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Iran Looms Large over U.S.-Russia Talks; China Trade Talks Reportedly Stopped, Trump Still Confident; Alabama Lawmakers Outlaw Nearly All Abortions; Photos Reveal Migrant Children Sleeping on Ground; Steve Bannon's Influence on Populism in Europe; Sudan's Military, Opposition Agree on Deal; 72nd Annual Cannes Film Festival Kicks Off in France. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired May 15, 2019 - 00:00   ET




NICK WATT, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): "There will be no war."

Iran's supreme leader rules out conflict as tensions with the U.S. increase.

But is Donald Trump on the same page?

And the fight for freedom. Sudan's military reaches a deal with opposition forces that will eventually bring civilian rule to the strife-torn country.

Plus a CNN exclusive: migrant children in heartbreaking conditions, sleeping outside in the dirt at one of the busiest U.S. Border Patrol stations on that border with Mexico.

Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Nick Watt and this is CNN NEWSROOM.


WATT: Meetings were in Russia but Iran loomed large as the U.S. secretary of state met Tuesday with top Kremlin officials. Mike Pompeo, on his first official visit to Russia, sat down with president Vladimir Putin in Sochi. Both stressed the need to rebuild their tattered relations but there are issues: Iran front and center.

The nuclear deal is dismantling; the U.S. claims Iran and their proxies are threatening U.S. troops in the region. Here's what Pompeo had to say.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We fundamentally do not see a war with Iran. We have also made clear to the Iranians that, if American interests are attacked, we will most certainly respond in an appropriate fashion. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WATT: Ostensibly, his trip was about improving U.S. Russian ties but there was also more than just a little posturing. Matthew Chance reports.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): America's top diplomat arrived in Russia, strongman in the Kremlin made a dramatic entrance of his own. Vladimir Putin's presidential plane is escorted by six stealth fighters as he swoops into a military testing site to inspect Russia's latest high-tech weaponry.

It sends a powerful message about Putin's priorities. Shortly thereafter, meeting with U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo, about a range of issues but it was Putin who brought up the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): However exotic the work of the special counsel Mueller was, I have to say that, on the whole, he had a very objective investigation and he confirmed that there were no traces whatsoever of collusion between Russia and the incumbent administration, which we said was absolutely fake.

CHANCE: Not far in the southern city of Sochi the issue of election interference also came up when Pompeo met his Russian counterpart for what was described as frank discussions on a range of issues.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): There was a wave of baseless allegations about our attempts to influence the results and to collude with officials in the current U.S. administration. It is obvious that such insinuations are absolutely fake.

MIKE POMPEO, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: You can see we have some disagreements on this issue.

CHANCE: Pompeo even issuing a warning to his counterpart.

POMPEO: If the Russians were to engage in that in 2020, it would put our relationship in an even worst place than it has been. And I encourage them not to do that that we would not tolerate that.

CHANCE: But on virtually every other issue of international diplomacy the two sides seem fundamentally opposed. Whether on the conflict in Syria, how to best deal with North Korea and its nuclear threat or escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran, a key Russian ally.

LAVROV (through translator): I hope very much that common sense will triumph.

CHANCE: Adding insult to injury, the planned meeting with the Russian president was badly delayed. Vladimir Putin is notorious for keeping his guests waiting. Washington may have to wait much longer for Russia to change its ways -- Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


WATT: CNN's Matthew Chance reporting there from Moscow.

Pompeo's Russia trip comes more than a week after the U.S. announced they were sending extra warships and troops to the Middle East. The White House claims that's all in response to intel of threats to U.S. troops in the region from Iran and her proxies. But a British commander in the anti-ISIS coalition seems to be downplaying that threat assessment.




GHIKA: -- increased threat from Iranian backed forces in Iraq and Syria. We're aware of their presence clearly and we monitor them, along with a whole range of others because that's the environment we're in. But we see -- we have no thought of Iran in our mission.


WATT: The U.S. is pushing back on that statement and president Donald Trump is also denying a report that the U.S. already has a troop-heavy military plan ready to hit Iran.

"The New York Times" reports that that plan calls for deploying 120,000 American troops to the region if Iran strikes U.S. forces or speeds up its nuclear weapons development. Mr. Trump says that's fake news; if he had a plan, it would be bigger.


TRUMP: Would I do that?

Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully we're not going to have to plan for that and if we did that we'd send a lot more troops than that.


WATT: Meanwhile, Iranian leader Ali Khamenei remains defiant in the face of U.S. military moves. State media report that he says there will be no war with the U.S. but Iran won't negotiate with the U.S. on the nuclear deal.

Calling back to the Iranian revolution,, he said Iran would continue to resist, quote, "the great Satan." Iran's foreign minister also spoke about tensions on the trip to India.


JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Unfortunately, the United States has been escalating this situation unnecessarily. We do not seek escalation but we have always (INAUDIBLE).


WATT: Now adding to tensions in the region, Iranian allies and Houthi rebels in Yemen claiming responsibility for a drone attack on a Saudi oil pumping station on Tuesday. And the deepening mystery surrounding who or what damaged four ships near the Strait of Hormuz on Sunday. The United Arab Emirates calls it, quote, "a sabotage attack."

U.S. officials warned of possible Iranian threats to shipping but Iran's ambassador to the U.N. told CNN his country definitely is not behind the attacks.

To Los Angeles now and Dalia Dassa Kaye, director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy at the RAND Corporation.

I want to start with this idea that the U.S. is claiming that Iran is threatening both shipping and also U.S. troops in the region. Now listen, John Bolton, that has the president's ear, is a well-known hawk on Iran. And also the U.S. and other countries in the past have massaged intelligence to justify foreign intervention.

Should we believe the U.S. administration when it talks about these alleged threats from Iran?

DALIA DASSA KAYE, RAND CORPORATION: I think we should step back and review the evidence carefully and not jump to conclusions. I think it is concerning that there are questions about U.S. credibility, including from very close allies.

And that undermines our ability to get broad international support, should the Iranians engage in acts hostile to U.S. interests or allied interests. The problem here is that the actions of the United States, being so unilateral in provoking an unnecessary crisis with Iran, has led to a lot of uncertainty about what U.S. objectives are and a lot of folks questioning how credible our assessment is.

But there's no question Iran would have the motive and the means to attack us in some serious ways in a variety of places in the region -- Yemen, Syria, Iraq and in the Persian Gulf. So we should take these threats seriously but the credibility is a question.

WATT: You just referred to this as an unnecessary crisis?

Could you explain that?

KAYE: Yes, well, I think it is. Unfortunately, here we are talking about war, the Iranians just last week indicating they were scaling back on some of their commitments to the nuclear deal, still measured but worrying.

And all of this was really provoked by the U.S. decision to leave a nuclear agreement that was supported by the international community and that was working and that the Iranians were complying with.

So unfortunately, the chain of events that are unfolding in the last couple of weeks are entirely predictable. Most of these were triggered by that fundamental decision of the United States to break this agreement and not just break it but decide to break it in a way that put such a squeeze on Iran, punishing not just Iranians but all of our allies internationally and threatening them if they continue business with Iran.

Which is really bad for the Iranians and you can expect the kind of escalation cycle we're seeing now --

KAYE: -- unfortunately.

WATT: But Iran is not going to provoke the U.S. in any way, will they?

KAYE: Well, look, I think the Iranians are facing a lot of domestic pressure. The economy is tanked. There's a lot of domestic unrest. And they are not certainly right now, looks like the Iranians are interested in salvaging this nuclear agreement with the Europeans and others and we should take those efforts seriously.

But it's not clear the Europeans could really, even if governments would like to, convince their own companies to give up the American market for the Iranian market. So if the Iranians do not see economic relief and they don't see an offramp to the current pressure, they certainly will have motivations to at least try to gain back some leverage and send a message to the United States and others that there will be a cost for this maximum pressure campaign.

WATT: Because this nuclear deal is pointless without the U.S.

KAYE: I wouldn't call it pointless; it's managed to survive a little bit on life support without the United States. But absolutely, I think the United States could have left the agreement but not threatened everyone else in the agreement or anyone else doing trade with Iran.

And things might have just moved along. But the agreement -- it's going to be very hard to keep this agreement afloat if Iran really is truly cut off in terms of its oil exports internationally. The Chinese will likely continue to divide U.S. extraterritorial sanctions and trade with Iran.

But it will lose important European markets -- potentially India, Turkey and others -- so the way -- it's the way in which the United States chose to leave this deal that has been so threatening and destabilizing.

WATT: What is going to happen in the next couple of weeks?

Where do you see this going , more saber rattling and then everyone will just get back in their box?

KAYE: Well, I hope we can move toward a deescalation, at least of the talk of conflict and get more back to the discussion of where we can get to a negotiated strategy. I think that's the concern, is it's not going to -- what the administration's end game is. They say they would like the Iranians back to the negotiating table but that will require some concessions from the United States, at least giving up on taking away these waivers to nations to do business with Iran.

Even if we still will refuse to do business with Iran, we can let other countries do so. We're going to have to give them some concessions to get them back to the table.

Otherwise, I think we will likely see no movement back to negotiations and unfortunately continued escalation that could, unintended and otherwise, potentially lead to conflict. Hopefully it will simmer down. But I don't see good outcomes in terms of the direction we're moving now.

WATT: And quickly, we're running out of time, "The New York Times" reports the Trump administration has a plan for 120,000 troops to go to the region quickly. But that surely would be catastrophic.

KAYE: These reports are concerning but I think we shouldn't jump to conclusions yet. There's lots of planning documents out there. Our military and others understand how costly war with Iran could be. This would not be an easy conflict. It would be very damaging for U.S. interests and regional stability.

So I would look at those reports skeptically. Seriously, but also be careful not to jump to conclusions that we're about to head to war with Iran although I am concerned about the potential for escalation to possibly some limited strikes.

But hopefully we will not get there in the next two weeks or the next couple years.

WATT: Dalia Dassa Kaye, joining us from Los Angeles, thank you very much for your time.

KAYE: Thank you.

WATT: The U.S. president remains confident that his strategy will lead to a swift victory in a trade spat with China. But sources say talks between the two countries have stopped. And fear of a prolonged trade war is spooking investors.

After the Dow rallied on Tuesday up 207 points, Asian markets are also upright now after teetering near a 3.5-month low after the start of trading on Wednesday. President Trump denies talks with China have broken down and is downplaying the severity of the dispute.


TRUMP: We're having a little squabble with China because we have been treated very unfairly for many, many decades or actually a long time and it should have been handled a long time ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WATT: Our Steven Jiang joins us now from Beijing.

Steven --


WATT: -- that's the word from Washington.

What's the word from Beijing?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER, BEIJING BUREAU: Despite this increasingly defiant and nationalistic tone, we're seeing in Chinese state media the Chinese government is also leaving the door open for talks.

Part of the argument is that Chinese are negotiating from a stronger position because of the strength and resilience of its economy. On Wednesday morning, the government released economic data for the month of April and there appears to be some worrying signs.

The growth of industrial output for example slowed down sharply from the month of March and also the growth of retail sales again sharply down from March, actually hitting the slowest pace in almost 16 years.

Part of the government's arguments here is this economy is increasingly relying on domestic consumption. These April figures were not very good proof of that. But they didn't acknowledge that the economy here is facing a lot of complex and increasingly complicated external factors.

There will be a lot of uncertainty facing this economy in the months ahead.

WATT: Steven Jiang in Beijing, thank you very much.

Now back in the U.S., farmers are suffering, hit hard by the tariffs on exports to China.

Many of them voted for President Trump to support his policies but is that now shifting?

Martin Savidge reports.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Robert Ewoldt readies for another day of battle. An Iowa farmer, he's on the front line of America's trade war with China, a war President Trump says he's winning but Ewoldt says he's losing.

China has stopped buying his soybeans, cutting his income by half. He still has a third of last year's crop in storage and, this season it will likely cost him more to grow his soybeans than he can sell them for.

ROBERT EWOLDT, SOYBEAN FARMER: This is survival, at this point, I mean, for a lot of operations. It is a survival thing.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Things are so bad he has taken a second job. He drives a truck all night and farms by day.

EWOLDT: That's what is allowing me to survive. That's what is keeping this farm going.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Ewoldt isn't alone. Across the Midwest, farm incomes are down and bankruptcies are up. Every morning, in thousands of farm towns like this one, farmers gather for coffee and to commiserate.

It's not just tariffs; across the Midwest and Southeast farmers are also reeling from disaster, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, even fires. It's been raining so much in Iowa, farmers are nearly a month late getting into their fields. And every day they delay costs them more money.

SAVIDGE: How far behind are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's almost nothing planted out here.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): To try and help Democrats in the House, joined by 34 Republicans, voted for a $19 billion disaster relief package, some of which would have gone to help farmers.

But President Trump opposed the plan, tweeting, "House Republicans should not vote for the bad Democrat disaster supplemental bill."

Now that relief is bogged down in the Republican-controlled Senate over how much assistance to give hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico.

And so, back in Republican voting farm districts, there is a growing bumper crop of frustration, particularly with a president who brags about his negotiating skills.

GREG BEARMAN, IOWA FARMER: My uneducated guess is that he better hurry up and start producing a little bit because this negotiation that I'm seeing so far has not panned out.

SAVIDGE: You voted for this president.


SAVIDGE: Regrets?

EWOLDT: Well, yes.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Larry Engler adds up the money he expects to lose this year.

LARRY ENGLER, IOWA FARMER: Between me and my daughter, together, probably $100,000, 150,000.

SAVIDGE: Did you vote for Trump.

ENGLER: I did. I'll never vote for him again.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Martin Savidge, CNN, Davenport, Iowa.


WATT: Exclusive photos from the U.S. border with Mexico shows squalid conditions, migrants sleeping outside on the ground. The latest on the chaos at overcrowded U.S. Border Patrol stations. That's next.





WATT: In the U.S. state of Alabama, the Republican-led Senate just passed a bill outlawing almost all abortions in the state, even for victims of rape or incest. Doctors who perform the procedure could get life in prison.

The legislation sets up a direct challenge to Roe versus Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized abortion. Abortion rights advocates will challenge the bill if Republican governor Kay Ivey signs it into law.

One lawmaker is proposing something even more extreme.


LINDA COLEMAN-MADISON (D), ALABAMA STATE SENATE: Maybe we need to come up with a castration bill. I mean, you guys come up with some crazy bills. (INAUDIBLE) for the women. We want to probe the women. I'd like to be able to just open up your minds and just see what's inside. I really would.


WATT: The bill will take effect in six months if the governor signs it into law and there's likely to be legal challenges.

Migrants living on top of one another, children sleeping in the dirt. These exclusive photos obtained by CNN show the desperate and worsening conditions for migrants detained at the U.S. border with Mexico. Border Patrol stations like this one in McAllen, Texas, just don't have the resources to cope with an influx of migrants. CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich reports.


VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: These photos came from a source who has access to the facility and was disturbed by the conditions over the weekend.

Customs and Border Protection confirm the photos are of the McAllen Border Patrol station in Texas. And the images reflect what CBP has been saying for months: agents are being inundated with migrants.

But we haven't been able to see the reality at these types of facilities until now. This one photo shows a young girl sleeping outside with other children on dirt with a Mylar blanket covering them and with a baby bottle with milk nearby.

Another shows a woman sitting outside on rocks, clutching a child. And in others, we see temporary tents at capacity. Now CBP says stations have been stressed with overcrowding. When agents get backlogged with processing, indoor holding areas get full, forcing people to wait outside.

And now this McAllen station is also frequently visited by elected officials, including President Trump, who visited earlier this year in January. And this past weekend, the acting Secretary of Homeland Security McAleenan and acting Defense Secretary Shanahan toured this facility to assess the surge coming across the border.

And it isn't just CBP raising the alarm. DHS told us they have been raising this issue for months, too, saying, quote, "Border Patrol agents are doing everything they can to protect and care for migrants in their temporary custody. Border Patrol stations are simply not equipped to handle the number of families and children arriving along the southwest border and we need Congress to act to provide immediate relief."


YURKEVICH: And just to put the numbers into perspective, this weekend, apprehensions at the border surpassed half a million. In 2018, the total for the year was 400,000. So these photos are reflective of this surge happening at the border -- back to you.


WATT: European elections are less than two weeks away and Steve Bannon has been trying to unify Europe's far right parties. But most are distancing themselves from Donald Trump's former chief strategist. As Melissa Bell explains, there's an inherent flaw in trying to unite nationalists across national borders.


MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was at first discreetly that Steve Bannon began turning up in Europe. In March 2018, Donald Trump's former chief strategist was seen wandering the streets of Rome, just ahead of an Italian election that would bring to power an alliance of populists, led by Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini's far-right.


BELL: Just days later, Steve Bannon took center stage in France at the far-right's annual conference. His message, where Italy, other Europe countries would follow. BANNON: You're part of a worldwide movement that is bigger than France, bigger than Italy, bigger than Hungary, bigger than all of it.

BELL (on-camera): But Steve Bannon didn't just want to be speaking at events, his plan was to unite and coordinate European populists with concrete actions like help with polling, advice on messaging and data targeting. And his plan was to do it through an organization called, The Movement, based here inside the mansion of the Belgian lawyer who runs it.

MISCHAEL MODRIKAMEN, BELGINA LAWYER: The problem we face very quickly in Europe is legislation for one of these reasons. In many countries, it is forbidden for a national party to get contribution in kind or in money from foreign sources. And we made our own work in, let's say, almost half of the countries, in the E.U. it was impossible.

BELL (voice-over): The other problem for Steve Bannon was that some of the European populists he was helping to help, like France's Marine Le Pen, began to take their distances of draw. Nationalists tend to be defined by their nationalism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Mr. Bannon is not from a European country. He is an American with a political force that will be born of the European elections, it is us and us alone who will build it.

BELL: So it has been in the absence of Steve Bannon and with the matter of weeks until the European elections, that European populists have been trying to build bridges among themselves.

In April, Mateo Salvini brought together the Danish, Finish and German populist far-right. And earlier this month, he met with Hungary's Viktor Orban to inspect a border. But if fences make good neighbors, they hardly encourage unity between the parties that sits resolutely on either side of them and cooperation has been hard to agree on.

Back at the movement's headquarters in Brussels, aspirations have been lowered from actually helping unify and coordinate Europeans to encouraging and monitoring the broader spread of the populist wave.

MODRIKAMEN: When Bolsonaro wins the election, I mean, the movement is winning. If Trump is re-elected, the movement is winning. If we have good score in the election, the movement is winning. But it's not a -- but it will end after the 26th of May. It's just starting.

BELL: Later this month, Mateo Salvini will hold another meeting of populist parties ahead of the May 26th elections. His hope, that unity may help populists make progress in the polls, but for now, do not predict them the victory they seek Europe-wide -- Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.


WATT: After weeks of protests, some of them deadly, military leaders and opposition groups in Sudan say they have reached a deal to end the violence and that they're very close to a plan that will eventually see power handed to a civilian government. More on this developing story. That's next.


NICK WATT, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Nick Watt. Let's update you on our top news this hour.

[00:31:38] President Trump is denying a report that the U.S. has a plan in place to send 120,000 more troops to the Middle East. "The New York Times" reports the U.S. would roll out the plan if its forces are attacked or Iran speeds up its nuclear weapons program. Mr. Trump says the report is false, that he would send even more troops.

We heard -- excuse me -- We heard a little earlier in the show Vladimir Putin praising the work of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The Russian president says Mueller's investigation was objective and confirmed there was no Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.

Meanwhile in Washington, sources say Donald Trump Jr. has now agreed to testify next month before a Senate committee looking into Russian election interference.

And in Sudan, military leaders and opposition groups say that they've agreed to a three-year transitional period, leading eventually to a civilian government. This according to Sudan's state media. The deal is expected to be finalized in the coming hours.

The country has been scarred by violence since the military ousted longtime President Omar al-Bashir last month. Tens of thousands of pro-democracy supporters have been protesting, demanding the army officers who took power after overthrowing Bashir step down.

Elsadig Elsheikh is the director of the Global Justice Program at the Haas Institute. He joins us now from Berkeley, California.

So we've just heard in the past few hours some kind of breakthrough, some agreement between the military and the protestors. A positive sign, right?

ELSADIG ELSHEIKH, DIRECTOR, GLOBAL JUSTICE PROGRAM AT THE HAAS INSTITUTE: That's -- that's correct. In the last few hours, we had that -- the military transition or military council and the forces of freedom and change reached an agreement for -- the minimum for three- year transition period and transferring power to civilian rule.

However, we have yet to know the details of that agreement, which will be announced on Wednesday in the morning, Khartoum time.

WATT: OK. And you know, because we thought earlier this week that we were also on the verge of a breakthrough in these talks between the protestors and the military, who have been at odds since Omar al- Bashir was removed from power.

I mean, so Monday we thought we had a breakthrough, and then we saw this violence. Who do you think was behind this violence earlier this week and why? ELSHEIKH: It is very hard to guess right now who's behind this

violence and atrocity, again, against protestors and civilians, but it's definitely an element from the former despot's regime. Whether the military council know of them or not, that's something yet to be discovered.

As you are also aware that they agreed to the transition, the civilians, opposition and the military council, that the need for beginning an inquiry, commit an inquiry about Monday's events.

Many in opposition believe that they cannot buy what the military counsel has been declaring, that those were infiltrated elements. And the military counsel spoke about it, and said, yes, that they know who those elements are.

[00:35:09] So now the question is why we don't bring them to justice. My personal assessment, I think, the military counsel is extremely -- cannot control the deep extent (ph) of the former regime. And those, indeed, could be elements from the deep extent (ph) of the former regime, trying to spark some kind of division and give an excuse for the military counsel to crack down on the sit-in.

However, that also seems -- shows the military counsel that they are not having any power, and actually, the power is in the ground with our people, who came to -- in increasing number to support the sit-in.

WATT: Signs of progress, but it is very clear that there are groups, probably, on both sides who do not want this agreement to go forward, correct?

ELSHEIKH: I'm not sure if I can call them both sides, because the sense of opposition is almost sided in one side and that the alliance of freedom and change. However, this coalition of political parties that initiated by the former regime in the last five years, and those political parties actually do not have any representation on the ground. And those people could be tied to those elements which, of course, they have to be disenchanted within an agreement, because they know that the next legal measure will be against them (ph).

WATT: And I want to ask you about Omar al-Bashir. He, of course, was president for about 30 years, was removed from office back in April. What is going to happen to him? I mean, he is wanted at the ICC on charges relating to the Darfur campaign. He is also, we're told by Sudan state prosecutor, going to be prosecuted for the killing of some protestors in the past few weeks.

The military has said that they will prosecute him but not extradite him. He is right now in jail. What does the future hold for Omar al- Bashir?

ELSHEIKH: I think, you know, one of the best ways we -- for us to look forward to our future of a Sudan that's grounded in democracy and rule of law, freedom and justice and peace, I think -- I believe that, if we have independent judiciary, I think they will be capable of trying al-Bashir inside Sudan. And in my personal opinion, I think trying him in the ICC is not really productive at the -- at the moment. Because it might spark another kind of chaotic reactions toward the revolution and the aspiration of the Sudanese people.

I think the Sudanese people, what they want to see, they want to see stability, rule of law, to have international human rights and the government to work for them, to lift the burden of historical measures. So if this -- this five to six (ph) be ushered in -- with a civilian-led government, I think whether to try al-Bashir in the ICC or in Sudan, it became of secondary importance.

WATT: Elsadig Elsheikh joining us from Berkeley, California. Thank you very much for your insights.

ELSHEIKH: Thank you for having me.

WATT: Next, the winds of change are blowing through the Cannes Film Festival. Is the grand old festival moving with the times?


[00:40:34] WATT: The 72nd Cannes Film Festival is now underway. Stars are arriving for the 12-day shindig. And change is blowing in on the sea air. Michael Holmes explains.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If all the world's a stage, then for two weeks every year, the spotlight is firmly fixed on Cannes.

The official poster for the 72nd Cannes Film Festival honors French director Agnes Varda, who passed away in March. It's a nod to a new era of scrutiny for a festival that have been criticized in the past for its failure to adequately reflect women's involvement in the industry.

This year four of the 21 films competing for the top Palme d'Or Award are directed by women.

KELLY REICHARDT, CANNES 2019 MAIN JURY MEMBER: I'm also looking forward to the time when we come, and we don't have to say "the women directors" and "the women." As a woman, you know, I'm looking forward to that time, also. And I'm very honored to be here.

HOLMES: Back on the red carpet, Hollywood's A-list are out in force this year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something horrifying is coming.

HOLMES: Spoof horror movie "The Dead Don't Die" features Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton and Iggy Pop.


HOLMES: Taron Egerton stars in the Elton John biopic "Rocketman," which tracks the singer's early career. And then there's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actors are required to do a lot of dangerous stuff.

HOLMES: Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie star in this eagerly-awaited Quentin Tarantino offering.

SCOTT ROXBOROUGH, EUROPEAN BUREAU CHIEF, "THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER": This is the first time Tarantino's sort of here on his own in Cannes. It's also the first time he's made a film that's not independent.

He's always been connected to the independent cinema scene. Now he's a studio director for the first time. So those two issues are going to be -- are going to come into play.

Also, I think a lot of people are going to be asking Tarantino to reflect more on the Weinstein issue. He's talked a little bit about his relationship to him, about what he knew or didn't know about these allegations; but he hasn't really, for a lot of people, hasn't really come clean about it.

JASON SUDEIKIS, ACTOR (voice-over): Welcome back to Bird Island. I'm of course still a hero.

HOLMES: Cannes seeks to cater to all tastes, and a very different movie experience is on offer with "The Angry Birds Movie 2," which also launches at the festival.

BILL HADER, ACTOR (voice-over): We need to put aside our differences and work together.

HOLMES: Mock if you want, but the original "Angry Birds" movie, released in 2016, earned $350 million at the box office.

THUROP VAN ORMAN, DIRECTOR, "THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE 2": We played around. We experimented, and we found really funny moments. The story, I think, is really, really strong. So all in all, it's -- it's been an amazing experience.

My expectations, I expect everyone to laugh in the theaters. Yes, I think it's going to be really good.

HOLMES: The fact that "The Angry Birds 2" is premiering on such a hallowed cinematic stage perhaps foreshadows wider changes at Cannes.

ROXBOROUGH: I think the festival has to change, and they acknowledge that they have to change. And I think this year is going to be the first year we're going to see the first signs of how Cannes will change to make itself fit for the future.

HOLMES: But traditionalists fear not. For good or ill, the old guard aren't abandoning Cannes any time soon.

Michael Holmes, CNN, Atlanta.


WATT: Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Nick Watt. Stay tuned now FOR WORLD SPORT. You're watching CNN. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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