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Kim Jong Un, North Korean Leader, Meets with Russian Government Official; Train Ferrying North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un Enters Russia; Frantic Search for Survivors Following the Earthquake in Morocco; Death Toll from the Morocco Earthquake Rises to Over 2,900; In Exchange for Detainees, U.S. Will Release $6B in Iranian Funds; OSA: Airport Workers Servicing Tarmacs Getting Seriously Injured. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired September 12, 2023 - 10:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN NEWS CENTRAL CO-ANCHOR: We have new video in -- coming in this morning of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Russia. State media is reporting that he sat with Russia's minister for natural resources and environment today. Earlier, cameras captured Kim's arrival at the train station in Russia's far east. as you see it there.

All of this is, a very public display and a very public lead-up, it seems, to a likely meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. What is not known is when and where that is going to take place. But what is known is that Putin is in need for more ammunition for his war in Ukraine, and U.S. officials have been warning that the two could be working toward an arms deal.

Let's go over to CNN's Paula Hancocks. She's in in Seoul, South Korea watching this very closely. Paula, what is the very latest on this?


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, we do know, as you say, Kim Jong Un is in Russia. He is heading north, as we understand at this point. As you say, the location of this meeting is not entirely clear at this point. Although, there is speculation that Kim Jong Un may be heading towards Vostochny. Now, this is where there's a cosmodrome space launch center, and it's also where we heard through Russian state media that Vladimir Putin will be heading to next. He's currently in Vladivostok at this eastern economic forum, but he did say he would be heading to this area as he has a personal agenda.

So, that could well be where they're meeting. Now, what we've heard from the Kremlin, is that it will happen in the next few days. They said this yesterday, they said it again today. But Dmitry Peskov saying that it will be a full-blown visit with talk between two delegations and it will touch upon, "Sensitive issues". There will also be an official dinner between the two leaders. Now, we do know that this is going to have a military focus. We have heard from the Kremlin that Sergei Shoigu, the defense minister, he went to Pyongyang back in July to start this whole process, will be within the delegation. He will be within the meeting with Kim and Putin. We also note that a very key Marshall, Ri Pyong-chol from North Korea is on this trip as well. He's sanctioned by the U.S., by the U.N. He's considered the leader of North Korean's missile program. He is going to be part of it as well.

So, that really sets the focus to a very military-focused deal here. Now, the U.S. officials backed up by South Korean officials and intelligence have said that they do believe that Russia wants ammunition, wants small arms out of a potential arms deal, something that North Korea can accommodate because they have a stockpile and they also have huge production capabilities. And then on the other side, the U.S. officials spoken to CNN believed that North Korea could get satellite technology or a nuclear submarine technology out of it in return. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Paula Hancocks, thank you so much.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEWS CENTRAL CO-ANCHOR: All right, Kate. This morning, rescuers in Morocco are racing to find survivors in the rubble. The death toll from the devastating earthquake there has climbed past 2,900, and that number is expected to rise. Roads into the mountains have been destroyed or blocked by debris. One witness said, "We are hoping for miracles from the rubble." Morocco state media reports the country's military has now reached the epicenter with aid.

CNN's Sam Kiley live on the ground there. Sam, what are you seeing?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we're at about 4,500 feet in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. And this is a mosque in one of the many villages that we visited this morning. These villages, John, are built on kind of -- on the tops of the helix. If you can imagine a series of steps going up into the mountains and it is as if a giant has ran down those steps and smashed village after village after village.

This village here is utterly destroyed. We walked about 1,000 feet further higher, came across a small farming hamlet where a six-year- old child had been crushed at 11:00 on Friday night when this earthquake struck. Her uncle was still sitting in the rubble alongside her brother, both of them still in a very tearful state.

Now, there are some aid levels coming in here, but it's mostly private donations. A lot of ordinary Moroccans are coming in because the effort of the military is focused now on trying to reach those even further flung villages, accessible only on foot. The area we visited just this morning was only on foot too.

But even further deeper into the mountains the situation is assumed to be more and more dire, but they are getting out there with Chinooks and Puma helicopters, trying to get aid very often. Just throwing it out of the back of aircraft. They can't even land or don't dare land on these villages in case they disrupt what rubble there is covering what few survivors there might conceivably be. But really, at the other side of this, this is a process of now gathering the dead and trying to figure out hose to rebuild so destroyed villages. John.

BERMAN: And you can see just how bad it is with so many of these villages, as you say, perched on the mountainsides. With all that shaking, they simply collapsed. Sam Kiley, keep us posted. Thank you very much.

Sara -- oh, I should say, for more on how you can help victims to the Morocco earthquake, go to


SARA SIDNER, CNN NEWS CENTRAL CO-ANCHOR: All right. Important moment and movement, for several Americans that are being held in Iran. The latest steps the Biden administration is taking to try and secure their release, it involves a huge amount of money. That's ahead.



BOLDUAN: Five Americans wrongfully detained in Iran are one step closer to coming home. The Biden administration announcing just this morning that they're -- essentially, they cleared the way for one critical step for Iran to release the Americans. The step has to do with billions of dollars of Iranian funds that have been locked up under sanction threats. The funds are set to be released back to Iran for humanitarian purchases.


The United States has also agreed as part of the deal to release five Iranians currently held in the United States.

Let's get over to CNN's Natasha Bertrand. She's at the Pentagon. You've been tracking all of this. These are important steps, Natasha.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Kate. So, essentially what happened here is that Secretary of State Antony Blinken approved a waiver late last week that allows these banks that you mentioned overseas to transfer that $6 billion in Iranian funds to account in Qatar without fear of being issued sanctions.

Now, this waiver is a sign that a deal with Iran to free those five Americans who have been deemed wrongfully detained, thereby the State Department is moving forward. And in a notice to Congress, detailing the waiver, Blinken also confirmed that as part of the deal, they U.S. has committed to release five Iranian nationals currently detained in the U.S.

Now, just speaking broadly here, this is a very delicate balancing act for the Biden administration, because on the one hand, they want to get these Americans home, and it's very rare for these kinds of negotiations with Iran to actually bear fruit. But on the other, the prospective deal has already spurred criticism from Republicans in Congress who say they're opposed to releasing any kind of money to Iran in exchange for the detainees. And that doing so, essentially, amounts to a ransom payment.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney said on Tuesday that releasing the funds would lead to, "More kidnappings." Adding that, "That's why you don't negotiate with the terrorists." Still, the administration which has made securing the release of wrongfully detained Americans a central part of its foreign policy says that their release of these funds is a key part of the process and that will lead to these Americans' release.

And officials have stressed, Kate, that Iran will only be able to use this money for humanitarian purposes, in transactions overseen by the Treasury Department in Qatar. Now, the White House did acknowledge a sensitivity of this. And in a statement to CNN on Monday they said that, "As we have said from the outset, what is being pursued here is an arrangement wherein we secure the release of five wrongfully held Americans, and this remains a sensitive and ongoing process." Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, one step forward, it can very quickly be three steps back with these negotiations until they're on a plane on the way back to the United States. This is not agreed to fully, but one step closer to freedom and for five families to get their loved ones with home. Thank you so much, Natasha. It's good to see you.


SIDNER: All right. An alarming trend at airports across the county. The number of injuries, especially on the ground among workers is rising. One employee who got his leg stuck between a plane and a baggage conveyor tells CNN, things are not always being done properly. We'll take a closer look ahead.



SIDNER: All right. If you thought it was insanely crowded at airports this summer, you were correct. The TSA says, this was the busiest summer ever for air travel. But there is a new and troubling problem on the rise. Airport workers responsible for loading all of those bags and servicing the planes on tarmacs are getting seriously injured at really alarming rates. Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a safety warning for aviation workers.

Our Pete Muntean has the story.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): When Courtney Edwards (ph) went to work on New Year's Eve, she had no idea she would become part of an alarming statistic. The mother of three was helping marshal a flight to its gate at the Montgomery Alabama Airport when she was pulled off her feet, according to an NTSB report, and into an operating jet engine. Edwards (ph) was killed.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It's a very tough job and it's dangerous.

MUNTEAN (voiceover): Employees working on airport tarmacs are now part of a troubling trend. Injuries among them spiked last year according to Occupation Safety and Health Administration data, first reported by "The Wall Street Journal."

ERNEST TANGA, RAMP WORKER: My leg went up to this level.

MUNTEAN (voiceover): This is what's left of an on-the-job injury that Ernest Tanga says, could have been much worse. Tanga works at Washington Dulles as a ramp agent for contractor Swissport. In February, he was taking bags by hand from an Aviance flight when he slipped, his left leg stuck between the body of the airplane and the baggage loader.

TANGA: So, when I pulled my leg out, I sat on a box for about four to five minutes and it was just -- my leg -- my whole leg was burning.

MUNTEAN (voiceover): In a comment to CNN, Swissport says the health and safety of employees is the highest priority. And it says, it fully complies with all applicable labor regulations. The number of on-the- job injuries declined in 2020 when travel during the pandemic cratered. But OSHA figure show as flight picked up, injuries quickly returned to and exceed pre-pandemic levels. Just last month, Massachusetts State Police say a forklift operator at Boston Logan was pinned by a metal beam and killed while he servicing a JetBlue flight.

SEN. ED MARKEY (D-MA): It is absolutely essential that as we move forward, that we bring these workers out from the shadows.

MUNTEAN (voiceover): U.S. Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts says, his legislation to improve airport service worker pay will lead to less turnover and safer conditions.

MARKEY: The higher the morale, the more likely that safety standards will be, in fact, maintained at the highest possible level.

MUNTEAN (voiceover): Airlines have added employees since the pandemic downturn. But safety experts say, there is intense pressure on contractors to quickly service aircraft with limited staffing.

GOELZ: I think you need more oversight, you need heftier fines, and you need a recommitment on the part of the air carriers to treat these people fairly.

MUNTEAN: Do you think it's getting less safe?

TANGA: I would say, yes, because people keep on doing -- one person would do a job of three people.


MUNTEAN (voiceover): Ernest Tanga is still working for Swissport but on light duty. He thinks new protections for workers like him will be a heavy lift but it could save lives.

TANGA: If things were done the proper way, I think people wouldn't be injured.


MUNTEAN (on camera): We're finding out more about the conditions that these workers are facing. In Arizona, about a dozen of them just filed a labor complaint. They say, they're forced to work on hot planes, often without air conditioning, and sometimes without water. This is, as the FAA just put out a safety bulletin reminding airlines to be extra vigilant after these recent incidents. Sara.

SIDNER: Yes, and we've just experienced the hottest summer ever. Pete Muntean, thank you so much for that really interesting story.

All right. John.

BERMAN: All right. The convicted killer in Pennsylvania stole a gun overnight. He is now armed and dangerous. We are just getting new information in about where authorities think he might be headed.