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Obama Orders Dialogue with Iran; Mall Standoff Over; Jackson Trial Closing Arguments Begin; Missing Girls' Car Found After 42 Years

Aired September 24, 2013 - 14:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM." NEWSROOM continues right now with Brooke Baldwin.


Hello to all of you. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me today.

Our big story, really let's just call it the Super Bowl of foreign diplomacy. A meeting of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly there in New York. But a speech by President Obama with a message of peace has the world abuzz and leaves one very big question hanging, and that is this, is the deep freeze between Iran and the U.S. thawing?


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the near term, America's diplomatic efforts will focus on two particular issues -- Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons and the Arab-Israeli conflict. While these issues are not the cause of all the region's problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.

The United States and Iran has been isolated from one another since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. This mistrust has deep roots. Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs and of America's role in overthrowing the Iranian government during the Cold War. On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy and directly, or through proxies, taken American hostages, killed U.S. troops and civilians, and threatened our ally, Israel, with destruction.

I don't believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight. The suspicions run too deep. But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road towards a different relationship. One based on mutual interests and mutual respect.


BALDWIN: President Obama telling his secretary of state, John Kerry, to work with Iran's government and this new leader, Hassan Rouhani, specifically on the issue of Iran's nuclear program. Another big headline here, a message for Israelis and the Palestinians. The president saying all parties must be willing to take risks in order to achieve Middle East peace.

We have correspondents all throughout the world for you covering every angle of this, including Elise Labott, our foreign affairs reporter at the U.N. in New York, CNN International's Jim Clancy for us in Jerusalem, and Reza Sayah in Tehran.

And, Elise, I want to begin with you because the last time a U.S. president met with a leader of Iran, it was 35 years ago. Jimmy Carter and the last shah. And if it happens at all, here's my question, what's the chance this handshake everyone is talking about, is waiting for, what's the chance that this thing could happen behind closed doors because if it doesn't happen on camera, did it really happen?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: It doesn't happen. If it doesn't happen on camera, it doesn't really happen, Brooke.

I think that everyone is obviously placing a lot of importance on this handshake between the two men, but you've already seen this kind of improved climate between the U.S. and Iran. President Rouhani has been making a lot of noises over the last several days, had a very interesting op-ed in "The Washington Post" signaling a new relationship with the United States, and certainly President Obama's speech. So they may shake hands. They might not.

I think if they do, it will be on camera because everyone would want to see a moment like that. I think President Obama would like to do it. I'm not sure whether the Iranian president is ready for something like that. Clearly he has the backing of the supreme leader to go ahead and test the waters for a new relationship with the United States. But the hardline press in Iran, the -- is very anti-handshake, if you will. So I think the president of Iran will leave here and President Obama will leave New York with an improved climate, maybe not a handshake. But at the end of the day, I think it's going in the right direction.

BALDWIN: Jim, to you in Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, obviously pretty rattled by a warming, possibility of this handshake even between, you know, the leaders of both the U.S. and Iran, saying any nuclear deal with the Iranian government could be a trap. What did he mean by that?

JIM CLANCY, ANCHOR, CNNI: Well, you know, Israel's view of the upcoming Rouhani speech is really a direct one, Brooke, don't get taken in by smiling faces and optimistic, vague promises. Get the facts. Listen, yes, listen, but with care. Understand that the whole time Iran has been negotiating with the west over the past four years, it's been making really strong advances towards being able to produce a nuclear weapon.

Now, I can tell you this right now. We know that Israel's delegation will not be in the room. The prime minister has told his delegation that when Iran stops denying the Holocaust, stops threatening Israel, well, maybe that will change. Not this afternoon. Israel's intelligence chief told me just last week, if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, it's a global game changer. They have a dangerous set of (INAUDIBLE) terrorism, not only here in the (INAUDIBLE) around the world.

But tonight I also spoke with a prominent anti-nuclear activist here in Israel who said all nuclear weapons in the region pose serious risks. And this is a time when Israel must consider making clear its own nuclear program and being honest with the region, being honest with the world. Now, that's not a popular opinion here. Most people in Israel see the so-called bomb in the basement as an important deterrent, a protective shield, if you will. As far as Iran's nuclear program is concerned, many, if not most, agree with the prime minister, Tehran has to dismantle its enrichment program, surrender stockpiles of enriched uranium and halt the construction of that heavy water reactor that could produce plutonium. We're not going to hear anything close to that from Mr. Rouhani.

BALDWIN: Yes, Reza, my question to you there in Tehran, I think Jim Clancy touched on some of this, I mean what do you see as the barriers to what Barack Obama is calling it, I'm quoting him here, a long road toward a different relationship between Iran and the U.S.?

RESA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One of the major barriers, Brooke, is going to be the country where our colleague Jim Clancy is reporting from, Israel. This is Washington's top ally in the region. The leadership there, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, view Iran as a threat. They don't want improved relations between the U.S. and Iran.

And then you have the U.S. Congress, another barrier. This is a Congress that's dominated by anti-Iran hawks who also view Iran as a threat. Congress doesn't want better relations between the U.S. and Iran either. The Congress and the Israeli leadership are in lock step when it comes to Iran and that's one of the reasons why whenever Prime Minister Netanyahu visits the U.S. Congress, he gets a standing ovation.

And then finally, you have the nuclear program. But what's encouraging many is that Iran is sending signals that they're willing to make concessions, perhaps considering capping and suspending uranium enrichment at 20 percent. That would seemingly make it impossible for them to make a bomb. They say they're also open to possibly expanding inspections to some of their military sites. But naturally they want substantial items in return. They want to be respected. They want some of the sanctions to end. And they want the U.S. to recognize their right to enrich uranium, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Reza Sayah, Jim Clancy, Elise Labott, thank you all, covering all angles of this story for us.

Around the world, I want to take you to Africa now, to Kenya specifically, where the president announced a little more than an hour ago that the deadly shopping mall standoff in Nairobi is over. Sixty- one people died in that attack, he said, along with six security officers. His remarks came not too long after we got this video, which appears to show government forces - this is earlier today, guns drawn, making their way through the top floor there of that mall. CNN's Zain Verjee has been there or us the last couple of days covering this standoff. She's there.

Finally, Zain, we're hearing from the president. You know, he declared this crisis over but still so many questions. What about the hostages? What can you tell us about them?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was radio silence from President Uhuru Kenyatta on that. What he said only, really, was there are bodies trapped in the rubble. And because part of Westgate Mall has totally collapsed, the three floors on top of each other, it's going to take a while to be able to extract those bodies.

But there are so many unanswered questions about the hostages. How many were there really? Did they rescue them directly from the clutches of the militants? Were they able to free them? What is their condition? What exactly is the situation with the hostages? Are they dead? Some, all, what? These are the questions that are being raised tonight. There are no answers.

I suspect that knowing President Kenyatta and the people around him, that he would want to be 100 percent confident that what he says is totally accurate, especially with the world's eyes on Nairobi. So it took him a while to say it's over. No, really, it's over. He kept delaying that and delaying that until he was 100 percent sure.

I spoke to one source a short while ago that said that he had pretty much direct contact with everyone and was aware with what everything was -- that was being found on the ground and then decided to make the statement. But that is one major unanswered question.

BALDWIN: OK. So as you and our crews there continue to press on for answers when it comes to the hostages, Zain, what about the attackers? What about the reports, you know, that some of these attackers were from the U.S.? That perhaps a woman was among the attackers? What have you learned about this?

VERJEE: Well, President Kenyatta addressed that. He said, he's seen the reports, the white woman and two to three Americans. He says they're being investigated. But then he also said, and the forensics teams are going to be put to work and then we'll see what we get. So you call in forensics teams to identify dead bodies. And so it seems as though that that could be the implication here. Don't know for sure. It's going to take a few days.

I spoke to a senior Kenyan source a moment ago and all indications were that they have the pictures, they have a dead body of a white woman. But, still, a lot of clarification need. I asked for the photo, but I was told I wasn't going to get it. But I'll still try.

BALDWIN: Zain Verjee in Nairobi for us, as the president has declared this standoff is officially over.

Next, did a concert promoter contribute to Michael Jackson's death? For months and months jurors have heard both sides and now as closing arguments begin today we are getting our very first look inside this court. You will hear it live.

Plus, two teenage girls missing more than 40 years, but today a huge discovery could break this cold case wide open. Back in a moment.


BALDWIN: For five months jurors in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Michael Jackson's heirs against concert promoter AEG Live have heard dramatic testimony. And minutes ago closing arguments in this highly publicized trial got underway. The attorney who represents Michael Jackson's family wasted absolutely no time talking about what he says AEG Live did wrong.


BRIAN PANISH, JACKSON FAMILY ATTORNEY: This is a large company with sophisticated lawyers, people in the concert business. If they wanted to write a contract that said, we're not responsible for anything Dr. Murray does, they could have done that. But they chose to run the risk to make a huge profit. And they lost. And they are responsible. And I'm going to tell you about that as we go on in this case.

Now, there's no question AEG wanted the king of pop in their arena in London. They wanted it so badly that despite these comments they make about Michael Jackson and the tabloids and everything, they wanted him so badly that they would do whatever it took to get him on stage and they told that to Dr. Murray. They told Dr. Murray, we want you to have everything you could have. They knew exactly what he offered, an unlimited supply of prescription medications during the time of the pain, stress, and anxiety to get Michael Jackson on stage. They knew that. They knew what they were getting. Now they want to come in and deny it and I'll talk about that.

But as of April 2009, as Randy Phillips (ph) stated in his e-mails, too much was at risk to cancel now. Remember the press conference just hours before. Michael was found locked in his room and, according to Randy, drunk and despondent. Mr. Phillips said it was the scariest thing he's ever seen. Michael was emotionally paralyzed, riddled with self-loathing and doubt. And in order to get him out of the room, Mr. Phillips had to scream so loud that the walls in the room shook. He threw Michael in the shower and he slapped him to get him to it the press conference two hours late and, as a result of that press conference, AEG executives said, we can't back off now, it would be a disaster for the company because we're holding all the risk.

No one knew whether Michael could pay back the $35 million that AEG was out. We know based on the evidence that AEG didn't have appropriate insurance to cover the loss. And we also know that AEG executives wrote to Mr. Phillips and said, well, Michael was kind of overwhelming -- underwhelming in the press conference, and he did not give AEG executives the feeling that he could get enough together to even do 30 shows. That's what they wrote.

But what happened? Tickets went on sale. And as you'll see, a cultural phenomenon occurred. They sold out so many tickets so fast they were so excited about how much money was going to be made and that if Michael couldn't perform, they had to give the money back. And all these production costs, they didn't have appropriate insurance to cover it all and they were going to be out the money. And they never lost $30 million before.


BALDWIN: So this trial has focused on two central questions. One, did the promoter hire and supervise Conrad Murray, the doctor who gave Jackson that fatal overdose of Propofol? And two, if so, how much should it pay to Jackson's mother and his children? CNN's Casey Wian joins me from outside that courthouse in Los Angeles.

And, Casey, we heard a little bit from that attorney. What are we expecting to hear from both sides during closing arguments?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Brooke, the attorney for the Michael Jackson family, Brian Panish, who you -- that clip you just played, is on the - is talking to the jury right now. What we're going to hear from him and what we've already heard from him is that this concert promoter, AEG Live, should have known better than to hire Dr. Conrad Murray to take care of Michael Jackson as he rehearsed and went through this planned comeback tour. The attorney says that AEG Live was under, as you heard, enormous financial pressure. Pressure to make a big profit potentially and pressure to avoid big losses if Michael Jackson was not physically able to perform. And the Jackson family also claims that Conrad Murray was, in fact, an employee of AEG Live.

The other side, AEG is going to argue, when it's their turn, probably tomorrow, that, in fact, it was Michael Jackson who was calling the shots. He was the one who supervised Dr. Conrad Murray. He was the one who brought him into the relationship. And also, no one ever signed this employment contract. You would think it would be very easy to determine if someone is an employee or not. There was a contract between AEG Live, Conrad Murray and Michael Jackson. The only problem is, Brooke, the only person who signed that contract was Conrad Murray. Neither Jackson nor AEG Live signed it, so that is the central question that they're arguing about. If the jurors, in fact, find that AEG Live, in fact, hired Murray, then they can get into these other questions of how much AEG Live should pay Jackson's mother and his three children.


BALDWIN: OK. So on the subject of payment, how much? Ballpark, Casey Wian, how much compensation could the Jackson family see if they win this?

WIAN: Well, there were reports early on in this case, which has been going on for five months, that it could be as high as $40 billion. Those reports have been discredited. But both sides concede that this could get into the billions of dollars. And during this five-month trial, Jackson's family attorneys tried to show the earnings potential that Jackson had, had he lived.

On the other side, AEG attorneys tried to show that he was a big financial risk and maybe there wasn't that big of a market for Jackson as a performer going forward because of his deteriorating health and because of the scandals that he endured throughout much of the last part of his life, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Wow, billions with a "b." Casey Wian, we'll be watching right there with you in Los Angeles. Thank you.

Coming up, a stunning development in this cold case unsolved for decades. Two teenage women disappeared in the early '70s. And now this old car, this Studebaker, recovered from a creek could help crack the case.

Plus, new details in that mass shooting that erupted in Chicago. Thirteen people were injured, including a three-year-old. We now know why the suspected gunmen opened fire in the first place.


BALDWIN: So there's this car that looks like it's been under water for more than four decades. So it's a Studebaker just found in a South Dakota creek, may drive investigators to these new clues as to how these two teenage girls went missing back in 1971. Pam Jackson, she's on the left side of your screen, and Cheryl Miller disappeared as they were out driving to a party. Then flash forward to 2007. This man here, a convicted rapist, David Lykken, was charged in their murders, but the case was dropped after his confession turned out to be falsified. So now the car could either clear him or help prove his guilt. A fisherman spotted this 1960s Studebaker Lark Monday, and it matches the car those two teenage girls were driving.


AMY HANEKLAUS, LIVES NEAR CREEK WHERE CAR WAS FOUND: It's a little surreal, honestly, just to even believe that it's all happening right outside our door and that they possibly could have been there all this time. It's a little unbelievable.


BALDWIN: Wow. Joining me now on the phone, John Hult, crime reporter at Argus Leader Media.

And, John, so this Studebaker, believed to be in the water for 42 years. From what I understand, it was in pretty rough shape, obviously.

JOHN HULT, CRIME REPORTER, ARGUS LEADER MEDIA (via telephone): Yes. Yes, it was - it was definitely in rough shape.

BALDWIN: Yes, rough shape. So how have law enforcement, how have they been able to connect the dots from this, you know, pretty rough- looking car to this missing persons case from 1971?

HULT: Well, as you said, a fisherman was down by the creek early Monday morning, and this person happened to be familiar with the case, as a lot of people are. It's a small area and it's a very famous case. Now, they happened to be familiar with the case and they said, well, this looks like it's connected. And they went down there and they tried to pull it out, but it was in - it was in such poor condition that they couldn't actually get it out. But they were able to lift it up a little bit and they used a hub cap and the license plate to identify it as the vehicle that they were last seen in. These two gals were last seen in.

BALDWIN: It's incredible. And so they were last seen. They took, you know, this wrong turn. They were headed to this party near this gravel pit. And from what I understand, where this car was found wasn't too far. So is it possible, John, that this car, the girls' car, was sitting there in this creek all along?

HULT: Yes. Yes. And, in fact, that's what they think happened. The attorney general in South Dakota held a press conference yesterday in which he said, well, this car has been under water for four decades. And so that's why we have to be very careful in trying to get the evidence out. We don't want to - we want to preserve all the evidence as well as possible because this has clearly been here for a very, very long time.

BALDWIN: So then the next step, you know my heart - I think about the family and the timing of this car's discovery. It's touching because family members, Pam Jackson -- family members of Pam, I should say, they were back in town for the father's funeral. Oscar Jackson was 102. And one of Pam's relatives told you, quote, "it's like when Oscar got to heaven, he told them to reveal this information about what happened to his daughter." Tell me about that conversation.

HULT: Well, I mean, it's pretty heartbreaking. I mean it's been heartbreaking. They've said in the past, and that their faith has helped keep -- carry them through, that these girls were never far from their thoughts. And the mystery has just - has sort of eaten at them. But hopefully this brings them a little closer to closure, even though - even though not everyone is going to be around to see the end of the mystery.

BALDWIN: What had they thought happened through all these years?

HULT: Well, there have been a lot of different theories thrown around. There was a point decades ago where people thought they had seen these girls, you know, where they thought that they might - they might be alive. And then, of course, in 2004, suspicions emerged about David Lykken, who, as it turns out - as it turns out, the case was dropped against him. So, I mean, there was a period where they were certain that it was him. At least one of Miller's family members said, you know, even after the case was dropped against David Lykken, they thought that he was responsible for their deaths. And now, depending on what they find in the car, that may all be thrown into upheaval.

BALDWIN: As they are very carefully getting this car out and will be going through it and looking for forensics and hopefully this can bring these families just a little bit of peace 42 years later. John Hult. We'll stay in touch with you, John. Thank you for calling in.

Still ahead, backlash against the makers of Red Bull. Have you seen this? The company released this ad linking the energy drink to the doomed Titanic. Hear the point Red Bull was trying to make.

And, history in the making? The United Nations in the spotlight. Will President Obama and the new president of Iran give diplomacy a chance? I'm talk live with someone who's about to interview the Iranian president.