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Kim Jong-un Arrives in Russia for Meeting with Putin; Iran Proposes Prisoner Exchange with U.S. Amid New Tensions; Execution Tonight for Ringleader in Dragging Death of James Byrd. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired April 24, 2019 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un has arrived in Russia ahead of a summit tomorrow with Vladimir Putin. It will be Kim's first ever one-on-one meeting with Putin and it comes less than two months after nuclear talks between the U.S. and North Korea broke down in that failed Summit in Vietnam.

We know the focus of tomorrow's summit is on North Korea's nuclear program with no plans to sign any agreements or make any joint statements. But it comes after Kim's big push for legitimacy on the world stage, which just reminding you, you know, has included these two Trump summits and meetings or invitations from four other heads of state.

Jean Lee opened the first Associated Press Bureau in Pyongyang. She now directs the Woodrow Wilson Center for Korean History in Public Policy. So Jean, welcome back.

And when you first just look at the arc of Kim Jong-un, known as this recluse -- right -- in North Korea. When you think of him stepping out in Singapore and then Hanoi, and now this nine-hour train journey to Vladivostok. What's happened and how much of this do you think is because of Trump doing?

JEAN LEE, DIRECTOR, KOREAN HISTORY AND PUBLIC POLICY CENTER, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: It's interesting timing. It's not surprising that the summit is taking place. We had been anticipating -- and there's quite a lot of speculation that he would do this last year when he was reaching out to the leaders of China, South Korea and the United States. But he's pretty strategic and savvy in timing the summits to serve his purposes.

And you know, things aren't going so well with President Trump right now, so he's turning to an old friend, and using this first visit with Putin to do a couple things. And that is to make the Americans nervous, make the South Koreans nervous, but also to send a signal to his own people. That things aren't going so great with Trump, but we still have Russia. They still have our back. So it's interesting timing, certainly.

BALDWIN: I can't help but think. It's almost like tough love. It's like, all right so, Trump walked away from this, you know, deal. Obviously, it wasn't a great deal when they were talking in Hanoi. And now you have Kim Jong-un sort of saying, oh, yeah? Well I'm going to go to Russia and go have my first meeting with Putin. So what are you going to do about that? I mean, that's what it feels like.

LEE: And there is some of that going on. But realistically there's very little that Russia can do, and part of the reason that Kim Jong- un has waited to reach out to Putin is that Russia has been receding in terms of financial support of North Korea over the decades. Russia, the Soviet Union, was North Korea's first friend and ally, but has over the decades really pulled back and there's very little trade.

[15:35:00] However, Russia does host thousands of North Korean workers and we could see Kim Jong-un on asking him to hold onto those workers a little bit longer than -- they are required to send them back to North Korea by January 1, 2020 according to UN Security Council resolutions. But he may ask them to keep them a little bit longer, because they are a source of hard currency.

And what this would do is perhaps put a little chink in the strength of maximum pressure. And so, we are going to be watching this closely to see if they agree to anything. I do think however, it will be largely symbolic, a show of that friendship, that traditional friendship and then to makes us nervous and to send a message back to the North Koreans that they are aren't alone.

BALDWIN: Yes, yes, we'll be watching for symbolism and also to see how the President of the United States response to this. Jean Lee, thank you very much.

LEE: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Just into CNN, Iran's foreign minister says he's now ready for a prisoner exchange with the U.S. will dig into the motive behind that.

And breaking news today out of Illinois where police have charged the parents of this five-year-old boy who has been missing for a week, with murder. They found who they believe is this little body, this morning.


BALDWIN: Iran today is proposing a prisoner swap with the U.S., just as the Trump administration says it's about to end sanction exemptions for countries still buying oil from Iran. Iran's foreign minister speaking in New York today.


MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: So what can I do as a foreign minister? And I put this offer on the table publicly now -- exchange them. All these people that are in prison, inside the United States, on extradition requests from the United States. We believe the charges are phony. The United States believes the charges against the people in Iran are phony. Fine, let's not discuss that. Let's have an exchange.


BALDWIN: Michelle Kosinski is CNN's senior diplomatic correspondent. And Michelle, what's Iran's motive?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and they had a lot to say there. Just throwing it out there. Let's exchange these prisoners. They obviously want to keep a door open. Because Javad Zarif, today he was speaking twice here in New York. And he said a lot of what we didn't play there, the usual things from Iran. He blasted the U.S. for pulling out of the nuclear deal. Said that the U.S. supports terrorism. Called national security advisor, John Bolton, part of the B-team.

I mean, he had his usual trashing of the United States in there. And then at the end, during this one appearance he said, let's do this prisoner exchange. So the usual rhetoric is there, but he wants to leave that opening for this possibility that the U.S. could finally get some of its people out.

Our sources have criticized the Trump administration for what they describe as a stance of basically, OK, Iran, you let our people out first, and then we'll talk about the other issues we have, but first you need to let these people go. Iran has been very resistance to that. Our sources who are advocates for hostages and their families feel like the U.S. should open up like a second channel just to talk about hostage issues. And very recently we have heard the State Department express some openness to that. So that's been a positive thing.

So you have that on the U.S. side we're hearing. Now we're hearing this from Iran. Those are both very, very good signs, that there could be this discussion at the very least, even as the U.S. continuing to load sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile activity, for its other activity that destabilizes its region. That this is a possible out there --

BALDWIN: It's definitely a positive direction.

KOSINSKI: Let's see if this happens. However, the State Department's response to what Javad Zarif said, sounded a lot like, oh, you release our people first, and then we'll talk. So the U.S. may still be resistant. But we have at least seven U.S. citizens or residents that are in Iran. Including Robert Levinson, who hasn't been seen or heard from for more than a decade. So the U.S. expresses its commitment to getting these people out. Maybe this is the opening that's needed.

BALDWIN: Let's hope so. Michelle, thank you so much. Michelle Kosinski.

21 years ago a brutal hate crime rocked the conscience of America, the dragging death of James Byrd was called a modern-day lynching. And tonight one of those killers will pay with his life. Will talk to one man who says this case devastated the small town of Jasper, Texas. Up next.


BALDWIN: It was a chilling, gruesome crime that shocked the nation, nearly 21 years ago, June 7th, 1998, three white men in Jasper, Texas, beat an African-American man -- this man -- James Byrd Jr., and then change him to the back of a truck, stripped him from the bottom down, and dragged him several miles to his death. His dismembered body abandon on a dirt road. All three were convicted. One received life in prison, Shawn Berry, but the other two received death sentences.

And Russell Brewer has already been executed, but tonight the convicted ringleader John William King is set to die by lethal injection. In this brutally racist hate crime and its aftermath have been documented in a film called "Two Towns of Jasper."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "D", TWO TONE PRODUCTIONS: When we came down this hill walking this way, to be honest, I didn't see the drag marks go down this little old logging road. And we started walking. And the further we walked down that road, the more evidence we found.

We found the tank top and t-shirt that he was wearing. We found both of the shoes, we found his dentures, and then found the billfold. That's when I knew it wasn't going to be a hit-and-run accident. I knew it was a black man that was dead. Hoping it was a black man that had killed him. But it didn't turn out that way.


[15:50:00] BALDWIN: Whitney Dow, co-director and co-producer of "Two Towns of Jasper" is here with me ahead of this execution tonight. And so just first to you on justice in this awful, awful case. I mean, you're still in touch with people in Jasper. You were, you know, so deeply entrenched in this whole story. Do you feel the people you're talking to feel that justice is being served?

WHITNEY DOW, CO-DIRECTOR AND CO-PRODUCER OF "TWO TOWNS OF JASPER": Some do and some don't. It's funny. It's like the film -- for those of you don't know -- the film the way we structured is -- and I made it with my partner Marco Williams -- and I lived in town for a year with the white film crew. He's black and he lived in town with a black film crew. And we just interviewed people of our own race. And sort of followed the three trials.

And so that was because there was such a divide in the community. And of course, the divide is still there. Like the white community really is not marking this event. They want this all to be in the past. They feel that this is some sort of horrible blot on their community. And I think the black community feels this is finally a measure of justice.

You have to remember that James Byrd, I think, was the first black man -- or black person convicted of killing a white person since the civil war and given the death penalty. So this was a big, big deal when he got the death penalty.

BALDWIN: The families of at least three of Byrd's sisters do plan to attend the execution is what I've read. Some of his relatives, as you were talking to me in commercial break, don't want the death personality.

Sister Louvon Harris who is going, is quoted as saying this, quote, there's closure in a sense that justice was served, but the reality of the impact that it created for our family is that James is gone forever. I don't think anything could close that chapter.

You've been talking to people who will be there tonight.

DOW: Yes, I think Betty Boatner is going to be speaking at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Jasper tonight. And she really feels like, you know, that she has forgiven Bill a long time ago. That she's a Christian. She believes in forgiveness. And as her sister says, that by taking another life and responding to violence with violence is not going to bring James back and it's just going to, you know, just perpetuate the cycle of violence.

BALDWIN: So some even within the family aren't in favor of what's about to happen to one of his killers -- this ring leader. More on just Jasper, the town itself. I mean, you say it's still incredibly, you know, segregated. White staying on their side. Blacks staying on their side, and they're seeing this as very different.

DOW: Well I wouldn't say -- it's like a lot of places. I think its 53 percent black and the rest mostly white and they mingle. When I was there's black Jasper-ites who were on city Council. There is a black mayor. And so, they would meet in public places but when I lived there for that year and Marco lived there, it's a town of 7,000 people. It's a really small town. And Marco and I never saw each other. That's how separated it was. And really the response, the reason why I wanted to make the film was when we first went down and started talking to people there was such a different sense of what this crime meant to the community.

BALDWIN: How do you mean?

DOW: Is that I think for the white community they had the sense that this was something like a bolt of lightning from heaven. And, in fact, many people said to me that God had chosen Jasper because it was so righteous to have it happen there that they were the only community had strong enough faith to sustain it.

In the black community said this is just another spot on the continuum. White people have been killing black Americans and black people in Texas in the south for years with no consequences. In the only thing different about this is they're actually going to charge him and that the news media was there.

BALDWIN: Just last question, can you just tell us a little bit more about James Byrd?

DOW: I didn't know James Byrd, obviously, I came to it. And I think that, you know, it was actually interesting -- because it was also interesting of how the white people talked about James Byrd. And that was actually one of the reasons why I originally went down. The black community knew him as a part of this big family in Jasper and that was very sort of involved with each other. And the white community said he was the town drunk or he had these problems. They always wanted to sort of frame him as someone that was kind of outside of the community. And so I didn't know him. So I can't speak to it directly.

BALDWIN: Sure, sure. But obviously, a huge night tonight. And as, you know, as you've been in touch with people, maybe we'll talk to someone tomorrow but it's always just noteworthy on an execution story such as this that some people in his own family just aren't even in favor of what some see as clearly justice.

[15:55:00] DOW: And I think for Americans you have to remember this took -- this happened in 1998. And I think it was so hard. It wasn't just an event for black Americans, this horrible event. As white Americans sort of seeing that this crime harkened back to the horrible lynching's that happened before and we didn't believe that that could still happen and that was part of our --

BALDWIN: It did as recent as 1998. Whitney Dow, thank you for coming through. I appreciate it.

DOW: Thank you.

BALDWIN: As President Trump escalates his battle with Congress over his finances, breaking news the Deutsche Bank, Trump's biggest lender, may have already turned over its financial records to New York's Attorney General.


BALDWIN: A live look at the Dow before the closing bell. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me. "THE LEAD" starts right now.