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U.S. Senators Summoned to the White House; Trump's First 100 Days; Pope Francis Gives Surprise TED Talk. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired April 27, 2017 - 00:00   ET



[00:00:09] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is NEWSROOM L.A. Ahead this hour --

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: All U.S. senators summoned to the White House -- urgent North Korea matters, Trump team photo op, or a little of both?

VAUSE: A surprise TED Talk from Pope Francis -- the Holy Father calling for a tenderness revolution.

SESAY: And a spacecraft's final dive -- Cassini going where no other has gone before, between Saturn and its majestic rings.

VAUSE: Hello, everybody -- great to have you with us. I'm John Vause at CNN's World Headquarters in Atlanta.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay in Los Angeles. NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.

VAUSE: For weeks the U.S. has been talking tough on North Korea ramping up its military presence in the region. But for now it seems the Trump administration is opting for tighter sanctions and diplomacy to try and convince Pyongyang to give up its nuclear and missile programs.

The strategy was unveiled after the entire U.S. Senate was called to the White House for a briefing on North Korea, drawing criticism from some senators the President does not have an effective plan.

SESAY: And even some Republicans said the meeting was an elaborate photo op. President Trump made a brief appearance then took off.

CNN's Jim Sciutto has the details.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The White House taking the unusual step of bussing the entire U.S. Senate to the White House for a briefing on North Korea signaling growing alarm about the threat from the nuclear state.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: It was a sobering briefing and an important opportunity for the entire senate to hear the emerging plans of the Trump administration and confront what is a very real threat.

SCIUTTO: The meetings let by the President's national security team: Defense Secretary James Mattis, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Joseph Dunford, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

After the briefing, senators from both parties stressed the seriousness of the threat but said no new information was given raising questions about whether a trip to the White House was necessary or just for show.

You were inside. What was the revelation?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: No revelations. I think the White House wanted to convey to the Congress that they're serious about North Korea. They clearly are, putting a lot of their cards on the table with China to try to get them to change their policy.

COONS: I didn't hear anything that is different from what is publicly reported about the threat (ph).

SCIUTTO: The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific told lawmakers Wednesday that he is taking North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un at his word that he is developing a missile capable of hitting the U.S.

ADM. HARRY HARRIS, COMMANDER OF U.S. FORCES IN THE PACIFIC: We have to look at North Korea as if Kim Jong-Un will do what he says.

SCIUTTO: In response, the U.S. is taking urgent steps.

HARRIS: My forces are ready to fight tonight if called on to do that.

SCIUTTO: Admiral Harris announced that a U.S. anti-missile system known as the THAAD will be operational in South Korea within days -- the system intended to protect the South and Japan from a North Korean missile strike.

HARRIS: This week North Korea threatened Australia with a nuclear strike -- a powerful reminder to the entire international community that North Korea's missiles point in every direction.

SCIUTTO: Admiral Harris took the blame for confusion about when the USS Carl Vinson will arrive in the region. This after President Trump touted its deployment last week. The carrier group, he assured lawmakers, is now nearby in the Philippines and ready to act if called upon.

HARRIS: As President Trump and Secretary Mattis have made clear, all options are on the table. We want to bring Kim Jong-Un to his senses, not to his knees.

SCIUTTO: One option that we're told by a senior administration official that the White House is considering is putting North Korea back on the state sponsors of terrorism list. They were actually on that list before, taken off in 2008 by the Bush administration at a time when there were negotiations under way to freeze North Korea's nuclear program.

Of course those negotiations, those agreements didn't work. But it shows the difficulty there is in finding new options that haven't been tried before short of military action to rein in North Korea's nuclear program.

Jim Sciutto, CNN -- Capitol Hill.


VAUSE: CNN's Paula Hancocks joins us now live from Seoul, also David McKenzie standing by in Beijing.

Paula -- first to you. Along with tighter sanctions, the U.S. also says it's open to negotiations over the North Korean nuclear program. Is it unlikely right now that the regime in Pyongyang would opt for diplomacy?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly doesn't feel like a particularly diplomatic moment on the Korean Peninsula right now. When you look at the rhetoric you've had from both sides, now obviously we often see this very strong rhetoric from North Korea.

[00:04:58] Pyongyang likes to be very expletive in its descriptions of what it would do to Washington, what it would do to Seoul. And there is nothing new there.

We are though seeing an increase in rhetoric from Washington's side. We've heard also from the U.S. Secretary of State saying that it's not the time to talk while he was here in Seoul.

So that appears to be a slight pullback from the Trump administration suggesting that they would be willing to negotiate. Whether or not it is the time right now we have heard from officials until quite recently that it is not the time to negotiate at this point -- John.

VAUSE: Yes. Well, to David McKenzie now in Beijing.

So David -- the White House clearly counting on China to play a much bigger diplomatic role, a bigger role than it has probably ever played before. But is there any sign -- is there any indication that China looks to North Korea not so much as an ally, but instead as a real threat to its own security?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it has regarded as a threat to its security for some time -- John. But it also can regard it as an ally at the same time it seems because it's two different issues here. One is trying to keep that regime in power to avoid, you know, U.S. troops right on its doorstep; and at the same time, not wanting that regime to become nuclear.

I think this latest statement from Washington might actually be welcomed here in Beijing. They've called for the situation to calm down and for the door to negotiations to be opened.

One thing is for certain, though, as speaking to foreign policy experts here who have ties to the communist party in China. It doesn't appear China will do anything to pressurize North Korea in terms of trade outside of U.N. sanctions.

So it really would take the U.N. Security Council to put forward new sanctions. And it might be unlikely, again, that China wants those new sanctions, unless there is a provocation in terms of a nuclear test or another missile launch from North Korea.

So in the stage that China wants things to calm down, but does appear to be wanting to play ball and sanctions.

VAUSE: And Paula, back to you -- we're also seeing this ramping up of the military. The United States, South Korea pushing on with the deployment of the THAAD anti-missile deployment system which in itself has become a political issue ahead of next months' elections in South Korea.

HANCOCKS: Well, that's right. We had an interesting timeline actually from Admiral Harry Harris, the head of the Pacific Central Command. And he said that it would be operational within a matter of days.

Now this is far quicker than we have heard from previous officials. Even the South Korean defense officials just a day ago were suggesting they were still looking at the end of the year, or at least that was the official public line.

So this appears that it will be fully operational very soon according to the U.S. military. And of course how many days is a matter of days. Is that before May 9th? Is that before the South Korean presidential election where the front-runner in that election Moon Jae-In has already said that THAAD should be an issue for the next president to decide upon.

In the past he said was opposed. He now said it needs to be looked at and decided by the next president, presumably assuming that will be him -- John.

VAUSE: And David -- just to pick up on the issue of THAAD, China has let it be known that it is far from pleased with this anti-missile defense system actually being deployed. At the same time, Washington is pushing Beijing to engage diplomatically. So as far as the Chinese are concerned, are these two issues being stove-piped right now?

MCKENZIE: At this stage it's hard to tell. But certainly that could be an option for the Chinese -- John. They have said even as recently as yesterday that they want the THAAD system canceled and that these missiles should not be on the Korean Peninsula at all.

Part of that reason I think is they're hinting that maybe the powerful radar that is part of that missile system could be turned towards China to do some spying on this country. And also they feel it's just more military assets from the point of view of China, at least, in that region adding to the tension.

So, you know, China has punished South Korea through unofficial trade embargoes, tourist stoppages into South Korea. So it's a very contentious issue here in China. Whether they link it to any kind of diplomacy on North Korea is unclear at this stage, but that could be an option certainly for Chinese diplomats. And it will be tricky to see how the U.S. though would, you know, roll back the missile deployment.

VAUSE: Ok, David. Thank you -- David McKenzie in Beijing; also Paula Hancocks in Seoul.

SESAY: Now, President Trump is still a few days shy of his milestone 100th day in office but a new CNN/ORC poll shows his performance is being judged harshly.

[00:09:57] Mr. Trump has a 44 percent approval rating, the lowest of any president at this stage in office. Nearly six in ten people disapprove of his handling of key issues such as health care and immigration, 61 percent believe world leaders don't respect him much, and 52 percent say his approach has put the country at unnecessary risk. Although 52 percent say he has used the military responsibly.

Well, let's dig in a little deeper into this and other issues. Joining me now here in L.A., political commentator and talk radio host Mo Kelly. Nice to see you -- Mo.

MO KELLY, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good see you as well -- Isha.

SESAY: A lot to talk about. Let's start with these poll numbers. Let's start with that first number that we just shared with our viewers that only 44 percent of respondents in this poll have an approval rating -- well, approve of President Trump. 54 percent disapprove. I think it's interesting that it's the same as the previous two CNN/ORC polls that had been taken since the inauguration. That number basically hasn't moved. Are you surprised by that?

KELLY: I'm not surprised because his base has not moved. If you were to do a poll of his base, they probably would be 96 percent to 100 percent still in support of the President. That base is not the majority of Americans, but it would hold his polling numbers consistent.

So in this regard, he is doing what his base wants. He is not necessarily bringing other people to his base. He is not adding to the people who support him. But at the end of the day, the people who supported him before the election, they still do support him ultimately.

SESAY: If you're a Republican on Capitol Hill and you're looking at that number, what are you thinking to yourself?

KELLY: Well, if I'm on Capitol Hill, I'm worried about the midterms. I'm worried about whether this president is going to help me or hurt me in the next 18 months. Is he someone that I can run with, or do I have to start distancing myself from.

That's what I would be worried about. Because ultimately, if we're going to talk about tax reform, if we're going to talk about health care, we have to -- if I'm a Republican congress person, I have to decide whether I'm going to be standing with the President or standing opposite of him.

SESAY: We know that in these 100 days as we approach that benchmark, the President has failed to pass any major legislation. We know that. That is a fact.

But let's look at how Americans view that. As we said in those numbers, six in ten Americans disapprove of Trump's handling of two signature issues -- talking about health care and immigration.

Let's start with the issue of health care. How much has he been hurt by the failed attempt at getting something passed on Capitol Hill?

KELLY: Oh, he is hurt tremendously, if only because he is the titular head of the Republican Party. And the Republican Party has staked its claim that we're here to repeal and replace Obamacare. Anything short of that is a complete failure.

Now they can try to get something through Congress and maybe something which will pacify the base. But ultimately, until they do that, people are not going to be sympathetic, empathetic or even supportive of anything this president does vis-a-vis health care until he delivers on his chief primary promise and that would be 1. And 1-A would be immigration because that's how we were introduced to the candidacy of Donald Trump.

SESAY: When it comes to health care, though, again if you're a lawmaker when you see that number six in ten, you're not going to want to compromise. I mean these aren't numbers that fill the Freedom Caucus, those ideologically purist lawmakers. It doesn't fill them with confidence that this is a time when they should be like, you know, walking the plank and taking risks.

KELLY: No, but he hasn't left himself a lot of options. Ultimately he had a bad bill that did not go through. And he realized I have to get some thing through.

And so you're going to have maybe a bad bill light and you're going to try to push that through. You notice that originally he said that health care is dead for now. Then all of a sudden he realized I can't let this die. I have to do something, at least on behalf of the party.

So once again they're trying to juggle health care in the same space and time as tax reform, in the same space and time as North Korea and Syria and Russia -- and all these things are happening at the same time. And you wonder where his focus is and what gets lost or dropped in this juggling of items.

SESAY: Well, let's pick up on tax reform because on Wednesday, the President announced his tax plan. I want to read out this statement. This is a statement put out by Speaker Ryan and a number of his top Republican colleagues.

They say they described it as this. "The principles outlined by the Trump administration today will serve as critical guide posts for Congress and the administration as we work together to overhaul the American tax system and ensure middle class families and job creators a better position for the 21st century economy."

Democrats are simply saying this is simply a giveaway to the wealthy.

KELLY: Yes, it is. But if they've learned anything from health care, they're at least floating a trial balloon at this point. They're saying here is the outline. Here are the basic principles. And they're trying to get a gauge of whether Republicans, both moderate and also far right wing, are willing to support this in the beginning so they're not embarrassed. They're not rushing this through in the same way they tried with the American Health Care Act.

But ultimately, the math does not work. The tax breaks in the sense that you're trying to cut corporate tax to 15 percent as opposed to 35 percent, that's not revenue neutral.

[00:15:03] SESAY: How does it pay for itself?

KELLY: Right. It's not revenue-neutral.

Steve Mnuchin was trying to say that over the period of time, with growth, it will pay for itself. So in the short term, it's not. The math is what the math is.

SESAY: And then we come back to the people like the Freedom Caucus, those ideological purists. They won't go for something like this.

KELLY: No, they absolutely will not. And they need at least ten Democrats. So we're still stuck in the same mathematical equation as we are with health care because ultimately yes you may have control of the House. You may have control of the Senate. But you still need a few Democrats to cross the aisle.

SESAY: Well, complicating matters even further, as if the President needs any more complications, Democrats say release your tax returns. If you want us to engage in tax reform you release your tax returns. A good course for them to go down?

KELLY: Absolutely. It is a reasonable request to wonder if the President of the United States who has billions of dollars in investments is somehow personally benefitting from a tax reform proposal that he himself is putting forward. And if he is not going to show his tax records, then it's a reasonable question to ask, Mr. President, why are you doing this? And are you doing it for personal gain?

SESAY: I mean, the only question is do they risk just coming across as obstructionists?

KELLY: Yes, if only because they went after Neil Gorsuch when that for me that was the wrong fight. You wanted to save your ammunition for this fight, for tax reform, for health care reform. Those are winnable fights. Neil Gorsuch was never a winnable fight. SESAY: I want to talk very quickly about what happened at the White

House today. We talked a little bit about it at the top of the show. 100 senators being bussed to the White House for a briefing that some of them say they already knew the contents over and was in public domain. Was this just a photo op for the President?

KELLY: It was photo op. It was theater. I won't even call it political theater. It was all about the optics. They have a skiff on Capitol Hill for the Senate and/or the House that they need to see classified, sensitive information. The whole idea of bussing 100 senators to the White House, I don't know where they sat. I don't know how they --

SESAY: Well, there's an auditorium adjacent to the west wing.

KELLY: Right. They had to make all sorts of specialized accommodations for the senators for something that did not need to be done in that space.

And I wonder once again, what is the focus of this president. Is it about the optics? Or is it about making some sort of accomplishment which moves the country forward?

SESAY: Well, one thing we can say for certain at least in these nearly 100 days is that the President has made a lot of reversals. That we can say for certain. We might not know about the optics, but the reversals we can speak to.

Now referring to NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement; President Trump as recently as a couple of days ago were saying things like this --


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: NAFTA has been a disaster. We have these provisions where you have to wait long periods of time.

NAFTA has been very, very bad for our country. It's been very, very bad for our companies and for our workers. And we're going to make some very big changes or we are going to get rid of NAFTA for once and for all.


SESAY: I think that was fairly unequivocal -- very, very bad. We're going remove our country from NAFTA once and for all.

And then we hear that he has hit pause on that threat. In fact, what we're now getting is that the President has agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time.

KELLY: Who knew trade was so complicated? I mean ultimately there were a lot of promises that the candidate Donald Trump made which were just not deliverable. And the reality of the office has taken over. There was once upon a time in which he said he was going to rip up the Iran deal. That hasn't happened. He said he was going to repeal and replace Obamacare on day one that hasn't happened. All of the promises that he made, including bringing coal jobs back, that hasn't happened.

SESAY: And naming China as a currency manipulator.

KELLY: That hasn't happened.

So ultimately, can I take the President at his word when he was campaigning, or should I look at what he is saying now? Ultimately, if I had voted for Donald Trump based on the promises he made, then he is severely lacking at this point 100 days in.

SESAY: Last question to you as we're quickly running out of time, at some point do the reversals add up for even his base?

KELLY: Politics are like the weather. They change every five or six days. You know, just wait 20 minutes the weather will change. What happens closer to the midterms will be more determinative of whether he's going to actually hurt the party or not. He has a lot of time to recover.

SESAY: All right. We shall see.

Mo Kelly -- round two, next hour.

KELLY: Thank you.

SESAY: Thank you. John.

VAUSE: Well, Isha -- we will take a short break right now.

When we come back -- when Pope Francis speaks, people listen. Now he is trying a whole new way to reach out to the masses -- his latest online outreach.

Also ahead, a NASA spacecraft is ending its two decade-long mission to Saturn -- a look at its spectacular final run.

Just ahead here on NEWSROOM L.A.


VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody.

When TED Talks -- the world listens. TED Talks are where the cool, intellectual kids hang out. They're 18-minute-long video presentations delivered by the famous, the experts and the ordinary.

And now Pope Francis is among those who have made the cut. He made a surprise talk at TED's global conference this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) POPE FRANCIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH (through translator): Please allow me to say it loud and clear. The more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsibility you have to act with humility. If you don't, your power will ruin you and you will ruin the others.


VAUSE: Well, it took some convincing, but TED's European director Bruno Giussani managed to get Pope Francis to sign on board. So Bruno -- you are now joining us from Vancouver in Canada. Thank you for being with us.


VAUSE: How did you manage to put the Pope? Where did that idea even come from?

GIUSSANI: Well, it started a long time ago. Over one year of working contacts with the Vatican. Of course, Pope Francis is a unique figure, right. He's a moral and global leader. He is widely recognized well beyond the confines of his community. And I think every booker in your program, in every program, and at every conference dreams of getting a talk from the Pope.

So we started discussing over a year ago. And at the beginning I think it's fair to say not many people at the Vatican knew of TED and what TED was. But after many discussions and some trips there said little by little we got to this idea of creating these talks for the conference this week.

VAUSE: Yes, you are the envy of every guest booker in every network around the world right now.


VAUSE: When Pope Francis did his TED talk, he actually sits behind a desk. He doesn't walk around the stage like most TED speakers. But in many ways the tone and the style by weaving in some personal stories, it was very similar to other TED talks.

GIUSSANI: Yes. You know, there is a tradition in the church, actually, which is a sort of secular homily where the Pope or other priests kind of don't preach in a classic way, but kind of talk to layperson. And somehow the beginning of the discussion about what this talk would be like came from there.

But then many other elements added to it. The Pope is clearly very worried about the state of the world. There is an urgency in his actions and his words. We see them every day. And that's really comes down from what he said yesterday on our stage.

VAUSE: So this was a surprise for the audience in Vancouver.


VAUSE: They had no idea this was coming. What was the reaction when --

[00:25:04] GIUSSANI: The reaction was extraordinary, literally they were really overwhelmed. The audience in the theater gave him a standing ovation beyond one minute. It has been trending on Twitter ever since. We posted it at 6:00 p.m. last night. It is actually the fastest talk in terms of views that we have ever posted on our site.

And the reaction from the media has also been really enthusiastic. So we're really happy with it. And I assume the Vatican is too.

VAUSE: Well, the video address, it's been subtitled into what, 20 different languages?

GIUSSANI: There have been about I think 22 languages for now on the site. On the talk, we're going to add more in the coming weeks.

VAUSE: Ok. The audio version, though, the one which we listened to on iPods, you know, while we go running and stuff, it actually had to be dubbed. So where did you find an English speaker with an Italian accent?

GIUSSANI: Well, it turns out it was me.

VAUSE: Yes -- how did that work out?

GIUSSANI: Well, we do have audio version for pretty much every talk, right. And we distribute them on podcast and iTunes and the likes, other platforms like that. So it's easy. You just sweep the video and release the audio with maybe some tweaks where the speaker says look at this.

And because it's in Italian, so we couldn't do that. And the producers absolutely wanted somebody with an Italian accent. I knew the talk well. They got a lot of accents. So that's how we ended up.

VAUSE: That's one for the resume, Bruno -- voice of the Holy Father. Good to speak with you.

GIUSSANI: Thank you very much.

VAUSE: And congratulations. A great gain.

GIUSSANI: Goodbye. Thank you very much. Bye-bye.

SESAY: Well, the Pope's TED talk is just one way he is different from his predecessors. Here is another one -- taking some kids for a joyride in the Pope Mobile. He is known to do things like this pretty regularly, and as you can see here, the crowd appreciates a man of the people.

Well, it's no surprise the Pope reaches out to those in need. But the concern he shows for those around him is no less inspiring. We'll show you the Pope's newest project to help the poor in Rome later tonight. So make sure you're tuned in about two hours from now.

Time for a quick break. Coming up, armed speedboats keep harassing U.S. warships on patrol in the Persian Gulf. We'll explain who is behind the risky provocations?



[00:30:45] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM L.A. I'm John Vause at CNN's world headquarters in Atlanta.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Isha Sesay in Los Angeles. The headlines this hour.

The overall verdict on President Trump's first 100 days in office isn't so good. A CNN/ORC poll has Mr. Trump with a 44 percent approval rating, the lowest of any president at this stage. About six in ten Americans disapprove of how he has handled two signature issues, immigration and health care.

VAUSE: U.S. senators travelled to the White House by the bus load to hear the Trump administration's plans on North Korea. One Democrat called it a dog and pony show that did not shed any new light on the situation. President Trump's national security team led the briefing.

SESAY: Anti-government demonstrators again fill the streets of the Venezuelan capital on Wednesday. And again they were met with tear gas and water cannons. At least one person died in Caracas.

When the Organization of American State called a meeting, Wednesday, to discuss the situation, Venezuela abruptly announced it could quit the group.

VAUSE: Turkey has detained more than one thousand people and dozens of raids across the country. It's the largest roundup of opponents since Turkey's president gained new powers in a recent referendum. 9,000 members of the security forces were also suspended all over alleged ties to a U.S.-based cleric accused of orchestrating last year's failed coup attempt.

Iran appears to be playing a high stakes game of chicken with U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf. U.S. officials say there have been dozens of risky encounters over the past year. And now Iran may be preparing to deploy suicide boats packed with explosives.

The latest now from CNN's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An Iranian military boat, weapons manned and ready confronts an American destroyer in the Persian Gulf.

A U.S. official tells CNN, the Iranian vessel came within a-thousand yards of the U.S.S. Mahan this week.

The Americans fired a warning flare, but the Iranian fast-attack boat kept moving aggressively, forcing the Mahan to alter its course.

MICHAEL CONNELL, FORMER U.S. MILITARY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: That is a very dangerous incident. And part of that has to do with the fact that the U.S. Navy vessel doesn't know the intentions of what the Iranian vessel's up to. They don't know what the Iranian vessel's going to do.

TODD: It's one of several dangerous episodes recently between Iranian vessels and American ships in the Persian Gulf.

U.S. officials say there have been dozens of incidents where the Iranians, often piloting armed, fast-attack speedboats have acted unprofessionally.

GEN. JOSEPH VOTEL: Unsafe, meaning that they put themselves or they potentially put our vessel and our crews at risk.

TODD: Analysts say Iran's even started to deploy so-called "suicide boats", pilot-less vessels packed with explosives, operated by remote control drones on the water.

One struck a Saudi ship this year and analysts say fighters in Yemen probably got it from Iran. They could target American ships.

CONNELL: The suicide boats pose a particularly potent threat in the Persian Gulf because of the confined operating space. These are -- these boats are small but they're larger than an anti-ship cruise missile. They pack a lot of explosives. So if they can get through a ship's security cordon, they can cause a lot of damage.

TODD: This week Saudi officials say they disabled and then detonated a remote-control speedboat full of explosives that was headed for an oil platform.

In the Persian Gulf, many of the provocations don't come from Iran's regular navy. Experts say they are often commanded by Admiral Ali Fadavi, head of the Revolutionary Guard Corp's Navy, known for being aggressive.

The Iranians even built a mock-up of a U.S. carrier, to practice blowing it up.

MICHAEL RUBIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: The Iranians are very active right now, in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Yemen, and according to their rhetoric increasingly are looking towards Bahrain, which is where the U.S. maintains its 5th fleet. So the Iranians are on the march, and they're almost becoming a colonial power in the region.

TODD (on-camera): Analysts say if there is a military escalation between the U.S. and Iran, one of the big worries is that Iran will strike back at the U.S. asymmetrically using a terror group or one of its other proxy forces to launch an attack on American interests in the Middle East or elsewhere.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Quick break here.

A NASA spacecraft is on a bold mission inside Saturn's rings. We'll explain how scientists are making it happen, next.


[00:37:15] SESAY: Well, a NASA spacecraft is capping its Saturn mission with an ambitious grand finale.

CNN's Paul Vercammen tells us what scientists hope to learn from the Cassini probe.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And lift-off of the Cassini spacecraft on a million mile trek to Saturn.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cassini left earth for Saturn almost two decades ago and will soon plunge between Saturn and its rings, something that's never been done before, 22 times. Scientists call the mission the ball of yarn.

DR. EARL MAIZE, CASSINI PROJECT MANAGER: We are going to dive into the gap between the rings of Saturn and Saturn's atmosphere. We're going to be going 70,000 miles per hour into a 1200 mile wide gap. Even a piece of sand at that velocity will take out one of our instruments, or if it's in the wrong place could cripple the spacecraft.

VERCAMMEN: Many Cassini mission members still rejoice at stunning images, especially those taken from Saturn looking towards earth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That picture where Saturn is covering up the sun, you see actually a ring of light around the planet as the sunlight refracts through the atmosphere. And if you look carefully, you'll find the Earth, Mars and Venus.

VERCAMMEN: The spacecraft also dropped a probe on Saturn's moon Titan with methane lakes and seas. It's the most remote spacecraft landing from earth ever.

Cassini surprised scientists with findings on Enceladus, which NASA now calls the brightest world in our solar system. The tiny Saturn moon has a white reflective surface and icy croft. Scientists believe it covers the global ocean, and may be the best place in our solar system to search for life.

Cassini is running out of fuel and NASA is determined to protect anything that might live on Saturn's moons.

MAIZE: Enceladus has got a warm, salt water undersea ocean and it's got plumes coming up. We cannot risk an inadvertent contact with that pristine body. Cassini has got to be put safely away. VERCAMMEN: Cassini will zip between Saturn and its rings until mid- September, then the probe will head straight toward the planet, break apart, and burn up in the atmosphere.

MAIZE: You can't help but feel a certain sense of loss and nostalgia for something you've been driving. It's like anything else you've had a partnership with for 20 years.

A man and machine marriage that gave birth to astonishing images and discovery.


SESAY: And that was CNN's Paul Vercammen. And Paul joins me now here in the studio. Paul so, break it down for us. What information do scientists hope to get from Cassini's final dive? And when will we start seeing the images?

[00:40:00] VERCAMMEN: OK. We're going to start seeing the images hopefully at 3:00 Eastern Time U.S. And these images could be stunning. These will be the closest ever views of Saturn's clouds. There is that methane hexagon that we also saw in the piece that is on Saturn. They hope to get a very close view. The first time from the inside out of Saturn's rings.

They want detailed maps. They want to get a much better sense for the structure of Saturn and help us understand how these planets, these super planets evolve in planet systems. They're going to sample the atmosphere. The particles of rings. And these ring particles, by the way, some of them were smaller than a grain of sand and some of them are mountain-size. This is just going to be a fascinating endeavor, an unprecedented first ever dive between Saturday and its rings.

SESAY: Oh, it's pretty special.

This is the end of a two decade long journey which is incredible just to even fathom, to try and contemplate.

How does NASA plan to retire Cassini? I mean, talk to us about that?

VERCAMMEN: Well, they are very, very concerned with not wanting Cassini to hit any of Saturn's moons especially because they found these sort of early formations, the possibility of a strange or different type of raw life form. And they certainly don't want to compromise that.

So what they're going to do is in the end in September, Cassini is basically as the mission commander told you, you saw him getting emotional, it's going to vaporize and it's going to break up and it's just basically going to become part of Saturn's atmosphere.

SESAY: But a completely organized and very kind of premeditated structured end to Cassini?

VERCAMMEN: Absolutely.


VERCAMMEN: Well put. With great deliberation.

SESAY: With great deliberation.

And you're getting upset about this. And I know there are a lot of space lovers are as well though. There was the Google doodle. Let's put that up and share that with our viewers again.

I mean, you know, space lovers are really sad about this moment in this chapter.

VERCAMMEN: They are. I would almost make it analogous to that movie "Wall-E." The Disney movie, where everybody is kind of falling in love with an inanimate object. Cassini for these scientists who have worked on it for so long, of course, the jet propulsion labs are right in our backyard here in L.A. They adore what this spacecraft has done. Legendary things.

And of course at the European Space Agency, they are also going to feel a tremendous sense of achievement and loss. Because they were the ones that put the Huygens Probe on Cassini and it landed on Saturn's moon, Titan.

And as we said earlier, this was the furthest landing of any spacecraft from earth, the only one in the outer solar system, just astounding stuff. It found those methane seas and methane rain and drainage channels so much and they are all just waxing so fondly about Cassini, the spacecraft that could.

SESAY: I feel like I should pull out a box of tissues for you.

It's a special moment. It's a special moment. Looking forward to seeing those images.

Paul Vercammen, thank you. Thank you very much.

All right.

VAUSE: Isha, Simon, the bunny who was heading for a farm in Iowa but instead he bought the farm on a United Airlines flight. The giant hare never got to see Chicago O'Hare airport. Apparently, he died.

United is very sorry to see him go. This is not just any old bunny. He was a giant bunny, 90 centimeters long. And he was bought by a previous "Playboy" bunny. (INAUDIBLE) to enter into a fair.

His father was "Guinness World Record" holder and the man who was buying Simon, he is disappointed, too.


BRYAN BERGDALE, PEOPLE COMPANY OF IOWA: He is the son of the world's largest rabbit. And he is about 16 pounds. And he's 3-1/2 feet long. It is kind of disappointing. I mean I never met the rabbit, but you know, you start to build the cage. You get toys. You get everything set up and you kind of get excited to meet the little guy or the big guy.

Didn't know how serious he was. But he was definitely serious. I asked her do you have any more rabbits, or do you have a rabbit you would like to sell that is, you know, fairly large.


VAUSE: Simon's breeder says he was healthy when he got on that flight. Maybe the key here was United. We all know what happened on United flights. Sometimes you get dragged off.


SESAY: Yes. Poor Simon.

VAUSE: Simon, may he rest in peace. No use chewing over this.

SESAY: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM everybody, I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. Stay with us. "World Sport" is up next. And then we will be back with another hour of news from all around the world. You're watching CNN.