

(CROSSTALK)

VAUSE I mean, I am (inaudible) -- genius plot --

(CROSSTALK)

ALVARADO: Well, he did win the presidency. He pulled out a rabbit out of the hat once.

VAUSE: There you go.

ALVARADO: And so the question is, he can still pull more rabbits.

VAUSE: Okay.

ALVARADO: We'll see. Time will tell.

VAUSE: We'll see what happens to the rabbit. Luis and Caroline, thank you.

ALVARADO: Thank you.

VAUSE: Well, still to come here, it's the end of an era in Cuba. President Raul Castro will be stepping down. I will tell you with almost certainty who his replacement will be.

Also ahead, the airline captain who flew dozens of people to safety after an engine exploded midflight is being called a hero. We'll hear what she says, this hour.

Well, for more than 60 years, Cuba has been synonymous with Castro, but that's about to end. President Raul Castro will step down in the coming polls and First

Vice President, Miguel Diaz-Canel will likely take his place. CNN's Patrick Oppman reports now on this historic shift in power.

(START VIDEO TAPE)

PATRICK OPPMAN: There are long lines for just about everything in Cuba, but you usually don't see top Cuban officials waiting in them, except when Cuban First Vice President, Miguel Diaz-Canel queued up along side residents in his hometown of Santa Clara to vote in a single party parliamentary elections in March.

Diaz-Canel who many expect will succeed Raul Castro as President on April 19th, maybe even trying to show a common touch that has been missing as of late from Cuba's leaders.

Even though he will be the first Cuban Head of State, born after the revolution, in his carefully scripted remarks, Diaz-Canel sounds a lot like Cuba's older generation that has held on to power for the last six decades.

MIGUEL DIAZ-CANEL, FIRST VICE PRESIDENT OF CUBA: (Foreign language).

OPPMAN: We are defending our process. We are defending a revolution, he says, which continues to be trend, which continues to be attacked.

After Fidel Castro seized power in 1959, he became not only Cuba's Head of State, but also the First Secretary of the ruling Communist Party and top general of Cuba's Armed Forces. Titles that Fidel eventually turned over to his younger brother, Raul after he nearly died from a mystery illness in 2006.

Now, Raul Castro is 86 and ready to transfer power to a handpicked successor.

RAUL CASTRO, PRESIDENT OF CUBA: (Foreign language).

OPPMAN: Comrade Diaz-Canel isn't an upstart or an improvisation, Raul Castro said in 2013. His trajectory has lasted nearly 30 years. During the years he worked his way up the Communist Party hierarchy in Cuba's provinces, Diaz-Canel earned a reputation as an efficient administrator who did not seem interested in the limelight.

In the rough and tumble world of Cuban politics, showing any ambition could mean the kiss of death to one's career. Many of Miguel Diaz- Canel's contemporaries were sidelined after they lost the faith of the Castros.

If Diaz-Canel does become the next President of Cuba, it may be in part simply because he survived longer than the competition. Still, almost no one expects --

[00:25:15]

OPPMAN: -- Diaz-Canel to run the whole show. Raul Castro is expected to remain head of the Cuban Communist Party until at least 2021. And it is unlikely that Diaz-Canel who has little military experience will head Cuba's powerful Armed Forces.

Unlike the Castros, Diaz-Canel could have a harder time imposing his will on various factions within the Cuban government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In my time when Fidel or Raul said something, I would do it. Even if I had second thoughts, that's how the younger generation that Diaz-Canel is going to react to what Diaz-Canel says.

OPPMAN: And that could mean another first for Cuba. A President who will need to form alliances to stay in power. Patrick Oppman, CNN, Havana.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

VAUSE: Arturo Lopez-Levy joins us now. He is a lecturer at the University of Texas and an expert in Latin American politics. Arturo, thanks for staying up. It's important to make the distinction here right now that this is the end to one-family rule in Cuba, not one- party rule.

The Communist Party is still the only party in town, and Diaz-Canel from what we know, it seems pretty unlikely, he is going to be a Cuban version of Mikhail Gorbachev.

LOPEZ-LEVY: I think that you are right, John. Miguel Diaz-Canel is a man that grew up politically within the ranks of the Communist Party and this is not someone who has given any signal, any indications that he is trying to dismantle the system on the opposite.

He has been very clear that he would like to implement a set of reforms that aren't really in the books, but he is not planning to dismantle the one-party rule.

VAUSE: So, how much influence would you expect that Raul Castro actually have given he will remain head of the Communist Party for another three years, is that where the real power base still lies within Cuba?

LOPEZ-LEVY: Well, you know, a challenge for the Communist Party is to implement a set of reforms that will require a lot of day-to-day management. And it is clear that Raul Castro who is almost 87 has decided to pass the torch to a new generation.

The new council of the state that is proposed, it is a team, it is not only one person and in general, we should expect that they would get a lot of authority to implement the reforms that already, the Sixth and Seventh Party Congress approved.

But, I would say that is a kind of defensive drive with a foot on the accelerator and another on the brake.

VAUSE: I know people who drive like that. Economic and political reform in Cuba, it seems in many ways, it was tied to the foreign diplomatic relations with Washington. That was the Obama plan, at least, what we have seen under President Trump is that relations have chilled significantly. So, how will that limit the options here for Diaz-Canel when he is

trying to implement those economic reforms, try and move this country forward?

LOPEZ-LEVY: John, the United States has a golden opportunity to reflect again and evaluate the success or failure of its policy towards Cuba. For a long time, the US policy towards Cuba was not a policy towards a country.

It was a policy towards Fidel and Raul Castro. Their names are even mentioned in the Helm's Law. Jesse Helms is someone that some people don't remember, but he was a major actor during American Cold War and post Cold War and he was obsessed with the Castro family.

Today, there is a golden opportunity to reevaluate that and see Cuba in a more comprehensive way. There is no Castro at the helm of the Cuban state, but unfortunately, and I will say I don't expect that the Trump administration will move in this direction. A team with John Bolton as the National Security Adviser and Mike Pompeo in the State Department is not -- let's say, those are dogs that doesn't seem able to learn new tricks and go only -- the US policy towards Cuba will be a good opportunity to change to something that will produce more than 60 years of failure.

VAUSE: Arturo, we're out of time, but very, very quickly, it seems very odd that Donald Trump is willing to sit down and hold discussions with Kim Jong-un, but he would not be willing to sit down and talk to this new incoming leader of Cuba?

[00:30:16] LOPEZ-LEVY: It is paradoxical. Cuba is not anymore the Cuba of the Cuban Missile Crisis and it's a society that by far is moving with more serious reform than North Korea.

In fact, there has been reform on the travel policy, Cubans are able to travel freely anywhere they want. There has been a major push in the relationship with religious communities, a big rights multiplier and also, the right to own private property has expediency and expansion in Cuba.

VAUSE: Arturo, we have to just to leave it there because we are -- we have got to take a good break here right now. So, we have gotten way over. I am just being told I have got to wrap it up here, but Arturo thanks, so much for being with us. You raised some good points. Of course, historic times for Cuba. It is going to be weird not to think that Castro is in charge.

So, Arturo, thank you for being with us.

Short break. When we come back, the Russian journalist who has met an untimely death just like dozens of other Putin critics, but this time, like so many others, the police say, there's no reason to investigate.

Welcome back everybody. You are watching CNN Newsroom live from Los Angeles, I am John Vause. We will check the headlines this hour.

Donald Trump says he's looking forward to meeting Kim Jong-un, but he's not afraid to walk away if this meeting does not turn out the way he wants. Mr. Trump says his main focus is for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and he is predicting the summit will be a worldwide success.

The President is downplaying rumors he might fire Justice Department officials heading up the Russia investigation. During a news conference with Japan's Prime Minister, he repeated five times, there was no collusion with Russia and he said he would hit Moscow with new sanctions as soon as they deserve them.

It's the end of an era in Cuba. Raul Castro is stepping down as President ending almost 60 years of rule between him and brother, Fidel. Castro will be replaced by Miguel Diaz-Canel who was been nominated by Cuba's National Assembly on Wednesday. Castro will remain head of Cuba's Communist Party until at least 2021.

Well, it's still unclear when an inspection team will be able to verify if chemical weapons were used in a deadly attack in Syria earlier this month. A UN advance security team was fired on Tuesday as it tried to reach Douma. The US and its allies accused the Syrian regime of using chemical weapons in an attack on the last rebel-held town in Eastern Ghouta. Seventy-five people were killed.

[00:35:16] The allegations of the use of chemical weapons is denied by both Syria and Russia. Well, Maxim Borodin, a Russian journalist who fell to his death on Sunday became the latest Kremlin critic to die mysteriously. Police say there is no evidence of a crime, but the timing is suspicious to say the least.

Borodin had recently exposed a shadowy group of Russian mercenaries fighting in Ukraine in Syria. We have more details now from CNN's Brian Todd.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Maxim Borodin thought he was in danger. The Russian journalist contacted a friend last week, said his apartment building was surrounded by armed Russian security personnel wearing camouflage and facemasks. The friend says Borodin then called him and said it was a false alarm. Now Borodin is dead, having fallen from his fifth floor apartment.

Russian officials say they don't suspect foul play, that there are no indications of a crime, but friends and colleagues don't believe it was a suicide, and human rights observers don't believe it was accidental.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yet again, a Russian journalist whose covering topics that the Kremlin doesn't want covered has died.

TODD: Maxim Borodin had been investigating powerful, wealthy, and dubious Russians with close ties to Vladimir Putin. One is Oleg Deripaska just sanctioned by the US Treasury Department. A billionaire who once had close ties to Paul Manafort, President Trump's former Campaign Manager who was indicted as part of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Part of the intrigue surrounding Deripaska involves Anastasia

Vashukevich, a self-proclaimed Russian seductress. She claims to have had an affair with Deripaska, which he denies, and claims to have information on Trump-Russia connections. Vashukevich spoke out from jail in Thailand, where is being held for prostitution.

ANASTASIA VASHUKEVICH, SELF PROCLAIMED RUSSIAN SEDUCTRESS: (Through interpreter). Hi to Deripaska. I am waiting for him to come rescue me.

TODD: But Maxim Borodin had also broken a story about Russian mercenaries in Syria, men from a group called Wagner, linked to an oligarch who supports Putin. The CIA Director talked about a recent confrontation between Wagner mercenaries and US forces in Syria.

MICHAEL POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: A handful of weeks ago, the Russians met their match. A couple hundred Russians were killed.

TODD: Analysts say Borodin's exposure of those mercenaries may have gotten him killed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Kremlin doesn't like for its own citizens' or for others around the world to know how it uses proxies to prosecute its aims. It doesn't want this to be exposed because it reveals the extent of Russia's military involvement in both Ukraine and Syria.

TODD: Putin has always denied targeting journalists, but advocates say there's a long line of reporters who have been killed while digging on his government's alleged abuses. People like Anna Politkovskaya, gunned down after she exposed human rights violations in Chechnya.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anybody who is investigating corruption, is taking their life into their own hands on some level, right? Anybody who is investigating military casualties, corruption in the military, hazing, there is a long legacy of people who have investigated this and it didn't end well.

TODD: The Committee to protect journalists says 38 reporters in Russia had been targeted for murder since 1992. The group, Reporters Without Borders is calling for a full investigation into Maxim Borodin's death. But human rights advocates say if Putin and the Kremlin don't want such an investigation, it won't happen. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: "Dear Jesus, send some angels." That was the plea from passengers during a midair emergency on a Southwest flight, and maybe that anger was sent in the form of their pilot, Tammie Jo Shults, a former fighter pilot with nerves of steel. More on her when we come back.

[00:40:00]

VAUSE: Well, it lasted 22 terrifying minutes from engine explosion to emergency landing. At 32,000 feet, that engine on a Southwest flight exploded. The plane then lurched suddenly to the left, turning on its side. The pilot took just a few seconds to correct, but a window had been shattered by the shrapnel, a passenger was hit and was being pulled through that hole where the window was once there. She though did not survive.

Parts of the engine had been found now along with the plane's flight path and investigators are continuing to look for more debris.

The woman though who was behind the controls, Captain Tammie Jo Shults, she is now being called a hero. A former Navy fighter pilot who flew that damaged plane, made the emergency landing and saved more than a hundred passengers.

Here is CNN's Alex Marquardt.

(START VIDEO TAPE)

TAMMIE JO SHULTS, AIRLINE CAPTAIN: Yes, we have a part of the aircraft missing, so we are going to need to slow down a bit.

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Not a hint of nerves in the voice of Captain Tammie Joe Shults as she radioed in the emergency to the control tower.

SHULTS: Okay, could we have the medical meet us there on the runaway as well. We've got injured passengers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Injured passengers, okay, and are you -- is your airplane physically on fire?

SHULTS: No, it's not on fire, but part of it is missing. They said there is a hole and someone went out.

MARQUARDT: With engine one blown out, smoke billowed into the cabin. Yelling, screaming. The oxygen masks dropping.

MARTY MARTINEZ, PASSENGER: I truly thought that these were going to be my last moments on earth.

MARQUARDT: Marty Martinez had no idea that amid the chaos, a calm and collected 56-year-old Shults was actually guiding the plane in for a landing.

MARTINEZ: We were all freaking out, you know, thinking, you know, wondering if we were going to make it home to our loved ones or not, but I just feel so lucky to have someone with that type of experience.

MARQUARDT: Shults's experience, Martinez soon learned is deep and groundbreaking. As a teenager growing up at a ranch in New Mexico, she wanted to fly in the Air Force, but was told there were no female pilots.

So, she tried the Navy. After waiting a year, she got in. One of the first women to be a Naval aviator, saying in a book, "I had finally broken in to the flight club." Women were barred from combat, so she became an instructor. Eventually, selected, again one of the first women to train on the coveted FA-18 Hornet fighter jet.

By the time Shults retired from the Navy, she had reached the rank of Lieutenant Commander. So, on Tuesday morning, when her left engine blew out, it's little surprise she showed no fear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Compared to her previous experience as one of the first female F-18 fighter pilots, carrier-based, I suspect this was a walk in the park for her.

MARQUARDT: Shults's extraordinary landing quickly compared to the, "Miracle on the Hudson," Captain Sully Sullenberger lost both of his engines, but could rely on his plane's automatic systems to keep the plane under control.

Captain Shults had no automatic help bringing the plane down manually.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They drill this over and over again, so this becomes ingrained in their memories, their muscle memory. It becomes almost routine for them, and in the case of Tammy Jo Shults, it was evident that that training just came right through.

MARQUARDT: That historic training now being credited by Martinez and the other surviving passengers for getting them to the ground safely.

MARTINEZ: I'd tell her, you know, thank you that -- for giving me a second chance on life. Now, I walk and I take these breaths and I feel like I am going to move forward with a newfound sense of purpose.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

VAUSE: Thanks, Alex Marquardt for that report, and in just the last few hours, we actually have heard from Captain Shults and the First Officer. They say this, "As Captain and First Officer of the crew of five who worked to save the customers aboard Flight 1380, we all feel we were simply doing our jobs. Our hearts are heavy. On behalf of the entire crew, we appreciate the outpouring of support from the public and our coworkers as we reflect on one's family's profound loss."

They go on to say that right now, they are focused on the investigation and they have asked the public and reporters I guess, to respect that.

Thank you for watching CNN Newsroom Live from Los Angeles. I am John Vause. World Sport is up next. You're watching CNN.

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KATE RILEY, INTERNATIONAL SPORTS ANCHOR, CNN: Hello and welcome everyone to World Sports. I'm Kate Riley at CNN Center.

We're going to start with News from Serie A. One of the few leagues in Europe which doesn't have an out now winner on Wednesday. Max Allegri and co missed the chance to take a big step closer yet another domestic title which would be an incredible seventh straight. Juve were way to Crotone, and after a quarter of an hour, Douglas Costa got the ball to Alex Sandro, who put the ball in the back of the net the hoop, then drew level of halfway through the second half.

And brilliant fashion, Marcello Trotta missing (inaudible) attempt bid, just in time, -- but teammate three and nil bid just inside, the last hope for that spectacular goal. Reminiscing of Ronaldo's bicycle kick in the Champions League against Juve, couple of weeks ago, while it was honored even on Italy's south host on the night.

Now, with Juve, dropping points, Napoli needed to take advantage to get back in the race. They certainly did,m scoring three goals and in 11-minutes stretch in the midway. Surges of the second half to secure a 4-2 win over Udinese, it's now a four-point gap at the top with five to play. And this is where it gets interesting, Juve will host their huge rival at Napoli on Sunday evening.

While speaking of Ronaldo, he and his Real Madrid side were back in action on Wednesday night, and Cristiano had a chance to extend his consecutive games with a goal straight 2-12 against Athletic Bilbao. Bilbao, hadn't earned a point in the Bernabeu in some 13 years, and it looks like they would get three when Inaki Williams, scored in the 14th minute put Bilbao ahead.

And after being denied a several chances earlier in the match, CR-7 finally got on the ball seeking their least as moderate (inaudible) past a (inaudible) for that, that gave the huge star striker that 12 straight game with a goal in all competition and with the team, a hard fought one all draw.

Staying in Europe for a moment, and the French Cup has reached its semifinal stage league on giant Paris Saint-Germain will up against semi-pro side camp. PSG it might be the 11th-time record winners of this competition, but they weren't taking anything for granted. Edinson Cavani set-up Kylian Mbappe to take the lead here going into the break.

But the host had other ideas when they do level. History then repeated itself with minutes to go when Cavani again provided Mbappe with his brace, 3-1 it ends to the visitors. It will be a David and Goliath contest after nearly, Unai Emery, made the history to reach the final where they will face PSG.

Well, the Paris sight, obviously, without their star man on the night, you'll remember that when Neymar left Barca for Paris Saint-Germain last year, he became the most expensive footballer on the planet. So it would be a shock if he didn't play at World Cup, and while recovering from surgery back in his home country, the Brazilian superstar said, he will be fit in time for Russia 2018, which start in June.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEYMAR DA SILVA SANTOS, JR., FORWARD, PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN (Through translator): I'm looking to get in good shape. I've given it my all. I'm going through treatment daily, and from the moment time I am back on training. I will give myself, even more, to dedicate myself even further because it is a dream becoming a World Cup. I have waited four years for this opportunity and it's close. I hope to be in good shape.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RILEY: To the English Premier League now, Manchester United will looking to rebound after that --

[00:50:15]

RILEY: -- disasters loss to West Bromwich Albion, which in turn handed their noisy neighbors, Manchester City the title. Jose Mourinho, who was fuming after that loss, made seven changes to his side on Wednesday night for that trip to Bromwich, while United broke the deadlock after some 28 minutes when Jesse Lingard (inaudible).

Their lead were seem to be doubled in the second half when the ones most expensive player in the world Paul Pogba, set-up the substitute Romelu Lukaku, here just come off the bench, eight minutes earlier. That's the Belgian's seventh EPL goal against the cherries, two nil, the final score then. So, that means, they move four points clear of Liverpool, for second in the League with four games to play for them. They're also six points clear of fourth place, so they're looking good for another Champions League berth.

Well, also, Antonio Conte made headlines by suggesting his team must avoid "A Mourinho season." The Chelsea boss was, of course referring to how his predecessor followed up a Premier League title by falling all the way out to the Champions League qualification the following season.

Now, it seems the Italian is in danger of doing just that with just five games remaining to bend this season. The Blues are eight points behind Tottenham. They do have that game in hand though, (inaudible) currently sit in those last qualifications spot for the Champions League, you just saw on the table. Despite the odds against them, Conte believed that with the will to fight, there is still a chance they can get there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTONIO CONTE, MANAGER, CHELSEA, PREMIER LEAGUE CLUB: If we want to be realistic with the -- with the five games to go, it's not simple to reduce the gap, but you must have the will to fight. We must have the desire to try to take this target and why not?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RILEY: Well, now, Conte's known as somewhat of a disciplinarian. He requires serious professional behavior from his players, and also from the press. So, when his phone went off during his press conference on Wednesday. He admittedly, jokingly, perhaps, said, he should be fined.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONTE: Until tonight, we have the possibility to respond, so -- my wife, and always in the -- in the worst moment. Yes. I'm sorry, yes. You can put me a fine, yes. And sorry because -- yes, I'm really bored (inaudible) yes, that the same situation there to, to you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RILEY: All right, coming up, when is a World Cup, not a World Cup? Zlatan Ibrahimovic, have that answer for you in just a moment's time.

[00:55:00]

RILEY: Welcome back to the show. The wait is finally over for Rafael Nadal fans who have waited since the Australian Open back in January to see. The world number one returns to the ATP Tour. On Wednesday, the Spaniard played his opening match at the Monte Carlo Masters in front of a packed house on the Mediterranean Coast.

The 10-time champion quickly dispatch a Slovenian, Aljaz Bedene in just over an hour, a nice result, really, but Nadal will have to go the distance, and win his 11th title if he's to retain his number one ranking come next week. Even so, Nadal is just happy to be playing again and does these are plays where he'd had so much success?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAFAEL NADAL, PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER, RANK NUMBER ONE: -- that I have a lot of success in the past, always a little bit affects the confidence. But at the same time, every year is a different story now. So, you know, this year is a little bit special situation for me, I have been outside of the competition almost for five months, I played Australia but nothing else.

And since Shanghai, I didn't finish that one event. So, yes, it's a very important one for me. It's important to start with a a victory that helps, and I am going to try to keep going. That's the most important thing for me now because I need matches, I need to be on rhythm again. But it's a play that I love, sort of play that I really like, so I am going to try.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RILEY: Well, another former champion, world number one, Novak Djokovic is also in action on Wednesday. His victory was slightly trickier here than that of Nadal. It took the Serbian 10 match point before filling finishing of the youngster Borna Coric, to advance to the third round. That's a good result for Djokovic, who is trying to work his way back to fold after that disastrous 2017. And now, his game will certainly, be put to a test to get one of the best playing quarters in the game, Austria's Dominic Thiem.

(Inaudible) Zlatan Ibrahimovic has also been grabbing his share of the headlines since making a stellar of debut for the Los Angeles Galaxy. No wonder that Zlatan has had many invites to some of the late night talk show here in America.

In fact, it's quite the honor. Have a look at his appearance on the show, "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC, PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALLER, LOS ANGELES GALAXY: I

had a vision before I come, I said, when I come and I know, there is some earthquakes in Los Angeles, but this one was me stepping in Los Angeles. So, I wanted to put a -- I wanted to make a statement.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE, ABC: Are you going to play in the World Cup?

IBRAHIMOVIC: I'm going to the World Cup, yes.

KIMMEL: What will you be wearing at the World Cup? Will you have cleats on the bottom of your shoes or will they be regular shoes?

IBRAHIMOVIC: I just said, I'm going to the World Cup because the more people will -- they will hang me. So, I should be careful what I say now.

KIMMEL: If they will. It seems like an extreme reaction to you wanting to play in a soccer match.

IBRAHIMOVIC: I mean, a World Cup without me, wouldn't be a World Cup so --

(END VIDEO TAPE)

RILEY: All right, then, that is it from us. Many thanks for watching. Stay with CNN, the news is coming up next.

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