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Malaysian Prime Minister Talks to CNN; Families of Flight 370 Want Answers; Families Turning to Boeing for Information; American Medical Workers Gunned Down by Afghan Police Officers; Putin Slams Ukraine

Aired April 24, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. I'd like to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world watching right now on CNN International.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Now, we begin with breaking news with Malaysia. For the first time in three weeks, the country's prime minister is now speaking out about the search of Flight 370. He sat down exclusively in Kuala Lumpur with our own Richard Quest. Richard's joining us now live from the Malaysian capital. Richard, the Malaysian government has gotten lot of heat, as all our viewers know, for not releasing more information on the flight. What did the prime minister tell you today?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's a broadcast exclusive interview. And so far, the prime minister, Najib Razak, has not sat down with any interviewers to answer Questions, direct Questions on what he knew, what Malaysia knew and what they now believe happened to MH 370.

We learned yesterday, when I asked at a press conference, that a preliminary report has been sent to the U.N. body, ICAO. And tonight, the prime minister pledged that that report would be released next week, after it's been reviewed by a committee. So, he has confirmed that the report would be released.

But, Wolf, the most extraordinary thing tonight from the prime minister, when I asked specifically, would he now say that MH 370, the plane and the passengers, were lost? There were no survivors. He said even though that might seem obvious, out of respect for the next of kin, he would not go that far. This is the prime minister.


NAJIB RAZAK, PRIME MINISTER, MALAYSIA: On the balance of the evidence, it would be hard to imagine otherwise, Richard.


NAJIB: At some point in time, I would be. But, right now, I think I need to take into account the feelings of next of kin and some of them have said publicly that they're not willing to accept it until they find hard evidence.


QUEST (live): So, what we have there, Wolf, the -- you weren't able to hear the Question just when I was asking it. But what I was continuing to point out to him, Wolf, was whether or not he is prepared to say the plane is lost since it seems so glaringly obvious. But, Wolf, as the families have repeatedly said, there is no physical evidence. And so, the prime minister is siding more with them, at the moment. But this creates enormous difficulties, Wolf, for Malaysia Airlines and others because until the government officially says the plane is lost, then full compensation cannot be paid under the Montreal convention -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But this sort of flies in the face of what Malaysian officials said several weeks ago when they said the plane had gone into the Indian Ocean. The Malaysian Airlines, as you remember, sent out a whole notice to the family saying that their loved ones presumably were all dead. And so, I just want to be precise on this, I know we didn't hear your Question going to the prime minister. He's refusing to say, right now, that the plane is lost? I just want to be precise. This is an extremely sensitive point, as you know.

QUEST: It is. And I'm pleased that you take that -- you put it like that. He is not flying in the face of the obvious. He recognizes the evidence of what we know so far. But what he is saying is, Wolf, in a nuanced way, out of respect for the next of kin, he will not make that final, if you like, those blunt statements, the plane has crashed, everyone's dead, which is effectively what I was asking him to say.

Now, he admitted that his use of the words on the night, the flight ended in the Indian Ocean was carefully calibrated. The chairman of the airliners said there's no survivors. Everybody pretty much accepts that. But they still and the prime minister still wants to show that mark of respect for the next of kin, even though, to the likes of you and me, in the cold light of day, it seems to be flying in the face of the obvious.

BLITZER: What did he say about all the criticism his government has received for their handling of the investigation?

QUEST: Wolf, on that front, he basically recognizes that all the -- he recognizes the criticism and says much of it is unfair. He believes -- and his exact words as you'll hear in the hours ahead as we turn more material around. He believes that Malaysia has done a good job, in his words, in the search for the plane. They haven't found it, but the way they put together a coalition of 26 countries, dozens of planes and ships. Where he accepts where Malaysia has failed or at least not met the mark is in the communications in those early days. And the prime minister was fairly clear that that was a failing.

Now, Wolf, one other point he said, quite clearly, on the question of what happened on the night, Wolf, I asked the prime minister, clearly, did Malaysia see the plane? Did their military officers see the plane flying over the country in real time? And if they did, did they send up planes to see what was happening? I think we've got -- this is what the prime minister said.


NAJIB: Now, the military radar, the primary radar, has some capability. It tracked an aircraft which did a turn back but they were not sure, exactly sure, whether it was MH 370. What they were sure of was that the aircraft was not deemed to be hostile.

QUEST: No planes were sent up on the night to investigate?

NAJIB: No, because -- simply because it was deemed not to be hostile.

QUEST: Don't you find that troubling that a civil aircraft can turn back, fly across the country and nobody thinks to go up and have a look? Because one of two things -- I understand that the threat level and I understand either the plane is in trouble and needs help or it's nefarious and you really want to know what somebody is going up there to do. So, as prime minister, don't you find that troubling?

NAJIB: You see, coming back to my earlier statement is that they were not sure whether it was MH 370.

QUEST: Even more reason to go have a look.

NAJIB: They were not sure. But it behaved like a (INAUDIBLE) airline.


QUEST: There is no doubt, Wolf, the -- forget pilots' names, forget last words, forget everything else about this, that is the nub of the issue facing Malaysia. That on the night there was a radar operator in this country who saw what was -- who saw the plane and planes and did not send up or did not make further investigation. They have their reasons why. They say it was a civil plane. They say they didn't real -- they realized it was not a threat. But that will remain the weak point in everything that happened that night.

BLITZER: It certainly will. Richard, I want you to stay with us for the hour. We have a lot more to discuss with you. But I want to get some immediate reaction to your exclusive interview with the Malaysian prime minister.

Joining us now is Peter Goelz, the -- our CNN Aviation Analyst, the former NTSB, National Transportation Safety Board, managing director, and Foria Younis, a former FBI agent. Peter, let me get your immediate reaction. First, to the -- what the prime minister says. He's refusing to acknowledge formally that the plane is lost.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I can understand that. I mean, he has a very explosive situation with the families. He must have been advised that this is a critical issue. If he said the plane was lost, they're going to say, prove it. Where's the wreckage? Where's -- so, I think he's being overly sensitive to the families and that's understandable --

BLITZER: Foria, do you agree?

GOELZ: -- after seven weeks.

FORIA YOUNIS, FORMER AGENT, FBI: Yes, but it does contradict what was said earlier by some of, you know, his employees there with the Malaysia Airlines. But in -- you know, looking back now, it is the absolute correct thing. The families definitely are asking for some type of evidence. If you don't have that evidence, then you just need to say that it's missing at the moment.

BLITZER: Right. I mean, I remember, at the time several weeks ago, when they did say the plane had gone into the water. The Malaysian Airlines said everyone was basically dead. I thought, well, that was a little premature to make a statement like that before there was any hard evidence that it really disappeared like that. But that's another story.

Now, what about his argument that they saw a plane going over. They suspected it was a commercial plane. As a result, they didn't scramble jets, for example. What do you make of that?

GOELZ: What I make of that is the Malaysian military is probably redoing their procedures right now, if they haven't already done it. It's -- it probably is true but it shows a real gap in their security.

BLITZER: A major blunder by the part of the military.

YOUNIS: Yes, the Southeast Asian politics, when you look at all those countries, they have their own issues going on with each other. You know, there's -- you know, the big power, China, not too far. So, if they did have a plane going nearby and they didn't follow their own protocol and they weren't too aggressive about it, you're not going to have them admitting to that. They're going to be very defensive about how they reacted.

BLITZER: Let me go back to Richard Quest in Kuala Lumpur. Richard, we're going to be sharing much more of your interview with the prime minister, the exclusive interview here on CNN, throughout the day. But did you get any hints from him about what would be in that preliminary -- what is in that preliminary Asian government report that was sent to that international U.N. agency?

QUEST: Well, we do know, because we've had it confirmed, that there is a safety recommendation similar to -- similar to the one in Air France 447. That in future the ICAO, this is the U.N. body, needs to look at the safety benefits of real-time tracking of aircraft. We know that that's in the prelim report.

But, Wolf, I asked the P.M., when I -- when he said -- I said, will he sit now? He said, no, a committee has to look at it to see that it's OK. I said to him, why? Is there something embarrassing in the report that you don't want released? He said, no, that's not the reason. We have to take the P.M. at his word. I get the impression the prime minister is walking this very narrow line, Wolf, between wanting to do that which is correct, wanting to keep the families informed, but, at the same time, trying to make sure Malaysia does not come off any worse than it might have done already.

BLITZER: Richard Quest, stand by. We're going to be coming back to you and our panel later this hour. And more information emerging from your exclusive interview with the Malaysian prime minister. Stand by for that.

For our international viewers, the "INTERNATIONAL DESK" is coming up next.

Here in the United States, angry and heartbroken families of those missing on Flight 370, they want answers. And now, they're trying to get information from the company that made the doomed jetliner. We're talking about Boeing.

Also ahead, three American medical workers, doctors on a mission of mercy to Afghanistan, gunned down in cold blood by an Afghan police officer assigned to protect them. We'll have a live report. That's coming up as well.


BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Once again,, we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

We're following major breaking news coming out of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Our own Richard Quest sat down with Malaysia's prime minister, had an executive interview with him. You heard parts of it right at the top of the hour, the Malaysian prime minister insisting that next week Malaysia would go ahead and release that preliminary report of what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. He wants to go through some preliminary checks but that report, he says, would be released next week. He also says that he is not ready to say the plane is lost in deference to the families. More of the exclusive interview with the prime minister coming up later this hour, throughout the day here on CNN.

But as you know, families of those passengers aboard that flight, they want answers and they want answers now. They're looking to Boeing, that's the American company that made the missing 777. Brian Todd is here. He's been digging into this part of the story.

There's a major Boeing shareholders meeting coming up.


BLITZER: And that's seen as an opportunity to at least try to get some answers from Boeing.

TODD: That's right, Wolf. Sarah Bajc, the partner of Phillip Wood, one of the passengers on board the plane, says they're going to go to the shareholders meeting and they're going to oppress Boeing for answers. She says they're going to ask some additional questions aside from what they've already asked the Malaysian government, including some technical questions about what may have happened.

Her quote is, "Boeing is a publicly traded company in the U.S. That puts them in a position of a little bit more fiduciary responsibility."

However, you know, Boeing is not commenting on what she is saying and the fact that they may go to this meeting. But Michael Goldfarb, a former FAA chief of staff, just told me a short time ago, under the agreements that Boeing, the NTSB and the FAA have to adhere to under international protocols, they're cooperating with this investigation. Boeing may not be able to say much, of anything, to the families when they go there. So, the families want answers. Of course they deserve answers. Whether they're going to be able to get them from Boeing is an open question. It looks now like they may not be able to get what they're after from Boeing, Wolf.

BLITZER: This is a huge issue for the manufacturer, Boeing -

TODD: Yes.

BLITZER: Because there are about 1,200 777s flying around the world right now. Each one of those costs either $200 million or $250 million.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: If there was a mechanical problem, a failure, that caused the disappearance of Malaysian Flight 370, they have to know, they have to start working to fix that. So they need an answer. And people flying on those Boeing 777s, they want answers right now. We don't know why that plane disappeared.

TODD: No, we don't know why it disappeared. We don't know if it was a mechanical problem. The 777 has a very good safety record and Boeing would be the first people to tell you that. But of course they need the answers. And Malaysians want the answers too. We need to find some kind of wreckage. We need to find the black box. Whether we're even going to get to that stage or not, we don't know. But the families are upset that this preliminary report was not released quicker than it was. We just heard Richard say the prime minister says it will be - it will come out next week.

And one thing we can tell you, Wolf, is, that from experts that we've talked to, And we've got a copy of an NTSB preliminary report on the Asiana crash last year in San Francisco, these preliminary reports, most of them, don't have much information in them. It doesn't have the why. It has the what happened, how many were killed. Just very basics of it. One of them we saw is a paragraph long. It's not very long. Why they chose not to release it immediately, why they're holding back on it until next week, we don't really know. And that's really drawing them some more criticism of their handling of this investigation.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, stand by.

We're going to have a lot more coming up from the prime minister. The exclusive interview with Richard Quest. Much more on that. One of the headlines emerging from that interview is that the Malaysian military, they did see a plane flying over Malaysian airspace. They thought it was a commercial airliner. They're not sure. But they never scrambled jets to try to find out. More of Richard's exclusive interview with the Malaysian prime minister coming up shortly. Stand by for that.

Other news we're following, including major developments in Ukraine. The crisis there escalating. Can the U.S. do anything to stop it? We'll pose that question to our guest.

Also coming up, a beloved pediatrician from Chicago among three Americans shot to death at an Afghanistan hospital. We'll have a live report. That's coming up.


BLITZER: In Kabul, Afghanistan, a shooting rampage today killed three American medical workers at a charity hospital. One of them, a senior pediatrician from Chicago who worked at the facility for seven years. There he is, Dr. Jerry Umanos. A fourth American was wounded in the attack. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us with the latest.

Barbara, the gunman was an Afghan police officer assigned to guard the hospital, protect everyone there. What happened? What are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the information still so sketchy, Wolf.

Another instance, by all accounts, of an Afghan security official, someone in a security uniform, taking their weapon and turning it on civilians. This time, against American medical personnel that had been in Afghanistan working at this major hospital in Kabul that had really been trying to do some good in this very troubled country.

We have seen this before, sadly. Quite recently, just a couple of weeks ago, two American journalists for the Associated Press also gunned down, one killed, one badly wounded when an Afghan policeman security official turned his weapon on them.

Security is now what Afghanistan is all about as it faces this crossroads. They are about to announce the election results for president in that country. There's likely to be a runoff. But the guy in the lead is the former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, someone the U.S. certainly hopes it can work with a little more calmly than it works with Hamid Karzai.

And this is really critical. There are 33,000 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan. If there is not a new security agreement with the new president, they will be gone by the end of the year. And there's a lot of concern about what will happen to Afghan security then and will these civilian workers be able to stay if the security situation degrades even further.


BLITZER: Where is the gunman now, the individual police officer who shot these American medical personnel?

STARR: Afghan government officials say he also, in some -- for some reason, in some way was shot during this incident. Not entirely clear whether he was shot by others or how this happened. He was taken to surgery and he is in the hospital in Afghanistan, is what government officials are saying, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara. What a horrible story that is. Barbara Starr reporting for us from the Pentagon.

Along with these so-called insider attacks, the next Afghan president will face several major challenges, such as the expected withdrawal of all foreign, NATO and U.S. combat troops expected to leave by the end of the year unless an agreement can be made to keep some of them there. While the final presidential results are due May 14th, this man, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, former foreign minister, he is the front- runner.

Let's get some more on this situation, plus the crisis in Ukraine, which shows no sign of abating at all, Jane Harman is here, director, president and CEO of The Wilson Center in Washington. Why should any troops, U.S. troops stay in Afghanistan after the end of this year, given the hostility clearly that is still there? The longest U.S. war in history -


BLITZER: And still so many folks over there hate Americans.

HARMAN: Well, that's true, Wolf, and they shouldn't. And, by the way, where's the outrage about this killing of the three doctors, or the two doctors and one of their sons? Where's President Karzai's apology after a trillion U.S. dollars and thousands of U.S. lives have been lost trying to save his country? I think it is despicable. And where's an expression of outrage by our government at a higher level than an NSD (ph) spokesperson? I understand that the president's in Asia, but this is absolutely abhorrent.

As for keeping troops in the country, the risk is that if we leave and the place implodes, which is surely possible, then it goes back to a training ground for the Taliban and then we're stuck with the same threats to our interest in the region and us.

BLITZER: So everything that was done for the last 12 years, 13 years or so was for naught?

HARMAN: Well, I hope the answer to that is no. Abdullah Abdullah, who is the front-runner in this election. By the way, why does it take two weeks to count votes? We saw a hugely corrupt election in 2009. I'm just worried this could repeat and we've all - we also are seeing warlords among these candidates. I mean really despicable people like this fellow Doston Uzbek (ph), who has blood on his hands.

But at any rate, I don't know yet. I mean if there's a more competent more transparent government, surely the bar is very low, then there is a chance that Afghanistan turns around and then our efforts were for something real and we went against the people who attacked us on 9/11, which was the intention. BLITZER: From one horrible situation in Afghanistan to another bad one unfolding in Ukraine right now. Looks like that situation could clearly escalate. Not only Ukrainians very nervous about what Russia is up to, but NATO allies in Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, all those countries, they're very nervous about Putin and his intentions. What is - what does he want, Putin?

HARMAN: Putin is a bully. Putin has some aspirations to restore greater Russia. I don't think it's the communist empire. I don't think he's a communist. But I think he needs to be -- his effort -- we need to push back more effectively. And our strength is our economy against his weak economy. John McCain's right that he's a gas station with a bunch of corrupt warlords called oligarchs (ph) surrounding him period. That's the Russian economy. It's already tanking to some extent because now he has to make investments in Crimea. He obviously didn't learn Colin Powell's rule that if you break it, you own it. And a lot of foreign investment is drying up.